Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the tag “People”

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.






Prayer as Action

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris this past weekend the twittersphere blew up with the hashtag #prayforparis.  This was quickly followed up by requests that people also #prayforlebanon, #prayforhumanity, and #prayfortheworld.  I saw other people posting messages of a different nature saying, “Paris doesn’t need your prayers;” “France doesn’t need more religion;” and “Don’t just pray- actually do something.”

I both identify and struggle with both sentiments.  As a fairly secular Jew, prayer, in the traditional sense, is not typically my ‘go-to’ reaction.  However, as someone who does lay claim to the Jewish faith, belongs to an organized congregation, and feels like it is important to recognize that there are forces at work in the universe that reach beyond my comprehension, I can understand why some people immediately turn to their higher power in times of darkness.

Within my internal struggle comes a rejection of the idea that to pray is to do nothing.  This rings especially true for me if I broaden the definition of what it means to “pray.”  Traditionally, prayer is generally defined as a direct communication between a person and their deity, and that can be a truly beautiful thing.  But, I think that prayer can be broadened beyond that definition. As I contemplate the events of the past week here is how I am defining and practicing prayer:

Self Reflection as Prayer

I am fairly vague when it comes to my own definition of a “higher power.”  However, I do have a very strong “G-d Voice.”  My “G-d Voice” is that little voice inside of me that speaks up when I feel very strongly about something.  It guides me in my daily decision making, parenting choices, and choosing how to put myself out in the world.  This past week, I have found myself asking my inner voice some important questions:

What kind of American do I choose to be?

I choose to be an American who remembers that our country is a country of immigrants; that we are the protectors of democracy and freedom.  I choose to be an American who knows that our diversity only serves to make us stronger.  I choose to have the courage to approach those who are different than myself with curiosity instead of fear. I choose to seek out factual information and not buy into media hype.

What kind of Jew do I choose to be?

I choose to be a Jew who remembers that our collective history is laden with our people being forced from our homes, cities, and nations at the hands of extremists and bigots.  It was not so long ago that Jews trying to flee the Nazi Regime were turned away at every border.  Brave souls who stood up to the extremists of that time were hard to find and propaganda was easy to buy into.  I choose to be a Jew who stands up for innocent people suffering at the hands of extremists, and who knows that the only way to fight the dark is to spread light.

What kind of human do I choose to be?

I was telling someone recently about the nice Muslim family who lives down the street from me.  My daughter plays regularly with their daughter in both of our homes or at our neighborhood park.  The person to whom I was speaking with wanted to know- how did I know that this family wasn’t just being nice to my face while they were actually thinking, “we hate Jews.”

I guess we can’t ever really know what people are thinking but I choose to be a human being that evaluates people based on their words and actions and not on what they might be (but most likely are not) thinking.  I choose to be a human being who tries really hard to not make fear-based, media inspired decisions.  I choose to be a human being who believes that our best chance at peace is to look deep within ourselves and identify and then work on our own fears and biases.

Right Action as Prayer

Nothing makes that little voice inside me sing louder than when I do something to help make someone else’s world a little brighter.  Doing a good deed- whether it is donating money, standing up for someone who doesn’t have a voice, or collecting food or needed resources for people in need, is for me, as close as I get to feeling like a spiritual being.

My daughter, who suffers from separation anxiety, likes to say, “mommy is a lighthouse,” in emphasis of the idea that a lighthouse can protect and guide surrounding ships from a distance.  I love this analogy and choose to take it one step further.  We can all choose to be a lighthouse- a beacon of light, calm, and dependability- helping to steer each other through stormy waters.

Gratitude as Prayer

For me, there is no better way to pray than by practicing gratitude.  If you are currently reading this, you are likely doing so on an electronic device that you are thankful to own, in a house you are thankful to live in, or at a job that you are thankful to have.  Life is not perfect.  We live in an increasingly scary world.  It is easy to focus on the negative, the scary, the unknown.  But I am trying to see the world, each day, through grateful eyes.

I am grateful for love, for stability, for peace everyday we have it.  I am grateful for the courage to write all of this knowing that there are many people out there who will disagree very strongly with what I have written and may have less than kind words for me.  I am grateful that I live in a country where people have the freedom to disagree with what I have written without fear of persecution.  I am grateful for the voices that are different than mine because they allow me to look within and clarify my own system of values and beliefs and to broaden my scope of understanding of the world in which we live.

