Do you have little things you tell yourself whenever the things people do totally baffle you? I was just thinking today how many of those I have been accumulating on my journey not to take on other people’s issues, burdens, or problems. I’m sure you’ve heard this one:
Not my circus, not my monkeys
Lately there have been a lot of tempests in teapots, snits, disagreements, and misunderstandings in the Greater Sunaverse. I realize that much, if not most, of the time the issues are caused by something I didn’t have anything to do with in the first place, that my opinion isn’t really needed on, and that my contributions could only make worse. Especially when you’re trying to do something nice for people and they question your motives, your execution, and the amount of f***s you have to give about it…it’s time to let someone who is actually involved and cares deal with it.
Here’s one my therapist came up with for me to use when people start to get on my nerves or engage in repeated behaviors that annoy me and are not helpful.
That’s just Suna being Suna
Substitute whoever is bugging you for “Suna,” or if it’s me, keep the Suna. If you know Person X is always going to be late for every meeting, is always going to tell long stories with no point, or have a negative comment for any fun idea, you can’t really expect them to suddenly turn into someone else and not do that, can you? No, you can’t. So, you take a deep breath and remind yourself that they are just being themselves. You then hope other people do the same for YOU.
I think I’ll take a walk
I think the tail flip is important on this one. With the extra stressful times we are all in these days, you really need to get away and ground yourself sometimes. I’m pretty sure every member of my family has said this at one point or another in the past few months, and I don’t blame them at all! Reminding yourself to go out in the fresh air, breathe, and do something rhythmic like walking is the best medicine you can prescribe for yourself.
Everyone is struggling right now
This is the big one. Whenever someone snaps at me, is rude, says something out of character, etc., I realize that they are not at their best, and remind myself that we are all struggling. Every single one of us. And some of us are having the hardest times of our lives. I’m trying very hard to assume people mean well and are trying their best to do the right thing. And I’m still sending out all that lovingkindness, just assuming people are praying right back at me.
Whoa, do I wish I could get a bit more of that back in return. Thanks to all of you who have your own little mantras to repeat when you’re getting bugged, so maybe YOU won’t snap, be rude, or speak out of character…as much. Heck, we’re all doing it some.
You know, I talk a lot about assuming good intentions and treating others as you’d like to be treated (or as they let you know THEY would like to be treated). What’s GREAT is when I see this in action. Today I share a story from someone I’ve always admired. We can learn from her.
Susan is someone I went to grad school with back in good old Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. She actually got a job and used her linguistics Ph.D., which I admire greatly. She now lives somewhere else out in the great Midwest in the United States. I’m obscuring some details, since they’re irrelevant.
Well, as a lover of words, reading, and books, Susan started a Little Free Library outside her home. These are such great community builders, and I’ve always admired my friends, like Cindy in Taylor, who maintain them. Anita and I used to always walk by one when we lived in the casita, and we’d see what new books had turned up. The idea is you can take a book or two, and then leave a book you’re finished with for someone else to enjoy. They’re always decorated to look cute, and many places make zoning exceptions for them.
Well, over at Susan’s library, something went amiss. Four times in a week, someone had come by and totally cleaned out all the books. After replacing them three times, Susan was considering taking it down.
You can just imagine what went through her head or the heads of her friends. How rude of someone to do that! What has this world come to? No wonder we can’t have nice things! It just takes one creepy person to ruin a nice thing for everyone else! And such. These are probably the things that ran through MY head.
Susan’s a good person, though, and she thought hard about what to do about the thefts. Rather than write an angry note or take the library down, she thought about what might cause someone to be so desperate as to steal free books. And, bless her, she did a much kinder thing:
Yes, at the suggestion of an old friend of hers (also, obviously a good person), Susan filled her library with non-perishable food items. If the book thief was hungry, she was happy to help. Not only that, but she wrote a note, which I will quote below, leaving out specifics:
Are you the person who has been taking all the books from this Little Free Library? Have you been selling the books because you need money? Are you hungry or hurting?
We’d really like it if you would leave the books for readers to read and exchange, but if you are hurting, perhaps we can help. Please take any or all of these groceries if you need them.
