That is so gay

This is the #1 result of a google image search using the title of this post. Image source: http://beinglatino.wordpress.com

Have you ever gone to therapy? I have. On three different occasions.  I don’t remember every tool I learned there off the top of my head, but I do remember my counselor saying this: you cannot make anyone feel anything. I was feeling guilt, assuming I made people feel badly even though they probably weren’t feeling anything bad at all, and my counselor was trying to help me realize I shouldn’t hypothesize constantly the impact my words have on others. He said,  “We all choose how we feel when people say things, whether we feel good or bad. We are responsible for our own emotions, not for everyone else’s. If we hurt someone’s feelings, they have a responsibility to tell us so.” But that got me thinking (probably way off of where the counselor was going with his point, but whatever! It’s still an interesting thing to consider…). Is that always the case? Am I never to blame for how others feel as a result of something I said or did?  If I cheated on my husband and he felt hurt, angry, dejected, and insulted, does this mean I can release some of the blame for the way he would be feeling? I don’t think it works quite this way, and while I know I would never take advantage of this perspective, I am sure there are thousands of people out there who would.

Like this guy I knew once upon a time, who regularly said unnecessarily cruel and critical things to unsuspecting people, all-the-while using the disclaimer, “Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just being honest.Yeah right. My theory is this guy got sadistic pleasure out of making people feel insecure or miserable. Messing with people’s heads was this dude’s personal enjoyment. I imagine he was doing it because he  wanted others to be as miserable as he was; or maybe that was just his personality; or maybe he really did think that was how psychology students were supposed to behave, as he said on many occasions. But the truth is, what he said made people miserable and it gave him pleasure. Whether or not what he said was true was not nearly as important as what were his motives. And those were selfish and unkind in nature. Lucky for us, there aren’t too many of people like this guy wandering around. No,… I would say, mostly all of us do our fair share offending and being the offended.

People say and do things that hurt people’s feelings all the time. Often people hurt others without the self-awareness to realize why they behave as they do (like girls in junior high who rip on other girls because deep down they are insecure about themselves).  They don’t fully understand why they are doing it, and don’t necessarily care to find it out. It’s just easier to keep doing what feels good.

And more commonly there are people who hurt others’ feelings without ever intending to do so, and without realizing what they said could be hurtful. Many times they are ignorant of what they are saying. Take the people who say, “That’s retarded,” or, “I jewed him down,” or, “I got gypped,” or, “That’s so gay.” Now, I’m not trying to be the language police. Matter of fact: I am a major user of swear words–it’s a vice I try to avoid but cannot eliminate, and often it’s one that I indulge pleasurably. In issues of language there are people on both sides of the fence (homosexuals who say, “That’s so gay,” and so on), but depending on your audience, those phrases can offend people. And this is something we should try to be aware of. My swearing offends people, and presents me in a less-than-flattering light, so I need to choose my audience carefully. And what the offended folks must remember is: some people don’t realize what they are saying is offensive. It might be a cultural thing, it might be badly phrased, it might be slang.  So before reacting, try informing them first. We’re all guilty of this offense in some form at one time or another.

And finally, there are the people who say 100% innocent things that are only offensive to a particular person with a particular point of view or private history. Everyone has had experiences we cannot know ahead of time that shape their attitudes and perceptions, and often something we say innocently can offend others.

So how can we manage this fact in a world where people are (endlessly!) offended by any number of things?

First, have compassion if you have been offended. You’re no perfect plum yourself.

Second, I say operate on this principle of forgiveness: unknowing offenders should be forgiven immediately–and when worthwhile–the offender should be informed of your feelings (nicely!) to help them avoid repeat occurences. Try not to judge their character, when it could be a simple issue of misinformation or ignorance. But do take note of those who are continually offensive, mean, or corrosive to others’ self-esteems and identities. Those people are toxic and should probably be called out on their behavior, or avoided. In those cases, chalk it up to their personality, and don’t waste time or energy being hurt by their musings. State your position, be open for a good dialogue, and if all else fails, deny that bummer-of-a-being your totally awesome friendship! There are tons of people out there just waiting to offend you unintentionally! Better you spend your energy on them!

