Monday, November 23, 2009

Why Can't Everyone Be More Like Me?
On Verbal Responsibility Part Two

What makes a book, movie, song, painting or poem good? You liked it? when you don't like a movie, song, etcetera, is it then bad? When you read a book, do you proclaim it bad or good? Or do you just say whether you liked it or not? I do. Who am I to decide for anyone else what's good or bad? As my garage sale addict Grammy always says, "One person's junk is another person's treasure."
So who am I to say a book or movie or art exhibit or song is good or bad? All I can tell you is whether I fancied it. I know many critics make their living telling us which movies to see or books to read, but really, aren't they just telling us why they loved it or didn't? How many times has a movie you've been looking forward to been given bad reviews and you went anyway? You had to see for yourself. How many of you have some secret pleasure you don't talk about because that movie, or television show or book has been deemed "bad"and you don't want to look like an idiot for loving it. Hey, loving Howard The Duck does not make you an idiot. And loving The English Patient doesn't make you smart. Lots of people hated The English Patient. It's subjective. We like what we like.
Do you , like me, have a friend who tells you how terrible, how bad, a movie is ... and hasn't even seen it? And then, when you defend the film, because you have seen it, does she shake here head and roll her eyes like she's talking to a moron?
Along these lines, why does liking something someone doesn't, make you stupid? Are you afraid to admit you loved that Rosemary Rogers romance more than you did Tolstoy's War And Peace? Don't be. You're not ignorant, you have your likes and dislikes, just like everyone else. I'll bet even Eienstein liked the occasional Marx Brothers movie, which I never cared for. So, according to me, then, that Eienstein was such a stupnik.
Now a quick word about Buts. No, not that kind. The word we use often when "and" would be better. For instance, the other day my friend was describing a person she'd met. She said, "the girl was really tall, but she was so sweet." So, what I find issue with is, what does being tall have to do with being sweet or not sweet? The "but" implies an "in spite of that", as in he's chubby, but, in spite of that, he's cute. Being chubby does not mean one can't be cute as well. What my friend should have said was "The girl was really tall and so sweet." "That boy was chubby and cute."
"Those kids are smart and geeky but they're cool." Why "but"? All those things describe those kids: smart, geeky, and cool. "He was short and round but smart." So, usually short, round men are not smart? Are you getting my point here? I know this seems petty and small. I'm just promoting thinking a bit before you speak. All I'm asking for is verbal responsibility.
Really, if everyone was more like me, the world would be a better place.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Can't Everyone Be More Like Me?

On Verbal Responsibility-Part I

There is something that when I hear it, I get irked. You'll notice, in spite of having to write an awkward sentence, I did not say "there's something that irks me". Because I believe there isn't anyone or anything that can "make" me anything. And that's where the irking comes in.

I think most people wield their emotions like baseball bats, blaming each other for what they're feeling. They think they can't help it. Carl Jung called emotions "the unconscious conversation of instinctual impulses." I'm in agreement. We all have emotions and some feel overwhelming. Ask anyone who's ever fallen helplessly in love. I'm not saying don't have feelings, just keep it real.

You see, you can feel happy and sad and angry and nervous, but nothing "makes" you feel that way. For instance, you may say, "the sun makes me happy." How does the sun do that, exactly? The sun is just sitting up there in the sky, doing its thing, being the sun. You feel happy, but the sun didn't do it. You might say, "I feel happy on a sunny day." Great, now you're taking responsibility for what you're saying and what you're feeling. It's not the sun, it's you.

The sun can make you hot or sweaty but it can't make you happy. And I'm not contradicting myself, hot and sweaty are sensations. The rain can make you wet. The rain cannot make you depressed. Say what's real.

Also people don't make you anything. They don't make you happy or sad or angry. They are people doing the best they are able, being who they are to the best of their abilities. My ever insightful Grammy always says, "You do the best you can with what you know and when you know better, you do better." My kid came home one day saying, "Blake makes me so mad." I replied (in a calmly smug tone) "Blake is a jerk, for sure, but he's just being who he is. If you want to get mad, that's your business." My kid hates that.