But a Little Free Library is not a food pantry—there are, however, food pantries in town you could turn to:
[Lists nearby pantries]
If it’s not just hunger, but other kinds of hurt, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
Wishing you the best,
The [location] Free Library Steward.”
Now, THAT is what I call assuming good intent and treating others like you’d wish to be treated. Rather than taking her toys in a huff, she reached out with empathy to someone who must be hurting or dealing with some pretty big issues. Rather than assuming it was just some mean library hater, she assumed her visitor could use a friendly word or a helping hand.
I’m taking this lesson to heart, and I hope you do, too. We can all try to be a little more like my role model, Susan. I’m very grateful to her for sharing this story.
That’s my question for this first morning of spring, should I keep up with what appears to be a new undertaking for me, trolling with kindness? What the heck do I mean by that, anyway?
Well, the book I just finished, Blind Spot, made it quite clear that humans are hard-wired to participate in us versus them thinking, and that there are actually good things about feeling a part of a group. Group membership conveys a sense of safety and belonging, and encourages us to take care of other members of our group.
You can’t really avoid creating “others” who are not in your group, and it is natural to focus on your differences to clarify who’s in what group. The authors of Blind Spot pointed to the Dr. Seuss book, The Sneetches, which arbitrarily had a star on their chest or not, leading to great division. And I think of that Star Trek episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, where the people who are black on the right and white on the left are mortal enemies of people who are white on the right and black on the left. Both of these are heavy-handed examples, but they are right: we will work very hard to find ways to divide ourselves.
So, I am totally and completely aware that anything I do is not going to change people’s adamant insistence that “the other side” consists of horrible, no-good, bad, creepy people. Still, I know that even people who are biased to one belief system can start to question things, and that one way to initiate questioning is to repeatedly be exposed to other perspectives. THIS is why I feel compelled to “troll with kindness.”
Bubbling up inside me is a mission to not just keep scrolling when I see people making assertions that further our divided society. Rather, I am compelled to say something in a kind and/or neutral way that provides another way of looking at things.
Today’s example came when someone I used to know, sort of, posted something about President Biden tripping on the stairs of Air Force One. Commenters commenced to making all sorts of assertions about Biden’s age, competency, and such. I responded by asking if none of them had ever tripped on stairs before, that it seems common and not worthy of partisan commentary. Someone replied that they are doing it because once the previous president slipped and the media picked at him. So, I pointed out, nicely, that the tit for tat stuff isn’t very helpful, but I understand that it’s not going to stop.
And after that, I’m out of the conversation. I hope that just by planting the seed that being mean to someone because someone was mean to a member of your group in the past really doesn’t help anything at all. I don’t plan to prod and respond, just to provide another viewpoint.
No doubt I could have done a better job on today’s attempt, but it was only my second try. Maybe I’ll get better or get some suggestions. I know I won’t change anyone’s mind, but it makes ME feel better to gently point out that there are other ways of looking at things.
Diversion About Today’s News
I know I’ve been pretty naïve most of my life about the hatred deep inside people. My conscious mind has worked so hard to overcome prejudices and stereotypes that I’m often genuinely surprised to find out how others feel about their fellow humans. It’s never occurred to me to think badly about people of Asian descent (consciously; I now know I’ve no clue what’s lurking in my brain).
I’ve always found Asian cultures interesting (since I was a tiny girl in love with kimono) and I’ve had many close friends who are Asian, even dated more than one. Once again, thanks to that linguistics education and that Japanese minor! For some reason, my bias toward Asians is more like they tend to be fun people and potential friends. My upbringing didn’t overtly cause this, though; it was something inside. (I always said it was because there were so few people I had things in common with that I didn’t want to rule out potential friends because of race, gender, religion, or sexuality.)
(here I give you a little piece of my history, again.)
It occurs to me that while my mom was not shy about her traditional Southern US white people view of Black folks, she was equally unhappy with Japanese (who killed her fiancé in WWII) and loved to sing some truly horrid song about “Chink-chink Chinaman named Chow Chow,” that I never understood, but is still in my brain, right along with the sound of her endlessly reading Little Black Sambo to me.
