Going against the grain

It takes courage to tread upstream, buck the system, or go against the flow. Witnessing a maverick defying insurmountable odds and coming out victorious are scenarios we often applaud. These paths may not necessarily have been their preferred courses of action, unless they planned on literally paddling upstream, but they were seemingly undefeatable barriers to overcome and unusual means for solving unique problems. The objective, however, wasn’t to be different, but thinking differently helped them find the solution.

There are hundreds of inspirational sayings inviting us to find our passions, all but demanding us to explore our dreams, and imploring us to be different. But is simply being different the reason why we buck the system or go against the flow? Is it success to say we stood out from the rest by being the proverbial “sore thumb?”

The conformist

During my formative years, I did my best to “tow the line.” When it came to obeying the rules, few could brag they followed them as closely as I. Although there were times when I got into some trouble, I tried my best never to “color outside of the lines.” Most teenagers go through a rebellious stage, but this wasn’t even a consideration for me. No one forced this on me nor were my parents strict beyond measure, it was simply the way my younger self chose to be.

Consequently, I adhered to everything from instructions to recipes. I rarely questioned authority and figured they had no reason to mislead me. Although it created an obedient young man, it also made me naïve and gullible.

I’ve known people who began with a similar mindset but during their teens, renounced any notion to listen to anyone. Thankfully, my path took a slightly different direction. Having no real rebellious stage during my teens, my adult way of rebellion is to play devil’s advocate. If someone says to me, “The only way to do this is to…” the first thought running through my head is to think of other ways it can be done. By no means is this a defense mechanism or a rebellious ploy. It’s what has taught me to think for myself and protected me from continuing to be gullible. It has allowed me to be more objective and become open to more than what my prior limited beliefs tethered me to. Most importantly, it has provided a means for developing unique perspectives and transcribing those thoughts and sentiments into my writing.

Defying orders

In May of 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven gave a highly regarded commencement speech which currently, has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube. The most famous part stands out for its simplicity. “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” The Admiral goes on to explain his reasons which all are quite compelling. The now-retired Admiral McRaven without a doubt has been a prime example of self-discipline, accomplishment, and certainly has made his bed tens of thousands of times.

Coincidentally, a couple years ago, an incredibly good friend of mine, Nicole Tiffany Cruz, made a video in stark contrast suggesting we not worry about making our bed first thing in the morning.

“I understand what he’s talking about is discipline,” Nicole states, “but maybe there is something more important a mom can spend those 2 minutes doing to make her day more enjoyable and productive.”

Nicole, who is the “Super Busy Mommy Coach,” works with women and mothers whose schedules leave them little, if any, time for themselves. She instructs them on ways of combining their workouts in their daily activities and teaches them how to remain active and healthy. Her video was not simply done for a shock factor or to be rebellious, it was her unique perspective on what would benefit her clients and not simply disobey the orders of a highly decorated Admiral.

For Difference’s sake

One of the most beloved poems in the English language is “The road not taken” by Robert Frost. Comprised of only 4 stanzas, the final sentence reads:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I –

I took the road less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

As much as this poem seems to compel us to go against the norm and not follow the masses, I still recall, after nearly 50 years, my high school literature teacher reminding the class the author never distinguished whether that difference was a good or a bad thing.

There are countless ways individuals can be different and at times, I wonder why anyone would want to put themselves in that light. However, if I want to practice what I preach, that thought should also remind me to be empathetic and have a different understanding about them.

Being different for ourselves will always conjure up judgmental thoughts and critical words from onlookers. But when we are different by standing up for others, it becomes an act of bravery, courage, and a show of integrity. It is a nobler cause especially when we go against the norm to rise and support those who are disadvantaged and used to being discarded. There is rarely any question that our being different for the protection of others was being better.

We find our individuality and discover our uniqueness in being different. But that doesn’t give us carte blanche to seize every opportunity no matter how many toes we step on or whose rights we trample. If we insist it is our right to be different, that also means we must suffer the consequences if we have done something malicious, dishonest, or unlawful.

It’s in our approach to being different which sets us apart. Being a rebel and playing devil’s advocate was a model which worked well for me. Be different by finding your own way of innovation by taking a unique approach to being different.

My thanks to Jérôme Prax on Unsplash for the wonderful photograph and I look forward to your comments.

Changing the course

Photo by Meriç Dağlı of Unsplash

The most widely discussed topic from 2020 is the last subject many people want to hear about in 2021. With hopes of a recovery being pinned on vaccination, COVID-19 continues wreaking havoc throughout the globe. On February 11th of last year, the World Health Organization officially announced its name: “coronavirus disease,” abbreviating it with the capital letters COVID and the number 19 indicating the year the virus was discovered.

Undeniably, it has left an indelible scar on many across this planet. Among the wounds it forged include physical, economical, and emotional. It also exacerbated notions of divisive and vindictive ideals which were once harbored by extreme and privileged-thinking people.

Notwithstanding Nature’s dominant presence, we cannot blame her for the failings of humanity. The coronavirus did not impose them, it merely exposed and brought them to the surface. As an American, I can openly express how ashamed I am of this past Wednesday’s actions on display at the U.S Capitol building while the rest of the world watched. Thankfully, many world leaders condemned the events and stated this was not the behaviors of the Americans they know.

Although those appalling events left an indelible stain on the American legacy, I do believe there is hope. These wounds can be healed, and the mark left on its history can also inspire a new spirit of regeneration, equality, and unity.

To be fair, last Wednesday’s lawless actions are not unique to the U.S. Many countries have and continue to experience conflict and division, inspired by so-called leaders who put their own interests and legacy ahead of the greater good of those who chose them to lead. Yet no matter how poorly the examples are being set, it is not an excuse to embrace the inflammatory rhetoric or support ideologies which purposely prejudice those who look, think, or are different from you.

