Those Things That Remain

July 6, 1963

Dear Mommy and Daddy,

I told you I would tell you why I condemn [R] plus her friends..It all started about the day before or the other day when we had Rest Hour.  [R] started writing notes.  I have a sample right here (you will find it in the envelope).  Today in the bathhouse while we were changing the girls got in a huddle and started to talk about me…It is getting worser and worser.  I feel very hurt and I want to come home on Visiting Day.  Please try and arrange something.

Love and 1,000 kisses,

Mimi

ps.  Please write back and tell me your answer.  Thank you.

July 1963

Dearest Mimi,

I am terribly sorry to hear that you are having problems with R.  What she is doing surely is not very nice or commendable, and if it spoils as much as an hour for you I am sad.  However the idea is to see how to correct this problem as quickly as possible.  We will do what we can and you must contribute also.  You are a big girl and I’m sure you realize that in life you take a little bad with the good.  If problems arise we must deal with the problem not run away from it.  This solves nothing – it only makes more problems…Perhaps you have contributed your share.  I know your first reaction would be no – but I’m sure that if you think about it you’ll realize that are always several sides to an issue and that you may have done your share here also…

When things go wrong we don’t back away, we stay [and] face them and work the thing out.  This way we get satisfaction.  When I get upset or discouraged I work harder until I’m happy.  I don’t run away to Mommy.  I’m sure you’ll find that you can work things out just fine and have a great summer at this marvelous camp.

Love,

Mommy

I was eight years old when I sent and received these letters (I must tell you that I’m impressed that I used the word “condemn”).  When my sister and I were growing up, New York kids with parents of certain means, would go to summer camp.  Parents saved up for this gift – getting their children out of a sweltering city with no available summer activities.  Although I still hurt for that kid, you should know that I eventually loved going to camp.  But in my eight year old heart, I felt broken and re-defined by this particular summer (I swear my letters contained more sorrowful commentary than any Allen Sherman song).

To abbreviate the tale, I was redeemed by some talent or another that was greeted with enthusiasm later in the summer.  Yet, some small part of me is still waiting for my parents to pick me up with dramatic indignation and bring me home.  Even if they were still here, I’m not sure they would.

I’ve worked with hundreds  of people throughout my career.  Early life lessons have taught me that the most critical question one can ask prior to any exchange is “who’s it for?”   Such a simple question, such a complicated answer.  Two partners at the firm were  engaged in an argument  over office space – each positively livid with each other.  I was receiving copies of their email exchanges – written as testaments to their positions.  Some of the most eloquent writing I’ve ever read.  When I spoke with one of them, his frustration was palpable – how could his friend not get it?  So I asked the question that informs most of my training programs, conversations with friends, etc – who is it for?  Fortunately, he laughed, threw an epithet in my direction and admitted that it was all for him.  He wanted his colleague to see the logic  of the decision, the sensitivity with which it was made – and at least acknowledge that as a leader he was unparalleled.

Cut to the next morning – and another email.  This time he wrote an email of apology – from hell.  You know the kind – ‘I’m sorry that you misinterpreted my position and for the purposes of rapprochement, I will explain it to you again.’  When he asked me for my thoughts – I again asked – ‘who was that for’?  He hung up on me.  He also picked up the phone and offered a genuine apology to his friend.  Thirty years later the three of us remember this incident similarly, which says something about the accuracy of the memory I think.

At the end of the day, it would seem that the idea began to germinate when I was eight.  The most successful dynamics are defined not by what we hope to gain, but by our understanding of what others want from us.  If we are able to provide that without compromising our belief systems, without upending our fragile sense of who we are, then the end result is potentially far more rewarding than we could have ever hoped.  I used to tease my mom, asking her to eliminate the words, ‘no’  and ‘but’ from her vocabulary.  Maybe we could also try using a little less ‘I’ and a lot more ‘you’?

7 thoughts on “Those Things That Remain

  1. I too have had my share of Karma and try and avoid it at all cost lol. I am a strong believer in Karma which is why I Try to do good by others….. have fallen short a few times but for the most part I keep good ole Karma on my radar. I love the blogs. Please keep them coming.

  2. I am sitting at dinner in California, alone, with tears in my eyes for that 8 year old child. My mom could have/ would have written a similar response. Because of the conversations we have shared, it is no surprise to me the way you mentored others during your professional career. To know you is to applaud your talents and basque in the glow of your wisdom ( not always obtained easily). Suffice it to say, if this is the beginning, I look forward with anticipation to the paths down which your. Logs will take us. I co tiniest to learn from you today as I learned from, and with you, back in the days of the schoolyard of 145. Hugs my dearest friend.

    • I believe the above should read…paths down which your blogs shall takes us. AND I continue to learn… It was late, my eyes were closing…

  3. 8 years old is such a scarey, painful place to spend a year. In this fearful season as they move from sweet, innocent naivete, girls are vicious to one another as they climb over ‘downed’ bodies for survival.

    Your personal example and your parents’ response are being sent to my daughters as excellent reference material!

    I love your wsgon-full

  4. Thanks Carrie! It’s true – and the things that little girls can do to each other can be pretty cruel…And yet, even those painful memories can shape us into decent grown ups (we hope..:-)

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