How Not To Be Mean

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

The other night my seven-year-old was being short-tempered with her younger brother and snippy with me. I asked her not to take out her mood on others and she replied “I don’t know what to do with the meanness!”

Wow, that stopped me in my tracks! It left me trying to tease apart all the ways we can quell our inner meanness and became the topic of my Pointless Overthinking blog today, What to Do With Our Inner Meanness.

A Kind Word

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

I received a lovely email from someone this week that was incredibly kind and complimentary. It ended with the sentence, “So, I just thought that was the sort of thing a person ought to hear about themselves.

Encouragement, defined by Oxford Languages, is “the action of giving someone, support, confidence and hope.” The word origin is from the French from en (make, put in) + corage (heart, daring) from which I draw that encourage could be “make daring” or “put in heart.”

Using either definition, I am always deeply grateful for the people who have and continue to cheer me along. It is a gift that takes just a sentence or two but has a ripple effect that lasts so much longer than a conversation.

I find encouragement to be one of the secret sauces for life – whether it’s in the giving or receiving, everything tastes better. And when properly nourished, it’s so much easier to share the love. In trying to express my gratitude for my friend’s kind words this week, I hope I’ve taken a little bit of heart and passed it on. May we all tell someone just the thing they ought to hear about themselves.

Have you given or received encouragement this week? What does it look like for you?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Coming Together

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” – Gandhi

This weekend my kids and I went to a wedding. As we were going through the receiving line, the bride squatted down so that she could be closer to my 2-year-old son’s level. And when she squatted, he squatted.

As I laughed, I thought about how we mirror the people around us. Neuroscientist David Eagleman, says that who were are is shaped by the five people that we spend the most time with.

But lately the grown-up people I’m spending time with seem to mostly be feeling a general sense of despair about the US and the world. I feel like I’ve hit my saturation point of not being able to take in more bad news.

Then I stumbled on this paragraph from poet Mark Nepo, “I realize that, when things fall apart, they make a lot of noise. When things come together, they do so quietly and slowly. And so, we often miss them. Our culture is obsessed with how things fall apart. The news reports only the noise of things breaking down. The weather is even called Storm Watch. Yet things are constantly coming together, though we have forgotten how to hear them.

That is when I turn to the WordPress community because unlike the news, I find people writing stories of things coming together all the time. Here are 5 posts that recently gave me joy and delight.

A touching story of kindness from Stuart Perkins of the Storyshucker blog: A Nugget of Kindness | Storyshucker

A researcher joke from the Candid Cerebrations blog: I stole this… – Candid Cerebrations

A beautiful walk through a garden with Rebecca from the Fake Flamenco blog: 5 Local July Flowers ‹ Fake Flamenco

A photographic trip to Venice from Natalie on The Hot Goddess blog – Silent Saturday Solo Sojourn – The Hot Goddess

Camping and Canada Fireworks from the view of a child from Ab and the My Life with T blog – Ignite the Night and Let It Shine – My Life With T

And those are just a few of all the wonderful and creative posts that make me laugh and inspire me.

Thank goodness for all you amazing bloggers that are writing posts about how life comes together. This is what I want to mirror and reflect.

What’s inspiring you this week?

Proving the Positive

One moment can change a day. One day can change a life and one life can change the world.” – Buddha

The other day I took my kids to an outdoor shopping center. They’d been excited for three days because I said we could go there to visit the one store that makes honest to goodness cotton candy. Not the stuff you can buy prepackaged on shelves in the grocery store but a machine that spins a cone of it. I don’t like cotton candy but my daughter wanted to try it so I agreed she could if we got the real stuff.

On the way to the cotton candy machine, my kids were playing in a fountain and my daughter put her face down to lick the water. “Arghh” I said, “Don’t drink the water. It isn’t treated and probably has dirt, bird poop and maybe worse. It could make you sick.” She stopped but two minutes later she made the same motion and I had to stop her again. “Listen” I said “I know as a kid you are programmed to test the limits, but this is one where you need to believe me. Even if you don’t drink it, your little brother is going to see you, imitate you and he might actually drink it. So you are just going to have to trust me and not drink it.

I could see the wheels of her 6-year-old brain working. She was thinking something like
I’ve never tried it so I’ve never gotten sick. How can I know what Mom is saying is right?

There’s no way to prove a negative. If we don’t do something and it the consequence is avoided, how do we know what didn’t happen to us?  I heard an interview once with Matthew Weiner, the creator of the TV series Mad Men, and he said the show’s driving philosophy was actions have consequences. But what about inaction?

What if we don’t do the work to deal with our internal BS so we can see others more clearly?

What if we don’t write the letter to a sick friend?

What if we don’t go out of our way to compliment or help someone?

What if we don’t put the grocery cart back in the return slot at the store?

What if we just aimed for a grade C life? Not great, not bad, just average. Would anything happen to us?

Perhaps the consequence for inaction is nothing. Nothing exciting happens, nothing revelatory occurs, no random goodness pops up, nobody remembers us. Nothing. We aren’t a hero – just a zero.

