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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Amicable Allegory #8: The right place at the right time

Have you ever had the feeling that your day worked out  exactly how it did  for a very particular reason? Like, when you forgot your coffee one morning, and found your stove burner still turned on when you went in to retrieve your drink? I like to think these are little ways God (or angels or spirits or the flying spaghetti monster) looks out for us, keeps us safe.

Well, I think I just had another one of those moments. My husband and I drove into NYC for the first time yesterday. Usually we take the train, but we have to go to Brooklyn in a few weeks by car, and wanted to do a “dry run” of the journey. Normally I would have tuckered out halfway into the drive (cars make me sleepy), but for some reason, I drove the first few hours without a problem.  We pulled into a rest-area to trade-off driving and fuel up. Even though we had to stop at the food plaza, I drove right past it to the fuel pumps without thinking. There was no lanes to return to the plaza, so while Jake pumped the gas, I ran in and used the ladies room, and when I returned, Jake ran in to use the men’s room. As I sat there waiting for him to come back, an older woman (I’m guessing late 60’s or so) asked me “Is there an attendant around? Do you think they check tire pressure here?” I told her I doubted it, but up ahead there was an air pump, so she could fill up her tires there. Dismayed, she said, “I have no idea how to do it. I just have a light in my car that says the tire pressure is low.” Without hesitation, I replied, “Well, when my husband gets back to the car, we can help you with the tires. We have a tire pressure gauge.” She was elated and very grateful, and I was equally happy we were there to help. When Jake returned, he quickly filled her tires (they all needed 10 pounds of pressure–good thing she stopped) and I chatted with her while we waited. She was impressed us “young people” were so helpful, and I said, “Oh, that’s just how I was raised,” and told her about the Be Nice. project. She asked for my contact information, so I gave her a pamphlet and postcard along with my information. She took me into her arms with a warm, joy-filled hug, and then took Jake’s hand and pressed something into it, thanking us heartedly. We told her no thanks was necessary–we were just happy to be of service, but she insisted we take what she gave us, no arguments allowed. It was a twenty dollar bill.

Jake and I were blown away by her enormous generosity and gratitude. She had said to us, “Not many people would have helped me, or even paid attention.”  And I thought, “Some people might have even taken advantage of the situation by swindling her or demanding money.” Jake and I were simply happy to help, without a single thought of a reward. The twenty dollars was an unexpected ( and unnecessary) bonus, and it got me thinking. [I’m not meaning this impending thought-stream in any negative way toward our wonderful new friend on the thruway. It just made me wonder….] Wasn’t there a time when people used to help others in need without expecting anything in return? I swear it was like that when I was a kid. Often a proper show of gratitude was a warm smile, a hug or a hand shake, an invitation to dinner, or a thank you note. But today, it seems like repayment or rewards are expected, and the standard currency for gratitude is money. I wonder how that came to be? Is an “I’ll do something, but not for nothing” mentality prevailing in our culture? (This mentality sounds a lot like the attitude, “I’ll give them a wedding gift, but only because they invited me to their party and they’re feeding me.”) Or, is the good feeling of doing what’s right not enough for some people any more?  There was certainly a time when a monetary show of thanks was unnecessary, possibly even offensive. But nowadays, there are people who feel resentment when they are not given “proper”, equivalent, or reciprocal thanks (i.e., a similarly priced gift, an invitation to an equally lavish event, or a monetary reward). What changed?

There are millions of people in the world who do give for the joy of giving, who help strangers because they like to do it. But what saddens me is that there are a large number of folks who give, but with an agenda or an expectation of similar repayment. When did we start keeping track of who-gave-what’s and who-owes-who? And can we find a way to free ourselves from that thinking? Because it costed me nothing but a little bit of time to help that fantastic woman, and it felt so great to know that God put me in just the right place to be able to do it. For me, that was worth more than anything.

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.

Amicable Allegory #7: Lost, found, returned

My last post, “500 bucks richer for a poor person is related to this post, except that this post is a more positive version of the subject!  (On a side note, thanks to Autumn for her comment requesting more positive entries. Though it is my aim to promote positivity, sometimes I go about addressing positivity by deliberating on how I can handle less positive interactions. Thank you Autumn for the reminder that all things are good–in balance. So, on with the positive!)

Yesterday, I was picking up some items at the mall conversing (as always) with the sales ladies about random things.  One of the women told me of a day when she found a wallet in a parking lot with a moderate amount of money in it. She Facebooked the guy and arranged to return it to him, she told me.  I was so impressed–and encouraged, especially after the $500 woman last week! I asked the sales lady then if the man had given her a reward or anything.  She said “No, but he was a student and I bet he didn’t have much to spare. — But the next week I was on campus and I found a 100 dollar bill on the ground!  I thought to myself–this is what good deeds get you!”  I have to say, I totally agree! Wouldn’t it be great if that happened to all of us! 🙂

Have you ever been so focused on what you’re going to do next that you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing at that moment?  My friend had gone grocery shopping one afternoon this summer and returned all the way home with her thoughts on the tasks awaiting her there when she realized she had left her purse in the cart in the parking lot!  In a panic she flew back to the supermarket, all-the-while thinking of what she had in her purse that could be stolen or misused.  She quickly walked to the customer service desk, anxiety growing in her mind. She budged in line (I imagine this was a pretty justifiable budge!) to ask after her purse and there it was, everything in tact!  She asked who had left it, but the worker said the woman had not left her information.  Thrilled, relieved, and grateful, my friend walked slowly back to her car wondering how she would ever thank the person for their kind deed.  That evening, she placed an ad in the local paper, saying simply, “To the kind woman who found my purse and returned it, thank you!” What I love about this story is that not only did someone do the right, kind thing, but my friend went out of her way to thank them for it, even when she did not know who it was!  Kind deeds become a little more special with a hardy “thank you!”

