It Begins by Seeing Each Other as People

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

— Gwendolyn Brooks

We live side by side. We go to work together, shop together, sit next to each other in movie theaters and walk past each other on the street, and we don’t see each other at all. We don’t know a thing about our neighbors or the people living in the same spaces as us. We won’t look the cashier in the eye. We don’t have the patience for other drivers on the road. We don’t care about our coworkers weekend, even if we ask. We don’t want to help. We don’t want to hear it. Hell is other people, right?

And that’s just the people we see day-to-day. Then we get online, on Twitter, on Facebook, on our blogs where people are even people anymore. We jump into the comment sections under YouTube videos and articles on our preferred news and opinion sites. We turn on the TV and see nothing but violence and feel fear.

Soon other people aren’t even people anymore. They are obstacles and annoyances. They are different and dangerous. They are the other side, the enemy. They think differently than us, they feel differently than us and anyone who is different from us doesn’t matter. They are wrong. They aren’t worth the time.

Indifference grows to hate, and people never run out of reasons to hate. They hate people because they’re brown, because they’re femme, or because they’re queer, or disabled, or transgender, or Muslim, or poor. They hate people who look different, think different, worship different. Eventually, the hated ones grow bitter, and they hurl hate right back in return. The hate mixes with fear, and they fight, some with fists and guns, some wielding the law.

I’m angry, and I am full of hate too. It grows every time I turn on the news, and I’m tired of it. But as angry as I am, as scared as I am, and as much as I want to shut out half of the world, and as many solid reasons as I know I have to do so, I’m not convinced it’s the right way. I’m not sure that isolating myself from the people who I don’t like, that I don’t agree with, that I don’t want to acknowledge, dignify, or give space to will make the world a better place. I’m not sure that going on hating all those people will change them.

I know what they think of me, and convincing them otherwise is close to impossible, but every so often one is converted, and it happens more and more every day. It’s my job not to just stand up to them, but to convince them, help them, educate them.

To open yourself up this way is exhausting, I know. To have to explain yourself your needs and to in turn give space in your life for such hate to be lobbed back at you hurts. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for anyone all the time. We have to take turns. We can retreat to safe spaces as needed, but we can’t stay there forever. We have to find a way to work it out no matter how hurt and angry we are because if we don’t both halves of humanity will go on fighting and living this double existence side by side and nothing will ever get better, and no one will learn anything.

But is that so bad? Is it really your job to care what people who hate you or are ignorant of your perspective think? Is it your job to educate them or drag them kicking and screaming toward compassion and cooperation? No, of course, it isn’t. Giving them space in your life is a purely personal decision but I think it might be the best thing to do if we want to make the world better. We are all we have, and I think it’s important we all care about each other, whether we agree or not. That doesn’t mean I accept your thinking, or that I will compromise my values. I can fight for whats right and still let you know I care about you. So, it’s not your job, but it is your problem. It’s all our problem to solve.

And solving it begins with seeing each other as people.

Both sides have to begin by understanding that we are all much more alike than we are different and nothing that any human feels or believes is beyond another human’s understanding. It takes stepping into the shoes of another and imagining their whole life had been your own. You may think and believe the same that they do now, and if you did, would the way you isolate and shame them make you change your view if you were them? I doubt it.

To think we can go on making progress with the world split and going for one another throats every day is delusional. The reality is someone is going to have to find a way to take the first step and the longer we tell ourselves that to do so is to compromise your integrity the further we drift from each other and the harder it will be to reconcile, but it will have to be done one day. We are going to have to care. We are going to have to stop seeing each other as the enemy.

We are going to have to start seeing each other.

We are one country, and one world, and in this vast, cold cosmos all we have is one another. Each of us is precious, even those among us who we disagree with. Even those we find ignorant and stubborn and who put themselves at the center of the world to the exclusion of all the rest, even they are rare and precious. Like Carl Sagan said “If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” So, yeah it should matter to you who hs healthcare. It should matter to you who has food, who has a job, who has a home, and who doesn’t. It should matter to you why people feel the way they do, hurt the way they do, and fight for the things they fight for. It is your problem too!

