by Jean V. Dickson
“I remember back to when we still lived in Saskatchewan. Your Aunt Hazel was only 15 but even then she loved to cause trouble. I remember the time ....”
Aunt Hazel - could they tell stories about the disreputable Aunt Hazel. Whenever they talked of Hazel, mom would shake her head, her forehead lined with disapproval.
Aunt Hazel wasn’t the only member of our family with a propensity for naughtiness. If I had been born 50 years before, Uncle Henry would have been telling stories about me. But I wasn’t, so it was up to my father to fill the role.
Getting a story out of my father was harder than finding a dry spot under a waterfall. Except for when it came to telling this story about me. “When you were little, we were building this house. One weekend, I got up early in the morning, had my breakfast and then headed out to where I had left my tools. When they weren’t there, I figured a certain little monkey had taken them.”
He would peer at me over the top of his bifocals and continue, “I never would have guessed you had buried them - right there, out in the back yard, under the fir trees.”
But that’s not the only story that could have provided listening entertainment for the family circle. Uncle Henry could have said of another one of my exploits, “Spur of the moment - you never did think ahead, Jean.”
It was seeing that garter snake that put the awful idea in my head. At three, I wasn’t scared of snakes. But at 42, my mother was petrified of them. So when I saw that snake I saw the means to get back at my mother for some imagined wrong. Giggling with glee, I picked up that snake, and carried it to our front door. Holding the snake in the one hand, I opened the mail slot with the other. Slowly I forced the snake through the opening and into our front hall. I hugged myself with delight, relishing my mother’s shriek of fear. Unfortunately I didn’t think about what would happen afterwards.
You would think I had learned my lesson by the time I hit my teen years. But at 14, I was just as bad as ever. My sister and I were vacationing in the Hawaiian Islands. Gail had visited the islands three years before and was passionate about infecting me with her appreciation for them.
“Oh, Jean, you’ll love the seven sacred pools.”
I turned towards her with a look that said exactly what I thought. You see I had met a cute teenage boy the day before. I wanted to spend this day with him.
But my sister insisted on sharing this special place with me. Disregarding the oppressive humidity and heat, Gail bundled me into the car. An hour into one 180 degree curve after another, the sight of that peaceful flock of sheep at the side of the road was just too much for me. I started shouting, “Baaaaaa, Baaaaa” every time my sister honked the horn, just before heading into another one-lane blind curve. After 4 corners, my sister turned to me and roared, “Shut up! You’re a bad girl.”
Did I listen to her? Yes - and no. Because I didn’t stop misbehaving - but I did catch on to that phrase. And instead of yelling, “Baaa,” for the next two hours I shouted, “I’m a baaaad girl, a baaaad girl.”
If Uncle Henry had heard this story, he would have stated, “You always were a bad girl...but I never thought you would have admitted it yourself.”
Now I realize that I’m giving you the impression that everything I did was bad. But that isn’t the case. I did do a lot of good things - for instance....
Now, just give me a few minutes - perhaps I can think of something....
That, ladies and gentlemen, is my point. We love to remember the bad things. We laugh at how Uncle John can’t hold down a job. Or how Susie is late for everything - even her own wedding.
Michael Michalko tells a true story about a company that commissioned a consulting firm to determine why one department was creative and another wasn’t. After a year of intensive study, the consultants discovered that the only difference was that the creative team saw themselves as creative - while the low performers believed they weren’t.
The moral of the story is that: what you believe about yourself - becomes reality. And our family stories are the soil from which these beliefs grow.
I was fortunate, because even though my actions were often less than sterling, the only naughty episode my mother and father reminded me of was burying my dad’s tools. All their other stories were of achievement and success. As a result, I grew up believing I was smart, artistic, and able to conquer the largest challenge. Aunt Hazel wasn’t quite as fortunate.
We all have stories that we tell in our family circles. I urge you to let your stories be positive. Grow your family’s character by dwelling on strengths, not weaknesses.
Who knows what would have happened to the disreputable Aunt Hazel if 50 years before some of our family stories had started, “Hazel, now she sure is one clever woman. I remember the time...”
Jean V. Dickson is a Canadian-based entrepreneur who puts creativity's ZING into training and communications. For more information on creativity and innovation, visit www.jvdcreativity.com and www.experientialexercises.com. Put some ZING into your corporate communications at www.powerpointjoint.com. For church zing, see www.fatsheep.org and www.worshipzing.com.