Something’s changing in our country, and I’m dismayed. Over the last year or so, we’re losing the expectation that we will demonstrate basic respect for each other in public discourse. No group is completely clean on this, and there’s a reason that politics has long been called “dirty”. But we’re seeing a steep slide that needs arrested. A friend once told me that “words matter”…he was right.
If you don’t believe words matter, ask a child who’s just been bullied. If you don’t think words matter, ask someone who’s fighting depression. If you’re unsure if words matter, study Nazi history and see how a nation was manipulated to ignore (and even commit) atrocities against their fellow citizens.
America has always been a beacon of hope and optimism for the world, Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”. But we are rapidly turning into a mean and nasty place, where insults take the place of meaningful debate on how to make our great country even better, for all of its people. We, the people, must halt this decline. We must demand better from our public figures. We can do better…we deserve better…we are better than this.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
I celebrated a milestone birthday this week. It was a great day, in the middle of a ten day vacation in Florida visiting our son. We miss him a lot since he moved a thousand miles away. On the trip, we hit a couple of theme parks, swam (a lot), and just enjoyed time together as a family. I had originally planned to let the milestone slip by as quietly as I could, having snuck out of town for it. But as the family time and friends’ birthday wishes made me reflect, I decided to go public.
None of my other milestone birthdays have bothered me, but as this one approached, I found myself wanting to hide my age. As a logical person, that makes no sense…fifty is only one more than forty nine, and I was fine with that one. The illogic of my reaction made me decide to face it, because something’s obviously bothering me about it.
I don’t fully understand what it is. We hear (and say to ourselves) that age is just a number, and that we’re only as old as we feel. I’m not scared of dying, and my genetics say I’m barely over the halfway mark. I don’t have many regrets. My best guess is that, even with a lot of life likely left, I still feel like I’m somehow close to done. Of course that’s ridiculous, because the only thing I’m remotely close to done with is work, and I am looking forward to that. I just have no idea what I plan to do next, though I know I will do something. Perhaps this is just another example of my bad habit of trying to look forward too far, to plan too much. Since I can’t see around the next big corner, I shouldn’t even try. Instead, I’ll just have to keep working at living in this moment of my life. It is, after all, a pretty good one.
“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” –George Burns
I attended a leadership development class this week at work, which included an afternoon defining my personal values. We were given 36 cards with phrases like ‘Financial Stability’, ‘Responsibility’, and ‘Teaching Others’ and asked to sort them from most to least important. My top two of ‘Spirituality’ and ‘Healthy Relationships’ were expected, but my third surprised me: ‘Hope’. Of all of the difficult choices in front of me around personal development and money and accomplishment, Hope came in behind only my relationships with God and my family and friends. Why Hope?
Being an optimist has always been a strength of mine, but ironically, I’ve also been aware of how critically important it is to my well being. Though I’m good at holding on to hope, I’m also terrified of somehow losing it. But until I went through this week’s ranking exercise, I’d have never realized it was that high on my list. I’ve always assumed that everyone needs hope – revolutions and violence stem from its absence. But I’d be surprised if anyone else in our group of 20 had it ranked that high. It clearly matters to me even more than I knew.
The last part of the exercise was to develop an action plan around our top values, what we would start, stop, and continue. But how do you develop an action plan around hope? My other top values were easy…I had start/stop/continue plans in minutes. But I nearly didn’t get done in the allowed time, sitting staring at the word ‘Hope’. Stop was the easiest: I committed to stop beating up on myself when I mess up, something women are especially bad at. For start, I decided to start replacing nagging of my girls with more of the positive, affirmative language I know they need. And for continue, I will continue to provide support to beyond-stressed families on the histio sites. I don’t know if it makes much difference, but I distinctly remember the support I got in the darkest moments of Megan’s illness from those who’d walked in my shoes, including the mom who saved my life when she told me “You’ve got this.” I survived on that stranger’s faith in me for weeks. As I look around, I see that, indeed, everyone needs hope. I can’t fix much, but I will do what I can in my tiny corner of the world.
“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” –Vaclav Havel
Not long ago, a leadership coach gave me one of the most useful, yet most difficult to hear, observations that I’ve ever received on my natural style. For years, colleagues who cared had told me that I needed to smile more. This gentleman told me why: my natural expression is a frown.
I’d never seen it, and I didn’t want to believe him. As soon as our session was over, I made a beeline for the mirror. I’ll be darned if he wasn’t right. All of my life, when I’ve thought I was wearing a neutral expression, others perceived something quite different. I’m not actually frowning, of course, but the hard German features of my ancestry make my face lie about how I’m really feeling. I know, though, that I’ve got a good smile when I use it. Friends have recently remarked on the radiance of my smile as I’ve shared with them the good news of our daughter’s recovery; I could feel my joy transforming my whole face.
With this feedback, I now have another compelling reason to smile more, not that I needed one. Philosophically, I believe in smiling even when I don’t feel like it. I owe it to those around me to lift them up, not drag them down. I’ve also long known that smiling when I don’t feel like it can improve my mood. I’d read that somewhere and experimented with it, and surprisingly it worked. I assume it lifts the mood of those around me and is contagious back, a beneficial boomerang. Most importantly, God has blessed me beyond measure. If that’s not readily visible to everyone who sees me, then I’m not being fully grateful to God. Lately, I’m especially thankful for my blessings and feeling unable to ever issue frequent or sincere enough prayers of thanksgiving. I think I’ll start smiling more.
“You have as much laughter as you have faith.” –Martin Luther