Notes On The Dark Side: Illuminate the Shadows

devilgirl

Painting by Ann Wilberton

The painting above is called Devil Girl and started out as one in a series of paintings I did about my ex’s alter egos; but, the further I got into it I realized I was painting a self portrait:  My own alter ego.  I use this self portrait frequently as my online avatar.  It is this association that confuses people.  “But, you’re all about people being kind…I don’t get it.”  That is a statement or some variation, that I have heard many times when people see Devil Girl.

From Buddha all the way up to and beyond the philosophy of Carl Jung, great thinkers have tackled the question of the human dark side.  I’m not a big reader in the field of psychology; but, I believe Jung called it the “shadow side.”  This is the side that gives us negative and sometimes disturbing or  violent images/thoughts when we are angry/hurt.  In the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, there is a scene where Evelyn Couch, brilliantly played by Kathy Bates, has a parking spot stolen by two young, pretty and rude girls.  She waits until they get out of the car and then rams their car with hers (several times).  This is an example of when a thought and/or urge from Evelyn’s shadow side emerges and she allows it to take over. We cheered her on when she did this; but, obviously there are many dark thoughts that pass through our minds that we would NOT want to act on.

I used to not really believe that a dark side component existed in all of us.  I thought that you could “better” yourself to a place where you were free from negative thinking.  But, I met a Buddhist psychologist who explained different philosophies on our shadow side and I began to see that denying our dark sides is not really the way to go.  I think it creates a tension where one does not need to belong. Plus, it is setting you up to feel failure because it is just impossible to erase all negative thoughts from our brains.  She told me that by embracing our shadow side, examining it and coming to understand it, we will begin to be able to accept it and be in a better position to let it go instead of  letting it cause suffering in our lives.

Instead of resisting these thoughts what if we acknowledged them: “Well, there is a negative thought.”  Inspect it: “Where is it coming from?  Why am I thinking it?  What is it doing to me?”  And let it go:  “Okay.  I had a negative thought.  It doesn’t make me evil or a bad person.  I’m moving on now.”  You let the thought go and consciously move your mind away from it.

In my own experience, I have noticed that I hold onto the negative thinking for less time now.  For example, instead of allowing myself to churn an angry thought over and over in my mind, fueling it, I acknowledge it (label it: angry thought) and then I can quickly figure out where it originated and what it’s doing to me (it doesn’t feel good that’s for sure) and let it go.  In a past post I talked about road rage.  I have a lot of angry, negative thoughts when people do stupid things on the highway.  Labeling those thoughts and letting them go quicker and quicker will only benefit me physically and emotionally and benefit my customers who I’m about to spend the day helping.

The more practice you have doing this the more it will become automatic.  I barely have to put effort into the labeling part anymore.  As soon as I think pissed off thoughts, my brain is labeling: anger, anger, anger and I am already moving away from them.  Acceptance that we have these thoughts also can free us from the shame or guilt over having them in the first place.  It is a part of our human psyche to have these thoughts; but, we can cultivate practices that reduce the suffering to ourselves and the spreading of the negativity to others.

And for this blog, that is the important point of this post.  If you suffer less, if you have less bitterness and anger (not because it doesn’t exist but because you let it go quicker), I guarantee that you will  be happier, more light hearted and better able to help customers and interact with the people in your life in a kind and compassionate way.

Devil Girl is in me.  If I ignore her, there is no telling what sort of trouble she’ll get into behind my back.  If I acknowledge her and embrace her, I can soften the impact she has on my world.

Our happiness, our behaviors, our attitudes are all our responsibility.

I have a challenge for you.  Commit, for one day, to keep track of negative thoughts that pop into your head and label them.  You could do this in your head or even write them down on paper.   Don’t judge yourself for the existence or intensity of the thoughts (even if it is a momentary desire to inflict pain on someone).  Pretend you are completely removed and just taking inventory.  What did you find out?  What are you going to do about it?

Update 11/13:  A Rabbi Harold Kushner quote has been brought to my attention.  “Good people do bad things  …..  If they weren’t mightily tempted by their yetzer ha’ra [will to do evil], they might not be capable of the mightily good things they do.”  from Living a Life That Matters.

