I can’t tell you how much love I have for the Alabama Shakes. I discovered them sometime last year after reading about them in Paste and searching out their self released EP and they have been in constant rotation ever since. I just don’t get sick of them. Last April, while road tripping in Vermont, we had the chance to see them live in Burlington. They are amazing live and if you like their kind of music and you have the opportunity to snatch up some tickets, do it. You will not be disappointed. Here is my little gift to you.
I haven’t had the chance to write up a post since election day; but, I wanted to say something before the end of the year. So, I have two things.
First, if you are a regular reader, you know how much I dig the writings/speeches given by Brene Brown. There is part of me who really cringes at anything that reeks of self help ramblings without some science behind it and Ms. Brown brings the science. And she cuts through the mixed messages and gets right to the core of how we operate. I love that. I ran across an article by her that sums up bullying way better than I ever could. I’m a believer that we live in a bully culture and encourage bully behavior and then are surprised when kids and adults “take it too far.” We like to think we are a country of people that love the underdogs; but, in reality, we love our bullies even more. Here’s a small excerpt:
Whether we are a sweaty-palmed 7th grader navigating a hostile cafeteria, or a laid-off worker trying to make a mortgage payment, or a young mother waiting for mammogram results, feeling vulnerable, imperfect and afraid is human. It is when we lose our capacity to hold space for these struggles that we become dangerous. We can legislate behavior all day long, but true compassion comes from a tender and vulnerable place where we understand how inextricably connected we are.
From : The Cruelty Crisis: Bullying Isn’t a School Problem, It’s a National Pastime by Brene Brown. Published on Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com) on October 31, 2010.
Read that article and pay special attention to the last paragraph.
Secondly, recently a few friends have been doing 30 or even 40 days of gratitude on Facebook. I’m going to admit something. As a (somewhat) reformed eye roller, I resist the urge to chalk all of this gratitude up to some touchy feelie, new agey bunk. But, I also know that I feel better when I focus on the things I can be grateful for. I feel better when I focus on seeing the good.
The amazing thing about gratitude is it can be cultivated, practiced and even developed as a reaction and the results are rather amazing. I recently presented a program on leading with compassion. I gave the audience a short exercise to try that several people talked to me about afterwards. So, I altered it and decided to share it with you here.
You will need a piece of paper, a pen, a quiet moment and the willingness to keep your mind open.
Think of the person at your job who most drives you crazy. Close your eyes. Think of their face. Take note of the feelings that arise and sit with them for a moment. Okay. You are most likely sitting with negative feelings. Imagine all those feelings are written up on chalkboard. If you really dislike this person, your chalkboard is probably full, every inch of space being used. In your mind, see your chalkboard filled with all of those feelings, now take an eraser and erase them. Get that eraser into every corner until there is just chalk dust up on your imaginary board. Great. Now lets get started.
- Think of your person.
- Write down 3 things they are good at. This can be anything. Maybe they keep their desk neat. Perhaps they are prompt. Even if you have to dig deep, write down 3 things.
- Write down one thing you would miss if the person didn’t come to work anymore. You have to write down one thing. You can do it. Even the most annoying, crazy person offers something that is worthy of missing.
- Write down one thing YOU can do to help this person succeed.
Now I want you to set down your pen, close your eyes and take a couple of calming breaths. Relax your shoulders. Think of your person. Did your heart soften towards them a wee bit? Maybe it softened a lot. Take note of the new feelings.
I firmly believe, as a supervisor, my job is not to get people to do what I want; but, it is to help them succeed. As a colleague, it is to help my coworkers succeed. I understand that at times, this is impossible and that with really, really toxic people, the best course of action is to figure out ways to just reduce their toxicity.
Don’t mistake a softening heart for losing ground or giving in. It is just about understanding that your person is just another person in the world navigating through the ups and downs of life and struggling with things as you sometimes struggle. Try not to get bogged down with what other people are doing and focus on the things that are in your control.
