Defining What Matters

So many of us live day to day in a constant state of overwhelm. We excuse it by saying, “Once I finish “blank”, I’ll be able to settle down a bit. Unfortunately, sometimes what we proudly and consciously spend our time on, becomes a complete waste when we look back in hindsight. I’ve always loved the quote, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I know when I look back to those days, I wish I’d had the maturity and the foresight to spend time on what matters to me today and let go of what was quite meaningless in the long run. I had so much to prove to so many who most likely weren’t even paying attention, never mind keeping score.

One could argue that what you spent your time on in your youth defined who you are today; “you reap what you sow”. And I do believe that for the most part that is true. But when you reach mid-life, you wonder how much of it got you to where you truly wanted to be, versus where you thought you ought to be. And then the reality of how much time you have left begins to sink in. You begin to realize it is crucial, now more than ever, to leave society’s constructs behind and do what matters, to you.

A crucial part of defining what matters, is defining what doesn’t. This is where a close scrutiny of time spent day to day begins to reveal your priorities, and this is where the disconnect becomes quickly and surprisingly apparent. How much are we doing out of habit, how much from obligation, how much from competition, pressure or otherwise unhealthy sources? Each brick you lay now, builds the path that leads you to your final resting place. If you remain  on this course, will it lead you to where you want to end up? If someone were to ask you what truly matters, would you find yourself devoting any time whatsoever to those tenets on a day to day basis?

Reflection matters, especially in a day and age where we are constantly bombarded by messages and demands not of our choosing. Silence is one of the only places where you can gain true clarity. The other safe harbor is where you engage in the things that truly make your soul happy. It is upon arrival at both of those mental destinations that you start to realize true happiness as defined not by others, but by you. We will all have to cut out the things that don’t matter, little by little, if we are to be true to ourselves in the long run.

The Normalization of Violence

The latest horrific incident of violence through yet another shooting spree at a school has of course spurred the debates about to how to solve this issue. I scroll through my facebook feed and see good friends on both sides of the gun control issue. There are manifestos regarding the need for tougher gun control and there are manifestos that tout that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. There are the ever-present discussions regarding the state of mental health. There are articles that cite that more children are killed by guns in the US than any other country in the world.

To me, the issue is far larger than all described above. Thoughts began to swirl around my head that led me to research society within our country as well as cultures throughout the world. I have been researching violence as a whole throughout history. I read articles describing anthropologists’ and biologists’ conflicting arguments on whether or not violence is inherent and whether it is something which can be overcome. I have found research those shows there are at least 70 societies worldwide that resolve issues peacefully to the point where violence simply does not exist.

While it has been shown quite convincingly that violence can be inherently wired within us, whether you are studying chimpanzees or studying humans, the actual normalization of violence within cultures is the true culprit of the propagation, continuation and cyclical nature of continued and sustained terror. What was so disturbing about my research on violence is how many categories have been defined. There is interpersonal, intimate partner, societal, domestic, youth, elder, sexual, financial, psychological… and the list goes on and on. Violence begets violence.

Unfortunately, this current political climate and administration has done nothing but bring more violence to the forefront, as aggression has been continuously explained away and even celebrated. I will forever defend my position that any violence or aggression whether in word or in deed must not be tolerated. We live in a world and a culture that celebrates and is constantly normalizing brutality. There are people in this county and on this planet that live in constant fear of their next violent episode. As a human race, we must rise above and evolve to the peaceful creatures we know we can be. It will take generations, but we must forever push ourselves in the right direction.

 

 

 

 

 

The Self-Help Aisle

  1. “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” -Aristotle

I remember the first time I found the self-help section at Barnes & Noble. I was living by myself on Long Island, commuting to my new job in New York City. I had no car and lived by myself. I exhausted myself enough during the week between my commute and the job to crash early every night. But the weekends during which I did not travel were long and lonely. Sometimes I would travel in to spend a day exploring all the wonderful nooks and crannies of New York City. But during the days I wanted to remain local, I would walk to the local B&N Bookstore and lose myself in the hope of all those shiny new books promising me a shiny and perfect life.

With all the self-help books I have read during the past twenty one years, you would think I would have the peace, fortitude and stability of the Dalai Lama. I’ve read countless books about being happier, being skinnier, being stronger, being bolder, being a better manager, being a better leader, being a better friend, being a better listener, being more in control of my destiny and of course, being a faster reader so that I could read more self-help books! I should be so fabulously perfect by now that you’d be able to crown me God.

Unfortunately, that large investment in all those books never quite got me to where I wanted to be. One and a half years of therapy has gotten me further than another twenty would have in the self-help aisle. What’s funny is that I have surfaced far more questions than answers. But the best part is, I have more hope that ever, that the answers I’ve been looking for are not out there, but are actually buried deep within myself, underneath all of the rubble I have piled on to myself for the last 42 years.

I suspect it will take at least another ten years to answer all my questions, unearth all my issues, comb through my anxieties and surface my depressions. But for all the nights that I woke up at 3am in a panic or hid underneath a blanket in the middle of the day, I believe that true happiness and infinite peace do exist. I know enlightenment as I’ve read about for so many years is attainable. We are all on a journey and this is mine. You happen to be coming along with me for the ride. And somewhere within the best version of me, will be the power to give back to the planet and make this world a better place.

 

Insomnia

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night? Do you ever toss and turn constantly and relive difficult situations over and over in your head? How many times did you watch the clock hit 2 am, 3 am and even 4 am? How many times did the alarm begin screaming shrilly after you FINALLY just fell asleep?

Insomnia is something I am determined to destroy this year. I had been doing very well working on my nighttime anxiety and had regulated my sleep patterns for the most part during the week. But this past week reminded me with a swift and hard hand how horrific insomnia can truly be. Not only are you suffering that night torturing yourself over how awful you’re going to feel in the morning, but you get the added treat of dragging your completely worn-out self through the entire following day. The worst part is, you did it to yourself.

You did it to yourself because you feared something in your power went horribly wrong. Or you imagined that some event in your near future would most definitely have a severely negative outcome. You catastrophize and replay worst case scenario under the guise that you are trying to brilliantly devise a picture perfect solution. The problem is, you can’t control everything. Worst of all, you have no faith in yourself under game time pressure.

And then you live the situation in real life. Guess what? It turns out fine. You know why? Because you are far more capable than you ever give yourself credit for. The advice you give everyone else, everyday, you forgot to give yourself. You neglected to pat yourself on the back and allow yourself the rest you so desperately needed.  You refused to cut yourself any slack and give yourself the freedom to maybe make a mistake. You were relentless and vicious in your constant critiques of yourself. Instead of being your own best friend, you became your own worst enemy.

In a world of constant stress and pressure, finding strength within is crucial. Letting go of the illusion of control is possible, I know it is. Someday I hope to get there.

