May 22, 2015

Maybe You're A Bully Too!

Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke.        – Benjamin Disraeli

I read an interesting story recently written by a woman who suddenly realized she was a bully. It came to her that she bullied her husband on a regular basis. It was a powerful reminder to me of the many faces and forms that bullying can take. The story was a brave admission on her part and you can read it here.

It's easy to spot the big kid on the playground pushing around the little kid, or the popular crowd that looks down on and belittles those who they consider "out."  Even cyber bullying is pretty clear to spot. It's not as easy to see ourselves as bullies because we tend to rationalize it away - to feel we were right about whatever caused us to bully. Even truer, we just feel "right" period. How can it be bullying if we're right? Right?

He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened. - Lao Tzu

Relationships, whether marriages, friendships or between family members, are a delicate balance and require great effort to remain balanced. When one party assumes more power or greater insight than the other, trouble is brewing. 

It's a slippery slope we start down when we see another as flawed and make them our project - or worse - our target. I've been guilty of it myself. I've taken on the job of fashion police for my husband despite never being officially hired. This in spite of my daughter threatening to turn me  in to What Not To Wear. This also in spite of the fact that he lived for 50 years, dressing himself, before we met. (Not as well as he does now though. Oops. Did I type that out loud?

I also admit to possibly "helping" him drive more often than he appreciates. He felt relieved (or was that vindicated?) while on vacation to find that I help everyone drive. 

I'm far more likely to let my bad mood spill over onto him than he is onto me. He gets angry at whatever he gets angry at and leaves me out of it. He recovers quickly from bursts of frustration. I tend to frustrate over the idea of the frustration after the event has passed.

I will add, however, that I'm also the first one (OK, maybe the second one) to notice that I've misplaced my emotions and quickly apologize when it happens. I'm sincerely making an effort not to need to - but instead to keep my frustration to myself where it belongs.

Bullying between siblings can leave emotional scars that last long after leaving home. It can breed insecurity and feelings of worthlessness in the bullied child. It's sad that children don't have the maturity and experience to understand how damaging their actions can be and how it will affect their relationship in the future. (Sadder that some adults don't either.)

I'm sure we all know someone we feel is being bullied in their relationship. It only takes one "right fighter" and one person who would rather avoid conflict to complete this recipe. The silent partner may go along to get along but it doesn't mean that damage isn't being done to the relationship. It doesn't take long for the bullied partner to start withdrawing and possibly even leaving.

I was surprised to even find bullying in the comment section of the article on bullying as some of the respondents were pounced on for their opinions. I've noticed that people who feel they have little control in the important relationships in their own lives will often let loose their silent rage on others. Strangers make perfect victims since no consequences seem to follow. Sometimes that anger translates into road rage. In other cases, people take back their missing power by trolling on internet sites and leaving hurtful comments.

We are each flawed - bringing with our flaws  many wonderful gifts to contribute. Our gifts come wrapped in a package of idiosyncrasies, habits, and belief systems that may or may not jive well with the package another carries their gifts in. Who are we to decide our package is the pretty one and theirs is the ugly duckling? Does it really make us look better to make another look bad?

There was a time in my life when I was the queen of sarcasm and put down. I could slice people to shreds with remarkably few words -  even being accused once of having had a tongue transplant with Don Rickles. Cross me and duck. That's how it was. Then one day it occurred to me how easy it was to make people feel bad. Most people already do. It came to me that the more challenging thing would be to make people feel good. I changed. That change has brought me many times more joy than cutting others to pieces ever brought me satisfaction.

My ruthlessness was a mask. It was the crunchy exterior that covered a scared and insecure person with a heart of jello. It seemed back then that the best way to avoid being hurt myself was a "strike first" strategy. Sure, it kept people from taking me on, but it also kept people at a distance. I was safe. And ashamed. I didn't like that hurtful person.

We're all in this together and none of us are going to get out alive. What if we tried a little harder to connect. How would our lives change if those around us felt safe and honored? How would theirs? Is it really so hard to overlook the small and insignificant things others do that aren't exactly the way we'd have done it? What if we didn't pick to pieces even the things people do to help? How much more often would others feel safe doing things for us if that were the case? 

What if we appreciated and celebrated differences instead of belittling and punishing them? One of my favorite quotes says: "If two people are exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary." How true is that?

I challenge all of us to examine our own relationships to see if we too may be bullies. If we find that we are, let's try a little harder to be kind and offer others the same grace we'd like extended to us for our own shortcomings.

Sometimes I catch small glimpses of what the world might look like if we could love first and ask questions later. I see it in unselfish acts of kindness and in compassionate gestures. I see it in the lives of people who are trying to be more grateful and show appreciation more often. It's beautiful. Close your eyes. Can you see it? Pass it on! 