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A little about parents on Mother’s Day

Aside

 

 

When I was little…

My mom is going to read this probably tomorrow night. So first: Happy Mother’s day Mom! I love you and you are a wonderful woman who I am so lucky to have in my life. You were amazing the day you gave birth to my squirmy 9 pound 13 ounce body, and you are even more amazing today. Thank you for… everything.

Today I want to write about parents. I’ve had this one on the list for a while, and it seems perfect to write it on a day like today.

Parents are perfect.

And parents are completely, ridiculously imperfect too.

I love my parents. I like them too. That, I think, is pretty impressive. Not many people can truly say they like their folks. But I really do. And I have four of them.  My parents divorced around 17 years ago and it was the best thing they could have done (aside from having me and my siblings I suppose!). Then they found these wonderful significant others that are so completely better for them than they were for each other.  And, somewhat atypical of most step-parent/step-kid relationships, I like my step-folks too!

But that’s not to say we haven’t had our rough times. Fights, mean words, grudges, irritation, frustration, hurt feelings. It wasn’t always easy. A lot of the good feelings we have now took a lot of hard work over the years from both sides.  And we’ll have to keep working at it in the future. After all the… stuff… over the years, if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that parents always do their best. It might not have been the best that I wanted or thought I wanted, but it was the best that could be done at the time. When I realized this in my early twenties, everything got a whole lot simpler. All of a sudden, the anger I had carried for years regarding things I had no control over from the past began to work its way out of me. Do I think there will always be a little hurt, unease, or sadness in me about some of it? Yes. But knowing they had done their best was enough for me to let it go and accept it. To move on.

People always say, “We can’t pick our parents.” And all I can say to that is, “I am so glad!” I wouldn’t want to pick my parents–it would be like picking your kids! No thanks! Where would I begin? How would I know what was the best choice? What I think might be the best for me might not be any good at all! Like it or not, my parents’ weaknesses and strengths shaped me, made me who I am today. And I wouldn’t want to change that, and I couldn’t have planned for that either. I like me. I like who I am today. And all the crap and good stuff we experienced in our pasts congealed and made me what I am. There’s no sense to it, but it works.

Everyone on the planet has some idea of what everyone else should be doing to be “better,” but these notions are based significantly on our own desires. We love each other, we want one another to be better, to be our best. Because we care, because it will relieve us, because it will make our lives easier…. But what we have to learn to accept–in order to love them fully–is that all we can really expect out of our loved ones is that they do their best. Even if it isn’t as “good” as we’d like it to be. If they are doing all they are capable of at the time, how can we demean that with our expectations and desires? They are surviving, coping, managing, moving forward. They are succeeding! They are being nothing short of astounding–not everyone can give their best. (Are we giving our best when we pile our expectations on others?) Once we recognize that their best may never be what we expected, we might just realize that their best was better than we could have imagined. That their best achieves more, is more genuine and long-lasting; it inspired in them more than we had ever dreamed possible.  And in that regard, aren’t we lucky that we didn’t get our way?!

 

Nice your freaking face off, man

Aside

In the news recently, we’ve heard much about the healthcare debate. And the protests. This last week, protestors reportedly shouted the “n” word at Representatives John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), spit upon Rep. Cleaver, and called Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) the “f” word.  The actions of these protestors has enraged many Americans. It is not uncommon for emotions and energy to build among large groups of people, causing actions to get out of hand–a sort of mob mentality. You see it at concerts, sports games, and yes, protests. And while our country protects our speech–even words offensive to others–using slurs rarely, if ever, achieves any utilitarian result.  As we move forward from these events (or ones like them ), here are a few things to keep in mind that I believe would drive our attitudes to something productive and positive:

1.    Pissing people off is a privilege we should treasure without taking advantage of it

We have the privilege in our country to voice our beliefs freely. And while the opinions of others may make our skin crawl, reacting against them in an equally negative way will not sway our opponent from their perspectives. Disagree, yes. State our opinion, yes. But retaliate? No. As hard as it may be, we should appreciate the ability to fervently disagree with one another–and we should try to have skin that is thick enough to withstand it. Maybe I watch too much Law & Order, but if we keep prosecuting people for their words (like the guy who was convicted of degrading his ex-mother-in-law’s dignity by calling her a few swear words–I swear it’s true), we could find our constitutional right to free speech slowly eroded by court rulings and reactive laws. Now, I’m NOT endorsing that type of hateful talk the protestors uttered. Trust me. I’m on the skin-crawling, sick-to-my-stomach side of this issue. But, I doubt calling them names make a difference. We must act constructively in this situation and realize that people say mean, awful things in charged situations and make something positive/productive out of it. Which brings me to the next point.

