Tag Archives: Positive

Troll Power!!! When Did It Become So Normal To Be Negative?

DSC_0784“Bad stuff happens, people are mean, there are no steps you can take to ensure the world leaves you alone. All you can do is try not to be one of those people who contributes to the bad.” –Holly Bourne, Am I Normal Yet? 

Hello friend,

Amidst what we would expect to be a shower of glory and accolades from winning an Olympic gold medal last week, American gymnast Gabby Douglas instead found herself in a hurricane of negativity. The trolls of social media came out in full force to disparage everything from her appearance to her love of the country she has spent the last several years proudly representing. They told her she had bad hair. They told her she wasn’t cheering hard enough for her teammates. They absolutely ripped her patriotism when, during the playing of our national anthem after she and her teammates won the gold medal, she elected to stand at attention with her hand at her side rather than over her heart. She actually felt compelled between events to apologize if she offended anyone by standing that way (never mind that if you look around before a game at a big stadium, hands to the sides during the anthem is completely common). By the time she got to her final press conference of The Games, the vilified Douglas could barely get through it without tears. Apart from not performing as well as she had hoped, she talked of all of the social media haters and how “hurtful” it all was. She walked down the hallway alone and broke down.

That is a two-time Olympian and multiple gold medal winner. And that is what passes for normal on social media these days.

Last weekend, my wife was explaining a project she was working on at her job, creating a public service video designed to bring awareness to sexual violence prevention and how we should all empower ourselves to stop it. She pulled up a YouTube video for me as an example of what they wanted to do, this one done by celebrities. It was well done and well-intentioned, and of course, its message is extremely important. Just as the video was ending, though, she quickly warned me to NOT look at the comments below the video. “All it is down there is nastiness. Just mean-spirited stuff.” So, I didn’t look. For days, I didn’t look, disciplined in my philosophy that my mind shouldn’t go wandering in the mud unless necessary.

But then, my curiosity got the best of me. I mean, how could you possibly be nasty about a public service announcement against rape? Right? It didn’t make sense to me. So, literally just now, I looked.

Holy Hannah!!!

I don’t think of myself as a prude at all, and I like to think I am aware of what is out there in the world. But, oh my goodness, I am beyond disturbed by what I just read! Beyond!

I guess I am not shocked that some people think these awful, mean-spirited things. But this painful, dark sensation in my heart right now—honestly, I am a bit crushed and totally stunned by this experience—seems to be from the sheer volume of people spewing this hate and negativity. It is endless! I couldn’t believe the first few comments I saw, so, like a fool, I kept looking. It was an endless onslaught of vulgarity that ran the gamut of topics, all equally disturbing. In the end, I guess that is what I feel most right now, in the immediate aftermath: DISTURBED.

The questions come racing to the front of my mind. How could someone have that much hate in them? How could SO MANY people have that much hate in them? How could an innocent public service announcement stir all of that up? If there are this many people commenting with hate on something as innocuous as a PSA for sexual violence prevention, do I dare even imagine how many and how negative the comments are for more normal pop culture things, like celebrities or politics or athletes? Who ARE these hateful people? How did we get to this point where this level of negativity is so common that it feels normal, like just part of the deal? 

As these questions relate to the real purpose of Journal of You, they lead me to wonder not just about our society in general but about my personal inventory. That is where it all starts. The issue that keeps spilling out of my churning mind is, “When did it become so easy and acceptable to be so negative?”

I know that for myself, because of my interest in politics and my natural leanings to one of the far ends of the spectrum, it can be easy to dismiss or rail against people on the other end of that spectrum. I think that is especially true in the company of other people who think like I do. One of the things I have done lately to check that tendency, though, is to institute a personal “No Negatives” policy on social media posts. So, even if I come across a meme about Donald Trump that I find hilarious, I am not going to share it. If I find an article about something that I despise, I am not going to share it with my comments about “I hate it when…..” or “This lady is a piece of….. .” Even in response to other people’s posts, I am not going to go down the road of telling them how awful the idea or person they believe in is. I have watched how those interactions spiral, and it is just not productive.

I will, however, on my own page, post about issues that I believe are important or stances that I support. Basically, I want the pattern of my pages to say, “I feel positively about this, and I support that,” rather than “I feel negatively about this, and it is stupid to support that.” (It reminds me of my years of coaching sports, and the important lesson it took me a long time to learn: Better to show and explain to the student what you DO want them to do, rather than keep saying, “Stop doing this” and “Don’t do that.”) 

It will probably always be a mystery to me why someone would spend their time and energy to go on social media to disparage an Olympian’s hair or rail about her lack of patriotism (as she wins gold medals for my country while I sit here on my sofa eating ice cream). And I will certainly never understand why someone would search YouTube for public service announcements about preventing sexual violence so he can comment about how “rape is natural” and “they deserve it” and all sorts of other bigoted swill.

What I can understand, though, is the power of a voice. (After centuries where so few people had a voice that could reach an audience out of earshot, today anyone with a keyboard might reach millions immediately. Maybe that newfound power is what we are all fumbling with now, trying to figure out how to best harness it.) My promise to myself is to be aware of my voice, to understand that it is my choice which way I go with it, and to use it for good. I am going positive.

