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I don’t want to be a nice girl…

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kindIn my quest to be the most loving kind of person I can be (even in the most difficult of situations), I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between being nice and being kind. “What’s the difference?” you may ask. Good question. The answer, I think, lies in the motivation behind the actions that are often characterized by those two words.

In my opinion, the words “nice” and “kind” are erroneously used interchangeably all the time. In fact, I think it is a far greater thing to be kind than it is to be nice. Confused yet? Let’s consider an example.

This morning, I was walking into a store for coffee. The man in front of me waited for just a moment to hold the door. Most would say he is nice. And maybe he is. But I wonder if he is also kind. In other words, did he hold the door because it would have seemed rude to not hold it? Was he afraid of being judged? Did it feel awkward? Or, did he wait and hold the door because of a genuine respect for another human being? Did he have a true desire to demonstrate graciousness and consideration? In the most basic of terms, is he kind beyond the nice gesture?

Maybe in this situation the distinction doesn’t really matter all that much. But if we step back to consider our actions in this way, what we might find is that many of the “nice” things we do every day are really just rooted in our effort to appear a certain way, to fold into a convention, or to avoid criticism. And if that’s the case, isn’t it also possible that our efforts to be nice are doing nothing to make us better people? Certainly, a simple thing like holding a door for a stranger is a menial example. But think about all of the things we’ve done or said simply because we were being nice. In this way, nice is a passive thing. It becomes something we are often guilted into out of fear, insecurity, or a desire to maintain peace. For those reasons, the nice person may indeed be a fake.

Kindness is, on the other hand, a more proactive approach to the world. It is a choice that we must consciously make. Most importantly, kindness is not veiled in pretense or expectations. It does not judge and is not characterized by lies or fear. Instead, I believe that kindness is rooted in a deep desire to want to help, to be there for someone, to demonstrate love for ourselves and for others. There is no pressure in kindness. The kind actions are those motivated by a true desire to make the world a better place, even if just for one person at one moment in time.

All of this is not to say that people shouldn’t be nice. Perhaps it is that basic courtesy that gives the world order. It is probably what creates a sense of politeness in our every day. But kindness, I believe, goes deeper than this superficial response to the world. It motivates us to look at every situation from a variety of perspectives; it generates empathy. It connects us to others. While it may be easier to just be nice, I believe we have to practice being kind. And to demonstrate kindness when we are tired, or sad, or angry, or feeling slighted in some way is an even loftier goal that requires a good amount of courage.

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about new year’s resolutions and I proposed the formation of the “Be List.” My resolution this year is to be less nice and more kind. That means being kinder to myself and then kinder to others. I honestly don’t care if people think I’m nice. But kind? Yeah. Kind matters.

 

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The “Be List”

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With the dawn of the new year, there is no shortage of resolutions out there. People are pledging to get healthy, to get more organized, to get a new job, to get out of debt. I call this list of resolutions the “Get List.”

I wonder what would happen if the thinking behind traditional new year’s resolutions was to change? What if, instead of thinking about the things we need to get, we thought about the things we’d like to be? In other words, instead of focusing on the traditional “Get List” of resolutions that often result in outward physical or monetary results, what if we made resolutions that focused more on character and the way we interact with the world? I call this list the “Be List” of resolutions.

This shift from the “Get List” of resolutions to the “Be List” of resolutions is not for the faint of heart. After all, part of discovering what you want to BE requires that you identify what you already are, or maybe what you already aren’t or aren’t enough of on a regular basis. It involves an introspective look at yourself; maybe even some work to uncover the things you’ve worked a long time to hide. It requires you to be honest with yourself about your own prejudices, fears, and shortcomings. And it requires you to be brave in your efforts to improve and to apply those improvements to interactions every day.

So why bother? Well, from my perspective the answer is a simple one. The problem with the “Get List” of resolutions is that once the thing, or action, or behavior is achieved, it gets scratched off our list of things to do. Come next January, many of us are making a similar resolution to go out and once again get the thing we were after the year before. Sound familiar?

The “Be List,” however, pushes us to think more carefully about what motivates us. It challenges us to think about how we could interact or respond to the world in ways that improve not only our own lives, but the lives of others. A “Be List” has the power to reshape ideas, attitudes and behaviors that manifest themselves in many part of our lives. It becomes a definition of our character.

Cavett Robert, recognized as the founder of modern day speechwriters once said, “Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.” Probably a good reflection for the countless folks on treadmills in January and February who are back on their couches by April.