2. For each negative action, there is a WAY better positive reaction

This is an opportunity. For debate and for dialogue. And for change. It seems that in politics and in life, the newer trend is for people to get their voice heard by being the loudest (and possibly most obnoxious or extreme) voice in the room. And typically those voices don’t care about listening to others. They just wanna be heard and obeyed. Imagine how much farther we could get in our legislature, in our homes, in our jobs, and in our schools if we had a conversation. Disagree. Debate. But let’s talk. Get excited, be assertive. But listen. Let’s not yell or close ourselves off to new ideas or solutions. Don’t allow our emotions to overrun us so much that we forget how to give consideration, to concede on a few neutral points.  Even agree to disagree. Why not? Let’s talk about controversial issues at home, with our friends, with acquaintances. Let our children hear the healthy debate, the calm and spirited consideration of all the points. Then our children can learn how to make a well-educated decision and they can learn to be diplomatic rather than reactive.  And they can have a better future because of it. Discussing our views in this way is a sign of maturity, confidence and intelligence. And in acting as such, we are all role models to each other. Couldn’t we all use some positive examples? I know I could.

3.  Take the higher road, even if you’re mad and you’re afraid of heights

This is a time for many to be upset, enraged, wounded and offended. The words and actions of those individuals opened many wounds in our collective psyche. Now, or in the future, all of us will have a myriad of experiences as equally upsetting. We must remember: don’t retaliate. Educate. Don’t respond in kind. Acknowledge the pain, and then decide what positive actions will yield greater, more far-reaching results than that offensive experience. The legislators that were victims of the hateful speech this week did not press charges (as far as I know); they moved on. They’ve seen worse, heard worse. And they had more important things to do.

We can keep a watchful eye on intolerance and hate, but acting positively will do well to keep our society moving forward to a more tolerant, equal place.

And the best way to get back at the mean, nasty, prejudiced, racist, biased, sexist (and so on) people in our lives?  NICE their freaking faces off. Be so kind, so good, so fair and compassionate that it makes them ill!

So go! Be nice. Be positive. Live and let live. Respond to negativity constructively!  You’ll make ’em sick. You’ll make me proud. You’ll make a real difference.

Taxation and niceness

The lotto jackpot in New York reached 144 million last week. As my friend Michele and I drove past the huge billboard reading those unimaginable numbers one evening, Michele said, “I don’t even know what I would do if I won the jackpot.” I said, “I do!” I continued to tell her my plan of paying off my student loans and my immediate family’s mortgages and bills, because I said, “then it’s not a gift and they don’t have to pay taxes on it.” And Michele, financial pro that she is, says, “Actually, that is a gift. Sorry to ruin it for you.” Appalled, I asked, “Even if I didn’t give them the money, I just lightened their burden?!!” 

 “Yup,” she replied. Trying to find a way around the gift tax limitations, I said, “Well, I could put the mortgage in both our names, pay it off, and then sign it back over to them.” She said, “Nope, signing it over to them is a gift.” Ug. I mean, come on!!!  Michele then told me there are limits on personal gifting above which the government taxes you. It seems so unfair. I mean, I know I’ll never win the lottery–because I don’t play!– but just the idea that someone with good monetary fortune cannot help others without being penalized for it depresses me! I’m sure there was logic for the law (such as corporations finding ways to fiddle with their records under the guise of “charitable giving”), but this just seems preposterous!  Our government taxes being nice. I suppose I could live with it more if I knew the taxes I paid went to things I cared about and not things I didn’t approve of, but that is not how things work. 