How about you? Which way do you go with your voice? Open up your journal and get clear on what your vibe is. How easily do you slip into negativity? How would you categorize your most frequent negativity? Are you inclined to rip on people, such as Gabby Douglas, for their appearance or perceived personality traits? Do you share snarky memes about people (e.g. politicians) that you disagree with? Do you find yourself writing or saying stuff like “I hate….” or “You know what really makes me mad? …..”? Would people who talked to you or followed you on social media tend to think you were more optimistic or pessimistic? Open-minded or narrow-minded? Friendly or mean-spirited? In which forum do you let your negativity out? Do you save it for only someone closest to you (e.g. spouses who rip on everyone else, but only to each other—a partner in mockery)? Do you save your more negative commentary for people in the room with you, i.e. in the form of conversations? How much do you put your feelings out on social media? Are you willing to comment on other people’s posts with negative reaction to what they are in support of? Are the things you post or share on your own Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat page more “This is what I believe in…” or more “This is what I can’t stand…”? Have you ever been the person in the Comments section of an online article, video, or chat room who uses the space to be mean to people (either the creators or the other commenters)? Does the anonymity and invisibility of the Internet allow you let your negativity to flow more freely? On the whole, are we more negative these days, or are there just more ways to spread our negativity than before? What is behind this willingness to go so negative? Is it the impersonal nature of the Internet and social media, where we can hide behind our screens and mine from the very worst of our character traits with impunity? Is it the general decline in respect for authority figures? Is it the increasing distance we keep from other people, which lessens our feelings of empathy? With zero being very negative and ten being very positive, how would you rate yourself in terms of the way you are using your voice? Are you willing to do better? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: How can you speak more from the positive in you? 

It costs nothing,

William

P.S. If this letter made you check yourself a bit and consider a different way, please pass it on. Let’s build this thing together!

But What Can Little Old Me Do? A Question for Our Troubling Times

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” –Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror

DSC_0015Hello friend,

I have a Facebook friend, someone a year older than me from high school, who I knew just enough to know I liked him. It is plain from his posts that he has a tough life. He is saddled with debilitating mental illness and is in the darkest depths of depression much of the time. My image of his existence is one of extreme isolation: living alone, unable to work, and whose only interactions with the outside world come via Facebook.

Having lost nearly everything from his promising young life to his mental illness, you would expect his Facebook persona to be bitter, angry, hurtful, and pessimistic, right? Wrong! While he shares openly about the depth of his pain—which, frankly, sounds unbearable to me and thus makes me admire him even more—he mostly seems to be sharing educational, thought-provoking pieces, songs that make him feel better, and respectful political items (I admit to being partial to his liberal leanings, but the respect with which he delivers his points and his comments on other posts are my focus here). Much more than that, though, he comments so authentically and kindly to people who respond to what he shares. He has responded with great heart a few times to things I have shared. It felt genuine, and I always appreciated that. I appreciate it from anyone, but given that the cards Life has dealt him would seem to provide reason for him to be the guy spewing negativity and narrow-mindedness, I put even greater value on his kindness and generosity of spirit.

When I think of this guy, I think this: He makes as big of a positive impact as he can. You won’t catch him at a party or a community event. He is not going to be talking to people at the grocery store. It’s just not in him. His brain chemistry won’t allow it. But he has a computer. He has a Facebook account. And he uses it well. His sphere of influence is limited, but he maximizes it.

 That, to me, is helping our world climb toward the sun when the days are darkest.

I have another Facebook friend, someone I was much closer to when I was young than the first guy but whom I have mostly fallen out of contact with except for the occasional Facebook comment. The three of us—me, him, and the first guy–were all in different grades but from the same town, and they are also friends on Facebook. We share many ‘friends’ in common, so I am able to see their comments on other people’s posts, and they sometimes both comment on the same items. This second guy’s outward circumstances appear to be much different than the mentally ill hermit. The second one has a big job, wife, kids, lots of big social events, the whole deal. American dream type of stuff.

What do I notice on his Facebook comments and posts? He strikes me as the guy that the most fear-mongering of our politicians have connected with. Lots of anti-immigrant sentiment. Anger at the President. Snarky memes of opposing candidates. Global warming is a scam. On and on. Lots of negative. It’s true that there are family photos, concerts, and sports mixed in, but there is a pervasive feeling one gets going through his stuff. I see it in his comments on other people’s posts, too. People supporting liberal ideas or politicians draw angry retorts from him.

When I think of this second, seemingly more blessed guy—beyond my many fond memories of our old days together—I think this: He puts a lot of negativity out into the world. When it comes to public issues, he seems to share only what makes him mad and who he dislikes. He discourages discussion. He just seems bitter and angry at a lot of things. And he seems to have a broad sphere of influence. He has a big job and seems to be out in the community at lots of big events and gatherings. He must have the chance to reach a lot of people.

 Bummer!

In light of the recent tragedies and racial tension in our country, on my own Facebook page I have shared some educational articles about white privilege, dealing with racism, and understanding the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of the articles I post are pretty long—including these weekly letters to you (thank you if you are still with me!)—and I certainly don’t expect many people to even open them much less get through them. But one piece this week actually brought a brief convergence of the three of us old guys from the same high school.

Only five people total even gave the post a “Like,” but the first guy (the positive recluse) was one of them. I appreciated that, guessing (and hoping) that he took the time to read the very informative article. But then I got a comment from the second guy (the negative yet sociable one). To paraphrase: “Unfortunately, in today’s America, attempts at intelligent dialogue end in verbal and physical threats and being labeled as a ‘racist’ or ‘bigot.’ That shuts down the conversation and any potential connection. We will never have a mutual understanding without getting back together, and there is no chance of that happening with either Hillary or Trump.”

