spock - that is highly illogical

That is Highly Illogical

The last few years have been a struggle to understand why everyone is losing their shit. Ok, maybe that is not stated correctly. Obviously, there appear to be valid reasons for people to be on edge – a pandemic, global climate change, and misuse of power. But the reason we are all on edge, the reason we are emotional, the reason we are at our wits end are not those real hard-core factual logical reasons. We are in pain, individually and collectively, because of how we feel about these facts.

It is never the circumstance that causes us pain. It is our thought or feeling about that circumstance that causes us pain. Our perception of the world and how it works – if it is fair or unfair, if it is ending or being reborn – is constantly being played in the background of our mind. All of the information we receive is funneled through our perceptions and beliefs and adjusted to fit our worldview.

A simple example I provide in my book, is having $100 in our bank account. The amount of money is a fact. However, what having that money means is based on our perception. We can look at our checkbook at the end of the month and think, “Thank goodness, I have $100 left in my account after paying all my bills.” Or we can think, “Oh, my god. I am in trouble. I only have $100 left in my bank account.” The fact of the amount of money has not changed, but how we choose to interpret that fact is what causes us emotional pain or joy.  

All of the conflict that I am watching between friends, family, and society as a whole is not because of the facts of pandemics, vaccines, or the state of the government. It is caused by each person’s unique viewpoint on what those situations mean. If a news event happens and I watch Fox News, CNN, and the BBC reporting on it, I can often get the feeling three completely different events occurred because of how the story is reported and what emotional embellishment is added.

spock - that is highly illogical

My personal pain through all of this is in trying to determine how to help those I love. I see and feel the pain that my friends and family are experiencing, and I don’t seem to be able to provide relief. Many of us are trying to use logic to help each other see the “truth” or the “right” way. The problem with this is that logic is based on facts, and the pain and emotion being felt are based on perception and belief. The way to provide relief to those we love is to deal with dishonest beliefs, not the facts.

Next time you disagree with someone, instead of debating facts, seek to understand the other. Be open to hearing why they interpret the facts in the way they do. Inquire into their history and see how their past experiences are coloring current events. Investigate what they value to uncover what their fears are and why. When we can objectively see the truth and understand another’s perception, we can help someone else to see circumstances in a new light, not discolored by their or our own fears and dishonest beliefs. When we can put aside our own perceptions and beliefs, we can then objectively and compassionately understand another.

No matter the circumstances, we have a choice of how to react. It is our thought or belief about a circumstance or event that causes us anger, worry, or fear – not the event itself. This is why having a debate on the facts with those who disagree with us do not work. Because none of us are being affected by the facts. We are being influenced and controlled by our beliefs about the facts. If you truly want to create a more peaceful world, be open to exploring how your beliefs are coloring facts and have compassion for others who are also struggling with their own dishonest beliefs.

Regret, Jealously, and Courage

Lately the topic of people not wanting to work because they are getting generous unemployment seems to be prevalent with family and friends. I would like to share some thoughts on this topic based on my experience. As with many hot topics, there are many sides and viewpoints to this issue. I do not claim to be an expert. I am simply hoping to share my experience coaching others through career and life transition, and to provide you with some new thoughts to consider.

Regret

Recently I shared a valedictorian speech which asked us to look at what was really important – striving for our 15 minutes (or seconds) of fame or our human connections. Somehow the American work ethic has led to our work life taking precedence over everything else – over our family, over our friends, and even over our own health. The current pandemic has been a wake-up call for many. We are asking ourselves what is really important. We are reconsidering what a successful life looks like to us.

For those I work with in job transition, many are taking this time to re-evaluate where they are heading. Many are leaving what they have known and are trying something new. Whether starting their own business, learning a new trade, or retiring early, many are deciding that their day-to-day happiness is more important their paycheck. Yes, some of these people profit financially from the transition, but many others embrace a new lower financial status so they can live a more healthy, relaxed, and loving life with less regrets.

Photo by Johnny Cohen on Unsplash

Jealousy

When my husband and I left our safe corporate positions to move to Mexico many of our friends were jealous. They would say that we were very lucky to be able to do what we were doing; that they could not. They wished they could just quit their life and move to a beach. And they could. Nothing made my husband and I special. We just took the plunge. Our friends’ fear is what kept them trapped in their jobs and from the lives they could have. People were jealous of us but not willing to take the risk themselves.

