theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the tag “humanity”

We have the right to remain silent

I have just returned from a week away in the beautiful mountains of Colorado where I was participating in a spiritual leadership training program.  Part leadership development, part meditation practice, along with a healthy dose of reconnecting with nature, the program asked each of us to explore the question, how can I be of best service to my family, my community, and the organizations in which I work during the difficult times we are currently facing as a nation?

There is a lot to unpack from this experience and I suspect I will be doing so for a while. My initial thoughts, however, come from the way we started each day while in training– in silence.  Each morning, from the time we woke up (for me that was about 6:00 a.m.), through our morning meditation, breakfast in the dining hall, until our first learning session at 9:00, we were asked to remain silent.

This was new for me- spending the first three hours of each day in silence even as I was at times surrounded by people.  And it has gotten me thinking about our need as a society to fill every moment of the day with activity, noise, distraction, and chatter.  A friend of mine pointed out recently that she can’t even fill her car’s gas tank anymore without a screen babbling to her in the form of advertisements, celebrity gossip, and “important” news of the day. From early in the morning until we collapse into bed at night, exhausted, we run ourselves and our children ragged racing from one activity to another- work, school, the gym, sports practices, tutoring, volunteer obligations and more-all while listening to podcasts, audio books or music while driving; receiving and responding to texts and emails throughout the day; updating multiple social media accounts with our whereabouts and pictures of our specialty ‘Frappacino’ and lamenting to friends and family that we would love to be spending more time with them if only we weren’t so busy.

Why do we choose this constant state of busy? And can we be clear that it is a conscious choice? As I theorize about why we make this choice I can’t help but ask myself these questions: What are we trying to prove by maintaining this constant state of busyness? What do we think we will accomplish? What are we trying to avoid? What is the void we are trying to fill? Are we so afraid to spend quiet time with our own thoughts and feelings?

I can’t answer these questions for anyone else but I can share what I learned by taking a few hours each day to slow down, be still, and be silent.  For me:

  1. Silence creates space for things that are often times squeezed out in the busyness of each day- divine presence; prayer; clear and calm thinking- just to name a few.
  2. Silence leads to noticing.  In these moments of silence I found myself more awake and aware of what was happening around me and inside of me.  I listened more deeply, observed more carefully, was more in tuned to how I was feeling.

You may be thinking- this is all well and good if you have three hours a day to dedicate to silence and stillness.  How am I, this very busy person, supposed to find the time to be silent? We may not have a few hours.  I certainly don’t in my “regular” life. I am suggesting, though, that perhaps we take back a few minutes from our day to sit quietly and see what comes out of it.  What will fill the space that you create with silence? There is only one way to find out.

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From Empathy to Action

Back in September, as we moved closer to the Jewish high holidays,  I sat down with my ten year old daughter and asked her if she had a personal goal or anything about herself that she wanted to work on in the year to come.  After thinking about it for a while, she decided that she wanted to focus on trying to better understand how other people feel. In other words, she wanted to work on becoming a more empathetic person.

As the year has progressed, I have been checking in with her periodically to find out where she is in thinking about or working on that goal and quite frankly, I have been blown away by the stories she is sharing with me.  Recently, she came home from school and shared this:

There is a boy in my daughter’s grade who frequently passes gas.  My daughter has heard that the reason for this is medical- either the side effect of a medication he takes or the result of a chronic gastrointestinal disorder he suffers from.  You can imagine, I’m sure, the reaction that this boy gets from his classmates- laughter, teasing, and straight out ostracizing.  Nobody wants to sit next to this boy or play with him or be his friend.  My daughter readily admits that she is not looking to be his best friend but she has been spending some time thinking about how he probably feels- lonely, sad, angry- and she has decided to make a concerted effort to show this boy kindness.  If she sees him standing alone at recess she goes over to talk to him.  If he needs a partner in P.E. she asks him if he wants to be her partner. The boy, my daughter says, seems appreciative and she feels good about her choices.

What she doesn’t quite understand is the response that she is now getting from some of her classmates.  My daughter had hoped, that by role modeling kindness, and reaching out to this boy that some of her classmates might follow suit. Instead, she said, she feels like some of her classmates are getting angry at her.  They are questioning her show of kindness and inclusion and asking her why she is even talking to him.  This has given us the opportunity to dig deeper into my daughter’s quest to better understand how other people are feeling and we have begun to explore the question of why my daughter’s show of kindness to a child whom everyone else has turned their back on might cause her classmates to feel negatively towards her.

We have been talking about how fifth grade marks the beginning of those years where for many kids, what they want and value more than anything else is to “fit in.”  As long as they are not the one being singled out or teased they are content. Additionally, if in order to fit in it means they feel like they need to ignore or tease the boy that everyone else is ignoring or teasing then that’s what they are going to do.  And if EVERYONE else is doing it, then it must not be that bad, right?

