My mom made a poster when I was a small child and hung it in the living room. A lesson accompanied the poster based on Proverbs 23:7.
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: …© 2021 King James Bible Online
Mama taught me that thoughts control the outcome of life. It was a great lesson and one I remembered well. Her poster shown below was a daily reminder of her philosophy. The stories and examples she told illustrated the lesson well; though they were quite one-dimensional.
One of Mom’s stories was about a boy named Johnny. He lived with his mother and baby sister, Lizzie. Johnny’s birthday was just around the corner and his Mama told him that she couldn’t afford a cake or gift for him, but she agreed to cook his favorite meal. Johnny knew that his Mama worked hard at the laundry to pay rent and bills. He knew she often worried about the high cost of food. The very next day, Johnny found a five-dollar bill on the playground at school. He knew he should turn the money into the teacher, but he also thought about his birthday. He always picked chocolate cake because it was Lizzie’s favorite. This year, there would be no cake at all. If he kept the five dollars, he could buy the ingredients for the cake and get some ice cream, too. However, he thought about honesty and how his Mama expected him to act. He turned the money into the teacher as he should, and she returned it to the student who lost it. Johnny still did not get cake, but he knew that being honest was a better gift to himself than chocolate cake.
That story was a great teaching tool for children, but for adults, the answer is not always so clear. When I was thirty-four, I worked as a teacher and cared for my four children. My x-husband had earned full visitation rights back, but I worried for the kids’ safety because of his past violent incidences, and the dialogue they shared afterward indicated unsafe conditions and negligence. Money was tight and there was rarely a child support payment. I thought maybe I should use what little money I had saved to go back to court to amend visitation and petition for support payments. I questioned my motivations, though. “What kind of person am I? The kids love those visits. Monetarily, I am doing ok, and even managing to save a bit.”
My Mom’s character lesson played back on my mental video recorder. It was not a good idea. Protective mother and honest financier were both strong character traits, but the kids were safe for the moment, and the bills were paid. Cruel X-wife never became part of my character. I waited until it was imperative to change visitation, and I never petitioned for support because I managed just fine without it.
How can adults build good character? Haven’t we become who we are at a certain age? Many may disagree with me, but I do not think our actions are set at any age. I believe people change throughout their lives. Some changes are for the better, and some are for the worse. The following four actions led to personal positive change for me.
FIRST: Make a List
I identified some behaviors that I did not like about myself, and I decided to change. I kept a journal, and I used it to make my list. Dividing a page into two parts, I wrote a heading at the top of each part. Behaviors I Don’t Like and Behaviors I Like were the headings I used. I already knew of some actions that could go on each list, but as the days passed, I added more when I did something that caused me to feel good or bad. I think I physically listed these acts for about three weeks.
SECOND: Talk to Someone
Back in the ’80s, I began regular talks with a minister about my need to change. I was broke and these talks were free. Our conversations led to some reading for me because my conversations and questions centered around the word “why”. I did not understand that I continuously gave my power over my life to others. He recommended scriptures to read, and a couple of books. I found the books and dove in learning a great deal in a brief period. Overwhelmed, yet jubilant, I discovered some of the “whys” behind my actions.
THIRD: Read Good Books
This list contains some of the books I started reading. They are pretty old, but full of wonderful information. The way I came across Zen quotes was offhand. December of 2013, I shopped for Christmas presents at Barnes and Noble. They always have items on a table upfront; obviously so that customers will grab things as they stand in line. It worked. I needed a calendar for my desk at work, and I saw a beautiful box with a lotus flower labeled Zen Page-a-Day Calendar. I had been learning mindfulness techniques with my counselor, so I thought those quotes might be interesting. When 2014 started, each day I read the daily quote before I began my five to ten-minute mindfulness meditation. If the quote felt deeply meaningful to me, I carried it in my pocket for a few days reading it again often. The next time one became a pocket carry-to-read, I taped the former pocket quote on my bedside shelves for a month. Amazingly, this little $4 box changed my thinking that year! You just need to ask around and search for reading material that helps you change your thinking.
- The Road Less Traveled. M. Scott Peck. 1978
- Codependent No More. Melodie Beatty. 1986
- Boundaries. John Townsend, Henry Cloud. 2017
- The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. Don Miguel Ruiz. 1997.
- The Alchemist. Paulo Coelho. 1988.
- Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 Minutes a Day to Less Stress, More Peace. Patricia Collard.
- Tough Times Never Last but Tough People Do. Dr. Robert H. Schuller. 1983.
- As a Man Thinketh. James Allen. 1903
- Buddha’s Book of Meditation : Mindfulness Practices for a Quieter Mind, Self-Awareness, and Healthy Living. Joseph Emet. 2015
- Zen Page-A-Day Calendar. David Schiller. New Each Year
FOURTH: Visit with a Licensed Counselor
By the early ’90s, I had learned enough from the minister and the books to know that I needed more help. I visited a family support office and initiated counseling sessions for a modest charge. I worked and had insurance, but I couldn’t afford the co-pays. The therapist I saw weekly helped, but there wasn’t a strong rapport with him. As I learned and grew more confident, I also became positive. I lapsed in counseling two or three times over the years until I finally found a therapist with whom I connected. She and I worked on different aspects of my choosing over several years until the 20teens.
Hopefully, readers will understand that compared to most of the population, I was quite average, or normal. I wasn’t mentally ill, but I needed help learning how to take control of my decisions and my life. I plainly did not know how I had the right and the responsibility to determine the outcome of my life. When all people understand that every adult human being has the privilege to think for himself or herself and that each of us can choose to agree or disagree without fear, we will have a much healthier society.