“Response-ability”

I was floored by a video I saw on social media this week. (I’ve embedded it below.) I think this gentleman sums up exactly what I have been trying to communicate in most of my posts.

We all have abilities. The only choice is how are we going to respond. This man could have grown up to be a bitter child who was embroiled by the negative perceptions of the people around him. Instead, he rose to the greatness of his grandmother’s beliefs about him.

What are your response-abilities? Comment below!

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The One or the Many?

Today I’m reflecting on a conversation I’ve had because I think that it’s a conversation most of us have had in the past month or two.

Why does society seem to be dissolving into violence and chaos so quickly? What’s going on?

I’ve touched on some ideas before, and I still believe that a one-size-fits-all solution exists. We need better solutions for mental illness. We need to more completely understand best practices for building relationships. We need to honor the sanctity and pricelessness of life. We need to be willing to look around and reach out to others — and that means more than just the small group of people that are like us. We need to see building diverse friendships as an adventure and not a threat.

But, I think there’s more that we’re missing.

While I cannot point to any period in the history of Planet Earth in which true Utopia existed, some principles and mindsets found in society made things easier and gave people a firmer framework on which to stand.

For instance, in the pioneering days of America, we had violence. We had clashing cultures, and we had outlaws. We saw people working with all of their might to scratch out a meager existence for a dream — the dream of the freedom afforded by a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

That dream created a mindset of community. It indoctrinated people think beyond themselves and to consider the greater effects of their actions. It wasn’t foolproof, but it helped.

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The Problem of Me, Myself and I

When we look at our life through the lens of “what’s in it for me,” or “what am I gaining from this,” we actually put ourselves in a state of constant conflict with everyone else. That’s because we assume that everyone else in the world is looking at life the same way we do. Instead of seeing potential allies, we see rivals. In a dog-eat-dog world, the dog with the most moxie gets the biggest piece of the pie. Dogs may hunt in packs, but they eat as individuals.

Fortunately, we have higher order thinking abilities than dogs have. We can see the benefits of working together, collaborating, and trying to be fair in distributing the benefits. We may not ever completely agree on the definition of fair distribution, but we can at least sit down and discuss it. We can even compromise when needed!

 

How are you working to help solve problems? Share in the comments!

Balancing Dreams with Reality

In some ways, my life has been chaos since late January. It seems that every time I feel like I’ve got a plan for making progress and managing my time, something gets in the way. In January and early February, those “distractions” were mostly related to my duties at my church. In late February, my husband and I miscommunicated and it took about two weeks for me to be able to turn the “oops” into “ok” — even with his help. Then, as March was beginning, my mom went into the hospital with pneumonia. (Thankfully, she’s fine now and finishing her recovery at home.)

My dreams include learning Spanish, writing music, and starting my own business. I’d love to become one of the “big wigs,” at least in my own little suburb of the U.S. I have these visions of what my home and my life will look like when I’ve “arrived,” and I’m eager to get there.

Instead, the reality is that I live in a small home filled with unfinished projects, and my living room is in such chaos right now that I’m embarrassed to have anyone visit.

balance

Experts would say that I need balance and boundaries. I need to carve out “sacred time” that is for me and my dreams and not let anyone or anything interfere. That sounds awesome, but I’ve never had life work that way.

So, I have decided to work on my mindset. I have decided to layer my priorities.

Top Tier Priorities

I have learned that making a difference for good in life requires integrity to high moral standards and it also requires making connections. I tend to think of Mother (now Saint) Teresa as my example. She made a huge difference for good. She did it without fanfare. She did it by getting personally involved when there was a need. She knew and loved the people she was trying to help.

Of course, since making a difference for good is my top tier priority, it fits that I will have to put other things aside when something at my top level “pops up” in my life.

Second Tier Priorities

Honestly, this is largely what I would call personal advancement. This is where my efforts to increase my physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial health fit in. This is the clean house, daily exercise program, gardening, starting a business, and most of the rest of my life fit in.

Third Tier Priorities

This is pretty much everything else. The truth and the reality are that I won’t be spending any real time at this level.

 

Conclusion

I find that understanding my real priorities is freeing. It doesn’t take away the frustration when the plans I thought I had for the day or the week are suddenly rearranged by an unforeseen need from higher priorities, but it does help to lessen the amount of frustration I feel. In fact, I was able to relax while I spent time with Mom in the hospital and feel gratitude that I still have this time with her and that life has worked out that I have the time to give.

