No Strings Attached
How important is it to offer our love, especially to those closest to us, with no strings attached?
Ernest Hemingway wrote a poignant short story called “The Capital of the World.” In it he tells about a Spanish father who wants to reconcile with his son who has run away to Madrid. In order to locate the boy he takes out this ad in the El Liberal newspaper: "Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven. Love, Papa."
Paco is a common name in Spain, and when the father goes to the square he finds 800 young men named Paco waiting for their fathers.
What drew them to the hotel? As Hemingway tells it, it was the words “All is forgiven.” I notice that the father did not say, “All WILL BE forgiven IF you do this or that.” Not, “All WILL BE forgiven WHEN you do such and such.” He simply says, “All is forgiven.” No strings attached.
And that’s the hard part – un-attaching the strings. Wiktionary tells us that the origin of the expression “no strings attached” may go back to ancient times when documents were written on parchment that were rolled up and secured with a string. The Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Bava Metzi'a tells of a man who gives his wife a bill of divorce on such a parchment, but holds onto the string so that he can snatch it back, should he choose to do so. The divorce, therefore, is not considered valid since he will not give it freely. Similarly, love, forgiveness or friendship that is given with strings and conditions attached are a sham and not valid, since they can be snatched back at any time.
An unknown author beautifully portrays the possibilities of no-strings-attached love in this heartfelt story titled “The Rock.”
As she grew older her teenage daughter became increasingly rebellious. It culminated late one night when the police arrested her daughter for drunk driving. Mom had to go to the police station to pick her up.
They didn’t speak until the next afternoon. Mom broke the tension by giving her a small gift- wrapped box. Her daughter nonchalantly opened it and found a little rock inside.
She rolled her eyes and said, “Cute, Mom, what’s this for?”
“Read the card,” Mom instructed.
Her daughter took the card out of the envelope and read it. Tears started to trickle down her cheeks. She got up and lovingly hugged her mom as the card fell to the floor.
On the card were these words: “This rock is more than 200,000,000 years old. That is how long it will take before I give up on you.” This mother is not saying, “I will love you IF…” Instead she says that she will love her daughter forever and nothing can change that. No strings attached.
When we learn to love like that, I think we’ll understand the words of Emmett Fox, who said, “If you could only love enough, you could be the most powerful person in the world.”
-- Steve Goodier
When They Trespass Against Us
I saw a sign in a church parking lot. It read: "Parking for Church Use Only. Violators will be towed." I wondered if it might be more effective if some humor were used: "Parking for Church Use Only. Violators will be baptized and expected to tithe." That should clear the lot.
I heard of one church that posted a sign that read, "We forgive those who trespass against us; but they will be towed all the same."
We've all had people trespass against us in one way or another. And we have each done our share of trespassing. The dictionary defines trespassing as any offense, transgression or error against others. Trespassing covers a huge territory. Though not always intentionally, I know I’ve trespassed plenty over the years and more people than I can remember have trespassed against me.
In his book Lee: The Last Years, author Charles Flood reports that after the American Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss.
After a brief silence, the general said, "Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it." He seemed to know that as long as she continued to recount her losses, she'd never get over them. She had to release the North from her debt in order to find anything like happiness again.
There’s a lot I have had to cut down and forget. I believe it’s the only way ahead. It’s the only way to really live after loss, hurt or insult. Cut it down and forget it.
Judith Wallerstein studied and wrote for years about the lives of people who experienced divorce. At first she was surprised to discover how long feelings of anger and hurt lingered after a divorce. Even ten years after papers were signed, Wallerstein noted that many former husbands and wives were still just as angry at one another as in the beginning. It’s as if they gazed every day in contempt upon the grand old tree that used to be their relationship, now scarred and irreparably damaged, and used the ritual to feed their bitterness. She noticed that some former spouses, years after a separation, still recited in detail negative violations and trespasses of the other. The problem? These unhappy people were trapped emotionally by their anger and bitterness.
People will always trespass against us. But there comes a time to cut the tree down and forget it. For in the end, I’ve discovered that only when I fully release others from my debt am I able to build the happy and productive life I want. And though cutting that tree down is rarely my first impulse, but it is my best final response to those who trespass against me.
-- Steve Goodier
A man walked into a bar, sat at the counter and ordered a beer. As he sipped the brew, he heard a soothing voice say, "Nice tie." He looked around but nobody was there. The place was empty save for himself and the bartender, washing glasses at the far end of the counter. A few moments later he heard the disembodied voice again: "Beautiful shirt." A little shaken, the man called the bartender over.