I believe one of the reasons people are being attacked for being lazy and not finding a new job, is actually jealousy. At the root of people’s anger is it not simply that they are jealous of those who are no longer playing by the rules. Ask yourself why you are angry at those choosing not to work. Is it not a little because they are getting away with what you chose/choose not to do? Are you not angry that you played by the rules and these others seem not to have to?  In a similar way, recent information about how little corporations and wealthy individuals are paying in taxes has also created jealousy. As I file the quarterly taxes for my husband’s business, I often ponder how his small business if paying four-figures quarterly while major corporations pay nothing.

Courage

It takes a lot of courage to go against the norm. My entire life I was groomed to work. Do well in school so you can get into a good university. Get a good degree so you can get a good job. Do well in your position so you can get a promotion. Professional advancement was instilled as the end all and be all of living. When one steps off the conveyor belt of professionalism, it takes a lot of courage to go against what has been preached and believed by those around us.

Nothing amazing ever happens by doing what we have always done. If you want change in your life, if you want to make things better for others, we need to change our expectations of business as usual.

As a side note, if the nice woman who cut my hair last June at SuperCuts decides that receiving unemployment is better than her $15 an hour position where customers come in outraged that they need to wear masks, I get it.

conversation

Healing Differences of Opinion

I remember a time in the past when friends of mine talked up a restaurant for weeks. When we could finally have dinner together, my friends were enraptured by the atmosphere, service, and food. Before, during, and after the meal their exuberance and praise was over the top. When my critique of the meal was given, it was lower than theirs. What astounded me was not only our difference of opinion, but my friends’ reaction. They took my honest experience as an afront to not only the restaurant, but to them. They had tied their self-worth and self-esteem to their belief about the restaurant. When I was less than praiseworthy of the restaurant, they felt I was insulting them.

Sound familiar? In the heightened political climate over the past years, do you or those around you take differing political views as a personal insult? I believe one of the reasons there is so much political tension is that we have moved away from honest discussion of issues and instead are defending our political affiliation as our sole identity. We no longer lean right or left, we ARE Left or Right. When our identity and self-worth are tied to something outside of our self, it leads to insecurity, fear, and either fighting for our ideology or becoming depressed and insecure when our ideology is attacked.

conversation, listening
Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

A recent Fast Company article explored the concept of our values being tied to our worth and how to have honest conversations. It states, “Yet hanging out with like-minded people is the opposite of open-mindedness. It signals a reluctance to learn and grow, and a false sense of security about your own values, perhaps because you are afraid to have them challenged as they are the core definition of yourself, or you fear that they are too fragile to hold when exposed to a different form of thinking.” The article has some terrific advice around this subject that I would like to share and expand upon.

Be Teachable

The article brought up the importance on continued learning. It is the concept of remaining teachable. When anything stops growing, it dies. Such is true with our minds. When we think we know it all, we have closed off and killed our minds. As I get older, I have learned that the only thing I know for certain is that I don’t know anything. By staying in an I-don’t-know mind, I strive to see situations without filters, I try not to judge based on my experience, and I have an openness to see things anew.

Listen

Listening is a key component of learning and understanding. Hearing out another’s view does not mean we agree with them or that one party needs to convert to the other’s beliefs. Instead of cutting off someone with your thoughts or attacking them for theirs, listen. Listen to what it said. Listen to what is not said. Listening leads to understanding which leads to acceptance.  To accept is to stop fighting reality. The reality is that someone has a different take on a subject. Peace is found in accepting the reality that not everyone thinks like I do. Accepting is not choosing who is right and who is wrong, it is listening to, comprehending, and understanding each other.

It Takes Two

You can be open. You can be a terrific listener. You can be accepting and willing to come together. The other person may not. It is important to have healthy boundaries. If the other party is not willing or able to listen with an open mind and only wants to attack, you do not need to continually expose yourself to that abuse. Move on to the next person who is a bit more openminded. You can not repair a relationship on your own. Both parties need to be willing to come together.

It is not always easy to hear out someone else’s views, especially if the views are very far away from our own. But to heal our country and our personal relationships, we need to become open-minded and accepting. Little by little we can begin to feel confident in our own self-worth, remove our fear, and come back together.

walking in the good

Don’t Bring It with You

My life is perfect. I am blessed in so many ways. And yet I focus so much and so unnecessarily on the one thing that is not so perfect in my life. My neighbors smoke. A lot. All the time. Constantly. Which is their business, and they have a right to. But every time they smoke it comes into my house. I choose not to smoke. I don’t want it in my house. I don’t want it in my lungs.