 

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

I spent a good deal of time reflecting upon this holiday of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. There are so many talents of his to highlight, not the least of which was his use of spectacular oration to lead people. No one ever needed to defend whether or not he made ignorant, offensive comments through his word choice; he would never give anyone the chance to do that as his speeches were well thought out and galvanized people towards love and hope. My first blog post, “Words Matter” delves into how important your words are when people look to you for leadership.

But beyond the obvious, I spent some time learning about Dr. King’s most passionate teachings. You can find them here at this link:

http://thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy

I gravitate towards Dr King because of his passion for non-violent methods of conflict resolution. Interestingly enough, you will always find me defending spending money on strong defense for our country as other countries simply are nowhere near discovering non-violent solutions. But keeping the drive for peace at the forefront of our conversations is urgent and necessary. Remember, there is a difference between defense and offense. Within idealistic discussion, an acknowledgement of realism is always appropriate.

Dr King discussed six practical steps toward non-violent social change:

  1. Information Gathering
  2. Education
  3. Personal Commitment
  4. Discussion/Negotiation
  5. Direct Action
  6. Reconciliation

I could write about all of these for pages on end, but I try to keep these blog posts brief. I will therefore focus on the first. Information gathering is nothing more than doing your research. It’s reading, listening to a wide variety of news outlets and talking to learned and experienced people as much as possible to expand your scope. Listening to differing opinions is crucial in this process. Everyone has their story. But challenging each other to be the most informed is also essential to that process. Everyone can have loud and flippant opinions, but educated words matter.

May today’s holiday remind us how important it is to do local service and take action as far as possible to make this entire world a better place.

Warm Heart, Artist’s Soul

As the sun goes down on another 7 degree day, my heart is warmed by several conversations I had this week regarding my personal identity. I have always prided myself on being “complex.” One of my favorite quotes out there is from Alice in Wonderland. 

I have told a few of you out there that I can go so much darker in these blogs but have been leery to do so. Aren’t people looking for hope and inspiration? But to me, writing is truly about delving into the darkness. Edgar Allan Poe was one of my childhood heroes. Why is the darkness constantly calling me in a world where presenting a smiling, happy face is so important?

I have spent my life becoming a version of polite society’s ideal. I was fascinated by glossy New York Times Sunday Magazines from the age of 7, planning out every aspect of an accomplished life.

If I did what I was told, I would succeed.

If I tested well throughout school and got a good job, I would be happy.

The trick is that all that studying and working leads to not developing an identity separate from all that studying and working. Or at the very least, suppressing it. Or at the very worst, allowing your self worth to completely depend upon your academic and career success.

The good news is that once you start to weed through all of that, you realize that there could be a whole other self that peeks through at times but is never allowed to stay for very long. For me, it’s realizing one of my primary drivers of wanting to write; it is because there is an artist within. I have always known she was there, but never took her very seriously. It was only through a recent conversation with my husband that brought to light the obvious.

You are happiest when you are creating.

This revelation is crystal clear when you roam through my childhood memories. I will save those creation descriptions for a lighter post, because there is definite and complete hilarity there, to which my closest friends will attest.

Of course, I am not running out to quit my job or demean my own career successes. But in my journey of realizing what truly makes ME happy so that I have the energy to give back to everyone else that needs my support, it is clearly nurturing my artist’s soul. And much of that recognition begets that sometimes that soul is a dark one. That understanding is actually the most comforting realization of all. More to come…

 

Returning to Real Life

Ok folks, tomorrow we test how we carry our well-simmered serenity back into our real lives. For many of us, whatever vacation we’ve had over the last few weeks is coming to an end tonight. We will return to whatever real life looks like for each of us. For some of us it is work, school or the hustle and bustle of keeping up with our kids’ activities. Some of us have even harder fights still, recovering from difficult surgeries or living with serious health conditions. We each walk our own path, but we all must react and respond to challenges day in and day out.

Many of us are striving to succeed with our New Year’s resolutions. A new beginning gives us the clean slate we seek, where we’ve forgiven ourselves our trespasses. We visualize our ideal selves and while we know perfection is not possible, we strive to finally achieve the goals we’ve been dreaming of for so long. As we aim to meet these objectives, we remember that often times, less is actually more and simple, repeated execution will bring us within striking distance of true success.

One key component to the formula of our new beginning is appreciating the small wonders that occur in our lives everyday. Carving out small moments for ourselves to take the proverbial breath will be crucial in accomplishing our objectives. Taking some time to figure out what truly matters to us, as opposed to all the things we do simply because it’s what our culture expects, will be a solid foundation upon which we build a fruitful 2018.

I thank all of you, my faithful readers, for sharing my own dream with me in 2017. At a workshop I attended last year with my work sisterhood, we spent 45 minutes writing down everything that was getting in the way of the achievement of our most important aspirations. It was there that I built the framework for this blog. The fulfillment I have experienced over the last four months has been nothing short of magnificent. Your dreams are real and achievable.  Best wishes for a spectacular 2018.

 

New Year’s Reflections

The craziness of December is finally coming to an end and now we embark upon the hope of a new year. I have been stealing quiet moments over the past week to reflect upon the challenges of the past year and the lessons I have learned from them. I always savor this last week of the year because I seem to find more time than usual to open my mind to new possibilities and small revelations. I am also able to take advantage of my holiday gifts, which almost always revolve around comfort; new soft blankets on the couch, fluffy slippers on my feet, a silk sleep mask and heated massage cushions for my back. I meditate more often and regain the clarity of a still mind.

But the true challenge of the New Year is figuring out how tranquility can actually become something enjoyed all year, as opposed to just during vacations. I have been paying close attention this week to something known as “self-talk.” It is all the judgement that you pass on yourself every moment of the day. Much of it has become automatic, so you don’t even realize the negativity you put on yourself until you take a step back and become aware of these patterns in everyday thinking. I found myself erecting barriers that don’t exist outside of my own mind which have made it harder for me to simply live a life of reduced stress and challenge.

What I am realizing quickly is that there is much catastrophizing going on in my head in regards to future events to come. This shouldn’t be much of a shock to me, as this is essentially the definition of anxiety. And what’s furthermore even less shocking is the realization that it’s always worse in my own head than what actually happens in real life. I have survived many difficult times in my own life that I never could have even dreamed of. This small revelation is one that should be taught as early as preschool and repeatedly reinforced; you can’t control everything so stop trying. And beyond that, you are much stronger than you give yourself credit for; you will handle what’s coming.

I have heard over the last few months that this blog resonates with people; especially those who understand the struggle of anxiety. If I have made one life better by putting into words that fight, then I have succeeded.  The continuum of angst is a long one and there are people on all parts of that spectrum from “not easily bothered” to “living in constant panic.” But I truly believe that all of us can benefit from listening to the voices in our own heads; they have become automatic and you might be surprised at what you find when you truly listen. My quest is for what our culture has deemed impossible, constant peace. But I continue, because I believe it exists as other cultures have found it. Cheers to the New Year and everyone finding their own version of peace in 2018.