Prayer is many things to many people and it is completely optional.  But I don’t think that prayer is akin to “doing nothing.”  If we pray in a way that leads us to a place of greater peace, self awareness, gratitude, and right action, then it impacts the way we put ourselves out in the world and better allows us to shine our own lights.

Until next time, I will be praying in my own way for peace, love, and stability for the world.

Reflections on BronyCon 2014

Getting into the spirit.

My six year old and I getting into the spirit.

I just returned from my first ever fan convention- BronyCon 2014.  I spent the weekend posting pictures to my Facebook Account which garnered many likes but prompted the frequent question- What is a Brony?  The term “Brony” was coined a few years ago to represent the adult (many of them male) fans of the newest generation of My Little Pony– Friendship Is Magic.  The word “Bro” was mashed with “Pony” and the term “Brony” was born.   Since it’s inception, the Brony community has expanded to include the entire fandom of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP:FIM) and BronyCon- the convention for these fans is a family friendly event with a little something for everyone.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not technically a Brony.  My husband and I attended the convention with our two daughters (ages 11 and 6) after they begged, pleaded, and nagged us endlessly about going.  That said, I have seen episodes of MLP:FIM and am supportive of my kids watching it because it emphasizes the values of friendship (friendship always wins!!), kindness, inclusiveness, and teamwork.

For the most part, the staff, panelists, and Bronies themselves seemed to promote these values too.  Attendees enthusiastically supported each other during the open mic event, chatted amiably with each other while waiting for sessions to begin and participants in costume were very generous about allowing people, especially kids, to have their pictures taken with them.

The Brony fandom is diverse and the convention sessions reflected that diversity.  There were sessions on making MLP themed plushies and pony ears and creating Cos Play costumes on a shoestring budget.  There were panel Q& A’s with show producers, voice actors, and episode directors.  We especially enjoyed “Are You Smarter than a 5th Season Producer?” where fans lined up to try to stump the people who write, act, and produce for the show by asking MLP:FIM trivia questions.  There were psychology based sessions about bullying, fandom and gender, and creating comprehensive psychological profiles of the ponies.  And specifically for the under 12 crowd were sessions such as “Pinkie Pie Party Games,” and “20 questions with Big Macintosh,” and a children’s sing-a-long.

We met Bronies as young as 3 years old and there were some in their fifties and sixties.  Bronies, it appears, come in every shape and size, and represent a variety of races and nationalities. They walk on two legs and roll in wheel chairs.  They choose costumes without regard to preconceived notion of gender.  All of this diversity was embraced and celebrated within the walls of the Baltimore Convention Center.  While waiting on line to enter various sessions Bronies would fist bump – I mean hoof bump – each other while chanting “fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.”  All that really mattered was that everyone was having a good time.

No matter where an attendee came from, how old they were, what they looked like, or who they felt was the best pony (Pinkie Pie is a definite fan favorite) everyone seemed to feel validated as an individual.  I especially appreciated that questions to panelists asked by children were taken just as seriously as the questions posed by the adults.  And I loved watching children turn to the adult Brony next to them and ask, “Who is your favorite pony?” and then get a valid reply.  Who would have thought that My Little Pony could be the great equalizer?

I was touched by one of the questions I heard asked at one of the sessions I attended.  Leading the session was a panel of four psychologists from different colleges researching the psychology of fandoms and the Brony fandom in particular.  A young man stood at the microphone and asked the panel – so many people judge Bronies (and other fandom members) in a negative way.  How can we convince people that we have a positive message to share?   I immediately thought of something I had overheard that morning while crammed in our hotel elevator.  A man staying in the hotel was commenting in a negative way about a boy they had seen dressed as a unicorn as if this was some kind of unspeakable tragedy.  When the elevator door opened and they exited, they past a gentleman wearing a cape.  The man from the elevator turned around and gestured to his family to look at the costumed gentleman while they rolled their eyes and snickered.  I feel like the young man who was asking the question at the convention session was echoing a larger question looming in today’s society which is- How do we get people to approach each other with curiosity instead of judgement?  How do we convince people that ‘different’ is not the same as ‘deviant.’  One of the panelists commented that the Brony fandom was the most social and inclusive fandoms she had studied and that she hoped that as the fandom grew and became more well known people would become more receptive to hearing the message of MLP: FIM. I agree but would add that people who participate in fringe cultures, fandoms, or who hold strong opinions outside the mainstream culture are hugely important in expanding the definition of what is considered okay or acceptable by mainstream society.  The more people push boundaries, question the norm, and express themselves however they are comfortable doing so, the more inclusive society becomes.  As we continue to push and stretch boundaries more and more people move from being considered outsiders to being accepted as ‘normal.’   Eventually, those people who are narrow minded and judgmental will find themselves on the outside looking in.

