9 April 2019 : Ask For What You Want

In 2010, I asked Matt Harding, whose “Where the Hell is Matt” video has been viewed over 50 million times on YouTube, to come meet my students. You’ve probably seen the video:

Back in 2010, I know I had seen it, as had pretty much all of my students at Puget Sound Community School in Seattle. Learning that the creator, Matt Harding, was in Seattle, I wrote to him to see if he’d be willing to come talk to them.

In fact, here’s that actual email thread:

From: Andy Smallman
Date: May 18, 2010 11:41:13 PM PDT

You’re in Seattle and I started a hip nonprofit middle & high school in Seattle. One thing we do at our hip school is expose our students to interesting people. You qualify. Care to come meet some students and talk about your life? You don’t even have to dance. Hell, talk about video games for all I care.
That’s all.

Andrew Smallman | Director

———————————–

From: Matthew Harding
Date: May 20, 2010 12:25:18 PM PDT

Hi Andrew

Sure. When would you like me to come?

-Matt

———————————–

From: Andy Smallman
Date: May 20, 2010 5:01:31 PM PDT

Wow!! Really?! That’s wonderful! Thank you!

By chance, would Tuesday morning, June 8th, around 10am work for you?? We’re in the International District at 7th & Dearborn, not far from Uwajimaya.

And I think you’ll appreciate knowing that I shared your video with the students & staff at the end of the school day today and then shared your email response below (part of my “lesson” on asking what you want), and the room erupted with excitement.

Thanks again! I look forward to hearing back from you.

 –Andy

———————————–

From: Matthew Harding
Date: May 21, 2010 3:20:53 AM PDT

Sure. I will put it in my calendar. But please send me a reminder a day or two before, just in case. I forgot one morning and slept in, leaving kids waiting for 45 minutes and I felt TERRIBLE.

I like that lesson. Glad I could help show your students that sometimes it’s that easy 🙂

-Matt

———————————–

From: Andy Smallman
Date: May 21, 2010 3:18:17 PM PDT

Matt,

Outstanding! And I’m happy to remind you. Consider this your first reminder:

WHEN: June 8, 2010, 10–11am
WHERE: Puget Sound Community School, 660 S Dearborn St, Seattle 98134
DIRECTIONS: http://www.pscs.org/directions.htm

Go for what you want. Ask for what you want. Be bold! That is THE lesson of our school. Imagine a school based on that, or in which that and its manifestations becomes the operative purpose and you’ll start to understand us. We just had a local band onsite performing and they invited students to jam with them. It was magical. We had a guy from France in last September who is walking around the world and happened to be in Seattle. One of our students interviewed a MacArthur Genius Award recipient (kindergarten teacher Vivian Paley) for a project.

We surround our students with cool and interesting people and let the chips fall where they may.

See you on the 8th!

 –Andy

———————————–

Matt was a great speaker. He talked about his work as a video game designer and how he started the little dance routine that became an Internet sensation. And, yes, he did invite the students to do his dance with him; in fact, he filmed it. Learn more about what Matt’s up to these days on his website.

The lesson here is to be bold, to ask for what you want. The answer often is yes.

When you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

27 March 2019 – Poised Between the Known & Unknown

(This article was first published in September, 2017 on the Center For Courage & Renewal website. Since then, I’ve stepped down from PSCS and relocated to the Bay Area with Melinda, my focus on working to promote kindness, cheerfulness, and positivity. For those interested in the Courage on the Threshold workshop referenced below, Karen and Emily, the facilitators, are offering it again this summer at the same location.)

In 1994 my wife, Melinda Shaw, and I founded the Puget Sound Community School (PSCS), a Washington state approved private school with an extraordinary philosophy based on trust that serves middle & high school students. At the end of June 2017, Melinda stepped down from the position she held at PSCS for 23 years. For the school and for me (not to mention Melinda), this was a huge change.

To assist me with this transition, that summer I participated in a retreat offered by the Center for Courage & Renewal, one called Courage on the Threshold: Embracing Life’s Changes with Integrity & Grace.

Upon arrival at the retreat at the incredible St Andrew’s House in Union, WA, I was greeted by Karen Harding, one of the facilitators, who gave me directions about how to find my room. I set down my bag and set up my bed, then went downstairs to meet some of the other participants. We sat on a deck looking out over the Puget Sound, iced drinks in hand.