Worst case scenario, the “Be List” results in a bunch of people who have made conscious choices and honest efforts to be more of what they’d like to see in the world. Perhaps we find ourselves surrounded by people who are working to BE kind, to BE generous, to BE focused, to BE brave, to BE healthy. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  In addition, my guess is that in their efforts to become the people they’d like to be, they also get much of what they want.

Might be worth some consideration.

All in One Word

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If you could choose one word to express your intent in life, what would it be? If people could describe you with only one word, which would you want them to choose? Tough questions, aren’t they? I think we spend so much time trying to be all things to all people. It’s as if we create a competition of words, if you will. Are we smart, sincere, loving, strong, kind, passionate, determined, inclusive? Do we want to see more kindness, tolerance, peace, harmony, or inquisition in the world? Which is the most important? And how do some words conflict with others? It’s a lot of questions, I know.

This thinking was prompted by an ad I saw today on Facebook for a line of jewelry called the MyIntent Project. Featured on The Today Show, the company website says, “We believe there is purpose inside each of us and we want our efforts to encourage people to share more truth and inspiration with each other. We are not a jewelry company – we are an intentions project.”

I won’t speak about the intended marketing goals of the Intent Project, but I will applaud its ability to get people thinking. At least it got me thinking. The company offers a line of bracelets and necklaces that are inscribed with a word chosen by the client. The first step is to “choose your word.” And I’m stuck.

I guess it could be argued that as a writer I take words and their meanings much more seriously than other people. But I think my hesitation in picking a word is really much more complicated than that. Sure, I could order more than one. But that’s kind of against the point, isn’t it? I mean, you’re asked to pick a word. What single word sums up who I am, what I want for the world, what I hope to model or what I value most?

Once a word is spoken, it can’t be taken back. And the spoken word is really so much more than a word, isn’t it? Words are a catalyst for emotion and for action. We are judged by our words, loved for our words, trusted for how we live our words. They must be chosen carefully. In contrast, the words we don’t choose to speak also convey meaning. What is implied by what we don’t say?

Poet Emily Dickinson said, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes, I write one and look at it, until it begins to shine.” Maybe that’s the whole point of picking a word, putting it on a necklace, and wearing it close to your heart. Once written, the word cannot be denied. Once spoken, it cannot be taken back. And once lived, a word has power like nothing else.

It’s important to pick the right word.

The gift of a birthday

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Today is my 44th birthday. 44. That’s weird. I don’t feel like 44 years have gone past me (although I admittedly have aches and pains not seen in my 20s and I now find great joy in a Saturday night with nothing to do). But on this, my birthday, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. And through that reflection, I’ve been given a marvelous gift; that is, perspective. In the great summation of another year lived, I am able to learn about myself…and to find lessons that I hope will make me a better person in my 44th year.

I have learned that trust is a rare and delicate gift. I often give it too freely to those who haven’t earned it, or too long to those who don’t deserve it. And I know I don’t thank those who do enough.

I have learned that the heart has a tremendous capacity for joy and an equally intense ability to feel pain. Sometimes the deepest cuts are made by the same person or thing that once brought you that joy. 

I have learned that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. I am grateful for those who reminded me about that.

I have learned the value of forgiveness. Grudges cause the most pain to those who hold them. Even greater relief is found in the ability to forgive oneself.  

I have learned that despite good intentions and honest effort, sometimes I will just fall short. But if I learned something in the process, the time and energy was not wasted. 

I have learned that you can really only love someone as much as they will allow. That said, I have learned that I can love more deeply and unselfishly than I imagined. I am grateful for those who don’t limit my love and who love me back without restriction. 

I have learned that every day is an opportunity to be happy. But happiness is not something that happens to me. It is something I create. It is a mindset framed in gratitude.

I have learned that many people are happy to settle for mediocre. I’ve also learned that I am not one of those people. And I won’t apologize for that.

And so, lessons learned. Here I am at 44 … still learning. What better gift could there be? 

Focused on the “Now What?”

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Like many Americans, the results of last night’s election are weighing heavy on my mind. Like many, I am disturbed and disappointed. And if you are a reader of my blog, you know that this is where I often process my thoughts and ideas. I am going to make the bold assumption that you read my words because you find some value in the thoughts I share; that somehow, I inspire you to think about something in a way you maybe haven’t before. And so today, I write this blog for that reason.

I just need to share some of the things I am worried about.