Ultimately, BronyCon was a fun and educational experience for me and my family.  I would love to hear from any Bronies who might be out there reading this.  Were you at the convention?  Do you think that the Brony fandom is more inclusive and diverse than other fandoms?  Anyone thinking that they just might have to check out MLP:FIM when Season 5 eventually airs?

Just a few of the really creative costumes we saw over the weekend.

Just a few of the really creative costumes we saw over the weekend.

Stay Gold

 During my junior year of college I spent about six months in an on again off again relationship with ‘S.’ It would be an understatement to say that S and I were not compatible.  More than anything, I think we were sort of fascinated with each other.

I had a pretty tame childhood, raised in a small rural town on the east end of the north shore of Long Island.  My family was (and remains) very close.  We weren’t rich but we always had what we needed.  There were family game nights, sing-alongs in the car, and we always said, “I love you.”  Life was not perfect but I learned pretty early on that life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.

S came up hard, an economically disadvantaged inner city kid from the West Coast.  He had been exposed to violence and drugs at an early age.  His parents were physically there but not very affectionate or present in his life.  S didn’t talk about his family much, but he did share the following story with me about his dad:

One day, S’s dad was walking along a river.  A stray cat walked up to him and rubbed against his legs purring.  S’s dad picked up the cat and threw him into the river.  The cat swam back to shore walked back up to S’s dad and again rubbed against his legs purring.  S’s dad once again picked up the cat and threw him into the river.  The cat again swam back to shore and again rubbed against S’s dad’s legs. For a third time S’s dad picked the cat up and threw him in the river.  When the cat came back a third time, S’s dad decided that he and this cat were meant to be together.  S said that the only time he ever saw his father cry was when this cat passed away years later.

By the time I met him, S had done a lot to turn his own life around.  After losing a close friend to a drug related shooting S made the decision to move East and start over.  He had found a full time job working in the warehouse of a shipping company and was taking classes part time at the local community college. He was hoping to transfer to a four year university and major in business.  I was impressed that he was working so hard to make a better life for himself and told him so.  Still, I often got the feeling that S only partly believed that he was someday going to get where he wanted to be.  I’m not sure he believed he deserved his success.  S seemed to constantly be waiting for something “bad” to happen that would give him the excuse to say, “See, I told you I couldn’t do it – I’m just going to go back to selling drugs.”

One day over winter break, S called me in New York to lament about his grade report for the semester.  He was tremendously disappointed with the B and two C’s he had earned in his classes.  I remember saying something to the effect of, “less than four years ago you were selling drugs, then using drugs, then grieving the loss of your best friend because of your involvement with drugs.  Now you are clean, working full time, going to college.  The fact that you are disappointed in a B and two C’s means you care.  That’s a good sign.”  I told S that he could do anything he wanted.  He just needed to keep moving forward.

We had a lot of these conversations.  I gave a lot of pep talks.  S told me that he liked talking to me; that I made him feel good about himself but I don’t think he ever internalized what I was saying.  I think he wanted to but he had seen too many discouraging things to just “have faith” that things would work out.  We often would have lengthy philosophical conversations about the state of the world, about good vs. evil, about whether one person really had the ability to make the world a better place.

Not surprisingly, S felt pretty strongly that anyone who truly felt they had the ability to make a real difference was being naïve and idealistic.  People who do nice things for others, he told me more than once, generally have an ulterior motive for doing so.  People are selfish, he said, and they have to be.  If you don’t look out for yourself first you will get completely taken advantage of.  He would tell me the story of the man who nursed a snake back to health only to have the snake bite him.  “You knew I was a snake all along,” the snake tells the man in the story.  I think that S saw himself as that snake- certain that no matter how hard he tried or how much other people believed in him, he was only going to end up disappointing them and himself.

