Kindness and Compassion

Kindness and compassion are two traits that I personally value high up on the proverbial moral list. I have the great fortune to be close to many individuals who posses both of these, and the absolute honor to work with children with disabilities and among their communities where they are found in spades.

I sincerely believe that each generation has seen the progression of our species and discovered with it an innate and creeping fear – we manage to embark on new territory with frightening (and seemingly increasing) speed. As a Martial Artist part of me feels that the world has become more dangerous, and there is ever more opportunity to abuse and to bully – the forums are countless, whereas…once upon a time…they did not exist. (Think social media, internet chat rooms, cell phones etc…) It’s hard not to see the glaring negatives.

But…my mind is admittedly wired to be overly optimistic. That doesn’t mean I am not based in reality, or that I don’t take life seriously (whether it be bills or the threat of being car jacked.) But I see the immense value in keeping a positive outlook as much as is humanly possible because I have seen the tangible impact it can have. This week I am completely down for the count with a kidney infection – couldn’t say where it came from, but I confess it has been quite painful and body-rocking. I’m a dreadful bore to be around, slow-moving, and probably not smiling a ton… But I feel thankful. I see the good.

For one thing, I feel blessed to have the help and care that I do from my husband and appreciate feeling love from my family. As importantly, I recognize that I’m not terminally ill! I have all my limbs. I have all my senses. I haven’t been jumping for joy, certainly, but I have not lost sight of the fact that this is a short bout. I have nothing to complain about, and certainly no right to be yelling at anyone, nor taking out my frustration in a negative way. This was an out-of-the-blue lesson, as often they seem to be.

I also think sometimes the Universe wants to say, “I really think you need to slow down for a minute because YOU won’t on your own!” Frustrating that may be for a personality type like mine, I have to accept it. It’s not a fun stroll in the park, but there is value in having to slow down (or flat out rest.) There is an additional benefit in that it reminds me that I need to be kind and compassionate to myself – it’s okay to rest.

Even when I feel horrendous, I know how blessed I am. It’s important to say thank you to my loved ones to express my gratitude for the kindness they show me, or others along the way. For instance, I appreciated that the ladies at the blood lab were as sweet as they were – it was a little thing, but they were kind, and I noticed. I even appreciate the people who make the amazing whole wheat english muffins I’m eating.

The world is a tough place – whether more or less so than the past, who knows… I think each era comes with some pretty challenging circumstances. But we don’t have to be bitter, or treat others unkindly. We don’t have to abort compassion to buffer ourselves, or lash out in response to someone else’s poor understanding of proper human interaction. Lofty it may sound, and perhaps also unrealistically utopian, I truly believe that the more compassion and kindness people show one another, the better off we all would be.

I live in a tough town. Some days I really notice the effect… My DNA defaults to seeing the world from someone else’s lens (or trying to), and to coloring everything with an empathetic heart. But there are days I feel like an angered animal in my own skin and I sincerely chalk it up to the environment (40 years of living with me gives me good insights when engrained M.O.s are changing.) It’s an interesting experiment in a way – incredibly enlightening, and I’ve welcomed the learning. It has taught me just how valuable it is to maintain my own standard of airing on the side of kindness. Why? I don’t want to contribute to the downfall I see around me (and I don’t want to be pulled further into the depths with it.) 

My recent travel was also quite a fiasco, between cancellations, unexpected delays, missing connections… I was tired and frustrated but yelling doesn’t help anyone in a situation like that – it wasn’t the gate agents at the airport who were responsible. It wasn’t the pilot or stewardesses… Various people kept asking why I was smiling and it occurred to me that I guess most people don’t (a fact that actually made me feel sad.)

I didn’t really know who was to be held accountable in all cases (two planes themselves for breaking? A mechanic long gone who maybe could have done a better job? A supervisor who should have triple checked the panel work?) But would it matter if I did know who was at fault? Not really… There was no sense in getting crazy because at that moment all I could do was be resourceful and figure out my next move. I couldn’t control the external circumstances, only how I was going to react to it. I wasn’t trying to catch a flight to Tokyo, I wasn’t stuck in a hostile territory (well…that can be debated!), and I knew I’d figure out a way to get to my destination at least in 24 hours.

Having compassion and kindness for the players involved encouraged them, also, to have the same for me. And they did. They took care of a lot for me, including arranging a long drive to get me to my destination and sending me a credit for inconvenience – I saw them feverishly trying to get my bag pulled at one point… They were legitimately putting in the effort (which we should be honest doesn’t always happen these days even if it is at the common core of a job description.)

I spent 20 minutes on the phone after the fact waiting for a manager so I could commend the key people who helped – I could tell that acknowledgement and appreciation would matter to them, and a kind word can go a long way. I sent an e-mail doing the same just to be sure it got to the right people. Will I ever see those agents again? Probably not. Does it matter? Absolutely not. To spread kindness and compassion doesn’t take a lot – in fact, I’d argue it takes less than to hate, to be angry, and to yell. But it changes lives. It makes people want to return the favor, to work hard…it helps them to feel good about their contribution and to, therefore, continue making a positive one.

