In the post where I told about the conversation I had with a woman at Burlington Coat Factory, I said I wasn’t all that “Dutch” anymore when it comes to being forthright. I do need to say that those I’m close to: old friends, relatives, my kids, and especially their spouses, would disagree with that. I tend to bud in too much, and say what I think waaaay too much, and am entirely forthright and even ruthlessly honest to a lucky few. In fact, those “lucky few” probably wonder how bad I’d be if I hadn’t been Americanized. Soooo, I guess around them I’m still pretty Dutch. You know who you are! Love you!
This wise quote by Reverend J.H. Boetcker, a relgious leader and influential speaker, is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln:
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds.
You cannot build character and initiative by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.
Reverend Boetcker was born in 1873 and died in 1962. This quote was included in a pamphlet distributed in 1916 which also included quotes byLincoln. It is believed that this is when these words started being attributed to Lincoln. Even though the part about Lincoln saying them isn’t true, the words reverberate truth. Honest Abe couldn’t have said it better!
“Excuse me, could I get your opinion?” she asks me. “What do you think of this jacket?”
Oh oh. I don’t like the way the jacket flairs straight out from her waist like a tutu, but I really don’t want to tell her that. I don’t even know her. “It’s a really good color on you,” I say instead.
“What about the style?” asks the woman.
Again I scramble for words. “Well, I couldn’t get away with that style, but you’re a lot thinner than I am.”
“You don’t think I look like one of those munchkins in the Wizard of Oz?”
“Heaven’s no. Not at all.” More like a ballerina, I am thinking.
One of my Dutch aunts would probably have told her without hesitation what she thought of the jacket. My mother tends to lay things on the table as well. But I was only born in Holland, I wasn’t raised there. I was raised in America and I’ve been Americanized. In general, Americans are more careful and less outspoken than the Dutch.
“So you don’t think it makes me look fat? Seriously, you can be honest,” the woman says now.
“Fat? Noooo.” Sheesh, is she kidding? She looks like she weighs about ninety pounds.
“You like it then?”
I remain evasive. “Like I say, you can get away with it.”
The woman nods, obviously unsure of how to interpret what I’m saying. “Okay, thanks.” Frowning, she continues to study herself in the mirror.
“No problem.” I move to the next aisle and scan the rack for a casual jacket in a neutral color. Even though it’s still too warm for a jacket, I’m here because that will all change in a matter of weeks. Last year I procrastinated until it was too late and then never did get a coat. But now, instead of seriously looking, I’m feeling bad that I wasn’t more upfront with this lady. I almost wrote an article about this subject once—that it’s good to be tactful, but that sometimes we hedge far more than is necessary. I don’t know that I want to be as blunt as some Dutch, but I’ve known for some time that I’m a little too Americanized. I mean the woman did ask. I sigh, readjust my purse on my shoulder, and move back in her direction. “You still look confused,” I say.
“I am,” she answers.
“Soooo do you want me to tell you what I really think?”
“Yes!” she says anxiously. “Of course!”
“Okay . . . the truth is I really like the jacket, but I’m not that crazy about the way it flairs out from the waist. That’s the only thing that bothers me about it.” There I said it. Only now I feel like I need to remedy the problem. “There isn’t any way to take it in a little, is there?”
The woman quickly lifts the bottom portion of the jacket and studies the lining. “Hmmm, I don’t know. It looks like it’s made to flair out.”
I study the lining with her. Shoot, she’s right. The seams angle out. “I guess that wouldn’t work,” I admit.
The woman turns back to the mirror: “I do like this jacket, but I totally see what you mean.”
“If you like it, then it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks,” I say, feeling bad again.
The woman examines the bottom edge of the jacket. “Wait, it looks like there’s a draw string. Look at this!” She begins pulling at a cord.
I am relieved. “Oh good!” Maybe we’ll have a happy ending after all.
“How’s that?” she asks.
“That’s much better!” And it really does look better. But I’m on a truth roll now. “It’s kind of bunched though.”
With adept fingers, the woman quickly spreads out the gathers.
I am even more relieved, in fact, I’m amazed. “That really looks good now! ” The bottom section of the jacket is no longer sticking out.
The woman is smiling at herself in the mirror as she turns from side to side. “I really like it now too! I couldn’t decide before because like you said, the style was a little different, but yes, I really like it now.”
I am smiling as well. I’m glad I came clean, even though it was hard for me. I feel happy— liberated. I also feel happy for this woman. Sometimes the kindest thing we can be is honest.
It bothers me when those who win the bronze or silver in Olympic events act as if they’re failures because they didn’t win the gold. Seriously? I want to say to them, Hey, you’re going to be standing on a podium. It’s an honor to even qualify for the Olympics and you were one of the top three! There are zillions of us sitting here on our you-know-whats watching you on TV. I feel good about myself for just walking around the block a couple of times and look what you accomplished. Get that frown of your face, for heaven’s sake. What’s the matter with you?
I just came across this job interview tip in an old Reader’s Digest: Eye contact, it basically said, is important, but should be “‘consistent but not constant”” (so as not to) “creep anyone out with too much intensity.” I probably would have laughed a little and thought Really? if I hadn’t had my own problem with eye contact once. In fact, it’s been over ten years and there are still people who kind of back away from me when they see me; a couple of ladies who take their husband’s arms possessively and look at me suspiciously when I’m around; a former neighbor who hurriedly puts on his sunglasses when we run into each other, and even an acquaintance from a former job who, I’m pretty sure, suspects I have, you know, tendencies.
Well, here’s how this all got started: One day I caught myself looking over a friend’s shoulder when she was in the middle of a story and decided I really needed to do better about showing I’m paying attention and looking people in the eye. So that’s what I began trying to do. Well, the medication I was on may have contributed, but let’s just say my efforts backfired. I apparently overdid it and could sense that those I was talking to felt uncomfortable. I became self-conscious and that made it worse. Yes, I know. I know. It’s another one of those That’s funny, but isn’t situations. My husband, in fact, thought it was hilarious when I finally told him about the problem I’d once had, especially the part about the acquaintance from a former job, and he immediately did this googly eyed thing which he continued doing after that whenever I walked into the room. Bless his heart.
Luckily, most people I talked with during that period knew me well enough that they just seemed to take my problem with a shrug, no doubt guessing correctly that I had a temporary quirk. Coincidentally (or not) the problem pretty much subsided after I stopped taking the medicine I mentioned, and then things were fine again. But I also need to give credit elsewhere. I’ve prayed about some interesting things in my life and that was one of them. My answer then was the same as it was back when I was an adolescent and had even more severe self-consciousness challenges: “It’s not about you. Forget about yourself and quit worrying about the impression YOU might be making, and just sincerely and genuinely care about others.” And isn’t that generally the answer when it comes to these kinds of issues?