My optimism drove S crazy.  I was young and idealistic and truly believed that I could make a difference.  I had visions of the world I wanted my future children to grow up in and I didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be that way.  S cautioned me that the “real world” was not as bright and sunny as I was making it out to be; that there were bad people out there who ate people like me for breakfast.  I think he was trying to protect me, like I was a delicate Faberge egg that needed to be handled with kid gloves.

I think I was trying to protect him too.  I was never in love with him but I cared about him. I did love him as a fellow human being.  I saw amazing things in him that I don’t think he could see or believe about himself.  I wanted very badly to be the person to convince him he was more than just the sum of his parts, that he deserved success and happiness, that he was lovable and capable and smart.  I tried to explain this to him in the last phone conversation that we had which ended in argument.  S told me I was a naïve little girl that understood nothing about how the world really worked.  He told me “I hope you stay gold” but that someday, life was going to crush me and that he couldn’t bear to be there when it happened.  He said I understood nothing about love and that I might not even be capable of it.  That was when I hung up.

That was it for me and S.

I thought about that last conversation for a while.  Was I just some naïve, innocent, little girl from rural Long Island?  Was I wrong to believe that for the most part people were good and well intentioned? Was it silly to believe that with a little bit of assistance and encouragement people could overcome adversity and make their lives better?  Would nothing I did make a real difference to anyone?  Did I really not understand love?

I finally decided that S was wrong.  He was wrong to equate my optimism and hopefulness with weakness.  He was wrong that caring so much about people was only going to result in my being disappointed in them.  I understood plenty about love.  I grew up surrounded by love.  I suspect I understood more about love than S did.  S grew up in a family where even the cat had to prove he was worthy of love.  I can understand why it might have been hard for him to believe that I just accepted him and all of his life experiences even without having walked in his shoes.  I think it scared him that I had helped him, even for a moment, to believe that he was good enough and smart enough and worthy enough.  Maybe he felt like if he set his expectations higher he would be more disappointed if he failed.  Maybe he just wasn’t ready to believe.

Occasionally, I wonder about S.  I wonder if I made any difference in his life at all.  I wonder if he graduated and what kind of career he pursued.   I wonder if he found room in his heart for hope and faith.  I wonder if he ever met someone who helped him to realize that it was him who really didn’t understand about life and love.

Sometimes I want to tell him:  It’s been eighteen years since we spoke and life has not crushed me.  There have been times of great joy and times of immense sadness.  I have found love and lost loved ones.  I don’t always understand why things happen in this world the way that they do.  But I always come back to these things which help me to choose hope and happiness the great majority of the time:

Where there is darkness, I can spread light.

We can all work to create peace in our own little corners of the world.  There is no kind gesture that is too small to make a difference.

All that really matters is love.  We are all capable of love.

Independent Thinking: It’s like Pilates for your brain.

“It’s not our differences that divide us.  It’s our judgments about each other that do.”

                                             -Margaret J. Wheatley*

Like I said in my previous post (though you don’t need to read it to understand this one), the way I think about the world was sparked by my participation in The Appalachian Semester program (a semester long domestic study program for college students at a small private college in Southeastern Kentucky).   So before I get into my world view, there is one more Kentucky story I need to tell you.

It became apparent very quickly, that belonging to a church was a very important part of life in Southeastern Kentucky.  I got asked on several occasions by students who attended the college that I was visiting which church I belonged to back home which inevitably led to a discussion about my being Jewish.  This generally got one of two reactions.

Reaction 1: You mean don’t have electricity or drive cars or anything? (Actually, that’s Amish.  I’m Jewish.)

Reaction 2: But if you’re not a Christian and you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your savior then you can’t go to Heaven.

Reaction 1 usually became Reaction 2 once I explained what Jewish meant.  Reaction 2 was followed by a very enthusiastic invitation to attend whichever church the individual belonged to.  Maybe they were awarded extra points per person ‘saved,’ as some of the college students I met were very concerned about the future of my soul.

Growing up, I had heard that there were people out there who believed that because I was not a Christian, I was doomed to spend eternity in Hell.   I had made the assumption that anyone who thought that, must be coming from a place of hate- you didn’t relegate to Hell people that you love.  Now, here I stood, face to face, with “the people” I had been warned about.  But I didn’t hear hatred in their voices.  I didn’t see hatred in their eyes.  That’s not to say that there aren’t people walking around with hate in their hearts.  It just wasn’t my experience.  In fact, except for one negative interaction with a woman from a group called ‘The Christian Crusaders’ I found that people were genuinely concerned about me and scared for me.  They wanted me to feel the same comfort and security that they felt through their relationship with Christ.  They were coming, at least in part, from a place of love, and in part, I think, a place of fear.

