Smile.

smile

You want to start a chain reaction that can circle the globe and find its way back to you?

Smile.

To get you started, here is a darling video of a girl dancing with her dog.

Moving past the past.

past

We cannot fix our pasts. That’s a hard truth to accept, so we spend a lot of time railing against what happened, wishing it had been different, ruminating over the details. But the past cannot be cured– We made that mistake, we had those parents, we encountered that trial, we suffered that loss. Whatever it is. It happened. It’s true. And now it’s part of our past, a part of us.

We cannot make changes to the past. Pretending it never happened may only serve to bury the hurt just to have it pop up unexpectedly later when something triggers a memory. Glossing it over or telling ourselves we’re fine, may cause wounds to fester.

There are many things, though, that we can do with our unpleasant past that can help. We can grieve the relationships we wish had been better. We can offer ourselves the nurturing we may have craved. We can learn from the mistakes we made. We can look for ways to reach out to and support others going through similar hardships. We can look for the positives that came from the bad situation. We can give ourselves permission to heal. We can forgive.

And we can focus on the present, where we have the ability to act.

Stand convicted of positive thinking.

positive thinking

How will we use our words?

William Zinsser notes:

“Writers can write to affirm and to celebrate, or they can write to debunk and to destroy; the choice is ours.”

But we all have that choice, don’t we? Not just the artists and writers. We all are choosing what we say, how we respond, where we focus our emphasis. We each can choose to lift others up by focusing on the positive.

The joy of it all.

joy

Oh, to be a kid, before we’ve learned to wear masks and tamp down our emotions to keep from looking silly. We’ve mastered the art of staying calm when really we want to grab someone and spin them around in the air because we are so happy to see them, or to guffaw at a joke or funny thought, or to just break out in dance walking down the street.

We are so civilized.

But sometimes, maybe, it’s nice to be like this dog and just let someone know how you feel:

That’s wearing his heart on his sleeve, isn’t it? But life’s short; what’s the point of hiding our joy?

Sorry. Not sorry?

goodapology

Some apologies make things worse. They don’t feel like apologies at all. They feel, instead, like just more hurt. Other apologies acknowledge the wound and help it heal. What makes the difference?

In When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love, Gary Chapman (of Five Love Languages fame) and Jennifer Thomas suggest that a true apology must have six characteristics:

Expressing regret–It’s important for an apology to be for something you did or said.  The more specific, the more it acknowledges the harm caused, the better. “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive,” doesn’t really feel like an apology because it is just restating some perceived flaw in the victim and isn’t focussing on anything you did wrong. Even if the harm was wholly unintended, when your actions cause another person pain, an apology is warranted. It goes to the very essence of the apology: I did not mean to hurt you.

Accepting responsibility— Yes, the pressures of the world can sometimes lead us to get wound up and stressed and to hurt other people, but that does not make it the world’s fault. We control ourselves. We are responsible if we act badly. Blaming the boss, the dog, the economy, the other drivers is deflecting. Apologies for the state of the world or all its ills will not feel like a real apology to the person you lashed out at. Apologizing for losing your temper or not considering the effects of your actions will.

Making restitution–“How can I make it right?” are powerful words. It shows an acknowledgement that what you did caused someone else harm. Maybe you can’t make it right. Maybe you can never make it right. But listening to the victim explain the damage is a powerful step forward in the process. Listening here is key–no justifying your actions, no quarreling with the facts, no defenses, just listening to the other person share their perspective. If there is something you can do to make things better, do that thing.

Genuinely repenting–If you are truly sorry, and have listened deeply to the pain you’ve caused, you will not want to cause that person pain again. You will stop causing the damage. You will want to change. Maybe you will need to write down the steps you want to take to prevent causing further harm. Maybe you will slip up and need to start again. But the most important thing is that you will try to not do this again. Otherwise, are you really sorry?

Requesting Forgiveness–“Can you forgive me?” are powerful words. They show you care about the relationship. They show you understand you did things wrong. They show you are not in control of the relationship.

Everyone messes up. Not everyone takes responsibility for messing up. When we do take responsibility for the harm we’ve caused, it may strengthen our relationships and help them grow stronger. Trust can reenter, fostering healing.

Randy Pausch, the author of the quote above, gave a powerful Last Lecture before he died young of pancreatic cancer. His timeless words can teach us all a lesson about life and living.

Good fences make good neighbors?

bridge

 

So much divides one person from another. Some of these things are walls we build ourselves. What does it take to unite people rather than divide them?

Take a minute to watch this delightful video of a boy and his neighbor dog overcoming the fence that divides them.