 Of course, I am not good at accepting a defeatist verdict as the last word on anything. And since I appreciated him reading the article and because it was something that I shared that drew the comment, I felt compelled to respond to my old friend:

“I feel you, buddy. I think the getting-on-the-same-page thing has to happen one person at a time. Looking for the President to change our dialogues is granting that office too much power and robs us of our agency in the matter. It is up to each of us to look into the mirror—consider your recent conversations with friends or colleagues, the Facebook or Twitter comments you make or posts you share, your interactions with people different from yourself—and decide to do better, be bigger. I think when we start with ourselves and work outward as far as our influence stretches, that is our best hope to make the kind of connection and progress you mentioned. It’s easy to be negative or disgusted or isolate yourself from others. The hard (but necessary) work comes in doing the opposite.”

I guess that mostly sums up how I think about solving the enormous issues we are all faced with right now, a scab that seemingly gets ripped off every week when another unarmed black man gets shot by police or another police officer gets shot in a centuries-growing revenge rage. I see a few professional athletes now standing up saying, “We can’t go on like this. We have to do something!” Many of the rest of us are saying some version of the same thing. Unfortunately, what usually follows goes something like, “Uhh………..but what do we do?”

 Sure, you can write your Senators, Representatives, Mayors, and City Council. You can absolutely use your voice at the ballot box. But, as I said in my response to my pessimistic friend, you must then own your own stuff. Each of us needs to take personal responsibility for what we put out into the world. Our words, our gestures, our social media comments and shares, our actions in the world.

We all have a sphere of influence. Not all of us are celebrities that can get meetings with the leaders of government and business. But each of us crosses paths with people every day. It may be in the grocery store, the chat room, or your living room. We all have access to others, usually far more than we realize. It is up to each of us to do something positive with that access. Teach. Learn. Encourage. Comfort. Be comforted. Empathize. Appreciate. Share. Carry. Unburden. Enlighten. Listen. Pray. Love. Connect.

You have the power to help the cause. Claim that power. Own it. Don’t give it away to “the government,” “American culture,” “the President,” “people,” or especially “them,” whoever they are. Giving it away is playing small. You are bigger than that. Act like it! Work your sphere every chance you get. Be a light to every person you touch. That’s what you can do!

Our world needs you and I to accept that responsibility. I choose to accept.

How about you? Do you choose to accept your share of the responsibility for building this bridge? Open up your journal and figure out how big of an impact you can make. I think the first step is to get an understanding of your sphere of influence. Who are the people you interact with every day—physically or virtually–even in the smallest ways? Family members, co-workers, neighbors, clerks, baristas, friends, Facebook community members, Twitter and Instagram followers, you name it. Who do you touch even occasionally or indirectly? Families of employees, friends of friends, recipients of your donations of time and/or money, members of your faith community, distant relatives, comment-readers from blogs or Facebook communities that you subscribe to, your political party, the police in your town, townsfolk who attend the same games and concerts that you do, others who share the same interest as you do (e.g., hikers, bikers, sports fans). Who else fits in your biggest sphere? Is it apparent to you that you have some influence over all of these people, even if indirectly? Do you only feel your inner sphere—family and close friends—and ignore the impact you have on the rest? I think it can be very easy to ignore our influence over those we don’t talk to directly about specific issues. How seriously do you take your responsibility to bring your very best self to those closest to you? I think that in our very closest relationships—e.g. spouses or best friends—because we give ourselves permission to put down our façade more, we sometimes devolve into bringing out our most negative, pessimistic side, emptying our frustrations from the world onto those we love the most. Do you see that in any of your relationships? Is there a more productive way? Social media gives every person’s voice a power and reach that was not fathomed in previous generations. What percentage of people, from your view, use their public voice for the benefit of humankind, and what percentage use it to spew more negative energy than positive? How about you? Speaking just in terms of your public image via social media and social interactions, do you think people perceive you more the way I perceive the first friend I spoke of, or more of the second? Obviously no one is entirely angelic or evil here, but you know what it is to get a vibe from someone’s posts. What kind of energy are you spreading? How can you make your overall message more positive and beneficial? Can you argue more respectfully? Post more about the good things in the world and in your life rather than all of the things you don’t like? Talk about ideas rather than people? Are you doing anything to broaden your sphere and diversify it? Are you working to understand people who don’t look like you and don’t live like you? Are you helping others to better understand your world? I think the two things we can all agree on is that making things better is not going to happen in one magic moment, and it is not going to be easy. That is why I think it takes each of us—including you and me—working intentionally and positively, one interaction at a time. Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to step up and do your part?

Own your sphere,

William

P.S. If this got you wondering about your influence and how you use it, please share it with those who might find it useful. Though this is about individual choices, it works best as a movement. Together we rise!

Searching for Light in a Time of Darkness: Refugees & The Home of the Brave

DSC_0522“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” –Nelson Mandela

Hello friend,

A dark cloud has followed me around this week. Feelings of sadness, disappointment, frustration, and despair have figured prominently in my days. I’m disheartened. The terrorist attacks on Paris were a painful reminder of our vulnerability and the fragility of life. It can all be over in a moment. The attacks also showed vividly how a force of evil can be the dark, scary monster lurking in our collective closet, something we can all rally together against. And though the terrorism hurt my heart, it has not been the darkness that has been my companion through the week (sadly, the regularity of mass killings in our society has numbed me a bit, making me better able to bounce back from their shock).

