I hope that the last two days’ posts have prompted you to reflect on an episode or two from your own childhood. As we reflect on such memories, we can benefit from them in many ways. For me, the benefits include laughing out loud all by myself, considering how I and other humans mature through childhood, marveling that sometimes I wonder if I or others have matured at all, and stepping back and taking a look at the dynamics of the ego and the heart.
I remember another “Little Rascals” episode that wasn’t quite as innocent. It provides one of those times when I can see how cruelty can develop in childhood through an unchecked ego. In this event, I see how this childish episode is repeated many times over in the world today by adults who are reputed leaders or vying for such positions. The personality quality of the episode to which I refer, one which makes for much strife at many different levels, one which can cause wars, one which is driven 100% by ego is this: self-righteous anger that refuses to consider the point of view, life circumstances, or cultural and political peculiarities of others. Just a bleak, unthinking, cold, unbending insistence on being right rather than on valuing the life, humanity, and possibilities of others in kindness, understanding, and compassion.
The ego views such attitudes as compromise rather than love, and while it can be laughed off, dismissed, or punished in children, it’s not so easy to handle with adults. Let me share my story, a time that shows what an impudent little brat I could be.
In the 3700 block of good old Keokuk Avenue in South St. Louis, the “gang” often played some sport or another in the alley. The best part of the alley — meaning the least broken up — began at the property line of the house adjacent to the little apartment complex where my family lived. One of our favorite games was kickball with the big, softish, squishy red ball.
The only problem is that the house we played by was old Crabapple’s house, which sat below street level, so naturally, when a ball was sent that way, it would quickly drop over the concrete ledge and roll down the hill towards his house. Our derogatory denomination of the man resulted from a combination of two factors: he had a multiplicity of crabapple trees in his yard, and he was crabby. How was he crabby? Well, several times when our ball rolled toward his house, he would come running out and grab it and take it inside — think Sandlot with no dog. Usually, after a minute or two, he would just throw it back out the door. At other times, he would throw it back but yell at us in the process.
Now, in our minds, we didn’t understand that we were probably making a lot of noise, and he didn’t bother to explain, just commanded us to stop playing. One day, though, he kept our ball and just screamed. We couldn’t even understand what he was yelling at us.
At the age of six, I was enraged, so angry at how unfair it seemed, because, of course, at that age I knew we were right and he was wrong and “You started it.”
Yes, I heard the words coming out of my mouth, yelling back at him. I realized that the gang was looking at me.
If I were really smart, I should have known by their expressions that I was headed for trouble— kicking open the paint can and jumping off the garage roof all over again. When I heard my voice, though, and saw them looking at me, I felt like I couldn’t back down. I rallied the troops.
“What are we going to do, Mikey?”
“You guys run through the apartments to the alley and get on the other side. Me and Stevie will stay here. When I say ‘Go,’ we jump down the wall, run and grab crabapples, and run back up the other side. We got to go fast. He can’t keep our ball, it’s not fair. We didn’t do anything.”
“What will we do with the apples?”
“When we get back up high, we will throw them at the house until he gives us back our ball.”
They were enthusiastic. I didn’t even know I had it in me to come up with a plan. His injustice inflamed me. We did it. And boy did he scream. Enough so that my mom, who had come out to check on us heard him, and she came running. She demanded to know what we were doing, and when I told her, she told us to stand still and wait.
She went down to Crabapple’s front door. Wait, she was smiling and being nice to him. He talked to her, disappeared for a second, handed her our ball, and closed the door. Mom came back and made the other kids come from the alley. She proceeded to tell us that we were never again to bother the man.
“But he took our ball and we didn’t do nothing wrong.” Oh, I was so clever and so right, but alas, that was my ego’s rationale. Defeated by my ego once again.
Mom explained that the old man worked nights and when we played and yelled so much, he couldn’t sleep. Not only that but also his wife had died recently, and that made it even harder for him to sleep.
Mom made the solution very clear, and it was not debatable: move further down the alley and play from now on, far enough so that the ball would not go into his yard. I think back at the smart-aleck kid I was that day, the audacity to throw little apples at a man’s house instead of going and asking Mom or some other adult what to do. It represented an immediate, angry, egoic response of destruction without considering the man’s situation.
Maybe that was excusable in some ways, because a bunch of six year olds couldn’t really harm anything except the man’s self-esteem, which was probably the worst part — coming out and yelling at kids and keeping their ball and having them actually attack his house with little apples. My mom let us know, let me know, that day that we should always talk to someone who will listen before we go doing stupid, mean things to get our way. Stupid and mean are choices, and actions based on those qualities would always end up about being right rather than being loving and compassionate. I felt burning shame at my mom’s gentle scolding.
It’s too bad that movements, religions, and leaders of nations do not have the ability to discern when they are lobbing crabapples at one another’s houses, that they cannot for one day empathize with others, no matter how different they are. And it is a sickening shame that they would rather be right than spare human life. I don’t care how simplified it is, it’s just no different: it’s ego over heart, the calm, purposeful, resolving, peaceful nature of the heart.
Are we shooting self-righteous crabapples at others because we are right and they are wrong? Stop it, and listen to the heart. When we realize who we really are and live with the purpose of expressing that pure Self, we would just move down the alley to play.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!