In a week of mass shootings and other discouraging news, we need a dose of Mr. Rogers, a man who believed passionately in the value of children, just as they are, and dedicated his life to teaching them to manage and express their feelings. What a hero he was.
In this clip from 1969, he makes his case. His lessons are as important today as they were then. Take a listen.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is well known. In short, a man lies helpless and injured in the road. Religious leaders rush past offering no assistance, while a Samaritan stops and offers the wounded man succor and solace.
What makes one person stop to help while others rush by? Is it the belief that helping is the right way to show up in the world? A religious mandate even? Or is there more to it?
In a famous study at Princeton, researchers evaluated a group of seminarians, specifically discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and then sending them to a task, indeed to lecture on the very parable, where they would necessarily walk right past someone needing help. Even with the parable fresh on their minds, the future pastors for the most part walked right by. Presumably these were nice people who intended to spend a lifetime in service. And yet, they walked right by. They acted in a way incongruent with their professed beliefs.
A surprising result to say the least. But the conclusion from the experiment was that the biggest influencer in whether they stopped to help was not their religious beliefs or their innate kindness, but their perception of time. The more of a hurry they were in, the less likely they were to help.
So how does this inform our choices?
A general kind intent to help is not enough. We are all the Princeton Divinity Students rushing to our next important task and potentially neglecting the plight of others right in our path. We must slow down the clock and really see the people around us. And we need to be ok with the idea that our plans and schedules might be disrupted. Surely stopping to help someone in need will change your day, will inconvenience you, and cause you to spend time and perhaps money in an unplanned way.
But the help you might be able to offer someone in need could be invaluable.
We are bombarded daily with stories of fraud, cheating, self-interest, and dishonesty. People talking over each other, shoving, hostile. Everything is so charged and hot. Sometimes it feels like the people who stoop to these tactics might win the race and that we should do it, too. Otherwise, the ‘bad’ side will triumph. And yet.
Honesty matters. Integrity matters. Truth matters. Fairness and justice matter. On the foundations of these qualities, trust is built.
Explaining her ‘go high’ comment, Michelle Obama says,
My answer is yes. We need to keep trying to go high. Operating with integrity matters. It will matter forever. It is a tool.
At the same time, though, I want to be clear: Going high is something you do rather than merely feel. It’s not some call to be complacent and wait around for change, or to sit on the sidelines as others struggle. It is not about accepting the conditions of oppression or letting cruelty and power go unchallenged. The notion of going high shouldn’t raise any questions about whether we are obligated to fight for more fairness, decency, and justice in this world; rather, it’s about how we fight, how we go about trying to solve the problems we encounter, and how we sustain ourselves long enough to be effective rather than burn out. There are some who see this as an unfair and ineffective compromise, an extension of respectability politics, in which we conform to rather than challenge the rules in order to get by. Why, people rightly wonder, do we need to try to be so reasonable all the time?
I can see how some think that reason leaves no room for rage. I understand the perception that going high means that you somehow remove yourself and remain unbothered by all that might otherwise gall and provoke you.
But it’s not that at all.
When I first said those words…, I was neither removed nor unbothered. In fact, I was pretty agitated….
But where was my actual power? I knew it didn’t reside in my hurt and rage, at least as they existed in raw forms. My power lay in whatever I could manage to do with that hurt and rage, where I could take it. It hinged on whether or not I could elevate those feelings into something that would become harder for others to write off, which was a clear message, a call to action, and a result I was willing to work for.
That’s what going high is for me. It’s about taking an abstract and usually upsetting feeling and working to convert it into some sort of actionable plan, to move through the raw stuff and in the direction of a larger solution.
I want to be clear that this is a process, and not always a quick one. It can take time and patience. It’s okay to sit and stew for a while, to live inside the agitation caused by injustice or fear or grief, or to express your pain. It’s okay to grant yourself the space you need to recover or heal. For me, going high usually involves taking a pause before I react. It is a form of self-control, a line laid between our best and worst impulses. Going high is about resisting the temptation to participate in shallow fury and corrosive contempt and instead figuring out how to respond with a clear voice to whatever is shallow and corrosive around you. It’s what happens when you take a reaction and mature it into a response.