From this first informal interaction to when the retreat ended about 48 hours later, I was immersed in an environment of care and support that is unfortunately rare for adults to experience. Karen and her co-facilitator, Emily Chamberlain, held the space through their planned activities, all of which began with us considering and then reflecting on a relevant poem, along with their compassionate blend of empathy and encouragement.

My favorite activity was led by Emily on Saturday afternoon. We gathered in the main meeting room to find that Emily had placed a number of photographs in the center. After a centering exercise, Emily asked us to take a closer look at the photos and select one to which we felt especially drawn. Upon inspection, it was clear that each photo had some kind of threshold or passage. I spent a lot of time looking, allowing myself to move from an impulse to just select something in order to complete the task and not take time away from others, to a form of conscientious surrender Emily and Karen had been encouraging us to allow. My experience became a partnership between me and the photo I would select. It may sound crazy to say, but it was both me finding the photo and the photo finding me.

It happened almost as if a bright light shone down on the photo I was meant to choose. The picture was of a thin red door to a small white building. A sign on the door said “Please enter in silence,” yet the door appeared to be held closed by a padlock. The way the photo was taken, I couldn’t tell how one would access the door. Was there a porch, a front step, or something else?

I considered the photo for quite a long time, then, following Emily’s directions, I wrote what I was thinking and feeling about it. As I wrote, a calm came over me and I realized that what the photo held for me was meaning having to do with being locked out from something safe and loving. As I reflected, I realized that I had been creating conflict in a situation that needed to be handled with a partnership mentality. Recognizing this, the padlock broke and I saw myself entering through the red door to a room bathed in warm light, my closest friends and family all present to greet me. It had both the symbolism one might associate with death, like entering heaven, or birth, like an incarnation into community.

I returned to the meeting room, glowing from the experience. The next task was to share it with a partner. As it turned out, I was partnered with facilitator Karen. We took time sharing our stories with each other while walking around the amazing property, both that at St Andrew’s House and that next door. Karen’s ability to listen and simply hold my story without judgment allowed me to grasp it in a more concrete way.

The selection of the photo, the time to consider the image, and the sharing of one’s experience, each of these components of the activity were necessary for me to discover meaning that carried to my actions at PSCS several months later. This is no small thing.

The retreat concluded early Sunday afternoon with an opportunity for participants to share our feelings and reactions to the three days worth of activities. As I thought about what to say, an image of something I had recently discovered in my neighborhood in Seattle came to my mind, a little patch of land with a sign dubbing it the “Give and Take Garden.”

On the manicured ground around the sign were a number of trinkets and toys, things I decided a child had placed hoping some would be taken while inspiring passersby to give other items. In the closing circle, an idea I long held, that giving and taking, or receiving, are each part of a necessary system.

One can’t give unless someone else is willing to receive. In receiving, one is giving the giver the opportunity to give.

Put simply, what I experienced at the retreat was a form of giving and receiving at a core human level. One fed the other to the point of becoming the other, then to the point of them being the same thing. The system was fundamental all weekend, from the way Karen and Emily invited us to participate to how the participants treated each other. The giving and receiving included the location and the food that was lovingly and mindfully prepared for us.

As part of our closing ceremony, the facilitators gave us a token with the word “Courage” on it. I held mine in my hand as we wrapped up, clear that after I got home I would place it in the Give & Take Garden. I wonder who has it now…

19 March 2019 : How to Appreciate the Mundane Tasks in Our Lives

We all have repetitious tasks that may seem tedious, even boring to do, so much so that we might complete them on auto-pilot. But these are often the tasks that need to get to done to ensure the bigger projects get done.

If it helps, think about what happens to your teeth if you don’t brush them every day.

This also holds true in our relationships with others, be they personal or professional. In the relationship dynamic, we all have tedious jobs to complete in order for the relationship to work.

For a little exercise, get out a pen and piece of paper and write down at least five tedious tasks you do that enhance one of your personal relationships.

If you’ve chosen a home relationship and you live with others, your list might include grocery shopping, doing the laundry and/or the dishes, making the bed, cleaning the bathrooms, changing the toilet paper roll…

In all likelihood, your list quickly grew to more than five tasks.

Next, consider what kind of breakdown would occur if you didn’t do one of the tasks. For instance, if your list includes grocery shopping and you don’t do it, there won’t be food in the house. And if there isn’t food in the house, what would happen next?