May 16, 2015

The Illusion of Control

You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway. - Steve Maraboli

It had been a full 2 year since my husband and I had visited Utah where two of my children and 9 of my grandchildren live. I'd planned. I'd packed. I'd organized right down to knowing where everything was in my suitcase and the best way to get to it once I arrived - and in the necessary order.

We made arrangements for someone to watch our dog, took care of all last minute details that needed attending to, and even spent two days hooking up the new security system so I wouldn't worry about leaving the house unoccupied for the trip.

Travel day finally arrived. Feeling fully prepared and mostly on schedule we headed for the airport. We'd figured in plenty of time to handle any foreseen problems and traffic  so we arrived with plenty of time to spare. The bus from the off site parking lot dropped us right at the terminal door where we were to check in. Everything was going perfectly! Until it wasn't. 

Pulling my luggage behind me with one hand and carrying my purse and jacket with the other I walked through the sliding doors at Midway Airport in Chicago and BOOM. I hit the floor with full force on my right knee. With both hands full, there was little time to break the unexpected fall - though I must have to some extent as evidenced by the bruise on my left hand and wrist.

A curled up floor mat had been the culprit. My foot caught on the mat and there was no time  to recover balance. From that minute on, all of my careful planning and visions of what would be were completely derailed. 

A nice couple helped my mortified self to my feet. The adrenalin coursing through my body coupled with sheer embarrassment clouded all sense of what was happening around me for a time. The kind strangers helped me to the check in counter, pulled my luggage, and got me settled in line as I dazedly thanked them. I was shaking and in pain but felt I was OK. Until I wasn't.

After the 3 hour flight, picking up the rental car, and driving the 30 minutes to my sons home, I learned that I couldn't bend my knee.
I spent a restless night unable to find a comfortable position and by morning it was clear that I would be making an unexpected trip to the E.R.

The point of this story is not that I fell and was injured, but how quickly our best plans can be laid waste. All of my intentions of playing with grandchildren were instantly altered. My plans to spend time at the company convention being held in the same city were ditched as the brace went on my leg and I was told to elevate, ice, and rest it.

I've spent the last few days dragging the stiff limb behind me at a snails pace, wincing, muttering, and apologizing for slowing down my family, my husband and even complete strangers.

I've known for some time that control was an illusion. I've lived long enough to have seen evidence of it many times, and still, I find myself surprised and a bit bewildered when life doesn't play according to my direction. The better news is that I recover faster each time it happens.

With familiarity comes acceptance - to some degree. I understand that we will never be able to control all outcomes no matter how well we plan or execute. There will always be factors - a lot of them - over which we have no control. Does that mean then that we should throw up our hands and toss our lives into the hands of a fickle fate? No. I don't think so. 

What seems to work better is to plan for the best outcome and be flexible enough to go with the flow of what actually happens. It also helps to ask: If some good could be wrapped up in this awful situation, what could it be?

I guess in my situation I'm thankful that I only badly bruised my patella instead of breaking a bone or causing more permanent damage to what I've learned is a key component of my anatomy. I have a whole new appreciation for the miracle of every day motion that I took for granted before. I also learned never to be so distracted as not to be aware of my present surroundings. 

I've learned how patient and caring my husband is and the lengths to which he'll go to help me when I need him. I've witnessed the inherent kindness of people as others have gone out of their way to accommodate me and make me more comfortable.

My visit with my family has been wonderful. We've managed to work around the new temporary normal and still enjoy our time together despite the slower than desired speed.

I could have spent a good deal of this precious time feeling wronged, and sorry for myself. I could have let the disappointment of the change in plans make me bitter and angry. I might have made any number of useless decisions that could have altered the course of this trip - but why? What would be the point? Would it heal my knee faster? Probably not. Would I have enjoyed this time? I doubt it. I most probably would have made it miserable for those I came to see as well.

We always have choices. Not always about what happens, but most certainly as to how we respond.

I am happier when I choose to be. I'm more patient when I remember that this too will pass. I'm more agreeable when I can turn the focus off myself and on to those around me who matter. 

Another lesson that my husband suggests is that I learn to accept help when I need it and to stop apologizing to the world for having been born into it. He went as far as to ask if I'd apologized to my mother for causing her pain at my birth. My answer: Yes. While still on the delivery table.

My point is summed up very well in the opening quote. We must learn to give up the stress. We were never in control anyway!

How do you deal with unexpected changes when life happens as it wants to instead of how you've planned? We can all use more tools. Share!

May 2, 2015

Wisdom In The Weeds

To nurture a garden is to not just feed the body, but the soul. - Alfred Austin

April was a tough month. Two losses, two funerals and a cascade of tears left me feeling emotionally drained, physically exhausted, and just plain sad. Being highly sensitive means I also become immersed in the feelings of those around me - adding another dimension to it all.

