I have told my friend and fellow writer, Susan, several times that I thought it was possible to find just the right words for almost any situation in life in the pages of Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice, even though it was written about two hundred years ago. Let's give it a try . . .
When an older woman is spending too much time and effort on her own looks, possibly trying to look much younger than she is, you might say (as Mrs. Bennet did to her husband), "When a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty." Someone else might follow that up (as Mr. Bennet did) with, "In such cases, a woman has often not much beauty to think of."
When despairing over the empty-headedness of a particular group of teenage girls, you might observe along with Mr. Bennet, although hopefully not about your own children, "They have none of them much to recommend them. They are all silly and ignorant like other girls."
When remarking upon how foolish, uninformed, and grouchy a certain female acquaintance is, you might justifiably comment, "She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper."
Not to be sexist, you could describe a particularly arrogant gentleman in this way: ". . . he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there is no enduring him!"
And in commenting on the reason for your dislike of human beings in general, you might swear, "The insipidity and yet the noise; the nothingness and yet the self-importance of all these people!"
When extolling the virtues of a short courtship, you might remark, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life."
Perhaps you share this view of the dangers of too much feminine togetherness: ". . . For a whole day's tete-á-tete between two women can never end without a quarrel."
Are you one whose guiding rule is moderation? Or perhaps you are something of a couch potato? You can explain to others that you totally agree with Mary Bennet's philosophy: ". . . every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required."
Well, what do you think? I only had to consult the first seven of the 61 chapters in Jane Austen's opus to find these gems of wit and wisdom. I daresay I could address every eventuality of life if I continued to search through the rest of the book!
Thursday, July 23, 2015
- the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.
There is so much happening in America right now that my heart and head cannot fully comprehend. There are people hurting and disillusioned on every side of a dozen different issues plaguing our country. The thing that saddens me most is no side seems to notice. No one is listening to anyone whose voice or message differs from his or her own. We are slowly being conditioned to hate one another for any number of "reasons". The media is sensationalizing everything. The politicians are trying to use every challenge to bolster their own agenda or discredit opponents. Tensions are high, and trust is low. Everybody has an opinion on what’s wrong with everyone else. I feel as though I am trapped in a dystopian novel. This has to be The Matrix. Frankly, I am tired and I have not even been "in the fight" like many people. I’m frustrated with humanity. I know I should be engaged with others, but my mind is a whirlwind of exasperation and disappointment. If I did know what I want to say, I am not sure who will listen. Some days the ache in my heart subsides a bit, then I log onto the internet. The battle rages anew as I stumble onto an article, news story or campaign by my social media contacts. There are some really egregious events and appalling attitudes circulating out there, and I am overwhelmed. I am despondent, angry, shocked. I’m frustrated with humanity, but my idealistic heart won’t let me camp out in despair. I must hold onto hope.
I just want people to love one another. I want everyone to stop bickering and pandering and proselytizing. I want everyone to stop staring and gawking and to start seeing. When my friends are enduring something hard, I like to look directly into their eyes as I check up on them. In their eyes I can often see what they may be feeling despite the words they say. I find my own compassion, understanding and humanity in their eyes. When looking into the windows of another’s soul, I can more easily resist the urge to judge their story. I don’t simply hear their words, I feel with them. I can see the person, not my opinions and beliefs. I see people who also have fears, hurts, hopes and drives. I see them for more than what I think I know about them. By seeing my friends, I know them better. And this works for friend and foe alike. Abraham Lincoln was known to have said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to get to know him better.” Oh, if more of us would practice such wisdom today. By knowing one better, I can offer grace and empathy, even if we don’t see eye to eye on genuinely important matters.
The thing that is most important is the human being standing in front of me (or on the other side of the screen) who deserves to be heard and understood. Even if I don’t agree. It is so cliche, but seeing people affords us the opportunity to walk in one another’s shoes. Seek first to understand, then to be understood is a principle of successful leaders for a reason; it works. And if we all can do those two things, the harder it is to demonize or demoralize each other. It is less likely we will throw stones or minimize one another’s lived experiences.
If I really look to see people, then I cannot run away and hide as I have wanted to do over the last several weeks. I have to stay and fight for humanity- mine and "theirs".
Thursday, July 16, 2015
My friend Estela used to tell me: Déjate querer, which in English means “let yourself be loved”. She would say it when I would refuse her offer of help, while carrying a baby in one arm, stirring the pot with the other hand and holding the phone between my shoulder and ear. What she meant by it was: “Let others show you their love by being of service to you. Yes, we all know you can do a lot all by yourself, but let us feel like we can be productive and helpful too.”
Estela had other wise words. As a matter of fact, I have had the blessing of knowing many wise people who have left me with words and thoughts that I use often in my own life and share with others. Here is a sample of the wisdom I have collected so far:
1. On good mothering: One afternoon at around 6:00 pm I finished a batch of chocolate chip cookies and offered them to the children gathered at my house for a play date. When I realized how close to dinnertime it was, I apologized to the other moms and said: “What kind of a mother serves cookies to children right before dinner?” Estela said: “Children need happy mothers, not perfect ones.” I wish I could go back and be a happier mother! Now that my children are grown, I realize that no amount of mess and disorder is worth making a fuss over. I wish I had asked myself what legacy I wanted to leave: happiness or an organized sock drawer.
2. On having tough conversations: My father used to say: “It’s best to turn red once than to pale over and over.” In other words, it’s better to tell people the unpleasant truth and get it over with than get a knot in your stomach every time the subject comes up.
3. On dealing with tantrums: My mother believes that some people need to be told to just cut it out when they are having a melt down, while others are really asking for a hug. And this is not only for two year olds. It is not a sign of weakness to just hold a person and sympathize with their inability to deal with the current frustration. There will be plenty of time for reflection and guidance when the storm has passed.
4. On judging character: My friend Andrea says: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” Good advice for when you are blinded by love. Seeing the good in people doesn’t mean you ignore the fact that we are all battling with some flaw in our character.
5. On the passage of time: My other friend Carolyn likes to say that time passes whether you sign up for that four year graduate program or not, so you might as well do it. Four years ago seems like yesterday sometimes. Imagine if we had done all the things we wanted to do but put them off because they seemed to take such a long time.
My favorite words comes not from a person I know but from a character in a movie. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the character Sonny likes to say: “Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end.”
What are your favorite words of wisdom? Share them, so I can add them to my collection.