Still, just like she actually loved Black people she knew personally, she was really fond of her Chinese-American friend, Fay Eng.* Fay owned the only Chinese restaurant in the town I grew up in, and she and Mom became friends when my sister and her child were young. It was a long-time friendship, because I knew her all my childhood, and took all my friends to meet her and eat at the restaurant in college. Ha, I remember thinking Chop Suey was an exotic Asian dish. I did quickly learn better in college.
Sorry, I keep coming back to my mom, because I am pretty sure her attitudes about people got imprinted deep within me. I guess I rebelled in a constructive way by getting to know people of so many races and ethnicities and dragging them home to confront her stereotypes. And I’m sure my own children, who had a more diverse set of friends than I did (and do) are at least helping carry on the lessening of racial biases the Blind Spot book mentioned.
(back to the topic)
Where I was originally going with this was how blown away I was to learn about the murders of mostly Asian people in Atlanta this week. I don’t get it, at all. Hurting people just because of the way they look seems like the deepest depths of horrible human behavior. I’m now crying for my Asian-American friends just like I’ve been for African-American friends for so long.
Yes, it’s convenient to divide up according to superficial things like skin color, but it’s just not right, and I WILL speak up about this, and it may not be trolling with kindness.
*Oh my gosh, I looked Fay up to be sure I spelled her name right, and as of last year, she was still alive, at age 95 and a Democratic voter, not only that, she was a poll worker, and used to serve cookies from her father’s recipe, which used to be served at the restaurant I ate in my entire young life! She still lives with her daughter, in a beautiful home. Good for you, Fay. Mom picked a great friend.
While I do spend a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram, they aren’t my only source of information. I see so much negativity everywhere these days that it gets exhausting. And I get it: there’s a lot to be negative about, and lots of it’s legit! But, I’m wondering if maybe, just maybe, we could conspire together to cut our fellow humans some slack, not just the faceless “they” we’re all upset with, but also the people in our extended social circle – friends, family, acquaintances.
I shared my passive-aggressive Facebook memes post again on Facebook yesterday, when I realized I was getting overwhelmed with people saying how others should defriend them if they don’t agree with their politics or religious beliefs, if they make certain kinds of mistakes, etc. And some of the things are just so judgmental of others. It hurts me, even if I don’t think the judgment is about me (I guess I figure there but for the grace of God…).
I know most of my circle of friends and acquaintances are messed up people. I’m absolutely sure of it. I know they have done things they regret. I know they’ve treated others unkindly. I know they’ve been snippy or rude. I know they fail to meet the expectations of others. How do I know that? Because they’re all fallible human beings, just like me, and it’s just human to screw up or disappoint others.
My plan is what I said earlier today on Facebook.
There is just SO MUCH going on right now. No one is at their best. We are all short-tempered, anxious, confused, fearful, angry, exhausted, or some combination of those. We are going to say and do things that don’t reflect our highest selves sometimes. I know I have, and I hope I’ve apologized to all the right people!
Life is hard, and it’s gonna stay that way for a while. Actually, life is rarely easy for most of us. That’s how it goes!
You take the good, you take the bad, You take them both and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life.
Ancient television sitcom theme
And on a less silly note, a Facebook friend reminded me of The Four Agreements, which is worth reading and applying to your life, if you haven’t. I can usually tell when a colleague or friend keeps these principles in mind:
You can’t change the behavior of others, but you CAN change your own behavior. I’m going to keep trying to assume the people around me are doing the best they can, even if they piss me off, are mean to me (that’s for my sister), or otherwise screw up/disappoint me. How about you? Ready to rise above the negativity?
PS: I know it’s hard. Oh boy, do I know it’s hard!
I’ve been reading Dare to Lead, a book by my favorite self-help author, Brené Brown (it’s the book I reviewed the horrible workbook for back in March). It was my suggestion for our work book club at Planview. What’s annoying is that I keep leaving the book in Austin, so I hadn’t been able to keep up, but I finally remembered to bring the book back with me last time I went, so I was able to read the correct chapter for today’s meeting.
I sure am glad I did, too, because some of the things she has us thinking about in the “Living Our Values” section helped me focus on not only how to effectively deal with coworkers, but also how to deal with the people around us during this pandemic.