Lately I have become obsessed with their smoking. I was as addicted to the irritation of them smoking as much as they are addicted to the nicotine. I was making myself very unhappy by constantly retelling myself about the injustice of them affecting my life negatively. I told myself I could not be happy until they stopped smoking. All day long I work in my home office and have to deal with their smoking. I felt justified in being angry. My wake-up call was when I came home after a beautiful walk with my dog through the local mountain trails and my husband saw the anger and upset on my face. When asked what was wrong, I talked about the smokers. Their smoke may be in my house, but I took my indignation about their smoking on my walk. I was making my life unpleasant even when I was not being directly affected. It was time to choose differently.

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

We have a responsibility to speak up

Much of my anger came from the belief that they were doing this purposefully to me. I assumed that my life and my experience should be the first thing on their minds. False. Most of the time people hurt us, they have no idea they are hurting us and feel justified themselves in their actions because they are doing what they need for themselves. We all go through life this way. Even though I pride myself in thinking of how my actions may affect others, and sometimes see this belief going too far into the role of martyr, I still do not really know how my actions affect others. I am using my own filter, my own perception. We can never know how another is affected unless they tell us.

My first mistake was waiting way too long to tell my neighbors that their actions were affecting me. We can not expect change unless we make a change. If I don’t admit to others how their actions affect me, nothing will change. If we don’t speak up about injustice, injustice will still happen. If we don’t make a change, change can not happen. Look at your resentments, discomforts, and how you may be harmed right now. Have you shared this with anyone? Have you shared it with the other party affected? Have you changed how you act or react in the situation? If you have not, then expect the same scenario to play again and again. It did for me until I spoke up.

We can’t change others

Speaking up does not mean that our needs will be met. The other person may not be capable or willing to provide us with what we want. We can not demand that others will act or be differently. We can not make anyone do what we want them to do. What we can do is change ourselves. We can change how we act and react to others and the situation. In my case, the smokers still smoke but I have placed a fan in my window to keep the smoke from coming into my house. It has not solved the entire problem, but it has definitely made it better.

We can choose our experience

Whether my neighbors stop smoking, whether my fan works or not, none of this matters. What changes the experience most for me is how I think about it. If I continue to dwell on the inconsideration and injustice of the situation, I will continue to feel victimized and filled with self-righteous anger. Instead, I have chosen to embrace my power in my voice and in my actions. I have made my needs know. I have made changes to my circumstances in buying a fan and may invest in an air purifier. I consciously choose to celebrate and enjoy the clean air available to me when I am not at home. Most importantly, I embrace the calm and peace I want to experience, and as much as I can, I keep my anger at bay.

Where in your life do you need to acknowledge that your needs are not being met? Where do you need to use your voice to make your needs known? Can you stop expecting someone else to change and instead make changes to your actions and reactions? Can you embrace your ability to experience different?

dog on walk

Dog Behavior Training – for me

A while back I shared what I learned from having a stray cat try to adopt me. I am happy to report the cat has a home now and is being taken care of in the way she deserves, and demands. This January, I adopted a dog, Güera, who is teaching me new lessons.

Being an older rescue, I had no history of Güera’s life or personality. I quickly learned that although the rescue center said she was good around other dogs, she in fact seemed scared or aggressive toward them. Because of this, I shielded her from other dogs. I assumed that she was going to start growling. My emotions conveyed that other dogs were a threat and go figure, when we were around other dogs, she was aggressive.

Honestly, I don’t know when it hit me. Maybe it was the nice older dog owner I befriended who would allow Güera to sniff his dog. Little by little, they got to know each other and low and behold, no more aggression and growling. If Güera could be nice to this dog, logic told me she could be nice with other dogs. When we met other dogs on our walks, instead of sending my emotions into fear, I relaxed. I would soothingly say, “Diga hola” and “tranquila,” Spanish for “say hi” and “relax/chill”. And you know what? Unless the other dog was obviously aggressive, Güera was calm.

dog on her walk
Güera chilling on her walk

This got me thinking of all the times I entered a boardroom, an event, or any situation where I assumed there would be conflict. How much of the conflict that ensued was a direct response to my energy of protection and aggression? I started to notice this in my day-to-day life. Being human there are people I dislike or judge. Instinctively and sometimes maliciously, I approached these people with a chip on my shoulder. I wanted or expected a fight. Being self-righteous I wanted to prove how nasty these people were by provoking them. If I succeeded in provoking them, I felt like a jerk. If I didn’t, I still felt awful because I had made myself feel that way.

