One of my favorite books to read with my classes is the play “FENCES.”
I absolutely love it and look forward to teaching it every year.
The kids love it because it has everything teenagers want in a book – a smart-mouthed teenager who feels disrespected by his father, a grumpy old man who loves dirty jokes and alcohol, and obvious themes of betrayal, deceit and lust. Plus, let’s be honest – it’s short. J
I love it because there is a scene in that book that gets me…every time.
As is true in many teen/parent relationships, Corey (the son) has trouble relating to his father (Troy). The two often struggle even to make pleasant conversation and don’t see eye-to-eye on anything.
In this particular scene, Corey is trying to get his dad to see his point of view and Troy is barely even listening to him – so caught up in his own views and logic, as we parents sometimes do.
At this point in the story, Corey says to his dad, “Can I ask you a question? . … Why you ain’t never liked me?”
Troy, ever the hard-lined old man, blows a gasket. “Like you?” he bellows. “Who the HELL say I got to like you? What law is there that say I got to like you?”
From there, Troy goes into a lengthy lecture about people who have a responsibility to you (i.e. a father’s responsibility to take care of his son), and how it shouldn’t matter who likes you, “as long as they doin’ right by you.”
My students and I always have a profound discussion about this scene. They are quick to explode at Troy.
“What kind of crappy father says that to his son? Poor Corey,” they bemoan. I always let them get their feelings out before I ask this:
“It’s true – a teenager like Corey probably wanted his dad to gush about how much he likes him, but what was the bigger lesson here? What was Troy trying to teach him?”
They never have any problem identifying the bigger message.
“Stop worrying about what other people think of you. Make sure people aren’t taking advantage of you; that is all that matters.”
As I teach this every year, I am always struck by how much I still need to work on this. Even as an adult, I tend to find myself upset or even angry when I feel that someone doesn’t like me. I ponder all the reasons why, whether they are justified, what I can do to change that impression…
This year, God has decided that, in the immortal words of Kevin Hart, I’m “gon learn today!”
This year, I have really been faced with the decision of how much to allow the opinion of others to affect my actions. This is not to say that a whole slew of people have suddenly come out of the woodwork to hate on me. Not at all! I am surrounded with kind, loving people with whom I enjoy spending time and I am constantly uplifted and encouraged.
But there will always be the opportunity to question myself when I feel someone is undervaluing me, my strengths or my intentions. In those times, I must admit – I sometimes allow their perceptions to affect me.
I think when you are a person like me – someone who is introspective and self-analytical to a FAULT – you grow up believing that whenever someone thinks poorly of you, it must be something you did. It is usually a really great thing to step back and look at yourself and critique your performance. But in this case, it becomes an Achilles. It must ALWAYS be my fault.
This year, I have made the decision that, it’s not.
Sometimes, you know what? It’s THEM.
People who know me well know that I always say, “Nobody has the right to steal your character.” That means that even if others act badly, you have the right, the obligation, to do the right thing, according to your morals and beliefs. Otherwise, you have allowed someone NEGATIVE to pull you right down with them.
This is no different. As long as I am causing no harm to others and staying true to my spirit, I shouldn’t be worryin’ bout who likes me. I “best be sure they doin’ right by” me.
And you know what? How arrogant to assume that everybody WOULD like me. I’m not perfect. I’m not SO SPECIAL that the WORLD is required to adore me. I’m just like anybody else- with quirks and bad habits and things to improve. People have the right to choose their own circles and I’m not required to be in them. As long as I’m working on being better every day, that’s all I can do. Making mistakes is better than faking perfection.
“What law is there that say I got to like you?”
None. None whatsoever.