Serendipity and Community

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.

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Surviving the Rat Race

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

2. Caffeine

3. Moderate exercise

4. Meditation

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.

Hi. Can I help you?

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?

Jaime Hammond wrote:  I think we should mystery shop each others libraries.

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.

Suzuki, Shunryu.  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  Boston, Shambhala Publications, 2010. Print, pg 2.

Commitment.

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.

Helpful Websites:

What are your Values?  MindTools (www.mindtools.com)

Creating Your Personal Mission Statement  Fred Evers, University of Guelph, 2002.

Note to Self: I forgive you.

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.

Wonder

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.

Sit. Ann, Sit.

My dog Henry lunged at the dog food as it left the scoop and fell towards his bowl.  I hate when he does this and immediately corrected him.  “Sit, Henry, Sit.”  He sat and I continued putting the food in his bowl.  He  waited for me to release him with an okay and then started eating.

Later I was thinking about this in context of my own meditation practice.  I really just wanted to tell myself:  Sit, Ann, Sit!  I have not maintained any sort of continuity in my practice and even though I know it will benefit me, I still have not done anything when really all I need to do is just sit.  Of course if it was that simple, we’d all be doing it.

A few weeks ago, I ran across Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project, which she started last year to help people learn meditation.  Starting in June, in addition to the free, ongoing instruction she offers through the project, there will be a more in depth training for what I think is a very reasonable annual fee.

I have been following along since I signed up for the newsletter and have found her style both appealing and accessible.  I’ve already turned a few friends on to it.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well, since starting Civil Civil Servant I have had people ask me about meditation and while I have taught a couple of people some very basic techniques, I mostly encourage them to try a meditation class.  You don’t have to go to a Buddhist organization to learn meditation.  Some folks learn at a yoga class, or take a course through community education or learn in a stress reduction class.  I think it’s nice to have an ongoing instructor because sometimes things come up in your practice and you have questions.

The instruction offered through the Open Heart Project is quite good and because it is something you learn online, you don’t even have to feel uncomfortable in front of other people.  I have felt uncomfortable going to a  new place to meditate; so, I know that feeling.  This let’s you try it out in a safe, easy way.

So.  Check it out.  It might be the introduction to meditation you’ve been hoping to find.

And if you need a good reason.  Maintaining a meditation practice in study after study has been found to reduce stress and anxiety, relieve symptoms of depression, help control chronic pain, improve immune system function, lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.  Studies have connected meditation with improved ability to concentrate, improved sleep and reduction of memory loss as one ages.  It can help you with substance abuse problems, depression and hyperactivity.  And really, the research in this area is young.  We are just starting to learn all the startling and significant benefits.

Good luck!