 

So, do you try to balance your life or understand your priorities? Have you found a way to do both? Share in the comments!

Battling Christmas Letdown

Moving-Christmas-advert-imagines-sad-Father-Christmas-forgetting-presents-as-dementia-strikes

This is the first year that I haven’t really struggled with what I call “Christmas letdown.” There’s a huge build-up to Christmas: decorating, cooking, music, advertisements, movies, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in the need for Christmas to be amazingly special — especially if you are codependent.

Christmas can be a nightmare as things don’t go perfectly, as that “special feeling” gets swallowed up in stress and anxiety. Kids misbehave (usually at the family get together, so that you just “know” that all of your in-laws are talking about you behind your back). Presents don’t endear you to people like you hoped they would. You just can’t create that perfect “Hallmark Christmas.” You feel like you’re the only one who isn’t happy, the only one who is struggling just to get through the season.

How can you make the craziness stop?

  1. Breathe: I’m being serious. As you feel your sense of crazy overloading, use that as your trigger to stop for a few moments and focus on your breathing. Take in long, nourishing breaths through your nose and feel the air fill the deepest reaches of your lungs. Let the air flow out of your lungs. Really feel the goodness enter your body with each breath. You’re triggering things that are hardwired into your brain to help you reduce your stress.
  2. Be here, now: Last year is over. Nothing will change it. This year is all we have. Enjoy it for exactly what it is. There is good in every moment if we have the eyes to see it!
  3. Connect, instead of perfect: Unpacking the boxes of decorations and trimming the trees was a bittersweet time for me. It had nothing to do with the baubles I was actually holding in my hands, it was about the memories. A perfect Christmas doesn’t bring people together. People are brought together as we open our hearts and reach out to them. Look for ways to spend time with others.
  4. Search for the good: Christmas is one of the few holidays that still lingers after it has officially come and gone. Look for little ways that you can find the good in each day, smile at someone, do a little extra something for someone each day.
  5. Focus on the memories: Presents will break and wear out, family and friends will go home and return to their own lives. Memories are what we can keep. If things don’t go according to plan, laugh and help everyone have a good memory to keep.
  6. Acknowledge that you’re not alone: Christmas letdown is actually very common. You may feel like you are the only one, but you are not. If you’re faking a smile, you’re probably in good company.

I hope that you have already had lots of reasons to truly celebrate already this year and that tomorrow is a day filled with beautiful memories.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Why Thanksgiving?

St. Jude - EditedHappy-Thanksgiving-Wishes

In about five days, the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. In recent years, we seem to collectively become awkward with this holiday:

  • Five-ish years ago, retail stores began pushing Christmas sales right after Halloween to raise profits. This year, it appears that an increasing number of people have followed the trend and put up their Christmas decorations as soon as they removed the ones from Halloween.
  • Most of us now have to admit that our forefathers’ attitude of superiority and conquest causes us some measure of discomfort. While the Pilgrims opened a new era for Anglo-Saxons and America has been a great place to live and a game-changer for the world, this same series of events precipitated the decimation of thousands of unique cultures through the spread of disease, war, and brute force. From our cultural perspective, it looks like an overgrown case of “finders-keepers, and it doesn’t sit well in our psyches.
  • America’s current rhetorical about immigrants — legal and illegal — can be offensive to those in our country who are not of Anglo-Saxon descent. There is little in the holiday for people of other cultural heritages to connect to.
  • The traditional stories are actually wrong. The Peanuts movie is great for touchy-feelies, but it perpetuates myths about what really happened and why. These same myths have been perpetuated in schools throughout the nation for decades. (After doing a little historical research, I have sometimes found myself referring to the harvest festival as the first drunken redneck party in America.)

 

Since the Thanksgiving holiday is so politically charged and drags so much baggage with it, why bother to celebrate?

Here are my reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving:

  1. No matter how dysfunctional we may think our family is, they are our family. We have blood and common life experiences that tie us together. Even the most reclusive human is wired for some connectedness. Without a sense of connection, mental health suffers. We need each other, no matter how much we manage to irritate each other.
  2. Traditions connect us to our collective past and are passed down to future generations. Traditions create a sense of security and help us define where we fit. Traditions ground us and stabilize us.
  3. If we decide to leave all of the negativity and baggage surrounding the holiday alone for one day, setting at least one day a year aside to be grateful for all of the good that surrounds us is a beautiful thing. We pick and choose our focus, and our focus determines what occupies our mental and emotional energy. We can actually reduce the draining effect of negativity in our lives through practicing gratitude and appreciation. (Sure, the bad things are still there, but they don’t look nearly as bad.)

Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition or gratitude routine or habit that is special to you? Share in the comments!

Does it Really Take a Disaster?

volunteersThis may be the one part of human nature that baffles me the most, even though I have many instances of the same thinking and behavior running throughout my life.

Until Harvey, and now with Irma and Maria, wildfires in the western US, an earthquake in Mexico, and other major disasters that I am probably overlooking my news feed had been completely dominated by politicians calling each other names, riots based on race, and debates on every possible position that someone can take.

It’s like we are wired to thrive on this idea of “us” and “them.” The mentality is an ever-present theme throughout human history. When the Europeans overran the American continent, the Native Americans were branded as savages and treated as being far less than human. Very few people in that day took the time to get to know their neighbors who were so different from them. They were different, they were to be shunned, and wars broke out between “us” and them.” It makes me very hesitant to ever celebrate cultural progress.

Enter the natural disasters.

Suddenly, we forget that we have been calling each other names and trying to find ways to use the government to put the other side in its place. We stop rioting and threatening. Suddenly, there are real people — not all that different from you and me — whose lives have been destroyed. Real people with whom I have a connection need help. It’s like we are collectively pulled up short by the cliche “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

We roll up our sleeves and work side-by-side with people that we were disparaging just weeks before. We do our good deeds, go home talking about how awesome the experience was and how we need to be more like this every day, and then return to our former pursuits of bashing those who don’t fit our personal definition of acceptability.

What is it about us humans that we can be so blind to our failings? Why is it so easy to turn people who hold other views into objects to be destroyed? Why is it so scary to sit down and have rational discussions? Why aren’t we trying to at least get a glimpse of other points of view to see what validity is there?

When those few American settlers bothered to understand Native American culture and traditions, they didn’t necessarily embrace this lifestyle that was so new and foreign to them, but they did find much that was good in these people who were so different from themselves. They found families and traditions and knowledge. They found real people.

So, is there anything stopping you from listening, considering, and responding rationally?

Four Steps to Positive Leadership

shutterstock_322225793Yes, “leadership” is a buzzword, but I think we have so many confusing voices trying to explain what it is that no one really understands what it is. I have decided to add to the confusion — only because I think I can actually help.

My husband has told me of a manager at his company whose philosophy is that I won’t ask you to do anything that I’m not doing. Oops! This slight twist on the saying is crippling. Employees sit around waiting to be delegated work, the manager is too busy to manage, and the division of his company isn’t necessarily as effective as it could be. Imagine the CEO trying to pitch in with everything from janitorial services on up the company chain!

I worked under a boss once who was simply blind to the inconsistencies in what she practiced as compared to what she preached. In staff meetings, it was about taking small steps in implementing positive change, servant leadership, and other jargon. In practice, if you did not perform to the standards she set for you, you were placed on her discard list — and often found your performance evaluation scores manipulated to make you believe that your job was in jeopardy.

True leadership is about building members of a team. It is about seeing yourself as a mentor and creating collaborative plans to build strengths and strengthen weaknesses. It is about everyone having the opportunity to grow and become the best version of themselves.

I don’t think that it’s a hard or unrealistic as it sounds, and I think it works in businesses, in families, and in any situation where people are trying to work together.

  1. Involve others in a challenge. Instead of the dreaded “You’re failing and here’s the plan to fix it” speech, present a problem to be solved. Have a brainstorming session, searching for reasonable solutions. Refuse to allow anyone to try to throw blame around — keep things focused on creating a solution. Encourage the team to create a personal action plan right then and there, even if it’s simply a couple of sentences. Drop by offices and check in on progress.
  2. Be sure to have confidence in your people. As you check on progress, be sure that each person knows you are only there to offer help if it’s needed. Let each person contribute in their own, unique way. Often, you find that their way is as good or better than your own!
  3. Give honest feedback. Sure, you want to be as kind and positive as possible, but you may have to let someone know they fell short of expectations. Listen to explanations, and work through excuses together. Offer your assistance, if possible.
  4. Give full credit. Even if you helped and supported along the way, let others have the credit for their hard work. Sure, you’re the leader, but a leader accomplishes very little without the hard work of the people he or she is leading! Give the credit, and don’t worry so much about your accolades — your abilities will be noticed, too.