A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was one of my favourite books as a child. It’s the story of Sara Crewe, a beloved and pampered child who is suddenly orphaned and left destitute. When they realize she is penniless, the other students and teachers of her boarding school treat Sara cruelly, but Sara never loses her dignity or kindness. It was a story that sang to my soul.
“Whatever comes,” [Sara] said, “cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”
Sara Crewe showed me that I too could be a little princess no matter what the condition of my physical world because being a true princess is about nobility of spirit and heart.
It’s easy to think the lessons espoused in this book, which was published in 1905, can’t be applied today. Too often, being a princess now means pouting and having royal temper tantrums, bullying and disdaining others who don’t have the latest glitter or tutu, assuming a haughty attitude and treating people as if they were indentured servants. Our society has Bratz dolls and “mean girls” and tiaras for everyday wear.
But, Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote her book precisely because meanness, tantrums and haughtiness were rife in her day too. Her readers could relate to these sorts of behaviours and were enchanted by Sara Crewe who, through goodness of heart and strength of character, rises above adversity and is richly rewarded for it in the end.
We choose the type of princess we will be.
Happy birthday to Frances Hodgson Burnett – born November 24, 1849.
Sometimes it’s just that simple. If you’re waffling and wavering on a decision, gauge what your gut is saying. If you’re not getting a resounding and sincere “yes” then your answer is “no.”
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Consider this question.
Will you marry me? If the answer isn’t yes, it’s no. C’mon… are you going to answer “maybe” or “yes, but …”?
Or how about this example.
Do you love him/her? If it’s not yes, it’s no. Love may not be unconditional, but you’re either in or you’re out.
If your gut doesn’t say “yes”, or better “HELL YES!”, then it’s no. Go with that.
“Nicht ärgern, nur wundern.” My mother kept a plaque in the kitchen with that phrase on it. It translates from German to “Don’t be angry, just be amazed ” according to Google Translate.
Let’s ignore the creepy fact that this phrase was also the message left by German soldiers on the destroyed town hall of Péronne during World War I. I just found that out while researching this blog post. Eeeeesh.
No, no. I will assume that my mother, born well after WWI and a peace-loving and curious person by nature, was not harbouring any dark, pugilistic patriotism for the country where she was born.
Indeed, when I asked her as a child what the plaque meant, she translated it as “Don’t get angry. Just wonder.”
Wonder at what’s going on with the people involved in a conflict.
Wonder at the differing points of view.
Wonder what each person’s “truth” about the situation is.
Wonder if there’s another way to view the problem.
Wonder if you can find an alternate solution.
Wonder why you are upset. What’s pushing your buttons? What are you really afraid of? Anger is rooted in fear of something: fear of rejection, fear of betrayal, fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of being misunderstood.
Stopping and asking “I wonder….” is a simple but effective way to increase your self-awareness and empathy for others and keep an angry situation from escalating.
Yesterday while walking to work I saw a squirrel get clipped by a car. The little creature wasn’t killed but was left in the road writhing and wriggling. It was agonizing to watch. Cars passed by, swerving to miss the squirrel. Other pedestrians didn’t seem to see what was happening.
I spotted a man’s ski glove sitting in a bush. I put it on and during a lull in the traffic went and picked up the squirrel. I placed him on a pile of leaves by a tree and he lay still at last, panting hard, his mouth open and his eyes half closed. I didn’t know what to do.
Once when I was very young, a sparrow fell into our fireplace. By the time my father got the bird from the fire, it was badly burned. My parents took the sparrow up to the kitchen and had a murmured discussion. I stood behind them agitated, shifting from foot to foot. My father took a heavy-handled knife from a drawer and smacked the sparrow sharply on the head with the handle. I started screaming “What are you DOING??” My mother turned around and said gently but firmly “This is the right thing to do. It’s too badly hurt. We’re stopping its suffering.” It was one of the rare times I saw my parents work as a team and I knew with certainty that they were doing the right thing.
But I didn’t have a heavy-handled knife or even a rock to put the squirrel out of his misery. I don’t know how to wring an animal’s neck and was afraid of botching the job. I said a prayer for the squirrel and encouraged him to go to heaven. It occurred to me that my looming over the squirrel was frightening, not comforting to him. So feeling helpless, I stood up and continued on to work.
Should I have found a way to kill the squirrel or is it better he died in his own time? Would it have been kinder to have left him in the road and hoped a car finally hit him? Is it possible the squirrel recovered? I haven’t gone back to the spot to see if he is still there (I can’t bear to).
What would you have done?
A few years ago, I was desperately unhappy with my life. I felt stuck, not knowing what exactly was wrong or what to do. Within months, I was depressed and having panic attacks. As I tried to figure out what to do, or if anything could be done, my panic mounted and my frantic mind scrabbled at the seams of my life like a cornered rat. I felt hopeless and trapped.
My sister told me about an exercise she did when she was feeling similarly stuck and unhappy. She wrote down all the things in her life that were in her power to change. She suggested I try the exercise myself, assuring me that the results would be surprising.
She was right. There’s precious little that you cannot change. All these things (and more) are yours to choose:
Your eye and hair colour
Your spouse, your friends, your pastimes
Even your gender.
They’re all open to change.
In fact, the only things you can’t change are your past and your age.
Reinvention, transformation, opportunities and fresh starts are available pretty much every minute of the day. Now that’s hopeFULL knowledge!