2012 is winding down and I’ve heard so many people say that it was a bad year for them. If this is you, I want you to immediately sit down and write a list of 10 things that were good about 2012. Go! Do it! Enter 2013 thinking, wow, I found 10 good things about 2012, 2013 is going to be even better!
I’ve struggled to find the balances I need in my life so that I can thrive in NYC. I think maybe I’ve spent a good portion of the year feeling a bit tired and foggy headed; but, 2012 is year that goes down in my personal history as a watershed year. I got married. I had this amazing, sweet wedding at an apple orchard in Vermont that is owned by Anya’s cousin and her family. We were surrounded by people that love and support us. There was a dude with a guitar and ten gallon hat singing Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. Later, with his band, they did covers of Johnny Cash and other twangy greats. After the ceremony and the toasts, with the party just getting into gear, I looked over the lawn and saw my friend Ann, carrying a croquet mallet in one hand and a wine glass in the other, her pretty green dress popping against the blue sky and I thought, This is perfect. Did everything go as planned? Ha! Of course not. Did we panic and find someone to blame? Hell no! There was pie and happy people and this amazing hard cider from the orchard and the most perfect weather of the whole summer and there was this incredible, extraordinary woman who makes me laugh, reminds me not to worry so much, accepts me just the way I am and pretty much takes my breath away every day. That is perfect and by perfect, I mean perfectly imperfect. It truly is a beautiful life.
Right now, we have a chance to take a view that is so much larger than Obama or Romney, Us or Them, My Way or The Highway. Without budging an inch in what we believe and whom we support, we could take a moment, just a millisecond, to imagine that the “other” side feels as much passion, despair, longing, and fear about the election as we do. We could care about each other, American to American. As winners, we could seek ways to include the losers as we go forward rather than further ostracize them. As losers, we could redouble our efforts to fight for what we believe in from a sense of love for this country rather than hatred for the victors.
This is a quote from one my favorite teachers. I have been thinking about the animosity building between Romney and Obama supporters. It is good to remember that we are not only one country; but, we are all humans trying to do our best.
Check out the whole post:
“If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!” –Brene Brown
The anti-bullying movement is certainly well intentioned. There is no denying that. My problem with the anti-bullying parade of legislation, media stories and programming is that there is a self-satisfied bragging about it without any self-reflection. Look at all the things we are doing to stop bullying!
This post was motivated by a Facebook post from one of my dear friends, who teaches in the NYC Schools. She told a story about talking with kids in her class. She created a space where she could safely challenge the kids and they could respond honestly and share stories not only of being bullied; but, occasions when they have actually done the bullying. Her post responded in a litany of folks congratulating her which is well deserved; but, when I tried to steer the discussion towards how we could model the behavior we expect to see, nobody took the bait and it got me thinking. My friend mentioned how some of the students who were the biggest anti-bullying advocates were actually bullies.
New Jersey now has the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country and Governor Christie has been quick to congratulate himself for its passage. But, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that New Jersey is also a state which has a bully for a governor. Do you think that the children of New Jersey would be better served by the anti-bullying legislation or by adults in their lives who do not bully, judge, gossip and instead choose to cultivate an atmosphere of kindness and compassion?
I think it is safe to say, without referencing scholarly articles, that bullying is a learned behavior. I’ve seen gossip and bullying in every workplace I’ve worked in. My school teacher partner comes home and tells me some disturbing stories about teacher and administrator behavior. In Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: popularity, quirk theory, and why outsiders thrive after high school, author Alexandra Robbins follows several students around at schools in different parts of the country. In one instance, the reader is a few chapters into the book before you realize that the bullied, weird girl who suffers at the hands of a mean girl and her clique is actually a teacher and is being bullied by other teachers. Where do you think kids are learning bullying behavior? From us. We have created and sustain a bully culture.
It’s all well and good to discourage bullying in children; but, what are we doing about the bully inside of us? Oh, sure, I’ve seen articles and books about bully coworkers and bosses; but, they are almost exclusively about extreme bullies and fail to capture the subtle, everyday bully. Ask yourself the following:
- Do you gossip? Do you listen to or spread stories about coworkers, neighbors, or other people in your life?