Your fellow human beings, whether you like them or not, agree with them or not, understand them or not, they are your responsibility.  We have to learn to get along sometime, so let’s try a little harder today, and a little harder the day after that. No matter your race, your class, your nationality, immigrant status, gender, sex, or sexuality, no matter how you were raised or what you believe, start by seeing each other as people.

Start by seeing each other at all.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image is by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

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Claim Your Freedom and Make Your Mistakes Your Own

“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too.”

— Anaïs Nin

Bad faith is a concept in existential philosophy that describes the tendency of humans, when faced with the pressures of society to act and believe in a certain way, to give up, or more accurately, to easily and conveniently forget, that they are in fact free beings who are under no innate obligation to give their time or choices up to anyone or any institution for any reason.

We grow up being told we have to follow certain rules and walk certain paths, we are supposed to want certain things and get there by doing certain kinds of work for a certain outrageous amount of hours and years of our lives. We are supposed to date certain people and dress and certain way and live from birth to death doing all the things everyone else is doing, without question, without variation.

We naturally want to be part of communities and communities work best when everyone is on the same page. We do best together when all of us are committed to contributing and moving us all forward one small life at a time.

We are also, just as naturally, very curious, adventurous, and searching for a slice of this earth and something in our lives that we can call our own. We want to mean something in our communities, and we want our contributions to be on our own terms.

We are full of contradictions, and contradictions are uncomfortable. It helps to look to those around us and follow the conventional wisdom, at the same time when others look to us, we encourage them to do the thing we know deep down we don’t want to do.

We tell them the lie we tell ourselves. Live your life this way and this way only, because there is no other kind of life you can live.

We create blind spots in our vision in all the places our paths fork. We let chance, and worse, other people, choose our direction because choosing is hard and scary, and uncertainty never lives comfortably in the human mind. We are never taught to live by making choices. We are never taught that living with purpose, a purpose we choose rather than one we are born into is possible for us. We are not taught how to cope with regret or how to feel pride at how far we come or to feel joy in where we are. We are not taught to look at our dreams as anything more than that.

We are taught that life is set in stone by the age of 18, if not earlier. We are taught that there is only one way to success, that success is possible for everyone, and that success and fulfillment are the same things. We are taught we only have one chance and that our lack of success is down to personal failure and flaw.  We are taught never to think too hard about what we are taught but I’m telling you it was a lie and for you to perpetuate it makes you a liar too.

You have choices, and you can change your life if you want too. Of course, not all possible choices are available to us at all times, and certainly, there are no easy choices to make. Freedom carries with is certain consequences and all of which must be taken responsibility for. Still, every time you tell someone, or yourself, especially yourself, that you can’t do something, or that you had no choice at any time, you are living in bad faith.

You might be thinking that if so many options were available to us, if all our dreams could come true and we could live the way we always daydreamed we could, wouldn’t we all be doing that? Well, you would think so, but the truth is, being a human is hard, and sometimes it is easier to forget what it means to be so aware and conscious and free in favor of something a little less terrifying and painful.

As a species were caught between a rock and a hard place. We live lives full of deep emotion, potential, and accomplishment, and not only do we have to die, but all that struggle and regret means nothing when you consider the eons the universe will go on existing after you. So, we choose to make unimportant and easily accessible things the center of our lives so that that pain, that cruel cosmic joke, never has to enter our minds. It’s easier to be mindless than to know what is to come and what can never be relived.

But what a waste of what little we have don’t you think?

It hurts my heart thinking of how much of life is wasted while we do the work we think we have to do and live the lives we think we have no other choice but to live all the while daydreaming of the life we might have. I panic to think of all the unexamined years of my own life that slipped through my fingers like sand while I stupidly, stupidly, stupidly spent my time on nothing that matters anymore. I wish I had known that what hurts can sometimes be what is best. I wish someone had told me to take control of my own mind, to be aware of how I live, and to ask myself all the time why. I wish someone had told me that when you have no answer to that question, it’s time to make a change and that change can always be made.

