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Archive for December, 2012

Words for 2013

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

What words do you want to define your life in 2013? The right ones might make a difference in how things unfold for the next 12 months.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve come upon two different sets of “words to live by.” Both were offered as a way to improve the quality of our time here on earth.

The first set belongs to spiritual author Eckhart Tolle.  His three words are ACCEPTANCE, ENJOYMENT, ENTHUSIASM.  I like those words, even though there’s no catchy acronym for using them.  (“AEE”  sounds like a mouse is loose in the house.)

“Acceptance” is the first step in making life sizzle.  You won’t have a dime’s worth of success–or fun–if what you think you are doing doesn’t mesh with reality.

“Enjoyment” belongs on everyone’s plate, but too often, we assume someone else is supposed to dish it up for us.  What am I going to do to be sure I ENJOY my life?

And “enthusiasm”?  Well, it’s one of my favorite words, trumped only by it’s first cousin, exeburance.  Let’s hear it for being–and staying–exited!

Accept, enjoy and stay excited.  Sounds like a pretty compact recipe for a good life.  I gotta try that one.  (Again.  This set came from notes I took several years ago. How can I forget such important things so easily!)

The second set of words is from book marketing guru Brian Jud in his December newsletter.  His set has four words.  He offered them in the context of writing and selling books, but they are actually as generic as Tolle’s.  Jud’s set:  DISCOVER, ADAPT, RESPECT, EMPOWER.  (The first letters from his turn cleverly into the word:  DARE.)

He offered the words, but I’m adding my take as I present them here.  (So if you hate what I’m writing here, don’t blame Brian.)  For me, DISCOVER means you need to explore what excites you and use that to keep yourself motivated.  Doing what you love is the fastest way to success no matter what you are trying to do.

ADAPT adds the fact that you need to work within reality  Life is a lot easier if you’re working at coming up with effective ways of dealing with what’s actually going on around you instead of trying to solve what you thought was going on last year–or the year before that…or never.

You need to RESPECT yourself first–and that’s Jud’s point.  But take in farther than that–do what you can to respect everyone and everything.   Respect requires equal parts  of tolerance,  humility and wisdom.  Much as it looks weak, it has great power.  Respecting others builds bridges, spans chasms, and links worlds.  (And disrespect throw everything off kilter in a heartbeat.)

With his last word, EMPOWER, Jud also points inward, as in “empower yourself.” That is good advice, for sure, but you can gain even more from it by taking this farther, too.  When you empower others, your effort comes back to create even more energy for yourself.

It really doesn’t make a lot of difference if you use the nouns (ACCEPTANCE, ENJOYMENT, ENTHUSIASM) or the verbs (DISCOVER, ADAPT, RESPECT, EMPOWER).  The real key is in using something.

Much of the time, we rush around just trying to get everything done.  But when you put the daily manic effort in the context of prioritizing that comes from word maps like the two I’ve just described, life can take a calming turn.  They don’t have to be these sets of words.  Maybe you’d be happier with ones you came up with on your own.

What are you trying to do with 2013?  Bubble?  Meander?  Forge?  What words energize you when they come to mind?   Giving?  Rest?  Forgiveness?

Instead of New Years Resolutions, maybe it’s time to try a word map.



George Ain’t Gonna Do It

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

When I was a kid, there was a phrase “Let George do it.” The comment was usually offered when something needed to be done but the speaker didn’t want to be the one to do it. The message was “I shouldn’t have to take care of this.”

I haven’t heard that phrase in a long time, but it’s not gone. The idea that somebody else should handle whatever distasteful task needs to be done is a frustratingly robust part of our cultural mindset.  But now it’s assumed at such a basic level that nobody bothers to even mutter the words.

So let’s get this straight. George is not going to do it.  George will not balance the budget–at any level. George is not going to reduce the federal deficit by taking responsible action to both curb spending and increase revenues. George is not going to keep our grandkids from having to pay down debt we incurred by waiting for him to do it. And, most tragically, George is not going to keep our loved ones safe from unbalanced people with guns and a total disregard for human life.  George isn’t even going to shovel that 2 feet of snow off your sidewalk before someone falls on the resulting ice after the melt-and-freeze-again routine begins.

We have to stop waiting for George to do it. We’re making things so much harder so many ways by shirking our collective responsibility to do the hard things now.

Congress can’t just sit there waiting for “the other side” to blink.  Parents with difficult children can’t assume that they’re the only ones who will ever be affected by the child’s troubles.  Municipalities can’t keep assuming “the economic recovery” will rescue them from incredibly inefficient spending patterns.  Gun lovers can’t assume that no one else will ever get hold of their weapons.  All of us need to stop assuming that because we want–or even truly need–it, the government should provide it.

We all need to stop assuming that it’s other people who should feel the pain to get it all back on track.