- Do you exclude a person from group activities? Do you participate in group activities after work when one or more coworkers have purposefully been excluded from invitation?
- Do you go home and tell stories about your coworkers that include judging or name calling?
- Do you make fun of people in front of your children?
- Do you tell mean jokes? Do you crack jokes about coworkers?
- Do you tease any of your coworkers? Your friends? Your family? Any other people in your life?
Are you now thinking, this doesn’t pertain to me, I’m nice, I’m kind. What are you doing right now to cultivate compassion and empathy in yourself? Oh, I agree that we need Anti-bullying campaigns and programming; but, it starts from within. It’s not easy. People piss us off and do stupid things and sometimes people make themselves irresistible targets. The library field is saturated with odd folks and sometimes it is difficult to refrain from making an easy joke about a person’s style, personality quirks, weird hobbies or social awkwardness. I know this because there have been too many times when I have not refrained and contributed to a culture that ultimately I wanted to see disappear. Can you go one day without talking about one coworker in front of other coworkers?
“What we know matters but who we are matters more.” ― Brené Brown,
My friend, the teacher in the story at the top of this post, is one of those rare folks who is kind and thoughtful and nurturing. She is not perfect. None of us are perfect. But, she gently taught those kids something that day. She taught them something about assessing their own behavior and how it affects others. And she gave them a safe place to talk about it.
Do that for yourself. Is there something in your own behavior that needs to be changed. Do you act towards others as you wish to be acted upon? Do you have someone in your life that can be your sounding board? I have a few people in my life that I trust and feel safe telling things that make me deeply vulnerable. These are people who are also on a similar path; so, I know that they understand that I don’t want some behavior I’m describing to be easily condoned with a “that’s okay” response. They also don’t judge or use the opportunity to feel superior. They are my partners in this quest.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brene Brown
What kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be the person people feel comfortable gossiping with or the person people trust NOT to gossip? Do you want to be the person that makes harsh judgments about people because of appearance or some other detail about their lives? Do you want to be the person who is kind to a person even when they annoy you because you are capable of EMPATHY? Who erases the annoyance with a gentle attitude?
- Little by little remove the bully from your heart and mind.
- Surround yourself with people who want to be better.
- The Golden Rule is made of awesome. If it is the only rule you follow, you will lead a good life.
- Commit. (I’m yelling, arms raised to the sky) Commit!! Commit to the person you wish to be in the world.
Commit to kindness. Commit to opening your heart. As you move through this world, leave love in your wake.
Don’t you love how one thing leads to another? Someone sends you a blog article or tells you a story or there’s a post on Facebook that you click on and before you know it: connection to connection to connection and you find yourself creating a link between two ideas or people or parts of your life that you wouldn’t have ordinarily connected.
Here’s the little journey I recently went on. I’m a member of Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project. She had a blog post about doing an interview on Good Life Project, which I had never heard of before. I went to the website and the interview at the top was with Brene Brown who is a researcher that has garnered popular interest with her TED Talks and her books on shame and vulnerability. If you read my blog, you know that I love her. Listen to her TED Talks (there are 2 of them). I seriously heard doors swing open when she talked about vulnerability as a courageous act. I listened to the Brene Brown interview and she mentioned a Thich Nhat Hahn quote that she had recently heard. “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” This quote was rattling around my head along with a part of the interview where they discussed finding a community and figuring out how to serve them instead of developing a product and figuring out how to sell it. So, here are these two different ways of talking about connectedness and community when I came across this post about shareable spaces in libraries.
Whew. Are you still with me? That whole process happened in a few minutes. I went from checking in on a community blog that is about meditation and wound my way to a blog about building shareable communities that had a library related post.
