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The Gun Control “Debate”

The Gun Control “Debate”

I’m usually apolitical and believe strongly in letting people be who they are.  Of live and let live.  Of you do your thing, and I’ll do mine.  I believe in the Constitution.  That’s not enough on this.

The United States of America has become a dangerous place to live.  Yesterday, my not-so-big-town paper reported the death of a grandmother who was killed in her bathroom—the victim of a drive-by shooting where the bullets were meant for someone else.  I wish I could say this was an unusual article.  It’s not—for my town, for the country in general.

Teenage gang members shoot each other over being “disrespected.”  Spurned lovers shoot their former girlfriends.  Preschoolers shoot each other because they think they are playing with a toy.  Veterans facing the difficult task of picking up a “normal” life after the horrors of war use a gun as a quick way to end their pain.  And then, of course, there are the mass shootings where “motive” is elusive but the death toll is very real.

A recent online article by Business Insider claimed that the likelihood of dying from gun violence is 1 in 315, and that’s not counting the suicides and accidents.  In 2015, nearly 14,000 people were killed by firearms assaults in this country.  That would be the whole population of the town I grew up in.

In the US, more people die from being shot by others than die riding in a van, truck, or car. And the mass shootings?  “In 2015, some 333 mass shootings left 367 people dead and 1,328 injured. The statistics rose in 2016 to 383 mass shootings, 456 deaths, and 1,537 injuries. In 2017, there were 346 mass shootings that led to 437 deaths and 1,802 injuries.” (From the same article.)

We have to do better.

Gun rights advocates rally around the Second Amendment as if it were the only thing written in the Constitution.  Let’s put it in perspective.  The first written statement in our birth as a nation is the Declaration of Independence.  It does not mention the right to own guns, but it does state that all have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  The very first words in the Constitution itself state its purpose is to “… to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure the domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,  promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  The Constitution was ratified in 1788.  The Second Amendment was not added until 1791 as part of a cluster of ten clarifications.  Clearly, the right to own guns was not the most important thing.  The right to live in peace is far more central.  Losing this many Americans to gun violence every year is NOT peaceful.

What’s even more absurd is that gun control isn’t about deleting the Second Amendment itself.  The push if for sensible gun control.  How can any sane person argue with that idea?

Arming teachers will not solve this problem.  Who do you arm to prevent a suicide that was too easy because there was a gun on the premises?  Who do you arm to keep the four-year old from shooting his six year old sister when he finds a loaded gun under the seat of the car?  Who do you arm to help that grandmother killed in her bathroom?  Getting more guns out there isn’t the answer.

There will always be resistance to changes needed for the common good from those who are going to lose something.  The farmers who benefitted from DDT…  The smokers who now have to go out of the building (and stand in the rain or snow) to pollute their lungs…  But the “rights” of a few should not override the legitimate needs of the many.  If the NRA and all gun advocates were really intent on the good of the country–as they want us to believe they are, they would be at the table trying to solve the problem, not in trenches lobbing grenades at those who recognize the need to do it.  (And to those who despicably altered photos to make “news” about the kids who’ve had the courage to stand up and start these dominoes falling, there are no words to describe how low you have stooped.)

Cowardice is cumulative and compounds.  When our elected officials were cowed by the gun rights lobby and let the ban on assault weapons expire in 2004, it started a downward spiral that has expanded for 15 years.  Now those same leaders are too timid to object when the President of the United States refuses to call out an international thug.  They turn a blind eye to that same President’s cyberbullying and moral turpitude. They can’t find a way to get work done on any front because cowards are afraid of anyone who is not just like them.  They hide in their bunkers and pretend to be strong by yelling at each other instead of having the courage to approach those who are different to work together.

We are far more than this as a nation.  And we have been given the chance to start over–by kids.  We don’t have to accept “it’s complicated” as an excuse for inaction.  So what if it’s complicated.  It still needs to be fixed.  Gun ownership is just like owning anything else.  You can’t do whatever you want if you own a house. You’re subject to requirements and restrictions if you own a car.  Such limits are for the greater good.  Common sense gun control is no different.

