Tiki Bar Curricanes

Chopsticks

No, I am not going to talk about the favorite beginner piano song. I want to talk about those wooden implements created to shuttle sushi and other delicacies into one’s mouth.

My husband and I were at our favorite local hangout enjoying, once again, curricanes, our favorite dish of tuna, avocado and crab. Not sure why but I looked at my chopsticks and I had a revelation. In reality, chopsticks are just two thin pieces of wood. Not a lot of engineering went into them. As single pieces of kindling, they are pretty useless. I guess I could stab a piece of melon with one, but where chopsticks become powerful is when they are used in a pair. It is not a single chopstick itself that does much, it is when a pair are used together that they can make a difference.

Tiki Bar CurricanesMy thoughts turned from kitchen utensils to people. For many years, I was independent. I was a loner. I didn’t want or need anyone. When I met my husband, I found my other chopstick. Yes, I could function and survive and even thrive without him, but with him things were better. We work well side-by-side picking through the ups and downs of life. We are a team. We support each other. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We pull up the other’s slack and let our spouse lead when it is their strength. We may not always believe the same things, but we always strive to keep working in unison.

I see other couples who have forgot they are chopsticks. They have forgotten how to work together. They think they are doing it all on their own or are expecting the other to do all the work. Instead of striving to work together, many are focused on attacking the other and causing separation. They have forgotten how to communicate. They have forgotten how to be vulnerable. They have forgotten how to forgive. It is similar to the division I notice in the larger United States. Both sides of the political system are pointing fingers and placing blame. They are focused on the differences. They further divide through personal attacks. The country is separated chopsticks and is not working well.

Whether individual relationships or larger groups, I see a lot of single chopsticks running around. We have forgotten that we need each other to make things happen. We have forgotten that we work much better together than apart. Instead of trying to come together, we focus on how the “other” is wrong and condemn them for it. We have forgotten that we are all wrong at certain points. We have forgotten that one poor action does not define who a person is. We have forgotten that we are all flawed human beings. We have forgotten how to forgive and love.

Now is a time for unity. It is a time for compassion and understanding. It is a time to look for ways to come together instead of dividing further apart. Our strength is amplified when we come together.

Take a look at your relationships. Are you working as a team? Are you creating unity or division? We don’t always have to agree or be happy about our other chopstick, but through compassion and understanding, we can learn to accept and come together. As with chopsticks, people work better when we are together.

don draper walter white

Dealing with a Narcissist

Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder has a larger-than-life belief of self-importance, an extreme need for admiration, and a complete lack of empathy and compassion toward others. Narcissists feel a sense of superiority to the point of arrogance and therefore often abuse their power and control over other people. Do you know a narcissist? Take some time and think of someone you know personally or in the public eye who is a narcissist. Americans, I’ll give you a moment to scour your brain for an example.  If you are having a hard time thinking of someone, you can think of fictional characters like Don Draper from Mad Men and Walter White from Breaking Bad who are both great examples of narcissists. These fictional characters, like most narcissists, believe that they are better than everyone else and are invulnerable. They are compulsive liars and willing to abuse those around them to get their way.

I had a run in with a narcissist recently. Initially we spent very little time together. I noticed she needed to be the center of attention but didn’t care because I don’t need to be in the spotlight. Then our relationship shifted, and we had to spend more time together. Now the lies about her status and importance, the demand for constant attention, and the disregard for my and others’ feelings became unbearable. When I was no longer willing to feed her ego and pretend the world was the way she imagined it to be, she was threatened. She needed people to play along with her fantasy. When I didn’t, I became a threat and she went on the attack. I asked my friend and psychiatrist Dr. J what I could do to make interactions with this person bearable. Her response was that “there was no way to make narcissists human.” She recommended using praise and admiration to get things done and calm the waters. Other than that, I just had to get myself away from the narcissist. Not the response I had hoped to receive.

don draper walter whiteI had two struggles. First due to circumstances, I could not remove myself from this relationship and found it very difficult to feed the disillusions and abuse. Second, my passionate belief is that we all have control of our minds and emotions. I found it hard to stomach that some people are unwilling or unable to change. What helped me move through this challenge was to see how broken this person was. Her delusion of grandeur was a cloak to protect her from vulnerability and lack of self-love. She has no real friends because she does not know how to have a real relationship. She is either using people or being used by people. On some level, she may know her beliefs are not true and feel like a fraud ever in fear of being found out. Once I could remove myself from the hurt I was feeling, I felt deep compassion for this person who knowingly or unknowingly was not living in the real world or capable of having real relationships.

My prescription for the narcissists in your life are first, remove yourself from this person if you can. If you have to interact with a narcissist, find compassion not hate, through acknowledging how empty their life really is. If you need to work with them, use flattery and adoration to help motivate them to action.  If you are like me, it may be a challenge to lie and feed their ego, but I have learned, unfortunately, there is no other way. And finally, release any hope that they will change. Narcissism is a disease without a cure, for now.