A few days ago, I read another one of those “demise of libraries” articles and was dumbfounded. When was the last time the writer had actually been in a public library? His major thesis was that libraries’ main schtick was to loan books and that would eventually disappear. Uhm. No. Libraries main schtick is serving the community in the way the community needs. They need books? We try to provide books. They need jobs? We try to provide the computer access and training and bring in speakers and resume writers and business advisers to help. It goes on and on. The crazy, beautiful thing about the the article referenced above about libraries as laboratories is that is where the hearts of libraries lie: in the ability to stretch beyond boundaries and in new directions to meet the needs and interests of the community. I keep hearing all the doom and gloom stories ; but, I’m not seeing the evidence of this.
I get goosebumps thinking about the connections that could be made in a library laboratory. My father faithfully goes to the library every weekend, sometimes every other weekend. He goes in, picks up holds, picks out books off the shelves, checks out and then heads home. I don’t think that he has ever gone to the library for a program or to research anything. If there was a maker lab at his library, I suspect he’d drop in and check it out. My father is a maker: car mechanic, fixer, handy guy, artist and tinkerer. So was his father. Maker labs in the library are brilliant for so many reasons; but, my favorite is their ability to connect community in new ways and connect groups that might not have other opportunities to connect. Forgive me for my stereotypes; but, one connection might be between my Dad and his peers (old car guys/tinkerers) and young crafty types (could be male or female). Plus, the library is friendly and a group that might not walk into a machinery class, like teen girls, could be introduced to maker culture in an open and welcoming environment.
“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” Libraries are the perfect place for communities to gather and find the common ground that can begin this awakening.
In the Library with the Lead Pipe recently posted an article that compared running a marathon with working in the library because both are endeavors where we need to pace ourselves to avoid fatigue and burnout. Go read this article. It provides a brief overview of current brain science that might surprise you.
Fatigue and burnout are poison in the well. They affect our abilities to be productive at work and home. They affect our ability to communicate and negotiate with coworkers and friends and family. They affect our ability to make decisions and think things through effectively.
Here’s an exercise:
Write down 5 things you know you need to do in order to think more clearly, be more patient and find joy in your work. Here’s what mine might look like.
1. 8-9 hours of sleep
3. Moderate exercise
5. Healthy eating.
These should be things you have control of; so, not things like: get my kid to pick up his laundry. You already know what you need to be calmer and happier at work. You probably won’t be able to do all 5 all the time; but, make sure you are trying for 2-3 of them all the time. Now commit yourself to doing them.
This might seem simplistic and it is really. But, then why is it so hard to do the things we know we should be doing? For me, sleep is my number one factor in having a good quality of life. I have a friend who needs more than moderate exercise, pretty much everyday, in order to burn off the stress of working in a hospital. She knows that she feels better and is happier when she gets home to her family. She also told me that she noticed around 3pm everyday she was feeling sad and a bit down and wondered if it had to do with something in her eating habits. She started eating a small handful of almonds at about 2:30 and she avoided the down turn in mood. Eating almonds in the afternoon should be on her list.
I also need caffeine. I’m weening myself down to one cup in the morning; but, in the big picture, caffeine (in moderation) is a basically harmless method of boosting focus, although temporary. I have found it speeds up my brain’s transition from sleep to having the executive function perform at a level I need it to. I suspect there are natural ways to help with this; but, at this point the caffeine works.
I also know that although meditation is the thing that helps me the most behind sleep, I do it the least which is something I would like to change. I hit 3-4 things on my list everyday and would like to get that even higher.
Make the list. Really think about it. Put it somewhere where you can see it everyday. You already know what you should be doing. You don’t need a class or a book or a guru, although sometimes those things help with motivation.
One last piece of advice: This is not another opportunity to assess your failure to reach a goal. At the end of the day, if you only hit one congratulate yourself on hitting one. That’s it. This is something to shoot for and the reward is you feel better or you have more patience in frustrating situations or more energy to listen to your family’s stories when you get home. If saying NO is on your list, the reward might be that you get to give your work projects the attention they deserve without feeling like you have spread yourself too thin. This is your list; only you know what needs to go on it.
I just joined a group on Facebook: ALA Think Tank. They were discussing customer service. Do we in the library world have customer service? Do we have customers? Should we take lessons from the business world or should they be looking to us? All great questions.