Are You Happy?

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” -Joseph Campbell

For anyone who has known me well, and over a significant period of time, you know that I have never allowed myself to be truly happy. I have been an extraordinary actress, complete with a perky attitude and a bright, wide smile. But underneath it all, there has always been a sense that I am missing something. I have always been convinced that the grass is greener elsewhere and certainly not where I was standing. If I reached the next goal, I would be happy. Contentment was only something that might occur in the future. Interestingly enough, my fantasies of perfection always happened to be those situations that were completely out of my reach. Lamenting for the ideal was my only source of tormented happiness.

In therapy, a recurrent theme kept emerging; no matter where I was in life, I only saw what was wrong, never what was right. It is a type of OCD where you can’t get past the flaws; a form of perfectionism towards oneself and therefore everyone around you. You begin to ruin even the best things in your life, because you are convinced you don’t deserve them. And it all stems from a dark place inside, an abyss, where you were never told that you actually matter. No opinions of your own held any value. Perfection, dictated by cultural extremes, was what you were after; nothing less was acceptable.

Therapy teaches you to dig in to the places where you have the most emotional resonance; when do you feel the most anger or the most sadness? Go there, delve down and resurrect those most painful memories. It is in those moments that you find your demons. As Stephen King said,

“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed when we realized they were inside of us.”

It is in that place that you realize why you get so angry when a similar situation pops up, or your eyes well up when something today resembles your greatest loss. It is there that you discover what you have been hiding so gracefully behind your elaborate mask of normalcy.

While this journey that I describe is heart-breaking, it is necessary. It is upon rising out of that pilgrimage that you can truly start to rebuild your life on a stronger, more solid and sustainable foundation. And it is upon that bedrock that you can become your most true and best self. And ultimately,  there is where you discover something called HOPE.

 

Embracing the Gifts of Other Cultures

“There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.”
― Isabel AllendeEva Luna

During the past few years, I have become very interested in the holiday called Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The Disney movie Coco has only increased my fascination with it. This past Halloween, I read as much as I could about the traditions and origin of the celebration. The days coincide with the Catholic holidays on November 1st and 2nd, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. But Dia De Los Muertos, in countries throughout Latin America, combines their people’s beliefs about celebrating the storied lives of their own beloved families.

The reason I became so enamored of this celebration was because I did not feel as though my own culture did the deceased justice. While All Souls’ Day exists, I did not experience a true spiritual reunion with those family members who have passed; there was remembrance but not quite enough festivity or connection. When I learned of the traditions associated with Dia De Los Muertos, I finally felt as though I had found that crossover between life and death for which I had been searching.

The movie Coco did such an amazing job because it takes you on a small boy’s journey to understand his past and then shows you how that recognition will shape his future. But it also breathes life into a true cultural wonder. I am so appreciative that we have a world full of traditions other than my own that are so truly spectacular as you make efforts to understand them. This is a holiday I want to bring into my own home to show my children that there are understandings in the world that go far beyond our own and that it is up to us to seek and learn them.

The following article from the Chicago Tribune describes the ofrenda that is made to the souls which cross over to visit the living. It is filled with significant offerings to those on their journey home.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-day-of-the-dead-altar-diagram-spanish-english-20151029-htmlstory.html

Next year, I will do my absolute best to pay tribute to a holiday that I did not grow up with, but that I want to pass on to my own future generations. I will pass them on with true respect. But more importantly, I will pass on the stories and the legacies of the lives of my ancestors. I will pass on their triumphs as well as their fears. My children will know what a great journey this, being human. And they will understand the connection they have with all the people in this world around them. They will know to celebrate diversity and to embrace the brilliance of all cultures around them.

Check out http://presleyspantry.com to discover how to make these amazing sugar skulls. The following link also shows great photos of the festivals themselves.  https://www.everfest.com/magazine/dia-de-los-muertos-photos-2016

Keep it Light

To me, one of the absolute key components of creating a fulfilling life is surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh. It is one of the main characteristics that you will find in anyone close to me. Laughter has gotten me through the toughest times in my life. There are few feelings as wonderful as releasing all the rough parts of your day through some quality moments of hilarity.

My first year of college was a rough one as the transition to living independently was challenging for me. There were some pretty tough days to get through during that experience. My freshman year roommate was crucial to my survival that year. We used to come home from our days and compete for the title of who actually had the worst day. We had incredibly entertaining stories that probably weren’t hilarious when you looked at them through sane eyes, but our sharing and laughing was imperative to never quitting and moving on to a somewhat stable sophomore year.

“Anne, I failed my midterm” -Lisa

“No really, what’d you get…?” -Anne

“An F”  -Lisa

“Oh.” -Anne

Of course I am a huge proponent of serious education, so don’t get me wrong that I am saying it’s OK to fail a midterm. But I was in uncharted territory back then and it was all part of my overall learning and growing experience. I was stepping out of who I was always disciplined to be and seeing what it was like on the other side. I didn’t stay there for long, but constant seriousness for long periods of time always ends up with a little healthy rebellion.

There have been countless mornings of talking to my best friend via phone on my way to work where we have turned work situations that were utterly maddening into the most entertaining fodder for hysterics. One of my favorites was finding a grasshopper on the dashboard of my car where the two of us proceeded to legitimately discuss if he was there to enjoy my hip hop musical selections for the day or perhaps was there for some other purpose. I made her google if grasshoppers like music as a serious question. Dialogue below:

Lisa : Dude, do grasshoppers like music?
De: Um, I don’t know
Lisa: can you check?

De: OK

No automatic alt text available.

 

I could go on and on with similar tales and believe me there are plenty of good stories for future blogs that you can look forward to. No matter how tough your days get, remember to surround yourself with those who can keep it all in perspective with a good laugh.

 

 

Diversity of Thought

Diversity is a subject to which I give a great deal of thought. I am involved with several groups through my company which are in existence to empower and give voice to people who don’t always feel that they are included or are perhaps ashamed to be their authentic selves at work. These are groups which celebrate those often in the minority with regards to race, gender and sexual identity.  As part of the women’s group, I have gained strength and empowerment I would not have otherwise had, and the impetus to finally begin to write this blog.

Through my musings on diversity itself, I have come to further conclusion that this concept goes far beyond the inclusion of the minorities listed above. Bias shows up everyday in far more ways than we’d like to admit. I️ think of it as snap judgements born of our desire to rank ourselves above others. And when you actually start paying attention, we do it all the time.

Both our personalities and our experiences shape our beliefs and thought processes. That’s nature and nurture playing games with us all day long. It is within that space where true conflict sits. It’s also the domain from which true connection blooms; when someone comes from the same place as we do, i.e. “That person really gets me.” But it is also the abyss where prejudice resides as well.