This is not popular stuff.  We are mired in the absurdity of recognizing at the rational level that we, personally and culturally, need to choose a very different course while remaining emotionally intractable about accepting the bitter but unavoidable medicine we all need to take.

Pointing to millionaires and assuming that just having them pay more taxes will solve our gargantuan federal budget problems is like expecting the garden plot in your back yard to produce enough potatoes to save Somalia from famine.   Assuming that stricter gun laws will keep our children–and everyone–safe from lunatics is as naive as believing that the only threat from a hurricane is the wind.

Nothing is going to happen until we all accept that, personally, this is going to hurt.  AARP and other senior lobbies yell about not changing Medicare and Social Security.  Don’t be ridiculous.  Not seeing the need to change–by cleaning up the massive amount of fraud, reducing the options for those who can afford to take care of themselves, changing the enrollment age, etc. are reasonable things to do to get both programs on stable ground.

Same deal with gun control.  The National Rifle Association and its “pry it from my cold dead hands” mentality needs to start thinking in terms of “how can we own guns responsibly and safely” instead of “everyone should have as many as they want.”

We have become a nation of sound bites and spin.  We need to go back to looking for real solutions instead of worrying about how things are going to play with the talking heads.

And the talking heads?  To be sure, the media need to make a course correction as well.  Striving to provide responsible news coverage instead of opinions dressed up like facts would be a good start.  Advocating for collaboration and mutual problem solving instead of braying from one or the other political extreme when editorials are warranted would also help a lot.

But let’s get back to you and me.  We need to ignore the pundits’ opinions–liberal and conservative.  We need to look for information, not validation in what we absorb of the news.  We need to balance our own budgets. We need to take action when someone we love appears to be in emotional jeapardy.  We need to stop assuming someone else is responsible for all the violence youth absorb in so many forms these days and take whatever action we can to stop the flow of that toxic mind food.  We need to insist that our bureaucrats and legistlators spend our tax money–and other revenue–well.

We cannot wait for George to do it anymore.  We have to do it–by accepting that we can’t have everything we’d like to have from the government, by helping our neighbors in need instead of assuming the government will handle it, by taking action to deal with the dangers emotionally troubled people pose to themselves and others, by insisting that video game designers and movie moguls come up with something more enticing than violence as their special of the day.

We are all George.  We need to do it.


Gated Communities

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Living in a gated community is supposed to be a big plus. I am currently trying to adjust to that lifestyle, and I can’t find it.  When I leave in the car, I have to wait for the gate.  When I come back, I better have the remote with me or I will have to pull around to the keypad at the main entrance (which is not the most direct route to my house) and enter the “secret code”–and then wait for the gate.  If I want to go for a real walk without doing laps (which has all the allure of watching paint dry) I have to have a key.  If I don’t, I am locked in. This gate has way too much control of my life, and I dislike it intensely.

I suspected this would be the case when I agreed to live here for a year, but it’s still good to check it out.  Okay.  I’ve checked it out.  This gate sucks.  Lucky for me, it’s a temporary problem.

My simmering resentment of this gate has brought some interesting insights.  Gates have two purposes–to control what gets out and to control what gets in.  In the developer’s zeal to keep “the bad things” out around here, we are all essentially kept in–or at least required to wait while access to the rest of the world is granted.  How many of these “gate” situations am I adding to my life without really thinking about them?

When I first started living here, I would just walk inside the gate because that was the obvious solution to the gate’s existence.  When I did that, I let my everyday world shrink big time. That was a very scary realization.  There I was, giving up access to things that should be in my life because of some artificial and arbitrary restricted access.

I also started seeing the world just outside the gate–which has similar houses, the same police protection, etc.–as “dangerous” simply because they were outside the gate.  Did the crime stats support that.  Of course not.

The gate also severely limits who can come into my life while I am on the premises.   My friends and family have to fiddle with the keypad or call from the phone at the gate to have us let them in.  One brother used to stop at my house when he was in the neighborhood and leave his business cards in funny places if I wasn’t home.  Now, he’d have to leave it at the gate.  Delievery drivers who miss the few hours when the gate is open on  business days either have to come back or make me come get what they were supposed to deliver.  I am not seeing this as a big advantage.

Why do we have this gate?  It’s supposed to make us more secure.  The “bad people” can’t get in so we are supposedly safer.  There may be a few residents who love the “exclusivity of it.”  I am not in that camp.  We’ve created our own little ghetto.  What is the point?

There are good places to use gates.  You need to keep the cows in.  You need to keep the baby out of the stairwell.  You need to be sure your inventory is not at the mercy of anyone who decides they need that size lumber or stone or motorcycle or bonzai tree.

But this idea that we can be kept safe from Life by a couple of gates is just plain wrong.  It’s easy to start believing that you need that protection, that going out into the world is too dangerous to attempt.  This kind of thinking–more than the real physical aging of our bodies–makes us “old.”  We worry about safety and seek the predictability of the status quo instead of searching for new adventures and fresh things to experience and learn.