My daughter has made the very brave choice to not go along with the crowd.  Perhaps, in watching her, some of those other kids are now examining the choices they are making and may be feeling conflicted in their hearts about those choices.  Maybe, I told my daughter, they don’t feel so good about treating this boy unkindly, but they are too scared about losing their own social status or worried about being singled out, to change how they are acting.  They may try to pull you back in line, I explained, not because they think you are doing the wrong thing, but because they know that you are doing the right thing, and having to deal with that internal conflict is more than what they can deal with at 10 or 11 years old (heck, many adults can’t quite seem to figure this out).  Understanding those feelings is also part of becoming a more empathetic person.

I wanted my daughter to understand, too, that just because she might come to empathize with the reasons that some of her classmates were upset with her does not mean she has any responsibility to stop making good choices in order to protect people from having bad feelings about bad choices.  In fact, that uncomfortable feeling that we get when we don’t make a good choice or when somebody challenges our worldview is supposed to act as a signal for us to think about why we might be feeling that way and get us to evaluate our thoughts and behaviors so we can make necessary adjustments.

I told my daughter how proud I am of her for the choices she is making and especially for how she is stretching herself beyond her goal of trying to understand how people are feeling to use that understanding in choosing to act in a way that exemplifies how she is living the values of kindness and compassion that she is realizing are important to her.   Finally, I thanked my daughter for the important reminder that it’s not enough to just think about doing the right thing.  Empathetic thoughts alone are only so helpful- but if we can use our empathy to spur us to take action then we really have the opportunity to both make a difference in someone’s life and challenge the thinking of those around us.

 

 

 

My father says I’m not allowed to play with you…

My ten year old daughter approached me a few days ago and said she needed to talk to me about something that had happened when she was playing online.   Being that she is very into coding and online computer/video games my husband and I have had many conversations with her about internet safety- never using her real name, or providing her age, photograph or location when playing games online with people she doesn’t know.  We have talked to her about online predators who might pretend to be something they are not in order to try to form a connection with her.  So when she said something had happened in an online forum, the following story is not what I was expecting.

My daughter was getting ready to start a multiplayer online game on the Roblox website when one of the kids on the site asked her via online chat if she believed in God. My daughter answered that she did but suspected there was more to the question and asked if the real question was if she was a Christian.  The girl responded by asking my daughter if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  My daughter replied that she is Jewish and that Jews don’t believe that about Jesus at which point the other girl told my daughter that her father had said they couldn’t play together anymore (even in an online forum).

My daughter told me that she asked the girl, “Are you willing to have a conversation about that -because if we talked about our faiths I think you might be surprised by how much they have in common.”  The other girl said “okay,” so my daughter started listing ways their faiths overlapped.  Typing away, she pointed out that their God is one and the same, that their sacred texts overlap, and that their faiths share many of the same values such as caring for the poor and feeding the hungry.  The girl countered that all that may be true but their differing opinions about Jesus Christ made them opposites. She reiterated her belief that Jesus had died for her sins, and that if one did not accept him as their Lord and Savior that they could not go to heaven and that if my daughter did not believe this that they could not play together.

At that point, my daughter did not know what else to say. The girl logged off the game and my daughter played with someone else.  Later, when she told me about what had happened, I asked her how she was feeling about it?  She told me she was a little surprised but that she was comfortable with her faith and mostly she wanted to know if she had handled herself appropriately. I told her she could probably teach classes on how people could handle themselves more appropriately and that I was really proud that she had attempted to open up a dialog with this girl.

We talked about, too, how lucky we are, really, to have so many friends, family members, and neighbors of different (or no particular) faiths.  My daughter adores her non-Jewish cousins and Aunts and places equal value on her relationships with them as she does her Jewish grandparents, uncles, and cousins. She has Jewish friends, yes, and she also has friends who are Catholic, Christian, and Muslim and I do not fear or worry about my daughter playing with any of them.  In fact, I welcome it because it is through these relationships that I believe the world becomes a little bit safer for everyone.  It becomes harder and harder to generalize about or hate entire faith groups, the more relationships you have with people of those faiths.  At the same time, learning about other religions can have a funny away of bringing us closer to our own faith by making us think more critically about why we believe what we believe and be able to better articulate our own beliefs.

So, fear not. If your child comes across my child online I can assure you that there are no Jewish cooties (“Jooties?”) that are going to travel through the internet and negatively impact your child.  It is entirely possible to both lay a strong foundation of your own religious beliefs at home and also allow or even encourage your child to interact with children of different faiths without prejudice or fear.

I am light.

I will be completely honest.  When I woke up yesterday morning and confirmed the election results, I had a moment where I wished I could be my dog; blissfully ignorant and content with digging holes in the backyard and receiving the occasional belly rub. Like many parents, I struggled with how to tell my kids that our candidate had lost.  Like many of my friends, I was worried about what this election means for our country.  And like many people I have spoken to and read about, I have shed some tears.

I have stopped reading the articles that try to articulate how we got here because the fact of the matter is this is where we have landed.  We need to decide how we are going to move forward and in doing that, each of us has a decision to make about how we are going to put ourselves out into the world from here on out.  The great thing is, that with so much work to do, there are many roles to play.  So how I decide to put myself out there doesn’t have to look exactly how you decide to put yourself out there.  The important thing is, we have to put ourselves out there.

Yesterday, my daughter, who is an 8th grader, texted me a selfie of herself and her good friend Lubabah.  To see this beautiful picture of my Jewish daughter with her Muslim friend reminded me of why we must continue to do meaningful work to affect change and why we must refuse to be silenced.

I woke up this morning with great clarity of my purpose in this world. As I drove home after dropping my daughter off at school, these were the words that were streaming through my head:

I am light.

I am peace.

I am love.

I am calm.

I am listening.

I am a beacon in the storm.

I am a safe harbor.

I am gratitude.

I am powerful.

I am kindness.

I have clarity.

I  have purpose.

I have vision.

I have been practicing for this moment in time for my whole life.

I am a soul.

I AM LIGHT!

I am shining.

I am unafraid.

I am unstoppable.

 

This is how I am choosing to put myself out in the world.  Every day. I will make a difference by putting myself out into the world as the best version of me that I know how to be.  I am excited to see how all of you put yourselves out there too.  With every great challenge comes great opportunities.  Go be the best you.  Only you can make your contribution.

Accountability. Kindness. Forgiveness.

I was driving my 13 year old to school this morning and I may or may not have committed a minor traffic violation.  Without going into too much detail, I allegedly made a left turn at a four way intersection at a time when I apparently was not supposed to make a left turn.

There was a woman in her car, stopped at a stop sign at this intersection who started honking and yelling  at me as I made the left turn.  I didn’t realize at first why she was yelling so when I cleared the intersection I stopped my car and rolled down my window.  To say that the woman was unhappy with me was an understatement.  Her window was rolled down as well. She was screaming quite loudly, waving her arms, and pointing out my apparent error.  She was angry, really angry.

Once it sunk in that in this woman’s mind (and very possibly in reality) I had done something that had triggered this response I had to figure out how to respond.   A few thoughts went through my head:

  1. My 13 year old was in the car with me and I wanted to set a positive example.
  2. If there was even a possibility that I had, in fact, screwed up I should take responsibility and apologize.
  3. It didn’t matter in that moment whether or not I felt like the woman’s reaction was out of proportion to the situation.
  4. It was not my place to  judge that woman or her reaction to my error.

For a few seconds I sat there and just listened to her yell.  Then, when she paused, I said, “I am sorry.  I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention and I made a mistake.  Thank you for letting me know.”

The moment the words, “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth the woman’s whole face changed.  The anger disappeared. Then she looked confused for a moment.  Then she gave a small nod, quietly said, “okay” and then she drove away.  The whole interaction probably took less than 30 seconds.

My daughter and I were both quiet for a minute.  Then my daughter said, “that woman was really mad at you.”

I replied, “yes, she was.  But that’s okay.  She was allowed to be angry at me.”

My daughter asked me, “did you make the mistake she said you made?”

“Maybe,” I said, “I’m not actually 100% sure.  But I don’t really think it matters either way.”

“But she YELLED at you,” my daughter said.

“She was upset.  Or, maybe she yelled because she thought I was going to yell back,” I responded.

In those moments, it was not about who was right and who was wrong.  It was about how I thought I could best diffuse the situation; and I followed my gut instinct.

Just driving off did not seem like the right choice in this particular scenario.  I did not feel at all threatened.  I had (inadvertently) caused someone distress.  Becoming defensive and yelling back would have only escalated the situation. As soon as I apologized and saw the woman’s face completely change I knew that I had made the right choice in this situation.

Sometimes, even when we suspect we bear at least some responsibility for a situation, but especially if we suspect we don’t- and especially if someone is screaming at us, there is a temptation to flee or to fight.  If we can take a moment and take a step back, sometimes there is a third option.  Accountability, Kindness, Forgiveness.  I was completely sincere in everything I said to the woman but the look on her face suggested that she wasn’t expecting that response from me.  She looked confused, shocked, and then having had her feelings validated, and without the need to continue to yell, she left.

I don’t know if I handled this situation correctly.  Someone I shared this story with earlier today expressed concern that my safety may have been in jeopardy if the woman had possessed a weapon or been mentally unbalanced.  Perhaps.  But I also wonder how much power each of us have to diffuse a potentially negative or even violent situation if we can put our egos and fears aside and just treat each other like human beings.

It’s likely that when the woman got wherever she was going, she told somone this story.  It’s likely, that the story started by pointing out something stupid I had done.  But maybe, by choosing to apologize and be accountable, I was able to rewrite the ending of the story and she was able to choose forgiveness instead of carrying that anger around all day .  All I know is that with so much judgement and negativity in the world right now, I didn’t want to add to it.

We are human.  Sometimes we are the person making the illegal left turns.   Sometimes we are the person who yells at the person who just screwed up.  Today I decided to be the person who stopped, listened, apologized, took responsibility, forgave, and let go.

 

 

 

 

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