Not that I'm against expressing anger. In fact, I'm all for it. I can be irritable. Ok, the word I usually hear is bitchy. I think I'm just keeping it real. And sometimes reality is a kid who has done the same dumb thing for the sixth time or a sister who cannot be on time to save her life. Yes, I gripe about it, stridently. I've been known to throw a hissy fit. There's nothing wrong with being angry and expressing it. Do it and get it out and over with, instead of acting so above it all and loaded with higher consciousness and letting it gather like a little army of pissants, waiting to take their vengeance out on the next person who crosses the line. Just do not utter the words, "You make me." It's okay to express emotions, just, for your own sake, own them.

It's great to express love, right? Of course. However, if someone can "make" you happy or content or secure, then that person could "make" you sad or anxious or angry. Do you really want to hand over that much power to someone? Especially when the truth is no one "makes" you anything, you decide. Oh sure, you don't always choose who you fall in love with. These feelings come on us suddenly and sometimes unexpectedly and chemistry has a lot to do with it. But by choosing to say what' s real, to be responsible for your words, we can realize, even in the fog of blissful new love, that we are still in some control of our feelings. It's wonderful when you feel such happiness with another person, but do you both a favor and own it.

And don't let someone do that to you. Don't let a person get away with telling you that you make them so happy. Now what? You're in charge of this person's happiness? Who wants that job?

When I watch movies or television that have scenes in a psychiatrist's office and I hear "How does that make you feel?", I cringe. Real therapists do the same thing. They are encouraging their patients to be victims of their emotions. It all starts with the words we speak. What the doctors should ask is "How do you feel about that?" Now the patient, the person, you and me, are engaged and invested in our own feelings.

Now we get into a tricky area. If you are going to take verbal responsibility for your feelings, shouldn't everyone? I can just go through life being who I am, doing what I do, right? If family or friends or strangers get angry or hurt, that's their problem, right? NO. This is not a license to be mean or rude or flaky. You know better, so act better, Be the same kind and considerate person you've always been. If you inadvertently hurt or anger someone and they come to you and say you pissed them off, set them straight. They are pissed at you and probably for good reason, but you didn't piss them off, they got pissed. Say what's real. Oh, and if they were pissed before, that'll kick it up a notch.

Finally, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't have feelings. And, as my sentimental Grammy always tells me, "Feelings are not supposed to be logical." Of course not, Grammy, I know that. But what we say about them puts them in perspective. We're going to feel things. We're going to have feelings of love and grief and worry and even hate sometimes. And we are going to take credit for every single one of them.

I swear, if everyone were more like me, the world would be a better place.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Can't Everyone Be More Like Me?

On Doing Service

I am much more selfish than I appear to be. If you asked the moms I worked with in PTA at my kid's school they would tell you what a tireless volunteer I am. My friends and family would tell you I'm there every time someone has to move or needs a ride or a few extra bucks. I rescue animals. I'm a city volunteer. I'm giving. I will do the dirty work and the heavy lifting.

And I love every minute of it. That's where the selfishness comes in.

At the end of every school year I would say to my son, "I don't know about you, but I had a great time this year." I'm pretty sure on any given school year, I did have more fun than my son. I didn't understand why more parents weren't involved. Doesn't everyone want to be part of something, be around for their kids, meet new people, people who might become real friends? Apparently not.

As it turns out, in many PTA's and the like, the people in control are not very welcoming. It's a power thing, which I never understood. I come from a theater background where the show is the central thing, not egos. I thought schools would work the same way. But no. How is it that four or five women are allowed ot run everything? And then bitch about all the work? People who are willing to take on some of it are turned away or snubbed. So they feel left out and turn themselves away, bad feelings for PTA forever lingering in their minds. I didn't realize how fortunate I was to join a school whose old PTA regime had just moved on and the one coming in was warm and welcoming.

I became the Volunteer Coordinator. My rule for all event chairpersons was that they had to call everyone who had signed up for their committees. Everyone had to be welcome. By the second year there, we had a group of great volunteers and a PTA any newcomer would feel comfortable in. One mom, who had come from a different school, told us how she volunteered for everything and was at the school all the time. When she broke her foot and was on crutches, not one single person asked about it or how she was. When she came to our school and on the second day was greeted by several people she didn't know, she didn't quite know how to react. It's amazing to me that most schools are not like that. Schools and Parent Teacher Associations are made up of people. What is wroing with these exclusive bitchy PTA's? Ladies, lighten up, step aside. Give someone else a chance. Do what we teach our children to do...share.

But, once again, I digress.