On the other hand, we’ve done acts of kindness and felt the afterglow, we’ve made the effort to reach out to friends and experienced the relationships that carry us through tough times, and we’ve done the work to clean our internal windows because we see how more light gets in. In addition to these rewards, we’ve heard the thinkers throughout human history telling us to do our work:

Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” – Plato

Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do well.” – Minor Myers, Jr.

When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or the life of another.” – Helen Keller

We all have our different ways of doing our best and our personal limits. But part of the we likely do it is because our mom, dad or someone else with authority told us and we believed them. Like with my daughter, there’s no way to prove the negative – what would happen if we did nothing, so we take the advice and continue to try. Thank goodness for that.

Learning From Experience

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey

Ten years ago (I know because I found the picture), I was walking my dog on a busy neighborhood street and he found a stuffed animal. A cute little tiger with a soft white belly and my dog proudly picked it up and carried it all the way home until he could stow it away on one of his dog blankets.

While I didn’t think much of it at the time, I now realize with great horror that it likely was some child’s precious stuffy that got tossed out of a car in a moment of great emotion. I’ll never actually know if the family went to look for it but by allowing my dog to carry it home, we certainly made it unfindable.

Before bed, my 6-year-old daughter and I take turns reading. She practices her reading skills and then I read a few pages of something longer we are working on. We just finished J.K. Rowling’s The Christmas Pig in which a child loses his most precious friend, a stuffy that his step-sister throws out the window in a moment of rage. The child then takes a precarious Christmas Eve trip to the Land of the Lost to try to retrieve it. In J.K. Rowling’s incredibly imaginative tale, there are several places the things we lose go – Mislaid (think eyeglasses), Disposable (e.g. batteries), Bother-Its-Gone (that poem you penned on the back of a napkin), The Wastes of the Unlamented (the tchotchke you never wanted to buy in the first place), The City of the Missed (where we meet someone’s Principles) and The Island of the Beloved (where Santa lives).

In the story, she includes not only things that we lose like a diamond earring but also the intangibles – the bad habits, the tendency to bully, our pretenses, ambition, power and hope. It is so incredibly insightful that it is one of those books that was a pleasure for me to read as much as my daughter to listen to.

Which brings me back to the stuffy I let my dog take home. Often it’s only through experience that we can relate to someone else’s pain. This is the case now that I realize that stuffy was likely a well-loved object of a kid’s affection. Fortunately, my kids have not (yet) thrown a stuffy out the car window, but I have spent many fretful moments in a full sweat looking for the item that we just HAVE TO HAVE before going to sleep.

Suffering, as much as we might not like it, helps us to know each other.

At the Core

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Last weekend we drove about 15 minutes down to Shilshole Bay on Puget Sound to see a dock where sea lions like to congregate. It was packed with sea lions – usually a dozen on the dock and I counted a least a dozen more swimming in the water.

Every once in a while, a sea lion would launch itself out of the water in an attempt to land on the dock. The new weight would make the dock roll one way or the other causing all the sea lions to bark. But there was one sea lion in the center who was doing most of the work to keep the dock level. It would lift its head high and shift its weight this way or that to stabilize the dock again.

It made me think of how impactful what is at the center is. As I was pondering what was at my core, Life, in that beautiful way that sometimes happens, delivered the answers to the question I’d just uncovered. In this case it was through the latest the Unlocking Us podcast about living into our values. In it, Brené Brown had an exercise to determine our core values.

Her research shows that when in a tight spot, most people call on their one or two go-to values. So on her site, there is a pdf of about 120 values. Her recommended approach was to circle the ones that called to you and then distill them to the two values that encompass what is central for you. It may change over time but this exercise was to identify what is key for right now.

Doing the exercise, I came up with faith and usefulness. Faith, which for me encapsulates confidence, courage, adventure, integrity, spirituality, openness, love, optimism and gratitude. Usefulness I thought did a good job of rolling up my other values of reliability, learning, kindness, growth, family, and independence,.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of work to strengthen my physical core. It has enabled me to carry heavy loads up mountains and I feel it most now when I hoist my toddler onto my shoulders. But thinking about my core values, faith and usefulness, I realize that they are what I go to again and again to power me when I have to dig deep. Like with the sea lions, when I am living into my values, they are the center that brings me back to level when the world is rocking.

Growing and Blooming

What we love, others will love and we will show them how.” – Wordsworth

When I was 22-years-old and moving into my first post-college rental, my dad helped me find some used furniture. Some people he knew where moving into a retirement community so we looked at the items they were getting rid of and bought a kitchen table, two chairs and a Christmas cactus. I donated the table and chairs when I bought my first house a few years later but the Christmas cactus has been with me now for 30 years.

It was my first proof that I could keep something other than myself alive. Now I look at that cactus and see it as a reminder of my most important lessons.

It blooms beautifully once a year and then sheds all those flowers as it prepares for its next feat. It’s best to shed the past so you can work towards the next thing.

The cactus does not appear to be doing anything for 50 weeks but then bursts with color for 2 weeks. Most of our work happens on the inside.

Every now and then it’s drooped in the soil it is in and needs to be repotted as its roots grow deeper. We need some new perspective/work/material from time to time in order to stay vivid.

