Looking for Evidence

Remember it is who you are that heals not what you know.” – Carl Jung

Yesterday I came across some notes I jotted on my phone of books that my brother recommended the last time we were together.

I adore my brother. He’s 6-years-older than I am and has been the sibling that I’ve looked up to since I learned how to look up. I’ve lived near him my entire adult life, I was very close with his daughters when they were growing up and now he’s very close with my kids. There was even a time 20 years ago when I worked for my brother at his company.

So I think it’s safe to say we have a natural affinity for one-another – we have lovely conversations, enjoy our time together and have stuck together through the ups-and-downs of life.

But I can’t name a single book that I recommended to my brother that he has read. And he reads all the time so it isn’t because he doesn’t like to read. Same goes for podcasts, tv shows (back when I watched tv) and spiritual practices like meditation.

It’s taken me a lot of growing up to be able to say with certainty that it isn’t because I’m his younger sister. I know he thinks I’m smart and he respects me.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has looked for evidence that they matter in the lives of the people close to them. I’m thinking of a comment I once heard a husband tell me that his wife had to vote exactly the same way on a ballot which surprised me for an independent couple.

When my brother eulogized my dad he described my dad’s ability to “meet you where you were at without leaving where he was at.” Coming back to that helps me remember that hearts are the center of friendships, not heads. The work of love is to meet each other so we all know we aren’t walking alone. Instead of looking for the ways I’ve influenced my brother, perhaps I should just count all the miles we’ve walked together.

 I ended up not checking out any of the books on the list from my brother. Not because he doesn’t read mine, but because I like it when he tells me the stories of what he’s read and where’s he been. It gives us something to talk about when our hearts meet.

Do the people in your lives read the books or content that you recommend? Does it matter?

Influence

Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.” – unknown

I went back to look at footage of an interview with Madonna in 2012 that has stuck in my mind. In the interview, she’s being asked about Lady Gaga’s music and she calls it “reductive.” Something about her facial expression made it stand out when I watched it even though I’m not deep into either of those artists’ work.

When I went back and watched it, I saw a lot of things that I didn’t remember. The ABC News interviewer was really pushing Madonna to say something unkind about Lady Gaga’s music – to weigh in on some perception of “feud” that was being circulated online. Madonna says a number of things about influence and being amused before being pushed to call Born This Way reductive. When the interviewer pushes further to ask what that means, Madonna gets this sassy look on her face and says, “Look it up.”

According to the Oxford Dictionary, it means, “tending to present a subject or problem in a simplified form, especially one viewed as crude.” Setting aside the issue of what we do to celebrities to try to stoke a controversy or conflict, I suspect I’ve always remembered this because I wonder if what we all do is reductive.

Speaking for myself, I think everything I do is derivative or reductive of someone else’s work. I’m endlessly influenced by the books I read, especially the Mark Nepo and Frederick Buechner meditation books that I read every morning before I write. But more than that, I’m influenced by all the posts I read from everyone else and the podcasts I listen to when driving. I try to carefully quote and link when I use material but often times what I get is inspiration or ideas about how to think about a topic.

Celebrity feud aside – isn’t what we are here to do to influence each other? And isn’t that an honor to be a part of someone else’s path? I’m not talking about plagiarism or giving credit where credit is due – but just knowing that our content might touch one other person in a way that is meaningful, isn’t that a good thing?

(featured photo from Pexels)

It’s a Sign

If you were waiting for a sign, this is it.” – unknown

It seems like we’ve had an outbreak of creative energy into our signage in Seattle lately. I’ve noticed so many fun and inspiring signs and they have me thinking about our personal sphere of influence.

We all get our space to write our message – maybe it’s within our family, or a blog, or a sandwich sign. We can update that message as often as we want. And we’ll never exactly know what passers-by are influenced by that sign. We can make people laugh, think, cringe or cry. We can inspire fear or faith.

The impact of the sign might vary by how many people drive by or if anyone is paying attention. But our work is to know that our lives are our message: we channel our creativity and essence into the message we are broadcasting every day.

So, here’s my sign for today:

I see you.
Blink if you’re awesome.
Now believe it!