 

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

500 bucks richer for a poor person

At work the other day, I was conversing with a lady about her first bus-riding experience, of which she shared her very unusual experience.  Only she and a blind man were riding the bus at the time when she noticed a wallet under a seat close by. She picked it up, inspected it, and found $500 inside. After an astonished pause, I asked, “Did they have an address in there to mail it to?” She replied, “Well, I called all the numbers in the wallet but none of them were in service, so I mailed it back to the person.” She then cackled and said, “But I kept the 500 bucks! I mean, he should be grateful just to get his wallet back.”

She kept the money. She. Kept. The. Money. ICK! She was so proud of herself for her profit from someone else’s misfortune. How do you respond to that?  Being at work I couldn’t react with the disgust and revulsion I felt, so I neutrally stated how happy he would be to have his wallet back, since it can be such a pain to replace personal documents. But inside I just could not believe that this woman would be so proud of taking some poor guy’s $500 that she would share it enthusiastically with a complete stranger.  I mean, she was delighted with herself. She thought she was the luckiest, smartest gal in the land. She had no idea what I was really thinking. What most anyone would be thinking. It was despicable. It was cold and pathetic.

It is one thing to find a dollar on the street with no evident owner and keep it. It is a whole other ordeal to know who the owner is and to rip him off anyways.  This kind of story, to me, is a reminder of how truly sad someone can be when they are poor in morals, decency, and in spirit.  I almost pity the woman for thinking that stealing $500 is something to brag about. Pity her for a bad upbringing, or for giving in to bad influences.  But, then, how can I pity someone so selfish and so heartless? Even when I’m trying to be nice to people, there is no room for that. At that point, it was hard to be civil. What disappoints me is how nice I thought she was at first, but then upon knowing this tale, I realized that she is the type of person I would never want to befriend….  When I think on the experience, I can only resolve to never do anything of that sort, and to raise my family with decency so they know to do the right thing in those situations. I can’t control that woman, but I can control my behavior. And if I ever lose my wallet, I hope to God she doesn’t find it!

 

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

Too much

I am constantly reminded that not everyone is as outgoing and friendly and upbeat as me.  I get picked on for it (sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously). I try to remind myself that it’s okay to be different when people make those comments. Every person is some sort of “too much”: too quiet or too talkative, too temperamental, too high-strung, too judgmental, too religious, too angry, too bawdy, too laid back, and so on. I believe these “too” statements have to do with the person on the receiving end feeling out of control or overwhelmed. On occasion, it never hurts to temper my personality for others–especially when I’m at work. But I have to guard against being someone I’m not. Eventually that sort of behavior will make a person miserable. So be yourself, and just remember that being who you are might not jive with other people all the time. And that isn’t your fault (unless you’re hurting them in some way). It’s the nature of being an individual, and it’s what keeps life interesting!

 

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

Successes

 I lost 65 pounds about 4 years ago. Around ten or twelve of those pounds have crept back on, but I have continued to make lifestyle  improvements: now, I exercise and pay attention to emotional eating habits. But for some reason, despite all these awesome accomplishments, I stress out about those extra ten pounds. I give myself a pretty tough time about it too. It seems once I grow accustomed to my new accomplishment, I take for granted all the hard work it took to get there. I forget. I ignore my successes and instead obsess about my newly perceived “faults.” For most people, this kind of mindset does little good to motivate us to greater accomplishments. It can often send us spiraling backwards.

It’s hard to keep up with all the ways to be a “good” person: be green, give to charity, go to church, keep a clean house, eat healthy, exercise, be a good employee, be a good boss, be a good friend, be a good spouse/partner. Jeez. How could we feel good about ourselves with everything telling us to improve (this blog is no exception to that, and I know it).

So, what if we changed our mind frame?  I suggest that we keep a successes journal. You might not be eating perfect, but you said no to ice cream today. You cleaned off the dining room table. You had a great conversation with your neighbor and gave consolation when s/he needed it. You may not have finished the laundry, but you were there to talk to your friend with whom you’ve been playing “phone tag” for two months.

These things are successes. They create a more meaningful life. Instead of judging ourselves against an idea of perfection, or someone else’s idea of what is best and worst, why not judge ourselves based on what we find meaningful? Don’t know what you find meaningful? Find out. That could be your success every day.

After about five days, look back on your list. How good does it make you feel to see all the great things you did? Imagine how those small things make a positive difference in the bigger picture. At the end of our lives, people won’t remember that we binged on ice cream last Sunday or if we kept a clean house. They’ll remember that we lived a happy, healthy life.  They will remember our character. They will remember the meaningful things, not those self-criticisms that take  up our time and thinking.

 

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