People would be hungry?

You’d have to eat out, which might mean you wouldn’t be eating healthy food, and you might go over your budget, thus impacting your plans for an upcoming vacation?

Again, you can likely extend this pretty far and pretty quickly, including the lack of food having a negative impact on your relationships.

As I said earlier, the point here is that the little tasks getting done is what leads to the bigger projects happening. When you do the grocery shopping, for instance, you are saving toward the family’s summer vacation.

Now it’s all well and good to simply think about the little tasks that WE, ourselves, do. It’s a more challenging exercise to identify the little tasks others do and from which we derive benefit.
In other words, who else in your relationship dynamic is doing the little things in a way that helps ensure your family will get to go on its summer vacation?

On your paper, try to write down five tedious tasks that are done by someone else in a personal relationship with you. You’ll likely find this to be more difficult to do than creating your list of tasks, the reason being that we tend to take for granted the tasks completed by others.

We are even more likely to take them for granted when they are done consistently, for the simple reason that we don’t notice them being done. For instance, if doing the laundry isn’t on your list, the fact that you have clean underwear in your drawer is due to the efforts of someone else.

With these things in mind, consider the word “synergy,” which, at its root, means “working together.” In practice, the word has come to mean working together WELL.

When there is food in the house and underwear in the drawers, and hundreds of other things are completed and/or available, there is synergy at play. This synergy allows for smooth functioning in the home, which stabilizes the home lives of everyone.

So think again about those little tasks you do, but do so with this awareness of synergy. You are contributing to the smooth working of your home.

Further, we all have had times in which we are functioning so well with others that we feel we are part of a whole. It is at these times that we gain glimpses of the concept that we are part of something greater than ourselves. This form of synergy awareness is warming and provides us energy.

Here’s another way to think about the ideas of synergy and that we all are part of something bigger than ourselves:

Holographic images can be recorded on glass. Looking at them, they appear 3-D despite being in 2-D form, and seen from different angles give you the look of seeing the image from different perspectives. Further, if the glass that holds the image is broken, each piece contains the whole image. It’s not like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that have to be reassembled to form a whole.

Each piece CONTAINS the whole (learn more here).

With that in mind, consider the value each member of a team plays in making the whole team function, like the five basketball players on the floor during a game, that have to work together well in order for any one of them to excel.

Next, consider that every person on a team is one piece of glass of a broken hologram, each piece containing the whole. Seen like this, our responsibility as individuals is to contribute positively to the whole, to do our part to make sure the team functions at its best.

Now apply this same concept to those with whom you share a home.

Are you familiar with the Dr. Seuss book “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” Many people see this book, intended for children, as a way to focus on how to feel better about their lives by comparing them to the lives of less fortunate, albeit silly, characters.

For instance, this quote comes from page 24:

And poor Mr. Potter,
T-crosser,
I-dotter.
He has to cross t’s
and he has to dot i’s
in and I-and-T factory
out in Van Nuys.

Yes, poor Mr. Potter.

These may seem like meaningless tasks he has to do, but if Mr. Potter doesn’t do them, an attention to detail is lost that will contribute to a significant problem down the line, just like what would happen if you didn’t do the grocery shopping or someone else didn’t doing the laundry.

As such, I encourage you to appreciate when you have to be Mr. Potter and to acknowledge when others are doing their “Mr. Potter” tasks. Extended to our places of businesses, to our cities, to our country, and to the world, it’s how everything keeps functioning.

Ultimately, we’ll come to appreciate that it’s completing the repetitious tasks in our lives that move us closer to peace on earth.

11 March 2019 : Reflections on Looking for a Job

Looking for a job in 2019 is a humbling experience.

Especially after having worked at the same place for 24 years, a place that I helped create. As such, I haven’t had to apply anywhere for quite a long time. I didn’t even have to apply for the job I had before the one I created for myself. It was offered because I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Come to think of it, the last time I applied for a job was in 1988. I created my resumé on something called a typewriter. I filled out the job application with something called a pen.

Geez, I sound old. In fact, I can hear you asking if I used something called the post office to deliver my completed application.

No, I delivered it in person, actually, and shook the hand of the person to whom I handed it.

Enough nostalgia.

Part of my current challenge is I’m finding myself all over the map when it comes to what I want to do next. I go in three different directions, sometimes within minutes of each other, each with their own compelling draws.

