Nothing ruffles the feathers of my humanity more than bad behavior. Our society is drowning in it lately. When our supposed leaders, role models and protectors cannot recognize the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies, how do we respond? My blood pressure medication is at maximum dosage, and yet five minutes of media reporting can kick my heartbeat up to drumroll mode.
Years ago, a therapist suggested I write out my frustrations. Since November of 2016, stacks of angst-filled journals have taken over my nightstand and are now leaking into the dining room. Every so often, I open one up and skim the pages to see how far I have retreated from the edge. However, what I find are my toes gripping that ledge and my arms swinging in anger. The reason? It’s always the same: someone’s behavior that day – at work, in the news, in the family – has resulted in a few journal pages of therapy. And nothing is quite as eye-opening as an acute analysis of my own behavior, the knee jerk reactions my boss once noted in my performance evaluation, my rants against humanity, and every once in a while, my own excuses for my own bad behavior. I’m not perfect, but I’m on a mission, about which I am passionate as Hell. The mission? To slap bad behaved beings with words, one post at a time.
Welcome to The Behavior Maven!
I’m a teacher and administrator at a state college in the pacific northwest. I’ve surfed the waves of higher education for 15 years. What a ride. Between state and national regulations, outdated programs and mind-boggling redundancies, higher education is a head-scratching venture at best. No longer an idealist, I try to guide students to successful academic completion without sugar-coating what is in store for them post-graduation. As bleak as it sometimes seems, there is still a direct correlation between behavior and success, positive choices and sincere rewards.
Did I say I was no longer idealistic? Hmmm…
Bad behavior was not tolerated by my parents. My mother, blind from diabetes by the time my siblings and I were born, instilled in her children a responsibility that came as a foregone conclusion as soon as we could walk. We were her eyes. Her ears kept us in check better than any modern tracking and monitoring technology. They were her super power, astounding my friends at every turn. “Can she see?” they would ask in whispered amazement. My answer: “She just knows.”
Mom exuded responsibility, standards, and morals. At the age of ten, she lost her mother to a doctor’s neglect. Given the wrong blood in a transfusion gone wrong, her mother inadvertently handed over the care and feeding of a father and two brothers to my mother. She worked hard, finished college, married, and raised four children without eyesight. A Girl Scout leader, school assistant, political delegate, town council member, my mother did it all. Her one infamous confession of misbehavior involved buying beer for minors while working in Yellowstone National Park. She did not drink it of course, but she admitted its purchase. There was no real punishment, because of her gleaming record. But you can bet your sweet bippy that her kid’s bad behavior would have serious consequences. Nothing was worse than being on the receiving end of my mother’s wrath, followed immediately by her silent treatment. While her silent treatment alone was scarring enough for me to vow never to be like my mother, I do have her ability of recognizing bad behavior and her knack of fuming about it in full-blown Irish vehemence.
One of the first punishments for bad behavior I ever doled out was to my younger sisters. We were traveling home from Ogden, Utah on old Highway 89 when April and Trieste, ten and seven years my junior respectively, began fighting in the back seat of my car. Mom had already warned them once, but the kicking, screaming and punching continued.
I pulled to the side of the road near one of the fruit orchards along that route and told them to get out. They stared at me, bewildered.
“Get out!” I yelled. Trieste’s chin quivered. “Now!”
April opened her door and they slid out. After shutting the door, I took off, spitting gravel. My mother remained silent until I lost sight of my young sisters in the rearview mirror.
“You aren’t really going to leave them on the side of the road, are you?” my mother finally asked.
I made a quick U-turn and my mother smiled.
When we came upon the girls, they were clutching one another, crying, making their way slowly north along the side of the highway. They looked like a couple of pitiful Dickens orphans. I pulled up beside them and opened the back door.
“Get in and behave,” I ordered. They scurried in and continued to bear hug each other. Nothing but a few sniffles came from the back seat the rest of the way home.
There are consequences for every action. Bad behaviors should never be rewarded, but they seem to be, increasingly. I’ve learned hard lessons the hard way, repeatedly. I try to keep others from making the same mistakes. I try to lead by example, but I’m as flawed as the next person. That admitted, I can spurn bad behaviors with a vengeance. I can scold and reprimand with words.
It is therapeutic after all.