I would imagine that at one time or another every one of us has accidentally spilled our milk! When I was in grade school, we had to pour our milk into a cone-shaped cup every day at lunch time from the milk dispenser. Because I liked milk so much, I would usually fill my cup as full as possible. Then I would have to walk very carefully and slowly to the table so that it would not “slosh” out on everyone. Today milk comes in handy individual cartons so students don’t have to worry as much about spilling it on their friends.
While spilled milk is probably a common experience for all of us it is not actual spilled milk that I want to talk about in this Tip. When something in your life goes wrong or catches you off guard, someone may quote the old saying, “Well, you can’t cry over spilled milk!” Usually, they are referring to the fact that even though a tough break happened to fall your way, you cannot let it bother you or let it get you down. You just have to move on, do the next right thing, and cut your losses.
Years ago, when I was a very young school principal with somewhat of an inexperienced attitude, I made a poor decision about a particular situation. During a school board meeting we were discussing the situation that had happened regarding a particular student and his family. I made the comment to the school board, “Well, you can’t cry over spilled milk.” My friend, James Fleming, a school board member, and former Marine, spoke up and said, “That’s true. You can’t cry over spilled milk, but you can clean it up before it spoils!” That was a powerful statement to me. I had never heard it before. I have never forgotten it since that night!
James went on to explain that although the situation was unfortunate, I should give the student’s family a phone call to provide further perspective on what had happened. There were some details that had not previously come to light and James felt that the situation could be clarified with a caring, personal phone call from me. He encouraged me to clean things up before they spoiled.
Because he was older and I respected him, I followed his advice. I gave the family a call and apologized for not having handled the situation better. I was amazed at their response. They took responsibility for their son’s lack of cooperation with us and for his behavior. By the end of the phone call, everything was smoothed over and there were no hard feelings. The next time I saw James, I thanked him for sharing his wisdom.
That event happened in my life over forty-five years ago! I cannot tell you how many times since then I have heard someone say, “Well, you can’t cry over spilled milk.” I always look at them and gently say, “That’s true. You can’t cry over spilled milk, but you can clean it up before it spoils.” It changes the tone of everything.
I have not only learned to encourage other people to clean up their “messes” whenever possible, but I also try to keep my own messes cleaned up as well. When I realize that I have made a mistake or done something wrong, I simply own up to it and then straighten the situation out to the best of my ability. In other words, I try to clean it up before it spoils.
None of us wants to leave a trail of destruction in our life. And, few of us want to be the kind of person who hurts others. Reconsider some of the situations that have happened in your life and if you have the opportunity, clean up what has been “spilled.” You will be the better person for it and others will not have to smell the awful odor of a “spoiled situation”, simply because you took the time to clean it up.
Tip: Remember what to do when you spill your milk!
Reprinted with permission from the "Tip of the Week".
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