Every one of us needs to stand up now and insist that this be done.  Yes, we can vote differently next fall, but we can also speak up now.  Insist that your elected officials come around on this–not all of them are going to be up for reelection.  It’s time to fix this.  Way past time.

Note:  The Business Insider article can be found at

And if you’re wondering, Business Insider is rated as politically “center” by AllSides.


The ONE THING None of Us Should Eat

The ONE THING None of Us Should Eat

Okay, okay, you’re tired of all the do’s and don’ts about what to eat.  One week coffee is bad for you, the next “they” are saying two cups a day will help avoid dementia.  Red wine is good…but not too much…or maybe only on Sundays.  And what’s the deal with kale? Or whatever. All this advice leads us to consume large quantities of the one thing we really do not need to be eating: FEAR.

There’s a lot of “information” out there about how eating this will stave off some awful illness and about how eating that other thing will trigger something terrible. Such advice is everywhere and often in contradiction to other advice.  So you can’t do all of it (and who in the world really wants to?)  Still, “they” say this is important.  We want to be safe, to avoid the horrible “maybe” mentioned.  So instead of acting on our own behalf, we worry.  Worry is just another word for being afraid (passively).  Have another helping of fear, my dear!

Our current culture is very good at fretting about damn near everything. What if I take that job, and then there’s a lay-off?  What if I say the wrong thing, and I get a reputation for being policially incorrect?  What if the incoming Presidential adminstration is as terrible as my favorite news site says it will be?  Oh so much can go wrong.

And it may.  But that’s not the biggest problem here.  When we take this stuff in and let it define how we live, life becomes a prison cell.  There will always be something dangerous that might hurt us.  Trying to avoid all of it is like trying to avoid breathing nitrogen–which is a normal and major component of air–but not what we need to live on.  We don’t use the nitrogen but it doesn’t harm us if we are doing the natural thing–breathing it back out.  Same deal with fear.  It’s out there, and we need to notice it. Then the natural thing is to let it go. When we worry instead, we hold it.  And it shackles and weakens us.

Life is dangerous.  Standing there paralyzed with fear is not going to change that. All it does is remove the chance to live happy and free.

It’s not just the nutrition experts  force-feeding us this bad stuff.  We get far more information about the “dangers” inherent in being alive than has ever been the case before.  We have access to massive amounts of information from a wide array of sources on devices we can use 24/7.  The message of “Be afraid” comes through loud and clear–and often.

Even worse, those who want us as potential customers–for them or their advertisers– will hype that “news” so it becomes even more terrifying.  This is NOT good for any one of us.  (It may, however, be very good for business.)

And it’s not the natural way for us to feel fear either.  When there is a real and present danger, fear is an ally.  Fight or flight–DO something.  All this “informational fear” isn’t like that.  When we are encouraged to be afraid of things that might happen, we move to a situation that denies any chance to effectively eliminate the fear by acting on it.  The possible terrible thing has not happened.  All you can do is worry that it might. We take the fear in and hold it.  Some day we may learn that doing that is the leading cause of heart attacks…  Fear generates stress.  We know stress messes us up a lot physically.

So, instead of actually eating and holding all that fear, we might be better off with something like the following:

  • Avoid clicking on all the sensationalized headlines about whatever thing to avoid, remove, etc.
  • Ask yourself if whatever advice you just read feels right to you.  Intuition is one of the best fear interceptors going.
  • Can you reasonably mitigate what they have said might go wrong?  If so, do that. If not, FORGET ABOUT IT.

Repeat after me: I will not eat fear.

Solving the Symptom

Solving the Symptom

For the past 10 days, I’ve been getting bids for dealing with water in my crawlspace. It’s been a great refresher course in the difference between solving a problem and treating the symptom.

