The Things That Define Us

If nothing else I am honest with myself.

And today, I was a horrible person.

I had to go someplace today during my work day.  It was related to work.   During that trip I passed a man I had known.  I know his name.  I know much about him because of work dealings with him.  As I approached him I made a very conscious decision to not speak.  I even made eye contact with him.

Does this matter?

As I approached, and first saw him, my heart nearly stopped in my chest. Every time I had seen him in the past I had this initial shock.    Even in my past dealings with him I had thought he resembled a man from my past.  A bad man.  A very bad man.  Not a man who physically did anything to me.  But  a man who I know to have physically and emotionally ruined many people.  Of course as soon as I had that reaction I knew it was not the man from my past.  It was the man I had had business dealings with.  A man that, when involved with him for work purposes I could handle his presence and what my job required of me.  Without any qualms.

Does this matter?

This isn’t the entire story.

There’s more.

Does it matter that the man sat in a wheel chair.  In a nursing home.  That I know he has no family.  No friends who can easily get to him.  That he is most likely very alone.  We made eye contact.  He was looking “at” me.  I was looking at him.  If he can still see, he saw me looking at him.   I don’t know that he can still see me.  I don’t know that he would remember me.   If he saw me.  If he did not see me he obviously responded to the sound of me approaching.   I do know that every single person that I passed in that hall, until I got to him,  I spoke to.

I did not speak to him.

I went to the front of the building and sat in a chair to write some notes while I waited to meet with someone else.

The pressure in my chest was building.  How could I do that?  I knew it was not the man he reminds me of.  I know that.  Without a doubt.

Regardless of my initial shock I knew he was not the man he resembled.  My head told me so.  My heart told me so.

But I passed this man, without speaking to him.  And it was  a conscious decision not to.

I believe it is the little things that define us.

And this moment was not a defining moment of good character.

I stood up to return to where he was in the hallway.   I walked to where he had been, and he wasn’t there.  He wasn’t in the room by where he had been sitting.  I looked at the name plates to see if any of those rooms were his.  They weren’t.  I didn’t know where he had gone.

Do I know if he saw me and even recognized me if he did see me?  No.  That doesn’t matter.  I know what I did.   I purposely did not share a kindness with a man.  A man who may have appreciated it.  I noticed him.  I make it a point to speak to others I pass.  And I pointedly did not speak to him.   Whether he felt the slight or not.  I slighted him.  For whatever reason.

Going back does not erase that moment.  That two second time frame.  Where for the rest of my life I will pass him in slow motion.  And not speak.

It may seem like a very small, and insignificant action and moment in time.

But, what if it wasn’t?

What if I had the potential to give him a smile and moment of kindness that may have made a difference in his day.

When we withhold a kindness do we ever know the impact it could have had?

What if I am sitting.  Alone.  Anywhere.  And there are others around.  And someone approaches who speaks to everyone but me.   Wouldn’t I be slighted?  Wouldn’t I?

It’s like what I say and believe about integrity.  You either have it, or you do not.  You can not have integrity part time or some times.

I am honest enough with myself to know that I am not proud of that moment.  I can’t erase it.  It now exists.

Our character is what we do.  How we act.  How we react.  We can not partial out the things that we don’t think matter.  All that we do, matters.    Even the little things of how we act, or don’t act,  are part of our definition.  And I can’t excuse the little things.

They may add up to something, someone, I do not want to be.

38 thoughts on “The Things That Define Us

  1. You are who you are, as he is who he is. You make a decision not to speak with him based on past experiences. Just because the present is different doesn’t excuse the past. The fact you are now debating this in your mind means you are a kind and compassionate person.


  2. I think in your honesty you have made an impact. Have you ever done something which profoundly changed the way you acted from that point forward? Perhaps, today, you needed a crisis of character to ensure from this point forward you never withhold yourself from anyone. This may have been preparing you for the contact you have which you will never know its impact.

    I had someone approach me recently. He walked right up to me. He was familiar, but not enough for me to know who he was. He shook my hand and profusely heaped gratitude on me. I stood there rather unattractively gobsmacked. What he said will never be erased from my mind.

    Seven years ago, I told this man something I have told far more people than I remember. “You can do this. I believe in you.” I am the only person in his life to ever say such a thing. To me, it was inconsequential despite its veracity. It led him to make a change where now he affects many in the same positive way.

    The day will come when you will pass what to you is a completely random kindness because you are acutely aware of the potential such kindness holds. It will forever change the recipient. Without today, you may not have had the motivation for such vigilance.


