The Wayne Foundation

Today, I had the immense privilege of listening to the life story of a very strong woman. Jamie Walton was a victim of child prostitution and currently heads a new non-profit called The Wayne Foundation. She told her story to Kevin Smith (filmmaker and podcaster) on the podcast “SMinterview with @ThatKevinSmith” (Episodes 2 and 3 – free to download on ITunes and worth every minute of your time). What is amazing about Ms. Walton is her ability to forgive, to consider her abusers’ point of view (how many people could or would want to do that?!), and her remarkable transformation into the highly capable, successful woman that she is today. And it is not just her personality that is impressive, it is the mission of her non-profit The Wayne Foundation.

This non-profit is special: not only does it plan to give assistance to young girls who are trying to escape sex trafficking, it plans to give them every tool they need to completely rehabilitate themselves and become productive members of society. Ms. Walton is trying to do for other girls what needed to be done for her, but what didn’t happen. With the loving support of her amazing husband, Jamie Walton tread that path independently. She emerged as an amazing woman who not only survived and overcame her trauma, but was able to transform that experience with a passion I have rarely seen, and she has formed this foundation from scratch to help victimized girls (and hopefully some day the boys too she says). Ms. Walton is not the face you see on TV that reeks of talking points, fake optimism, and a hidden agenda. She doesn’t sidestep the unpretty parts. She takes them head on. She tells her donors that it will take awhile to achieve her goal; that the goals of The Wayne Foundation are large; that if donors are looking for a successful result they may have to wait ten years because that is how long it takes to make this happen. Oh, and she’s not getting paid. Maybe someday with enough support. What’s more, Ms. Walton is eternally optimistic.  When asked how she managed to avoid hating the world for the trauma she experienced, Ms. Walton said (paraphrasing here–), “I embrace the world because even though I recognize there is a lot of evil and nastiness in the world, there are some individuals that are not like that, and if you tell the world to go f#@& themselves, you tell the good people to go f#@& themselves as well. So, that’s not really fair…. I can’t tell those people [that]….  If we all [do that], think about how much worse it’s going to get…. Let’s look at the good part, let’s focus on the positive… it brings people together.”

That type of attitude and perseverance should be celebrated, commended, and mirrored by every member of society. And I think it should be rewarded however we can. I hope you will take a moment and visit The Wayne Foundation website (site still under construction) and listen to the podcasts linked in the first paragraph. You will learn more about their goals, plans, and financial agenda in the second podcast.

Please spread the word. You can also “like” it on Facebook. You can follow Jamie Walton on Twitter: @JamieWalton

And thank you all for reading!

The civil rights issue of the 21st century

I don’t usually weigh in on political stuff that is hugely controversial, but sometimes I don’t see any way around it.

New York legalized gay marriage in June. I was back in Iowa, which also legalized gay marriage a few years ago. As a former resident of one state, and a current resident of the other I must say I am doubly proud. You may not agree with this decision by the states legislatures, but I say, “It’s about time.”

See, here’s the thing: I just don’t think it’s right to tell someone who is a good person that they can’t have the same rights as me. Civil unions (the preferred option for some anti-gay marriage people) remind me of the whole “separate but equal” thing. It makes me very uncomfortable (Jim Crow, anyone?). As a matter of fact, it makes me angry.

People must have forgotten that old phrase, “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

I don’t know about you, but I like the legal right to see my husband in the hospital when he is sick, to make choices about his care when needed, and to have the same federal and state tax privileges as other married people. Lucky for me I guess that I’m heterosexual.

People argue marriage is religious. Well, that is true some of the time. But I didn’t get married in church and the state still calls me “married.” They still issued me a “marriage license.” There was no check box that verified it was a religious ceremony. Religion was not even a question. So obviously the word “marriage” doesn’t just apply to church-goers where the state is concerned. A church can refuse to marry gay people, just as the Catholic church would refuse to marry me to my non-Catholic husband (if I had wanted the religious blessing, that is). It’s their right as a religious body. And those rights were given extra-protection when the New York legislature passed the law. So what’s the fuss?

