"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these."
That Little Boy
- George Washington Carver
That little boy was born with a smile on his face and love in his heart. That little boy loved to sing and dance. Joy always radiated from that little boy's spirit. That little boy was the third miracle to his parents, as they were told that they would never have children. That little boy had beautiful childhood relationships with his two big sisters. They sang and danced together - pure joy! That little boy loved people, no matter their color or class. That little boy had the most special bond with his mother - pure love!
That little boy thrived in elementary school and was warmly accepted by his classmates because of his gentle and loving personality. That little boy was a natural performer in school plays - you could feel the gift when he would sing and dance.
That little boy graduated into middle school and his joy soon disappeared. That little boy was called names at school and cruel things were said about his gift of singing and dancing. That little boy wanted to be part of a team and decided to try out for the 6th grade basketball team. The other boys laughed at his lack of athletic abilities, called him names, and rejected him from the team. That little boy didn't understand the hatred and came home most days with swollen, tear-filled eyes. That little boy quit smiling and retreated into a protective shell. He quit trying, his grades suffered, and he resigned himself to the fact that he was both different and inferior to his peers.
Then something good happened. His parents transferred him to a private school where he was safe to be himself. He was accepted for who he was. All students were treated with dignity and respect and were expected to treat each other accordingly. He competed in sports and experienced the joy of being part of a true team. He participated in school plays and his gift of singing and dancing blossomed. His grades improved drastically within that first year at the private school, as the teachers focused on his strengths and helped manage his weaknesses. That little boy's smile and joy returned.
That little boy and his family moved to the South where he would finish his high school years. He was entered into a public school with his sisters. He was greeted with the same taunting and name calling that he had experienced in middle school. His parents moved him to another private school where he was safe to be himself. You can feel his heart in the touching poem that was written when he was 16 years old...
There's something out there that you must find,
For what you know, you cannot deny.
Freedom and hope is what you need,
If only you could truly succeed.
All your life you strive to be the best,
But what you really feel no one could possibly suppress.
And as you walk onto that stage,
This character, not what you are, is portrayed.
Think of what you really want to be,
And what other people really need to see.
Be yourself, and be your best,
And don't care about the rest.
Because when it's time to look back at the past,
You want to be the true you and how you came to be your best.
This new high school had an excellent fine arts program that allowed him to follow his dream. The compassion and instruction of his teachers helped take his natural gifts to another level. His singing and acting skills flourished and he won numerous awards. After graduation, that little boy was accepted into the prestigious American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. His parents just returned from his Showcase Performance and are so proud of their only son.
That little boy is now a man and I am very proud of him. You see, that little boy is Bryant Austin Baggett, and I love him very much. Keep soaring son!
A story book ending? Here's the rest of the story...
That little boy is now 30 years old and has been battling an addiction to meth since 2007. He's been in and out of over 20 treatment facilities, has attempted suicide, and has pretty much lost his will to live.
You're probably thinking, "What changed after his graduation from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy?" Shortly before his graduation, he had the courage to announce to his family that he was homosexual. Even though it was a surprise, we did not question or judge him - we just loved him more, as we knew that his journey as a gay man would not be easy - and it hasn't been.
He was not successful in fulfilling his dream of making it big on Broadway. Defeated and disillusioned, he started smoking pot to help him deal with living in the real world, a world not "gay friendly." He has, and still does, endure the taunts, sneers, anger, silence, and general hatred of those who judge him and his lifestyle. Looking for a way to escape the pain and guilt of dealing with the reality of his life, he "progressed" to meth - a battle that he continues to fight. The reality of a meth addict is that only 17% beat the addiction. That's a pretty depressing statistic. But our faith sustains us and we still believe that God can and will work a miracle in Austin's life.
Our son's journey, despite the heartache of seeing your loved one suffer, has made us much more accepting of those labeled "unacceptable" by many people. We have learned the true meaning of the words "tough love" and "unconditional love." We have learned that ignorance can lead to people - friends and family members included - saying hateful and hurtful words in public and on social media. We have learned the importance of establishing boundaries and holding firm to them - this is a hard one, especially when your son is living on the street in winter without adequate clothes, living in his car before he sold it for drug money, living in drug houses, attempting to take his life by swallowing Clorox, the list goes on...
What's the lesson?
#1 - Don't judge people that are different than us.
This includes the homeless, the poor, the incarcerated, drug addicts, people of different religious and political affiliations, people of different color, etc.
#2 - Get to know and understand people who are different than us.
Once we take the time to listen compassionately to others share their stories, we might, for the first time, realize the true meaning of "There but the Grace of God go I". If you're serious about accomplishing this step, go to step #3.
#3 - Meet those different than us where they live.
This could be a homeless shelter, a drug recovery center, a half-way house, prison, etc. This will help you understand the reality of others' lifestyles and might soften a judging and hardened heart.
#4 - Get actively involved in helping those who are less fortunate than you.
I'm talking about time, talents, and money (money alone doesn't qualify). It's true that where you spend your time and money is a direct reflection of your life's priorities.
#5 - Love one another!
If you act on steps 1-4, you will learn that God don't make junk and Love is the answer.
I will always love you.
True Growth Takeaway:
Compassionate understanding is the first step to improving personal relationships.
True Growth Journal Question:
What action can you take to better understand a group or person "different" than you?
About the author:
Byrd Baggett is a best-selling author and popular motivational speaker. He has been helping organizations develop authentic leaders and passionately engaged teams since 1990. His corporate experience includes sales and management careers with two Fortune 500 companies. He is a Member of LWM III Consulting LLC and creator of the True Growth® brand.
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