MINUTE #1

In the first minute, I’m drawn to the idea of simply going out in the world and trying to be of service. I’ve considered training programs for becoming a Spiritual Director, looked at applying for a weekend job at a neighborhood toy store not far from my home, and contacted an organization that helps train therapy dogs and their handlers to visit places like senior centers and children’s hospitals.

For a visual, I see myself doing something like Lucy from the comic strip Peanuts did. She set up a booth out on the street with a sign at the top offering help for the price of 5 cents, and a note at the bottom indicating whether the “doctor” was “in” or “out”. You might recall Charlie Brown coming by, plopping himself down, and pouring out his heart.

I will say that Lucy wasn’t too good at doling out advice, and I see my role as being there just to support folks, knowing that support is a two-way street. I’d get as good as I gave, I’m sure.

Turns out someone beat me to the idea. A New York pastor started doing this very thing a few years ago, down to creating a booth that looks like Lucy’s, outside his church.

My idea also makes me think of the outstanding Kurt Vonnegut novel “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.” Written in the 1960’s, the themes still have relevance today, specifically around the idea of philanthropy. The protagonist of the story, Eliot Rosewater, the son and only heir to an elderly millionaire, decides he wants to use his family fortune to help others.

Lawyers get involved to try proving that Eliot is certifiably insane.

It’s from this book that one of Vonnegut’s most famous quotes is found, and it is delivered through the warmth of his protagonist after he’s asked what he’d like newborns to know upon their arrival on Earth.

Eliot says he’d tell them:

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”

This first minute, which must feel like a heck of a lot longer than a minute by now, also finds me promoting ordinary acts of kindness online, activity that includes having written daily compassion “missions” for the 2019 World Interfaith Harmony Week, posting weekly inspirational poems to social media sites, and adapting the 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching into kindness-based poems.

Unfortunately, at least so far, none of these activities involve income. Well, I should take that back. I do acknowledge that I made $2.15 last week on Medium and my Patreon site is up to $15 in monthly pledges.

Enough of that first minute…

MINUTE #2

In the next minute, the second, I find myself thinking about the fact that I’m in my mid 50’s and might want to consider my retirement (ie — put some money away). In this minute I spend a lot of time reading job postings in the Bay Area. Most make my eyes water, probably a combination of tears, worry, and too much time staring at a computer screen.

Because, really, applying for work in 2019 involves a lot of computer screen staring, and hardly any time talking to actual people.

Still, I admit, there is some relief that comes from picturing myself with a job that has a guaranteed income and benefits, little things like health care, eyeglasses, and a rambling selection of numbers and letters like 4, 0, 1, and k (in parentheses).

MINUTE #3

In the third minute, I find a profound sense of peace, purpose, and meaning. I get creative. When in it, I’m convinced it’s one we can all access; in fact, I think babies and dogs are accessing it most of the time. It’s where fear dissipates and love emerges. When I’m in this state, something flows through me. This poem came out of one of those third minutes. Unsurprising, this shows up when I’m quiet and instead of thinking externally I reflect internally.

I will say that the third minute doesn’t come when I wake up in the middle of the night, as quiet as it is then, something that happens more recently now and usually involves a trip to the bathroom. These middle of the night sessions are, I think, a subset of the second minute and usually involve worry, a profound longing to see my children, and then, ultimately, noise-cancelling headphones — white noise and/or Native American flutes.

Another thing about this third minute, I’ve been communicating a lot via email with my friends David & Julie Spangler. David is a fairly well-known author, educator, philosopher, and mystic. His focus these days is promoting what he calls Incarnational Spirituality, the idea that we are born into bodies not to gain wisdom or to move on to some higher place after we die or to return to some greater whole. In our own individual wholeness, we are here to enhance other wholenesses.

For a mundane example, in rush hour I am a whole driver, just as are the other drivers. The traffic jam also is a wholeness of sorts, too. If I elevate my wholeness over that of other drivers, I get mad at their actions. In getting mad at their actions, I ignore the wholeness of the traffic jam.

Anger, divisiveness, etc result. Sound familiar?

The idea of Incarnational Spirituality calms me, which is why I’m putting it in the third minute and not in the first, although there is some strong overlap. In fact, if you want to learn more about it, you can join me Thursday night at 5pm PDT to hear Julie explain it via a free webinar.

