Stutzman: What kind of wake do you leave?

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to tour the island near the Duck Park and learned that it is part of the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary. The wildlife sanctuary is a 500-acre nature preserve located within the city on a segment of the Thunder Bay River. It is a beautiful treasure our community shares and I feel very fortunate to have this gem nearby. During the tour our guide mentioned there is a “no wake” rule within the wildlife sanctuary so when boats come through the waters they don’t unnecessarily churn up the water and disturb the wildlife. This rule was enacted to assure that the sanctuary will be preserved in pristine condition for generations to come.

Weeks after my tour of the island I ran into a friend who was telling me about a couple of terrible interactions she recently had with members of our community. In both situations the friend was attacked for circumstances that where beyond her control.

In one conversation a person flew off the handle. In another, a person made a very negative personal attack. The described behavior of the people she interacted with was not professional, polite, or justified. Now I know there are multiple sides to every story but knowing the people she was referring to I was not surprised. As I left my friend, I felt kind of sad that there are members of our community who feel entitled to behave in such an egregious manner.

I haven’t repeated my friend’s comments. I’d rather not spread gossip. But I have thought a lot about this scenario. How many times do we have a bad experience with someone and it ruins our day? Maybe it’s with a boss, a co-worker, or a family member. How many times do we turn to a friend to vent in an effort to cope? We share how awful a person made us feel. We lament our frustration over things we couldn’t control.

This got me thinking about the wildlife sanctuary. Not about wildlife and pristine natural beauty, but about our interactions with others and the imprint we leave upon their life – our wake. Some people are notorious for leaving a path of destruction in their wake. They are condescending, rude and treat people poorly.

What kind of wake do you leave behind? When you leave a room what do you want people to say about you? If we’re lucky, there won’t be any discussion at all because we’ll be busy focusing on things other than talk of people. But from time to time we all fall into the “people talk” trap. What kind of fuel do you give people for their discussion?

When you have a bad day how far do you let your emotions control you? Do you blow up? Do you blame others or begin to attack their faults? Most people do the best they can with their given resources. Is it really their fault if you’re having a bad day? Maybe they don’t understand your request or your situation or perhaps something is a big deal to you but not to the rest of the world. Regardless of the circumstance, what kind of emotional calling card do you leave behind?

If we’re not careful, or we’re not interacting with people in a thoughtful manner, we may not be aware that we are leaving a choppy wake that creates disruption and damage. Our negative behavior or communication with one person doesn’t stop at that one person. It rolls out to everyone that person subsequently interacts with and if the story they tell is particularly horrifying, those people tell all the people they know. People love a good story.

I’m still a believer that there is good in everyone and hopefully we all try to treat others with respect and compassion. We are human and sometimes we get frazzled and need a reminder to be considerate. Therefore I challenge everyone to employ a “no wake” rule. Let’s slow it down a bit and be more mindful of our surroundings and our impact on the people we share this community with. If we feel like we’re about to get riled up pause for a moment to think: will it matter in five weeks, five months, or five years? If your answer to any of these is “no” then turn down the volume of your emotional response and take deep breath, smile, and move on.

We all leave a wake. Make sure the wake you leave is a positive one.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.