Sunday, May 17, 2015

Follow your passion

If you feel a passion for something, don't let anyone or anything stop you. In fourth grade, I wanted to learn to play the violin - and actually any stringed instrument would have suited - but what was offered was the violin. The music teacher had a test in which I performed below expectation. In fact, he insisted I had no natural musical ability. I was having none of that and insisted that I was going to learn to play the violin (with the help of my father). After a year of violin lessons, my music teacher insisted I switch to the cello. I loved the cello! And he was likely grateful.
At the end of the sixth grade, much to my dismay, they ended the orchestra program and there was no path for me and my cello. Another music teacher accepted me as a guitar student for the summer. Then in seventh and eighth grade, I sang in the choir and loved it. So, entering 9th grade, I auditioned for the senior high school choir and was not accepted. I was crushed.
Meanwhile, my parents had discovered a guitar teacher in town who was a lovely man. Every week for .50 I took lessons and spent many hours in my room playing and singing songs. In 10th grade I auditioned again for the high school choir now under a new director. He not only accepted me for the concert choir but also for the madrigal group. Under his wonderful direction, I learned to sing.
Now some 40 years later, I am still singing and still playing my guitar. My first music teacher was right. I don't claim any natural ability. Music is somewhat mysterious to me. I am in awe of those who seem to understand it and perform it with ease. But I love it. I have always loved it. Most of all I love sharing music and the belief that if you desire to play and sing - you should and you can.
My first music teacher would never have imagined that I would someday make simple little stringed instruments and travel where ever they lead me in hopes of sharing a passion for music. It is my greatest joy. If I would have believed him and that first choir director, I would not be sharing that great joy now.
Whatever your passion, stick with it. Do it for yourself. If it brings you joy, you will have opportunity to share it one day. Most of all, give yourself that gift. Stick with it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On the scale of life.....

Life can be tough. There are so many things that happen in our lives that are completely out of our control. It can become overwhelming. If you've followed my writings, I've told about my 1-10 scale for problems - 10 is death. Odd, it suddenly hit me that 10 should actually be MY death. So I have never faced a number 10 yet. I was close once, but I guess that is a 9. If that was a 9, everything else in my life has been below that.
That leaves number 8. What was an 8 in my life? Would that be the loss of those I loved most dearly or would it be the day I cooked the last food - quite literally a pound of hamburger, a jar of sauce, and macaroni noodles - in my cupboard and shared it with expectant guests that I knew had plenty in their cupboard at home and who totally dismissed my telling them it was the last food I had in the house? Perhaps it is their oblivious dismissal of my need that looms so large. Perhaps it is the memory of standing in line at the food pantry days later that looms so large. True hunger is a painful memory. But hunger for love is even more painful and I have known that often and very early in my life. Ok - loss of someone - a love is about 8.9. Eight is basic survival - food being one of those.
Number 7 would be the feeling of lost direction. Those would be the times something had ended and another has not yet begun. These are the times I wasn't quite lost but wasn't quite found. What had ended had to end but what was supposed to begin had not begun and I did not yet know what it would be. Those "tweener" times are hard. I recall the end of college coming and a professor asking seniors in the class how they were feeling. She came to me. "Panic", I said, which seemed to surprise her a great deal because she knew me as active and confident. I did not feel prepared and had no specific place to go next. Of course, a few months later I was on my way, but those "tweener" moments can create a sense of panic.
Number 6 is making a change you have chosen and going on faith. Leaping from the known into the unknown is really scary - even with great expectation and the belief that you have made the right choice. Leaving a relationship might waver between 6 and 8 at times. Leaving a job for another is similar. It starts at a 6 and can shift down or up as the opening days pass. I recall the first few weeks on a new job where co-workers were not very welcoming and my number rating rose to a sense of death status but I survived.
Number 5 would be making a change you have chosen with a good plan behind it. Stepping from one path to another with a good sense of the lay of the land is right in that middle ground. This is where I want to be most consistently. Life should be exciting enough to keep our attention but stress free enough to keep healthy. Until I hit the 10 area of life, I'm hoping to target a lot more of the 5 area.
Anything under the 5 is just too mundane to write about... like taking out the garbage and doing the laundry.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Heavenly Thought

"In heaven", she asked, "what happens if two people had a personality conflict in life?"
She challenged me to write about this from a spiritual perspective. Interesting question.
Imagine one of those annoying people in your life. If you both wind up in heaven - for eternity - how's that going to work? I've often mused about the shock some people may experience in discovering people they have condemned standing at the Pearly Gate.  Perhaps there is much more going on in the spiritual world than a simple - heaven, earth, hell scenario can possibly explain.
Growing up in a Christian church, I was taught that heaven is perfect. It's a place of peace, filled with pure love and there is no suffering. Looking around here on earth, there are a lot of conflicts and plenty of suffering. There are as many conflicts in churches as any place else. Some churches actually fan the flames of conflict and cause suffering. The same spirit we carry around here on earth is going to move on to the next place. Will our spirit instantaneously have some miraculous change when we die? Will we suddenly see the full truth of love and peace that we can not fully see on earth?
The whole thing is a bit perplexing. If there is a miraculous switch that can suddenly provide our spirit with full understanding of love and peace - end suffering - why would we have to die to get it?
On earth we are given many opportunities to learn to love, create a peaceful life around us, and end suffering for ourselves and others. Some people are very good at it. They face all the same challenges the rest of us do, but their lives are filled with love, peace and they don't draw in senseless suffering. They are the spirit filled people. They focus their efforts on positive things and creating positive outcomes. Their prayers are their actions. Their beliefs are expressed, not in words, but in deeds consistently pursued in the knowledge that god is everywhere in everyone. They know heaven is not a destination, it is an action. Heaven is love and peace and the end of suffering. When we understand that, we will arrive in heaven. Our spirits will not rest until they arrive there. And when we arrive there, personality conflicts will be over.
It's nice to think a sudden switch flips and boom - we are in heaven - all is perfect. There's probably a little more to it. I do believe our spirits will be provided every opportunity to learn and grow. Just as it is here, it's up to us to learn it. From a spiritual perspective, it's probably a good thing to get over personality conflicts now. It's a heavenly thought.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Fabric of our Society.

Most of us have had a time when we took out our frustrations on the wrong person. Maybe it was a bad day at work and we came home, someone said something, and we over reacted. Or perhaps it was reaction to a difficult boss - day after day we fail to react to perceived insults - then one day we explode and do or say something that is not going to do us any good.
On the receiving end of such outbursts, it seems the person has lost their minds. The thing they exploded about was not worthy of the reaction - over reaction. Take time to get to the bottom of the problem, a lot of other hurt comes to light. It doesn't excuse the over reaction but it helps to actually try to resolve issues that can lead to over reaction next time. If we fail to discover the deeper issues, and react only to the outburst, there continues to be a ticking time bomb.
Why are we seeing increased clashes between police and citizens - especially in cities? Why are these clashes boiling up into violence and destruction?
I believe the root of the problem is economic. It's aimed at police because they are the front line. They are the government representatives that are most encountered in communities. While they are trained to deal with difficult people and difficult situations, imagine how it must feel to be the recipient of anger day after day. Most police officers enter their careers with the very best and most noble intentions. They want to make a difference and help create a safer community. They know they are putting their lives on the line as they strive to serve the community. Imagine how they must feel to watch those communities get worse instead of better. On top of that, there is little thanks and little respect. Add in shrinking budgets or lack of expanding budgets to meet increased needs, less money for positive community programs conducted by police, less money for training - and the officers on the street are going to feel increasing overwhelmed. They are human. We expect them to be superhuman. Most of the time they are. But we need to listen to them and understand the challenges they are facing. We need to help them solve problems. If we don't, we are putting them in harm's way. The best and the brightest will loose hope. The one's who are not so skilled will loose their ethics.
Historically impoverished neighborhoods have the greatest crime rates in nearly every category - vandalism, burglary, domestic violence, assault, murder.... Desperate people do desperate things. Anyone who is continually knocked down, no matter how hard they try, will grow angry and loose hope. And they will act out in irrational, even destructive, ways. Education budgets have been squeezed. Community programs are no longer funded. The cost of living goes up while salaries go down. Many of our government officials talk about poor people as though they are vampires sucking the life out of our society when, in reality, it's Wall Street mentality and lack of government intervention that is sucking the life out of our society.
We have to get to the root causes of poverty if we want to have a stronger society. Growing poverty weakens the fabric of our entire nation. We will continue to see outrageous results - riots, looting, killing and violence if we don't take poverty seriously and work together to develop solutions.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Confidence Versus Arrogance

There are significant differences between a confident person and an arrogant one. The difference can be seen in how a person works with others. Do they build people up or knock them down?
A confident person is self aware and will likely see mistakes or failures as learning opportunities. The focus will be solutions and working with the best people to find them. A confident person doesn't feel a need to know everything, generally is willing to share what they know and are willing to seek those who may know more. Their interest in leadership has little to do with power and much to do with team empowerment. It's a joy to follow a confident person who recognizes and applauds the people around them.
An arrogant person may appear to be self confident but, in reality, their self perception is based on appearing to be above others and above reproach. They view mistakes or failures as character flaws so someone else needs to be held responsible. They are noxious, rude and even cruel to their "inferiors". The only people who aren't treated as inferiors are those they believe they can leverage to get ahead. They are not quick to share information because they need to be the person "in the know".
They tend to be extremely critical and crave positions of power and authority. No one needs to tell them anything. They already googled it.
Dealing with an arrogant person is quite challenging. If you are forced to deal with one, here are some suggestions.
1) They may be arrogant but they are not entirely stupid. They are just not able to see the benefit of skilled people around them. And they don't realize how much that works against them. Try not to treat them the way they treat you. Patiently educate them.
2) Don't let their arrogance influence how you feel about yourself or how you treat others. There may be a nugget of gold buried in their barked order or uneducated request that will improve what you do. They are your toughest audience. If you can please them, everyone else is a piece of cake.
3) Try to build their ego. Arrogant people are actually very insecure. They need their power and status to feel good about themselves. Tell them what they are good at - honestly - they are likely good at something even if it's not dealing with people. Feed their ego and they will feed on someone else.
4) Distance yourself. Build a network of supportive people. Do what you do best. Don't let that person be the filter by which you are viewed. They want that power. Don't let it happen. Arrogant people use people as stepping stones and the stones get tossed in the river.
5) And finally if they are controlling your support network, move on. An arrogant person can be so dominating that you cannot thrive in the environment they create. They are, at this point, the total bully that deserves none of your energy. If they are able, due to the existing culture, to control your support network, there is a greater problem than them. Let them dominate inferior people. Let them manipulate whomever they like. You should not be one of them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Let honor propel us....