Instead, I started to approach everyone – those I liked, those I didn’t, those who I had yet to know – with the calm relaxed attitude I embodied when walking my dog. Tranquila Melissa. Not all interactions went the way I would want them to. But every interaction felt good to me. I was peaceful and centered, and really that is all I ever wanted. It didn’t matter how the other person reacted or what they did, I could choose to be in the state of calm.

What scares you? Who disturbs you? When do you put up a barrier? Where do you look for a fight? What if you could, no matter the situation, choose calm?  You can. You can’t control what others say or do, but you can always control your own actions and reactions. Try it today. Ground yourself before you meet someone disagreeable. Center yourself before bringing up a difficult conversation. Embody peace within you and see how all your interactions shift. Tranquila bonita, you got this.

seeking human kindness

Compassion is Tough

I have read Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, at least twice now and never highlighted the section at the top of page 17 until my friend recently shared it with me. “We live in a blame culture – we want to know whose fault it is and how they’re going to pay. . . but we rarely hold people accountable . . . this rage-blame-too-tired-and-busy-to-follow-through mind-set is why we’re so heavy on self-righteous anger and so low on compassion.” Let’s break this apart but first, here is some of my own experience.

I have written before about my chain-smoking neighbors. They smoke constantly throughout the day and inevitably, the smoke comes into my house. This has been happening for over two years now. I complained to my husband. I complained to every friend I could. I wrote a post about it. But, until now, I never brought it up to them. I experienced pain and I leapt into self-righteous anger and blame which did not go anywhere except between my two ears.  I finally had the courage to speak with the neighbors, sanely and clearly. We discussed options; I set boundaries. Unfortunately, this has not stopped them smoking or the smoke coming into my house, but it did empower me. I stopped spending every waking movement replaying the evil they were bestowing on me. Instead, I now find ways to create my own boundaries – closing windows, using fans to point the smoke out, and reclaiming my balcony at least half the time. It is not ideal, but it feels so much more peaceful than stewing in hate.

Blame / Self-Righteous Anger

As I initially did with my neighbors, many people are turning to hate because it is easier than acting differently. Over these past years, I had a spent way too much time focused on how horrible my neighbors were. How inconsiderate they were. How they should pay for their actions. I clearly defined who was good and right (me), and who was bad and wrong (obviously them). It felt good to my ego and my indignation, but it didn’t come close to solving my problem or providing me with clean air.

I agree with Ms. Brown wholeheartedly (no pun intended) when she says that our first response to pain and fear is to attack and blame. Spend 10-seconds on Facebook at any given time and you can see this in action. Self-righteous anger is a way of life for many of us right now.

I realize I play the blame game because I tend to take on the role of victim and feel powerless to make my needs known. For others, they may be in desperate need of connection and find it easier to connect through hate instead of love. It really does not matter why we turn to hate and blame first, what is more important is what can we do differently.

Compassion

Stepping away from my own pain and anger, allowed me to see the full picture. I became aware of my neighbor’s life and their motives. By looking at their own pain and struggles, I began to have compassion for them. They stopped being the bad guy and started to be just another person struggling to be the best they can.

Compassion, Ms. Brown explains to us, actually means “to suffer with.” Isn’t that lacking today? Instead of hearing another’s struggles and fears and being with them, we instead blame and label. We don’t have the courage to actually suffer with them, to walk in their shoes. As American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön wrote, “Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

Boundaries

Having compassion and understanding does not mean that we resign to accepting personal pain. No. We can have compassion for others and set strong boundaries. We can understand someone else’s viewpoint and look for beneficial solutions for all.

I think Ms. Brown lets people off too lightly when she says, “We’re so exhausted from ranting and raving that we don’t have the energy to develop meaningful consequences and enforce them.” Personally, I never thought I had another option than to rant and rave. I felt powerless and victimized. I felt that a “good girl” accepts things as they are and doesn’t rock the boat. I thought the only options were to sit in my resentment or attack someone else (which for me is not an option). I am learning the space of gray between those two options. First, I need to identify what is not working for me. Instead of blaming the other, I need to define my boundaries and needs, and then ask for them. I have the power to change my circumstance either through letting someone become aware of how they are affecting me or to make changes in how I act and react.

Moving Forward

The Brené Brown quote I shared in the first paragraph is from a chapter called “Courage, Compassion, and Connection.” These are all things I think the world is in much need right now. But how do we get them?  The way Ms. Brown tells us we gain each is by doing them. Just like we learn to walk by walking, we learn these important and powerful traits is by doing them. How can you start today?