Thursday, February 03, 2005

Rejecting Rejection

“Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another ...”
~ Romans 14:13

But it's all right now,
I learned my lesson well.
You see, you can't please everyone,
So you’ve got to please yourself

Garden Party ~ recorded by Rick Nelson

I seem to be stuck on a particular theme lately. For the past two weeks I’ve been writing about using your God-given talents to the fullest and following your heart until you find your niche. This week, I’d like to talk about the negative fallout that sometimes occurs when you succeed at “all of the above.” I’m referring to criticism and rejection.

“I hope when I'm a comedian – IF I'm a comedian – that they don't throw tomatoes at me."
Josh Umbehr ~ age 5

All of us have experienced some form of rejection in our lifetime – and it hurts. I remember when I was in the fifth grade we had a substitute teacher that was a real pushover. Admittedly, the class collectively took advantage of the situation, which included an all-out spitball fight. I don’t recall being the instigator, per se, but I suppose there’s a good chance that I was. At any rate, when our regular teacher returned and heard the bad report, she took me out in the hall, stuck her finger in my face and angrily said, “You think you’re the cat’s meow!” Her words really put a knife in my heart and made me feel like I was about one inch tall.

Two years later, I recall another incident involving my seventh grade teacher. School had already been dismissed for the day but I wanted to ask the teacher a question. So when I opened the door to our classroom I unknowingly interrupted a meeting he was having with another individual. For some reason, this really ticked him off. As a punishment, he gave me a paper filled with terrible things he had written about me. He then instructed me to write out the entire page fifty times! I’m not exaggerating when I say that his handwritten diatribe filled about three fourths of an 8 x 10 piece of paper. I still remember sitting at my desk in my bedroom and crying while I re-wrote that awful paper describing me in the most hateful way you can imagine. I know you’re probably wondering what he said but I really can’t remember that much, but I do recall one part of it. He wrote: “Cute, funny, Eileen thinks she is so cute and funny…..” This phrase was repeated over and over. I guess he wanted to humiliate me for interrupting him and he certainly succeeded

Then there was my 8th grade year, which was probably the hardest year of my life. I can’t tell you why, but the whole class basically decided to boycott Eileen Van Kirk.
Everyone in the class completely ignored me; no one would talk to me during lunch or play with me at recess. I was completely alone and every day I would go home and cry.

One particularly painful incident occurred one day when Sr. Colleen was out of the room for an extended period of time. I was sitting in the last chair in the back corner of the classroom when someone started passing something around from desk to desk. As each person looked at the paper, they laughed and passed it on to the next person. After making its way around the entire room, it finally made it to my desk. When I looked at the paper I saw that someone had drawn a diagram of me, complete with lines describing every part of my body in unflattering terms: straggly hair, knobby knees, hairy legs, funny rain hat. I was so humiliated and hurt that I just ran out of the room. When Sr. Colleen came out in the hall to talk to me I told her I was never coming back. She tried her best to comfort me and, of course, I did have to go back.

I think the hardest part was that not one single person in my class stood by my side. I could see sympathy in the eyes of a few of my classmates, but I guess they were too intimidated by the ringleaders and they didn’t want to become the object of such hatefulness.

The following year I attended the public school and my life made a complete turnaround. The greatest group of friends you would ever want to meet welcomed me into their circle: Margie Friedlander, Nan Turner, Jill Feldman, Sally McGuire and a host of other fun-loving girls. We were involved in sports and cheerleading and went skiing on the weekends. That’s why I was so devastated when I found out we were moving to Singapore – I didn’t want to leave my great new friends. But that’s another story.

In some ways I feel that experience helped prepare me for future rejection I would face. Ever since Keen started writing “My Perspective” back in 1989 the lines were clearly drawn. Many people hated him for his intrusion into the public affairs of Wabaunsee County and those who supported him were too afraid to show that support publicly, much like my sympathetic but fearful friends in the eighth grade. Keen and I never blamed people for wanting to protect themselves from similar retaliation, but it still hurt that no one – or very few people – stood by us.

Back in 1995, one of those faithful supporters, Linda Jernigan, sent us the following quote from The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli:

"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out or more doubtful of success, nor dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies...and only lukewarm defenders."

That brings us to the present day. I don’t know how many of you happened to read the article that Matt Moline wrote about my book project which appeared in the December 6, 2004 edition of The Topeka Capital-Journal under the title, “Tale of Trashman Detailed by Wife in Manuscript.” Of course I was very excited about finally completing the rough draft and getting it into the hands of my editor. I received quite a bit of feedback after the article was published, but I was not prepared for the letter I received from one woman who wrote to say that God told her I was a “bitter young woman” who has not been able to forgive.
Well, that sort of threw me for a loop at first, especially since we used to go to church with the woman who wrote the letter. I wondered why she assumed I was bitter and unforgiving just because I was writing a book about our experiences. This is a record of our personal history – one that I feel compelled to write. Furthermore, Keen and I don’t have any hatred or unforgiveness in our hearts towards anyone. Did we hate what they did to us? You bet. Did we hate the stress and financial strain the extended battle placed on our family? Absolutely. But we never hated them. There’s a big difference.
The author of the letter went on to explain that when she was a young girl her “wise old aunt” told her that the way to get rid of the warts on her hands was to bury her mother’s dish rag in a hole in the woods – and she claimed it worked. Then she wrote:

“I’d like to suggest you go to a timber area and dig a big hole and bury that 620 page manuscript in that deep hole and turn to Jesus and ask His forgiveness for yourself and for all the people who hurt you. Then you can begin living as a free person.”

The whole letter was very disconcerting and bizarre, although I really don’t think she wrote it in a mean-spirited way. Nonetheless, I decided not to respond because it sounded like she had already made up her mind about my motives.

“A writer lives with rejection…A writer needs the sensitivity of a butterfly in touching the outside world – and the skin of a rhino to withstand its disregard.”

~ Sophy Burnham, For Writers Only

This experience reminded me once again about the importance of “rejecting rejection.” I realize that I have to become thick-skinned and accept the fact that there will be many criticisms about my book. It’s like anything else in life – everyone has different tastes in food, clothing styles, movies, music, humor, and yes, books and newspaper columns.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” ~ Bill Cosby

I did receive some positive feedback on the article, however. One woman from Topeka sent a letter to Governor Sebelius suggesting that she issue an official proclamation recognizing Keen for his accomplishments. She said he was an inspiration and a role model.
So the comments go both ways – positive and negative. But the best way to handle it is not to let the praise go to your head or the criticism go to your heart. Because in actuality, it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks – good or bad.

“If my life is fruitless, it doesn’t matter who praises me: if my life is fruitful, it doesn’t matter who criticizes me.”
~John Bunyon

In the April 23-25, 2004 edition of USA Weekend Magazine, Maria Shriver was interviewed about her new role as the first lady of California. Maria talked about how she sought advice from several of her predecessors, including Nancy Reagan.
“Nancy gave me a great piece of advice,” Maria stated. “She said, ‘No matter what, you’ll be criticized. So do whatever you want to do.’”

Author Unknown

People are often unreasonable, illogical and
self-centered… forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish,
ulterior motives… be kind anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat or
malign you…be honest anyway.

What you spend years building, someone may
try to destroy overnight… build anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends
and some true enemies . . . succeed anyway

If you find serenity and happiness, some people
may be jealous…be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget
tomorrow…. do good anyway.

Give the world your best, and it may never be
enough… give the world your best anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you
and God…it was never between you and them, anyway.

“I receive not glory from men – I crave no human honor, I look for no mortal fame.”
~John 5:41 (Amp)