The usefulness of being aware of such tendencies is to take responsibility for the choices you do make so that even when all else has been taken from you or kept out of your reach, you at least know that everything you did was because you chose to do it. At least you will know that no matter how small or painful your life was at the very least it was your own. What else can we hope for in a universe where thinking feeling being pop in and out of existence alone, helpless, and with no way of knowing how to live or what it’s all for?

Any regret we might feel on the day that death comes for us is a pithy price to pay for such freedom and richness of experience freedom. A wrong turn made here and there along will be of no consequence if we can take pride in all of them having been our own.

An authentic life, that is what we all should be living. I don’t mean a happy life or a life where all your desires are met. No life is free from suffering, or of heartbreak, or loss, or misunderstanding, or oppression, but if we have to hurt so much and if there have to be so many regrets and mistakes at least make them your own. At least let your life be free of lies, and hiding, and of giving your life over to people who don’t have to live it for you and won’t be the ones to lose it when it comes your time to part with it.

You can do things, you can improve things, and you can choose what kind of person you want to be. You choose your words, your beliefs, and values, the way you will look, and who you will count amongst your friends and loved ones. You choose how to spend your time, at this job or that, and you choose what leisure time means too. You choose your calling and your path and your passions. Society never says you have to do anything, it only tries to dissuade you from disrupting anyone around you and waking them up too.

Were all steered in the direction that benefits everyone else, but in that cohesion and calm, we lose the only thing we have in this world, our time on it. Even if you wanted to spend your whole life making nothing, creating nothing, learning nothing new at all, at least make sure you are the one who made the choice. Not advertising, not your mom, or your boss, or your spouse, and especially not everyone else around you just doing what has always been done and wanting you do do the same so they never have to think about all the time and freedom they let slip away too.

You have the right to be a free and thinking being, and you have the misfortune to be a being with an intermediate lifespan, don’t give up one minute of it to anyone who any wants to use it for the benefit of their bank account, or their comfort. Live your life the way you choose.

Fall in love too fast, feel too much, quit your job, make less money if it means you live your dream. Say yes. Say no! Embrace being different, living different, and thinking differently. Embrace choice and make as many as you can before someone makes them for you. Don’t be afraid. Make as many mistakes as you can on your way to getting it right, whatever that means for you!

You can’t change it all, and you can’t do any more than can be done in one lifetime, but you can at least be true to yourself. You have a right to do it, and more than that it’s the right thing to do, and it’s long past time we stop acting like it isn’t.

Go, claim your freedom and your truth, and never forget that in all of the creation you are among the most privileged to have either at all.

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Thank you for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

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Jorie Graham on Capturing the Past

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the poet Jorie Graham.

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Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: “For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption — intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic — rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.”

Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990.

Graham is known for her deep interest in history, language, and perception; the critic Calvin Bedient has noted that she is, “never less than in dialogue with everything. She is the world champion at shot-putting the great questions. It hardly matters what the title is: the subject itself is always ‘the outermost question being asked me by the World today.’ What counts is the hope in the questioning itself, not the answers.” Graham has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.

“There’s no way back believe me.
I’m writing you from there.”

— Jorie Graham, Overlord: Poems

It seems like a sign or an interesting coincidence that I should come across this quote from Graham so soon after finishing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was concerned very much about returning to the past. When I saw I thought immediately of a scene near the middle of the book, when the narrator, Nick, is talking to Gatsby about his longing to get back Daisy Buchanan, a girl he had to let go some years before, and who he hope to get back.

Gatsby has been throwing one of his famous parties and invited Daisy to attend. She didn’t have a good time nor did she seem to like the company Gatsby is keeping. He’s a bit disappointed at not being able to please her and make her understand what he is trying to do. Nick listens and advises him not to be too hard on Daisy, after all, “you can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby replies:

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can! I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.”