I am worried because I believe that last night’s results are a reflection of this country’s unwillingness to truly embrace a woman leader. I’m not sure people even consciously know it exists. But there is an underlying and archaic prejudice that pervades our country’s values and belief systems. It is one that sets double standards and often calls women bitches when they hold positions of power and are strong leaders. It is thinking that criticizes women for many of the things for which their male counterparts are applauded, and it permeates the way girls are educated, hired, and celebrated. It is evident in white society; it is even worse for women of color. That needs to change.

I am worried because we have elected a bully. Some may admire Trump’s outspoken honesty, even arguing that his honesty, although often offensive, is refreshing. But what we saw throughout the campaign was someone who often used scare tactics, who raised his voice when he felt threatened, and who promised to exclude people who are often on the fringes of society. Now, on the day after the election, he speaks of inclusion and representing all people and their interests. It’s like the abusive husband who kisses his wife’s cheek on the day after he beat the shit out of her. That cannot be tolerated.

I am worried because we are focused on making America great again when, in reality, I don’t think we’ve come close to realizing our true greatness. While we have made strides, we are still a very long way from ensuring that all voices are heard in this country. We are even further from guaranteeing that those voices are heard with the same level of interest and validation. Am I to believe that the perception of greatness lies in a time when white men ruled the roost and women and minorities had less (or no) say? Many people have fought and died over time for the rights we have. Does making America great again imply that those rights have somehow diminished us? I don’t disagree that there are many, many great things about our country. But when we talk about “again,” I think we have to be careful about what exactly that means.

Finally, I am worried about what we will say to our children. Every day, we teach kids not to bully, to be inclusive, to think about how their words and actions impact others. What will we say now when they see all of the qualities we discourage rewarded with the highest position in our country? How will we explain that the person leading us does it not by example, but by modeling exactly how we shouldn’t act?

Someone said to me today that watching the election results come in last night was much like watching this season’s Walking Dead premier (I apologize to the readers who will not get the analogy here). In the case of the election, she said, some voters are like Negan who is swinging a bat named Trump to squash and kill those whose ideas and values are different than his own. Abraham and Glenn, she said, represent the morality and humanity that are killed in that swing. I hope that is not the case.

And so, perhaps the most important question is “Now what?”.

The “now what” is critically important. Sure, the face of politics is changed. Sure, there’s a celebrity in the White House. Sure, history has been made. But beyond that, we must all ask ourselves “now what” and decide how we will move ahead.

I remember when Obama was elected and there was a certain positive energy around the change he promised to bring to our country and to politics. I remember thinking that people saw him like some kind of savior. And now, eight years later the same people are full of criticism and disgust – to the point that they are now looking at more of a fallen angel to be our redeemer. Here’s the hard and honest truth: our salvation is up to us. No longer can we be complacent. Instead, each of us needs to embrace the democratic process and hold our politicians accountable: for their words, for their ideas, for their actions. With a president-elect, a House, and a Senate all representing the same political party majority, we can no longer blame disagreement between parties for our failure to make positive change.

The “now what” will be defined by our ability to be proactive, to advocate for rights for all people, and to hold our elected politicians accountable for representing not special interests and big money, but all of us. Our civic responsibility – and our need to be responsible to and for each other – is now greater than it has ever been. We need to be educated about the issues, we need to invest concern in each other, and we need to pressure our legislators to make decisions that truly benefit all of us.

Most importantly, when our children watch TV or log into social media, we have to make sure the messages they see reinforce for them that every one of us believes in them – all of them – and that the future of our greatness lies in the contributions they will make to our world. No matter their gender, their sexual orientation, their body type, or their color, our children must know that their ideas are respected and considered. I hope that they not only hear “United” States of America, but that when they stand and place their hands over their hearts to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they feel united in a country that has their backs. That’s what will make America great. It is our duty to get us there.

The Risk in Being Known

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Have you ever been with someone who knows you? “Knows me?” you might be asking. And your next thought is probably, “Of course he/she knows me. We’re in love.” But I begin this blog thinking that knowing someone – truly knowing them – might be more rare than we think.

I was recently watching an episode of my favorite TV series. The female lead character was talking to a stranger about her recent decision not to marry the man to whom she was engaged. She tells the stranger, “I realized…in four hours I would marry a man who didn’t know me.” The man’s response: “Yeah, who knows anyone? Who cares?”

And so it begs the question: how well do you really know the people you call friends; the people you say you love? How well do the people who say they love you really know you? This awareness goes well beyond a favorite color or food; it is deeper than simply understanding preferences or dislikes.

I write this fully aware of the fact that we wouldn’t want everyone we interact with on a daily basis to know everything about who we are. There are certain suitable lines to draw with strangers, co-workers, and even friends. But I wonder how many of us have at least one person who knows everything – the good, the bad and the ugly, as it were.