Part of being mindful is being aware of the thoughts, feelings and judgements that pop up in our heads and understanding their somewhat fleeting nature and the roots from which they grow. Past that, it is our responsibilities to check ourselves when we get out of line, even if only in our heads. Everyone has a story. We can not allow our bias to get in the way of collaborating with others to solve real problems. When we truly open our ears, to even those who entertain thought processes far different from our own, we grow. And our growth as human beings collectively is our only true hope for enriching humanity as a whole.

Finding True Love through Authenticity

Living authentically is truly a difficult path. One reason that it is so challenging is because it takes so long to even discover oneself. At the age of 42, with most likely half of my life spent, I am still discovering surprises about myself. Things that used to be important to me now pale in comparison to matters that I consider are of far broader scope. Foundations I had built an entire life upon still shatter beneath me below the very ground I walk on today.

One obstacle along life’s road can often be all the forces around us trying to pigeonhole us into cultural norms. The circles we frequent, the families we grew up in, those we surround ourselves with, the influences that helped to shape our very being, can place shackles on us even in ways we don’t often fully recognize. It is the reason so many of us carry secrets tucked away in dark places. The shame of admitting to those things is frightening and so we keep them down and only showcase our infallible outward selves.

But I have experienced no greater connection with others as when the secrets come out and we admit to being the weak, imperfect, struggling human beings that we truly are. There is no greater turn off to me than someone pretending to be perfect out of a need to elevate oneself and push others down. We are all flawed my friends and we need to support those around us by turning on the light beam of forgiveness. It is warming, it is supportive and it is necessary.

As human beings, we all strive for deeper connections; we can not live a happy, fruitful or secure life without them. As we defeat noxious behaviors like shaming others to make ourselves feel more significant, we begin to destroy self-importance and boost each other up despite our shortcomings. True love then becomes not just a notion projected by films of Prince and Princess-type romanticism. But true love will emanate in all possible forms with all possible genders through self-love, love of others, forgiveness and authenticity.

 

 

Mirror Mirror

As many of you know, I have spent 45 minutes, once a week, over the last year and a half, on a therapist’s couch. Those collective hours have been tremendously helpful in leading me towards a full and complete understanding of myself. I will forever shout at the top of any mountain that everyone on the planet deserves that same experience. I have resolved so many points of contention within my own head and pounds of guilt and anger have evaporated into thin air. I truly believe mental well-being is at the very foundation of any happy and healthy person and that none of us can do it alone.

As I think back on the last year, the truth of the matter is that it has taken far more than the 45 minutes per week on that couch. My transformation has occurred because of all the additional time I have spent contemplating a lifetime of behavior and all the possible motivations behind it. I have thought about my influences and my idols. I have deconstructed all of my traumatic events and the lasting impacts they still have on my reactions today. I have discussed possible behavioral theories with those closest to me and listened to their perspective on formative events throughout my lifetime.

Much of my contemplation is done in the car, as I drive many miles per week for my job.  One of my thoughts today specifically was about how self-indulgent I have been throughout this process. I couldn’t believe how much time I was spending thinking about why I had done certain things and from where those impulses were coming. I judged myself for spending so much time thinking about me, me and more me. How could I be so conceited as to be constantly analyzing my own life history and the subsequent consequences. I was supposed to be writing about how we have become too self indulgent and how we need to turn our eyes outward to solve more collective issues that face humankind.

But I have come to the empowering realization that self-indulgence for the right reasons can be the greatest catalyst in existence for helping others. I liken it to the airplane safety manuals telling you that you have to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. Removing the blocks inside of your own head opens you up to being less angry and more cooperative.  Once you understand the reasons why you feel depression or anxiety and come up with a plan to deal with them, you can be the best version of a helpful human being and come very close to being your true and ideal self. The journey of finding oneself could be the best formula we could ask for in bringing true hope to humanity as a whole.

 

I Would Ask the Teachers

To my friends and family who are (or were) teachers: I need your assistance. But first, I will give a bit of background for context. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature with a minor in Education. I sometimes view myself as a “sell-out” who chose the corporate ladder over teaching America’s future. But I have forever been and always will be fascinated by education, curriculum and the public policies that surround both.

Today I was part of a discussion where education and the US labor force were examined. People were talking about how students are spending too much money on a college education, coming out with a great deal of debt, having to take low paying jobs and never being able to make those college payments. It was suggested that more people should learn trades instead of going to college because they wouldn’t have to spend the money, they would get paid more in their jobs and they would therefore help the labor market.

This proposal struck a dissonant chord with me because it was very much presented as an either/or scenario. I have always been a proponent of an education which is broad-based, non-specific and liberal arts in nature. I understand that this can cause an economic problem. But must we base our educational foundations strictly on the needs of the job market? My personal experience has been that one can receive a liberal-arts education and learn the basics of a job through on-the-job training. I also am thinking that learning trade-specific activities, during that liberal arts education, would produce exceptional human beings at graduation.

I am fully aware that I experienced an exceptional liberal arts education during my college years. But I am also acutely cognizant that I came out of college non-functional in many facets of real life. Throughout all of my education, I never learned how to balance a checkbook, how to cook a nutritious meal, how to buy a car, how to fix basic car issues, how to put hammer and nail to wood, how to survive a night in the wilderness, basic self-defense or the things that are so essential to a successful human life. Beyond that, I didn’t receive training on the sixteen personality types and how they interact with one another until well into my leadership career. Those lessons would have helped me immensely as early as junior high.

I understand that my question proposes a scenario which is quite impractical. I know that to teach all of these subjects would probably require 7 days per week in school during 12 months straight. I understand rewriting the American curriculum in totality is an ambitious undertaking. But it has been a while since I’ve looked at curriculum studies and I am very interested in comments on these questions, by both educators and non-educators alike. Am I too much a dreamer? Is it really impossible to develop both a trade-based, everyday skills-based and a humanities-based curriculum all together? What if we start earlier, as early as grade school perhaps? Thoughts and comments are truly welcome.

What I Won’t Tolerate

I am in the my twentieth year of being in the business world. These years have come with many challenges. What happened today had happened in the past, but today I made a point not to tolerate it.

I went to a business lunch with my boss, who happens to be a male who is 8 years my senior. I am a woman and I happen to look younger than my current age of 42. We went to lunch with two men who are probably between the ages of 50 and 60. One of them was absolutely wonderful to me. He was respectful, friendly and a pleasure to be with.

The other gentleman, not so much. I knew his reputation of being a bully. But I was open-minded at first and wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I asked him about his career path. As he began his story, he looked at me. But soon he dove into the details involving specifics of lending and investments. And as he got into the particulars of his story, he looked at my manager only.  He went on for a good fifteen minutes like that; looking at my boss and ignoring me.