The way I see it, New York and Iowa were doing the right thing in the eye of the law: equal civil rights for all. And since the word “marriage” is tied so inextricably with our law system maybe we could rely on that nifty American notion “separation of church and state” and let these wonderful gay people have their wedding days sanctioned by state (and someday federal) law. Shoot, it would boost the economy. It would make many, many people much happier – including myself. And simply put, it is the right thing to do.

And now, one of my favorite videos in favor of the fight to legalize gay marriage–

Oh, and P.S. Thank you to the four New York Republican legislators who did the right thing in the face of their party’s objections: Senator Jim Alesi, Senator Roy McDonald, Senator Stephen Saland, and Senator Mark Grisanti. Personal opinion: you are on the right side of history, gentlemen.

You’re just too nice. Seriously.

Last month, in an interview with Liz Clancy Lerner of AllOverAlbany.com, I was asked a question I don’t very often consider:

Can someone be too nice?

Simple answer: Yes.

You know the type: people-pleasing tendencies, lacks self-confidence or an autonomous behavioral compass, and – the obvious one – a doormat. An “emotional tampon” (gross analogy – my apologies, but true don’t you think?).

I hear this one sometimes.... (Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/4370496415/)

Last week a friend of mine described his frustration with his neighbor. “Tom” can’t really stand “Sheila.” Sheila is a daddy’s girl with all the entitlements that go along with it. Seriously spoiled, Sheila has no idea how lucky she is, or how nice she has it. Worst of all, she doesn’t make any effort to develop herself financially even with her dad’s support. And this rubs Tom the wrong way – he made his own way in life, and it irks him that someone can be so lucky and so completely ungrateful and complacent.

For some reason whenever Sheila needs something done around the house, she asks Tom for help. Now, I know what you’re thinking: this isn’t a “crush” thing. I think it is more of a “substitute daddy-figure when the real dad isn’t around” type of thing. It started innocently enough. When her car was having problems, Tom tinkered with it trying to figure what was wrong. When it had to go to the shop, he’d allow her to come on grocery trips with him instead of making her walk the few blocks to a nearby store.

Sheila doesn’t ask for help anymore. She tells Tom what to do. “Hey, you’re going to need to come over Saturday and fix my sink.” (Reminder: Tom is not a relative, boyfriend, or landlord. Just a neighbor. They don’t hang out as friends.) What did Tom do? Well, he was miffed for sure. And he had plans to hang with one of his buddies on Saturday. He canceled them. When he told Sheila that, she didn’t seem embarrassed or upset he had canceled his plans for her either, and she certainly didn’t make an apology for inconveniencing him or offer an alternative time/date.

What’s more, she doesn’t ever thank him. She complains about how tough her life is, how uncool her dad is (the dad that is her virtual lifestyle paycheck). When Tom’s buddies try to suggest maybe she should make it up to Tom (with baking, or money perhaps), she becomes indignant. At that point her gratitude is a fast retort to flatter her own bruised ego and to save face with Tom’s friends.

And this never ends. Even though it makes Tom angry, he feels trapped. After all, he is her neighbor, her dad is absent and can’t help all of the time, and he does know a lot of handyman skills.

In my estimation, Tom is too nice to Sheila. But perhaps not for the reason some might suspect. Doing nice things for neighbors is what being “neighborly” is all about. My neighbor is elderly, so we do the yard work, snow removal and occasionally grab things for her from the store in inclement weather. It is the “nice” thing to do. And doing nice things without expectation of repayment is a good habit to be in, assuming you are not doing it all the time to your own detriment.

The problem with Tom and Sheila is the lack of gratitude and appreciation on Sheila’s part, which is further complicated by Tom’s inability to meaningfully confront Sheila. Though he suggests a return on his time investment (perhaps bake him some cookies, or give him gas money when he drives her around), he does not cut off his assistance when she doesn’t follow through on reimbursement. Her promises are empty, and his confrontations are on an equally weak foundation.

Tom is becoming more and more irritated with Sheila. As his friend, I offer my sympathies but I also feel like Tom is making his own bed. I believe many of his frustrations lie with his inability to be assertive to Sheila, where before they were attributed solely to her actions.