If everyone could do the same, the environment would shift dramatically. Though it isn’t realistic to expect everyone to eagerly jump on board with a “love more, hate less!” hippie-like mantra, it doesn’t hurt to live that example as much as we can. And it doesn’t mean we can’t seek out environments which are more in tune with these principles – it is impossible not to feel the shift when compassion and kindness are blooming in spades around you, and when you recognize that there is a choice about what we do with what’s presented to us. 

Autism Humor – I’m Taking It With Me

I have the honor to volunteer with many children with autism and there are some things that just go with the territory (aside from the fact that I’m always smiling – they light me up every time! 🙂 )

Many of the children I have the joy to work with like to bring personal items along with them to play time (or wear something they love.) We typically don’t allow them to bring toys from home, heaven forbid something is lost in the shuffle – the organization I work with has a TON of toys for the children to play with, so outside items could easily disappear.

Still, when they really WANT to bring something (for example, little felt pieces in the shape of animals) chances are a mountain will be made into a molehill by not going with the flow. Trying to separate them from a comfortable “known” can be a lot more trouble than it’s worth and frankly, at the end of the day, there’s nothing at all wrong with that (particularly in a less frequented environment.)

We do, however, have to keep a sharp eye out so that they also go home with everything they brought along!

The Art Of Communication

This week a lot of friends have seemed to have had their share of communication breakdowns – on their side, or on the part of another person….parents, children, instructors, training partners. . .and it prompted me to think about it.  You’d think Mercury was in retrograde! (Don’t worry, it isn’t for some weeks 😉 ) 

It never ceases to amaze me, though, how similar situations can be, even when involving vastly different topics, completely different areas of Life, and totally different players.  Communication, however, is the underlying thread weaving it all together. . .

Communication isn’t relegated to one type of relationship, nor to specific people – it isn’t just about friendship, or marriage, or work, or family. . .  Communication is what sets us apart – it’s what binds our species, allows us to function at high levels, to accomplish collective goals, to learn, to love, and to live. Communication isn’t in and of itself horribly complicated, but humans ARE. . .and that’s where it gets tricky. (Modern life does bring a few challenges as well…)

shoeboxblog.com Chuck & Beans

Emotions, preconceived notions, previous experiences and conditioning. . .it all plays a part in how we respond to stimulus.  While humans are capable of incredible strength, that doesn’t mean we aren’t also highly sensitive (I know I am!) – the way in which we communicate is therefore as important as the words we are using.  Words, keep in mind are defined differently, even among those were are most similar to – in this case, the nonverbal, the tone, and the delivery makes a difference.

A HUGE one.

 

Everyone has had their fair share of “stuff” – we’ve all been marred by life’s rough edges, nature’s unpredictability, and lessons we needed to struggle through in order to fully learn (I’m still learning quite a few, including the topic at hand.)  As a result, most of us walk around with what I call “walls-at-the-ready” – we are kind of like collapsible fortresses just waiting for the moment to erect our barricades, and employ our moats.  

Seriously…

So communication then can become a very delicate – and powerful – affair.  

There is a true art to navigating what could easily become choppy seas (at our own hands – or our chosen communication.) There are tons of articles, books, seminars out there (such as this one) but no matter which relationships they are intended to better, they speak to the same key principles.  So it doesn’t matter if it’s your child, a new co-worker, a parent, a friend, a spouse, a sibling – the keys to communicating well focus on the same fundamental ideas, and can apply across the board.

LISTEN

Listening matters – listening with the intent to reply is not the same thing.  We need to listen to hear and understand from the other person’s perspective. Whether or not we agree, feelings are just that – as such, they are valid even if we don’t “get it.” 

EMPATHIZE

Everyone wants empathy and to be understood – no matter how much you may disagree, recognizing that the person speaking has a valid and true reality – for them – helps to bring them down a notch. Or several. 

MAINTAIN CALM CONVERSATION

People are open and responsive to calm conversation – the second the heat of anger is turned up, or promise of threat implied . . .POOF! . . .Barricades!

AVOID ATTACKING, BLAMING, SHAMING

People are (at least generally) open and responsive to discussion provided they aren’t in a corner – the slightest attack, criticism, blame, there go those walls again.  What you want to convey will be shut out like an enemy coming in full force. No bueno, as they say…

STAY FOCUSED

Keeping the focus on the issue at hand makes for a cleaner conversation – muddling the mix with outlying topics that really have no part to play make a mess, quickly.  Not to mention a full suit of armor on the other side!

Usually communication is only difficult when it’s controversial – when it may cause discomfort (like embarrassment, anxiety, self doubt etc), when it’s about a touchy subject, (embarrassment, shame, etc), or it provokes a fear-based response (as in “fright or flight” – resulting from directed anger, frustration, for example.) At those times, that’s when we LEAST want to be gentle and “follow guidelines of effective communication”!!  

