Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Farmer Who Never Said A Bad Word About Another

I was pleased to know my Great-Grandfather Burton Rhoades, if only for a short time when I was quite young.  I loved to visit his farm in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.  As a young boy of 6 to 8 years old, the farm's corn fields, dirt roads, sheds, barns, pond, and stream provided endless hours of summer adventure during my all-too-brief visits.  Especially so for a young boy who was growing up in the suburbs.

I remember Great-Grandfather sitting on the front porch of his farm home, preparing fresh green beans (just harvested from his garden) for the evening meal.  And how he taught me to milk a cow ... which seemed like a huge creature to a young boy.  To my Great-Grandfather's dismay, milk "straight from the cow" - even chilled - to me tasted nothing like the pasteurized milk from the stores, and I could barely stand to drink it.  Then again, I somehow managed to easily consumer the home-made ice cream, made all the more delicious after many, many minutes winding the hand-crank.

When Great-Grandfather passed away, when I was but 8 or 9 years old, my Grandmother consoled me.  As she did so she uttered a statement, with pride, which I've remembered to this day, "My father never said a bad word about anyone."  Thinking back over the few short summer weeks I spent with Great-Grandfather, I realized the truth of the statement, and remembered my Great-Grandfather's inquisitive eyes, strong hands, and gentle nature.

Throughout life, time and time again I have seen persons who seem to derive pleasure from belittling others.  Perhaps it makes them feel better themselves, as if they are superior in some way, though I don't see how.  Psychologists will tell us that we have a natural tendency to want to boost our ego, and demeaning others can, at least internally and temporarily, lead us to a sense of superiority.  Yet demeaning others does not, in reality, make oneself any better.

We must realize that each person has their strengths, and their weaknesses.  Each person I believe is capable of doing great things, in their own way.  Each can, and with proper encouragement and guidance, make a positive contribution to the world.  Hence, we should be hesitant to disparage others, for who knows whether that person has done, or will do, great things.

In fact, doing bad things does not make a person "bad."  In fact, sound parenting advice is to never call your child "bad."  If parents do so, then children begin to believe it.  Parents should rather say: "What you did was not correct.  You are a good (boy/girl) and I know you can do better next time."

If we need to say something about a bad habit or a less-than-optimal performance, we should say it directly to the person, and preferably in private.  Constructive criticism, delivered well, should always be welcome.  In fact, the ability to provide and receive constructive thoughts is an indicator of true friendship.  And, in the workplace, constructive criticism can be provided in the context of goal-setting for an employee.

In the workplace I have also seen, time and time again, how a comment made to one fellow worker about a supervisor or a fellow employer can so easily get repeated, spread, and eventually come back to haunt the person who started it all.  Even if it is just a "slight."

Some people seem to assume that others are somehow "bad" or "evil" or "incompetent" - at least until they prove themselves otherwise.  I see the world differently.  To me everyone starts off "good" - they have to prove themselves otherwise to me.  And even then I try to resist judging too harshly, for who knows what that person has gone through that hour, that day, that week, or even for years.  Regardless, I always try to keep such thoughts to myself.

"Never say a bad word about others."  Perhaps this is good advice for all.  As for myself, I'll remember this truism.

I'll also recall the sun's rays over the corn fields near the end of each summer day, foretelling the close of each day of youthful exploration and adventure during visits to Great-Grandfather's farm.

Professor Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP(r) teaches Business Law, Retirement Planning, Investment Planning, Employee Benefits Planning, Money & Banking, Insurance & Risk Management, and the Personal Financial Planning Capstone courses at Alfred State College, Alfred, NY. He is an EPLP Mentor, C.R.E.A.T.E. program mentor, serves as advisor to Alfred State's Business Professionals of America club, and serves as academic advisor to dozens of students.

Professor Rhoades is the author of "CHOOSE TO SUCCEED IN COLLEGE AND IN LIFE: Continuously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey," a 10-week program for success in college (available for $2.99 in Kindle store at, or in paperback for $6.99). Professor Rhoades may be reached by e-mail at:

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