The lesson here is not necessarily to keep tabs, but to be aware. If you find yourself giving (of your time, attention, funds, or efforts) over and over to the same person without any meaningful return to your investment, perhaps it is time to question your generosity. If the act of giving brings you joy (as doing things for my elderly neighbor does me — plus it’s good karma for when I’m older!), that could be enough. But if you feel your resentment growing, address the problem and be prepared to follow through on the removal of your generosity if the person continues to abuse it. Otherwise you may end up resenting yourself too.

Thank you!

Best "thank you," EVER!

When I graduated high school, I decided to use this great stationary I had and write “thank you” notes to some of my teachers. I didn’t write one to every teacher I had–though they all deserved thanks–I wrote to those teachers who played an important role for me personally as I developed through school. I wrote one to my junior high English teacher who was the first to really believe in my independent voice; to my 5th grade teacher who gave me a book for Christmas that was one of my favorites (I still have it!); to my TAG teacher (enrichment class), who showed me that intelligence was a gift and who introduced me to the idea of higher education; to my physics teacher, who engaged in philosophical debates with me regularly and let me keep my physics text book (still have it, too I think!); one to my second grade teacher, who had this giant Garfield tent that we could read in if we behaved; and more.

This week I was reminded of the value of a heartfelt “thank you.” I received one of the most delightful, lovely, and thoughtful thank you’s I’ve ever had! The wonderful Ms. Anita and her fabulous 7th graders from Brooklyn compiled a little stack of colorful notes, drawings, and a homemade scarf (!) and mailed them to me as a “thank you” for posting their work on this blog! (If you need a reminder, search the category “Brooklyn students embroideries” and you’ll find over 20 posts on the topic!) As I opened the package, all these bright paper hearts came falling out, and I read every message out-loud to my husband as I giggled, and smiled, and laughed! Each message was so sweet–and the drawings on them were terrific! One of the students, Lucara, added the “Be Nice” to the scarf–it is perfect! One of my most prized possessions (and how did they know how much I love scarves!?)!

The sheer joy I felt receiving such a thoughtful message of gratitude made me think of an article I had seen on CBS awhile back, about writing “thank you’s.” As the commentator mentioned, thank you notes are on their way out–specifically the hand-written kind. But some of us still do it, and some of us write them all the time. Take author John Kralik.

One recent December, at age 53, John Kralik found his life at a terrible, frightening low: his small law firm was failing; he was struggling through a painful second divorce; he had grown distant from his two older children and was afraid he might lose contact with his young daughter; he was living in a tiny apartment where he froze in the winter and baked in the summer; he was 40 pounds overweight; his girlfriend had just broken up with him; and overall, his dearest life dreams–including hopes of upholding idealistic legal principles and of becoming a judge–seemed to have slipped beyond his reach.

Then, during a desperate walk in the hills on New Year’s Day, John was struck by the belief that his life might become at least tolerable if, instead of focusing on what he didn’t have, he could find some way to be grateful for what he had.

Inspired by a beautiful, simple note his ex-girlfriend had sent to thank him for his Christmas gift, John imagined that he might find a way to feel grateful by writing thank-you notes. To keep himself going, he set himself a goal–come what may–of writing 365 thank-you notes in the coming year.

One by one, day after day, he began to handwrite thank yous–for gifts or kindnesses he’d received from loved ones and coworkers, from past business associates and current foes, from college friends and doctors and store clerks and handymen and neighbors, and anyone, really, absolutely anyone, who’d done him a good turn, however large or small. Immediately after he’d sent his very first notes, significant and surprising benefits began to come John’s way–from financial gain to true friendship, from weight loss to inner peace. While John wrote his notes, the economy collapsed, the bank across the street from his office failed, but thank-you note by thank-you note, John’s whole life turned around. (source of this text: click here)

Being grateful is linked to a number of amiable characteristics: patience, awareness, humility, value of community, receptivity, positivity, and so on. I imagine people sensed a transformation, or a certain openness, in Mr. Kralik’s character as he began to change his perspective, and responded in kind. And while sometimes a verbal “thank you” might not yield the same response, I believe any form of gratitude is an awesome sentiment to express regularly. These Brooklyn kids, their teacher, and John Kralik could all be wonderful role models as we begin to recognize the good things in our lives day to day.

