Some people hate being late. They’d rather not go than show up after the party starts.
But most of us understand that being late is no reason to miss the party. There’s still plenty of fun to be had and plenty of people to see. The party isn’t over!
The same is true in crucial conversations — it’s never too late to show up the conversation. No matter how long a harmful behaviour or dysfunctional relationship has been happening, there’s still hope for change.
How do I know? I’ve seen it in my very own family.
The Family Code
Both of my parents lost their dads when they were little children. They were raised by single mothers — single, working mothers. There was much poverty back in those days and their mothers worked all the time.
There was no time for bedtime stories, field trips, or the many things we think of as part of modern parenting. In fact, my mother never even heard the words “I love you” until she dated my father.
When they got married, they both desperately wanted love. They decided to create a situation in which there was unconditional love.
They also wanted seven children. And they had them.
In our family, we had a strong code of unconditional love… but we also had some non-negotiable rules:
- You cannot drive until you are 18 years old.
- You will buy your own first car.
- You will pay your way through college.
- You will pay for your own wedding.
- You will address social injustice… no matter who is involved.
Mom vs. Racial Inequality
My mother modeled this, even as an introverted, quiet woman who often faded into the background.
I specifically remember her working on behalf of an African-American soldier who was killed in the Vietnam War. His dying wish was to be buried in Elmwood Cemetery — a white cemetery — and they wouldn’t allow it. My mother was infuriated. So, she and others came together and marched on this cemetery until they changed their rule.
Why did he want to be buried there? His mom lived across the street — and she didn’t have a car. This was the only way she could visit her son’s grave. My mother said, “If you die for your country, you should be able to be buried anywhere in it.”
She was an amazing model of someone who fought social injustice, and she didn’t stop there.
My mother not only stood up to public injustices, she also stood up to our grandmother — and made us do the same. See, my grandmother had a bad habit of using a derogatory slur word for African-Americans. But her seven grandchildren relentlessly reminded her that she couldn’t use that word.
Most little kids (and their moms) would eventually give up and make an excuse for their grandparents…but not us. Because of our family code, we kept telling her — and eventually, she stopped saying it.
There’s Always Hope For Change
It’s easy to make excuses for ignoring crucial issues. My mom could have followed the rules of the cemetery and helped the soldier’s mother to buy transportation instead. She could have considered my grandmother a lost cause. But she understood a vital lesson:
It’s never too late to have a crucial conversation.
Sometimes we don’t hold crucial conversations because we’ve lost hope. We assume someone is too set in their ways for our conversations to make a difference. But it’s never too late.
See, my grandmother is a better person because we talked to her about using that slur word. It didn’t just make a difference in her vocabulary — it opened the door for her to make a difference in others.
At age 45, she sent herself back to college. She graduated at 51 and became a beloved biology teacher, teaching students of all races for the next 20 years. The students absolutely loved her.
She is 106 now. What a sad fool’s choice it would have been to make the excuse, “She’s too old. Just let her keep doing it.”
Just as little kids can teach an old lady about racial equality, you can help others make better choices about the way they live and treat people. It’s not too late.