I was trying to think about some of the great customer service experiences I’ve had and one stands out. For a brief moment, I owned a Mini Cooper, which I must admit was THRILLING! Mini Coopers are really BMWs and are serviced at BMW Dealerships. I had never set foot in a BMW dealership before I owned the Mini. Heck, I don’t think I ever owned a car that was under warranty. When I was having a problem I went to the dealership. Wow. Someone greeted me at the door, got me signed in, took my keys, gave me a tour of the multiple waiting rooms (quiet/one with a TV/one for laptop users) and then finally took me to the mini bar where I could help myself to coffee, muffins, sodas, cookies…..you get the picture. Someone came out twice to give me an update about where in the process my car was and then finally to tell me that my name would be called. My car was right outside the door, fixed, freshly washed and vacuumed and the door was being held open by the young man who drove it up.
Those folks clearly thought about customer experience. They had anticipated every need and had already met it before my arrival.
How did they do it? Clearly, they did work to figure out what their customer’s needs might be. That could have been actively surveying customers, their own brainstorming, keeping a record of customer’s questions and requests or a combination of all of those. They trained staff in the behavior they wished to see. They empowered staff to make decisions.
It started with the greeting. This was not the poor retail greeter put out there to greet you in an effort to deter theft or in some faux attempt at being friendly. This woman was warm and smiling and came out from behind her desk to greet me. She walked back to her desk with me.
We can do this in our libraries. We can greet people genuinely. We can smile and look them in the eye. We can stop what we are doing and engage. We can walk with people into the stacks to find their book. Library directors, managers, supervisors need to set the tone they wish to see in their libraries. Circulation managers should get out of their office, work the desk and model the behavior they wish to see in staff. The circulation desk staff are frequently the first people customers (patrons) encounter. I have told staff: we are the friendly face of the library. That is our number one priority. I’d rather see people getting helped with care and thoroughness than tasks being completed.
Managers and supervisors need to have a grasp on the workloads of staff and be flexible with deadlines and expectations. How do you want to be treated when you walk into your local library or store or you hire a service for something?
Love it. Sometimes we forget to step outside and try to see our libraries like a customer. We should be going to other libraries and seeing what they do well and where they need improvement. Call up your colleague 3 towns over and have them “shop” your library and report back. This is not to catch people doing things wrong and should not be used in such a way. It’s to see how you are seen and where you might need to focus your attentions. This is an exercise in growth and improvement, not punishment! In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, the great Zen teacher states: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few. It is a fantastic and beautiful reminder that there is wisdom in seeing your world as a beginner. Emptying your mind of what you know and taking another look.
I’m about to make a big commitment. I’m getting married in a few weeks. I have been curious about the thoughts and feelings that have been passing through my brain. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I was previously in a 19 year-ish relationship. Was I less committed because there was no ceremony, no official New York State document with a seal and a fancy signature from a judge? I have contemplated this question quite a bit and am ready to say, no, I was not less committed. In an odd way, it was my commitment to her that allowed me to accept the loss and change. But there is something about taking vows, which are not exclusive to marriage of course, that FEELS different. In college, I signed an honor code and I took that very seriously. In Buddhism there are vows one can take, which I have not done; but, I have made vows to myself about the person I want to continue to be and strive to be.
Does that sound corny? Perhaps it is; but, consider it like a personal mission statement or your own chosen guidelines to live your life by or way to create and state your own personal set of values. When I’m going through something difficult like experiencing all the change that the accident and splitting from my former partner brought, I fell back on those guidelines again and again and again. Sometimes it was simply asking myself, do I want to be that person who would behave that way or go down that certain path? Frequently the answer was “No, I don’t want to be that person.” This checking in calmed me and saved me from doing or saying things I would later regret. I have decided to create a personal document of these guidelines.
The difference with creating a written down set of guidelines (vows? Promises to yourself? Values?) and just generally trying to follow the right path is that you have something concrete to go back to. You are claiming these values as your own and they become your measuring stick, the tool you use to keep on track. Plus, it becomes something you hold yourself to not for other people; but, for yourself, which in the end benefits all of the people in your life. An added benefit is that by following your own guidelines, you reduce stress by reducing the amount of drama you create in your life and you become the person you wish to become.