"Hey, I must be losing my mind," he said. "I keep hearing these voices saying nice things, and there's not a soul in here but us."
"It's the peanuts," answered the bartender.
"Say what?" replied the man in disbelief.
"You heard me," said the barkeep. "It's the peanuts . . . they're complimentary."
(Hmm. I should probably apologize for that. But let’s talk about compliments.)
Fulton Sheen once said, “Baloney is flattery laid on so thick it cannot be true, and blarney is flattery so thin we love it.” I’m not talking about baloney or blarney, but rather about sincere compliments and power they can have.
Eleanor Roosevelt never remembered being complimented by her mother. Anna was deeply disappointed in her daughter’s looks and demeanor. She often called young Eleanor “Granny.” To visitors, she would say, “She is such a funny child, so old-fashioned that we always call her Granny.”
“I wanted to sink through the floor in shame,” an older and wiser Eleanor later recalled.
In a similarly harsh vein, Anna sometimes admonished her young daughter, “You have no looks, so see to it that you have manners.” Yet through it all, Eleanor forever wanted her mother’s approval. But it wasn’t to be, for Anna died at the age of 29, when her daughter was only eight.
What could it have been like for little Eleanor if her mother shamed less and complimented more? Sincere compliments and acts of appreciation have the power to transform. We often remember them for years and they have a proven way of influencing future behavior.
Using compliments wisely was one of the secrets of the phenomenal success of Mary Kay Ash (of Mary Kay Cosmetics). “Everyone wants to be appreciated,” she often said, “so if you appreciate someone, don't keep it a secret." Likewise, Mark Twain famously said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” That probably goes for most of us.
What’s a GOOD compliment? It’s one that is both sincere and timely. Insincere flattery is false. It patronizes at best. But a sincere compliment is a heart-felt expression of appreciation. And when said in the right way at the right time, it has the power to call forth something beautiful in another.
One man changed his life by learning how to offer a simple compliment. “I never let a day go by without giving at least three people a compliment,” he says. He challenges others to give it a try. Since adopting this exercise, he says he has discovered an extraordinary response from other people. He adds that he is experiencing a growing appreciation for the various people in his life.
I have begun practicing the exercise myself. I am discovering that few things can so quickly change a relationship as the right word said at the right time. And what’s more, surprising someone with a compliment can be a fun thing to do.
Besides -- you can’t always depend on the peanuts to be complimentary.
-- Steve Goodier
Humor Can Make a Serious Difference
Thomas Watson, former CEO and chairman of IBM, was famous for putting the word “THINK” on prominent walls of every IBM building. The tradition has carried on into modern times. Not long ago in a restroom at IBM's Watson Center, a supervisor placed a “THINK” sign directly above the sink.
The next day, when he entered the restroom, he glanced at the sign. Just below it and immediately above the soap dispenser, someone had carefully lettered another sign that which read: “THOAP!”
How often do you laugh at work? Actually, humor can make a serious difference. In the workplace, at home, in all areas of life – looking for a reason to laugh is necessary. A sense of humor helps us to get through the dull times, cope with the difficult times, enjoy the good times and manage the scary times.
Case in point: six-year-old Hannah. Hannah encountered one of the most frightening times of her life when she discovered she had cancer. Six years old and she might not live. And if she were to give life a shot, Hannah would have to endure painful, almost endless medical treatments. At one point she lost all her hair due to chemicals pumped into her tiny body. On days when she felt strong enough to get out, she often covered her head.
One day while shopping with her mother, Hannah donned a ball cap with a fake pony tail sewn into the back. Unless one looked closely, she looked as if she had a full head of hair. Before long Hannah noticed a small boy staring at her as if he were trying to figure out what was slightly off about the girl. She tried to ignore him, but he followed her around the store. Finally, she ripped off her cap revealing her shiny, hairless head. In a stern voice she warned, “This is what happens when you don't eat your vegetables!”
I don't know what became of the boy, but I suspect he is now a committed vegetarian. As for Hannah, her sense of humor helped get her through one of life's scariest times.
Like entertainer Bob Hope once said, "I've seen what a good laugh can do. It can transform tears into hope." And sometimes, a little more hope is all we need.
-- Steve Goodier