Monday, August 27, 2012

Send In The Puppy Clouds

I was riding home from the airport and looked out the window. Recent rains had washed the dusty air. The sky was a brilliant blue. I commented on how pretty it was. My daughter, Alicia, and two granddaughters, Rosannah, age 4 and three-year-old Briannah looked out at the brilliant skyscape. Briannah’s attention was drawn to the cumulonimbus clouds overhead.

“Look at the puppy clouds!” Briannah exclaimed.

Rosannah assumed her sister meant “puffy” clouds so she had a great laugh. Briannah was unaffected by the guffaw. In her world they probably did look like one of her favorite things – puppies.

Briannah is quite a character and says things that make us laugh. Recently, when asked if she had to go to the bathroom she replied.
“I don’t have any poops in my butt. I left them at school.”
As a writer, I love words. They can inspire and elevate your mood, expand your mind, or make you laugh. However, they can also be destructive. The following excerpt is from entrepreneur, Ed Daniel Jr. from our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.

Ed’s path to success was the same as the principles in many religions – right thought, right speech and right action. One of the areas that proved troublesome in many of Ed’s businesses – particularly the beauty salons – was right speech.

“I absolutely will not tolerate gossip,” said Ed. “I remember once when I was a young man, I started complaining about one of my bosses. My dad stopped me cold and said, “don’t take a man’s money and then talk bad about him.” The same is true about anyone in the workplace. You have to respect one another. Gossip is like a poison. If I hear that an employee is gossiping about another, I give them a strict warning, maybe two. If they do it a third time, they’re out the door.”

Janet, who works as an educator for the same chain of beauty schools that Ed owns, agrees.

“Gossip is not only hurtful, it’s destructive,” said Janet. “Criticism and gossip stops any work environment from being a positive, joyful, fun, fulfilling experience. We can be having a wonderful time at our jobs, then one negative or critical person walks in and everyone seems to follow the negative, feeding frenzy. It’s like inviting ants to a picnic. Unfortunately, what follows is the whole environment turns negative. We find ourselves agreeing with, and even adding to the gossip and criticism that is being tossed about. From there it spreads and fuels the fire of dissention – often beyond repair.”

Janet offered this advice for turning the tide of gossip in the workplace.
“We each have an obligation to stop this vicious cycle of negativity and destruction. When we catch ourselves being critical or wanting to gossip, we need to stop and refuse to allow ourselves to fall into that trap. We may have to work on this for the rest of our lives as the programming is strong and society as a whole tends to be negative. We have to choose not to participate or associate with the people that seem to thrive on the negative side of life. We have to learn to say, “I'm sorry you feel the way you do, but I really can't let your negative attitude interfere with my joy and happiness.” It may be hard at first, but when you hear gossip, you need to have the courage to stop it, or at the very least, learn to walk away.”

If there is a general problem in the workplace, then a person should have the compassion and courage to address it with the individual in question. This can’t happen if you are spreading rumors behind someone’s back.

Here are a few tips on how to reduce negative speech from your life.


•Don’t gossip about others. 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. 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.


•Be aware of your thoughts and actions. Think of every good thing you do as dropping a golden coin in a bank, and for every negative cause, you need to take a coin out. At the end of the day, think of how you’re doing and what you need to do to increase your positive behavior.

•When you communicate with others, imagine that your words are going directly from your heart to their heart. The same holds true when you are listening. When you do this, you will find your interactions will be more compassionate. If you find you cannot communicate with someone from that “heartfelt” place, try again when you are in better spirits.

Remember, we can use our words to hurt or to heal. Rabindranath Tagore once said, “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”

We don’t need to be poets or philosophers to use our words to inspire others. Thanks to Briannah I don’t think I’ll ever look at the sky and not think of “puppy clouds” and how the very thought of it makes my imaginary tail wag with joy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cowardly Lion or Mighty Mouse?

When I was in my 20s I worked as a waitress at a Red Lobster restaurant in Phoenix. We had weekly server meetings to go over changes in the menu, receive pointers on how to increase sales and other relevant restaurant news. One day a man from the corporate office gave a presentation regarding a perspective bill going before our state legislature. If passed, all employees would receive at least minimum wage. At the time, tipped employees, such as servers, received half of the minimum wage.

