Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Miss My Friends

It does not always happen when the situation is dire, depressing and dismal. The feeling has washed over me when I’m sitting on a beautiful beach or walking through an emerald green forest. I’ve experienced the sensation when I’m alone, among crowds of people, or even sitting in front of folks who have paid to hear me talk about my book, Erase Negativity. Sometimes I miss my friends.

I’m a typical middle child. I learned (or thought) early on that I would not match my older brother, Dennis’ good looks, my older sister, Diane’s academic achievements, my younger brother Terry’s athletic ability or my baby sister, Tina’s skill as a pom pom girl. So I carved out my own niche in life – to be a good and loyal friend.

Through the years I have been fortunate enough to have some wonderful allies. Many have been at my side during the tough times such as when I divorced, lost my job, and my mother died (all within a year). I’ve had some pals who handed me Clearasil when my teenage complexion ran amok, helped me fix my unruly hair for the prom, and drove me home from the hospital and helped guide me through the door after eye surgery had me seeing double for six weeks.

I think some of my friend-making ability stems from my youth. As a middle child I learned to share at an early age. As long as my needs were met I didn’t have a problem allowing others access to my toys, clothes or time. However, I have to admit I took some liberties when the shoe was on the other foot and I wanted access to my sister’s clothing and shoes. There is a line between sharing and unauthorized pilfering. But I digress.

The point is, when I am enjoying something wonderful, I want to share it with others. The same is true for information. I suppose that is why I wrote a self-help book. I have benefited from the wisdom of others (in person and through books) and I would like to pass it along.

However, this desire to have friends can be a double-edged sword. In my book, one chapter highlights the experience of Maria, a meth addict. Her strong desire to have friends – any friends – led her down the path of drug addiction. Poor choices are not always so blatant. The term “frenemy” is a portmanteau of the words friend and enemy. It describes folks who are enemies disguised as friends. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between friend and foe.

In order to make better choices regarding friendships here are a few questions you can ask yourself.

•Does the person display good qualities such as honesty, integrity and consideration?
•Are they selfish and self serving? All friendships experience a give and take of needs, but if you find you are the one doing all the giving, especially in the beginning of the friendship, it is best to step back and assess the situation carefully.
NOTE: Often good-hearted individuals get sucked into an unhealthy alliance with a charismatic friend. Unfortunately, most of these individuals have learned to prey upon the kindness of others and are only interested in what they can take – be it time, money or favors. It is better to walk away from these people right away before you get emotionally involved.
•Do they talk critically about others behind their backs? If so, chances are they will do the same about you.
•Are they cheerful or cynical? Not everyone can be genial all the time, but someone who is consistently cynical operates on a lower vibration energetically, and if you spend a great deal of time with them your mood will be affected.
•Are they trustworthy and loyal? Remember that one’s actions speak louder than words. If a person says they are loyal, but demonstrates qualities that show they are otherwise, consider the actions, not what they say as the true barometer of their character.

Very few things are as important as having friends in your life, but, as in all things, make sure you pick good ones. Friends are like apples. Good ones nourish and sustain you. Bad ones can poison your heart and soul and give you karmic diarrhea. Pick well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Don't Pull My String!

When I was a little girl there was a doll named Chatty Cathy. You pulled her string and there were a variety of phrases she said. I wasn’t too interested in this particular toy, but when Mattel came out with Cathy’s siblings, Chatty Baby and Chatty Brother, I knew I had to mend my naughty ways so the tow-headed babies would be mine for Christmas.

The twin dolls looked exactly alike except Chatty Baby had longer hair than her twin brother. At least she did until MY little sister, Tina, decided the doll needed a haircut. Even as a "doll mother" I was embarrassed that my plastic baby had a crew cut and the golden tresses would never grow back. However, karma being what it is, Tina’s friend, Debbie, found her own pair of scissors and Tina sported a crew cut herself for several months.

Anyway, my chatty twins had a repertoire of about 10 sayings such as “I hungry,” “mama,” “dada,” “you nice” and my favorite, “I love you.” They also laughed and cried. I pulled their little strings and never tired of their chatter. Evil siblings would do things like stutter stop the string mid pull so the babies would change their phrase and say something like “I love…boo hoo hoo.”