Road Rage is Not My Friend

Monday, after a week of relaxing vacation puttering around my house, spending time with friends and getting a few chores done, I hopped into my car ready to return to an exciting week of work.  We were about to switch to a new online catalog this week and I anticipated a day of busyness as we readied for the big day.

I was driving on a main street, navigating my way towards the Garden State Parkway, when a Ford 250 Truck came barreling out of a side street as I came upon it.  The man driving and I locked eyes as we both slammed on our brakes.  I have to say I admire that Ford Truck because although he was going way too fast, it seemed like he stopped on a dime.  We were both shocked and then I navigated around him and went on my way.

So many thoughts and emotions cycled through me from when I first became aware of the truck and as I pulled into the Library parking lot. Flash of adrenaline.  Fear. Panic. Hope. Relief. Anger.

If you read my previous post of July 7th, you know that I’ve survived a spectacular crash a few years ago.  Moments like Monday’s, honestly, freak me out a little.  The rest of the way to work I seesawed between feeling shaky and feeling royally pissed.

Today, on my way to work, a man in a truck turned in front of me and the guy in the lane next to me.  Neither one of us beeped or got angry…just slowed so he’d get by without us running into him.  Then he gave us the finger.  And that pissed me off.  I mean, c’mon, you are cutting across two lanes of on coming traffic and you are flipping us off?  What the hell did we do?

The common theme in both of these scenarios is that both men were on their cell phones.  The other commonality is that I got angry.

There are times I make excuses for my anger or feel justified because let’s face it: some idiot on a cell phone almost killed me and although I survived, it has been a long, difficult emotional and physical recovery.  But, I like to remind myself that anger is only prolonging the suffering from the accident.  I don’t really want to waste time and energy on being angry and I think it’s bad for my health to have all that “mad juice” wandering about my body.

It got me thinking about many things.  How many people start their day angry because of an encounter similar to the ones I described?  How long does this anger last? How many people are affected by it?  We can’t control people not being mindful and cautious drivers.  I truly wish we could.  It’s only going to get worse as more people fiddle with gadgets and computers when they should just be concentrating on the road.  So, what can we do to quickly contain the anger and get rid of it before it harms us or we let it poison our interactions with others?

In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor tells us that physiologically reactions/feelings last for only 90 seconds, any that last longer than that are because we are stimulating the feeling by thinking about it over and over.  If you have not seen her TED talk, you really should go watch it.  We choose to keep the feeling going and we can choose to let it go.  Now, we’ve all been pissed and know that is easier said than done sometimes.

So what do we do?  How do week keep the anger from the jerk that cut us off on our way to work from poisoning the rest of our day and those we encounter?

I think undertaking a consistent meditation practice would help with this.  I have been a non-consistent meditator for years now.  You don’t have to be Buddhist to meditate.  You don’t have to be interested in religion at all.  There is much meditation instruction out there that is stress reduction related and not connected to spiritual practice.

Distraction.  I find that turning the stereo up and forcing myself to sing along let’s me move beyond obsessing over another bad driver I’ve encountered.

I have done loving kindness meditation for the person who pissed me off.  This is generally a good one.  It triggers the compassionate part of my brain and I think of all the reasons the person might have been in a rush.  I actually think I like this method the best.  It leaves me feeling better and I just think it has lasting positive effects on me.  Try this and please drive safely and mindfully!

If you get a look at the person, think of their face and replay the following in your head or even say it out loud.

May you be happy.

May you find peace.

May you arrive at your destination safely.

Fall Challenge! Give Up Gossip!

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There is an excellent, excellent post on Tricycle magazine’s blog right now called, “7 Tips for Giving Up Gossip.”  I urge you to go check it out.

All of these tips are so awesome I could weep; but, instead I challenge you and even though I don’t get much commenting on this blog, I know you’re out there because WordPress keeps stats!  So, dear readers, I challenge you to choose one or two of these tips and put them into practice this Fall and see what happens.

I am going to focus on the last one:

“7. Practice saying something kind to someone every day. Do this especially with people you don’t like. It gets easier with practice and bears surprisingly good results.”

I don’t dislike many people; but, I admit that there are some folks that I don’t particularly enjoy/like, whatever you want to call it and I tend to avoid them.  I think this also lends itself to participating in conversations about these folks because I am disconnected from them.  That is why I have chosen this one.  I’m going to seek these folks out and try to say something kind probably not every day; but, several times a week and see what happens to my willingness to talk about them, even if I’m defending them which seems to happen a lot.  It is like I’ve taken on the role of being the one to come up with scenarios and/or excuses for the way people act.

But really, I shouldn’t be discussing other people at all.

I’m going to try that for the next few months.  Perhaps it will just become a habit or practice.  That would be nice.  And feel free to share which one you are going to tackle and why in the comments section!

Simplicity in Action

mean librarian2

If someone wants help finding articles on a topic and I help them, but make them feel bad about it, they won’t feel like they got help. It won’t matter if they leave with a stack of articles and an armload of books that are perfect for them. If I’m a jerk, that’s all they’ll remember. Kate Sheehan in the preceding post.

This is one of the points in my interview with Kate Sheehan that particularly struck me.  It really is that simple.  It works the opposite way too.  If you’ve been nice and were helpful, even if you don’t have exactly what they need or the answer they were looking for, they still leave having a positive experience.

It’s not just important to appear helpful.  It’s important to BE helpful.  Sometimes, it’s easy to just say, “No, we don’t have it.” And be done.  But, it is the next step that can win the hearts of customers.  “No, we don’t have it; but, I can see if it is available through ILL.”  or “No, we don’t have that particular item; but, could I suggest something else along similar lines?”  This is the type of question that builds rapport because it takes the interaction from “do you have?” / “no we don’t” to a conversation and hopefully the patron leaves the library with something that interests them.

There is something about brief human interactions with strangers that is just an ingredient in the happiness soup and I don’t think it’s just me and my high level of social behavior.  I think most people would enjoy a few sentences between themselves and the folks they interact with during the day.  When I shop at Whole Foods, I always look for this one particular cashier because he will generally strike up a conversation about anything.  Once, we had a quite lengthy discussion about kid’s breakfast cereals.  And I loved that.  It is less drudgery to spin through his aisle with my groceries, have a pleasant and brief chat and then head home.  And I must admit that this adds to my Whole Foods loyalty.  I am a frugal person; but, will spend a bit more for quality food and pleasant experience because it adds to my quality of life.

When I lived in the Twin Cities, I frequented two grocery stores: a co-op and a small independent, local chain called Kowalski’s.  Both were pricier than the two big box grocers; but, I went to them partly for their product selection but mostly for the experience.  If you’ve been reading my blog then you know about my big dramatic accident.  While still in a wheelchair, I went to Kowalski’s and the front end manager came running up to me to chat with me about what happened.  I did not know this person other than to exchange some pleasantries as she checked me out.  Yet, here she was showing concern, letting me know that she cared and offering to help me if I needed it.

In Saint Paul, before I worked for the library system, I was a regular patron and the check out staff got to know me for my many holds and regular visits.  My partner used to tease me that it was like Cheers because I would walk in and one of the clerks would catch me, “Ann, you have some holds!”  Or they would ask me about something we had chatted about previously.  “How’s the scarf coming along?” after I picked up a hold on knitting and exchanged project tales with one of the clerks.  But, I liked that.  I liked that I had a relationship with these folks and this little branch library.

It really does not take much to build this rapport: a few extra seconds or a couple of minutes.  Sometimes I know we are rushed and crazy; but, slow down a wee bit, acknowledge the person, make sure you have HELPED them.  It makes all the difference in the world.

Kate Sheehan: Committed to Kindness

photographer: Wadem through Flickr Creative Commons

photographer: Wadem through Flickr Creative Commons

Last Spring I was fortunate enough to attend Computers In Libraries, which is a really great conference.  After a full day of learning and feeling inspired by the workshops, I was waiting in my hotel room for my colleague.  She came bursting in the room and said, “You are not going to believe what I just heard.”  She rifled through her bag and pulled out her notebook.  “I went to a talk about the Darien Public Library and one of the librarians quoted the Dalai Lama and said that”  flipped the page in her notebook and read directly from her notes, “Our  chief export is kindness.”

Well, my first thought was yay!  I’m not alone.  There is another librarian co-conspirator, kindness evangelist out there.  I must meet her!  Unfortunately, I did not get to meet the woman who said those words; but, I did track her down by email at the Darien Public Library in Darien, CT.  She blogs at: Loose Cannon Librarian.

In the interest of not inconveniencing her too much; I asked her if she would generously answer a few questions for me that I could then share on Civil Civil Servant.

I have posted my questions and her responses below, only editing a typo or two and changing the original order.

At CIL2009 you made the comment that kindness is the chief
export of your library.  You wrote about that comment on your blog.
Could you briefly summarize your view of how kindness fits into
libraries and why you believe it to be our chief export?

My dear friend is a med student (actually, she’s in an M.D./Ph.D program, so when she’s done, I get to call her “Dr. Dr.”) and I was visiting her when she was taking this class that was (to my untrained eye) the bedside manner class. I started calling it her “how to be a person” class. Med schools have figured out that bedside manner is important. Medical types even studied it: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1659065,00.html Most of us aren’t doctors, and we don’t have the skills to judge our medical care on anything but our interactions with our doctors, so that’s how people decide if their doctor is “good” or not. A doctor can give an accurate medical explanation of something, but we can’t hear it if all we’re thinking about is how much of a jerk s/he’s being. We don’t have to worry about malpractice in our profession, but we should take note.

If someone wants help finding articles on a topic and I help them, but make them feel bad about it, they won’t feel like they got help. It won’t matter if they leave with a stack of articles and an armload of books that are perfect for them. If I’m a jerk, that’s all they’ll remember. If I’m nice to them and they feel like I’m on their side in tackling their problem, they’ll have good warm fuzzy feelings about the library and they’ll feel helped.

How do you cultivate kindness in the workplace, especially when
serving the public which can sometimes be stressful and with difficult
coworkers?

I think kindness is something we all need. Working with the public can be exhausting and we have to be kind to each other and ourselves. Front lines staff need back rooms where they can let off steam and management that understands that someone in the back grousing isn’t necessarily going to provide bad service when they get back in front of the public. Of course, there are nuances to all of this – chronic complainers can be poisonous to organizational culture, but even the most saintly among us are going to have days where they are “out of nice” and that’s okay.

Also, as everyone who works on the front lines know, there are always going to be upset patrons who can’t be placated, no matter how nice and accommodating we are and there are always going to be mismatches. That is, there will always be those people who don’t like your brand of kindness, no matter what. I’m not advocating smiles and hearts and teddy bears and a total disconnect from reality. Nor am I saying that kindness trumps good librarianship – you can’t be nice and give people bad information – or that we have to be doormats for abusive people. We have to be kind to each other and ourselves as a foundation for being kind to our patrons.

Have you had any negative reactions to your use of the word,
kindness?

Not to my face, but I’m sure it’s out there.

How do you approach resistance?

Resistance to kindness? I think most people aren’t going to come out against kindness, exactly. I’m sure there are people who think it’s too touchy feely and too soft and fuzzy to be taken seriously. It is touchy feely to talk about and focus on kindness. But I do think it’s a big part of being a service organization. People shop at stores with nice and helpful staff, they use companies where the employees are nice to them.

In your blog post, you mention kindness as a lifestyle…what is
the impact of that choice?

That’s an interesting question. There are a lot of studies about kindness and altruism having positive effects on us (I’d like to put in a plug for CogSciLibrarian – both the blog and on twitter for great links to fascinating research about what makes us tick).
Here are a couple of articles, but there are about a billion more out there:
http://uncnews.unc.edu/content/view/2688/71/
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200607/pay-it-forward

I like to joke that everyone should have to work retail for a period of time because once you’ve done the job, you won’t be rude to store clerks ever again. It’s easier to be nice to people when we can imagine ourselves in their shoes. I’ve focused in on the word kindness because I think it helps to have a focal point, but I don’t want to be too glib. It’s easy to get into bumper sticker idealism and that’s not realistic. Everyone has bad days, everyone gets grouchy or feels put upon sometimes. But I think if we look past those moments with the people in our lives and make an effort to forgive ourselves and each other for our bad days, it really does result in more happiness for ourselves and better interactions with each other and our patrons.

