Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Unsuspecting Problems of the Ego

We are born with a strong urge for self-preservation. In the infant stage, When we can’t take care of ourselves and can’t verbally communicate our needs, it is vital that we listen to the prompting of our ego.  But then we spend the rest of our lives extricating ourselves from its grasps.  It’s easy to connect certain spiritual battles with the ego:  jealousy, control, selfishness. But the ego can be the culprit when it comes to other challenges. Recently, I have discovered three unsuspecting places where the ego can hide:

 Everything is my fault: I am so very good at connecting any failure or mishap, big or small, to my own actions. If one of my loved ones is not happy, it is probably my fault for not doing or saying the right thing.  If my students are not succeeding on some measure, it is my fault for not planning better or knowing better. For a long time I had convinced myself that this kind of thinking meant that I was a responsible person who was willing to take responsibility for my own actions.  Lately, I am realizing that I am assigning way more importance to myself than I really deserve.  I am in fact claiming that I am much more powerful than those around me and that they have no control over their own lives and choices.
I can please everyone: It is a good thing to want to bring joy to others, but to think that I can actually make everyone happy, is a sign of a pretty big ego. To try to please everyone requires a lack of integrity.  People have a wide range of expectations, some reasonable, some not. In order to meet all these expectations, I would have to compromise at least some of my own convictions.  So it’s egotistical and hypocritical to try to be a people pleaser. Instead of “pleasing”, I can aim to love and serve.
I am a perfectionist: Often we confuse the pursuit of excellence with perfectionism. One is a virtue, the other not so much. I know that we often brag about being a perfectionist, but to think that any pursuit can actually be perfect hints at superiority and egotism. Striving for excellence, trying to get better, always being reflective and in a learning mode are all dynamic, moving processes. Aiming for perfection, is static and often frustrating, not to mention impossible.

Who can be truly happy when feeling guilty, taking the blame for others’ unhappiness and pursuing the impossible state of perfection?  When we recognize that the patterns of thought that bring us such misery, are rooted in our ego, it is easier to work at abandoning them.  Because who wants to be called egotistical of all things? 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Greatest Rewards

by: Susan

Laws of nature dictate that there be a consequence for every action. When it comes to raising humans we the grownups often feel obliged to impose those consequences in forms of reward and punishment. Often, the natural consequences offer the best “punishment” but what of the rewards? How do you reward good behavior in a manner that is respectful and commensurate with the degree of effort required. For example, how do you reward kindness? How many stickers is enough to recognize a child who is kind by nature? How many more for the one who has to work really hard at it? What about reading? How much ice cream or pizza equals the pleasure of reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or Charlotte's Web?

Here are what I think the greatest rewards all humans, big and small long for:

Being listened to - We are all looking for someone who will listen to us and listen deeply. Not listen to offer a solution, not listen to criticize or minimize our concerns. Not even listen and then sympathize. Just listen.

Being Heard - When we hear someone, we consider their point of view with compassion and without prejudice. It may even require some sort of action on our part. There is no gift greater than saying to someone: I hear your point of view, I hear your hurt and this is what I’ll do to show you that I heard.

The ultimate reward, however, is understanding. Not just being understood by those who listen and hear us but this ever expanding understanding of the world around us, the answers to our questions about math, science, nature, love, or God. Like the time I understood calculus. I did every single exercise in my textbook for fun. It was sublime and spiritual. One of the greatest lessons in parenting I have learned from my husband is to take our children’s questions and intelligence seriously and help them as best as we could to advance in their understanding of this world and its wonders.

It is expedient to offer children trinkets and toys as rewards for good behavior.  It is easy to splurge on an expensive gift to celebrate a special occasion with a partner. But nothing is as priceless, permanent and transformative as giving our loved ones the gifts of listening, hearing and understanding.  I bet even those whose love language is gifts would agree.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Hanlon's Razor

by:  Carolyn

Occam's Razor: The simplest explanation is usually the right one. (Not exactly how it was written down by William of Occam in the Middle Ages, but close enough for our purposes.)

I've heard of Occam's razor as long as I can remember, but I had never heard of Hanlon's Razor until a recent episode of Jeopardy! brought it to my attention.

Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

While Occam's Razor has its roots in ancient philosophy, Hanlon's Razor is much more recent (1980?), possibly inspired by Murphy's Law ("Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.").

Hearing about Hanlon's razor made me wonder how many times in my life I have assumed someone has intended by their actions (or inactions) to hurt me, when in reality they were not motivated by malice at all, but by a lack of attention or understanding or even indifference - I won’t say “stupidity”.

I would guess that I am not the only person who has occasionally noticed that conversation ceased when I entered a room and was struck by the thought that the people inside must have been talking (unfavorably) about me before I came in. In all probability, the lull in the conversation just happened to coincide with my entrance, and the people involved in the discussion were not thinking of me at all.