Sometimes it blooms closer to Thanksgiving rather than Christmas. As you get older, you learn to care less about expectations and more about flourishing in the way that works for you.

The growth on the side nearest the light blooms first but eventually, the darker side blooms too. If you water all of yourself, both your bright side and the shadow side will bear fruit.

 Although it’s a cactus, it has no prickly parts. It’s possible to live a long and beautiful life without thorns to protect you.

This weekend I came across my son picking up the dropped flowers with some tweezers and putting them on the stand. It made me think of my most important work. Trying to create a calm, loving space in which others treat things with kindness.

Some Things Can’t Be Dropped

If peace comes from seeing the whole, then misery stems from a loss of perspective.” – Mark Nepo

The year after I’d summitted Mt. Rainier for the first time with a guided group, my friends and I put together a team of four of us to make an attempt on our own without a guide. We left on a Friday afternoon, climbed three and a half hours to ascend about 3,500 feet in altitude and started to make our camp.

It was dark by this time and as we hurried around with our headlamps on, I went to pull the tent poles I was carrying out of my pack. One of the poles slipped from my hand and started to slide down the mountain. Panicked by my mistake, I leapt forward and fell on it before it could disappear out of the spotlight of my headlamp.

I was thinking about that pole as I hurried around making Christmas plans yesterday. In a season where it seems like there are a hundred things to do, some things can’t be dropped.

The slipperiest sometimes is the whole point in all we are celebrating. In my family, we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the promise that love, light and kindness spread generously can make a difference in this world. As we celebrate the delight of this year, we also recognize that there are many ways we can do it better next year.

On that climb twenty years ago, fortunately I caught that tent pole because without it, there wasn’t going to be a tent. At 9,000 feet of altitude on a dark night with a whole lot of mountain to search, we weren’t going to find it if it slipped out of sight. But with it, we went on to climb and summit the mountain safely with a warm, dry tent as our base.

I keep coming back to that story as a way to keep me centered this Christmas season. With the point of all we are celebrating in the spotlight, it gives us a solid base from which to attempt everything else we are doing.

In Feeling

The problem with this world is that we draw our family circle too small.” – Mother Teresa

Here’s the way sickness travels in my family. One kid gets sick, the other one gets it and then finally I get sick. Fortunately, I don’t always get sick but if I do, I’ll be last to get it. And when I do, I learn how brave my kids have been.

This time it was my daughter who got a stomach bug first last weekend. She spit up a few times and then said, “Wow, I’ve never thrown up 4 times in a day before. When are we going to go hiking?” I replied that I thought she might want to rest given that she didn’t feel well. She exclaimed she felt fine so we went.

Then my son got it mid-week. It was very clear because I opened his door to get him out of his crib in the morning, and instantly got hit with the smell. “I sneezed it out!” he exclaimed, not all that upset. He stayed home from school but he too said he felt “good” and was pretty peppy playing around all day.

I thought I’d avoided getting it too until this weekend when my body, probably exhausted from all the cleaning, just gave up and succumbed. I wondered how the heck my kids were so delightful when their bodies were fighting this bug. It always looks easier when someone else is doing it, doesn’t it? As usually happens with getting sick, it comes with a huge heap of humility and admiration too.

This made me think of the words sympathy and empathy. Sympathy from the Greek of sun (with) + pathos (feeling). Oxford languages defines sympathy understanding between people, common feeling.  

Empathy, a word I hear so often these days in conjunction with raising emotionally intelligent kids, is from the Greek of em (in) + pathos (feeling). It is defined by Oxford languages as the ability to understand the feelings of another.

In my little family we have so many opportunities to have sympathy for each other because we share so much context at this stage – the people we know, the many hours we spend all together, the illnesses we pass along. It may be the easiest time for us to all stand in common feeling. And if we get that right, at least some of the time, it helps us become more empathetic toward others because we have the family experience of feeling understood.

The other thing I was reminded of as the illness ran its course is how much energy I spend resisting being sick. I didn’t want to throw up and I managed not to. But in hindsight, it may have made it last longer overall. Sometimes we just have to let the bad out so that the healing can begin, a lesson I keep having to repeat.

It’s funny as I type this thinking of my gratitude towards this stomach bug. It created a shared family experience, reminded me that resistance to uncomfortable things is often a harder route to go and most of all, makes me so thankful that we all feel well again. If only there was a virus that could unite our bigger human family….

(featured image photo from Pexels)

Feedback Loops

Life is an echo. What you send out — comes back.” – unknown

My son and I were reading before bedtime. He climbed up on my bed with the pile of board books, snuggled in and then said, “Come up.” After I did, he said with a clap, “Good boy, Mama!”

When I put my daughter to bed, after we say our prayers and I snuggle her up so only her little face is showing above the comforter, I say “Good night, beautiful girl.” And she replies “Good night, beautiful mama.”

I studied feedback and control systems in college when getting my Electrical Engineering degree. But nothing has been more effective and more immediate than parenting in reminding me that life is an echo. My kids show me every day that what I send out comes right back to me, usually in the same tone.