So…

I was supposed to interview for a job last week, but it got cancelled by the COO of the company. It was for a Bay Area tech company management position. If hired, I would have been helping IT consultants bring more of their humanity to their jobs. I would have had a decent salary and all those desired benefits.

I was kind of excited by it, and disappointed when it fell through. I could actually see my work station as being a sort of Lucy-style booth with the IT consultants swinging by (or me coming to them) to get my support.

As such, was it more than a second minute job? Maybe having a second minute job actually frees up the first and third minutes…

So, yeah, looking for a job in 2019 is a humbling experience. I think the key for me as I move forward is finding work and arranging my life in a way that caters to all three minutes.

28 January 2019 : Focusing Our Attention on the Profound

A teacher once told me the story of two people walking at dawn one morning, the rising sun at their backs. One paused and turned to look at the beautiful sunrise, awed by its beauty.

Wanting to share it, he tapped the shoulder of his friend, who turned to look and was equally awed.

Stop and consider this story for a minute to contemplate its meaning or meanings. One comes from recognizing the important role we have to help those in our lives be aware of meaningful things.

Related to that, however, is the truth that try as we might we can never MAKE another person be aware of something. We may WANT to share things with others, but they still have to turn, literally and/or metaphorically, to see them.

THEY have to do the physical and mental work.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve found what has become an even bigger lesson for me from this story. It’s that we all are being tapped on our shoulders all the time. Every second of every day we are offered opportunities to see meaningful things.

Many of us wonder who or what does what I’m calling this shoulder-tapping. Call it Source, or Light, or Intelligence, or God, or some other name. For my purposes, though, putting a name to what taps us is not the most important thing.

What’s important is to recognize that we are being tapped, the practice of focusing our attention. In other words, I have the responsibility to do the physical and mental work, to turn and look so to speak.

As I gain experience doing this, I learn there is also discipline involved in the practice. Undisciplined, my attention is drawn to all sorts of things — negative news stories, certain uses of social media, drama from the sports world — which distract me from what is actually meaningful.

I sometimes even fool myself into believing the distracting things are important.

Disciplined, I learn to see the difference between the distracting and the divine, between the pointless and the profound.

In time, I find that I’ve come to internally filter out the things that distract me, which allows me to gently focus on the divine and the profound.

Like a sunrise.

12 November 2018 : Kindness is Out There Waiting For Us to Find

I once facilitated a high school literature class that included reading Annie Dillard’s book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” Dillard begins chapter two by sharing that when she was a small child she’d sometimes hide a penny in her neighborhood for someone to find.

She’d write out directions with chalk that lead to the penny, with statements like “Surprise Ahead” or “Money This Way,” and imagine the excitement of the person smart enough to follow the directions to the prize.

Later in chapter 2, Dillard refers to nature as providing “lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises.”

She says: “The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand.”

Wow!

Dillard is suggesting there are all sorts of kindnesses out there just waiting for us to find. The warmth of the sun, the scent of a flower, the laughter of a child, these are all intended to remind us that the world is a wonderful place.

By simply being alive we are provided opportunities to be the recipient of what Dillard calls “a generous hand” (substitute another phrase or word if you prefer). Additionally and equally important, we also can serve this purpose by strewing “pennies” of our own out into the world.

How?

Through acts of ordinary thoughtfulness and kindness, like holding open doors and smiling at the people we meet as we go about our day. By taking one extra step to notice and then do the nice things we can do.

Several years ago I facilitated an online kindness class called Kindness Blessings that involved the reading of a book called “My Grandfather’s Blessings” written by Rachel Naomi Remen.

Early in the book, Remen tells the reader that most people are given more blessings than they receive. I found this to be a very important concept and have spent a lot of time over the years thinking about it.

For one, I think it means we need to refine our ability to receive things. But I think it’s even more than that.
It has more to do with refining our ability to NOTICE things, both the things we receive and the opportunities we have to offer.

While facilitating that online class I was laid flat by a stomach virus. I hadn’t been that sick for several years and, to put it in perspective, the prior time was with appendicitis, no fun and games.

My wife and older daughter were away, and my younger daughter was home with me, apparently with the same bug. On top of that, we were away from home at the time, living in France for a year while on sabbatical.