When the going gets tough, the tough get gardening, and that's what I've been doing. There's something completely grounding about, well, being on the ground - smelling the dirt. It centers and calms me. While gardening is good for my soul, not everyone feels the same. My husband would prefer to pave the yard and paint it green. He finds other things that nourish and balance him - books being chief among them.

Being surrounded by nature gives me time to reflect on how much of life is taught in a garden. The parallels are so universal that I thought I'd pass them on for those of you who may be city dwellers without a chance to garden (and for those who also prefer green pavement.)

Soil: It's easy to understand what soil is but harder to know what makes soil good. It's preparation and attention. Be it soil or life, when we prepare and plan we can be sure everything we plant will begin with a richer foundation. Just as we can amend soil with whatever it needs for what we intend to grow, we can train, and learn all we can before embarking. That doesn't always guarantee success but it does at least provide the best environment for success and that's about as much control as we can expect to have in a garden or life. 

Preparation gives us a leg up - a better chance that our endeavors will be more fruitful. Even when our best efforts fail, knowing we gave it our best shot can ease the regret.

Weeds: Weeds are most often those things that show up that we didn't plant and would rather not have - but not always. In a garden, a weed is defined as "anything that's growing where you don't want it." Some "weeds" may be beautiful plants in their own right. That doesn't mean we have space for them or that they're a good fit in the whole (like that darned spider wort that went viral last summer.) Often we need to choose between two good things instead of a good and bad thing, but the right choice will provide a better balance.

In life weeds can show up as people, events, or experiences. Sometimes they pop up unexpectedly and at other times we invite them in hoping for the best. In either case they need to be attended to.

When we ignore the weeds in our lives or gardens they will, in time, over run it. Weeds are pernicious and will choke out everything else if given a chance. Garden weeds and toxic people or circumstances are easiest handled sooner than later before their roots spread - making them harder to remove. Waiting too long also increases the chance that they'll spread seeds, insuring more of the same will grow. Ignoring weeds, real or metaphoric, will make them more painful to deal with later on. Handle weeds early and often.

Storms: Storms are essential for a garden and also for a balanced life. Lightning, while it can be threatening at times, is also essential for plants. It provides nutrients along with the rain that feeds the plant and makes it grow strong. The storms in our lives do the same for us. They may not be desired or appreciated when they appear and threaten to ruin our plans but they offer us strength and resilience when we weather them well. And as my husband added: "Maybe a little manure in life isn't always a bad thing!"

Cursing the storms in our lives is about as effective as shaking our fists at the thunder and lightning. Storms play themselves out in their own time. Our best response is to wait them out and look for the benefits they offer. Learn from them. Grow from them. We may even be rewarded with a rainbow at their end.

Patience: When we plant a seed with eager anticipation, it seems to take forever to see anything happening. That doesn't mean nothing is happening. There are things going on unseen that are necessary before we're rewarded by evidence.

How many other things are like that? Often it feels like we're beating our heads against a wall and making no progress - like our invested time was all for nothing. No good effort is ever wasted. It may take longer to see the fruits of our labors than we'd like but there's no rushing an apple tree and if we walk away too soon in frustration, someone else will be enjoying the sweet fruit. 

Patience can't be overstated as a quality worth developing. Impatient people go from one thing to another never knowing what may have sprouted right after they left. Impatience breeds discontent and bitterness. There's no place for that in a beautiful garden or a beautiful life.

 Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden? - Robert Brault

Effort: Neither a garden or a life will tend itself. It takes effort. Constant effort. Gardens, like life, are never "finished" as long as they're alive. I spent 5 hours outside yesterday weeding, moving plants, edging, and removing debris. Was I finished when I came in? Not even close! I was sore. I was stiff, but definitely not finished. What I did gain from my time spent was progress. Some of that progress will take a whole season to realize. Some was apparent right away.

We need to expect life to be work. It wasn't meant to be easy. If it was, our muscles and intellect would atrophy instead of growing stronger and sharper. Our days would be strung together with meaningless boredom and nothing to look forward to.

I didn't finish the garden yesterday. I won't finish it today if I spend another 5 hours out there but I will make even more progress - and if I'm patient and consistent, I will in time enjoy the beautiful results - but it won't be because it's finished. It'll be because I've learned to love progress instead of holding out for perfection. Waiting for perfection is an exercise in self abuse and a guarantee of misery. 

Nothing living is static. It's always changing, growing, dying, spreading or shrinking. We have to be willing to work at both gardens and life - always. Learn to love the journey. It's an important part of reaching any destination. Growth happens while striving - not on arriving.

Whether you also garden or have found other ways to nurture your soul in times of stress, look for the hidden lessons and parallels waiting to teach you important lessons. Wisdom is not reserved solely for weeds! It's around us all the time for our learning and benefit. Where do you most often find yours?