    • “…a crisis of character…” I love it. Such a poignant point, very perfectly stated.

      My dear sister; you embody all that is good and positive about the human character. There is but ONE who is without weakness or nano-moments of what you experienced today. This is NOT your defining moment, it was a learning moment, and I know you well enough to believe that you learned something you will carry with you always, and, more importantly, taught to others through your honest sharing.


      • I don’t know if “perfect” should ever be applied to a description about me! 😉 And you’re right. We all have moments of weakness or poor decision making. I know this.

        And you are correct that it is not “the” defining moment. But it is “a” defining moment. And if I don’t reflect on it, and hold myself accountable, I do worry I would do it. Again.

        I hope my lesson is most absorbed by me. Thank you!!!! 🙂


    • Thank you Red. You so succinctly stated this correctly. “A crisis of character”. Spot on perfect. And I hope that it does resonate in my character forever.

      I have no way of knowing if he saw me, recognized me, or had any idea of being “passed by”. But if he did or did not, it doesn’t change that moments character crisis. And it will be part of my memory of it. Did he see it? Feel it? Know it for what it was?

      And your recent experience with the man who shook your hand….a great example of what a very simple comment made to another out of kindness can do for someone.

      I’m taking all of these kind comments and putting them to good use. I need to use this lesson forever.

      Thank you so much Red. I can’t express how important your feedback is. ❤


  3. Ugh. Sooooo want to leave a sarcastic funny response! Choosing not to. Does that mean I am growing up? =( You are just beautiful you. It ALL makes you who you are.


    • You can always leave sarcastic and funny responses! And no worries, I will never consider you grown up. 😉 It does all add up to “me”. I just want to make sure all the parts are as good as they can be. And, thank you.


  4. Wow Colleen, it is clear you so much struggled with this. I hope you have let it go already because true, you can’t erase that moment.

    If you couldn’t bring yourself to speak to him, you just couldn’t. Who knows what he will carry of the moment. And really, you can’t control that.

    You need, need to look after yourself Colleen. I truly have found, no-one else will. xx


    • You are right on all counts Noeleen! I haven’t let it go, quite yet, though. I know I should. I know I will, to some degree. But you are right, I just couldn’t at that moment speak.

      But I can still see him ‘looking’ at me. And I still see me passing him by.

      Thanks for the feedback and support Noeleen. You are right, I need to take care of me. I will.


  5. I agree that this incident may have made such an impact that you change something you do in the future…. For the better. Perhaps this was meant to be and this man was supposed to be there for this vey reason. Glass half full.


  6. I agree with Red ^, just thinking this deeply into it has an impact, makes a different. Don’t let these little things get you down, Colleen; sometimes thinking so deeply into things is a blessing, and sometimes it’s a curse. It doesn’t lessen you or your beautiful personality. I’m guilty of doing something like this, and once I’d done it, I beat myself up, not knowing why I had. I didn’t have any valid reason. We don’t always know why we do these things.


    • You’re right Nicole Marie. I do think that this time the deep thoughts are a blessing. I don’t ever want to consciously make a decision that causes any pain or unhappiness to someone who does not deserve it. Thank you for the “get out of jail” card. I do need to ponder it, maybe beat it (me) up a little bit. And go on. I’m glad you understand.


  7. Sometimes things like this are a dress rehearsal for another opportunity to do it right. At least for me, it often works that way. Now that you’ve not done it and thought about it, I bet the next time you’ll be faster to correct yourself and do what is right for you.



    • Thank you Nancy. That seems to be a good bit of the feedback I’m getting. And I can accept that. I can. And at the same time, hang my head for those 2 or 3 seconds. Thank you so much for the feedback. I hope I never do that again, and I do believe this will stick with me.


      • I’ve done it too and cannot believe how stupid I can be sometimes. You’d think at my age I’d know better (and I’m older than you too!). I’d like to think I don’t do stuff like that as much, but some weeks that’s not even true. A good night’s sleep helps put it in more perspective.


  8. I read your blog post. I read Red’s response. I do not think I could ever state what she has so eloquently done.

    But … being the gabby one that I am … adds two things …

    1) Because of what has happened, and your reaction to it … you will not forget it again. And that has value beyond vaule, even if at the cost of that moment.

