At first blush, it might seem that in a more perfect world, we might grow up surrounded only by individuals who model integrity and productivity for us. We would emulate and imitate what we grew up observing, and bam, we’d be winners.
Alas, ours is a complex, contrasting world, and for as many examples of positive, shining behavior as there are, there are as many individuals whose actions seem to embody the phrase, “what not to do.”
It’s easy to imitate healthy, successful, loving traits and tendencies. But the lesson of What Not To Do can be at least as effective as the lesson of What To Do.
Seeing a poor example of a way of living, working, and being can be hugely informative on the choices we make for ourselves.
The son who grows up with an alcoholic father observes how the substance severely interferes with a person’s ability to lead a healthy life. As a result, he pledges to abstain from alcohol for the entirety of his life, and becomes the kind of father he always yearned for.
The employee who suffers for years under a deriding boss learns just how important it is to make people feel valued. She offsets the negativity spun by her boss by championing camaraderie and compassion in the office.
The child who grows up with parents lacking financial know-how, whose experience of childhood is an endless stream of creditors and money-anxiety and arguments about who bought what for how much?! resolves never to find himself in such a scenario. He takes it upon himself to set up a savings account, and pay his bills on time, and believe in the abundance that he is owed by the sheer virtue of having been born.
There are endless examples of individuals who have taken the lesson of What Not To Do and used it to fuel healing, positivity, productivity, and peace.
We don’t have to resent models of Not-ness. We can be grateful for them.
Grateful for a non-functional alcoholic father. Grateful for a condescending boss. Grateful for financially irresponsible parents. Grateful for the struggle. Grateful for the unpleasant task of being immersed in a situation that felt or feels so intrinsically opposite to what is right and good and smart.
What matters is not so much the quality of the examples we have had as it is how we use those examples to transform ourselves. There are plenty of people who have had seemingly stellar examples of What To Do and who have grown up to become poster children for the What Not To Do Camp.
The choice falls to us: forgive mistakes of the past, and use whatever we have been given to propel ourselves forward in a more loving, actualized direction, or stay stuck in a pit of anger, hostility, and resentment for what we weren’t given.
Ask yourself: How can I use what has happened to me to do and be better?