This is a project that encompasses personal and professional. It is a project that you will not be able to do in five minutes. It is a project you should think about, take notes, make lists of questions you can answer and make the time to undertake it fully. You could get a group of people together to undertake the same task, share ideas and get support or you could choose to do this as a solo project. Whatever you choose, I encourage you to turn off your gadgets and your TV and focus on the project because these are the statements that will define you.
It’s sort of funny to think about my upcoming marriage as a commitment because I have already committed my best to Anya and to myself. On August 18th, I will publicly declare my vows to her, which are really vows to self. The most I can offer is to do the best that I can in each moment and all that that encompasses and to continue to look for ways to become more of the person I’d like to be.
Make a commitment to yourself to live a life of integrity and bring your best self into your professional and personal worlds. Craft a short document you can return to as a reminder of what to do in tough situations. This commitment will serve you well and spill over into every little corner of your life. What kind of values do you want to uphold? What are the parameters of your ethical code? What kind of impact do you have on your workplace? Are you living the life you want? Do you take opportunities to understand yourself better so that you might grow in positive ways?
I hope you enjoy the process. Let me know how it’s going! In the meantime, I have listed some resources I discovered that I will probably take a look at as I embark on this project.
Resources for crafting your personal code of values:
Ethics for the Real World by Ronald Howard and Clinton Korvar. Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. H. H. Dalai Lama. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.
12 Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong. Knopf, 2010.
Choosing Civility P.M. Forni. St. Martins Griffin, 2003.
Civility Solution by P. M. Forni. St. Martins Griffin, 2009.
Thinking Life by P. M. Forni. St. Martins Griffin, 2012.
Creating Your Personal Mission Statement Fred Evers, University of Guelph, 2002.
What would your day be like if you forgave yourself?
There was recently a dust up about non librarian bloggers and the number of ARCs they were taking at ALA. I’m not really going to get into the nitty gritty; but, one post caught my attention. Go read that post and click to your heart’s content to get caught up on the issue if you are interested. For this post, all you need to understand is that a librarian who happens to write a blog I read regularly, tweeted something that upset people and that she most likely regretted. She apologized on her blog and then I’m guessing there was a pile up of chastising and shaming.
We’ve all done, said, written, tweeted, and/or reacted in a way that we’ve sometimes instantly, sometimes later regretted.
This is how to handle it:
Take deep breaths. I mean it. Try to think calmly and rationally and deter any panic you feel. When you feel that you can make a calm and rational statement, apologize without excuse. Just apologize sincerely. Have a friend look it over if you want it double checked before you send it.
Now is when the fun begins because humans love to pile on in a big shaming scrum. It won’t matter that you apologized. Especially in the digital world, folks will weigh in on why you are mean, stupid, insensitive, wrong or a horrible person. If you can, try not to read and respond to any of it. If you have a trusted friend/colleague have them review the responses in case there is one that is insightful or worthy of response.
Some folks would think because perhaps you ignited the fire, you should stand in the flames. I don’t agree with this at all, especially when there is little value coming from the response. I think it is a completely legitimate and reasonable choice not to read it.
Next: forgive yourself. If you are spending energy going over and over and over in your head what is happening and feeling shame and regret, you really need to forgive yourself. You need to have empathy and compassion for yourself and accept that you did it, reflect on how you would handle it differently next time and move on. MOVE ON! One technique for this “letting go” is to mentally label. When ever you feel tempted to read the flame war or your mind starts fueling the shame, create a label you can say in your head that will trigger you to move on to thinking about something else. You could follow up your label with a question: what would I tell my friend if she were in this situation? Whenever I suspect I’m judging myself too harshly, I always wonder what I would think if it happened to someone else. I catch myself having more compassion for others. I would never subject others to some of the judgey thoughts I think about my own behavior.