The man giving the presentation spelled out doom and gloom for our wait staff. If this law passed, he conjectured, no one would tip us anymore and we would be forced to live on our hourly wages. He encouraged us to write our representatives and let them know we did not want this bill to see the light of day.

I was shocked how many of my fellow servers were ready to run home to contact their congressmen and congresswomen. They were so afraid of losing their tips they were ready to forgo the possibility of a bump in wages. It is true that tips, not wages, are the bread of butter of the serving world, but I knew that if this law passed it would not affect our tips. One of my dear friends, Di, worked as a waitress in California, a state that extended minimum wage to all employees (tipped or not) and she was making better tips than I was. I couldn’t imagine most of our customers knew what our salaries were or if they changed.

When I pointed out the lack of logic in the presenters reasoning to the store manager, he labeled me an instigator. It was a term that had been used to describe me before this incident and would be used again decades later. I think had the presenter been more honest and said the burden of paying these extra wages would be an issue with the corporation, perhaps I might have been more sympathetic. However, I felt their method was deceptive, their intent was based on corporate profit and greed more than helping the servers, and the whole thing had the stench of social injustice.

Long story short, the bill never passed. I think servers make a little more than half of the minimum hourly wage in Arizona, but I’m pretty sure they don’t receive the full amount. I haven’t been a server in decades, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t championed other incidents that denied justice to all. Being an instigator was a label I bore with pride.

However, somewhere along the line I lost my youthful courage to champion every injustice that crosses my path. Of course I always vote, occasionally write editorials and help in other ways, but I’m not out there carrying a banner, preaching on a soap box or even arguing with my relatives about their views. I prefer engaging in dialogue when I can, but if I don’t feel the person is open to a friendly exchange of ideas, I don’t even bother. In this country we are all entitled to our opinions.

Freedom of speech was a hallmark in my studies as a journalist, as well as in family affairs. My father loved to discuss politics and encouraged us to voice our views. However, he also said you cannot reason with three types of people, bigots, bullies and drunks. He worked in a bar, so he saw a lot of all three types of “”unreasonables.” Of course if things got heated he didn’t walk away like I do. He knew how to throw a well-aimed punch that could fell an opponent in one blow. My father wasn’t a big man, so he had to make sure that one punch worked or he was in big trouble.

I don’t go around punching folks, nor do I have any desire to. Oh, okay, sometimes I have a little desire to play rock ‘em sock ‘em robots with someone’s chin

when I see people mistreat children or animals, but I would never act on this negative impulse. Somewhere along the line I learned to avoid fights. While I think it is safer to avoid confrontation with others, I realized that I had let this cowardly attitude seep into my personal life as well. I had turned into a mouse. And not a courageous one like my hero, Mighty Mouse with his bellowing, “Here I come to save the day!”

My call was more like, “Now it’s time to run away!” Personal preservation is not necessarily a bad thing. I know I do not have the power to change others, but what was really disturbing is I was not challenging my own weaknesses with the drive that I used to let bubble forth.

Then I went to a Buddhist meeting. A woman talked about the importance of facing our obstacles. Rather than running from our challenges we should bring them closer, only armed with prayer, and knock them on their proverbial butts.
As she described this scenario I envisioned prayer as a protective shield. How could I slay my personal demons if I kept running away? Whether or not you believe in prayer, here are a few tips to help you regain your personal power and bolster your courage. It’s from Chapter 5 in my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.

•Don’t blame others for your problems.
Lose the victim mentality and take responsibility for your life – bumps and all. Life is not something that is handed to you, it is something you create. Adopt a proactive approach that shifts from “What can I get?” to “What can I contribute?” Next time you find yourself wanting to point a blaming finger at someone else, take note of your hand. While your finger and thumb may be pointing at someone else, three fingers are pointed right back at you!

•Align yourself with people, situations or organizations that can help put you on a successful path. Ask yourself, “What am I focusing on?” If it’s not positive, redirect your thoughts.
Focusing on negative thoughts and situations is like counting your neighbor’s money. Sure, you can do it (if they allow it) but what good will come of it? It’s not going to increase your bank account one bit, no matter how much time you put into it.