There is nothing that makes me as enraged as when I am overlooked in this manner. In the past, I may have been aggravated, but not let it known for the sake of decorum. Today, I said directly to this man,

“You’re going to need to look at me and talk to both of us if                                           you want this luncheon to continue.”

He played it off as if he didn’t realize it and didn’t mean to do it. There is no doubt in my mind that if I didn’t call him out on it, I would have been ignored the entire luncheon. My boss was wonderful and directed the conversation my way in an attempt to fix it. But afterwards he admitted that it was very awkward for him to watch; he was truly surprised that something like that could actually happen.  It’s tough to relate to that if you don’t experience it.

I am educated, I am competent and I will not be ignored. I hope every woman who experiences this kind of nonsense cuts it off right there in the moment. There’s still a great deal of work to be done.

Life Finally Recognizes the Empath!

Over the past week I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting two extraordinary women through my endeavors in National Women in Business Month.  Both ladies own successful women-owned businesses; both are driven to bring out their clients’ true and full potential.  Both of their websites can be found here:

http://reneegambino.com/

http://storystrategies.net

What was so wonderful about engaging with both of these women was how validated I felt after hearing their approaches. They both talked about driving revenue from a completely different angle than I am used to hearing, but one that I have always personally relied upon. They talked not about reviewing logic and fact, but about what I believe truly matters in life.

I have always considered myself an empath and for years suffered as a result. At the beginning of my career, I was often coached for being too emotional. I was told to use more logic in decision-making. As a person in everyday life, I felt both everyone’s happiness and sadness around me and absorbed all of it like it was my own. It had been exhausting because I did not know how to harness it for the positive.

Both of the women that I met this week described how 90% of people make decisions with their emotions. They both described how many companies struggle because they have people at the top of the house that just don’t know how to connect with people or use their humanity to impact the bottom line.

In my recent years at work, I have been recognized and applauded for being able to connect emotionally with my team. The result of that ability has been extreme loyalty from my team members and harnessing their resilience and ability to overcome tough times. I truly feel like the business world is changing for the better, for the future by embracing what truly matters…human beings.

Prioritizing Peace

As I’ve mentioned so many times before, I’ve lived inside of my head for years and years. That is good in that I have a rich inner life complete with vivid dreams and deep reflections. I have learned to use those advantages to help me write. Of course, that characteristic is also bad because of all the hours of sleep I’ve lost to constant head spinning.
In trying to relax, I’ve read several books on the Buddhist way. One of my most recent finds, “How to Solve Our Human Problems” by Kelsang Gyatso, discusses how important it is to lose our preoccupation with self-absorption. It discusses how stress finds its way deeper and deeper into our psyches through our ruminations on all the negative possibilities that could possibly occur, however remotely possible.

The key to peace is that you are supposed to focus on everyone else around you and how to make their lives better. You are supposed to view every living being as your equal counterpart and ensure that you are empathetic towards all. When you do that, all narcissism falls away and we stop causing non existent issues and solve actual pressing and important issues by working together and striving for peace.

I can’t help but reflect upon this ideal way of life during these incredibly challenging times. Our culture specifically has thrived economically for many people through complete self absorption. But we are leading the human race in the wrong direction. We have to put serious thought towards those countries who put human lives first and becoming wealthy a distant priority. We can learn much from those places that put a premium on their quality of life, not the quantities in their wallets. I truly believe that there is hope for humanity if we can see peace as the ultimate goal.

 

Violence and Humanity

I would very much like to describe and solve the issue of violence and humanity within four nice, neat paragraphs. I would like to lament about the state of humanity but end with an optimistic last line about how we will all get through this together. But forgive me, I can’t seem to muster up that kind of optimism today.

Violence is a constant in our lives as human beings. Vegas was massive in the number of people killed or wounded in such a short period of time. The horror of Sandy Hook  has been resurrected, reminding us of a slew of 5-year old lives lost. Terrorists were carving people’s heads off with saws and blasting it across the internet, not to mention driving planes through buildings and vans through crowds.

Violence is happening every second of every day across this entire planet. It is normalized in certain countries and is happening to the young and innocent in countless circumstances. Shootings are common in inner city neighborhoods and just part of the normal course of the day. Domestic violence lives behind closed doors every second and terrorizes everyone within the household while people pretend it’s none of their business.

I have searched for answers in religion and looked for hope in constant daily acts of kindness. For the most part, most people are fundamentally good and we should be able to find solace in that. But it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me with every passing news story; we are in complete crisis as human beings. And it’s going to take more than “sending thoughts and prayers” everyday on a facebook page to fix it. No one has all the answers but we all better start at least trying to come up with some. We don’t have the luxury any more to standby and believe in the good in everyone. It’s not enough. And it’s time to put some energy into figuring this out, every- single- day. Not just on the days where there is horror on the news to remind us of how little progress we’ve made for humanity.

Power to the Sisterhood

               “You can always tell who the strong women are. They are the ones building each other up instead tearing each other down.”-Unknown

It is funny to use the word sisterhood, as I grew up an only child. I also have a very challenging and strained relationship with my own mom. But I was lucky enough to have several unique experiences with so many incredible women along the way that I am able to call so many women my sisters. From the women who stepped in as second moms, to the girls I’ve known since I was in grade school, to the teachers who believed in me always, the sisterhood has had my back.

Last week, I spent two days with my female sisterhood from work at a Women’s Mentoring Offsite. We have been grouped together throughout the past four years to transfer our knowledge and support one another on our career journeys. We also look to create unique opportunities for Women in Business throughout our geographical footprint. I could have never imagined the actual transformations that have occurred to all of us as an active sorority during that timeframe.

Last year at our retreat, during a session where we were to bear some of the exhausting challenges we carry with us day in and day out, miraculous bonding ensued. One of the sessions that truly blew my mind proved to me how hard women are on themselves in general. So many of us, who are relatively hugely accomplished, constantly heard voices inside our heads telling us that none of it was good enough. We were always limiting our own potential and talking ourselves out of fantastic opportunities.

Last week, we bared even more of our souls because of the unique trust bonds that we have created. Some of us carry secrets because we believe the world might not embrace our true selves. Some of us carry guilt, remorse and even shame as we try to move forward in this challenge of everyday life. But to each of those threats we all responded with open arms and strong shoulders. When we sit amongst each other, we speak of nothing but support and encouragement. We put out our hands and say, “I’m with you no matter what happens. You can count on me always.” We can say anything within those four walls and not be judged; we can fall and be caught.

All of us felt a surge of pure empowerment as we left those meeting rooms, as though we could actually take on the world. There are so many daunting issues that women face worldwide right now. But when we join hands, we can unite, and take them all on. It’s up to us, and I have learned, year after year, that we are more than capable, even if we don’t always believe it.

