This is a cliche phrase that we all hear, and we say it when we feel slighted to console ourselves. We say things like “Karma is a b**ch”, but anyone who has felt holier than thou knows there is nothing worse than what seems like an inevitable fall from grace. The other shoe seems destined to drop. Personally, I try to stave this off by being thankful for my good fortune, and never try to laud it over others because it begs for the universe to level the playing field.
A classic example is our famous preschool biting experience. A long time ago, when my kids were in preschool, my older son was bitten by a classmate on several occasions. I wasn’t thrilled, but I knew this was part of growing up. Needless to say, I empathized with the Biter’s parents when my younger son was the one dealing out the bites to one kid in particular. The other parent was very pregnant at the time, a nurse at the hospital where our sons went to preschool, and when she started making noises about getting my son tested for HIV and Hepatitis, I started to think she was a bit loopy and over the top.
We were actively working to help our younger one learn biting wasn’t the answer, which is tough at age 2. Insisting he was a one child vector for disease did not help things at all. (Nor was getting the bitee’s name as the person we had to get a gift for for Secret Santa, or my husband’s suggestion that we get a selection of condiments since it was clear the other kid was so tasty, either.)
Our son eventually stopped biting before getting tossed out of school, the other parents calmed down, and I appreciated the ironic joy and karmic evening of the score when I found out the same mom had a problem with her younger son biting another child when he was two. Ah, what goes around does come around. I smiled, commiserated when I saw her at pick-up, and could not wait to run home and tell my husband that life had evened the score and I got a front row seat.
The gloat is not attractive, I’ll admit. I was sincerely nice and kind to the other parent, because I did feel her pain, and she knew it. But I did love knowing that she now knew how I felt, and would remember what it’s like when that shoe is on the other foot. A bit tighter than you ever imagine it will be.
This matter came around again recently when one parent was giving others a lot of grief about whether they were doing things “right” regarding some PTO activities. To start with, the parent deciding they needed to set standards was relatively new to the group, and secondly, after years of volunteer work, I’ve learned the fastest way to get people to quit or do very little is to constantly second-guess what they are doing.
So needless to say, when The Perfect Parent’s kid got caught doing something very inappropriate at school and got detention, the news spread like wild fire among the parents who really did not care for Ms. Perfection. There was a certain amount of joy in the bleachers, popcorn was passed around, and there was a fair amount of unladylike gloating going on that I felt, just having a seat to watch this spectacle unfold. Karma is evening the score in a big, public way. It feels good, even if it isn’t what I’d call anyone’s proudest moment.
None of this is really pretty or mature, of course.
The lesson here is that people and kids make mistakes. We all do. But taking an understanding and helpful attitude rather than rubbing it in is probably a better way to prevent Karma from taking its inevitable shots. Every time you make someone else miserable on purpose, make them feel incompetent or inadequate, you are increasing the chances that any fall from grace will be magnified, talked about and relished by those you made miserable.
Just look at any celebrity; and Tiger Woods is the most recent, convenient example, although a number of politicians can be cited as well. These folks cultivate a squeaky clean, perfect public image, but when the inside doesn’t match the outside, with all eyes on you at all times, it’s more likely to happen than not that people will learn the truth, whether they should or not. The media loves eating celebrities for breakfast, and a fall from grace story sells very well- humanizing our heroes, like using kryptonite on Superman.
The real answer is to avoid going out of your way to make anyone else’s life more difficult, to approach many things reminding yourself the person is trying their best, and to make any suggestions in a way that allows everyone to preserve their feelings and dignity, if possible. It means never setting yourself up as perfect, but always as human, and being able to admit mistakes, learn from them and move on. This is not easy and takes a kind of courage in willing to be wrong and embarrassed that’s hard to come by.
But the more people you step on and make unhappy on your way up, the more people will be joyous when gravity begins to take its toll. It’s not always pleasant, but it is human nature.
Do try to be kind. Remember that everyone makes mistakes, and think how you would like to be treated when you have a problem, and treat others that way.
Just make sure you enjoy that popcorn and side of gloating at home, and not too much where it will magnify the hurt for the other person, because unfortunately, what goes around comes around yet again.
Photo graciously provided by lipjin, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved