Monday, November 30, 2015

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

There are times when we all need to get off the grid for a while. I don’t necessarily mean escaping to a cabin in the woods, far and away from society. However, taking some time away from the non-stop negativity of the internet is something we all need now and again.

This thought began formulating a few weeks ago when my oldest daughter announced she was no longer interested in FaceBook, and culminated this morning when I read Nicole Phillips blog, Kindness is Contagious. Both women gave the same reason for taking some time off.

I scrolled through my timeline and sure enough there were countless numbers of negative posts, mostly sharing the “hooray for our side,” type content, listing all the reasons the other side is wrong about this, that, or the other thing. Then there were a few hateful posts about love gone wrong, or the unfair nature of life.

It must be FaceBook! I declared in my mind, and quickly bounced over to LinkedIn where the professional people post. Scrolled down the feed, and discovered the reason so many people hate their jobs, or hate their role in their jobs. Every other post tells you exactly why YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG! You suck as a leader, because you aren’t doing it this way, or that way. You suck as an employee, because you aren’t doing this or that. You aren’t making a profit, because you failed at this or that. You are taking too much from others, because you failed at this or that. On LinkedIn, you can’t win. Either way you failed.

Twitter came to mind. Surely Twitter must be better! Afterall, you only get 140 characters to express your thoughts and opinions. :::sigh::: not so. The Twitter feed was buzzing in full vigor of negativity and vulgarity. In 140 characters you can read all the reasons you do not stack up against human expectation.

So, here we are in the cesspool of the internet, feeding off all this negativity. Now, we can point fingers at each other and lay blame at the feet of any one of the five billion people who use the internet every day. But, the question remains, am I contributing to it? The answer is yes. No matter who we are, or how wonderful we think we are, we are most definitely contributors to the constant negativity of the feeds.

Life is not filled with sunshine and roses. That is a fact. We all have our days, weeks, months, and years filled with tragedy and loss. However, do we really need to share all that with the rest of the world, on a regular basis?

It would seem that Negative Nancy and Ned have been promoted to CEOs of the internet. The question of the day, are you working for them? Are you sharing every negative post that comes along? Are you quipping at someone else, because you can? Are you passing judgment on people you don’t know? Is sarcasm your new favorite language? Are you dissing on yourself for whatever reason? Are you taking pleasure in another’s tragedy? Are you posting blind statuses directed at specific people, but you don’t have the courage to mention their names?

The internet is a choice. You can participate or not. You can choose what you share, and with whom. You can choose how much you share, or don’t share. We all have our ways and means of making a life for ourselves. Success is as we define it. Some people need to have lots of stuff and money. Some people need to have lots of family and friends. Some people don’t need a lot of either one, or they need a lot of both. Whatever category you find yourself defines you as successful.

As we learned from Thumper’s mother in Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sometimes It's Hard to Breathe

My day had not started out so great yesterday (Wednesday.) I should have expected it, but I didn’t even give it a thought. I’m pretty sure it was the weather turning cold that brought on a major muscle spasm in my back. It was so bad I could hardly breathe. I lay there in the bed for a good amount of time, wondering if I was ever going to be able to get up again. Always be grateful for the things you can do, before you are left to wonder if you will ever be able to do them again. Every breath created a deep, dull ache in my back. It was hours before I could fully function again.

As the sun went down in the late afternoon, I needed to go to the grocery store, so I reluctantly decided that yes, I could do it. It was either go to the store, or go hungry. I walked around the store looking for the things that I wanted, and proceeded to the checkout lane when I was finished.

Before I knew it, a woman had latched onto me in a full frontal assault of a hug. She squeezed me so tight that I couldn’t breathe. She just kept her arms around me, saying thank you, over and over.

In the first few moments, I was quite certain that I had committed no act of kindness toward this woman. In reality, I had no idea who she was, or why she was holding onto me so tightly.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, she let me go, and took a step back. She asked if I remembered her. I’m sure I had the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look, because she told me her name, and began to thank me again. By this time, there were several people who had stopped to take pause to watch what was happening. If you know me, you know that having people in my personal space is way out of my comfort zone, and also having all eyes on me in this type of situation is also way out of comfort zone. I had to ask what she was thanking me for.

It turns out that several years ago, which seems like a lifetime, far and away, this woman took one of my classes and then came to my office seeking help. At the time she was homeless, sick, and running out of options. It all came rushing back to me as she kept telling me her story. The bystanders all seemed to be listening to her as well, but in the moment it was just her and me in the whole of the world. She was telling me about her apartment, her job, and the re-connections she had made with her adult children. I was wondering what any of this had to do with me.

She bluntly said, “If it hadn’t been for you, I would not be here now.” That statement still sits in my heart as I write this. My mind rushes back to the days we sat talking in my office. I search for the single moment that made the ‘big difference.’ It was the moment I chose to listen, to hear the story that lived inside of her in those dark days.

You might think this story is about me, and maybe even think I’m talking about how great I am or was. No, this story is about her and the deep amount of gratitude that I feel toward her, and having the opportunity to know that her life is different now. She’s made leaps and bounds of progress. She’s happy in her life.

We don’t always have the luxury of knowing the rest of the story. She could have just as easily gone on with her day as though I wasn’t even there. She chose to share her joy with me, and for that I will forever be grateful.

As I remember those days, working in that nonprofit, I recognize that I learned something way back then. Each person that crossed the threshold of my office was a piece of my strength, a piece of my courage, and a piece of my light. They were everything that I was not. They were everything I wished I could be. If it hadn’t been for them, I would not be the woman that I am today.

Thank me? No, do not thank me. It is I who should be thanking each one of them.

Sometimes it’s hard to breathe.