Going Viral

While COVID-19 has left its damaging mark, it’s time a new and highly different kind of virus permeate humankind. Let’s name it “COVID-21+” but this time the letters will stand for: Caring, Openness, Vulnerability, Integrity, and Decency in 2021. The plus sign at the end is to make sure the positive attributes never stop. Let this virus be one with which everyone will crave to be infected.

Instead of debilitating symptoms, become infected with a positive outlook. Fight the urge to despise or hate those different from you and don’t jump on the bandwagon of degrading and shaming others. Finding fault in others is no skill, and sharpening one’s verbal acuity to cut deep, emotional wounds is an act to condemn and not covet.

The real strength is in standing up to malicious behavior and protecting those who are vulnerable and defenseless. There is strength in numbers, and the more people rising up against this vile behavior, the quicker it will be beaten into submission.

As humans, we let our emotions seize control of our actions, thoughts, and words. The group mentality only heightens this tendency more quickly. Resist the urge to get caught up in the heat of the moment especially when it leads to belittling and ridiculing behaviors. This kind of determination takes focused attention along with practice and a desire for fairness, equality, and justice.

It begins with an individual making a distinct choice to create a better world. But it cannot thrive without the intent of others. This is precisely why it needs to spread like a pandemic, first throughout your community and eventually escaping into the world at large. In truth, by committing to these 5-plus virtues, it creates a fertile and overflowing environment.

Caring. When we care for others, it encourages them to mirror and spread this behavior.

Openness. By being open, we are not confined to the limits of our own biases and favoritisms.

Vulnerability. Acknowledging and showing our faults develops strength of character.

Integrity. Your ability to choose the right thing especially when no one is watching.

Decency. A word often disregarded in a time when so many are only concerned with what they believe is due them.

Plus. Continue to add to these traits which benefit humankind; remembering the more you add to your personal example, the more this world becomes a better place.

Ahead

All these 5-plus virtues can be practiced on ourselves as well as others. However, there is a hidden irony woven within. When we apply them to ourselves individually, they undoubtedly will conflict with others and possibly be deemed as selfish. But applying them to someone else – and especially to protect, encourage, or defend others – it strips away nearly every sign of selfishness and self-promotion.

Being an example filled with positive attributes does not excuse any wrong doings committed in the past. These 5-plus virtues depend on our acknowledging the past mistakes and a willingness to learn and grow from them. Admitting and accepting them is part of the healing process not only for ourselves but in a greater sense, it can help in the healing process of a family, community, and a nation.

Choose whom you wish to follow wisely. Though we may look to leaders to unite us and find solutions, ultimately we must also take responsibility for our choices and not solely blame them for the situations in which we find ourselves.

Freedom is defined and experienced in many forms. However, it also implies a responsibility beyond ourselves. If we choose to express it has the capacity to do whatever we want, when we want, and how we want, it no longer is freedom but anarchy. It is a complex dance of self-improvement and improving the world around you. It is accepting the path ahead of you which may not be how you planned it.

Let 2021 be the beginning of a new pandemic, COVID-21+ and become positively infected with creating a better world around you.

My thanks to Meriç Dağlı of Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your thoughts.

Emotional Healing Part III – The role of forgiveness

Author’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles on emotional healing. Although reading the first two is not a prerequisite, it may help clarify some of the ideas discussed below. Click here for Part I and here for Part II.

When we choose to begin our journey of emotional healing, forgiveness can be a trigger for igniting our recovery and working miracles during this process. But the subject of forgiveness poses its own controversies with conflicting and ambiguous advice by well-meaning and respected individuals. There are those who insist we should always forgive no matter what the circumstance while others protest some situations can never be forgiven. With opposite sides presenting strong arguments, how do we discern what works best for our journey? Should we always unconditionally forgive or are there times we may be forgiven for not forgiving?

If you have struggled with this dilemma in the past, you are not alone. Knowing whether to forgive someone who harmed you can seem like a no-win situation. Often, the decision itself becomes overwhelming and rather than deciding what to do, we completely avoid the topic and elude the shameful feelings for not determining to act one way or another.

One reason for all this confusion is because there is not a single sure-fire answer for every situation. It is up to us individually to decide what works best for our journey, and focusing on how it will impact our own healing will help determine how or even if we need to forgive.

The purpose of forgiveness

Forgiveness, like a gift, can be given as well as received. Unfortunately and all to often, it is the emotionally damaged person who feels compelled, or sometimes forced, to give it. They’ve been told it’s the best way to “put it behind you and move forward.” While I am a huge proponent of forgiving, the last thing I would ever tell someone is the first thing they must do is forgive their abuser.

I caution anyone who pushes this command on others trying to find emotional healing. We have no clue what kind of devastation that person suffered. I don’t have the faintest idea what it feels like to be molested by a loved one or physically beaten by someone I trusted. Demanding someone to first forgive their abuser would be akin to asking them to go through that pain again. This is not wise counsel but an inferior attempt to sound prudent, when in reality, it can conceivably obstruct or completely thwart the healing process altogether.

There are times when an abuser comes to the realization of the damage their actions caused and pleads for their victim’s forgiveness. But just because they’ve mustered up the courage to ask for it doesn’t guarantee it will be given. If their request is not granted, does this deprive them of their opportunity to heal?

When it comes to our own emotional healing, the primary reason we forgive is for our own healing, benefit, and growth.

The abused

When we have been deeply wounded, the tendency is to harbor sentiments of anger, resentment, or other destructive judgements against our abusers. This is normal, and quite an understandable reaction, but this mindset also has the capacity to limit us. It diminishes our ability to love and constrains us from trusting or showing compassion. We believe by not being vulnerable the possibility of being hurt will vanish.

