The US and abroad!

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Thanks to the supporters of the Kickstarter project for Be Nice., the pamphlets have now been distributed to 23 states within the US as well as Italy, England, and Canada!

Thanks everyone!

If you received a brochure or postcard from the project, and live in a state that isn’t orange on this map, let me know and I’ll add you to the list!!!

My goal is to get the pamphlets in every one of the 50 states and as many countries as possible!

Yay Nice!

Make yours @ BigHugeLabs.com
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The weakness in kindness

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Image copyright Charles Fincher. Source: http://www.ncbusinesslitigationreport.com/tags/mediation/

There has been a lot of talk lately about civility. Unfortunately this discourse has been born out of the awful shooting in Tucson last week. I wish this discourse had existed on its own merits, rather than as a reactive dialogue to a terrible, highly publicized event. I’m not going to write about the shooting–it has received plenty of coverage lately.  I would like to address the perceived weakness in kindness. My opinion: there isn’t one (unless you are someone’s door mat, in which case you should seek help to avoid being a people-pleaser).

This topic first became of interest to me after a conversation I had with a coworker a few months ago. This person is someone who is friendly and upbeat, but without a moment’s notice will turn on you and take you by the emotional jugular. In short, just when you think you are getting along with this person, “Sam” (I’m being anonymous here with a gender neutral name) will criticize or insult you seemingly without cause. Not exactly the type of person with which I enjoy working!

On one of our “good” days, we were exchanging an email and “Sam” wrote, “I like to be nice to people, but if I’m too nice, people are gonna think I’m weak.”  It made so much sense–so this is why “Sam” is so defensive out of nowhere! I get it–don’t let anyone have the upper hand. Push them away when they get too close and show them who is boss. I just don’t agree with it.

I was saddened when I realized just how many people believe that being “nice” is a way of showing weakness. It is a lot of people. Evidence is all around us demonstrating how being civil in the face of adversity is a fading trend. Today we sue others for speaking rudely, we bully one another for being different and publicize it all over the internet. And for some reason we think that makes us look “strong” and “successful.” TV depicts reality show subjects erupting into fights with one another over frivolous yet dramatic issues; news programs are littered with pundits who use terms like “Nazi” or “terrorist” to describe people who don’t come anywhere near to those insults; our legislature is loaded with impassioned politicians who would rather argue and make fools of each other rather than compromise and make progress. When did we forget to talk things out? When did considering what it’s like to be “in their shoes” fly out the window? How did we forget the importance of maintaining personal integrity by showing compassion, forgiveness, and collaboration?

At the same time, it is immensely encouraging that there is still a desire in every one of us to “get along,” which has been widely exhibited across the country this last week by individuals, by President Obama’s speech in Tucson, and from commentators and writers.  I have also found this to be true based on my daily experiences resulting from the Be Nice. project. Let us not forget the actions of philanthropists, activists, and volunteers. Every day those people show healthy ways to direct their passion into constructive activities which wholeheartedly aim to improve the lives of others.

There is tremendous strength in talking through problems–to constantly seek understanding even in the face of insurmountable odds (which might include dealing with an unwilling adversary).  The civil, kind, and respectful person is of strong character because they are inclined to compromise with their opponent (even if it is a resolution to live in mutual tolerance of opposing viewpoints).

Often the kind and civil person will put their objector at unease. The other may think, “What are they trying to get away with? What is their agenda? They are so fake.” Often the other may mistrust the very genuine kindness you seek to display. This mistrust is not anyone’s failing. It is a result of conditioned behavior. Be patient, be tolerant, and eventually this suspicion may subside. Until then, hold steadfastly your convictions while also being simultaneously open to growth and widening your perspective (your opponent might have a valid point on which you both could find common ground). In politics and in life, being willing to consider the validity of opposing views shows incredible maturity and wisdom, and may result in an expanded outlook for both parties.

Remember too that while free speech in our country gives us all the privilege to speak our minds openly–however hurtful it is to others–we have to choose to communicate them civilly. I hope we all find the inner determination to do so.

President John F. Kennedy once said: “So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Such perfect words for this time in history.

“Foot in Mouth” syndrome and the “Curse of Considerate Clarification”

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I’ve been told a few times that I make people think exactly what I didn’t want them to think. Let me explain. For some reason, in addition to putting my foot in my mouth by accident, I manage to make others suspicious of hidden agendas in my words because of the very things I say.

Here’s a stunning example of “Foot in Mouth” syndrome:

I was at the art opening of a gifted photographer last night. We had been students together in graduate school. During our visit, I recalled that he had recently been married. I was preparing to ask how things were going when I recalled a previous experience with the same artist. Not three years earlier I asked, “How’s Suzzy?” after having met his girlfriend weeks before. He awkwardly replied, “We’re not together any more.” UG! The artist–being a quiet man–had nothing left to say, and I–dumbfounded–had nothing to say either. The next three years were filled with many uncomfortable visits in which I could never establish a good speaking rapport with this nice man.

So, here I am preparing to ask after his new wife, thinking, Oh dear, what if they didn’t get married or they’re divorced or something? I didn’t want to have the awkward silence again. All these thoughts were spinning in my mind as I said, “So, are you still married?”  Still?!  STILL!!!!???? Not, “How’s your wife?” or “How is it being a newlywed?” or “I heard you got hitched. How’d it go?”  Nope. STILL. I can’t believe myself sometimes. Perhaps I should strike the word from my vocabulary. Luckily he chuckled and said they had been married just a few months, and I backed out of it by joking I had no faith in marriage apparently. My husband comforted me later by saying it was nothing, but there it was. My foot. My mouth. Not what I had hoped to eat that night. I only had room for cereal when I got home after that feast.

