Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Greatest Weakness

We all have our weaknesses, but I'm not talking about craving  dark chocolate or cheesecake.  I'm referring to a personality weakness, a particular aptitude I have which is probably not good.

While finishing my bachelor's degree in education and biology (at age thirty), I inadvertently signed up for a class that sounded like classroom management. It appealed to me, not only for the content, but because a man I knew taught the class. In my thinking, if this gentleman, who had been a military man, taught anything about managing people, he would undoubtedly be an expert.

However, when the class began and each of us had an opportunity to introduce ourselves, I was startled by the reasons for taking the class. Most were males, and each once spoke of needing to learn more about "how to be a school principal and keep order."

No! Not me. I had no intention of being a school principal.

At the end of the first session, I spoke with the professor.

"I think I should drop this course. It's not for me, and I don't know how I misinterpreted the class description."

He answered, "No, Celia, you don't need to drop. You will find the information and discussions valuable in managing students. Plus, I'd like to have you in the class."

I remained.

Throughout the teaching and discussions, in which each of us spoke in response to a particular scenario, I thought I was doing really well. However, half-way through the semester, this professor spoke to me privately. What did he want? To point out my major weakness.

My greatest weakness, as it turned out, was "giving individuals the benefit of the doubt too easily."

Really? What's wrong with this? In my mind, nothing, but he tried to explain that for whatever infraction a student might incur, I had the tendency to say, "I'll let it go this time" or "I know you didn't intend to break a rule or act inappropriately, so I'd like you to think about what you did."

He said, "When I heard your answers in class, I imagined you patting the student on the head, saying, 'now, now, let's be nice. Please don't do this again.'"

I taught high school students for twenty-something years. Yes, I gave many the benefit of the doubt. In some cases, there was no doubt the student had to face some kind of punishment for his severe infraction.

It wasn't that I believed the story a student--usually a male--told me, it was that I weighed the costs of seeking punishment against the value of discussing the problem with the young man.

My professor and most of the men in the class saw things in black and white. You break a rule--you pay the price.

What does this have to do with writing romance novels? Or writing in general? Probably nothing, except it might come in handy when writing a scene that includes some sort of crime or  situation.

In the WIP, TEXAS DREAMER, Emilie McDougal King must take over the ranch business and the drilling of a possible oil well, and she's facing men who aren't too happy. Her husband's life was threatened and he is injured such that he must stay in bed and medicated. She's not a particularly soft-hearted woman, but she has no taste for being harsh, either. Instead, she uses charm--as much as she knows how--and compliments the men on their willingness to carry on and take orders from her.

But along in the story, another secondary character tries to harm her behind her back. In this case, she stiffens her backbone and does not give an inch. No benefit of the doubt for this person.

In conclusion, I think our characters sometimes act as we do in real life.

I think I'm an Emilie McDougal King. I don't jump to conclusions, but I don't let anyone run over me, either. In other words, nothing is black or white.

But most of those men and the professor in the class saw the world as just that--black or white, right or wrong, no in-between.

It was a lesson well-learned for me.


  1. Celia, this was a very thoughtful post. I was reminded of a time when I was a school guidance counselor in a mountain school in East TN. A teacher said to me, " Linda, you are very gullible. You believe everything these students tell you." My answer was "Yes, I believe them until proved otherwise." I still do.

  2. See? We do think alike. Nothing against men, for I do appreciate them. But those I worked with rarely gave second chances.
    One reason I gave second chances from my classroom, was that if I took a student to the principal's office, because it was a military school, the student would also be punished in the dorm--girl or boy, even though the girl was not in the ROTC. They would be put "on restriction", a dreaded thing because it mean sitting for a certain amount of time at the room desk. A proctor would come and check to make sure he or she sat at his desk, doing something. And I didn't want that. Most often, I took care of it and I had not more trouble from that student.
    Kids are going to kick the sides of the box--fine, but you don't want them to escape.
    Thank you. (we are NOT gullible.)

  3. Hey Celia,

    What a wonderful insight into how you think. I think I fall into the gray area of the black and white continuum. However, I am quick to learn, so if someone messes with me, I no longer give that person the benefit of the doubt.