Have you always been this way? :)  What I mean is how did you
cultivate this belief system in yourself?

Both of my parents are social workers and a lot of their friends are in mental health as well. I grew up around a lot of people who help other people for a living. There’s a certain kind of gallows humor that goes with those fields, I think. But there’s also an intense interest in other people’s experiences. When we had people over for dinner, the entire conversation could be taken up talking about other people and how they operated in the world. People who work that closely with other people are so immersed in seeing things from everyone’s point of view. I think it could be seen as a weakness, that ability to see a situation from all sides and it can be almost paralyzing. To put it in a bumper sticker quote: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (which I think gets attributed to Plato, but I’m not sure of the accuracy).

None of this is to say that I’m kind and understanding all the time, just that I try. I can see how important it is to be kind by my own bad days.

I knew I would love this post and I do.  There are so many things that Kate shared that resonate with me which perhaps will be a post in itself in the next week or so.  I can’t thank Kate enough for sharing her beliefs with us.  On August 31st she published a post on her blog entitled Auditing Kindness.  It is filled with some great ideas.  I suggest you head over there and participate in the discussion she has started.

Is Kindness Trending?

kindness

At Powells last year, I was responsible for keeping the Business section shelved and orderly.  One book caught my eye:  Kindness Revolution by Edward Horrell.  I loved this book.  At some point, I’ll write a post just about that book.  For now, I’ll summarize it very, very briefly by saying that it is a book about cultivating a culture of kindness in the workplace from the TOP down.

At the library where I work right now, I’m responsible for collection development in the business and self help areas.  I’ve recently noticed a flurry of titles about kindness and compassion that were not spiritual in nature.  There are plenty of books that stem from a religious or spiritual base that discuss kindness and compassion; but, fewer outside the Dewey 200s.

Here’s a few that I’ve noticed in the last 6 months.

  • Art of Being Kind by Stefan Einhorn
  • Do One Nice Thing by Debbie Tenzer
  • Age of Empathy by F. B. Waal
  • Cost of Bad Behavior by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath
  • Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy by Dev Patnaik
  • Capitalizing on Kindness: Why 21st Century Professionals Need to be Nice by Kristin Tillquist
  • On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor
  • Compassionate Samurai by Brian Klemmer
  • Love Leadership by John Hope Bryant

I have not read any of these books though, On Kindness will be added to my Fall reading list.  In Booklist, the reviewer June Sawyers writes,

Phillips and Taylor argue that in today’s fast-paced, anything-to-get-ahead culture, kindness “has become our forbidden pleasure.” Kindly behavior is perceived as both dangerous and suspicious, nothing less than empty sentiment and simplistic moralizing.

I have often felt that even using the word, kind, plants a seed of suspicion in people which I have always found odd.  It’s almost as if the topic of kindness and compassion has become off limits, distasteful or inappropriate.  I’m anxious to read this exploration of kindness, that includes a historical perspective on attitudes towards kindness.

All of these books have me thinking: is kindness trending up?  What is the sudden uptick in interest, especially in the business sector?  Has the recession brought with it a distaste for greed? Is it more that in a recession business leaders are willing to try anything, even being a little nicer?  In an earlier post, I reference an article in the NYT that talks about how desperate restaurant owners in NYC have decided to try and be decent to retain customers.

Or maybe it’s our president.  He does seem more compassionate than some of our last few presidents.  During the campaign, his “calmness” was frequently discussed in the media.  The recent fiasco over the arrest of Henry Louis Gates had an interesting conclusion…well…at least the media hype died down after the three men met and had a conversation.  What slipped by many media outlets or was deemed unimportant by them (perhaps more interested in what brand beer they were drinking), was the fact that Gates and the police officer had already spoken on the phone a couple of times before they met in person, both men showing some level of maturity and willingness to listen (one would hope).