I believe we were talking about doing service and not just at schools. Yes, it's a leap to sign up for something and join an existing group of people, It's a leap to commit your time. Time is valuable. Which makes volunteering often an iffy business. A friend used to say volunteers could just flake off, he preferred paying his helpers so , at least, they would show up. And volunteers don't necessarily know what the heck they're doing. Although, in answer to the observation that volunteers are often seen as amateurs, just remember what my wise Grammy used to say, "Noah's Ark was built by volunteers, the Titantic was built by professionals." I did, however, find this thinking rather flawed and asked Grammy if that iceberg had been a professional, too.

I know it's hard to get your butt out of that chair, turn off American Idol and go do something for someone else, for no pay. In spite of being a smiler and good natured, I'm really a very crabby person. I like my laying around time. I'm lazy. The only way I do anything is because I make a plan and commit myself. Then I know people are depending on me. I'm always glad I did it, whether it's putting labels on envelopes for the city or taking someone hot food when they're ill or child and pet sitting so a relative can take a little trip. The way I get around the grumpiness and feeling of being put out is to think of this as doing service, which to me, makes it almost spiritual. I mean, really, if you're going to help someone and you're complaining about it, don't do it. I am absolutely against self sacrifice. It should be fun. As my ornery Grammy always says, "A man does not have to be an angel in order to be a saint." I selfishly pat myself on the back when I am done doing a good deed. It's really all about me after all.

Volunteering is a good thing. It helps the world, it helps our communities, it helps people. It helps the helper. It is not a thankless occupation, either. People love volunteers. You'll get a lot of acknowledgment. Although I think the best volunteering is when I do it completely, selfishly for myself. I don't want gratitude, I just want to serve.

I swear, if everyone were more like me, the world would be a better place.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why Can't Everyone Be More Like Me? On Smiling

I'm a smiler. I smile at people walking their dogs, at mothers and their children, at older people slowly crossing the street in front of my car. I also smile at the rowdy teenagers passing my way, at the guy selling newspapers on the meridian, and the folks who couldn't be less like me. I'm an equal opportunity smiler. Most of them smile back. A silent "good day" passes between us.

Over the years I've noticed, for myself, how a smile or act of small kindness can brighten my day, my week. There's a Japanese proverb that states "One kind word can warm three winter months." So one stink eye, one unanswered smile can have the opposite effect. I don't like the stink eye people. How hard is it to smile back at someone? What does that cost? How much trouble is it? My sweet, lazy Grammy always says, "A frown uses fifty facial muscles. It takes thirteen to produce a smile. Why overwork?" By the way, this does not mean frowning, in using more muscles, thereby burns more calories. Take a walk instead.

But then I have to consider the non-smiling person. Even I , who has compassion for the feelings of others, has had a bad day or two. Or four hundred and seventeen. Remember the guy who just cut you off in traffic could be on his way to the hospital, where his child lies after an accident. He's not thinking about you or the "good day" directed at him. That lady who didn't notice your smile is daydreaming and not paying attention, like you've done a hundred times. That rude kid who just ran in front of you without so much as an "excuse me" is searching for his lost dog. You dont' know what a person is going through that day so we have to give them a pass. Don't take it personally. Let it go. And as my slightly demented Grammy says, "Walk a mile in another man's shoes. That way, you're a mile away and you've got his shoes."

The best is the unexpected smile. The harried mother, trying to corral her rambunctious children in the grocery store appreciates the non judgemental smile from a stranger. The smile that says, it's okay, I've been there too. Or the person you smilingly hold the door for is heartened by this tiny kindness.

In a 2002 study performed in Sweden, researchers confirmed what I already knew; that people respond in kind to the facial expressions they encounter. When the old adage is taken to heart, to put on a happy face, it does more to benefit everyone in that smiling people cause those around them to smile. And you know, they're also wondering what you're up to.

Smiling is also beneficial to the person with the big silly grin on her face. Facial expressions do not merely signal what someone feels, but actually contributes to that feeling. We feel happier when we smile. It's not a cure all for every situation. When you lose a loved one, it takes awhile for our smile to return. But in terms of getting a dose of the blues, it can help lift the sense of saddness. So, no matter how bad your day is going, putting a smile on your face will only make it better.

I like to smile. I like that someone's day may have been brightened and their spirit lifted. I like that it cost me nothing and yet I gain so much. I swear, if everyone were more like me, the world would be a better place.