Growing up, I lived in a small North Alabama farming community, slap-dab in the middle of the bible belt. This meant Christianity was the answer to EVERY question. “Why is the sky blue?” “Because God made it that way.” Or “why are dogs named dogs?” “Because God named them that.” These were acceptable answers and meant you do not press the subject further.

In Kindergarten, I got into a tiff with a tall, brunette girl named Bobby. We rode the same bus and argued over something I no longer remember. I do, however, remember my come-back remark; it still haunts me today. “Your mama doesn’t even read the Bible.” Yeah, go ahead and gasp.

This remark must have made it back to her mother because I learned the greatest lessons of all that night after dinner. Number one, it’s a SMALL town, and if I do something “mean” to you, your mama is going to call my mama, and nobody wants that! I remember being sent to my room and anxiously waiting for my mother to get off the phone. It was the longest wait of my entire six years of life, I promise you, and nobody has waited that long before. The anticipation alone was traumatic, and I am confident this caused my anxiety.

To my surprise, my mother sauntered into my room, sat on my bed, and asked, “Tootie, did you tell Bobby her mama didn’t read the bible?” I gently nodded yes, and she did what every southern mama is good at. She asked how I would feel if Bobby had said that about her. Admittedly, I said I wouldn’t like it very much.

Mama then asked me what caused us not to like each other. I told her I thought her house looked scary and I didn’t like how she was bigger than me. You must know I grew up on a stinky, fly-infested chicken farm, so I certainly had no room to judge anyone. My mama told me I needed to treat people how I want to be treated and not judge a book by its cover.

She said that her dad abandoned her and her siblings at six years old, and her mom was taken to a mental hospital. My mama told me how she was sent to live with her grandparents, and when she arrived there, she had lice, and her grandmother cut all her hair off. She said she cried for days because everything was confusing, and she just wanted her mom. Mama went on to tell me how she was sent to school, and the kids made terrible fun of her hair and her clothes. I told mama I was sorry.

My mama told me this was why we should never “judge a book by its cover.” That night forever etched in my mind one of the greatest lessons learned; that of non-judgment and empathy. That lesson has been my life’s guiding principle to “Treat people how you want to be treated-ALL the time!”