    My husband has a military background and entered marriage with a definite black OR white mindset. We've had some interesting times over the years with our different philosophies. Though we both remain true to type, we are willing to be respectful of the other's position and have learned how to compromise.

    Great post!

  4. Great blog post. I, too, was in education and I always gave the benefit of the doubt. I guess I always thought that everyone makes mistakes. However, if they did it twice, I often told them they were "learning" their mistakes. I joined your blog and look forward to your posts. Please hop over to mine if you have a minute.
    And--write on!

  5. I like your way of seeing things, Celia. I'm not a teacher, but I tend to be the same way with my boys. If a lesson can be learned by discussing it with them as if you value them, then I think it's a better way to go. My boys ended up be very respectful. You sound like the kind of teacher I wish we had more of. Fabulous post.

  6. Enjoyed your thoughtful post. I worked in the HR field for over two decades. My jobs always reminded me of working with children, or perhaps, wrangling cats. My male bosses didn't share my outlook. Now I know why!

  7. Celia, a great post. One of these days we must meet. We are so similar. It is quite true about men being black and white. In any given situation one outlook may work better than the other, but from a woman's perspective most times it's better to check out the gray areas.

  8. Interesting, Celia. I have conflicting feelings. I think some things have to be black and white. For example, a student steals something and you saw. No second chance.

    If a student smart mouthed me. I might look at that student say, "I'll see you after class." Then I'd consider what they'd had to deal with that day—home life, other students, etc. I'd probably punish them myself by assigning detention—put them to work in the kitchen folding dishtowels, cleaning sinks, scraping gum off floor and under desks, etc. That would also give me the opportunity to talk to them.

    At the beginning of the year I always told my students— I may not be able to hear a lot of things due to noise in the classroom, but for some reason my ears pick up on what you REALLY don't want me to hear.

    I had a student say something extremely vulgar at his table one day. I stared at the group thinking, did he say what I thought he said? I waited a couple of minutes and called one of the girls in my office. She said yes. Walked him down to the office to the principals office who called his mother and told him what her son had said. That was a black and white situation for me.

  9. Celia, I believe that women are "wired" to be more understanding. (If they weren't, think of all the divorces there would be!)Most guys I know are very "black and white" about things--I think that this is why they make better military combat personnel, better police officers, and so on. I know I'll probably get bashed for this. It's just a matter of male vs. female and how we are conditioned throughout life. In my growing up, I remember how, even the smallest things, stuck with me. At big family dinners with grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, the men and children ate first, and THEN the women. That's because we were raised to take care of other people before ourselves. To think of others and their needs before us. And that's why we give the benefit of the doubt to others easier than men do. The world and how it works, according to Cheryl...LOL Great post!

  10. Interesting, Celia, because I would do the same as you. I HATE conflict of any kind and avoid it at all costs. I would rather do it myself or overlook whatever it is than make a scene. My parents would never allow any raised voices in the house and thought you should like everyone and everyone should like you. I was 40 years old before I realized it was all right for somebody not to like me and/or me like them. Funny how those childhood days stick around and those feelings insecurity and inferiority are always lurking right behind the curtain.

    Great post. I bet your students loved you. :)

  11. Maggie--my husband was not a military man (except a 3 year stint which doesn't make him a military men) but he was just born with the Black or White attitude, I guess. Like yours, he's mellowed throughout the years, probably because he knows I'm going to drag my feet and he just gives in.
    But yes, we had to learn how to live together with such different mindsets.

  12. Judy--I like what you told students. Early on, I learned not to yell or raise my voice. I still don't--it's the way I was raised. Students had to listen because I have a soft voice. Some student learn quickly how to get along, but there are always some who never get it.
    Thanks for visiting!

  13. Well, that experience certainly gave us a window into the male mind. They really do perceive the world and take action differently from women. Good to know for hero development.
    Interesting blog, Celia. I really enjoyed it.

  14. Joanne--You spoke of having all boys to raise. In teaching, I found that if I reprimanded a young man, he wouldn't argue, but he might become angry. But the next day? He'd walk in the classroom as though nothing had happened--he'd greet me the same. Boys don't hold grudges so much.
    But girls? Let me tell you, they could hold a grudge against me for days!
    Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment.

