Creative Thinking: The roots of adult wisdom sink deep into childhood lessons

By Mark Ballard, Special to The Telegraph

When I was growing up, no matter what the situation or issue was, I could always talk to my parents to receive comfort and advice. Whether I had been mistreated in some way, needed to be reassured about something or simply wanted to know what I should do, both of them were there for me.

Looking back as a middle-age baby boomer, I now realize what a gift I was given to have that kind of parental love and support. It was like a warm blanket they wrapped me in during the tough times when the world left me cold and confused.

When I was a small boy, I often looked to my parents for answers. They were the cliff notes of life in my little world. I didn’t understand it at the time, but that was because they had lived through more than I had. They had experienced more triumphs and struggles and they had witnessed how it all turned out. I thought they were brilliant.

To me, they knew everything. Or, at least they made me feel as though they did.

Even though my daddy was a wise and compassionate man, he worked much of the time providing for our family. As a result, I spent more time with my mother. She was the one who was there before and after school and would stop anything she was doing to spend time with her children. No matter what my concern was, I felt like I could discuss it with her. Most of the time I left knowing the advice she gave was right. I now realize that because of this special relationship with her I was slowly developing my own wisdom.

Seeking advice from Mother wasn’t always easy. As my innocent adolescence magically morphed into my trying teens, my problems became bigger and the answers weren’t as easy as they were when I was younger.

Until that point, most of my problems could be solved with a “you should do this and not that” approach that was much like a simple mathematical equation. It was a given that two plus two equaled four, and we didn’t have to worry about the fact that the answer could be three on some days and six on others, with both of them being right. My problems and questions were basically simple and the answers exact.

The older I became, the more complex my questions were. Most of the time, there were no correct answers but instead multiple choices that involved lengthy thought processes and, because of that, my mother shifted the way she offered her advice.

She had laid the foundation in my earlier years and, instead of just saying what she would do, she steered me through various scenarios suggesting what all the possible outcomes could be. Then she would tell me to go give it some thought and we would talk later. Back then, she was always the first person I turned to for advice. Now, my wife fulfills that role.

I wanted her to say, “Mark, all you have to do is this,” and it would be settled. But instead, Mother would say, “Listen to your heart for it will always tell you what to do.”

I remember being upset with her at times as an older teenager and young adult because she wouldn’t just give me the right answer. That made my decisions even harder because I was not only measuring them against what I thought would be the right solution, but also whether I thought she would approve. Her approval was important to me and I always strived to do the right thing.

During the past several weeks, I’ve been presented with many complicated equations to solve: Things that have really caused me to re-visit my past and to muddle through the details of deciding the right way to handle them. Boom, boom, boom, they came all at once just as they so often do in life.

With them also came a responsibility to make sure I did the right thing. With each decision we make, there is the potential of altering a relationship, hurting someone else’s feelings or permanently changing a situation forever. That, as my mother used to say, is why we must take the time to think things through.

I have never missed my parents more than recently. During these complicated issues I’ve been attempting to settle, I’ve wanted to, on more than one occasion, pick up the phone and ask their advice only to remember they’re no longer here. It’s difficult to finally realize and then accept that you are now in the role of offering advice to your children and making decisions based on your life experiences. It’s not only difficult; it’s plain out scary!

Since my parents are gone, I’m now forced to rely on all the advice they gave me when they were alive. All the problems and issues for which I sought their advice many decades ago are a blur, but the common denominator throughout their years of advice was really quite simple now that I think back.

When you strip away all the details of whatever the situation was, it was always about following your heart. “Your mind can sometimes mislead you, but your heart never will,” Mother often said.

The other day, when I had finally reached a decision on one of my pending issues and was acting on it, I saw this quote. It was not credited to anyone but it was as if my parents had sent me a direct sign. “Leave the crowd, stand apart, ignore your head and follow your heart.” And that’s exactly what I did.

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