 

 

What can we do today to build bridges?

 

What to contribute?

contribute

Consider the inspiring story of Amanda Southworth, a teen who attempted suicide seven times but then went on to use her experience to create an app to help others facing debilitating depression. Amanda explained what helped her make that transition:

What saved her: a sixth-grade robotics club in 2011, which introduced her to the possibilities of technology and inspired her to soak up knowledge about web development and artificial intelligence from the internet and textbooks.

Her first app, AnxietyHelper, a mental health resource guide, debuted in the app store in September 2015 during her ninth-grade Latin class. Her excited classmates downloaded it, and she finished the day with 18 users. Even that small achievement gave her belief in her own power and a sense of purpose, Southworth says.

“I was always very destructive toward myself. Coding is the opposite. It’s about creating. It’s about taking different characters on a keyboard and transforming them into something bigger than you,” she said.

In May 2017, she launched a mobile app called Verena for the LGBTQ community after friends were bullied in the tense political climate around the presidential election. Verena, which means protector in German, locates hospitals, shelters and police stations and users can create a list of contacts to be alerted in an emergency.

“Everything in my life has shown me that both good and bad things in this world will continue to happen and that’s out of our control. But it’s what we do with the things that happen to us that can make all of the difference,” she said in a TedX talk last November in Pasadena, California. “My name is Amanda Southworth, I’m 15 years old, a junior in high school and I’m still alive.”

Southworth’s conclusion that “it’s what we do with the things that happen to us that can make all of the difference” is profound. Each of us faces challenges and hardships. But each of us also has the ability to use our experiences to make a contribution for others, to make our lives count.

What’s your contribution?

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Wipe the dust off your soul.

soulwash

It is so easy to get discouraged when living a creative life. Your words are criticized; your paintings don’t sell. “They” don’t believe you have any promise. Sometimes the struggle to be commercially successful in a creative field can be so daunting that you abandon the art. But then you remember that art isn’t about “them” or “success” or “critical acclaim” at all. It’s about bringing your truths into the light, being creative, pushing yourself, being you.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of Henri Rousseau, a forty year old toll collector who wanted to paint. His work was derided, and yet he continued. He found joy in the painting. Not until the end of his life did anyone take his work seriously. As summarized by Maria Popova:

Long before history came to celebrate him as one of the greatest artists of his era, long before he was honored by major retrospectives by such iconic institutions as the MoMA and the Tate Museum, long before Sylvia Plath began weaving homages to him into her poetry, he spent a lifetime being not merely dismissed but ridiculed. And yet Rousseau — who was born into poverty, began working alongside his plumber father as a young boy, still worked as a toll collector by the age of forty, and was entirely self-taught in painting — withstood the unending barrage of harsh criticism with which his art was met during his entire life, and continued to paint from a deep place of creative conviction, with an irrepressible impulse to make art anyway…. [Rousseau’s life is] an emboldening real-life story, and a stunningly illustrated one, of remarkable resilience and optimism in the face of public criticism, of cultivating a center so solid and a creative vision so unflinching that no outside attack can demolish it and obstruct its transmutation into greatness.

The message from Rousseau’s life speaks to all of us: he was a success all along. He persevered with a remarkable resilience to produce work that spoke to him and pursued a passion that made him happy. That, the pursuit of great art, rather than the financial success was what gave his journey depth and meaning and lifted up his soul.

 

 

Going counter-culture.

dalai

Is kindness passé? Patience out of date? Love revolutionary? In today’s world, these virtues seem counter-culture. People are quick to be mean, impatient for their own way, and blinded by hate. The loudest rant dominates over the considered opinion.

In this commencement speech, Jake Tapper urges the graduates to be kind, to shy away from meanness, the easy and lazy option:

How can we go that extra distance to show up in this world as kind and patient, to refuse to meet meanness with meanness, but instead with the loving response?

Err in the direction of kindness.

direction of kindness

What do we regret most as we contemplate the end of our time here? Maybe the lesson from that regret can inform our present. In an outstanding commencement speech, George Saunders reflects on his own failures and encourages the graduating students to look for opportunities to be kind. He reflects on a memory haunting him from his childhood:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

We all have so many opportunities to make a difference, just by simply being kind, offering a smile, reaching out in friendship. And, when we reflect on the kindnesses that have made the difference to each of us in our own lives, we realize those little shows of kindness are what matter.

Saunders continues to remind each of us that our inner selves, our souls, shine as brightly as ever, and, even as we strive for success, to keep checking in with that inner place, and to believe it exists and greet the world from there:

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

When you are confronted with a choice, err in the direction of kindness.

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