Brown stresses that it’s important to know what your personal core values are, because they will affect how you make decisions, work with others, and treat yourself. And you only get to have TWO of them (though she lets you pick sub-values, too). I already had a set of guiding principles I live by:
Treat others how you’d like to be treated
Assume good intentions
But, I’d never chosen a mere two words to be my core values. So, this was an interesting exercise to me. I ended up with these:
Making a difference
Kindness was easy. I have always tried my best to be kind, and feel unsettled and weird if I realize I’m not being kind (usually it’s when I find myself being judgmental, and I have to snap out of it).
I had a little harder time figuring out that making a difference was the correct second value. I thought about my past career choices, both paid and volunteer, and I easily saw that what tied them all together was that I wanted to somehow make life easier for others and/or make a genuine contribution to society with what I did. I’ve helped build educational databases, taught college students, helped mothers breastfeed, gave organizations and individuals websites to spread their messages, written documentation and made e-learning for software companies, etc. In all of these, I’ve been wanting to make a difference to people.
When the time came to do our book club meeting, the three of us who’d made choices of values had all chosen kindness as one of them. I guess I’m not as original as I thought, or people who choose kindness tend to join book clubs! I really enjoyed talking to the other three women who were able to attend today, and am almost glad it was a small group, because we were able to share in meaningful ways. Thanks, Zoom meetings!
Other parts of the little chapter I read hit me very close to home, too. Brown included a discussion of keeping this in mind when you are providing feedback:
“…everyone is doing the best they can.”
It helps me with the judgmentalism I need to worry about so much in myself. And it’s my core belief that I need to assume good intentions. And like Brown’s husband Steve pointed out, even if it’s not true, things sure work out better if you just go ahead and make that assumption.
Hmm, can you try to do that with people on the other side of the mask wearing issue? Of the other political party? I find that to be a very interesting exercise, and one that I wish I could share further. It’s not that, “Oh, why can’t everyone just get along,” plea. It’s more of a, “Where are the people I disagree with coming from, and can I use that information to better understand them, or to talk to them productively?”
I’d really like to talk with more people about these core values and how they inform our lives, and these really helpful attitudes toward other people. Feedback is welcome!
I haven’t written a book report in a while. Why? I am reading two long books at the same time, which means neither one of them is finished. But, yippee-dippee, I small but significant little book has appeared, and I got so excited about it, that I got it the day it was published: Sunnyside Plaza, by Scott Simon.
Stereotypical hippy liberals like me will recognize the name Scott Simon, because he is the host of Weekend Edition on NPR. He also has one of the best Twitter feeds that I read. He is smart, funny, and insightful. He’s also a good writer, and Sunnyside Plaza is his first book in the Young Adult genre.
Now, don’t turn away because it’s YA Fiction. Some of my favorite writers focus on that genre. All it means, in this case, is that the book isn’t very long. It does not mean that the subject matter and its implications aren’t also appropriate for us non-young adults.
Simon based the book on people he met as a teen when he had a summer job in a halfway house for intellectually disabled adults, only it wasn’t called that back then, of course. Part of what makes him such an empathetic adult came, no doubt, from his experiences with these folks.
So, yes, it’s a book about people who live in a group home and have varying degrees of cognitive impairments. It’s told through the eyes of Sal, who you just have to love, a lot, by the time the book is over. During the course of solving a mystery at Sunnyside Plaza, Sal and her friends learn just how capable they are, and the people around them come to see them as individuals with charm, wit, and strengths.
It never hurts to be reminded that people who are different are still whole human beings with much in common with the rest of us. But I saw something that is sticking with me after I finished the book: it doesn’t take owning a lot of things, being accomplished, or even being able to talk to live a whole and happy life. The joys of living in the moment are perhaps more available to people who don’t have to go off to work, think about bills, or all those things. Love, friendship, fun, and yes, even sad things, are all available to experience when there isn’t so much clutter to get in the way.
The people living in Sunnyside Plaza like it being just the way they are. The people they meet who get to know them also come to feel the same. That’s an important lesson I’m glad I’ve learned, that everybody has their own wisdom.