So, I’ll start now by saying: Thank you! For reading the blog, supporting the project, for being a kind person. It means the world to me.

:)

You can watch the CBS article here or read it here. Check out more of the book “365 Thank You’s: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life” by John Kralik here.

Feeling a little heated–the debate, I mean

It doesn't really relate, but isn't this the best picture, ever?! Source: http://forums.colbertnation.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=5788

Phew! Politics. Goodness! Is it ever NOT a heated debate about something? Not really. This morning, when I groggily popped onto Facebook, I found my friend had posted a link to an article detailing the latest update on the activities of the US House of Representatives. Anymore, politics are a hot topic for an online debate which can get downright ugly, and often these exchanges become pointless in the end.

(Imagine something like this: “I will yell to prove my point.”…. “NO YOU WON’T! I will yell even louder to prove my point and not concede or find common ground!”…. “Well, I’ll just be extreme to prove my point and do it so loudly you are drowned out!”.. . and so on. You get the idea….)

Because I don’t want to get into a debate here which would detract from the point, I am not going to tell you what the posted article was about. But I will tell you how the responses to my friend’s post went (totally paraphrasing here), with my little “I couldn’t resist! I had to weigh in!” reply at the end including my strategy to diffuse the argument into something effective and constructive. (Note: everything is written in first person, so follow the indents and colors.)

:)

  • THIS SUCKS! WHAT A BUNCH OF BALONEY! The “issue at hand” is important for America! Why is it being attacked? It is so much more than the Congress’s simplified notion of being related to the “bigger issue!” GRRR!
    • I have no sympathy for you because I’m on the other side of the “bigger issue” and I blame the “issue at hand” for much of it.
  • Well, what about problems A, B, and C mister? You ever thought of that? The “issue at hand” is essential for dealing with those things.
    • Oh yeah, I’ve thought of A, B, AND C, but those are taken care of elsewhere. The “issue at hand,” however, is involved with the “bigger issue” so the “issue at hand” is on my naughty list.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #1:] Well, don’t you think “elsewhere” also contributes to the “bigger issue?” It’s not only their fault!
    • I seem to be on the defensive. Now I will use an extreme example to support my argument and detract from the validity of your point, while also illustrating my contempt for the “bigger issue”.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #2:] I don’t think you know anything at all. You sound stupid. Here are the reason facts A, B, and C are so important, and why they make the “issue at hand” so necessary and not evil. The “issue at hand” is separate from the “bigger issue”.
    • Why do you try to confuse the topic? The “issue at hand” is definitely what I’m mad at. The “issue at hand” is to blame 100% for the fact that A, B, and C exist in the first place. If the “issue at hand” didn’t exist and a few other extreme measures did, we wouldn’t have these “bigger issue.”
  • [Continued counter-argument from friend #2:] I am really mad at you now and am going to tell you that you are full of crap. And I’m going to reitirate the need for the “issue at hand” in order to deal with the very real problem of A, B, and C. So there!

At this point the owner of this Facebook page is completely out of the conversation. This has become an all-out Facebook debate-style war. What would happen if the argument was diffused with a little recognition of the complexity of the issue? I decided to test the theory (I swear there may be a formula to this!) while providing a counter-argument as well.

