Posted in mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Poking around in people’s brains

Asking questions from a place of curiosity (as opposed to from a place of judgement) isn’t invasive.

How can we ever get to know people and grow relationships if we can’t ask questions?

If you’re a safe person to me, I am reasonably sure there aren’t any questions you can’t ask. (If you’re not, that’s another story entirely.)

Poking around in people’s brains is one of my favorite past times—though it’s been missing-ish in my recent years of too much to do and not enough socializing—and I am grateful to people who don’t keep walls up to prevent it.

When in doubt, avoid questions about hot-button topics, but really, any question (or comment) can be a button-pusher for the right person. We can’t possibly know what are sensitive subjects for people, especially if we don’t know them very well. “What made you move to Arizona?” is a pretty common question around here, but if the person you’re talking to was escaping an abusive situation, that question is a lot more emotional than someone who just wanted a change. No way to know unless you ask.

We get to know people through talking to them. (Sometimes simply through spending time with them, but there are a lot of asterisks on that.)

Academically, I learned in grad school a process that probably has a formal name but basically deals with self-disclosure. In order for two people to form a positive emotional relationship (not limited to romantic relationships), mutual self-disclosure is required.

One person needs to disclose something about themselves at a level appropriate to the depth of the relationship, the disclosure needs to be met positively, and the process needs to repeat in reciprocity.

The whole process isn’t exactly a tit-for-tat, one-to-one series of interactions, but the relationship quickly becomes imbalanced if only one person is doing the disclosing, or if one’s disclosures are substantially deeper than the other’s.

So. Reveal yourself. Ask questions. Answer questions. Build connections. At the end of the day, those connections are where our fulfillment is.

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

Birth lottery

The following popped up in my Facebook memories:

The crap this morning reminded me that while I am privileged enough to choose not to be here next year…or even just not to be in this neighborhood in the evenings and on the weekends…my kids here don’t have that choice. I didn’t earn this life. It was given to me and I didn’t squander it, combined with a whole host of dumb luck (see last week’s post re: finances and cancer for one of countless examples).

I wrote this during my last year teaching in south central Phoenix at a K-8 school in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood.

A few of my junior high kids had been caught dealing and using drugs on campus. Kids who did well for me. Kids whose names I wouldn’t have expected on that list. I was heartbroken and was reminded that their reality and my reality were so different.

That I didn’t attend a school like that had nothing to do with me. That I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood like that had nothing to do with me. That I’ve never had to live in a neighborhood like that has some to do with me and some not.

The point is—and I said it in the quoted portion—I didn’t earn my life. I was handed my life and I didn’t squander it.

(Other things in my life, including good mental health, pro-social interpersonal skills, etc., I worked my butt off and earned.)

Certainly there are some people who are handed a life like mine or better and squander it, most likely because they didn’t work their butts off to earn the other parts. (Societally, we don’t really talk about and definitely don’t deal with the other parts.)

But the majority of people in dire financial positions aren’t there because of bad life choices. They’re doing what they can with what they have. Sometimes, what is innate in a person is enough to help them get out of that type of situation, but we can’t blame everyone else’s failure to do so on the stars aligning for those few.

We judge them, I believe, for one of two reasons.

One is that many of us are not many paychecks away from being in dire straits ourselves. We judge to shield ourselves from that reality, to make it seem like a character flaw in them that we don’t have.

The other is that we need to believe that we did this ourselves. Because it doesn’t feel good to acknowledge that we have basic needs met that others don’t through no fault of our own. Again, we judge to make it seem like a character flaw in them that we don’t have.

But it’s not our fault that they don’t have what we do, necessarily. No need to feel guilty. Use your privilege to help. Do a little bit of volunteering. Donate to places that are reputable. (Donate money or items that are useful, not just what makes you feel good.) Speak up on behalf of those who don’t have a voice, or whose voices are ignored. Vote for people who support programs that help those among us who need it the most. Give the guy on the corner a couple of bucks without sizing up what he’s going to spend it on.