No, the disappointment and sick-to-my-stomach despair I have been carrying around have been caused not by terrorists but by my own countrymen, my acquaintances, even my own friends. My Facebook newsfeed is a storm of anti-refugee sentiment. People are shouting (in their Facebook voices): “Lock the gates!“Refugees are terrorists!“Muslims keep out!“Not in MY state!They are calling for the President’s head because he simply suggested we keep our hearts open to these people who are literally without a country due to the atrocities and widespread destruction in their homeland. They literally have nothing left, and yet the level of negativity toward them is absolutely off the charts. Honestly, it breaks my heart.

It pains me not simply because innocent people in dire straits are being subjected to intense bigotry based on their religion—though that would be reason enough to hurt my feelings—but mostly because it is happening in my Facebook feed. In other words, my ‘friends’ are the bigots. Like most people, my Friend List is a huge mix of people who are from my hometown, my extended family, or other stops along my path. Some of them I know well, some not at all, and everything in between. But somehow, one of us invited the other one to become ‘friends,’ and the other one accepted. I have to take some ownership there. So now I have these people in my little web–some of whom I was just last week liking their photos of their kids’ swim meets or their vacation or whatever–who are unleashing all manner of ignorance and negativity upon me in the form of their posts and shares of videos and memes. It is a gut-punch. It feels like my house is infested with fear and hatred, and I have the guilt of someone who allowed it in by creating the group in the first place. I feel dirty.

I have gone through my own evolution of reactions to the ignorant posts as the week has progressed, something like the stages of grief. At first, I was in denial. When I saw the first few, I just shook my head and tried to pass them off as someone who was just unusually misinformed on the situation. I made sure I read up a bit more on the real situation to be sure I had my facts straight. When more posts came in, I started to see the seriousness of the situation. It wasn’t just a random extremist. I began re-reading them several times, angrily rebutting the bigotry and misinformation in my mind. Pretty soon it felt like bombs were falling on me from everywhere, and I started to become numb to it. I tortured myself by reading the comments after the hateful posts, which, of course, just piled it on thicker. I felt helpless. What could little old me do in the face of such darkness? My stomach was actually sick from it. Psychologically, I went into the fetal position. I went to bed that night a beaten man.

When I woke up the next day, my mind had cleared just enough to resolve that I had to do something to feel good and authentic again, something that proved to myself I wasn’t yet buried by the darkness. Scrolling through my newsfeed, I soon came across a meme from a ‘friend’ (who I don’t actually know) that was both false and totally mean-spirited. Before I blocked him, I commented on his post: “Do you actually think about these things before you post them? His response: “Facebook is supposed to be fun. Enough said.

Later that day, another ‘friend’ shared an article and her own rant about how all of us soft-hearted people should be forced to house these terrorist refugees in the article so that we would learn our lesson. In my new resolve, I read the article with an open mind and found that this was probably not the best piece to back up her opinion, as it pertained to Americans who were leaving our country and going to Syria to join ISIS. I decided that, even though her emotions were already clearly charged up and her opinion decided, I would still respond in a neutral yet authentic way. My comment: “This article is about AMERICANS traveling to Syria. I’m guessing the refugees would like to avoid these folks as much as you would. Perhaps learning a bit more about the atrocities happening there and the unlivable conditions might give us all some more compassion toward these people who have nowhere to go. Her response: “Zero background checks. That’s all I need to know. Apart from that being false, it was clear that her mind was made up and my energy best spent elsewhere. Before she was unfollowed later that day, she had posted a harmless anti-Obama meme meant to be humorous—which I don’t mind at all—and then a twenty-minute, extremist, rock-video style video meant to frighten everyone into shutting out every future refugee from anywhere (as many of the folks in the video were definitely not from Syria).

It was then that I decided that I cannot have a personal exchange with every hate-monger, fear-monger, and misinformed person out there. Sure, I can block and unfollow, and I can comment where I think there are ears that might hear, but it isn’t in me to squabble continuously. Thankfully, in the midst of all of the dark posts, I found something else that resonated with me. Another ‘friend’ of mine, herself in a minority group that has dealt with hatred and ignorance aplenty, posted a very personal message of how pained and disenchanted she was by the darkness that had consumed her own Facebook newsfeed, to the point that she would no longer be on it for a while. It sounded like the way I was feeling the day before. I sent her a short note of support, and suddenly my burden felt a little lighter. Later that night, I found an article and a meme that I thought would help people understand the situation of the refugees more clearly and shared them, and I have since shared a video that will hopefully open people’s hearts and minds regarding Muslims in general.

Much more than those shares, though, is that I have combed my newsfeed for posts that are positive and uplifting, and I have made it a point to like and comment on them, to thank the person for sharing. I have especially made it a point to send support to people who seem to be feeling the way I was—overwhelmed by the hate and fear-based posts—to let them know that they are not alone. It is no fun to be alone in the dark and under attack. In these attempts to connect with and support people who are leading with open hearts and open minds, I have found myself and my voice again.

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” –Father James Keller

How about you? Which emotions are driving you at this unique point in history? Open up your journal and really get down to the bare essence of what is in your heart. When you think about the situation with the Syrian refugees, what feelings well up? Sympathy? Suspicion? Sadness? Self-preservation? Openness? Guardedness? Are you able to separate your feelings about the refugee situation with your feelings about recent terrorist attacks?  Some people say that our attitudes and actions come from one of two places: Love or Fear. In this situation with the refugees, which one do you think is driving your position? Compared to the people around you, are you closer to the Love end of the spectrum or the Fear end? How do you deal with the people on the opposite end of the spectrum? Do you try to state your case and get them to change their mind (are you calm or passionate in your pleas?)? Do you simply avoid the topic or ignore their comments that oppose yours in order to keep the peace? Do you block and unfollow people? Whichever way you approach it, how does your response make you feel? Are you okay with it—proud of yourself, even–or do you feel small and inauthentic, perhaps frustrated with yourself? Do you stand up to some and let others go? How do you decide? What about when it comes to those who are on the same end of the spectrum as you? Are you more willing to speak up around them? How openly supportive of them are you? Do you know someone whom your opinion inspires? Are you proud of that and the example you are setting? What can you do today to bring more love, more hope, and more light to our world?