Being able to understand the intent behind their belief system allowed me to remove judgment from my side of the aisle and see them as individuals.  Despite my disagreeing with their religious beliefs, we shared many similarities. These were college students, just like me; active, service- oriented community members.  They worried about their grades, and were trying to figure out what they wanted to be when they “grew up.”   Our commonalities seemed to outweigh our differences.

This experience got me thinking.   How do we know what we truly believe?  If we just take the belief system we were raised with (be it political or religious) and carry it into adulthood without questioning it, is it really our belief system?  I had extremely strong opinions when I was in high school and college and I was pretty vocal about them.  It wasn’t until I took myself out of my comfort zone that I realized that some of those very strong opinions weren’t my opinions at all.  They were my parents’ opinions.  It had never really occurred to me before then to question what my parents had taught me, but beginning that semester in Kentucky, and for years afterwards, as I experienced life for myself I began to realize that I didn’t believe everything my parents believed.

“Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on”

Should people take their belief systems out for a test drive?  If so, how does one go about doing that?   When we are young, we are tested constantly by our peers who try to get us to go against “the establishment.”  Whether through peer pressure, or games of Truth or Dare, kids are constantly pushing each other and themselves to test boundaries and see what they can accomplish.  As an example, sit down and watch snowboarding or BMX biking the next time it is on TV.   These young athletes invent all sorts of moves that seem to defy the laws of physics, and they do it by pushing past previously set boundaries to see what is possible.

As we get into adulthood it seems that we are pushed (by our peers and ourselves) to conform to the establishment, instead of against it.  People who operate outside the “norm” are considered “radicals” or “extremists.”  The OWS protesters are “hippies” and Michelle Bachmann is “crazy.”  In my opinion, people who push the boundaries serve a very important purpose in our society.  They force us to actually think about what we believe.  By sparking dialogue they get us to actually talk about the issues that are important to us.  They make us think about where we stand.  The problem comes in when we don’t take the time to understand why we believe what we think we believe, and how we can better communicate that piece to those who stand across the aisle.

As adults, we have the option of surrounding ourselves with like-minded people.  Instead of   encouraging each other to explore alternative points of view, we rile each other up and feel even more justified in our belief system than before.  We also end up feeling more “right” thereby making the other side completely “wrong” in our minds eye.  That works great for politicians trying to gather support from their base, but it completely disregards the valuable life experiences that we have all had that are at the roots of our belief systems.

If our system of values does, in fact, originate in our childhoods, then it makes perfect sense that our belief systems are different.  We live in an extremely diverse country with many different cultures, religions, and geographic topographies.  Just based on geography alone- whether you were raised in the mountains, near an ocean, or in the desert, changes the things that you value.  Once you throw religion, ethnic background, and socio-economic circumstances into the mix- it’s amazing that any of us have anything in common at all.  We are never all going to believe the same thing.  People have tried throughout history to make us all the same- The Crusades, The Holocaust, the recent genocides in Darfur and around the world.  It has never worked, and it will never work.

My belief in God is fluid.  I believe in something that cannot so easily be defined.  But even if we all believed that we were all created in God’s image that does not mean that God intended for us to all be carbon copies of each other.  If you believe that God created a wide diversity of plants and animals, and widely varying geography, and temporal climates, then why is it so hard to believe that he also purposely created an amazingly diverse population of people with a wide variety of abilities, talents, beliefs, and opinions?

I was born Jewish in New York.  But what if I had been born Muslim in Michigan or Buddhist in China?  In some ways, the initial set of beliefs that we get are random.  We are born at the starting line and given some general rules to live by while we figure the whole thing out for ourselves.  But I don’t believe that we are required or expected to die living by the same exact rules that we start with.  To me, that would mean that we didn’t learn anything along the way.