Because here’s the thing: Emotions are not plans. They don’t solve problems or right any wrongs. You can feel them—you will feel them, inevitably—but be careful about letting them guide you. Rage can be a dirty windshield. Hurt is like a broken steering wheel. Disappointment will only ride, sulking and unhelpful, in the back seat. If you don’t do something constructive with them, they’ll take you straight into a ditch.
My power has always hinged on my ability to keep myself out of the ditch.
Sometimes it feels like such a competitive world. And we develop an either him or me kind of mentality. A zero sum game, where an advantage for one person represents a loss to another. Like pie. more for you, less for me.
But what if it’s not? What if something good for one person, elevates the amount of good in the world for us all? What if the very act of celebrating another person’s success benefits us as well and makes a more positive, harmonious world?
I didn’t watch the Golden Globes, but I was taken with this picture of Jamie Lee Curtis celebrating the success of her co-star Michelle Yeoh:
Fiercely supportive, celebratory, in Yeoh’s corner to the Nth degree. It wasn’t an award for Curtis, but it was a time for her to celebrate her friend. This energy inspires us all, doesn’t it?
The reaction to this now viral moment has surprised Curtis:
“I’m still stunned that a moment of natural exuberance and joy became some sort of a symbol for women supporting other women,” Curtis wrote in the [Instagram] post.
Let’s be there for each other, rejoicing in each other’s successes.
While I’m on my nostalgia streak, I’m remembering this comic strip from the 70’s by Kim Casali. I loved these although they perhaps don’t all stand the test of time, the ‘she’ of the partnership always doing the household chores, and picking up after the ‘he’.
Although, to be honest, I do do chores out of love for my family, picking recipes I think they will enjoy, trying to keep a peaceful organized home, cleaning up the little hand smudges on the walls knowing these moments will not last. These acts of service are one of the love languages identified by Gary Chapman in his book, The 5 Love Languages, the others being words of affirmation, gifts, physical touch, and quality time.
Chapman argues that sometimes people in relationship, any relationship not only romantic, get in trouble if they are speaking in a love language their loved one doesn’t hear. For me, my expressions of love are weighted heavily toward acts of service, but knowing that everyone is not on the same wave length in how they receive expressions of love reminds me to use them all, and to listen for them all from the people I love.
Perhaps, as with the ‘Happiness is… ‘ thought exercise from yesterday, today it would be wonderful to stop and consider how you are showing love to the people you care about, and how they are showing it to you, even if it’s not one of the love languages you are good at hearing.
For inspiration and a chuckle, consider this cat mom’s birthday gift for her kitty:
When I was young, I had the book Happiness is a Warm Puppy by Charles Schulz. I was remembering it lately with all the charming little moments it caught:
Each page captures a delightful, sweet, innocent, but meaningful, moment in the life of a child. Each attempting to capture that ineffable notion of happiness. I thought it would be fun to start collecting my own when I feel that surge of happiness, that feeling that all is right in the world, and I’m incredibly lucky and content.
Here are a couple of mine:
The finches discovering their feeder.
The cat keeping you company while you work.
Being unable to move because the cat picked your lap.
And the list goes on. We each have moments that fill us with happiness and wonder. They slip away quickly because they’re ephemeral. But if we capture them somehow, in a gratitude journal, with a photo album, a list, we can turn to them later and smile. These are our ‘moments’
Schulz recognized that for each of of us, those moments will be unique and personal.
What are some of yours? If you feel comfortable doing so, I would love it if you shared them.
Are you ever sleepless? Sometimes it’s hard to stop ruminating over things long enough to fall asleep. We replay events of the day, preview possible scenarios for tomorrow, stew over grievances from yesterday. It’s hard to just sink off and get the sleep we need.