To be sure, I don’t like having standing water under the house. But if I want to solve this for good, I need to think in terms of what put it there instead of just how to get it out. I can get it out on my own–a submersible pump and then the Shop Vac (both borrowed from my older son) are all I needed.  I got th water all out myself a week ago.

But after getting it “squeegee dry” on a Saturday evening, it was already starting to come back in the next morning. That’s when I started asking for bids.

I’ve had four different outfits look at it. Two had variations of the same approach in mind–because they were selling the same patented system (which I did not know when I asked them both to bid). That system is great at solving the symptom–water in the crawlspace–or more often, in someone’s basement. It just collects it and pumps it back out automatically, using a largely inconspicuous collection system.  It even has a double back up on the sump pump to be sure it keeps pumping under all circumstances.

My landscape guy suggested there’s enough slope on the lot that we can channel the water to a corner of the crawl (which has a concrete floor) via grooves and get it out with just a gravity drain. That’s lots cheaper and would probably be just as effective–at solving the symptom.

Day before yesterday, a general contractor I’ve used for remodel projects took a look at it. He really looked at it.  He checked where the drainage from the underground downspout system was coming out.  He looked at the outlet for the surface drainage.  He dug down on the lowest corner of the house to see what was actually going on at the foundation/footing contact.  Then he suggested a cost-effective way to solve the problem.  

The problem in this case is that water is using the foundation of my house as the easiest way downhill when it rains.  I need to create an easier way for it to go–and make the route next to the house harder.  It looks like we can do that for less than what the guys with the razzle dazzle system would charge.

What I do or don’t do with my water issue isn’t the point here.  How often do we “solve the symptom” when we think we’re really solving the problem?  The doctor says your blood pressure is high.  He recommends taking medication for that.  Symptom solved.  But what’s causing the high blood pressure?  Stress?  And undetected underlying medical condition?  For one of my sons, it was caffeine. You can help yourself better if you know the problem and deal with that.  Foregoing caffeinated coffee has a whole low fewer risks than taking blood pressure medicine, for example.

Same idea in a financial context:  You don’t have enough money at the end of the month to make the mortgage payment.  So you change that payment to earlier in the month.  The symptom is no longer creating discomfort but the problem remains.  Why wasn’t there enough money at the end of the month?  Are you spending more than you realize?  Is someone who has access to your funds using them for a drug or gambling addiction?  Is your lifestyle more than you can afford?  Is someone just plain stealing from you?  You won’t discover these things if you just deal with the symptom and move on.

As a nation, we’ve become focused on eliminating symptoms instead of solving problems.  We vote to extend unemployment benefits rather than getting on with the reforms that are needed to get the economy humming on a stronger note.  We make laws about carrying guns and then leave the epidemic of mental health problems unaddressed.

As individuals, we can choose better every day.  Let’s solve problems.  That eliminates the pesky symptom but goes a whole lot farther toward keeping things on the right track over time.


What I Learned Buying a House After 60

What I Learned Buying a House After 60

Life lessons don’t always come from expected sources. I’m in the process of buying a house.  The lessons I’m learning go well beyond real estate.

For the last 18 months, I’ve lived with my boyfriend in a gated, 55+ community–in a new house he bought three years ago.  That’s been hard for me.  It’s not a lifestyle where I can thrive.  Our trial run at living together was an essential step.  We’ve learned living separately works better for us without having invested in real estate together.  That’s not exactly how “everybody does it.”  So there’s Lesson #1:   The next step for you is not always the one that works best for everyone else.

I sold my last house 18 months ago.  It was time.  I knew that for sure when I got an excellent price and had a done deal in less than a month.  I thought I needed to sell that house because it had a lot of yard—with elevation.  That wasn’t the real reason, but it got me to take action.   Lesson #2:  The reason you act isn’t always the reason you needed to act.

