Several years ago I heard a very good presenter at a teacher inservice– she did an exercise designed to teach empathy for others. I called it “The Rest of the Story” and adapted it for use with my students. You might be able to use this idea– it’s very powerful. I started with this necklace:
“It’s out of style.”
“It looks cheap.”
“The eyes are creepy.”
“The gold is worn off.”
So then I told them the rest of the story. My mother had her 2nd major stroke at age 66. (She had had her first at 52, and took an early medical retirement; she and my daddy divorced 5 years later and for those intervening years she lived a wonderful, independent life in an apartment complex with lots of little old ladies for her to take care of.) After the 2nd stroke she was paralyzed on one side and moved into a nursing home in our town, which she viewed as another place with lots of little old ladies for her to take care of! She played dominoes, wrote letters, visited people in their rooms– she was such a sweet, kind person. More than anything, she loved to give gifts, all her life. When she went to the nursing home she had no money saved and was living on her teacher retirement. That all went to cover her costs and she was allowed a very small amount each month for personal items. It was not enough to payroll her love for giving gifts! But at the home, lots of their activities let them win “money,” and then occasionally they would have a “store” where they could buy things. People would donate items to use, or they would have crafts that the residents made. Mama bought this necklace for me and gave it to me. I can’t remember if it was for something special, or just because.
And I love it.
The truth is, I sort of agree with those statements at the top. But it reminds me that my mother was an incredible person. It would have been so easy for her to say, “I can’t get a set of dishes, or a favorite book, or take Melinda shopping, [all things she had done]; all I can get is this old thing,” and be too proud or embarrassed and not do it. But she did it anyway, and was still thrilled to be able to give a gift to her daughter. She was the epitome of “Bloom where you are planted.” My mother bloomed all her life.
I lived within 5 miles of her and saw her several times a week, but she wrote lots of letters too. Neat.
Mama at Halloween in the nursing home. Isn’t this great?
And this is one of my favorites. To me it shows the joy that she kept throughout her life, in spite of the many challenges that would have turned a lesser person bitter. Her sweet spirit never left her.
By the way- the exercise was a success. As I told the story, I got weepy, and then they got weepy. We then articulated that you can find something ugly about anything and anybody. But you can also find something beautiful. And many times, only the ugly is visible until you know the rest of the story.