During the spring semester of my senior year of high school, I had a communications class with a teacher who was in her mid-50s. One of my classmates was a good friend of mine whose father was a doctor. On the last day of class, the teacher asked each of the students what their goals were for the future.
My friend announced to the class that he planned on going to college and then medical school. Although he had previously told me his plans, I did not think that he would make it through medical school. I never told him this, but I felt as though he lacked the determination and ambition to get through four years of college and three years of medical school.
Upon hearing that my friend wanted to become a doctor, the teacher lavished praise on him and told him that he would make an excellent doctor. She then asked me what my goals were for the future. I told her that I was going to go to college and then law school. The teacher responded by saying that she did not think I was the type of person who could make it through law school.
My assumption was that she reacted that way because I was not what she considered a serious student. Although I completed all my assignments, I really didn’t care how well I did. I regularly acted up in class and routinely disregarded the rules. After all, it was my last semester in high school, and all I could think about was graduating and moving on with my life.
My friend’s behavior was the opposite of mine. He was a serious student who always showed respect toward the teacher and the other students. He also worked hard to do well on his assignments and actively participated in class discussions.
I was furious with what the teacher said to me in front of my classmates. I felt that as a teacher she had a responsibility to encourage her students to pursue their dreams, even if those dreams appeared to be beyond what she believed was achievable.
After class, my friend told me that he was upset about what the teacher had said to me. He showed me how good of a friend he really was when he said, “Don’t pay any attention to what she said. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. You’re going to make a great lawyer.”
Four years after finishing high school, both my friend and I graduated from college. I went on to law school and he landed a job in Chicago working for a large corporation.
Three years later, when I graduated from law school, the first thing I wanted to do was find my old teacher and chastise her for her lack of faith in me. I wanted to prove to her that she was wrong about what she had said about me.
My desire to become a lawyer started when I was in eighth grade. While my teacher’s comment was not what got me through law school, my resentment and anger toward her provided me with a compelling reason to finish law school — to prove to her that she was wrong about me.
The experience with the teacher popped into my mind recently when I was thinking about what I would write about during Thanksgiving week.
As I look back, I’m thankful that the teacher voiced her opinion about the likelihood of me becoming a lawyer. What she said became one of the motivational forces that helped me strive harder to achieve my goal.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m the type of person who holds grudges against people who have humiliated me in front of other people. This is not a trait that I am proud of.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that God allows us to be humiliated in order to give us an opportunity to develop and practice the virtues of humility, courage, patience, charity, and forgiveness.
Because of our fallen human nature, most of us react with anger toward people who criticize or humiliate us. Our anger then turns into long-term resentment and a desire for revenge. From a spiritual, mental, and emotional standpoint, these emotions are dangerous and unhealthy.
One of the best ways to overcome our tendency to foster resentment toward people who have humiliated us is to develop the habit of thanking God for allowing us to be humiliated. When we view another person’s negative behavior toward us as a blessing that we should be thankful for, we have made the choice to imitate our Lord, His mother, and the saints, and to behave in the same way they did when they were mistreated by others.
As a result of the shift in my attitude and the way I now respond to the criticism of others, I am no longer as easily influenced or offended by other people’s opinions and negative behaviors.
I am thankful for all the times that I was unjustly criticized, ridiculed, and humiliated. It was only through those experiences that I was forced to grow stronger and to work on developing the virtues of humility, courage, patience, charity, and forgiveness.
It’s much easier to be thankful for our talents, abilities, skills, and the people who make our lives special than it is to be thankful for the people and circumstances that cause us to become angry and resentful.
I’m not saying here that we should become friends with or voluntarily subject ourselves to the opinions and abuses of others. What I am saying, however, is that when people show up in our lives with their negative attitudes and behaviors, we should view their presence as an opportunity to be more Christ-like.