About three months ago, I knew it was time to get back in the game.  But did I need a house?  How about renting instead?  How about a condo?  I moved through this phase fairly quickly once I admitted something everyone in the family already knew.  I am a compulsive gardener.  I need dirt   Rented dirt doesn’t work.  Lesson #3:  Be honest with yourself.

I listed what I wanted in this new house—and promptly sabotaged myself big time.  I rejected my own preferences, telling myself I needed to heed the “prevailing wisdom” about what older people need as housing instead.  I wanted stairs—but what if I needed single-story living later in my life?  I wanted a garden, but what happened if I couldn’t handle the physical demands of that eventually?  This ageist crap clobbered me hard.  I was looking for a house I could “grow old in” and conjuring up all sorts of limiting scenarios.

A conversation with my older son saved me.  When I told him I planned to live in this house for the rest of my life, he laughed—and then told me that wasn’t likely.  I challenged him, thinking he was assuming I would not be able to live on my own for that long.  His reply?  “Mom, you’re a gypsy.  You aren’t going to stay in any house that long.”  Okay, Lesson #4:  Admit who you are.  Let’s throw in Lesson #5, too:  Beware of insidious ageist thinking!

So I learned I needed to buy the house for now.  Then the challenge became where.

I’d told the realtor I wanted to see things in areas I was familiar with, where friends lived and I already knew my way around.  We looked at 43 houses.  None of them came remotely close to fitting the bill.  All were older than I wanted, needed significant updating, and/or had chopped up floor plans that didn’t work for me.  I was thoroughly disheartened.  Time for Lesson #6:  When it’s not working, you need to change something.

I decided it had to be where I was looking that was wrong.  And it was wrong because I was thinking rationally instead of feeling authentically.  When I finally admitted what I really needed and wanted at an emotional level, I realized I needed a new location to explore—but one that was closer to family.  Lesson #7:  Important decisions should start with your heart and be handled rationally after the emotional aspects are clear.

Once I realized I needed to be somewhere new, an amazing thing happened.  I discovered an area that I’d been assuming was “too far away from everything” was actually closer to my family than the places I’d been looking. The homes were of the age I like.  The neighborhoods were a delight for walking.  Right on cue, a house I loved came on the market.  The right size yard.  The right amount of floor space.  The kind of floor plan I love.  So that’s Lesson #8:  Keep going.

I’m still jumping the real estate hoops on the deal—offer, acceptance, inspection, etc.–but I feel really good about this house.  It’s helped me learn so much already.


A Pope Versus a Budget

A Pope Versus a Budget

What’s the matter with the US Congress? And the US President? In less than two full days, the globally diverse Catholic church has risen to the task before them and chosen a new pope.  That pope will be around for a fairly long time. He will set policy and be the boss for every Catholic on earth. He’s not to everyone’s liking–no one is.  Still, the Cardinals chose and got the job done.

I’m not a practicing Catholic and am not even inclined to tout them as particularly blessed in terms of skill at building a consensus.  But it does give you pause, doesn’t it?  The US Congress–and the current Administration– have yet to come up with a budget for this country.  Not just for this year.  Not ever.  For some reason, all of the people who are responsible for getting it done think the childhood strategy of pointing the finger at someone else is enough to explain their own failure to get this crucial task accomplished.

Who said they could quit because it was hard work?  Who gave them the okay to go home and relax when what they need to do most is still in the starting blocks?

Why is it acceptable to fail at this? To ignore this? To act like it’s not them that have to get it done?  It’s heartbreaking to witness the cowardice of what’s going on.  Instead of rising to the task–like congressmen and women have done since this country began–they’re paralyzed with fear about the reactions that might come from the constituencies they represent.  Instead of assuming the leadership role they were elected to, they take rigid stands like stubborn three-year olds and refuse to get on with finding the solution.

Yes, it’s a lot harder to get the job done in the Senate and the House than in the Sistine Chapel–you have the media blowing everything out of proportion and sensationalizing every little nuance day after day.  But there is no constitutional waiver for not doing the job because it’s hard work.

