18 December 2015


Something to think about during this season of giving:

The Golden Ladder of Giving
1. To give reluctantly, the gift of the hand, but not of the heart.
2. To give cheerfully, but not in proportion to need.
3. To give cheerfully and proportionately, but not until solicited.
4. To give cheerfully, proportionately, and unsolicited, but to put the gift
    into the poor person's hand, thus creating shame.
5. To give in such a way that the distressed may know their benefactor,
    without being known to him or her.
6. To know the objects of our bounty, but remain unknown to them.
7. To give so that the benefactor may not know those whom he has relieved,
    and they shall not know him.
8. To prevent poverty by teaching a trade, setting a person up in business,
    or in some other way preventing the need of charity.



12 December 2015

Families--Strategies for Getting along

When I think about families, of course the first thing that I think of is my own.  If you can imagine a hugely dysfunctional family with tons of issues, then you have my family.  In many ways, my family has made life difficult for me, especially in my young adulthood.  I went through many issues that other people never have had to deal with, and there were times when I thought that I wasn't going to make it.  But the simple fact is that my family is my family.  There's not a thing that I can do to change that fact, and not a thing I can do about what's happened in my life.  So my choice now is what to do about my family--allow them to continue to make my life difficult, or accept them for who they are and still have them as a part of my life.

I do have to say that even with the dysfunction, there has been no systematic abuse in my family, so accepting them is not as difficult for me as it may be for others who have abusive parents, for example--including emotional, sexual, or physical abuse.  So what I say here has to be tempered with that realization.  The line "That's easy for you to say" is an important one to keep in mind when talking about dealing with issues in our lives, for we cannot know what other people have gone through and the difficulties they face as a result of their pasts.

But that said, I've found some important strategies of dealing with my family that help me to understand them better and get along with them better.  And here are some of them.

I leave the past in the past.  What happened, happened.  But today is not thirty years ago.  What happened when I was a kid is long gone, and it's important that I relate to my family members based on who they are and who I am today.  If I keep things from the past in mind, then relating to them is tempered by resentment, anger, frustration, even fear.  So when I'm with my family, the past is not with us.  That's not true of them--they often dwell in the past and bring up old resentments--but I refuse to play that game.

I take my leave when I need to.  One of the times when I need to is when they bring up old issues from the past.  I find something else to do when this happens--I go read or take a nap or go for a run or a walk.  I let them hash out that junk, and I come back when things are no longer focused on old issues.  Sometimes I get frustrated with the way my father talks to my mother--but that's something they're both okay with, as they've been together for many, many years, so if I don't like it, I go into another room to do something else.  Years of experience have taught me that saying something will change nothing and will lead to arguments and confrontations, so I don't bother.

That leads in to the next strategy I've developed:  I let them be who they are, and I don't try to change them or the way they do things.  They are pretty much set in the ways that they act and the things that they do, and it's not my job to change either.  So I don't try.  I don't necessarily like things that they say, especially when there are racist or hate-filled ideas involved, but their ideas and beliefs are theirs, and it's important that I accept them as people, even if I don't accept some of their ideas.  And not accepting their ideas doesn't mean that I have to correct them--again, my experience tells me that correction will have no effect other than making them upset, so I just do my best to change the topic to something more pleasant.  I can tell them that I don't agree with them, but I can't tell them that they should change their ways of thinking--that's their business.

When I'm with my family, I watch and listen more than I talk.  One of the things that I notice is that they still do things and say things that they did and said decades ago.  They've developed their own strategies for getting on in life, and I've found that things that I used to think were personal are actually pretty impersonal--it's just the way they are.  Things that they said to me, they still say to other people--so why should they hurt me at all?  And even if they seem to be hurtful, often the intent is not to hurt at all--it's just been the way that I've taken things that has made them hurtful.

When I'm with my family, I do my best to say only positive things, to bring up only positive memories, and to not bring up past pains of resentments.  If I'm with them today, why do I want to bring up yesterday?  They don't need to apologize to me for the past, for they were only doing the best they could, no matter what mistakes they might have made.  I don't need them to make amends--if I do, then my acceptance of them and love for them is conditional, and then my conditional love becomes another barrier between us.  And we certainly don't need any more barriers!

04 December 2015

Violence and communities

The focus in our country is very strongly shifting towards the number of murders that occur here on such a regular basis.  To be honest, it sometimes feels hard to think that I'm living my life fully while other people are suffering so often from such tragic and useless violence.  Am I really living my life fully if I'm not doing anything to stop this violence?  Am I contributing to the problem if I'm not contributing to the solution?  And couldn't the same questions be asked about my relationship to hunger and homelessness and domestic violence and all of the other problems that permeate our society?

I believe that we're all called to something.  In my case, as a teacher I try to help my students learn about conflict resolution that doesn't involve violence; about developing communities that support people, not alienate them and make the feel disenfranchised; about finding ways to help others who need it; about how to identify those people who do need help.  I don't feel that my calling is in politics right now (though of course, that may change), so I'm not helping to develop political solutions; I have no professional psychological or psychiatric credentials, so I'm not researching ways to stem violence; I am not qualified as a law enforcement officer, so I'm not joining the police or the FBI in order to combat the violence.

No matter what our calling, all of us can contribute to a society that's more peaceful and in which people feel that they belong.  It's important that our communities offer support to others, not alienate people.  We can be a part of that support.  We can teach our children tolerance, not hatred.  We can talk to that person that no one else seems to want to talk to--knowing full well that there's often a very good reason for which others don't talk to him or her.

The question that constantly comes to my mind is this:  what can we do to develop communities in which such things wouldn't happen, because the members of the community don't feel like they don't belong, and because they have outlets through which they can deal with their frustrations and aggravations?

Some of the most simple things that come immediately to mind:

We can not create and perpetuate division by constantly referring to others using derogatory terms.  Our political divisions are the worst these days--who cares if I'm a liberal or conservative?  I have my views and you have yours, and we should respect each other rather than insult each other.
We can find an organization in our community that helps the disenfranchised, and we can help that organization to thrive.  That doesn't mean that we have to spend three nights a week working at a soup kitchen--but we can put aside a weekly amount to help them to do what they do.

We can encourage and compliment others regularly.  Our criticisms come quickly and easily; our compliments come rarely.  It should be the other way around.

We can teach our children how to solve problems without resorting to violence.  And it's not enough to tell them they're wrong if they fight--we have to give them an alternative.  Telling a kid that he or she is wrong without teaching them another way of acting is completely unfair to the kid.

And that's just a start.  We can all think of ways through which we can help our communities to thrive and to be inclusive--I'm sure there are hundreds of ways to do so.  I firmly believe, though, that the most important long-term changes that we can make to affect our society have to do with building communities that are loving, caring, and inclusive--and that starts with you and me.