In the end, this belief only diminishes our capacity to live a full and purpose-filled life. If you are not ready to forgive your abuser, my recommendation is first begin by forgiving yourself for harboring any negative feelings – and especially if any of those feelings were directed at yourself. The unspeakable pain you suffered contributed to your beliefs this would help you survive but holding onto them only shifted the pain you continued to suffer. By forgiving yourself for having all these resentments, it will release you from the negativity and shame which may have followed you for many years, without having the trauma of wondering if you need to forgive your abuser.

When I was 14, a man, whose word I respected more highly than my parents, accused me of doing something I didn’t do. But because I thought every word he spoke was essentially inspired by God, I believed him. It wasn’t until my early 50’s when I could forgive myself for believing the terrible things he said I had done. During my healing process, I considered if I needed to forgive him for saying those things to me. Had he been alive, there is no doubt if I had attempted to forgive him, he would not have accepted it, and would continue to assert what he said was the truth.

His non-acceptance and denial will not stop my healing because I no longer hold grudges or ill feelings for those words. Forgiving him has no bearing on my healing. But this story has been extremely instrumental in my endeavors to help others understand the power of shame and forgiveness.

The abuser

If you have hurt someone in your past and want forgiveness for your healing journey, asking your victim is a good place to start. Hopefully, your sincere obligation to rectify the situation will help them as well. Although you always have the option to simply forgive yourself, this one-sided approach will not be as effective because it mitigates your actions and may show a lack of insincerity.

Asking forgiveness proves you accepted your actions and shows others your true intentions of wanting to change. It won’t undo the injustices and may never re-right the situation, but it will show the depths you are going to make amends. Should the one you hurt refuse to forgive you, likewise, this should not block your healing from occurring.

We only have the ability to control our own outcomes but asking forgiveness of those we have hurt can immensely influence their journey and lighten their load. Part of our obligation may be to do our best to help them but it is completely in their hands if they are willing to give or accept forgiveness.

Inevitably, circumstances arise where others involved in your healing may have disappeared or are deceased. Although it may be difficult for some to proceed, our emotional healing should never depend on whether we are able to give to or receive forgiveness from another person. It is our journey and we must take responsibility for the direction it heads.

Forgiveness is not an easy choice. It may require the help of a trained counselor or therapist. In any case, proceed in the direction of promoting your own healing and it will guide you to know whether forgiveness is a vital part of that journey.

If you have questions about your own healing journey and would like to know more, feel free to contact me on this website or email me at: john@shamedoctor.com

My thanks to Cameron Venti on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.

Emotional Healing Part II – Techniques

Author’s note: This is Part II in a series of 3 articles on emotional healing. Although not a prerequisite, reading the first article may help clarify some of the ideas presented in the following article. Click here to read the previous article

Fortunately, the subject of emotional healing has been at the forefront for many people who previously may have contemplated very little on this timely and crucial topic. Although it may have been initiated by one of the worst pandemics this world has ever experienced, none the less, it is an essential matter for anyone looking to live a fulfilled and purpose-filled life.

Unfortunately and all too often, when emotional healing is discussed, the substance of the discussion is focused primarily on why it is important, lacking effective ideas and good advice instrumental in accomplishing it. Each time I hear the subject discussed on a podcast or other forms of media examining this issue, I wonder if the reason healing information or techniques are not examined is because they don’t have an extensive understanding of how emotional healing is accomplished.

Sound the trumpet

Before I delve into some techniques which have been helpful for my clients, it’s imperative to mention these techniques may not be beneficial in your situation. For example, several decades ago, I taught trumpet lessons to beginning students. Each student was in the same room and had an instrument which I could check to make sure it was not in need of repair. If I were to attempt to teach that same person online and with a faulty instrument, it would be difficult at best for the student to progress.

As this pertains to emotional healing, we can think of “life” as that trumpet. We all have played it, and emotional damage can keep the trumpet from performing at its best. Small scratches and nicks rarely have any impact on its overall performance. However, large dents can make it difficult or render it impossible to play. In order to restore the instrument, it may require the work of an expert.

Likewise, emotional healing happens in various ways and triggering countless degrees of damage. Providing the best advice on how to heal from extreme verbal abuse may have no impact on someone who suffers from continual failed relationships. Referring to the previous trumpet analogy, if there is damage to the valves, performing pristine repair work on the bell will not transform it into an optimally performing instrument.

Healing Techniques

Most of my work on emotional healing is geared toward people who have experienced damage around some form of shame. They typically have been involved in a scenario where they caused harm to someone or someone else inflicted injury on them. Shame, by its definition, fosters emotional damage because it leaves behind a false sense of who we are. It cements upon us the appalling judgments others perceived us to be and for many reasons, we accept their harsh viewpoints. Acknowledging their erroneous beliefs about ourselves typically increases the dire and disastrous thoughts we perceive about ourselves.

In my case, my own shame was so overpowering at times I would delight in finding situations which underscored and “proved” my shortcomings. It was easier for me to accept I was unworthy of good things rather than to search for the good which I constantly buried. No matter how much I believed others were worthy or deserved good things, I rarely felt I was valuable enough to merit anything. Complicating my journey was I also had been taught thinking anything good or positive about me was selfish, egotistical, and conceited.

The change began when I realized most of my emotional damage was self-inflicted. The best way for my healing process to begin was to forgive myself for ever believing the horrible things others told me I was.

It took several months to accept the idea there was nothing selfish about seeing myself in a positive light. The self-forgiveness initiated the healing and from that point forward, I could begin to grow in ways I never believed possible. The growth was so inspiring and energizing it compelled to help others experience similar healing.

Pointing the finger

One of the most difficult conundrums to overcome is looking at that person in the mirror and asking yourself what you did to contribute to your own damage. Again, it is difficult to put together a magical phrase which covers every situation, but it’s always a productive place to start. Perhaps you did nothing to contribute to it, but closely examining that idea will help you discover the greatness in yourself.

I recently had a conversation with someone I knew over 20 years ago. We were talking about emotional healing which this person was relentlessly working to find. The situation became delicate and I mentioned self-forgiveness might be a consideration. This suggestion angered the other person and they responded harshly exclaiming, “I did not do this damage to myself.”

I assured them they were correct about that, but then I asked, “Did you ever – for one second – believe you did something to deserve it”? There was a long pause before I heard them answer, “yes.”

Situations as these require extreme care. Otherwise, it could have been easily be misconstrued and I would have put a huge stumbling block in that person’s ability to heal. Even though we are not the original culprits of our own damage, we do at times unwittingly contribute to our emotional injuries.

Many who suffer emotional pain at the hands of others, did nothing to deserve it. But perpetrators are excellent at blaming and shaming us into believing we did.

If you are stuck in a place where you want to heal but are not sure how to proceed, try looking at the person in the mirror and see if there is the slightest need for self-forgiveness. It can be a memorable turning point in your journey.

Next week, we will talk more about the important role of forgiveness in other aspects of emotional healing. My thanks to Sam Goodgame on Unsplash for the wonderful picture. If you are interested in finding out more about emotional healing or would like to schedule a healing session, please feel free to reach out to me or email me at: john@shamedoctor.com Thank you and I look forward to your comments.

Emotional Healing Part I – The Struggles

As this confusing and chaotic year comes to a close, there is no more suitable subject to examine than that of emotional healing. With so many people facing an endless barrage of disappointments and struggles, it’s easy to allow our mental wellness to slip into a downward spin, only compounding those difficulties and intensifying our pain.

The subject of emotional healing has captivated me ever since my own journey began in early 2013. While overcoming my own hurdles, I never hesitated to share them with others, sometimes after meeting a person for the first time. The passion for guiding others on their journeys has only continued to grow.

Understanding the process

Emotional healing can be thought of as a journey, and understanding how the process works can be vital to your success. What I have found to be effective for my clients is to equate many aspects of emotional healing to its physical counterpart. When our skin suffers a small scrape, we know the wound has healed when all signs of the original injury are virtually gone. Likewise, emotional healing can also imply all traces of the original wound have disappeared.

However, not all physical injuries consist of a tiny cut. There are a host of ways we can incur physical ailments. Besides abrasions, there are bruises, broken bones, burns, and severed digits or limbs; each with its own varying degree of severity. In a situation where someone was disfigured, the likelihood of all signs of the original injury being gone is all but out of the question.

In any event, healing must occur. Otherwise, the body will eventually become consumed by infection and end that person’s life. Emotional wounds also occur under untold conditions and comprise a wide range of mentally devastating effects. It is possible the magnitude of some emotional wounds can be likened to third degree burns or a lost limb. But just as in its physical counterpart, healing can occur. It may leave a mental scar as a constant reminder of the original injury, but people also have overcome insurmountable odds and learned to thrive through various challenging conditions.

What does it mean to heal?

One of the first steps I review with clients is to have them consider what it means to heal emotionally. More precisely, what kinds of things will show them healing is being accomplished. Just as there are destinations we plan during our travels, similarly we need to know what milestones emotional healing will unveil along the way.

Our past emotional wounds are what keep us from moving forward. They stifle and sometimes stop us from living a happy, constructive life. If those wounds remain unhealed, they may become a “normal” part of life causing that person to believe healing will never be possible and becoming their worst predicament ever.

Some people also try to mask their wounds with alcohol, drugs or other debilitating habits believing it will help them forget their misery. Other times, they will use their emotional devastations as excuses why they are trapped in these addictive behaviors.

By no means do I want to criticize or condemn anyone for the difficulties they’ve suffered. It is my belief we all can heal from even the darkest of emotional wounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s a painless path. It can be extremely difficult but emotional healing allows us to thrive despite those wounds.

There is no one formula and the remedies are rarely simple. Again, when we look at healing from a physical standpoint, it can be vastly complicated as well. Modern medicine has developed 14 surgical categories each with its own areas of expertise. There are also nurses to provide care and physical therapists to assist patients during the healing process.

People who suffer from major traumas don’t perform surgery on themselves. They are not their own nurses, nor do they prescribe their own medication. The same is true for emotional wounds. It often requires someone trained with the proper techniques with the knowledge and experience to help them implement those methods and guide them on their emotional healing journey.

The biggest obstacle I encounter with my clients is most have no idea what they need to do in order to heal. While many have the desire and really want to change, all their best efforts never seemed to garner any progress, leaving them with the assumption healing is impossible and will never occur.

I had the incredible fortune of meeting a great therapist who was able to correctly guide me along my journey. It was in conjunction with him and other mental health professionals, I developed teachable and understandable techniques to help people along their journeys.

Next week, we’ll delve into some of those. However, I wanted to end with one today. My personal conviction is the more we understand why these techniques work, the more effective they will be. Talking to someone, for instance, about your emotional hurt does work and there’s an explanation why. Frequently, the emotional damage was so tormenting and left such devastation it caused us to feel very shameful and we dared not convey this anyone. Perhaps the perpetrator also threatened us never to talk about it and we did our best to forget it happened. There is also a very real concern verbalizing it will stir up painful memories and no one wants to suffer needless agony.

However, most people experience a huge sense of relief the moment they begin to open up. This relief is without a doubt a sign of healing, but why? First of all, it’s important to speak to someone whom you trust and who will show empathy, love, and concern for the damage you suffered. Admitting what happened to you is also accepting the tragedy you experienced. Verbalizing it leads to the awareness it was not your fault, and you can more easily forgive yourself for ever feeling poorly about what happened and the horrible things you may have thought about yourself. The most effective and beneficial form of emotional healing happens when we first learn to forgive ourselves.

My thanks to LaiLa Skalsky on Unsplash for the wonderful picture. If you enjoyed this article, please like and share it. If you want to find out more about emotional healing or schedule a private consultation, reach out to me at this website or email me at john@shamedoctor.com . Thank you and I look forward to your comments.

Giving the benefit of the doubt

Photo by Neil and Zulma Scott on Unsplash

This time of year always brings with it an air of giving. As the year comes to a close, there are many traditional holidays celebrated by various cultures, religions, and countries imploring us to contribute or donate gifts of all kinds to simply lift the spirits of others. They need not be family, but anyone who could use a hand or a random act of kindness. This year has also goaded new challenges which put undue burdens on many peoples’ ability to give. Thankfully, giving need not be something tangible, but no matter how small the gift is, the true measure is often the spirit behind the giving.

The “why”

This past week, an aeronautic master and legend of the sky passed away. Pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, was 97 years old. He was gifted with innate talents impossible to teach in flight schools. His vision was reported to be 20/10 and he could “sense” things about the jets he flew, and his written reports as a test pilot were invaluable to the engineers improving them.

Yeager was a top fighter ace and during World War II, shot down five aircraft in a single mission. On one of his precarious flights, he was shot down behind enemy lines. Yeager, in a rare feat, was able to escape and find his way back to England. But rather than being flown home, he volunteered to return to active duty.

Yet with all his talents and accolades, Yeager never expected anything for his efforts. “You don’t do it to get your damn picture on the front page of the newspaper”, Yeager remarked. You do it because it’s your duty.”

Although his story is a different kind of giving, there was never any expectation of receiving something for his accomplishments. Brigadier General Chuck Yeager‘s actions were the epitome of why we give, and along with his countless accomplishments, his selfless attitude will always be part of that legacy.

There are times when we do give with an expectation of receiving something in return. But those situations typically are more transactional. We give our time at work to collect a paycheck, and sometimes there are preconditions for reimbursement. These are entirely normal but are also not considered to be in the true spirit of giving.

Perhaps the English language needs another word to clarify this distinction. Maybe a combination of the two words “gift” and “giving” or “giftiving” could imply the situation at hand is both a gift and being freely given. Because the act of “giftiving” is one of the rare occasions in which the receiver is unexpectedly delighted and the giver may experience an immeasurable sense of joy.

Karma or not

When a child is given a gift, the surprise expression spread across their face is evidence of their excitement. As adults, we cherish those moments and may even use them to teach our children about the joy of giving to others. However, what we do not expect is for the child to reciprocate and give something back.

Sometimes I wonder how many people believe they are giving altruistically but in the back of their minds, anticipate their actions will bring them more than just the satisfaction of giving. Is there a, “the more you give the more you’ll receive” attitude behind their motives? I am not implying we shouldn’t be mindful of “sowing and reaping” or karma, but if our pretense of giving is receiving something in the future, then how is it really different?

I recently stated in one of my articles how astonished I was when after I purposely gave more, my bank balance grew. The intention, however, was never to build a larger bank account by being more generous to others, although it sincerely was a pleasant surprise.

“Giftiving” always takes a one-sided approach. There is no planning nor plotting to gain more by your efforts. It’s done because it’s the right thing, or as General Yeager proclaimed, “because it’s your duty.”

Gifts are meant to be free and helpful. If the receiver has any inclination to reciprocate, the best way to quell that feeling is to pay it forward to other unsuspecting people.

The end game

2020 has been an indescribable year. Nevertheless, there are lessons we can learn even in the darkest moments. While many of us seek to live life to its fullest and become the best we can be, there are certain responsibilities we all share and no one should neglect if we are to live on a kind and loving planet.

We do have a choice. Although this world was not created specifically for our own personal comfort and gain, we can make choices which center around our materialistic desires while strangling the basic needs of others. We can seize opportunities for monetary gains without the slightest concern for the devastating impacts it will force on the disadvantaged.

My hope is 2020 provided a new and empathetic perspective about your fellow human beings. That your own personal beliefs may be what works for you but may not always be what succeeds for others. And those who have been able to continue some semblance of normalcy, will have a deeper awareness and appreciation for the struggles which others now face.

For those who’ve been fortunate enough to have success, my wish is they will be willing to share their knowledge and secrets to inspire people rather than condemn or attack others. Lastly, if you have always been self-sufficient but this pandemic has robbed you of that ability, do not feel shame if you require help or someone offers it to you.

The world and the rules have changed in 2020. But they were not skewed in any direction except for those who create more caring, kindness, compassion, and of course, “giftiving.”

My thanks to Neil and Zulma Scott on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your thoughts.

In you right mind

Photo by to Andrew Ly on Unsplash

One of the goals to which many people currently aspire is being “openminded.” Not only being open to the thoughts and ideals of others, but truly listening to them without any preconceived biases. At first consideration, this would appear to be rather simple to accomplish. But does it take more skill, knowledge, or strength to listen genuinely to someone else’s point of view?

It seems peculiar we ever lost this ability in the first place since as children, our primary way of learning was absorbing information from and intently listening to other people. There were the occasional bumps and bruises we suffered with our own trial and error experiments but listening to others was how we perceived and understood much of the world around us.

On the other hand, it is easily understandable how this ability was lost when we scrutinize our upbringing. The values we currently hold were shaped by our upbringing and many other external factors which could have a propensity to strip us of the capacity to be objective and allow our life’s experiences to distort or prejudice our thinking processes.