Yes, the work involves hard choices and will dissatisfy some who voted for you.  Do you think every single person was on board with any of the hard things that this country has had to decide over the decades and centuries?  This is not about who voted for you.  This is about coming up with a workable plan for how this huge and successful country is going to make and spend its government dollars–so we can stay successful.

It took the Catholic Cardinals–who are part of an organization that’s struggling with scandles and major differences of opinion just as we are–two days to get their job done.  That is not because it was easy.  It was because they accepted it was theirs to do and did it.

Take a lesson, Congress.  Take a lesson, Mr. President.  Get this job done!  Come up with a budget.


Take a Hike

Take a Hike

Yeah. Yeah. I hear you. You’re not that kind of person. A hike is so…well…physical.  Please.  Consider taking a hike.  It will change your life.

I come from a family of walkers.  We do it for the exercise, but just as often it’s to work off steam from something stressful, sort out a problem that seems—before our legs start moving—impossible, or keep a medical issue in check.  (One of my siblings has diabetes; he avoids insulin injections by walking.)

Even better than a walk is a hike.  A hike is a walk in a wild place.  One of my favorite Christmas memories is of an unconventional Christmas Day with my middle brother, hiking to a waterfall he wanted to see (in a downpour) and along a beach I love.  (And then having a fun dinner at a little French restaurant on the way home.  Perfect.)

Usually a hike is off the pavement, but even that’s negotiable.  A few weeks ago at Mount Rainier, we encountered dozens of people using walkers and even electric wheelchairs to hike.  The park has asphalt trails just above Paradise Lodge– very definitely a wild place.  So if you can’t make it without some mechanical help, don’t rule yourself out.

Hiking makes you strong—mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Go for it if you can. Not every hike will be to the Eighth Wonder of the World, but they all hold beauty and the chance to remember that we are part of something large and wonderful.  A hike is a way to connect—to nature, to the people with you, to others on the trail, to yourself, to the Divine.

You don’t have to live in southern Utah to be near a wild place.  Some city parks offer great hiking options.  (I have logged many miles in both Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and Hummel Park in Omaha.)  A wildlife refuge or a state park near you may have hiking options. You don’t have to start with the Appalachian Trail either.  Just find a path on public land and give it a try.

But be smart—go with at least one other person. Ask everyone you know about hiking if you don’t have someone to get on the trail with. I found a terrific hiking group via a public art advocacy group I belonged to.

Work on finding people to hike with if you have to.  Going with buddies is more fun.  And it’s safer.  That doesn’t mean you have to jabber the whole time you are on the trail.  Even when you are hiking with a group of twenty, you can spend part of the time in your own quiet space on the trail.  If a loved one is willing to give it a go, start there.  If not, look for organized hiking efforts that will give you a chance to meet others interested in getting out.

You can spring for boots once you know more about how and when you want to go, but wear sturdy shoes the very first time.  If you’re concerned about balance, take trekking poles or a walking stick.  (Ski poles work fine if you already have them.)  Learn about “the ten essentials.” If you hike in earnest, you want them with you.

Check with the information desk if you are in a park that has one.  See if there are online comments with current information about hikes in the area.  Talk to people on the trail.  (This often nets you a great idea for your next hike and sometimes people to go out with.)  If there are hiking guide books for your area, they’re great for not only finding the trailhead but also for giving tips on when the wildflowers will be in bloom or the fall color usually peaks.

You’ll amaze yourself at how far you can go eventually.  I hiked over 100 miles that first summer–in six to twelve mile chunks.  Most of those hikes involved at least 1000 feet of elevation gain.  Please don’t think I started this is good shape.  I wasn’t—but I was by the end of the hiking season!  I was just short of 60 that year, but some of the strongest hikers in our group are in their mid-70’s.  If you test yourself and try to do a bit more, where you end up is astounding.

