Wisdom of Green Hair

Wisdom of Green Hair
Back of a woman's head. She has long, bright green hair. This illustrates a post about an aphorism of wisdom based on green hair.

Words of wisdom, from my late friend Gwen.

“You have green hair.”

Of course, I’ll explain.

Gwen was part of our life in North Carolina. Back then, we lived “in the buckle of the Bible Belt,” as my spouse Charles likes to say. Our neighborhood was built on the old Billy Graham farm. There was a church across the road, down the street, and around the block, too. In fact, all social life revolved around religious community. So, Charles and I adapted. We joined a havurah, a small do-it-yourself Jewish community.

Friends relaxing together in a tent, smiling for the camera.
Gwen is the beautiful woman on the right.

The women of the havurah became a collective of mothers. We were hands-on: cooking, driving, childminding as needed. But we were minds-on, too. We had lots of wisdom to share. So, we had a special custom when our girls became bat-mitzvah.

We—the women and girls—would gather for a wisdom circle. Each of us would offer the bat mitzvah a gift of wisdom. Usually, these were words of encouragement and advice. But someone might bring a song, a drawing, or a card, too.

Gwen gave every girl the exact same gift. A post-it note with the words “you have green hair.” Then she would explain. Sometimes people say negative things about you. And then you feel bad. But often what they say isn’t true. So, when that happens, just imagine they said, “You have green hair.” You wouldn’t feel bad, because you know it’s not true.

Gwen worked as a corporate trainer. So, it was her job to package wisdom in small sound bites. But I worked as a professor. So, I distrusted sound bites. Too simple, too superficial.

And yet. I keep learning from this one simple sound bite.

My life is filled with people. Sometimes we disagree. We might even clash. An angry person might criticize me. They might even insult me. So, I’ll think about the criticism. Try to understand it. And, if I do, I’ll apologize and improve. But I don’t know how to handle the insults. So I just re-play them in my mind. And I hurt my own feelings again and again.

But, what’s the insult, really? Usually it’s something ridiculous. A variation on “you have green hair.”

Now, this aphorism of Gwen’s is a metaphor. So, it depends on a shared understanding of green hair. Twenty years ago, green hair was not in style. So, if someone said, “you have green hair,” they meant “you are a misfit.” And we all knew that. But today, bright hair dye is everywhere. So, if someone says “you have green hair,” it’s probably a compliment.

But, for me, Gwen’s metaphor still works. Because meanings do change. And, if I dared to think objectively about old slurs, I would understand them differently, too. They might seem irrelevant. Or obvious expressions of the speaker’s own flaws. Untrue, and not worth feeling bad about anymore. As insubstantial as…green hair.

Gwen, your memory is a blessing.

  1. Dear Laura,
    So Sorry for your loss of such an incredible girlfriend whose wisdom and contribution transcends and her teachings are elevating her soul! Z”l
    I too will use her Green Hair wisdom and keep her legacy alive and green!!!
    Debbie Havusha

  2. Love Gwen’s simple and profound wisdom teaching! I shall carry this one too!

    1. Thank you for sharing this :sound bite” It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who re-play insults in my mind. From now on I will remind myself of the “green hair” instead of hurting my own feelings.

      1. Thanks Elizabeth! It often works for me. At the very least, it makes me smile and starts to shift my mood. Be well.

  3. Thank you for the wisdom of your friend. I will try to remember that in times of hurt. I truly enjoy your blogs – especially at this time!
    Shabbat Shalom.

    1. Thanks, Jenny, for taking Gwen’s wisdom to heart. And thank you for reading regularly.

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