What has been your experience with narcissists? How have you responded to their behavior? How do you make the experience bearable?

love sweet love

What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love

With all that is happening in the world of politics, in how we relate to each other regarding gender or country of origin, and in the challenges of our personal life, it can be hard to be positive. We want to fight. We want those we think are responsible to pay. We want to hide because we are scared. We are on high alert waiting for the next disaster. We are filled with rage and fear. We feel vulnerable and attacked. What we really need right now is more love.

The idealist in me knows that if we all focused on love, understanding and compassion we can make the world better right now, today. The realist in me knows not everyone is on board with this plan. Some people are too self-focused to think of others. Other people believe they know what is right and try to shame or attack others into following their lead. Some people are too consumed with personal challenges to think past this moment. Since we can’t control everyone else, we need to focus on changing our own experience by focusing on love.

Due to the crazy hormones of peri-menopause or days when I read too much of the rantings on Facebook, sometimes I go out into the world with a chip on my shoulder. Instead of having a pleasant ride, I am judging the driving of others. Instead of being grateful for the abundance of food, I am irritated by the others shopping. I don’t know about you, but when I see the world as hateful and against me, it doesn’t feel good. And I especially don’t like that I am also pushing my negative feelings out on others and spreading this disease of negativity.

Whether I am awake in the middle of the night worrying about something, triggered by divisive “discussions,” or catching myself spewing negativity, I stop. I remember what I want is peace and love. Then I focus on my breathing. On the inhale I imagine I am receiving and accepting love. On the exhale I imagine my love going out to others. In a few minutes I am calm and at peace again. The judgment is gone, and I can go back to objectively moving through my day.

This Valentine’s Day look at the love in your life. Who could use a little more love? Remember to look at your own self-love first. Where are you blocking love from coming in? How are your words and actions creating more separation, misunderstanding, and hate? Who is using attacks to protect themselves from pain?

Start with truly loving yourself. Accept your flaws and irregularities. Give yourself unconditional love. You don’t need anyone or anything else to be happy and content. If you focus on your own self-love, you can feel fulfilled and healthier. And when you do, you can focus on giving love to those around you. Don’t feel you need to receive love directly in return. Don’t expect any result from your gift. Just give. Love is an amazing thing. When we give love to ourselves or others it multiplies. Give a little out and you will feel a lot returning to you from unexpected sources. Explore how you can change your experience and the experience of those around you, by focusing on love.

Marlboro Man

New Masculinity

While waiting for the next viewing at the Los Cabos International Film Festival, I overheard a couple talking. He said, “I’m sorry if I am not a real man. I don’t like sports. I respect women. And I don’t want to fight to prove myself.” I wanted to give him a hug. He is a real man. At least the type of real man I want to be around. Unfortunately, there was sadness in his words. Even though I would say he is more man than most, I could tell he felt like a failure, like the odd ball, as if he was not as worthy because he did not fit the stereotype of masculinity.

All of the recent sexual misconduct accusations are bringing to light what is expected in order to be a real man. A real man is supposed to objectify women. He is supposed to forcefully take what he wants. He is supposed to domineer and oppress. Throughout boardrooms and backrooms, men brag of their conquests to prove their virility through the abusing and minimizing women. In order for them to feel worthy, they need control and suppress women.

Marlboro ManThe stereotype we have created for men is not only the need to be misogynistic, but that they also need to be amazingly strong, resilient, and without feeling. Our films, media and society still promote and honor the tough silent man, that man without emotions and whose sole purpose and worth is to protect and provide. It is a lot to ask of someone; to be the savior who has to brush off any compassion and support. How many times are boys told “real men don’t cry” or to “toughen up”? When I look at the men involved in mass shootings, it is usually a man who has a history of violence against women. We did not teach him how to use words, so he uses guns. Talking about his emotions is weak, so he kills to stop the pain. This is not an excuse but an explanation. We as a society boxed men into a role and way of being that does not serve them or others.

In light of the accusations and mass shootings*, it is becoming more and more apparent that previous expectations of what a man is are changing. But to what? I read a terrific article by a gender specialist who explores the power struggle between men and women and how female empowerment is often seen as a loss for men. But it doesn’t have to be. The empowerment of women is also the freeing of men. Allowing them to define who they are and how they act; to release them from feeling the need to objectify and rule women to be strong; and to allow them to have feelings, express emotions, and be heard, not ostracized.

I’d like to applaud the man in the theatre the other night. He is a real man, and the man I hope many men will allow themselves to become. To help the men in your life redefine and embrace a new role for men, check out the Good Men Project.