My reference to finances and cancer in the quote above?

If I’d been diagnosed 10 months earlier, I wouldn’t have had any health insurance. If I’d been diagnosed two years later, I would have paid a lot more out of pocket. If I was diagnosed now, I’d pay at least 10x what I paid then. That, my friends, is sheer dumb luck … if you can call a cancer diagnosis lucky.

 

Posted in differences, meandering, mental health, vulnerability

Hurt people hurt people

My biggest question is: how do we fix it?

People’s past experiences predict how they’ll treat people currently.

People who treat others badly have a history that leaves them with wounds that prevent them from behaving in pro-social ways.

All of these anti-social people (ASPs for ease in the rest of this post)—from sexual predators to KKK members to your verbally abusive aunt to the bully on the playground—have a history of trauma. Their experiences aren’t all the same, and, in some cases, their experiences administered to a different personality wouldn’t even be traumatic.

Doesn’t matter.

Given that bad behavior is a result of trauma, we should, as decent human beings, have sympathy or empathy for what has brought ASPs to this point.

But as adults, we’re responsible for taking care of our own baggage, so ASPs are responsible for working out whatever it is that makes them like that; they don’t just get a pass because bad things happened to them.

But as humans, if we’re so triggered by our pasts that we can’t give benefit of the doubt to people or we can’t be open to learning about other people’s experiences, then we’re certainly not in a place to own our own shit and subsequently work to clean it up. So ASPs aren’t in a place to be able to take ownership of their behaviors.

But also as humans, it’s our responsibility to stand up for people who can’t do it for themselves—which means standing up to ASPs on behalf of those who they’re trying to cut down.

This goes back and forth forever.

So how do we give enough love to ASPs for them to feel secure enough to look at themselves, realize they’re behaving badly, and get a damn therapist while not at the same time condoning or enabling their behavior?

I have no answers. But I’d love to have a conversation. What do you think?

Posted in about me, know better do better, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Privilege

Every now and then, something crosses my path that rattles my thinking.

These are all examples of things that I had literally never thought about until someone else shared it.

• A post on Facebook pictured a wedding shop window display with a mannequin in a wedding dress in a wheel chair. The caption included, “it’s the first time I’ve ever seen disability portrayed in a shop window.”

• An article about Marie Kondo talked about people who blow back against her in ways that are racist against her and her culture, and that those people aren’t taking her in context.

• The same article talked about how the blowback against book decluttering is classist—both owning so many books and having the space to store them.

• “It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it your whole life!”

• The number of people who responded negatively to the following sentiment…and how they have no idea how lucky they are never to have been on the receiving end: “As Esquire editor Dave Holmes tweeted, ‘To anyone who’s ever been any kind of other, the goofy malice in that MAGA kid’s eyes is instantly recognizable.’”

What have you run into that gave you pause and made you consider—even if only for a moment—that you’re lucky that you’ve never had to think about that before?

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

MLK

In my home state of Arizona, the only reason today is recognized as a holiday is: the NFL rescinded the Super Bowl in the 90s because we didn’t recognize it. Magically, we had a change of heart.

(It was “them” not “we” at the time—I didn’t live here yet—but we still tend to be in the news for impressively ignorant things.)

I have a lot of thoughts about today …

…about the incident at the protest the other day…

…about the exaltation of good people to “infallible”…

…about the state of race relations in this country…

…and all of the other “other” relations in this country…

…about how people speaking out for social justice are supposed to turn the other cheek while the denigration and exploitation of people in this country (to say nothing of elsewhere) rises at an alarming rate…

…about how I have the privilege with most of these issues to think about them and deal with them when I have time and energy because they don’t affect me directly…

…about how my employer is putting us through Deep Equity training, and what it’s like and what it means…

And I couldn’t tease it all out and come up with a post that didn’t wind all over the place (bring Dramamine!) or get ranty (I do try to limit rants and there was one just yesterday and a bit of one the day before).