But, as they say, a moment of patience can make a lifetime’s worth of difference.

Adorable! Seven Deadly Sins Cartoon: Anger
Written by Bearman Cartoons

Listen to the other person and, whether you agree or not, make the effort to recognize their view.  Keep yourself calm, avoid blame and attacking, and stick to discussion mode – people will be far more able (and willing!) to receive, and are less likely to block you out. If you feel like you can’t contain the disappointment, anger, frustration etc, do something else until you can be calm. 

People are complicated, and so is Life.  Even your best friends and closest family members meet discord from time to time (if they didn’t they wouldn’t be breathing!) that’s okay – it happens!  We aren’t always going to see eye to eye, we aren’t always going to define terms the same way, and people aren’t always going to behave exactly the way we want all the time.

You say you’re a Martial Artist and I might take you at your “word.” (schoolofdisney.com image)

One of my favorite expressions is “how important is it?” It’s one I heard growing up, and it’s one I hear frequently today.  As spoken at a dear friend’s wedding recently – in fact, by a very wise and learned woman – you can be right, or you can be happy.  Again, this applies to all areas of life, and to all kinds of relationships…

For example, I’ve seen a marked change in my own relationships with family members over the years, and every so often I catch myself really thinking about how our interactions have (or haven’t!) evolved since childhood – sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it feels down-right painful. . .but Life doesn’t stop because I don’t agree with something, or I feel hurt. 

The more I can communicate effectively and in a kind way, the healthier all my interactions will be, and the better I – and others – will feel.  That means learning to do things that maybe I’m not so great at, or challenging my mood at that moment, or, even tougher, changing things I’ve done my whole life – sometimes what used to work for us doesn’t anymore! I know I’m a work in progress…but I am working at it, because there are areas in which I know I can do better.

I loved this excerpt, read by a friend recently, as it captures the essence of the idea perfectly:

” Today being aware of the words I use, I am learning to communicate more responsibly.  I not only share in a more straightforward manner, but I also argue in a healthier way.  There are better was to express myself than to say ‘you did such and such to me.’ I can talk about myself and my feelings.  I can explain the way I experienced something rather than telling the person how he or she made me feel… 

“…We learn in time that it is not the subjects which are controversial, but the manner in which we communicate about them and the elements of personal blame we add to them in anger.”

CTC by AFG p 176.

Effective, healthy, and happy communication can be accomplished, but it does take a little work.  We are thrown to the wolves in many ways, and learn to swim in the deep end by trial and error – there aren’t structured courses in school about interpersonal relationships, and workplaces don’t exactly help you along either! Unless we seek out our own kind of learning, it feels a lot like a shot in the dark, especially when we meet new people, are navigating a new job etc… Even when it comes to parents and children who’ve been together for a lifetime – life changes!  I recently was reflecting on how I could do a better job of understanding, as well as responding to a parent differently.

If things aren’t being communicated as smoothly as you’d like, or you feel it’s complicated and overwhelming, know it is NOT a lost cause. The phrase “DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE DONE TO YOU” works really nicely – that’s basically the gist of it.  So if all else fails, just think about how you’d want to hear criticism, or how you would want someone to convey some tough news.  When we are in that kind of a mindset, we usually are off to a great start.

Here’s to the journey of Life! ❤ 

 

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Wearing With Pride

Little things make me so happy…like the victory my school won in getting a sweatshirt with their name on it.  The overarching brand generally doesn’t allow it, but I think we – the students – asked enough collectively that our instructor was finally heard by the powers that be.

We all have a sense of pride surrounding the quality of training, instruction, and of students who attend, so in a way this is like a show of support to sport the hoodie.  For a Martial Arts school, you always hope that’s the case – the friendships forged there are meaningful because you are in the thick of it together.  Even if you don’t hang out with everyone all the time, you know you can count on mutual respect and feedback when in the dojo.  Since it isn’t ALWAYS the case, it’s a special thing to find that kind of environment.  And as a result…wearing our name out an about puts a huge smile on my face. 🙂

BJJ Gracie Hoodie

BJJ Gracie Hoodie

More Martial Arts fun!

H2O Of The Future

I occasionally get some odd looks when ingurgitating my bag of seaweed chips – they’re absolutely delicious, despite what skeptics may think!  But I imagine if I held up a jelly-like sphere, crystal clear as could be, to imbibe my thirst…and then, I devoured the skin in a gulp!

Skipping Rocks Lab

Skipping Rocks Lab

That’s right! So much for piles and pits of plastics!

Ooho!, designed by Skipping Rocks Lab, has been created as an environmentally safe solution, making portable water more sustainable.  

To add to the monumental benefit of such a feat, the Company’s use of sodium alginate and calcium chloride (derived from seaweed) has also brought the cost substantially lower from traditional plastics – to approximately one to two pennies per capsule!

Mother Nature inspired the sphere, which I can’t say surprises me – the Universe is pretty remarkable.