*Note: Many factors are involved in the recent shootings. What I express here is only one to be addressed.

sulking child

Look for the Lesson

Sometimes people don’t understand me because I don’t let my emotions run away with me (for the most part). A car cuts me off and I smile and wave. When someone is rude to me I only become more kind to them. In the current world where righteous indignation is prized and promoted, I don’t fit the mold.

And I’m happy.

Happy I don’t fit the mold. And happy because I don’t fit the mold.

sulking childSome of us live in a world where we feel the victim. We give others our power and then when they use that power against us, we are angry.

Some of us live in a world of competition. Attacking anything and everyone to get on top and feel safe.

Some of us live in a world of mistrust, blaming others for our problems.

Some of us see the world as a struggle, making challenges and issues where there are none.

Me? I live in a world where every interaction is an opportunity to rise above, be the best person I can be, learn, and change. Every conflict is an opportunity for growth. Every confrontation is a window into the other.

Don’t get me wrong. I am human and have my share of emotions. Emotions are important. Emotions are indicators. They let us know what is working and what is not working in our lives. Emotions wake us up to something to solve, something to change. The problem arises when we let our emotions take charge of our actions. It is powerful and necessary to feel anger when someone has wronged us so that we can fix the problem or remove ourselves from the situation. But if we allow ourselves to act with anger, we only create more issues.

What if instead of going off on a tirade about what wrong has happened to you, you look for a solution? And if there is no solution, what if you look for acceptance?

Besides emotions indicating when a situation needs to be addressed, being triggered is also a chance to learn about the other. We often see ourselves as the center of the universe, as the lead in a movie. Therefore, we see everyone’s actions in terms of us. The truth is, people act independent of us. They have their own movie and universe to contend with. When we believe that people are specifically acting to hurt or harm us, we are not seeing the real picture. We need to look for their motivation.

Recently an individual decided to slander me and attempted to destroy some of my relationships. At first my emotions – anger, fear, sadness – kicked in to let me know something was not right. Then I had two choices. I could try to defend myself against untruths and fight back with anger and malice. I took the other route. I looked deeper than this person’s external actions. I saw that they were insecure and were attacking out of a feeling of defense. It wasn’t the best idea, but it was their truth. I let the attacks linger in the air, I shared the truth with some who needed to know, and then I removed myself from the situation. If I would have allowed my anger to get the better of me, I would have lashed out with the same unjustified bitterness as this individual, just causing more issues.

What if instead of labeling the other as mean or rude, you can see the struggle they are going through and how much pain they must be feeling? How would you address conflicts differently?

This week be aware of your emotions. What are they telling you? Then look for the logical solution or if necessary, accept the situation for what it is – in either case, do what you need to feel good again. For bonus points, look at the one causing you pain. Look deep inside them and see their own pain making them act in the way they do.

customer service

Making a Human Connection

This past Easter, a fire erupted in a local parking garage. Thankfully no one was injured. Although hundreds of cars were destroyed.

We park our trailer in this garage.

After a few days wait, we were able to access the garage and remove our trailer which was thankfully unharmed in any way. We had to find alternative storage as the garage would not be reopened for over a month. We found a place to store it and waited.

While we waited, I attempted to receive a refund for the time we paid for but could not access the garage. I talked to the mall office who sent me to the garage office which was inaccessible. A security guard gave me the phone number of the woman in charge, who never answered her phone. A friend obtained and called the number for the garage management parent company in Mexico City. On the first call we were told to call back because the individual we needed to speak to was on break. Next time we called there was no answer. At this point, I was measuring the importance of how much we paid for the missed month versus the effort to receive a refund. I laid the issue to rest.

customer serviceA week or two later, after the garage opened, I happened to be in the area with some time to kill. I walked to the garage office and asked for the woman in charge. After a few minutes she, and the two little dogs that accompany her at work, appeared. I was preparing myself for what I expected to be a terse conversation, when she introduced herself, shook my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “Mucho gusto.”

In Spanish, “Mucho gusto” means approximately “pleased to meet you.” All at once we were not manager and customer but two human beings making a human connection. I smiled. She smiled. All the tension dissipated and we had a cordial conversation. In my broken Spanish, I was able to negotiate an extra month on my contract. Problem pleasantly and easily resolved in 15 minutes.

When was the last time you had to call the cable company or return something damaged to a store? What attitude did you go in with? Did you expect to be denied? Did you feel wronged, entitled, or outraged? Did you have anger blurring your mind?  When you entered the conversation, what happened? Did you get your issue resolved? If you did, did you feel good afterwards or did you still feel painful, angry indignation?

Replay the situation in your mind. What if you started off by introducing yourself and by taking a moment to truly connect to the other person as a human being. What if the issue was now secondary to the importance of treating the person across from you as a living breathing being with feelings?

Next time you need to address an issue or when someone confronts you in an aggressive manner, stop. Breathe. Connect as two individuals. Remember that you are speaking to a person who deserves as much respect and unconditional love as you do.