Nick goes on to wonder about Gatsby:

“He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…”

Of course, Gatsby’s longing to return to the past, to go after Daisy and try to recapture what they had will be his downfall, that is how these kinds of stories go. If he had only moved on, and let her move on to, he might have made a good life for himself. Or if he had discovered writing and found a way back to the past that offered closure and cleansing

The laws of this universe are such that time moves one way and one way only. The past can’t be returned to, but we can express our frustration at being forced to live with no instructions or guarantees and no ability to go back and fix what we got wrong. We can express our heartbreak and our loss and our suffering/. We can even express our wishes and our dreams of what might have been had we turned left instead of right at the fork five years ago. We can’t relive the past but we can sure as shit rewrite it.

It’s strange to think too that everything you read is from the past and everything you write is to the future. I mean, I know that but to consider the past, and the future too, as a physical place that writing is either going to or coming from feels weird.

By the time you are reading this, I will have left my place behind this screen and gone on to finish my day. You may even be reading it days, weeks, maybe a year or two from now. I wonder where I am? I wonder what twists and turns my life has taken in that time. I wonder what wisdom I could send out to myself, or to you from here?

As for the past, I may not be able to speak to my old self, but I can comfort the part of me that is still hurting. I can talk with an old self who feels joy and hope. I can sit with myself as a child and capture a bit of her innocence again, in a way.

This is the loophole, a poor one, but it’s all we have for now. We’ve been gifted with an ability to vividly imagine new worlds, and we have cultivated out knack for language and learned to share those worlds with each other. We found a way to beat time, to loop back, to jump forward, to redo this life or make a new one entirely. We can live on this planet or another, light years from here. We can live in another time. We can travel to heaven or hell. We can see our lost loved ones again and tell them what we never could in life. We can fall in love, give birth, beat our enemies, become the leader, the savior, the hero, the genius, the one that everyone wants to have or wants to be.

We can be Gods.

But only in our heads, and only on paper, and that just has to be enough. Trying to go back never works. It can’t be done. Writing can help though. It can get you through your feelings. You can get them out, you can find closure, you can have what you want, in a way. Writing can be your therapy and your friend. It can help you discover the thing, that part of yourself, that you missed and reclaim it. It can keep you from getting stuck.

We’ve never been able to revisit the past, but somehow we have never gotten over the desire. We’ve never been able to let go of regret, but we found another way with writing. Take advantage of it because there is no other way back.

Trust me, we are all either writing from there, or writing about then, and we should know.

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Joriegraham.com and The Poetry Foundation

Featured image via Unsplash

We Know Not What We Do, I Hope

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”

— Mary Wollstonecraft

I’ve been having a really hard time coping with the state of the people and politics here in the United State since the election. There are many of you, and many people I know in real life, who would tell me it’s long past time to get over it, but every morning I watch the news, I scroll my feeds and timelines, and I get progressively more afraid, more cynical, and more depressed.

It feels like there are so many people who want to hurt the poor, the lost, and the vulnerable. They want to hurt our environment. They want to hurt people who look and live differently from they way they look and live. They want to line their pockets and laugh while the world burns. I am convinced, but what I can’t understand is why.

I hear two voices shouting out at me through opinion pieces and blogs. One says not to listen to them, not to give them one moment’s consideration. They are the enemy and they must be guarded against at all costs. The other says to understand them. See the world their way. They are afraid, they are ignorant, listen and reassure them. They only need time and love to come around.

My heart likes the sound of the latter, but my anger tells me I am stupid and pushes the former course.

I’m highly suspicious of any calls to understand, and appeal to, people who refuse to understand or appeal to the needs of those less fortunate than them.

What I mean is, if you are angry because full equality under the law and fair and respectful treatment for immigrants, Muslims, women, and the LGBTQ+ community has become an important issue in American politics, I think the last thing we should be doing is giving you more time to explain why people who have suffered and fought for so long should slow down, take a back seat, and give you the floor. Sorry, I’m not sorry.