I wanted an end product that was strong, thoughtful, and maybe would make one person think twice about any one of the myriad of issues that are part of all of this.

So instead, I just ask: when you see injustice, speak up.

You would want help if you were on the losing side of any of those battles.

Let your mind be changed by people who are walking the walk. You don’t know more about someone else’s experience than they do.

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

An African proverb

The tree remembers what the axe forgets.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

I can, as the quote states, tell you stories about being a tree. Sometimes the giving tree (codependency much?). Sometimes a tree in a razed forest. Sometimes, um, a tree that fights back? Hahahaha the analogy only works for so long.

I can remember, though, some instances of being an axe, and in many of those cases, I’ve at least tried to apologize, even if it’s years later.

I’m sure there are others I forget.

But more important than either of those is this: when people tell me that I hurt them, I believe them.

I read somewhere else: “If someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

True story.

Because that resonates with me so deeply on the receiving end—the biggest hurts I’ve endured have been dismissed by perpetrators—I do my best to acknowledge being on the giving end.

I’m not flawless at it. And if I’ve been your chopping block over and over, you’re much less likely to get that bit of vulnerability from me. Right or wrong, it is what it is, and for now, I’m OK with it.

What’s your experience?

Posted in about me, know better do better, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Helpful critique

The other night, I had my second bouldering competition. (Read here about the first one.)

It was organized differently than the first one. As a person who appreciates both efficiency and safety, I liked how it was set up. As a person who prefers to boulder without people watching, I didn’t like it at all.

If I had gone later in the evening, there would have been more other people climbing at the same time, and I could have been blissfully ignored. But I went second, so there weren’t many of us to watch.

There also weren’t many people watching, to be truthful—less than half a dozen—but still. My preferred number is zero.

In the second area I climbed, I had to get out of an overhang. I don’t have a lot of experience doing that, so it wasn’t comfortable and I didn’t really know what I was doing, or how to better do what I was trying to do.

Onlookers cheered! Yay! But that meant onlookers looked.

Anyway.

The people watching are better climbers than I. (That’s just a statement of relative skill levels—not at all a diss to myself—and there’s no shame in it.) They could have, when I was done, given me advice on how to improve.

In that case, I would have been much more comfortable. I’m pretty good at receiving useful feedback when offered in useful ways.

On the other hand, some people don’t want to hear it. So if you’re the one with the potentially useful information, how do you decide if you should speak up or not?

Variables, I guess. At the comp, there were others climbing after me who they were watching, so there wasn’t time to chat.

I’ve talked to these people enough that I think they would know that I know that I’m not good at bouldering, which makes it more likely that I’d be open to feedback. If I was terrible at it but thought I was great, I would not likely be able to hear what they were saying.

And part of it comes down to: do you want to be helpful? If you’re not one who likes to approach people regardless, can you get over that hurdle?

“Hey, I was watching you climb, and I have some thoughts that might help. Would you like to hear them?”

Yes, please!

If you know better, help someone else to do better.

Posted in mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Suffering in silence

You don’t announce a pregnancy until the end of the first trimester, because you want to be as sure as possible it’s a viable pregnancy first. Everyone knows this.

I hate this rule, and I think we should get rid of it.

For many women, miscarriages are extremely emotionally painful.

Why would we want to suffer in silence? Suffer without the help of our village to lift us up?

I know so many women who had a miscarriage and talked about it months or years after the fact, and about how horrible it was.

We grieve publicly when other members of our family die. Is it really only because everyone already knows them?

(Don’t read into my politics on this post. I’m talking about personal experiences, not legislation.)

There are so many personal things I’ve posted about, often on Facebook but sometimes here too, and I get texts or emails in return: thank you for talking about that. I don’t talk about it, but that’s me, too.

The whole #metoo movement highlights this.

How many women have a story of trauma that they don’t tell? How does this secrecy affect them in any or all other areas of their lives?