So how do we put our belief system to the test?  By actually putting ourselves in positions where we have to think about something that is not in our area of expertise.  Here is an example of how I try to test my own boundaries:

A friend of mine is a very active member of her evangelical church.  A few months back she posted on Facebook an audio track of a sermon her clergy member had given during services.  She asked people to listen to it as she felt strongly that there was a very important message about misconceptions that people have about Christians.  I wasn’t sure, being Jewish, that there was a whole lot I could learn from an evangelical preacher, but I decided to give it a listen.  The preacher was saying that there are folks out there who call themselves Christian but perhaps do not act in such a way that personifies true Christian beliefs (for example, people who resort to violence, or who are hypocritical in their actions).  He said that some people might look at those people and generalize about all Christians.   Christians, he said, (and I am summarizing, not quoting) do not want to be represented by the lowest common denominator.  And it was frustrating to him that these were the “Christians” garnering the most media attention.

I thought about this for a while and decided that I agree with him.  I agree so strongly that I’m taking it a step further.  NOBODY wants to be represented by the lowest common denominator.  Whether you are one of the millions of peaceful Muslims being poorly represented by a much smaller group of violent Muslims, or a Jew who does not want to be represented by a small group of ultra-Orthodox who hurl insults at children as they walk to school, we are all individuals who deserve to be judged based on our individual merits and if we are not privy to each other’s individual merits then we should just withhold judgment altogether.   It turns out I did have something to gain by listening to an evangelical preacher after all.

Change is hard and can be scary.  For some people, change only comes as a result of a life altering experience- serious illness or injury, or a great loss, for example.  For most people, I think change is a slow and gradual process brought on by our interactions in the world.  I believe that the greater our interactions and willingness to step outside our little boxes, so grows our capacity for change and our capacity for human understanding.  Perhaps if we approached each other with curiosity instead of with fear and anger, we could find a place where we could have a real conversation.

I think there is a danger in becoming complacent.  On a National level, we have reached a point where we have stopped listening to each other all together.  People seem to want to be heard- they are taking their issues very public- to Facebook, blogs, television, and campaign trails. But despite all the noise we are making, we are not hearing each other very well.

There are personal implications as well.  How many times have we sat at our desk at work, or lay awake at night staring at the ceiling and thought, “I’m in a rut” or “I thought my life would be different than this.”  We might even project our discontent onto other people thinking that our boss, coworkers, spouse, or children are to blame.  Maybe we are feeling that way because we have stopped listening to our own little voice.  We are tired and burnt out and busy doing a hundred different things- many of them things that we maybe don’t want to be doing at all.

So, faithful readers, I am issuing you a challenge- a truth or dare opportunity- if you choose to accept it.  I dare you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new for 30 days.  It can be anything.   Read a newspaper that you find to be biased against your typical point of view and see if you learn anything.  Try a new exercise program.  Visit a house of worship different from your own.  When you start to get that “I’m not so sure about this” feeling, just go with it.  Let your brain actually think about it instead of going straight to that place of anger or resistance.  Try something new for a month and see if it changes your thought process at all.

And just to prove to you that I wouldn’t ask you to do something that I’m not willing to do myself, I have already started.  I have always been curious about the vegetarian lifestyle and have decided to go both vegetarian and dairy free for 30 days.  (Today is day four.)  I want to see if the experience changes the way I think about what I put in my body, or where my food is coming from.  I am already learning (I’m sure you’ll be reading all about it in a future blog) and life is a little more interesting than it was four days ago.

If you decide to take me up on my challenge, I would love to hear about it.  If you think that everything I’ve written is a bunch of malarkey, that’s okay too.  My belief system does not have to be your belief system, nor is it a threat to your belief system.  If you have taken even one thing from what I have written (like I did from the evangelical sermon) then I would encourage you to share this post and get some real conversation rolling.  Thanks for reading!

*Quotation is from Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future Berrett-Koehler Publishers; First Edition (January 9, 2002)

I’m not laughing at you- I’m laughing with you.

You may think I’m crazy for thinking this, but sometimes I feel bad for celebrities. Oh sure, I envy them the whole making enough money to afford a personal trainer, multiple nannies, live in chef, and never having to scrub another toilet again part. But I would not trade them all of their dollars, trainers, nannies, and sous chefs for my anonymity.

Every time I am standing online at the supermarket and happen to notice a headline from one of those celebrity magazines all I can think is, boy am I glad I do not have paparazzi. That’s not to say that in this day and age I wouldn’t make the news if I locked myself in an airplane bathroom b/c I didn’t want to turn off my cell phone, but at least I can feel secure in knowing that if I run out for a cup of coffee in pajamas and bed head my picture will not show up on the cover of some tabloid magazine.