Not every step of every hike is exhilarating.  It’s work.  But when you get to the destination you’re in awe both of the scenery and the fact that you got there.  It’s amazing.

Find a way. Take a hike.  It’s an exhilarating way to get outside.


The Secret of “Livin’ Large”

The Secret of “Livin’ Large”

Living the Good Life is not a matter of winning the lottery. People who have come into a lot of money often end up more miserable–and destitute–than before the “lucky” event.  Still, our fantasies are about having life suddenly become wonderful because we have all the money we could ever hope to require.

Remember the adage “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need”?  Well, that applies to money as a resource for “livin’ large”–in capital letters!

It’s not about “being able to have the money to do whatever I want.”  Money isn’t what’s stopping most of us.  We don’t put our priorities where our hearts are and then blame not having enough money for the disappointment.

Let’s try an experiment.  If you could do anything you chose with the day you are currently living, what would it be?  How many of you said “Buy a Ferrari”?  How many said “Buy a huge house with a massive pool and hire ten servants”?

It’s not the stuff that money can buy that makes the biggest difference.  Perhaps you said “Take my family on a cruise.”  Yes, that does take money, and you may not have it.  But what you want is some special time with your loved ones.  A cruise would be nice, but not doing anything because you can’t afford that keeps you from “livin’ large.”

There are all kinds of affordable directions to go with your fantasy of taking the family on a cruise.  You could do a “virtual cruise” where every family member chooses a port of call and then provides the images and information so everyone else feels a bit like they’ve been there.  (That means you would not be limited to a real route either.  On the web, going from Paris to Phuket, Thailand is just as fast as going from Minneapolis to St. Paul.)

Or you could invite everyone to your place for an overnight and do the “shipboard” things yourself–midnight buffet or elaborate dinner (with friends as staff), elegant clothes expected of the “cruisers”, ballroom dancing–or whatever parody of it you want to invent.

What you need is fun with your family.  Don’t wait around for someone to drop a wad of cash in your lap so you can do something someone else is trying to tell you and sell you as fun.

One of the most distressing aspects of our high-tech, buy-it-right-now culture is that we’ve forgotten how to invent fun.  We can chose any movie we want “on demand.”  We can buy clothes at midnight sitting at the computer in our underwear.  That progress may give us a lot of things “instantly” that we had to wait days or weeks and mount multiple shopping trips for before.  But it has left us a bit short in terms of creative success at coming up with an alternative when what we “want” is something we know we can’t afford–or find.  (It’s also whacked the daylights out of our ability to say “no” more often when “affording it” is a stretch.)

Livin’ large is about doing what you really want to do.  If your values and your actions are not in sync, no amount of money is going to make you happy.  If you are doing what you believe is the most important thing to do, most–if not all–of time, you are most likely grinning from ear to ear far more often than those more affluent and more rudderless.

If you want to feel rich, start with what you do with your time.  Annie Dillard said it well:  “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Do what you believe in.  Focus your time and energy on the people and things you enjoy.  Publisher’s Clearinghouse may come along anyway.  If so, you will find that a lot of money is nice, but a lot of meaning is better.

How Big IS This Problem?

How Big IS This Problem?

When things go wrong, it’s easy to assume there’s something worse going on than is actually the case. I learned this in my kitchen recently.

A week ago, my sweetie mentioned that the toaster was broken.  I thought maybe he’d just not had it completely plugged in when he discovered this, so I checked it myself.  (I am more familiar with this particular toaster.)  He was sort of right.  The toaster didn’t work when I plugged it in either.

Later that same day, I realized the cordless phone in my office wasn’t working.  The main phone of  that set is in the kitchen, so I checked that next.  It didn’t work either.  This duet had been part of the family for a while, so I assumed the main one had died of natural causes and taken the auxillary with it.

I got tired of running upstairs to the bedroom to answer the phone before I got tired of making toast in the oven–I replaced the phones first.  (Note:  this was the more complicated of the two malfunctions to remedy.  Duh.)  I installed the batteries, set up both phones, plugged them in, and left them to charge for the night.  The problem would be history in the morning, right?

