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Elmer Steffen: How You See It…

November 12, 2014


I eavesdrop too much.

Today I walked in to a room as two men began a conversation. Introducing each other, the one man thought the other might work with the first man’s wife.

No, he stated. He works in a plant of a similar name and nature, but, he explained, the wife works in the tool and die shop; he, the second man, works in the foundry.

Ah, said the second man.

Then he said what piqued my interest.

“We’ve only lived here a short time. But I can tell you there’s a lot of drugs on this town.”

He looked up at me, standing at the other side of the room.

He waffled.

“I don’t know if there’s any cops here,” he hedged, “But I just know there’s a lot of drugs.”

The other man agreed.

“Pills. All kinds of pills.”

On a cue from the first man, he added, “as I’ve heard…”

Being the only other person present, I thought myself to be the suspected cop. I stood silently, awaiting my turn to order.

The conversation diffused quickly and as went our separate ways ways. I thought that things really are as we see them.

I have worked in North Manchester for 16 years. I can think of 100 first impressions I have of the town that have nothing to do with drugs. Victorian homes. Amazing downtown architecture. Intelligent community. Great schools. Friendly. Artsy. Cultured in a small town way. Urban (I live in a town of 399 souls).

Drugs wouldn’t ever cross my mind (other than the kind you get at CVS).

How we approach life is the real difference as to how we see things, isn’t it? I suppose if the cop-fearing man had an interest in the finer things life has to offer, he wouldn’t have had his first impression that the town is full of drugs.

And I’m not saying that the victim of my eavesdropping is a druggie of any sort.

There’s a story that makes my point. It was told to me years ago by the late Elmer Steffen. Elmer was a volunteer in his Church and community many years ago. He told the story this way:

A boy moved to a new town from across the state. He approached his new neighbor who was out sitting on the porch.

“Sir,” the boy asked, “I’m new here. What kind of kids live in this town?”

The man answered, “Well, what kind of kids live in the town you came from?”

“Well, they were mean and you couldn’t trust them. We had bullies and all kinds of trouble. Kids never dressed well or took care of their things.”

The man answered the boy, “We have exactly those kinds of kids in this town.”

The boy went away sad.

It turns out that the man had new neighbors on the other side also, and the boy next door came to see the man on his porch, just like the first boy did.

The second boy also asked the man, “What kind of kids live in this town?”

And the man asked the second boy the same question, “What kind of kids live in your old town?”

“We had great friends! We had lots of fun playing together and helping each other out at school. It was so much fun to share things and spend time together.”

The man answered the second boy, “We have exactly those kinds of kids in this town.”

In my experience with people, I’ve come to believe the wisdom of Elmer’s tale.

We see life and live life according to our perspectives. I know people on their death beds who are more concerned for their family and friends than they are for their own impending departure. And I know people – many younger than me – who simply think they have no reason or purpose in life.

I don’t recommend dosing the water with Pollyanna or fitting everyone with rose-colored glasses, but I do recommend that everyone take stock of the good things they have and work from that perspective.

Things like drug problems or other ills won’t go away simply by thinking optimistically; at the same time, a positive outlook puts those problems in perspective. The problems don’t run our lives – we run them and deal with the problems as they come.

Thanks Elmer for this great lesson.


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