Maybe the recession is moving us towards some values our culture hasn’t really highlighted in awhile: frugality, humbleness, a desire to hunker down and be more self sufficient.  I’ve seen quite a few books, interviews, news pieces pop up about preserving, canning, etc.  Let’s hunker down with loved ones and let the storm pass.

I’m not sure why the idea of kindness seems to be a topic of discussion lately; but, I’m all for it.  We need more kindness in the world.   Aldous Huxley has been credited with saying that after years of searching for happiness he discovered the best answer was “to be a little kinder.”

Perhaps we can all make that discovery too.

I May Be Lucky; but, I Still Occasionally Feel Sorry For Myself

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July 7th.  It is a weird day for me.   Four years ago today I was riding my scooter down West 7th St. in Saint Paul, MN when I collided with a car that turned into my lane.  The driver was on his cell phone and he didn’t see me and he turned right into me.   I had just visited my friends at the library and a friend and her son in Lowertown.  I was headed home to make a lovely dinner for my partner.   My life so completely changed in that moment that I still grieve for my previous life while at the same time anticipating what my new life will bring.

I’ve talked to numerous other people who’ve been in traumatic accidents and many of them divide their lives into before and after.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the whole notion of before and after.

We assumed I’d get back on my feet enough to return to libraries; but, I did have to assess and really make sure that the library field was worth fighting for and if I didn’t return to libraries what then? Part of my recovery was spent in Portland, OR.  My first job after the accident was at Powells Books.  I worked at the smaller outpost on Hawthorne and loved it.  I loved the people.  I loved the books.  I loved the neighborhood.  When I got the job, I thought: I’m not spending more than a year here.  I knew it wouldn’t take very long for me to know how I was doing being back at work and I also knew that I couldn’t get too comfortable at Powells.  I spent exactly one year to the day there.

It is easy to get complacent.  It is easy to just let life go along propelled by inertia.  It is easy to get stuck in our ways.  Sometimes change comes in small ways: cutbacks at work bring more responsibility or we get a new boss who has different ideas.  Sometimes change comes in big ways like my accident.  It is really how we weather these changes that makes all the difference.  Change brings opportunity, even when it’s painful.  My accident brought to me the opportunity to learn things about myself.  It reminded me that I’m in control of what my life looks like and how I’m going to move through the world.  We make decisions all of the time.  Sometimes the decision is to do nothing.  If I  do nothing, I want to make sure it is a conscious choice.  It’s fascinating in so many ways.  In some specific ways the accident has taken things from me whether by physical limitation or by choice (no more scooter riding); but, in other ways it has opened up a whole new future.  I don’t quite get to do a do-over in life; but, something near to it.

People always ask the same questions; so, I’ll answer them for you: yes, I was wearing a helmet.  I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.  I broke a bunch of stuff and had a head injury.  The friend I was visiting prior to the accident would sometimes say, what if we stayed at the playground longer? what if you left sooner?  I can’t play those games.  I’d say I was damn lucky.  I crashed about 4 blocks from a level one trauma center.  The man who was in the car behind the guy who hit me was an off duty EMT.  He saved my life.  I probably would have bled to death in the few moments it took the ambulance to get there.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes, I feel sorry for myself.  Sometimes, I still deal with the emotional aspects of trauma and I get weepy.  Sometimes, when I can’t do something because of a physical limitation or I have a day filled with chronic pain,  I get pissed.  I try to allow myself the moment to feel sad or mad and then redirect it to feeling lucky to have another shot at living in this incredible world.

When we get bogged down in negative thinking, it is our choice to stay there and suffer or ask the questions that will give us a chance to reframe the experience.

This is different post for me.  One that is entrenched in the personal; but, really it is about navigating change and that is something we encounter in all parts of our life.  Sometimes change is within our control and sometimes not; but, how we deal with change is always in our control.