You can argue that by choosing a public career, you are susceptible to public scrutiny. But imagine what it would be like if someone was following you around with a camera capturing only your bad moments and printing them for the world to see. We would all look like self-involved people and terrible parents, with mood disorders, and no fashion sense. It’s bad enough that my children point out my short comings on a daily basis.

Mom, what’s that thing on your face?

Mom, how come your hair only looks pretty when you just get out of the shower?

Mom, how come your nostrils are shaped like potatoes?

Here are some reasons I am happy I don’t have paparazzi:

1- Gravity is not my friend. I have fallen off of walls, slipped on ice, and tripped over my shoe laces. I have slipped down a flight of stairs (twice) and have even fallen out of the shower (there’s not even a good story to go with that one). I declined the opportunity to be hoisted up in a chair during my Jewish wedding- I have learned to not tempt fate. There was a photographer at my wedding, after all.

2- Parenting is hard. The first time I cut my daughter’s finger nails, I accidently snipped off a small piece of skin from her pinky finger. I called the pediatrician. She laughed at me. Two hours later, my daughter’s finger was still bleeding. The pediatrician met us on a Sunday at the doctor’s office to stop the bleeding. She was no longer laughing.

3- I have locked myself out of my house. Twice. In one day. I have locked my keys in my car with the engine running. I have locked my car keys in my office while working late and had to call someone for a ride home. I have left my keys in the front door more times than I can count. I have accidentally taken both sets of keys with me leaving my husband stuck at home with no keys at all.

4- I lose things- besides keys. I have lost my wedding ring more than once. I have lost family heirlooms and the beautiful scarf my husband gave me one year as a gift. I have lost money, lost my patience, lost my temper, and lost my voice. I have been lucky to find them all again at some point (except the scarf- sorry honey).

5- I have unintentionally had my underwear showing. One year at our neighborhood picnic after spending three hours mingling with neighbors, my daughter told me I had a hole in the back of my jeans and she could see my pink underwear. (Note to self: wear denim colored underwear the next time I wear the jeans with the hole.)

I could keep going. But the point is that we all have flaws. We are quirky, klutzy, forgetful, underwear showing individuals. It is what makes us human. Sometimes, we have to forgive the things that make us human, and sometimes, we have to laugh at them. But just because we laugh, does not mean that we judge. Celebrities- in the highly unlikely event that you are reading this blog please know: Sometimes, the headlines on the tabloids make me chuckle because they are ridiculous. But I do not think any less of you because you forgot to buckle your child into their car seat (done it), lost twenty pounds and then gained it back (done it), or unknowingly flashed your underwear (though I do recommend wearing underwear when you know that photographers are likely to be following you). We have all had those moments- most of us just get to have them in private.

Here’s the other thing. If my neighbors saw my pink underwear that day at the picnic, they didn’t let on- and they still seem to like me. The people, who know us and like us, do so despite our flaws. Sometimes, when we show people our flaws, it even makes people feel better about their own imperfections. How many times have you seen somebody do something embarrassing and thought ‘I am so glad I am not the only person that has happened to.’ And for anyone out there who just read about some of my less honorable moments and choose to judge me based solely on that? Well, that’s your loss- I’ve got a lot of great attributes too.

The moral of the story- judge less, laugh more (that would be laughing with people, not at them). I am very lucky to have been raised by two very smart, (and very human individuals). They taught me not to judge a book by its cover, and not care too much what other people think. They also taught me that it is okay to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and that it’s healthy to laugh at ourselves.

So, I’m glad I don’t have paparazzi. But I’m okay with being human. It’s probably a good thing- I don’t know any other way to be.

Dude, you’re harshing my buzz…

I have had a hard time writing my blog post this week. Usually, something happens during the week that reminds me of a funny anecdote from my younger days and I can fold the two together to create a little piece of literary ribbon candy.

This week, I have found myself too distracted to reminisce. I found myself witness to a bizarre traffic incident and read a couple of disturbing media posts that have left me feeling like much of the American population has substituted it’s cocoa puffs with coocoo puffs, or added a shot of ‘questionable behavior’ syrup to their extra hot, half caff, no foam lattes.

Let’s get caught up, shall we?