Being sick and alone so far from home could cause one to feel very lonely. Instead, a neighbor showed up with bread and soup. Another friend not only asked if there was anything she could do, she phoned my daughter’s school to make sure they’d know she would be out for a few days.

Maybe these things sound small, maybe not.

Put another way, in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” Dillard asks, “But who gets excited by a mere penny?”

That’s our problem, isn’t it? We think that what we offer or what we receive isn’t big enough, as if finding a penny hidden by a 6 year-old child isn’t a big deal. 

Dillard goes on: “It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.”

The look on my neighbor’s face when she delivered the food and the tone of concern on the phone when speaking with our other friend was moving. They may have been among the kinds of things that at one point in my life I would have missed or, worse, taken for granted.

Instead, as I lay in back in bed that night reflecting on my day, disturbed by periodic stomach cramps, I was filled with gratitude:

“The world is in fact planted in pennies.”

So among our important roles in life include taking time to both plant and find “pennies.” While doing that, I encourage you to imagine that everyone else is doing the same thing.

Surprise ahead, indeed!

19 October 2018 : The Secret to Slowing Down Your Negative Reactions

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I’ve been thinking lately about times when I’ve jumped to an incorrect conclusion.

Like everyone, I take information I have about an event and I respond to it. But when my responses are negative or hurtful, this can be bad. This is especially so when my reactions are based on faulty information.

So it’s helpful for me to learn to delay the time between an activating event, something that contributes to me feeling negative, and my reaction to it, thus reducing my tendency to jump to an unreasonable conclusion or act out.

That is, if I practice.

A few years ago, I learned of something called the ETR Model, ETR referring to Events, Thoughts, and Reactions, that can help with this.

The ETR Model suggests that our thoughts happen so fast in response to an event that we don’t recognize them as even happening. We go straight from the event to a reaction, and then blame the event, and other people, for our reactions. But it’s our thoughts about events that cause our reactions, not the events themselves.

I find such a perspective extraordinarily empowering.

For instance, if all day long I’ve been excited about coming home to a spaghetti dinner and find hamburgers on the menu, I’ll likely be disappointed. If my wife and I talked about having spaghetti in the morning and then for a reason unknown to me she made the change, I might even be angry with her.

I’ll say that the event, the change in menu, made me mad.

In reality, it is the thought I had about spaghetti, the anticipation of the meal, that led to my anger and disappointment. My daughter, who doesn’t really like spaghetti but loves hamburgers, would be having a completely different reaction when she gets home.

Some scenario. Different reaction. The only thing different is how my daughter and I think about the event.

So what we need to do when we find we are having a negative reaction to a situation, even those as potentially insignificant as what we’re having for dinner, is catch ourselves and identify the thoughts we are having. This gives us time to review and, potentially, reframe the event.

One way to reframe a situation is to consider it from another perspective. In my dinner scenario, I could remind myself how fortunate I am to come home to a meal being both available and prepared for me. I could tell myself how lucky I am to have a wife and daughter with whom I can share a meal.

It also helps to provide time for people to give us more information about an event before we react, thus contributing to our thought process. Again, using my dinner scenario, I might learn that my wife had had a challenging day and wasn’t able to go to the grocery store to pick up spaghetti.

What people often do, though, is let our anger out quickly and then externalize the blame, even feeling justified in the process. Unfortunately, once that happens we usually have a lot of clean-up work to do, and we might not feel like doing it. Now my wife is mad at me for not listening to her.

I bring this up because I think it’s one of the most important lessons we can learn in this era of quick reactions, polarization, and divisiveness. We need to practice slowing down our reactions to events that impact us, even those on a national or international level. As we practice doing this, it gets easier. The better we get at it, interestingly enough, the fewer events there are that trigger us.

When we slow down our anger and detach it from our responses, we decrease the amount of negativity being poured into the world.

This contributes to peace on earth.

For more on the ETR Model, check out this excellent resource. Intended to be used with children, I find it useful for adults, too.

I’ve written three other articles designed to help reduce negativity in these days of increased polarization:
There are People in the Country Besides Politicians
Befriend the Other
Recognizing Our Common Humanity with “Just Like Me” Awareness

15 October 2018 : Recognizing Our Common Humanity with “Just Like Me” Awareness

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Over the last week I’ve been writing articles designed to support ordinary people recognizing there are always positive things taking place and ways to contribute to them. I think this is especially important right now due to the polarization and divisiveness we are all experiencing.