 “Still I rise” – Maya Angelou

People Make Mistakes

“Making mistakes is better than faking perfection.” -Unknown

As someone who has spent her entire life trying to meet unrealistic expectations, I have overthought, over analyzed and become more than paralyzed over trying to be perfect. It’s crippling often times.  But the truth is, no matter how many times you go over something, when the grand moment finally arrives, mistakes will happen. The worst part is that those blunders are the ones you never saw coming; the situations you were absolutely sure you had totally together.

I’ve often noticed many political figures tear their careers apart by lying when someone calls them out on something only to be caught in the end. It’s a sad situation for a few reasons. Often times they are the ones to blame because they had touted themselves to be completely infallible. When you claim to be perfect and above everyone else, you had better be able to prove it time and time again.

But at the same time, I also wish there was more of a culture to allow for failure when someone admits to an honest mistake. We force ourselves into a corner when we don’t accept that we are fallible. I’ve taken the fall for probably too many situations in my time. But there have been plenty of times where I truly was at fault and took my blame as appropriate.

I’ve always admired the quote by Vince Lombardi,

                     “Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.”

If we’re trying to get to excellence, giving it every effort we’ve got, let’s try to forgive a bit more when we don’t make it. It’ll be a happier world for us all.

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the Opportunity

For the last twenty years, I have dreamed of becoming a writer. The reasoning initially had been exploratory. I had been told along the way that I was good at it and experienced people’s happiness when I spoke my written words. I seemed to be able to put into phrases what people were feeling and actually made them feel more connected to the world.

The idea of author comes with many idealist visions. I often imagined myself sipping a latte on a vintage couch in a warm coffee shop in Manhattan, listening intently to fragments of conversations looking for my next smash best seller idea. I pictured myself at a writers’ retreat in the Hamptons, basking in early autumn sunshine on a quiet beach, realizing the meaning of life and bringing it valiantly back to humanity.

When I finally stopped overthinking, over-analyzing and agonizing over how I was going to make my splendid debut, I started this blog. What I never anticipated was how much I would enjoy simply sitting at my laptop and sharing my ideas with people who would be gracious enough to listen. What has been spectacular is people actually connecting to the writing, engaging with it and looking for more.

The true reason I write, underneath it all, is to build a platform upon which to join with others to make the world a better place. My mind has been opened over the years through countless books asking me to look at life from a different perspective. Everyone has their story and every story has several sides. Thank you for starting this adventure with me and being the audience with whom I connect. I hope you feel strongly enough to share and help me build that platform.

Keeping Humor Alive in Baking

I think it’s time I loosened up a little in this blog. Most of my posts thus far have been quite serious and reflective, which clearly is important in life. But I think one of the absolute most important things in life is keeping a good sense of humor. My husband makes me laugh incessantly day in and day out and it has always been one of the top qualities that I look for in anyone that I am close to. Humor is absolutely crucial to leading a fulfilling life.

I myself contribute significantly to the humor category in my own special way. While I might not be quick and witty in certain situations, I certainly make up for that in other ways. Something I’ve been doing all my life has been putting craft projects out there that might have the initial intention of being serious art but inevitably translate into humorous outcomes. Many of the friends that have been with me for years and years can confirm this. And I could probably have one blog completely dedicated to these creations if I could locate all of the photos.

One of my hobbies as over the last few years has been cake making. While I have had several cakes come out in a mostly presentable manner, I had to resurrect the Cat Woman cake that I made for my daughter’s 5th birthday shown here:

To the untrained eye, it has some solid cake elements. The fondant looks decent and Cat Woman’s face looks quite attractive. When one looks deeper however, one wonders why Cat Woman has been attacked and held down by a purple serpent. Most people do not want to point this out however due to general polite society. They simply say, “Wow…nice…” in an excited yet confused fashion. In actuality, I could not make the fondant body support the big head and had to cover the mistake by pretending she was holding a whip. But looking back on the situation, I’m so happy that I created this and so many of my art projects that have brought endless laughter to countless situations.

We can’t take ourselves too seriously in this endeavor called life. A good laugh can get you through many a crisis and I have plenty of humorous art projects to share. Look for more as the blog continues…

The Lure of Reading

“We read to know that we are not alone.” -C.S. Lewis

I remember how lonely I was when I first moved to New York by myself. I was never one to move or stay somewhere just because I had a friend in that location. I know that sounds counter intuitive, but I always thought I would challenge myself to dive into the unknown alone, and friends would naturally follow. I cheated myself out of many possible good times by that self-induced edict but hindsight is always 20/20.

While I was settling in to my first apartment about 30 minutes outside of New York City, I enjoyed traveling here or there on weekends to visit any number of friends across the country. I also enjoyed every second that I explored so many inches of NYC by myself. But the weeknights or weekends I did not travel were eerily quiet. I needed something to quiet my fears and quench my mind.

My favorite trip outside of that apartment was going to the local Barnes & Noble Bookstore. It was as if when I opened those doors all the knowledge in the entire universe was right in front of me for the taking. It wasn’t like in college where the professor chose the books for me to read. I could read about anything and everything I wanted to know about. An education of my own design was imminent and I was voracious in sucking out the marrow.

Those books, those characters and all the knowledge that came with them were my friends during a time when I needed them most. They have shaped me into the person I am today and I am forever grateful. I can only hope to give those larger than life connections to anyone who reads this blog.

Which books have been your best friends?

Sinatra’s Best Advice

 “Try your best and never give up.  When life gets hard, play harder” -Me to my son

This has been one of my harder years with several setbacks and frustrations. As I have mentioned in this blog more than once, I often seek to calm myself amidst rushes of anxiety and I have found wonderful mantras to meditate upon when things get difficult. Tonight I realized that I will be the source of several mantras for my own children to reflect upon as they go through life.

I’ve thought so many times of the things my father, who passed in 2006, told me growing up.  One of my favorite memories of him is when we used to listen to an eight track tape of Frank Sinatra. We would listen to “That’s Life” over and over and sing at the top of our lungs. Those lyrics ring in my head:

 “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race”

I knew my father believed wholeheartedly in those lyrics because much of the advice he gave me was about fighting through when things got tough. As I told my son tonight not to get discouraged and to play hard even when things are tough, tears began to stream down my face. I realized that I should make sure I take my own advice too. And the advice of my dad and Sinatra that started so long ago.

When things are hard, it’s difficult to see out of our clouds. But grit is so important. Keep fighting and things will get better, always.

How Can We Help?

On NPR this morning I tuned into a discussion with a journalist who had recently spent time in North Korea. I instantly thought of when Otto Warmbier was “released” earlier this year, right before his death. I watched the TV in complete horror as I became sick to my stomach imagining what awful things they could have done to him.

The journalist went on to discuss how in North Korea, they have a way of ensuring the people don’t rebel. It’s known as the ‘three generations of punishment” rule. If you organize rebellion, not only will you be sent to prison camp, but your children and your children’s children are doomed to live out their lives there as well. The North Korean people only know lives full of constant fear and complete lack of hope.

