How do we want to show up as characters in other people’s stories?
Last week we talked about those moments when someone said or did something that made your life fundamentally better, called lollipop moments. Because we never know when something we say or do will be pivotal to someone else, it’s pretty crucial that we be mindful of all our interactions. Even the ones that seem mundane, maybe even especially the ones that seem mundane. But, if we’re honest, we don’t always interact as our best selves and almost certainly appear in someone else’s narrative in a less than favorable light. While we can be the character who shows up at a critical turning point with an encouraging word, we can just as easily be the villain of that story. Or perhaps worst of all, have no impact at all. We get to decide, and we decide in every moment, facial expression, and word that we say. We decide with our kindness or our lack thereof.
Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts.
-George Matthew Adams
These little moments, both good and bad, leave an indelible impression and have the power to inform our choices and beliefs long into the future. This is especially true of children. Most of us can vividly recall something critical one of our grade school teachers said about one of our early masterpieces. Even as adults, one critique delivered thoughtlessly could ignite deep-seated doubt or insecurity. It definitely has the ability to sour the whole day, perhaps the entire week.
The truth is, we rarely know what is in someone else’s heart or on their mind, so we should strive to go gently and with kindness as if everyone is constantly at a tipping point, vulnerable to our impact.
But we don’t.
We’re human. But we can strive to be better. We can own every single day how powerfully we can impact the lives of everyone around us, from our closest friends to the young man bagging our groceries. Because when we don’t believe we are powerful and we don’t own our influence, we don’t watch our words. We don’t think what we say has any lasting importance, and that carelessness can be hurtful, unsupportive, or even cruel.
I still remember the math teacher who belittled me in front of my peers and how that shook my confidence as a student for many years. My husband remembers the enmity that his 8th-grade teacher had for his father, which transferred to Michael every day in unkind behaviors witnessed by his entire class. We all have a story like this, and the reason I want you to think of these painful experiences from your past is to galvanize you to not make their mistakes.
Most people haven’t heard of Roddie Edmonds, but his actions during his imprisonment in WWII were heroic. He was an American Master Sgt. captured in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. A humble young man from Knoxville, Tennessee, he found himself the highest-ranking officer among more than 1200 American servicemen being held at the Stalag IXA POW camp. The Wehrmacht had a policy of segregating Jewish POWs and shipping them to labor camps where they had a very low survival rate. Because of this, Jewish soldiers were warned to destroy any evidence identifying them as Jewish if they were captured.
It was January 1945 when the German camp commander ordered only the Jewish POWs to fall out, meaning to gather and stand at attention in front of their barracks. Knowing that about 200 of his fellow soldiers were in grave danger, Roddie Edmonds said, “We’re not going to do that,” and instead instructed all the American servicemen to fall out. That was his moment, the moment that Roddie wrote his own role into the lives of every American serviceman in that camp.
All 1,275 soldiers stood at attention in front of the camp commander. Infuriated, he shouted at Edmonds, “You can’t all be Jewish!”
Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews here.”
At which point, the camp commander pointed a gun at Roddie Edmonds head and said, “You will have your Jewish men step forward, or I will shoot you on the spot.”
Edmonds replied, “If you shoot, you’ll have to kill all of us and stand for war crimes after we win this war.”
The camp commander stomped away.
Roddie Edmonds never told that story. His son Chris only found out about it after his father’s death. One of the soldiers there that day sold a house to Richard Nixon. When interviewed for the story about the house sale, Lester Tanner, the previous owner, told the story of how a Master Sergeant named Edmonds had saved his life in the POW camps during WWII. His son, Chris, just happened to read that article. As to why his father never told the story, Chris said, “I think that he thought it was part of his responsibility, his duty, not only as a soldier of the U.S. Army to protect his men but also as a Christian, a man of faith, to do the right thing for his fellow man.”
Most of us, thankfully, will never find ourselves in the position that Roddie was in. Yet, he did not have to stand against that German commander. No one would have faulted him for inaction. And all the men who stood with him that day certainly didn’t do it because they were forced to. They had choices as well. And those collective choices are the reason those 200 Jewish soldiers survived, and over 75 years later, the reason a whole generation of families exists.
Certainly, not every moment will result in life or death consequences. But the point is we all have the capacity to be someone’s hero.
So, I ask again:
How do you want to show up as a character in someone else’s life story? You get to choose.