In short, it’s important, no, it’s critical to notice, remember, and contribute to the good stuff.

For this article, the third in the series, I’m borrowing from the Compassion Cultivation Training class I’m currently taking. Developed at Stanford University, the purpose of the 8 week class is to help its students increase their overall resilience and better recognize their connection to others. In the 5th week, we focused on the simple concept that all people want the same things – safety, happiness, health, comfort, joy, peace, contentment, and ease, among them.

To practice this, our instructor gently suggested we apply the idea that people all want the same things to someone we encounter each day. In her words:

“Once each day, practice just seeing a person who might usually be invisible to you. Experiment with extending a ‘just like me’ awareness toward them, realizing that this person wishes to be safe and healthy, just as you do. That she/he/they know the experience of discomfort, of disappointment, and also of pleasure and laughter.”

The “just like me” phrase really resonated with me and I’ve been using it as a sort of mantra as I go about my day. I started timing it with my footfalls when I go for a run, which I do three or four times each week.

As I encounter people on my jog, I take note of them and see our common humanity, repeating in my head in time with my steps:

“Just Like Me (breath), Just Like Me (breath), Just Like Me (breath).”

It’s easy to bring the “just like me” awareness to other settings, too — when walking and driving, for instance, two other things I do on a daily basis. I find a key is being able to see people’s faces. If our eyes happen to meet I make a point to smile and nod slightly, acknowledging their existence and our momentary connection. I try to be mindful of not behaving in a way that might make the other person uncomfortable.

Back in class we talked about our experiences, some students sharing that it was hard to offer “just like me” awareness to someone who holds profoundly different political views. Of relevance, this class session took place during the height of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings that strike me as the epitome of polarization.

Our instructor suggested:

“When you find yourself making assumptions or judgements, pull back your awareness to the level of Common Humanity. Even if those judgements are still there, see if you can allow a bigger context for your reactions. Notice what if anything may shift. And if you find yourself angry or frustrated with someone, imagine how their actions might be due to their own underlying suffering.”

I’m finding this to be really good advice. I encourage you to try it. Honestly, it’s not hard to look at someone and see that they want the same things you do. To make it easier, focus on just one thing to begin with that you can easily assume you both want, something like happiness or health.

Say to yourself, “Just like me, this person wants to be happy.”

This short video (less than 2 minutes) is also a really good way to notice that people are more alike than different.

I think we need an army of people practicing positivity to help bring us out of the depths of negativity that threaten to swallow us up. It’s not difficult to be part of this army. Changing one situation in which you are tempted to go, or have gone, negative into a positive one does it. And the more you practice it, the more you get good at it.

Soon, you’ll be adding more positive energy to the universe than negative. Imagine the world we’ll live in when we all do that.

Here is where you can find my first two articles on this subject:
There are People in the Country Besides Politicians
Befriend the Other

12 October 2018 : Little Free Libraries

Berkeley

Since getting a dog two years ago I’ve upped one of my favorite things to do, which is to go for a walk. A walk is considerably different from running, something I also like to do, because of the relaxed pace. When I run I’m focused on getting exercise, paying attention to my breathing and footsteps. Walking makes it easier to notice things outside of myself. I can more easily turn my head to see something and to stop to take it more fully in.

So it was when walking in Seattle with my dog, Bentsen, that I started noticing the number of “Little Free Libraries” that exist in our neighborhood there. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a Little Free Library is a small structure that someone builds and puts on their property for the purpose of freely sharing books. It turns out it’s a pretty big deal, even set up as a federally recognized nonprofit with many of these little structures of free books being registered and linked to a world map.

For me, this is another example of the ordinary kindnesses that are happening all around us all the time. Stop and think about it for a second, even imagine the effort involved. Someone is inspired to share some of their books with others. They take the time to build and mount a decorative box to hold their books. Then they put the box in an easy-to-access spot on their property with some kind of sign that encourages people to take a book. Many of these folks even take the time to register their little libraries online.

Amsterdam

That’s a lot of effort to do something nice, effort that I think fuels the project itself.

Similarly, now imagine a walker who comes upon the little library. For me, the first time I saw one I was stopped in my tracks. Here was a little structure with books inside encouraging me to take one. Frankly, it made my day. And since seeing the first one, I’ve conditioned myself to look for more. They always bring me joy and get my imagination flowing. Why these books? Who put them there? When I see children’s books I imagine that kids are involved.