I am weary of anyone who says you can’t eat, you can’t feel warm, secure, and safe because they need more. There are real consequences for people when you won’t let go of your ego or a small amount of your money. When people say they need something, they need it. End of story.

But as weary as I am, as much as I don’t want to spend my time understanding and coddling, there is part of me that longs to understand and the only thing that makes sense is that people just don’t know any better. They can’t help themselves. They really think they are doing what is right.

We have so much privilege we have become so blind to it. We spend more time protecting our luxuries than we do protecting human life and dignity. We are all guilty of it. Some more than others, but every day more and more sees the light. There is hope, I hope.

I recognize that may be a lie I am telling myself too. Maybe part of me just wants to, has to, believe that the world isn’t that cruel. People can’t be evil for evil sake. Even if the universe doesn’t care and there is no rhyme or reason to any of this, we have to have reasons right? We have to, deep down, want to do what’s best, for love, for our families, for our country and our sense of right and wrong. Right?

So, this week, I’m exploring what lies are worth telling myself. What leaps of faith are worth taking. What aspects of human nature are not worth looking too closely at.

My instincts tell me none. My instincts tell me wherever humans are involved things are always complicated, and there are never easy answers. There is always a spectrum and it is rare we fall to one side or the other fully. People aren’t all bad, but they aren’t all good either. People’s intentions must follow the same patterns I suppose.

So, this week I guess I am exploring what that means to me and in these times, where we are so divided, so angry, and so willing to turn a blind eye or let loose our rage, we should all explore what that means for us, about us. How do we find common ground? How do we listen and teach? How do we change hearts? How do we do it without losing our own sense of right and wrong?

This week, ask yourself what are the value the value of rose-colored glasses and leaps of faith in humanity? Contemplate the motivations behind why we treat each other the way they do. Look within yourself and question how it makes you feel when another person says they need things that you cannot understand. In what ways do people who live differently from you make you afraid?

I want to know what evil lives in me and why I think it will lead to happiness. I want to know that about all people. I want to know how to fix it.

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

— Anne Frank

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You Don’t Have to Like It

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Mondays are do-overs, each one is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

For me, this Monday is a bittersweet one. It is the last day of my holiday break which means this time tomorrow I will be back to work and counting down the days until spring break comes around. I am spending the day writing, doing my best not to get myself too distracted, and getting everything ready for the work week.

I feel both good and bad about returning to work. I’m glad I will have a schedule again, but I am sad it isn’t my ideal schedule. At least at work, I don’t have to try so hard to remember not to watch TV instead of writing when I can. My day job makes my hobby/passion easier to make time for, surprisingly.

“You don’t have to always be comfortable. You don’t have to like everything you do.”

— Carrie Fisher

Of all the bad things that 2016 brought us, one of the hardest for me to cope with was the Carrie Fisher’s death. I never knew how much I liked her, how much I thought of her until I heard she had a heart attack. I loved her for Princess Leia of course, I knew that much, but what surprised me was how at that moment, reading that headline, I knew this world would be a little worse off if she were to leave it.

She was so much more than a Star Wars princess, but I had allowed that image to dominate my picture of her instead of her advocacy, her authenticity, and her truth. So, one thing I hope to do this year is to read her books and to learn all that I can for the harsh and beautiful life she lived. I want to honor her memory.

I recently read her Rolling Stone interview, and one particular question/answer exchange caught my attention. She was asked: “What’s the best advice you ever got?” and she replied that it was something she heard in Alcoholics Anonymous, something about not having to like things she had to do.

She said they would tell her things like “You don’t have to like it. You just have to go.” She said she felt relieved knowing that she didn’t have to like something, even if she still had to do it.

It sounds simple but reading the relief Fisher felt when hearing it made me consider it on a deeper level.

There is so much we don’t do because we know we are going to be miserable the whole time we are doing it. We think maybe we should wait until we want to do it. We think maybe our resistance is a sign. We think we shouldn’t have to do things we don’t want to do merely because they are hard, uncomfortable, or they aren’t any fun. The truth is we place too much trust into those kinds of feelings. We let them keep us from doing what we need to do.

Have you every paid attention to the things you do when you are trying not to do something? I started to, and I realized the things I do to keep me from doing hard things are not even things I’d rather be doing! I scroll Facebook when I am supposed to be doing research. I wander around the office when I don’t want to do paperwork. I do the dishes when I am supposed to be writing. None of these things are more fun or fulfilling.

I just don’t want to do something, and I can’t move past it so I do anything else but that “anything else” never feels better than the thing I should be doing.

So, this week, I am accepting that I am just not going to like things but that I have to do them anyway. Through that acceptance, we can just move on and get done what needs to get done. I am giving myself permission to hate doing things. I am letting myself feel that resistance. I am acknowledging it and then I am moving forward.

We all hate getting up early. We hate going to work. We hate answering phones, small talk, meetings, and spreadsheets. We hate grocery shopping, and laundry, and cooking dinner. Sometimes we hate the things we love too. Sometimes I hate writing but it is something I have to do! And not only that, contrary to what my brain and my gut are telling me, I feel better when I do it.

I feel better when I accomplish things, especially when they are hard. I feel better when I get things done, and I can move on to new things. I feel better when I check things off my to-do list. I feel better when I take advantage of my time to be successful and productive.

Don’t pretend you hate these things and don’t let your hatred keep you from getting them done. Let your lazy, whiny side have their say. Let yourself moan, and groan, and complain all you want, but then you do what you need to, even if you hate it the whole time. I promise you will feel better in the end :)

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Be Kind Instead of Right

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a fresh start, every week. Mondays are our do-overs, our reset buttons, our first days. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

For me, this Monday is off to an about average start. I ran a bit late, I had a meeting, I have a lot on my mind, but I’m motivated. I feel good, but I could use a dose of caffeine to keep the momentum going through lunch. I just have to get through this week. After that, I’ll have nearly two weeks off of to do whatever I want. I can do this.

“I am practicing being kind instead of right.”

— Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

One habit I have been working hard to break is my need to be right all the time. I used to argue a lot. I used to but in and correct people, give my two cents, and I kept talking until the other person yielded and admitted I was right. I worked hard to win. I dropped facts, science, statistics, and lead people along the lines of my own thoughts and feelings to convince them. No matter how angry the other person got, no matter what insults they threw or what they said I kept at it.

I thought I was helping. I thought I was teaching people. I thought people would appreciate what I was doing. I wasn’t helping, though, and I doubt anyone one looks back and thinks fondly on that time that short girl berating them about evolution, healthy diets, the meaning of obscure words, or their brand of politics.

Looking back I am sure I didn’t improve anyone’s life by acting the way I did. When has forcing knowledge or opinions on anyone ever made them feel better?

Even though steered clear of direct insults, I often took on a condescending tone. I talked down to people. I laughed at them. I talked to them like they were simple and stupid. I thought them all backward or falling behind. I didn’t know it then, but I thought I was better than them too. I thought my love of science and my curiosity meant I had a right to educate and dismiss people. I thought I had a right to force everything I’ve learned onto the people around me. I was not acting in kindness. I just wanted to be right, even when no one was arguing with me.

What made me unkind was that I never just listened. There was never a time that I wasn’t judging someone or trying to change them in some way. I didn’t make people feel smart or important. I was pretty awful sometimes.

For awhile now I have been trying to do things differently. I have been trying to listen. I have been trying to let other people teach me things. I have been trying to keep my mouth shut every once in a while.

I can tell you that not only am I sure that the people around me feel better, but that I feel better!

It’s a huge relief not to feel the need to force myself on people. It’s nice not to spend so much energy on trying to bend people in the direction I want them to go. It’s nice to wait until someone asks me what I think. It’s nice to just accept people and let them bend me a little from time to time.