Nope.  The  phone still didn’t work.

That’s when I remembered that the outlet where we use the toaster and the outlet where the main phone is plugged in are on the same circuit.  I got the toaster out of the trash (I know–gross) and tested it on a different circuit.  Back in the toast business!

I wrote myself a note to call the handyman about fixing the circuit.  I didn’t want to bother him on the weekend so we did without that circuit, which we use a lot, for two more days.  But at least we could make toast…

When I spoke with my ever so practical handyman, this little equioment failure project took an important turn in the right direction.  He asked if I’d checked GFI outlet that’s on that circuit.  “Of course,” I replied.  “The green light isn’t lit.”

“But did you try to do a reset on it?”

Oops.   Ah…duh…..

I didn’t need a new toaster.  I didn’t need new phones.  I didn’t need to repair the wiring in my house.  I just needed to reset the GFI outlet.  I could do that myself in literally ten seconds and did while I finished the conversation with the handyman.

Maybe this kind of behavior is why we go to the doctor so often.  We assume the worst rather than looking at easier-to-remedy scenarios.  A cold becomes “Maybe I’m coming down with pneumonia.”  And that fatigue?  Well, it could be tuberculosis or blocked arteries or whatever you’re imagining.  But it could be that you’re not drinking enough water.

The worst part of making this mistake in a medical situation  is that once you go to the doctor, it’s highly likely they’re going to collude with you and spend huge amounts of time, money, and resources looking for that complicated possibility.  Even if all that’s needed is a simple lifestyle change.  Or just three more days to get over that cold.

Most of the time, something much simpler is probably going on.  But professional medicine these days is not geared to simple solutions.  There’s so much technology and so many drugs to bring to bear that the non-technical options might not even been on the radar in many cases.

We need to do this part for ourselves as a baseline effort.  Really think about what simple things might be causing the problem, whether it’s medical or otherwise.  Seeing if the small things over which you have total control can make a difference rather than immediately assuming it’s a major problem can make your life a who lot smoother.


Is This Really a Problem?

Is This Really a Problem?

When the plan isn’t going the way you intended, don’t assume that’s a bad thing.  If you can stay open to what’s happening instead of what you thought should happen, life often has some exciting new offerings.

Everybody is nodding their heads, right?  It sounds so logical.  But let’s be honest.  It’s not typically how we react.  When things aren’t going the way we want, we do one of two things—try to get them back on track or complain.

This is also normal.  Humans are wired to be masters of their own lives.   Even newborns make noise in an attempt to get what they need.  However, there is a big difference between what we really need and what we’ve decided we’re supposed to get.

No, I’m not going to tackle the concept of entitlements with this—though we do need to start looking at that as a culture.  What I’m asking you to think about is this automatic rejection reaction that comes when things go off the path you chose for whatever you are trying to get done.

Sometimes, the alternative that pops up is much better than the strategy you’ve been focused on.  Sometimes the new situation can give you enough of a change in perspective that you recognize the original idea was not what you needed in the first place.  Sometimes, what develops in spite of your best laid plan is just plain more fun.

You will never know if you keep your “plan blinders” on and insist on getting things back in your chosen groove.

A lot of things we call problems are not. They are changes.  We dwell too much on the idea that we need to “fix” whatever isn’t what we had in mind.

As an alternative to asking “What do I do about this problem?” maybe we should be asking ourselves “What does this change?”  If it’s just the way you decided it was going to get done, tell your ego to take a nap and see where things could go using the new scenario.  “Problems” like an unexpected pregnancy, an adult child returning to live with you, or even the loss of a job are often the source of considerable joy and revitalization.