I strongly recommend this book for you, any teens you know, and any mean people who poke fun at others, not that they’ll read it. But maybe it will teach all of us to be a bit kinder.
While I have to read the book club selection next (Furious Hours, about Harper Lee), I am wanting to jump right into another book I just got, which I think builds on the lessons of Sunnyside Plaza: Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell. This book dives deep into why it’s so hard to really talk to people from different parts of society from ourselves, but why it’s so worth it.
However, I have to finish my giant scientific book, Behave, first. It’s hard to read about brain chemistry when you are about to fall asleep, but it’s interesting!
Caveat time: I am aware that classism is a fact all over the world. Today I focus on small towns and use Cameron as a specific example. This doesn’t mean I think less of its citizens. It’s a great place full of many kind, caring friends and with much warmth.
Yesterday I talked about how my father came up from poverty thanks to hard work and talent. Yet, you couldn’t take the Chattanooga out of the boy; he had a rather intense (and sometimes incomprehensible) accent, and his broken nose and funny ear testified to his past as a boxer. He didn’t always look middle class.
But, he was allowed out of the shackles of his past by kind friends, coworkers and others who saw his kind heart, great humor, and intelligence. He was lucky. He also moved away from his hometown where the Kendall boys had quite a reputation for mischief, from that I hear.
What If You Aren’t So Lucky?
While I’m noticing many newcomers to down, Cameron is a place where many of the families have been there long, long time. There are surnames in this town that I see in the newspapers from the early 1900s (by the way, this includes Mexican names whose families were here before this was the United States and long-time black residents). Some families have done well, and are the scions of the community, populating all the right churches, the right organizations, the country club, etc. Others are respected business owners known for their charity and work for the community. Many are successful ranchers and farmers who live outside of town behind gates proclaiming their ranch names and fencing that costs more than many homes.
The children of these families are beloved by their school teachers, who come from the elite families or are their friends. These children dress well, participate in the important clubs, win dozens of 4-H ribbons, are in the prom court, play on the football team, are cheerleaders, etc. Nice kids. They also enjoy some leniency at school, since everyone knows they are good kids from good families. Sound familiar? Sound like where you came from? Sure! This is the norm in the US, especially in small towns.
What about the others? Some of the surnames in town have different reputations. They are assumed (because of how their parents, grandparents, or distant relatives were troublemakers, lived in the “bad” part of town (literally on the wrong side of the tracks in Cameron), or had other nefarious connections) to be the kind of folks you don’t want to associate with. These kids may not have parents who can afford all the activities. They are the ones who get picked on because they smell funny, live in an ugly house, have parents with drug or alcohol problems (or their relatives do). They go to the churches who dare to accept everyone, no matter what their family history. This, too, is not surprising.
This holiday weekend has had some rough weather all over the US, and I am grateful to have had nothing worse than fog and light rain. But still, I got quite a weather surprise last night. All day it had been damp, a bit chilly, and breezy. I was glad to have my coat on for horsing around and walking with the dogs.
So, around 7:30 or so, I went over to Mandi’s house to look for rattlesnakes…um, no, to watch her make pies and talk to her kids. I put on the same coat I’d worn all day, and stepped onto the porch. WHAT?? It was HOT outside! Yes, after sunset it had warmed up at least ten degrees, maybe more. Now, that is NOT a usual weather pattern! It appears that the front that had stalled over the state had moved back to the north and brought sauna-like conditions. That’s a new one! And right now it’s almost 80 degrees, on the last day of November!
I realize I could have made two posts, but since no one’s really reading this stuff this weekend, I’ll just combine topics.
You see, I have been struggling with kindness in some areas of my life. Since being kind is important to me, I’m trying to build new patterns and attitudes toward people I come across. To be honest, there are always people we find hard to be kind to, whether it’s someone who treats us or another person rudely, the person whose driving puts you in danger, or a coworker with no boundaries (made-up examples; please don’t worry if I am referring to you).
Getting in touch with your emotional truth, by processing feelings to improve the human condition in the 21st century. Living out loud by my motto,"Triumphing over Trauma" 🌈
In light and in shadow, always with ❤