I think Jenica Rogers, author of the post in question, handled this quite nicely. She apologized, took some heat and then wrote a post officially ending her participation in the discussion. This second post is an excellent idea and her example is a good reminder that you are in control of how long you participate in the discussion.
Shame is only a powerful force if we allow it to have power over us. One of my favorite TED people is Brene Brown, a researcher at University of Houston who studies, writes and speaks about vulnerability and shame. She has created a shame resilience program that is being adopted by mental health practitioners. She has spoken, what I consider to be brilliant words about vulnerability:
“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”
And on the flip side, remember this: People do things, say things, write things that they regret. Let them apologize and refrain from shaming. Shaming is the modern day stoning. It is hurtful and divisive to all parties involved.
Participate in discussions that create and build connection, inspire ideas and heal wounds. I guarantee that you will find more joy in life and work.
I’m reading this book. It’s about cruelty and kindness. It’s about fear and bravery. It’s about the tribal culture of children. It’s about what makes a person good. It’s about friendship and family. It’s about a kid named August. It’s about a kid with a pretty major facial deformity and what it’s like to be in his universe. I’m only half way through; so, I can’t give you my final review. But, I want to share one thing I love about this book.
Quick background: Auggie was home schooled up until fifth grade. Wonder is about that first year in school. On the first day of school his English teacher introduces the concept of precepts and tells the kids that each month they will cover a precept and write/talk about it.
I was first introduced to the word PRECEPT when I began studying Buddhism. The teacher in Wonder describes it as a “guide” for people “making decisions about really important things.” The first precept he introduces is a quote from Wayne Dwyer,
“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
There are so many things to love about this. I love the idea of covering a precept a month to get kids thinking about their actions and their relationships with other people. I love this particular quote for the obvious reason: we really need to choose kindness more often and also for the subtler reason: it is a choice. When we are mean, it is a choice. When we insist on being right and relish it, that is a choice. When we are kind, that is a choice. Even when it doesn’t seem like a choice, yelling at a car that cuts you off, proving a coworker wrong just to be right, or placing blame for the satisfaction, it is a choice because you have trained your mind in those reactions.
For me, this one hits home. As a kid, my mother used to joke that I was just like her because I had to have the last word. I suspect I’m also a bit like her because I have “know it all” tendencies. I also just like knowing things. As I age, it’s easier to let that desire go. Sometimes, you just can’t know everything about every situation. When I was splitting up with my partner after 19 years together, in my head, the voice just kept asking why? why? why? I was in grief counseling for the split and the trauma from the accident and my counselor said: stop asking why. And I remember saying, “But, I need to know.” She said, “You’ll never know and then you’ll spend the rest of your life asking Why? about your past when you could be living in the now.” “Oh. Yeah. But…. I really need to know.” And then she said something that clicked for me. She said, “You don’t need to know. Your life can and will go on without knowing. Right now, you are just ATTACHED to the idea of knowing. You think it will help you lessen your suffering; but, you are actually suffering more being attached to the need to know.” I think this can also be said for the need to be right.
I’ve felt that need and it is a particular kind of desperation, though you cling to it for a false sense of safety and satisfaction. “Ahhhhh. I’m right.” When I started studying Buddhism and thinking about all of these things, I realized that a lot of times “being right” is at the expense of someone else being wrong and in most cases it didn’t even matter because it doesn’t change anything. It also takes a lot of energy to be right all the time. When I was a kid, I dumped cold water on my sister while she was taking a shower. It was a practical joke. Do you know what she did? She said, “I’m going to get you. You won’t know when or where; but, I’ll get you.” Oh man did she get me because I spent a week freaked out wondering when and where and how she was going to retaliate. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and begged her to let me off the hook and got her to promise not to retaliate.
Being right is a trap. It sets you up to play a game that has no end and no winners. You are constantly looking for opportunities to be right and just waiting to be challenged. It’s exhausting. Letting go of the need to be right is freeing.
If you are like me and have the urge to be right all the time, I can tell you one thing. Being right can be satisfying; but the satisfaction is momentary. Being kind is also satisfying and the satisfaction lingers and snowballs and builds.