  15. Ashantay--love your name! Sure, the men always saw things differently. I taught in a military boarding school, so I not only dealt with boys, I also coped with the military guys--who were generally very polite and mannerly--but very single-minded.
    Thanks for visiting!

  16. Carra--yes, we definitely should meet! You made a good point. Thanks so much for commenting.

  17. Very interesting post, Celia. I too tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. I'm reminded in a way of a teacher I once knew (a woman, not a man!) who said, "I tend to dislike people until they give me a reason to like them.' This really shocked me, because I think I've always been the complete opposite - I like people until (or unless) they give me a reason to dislike them. Not sure if that means I'm gullible, but I do try not to judge people.

  18. a lot of food for thought here, Celia. I agree, our characters do pick up some our own viewpoints. My heroines are usually rather stubborn and they think for themselves as I do, but inside they each have insecurities, also like me.

  19. Interesting post and comments. Yes, there are definite difference between the male brain and the female brain, but I think part of that is training. Boys are often raised differently than girls. They're "supposed to be" tough, while girls are "supposed to be" caretakers, and we treat them this way from the time they're little. My kids, however, tend to be opposite. My son sees shades of gray and my daughter sees right or wrong. Her daddy taught her to be tough. I mainly raised our son (because of his travels). So yes, innate, but not fully innate. Definitely to think about for characters.

  20. Linda L.--listen, I completely understand. I feel the same as you. There are so many situations.
    I learned early on that students only want you to like them. That's the way of teens--they're fearful and nervous, and feel no one likes them.
    I had a male student one year that did everything he could to irritate me, and he'd smirk every time. Since, like you, we worked with physical things--microscopes, Bunsen burners, glassware, dissecting equipment--I usually asked certain students to help me lift, put up, clean lab tables, rearranged the storeroom, etc. And they usually considered it a compliment that I asked for his help. I say his, because boys were more eager--girls.."I just had my nails done, Mrs. Yeary." "I don't want the smell on my hands, Mrs. Yeary." Whine, whine--still, I loved them.
    This boy, sullen, grumpy, etc. began to inch closer--I ignored him. Closer...I ignored him.
    One day I asked him to lift some heavy buckets of (use your imagination) into the storeroom. He did, and sat closer--I ignored him.
    One day, I sat on a stool at a lab table and he pulled up a stool and sat and watched me clean glass slides and put them back into little cases. He said, "I could do that." Without saying anything, I pushed them to him, and he worked and I worked, and he did a good job. I said, "You know, I think I'm beginning to like you."
    Linda--he stuck to me like glue for the rest of the year. He was one of my favorites.
    Thanks for you thoughtful comments. I think we are of like mind.

  21. Cheryl--I agree about females being conditioned from childhood to be the peacemakers or the compliant ones. But some aren't. My younger sister can take anyone down, and I learned early in life not to cross her. In her seventies, she still rules her household...husband...and kids and grandkids. It's like no one dares cross her. Certainly I know not to.
    But over all, you're right. Men are men, and women are women...that's our genetic make-up.

  22. Paisley--same here. No yelling and conflicts, except my younger sister. And I had to share a room with her until I was 17. She's still like that and I cannot feel comfortable around her.
    Yes, me, too, on avoiding conflict. I'll do almost anything to avoid it, but still...somewhere along the way, I will stand up for myself, no matter what.
    Thank you.

  23. Sarah--this is what I've learned- how to develop my characters based on my own experiences.
    Thanks, my friend.

  24. Paula--interesting. I would say it the other way, too. "I like a person until they give me a reason not to."
    Sounds like your friend has more than one bad experience.
    Thanks for commenting!

  25. Lyn--thanks! Yes, I think we write characters in our own image much of the time. Good or bad..that's the way it is.

  26. LK--interesting. We have a son and daughter, and both see things in shades of black or white. I don't recall teaching my daughter to be nice, give in, etc. She is very quiet, man, does she stand up for herself. I'd say she and her brother are about the same. And neither are like me...who gives in easily and avoids conflict.
    Good thoughts, and thanks.