But let’s not leave out the men in this one, either, because in our culture of toxic masculinity, men aren’t supposed to talk about feelings at all. No good comes of keeping all of that inside.

(The rest of this post is written in hetero-normative language. I’m aware, but making it otherwise made it clunky to read.)

I’m not saying that every time we feel something, we need to have a conversation about it. But men (and, indirectly, women) are done a disservice when taught not to talk about things that hurt.

(How many women complain that their male partner won’t open up? How many women have been emotionally or physically injured by a man who sees women as property—whether they articulate it that way or not? These are some indirect consequences.)

People—all people—we need to learn to be more vulnerable. And we need to learn to take care of each other in our vulnerability. Listen. Hug. Be present. Let ourselves hurt when we connect all too well with other people’s pain instead of throwing up judgements in self-defense. Keep the walls down.

This is how we build emotionally healthy people. Of all ages. Of all genders.

Vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is strength—because it’s scary, and we do it anyway.

Ladies, announce your pregnancy at 8 weeks and let us grieve with you if you lose the baby.

Men, find someone who is safe and talk to them about what’s going on with you. If your marriage is volatile, your wife might not be emotionally safe. (Don’t make it another lady who you then connect with…)

Ladies, if your man is finally ready to start to be more open, let him. Even if an eye roll and “finally” is your initial (internal) response. Better now than later (or never), right?

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Voices in our heads

I saw a meme that said:

May you never be the reason why someone who loved to sing, doesn’t any more. Or why someone who dressed so differently now wears standard clothing. Or why someone who always spoke of their dreams so wildly is now silent about them.

May you never be the reason of someone giving up on a part of them because you were demotivating, non appreciative or – even worse – sarcastic about it.

There are details we could squabble about (is sarcastic worse and/or different than demotivating?), but the point is: don’t be an asshole.

Decades later, I can still hear my mom’s criticisms of how I look when I look in the mirror sometimes. (I have the skills to shut it down most of the time.)

“What makes you think you could…?”

“You know This Other Kid is really good at This Thing You Work Really Hard At.”

“Why don’t you spend your time on something worthwhile?”

In some cases, I can see where I was standing or sitting, where they were positioned in the room, where the furniture was.

Don’t be that parent. 

I’m not saying that telling your kid that they’re great at something they suck at is the answer. But the “you suck, other people are better, why bother” attitude is soul-crushing. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (It’s been how long since my parents have said any of these things to me??)

You’re the adult. Be the adult. Nurture the kids. Help them discover what they’re interested in, even if it’s not what you’re interested in, or what you’d like them to be interested in.

It’s your job to help them be them, not to help them be who you wish you would have been.

I have been told by dozens of people that they can’t sing, that they were told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing, in some cases, being told to lip sync.

People who, as kids, were explicitly told by their art teacher that they’re not good at art, and they believed it and don’t do it any more.

People who were told in school that they’re never going to be a writer, to choose something else.

Don’t be that teacher.

Your job is to teach kids and to help them the best you can given where you are in the moment. Even if you can’t help them—some circumstances make that so—don’t hurt. Don’t blame them for things that are out of their control or shame them for not being more responsible than a kid their age should be expected to be.

I remember conversations with people with regards to any of my leaps: switching from flute to trombone in college; moving across the country; starting a business; getting National Board Certification; writing a book; going back to school. It’s not always easy to find people who are supportive. (It’s not always difficult, either, though the larger the stakes are, the harder it is, from my experience.)

Don’t be that friend. 

In short: apply the campsite rule — leave people better than you found them. If it was you who was learning to dance or starting to paint or offering a new service or playing basketball for the first time or opening a store on Etsy, would you want the people closest to you to be supportive or dismissive? Would you want the people in your class or in your niche to be helpful or to snicker?

(Same rule applies as to kids: there’s a difference between “I think it’s cool/brave/amazing that you’re starting/trying this” and “Wow—you’re really good at [this thing that you’re not at all good at].” One is at least potentially sincere; the other is known by all to be insincere.)

