Posted in differences, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

It’s not just about the weather

We have a serious game of one-up-manship going on. It’s everywhere and completely lacks empathy.

An easy example, one that likely isn’t triggering to most people, is weather.

Right now, Texas is just starting to thaw a bit. People went for days without electricity and/or running water. It’s killing people. Homes are flooding. Drinking water is scarce. Many foods are in short supply. 

People from other parts of the country where snow is common are smack talking.

This isn’t to say that the overwhelming response is “So? We got way more snow than that this weekend,” but that the response is big enough to be noticeable is troubling.

It’s not the same. Can we agree it’s not the same?

If we can’t show empathy about things that truly are not about us at all (except maybe to say that we’re tougher because we regularly live through what we believe you’re complaining about?), how can we have compassion for people in situations that actually push our buttons?

We need to do better. Not just about the weather.

Posted in audience participation, connections, socializing, thoughtfulness

Pleasant people plus one

I was in a writing group. We were generally friendly, offered feedback to each other on our work with both give and take on “negative” feedback. (So grateful for that. Can’t get better without constructive criticism, and we, culturally, are extremely averse to it.)

One person in the group was extremely unpleasant. Would talk much longer than anyone wanted to listen, offered advice on things people didn’t want or need advice for. (In my “welcome to the group, tell us about yourself” bit, I mentioned I was a band teacher and was doing bucket drumming with my classes. Upon hearing this—after being acquainted for less than five minutes—he offered me some suggestions for how I could do band instead because it’s really important for the kids to play their instruments. He was not a teacher, not an instrumentalist, had no children, and my classes loved playing the buckets.)

I talked to the facilitator about his abrasiveness, and she agreed that he was difficult and some people had left the group because of him but *shrug*

A similar thing is happening in a different group I’m part of now.

In talking to a friend about the current situation, she told me a parallel story.

Why do we let these people destroy what would be pleasant, productive communities? How many opportunities to connect have we missed out on because one person ruined it for everyone?

And how do we fix it?

“Use your words” comes to mind, but how do you tell someone that they’re socially atrocious? If someone can finesse and deliver the message and the recipient doesn’t reject it, how do they socialize after receiving it without being self-conscious all the time?

There’s a difference between self-conscious and self-aware, and I’m not sure that replacing the vacuum of neither with self-consciousness is great. And I’m also not sure it would solve the problem anyway.

Kick them out? Make it unpleasant for them so they quit? None of these feels good to me, but I’m not sure there’s a solution that does feel good to me…

Have you had a situation like this that was successfully resolved? (For whatever “successfully” means to you?)

Posted in audience participation, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

I need a word

One of my life mantras comes from Maya Angelou: 

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

We apply this easily to many skill sets: math, reading, various arts, physical skills, and so on. 

We don’t apply it as well to our beliefs and how we interact with the world. I am trying to keep that piece close to the foreground in my mind so I can, in that sense, do better. 

I have lived a life of privilege in many ways, being middle class, white, cisgendered, able-bodied. 

I have also lived life as a female, and I’m enormously frustrated when a man tells me that something that I experience regularly doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.

So I try to listen, understand, and adjust when people whose experience is different than mine talk to me about a slice of their life that is unfamiliar to me.

Words are important. People who are not damaged by them argue their insignificance, which always struck me kind of funny. If it’s so insignificant, why can’t you choose another word?

So when a Native American friend posted an article on Facebook about the word tribe, I read it, I thought about it, I looked up other sources and gained more perspective.

In my poor summary, it’s problematic in describing groups of people perceived to be primitive, including both Native and African tribes. But it’s also problematic because the concept of tribe in the sense we colloquially use it was stripped of both Natives and Africans for White people’s purposes, and while that might have started a long time ago, we haven’t fixed it yet.

It’s not a word I’ve used frequently, so it didn’t take a lot of effort to remove it from my working vocabulary. But I’ve wanted it a few times in my writing and my invitations, and I haven’t found a good synonym.

I need a word to reference a group of like-minded people who stick together.

“Family” has the stickiness but there’s an element of exclusivity by natural causes. There’s also a tremendously wide range of feelings elicited by the concept of family, tapping ideally into feelings of love and safety, but often into the opposite. Or into the sadness of infertility. Or of loss through divorce or death. 

“Community” feels sterile to me. Perhaps I’ve not had the experience necessary for that to have the bonding element that I’m looking for.