This week, let people be wrong, let yourself be wrong. This week, just accept people. Listen a little more, keep your opinion to yourself, and stop trying to force people to think, believe, and know what you do.

Try not to think of people as stupid just because they see things differently. Try not to talk down to anyone or dismiss their perspective.

This week, try being kind instead of right.

***

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Ask For Help, and Keep on Asking Until You Get It

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s imagine that Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. Let’s imagine all the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore and that we’ve been given a second chance to do it all again, and this time, we might even get it right.

From now on Monday’s are for making the changes we want to see in ourselves, and for thinking about the changes we want to see in the world. Monday’s are our new favorite days!

As for me, this Monday is a bit stressful, but I am proud of myself for keeping a cool head. My driver showed up half an hour late, which means not only were we late picking up our kids, and the parent was mad, but everything else I had to do today has been pushed back too. I am doing my best to catch up, but I fear it may be a lost cause. I’ll be late to everything until lunch.

“It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.”

— Amy Poehler

My childhood wasn’t a particularly good one, and I have grown into an adult who struggles with depression and anxiety, and more specifically issues with boundaries, trust, and relationships of all kinds.

I do not like to be close to people, emotionally or physically. I fear there is always an ulterior motive, even with friends and family. I have a perpetually feeling of embarrassment and confusion around social norms and etiquette. I feel ashamed and afraid most of the time, and I am sad nearly all of the time. I suffer from panic attacks and bouts of depression, flashing rage, and uncontrollable crying. In my own mind, I am worthless, weak, ugly, dirty, and pathetic. I am a failure and a waste of space.

Some days I feel like I am swimming upstream and close to drowning. Some days just getting out of bed, and putting one foot in front of the other is the very best I can do.

There have been days where I wondered whether it might be better for everyone if I were to never wake up again.

I’ve had some therapy, but for most of my life I couldn’t afford it, so I’ve taken the unsure and unstable route of “self-help.” I have improved a lot through self-awareness, honesty, and forgiveness. I still think all the things I always have, but now I recognize them for what they are, symptoms of my past.

 

Getting there has been a lot of hard work, but it all started with one very small, but very big, step. Simply telling myself, and everyone around me, exactly what I needed.

I may need to be heard, be hugged, or be left alone. I may need to hear that I am understood, forgiven, and loved. Maybe need to be told what I am feeling is okay and I may need to be given the space to feel it. Maybe I need someone to hold my hand. I might need to gather my thoughts, to get away, to figure out how I feel. I might need to feel needed. I might just need food, medication, or water.

I might need help, and that is okay.

We live in a society that tells us to be strong we must hold our own. We are told that needed help is weakness and asking for help is something to feel shame for. It is so deeply a part of who we are now, especially as Americans, that I still have trouble asking for help and I still have thought that those who asked were weak. It’s a lesson I have to keep learning, and I wish more of us were learning it too.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. You have found it in yourself to reach out toward another human being and trust them to hear you and help you. It’s scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Each of us would love to help a friend who needed us and each of us would love to be helped too. To feel needed, understood, and cared for are all feelings we are looking for, no matter what our mental health status. We crave that closeness, and long to be that vulnerable.

Being open about my needs, and asking for help, helped me build relationships and learn to trust. It helped me recognize the ways I was hurting myself by not getting what I needed and allowed others to feel close to me and show their love. It gave me a chance to feel in control of my mental state. It gave me the chance to learn to cope and to heal. Asking for help opened to door for me to be able to do everything else I needed to do to get to where I am: happier, healthier, and functioning. I could never have made it this far with the help of others. None of us can.

This week, tell yourself, and a few people you trust, what you need.

There is a lot more to healing and coping with mental illness, but it all starts with the act of openness and asking. Ask for help, ask for what you need, and keep on asking until you get it, and then ask again whenever the need arises. Offer help when you can and let everyone you know hear that it is okay to do the same.

The world needs so much more of that.

***

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