It’s true, the world can be dangerous.  But it can also be wonderous and full of excitement.   Besides, that gate isn’t all that effective. An article on the International Foundation of Protective Officers website looked at whether gated communities deter crime.  Studies they cited found only a small benefit, mostly related to car thefts.  The article noted that Neighorhood Watch programs are far more effective.

But Neighborhood Watch efforts can’t be packaged in slick real estate advertising.  So we buy into that new development with the gate because of a real estate sales pitch and stop worrying about getting to know our neighbors and staying aware of what’s going on around us when we are home.  And think we are safer when we aren’t!

Gated communities are just one more way to complicate our lives while reducing their richness.  Knowing your neighbor is a whole lot more fun than waiting for a gate. Think twice before you go for the gated community–whether you’re 55, 85, or 35.








Thanks for Making Me Laugh

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Some people just leave you feeling a lot better about how your day is going. They are usually not the ones urging you to stay the course when everything is going up in flames or down in smoke.  The folks who do the most good are light-hearted.  They are the people who make you laugh.

Certain people  can do this no matter what you talk to them about.  When I was managing natural gas distribution for a bunch of small towns in Iowa, I worked with a corporate Public Relations person who had this talent.  For those three years of my life, it seemed like some major thing went wrong at least once a week—and usually on Friday at 5:00 PM.  But even when we were working on how to handle things like grand larceny and onsite protests, this woman would manage to say something that made me laugh. I’ve had my radar tuned for these kind of people ever since.

The kind of friend I just described is priceless, no doubt.  But there are other ways people help you laugh.  The people who are willing to do silly or outrageous things with you are a blessing, too.  My siblings do this for me.  One brother and I spent months on The Nun-of-the-Month Club—a complicated practical joke that provided on-going “laughter therapy” that whole time.

Being silly can diffuse something potentially infuriating.  After a 20-year marriage that involved losing the argument about having a “real Christmas tree” every year ended, I was keen to honor my own preferences. But my kids were not available to celebrate Christmas until January 8 that year.  Even in the Pacific Northwest, trying to keep a real tree fire-safe that long seemed impossible.  I definitely didn’t want an artificial tree yet again.  The whole thing seemed unreasonable to me.

I was so close to exploding about it that I didn’t do anything at all—until a few days before Christmas.  Then I asked my brothers, who were both coming to dinner on Dec. 25, to help me build a tree out of odds and ends.  Bless them, they took my silliness seriously and brought supplies and ideas to add to what I’d come up with for the project.

And thus started one of my best Christmas memories ever.  My sister-in-law said we sounded like a bunch of little kids.  After the design and structural support phases were done–where we acted like intelligent adults, we attacked the challenge with the exuberance of five-year-olds.  We even put a name on the thing, using leftover mailbox letters that had been hiding in my garage. We had such a good time with the whole effort we almost forgot about Christmas dinner.

Sometimes, the angels who make you laugh are very young.  The first time I babysat my first granddaughter overnight, both her parents and I were a bit concerned about how it would go.  As my “secret weapon,” I’d brought along a bin of silly stuff (mostly hats) that I started collecting after reading Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet.  My pint-sized charge very carefully put sixteen strings of Mardi Gras beads around her neck and then donned a plastic Viking helmet from the bin.

Not only did our little Mardi Gras Viking Princess make me double over with laughter, the photo I texted to her anxious parents helped Mom and Dad relax and enjoy their getaway.  Sometimes it’s what a child says. Sometimes, it’s what she does.  Sometimes, it’s what  you do together,  But so often they are the perfect tonic for an otherwise hard day.

Yes, we are blessed when there are people in our lives who make us laugh.  But it’s about more than just having a special friend or a happy child that can get you guffawing.  It’s not just a case of having someone who helps you laugh.  We’d all be a lot better off if we could help others laugh, too.  It’s a great form of giving.

At one point in my life, I decided I needed to study humor.  I got a lot of books on it and started working through them methodically.  That proved absolutely lethal–I killed the very essence of “funny” by approaching it so rationally.  So let’s not get too serious about this.  Humor is delicate, highly situational, and personal.  Just stop fretting about everything and say—or do–what seems funny to you.  With that strategy, you can even make yourself laugh.

I did confirm one really important universal truth about this funny business at a writers’ conference a while back.  Jonathan Winters, one of the wackiest guys on TV at one point, was a surprise guest speaker at the humor workshop one day.  His advice:  Laugh with people not at them.  Laughing with people says “We’re in this together and we can handle it.”  Laughing at people says “I’m better than you—or him.”  That’s not humor; it’s meanness.

So that’s your homework for this week.  Laugh.  Then make someone else laugh.