    2) Your blog post … Red’s response … your action/reaction and her words, “The day will come when you will pass what to you is a completely random kindness because you are acutely aware of the potential such kindness holds. … have left an impression on me … it has made me keenly aware of my behaviors at times…and I too do not wish to have such moments define me…and I will try my best to change.


    • Red is brilliant isn’t she?

      I too, hope to learn and change. I can’t expect more from others than I expect from myself. And I expect kindness and common sense from others.

      Here’s to both of us doing our best Irish Katie. 🙂


    • Thank you ArtisticMileStone! That is my hope. That I truly absorb the feeling I am carrying right now so that I don’t ever pick up this burden again. I don’t think I can put it down. I’m going to try to not add to this regret.


  9. I agree, Colleen, that it was a moment of unkindness. Before you will be able to let go of it, you have to absorb the full impact of the lesson that was deliberately brought to you by your greater self. It was a moment when you allowed your emotions to own you, and when your emotions own you, you are lost to yourself. All human pain comes from being lost to ourselves. You are a person who is very clearly wanting to grow and improve the human self, and this was a wonderful lesson to be thankful for. As human beings, we feel deep emotions, but we have to reach a place where we are able to observe those emotions in action, and where appropriate, do not act out of them. You now know that next time, you WILL feel the emotions of the past because this man triggered old unpleasant memories, but that your observing self (which is your more aware, greater self) will have the upper hand. You will acknowledge him kindly.

    In this journey of learning, Colleen, be kind to yourself. Learn the lessons, and speak kindly to the old you who couldn’t until this moment, know any better. You are already wonderful, although not perfect. Rather like every last one of us! So look back on all the ways in which you act out of emotional triggers, and learn from it. Its an interesting lesson.


    • Thanks Yaz. I agree it was a moment of unkindness. And I do need to forgive myself.

      I can’t believe your words Yaz. Because they so aptly define how I felt. I did feel lost in that hallway. When I sat down I was stunned at my actions. And more stunned that I kept walking. I was “beating myself up” as I took the very step that took me past his chair.

      I know that I do not want to feel like this again.
      And I never want to cause anyone else to feel like this.


  10. You have so many great insights like this Colleen! I always over analyze everything that I do too and sometimes I’m sure it’s harmful but on the flip side if we didn’t analyze how can we ever grow and improve upon our mistakes! Also, I have disregarded people in the past who have similar resemblances to people who have wronged me….and sometimes ones with the same name! Isn’t it amazing how our logic can hinder us?


    • Yes!!! It is amazing. I wonder, as well, if that isn’t a reminder to me that I need to resolve things in my head and heart. I just don’t know how. Because I am very aware of what I am carrying. And I don’t want it to step in the way again. Thank you!


  11. Everyone here has shared wonderful insights. I have nothing to add really. This thought did enter my mind as I read through the post and comments – “the unexamined life is a life not worth living” – I’m sure someone wise said that and it wasn’t me 🙂

    No one is perfect but we are responsible for one another in this world, even with the people we think we don’t like. I’ve been unkind, too and when I realise that I have I pray to God to forgive me and take care of the hurt I may have inflicted…and leave the incident and thoughts at the cross where they belong.

    Now I’ve gone and added my 2 cents…

    Have a good day Colleen!



    • Thank you Mary, your 2 cents are worth more.

      I do have a responsibility to others and I do hope I am forgiven for any hurts I cause. I’m aware of them. And I am not proud of them. I know I have to put them down…..thank you for that reminder.

      I hope your day is splendid. You made mine better. 🙂


  12. Hello lovely being! I consider you a good person and surely you consider me the same — wink wink. Moments like this can help us realize there is still always an opportunity to improve ourselves not because we are not good enough but because growth is a better option than refusing to grow.

    I understand how you feel because there was a recent incident where I have done a ‘good’ deed but my mind played the devil’s advocate on what’s my real motive — which could not be good. I over analyzed then beat myself — until I decided to forgive myself not because I have done wrong in the eyes of man, not because God said I have done wrong, but because I know I couldn’t start growing while I’m busy beating.

    And I understand that the ability to ask for forgiveness and the ability to forgive is a good indication of growth — yes? Hugggs and love to you! 🙂


    • Bended! You KNOW I think you are a great person. 😉

      “Growth is a better option”. I do need to remember this lesson and be better.

      You are right. I cannot stand here and give myself this beating down forever. I have to stop and move on. Thank you for that analogy because it is so correct for me.

      I hope this is growth. If ever in that situation again (or similar to it) I will find out.

      Hugs and love returned Bended. ❤


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