Looking for Prejudice? You'll Find It.
This post has been nominated for BlogHer '14's VOTY, Voices of the Year award. If you agree it deserves such an honor, please vote here: http://bit.ly/1hqa5Sl Thank you!
VOTY Summary: A sad childhood with an unkind parent can provide for a heartwarming adulthood where nothing is ever hard again. To survive, a child develops coping skills allowing them to view life as a glass half full, rather than half empty. This conscious choice to have a positive outlook extends to contacts with other people. We all can choose to see interactions with people as good or bad. By choosing to see good, and giving other people the benefit of the doubt, more and more positive experiences can happen. One only has to decide to walk down "The Sunny Side of the Street."
My mother was not a happy woman. Which was odd, because the veneer she displayed to the world was that of smiley-face optimism.
She was also very cruel. Emotionally and physically. To me. You see, I was brown haired with olive skin and took after my father in my coloring, while my brother was blonde and fair. My mother was preferential toward blondes, and therefore, prejudiced against me. So, my first taste of being judged for my colors was in my own home, by my own mother, for all of the time I lived there, until I was seventeen.
In and among the outward platitudes my faux-optimist mother mouthed daily was, "Keep on the sunny side," a reference to a popular song from the Depression originally recorded by the Carter Family in 1928, with lyrics advising:
"Well there's a dark and a troubled side of life.
There's a bright and a sunny side too.
But if you meet with the darkness and strife,
The sunny side we also may view.
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life.
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,
If we keep on the sunny side of life.
The song was written in 1899, by Ada Blenkhorn, as a result of her daily pushing her nephew, who was in a wheel chair, on fresh air walks. He repeatedly requested to be pushed down the "sunny side of the street." And, she did. And, empowered by the uplifting mindset of this young man, Ms. Blenkhorn wrote the song, "Keep on the Sunny Side of Life."
The dichotomy of options for viewing any situation in life as a glass half-empty or half-full was taught to me early, as after my mother was physically abusive, she would wash dishes in the kitchen while singing, "Keep on the Sunny Side."
Before years of eventual counseling to emerge from this thorny thicket, I would cry in my room as a child. Hearing her singing meanwhile, I remember thinking how wonderful it was my mother could be so positive, while dealing with me, such an awfully bad little girl. She could always see the good in things, I marveled, while identifying with my captor in a Stockholm Syndrome-esque survival mode. I wanted to be just like her, only, I decided, I wouldn't hit my little girl.
Once, when I was older and was able to determine there were many things wrong with this picture, I was hard-pressed to see my mother's betrayal of a child's trust as anything but what it was. A sad, dirty secret I, myself, had kept to protect her, even as the nurse in the Emergency Room asked, "Honey, did your mommy do this to you?" and I had looked in her eyes, shook my head and said, "No."
We are all spirits out on a limb.
So, you can see why, in later counseling with gifted facilitators who instructed me to forgive and appreciate my mother, I had trouble coming up with things for which I could thank her. Eventually, however, I evolved my healing into appreciating one of her optimistic anecdotes, an old folktale, realizing it was the most valuable lesson a mother could give.
She used to tell me the story of the "man leaning against a rock." You see, a man leans on a big rock, on the road to town. A traveler walking down the road, stops to ask him how the people in the town are and what they're like, as he's looking for a new place to live. The man leaning on the rock asks the traveler how the people were in the town from whence he came. The traveler answers that they were cold, ill mannered and without compassion. The man leaning on the rock answers the people in the town are just the same. He suggests the traveler keep moving along.