Be a light, always a light,

William

P.S. To live our best lives, we need to know ourselves better. If this letter helped you to better know who you are, share it with the world around you. Many thanks!

LIFE, Served Sunny-Side Up

DSC_1153“Every moment is golden for him who has the vision to realize it as such.” –Henry Miller 

Hello friend,

Each morning when I creep into my children’s rooms to wake them from their sweet slumber, I crawl into their beds and whisper into their waking ears to ease them into the new day. Some days they are quick to rise, and other days it takes some coaxing, but in that moment, I always try to make sure that they hear two phrases clearly: 1) “I love you” and 2) “It’s going to be a great day!”

I sincerely believe both of those statements every morning. The first one probably seems obvious—everyone loves their kids—but perhaps not the second. But it’s true for me. I really do expect my days to be great ones. I am an optimist. I expect the best possible outcomes—both in specific situations and in Life in general—and focus on the most hopeful aspects of a given circumstance. Oh sure, I have my moments of doubt and uncertainty, but for the most part, I am probably that annoying guy who tries to make you look on the bright side when you are in your moment of doom and gloom. Sunshine Willy!

I sometimes consciously try to temper my optimism with a little dose of the practical reality that most people live with. I have to remind myself of the odds against me. For example, I am applying for a very competitive fellowship to help pay for some educational expenses.   The part of my mind that speaks up first is so sure that I am going to win the fellowship and that my life will change dramatically for the better. Then that extreme confidence creates a little tension inside me. Not wanting to go overboard, I try to temper that wild optimism by reminding myself how few winners there are and thus how unlikely it is that I will be one of them.

But then an even greater tension arises, because I really don’t want that negativity—disguised as a “reality check”—to be part of my mindset. I want to set my intentions and announce them to the Universe, then not put out any energy that conflicts with my true intentions. I want that fellowship, and I must think and act accordingly. I suppose that in the long course of it, the key for me is to be aware of all the possible outcomes and not in denial of the odds, but still to choose the positive one and act as though I am expecting the best. I simply don’t have the time and energy available to dwell on the rest.

Speaking of dwelling on the negative possibilities, it will probably come as no surprise to you to learn that one of the few habits of other people that tends to drive me batty is worrying. I have a few people close to me who are in the Worry Hall of Fame. I find myself often shaking my head as I listen to them carry on. What makes me crazy is how much of a waste of energy it seems to be, always imagining and fretting about the worst possible outcomes, outcomes that they don’t want and aren’t even likely to come true. It reminds me of this great Winston Churchill quote: “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” What a waste! It just seems like there are better uses for our energy.

I am a fan of The Law of Attraction—“like attracts like,” or, more practically speaking, “what you focus on, you create more of”—and I just don’t see the logic in obsessing about outcomes that are the complete opposite of what you really want. In the end, maybe that is why I am an optimist: it makes sense to me. It seems logical to focus on what I want to happen and how I hope the world will show up for me today. I believe that we see in the world what we expect to see, that your world is just a reflection of your mind. If I expect events to fall my way, they tend to.

I think that life is much less about your circumstances than it is about the meaning you apply to them. There are a million different possible translations of the events of my day. If I am expecting the world to help me out, I am highly likely to translate my experiences—my circumstances—in a positive, helpful way. Let’s use an example to illustrate the range of possible translations of an event and how our attitudes dictate our reactions.

An optimist and a pessimist are in separate parking lots. In turn, each puts her car in Reverse and begins to back up, nearly hitting a pedestrian pushing his shopping cart. The man gets angry and flips the middle finger. The pessimist, having already been expecting the day to go badly and the people she meets to be rude, gets upset at the gesture and stews about it, confirming to herself that this just isn’t going to be her day. When the man flips the bird to the optimist, however, she feels grateful that she did not hit him and decides that it must be her lucky day to avoid such a calamity. She wishes the man well and is also thankful that she must have a happier life than someone who would flip her off in a parking lot. One circumstance, two totally different realities.

Life just shows up. You get to spin it any way you want to. I think I will keep looking on the sunny side. I feel better there.

How about you? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Open up your journal and write honestly. On a scale of 0 to 10—with 0 being a complete Negative Nancy pessimist and 10 being a Zippity-Doo-Da optimist–where would you rank yourself? Does that rating change widely for different areas of your life (e.g. very negative regarding your career outlook but positive about your family’s prospects), or are you pretty consistent across the board? How do you think tomorrow will go? When you imagine your long-term future, do you like what you see? Do you think you are fun to spend time with? Would you go on a roadtrip with you? What type of people do you seem to attract the most in your life: optimists or pessimists? How tolerant are you of negative people? There are some people that, whenever they are around, I find myself doing much more complaining and fault-finding than usual in our general conversations. Whenever I recognize it, I know I am keeping the wrong company. Are there some people in your life so negative that you would be better served by cutting ties with them? If so, are you ready to do that today? How much do you worry? Do you recognize it as a waste of energy, or do you find it productive? Do you think you can worry less? If you were the driver in the example, and someone flipped you the middle finger, how do you think you would react? Be honest! Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to look on the sunny side of Life?

