Mules“If you walk into a room full of other kids,” I asked my young friend, Katelyn, “How do you decide which ones to go hang out with? “I’d look for the nice kids,” she replied. But how would you know, I mused. It’s not like people wear badges that say, I’m nice, or I’m cool, or friendly, or intellectually superior. Or do they?

This reminds me of a story. A Farmer is looking to buy a mule, picks out one he likes and asks the Muleskinner if he can take her home for a day. “I’ll bring her back tomorrow.” The Muleskinner shakes his head. “No sir, you’re going to work my mule for one free day and bring it back and say you don’t want her.” “I won’t work her,” the Farmer promises, “In fact I won’t even hitch her up.”

The Muleskinner asks in surprise, “How the heck will you know whether you want her or not if you don’t even hitch her up?” “Well,” says the Farmer, “I’ll turn her out with all my other mules and see which ones she’s hanging out with in the morning. If she’s with my hard-working, easy-keeping mules, then I’ll know she’s the right mule. If she’s standing with the good-for-nothing, trouble-making mules, I won’t want her.”

Like attracts like and it’s our badges, if you will, that tell us where we fit in. We label ourselves through the clothes we wear, how we make eye contact and whether we step aside to let others pass.

For example, a while back I passed a young boy on the street whose body language clearly said, “I’m important, I’m in a hurry and I don’t have time for you.” He accomplished this with a beleaguered look, a hurried step, and solemn concentration on his cell phone. He wore his attitude like a badge of courage.

Not surprisingly, I’ve never seen Katelyn playing with this boy. While she always indicates with a friendly smile that she has time to chat, he is steeling himself for a busy life full of important electronic devices. No, I’m afraid he is not wearing a badge that says, “I’m nice.”

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.