Since seeing my first, I’ve discovered a wide variety of little libraries, including some that encourage people to leave little notes for each other.

I love this kind of thing (emphasis on the word kind). A big part of what I enjoy about this is the relative anonymity involved. I doubt the little library builders often get to see the joy inspired by their constructions. And if my experience is any indication, it’s rare for those of us who find them to engage with the “librarians.”

France

In my life, I have the luxury of getting to travel. And in the last two years I’ve seen little libraries in a small city in France and in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, I came upon one while someone was examining the books in it. I struck up a conversation with him and he told me about the variety of books he has found in it since it was constructed. He also told me about another little library a few blocks away that I, of course, went to visit.

A couple of months ago I moved to Berkeley, along with my wife, Melinda, and Bentsen. And this week I was out walking and came upon a little library a couple of blocks from our apartment. A man was looking at the books inside. Initially, I walked by, not wanting to disturb him, but than I walked back and asked if I could take his picture. He readily obliged and we had a very pleasant exchange for a few minutes. He gave me his business card and I shared the web address of my blog.

So I’ve had two experiences now, one in Amsterdam and one in Berkeley, in which I’ve not only derived joy from the existence of these little libraries but had a very pleasant unplanned human interaction because of them.

Spend time in your neighborhood looking for the good things taking place. Finding one, consider it in some depth. What had to happen to help this good thing come into existence? Feel free to make up a scenario if you need to (an imagined activity can have as much impact as a real one).

For bonus points, tell someone else about your experience.

(This article got picked up and published on Medium. If you are a Medium subscriber, you can support me by clicking on this link and reading & clapping for the story.)

11 October 2018 : Befriend the Other

(If you are a Medium member, please visit the link for this article there and provide me some applause. Thank you for your support!)

“When you want to build a ship, instead of gathering wood and assigning tasks, awaken in people’s hearts a desire for the endless immensity of the sea.” -Antoine de St Exupéry

Earlier this week I published an article called “There are People in the Country Besides Politicians.” Inspired by a quote from newsperson Charles Kuralt that includes that line, the story intends to make the point that there are a lot of positive things going on around us despite the polarized news stories we have been inundated with lately.

The story goes on to say that it’s important we pay attention and contribute to these positive things, and gives suggestions on how to recognize them.

In today’s story, I hope to provide a “next step” that well-meaning people can take if they want to contribute to a decrease in the divisiveness around us.

Step 2 is summed up in three words: Befriend the Other

When you “Befriend the Other,” you step beyond your comfort zone to reach out in some way to someone who thinks differently and ask them to be your friend.

How do you find them?

The answer is found in this explanation from David Gershon, the person behind the idea:

“This simple and profound action invites you to befriend and learn from the people who are different from you. Look for them throughout your life: they live on your block, you work with them, they are in your community, they show up in your email inbox, and if you are more adventurous, they live all over the planet.”

(It may be of interest to know that Gershon developed the “Befriend the Other” concept as part of his Seven Steps to World Peace. “Befriend the Other” is step three, and you can read all seven steps in order beginning at this link.)

If you aren’t quite ready to seek out someone who is different from you, there is an intermediate step — take time to learn about and engage in the traditions of people different from you.

You do this by listening to the music, learning about the art, studying a dance, and tasting the foods from other cultures. Many of these things you can do by simply changing what you watch on TV for an evening, or by renting a culture-based documentary, or by checking out a book or movie at the library. It’s fascinating to learn how people different from you experience birth, coming of age, marriage, and death, among other things.

One thing some neighbors and I did last year was visit different places of worship. We all commented on the genuine friendliness we experienced at the Sikh Temple, and the camaraderie we felt while participating in a walking meditation at the Shambhala Center. I’m looking forward to experiencing the silence of a Quaker meeting.

Consider, too, other ways that make sense to you that honor the “Befriend the Other” concept.

Please be aware that befriending someone does not mean you have to agree with their beliefs or points of view. Part of the idea is to bring people together who are different in order to begin to understand these differences. When we do, we also become more cognizant of how much we have in common.

And for the effort, the world naturally and immediately becomes less polarized and less divisive.

For a little further inspiration, and to see you are not alone in wanting to make the world a better place, please watch this music video: