Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series. For August, Senator Barbara Boxer, author of The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life, shares lessons learned over a lifetime in public service. This week, she recounts some of her mother’s sage advice.
We lived on the fifth floor of a six-story apartment building in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. One of my friends, Sheila, lived directly above us. Sheila’s parents were a lot more lenient than mine, so quite often I would whine that “Sheila’s mom lets her do this” and “Shei- la’s mom lets her do that.”
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My mother thought Sheila was spoiled silly. She said what every parent everywhere has said over the generations: “If Sheila’s mother let her jump off the roof, would you want to do that too?” In my eleven-year-old mind, it was a point well taken.
One day Sheila and I were walking home from school and stopped in at the candy store. In a completely shocking moment, Sheila put a two-cent taffy lollipop in her pocket, grabbed my hand, and dragged me out of the store. My parents had taught me that taking anything that didn’t belong to me was a sin, but Sheila was so persuasive and so popular, I let her pull me down the street without saying anything. But it weighed on my mind and, as usual, I took this dilemma to my mother.
Mom was dismayed that I hadn’t told Sheila off.
“Don’t you understand what it would mean to that candy store owner if everyone did what Sheila did? Yes, it was only two cents, but that can add up.”
Since I hadn’t participated in “the act,” I should have been done with it. So I told my mother in what was probably a righteous voice, “But I didn’t do anything!”
Mom’s reply was quick and intense. “That’s the problem. You stood by and said nothing, and you need to tell Sheila how you feel.”
“But . . .”
“No buts—go! She’s just one floor up.”
It was no fun. I tried to be very nice but clear about what I thought of her behavior, and I’m sure Sheila told our other friends what a Goody Two-shoes I was. But I knew my mother was right. I had failed to do the right thing, and that is not the way to act when a misdeed takes place right in front of your eyes. And in the long run, Sheila respected me for telling her, and we remained best friends.
This event taught me something else that’s stuck with me ever since. When admonishing me to confront Sheila, my mother gave me another piece of invaluable advice I have used often: “You can tell someone to go to hell,” she said, “but if you do it with sensitivity, they’ll thank you for it.”
Excerpted from The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life (Hachette Books), by Barbara Boxer.