I’ve struggled with writing this one.  In fact, I’ve rewritten it seven times.  I don’t know how to tie all up in a nice neat package and I guess that’s okay.  And because now I’m one of those people:  wear your helmet and when you drive, just drive.  Please refrain from talking and texting.  You might just save a life.

Dynamic Duo: Jenna Galley and Leona

Jenna and Leona

While attending a workshop at NJLA’s annual conference this year, I noticed a small stuffed lion seated between me and the woman to my right.  The workshop presenter had us do a few little exercises with our seat mates.  We introduced our selves and shared the usual bits of information: where do you work?  Where do you live?  I learned her name is Jenna Galley and she works at the Peapack-Gladstone Library.  As the workshop wrapped up and people began making the typical noises of opening bags and rustling papers, I glanced one more time at the little golden colored stuffed lion seated next to me.  Jenna was preparing to leave, when I finally just had to ask.

What’s up with the lion?” And she answered,

That’s Leona.”


John Greene and Leona

John Greene and Leona

Brian Selznick and Leona

Brian Selznick and Leona

She proceeded to tell me a little bit about Leona and how she travels with Jenna to events and conferences and has her picture taken with authors.  I could have left it there, I suppose; but, I just had to know more.  I basically ended up slightly interrogating her about Leona and people’s reactions to Leona.  Jenna enjoys sharing the story of Leona with the people they meet; so, I don’t think I hassled her too much.  The best news is that she agreed to a bit more interviewing for this article.

It all started at PLA 2004 in Seattle.  Jenna attended a Between the Lions luncheon.  Between the Lions is a PBS kid’s show that uses puppets and storytelling to promote reading.  In doing a bit of research for this article, I discovered that it was created and designed out of existing research on how children learn to read and they expanded that research with their own studies.  Jenna was impressed with the Between the Lions people and became fascinated with the puppets, puppeteers and one puppet in particular: Leona, one of the stars of the show.  PLA was in the Spring of that year and the following Fall, one of Jenna’s colleagues gave her a gift: a small stuffed version of the character Jenna  had fallen in love with back at PLA.

It all kind of started out innocently.  Leona started accompanying Jenna to events and meetings, having her picture taken doing silly stuff and it was a fun thing for her coworkers to joke about.  Encouraged by a colleague, Jenna took Leona to PLA 2006.  The idea of having Leona pose for pictures with some of the authors took hold and the adventure began.  Soon the pile of pictures of Leona and authors started piling up and people started to expect to see Leona at the conferences.

Floyd Cooper and Leona

Floyd Cooper and Leona

kate dicamillo

Kate DiCamillo and Leona

When Jenna’s mother found herself in the hospital, Leona took time from her schedule to keep Jenna’s mom company and even with this break, the number of photos of Leona and her author friends is pretty substantial.  Leona has not only become a part of Jenna’s work family; but, she goes home with Jenna and has been welcomed as a member of that family too!

I loved meeting Jenna and her pal Leona and I love the doors that Leona has opened for Jenna.  Leona is an instant ice breaker and has helped make introductions to folks Jenna may not have ever met: authors, other librarians and probably random strangers too.

When I asked Jenna if she had experienced any negative feedback, maybe folks would just think a grown woman carting around a stuffed animal is weird, she said that she had always been a little quirky so it didn’t really matter.  Even the one cranky author has become a story to tell because really, how can you not smile when posing with Leona!

I’m a believer  that the meaningful, even if brief connection we can make with others is where joy lies.  There is such magic to be found in connecting with others and connecting with nature and in that magic there is a chance to experience joy.  I love that moment when a smile forms on my face because I just connected with another person.  Leona is a smile maker.  I’m sure Jenna would say that Leona has enriched her life in surprising ways.

Leona with the real McDuff (aka Sophie), star of Rosemary Wells's books

Leona with the real McDuff (aka Sophie), star of Rosemary Wells's books

Gloating, the Art of Reveling in Another’s Misfortune

fortune cookie

I was walking through the library today and overheard two patrons talking about a mutual acquaintance.  The one patron was gloating, experiencing pure glee at being right.  She kept saying, “I told her this was going to happen.”  She was smiling a shiny smile and radiantly animated in her retelling of this story and I began to wonder about the shear frequency I witness gloating and participate in gloating.