And then there is the “Curse of Considerate Clarification,” or the 3-C problem as I call it:

I think I learned from my mother to be very mindful of my words–how were they making others feel, how do they sound to others? I have become very sensitive to peoples’ expressions, responses and actions in reply to my words, which often sends me in a day-long analysis of where I went wrong or where they misunderstood. This is very exhausting.  Changing the way you think is hard, but I’m trying to change the habit. Especially since my consideration for others has back-fired in my face.

Like last night. It didn’t backfire, but nearly so. Jake and I went out to dinner at a great Mexican-Irish restaurant (yup–and it’s an awesome pairing). The five-year-old joint is just a half block down the street from the New York favorite Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which had just opened. Naturally the barbecue restaurant was packed every day. And we were benefiting, as here we were eating at this very popular place without waiting for a table. Surprised I asked the manager who seated us, “So, have you noticed your business dropping due to the new place down the street?” Immediately, as I glanced at the numerous empty tables I thought Oh crap, she might think that I think they are losing business, or that they are too slow for a Saturday! Quick! Tell her that’s not what you meant! So I said, “Oh! I hope you didn’t think I meant you guys would be losing business to them. I’m sure you won’t be affected–it being such a different market.” The manager smiled, agreed by citing how busy they had been thirty minutes before, and then went to seat another couple. I was relieved! It is this kind of situation that so many times has prompted the reply: “Well, I didn’t think you meant that originally, but now that you brought it up that’s exactly what I’m going to think.” Go figure!

What I’ve learned is that I need to trust that others will ask me to clarify what I meant if they took it negatively. I should hope they will consider my character and intent. I should also remember to pause before I speak to think of what I want to say.

But finally, if I feel like I need to clarify, I can avoid the 3-C problem by restating. Instead of: “I hope I didn’t make you think…” I can say: “Let me clarify. What I meant to say was…” or “That didn’t sound right, let me rephrase that.” By rephrasing what I say I remove the possibility that the listener will suspect me of ill-intent or veiled malice. I certainly won’t wind up prompting them to doubt my intentions! And perhaps with any luck I will spare myself a little exhaustive worry!

 

Amicable Allegory #9: Wave goodbye

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The not-100% accurate distance from my old home to my current home. Image source: http://koreanish.com/2009/11/25/when-to-get-your-mfa-or-not/

One of my best friends in life came to visit me this week, and this morning she left. Dawn and her boyfriend drove 1000 miles to hang out for a few days with me in my slightly interesting, but mainly typical city, and then they went on their way. I gave her a hug, hugged her boyfriend, and when I looked back at her I realized she was crying. I was shocked! I don’t know why I was shocked–people miss people all the time, but I never expected Dawn to tear up. She’s a sensitive woman, but a tough one too that typically leans to the more chipper side of emotional states. To put it another way, she and I share a classic Southeast Iowa cultural characteristic: no matter how hard your heart aches, no matter the pain you go through, put on a smile and share the happiness you have instead. Stuff down the sadness so it can be dealt with quietly in private. We are a mushy bunch of love down there, don’t get me wrong, but more often than not tears are an uncommon show of softness that even women try to suppress. Touched and concerned, I walked around their ridiculously red rental car to her side. “Ohhhh! You’re crying!??” I asked,Oh, Dawnie, don’t cry!” I gave her another hug then, bobbing back and forth, tears now welling up in my eyes. And she sniffled, gulping in air, “Goodbye’s… are… hard.”  I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? I had become so practiced at the act of divorcing the emotion from goodbyes on my old home turf, and at that moment the pain and sadness I feel when I do it came gushing back full force in my new locale.

See, I’ve lived now in New York state for four years, and prior to this I lived in Iowa my entire life. Dawn and I have been friends for thirteen years–we went to high school and college together–and when I moved to New York for graduate school, she was left with the rest of my family and friends in my home state. At first, it was difficult to say goodbye. I cried every time as soon as the car was out of sight. But after some practice, I became more accustomed to parting with my family. In my mind, when I left Iowa, it was like “real” time stopped and then continued conceptually via telephone, Facebook, and email. Every thing paused , and my life in New York would start again. Then I would return to Iowa and “reality” would pause in New York and start again in Iowa. It is like I am two people really, still tied to the life I lived for 25 years in Iowa and creating a new life somewhere else.

But when Iowa comes to New York, I never know quite what to do, or how to say goodbye. Because this time, I’m not doing the “leaving.” They are. And that for me is especially difficult–I know how hard it is, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. So, as Dawn and Tim climbed into their car and backed out of our garage, I waited by the door. I would do what everyone in Iowa has done the last four years for me. I waved goodbye to them as they drove off onto their next adventure. It is amazing how much a wave goodbye can mean–how waiting outside to watch someone drive off can be so incredibly touching. It made me recall in 2008 when I left Iowa. I had just seen my Grandpa for what I knew deep down would likely be the last time I would see him alive. I had said goodbye to both sets of my folks and grandparents, Jake’s folks the day before, and our siblings and friends before that–all with minimal tears. We climbed on the Amtrak, and began slowly rolling out of the train depot. My mother had told me to watch for her at work (she works at a historic site on the river in town, right by the tracks). We had already said goodbye that morning, but as we rolled past the Old Fort Madison, there she was, dressed in her historic garb, waving and smiling as the entire train passed by her. The riders in my car, astonished, said, “Look at that lady! She’s waving at the train!” And I said as tears rolled down my cheeks, “That’s my mom, waving goodbye to me.” She didn’t know what car I was on, but she knew I was there, and so she waved at all of us, making sure I would get the best send off she could give. And it was.

A little about parents on Mother’s Day

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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

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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.