  • [This is me now:]  …. Step 1: I need to inform you of some facts to legitimize the necessity of “the issue at hand” to deal with A, B, and C. Step 2: (This could also come first in many cases:) I recognize your position and the complexity of the “bigger issue”. I am going to use statements that do not begin with “I” or “you” or personal opinions so the energy of the previous confrontations are removed. Now I will gently reassert the importance of recognizing the value in the “issue at hand.”
    • Reply to previous comment from friend #2 with a “my way or the highway, all-or-nothing” agenda. I’m going to come from nowhere to bring up another really “controversial issue” to make my original point more clear.
    • Reply to the new comment comment with a much more chilled out perspective (this is 10 hours later, which proves that “getting some air” might help), citing personal second-hand experience with the “bigger issue” that has shaped my perspective.
  • I choose to ignore your rather simplified–and outrageous–statement about the “controversial issue” in your first reply, because it would cause another angry debate. Instead I am focused on the calmness of your reply and the submission of a personal connection to both of the “issues.” Step 3: I see a common ground here. In a neutral voice, I relate the conceptual basis and underlying facts of human behavior to the “bigger issue” to explain why your extreme solutions won’t work for everyone. Humans are to blame, not the “issue at hand.” Step 4: I restate something about your argument that I can agree on to enforce that you are being heard. I acknowledge your passion for the issue. Step 5: Without using “should’s,” I express my optimism and hope for a way you could communicate your passion that could positively affect others on the “bigger issue” as well as problems A, B, and C. Perhaps you could advocate for the facts at the heart of both the “bigger issue” and the “issue at hand.” Step 6: Express gratitude for the civility in our discourse, which includes listening to my perspective.
    • I feel the change in tone. I am grateful for the constructive idea. I regret being so aggressive with my wordage at the start. Acknowledge my passion. But… what about this aspect of the “bigger issue?” Doesn’t that support my all-or-nothing assertion?
  • Acknowledge the logic of that perspective but cite the inability for any of us to control the actions of others. Praise your own self-control in relation to the “bigger issue” and named problems A/B/C, but discuss that not everyone may have the same extent of control. Acknowledge that there is not one solution, but that the best thing you or any of us can do (in this case specifically) is model the behavior we wish to see in others–or the behavior we see in others that we admire–to try to encourage our viewpoint.
    • Personal account for what informs my perspective and explains my anger. Acknowledge the points offered–”I have something to think about,” I say. I can see the validity in what you say. Expression of gratitude for the exchange.
  • My expression of gratitude as well. (happy face included)

While the guy and I did not come to an agreement on the “bigger issue,” or the “issue at hand,” we both managed to have a civil conversation and we left with perspectives we hadn’t considered before. It reminded me that at the center of many of these arguments is someone who has been hurt, and who may have formed incredibly strong feelings about the issue because of it.

Reading this without the specifics of the argument, maybe it seems very confusing or reactive. And much of the discussion was. The way facts are emotionally communicated seems to produce this super-charged outcome. If people try to find common ground, or be willing to hear the logic of the other’s argument (to suspend their emotional appeal for the moment), we might make headway on many issues. There will always be disagreement. But perhaps our ability to consider the motivations behind our opponents’ viewpoints will yield a better resolution to these controversies than what we’ve seen in the past.

Unfortunately, I know I will always have a chance to test my theory on communication. The good news is that I live in a country where I can communicate my opinions freely and expect them to be heard by someone. What a gift!

:) Have a great day!


For Muse: Crushes

"The Kiss" by Francesco Hayez (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I had to give this one a lot of thought after a reader asked me to write on it: how to talk to crushes. And this is for a few reasons: first, I talk all the time. So my attentions to a particular crush wouldn’t seem much different from any other day I bet. Second, this isn’t exactly a “be nice” thing, but if put in the right perspective it can be. Being confident in yourself is part of being “nice” to yourself. So I think it fits. Third, I’ve been with the same fella for 6 years now.  So, I’ve been out of commission awhile. Now, remember: this is just my opinion. Always trust your judgment first. I’m definitely not an expert. But here goes!

I’ll tell you how it worked out when I talked to my biggest crush EVER: my husband. I met him at an art opening of a show we were both in. He walked off the elevator and it was immediate: I had to talk to this guy. So without thinking I walked right over to him, put out my hand, and said, “Hi! I’m Jen. Who are you?” with a huge smile on my face. Now the key to doing this was no thinking. If I thought about it, I would get insecure and I would not say a word. And getting insecure is exactly what happened that evening.