So….is it a problem?  Is someone or something going to be harmed if the change persists?  (e.g.  a flooded basement is a problem).  Is what’s changed going to keep what needs to happen for occurring or is it just a different way of getting there?  (A road washout can be either of these things, but missing the chance to go to a class you wanted is almost always the latter.)  Does the change in situation create real difficulty or is it, at the worst, an inconvenience?

Becoming more selective about what we see as a problem has some wonderful advantages.  Problems are stress producers.  Having fewer of them means less stress over all.

Recognizing changes in direction as opportunities instead of problems expands your world, too.  Even something as simple as having to take a different street because of road construction can make you aware of things you didn’t know before.  Maybe you discover a yoga studio offering just what you’ve been looking for.  Or a hardware specialty store that has just what you need.  Maybe it’s a park that’s perfect for a short break and a walk.

This idea that everything should go the way we want—and have already decided—is more counterproductive than it looks at first glance.  There is so much more to life than what we know.  Insisting on limiting what comes to what you can imagine means you miss out on all the options and opportunities that you’ve not yet had the chance to learn about.

Instead of focusing on “How do I fix this problem?” when plans start to unravel, learn to ask “What do I have to lose by seeing how this might unfold a different way?”  Seeing everything you didn’t get to decide as a “problem” makes life more stressful—and a whole lot less fun.


The Value of “Not Knowing”

The Value of “Not Knowing”

We live in a culture that dwells on “knowing,” but that may not be the best perspective for a good life. Accepting that you “don’t  know” is the first step toward learning something new. It’s also the fertile ground in which faith and hope grow.

Winter Solstice–the shortest day of the year–intrigues me more every year. What is there in the dark that I need to make peace with? What is there in “not knowing” that I need to value more than I do? There are insights the darkness has to give that I just keep glossing over as I reach to turn on yet another light. (This time of year is kind of like twilight alternating with midnight in the Pacific Northwest.)

Last year about this time, I got a really good lesson in what I’ve been missing about the dark–about accepting not being able to “see” everything. I was having a major problem with leg pain and was sure I knew what was causing it–an inherited nerve problem that pops up every once in a while in new and different ways and takes six months or more to heal. But my “knowing” was false and I prolonged recovery unnecessarily by assuming I had it all figured out. As it turned out, the problem was with my back. Once I sought help and learned that, I could also learn the exercises the physical therapist customized for me for the problem. (She was excellent at being comfortable “not knowing.”   The first session was 90 minutes of her figuring out just what made it hurt so she could show me what to do to make it not hurt.)

Not knowing was essential to solving the problem. I skipped that step and made myself miserable for six months.

We’ve been doing the same thing in Congress of late. Entrenched positions rest heavily on the assumption that you alone–or with your cronies–know what’s needed. The resulting opinion is rigid and impervious to other ways of seeing the problem, other options for creating a solution, and collaboration in general. How can we solve anything if people who don’t know are convinced beyond a doubt that they do know?!

Becoming comfortable with not knowing connects you to the larger world. When you know you don’t know, you see yourself as just a piece of a grander whole. It’s not “all about you”–the world is bigger than what you can comprehend.  Grasping that makes your need for control diminish. Instant stress relief!

Even better, not knowing means there’s room for faith. For believing that there’s more to come. That you will have help when you need it. That you will know at some point in the future. That life is unfolding, and that your place in the Universe is real but not totally revealed. That faith might be in God, but it can also be in the goodness of man, the rightness of what comes into your life, in the importance of loving. Faith takes you out of the realm of “having to know” and suspends you in acceptance that you can’t know–and that that’s just fine.

Not knowing also sows the seeds of hope. The mystery of tomorrow has more room for good surprises and happy outcomes when we don’t engineer it from what we think should come next.

In a few more days, many of us will engage in that interesting process called “New Year’s resolutions.” It’s good to want to improve, and we do know enough to make a few plans for new directions with our lives. But leave room in that planning for not knowing. Learning is an on-going process. We should still “not know” all that we hope to on the day we die. And may we have many happy days of “not knowing” before that comes.