Often, I share about my grandfather (Daddy) and the love he showed his grandchildren. He really was a good man. He was not perfect by any means but he did not waiver on things that were out of sync with doing what was right when no one was around to see. One of his favorite sayings was “fair is fair”. Those words were usually followed up by “ball or strike”. One day, I am going to write a book about his poetic sayings.
Once, I accompanied my grandfather to a meeting held at our community lodge. Watching Daddy on the front row, I thought I was going to hear one of his fiery speeches about doing what is right because it is the right thing to do. But on this particular night, things would not be normal . The tone in the room was not what I had expected. Even at the age of nine, I knew something was different about this crowd.
The crowd had gathered to debate a hotly contested ordinance being proposed. Some community leaders were urging folks to vote for a law that was not good legislation according to my grandfather. Daddy adamantly opposed the measure and did not hide his disdain for those supporting it. In this public hearing, Daddy’s critics never called him by name but there was no doubt that he was the object of their dissatisfaction. I watched for hours as one speaker after another took pot shots at my grandfather. He never said a word and a few times, I caught him smiling. I sat in disbelief wondering why Daddy was not speaking up for what he believed in or refusing to address the group to defend his point of view.
On the drive home, I asked Daddy about the meeting. With much confidence, Daddy responded, “Never bet against the truth; you must learn to pick your battles”. At nine, my lack of comprehension showed on my face so my grandfather served up this nugget of knowledge that I use often, “Never argue with a fool, they will either win the argument or kill you.” Later that week, several individuals met with my grandfather to thank him for not debating with the noise makers. His silence spoke volumes, they told him. That was the first of many meetings where I saw my grandfather win the battle of words by never uttering a sound. He was an old school passionate orator but from time to time, he would fall silent and allow his lack of verbal engagement diffuse a situation or get others to speak up instead of waiting on him to be the messenger.
Several weeks ago, I got to experience how my grandfather felt firsthand. I attended a meeting that left me wondering had I a missed a Prozac pill. I thought I was attending a meeting to discuss empowering others to be the best they can be and mobilizing individuals to be more educated about issues in the community. I was ready to soak up whatever knowledge that was going to be shared. I had my sleeves rolled up to learn new ways to tackle old issues with relevant goals and defined action plans. As with most folks and good intentions, you get what you get. Nothing in life is a guarantee.
Folks, I sat in a meeting, which I initially thought would be informative and motivating, dodging bullets and daggers. Damn! I did not get the memo to come dressed in amour. One speaker took great pleasure weaving belittling comments into a message about leadership. There was no hiding the fact-less infused lecture with its saccharine coated ugly tones, there was an issue with me. Before you ask, my name was never spoken. Are you surprised? Me either. As my amusement grew by the minute, I saw out the corner of my eye several individuals sitting stoned faced and showing signs of being uncomfortable with what was taking place for all to see and hear. I thought to myself, Daddy would have loved this meeting! I could visualize him twisting his Mason ring around on his finger while never looking away from the speaker. Channeling my grandfather, I twisted my diamond ring on my finger and found myself fascinated with counting the number of biting remarks that were meant to either hurt or humiliate.
At one point, I started taking notes because I would hate to leave this one out of my upcoming book. Not to get even but because I needed to record what was taking place within my spirit. I did not get upset or walk out. I pinched myself several times to make sure I had not dozed off or was having an out of body experience. I was actually listening quietly to words that were not having an effect on me. My grandfather words came rushing back to me, “pick your battles”. This was not a battle; this was a pissing match and I was not a bed wetter. I had nothing to prove. I had spoken truth to a few folks and the result of speaking up was this angry crazed tirade I was pinned in my seat hearing. Riveting. On the drive home, I found myself laughing as if I seen a comedy routine. Does personal growth and revelation come with bouts of laughter? Instead of fuming and ready to take folks to the shed, I was laughing at what I experienced. Prozac does not produce that kind of response.
By the time I made it home, calls apologizing for my experience were pouring in from many individuals that I respected. Each apology was heartfelt and genuine. Their phones calls made me respect them even more. Unbeknownst to me, several expressed their indignation at the meeting not being about serving others. I did not have to mention that the meeting was not as it was billed. Although my experience was meant to humiliate me, I witnessed folks willing to do the right thing even when no one was looking. I realized something had changed in me. Not one to hold my tongue when mayhem and foolishness rear their ugly heads, surprisingly, I was silent. By not engaging in petty words that faithful day, I took in what was said and made a decision to use my time building others up for the greater good of everyone, including myself.
Since the meeting, I taped the notes from that day near my calendar to remind me of the lesson from my grandfather that was revealed years later. It took courage for him to hold back. I cherish those actions from the lodge that I witnessed; his strength in his silence, the twisting of his ring and smiling while staring intently at a speaker hurling clandestine insults. He was showing me not every battle is worthy of my energy and to always leave foolish arguments for fools to debate. After a few days, I sent a note to the speaker expressing thanks for a presentation that had a positively profound effect on me. Growth is good. How was your week?
Genma Stringer Holmes
More from living