Embrace the gift of choice,

William

Privilege & The Eyes of God

IMG_1072“When you see nothing but you wherever you look, you peer through the eyes of God.”

Hello friend,

I have never been one for keeping up on the news of the day. I don’t watch much television, and when I do, I really don’t want to hear about crime and death. I could certainly be accused of burying my head in the sand and ignoring certain things. It is not as though I don’t know bad things are happening; I just don’t like to dwell on them too much. I want to pick and choose my spots, not be flooded with it every day. I am grateful for the privilege of not having to deal with such constant negativity.

There are times, though, when either I come up for air after one of my mental hibernations to research a tough issue, or a story becomes so big that I can’t even hide from it with my head in the sand. The recent tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri and its aftermath seems to be one of those stories. While I haven’t followed it closely and certainly don’t claim to know all the facts, I think I know enough that it has seeped into my soul and really saddened me. Of course the death of Michael Brown is horrible in its own right, but what has been most on my mind is the way Black people in that area have been mistreated and disrespected by the White people—especially in positions of power (e.g., the police force)—since the beginning of the town itself. The message “Black lives don’t matter” seems to echo loudly from Ferguson. Unfortunately, it is not the only town in America sending that message.

I have lately been reading some articles and papers about being an ally to members of disadvantaged groups, whether that be a racial or ethnic minority, members of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community, non-Christians, poor people, women, the mentally or physically handicapped, overweight people, and many more. I have tried to become increasingly aware of how wildly privileged I am as a White, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, American male, and how easy it can be to ignore the unearned advantages I have over others not in my categories (this blissful ignorance of my privilege is, of course, just one of the privileges of my station—scary how that works!).

With all of these thoughts in my head lately, I have still been a bit unclear where my voice is, what my role needs to look like. I went to bed last night wondering fruitlessly about that. When I woke up this morning, I turned to what has become my version of “reading the news.” Its name is Facebook. Yes, I count on those articles and videos that people share to keep myself marginally informed. There I found an article called “5 Things You Should Never Do (or Say) to a Little Person”, which featured a 22-year-old man who lives in New York City and the awful treatment he receives on a daily basis just going about his normal business as a dwarf/little person. He made a six-minute documentary called “Don’t Look Down on Me” (I highly encourage you to look it up), in which he wore a hidden camera to detail his experiences. It made me very sad to watch.

As the film came to a close and the young man’s cold reality had dug out an aching hole in my heart, his honest voice came over the images:

“I don’t want to TELL anyone what to do or what to think or how to feel, but instead what I’ll do is I’ll ASK. I’ll ASK that the next time you see someone who is different than you, think about what their day might be like. Think about all of the events of their life leading up to that point. Then think about their day, and think about what part of their day do you want to be?”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Stopped me dead in my tracks. His question seemed directed right at me. Its probing depth is absolutely brilliant, and my daily response to it could be the only thing I might do to make my heart feel whole. It is an obvious question that must be addressed by people of privilege, but the lesson is a universal one. What part of someone’s day do you want to be?

It is so easy to be mean, even easier to be insensitive. But gosh, when you look at all of the travails that we have put so many people of the world through—see the seemingly endless list of disadvantaged groups I mentioned above—don’t you think we could all make the effort to do better, to show up for one another just because each one of us MATTERS?

As a White, heterosexual, middle class, able-bodied male, the world shows up for me every day; it rolls the red carpet out. It is time for me to not only become more aware of how much easier and better it is for me than for others, but also for me to do what I can—every day and in every interaction—to share with others the privileges I get for free. It is more than that, though. It is not just about not harassing, not looking down upon, not being insensitive. It is NOT about inaction nor about ignoring others and just “letting them live.” It is not about neutral.

It is up to all of us—but especially those of us with privilege—to become a positive part of everyone else’s day. In gestures big and small, interpersonal and political. It is time to stir the compassion from our souls, to look into the other’s eye and see ourselves. When we do that, we can begin to act from Love. When we act from Love, we find ways to be the positive part of someone’s day. We help them rise rather than tear them down. We joke with them, not about them. We share with them rather than horde for ourselves. We see them. We hear them. We seek to understand their experience of the world. We sympathize with them, and we do our best to empathize as well. We know them to be—just like ourselves—valuable simply because they were gifted life on Earth and are thus of Divine heritage. We are family.

So, the next time I see someone who looks or acts different from me, I am going to do my best to remember that Truth. I will ask myself, “What part of their day do I want to be?” Armed with that Truth—that they are me and we are One—and emboldened by my multi-layered privilege, I will answer with certainty, “The most LOVING part!” 

If I can walk that walk of Love every day—if I can “see through the eyes of God” and live accordingly—I can make change. Now just imagine if we could all show up for each other and live this way. We could make serious change! Positive, world-shaking change. So, what do you say: Wanna take a walk with me??? 

How about you? How can you leverage your privilege to make the world better for everyone? Open up your journal and examine your place in the world. In which of your many statuses are you privileged? On a day-to-day basis, are you aware of that privilege—most people are not, so don’t feel bad admitting it—and how it affects your interactions? Where do you feel it the most? Now look at the other side of the coin. Which of your statuses are definitely NOT privileged? What are some examples of how that plays out in your daily life? How does it feel to be treated that way? Does lack of privilege in one area give you more empathy toward people who are mistreated due to their lack of privilege in another area (e.g., does being Black make you more likely to feel the pain of someone who is overweight or transgendered?)? Are we all inherently valuable? If so, why don’t we treat each other that way? More specifically, why are Black lives in Ferguson (and so many other places) not valued the way White lives are? Why do we slip so quickly and so badly when it comes to our treatment of people who are different from us? Is it evolutionary, in our genes? Do you think that if we believed there was enough of everything to go around—love, opportunity, money, etc.—that we would not fight so desperately to keep our spot in the pecking order? Do you think you can do better? Can you show up for EVERYONE, no matter how unpopular that might make you with your own group? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to see through the eyes of God?