Take care of your own baggage so that you don’t take it out on the people around you.

When you find yourself being critical, see if you can find what part of yourself is made vulnerable by their endeavor.

For example: my mom was one of the people I know of who was told she can’t sing. My mom was one of the first to make fun of how I sounded when I practiced singing for auditions. My endeavor brought up whatever hurt she endured by being put down by her choir teacher.

Easier said than done, for sure. But if we all endeavored to be a little more emotionally generous—with people we incidentally interact with, with other drivers, with people we interact with regularly, with people we like and people we don’t—then we would all be a little better off.

And if no one around you seems to be doing that, why don’t you take the lead and demonstrate how it’s done?

(And thank you to all of the people through my life who have modeled this for me, both before I was aware of it and since and still. You help me to make myself better.)

Assume you’re going to be the voice that sticks in someone’s head. What do you want to be remembered for?

Posted in about me, exercise, vulnerability

Discomfort and growth on fake rocks

In April, I volunteered at an event at the rock climbing gym where I’m a member.

It was a bouldering event (short walls, no ropes) which is not something that I had done at all, but there were all sorts of fun, silly climbing (taller walls, with a rope) stations as well—one-handed, an obstacle course, a route made of old (looking) metal things, a “balance the ball on the spoon” route.

I decided that I would learn to boulder so that I could participate next year.

So…they changed it up a bit and are having a series of mini-competitions—all bouldering—and if you enter three of those (no charge for members), you can automatically enter into the Big Event in April.

I was mostly still at the “can’t get off the starting holds” stage of learning.

I decided that once I could climb ONE route to the top, I was going to sign up.

Two weeks ago, I did it!

Last night was the first event after that accomplishment, and so I went.

Let me share bits of “in my head” with you about this.

As I mentioned before, I am a recovering perfectionist. I have always been good at school, but I don’t volunteer unless I’m certain to be right/successful. Failing with an audience is shameful (“I am a failure” vs. “I failed”).

I’ve been working my way out of all of that—so many missed opportunities due to fear—and this event was a GIANT step outside of the comfort zone in the direction I want to go.

(People at Shumway: riding the backwards bike was a big deal.)

Unfortunately, this event is one where you sign up the day of. (I’m a big fan of registering while enthusiasm is high and then feeling obligated when I don’t want to follow through later.)

Shortly before it was time to get changed and leave the house, I sent two friends this text:

I'm scared

(Side note: bouldering isn’t any “less real” climbing than what I usually do.)

I sent a similar one to The Climbing Daddy.

Their responses were perfect:

reply 3

(This is true. There’s never been an athletic community that I’ve been part of that hasn’t been supportive. Running, triathlon, climbing. People are happy you’re into what they’re into, and they’re happy to help. As long as you’re decently pleasant to be around.)

reply 1

(This is true. Much like the above, it’s not making a fool, it’s taking a risk. The only people who would think me a fool—if I were to run into any—are the people who are insecure in their own skills or risk-taking. And their opinion doesn’t matter…)

reply 2

(It was not that long ago that I couldn’t get off the ground—or off the starting holds. But I can now, even on routes that I can’t complete.)

So I changed clothes and went.

I talked to the guy running it and found out what to expect.

I signed up for a time.

I waited a while.

And I climbed.

I made it up the first route.

Someone I didn’t know cheered for me the second half of the route.

I didn’t make it up any more routes, though I tried two several times. (It would have been much nicer to be there by myself attempting those, instead of in a room full of people with much higher skill, but that’s just my self-consciousness.)

Also, the route that I climbed successfully is one grade harder than the one I completed a couple of weeks ago, so there’s that as well. (V.0- tonight vs. 5.8 the other day, for those who understand that.)

All in all, people were either friendly or didn’t take notice of me, both of which were fine options.

The next one is in January. Maybe I’ll make it up two routes. And not freak out before it’s time to leave.

As far as stretching my comfort zone? Mission accomplished.