Thanks to a spark of surburban planning genius, the road leaving my neighborhood, merges with the driveway that serves as an entrance and exit to a shopping center. This was not a big deal when the shopping center contained a supermarket that few people shopped at and a vacant former Home Expo store. A few months ago, a certain discount superstore moved into the old Home Expo space and the parking lot turned into circus. The superstore could use a parking lot three times the current size, a concern which was raised by the residents of my county as soon as it was announced they were moving in. We were informed, however, by the county planning office that according to their city plans the parking lot and it’s entrance and exit “met county regulations” thereby alleviating them of any responsibility to, you know, check.

Since the store has opened, there have been multiple accidents in the parking lot, people can’t seem to figure out the traffic pattern, and then there was this bizzare incident:

The entrance and exit of the “superstore” consists of a traffic light and a divided (by a narrow mulched embankment) driveway. Exiting traffic stays to one side and incoming traffic is entering on the other. At least four times, I have seen exiting cars turn into the entrance lane, realize their mistake, and then have to back out (sometimes with incoming traffic barreling towards them) and turn into the correct side of the driveway. In this particular instance, an elderly woman trying to exit the parking lot turned into the entrance lane, pulled right up to the light, and sat there, waiting for it to turn green. A man parked in the correct lane, rolled down his window and tried to yell across to the woman that she was in the wrong lane. The woman either couldn’t hear him, or was ignoring him. The man, then got out of his car, walked across the embankment to the woman’s car and tried telling her through the car window that she was in the wrong lane. The woman looked terrified that this man was yelling at her through the window, as if he was about to carjack her Oldsmobile at gunpoint. After a minute though, the woman seemed to comprehend what the man was telling her (good thing it is a very long light). Even then, she just waved him off as if to say, “pish posh, don’t be silly” and went back to waiting. The man gave up and went back to his car. When the traffic light changed, and cars started coming directly toward her, she continued to sit there, while the incoming traffic (who luckily had been watching her from across the intersection for two minutes) drove around her, honking their horns and shaking their fists. When the outgoing light turned green, the cars allowed her go first, and then we followed, all equally puzzled by what had just gone down. Maybe I should have been able to just dismiss this incident as a random one-off. But I am still thinking about it. Was the woman simply confused? Did she have dementia? Did she feel that she had just found a way to the front of the line? Would she have taken help from somebody other than the man who tried to intercede? Should someone close enough to have seen her plates written down her license plate number and called the police?

Being that my tendency is to over think, my mind has been busy trying to dissect the above incident. Maybe that’s why my brain has been unable to comprehend the two stories I read about in the days that followed. One was about a Florida college student who died as a result of a marching band hazing incident (There is hazing in marching band??). The other was about a college fraternity that was suspended after creating a survey which asked men to choose which women on campus they would like to rape. (Really?) Both of these incidents are, in my mind, pretty disturbing. At what point, in either incident, did people allow themselves to think, “this is all in good fun.” Having spent the bulk of my career working in higher education, it saddens me to no end that even with all of the anti-bullying and anti-hazing initiatives and sensitivity training that has been implemented on college campuses, these incidents continue to take place.

On the other hand, should I be that surprised? Look at how our national leaders act publicly towards each other. Name calling, back stabbing, scapegoating and accusation throwing are all par for the course on the political scene. There are a plethora of bad examples out there who get plenty of air time from the media. Still, it is no excuse for poor judgement and hurtful behavior.

I find myself thinking that this truly great (but currently troubled) country of ours could use a voice of reason. Someone who does not have a personal agenda to push, or an election to win. Someone who could help us put our differences aside so we can again recognize the human qualities that make us mostly the same. Since a national voice of reason seems unlikely, maybe each family could appoint their own. Wouldn’t it be nice if in each family there would be someone who said that regardless of where we stand on any issue, perpetuating violence (physical or verbal) is not okay. Because I don’t think it’s just implied anymore. And that while none of us are perfect, we should try awfully hard to do no harm. I’m not talking about being “politically correct.” I’m merely suggesting that before we do something, we take a step outside our little box and look both ways to see if there might be larger implications to our actions coming down the road.

(P.S. Next week is Chanukah- always a happy and exciting time in my house. Hopefully, once I am in the holiday spirit with visions of latkes and dreidles dancing in my head I will return to my humorous, self deprecating, family teasing self. In the meantime, thank you for indulging me this opportunity to clear my mind. And a special thank you to my favorite clip art characters (the screen beans) for helping me out with my little cartoon.)

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