Loosing a parent raises such a mixture of emotions. There is a deep sense of so many things unsaid and undone. You want to pick up the phone, hear their voice, and ask urgent questions. Images are frozen in time. A moment - a picture - a word - the last things you said, they said - and then the flood of memories come. We cannot prepare for it. We cannot predict our reaction to it. And we cannot predict the influences that may come.
I will always remember my 30th birthday - one moment. I was working alone in my editing studio. I can still feel and see exactly where I was standing - what I was doing. A sudden realization swept over me and I fell to the floor in tears. Just weeks after her 30th birthday, my mother died. What if these were my last days? What had I done with my life? Was I even half the woman she had been?
I remember her through a child's eyes but in that moment, I imagined the woman she was and tried to put myself in her place. For the first time I imagined her through adult eyes. I imagined her pain and her struggles. I recalled the stories told about her and the memories I held. I felt humbled. I felt deep responsibility. Still I struggled to find my peace.
At such an early age, the loss of my mother meant that others provided mothering in the way they could. I had both Grandmother's, especially Grandma Power who was just up the road. Aunt Elaine and Aunt Ruth were also nearby and took special time with me. Loosing Aunt Elaine in my late teens was devastating, then Grandma Perry, Grandma Power, then Aunt Ruth. Moments in my life, I thought such loss prepared me for the next. It does not. If there is or ever has been an attachment of any form, we will feel a sense of things unsaid and undone. Always there are things unsaid and undone.
The best we can do is carry on in the spirit we feel they would urge. I believe we can still tell them what we need to tell them. I believe we can listen for their voices and their spirit will speak to us. I believe we can do, with those remaining, what we know they would urge us to do.
In the recent passing of my father my brother Mike shared treasured memories. At the end he said, "Dad’s lifelong sense of adventure will live on within me, and I will make every attempt to pass along his legacy to the next generation. Thanks, Dad."
 Mike's Tribute
The best we can do is honor those who have contributed to our lives, treasure the memories and pass along the best of what they have taught us. Honor them and honor those living still. I believe Dad and all my mother's who have passed would tell me this.
We will grieve and it will impact our lives in unexpected ways. But we need to take those moments in and let them propel us toward honoring them and honoring one another.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cultural trends, public opinion, and how they shift over time is very interesting. We watch the pendulum swing one way and then another. There are always factions pulling at one end of the spectrum and the other. In the great middle ground, the masses sway a little or a lot until someone is convincing enough to pull the blob the other direction.
Most of us like to believe we are rational, reasonable people. We like to believe we have things pretty well figured out. We like to believe we're not easily misled. But our own history and human history often tell a much different story.
If someone finds the right button to push, people will blindly follow right down the rabbit hole. Like boiling a lobster, we don't realize how hot the water is getting until it's too late. In the middle of it we just don't see it. Once we have become emotionally tied to a cultural trend or public opinion, we are hooked and masterful communicators - manipulators - can reel us in. We will follow a path that has consequences we would not intend and would not accept if we could see them in advance.
Those driving a push to change public opinion and create a cultural trend don't typically spell out the intended outcome. This is especially true if the intended outcome is not something that masses would accept. Instead, they focus on a hot button issue, an emotional extreme concern that can sway even seemingly rational, reasonable people. They work to create a momentum in the direction they wish to ultimately end up. They work it in stages and remain focused on hooks that tie to emotion - even outrage.
This is also true for swaying public opinion toward a positive outcome for all. It is true for swaying public opinion toward a negative outcome - especially if the negative outcome affects a minority. An emotional hook is used to change the view of a class of people. That's how it is done. The bigger question is why? And how do we determine if the outcome will be positive or negative. The answer to both why and whether the outcome is positive or negative revolves around status.
If we are convinced we in danger because of some other person, we will fight to preserve our status. "Those people are going to steal our jobs." "Those people are going to ruin the sanctity of marriage and destroy family values." "Those people are going to ruin our neighborhood." "Those people are lazy and don't deserve XYZ."
Once fear is built up, the rest is easy. A wedge is built to keep "those people" at a distance in the form of a nameless, faceless blob. From there "those people" can be characterized to re-enforce great myths to drive the wedge deeper. These are the signs of negative outcomes. As fear drives us to limit our exposure to "those people" we make poor choices. They are US. We are not separate from anyone. They are not separate from us. Our status is not improved by keeping someone else below us. Our status is improved by lifting everyone with us.
Look at history. Conquerors become targets to be conquered. Hatred on one side grows hatred on the other. We need to actually get to know one another. We need to listen to each other. We need to learn to recognize emotional hooks intended to keep us from knowing each other and listening to each other. That requires humility and detachment from status. It requires a mindset of constantly learning and evolving. We need to become explorers. Instead of holding aspirations of increased position in the world, we need aspire to improve the position OF the world. We need to be cultivators not conquerors.
So, as we wade the waters of cultural trends and public opinion ask if the communicator is telling you to conquer something or to grow something. Are they trying to grow your fear or stretch your imagination to strive for more? Fear is the opposite of love. It's not likely to take you down a pretty path. The path of fear tends to end in darkness. It might take longer to grow something but things tend to grow toward the light.