The right mind

If there is one obstruction which is the primary reason for our lack in being openminded, it is the desire to be right. We want to be accurate, factual, and truthful which in and of itself is an admirable objective. However, too often we may hear something which sounds as though it should be correct but in actuality, it is not.

English grammar is filled with many examples where the expression sounds correct but is grammatically incorrect. “If it were me” technically should be “if it were I.” Granted, the first phrase has become completely acceptable, but did the possibility of it being incorrect ever cross your mind?

The word “at” should never be used as an adverb when it’s preceded by the word “where,” but the phrase “Where’s it at” is ubiquitous. Although incorrect grammar won’t cost you your job (unless you happen to be an editor), it does demonstrate how easily we can accept something which in truth is in correct.

When it comes to more essential subjects, our minds tend to focus and be attuned to philosophies and principles on which we already agree or are completely contrary with our line of reasoning. We may not even be paying attention to a conversation happening around us when suddenly our ear picks up someone endorsing an issue completely contrary to our beliefs. It may irritate or even anger us to the point of having to move in order to remain calm and not interject our thoughts into their discussion.

These kinds of circumstances happen continually and of course are frustrating. Yet they still are not the kinds of situations to which I am referring.

Left in our mind

Personal growth is a continual effort. Being openminded helps us in this endeavor. Now, let me pose this question. While you were reading this article, was there ever a time when you thought I wish so-and-so were reading this? Was there something stated which reminded you of someone you know who is closeminded?

This is how our brains work. We automatically look for external factors or other people rather than pointing our finger at the person in the mirror. We will find any excuse to get the speck out of someone’s eye when there is a beam lingering in our own.

No matter how accurate your assessment of the other person is, it is not personal development. Your suppositions about the other person are not catalysts for your own progress. Being critical of someone else has no benefit unless it causes you to deeply and sincerely reflect on your own shortcomings or faults.

Recently, I had someone question my actions. Strangely, it occurred while I fully believed I was doing some good. When my intentions were criticized, I went into a defensive mindset and wondered how my behavior could have been interpreted with such contempt. In my mind, I hadn’t done anything wrong. Even after hearing their explanation I continued to search for reasons which would vindicate my response.  

It was when I decided to consider it from their perspective that I was able to see my mistake. Although there was never any intention of upsetting nor causing offense, my actions triggered this reaction and if there is something I can change then the least I can do is examine it.

Originally and perhaps instinctively, my mind searched for reasons why I was right. I could have easily dismissed their point of view and vehemently defended mine. But that is not personal growth. Had I closely examined every step I took and found no fault in my actions I could have moved forward with a clear conscience. That too would have been personal growth.

Mindful of our minds

It is ironic the desire to be right can impede, excuse, and all but reject any feelings or opinions of those with whom we disagree. This urge can be so prevalent we are likely to believe information which has no merit or fact. But because it aligns with our beliefs, we swallow it up like a delicacy. And it is exceptionally pitiful when we refuse evidence or proof which specifically dispels our beliefs. Social media only feeds this narrative by providing content which ignites you emotionally with no regard to the truthfulness of the content, but only what brings them greater profit.

It is time we become more mindful and not hesitate to question our beliefs. Examining them doesn’t automatically deem them incorrect. On the contrary, it may strengthen and instill them greater within us. Refusing to question them limits us and at the same time generates arrogance and feelings of superiority.

It can be extremely difficult and disparaging seeing yourself in this light, but it is the beginning of growth. It is the springboard to becoming openminded and leading a more thoughtful and compassionate life.

Being openminded may not occur naturally and will require focus and effort. It takes discipline to grow and maintain this approach, but it is also something which will benefit you and the world around you for all your undaunting endeavors.

My thanks to Andrew Ly on Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your thoughts.

It’s all in your head

Painting by Marlene Burns ©2020

The human brain is amazingly complex. The myth proclaiming people only use 10% of its entire capacity has long been shown to be false, and there are mental exercises one can employ to enhance it and increase its already incredible ability. However, there are also functions the brain does without our consciously thinking about it. Some of these functions include beating of the heart, digestion, and physical healing.

What is perhaps a more perplexing phenomenon is how our minds work. Dr. William B. Salt II notes, The brain is the physical organ most associated with mind and consciousness, but the mind is not confined to the brain. The intelligence of your mind permeates every cell of your body, not just brain cells.” Our mind can inspire us, cause us to question, or push us to accomplish feats we never believed possible. It is often the birthplace of invention but unfortunately, it can also be what represses and prohibits us from success.

One of the traps our mind has a difficult time escaping is the idea of worthiness. Are we worthy of anything special or even the simplest of indulgences? Was there some action or thought with which we were associated disqualifying us from achieving our goals or ambition?

Deficiency

For many, the idea of lacking personal value begins in early childhood. There are numerous cultural and familial circumstances which can influence us and even dictate destructive beliefs. At times, they are not intentional. Perhaps a parent worked a long day and upon arriving home, responded to their child in a way which made them feel neglected or experience other detrimental feelings.

Whether or not it was deliberate, the child can interpret those words in all kinds of shameful ways. The more frequently they hear them, the more quickly they readily accept them, cementing the idea of unworthiness as a part of their mindset.

Adults additionally are subject to this kind of distorted thinking. Although it may have developed in our youth, we do not simply outgrow it, nor does it vanish on its own. In truth, it becomes more difficult to detect because after years of this self-inadequate reasoning, it engrains itself in the beliefs about who we are. The idea of being unworthy has been repeated so many times it appears to become factual and something we seem to willingly acknowledge.

The other side of the spectrum

The opposite of unworthiness is entitlement, having the feeling something is owed you because of who you are. It is the notion that your skin color, religion, your family name deems you privileges not available to others or without needing to earn it. It is the bedrock of arrogance and the genesis of narcissism. Just as those who over the years believed their unworthiness became cemented in their mindset, consequently the entitled reinforce theirs as well.