“Band,” the place I grew up and lived and loved for so many years, comes the closest, but I also know that’s a feeling exclusive to the people who’ve experienced it. (And I’m sure, like family and community, there are people whose experience doesn’t connect “band” with goodness.)

I had a conversation about this with a few friends the other day, and in the case of my blog and mailing list (where I currently invite people to “join the family” for lack of something better), we had a very engaging and sometimes hilarious brainstorm involving both animal group names and geometry. (My blog is called “Heat’s Tangent City” because of the many directions my ideas flow from their starting point. And obstinacy was my favorite animal group name and maybe fitting but perhaps not ideal for branding.)

On either level—specific-to-me or more general—what’s a good word to use instead of tribe?

I thought of Heat’s Herd, because “Heat Herd” was my nickname before the Herd was dropped and I became plain old Heat. Two arguments against: 1- not a lot of people know that; 2- I don’t like the ownership of the apostrophe-s. While I am the connecting point of the people in my herd, the ownership thing feels … slimy? I don’t have a good explanation as to why; in this moment, I don’t need one. The feeling is enough.

So. What word do you use instead of tribe? (Or what word will you use going forward, if you’ve not thought about it before?)

Posted in connections, differences, mental health, mindset, parenting, socializing, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Distance, leverage, growth

Tempe Town Lake is a man-made lake not far from here where you can use a paddleboat or a kayak or go fishing. It’s also a popular location for triathlons. 

The water is not crystalline.

When I swam in Tempe Town Lake, I couldn’t see my hand at the end of my completely outstretched arm.

The water you swim in affects how you see things, both literally and metaphorically.

What did you think was typical across households until some startling point in time when you realized that your family was the only one who did that thing? There are threads of these anecdotes across social media.

We project our surroundings and circumstances onto everyone. We assume everyone is the same “base model” and that others just make different choices. 

Who we were raised by, who we spend/spent time with at school, at work, during free time, online and off affects both who we are and what we see as “normal.”  

(I recognize these upcoming statements are easier said than done, particularly if you’re following shelter-in-place guidelines and the concept of spending time with people is anacronistic.)

If you want to eat better, spend more time with people who eat well and less with people who don’t, because eating well in that context is “normal.” 

If you want to save money, spend more time with people who save and less with people who spend, because saving money in that context is “normal.” 

If you want to feel happier, spend time with generally happy people.

And so on.

This is true of habits not as easily measured, too. Spend time with generous people, with thoughtful people, with empathetic people, with kind people, if those are the people you want to be like, if those are the skills you want to develop.

In this light, it’s possible to have affection for people and also not want to spend a lot of time with them.

Part of the difficulty many recovering substance addicts have is their social circle. If I spend my time with my friends who spend their time getting drunk, I either need to be able to be with them and not get drunk or I need to spend time with other people.

It’s hard.

It’s applicable to anything that could be considered addiction: drugs, alcohol, junk food, shopping, gambling, working, gaming, etc. Maybe also to frames of mind: generosity, complaining, benefit of the doubt, victimhood, thoughtfulness.

Beginning in August, I took part in The Creative’s Workshop, where I spent at least an hour every day virtually interacting with other people engaging in creative work and being vulnerable in a space where showing your work and giving and receiving feedback was normal.

It changed me, for the better.

“People like us do things like this.” Find the people doing the things you want to do, and join them. Be open to who they are and who you might become, and over time, you will shift.

Posted in audience participation, connections, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

Conscientiousness and community

My great-aunt apparently drove later in her life than she should have. I never rode in a car with her but I remember overhearing grownups laughing that she was like Mr. Magoo, where she always turned out fine but there was a trail of chaos behind her.

We’re not always aware of the effect we have on others.

When we hold on to trash until we find a trash can, when we snap at people who we perceive as worthy of our judgement and ire, when we tell someone something we admire about them, when we cut people off in traffic … we affect others. Often, we affect more than just the person we’re targeting.

Do you want your ripples to be positive or negative? Assume there is no neutral. (The option of neutral leads to inaction, and inaction nearly always feeds the negative.)

Take a moment and think of something small that someone (known or unknown) did that affected your mood.

My hikes are much less pleasant when there is trash on the trail. The most common trash on the trails I frequent is bags of dog poop: people bag up their dog’s poop and then leave it on the trail. Pack it out. Leave no trace. Something small that affects countless others.

One day at work, I got three compliments on my dress. Each made my day better.

Small things matter. Offer small things to others. People you know. People you don’t know.

Drive thoughtfully. Give praise. Do favors. Clean up after yourself. Turn the volume down. Send a card. Be patient. Live generously.