I'm probably also not the only person who has become frustrated at hitting red light after red light on a drive (especially when I'm in a hurry) and then decided that the universe is out to get me. "Why is this happening to me?????", I might scream internally (or externally). In reality, the timing of the traffic lights has absolutely nothing to do with me. The computer that controls all that business doesn't even know who I am.

I suspect many of us have had thoughts that our spouse (or child or parent or friend or whatever) does things (or does not do things) just to spite us. "Why does he leave the toilet seat up? He knows that drives me crazy!" "Why does she run the vacuum cleaner right in the middle of my favorite show? She could do that later, but she is purposely doing it now to aggravate me!" "Why did someone drink all of the milk except one tiny sip, and put the carton back in the refrigerator? Everyone knows I need milk for my breakfast cereal! They are trying to drive me batty!"

In reality, probably none of these actions (or inactions) are due to malice, just thoughtlessness, a lack of attention, being wrapped up in our own selves. Next time we feel that others are acting with malice toward us, maybe we should give them some grace and then resolve to be more aware of others when we are moving through our daily lives.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Speak Life by Andrea

The words we speak (or type) have power.  There have been volumes enough to fill the world’s bookshelves regarding how much our words matter. Do a simple Google search, and you’ll be enlightened.  What we think, say, and even post matters for us individually- how we perceive ourselves, the realities we create for ourselves physically, relationally, psychologically.  The language we use reflects the ways in which we think about other people, too!  How often though do we stop to reflect on proverbs like this one. 

Do we believe that our words hold the power of life and death?
I think if we did, we would be far more careful.  We would more readily heed the advice to think before we speak.  In recent years, many teachers have posted in their classrooms colorful posters with a series of questions to help students think about the words they might say.

This is such a simple yet powerful way to put our words to the test.  We teach our students that if they can answer yes to every question, then the words they plan to speak will more than likely be worth sharing.  If they get even one no, then they need to keep their comments to themselves.  

This is not easy. I will be the first to admit it.  But it is absolutely necessary in EVERY SINGLE interaction we have with other human beings.  I dare anyone to name an instance where this would not hold up.  Even when we have to say hard things, like confronting someone on bad behavior, each of these statements can be true.  It is an act of love (i.e., kindness in action) to confront each other for our good, to educate and to influence one another to be better versions of ourselves.  Each of us has the “right” to refuse help, but offering it is still true and necessary.  It inspires those around us to stand up for others and ourselves.  It takes practice, wisdom and self-control to know when to speak and when to refrain.  It is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to be high-functioning and ever-evolving.

Words have literally destroyed individuals, communities and nations.  And words have literally created something from nothing, started movements which changed the course of history.  
Before posting, commenting and even accepting a thought running through our heads, I implore us all to ask ourselves if the words we are about to roll out onto the world will lift up or tear down? I am always reminding myself that what I say will make a mark, so I ask myself “What kind of mark do you want to leave?” I strive to be a person who speaks good things over and about others and myself.  I miss the mark too often, but I never change the goal.  Even when there are egregious events happening in the world-at- large or closer to home that I feel compelled to comment on, I try to force myself to quickly reflect on the THINK questions above.  I try to run my words through a test of time by asking if my words will add value to someone else’s thoughts and life today and always.  Is what I am saying going to bring people together or divide them?  Will it bring out the best in someone else?  Will it help me to connect to others or will it alienate them without cause?  I cannot control other people’s response to what I say, but I can be intentional and thoughtful about the words I speak.  I believe we ALL have a responsibility to be careful, that is, full of care about the words we say.  Care for ourselves and care for our hearers. 

It is not easy, but it is also not impossible.  Our words do matter.  They create our realities.  Speak not for the world we have, but for the one we want.  Speak life.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

My Hair by Susan

I stopped coloring my hair a couple of years ago. I got a lot of compliments from friends and co-workers.But consistently I got very strong negative reactions from Persian women of my own age or older. None hid their shock and dismay when they saw me after a long absence.  None held back from letting me know exactly what they thought. It ranged from you are too young to let your hair go gray (I am 55, I got my first gray hair at 21) to why would you want to let the whole world know that you have all this gray hair.  Politely, I responded that I have never been good at keeping up with coloring my hair and who am I trying to kid any way? This is me, the real me.

It seems like everyone has something to say about women’s hair. If it’s too long or too short, if it’s natural or colored, straightened or left curly.  Even my husband who is usually clueless about women’s physical appearance, has expressed a preference for longer, darker hair.  When our second daughter was being born, his first comment was:  “She has brown hair!”

