Where You From? Who’s Your Momma? Wait. I’m Not Through Underestimatin’ You
To measure a person’s worth on the sticks of where she comes from, the wealth of her pockets or the races of her lineage, is to risk being a naked fool.
Dolly Parton comes from hard American dirt poverty, of the kind that still goos up the face of an underweight child somewhere. They are the children about whom too many self-styled patricians turn a nasty phrase, under their breath, let’s hope. Dreadful names get applied to such as Dolly was. The soup beans and cornbread girls, for whom chariots and ruby slippers are never in waiting. Or, so it seems, to some folks.
But Dolly proves never is long time. It’s a perilous little word, never. It tends to make fools of the reckless and proud. Mostly when they bind it to the phrase, “never going to amount to anything.”
A country girl’s ginormous dream can beat the hell out of that never. Ass whoop it on the hard ground from where she launched. That place she’ll always call home.
Dolly’s washed the dirt of it from her feet. But she’s unafraid to dirty them again. Never too proud to wash the feet of the poor she has been. She can make herself right at home in Midtown Manhattan and Eastern Tennessee. And to do this defines grace. Manners. Elegance that needs no wrist-dangled martini glass as a foil. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as it’s about the drink and not how we look wearing it.
Look at the likes of Dolly, Oprah, Ted Turner. Richard Branson, Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela. Each a soul underestimated. Each a human comet, with a long tail of light. They arc far above their critics, yet somehow never fear to fall gently, like stars, upon them. They don’t fear the fall, for they know the ground awfully well. They came from it. And they know how to rise again.
My own father was living proof. I dedicate this to him — a man who worked his way out of filth and into the shoes of a truly gentle man. One who knew of the footprints Ms. Parton left. He never had a Cogdillwood named after him. But he knew her trail to get there.
So, let’s revisit the title of this little essay. If we catch ourselves doing what it says, saying any of it to demean another soul, or our own, then we’re far too pompous for the less-than-silken britches from which we have come. Those hardscrabble hand me downs we ought to wear with grace and honor. Each of us has cause for oft-reminded humility. Each is best measured by how we treat those who started life among the plowshares, not the silo tops.
And turns out, how highly we manage to estimate them is a good, long yardstick lain against our own worth as leaders. It estimates how worthy we are to change the lovely mess of a world we share, hurling through the darkness and light.
So cheers never to underestimating anyone, including ourselves. Overestimate instead. Venture grandly. And never believe any !@$%^& who dares say you won’t, you can’t, kids from your neighborhood ought never try.