Be a light today,

William

Relationship RESET

IMG_1193“Never restart a journey and use the same road that failed you before.” –Dennis E. Adonis

When I was a little kid, it seemed like I did everything with my older brother. I was just like any of the other kids from the neighborhood. We would all seem to find a rallying spot at some point in the day and figure out if we were going to play football, Capture the Flag (we called it “Flag Game”), Kick the Can, or whatever. At that age, I never paused to wonder if I would have considered my brother to be my “friend” or if we were close. We were only a year apart in school, so we were invariably drawn together in various circumstances.

But then middle school, high school, and college rolled around, and it quickly became clear that no matter what we were before, we were now anything but close. I don’t really remember even any conversations with him from those years. We didn’t fight or have sibling rivalry; it wasn’t like that. We just seemed to live in completely different worlds, even as we sat right next to each other at the table or in the car. My brother drove me to school for a couple of years in high school, and I don’t remember ever talking to him during one of those rides. That seems so weird when I think about it now. I will save the sociological and psychological analyses of how our society socializes boys and the communication patterns of adolescents for another post, but suffice it to say that during those years, I was totally invisible to my brother.

With all of that as background, you might be shocked to learn that by the time I arrived in my mid-20s, the same guy that completely ignored me for more than a decade had become something of a hero to me and one of the people I most enjoyed talking to in this world. That has continued to this day, and even though I don’t talk with him very often—a recurring theme with even my very closest relationships—there is still no one I would rather get a call from. We can instantly dive into a topic, and there is a mutual respect, admiration, and interest in the other person’s thoughts that I never would have dreamed possible when I was 16 and invisible. It is one of the greatest discoveries and gifts of my life, this late-blooming relationship.

My brother and I somehow managed to find the RESET button on our Relationship Remote Control, and we both chose to press it simultaneously. Nobody was holding any grudges from childhood, so we kept what we admired and otherwise gave each other a clean slate. It was as though we stepped off of our separate flights, found each other at the gate, and chose to bypass the baggage claim as we stepped into our new relationship. When I look back at our story from this distance, I can see how hitting RESET and really giving the relationship a fresh start was quite feasible. There is a tremendous divide between childhood and adulthood in terms of how we act in and care for relationships. So many childhood friendships are accidental, a product of whose team you were placed on or who sits next to you in school. As an adult, we bring a little more of an opinion to the game. We are intentional. We choose. And we are also able to see that so much of what happened as kids was so totally unimportant. Think about it: do you remember the specifics of your relationship drama from when you were 15, and do you still hold that against the other person now? More than likely, if that person somehow re-entered your life today, you would take a fresh look and see if they are worthy of your time and friendship, and go from there. Friendships that pass from childhood to adulthood can be restarted and happily go the distance.

But what presses on my mind today is not a mere friendship and it is not a lifelong relationship. I want to know if a marriage or other adult romantic relationship can really hit RESET. When we agree to become life partners, we sign onto a tremendously complex and fluid organism that is our relationship. People grow together or they grow apart, and the commitment to grow together is an admirable but incredibly challenging one. Once we get past that blissful, falling-in-love phase and settle into the reality of an actual life together, things get interesting. Adorable idiosyncrasies shift in the direction of annoyances, and things we once looked past now seem to dominate the scenery. Some of the luster gets scraped off that superhero we built our partner up to be at the beginning, and that disappoints us—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

And life happens. You go through tough stuff together, whether it is the loss of a job, a death in the family, or just a really bad fight between the two of you. These things deepen the relationship, but they also leave scar tissue. Baggage. Our partner becomes inextricably intertwined with these things, though. We come to know them in so many different ways. With that, of course, comes knowing their weaknesses and their insecurities. We know how to hurt them, and—sometimes more importantly—we are keenly aware that they hold the power to hurt us. Everyone silently hopes for a continuous cease-fire, as we have all been witness to at least one divorce that turned evil, a testament to the power we have to either protect or completely shatter our partner’s heart. Most of us are happily in denial of the fact that in a long-term, committed relationship, we are walking on the razor’s edge between being the object of our partner’s loyal love and the object of their unbounded hatred.

For me, life seems to unfold in front of me as a direct reflection of my thoughts about it. I believe we see what we expect to see. If we think of the world as inherently beautiful and people as inherently kind and generous, we find examples of that in our day. If we think of the world as cruel and people as selfish and rude, we will just as surely find examples of both as we go about our business. The world presents itself the way we expect it to, and what we focus on shows up more often in our space. The question, then, is: What do you choose to focus on? What do you expect to see?

You might be asking, “What does any of that have to do with my restarting my relationship?” You see, as I said above, we come to know our life partners from so many different angles. We see all of the charming and admirable stuff that we fell in love with—the person we wanted to show off to friends and family—but we also see that other stuff that we wish they would be, and the annoying parts, too. Their portrait becomes a lot more complex. So, what do you choose to focus on? From what angle do you choose to view them? It is a choice, after all. I am not talking about burying your head in the sand and living in denial of issues that really need to be addressed. I am talking about dumping your baggage, grudges, and competition, and seeing anew the qualities you fell in love with, and MORE. I am talking about going in with eyes wide open—not ignoring the things you wish they would change but accepting them as part of the package that you dearly love—and choosing to focus on the good.