What’s your sign?

Co-Creators

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama

Listening to a podcast with Tara Brach and Dr. Kristin Neff about fierce self-compassion, Kristin told a story about a man she worked closely with and once supported who turned out to be a narcissist and sexually abusive to young women. She said something like, “Until this happened, I had no idea how many narcissists were around but so many people I’ve talked to have a story about one.” And sure enough, what popped into my head was the narcissist that once was in my life. I worked with him and he was once good friends with my ex-husband. Because our relationship was tangential, I’ve largely dismissed any effect that he had on me but I realized as I listened that there are so many unkind things he said about women that pop into my head more than they should. Like the time he said a particular woman was like butter. And I naively asked what? “She’d be totally hot but-her face.”  That I remember that probably a dozen years or more since it was said, goes to show how powerful words can be.

Later on in the podcast Dr. Neff, an assistant professor of research at University of Texas, talked about the idea that we are co-creators of our lives. The people around us influence who we are. That makes me so grateful that I spend most of my time with my kids who are joy monsters. And it also explains why they affect me so deeply – not only because my observations of them resonate with my own experience in such a lived way that I learn great lessons but also because they are changing me as part of my ongoing story.

It also calls me to really intentional about what I let in. As I was listening to the podcast, remembering about the narcissist who used to be in my life and the things he said, my eyes caught a picture of my wise and kind dad. In great contrast to the narcissist, my dad would have never said those unkind or demeaning things about women. I had this perfect a-ha moment when I knew I’d let a narcissist affect my assumptions about how men thought of women in general and that was a great deal more influence than I should have ever given him. If our lives are co-created with other people, I want to make sure to draw my conclusions from those around me that I admire, respect and inspire me and to edit out the rest.

Who Are You Listening To?

“It is the ability to choose which makes us human.” – Madeleine L’Engle

When the pandemic hit last year I had just started watching Season 3 of Bosch on Amazon Prime. One night I turned it on and the story line involving one of my all-time favorite detectives as he navigated departmental politics, the drama of his own life and homicide cases he works left me feeling wrung out instead of entertained. So the next time I was looking for evening entertainment, I had to find something else.

Instead I’ve been listening to podcasts as I clean, exercise and prepare for the next day. On Being with Krista Tippett, Soul Sundays with Oprah, Unlocking Us with Brené Brown, The Michelle Obama podcast and Revisionist History with Malcom Gladwell have given me the sound bites and food for thought for a year. What a difference it has made! Author Simon Sinek on Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast made a comment that put words to this for me – sometimes we work alone but that does not have to be lonely if we have sense of faith and community. Listening to deep and inspired conversations with curious and insightful interviewers has kept me company and inspired in this year of being apart.

Krista Tippett’s podcast with Nicholas Christakis, professor of sociology at Yale, was so uplifting to hear his message about how our species is wired for good – to love, to cooperate, to teach each other stuff.

I loved hearing one of the rare interviews with psychiatrist Dr. M Scott Peck did with Oprah. She asked how he got so much done and he replied that he got so much done because he spends two hours a day doing nothing. He used to called it his thinking time but then people felt free to interrupt him so he renamed it his praying time and then no one dared.

When Brené Brown interviewed psychologist and author, Harriet Lerner, it was a master class in apologies. I so related to the point she made that adults often use a child’s apology as a launching point for a lecture instead of “thank you for saying that, I appreciate it.” Her point was that neither children nor adults feel much like apologizing when that is likely to happen.

Michelle Obama interviewed her mom, Marian Robinson and they laughed about how Marian used to foster independence in her children by letting them get themselves up and ready for school, “it’s up to you” she would quip, “I already got my education.”

One of the Brené Brown podcasts was with neuroscientist David Eagleman whose research at Stanford shows that our brain is constantly changing and making new connections. He made the point that even in the hour of listening to the podcast, our brains would be changed by it. And I believe it was in the same interview that he said who we are is shaped by the five people that we spent the most time with. It is that point that sticks with me as I consider how to spend my precious free time. Who am I listening to and is it what I want to be shaping me?