So where’s the positive? What’s there to be happy about when, if you had money to share, there are rules and regulations that limit your generosity? I have decided I should be grateful I am not wealthy in my finances, because it would be a constant battle to be as “nice” as I would like if I were endowed with uber amounts of moolah.  The government doesn’t blink at the mediocre amounts I can afford to give charitably.

As soon as I realized how lucky I am to just have what I have and to give what I can without worrying about a penalty, I remembered the type of wealth that spans all income brackets. I am wealthy in love and friends and health, and that is such a blessing! My joy, my happiness, my positivity, my appreciation for these things: I can share all those things as much as I can muster! Like the India Arie song There’s Hope goes, “…It doesn’t cost a thing to smile, you don’t have to pay to laugh; you better thank God for that!”

Clean, heated water

I bet a lot of you were asked, or thought about, what you were grateful for this time of year. The turkey, the pie! Family, friends, a job…. Personally, I’m thankful for clean, heated water every morning. So nice in the winter months and many aren’t so lucky. But whatever we are thankful for, our minds collectively and very quickly (say, by 4 AM on Black Friday) turn to what we don’t have, what we want, and what we expect to get in the next 30 days.

I suppose it is only natural to think of what we want. I remember my childhood bedtime prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, guide me safely through the night, and wake me with the morning light.   But my mother also included a section in our night-time prayers for what we were thankful for, which always followed our requests: blessings for our loved ones, friends and neighbors. It seems to be a habit, a mindset: be grateful and you might be more likely to get what you ask for. Not bad logic really. It’s better than just expecting to get everything and being thankful for none of it.

But I have an idea. Let us extend  the “grateful for’s” this season. When we sit this December perusing the aisles, looking over websites and magazines, cultivating lists of desired items that we may or may not need, let us keep a steady thought on just everything we do have. Think of all the loved ones which surround us who care enough to give a gift this year. Think how lucky we are to have the income to buy frivolous things. Think of the privileges and comforts we have in our society that many communities in the world struggle to attain. These are things to be especially grateful for not just one day out of the year, but every day of our lives.  

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.

A little surprise can brighten a day

Love notes on the fridge

Little notes filled with amorous words

My honey and I recently got hitched. It was a pretty great time, and we were blessed with a huge amount of family support. One of my favorite things was the advice that I was “showered” with for my bridal shower. All my aunts and grandmothers wrote me little tidbits of advice for a long happy marriage. My grandparents have been together for 55-60 years each. My aunts and uncles, 30 or so.

What was great about the advice was the surprise that my husband and I already do some of the things. A few times this year, I’ve been taken away on trips–one for business, one for family. We spend a lot of time together, as we have worked with one another (so to speak) for three years. When I left both times, I had the opportunity to slyly leave Jake little notes for him to find later.  A note in the coffee can, one on the TV, one on the computer, in the shower, on the fridge. Each one said something different–something sweet, cute, funny, and dirty (of course!). It was fun for him to find all the notes while I was gone–especially when one was evading him even upon my return! 

Love love love

Lots of ways to say it

Little things like that show a person you are thinking about them. Thoughtful notes now and again, out of the blue, can really strengthen a relationship and keep it fun and interesting. Who knows what a well-placed and cleverly timed note could do for a marriage? 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009

Paying it forward

Have you ever seen that movie, “Pay It Forward” (with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment)? Excellent film. I watched it years ago (it was released in 2000) and it was truly inspirational.  A very brief description of the film is that a young boy tries to change the world through direct action by creating the idea of “paying it forward.” He decides that he will do three nice things, and when those people thank him, he then asks them to pay it forward to three more people. This rule thus creates a domino effect of niceness.

I highly recommend that you watch this movie, or at least embrace the spirit of the idea. I think of it often, especially when nice things are done for me–such as my friends Heather and Derec helping me move last week. They were incredibly selfless of their time and their energy (especially when you consider the number of heavy books I have!). After something generous like that, I try to send that positivity out through my own actions–both to new people and to repay the people who were first kind to me. I like to think too, that the more positive actions you implement, the more positive deeds you will receive, so it is worthwhile twice over. Try it out and pay attention to how this change in behavior affects your day!

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice.(somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.