In her short story, “The Cure for Sleeplessness“, Maeve Binchy creates a magic cure for sleeplessness:
Molly read the advice slowly. It was a detailed instruction about how the cure would take three weeks and you had to follow every step of it. First you had to buy a big notebook with at least twenty pages in it, and stick a picture on the cover, something connected with flowers. It could be a field of bluebells or a bunch of roses. Then on the night you couldn’t sleep you must get up quietly and dress properly as if you were going out visiting. You had to fix your hair and look your best. Then you made a cup of tea and got out the notebook with the flower on the cover. In your best handwriting you wrote “My Book of Blessings” on it. That first night you chose just one thing that made you happy. No more than one, and choose it carefully. It could be a love, a baby, a house, a sunset, a friend. And you wrote one page, no more, no less, about the happiness that this particular blessing brought you.
Then you spent a whole hour doing something you had meant to do, like polishing silver, or mending torn curtains, or arranging photographs in an album. No matter how tired you felt, you must finish it, then undress carefully and go back to bed….
Every night she wrote about a different blessing.
Things like the night Gerry finally told her he loved her, when his face was white and red alternately, in case she might not love him too.
Like the moment after Billy was born when she held him in her arms.
Like her parents’ silver wedding anniversary, when they had said that they knew their daughters would be as happy as they were and everyone had cried.
Like that time in the advertising agency when the boss said that Molly had saved all their jobs by her quick thinking and they had all raised a glass of Champagne to her for winning the account.
Now most of this advice and all of the examples are pure Binchy, but the gratitude part is backed by science.
A gratitude journal is good for what ails you. As you call to mind your blessings, think about why you are grateful for that particular blessing, the details surrounding it, the sensations associated with it. Write it down somewhere so you can remember. If so inclined, write a thank you note to someone who made a difference in your life. Remember to say thank yous at work, home, and school. If you encounter a problem, try to see if there is an unexpected blessing hidden there somewhere.
And then, tonight, if you should have trouble falling asleep, count your blessings instead of sheep.
The Rose Parade is always a joyous start to the new year, the pageantry, the vivid colors, the community. The floats are huge, once nearly 100 feet tall. (Disney 2004). Every inch must be covered with something organic—mostly flowers, of course, but also oatmeal, potatoes, beans, seeds, and so on. The illusions created are remarkable. Look at the bicycles in the photo above (Kaiser 2023). Every detail created out of flowers and organic material. You think you’re looking at bicycles, but really you’re looking at a masterful combination of organic material:
The pink and yellow bikes are made from cut straw flowers confetti, while the blue bike is made from blue statice. The black bike tires are made from onion seeds and the handlebars are comprised of dark lettuce seeds. Other flowers and materials used include pampas grass, banana leaf, red and pink anthurium, commadore fern, Italian ruscus, lemon leaf, and green dianthus.
In many ways, a Rose Parade float is a metaphor for life: you think you see things one way, but really everything is a combination of multitudes of factors—point of view, back story, nuance, history. Very little is as objective as we first think. This is particularly true when it comes to looking at each other. We are all a combination of life experience, history, bias, personality, filters and so on. We each bring that myriad of factors to our encounters.
Our job in everything is to look closely and pay attention, to move past assumption and bias. Jumping to hasty conclusions will get you trying to ride bicycles made of pampas grass.
As we age, time feels like it is moving faster. This makes sense considering the math, perhaps. One year to a 100 year old is just one percent of their life, but to a two year old, it’s 50% more. But scientists are saying there is another reason having to do with the diversity of experiences.
“Our brain encodes new experiences, but not familiar ones, into memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period. In other words, the more new memories we build on a weekend getaway, the longer that trip will seem in hindsight.”
And this squares with why we felt that there was more time when we were younger when everything was new, and when our days were filled with varied experiences.
So perhaps there is a way to slow down time: fill it up, stretch your experiences, try new things, explore, savor, forswear the ordinary.