Atrocities against humans happen everyday all over the world. Basic human rights are violated every second. I don’t pretend to know the answers to solve these problems. But we can not live in a bubble saying we don’t know how to help either. We are incredibly lucky to live in this country where we are free; so many lost their lives so that we may enjoy that reality. And when we band together, we always make a difference.

What are your thoughts on how we can help?

Imagine

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one” -John Lennon, Imagine

I have always been someone who sees the world not as it is, but as it could be. That can be a good thing and it can be a very bad thing. I’ve always been envious of the realists in that regard. For me, on the inside, life can be constantly stressful; I’m forever trying to fix things. With a tweak here and a tuck there, everything could be perfect.

In all of the anti-anxiety manuals, they tell you to let go of all that you can’t control; they tell you to stop trying to make everything into the ideal. Buddhism says that suffering ends when you accept things as they are, not as they should be. And sure, all of those tenets are very helpful in making me feel more relaxed and less stressed out.

But seriously, even though I would love to be stress-free all the time, what good does that do humanity as a whole? This planet, while so wonderful on so many levels, still needs a ton of work. We need to keep learning, keep challenging and keep CHANGING the world for the better. We all know there is hope. But with hope must come ACTION. And if we all believe and challenge ourselves to make it happen, we CAN create the perfect world. It’s all up to us.

Imagine that.

Don’t Underestimate Me

“You’re not that smart, you just work hard.” -Sister Mary Ann to me in the first grade.

On the website, www.simplypsychology.org, Saul McLeod discusses Carl Rogers’ (1959) belief that self concept has three different components: the view you have of yourself (self image), how much value you place on yourself (self esteem or self-worth), [and] what you wish you were really like (ideal self). I could go on for days about all of these theories. But today I’d like to stick to the effects of someone else’s ill-conceived comments on a youth’s self-concept. At the age of six, I was quite impressionable. And as a serious student of an all-girl Catholic school, I took everything I was told as the be-all/end-all answer. Apparently, I was not smart.

As I mentioned in a previous post, therapy has taken situations like this and placed them into context for me. Thankfully, I have carefully thought through this experience many times and instead of believing it, I have turned it into an opportunity to discuss how important it is for us to believe in our own abilities as human beings, and not allow ourselves to be forced into someone else’s schema of how they see and order the world around them, especially in academia.

As I listen to those around me, I am constantly hearing people categorize themselves. “I’m a math person, not an English person.” “I’m a science person, not a language person…” and so on. Just because certain subjects may take us more time to understand than others, does not mean we have to consider ourselves completely incapable of learning them. It happens in personality too. Just because we don’t always enjoy extroversion over introversion, doesn’t mean we can’t adapt in certain situations.

The world is tough enough as it is without us placing all sorts of chains on ourselves. People are forever going to try to fit you into their order of understanding. It is crucial that you don’t let them and allow yourself to flourish into the amazing person you were meant to be. You can be everything, if you only let yourself be.

 

 

 

Thoughtful Leadership

“You know, great powers don’t get angry, great powers don’t make decisions hastily in a crisis.” -John R Allen

During my career, I have been lucky enough to lead teams and truly make a difference in individual’s lives. And as with any such opportunity, there have been critiques. I have sometimes been criticized for taking too long to make a decision. In certain circumstances, people have longed for swift judgements, which from their perspective, were extraordinary clear. But I recall, in all of those circumstances, there would be those severely adversely affected by such a decision. Not everyone on a team knows the intricacies behind their colleagues’ stories.

People with limited understanding of one side of a situation will blindly call for swift “justice,” as they understand it.  But they have not thought through completely the lives of those on the other side. And it is not always their job to do so. But it is clearly the decision maker’s job to fully and carefully evaluate all sides and all options.

True leadership is thoughtful leadership. It is not leadership seeking attention, leadership seeking power or leadership with a selfish agenda. A leader must not make uninformed decisions at lightning speed so they can be viewed as decisive and resolute. People who make such decisions do so only so that their egos can be inflated by the short-term praise they win.  But the long-term effects of those hasty decisions are potentially devastating and permanent.

As a leader, you are entrusted by your people to be thoughtful. They expect you to be fair. They need you to think through all intended and unintended consequences. You should be educated in the rights and wrongs of historical events. The President of this great country continues to make reckless, impulsive, careless decisions which will severely alter the lives of so many so that he can continue to build a shallow resume filled only by ego-driven motivation.

We must continue to think and resist.

Nutrition for the Soul

“Take Time to do What Makes Your Soul Happy”-Unknown

I’ve been reading seriously for about a year now about physical nutrition. I’m forever trying to get healthy and get to my ideal weight, while constantly falling prey to eating due to stress and emotions. I truly believe that if you get your sustenance right, the rest falls into place. Our bodies thrive given the proper fuel. I’m still on that personal journey but know I will eventually get there in my own time.

What I have found to be just as important, and something I’ve been more vehement in protecting, is getting the proper nourishment for my soul. My stomach growls when it needs food and weakness begins to set in. In kind, my mind and heart wear down without qualified refreshment.  Of course, that type of replenishment requires one of the hardest luxuries to find: time.

We are all in a game of survival on this planet. While certainly more evolved than the animals in the wild, we still have needs that must be met. We don’t have to hunt for our food in this day and age, but every day is still filled with all the stresses of paying the bills and feeding our families. Who amongst us would not love to simply spend our entire days doing only the things we love. Alas, we must make a living.

But what truly separates us from the wild is the burning need for connection, understanding and peace. And just as important as making time to cook nutritive meals, we must make time for the restocking of the spirit. In order to give, we must refill. I believe that all of us need very different things to keep ourselves truly happy, but we need to make the time to understand what those things are, and demand the time to do them. The simpler those activities can be, the more realistic they are to accomplish.

Do you truly give yourself the time you need to rejuvenate?

Take a Risk

“We are all living in cages with the door wide open” – George Lucas

I have always suffered from anxiety, ever since I was a little kid. I’m sure there’s tons of reasons for it; some hereditary, some conditioned. But it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and with the additional responsibilities of work and family, life has little to no tolerance for it. I know I’m not alone in this condition, as I have this conversation several times a day with my co-workers and friends. But this year I finally took a step that I had been avoiding for years. I started therapy and it’s been the best decision of my life. I believe that burying our issues, like I had done for 40 years, truly leads to future implosion. The weight lifted from my shoulders has been tremendous. I will forever be an advocate for people getting the mental health assistance they need. I view my transition not as a stigma, but as an honor.