I suppose this is where this question goes from the micro to the macro level. It is as much a Life question as it is a relationship question: Can you take the brighter view? Can you choose to focus on the positive? Can you accept the parts you wish were different because they belong to a whole that is amazing and admirable and worthy of love? It is no small task. It requires discipline and a willingness to start every day with the proper focus, with your heart and mind centered in a generous and loving place. That’s tough. But ask yourself: “Is the great love of my life worth it?” I think you already know the answer. I know I do.

How about you? Do you have a relationship that needs to be restarted? Open up your journal and dig in. Who is it with? While I was stuck on the idea of restarting a romantic relationship, you don’t have to be. I think a parent-child relationship is another wonderful and challenging option, actually, as one party has been an adult the entire time and one may have transitioned from childhood to adulthood and is ready to be viewed as such. What parts of your partner are the most appealing and admirable? Why did you love them so much in the first place? Are those qualities still there? Which of their characteristics do you most wish you could change? Is anything on that list a deal-breaker on its own? How about the collection taken as a whole: too much to handle? Is there something on this negative list that must be addressed with your partner before you can start the relationship over in your mind? Which ones do you just need to get over? Can you focus on the good stuff? Can you give them a break? Can you let go of the grudges? Can you wake up tomorrow looking for their goodness? Can you love the whole, complex package? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready for a relationship RESET? 

Live the way you want to be remembered,

William

What’s So Good About YOU?

DSC_0437Hello friend,

I’m prematurely gray and wrinkled.  I’m unsocial.  I’m a little too sure I am right all the time.  I need to lose 10 pounds.  I don’t make enough money.  I’m oversensitive to criticism.  I have too much body hair.  I don’t compromise well.  I don’t have much respect for authority.  I wish my teeth were nicer.  I am sometimes short on empathy.  I wish I were a more heralded writer.  My body feels really old and slow compared to even a few years ago.  I tend to unload all of my issues onto my journal instead of communicating with the people who really need to hear me.  I can be intellectually snobby.  I am vain and wish I wasn’t.

It was WAAAAAY to easy to make that list!  On and on I could go.  I am guessing that I am like most people in finding it all too easy to point out my flaws.  We are amazingly quick and adept at finding our weaknesses and shortcomings, ways to make ourselves feel less than.  We might be quick to forgive or look past the same traits in a friend, but with ourselves, we are brutal and relentless.  Why do we do that to ourselves?  Why?

I have decided that my cure for this disturbing self-mutilation is to make a list of the things I DO like about myself.  I want to name and claim the stuff I do well, to really own the parts of me that are worthy of my admiration.  This seems like a much healthier job than pointing out my shortcomings.  So here I go!

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm………………………………………

Okay, this is HARD!!!!  Is it because I don’t want to sound conceited by saying there are good things about me?  Or are there NOT good things about me?  Alright, REALLY—I mean it this time–here I go!

I always try to keep growing and learning.  I trust my intuition.  I mostly march to the beat of my own drummer.  I’m a great Dad (okay, I like that one!).  My schedule reflects my priorities.  I know who I am (thank you, Journal).  Even though my body feels old, I like that I can still hit a tennis ball better than most people.  I tend to choose a good attitude and feel happy and grateful at the end of each day.  I appreciate being relatively intelligent.  My work helps people enjoy and challenge themselves.

Whew!!!  That actually feels really good to put down in words!  A relief!  But also clarity.  What I am discovering as I make these lists is that I actually like myself.  When I look at that list of positives, I see things that tend to be about “who I am”.  With the exception of the tennis and intelligence, what I really like about myself are things that are more internal, that I have chosen, and that can stand the test of time.  I take that to be a good sign.  My negative list definitely has some of those “who I am” things on it—hypersensitivity, empathy, snobbery, vanity—but a lot of it is external, “ego” stuff.  In my moments of greatest wisdom and clarity, I know that things like the paycheck, the accolades, and my rapidly-aging body are not really me.  They are mere window dressing.

My challenge, as I see it, is to focus more on the positive list than the negative.  Of course, I will keep trying to shore up the negatives, especially the ones that are central to my character.  I will try to be a better communicator, more empathetic, and less sensitive and vain.  But I will try to distance myself from the ego stuff and not judge my appearance and outward signs of success so harshly.  Instead, I will embrace the “who I am” items on the positive list and remind myself more regularly of the list.  I will try to give myself more pats on the back, fewer kicks in the pants.

I am guessing that the better I become at seeing the good in me, the better I will be at seeing the good in others.  The more forgiving I can be with myself, the more forgiving I can be with others.  The less I am focused on the outward, ego-driven signs for me, the less I will care about those signs in others.  Ha!  My amazing discovery in this moment is that by focusing heavily on my positive list and mostly ignoring my negative list, I will naturally be solving the issues on my negative list that I really do want to work on: vanity, empathy, hypersensitivity, etc.  What a lovely side effect!  This sounds like a worthwhile assignment to me.

So, what are your best qualities and habits?  What do you like about yourself?  What are you more deserving of a pat on the back for?  Open up your journal and start writing.  If you are like me, this positive list takes some time to come up with.  It starts with giving yourself permission to say you are good at something.  That is hard for most of us, so don’t be surprised if this process brings up some emotions.  Allow them in, and keep writing.  I hope that in the end, you will have enjoyed working on your list as much as I have, and learned as much, too.  Then, leave me a reply.  Tell me, what’s so good about YOU?

Start today,

William