Gino practically lived at the bowling alley back in the day. He overflowed on the stool he was always planted in and, at twice our age, had a ton of life experience that far exceeded any of ours. Perpetually angry and untrusting, he glared at all who walked by and couldn’t wait to slap down our hopes and dreams with stories of how the world slapped down his first.
He told his tales of bad men and worse women. There were yarns of heartbreak, hatred, and evil that all seemed to center around some common themes. Don’t let the world take advantage of you. Strike hard. Strike fast. Strike first. Get yours before someone else does. It’s a cruel world.
We laughed at Gino because, well, it was funny. His attitude didn’t seem real and the Al Bundy approach to life was more of a caricature than reality. We were young, vibrant, and with a zest for living that sizzled with each new dawn. If we could build these dreams together, standing strong forever, nothing was gonna stop us now.
Then, a funny thing happened on the way to eternity. Something stopped us.
It made no sense the first time I realized that being good to people could be treated so badly back. I was everything I was told to be. Although I followed the checklist of good neighbor requirements just like Mr. Rogers said and yet, here I was, stranded in the land of make-believe. I’d done everything right and I had been punished for it.
That happens. You try to put good in the world and, positive internet quotes notwithstanding, karma sometimes abandons you when you need it most. You’re left standing there with a look of astonishment. How could this be? I’m the good guy. This isn’t supposed to happen.
In the face of confusing defeat, you make a stand not to let this negative experience change you and – good for you – it doesn’t. It didn’t when it happened to me. I kept on keeping on. I overcame and I didn’t let those people crush my spirit. It sounds like a big victory and it felt like one too.
But here’s the secret that you don’t learn until you’ve lived a lot more life. Are you ready?
Coming out of that first one unscathed is easy.
Sorry to say, but it’s true. The first time you get screwed over by circumstances despite behaving as the beacon of benevolence, it’s simple to shrug your shoulders and blame those around you. You tell yourself that the world is still good. It’s just these particular dipsticks who aren’t. By and large, everyone out there is fantastic and you must have just wandered into a bad hand. The experience doesn’t sour you because you know, deep down, the right thing is still appreciated.
And, quite often, it is. Don’t get me wrong. Treat others well and you’ll find that many of them treat you well back. Don’t get it twisted. There is good in the world. It exists. I promise you. That first miserable experience isn’t the way it will always be. However…it is also not an anomaly. It’s neither the rule nor the exception. It just is. Weathering the undeserved story is a casualty of being who you are.
I may have emerged at twenty with a pearly smile and crooked halo but at forty-three, I stand here with many more examples of when it has happened again and again and again. Those are the casualties. Betrayals by friends, family, and loved ones who you never thought would leave your side pile up and you don’t know why. In some cases, it feels like the more you tried to do good, the more bad they sent back your way. Pretty soon, you have a laundry list of those who have done you wrong and you start to think that you must be the common denominator in all of it.
You’re not. I’m not. They are. And that’s just how it is. One of the reasons people stand in aww of those who devote themselves to lifting others up is because it is so rare. It’s so rare because often the rewards don’t equal the effort. Some people, cut from your cloth, will love you for it and see the good you do. Others will see you as someone they can use up until all your perceived value to them is gone. Then they’re gone.
I’ve been around those people and, in almost every case, it’s hard to spot until the ship is sinking. They’re the emotionally bankrupt, self-righteous, users of the world who take and take until they’ve taken it all. In the end, you kick yourself for letting it happen yet again. A voice inside you says, “Why do you do these things for people?” Voices outside you say it too. Every ounce of your being knows that you can avoid future pain by just turning into that person on a bar stool glaring at those who pass by. You’re so close to turning Gino.
You don’t though and I know why you don’t because I don’t either. That’s another secret about the type of person I am. I don’t change because this unselfish life I try to live is actually born out of selfishness. I am not the person I am for them, I’m the person I am for me. I want to be a positive force in the universe. I need to put more good into the world than I take from it. I don’t know why exactly. Sometimes I think it just makes me feel good to try to be that person. It’s as simple as that.
Instead of changing, I scratch those specific people off the list and move forward, although more aware of red flags in future interactions. I don’t change who I attempt to be in order to avoid future hurt. I don’t let them turn me into the same people who hurt me. I never will. I want to be the best me I can be and, if I let them take that from me, then I truly have lost. Instead, I persevere and keep smiling.
Besides, I know they hate that most of all.
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