I do enjoy being right.  I think like many librarians, I’m slightly (Hey, it’s my blog and I get to determine which adverb  I’m going to use!) obsessed with knowing.  But, now, the question I ask myself is when does my need for knowing and my need to be right flood over the line.  When am I in danger of feeling satisfaction at someone else’s expense.

I’m going to try and observe these feelings in myself over the next several weeks and I’ll report back.

I’ve tried to ferret out a lot of negative thinking from my brain; but, these thoughts of self satisfaction still sneak through.  It would be easy to assume or state that I never have these feelings/thoughts; but, that would be misrepresenting that which is true:  I am human, with human failings.

How does this translate to the workplace?  How can we make sure we are supporting our coworkers instead of waiting for them to fall?  This is generally only difficult when faced with a difficult person.  It’s easy to support your coworkers who are team players and get along with everyone, who refrain from mean gossip and keep their end up.  It’s harder to be generous when it is a coworker who is difficult to get along with, who is themselves a gloater, who doesn’t pitch in and help others, who is a complainer or who is just grouchy and unpleasant.  This is where the challenge lies.

I, of course, have a little story to relate.  My ex, Kate, is an extraordinarily gifted listener and observer.  She is not a gossip and although she has human failings like the rest of us; she is not mean.  Several years back, she started a new job and it took no time at all to figure out that one her coworkers was quite difficult and to say she was not liked is an understatement.  She was grouchy, unforgiving, stingy with time and support and a  meddler.  Kate’s coworkers would talk about this person and Kate refused to participate.  As time passed, Kate noticed something.  The difficult coworker felt left out.  The next time there was an opportunity to invite this coworker to an after work gathering, Kate invited her.  She invited her again and again.  You know where this is going right?  This is not the Hallmark channel.  The difficult coworker did not completely change her ways and win a popularity contest at work; but, she did begin to feel included.  The gossip about her subsided.  Her meanness let up and she even meddled less.  She’s still not the easiest person to work with but the extreme tension in that office has dissipated and it has made it a better place to work and I’m sure their “customers” feel it too.  And considering that their “office” is the rehab unit at a level one trauma hospital, any positive adjustment in morale would be an enormous benefit to those they serve.

So, the question is….

What would happen if instead of gaining satisfaction in a difficult coworker’s failure, we instead focused our energies on helping them succeed?

Power of Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness and the power it can have in the workplace.  In my personal life, I like to cultivate and forge relationships with people who are patient and are capable of extending forgiveness.  There is a freedom that comes with establishing these types of relationships.  Generally, you are free to make mistakes without lasting harm.  Of course, it also requires that you see your mistakes and the nature of them and apologize or ask for forgiveness.

In the workplace, cultivating a place where there is forgiveness helps create a space where people are encouraged to try things, to think outside the box, to stretch themselves to their very limits, to be risky without it bringing harsh consequences down on them.

It also creates a place where people’s individual quirks are not used against them, where new employees are not expected to be perfect, where staff are allowed to make mistakes knowing that they will learn from those mistakes and that they will not be punished for taking risks.

Punishment and the holding of grudges is poison.

I’ve worked in places where grudges were being held for things that happened 10 and 20 years ago!!!  Clearly, this is not productive.  This is what can happen when we start looking outside of ourselves instead of just focusing on our own work and our own impact on the workplace.

The next time someone does something that pisses you off, let them have a free pass.  Forgive them, let it go and move on.  See how it feels.  Does it really matter that your manager made a mistake with the schedule?  Does it matter that an irate customer is passed to you because of something someone else did?  No, ultimately, it really doesn’t matter.  Schedules get ironed out.  We all make mistakes with customers or maybe even it’s an opportunity to educate a coworker about a policy or share with them a different way of handling a problem.

In the big picture, being mad at these people, wouldn’t help you serve customers, wouldn’t help you maintain a healthy, enthusiastic morale, would negatively impact your happiness and would generally distract you from your work.

Forgiveness is a wonderful gift to share with your coworkers.  Try it once, see how it feels.