•Take responsibility and find ways to succeed.
If people put more energy into solving problems instead of whining about them, all of our lives would be easier. When Thomas Alva Edison was experimenting with the correct filament for his light bulb, he was unsuccessful more than 1,000 times. Rather than becoming discouraged he is quoted as saying, “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb”. What an enlightened concept!

Victims are often shackled by their inability, or unwillingness, to forgive others or themselves. Harboring resentments, even those that seem justified, does not help the situation. In fact, it makes it worse. Corrie Ten Boom said, "Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me.” We cannot change the past. Forgive others, or yourself, and move on. Your heart will be lighter and you will be able to pursue happier endeavors.

•Do not shy away from your personal power.
Acknowledge your strengths. Be your own best friend. Make a list of things you are proud of. It can be an accomplishment, a personal attribute or anything that makes you feel good about yourself. Take out the list and reread it – every day if necessary. Continually remind yourself of the magical essence of you.

•Get busy with your dream, not busy work that doesn’t feed your soul.
I hope you will use this article and use it as a way to feed your soul. Don’t pick fights, but when it comes to your own weaknesses, arm yourself with your personal power (or prayer) and champion your own personal happiness. And don’t forget, if you dine out and receive good service, don’t forget to tip the server, whether they get paid minimum wage or not.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Missing the Boat and Other Screw Ups

Sometimes a little screw up can have major ramifications. I narrowly missed one today. I was about to board the Coho ferry to go to Victoria, B.C with my brother-in-law, Charles. I had gone to Canada a couple weeks ago with my spouse CB and I knew the process. As Charles and I started to make our way down the line to board I pulled out my passport and looked at my passport photo.. Oops.

That wasn’t my unsmiling face, it was CB’s. We got out of line and hoofed it back to the house in Port Angeles, WA.

The problem wasn’t horrific. The ferry tickets will be good tomorrow and we’ll try again. However, had I not noticed the situation, I’m sure Homeland Security would have had a few questions for me. CB and I aren’t exactly identical twins, but we are close enough in height, weight, age and general appearance that it might have looked like I was trying to pull off a fast one. Plus, I reported my passport was stolen last year (another error) so I’m probably in some data base somewhere.

I may have messed up, but I’m not alone. When I went online to read the news I noticed some skydivers were blown off course and landed in a high security submarine base. Talk about dropping in at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or as I’m sure as Ricky Ricardo would’ve said to his wayward spouse, “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.”
Speaking of Lucy from the famed “I Love Lucy” show, she was a character I got a kick out of. I identified with her desire to be in show business, her crazy knack for getting into embarrassing situations and her spunk. Lucy was always in some sort of trouble and her antics always made us laugh.

I don’t court mishaps and danger, but I have had more than my fair share of blunders. Most of these errors are minor. I’ve walked around with an article of clothing inside out, worn mismatched shoes and walked out of public restrooms trailing toilet paper from my shoe. My navigational sense is severely challenged and I almost never get to my destination without making at least one wrong turn. Needless to say, I am a type B personality with no delusion of perfection. Fortunately I’m not in a profession, like medicine, where mistakes can have deadly consequences. Embarrassing yes (like the time I typed a letter to school principals asking for help for our Parks and Farts Foundation.) But no one dies when I misspell a word or let a participle dangle inappropriately.

I don’t want to appear that I don’t give a hoot and do a careless job in my undertakings. However, I know I’m human and slip ups are a part of life. In fact, I have learned a whole lot more from my gaffes than my successes. Not only have my screw ups resulted in a multitude of valuable lessons, they often become fodder for my comedy writing.

I guess that is why so many of us loved Lucy. I admired June Cleaver’s finesse at vacuuming in heels and pearls. I’m sure Ozzie (Nelson not Osbourne) made it through his long career without having to bail Harriet out of jail or rehab, but how exciting is that?

The point of this whole thing is life is too short to engage in self abuse over our mistakes. We can’t stop the negativity others throw in our direction, but we can stop beating ourselves up. When we make an error in judgment we should recognize it, make a plan to prevent it from happening again, and in time, laugh about it.