I was kind of a frumpy little kid, but my dolls were always well cared for. I brushed their hair, never left them outside in the heat, and they were always decked out in cute outfits. To this day I cannot bear to see a naked doll on the floor. I say the same thing to my grandkids that I did for my own daughters, “Go put some clothes on your baby before he/she catches a cold.” It works too because I’ve never heard so much as a sneeze from the baby dolls.

Unfortunately, my daughters did not share my affection for my chatty baby and her brother. In fact they were scared of the dolls. That movie “Chuckie” ruined the lives of a lot of innocent dolls. Bad Chuckie. But I digress.

As I have gotten older, I realize that I share some characteristics with these loquacious toys. For example, someone says something and rather than really think about a kind and thoughtful answer, the reaction is a knee jerk reply that becomes the equivalent of “go take a hike!” (or worse.)

We have a lot more than 10 automatic responses, but the same ones tend to get used over and over again. Think of the typical response when you are cut off in traffic. One or two words and one gesture usually materialize. The same is also true for sad news. The typical response is something less than heartfelt, such as, “Don’t worry, things will improve.” These banal comments are so hollow you can hear the echo as the words leave your lips.

As a writer I am always trying to think of things to say that can offer a unique perspective or insight. At least that’s the goal. But there are times when it’s as if someone pulls MY string and I make a stereotypical comment. Sometimes words are just too cheap and a friendly ear and a warm hug can say a lot more.

So I’m challenging everyone to try something new. Try talking less and listening more. This is nothing new. More than 2,000 years ago Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so we may listen more and talk the less.”

I recently purchased the book, “Listening” by Lee Coit. He not only talks about listening to others, but to listen to your own inner wisdom.

There will be times when someone says something and we will be inclined to respond with a cliché. Undoubtedly there will be times when others try to push our buttons or pull our strings.

At these difficult times we all need to remind ourselves to take a deep breath and really listen to what the other person is trying to say. If it is hurtful, dismiss it. If there is some truth to it, listen to your inner wisdom and see if there is a kernel of truth to it that can be used as a way to improve yourself. But most importantly, listen to your inner wisdom. Especially the part that when asked, responds with unconditional love. And best of all, you don’t even need to pull a string to hear it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Despicable Me

I used to be a smart aleck. I suppose if there were a “Smart Assoholics” group I would have considered attending, but I never mustered the courage to look into it. Can you imagine calling and asking someone, “Can you tell me when the Smart Assoholics Group meets?” The members would either ignore you and or assume you were being a smart aleck for asking such a question.

I never officially went into smart aleck recovery, but I’ve more or less reformed my sarcastic ways. When someone says something unkind, the synapses in my brain may emit a fiery thought or two, but I try to use restraint before it erupts into a verbal explosion. In my youth I wasn’t as quick on my feet when the attack was directed at me, but if someone said something nasty to a friend or family member I could launch some zingers that could cut someone off at the knees.

Nearly 20 years ago (when wearing a bicycle helmet was more the exception than the rule) my daughter, Alicia, donned a helmet and pedaled off to junior high. Naturally some rude kid gave her a hard time about wearing it. My instant reaction was to say to the kid, “If I had your brain I wouldn’t worry about wearing a helmet either, but Alicia, unlike you, has something of value between her ears.” Now I just thought this. I didn’t say it. But if I’d seen that rotten kid that would probably have been the nicest thing I said to him.

Of course not all of my put downs were so mean-spirited. Some were more humorous than caustic. However, when I was in my 30s I enrolled in a World Religions class at Scottsdale Community College. I was especially interested in the chapter about Buddhism and decided to follow the example of employing “right speech” and keep the sarcasm at bay.

This was not easy for me. I had spent a lot of my life making smart aleck statements and my ability to emit witty retorts and I felt this skill was one of my finest attributes. However, I knew these comebacks created negative karma and I wanted to clean up my act. A great quote from Confucius helped inspire my new mode of speech.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

Here are a couple of helpful hints about “right speech” taken from the “Speak No Evil” chapter of my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.

•Don’t gossip about others. Think about the effect your words can have before they leave your mouth. Before you speak, imagine the person you are talking about is standing right next to you listening to what you have to say. If you wouldn’t have the courage to say it to their face, or would be embarrassed for them to hear your opinion, don’t say it.

•Be mindful of your intention when you speak or act. Ask yourself if your intention is to be kind or mean. Before you say something, imagine someone said the same thing about you. Would you find this information helpful or hurtful? If you wouldn’t feel good hearing it, they probably won’t either. However, if there is something important that needs to be said, try communicating in a compassionate, not authoritarian, manner.