Women’s hair can also be political.  In early twentieth century, Reza Shah banned women from covering their hair in an attempt to modernize Iran.  In the twenty first century, Iranian women are forced to cover their hair to show modesty and uphold morality.In 1978 women willingly put on scarves and covered their hair in Iran as a protest against the Shah. Today, after 40 years of the Islamic Republic, they are taking their scarves off and standing in public to protest that regime’s repression. 

Women of African descent are criticized if they wear their hair natural or relaxed, if they put it in braids or choose to shave it off.

Hair is precious! No wonder globally we spent 85 billion dollars on hair in 2017. It‘s amazing when you learn that hair is dead once it leaves your scalp.  It’s protein and it’s dead.  But isn’t it beautiful?  Hasn’t God given us this wonderful gift, this crown for our heads to adorn our faces? Isn’t it amazing - all the different colors and textures? And isn't it a blessing and a privilege to be able to wear this crown however you want it?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Green Thumb by Esmer

I do not have a green thumb. I tend to over water my plants. Either that or I forget about watering them completely for a few days and then I have to go back and try to make up for the damage. My mother however, all of her fingers are green, not just her thumb. She can make a car grow in the ground by planting a tire. I asked her recently what her secret was. And you will never guess what she said?  She talks to them. She says nice things to them, praises their beauty and how much they have grown. She uses a tender tone, and I am sure I have heard her sing a lyric or two. My son believes that scientifically this makes sense. He says that the carbon dioxide you breathe out of your body and onto the plant while talking or signing to it helps it grow. Ummmm ok. I knew that. (Absolutely did not even think of it.) Although it probably is the more logical reason, I want to believe that these plants are a lot like us.  We need the oxygen, and sunshine, and food to survive, but kind words to grow. Positive affirmations to help us reach our highest potential.
Having the privilege to be inside the elementary school classroom, I have seen the power of kind words in action.  I have seen students who are struggling with a math problem or having difficulty answering a question about a book we just read, shrink in front of my eyes.  And I have seen these same students, rise to the challenge with a simple, “You’ve got this. Let’s figure it out together. I’m here with you.” They sit up a little taller, and believe they can try. Even if they get the answer wrong, their thinking has shifted from, “I can never do this”!  to “next time I will get it right.” What’s even more amazing, is that these kids who once held their heads down, began to pass on the seeds of kind words. They encouraged each other, and began to build each other up, not because I told them to but because they wanted to.

It’s okay if you do not have a green thumb either friends.  You can still grow a garden full of smiles, and kindness which leads to a lasting feeling of self-worth that will spread far beyond the comfort of your fence.  Wow, what a sight that will be to behold!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Age Perception by Carolyn

Today is my sister’s birthday. I will not say how old she is, but
I will say that she is older than I am. I am younger than she is.

I was talking about her upcoming birthday with my father the other
day. (He always seems surprised to hear how old we are turning.
I think he considers us still kids - of course that makes him much
younger, too.) I mentioned to him that she used to be happy to be
older than me. Now not so much.

When we were children and teenagers, she lorded it over me, rubbing
it in my face that she was older and I was younger. She had a later
bedtime and more freedom. She never let me forget it. She did everything
first. She went to school, learned to read, went on sleepovers, wore makeup,
shaved her legs, went to the mall with friends, dated, drove a car -
everything first!

When you are young, being older seems to be something to wish for -
we wish to be old enough to spend the night with a friend, or go to camp,
or start school, or date, or drive, or . . . whatever. So much of childhood is
filled with wanting to “bigger” so you can hit the next milestone, kind of like
going to Disneyland and not being quite tall enough on the chart that tells
you, “You must be this tall to ride.”

Things kind of even out in the middle of your life. It doesn’t really matter
who is older and who is younger. You all get to do the adult things you
have yearned to do since you were a kid. You find out adulting is not quite
as much fun as you expected it to be, or maybe just in a different way. You
have all of the perks and the responsibilities of being grown up. Your exact
age isn’t really that important for a few decades. (Although I will admit that
I have never passed up a chance to tell people that my sister is older than
I am since I was out of my 20s!)

Then, at some point, age differences become important again, but differently.
Nowadays, my sister is not so happy to be the older sister. I, however, am
pretty excited about being the younger sister. I take every opportunity to
mention it. I even tell waiters, store clerks, and complete strangers. It is part
of my spiel when I introduce her to people I know. I work it into conversations
in social settings. What goes around comes around.

Whatever joy I derive from being younger than my older sister must be
tempered by the knowledge that we are both getting older and less spry.
We have made a pact to take care of each other as we age. We will take turns
helping each other recover from various surgeries and illnesses. She will help
me put my compression stockings on (a job I happen to know she really enjoys!);
I will help her get up out of the recliner. She will help me find my dentures; I will
help her brush her hair. The infirmities of aging come to all of those who remain
alive. I am heartened by the idea that I will be facing that phase of our lives with
my dear older sister.

Whatever our ages, I am so thankful to have her in my life!