As different as these mentalities appear to be from one another, the one thing they have in common is they both are formulated in the mind.

Changing our mindset

The simple fix would be to become aware of the problem and change the way we think about ourselves. While this basically is the answer, it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers or waving a magic wand. This way of thinking is habitual and, in some cases, nearly addictive.

Those who have grown up continually believing they are unworthy, likewise tend to hone in on ideas which confirm their false belief. It’s a type of negative affirmation validating their shortcomings and supporting the false conviction of who they believed they were and are.

Becoming aware of their erroneous thinking is problematical because it’s contrary to the beliefs held for many years. Understandably, they don’t want to believe it and their own mindset blinds them from seeing it. Thankfully, it’s not impossible to change. It may, however, take the guidance of a thoughtful counselor or therapist to help.

Thankfully, most people with this mentality also realize they have issues with shame. They willingly acknowledge shame is prevalent but don’t know how to remedy the problem or what steps to take to fix it. My approach is first to have them think about a close friend. I’ll ask them what they would say to that person if they were to express feelings of unworthiness and having little or no value.

Every client, without exception and hesitation would tell their friend they were wrong in how they perceived themselves and are definitely worthy of good things. By acknowledging their friend deserves good things, that awareness prompts them to begin to change the way they think about themselves.

I also have them recall details of the circumstances which influenced and manipulated their pessimistic assumptions about themselves. As children, perhaps the greatest stumbling block to developing healthy self-esteem is when we are told hurtful words by those we love or trust. prods

But counteracting those beliefs with kindness to ourselves and acknowledging our self-worth is changing the way we think about ourselves. Sometimes, people are raised to believe kindness was meant solely for others and needing or wanting compassion is selfish or egocentric. But nothing could be further from the truth. Every true deed of kindness is an act of love demonstrating the best intentions are at hand.

It is also possible for those with a self-entitled outlook to break away from their arrogant mindset. Again, the common denominator is kindness. The grip of arrogance is broken by the dignity of kindness. The chains of entitlement are shattered by empathy and caring for others. The more we are earnestly concerned with the outcome of others, our arrogance can no longer thrive.

Changing how we think about ourselves begins in our mind. Transforming it may take time and tremendous effort, but it is truly how we learn to live a meaningful and purpose-filled life.

My thanks to Marlene Burns for the wonderful painting. Marlene specializes in contemporary painting and urban abstract photography. Her hallmarks are bold color and edgy design. Find out more about her at her website, https://marlene-burns.pixels.com/

Thank you and I look forward to your comments.

Taking the Lead

Photo by Krzysztof Sinica on Unsplash

The concept of leadership has existed from the dawn of humanity. It is clearly not unique to the human race and has been documented in many other species within the animal kingdom. Leaders are influential to the success of families, businesses, communities, countries, and cultures. There’s a sense of satisfaction and pride when a trusted person presides over the interests and wellbeing of the entire group.

One of the earliest books written on this subject was specifically penned for the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya around 300 BCE. Since then, there have been countless more authors delving into this vast subject, along with articles, essays, and speeches from people of every race, gender, and creed. According to the Harvard Extension School of Professional Development, there are currently over 15,000 titles available in print.

With all the accessible material on this broad and diverse subject, are there particular qualities which are inclusive to every person who wants to be or claims to be a leader? Likewise, are there traits which should never be considered attributes for successful leadership?

The Role

Leadership has many levels, definitions, and varying degrees of responsibilities. For instance, political leaders have, or at least ought to have, a different approach to leading their electorate from those in the business community. While some goals may parallel each other, elected officials may govern over fierce business competitors with the objective of seeking the common good for the entire constituency.

All leaders rise to their position in unique ways. Politicians are typically elected through some democratic process and business leaders frequently work their way up starting from low-level or mid-level positions. Ordinarily, business leaders attain this title because of the success they’ve brought to the company and not solely to themselves.

However, being “successful” in business is neither a barometer nor a requirement for leadership. Success is often measured in dollars and cents, while leadership ought to be measured in wisdom and common sense. Having the capacity to make money does not equate to nor declare exceptional leadership skills.

Frequently, those at the helm of large corporations are beholden to the shareholders and can be pressured to make choices negatively impacting those they were ultimately charged to lead. While those decisions may have bolstered their prominence within the corporation, a lack of leadership could possibly put the lives of many in jeopardy.

Becoming a political leader is perhaps one of the few areas where one knowingly expects to become a leader. While their dreams and goals may have originated with the intentions of positively impacting their community, there is no doubt winning an elected office propels them to a leadership role.

But just as being successful in business does not proclaim a leader, neither is leadership validated by winning an election. Leadership, at whatever level it finds itself, is first the ability to lead. It is an ongoing demonstration of behaviors others will want to and gladly follow. There is no expectation they must accept you; leaders understand they continually earn their position. The moment it is taken for granted is the moment they begin to surrender the title they were elected to serve.

Additionally, people in leadership positions seek to elevate and inspire others under their watch. Their passion and desire trigger them to encourage others to succeed. True leaders don’t have to make it about themselves. Their compassion for others negates a need for self-promotion because they know egos are the biggest inhibitors for group success.

Along the way, there may be losses. A business can go under. There may be defeats. Leaders keep the best interests of their team in mind. When a CEO of a major corporation is voted out, that person’s next move isn’t to willingly conspire against their soon-to-be former company. The livelihoods of those whom they previously led and earned their respect, depend on the continued success of that business. Otherwise, their original intentions of leadership as well as reputation they worked so hard to gain would fall into question.

Similarly, when an army loses in battle, the general does not desert the troops, the Captain will always go down with the ship, and true leaders will never sabotage those they led.