Sometimes it helps to use the “erase and replace” method. Take the offending word, thought or action and replace it with something kinder. This will take some resolve and some ingenuity, but you can do it. Anyone can flip a bird at a rude driver. That’s an automatic response. Why not use the situation as an opportunity to curse in pig latin?

Here’s another example. One day while my spouse, CB, and I were on a walk, we stepped in doggy do. Rather than get angry and yell the four letter word that instantly comes to mind, we tried to think of how many synonyms we could come up with to substitute for the word sh**. We came up with 16 (without the aid of a thesaurus). More importantly, we started laughing and enjoyed the rest of our walk .
Which brings me back to the present. Not gossiping and using diplomacy are two methods of “right speech” that I’ve worked hard to incorporate into my life. However, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to totally eliminate my clever responses. Not one to concede defeat easily, I put on my thinking cap and came up with a solution. I save my witty repartee and use it as snappy dialogue for the characters in my screenplays.

And a funny thing happened. My efforts have paid off. My scripts have won several awards and I’ve received a lot of praise for my clever dialogue. However, if you ask folks who know me what words they want to hear the most from me, they will tell you words of kindness. Not one person has asked me to go back to being a smart aleck.

I guess Mignon McLauglin’s quote says it best. “Don't be yourself - be someone a little nicer.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hear Me Roar!!!

I learned something when I babysat my two granddaughters the other day. They didn’t sit me down and offer a lecture. It was an observation I made when I played with them. Two-year-old Briannah sleeps in a crib. It has a door that opens and both girls like to climb inside of it. At first we made it a fort with a blanket on top, then we played peek a boo. The girls enjoyed this game, but it loses its luster after a while. At least for me.

The game switched to pretending the girls were animals in a cage. At first they growled and roared. I would sneak up to the cage and when they roared I would act frightened and run away. They both laughed uproariously at this. The game didn’t vary much from this basic scenario, but they were having so much fun that I kept it up longer than I normally would have done.

A few minutes into the game, Rosannah, who is 3 ½ years old, wanted to be a nice puppy. I would pat her on the head and she smiled. Briannah, however, who is usually the more passive of the two, continued to roar. This was a source of clout for her and she wasn’t ready to give it up.

I can’t blame Briannah. It isn’t often that a two-year-old can have this much “power” over an adult. Toddlers have to eat what we give them, sleep when we put them down for a nap (ideally anyway) go for rides in the car when the situation dictate and wear what we pick out for them. Of course this is for their safety and well being.

We have more choices as we grow older, but a lot of the scenario is very much the same. We work for companies that dictate the hours, the work, the pay and the location. With the crummy economy very few are comfortable doing anything more than doing as they are told and keep any complaints, comments or even suggestions to a minimum. In time, a lot of us feel a loss of power.
I’m not advocating growling at your boss , coworkers, family or friends, but the repressiveness of constantly stuffing your feelings, creativity and spirit can be damaging. In time, many of us could lose our “voice” or the thunderous roar of our imagination and spirit.

I know because I have worked and been in relationships where I felt my opinions and ideas were unappreciated, discouraged and even ridiculed. Years ago I talked to an intuitive who told me my throat chakra was blocked. As a writer and a public speaker, I knew this was something I needed to change. I was so worried about upsetting others that I became someone different than who I am – someone who cares enough to shed light on an unhappy world. Not only was I not shedding light, my own internal enlightenment felt like I was using a dimmer switch toward the off position.

At some point in our lives we worry more about pleasing others than doing the right thing. I saw that in Rosannah when she switched from a lion to a nice puppy. Of course I don’t advocate we became nasty little grippers who complain, vetch and moan. I believe in reducing the pessimism in our lives and even co-wrote the self-improvement book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. But I don’t want folks to think I mean we should be a herd of sheep that do what others expect and do not have the courage to speak up when the situation calls for it.
Of course using diplomacy and trying to engage others in dialogue is a preferred method of communication, but sometimes we just need to stand up and roar. This could be to our congressman, bullies, bosses, spouses, or those who are trying to hurt us or others.

It reminds me of the lyrics from Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman.

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again ”

You don’t have to believe me – or even Helen Reddy. Ask Briannah or any other toddler you know. Our voices are powerful instruments. Make the best use of it. ROAR!!!