A life-changing moment happened for me a month or so ago, as I was wide awake at 3am, panicking. I was so sick of the insomnia I was experiencing and was combing thoroughly through my brain; sifting through the golden nuggets of therapy I had taken in over the last year. A recurrent and key theme was that I had spent my entire life trying to be perfect. There was no room for error, ever.  Either you did it right, or you didn’t do it. On top of that, I never EVER took a risk. Why would I actually take the chance of looking foolish or falling on my face? I began to think, maybe that belief was truly the root of my stress. I found a few inspirational quotes which drove that point home. The most notable quote was:

“Celebrate failure; it means you took a risk”- Unknown

It was as if the combination unlocked, the gates opened and I was finally able to break free. Only, those gates were never actually closed in the first place. It was only me placing my own restrictions upon myself. I don’t have to remind you, that’s no way to live.

As I opened my eyes to daily life, I saw others out there taking real risks with incomparable rewards. Most notably, my friend John just started a blog about how he retired from banking in the US, moved to Cambodia, and became a hotelier. His blog is here and it is truly an adventure to follow:

 [https://adventuresofjohnnyg.wordpress.com/] 

How inspiring it is to see others truly living their dreams. But they all had one thing in common: they got over the fear of failing and started thinking about what could go right instead of wrong.  Once I got over my analysis paralysis of over-thinking how/when/why/where and for whom I would write, I have delved in and started my blog. I stopped thinking of “for whom” and started writing “for me.” I am now confident in my thoughts and I want people to hear them. And if I can help just one person along the way, it’s all icing on the cake.

What would you do if you stopped being your own inner critic? Which dream would you begin?

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”- Anais Nin

Do Something

“To me, freedom entitles you to do something, not to not do something.” -Shel Silverstein

This week, I encountered several major instances of social injustice, just within my small circle of influence.  The phrase “no good deed goes unpunished,” by Clare Boothe Luce,  echoed loudly and repeatedly in my head, as if by megaphone.

My friend was in a store with her son, who happens to be on the Autism spectrum.  Three teenage employees were hanging out in the corner, blatantly laughing at him.  My friend’s son is one of the happiest, nicest and most loving kids I have ever met.  He would do anything for his friends, family or for that matter, anyone he just met on the street.  My friend’s heart was broken when she witnessed the situation. She was put in an uncomfortable position because it was now up to her to address it. She handled it beautifully and held those teenagers accountable for their behavior.

A teenager in the Bronx was charged with manslaughter.  His mother’s ex-boyfriend, drunk and on PCP, attacked her in her home.  This teenager jumped to her defense.  In the scuffle, the ex-boyfriend was killed. Now the son is the one who faces prison.  I do not have any evidence in front of me. But I have to assume that if I were the son in that situation, I would have done anything possible to save my mother from this horrific attack.  I’m sure he did not intend to kill him, but I also assume that it is difficult to pinpoint and calculate the exact amount of force necessary that will keep you out of prison and save your mother from certain death.

I have another friend who was held responsible for someone’s suicide, even though she had never even met him.  I cannot give details of the situation, but rest assured, she had done nothing but build a support network from scratch, with the intention of helping individuals in need. She simply became a scapegoat and was blamed for years of mental issues blatantly ignored by all those around him.

The common point of these three situations is that there are so many people out there driving swiftly and aggressively towards disaster; teenagers publicly exhibiting egregious ignorance, extreme chemical addictions robbing people of their senses, severe domestic abuse perpetually cycling through generations, and individuals not getting the mental health help they so desperately need.  But by the time concerned people get involved, they are often blamed, when they had absolutely nothing to do with the root cause. The action-oriented people discussed in the above three scenarios had no choice other than to get involved. But they had to make up for the inaction of so many people who should have been heavily involved in the first place. Studies out there have proved that people often recognize bad behavior, but remain silent.  It takes effort to get involved and most simply just don’t want to bother.

The teenagers that laughed at the boy; their behavior had been witnessed before. But instead of someone standing up and saying that it was wrong, it was simply laughed off.  The ex-boyfriend on drugs and alcohol; many unscrupulous people were profiting from his addictions. Chances are, the neighborhood knew about the awful domestic abuse that son had witnessed repeatedly over many years but no one wanted to address what was going on behind closed doors. The person who was lost to suicide; he was not getting the mental health services he so seriously needed because it was easier to look the other way.  As a society, we all bear collective responsibility for holding people accountable and getting them help if they need it. They might refuse upfront, but we must continue to try. We cannot stand by and let problems grow into insurmountable issues with dire consequences.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard passing comments, “Don’t get involved, it’s not your problem.”  We also have to support people who do take a stand, as often times they will suffer largely negative consequences just for doing the right thing. As June Jordan ignited the oft-repeated words in her 1978 poem entitled Poem for South African Women, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Words Matter

 

 “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The events in Charlottesville and the subsequent “free speech” protests and counter-protests have made me both very angry and very pensive.  I understand that our country was built upon free speech.  I am a huge supporter of that foundation and also know how crucial it is to society at large. But I can’t get past the fact that anyone would actually want to use that freedom for such hatred.  I also can’t believe that our president wouldn’t immediately condemn it.  Of course, it should not be surprising.  On the day he was elected President, I could not fathom how someone who had clearly voiced such ignorance and hatred could actually be elected to lead this country.  I have such a respect for that office and a tremendous respect for good, strong, thoughtful leadership as a whole.  Thinking incessantly about both of these tragic events has brought me back to one crucial tenet of great leadership:

WORDS MATTER

As someone who loves to write, “words matter” is quite obvious.  But the greatest leaders of our time have always been able to craft speeches that inspire the rest of us to act for the good of humanity.  Unfortunately, the most vicious leaders in history have also been able to use their words to instigate horrifying acts of violence.  The most horrid leaders in world history knew that when their audience was downtrodden and had lost complete hope in their futures that the time was right to strike.  On top of that opportunity, their messages resonated with people who had no educational background in the woeful mistakes of history or the importance of empathy in social interactions. The maelstrom that resulted gave those monsters unprecedented opportunity to take power and spawn evil.

We must ask ourselves as thoughtful, educated human beings, what beliefs are behind spoken words?  What intent is behind those phrases?  What will people bring about as people gather around them to listen.  If someone is charismatic and well presented, people will often ultimately want to hear what they have to say.  But someone’s ability to twist words and concepts into a web of future tragedy is exactly what we must fight. Group think is a powerful tool.  And group think is manipulated by crafty speech.  As someone with a background of driving revenue, I’m the first to admit that any concept can be spun in a way which only behooves the spinner.

All of us, as human beings, need to realize that we should choose our words wisely, whether we are in the simplest of conversations or the grandest of public dissertations.  We need to take the power of words very seriously, and use them for good, not evil. And when evil springs up amongst us, we must use our power of speech to denounce it.  Our future, our children, our society and our freedom are all dependent upon it.  I am forever grateful to all the keen ears of history who listened and were able to hear evil in the most beautiful of sonnets. Those heroes subsequently used their voices to carry eloquent speeches that drove good to ultimately prevail.  We must all use our voices now as silence is perhaps the worst word of all.