Perhaps the even greater question to ask ourselves is not whether we have that one person who truly knows us, but whether we are capable of sharing our authentic selves with another. It is a scary thing to be raw with another human being; to expose our strengths and weaknesses, our good qualities and our faults. There is an underlying risk in allowing someone to see through the facade and truly into what makes us tick. To do so first assumes that we know ourselves – or at least that we are willing to uncover that self with another person. We must be willing to share even the parts that might embarrass us with another; and that person must accept us without judgment or blame. A relationship like that leaves us vulnerable like no other. It leaves us open to deep hurt, and it challenges us to be better in areas where we find a need for improvement. My guess is that not everyone is up for all of that.  It is much easier to settle into a more comfortable arrangement, where we find stability and contentment.

Very often in romantic movies or novels, we hear the term “soulmate” tossed around. The term leaves the hopelessly romantic looking for that perfect partner; the partner they were somehow predestined to meet. Hollywood makes it seem like the relationship with a soulmate is the perfect engagement, free of struggle or challenge because it magically works like no other. I would, argue, however that a soulmate relationship is probably just the opposite. The person with whom we share our soul has a great responsibility to help us grow, to help us love ourselves and them more deeply, and to continue to challenge us in positive ways. None of that is easy. But a true soulmate is, I believe, the one who also loves us for the effort and who celebrates with us all of the beautiful and authentic things that make us who we are. They understand our rough edges and somehow accept us in spite of them.

I read a quote online recently that said,” Some people bring out the worst in you. Others bring out the best. And then there are those remarkably rare, addictive ones who just bring out the most of everything. They make you feel so alive that you’d follow them straight into hell.”

Yeah. I want that.

 

 

 

 

A Patient Egg

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I ordered an egg salad sandwich in Wawa today. It was well after 1 p.m. and I was hungry. I had also just come from a funeral.

I used the automated order machine, went to get a soda and chips, paid for my order, and then went back to the counter to wait …and wait. Suddenly, there were a whole bunch of people around me who were not there when I first placed the order. And the numbers being called were well above the number on my receipt. “Hmmm,” I began to think. “I think I got missed.” I waited a few more minutes.

As I approached the counter, I thought to myself, “Don’t be that annoying person.” And so I wasn’t. I very politely asked if my number had been called and suggested that perhaps I missed it. The young woman said that it had not been called and asked to see my receipt. The order, itself, was missed. The sandwich was never made. Kindly, I thanked them and stepped back to wait.

Just then, a man about my age leaned over to me and commented on how patient I am. This made me laugh because if you know me at all, you know that patience is not always my strongest characteristic. “Most people aren’t that way,” he said. “It’s nice to see.”

And so why am I blogging about an egg salad sandwich? What kind of lesson could possibly be found in a Wawa? Actually, not much of a lesson at all. But where the lesson is found is in the fact that this happened right after a funeral and that the man’s comments to me were about being patient.

Today’s funeral service held a message about moving. No, not moving as in exercise; but moving as in from one place to another. The pastor talked about how much he hates to move; how the places we’ve grown familiar with hold memories, and friends, and all our “stuff.” Moving, he suggested is an inconvenience. But he also affirmed that every one of us – through the nature of our lives – is destined to move at least once. The movement he referred to was, of course, a movement from this life to the next. But between the sermon and the experience in Wawa, I began to think about how we not only move through life, but how we so often rush. For a complete stranger to comment on my demonstrated patience says to me that the norm must be one of hurriedness and haste. There is almost an expectation that we’ll finish with something and move onto the next – the next project, the next chore, the next relationship. If this consideration had not come to me, I would, in fact, have rushed through even my lunch.

But there is no greater reminder about how short life can be than a funeral. And it is not a usual experience to have a stranger comment on a characteristic like patience in a Wawa. So, the combined experience has made me reflective.

How often do you rush through the day? When do you take time to reflect?

I know that life is busier than it should be; that the demands on all of us are far greater than we’d like. But I also know that it is in the moments we take to savor, to think about our actions, and to appreciate our blessings, that we find gratitude, or peace, or even patience. Today I was grateful for that egg salad sandwich – and I slowed down to really appreciate how good it was. It was only a sandwich. But if so much meaning was found in just a sandwich, imagine how much meaning there is to be found when we slow down to enjoy the bigger things. Those things – the things that matter – they shouldn’t be part of our “to do” list. In fact, when we do move to that other life, it will be those things that people remember most about us. Worth considering, isn’t it?