A good first step is toward living a happier life is to curtail all critical self talk. Self negativity puts a grinding halt to success and happiness. Every time you say a disparaging remark about yourself your subconscious soaks it up like a sponge. Your brain cannot distinguish between self ridicule and an offhand “I was just kidding” remark. Whatever you say or think, the brain just takes it in. It’s a big “yes” machine. If you say, “I’m stupid,” it writes the “Yes, I’m stupid, program.” If you declare, “I will never be happy,” the message becomes fact and you will never be happy. The irony is that it isn’t your enemies who fling the majority of these toxic statements about. You do it to yourself.
If you had a magic genie that would give you what you want, what would you wish for? Would your wish be a bad marriage, constant pain and a cruel boss? Of course not! Then why give those messages to yourself?

Your wishes, good, bad or indifferent, become your brain’s programming. So why not try for something that will bring you joy? That does not mean that everything wonderful you wish for will instantly become reality. But if you surround yourself with positive thoughts and begin a course of action to achieve the things you want in life, you will move your life in a happier direction.

Disparaging thoughts can spread like a cancer and slip into your speech, and eventually manifest in unproductive and harmful actions. Many individuals, especially those who have suffered a loss, are largely unaware of how negative they have become. It is a habit. And habits, if not changed, become a way of life.

I had thought about ending this article with a cool quote from Confucius, but I’ve used it before. So instead I’ll just encourage you to learn and laugh at your mistakes and stop all that self-flagellation. And if by chance your mistake results in missing the proverbial boat, never fear. You can join me on a future ferry ride tomorrow, eh?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tricking Ourselves Into Happiness

Sometimes I try to trick myself into happiness. I know the benefits of sporting a positive mentality – better health, increased longevity, fewer wrinkles. However, sometimes the internal crab inside pokes out its nasty little head and tries to claw its way into your life and pinch off a bit of your joy. Ouch!

I have a few tricks of my own to keep negativity at bay.
• Avoid crabs. No, not the kind you dip in lemon butter, I’m talking about the two legged variety that suck the joy out of life. You may be tempted to commiserate with another unhappy soul, but this is not going to help your situation.
• Seek out optimistic allies. If you are in a sinking ship you don’t want to hold hands with someone else who is drowning, reach out to someone who can pull you up. If they offer advice, shut up and listen. You can determine later whether their suggestions are good or not, but being open to optimistic change means you are going to have to look and act a bit differently to get out of your funk.
• Exercise. Bless those little endorphins Think of them as natural uppers. Yes, it’s a pain, yes it’s easier to sit on the couch, but that is not going to help things improve. Once you force yourself to do something as simple as taking a brisk walk you will find you not only feel better, but chances are you will find a spark to ignite some positivity into your life.
• Have an outing with a child. The kid can be your own, a grandchild or another family member’s little one. Pick some place fun like a zoo, amusement park or a short hike. Being in the presence of a little one can help you recapture the everyday magic in life such as dew drops on a leaf, a fluttering butterfly, tiny flowers or an interesting insect.

• Volunteer. Whether it’s ladling soup at a homeless shelter, reading to an elderly person, becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister or simply doing a few favors for someone in need, volunteering helps both you and the person you are helping.
Struggles are an important part of life, without them we become weak, lazy and are unable to achieve our highest potential. A perfect example of the importance of enduring and overcoming struggles as a path to happiness is found in the butterfly. While in its cocoon, the butterfly continually flails its tiny wings against its shell in an attempt to break free. Over and over the tiny creature beats its wings until it cracks open its shell, emerges and finally takes flight. However, if it weren’t for the constant beating of its wings while trapped in its former home, the butterfly would not develop the strength it needs to fly. Indeed, it would fall out of its shell exhausted, lay on the ground panting, soon to be consumed by the nearest bird, or as goo scrapped from a jogger’s shoe.

The same is true with human beings. While you may not worry about hungry birds or being stepped on by giants, it is important in your quest to become a happier human being that you face your difficulties head on. It has been said that “it is better to face the enemy than the void.” After all, no one is exempt from problems. Even rich and powerful people have to deal with health issues, relationship difficulties and inclement weather and bad breath. And rich and famous folks don’t have the advantage of people TELLING them their halitosis is wilting flowers and knocking horses off their feet.

You’ve heard it before (and yes I’m going to tell you again) the key factor is not so much the problem, but how one deals with it that matters.

With apologies to Muhammad Ali, please remember…

Float like a butterfly. Don’t pinch like a crab. This is your life. Make it the best you can have.