We had a blast walking around, talking about the art work. I don’t even remember what we said, I just remember making sure I was being cool and not sounding like a moron. Things were going great! It was me and him alone virtually the whole time we viewed two entire floors of work. But then came, as we stood around digesting the show, this little, short-haired, petite cute girl. I was always intimidated by those girls. Here I was, 5′ 10″, at the time I was a size 18, and naturally next to a 5′ 5″ skinny blonde with stylish clothes and that mysterious “cool” vibe, I figured I was defeated by default. I thought, “Oh, she’s pretty, she’s probably his girl friend.” So while he made conversation with her I wondered off, insecure and angry with myself for being such a chicken. He left the party and I was devastated.

But then I got brave again, and found his email on our college directory (slightly stalker-ish, but hey, it worked!). I emailed him with the “Hey, that was fun and I liked getting to know you. Would love to talk about art again. Want to hang out?” And he wrote back, “Yeah! Here’s my number, here’s when I’m free.” (PS–it was fate because he NEVER checked that email, but just happened to that weekend.) So, we hung out. And my insecurity prevailed again because I assumed he might just want to be friends even though we spent 3 hours just swinging on swings at a park talking, plus dinner, plus seeing some art. I should’ve known he was into me when he called each day he said he would (he called every other day), when he picked me up and we went out to dinner. So I told him, “I like you,” on our second date. He was shy, and said nothing! UG!  Again, thrown into tumult. What was going on?!!

My friend Michele suggested some “game” type strategies. They didn’t work. Jake wasn’t into “games.” He was oblivious. And playing games wasn’t like me either. So finally, I took some of my own advice. Be blunt. Be reckless. When I don’t think, and speak, it works best for me (with him at least!), so I said, “Look, I like you. And I don’t know if you like me because you haven’t said so. And it’s fine if you don’t like me that way, but I just want to know. Because if I don’t stop liking you this way soon, I won’t be able to be friends with you and I really like to talk to you so I’d like to be at least friends. So do you like me or not?”

And he said “Yes.” The rest, as they say, is history.

My suggestions are these:

  1. Always be yourself, from the start. Be true to your feelings, your intuition, who you ARE. Your love interest will either like you or they won’t. It’s nothing you can change. If you change who you are, eventually the relationship will fail because you aren’t being you. So just be you from the start because that pain is probably less than the pain of being in a relationship that feels like a lie. Want another argument about being the true you? It’s unfair to assume someone won’t be into you the way you want them to be. Give your crush his/her due credit and give them the privilege of knowing the real you. You are awesome, and it’s just a matter of finding some other person whose “awesome” jives with your “awesome.”
  2. Just treat them like you might when you want to make a new friend–at first. It might take the pressure off. Then after a few tries at talking, you can tell them you “like” them. They’ll know you by then and probably have an idea of if they “like” you too.
  3. Talking to crushes comes in waves of pure mindless bravery and bouts of crushing insecurity (if you’re anything like me). The important thing is to always try to defeat the insecurities  and go for what you want, even if it scares you. Worst case: s/he won’t “like” you. And what you get out of that is knowing that you care enough for yourself to go after what you want. That is something pretty special. Best case: s/he is into you. That would be sweet.
  4. When in doubt, just talk. Could be about anything. Don’t know what to say? Make a comment about something you are into. They might pick up on it. Still short on words? Ask questions. People love to talk about themselves. Give them a chance, and they might take it. And then you can respond with a story, or another question. It’ll get the ball rolling.
  5. There may never be a day when you feel ready to talk to your crush. Or maybe you just need to build confidence for a while and then you will go for it. You know you best, so trust your instincts and believe in your qualities and go for it when the time is right. If you know that you are a good person worth befriending, that will come across to your crush, and that is a very attractive trait to have.

I hope this gets you thinking. I’m sorry I’m a little out of date on the whole crush thing. Just remember to be safe, make smart decisions, and to be good to yourself. Those are most important.

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I’m going to keep you all updated on my Kickstarter project with every post until its deadline in March. This is my first update!

KICKSTARTER FUNDS RAISED: $59! Thanks to those who gave! We’re nearly 20% of the goal! Only 78  more days left to support the Be Nice. Guide to Farting and Pooping! Find out more by clicking HERE.