A Personal Role

Leadership is not merely for the chosen few; we all have our own part to play. No matter where you are or what lot you have fallen into, we can choose to have leadership qualities in everything we do.

First, we can demand of ourselves those same expectations we expect from a leader. Integrity, honesty, empathy are virtues we want to see in leaders while not being out of our own reach. We want to follow those who are caring, understanding, and pleasant. Why can we not exude these characteristics ourselves?

It’s fine to rally behind a leader, but that doesn’t preclude us from being answerable for our own actions. Being responsible for personal conduct compels us to be accountable and not blame others for our mistakes. Great leaders don’t focus on blaming others. They won’t waste time accusing someone for their own inadequacies and losses because leaders know there is always room for improvement.

Leadership, by every stretch of the word, is a complex and complicated subject. There are many levels, intensities, and achievements which define leadership in that specific instance.

Our responsibilities begin with clarifying what comprises the qualities of leadership you foresee in a leader. Begin to live those ideals and you’ll soon realize the more of a leadership role you seize, the more you’ll understand the importance of compassion, empathy, and kindness toward others. Our own leadership role can initiate a great contribution in making this world a better place.

My thanks to Krzysztof Sinica on Unsplash for the beautiful picture. I look forward to your comments.

A World of Kindness

Photo is of Bitsy. My kindness reminder

It’s Friday evening on World Kindness Day; perhaps rather fittingly it coincidentally falls on Friday the 13th in this most peculiar and unpredictable year of 2020. Personally, I never paid much attention to the superstitions and reputation of bad luck with which this day has been historically plagued, and as those with friggatriskaidekaphobia so fervently believe. Although It has occurred over 100 times during my life, nothing significant has ever stood out. However, the thought of these two days in unanimity presented itself as a timely and appropriate theme.

Kindness thinking

Kindness has gone through an evolution for me. In the last eight years it has become a high priority and I have made a conscious effort to improve and proliferate it. I think kindness – and every virtue yielding similar fruit – needs to be thought of as a muscle, and the more we exercise and implement it the more adept we are at augmenting and utilizing it.

Unfortunately, somewhere during the early development of our species, kindness didn’t cement itself in our DNA. It was minimized rather than being treasured as a meaningful quality. Perhaps in our early history, survival steered us away from compassion and blanketed the importance kindness had for the enrichment of society as a whole.

Admittedly, it was not something to which I paid much attention during my early and formative years. Many of my most lamentable memories are those when I was unkind, thoughtless, or cruel to others. Thankfully, like exercise, it is never too late to begin a kindness workout regimen.

A bad rap

Kindness was dealt a severe blow when it was first perceived as weakness. There is, however, great irony identifying it in this way. When someone antagonizes us, it doesn’t take much discipline or restraint to counter those verbal attacks with a similar or more stinging retort. Mustering the courage not to inflame the conversation is a much greater indicator of self-control and determination than by drawing on the ugliness our fragile egos arouse. Who would rather be greeted with spitefulness and brutality rather than kindness? There is no valor in repaying callous behavior with the same.

Sadly, there have been multitudes of contemporary examples from those claiming to be leaders demonstrating unkind and frankly childish conduct, which eventually decays into name calling, shouting matches, and a deep polarization of those whom they were elected to lead. If the remedy were to amplify the ongoing hostile rhetoric, then certainly all the infighting would have been completely eradicated by now.

Quelling these debates does not have a single solution. Those who refuse to believe there is any strength in kindness will never use it and cannot understand how it could ever be a solution. They will dig in their heels, disregard reason, and continue to fire off despicable and hateful language because they falsely believe it is the only way they will win. These disastrous situations never have a peaceful solution and commonly skew toward the most brazen aggressor.

Bullies have assumed this aggressive style from being victims themselves. They were taken advantage of and witnessed their antagonists laughing or appearing to gain the upper hand at the expense of their dignity. The horrible shame they felt from these tragedies convinced them the only way to win would be to refine their sadistic approach and watch their victims suffer a similar fate.

This is precisely where strength of character and raw determination should never allow someone else’s bad behavior ruin your ability to be who you are. We were not born vindictive, malicious, or unkind. While our upbringing and environment have great influence on our values and what we also value, this kind of behavior is not who we are but rather what we’ve allowed ourselves to become.

Kindness is the cure

I believe kindness is the key to our future. It has the power to transform those on whom it is bestowed and strengthen the character of those exercising it. Although it cannot be required or legislated, when voluntarily used, it is infectious. In fact, the best way to spread its virtues is by inundating and engulfing everyone in its warm and encouraging grasp. When society embraces kindness its opposite behavior becomes shunned causing it to lose its perceived power and credibility. This conversion won’t happen in an instant, but the more people who adopt this attitude, the quicker it will pervade humanity.

Don’t simply be kind only to those who are kind to you. Remember, the real strength comes in not succumbing to the temptation of reiterating the same offensive words ranted toward you.

For those who continually repay your kindness with abhorrent behavior, your response can be something as simple as restraining from engaging with them. These are the most challenging situations again with no one-size-fits-all answer. You may falter or you may be mistreated. The key is to learn from that experience and do your best not to allow the actions of others to create within you the exact behavior for which you are working so hard to condemn. It’s not easy and is why it takes a concerted effort constantly exercising your kindness muscle.

I’d like to end with a story breaking the end to a string of insignificance on Friday the 13th. This morning I messaged several people “Happy World Kindness Day.” After texting my son, he replied, “what’s that”? My response was “a day to focus on kindness.” His second reply simply read, “I try to do that every day. Didn’t know we needed to designate a day to that”!

I couldn’t have asked for a better and more timely response.

The picture is of my cat Bitsy. She is a constant reminder of how being kind saved a precious life. I look forward to your thoughts.