Helping Hands

Have you ever noticed that children are extremely apt and ready to help one another when they are in need? They have not yet learned to be cynical and wary of others. They see a need that they can meet and they jump to fulfill it. For instance, if Aiden is at the park and unable, due to size or age, to overcome an obstacle, another child will, perhaps shyly, reach out his hand and offer assistance. I have seen this simple and beautiful gesture time and time again. And when it happens, Aiden will excitedly exclaim, “Mommy, he helped me!” On the other hand, if an older child, who has begun to learn that sense of self-righteousness that we all seem to attain as adults to varying degrees, refuses to help or turns his back, Aiden will look at me confused and almost hurt, not understanding that what is natural to him does not come naturally to everyone.

And it is not just other children that these little ones are prone to help. Their desire does not discriminate by age. Whenever there is something that needs doing, like the dishes or sweeping the floor, cooking supper or carrying groceries, I hear the constant refrain, “Mommy, I wanna help!” I must admit, I sometimes see this eager offer as an annoyance, knowing that his “help” will actually be more of a hinderance. It is sadly ironic that now, while he is extremely willing to help, he is not very capable and when he becomes capable, he might not be so willing. But I know that if I let my annoyance show, I will only aid in the development of his cynicism. So help me he does with undeterred enthusiasm.

As I have said many times before, children sometime make the best teachers. I count myself blessed to learn such wonderful lessons from my son on a regular basis. I am humbled by his simple, unassuming, and poignant nature that seeks out the positive and finds wonder in the smallest of things. And what a lesson this is! If we, as adults, had a fraction of the helpful attitude of children, how much happier would our lives become! Because rather than seeking to serve ourselves most of the time, we would be actively serving others and, in turn, countless people would be serving us, doing far more than we could ever do for ourselves. That is what communities are all about.

Are Your Crutches Disposable?

What is a crutch? It is something that holds us up when we cannot stand on our own. Physically, emotionally, mentally. We all have them. But a crutch can be a good thing or a bad thing. Where the line is drawn is often vague. A simple question to ask ourselves is, do our crutches help us get somewhere we could not otherwise get on our own? If we are able, but unwilling to move forward without them, then they are enabling our weakness. We would be stronger if we could let them go and walk on our own.

My son, at two and a quarter, decided, by himself, to give up his paci because pacis are for babies. This was something that he had leaned on for comfort and calm his entire life. He had never spent a night without one. But, realizing that he was big and strong and didn’t need it for the same reasons any longer, he let it go. Not entirely without struggle, but most things worth attaining do not come without struggle. Similarly, I, after ten years of relying on nicotine for stress relief and relaxation, have learned that I am capable of handling stress in different ways. Better ways that do not harm me physically. And I have let it go. Not perfectly, and again, not without struggle, but I now no longer lean on that crutch for stability.

There are so many things in our daily lives that serve as crutches to help us avoid the pain and struggle of learning to walk alone. Television, alcohol, video games, social networks, you name it. As infants, none of us can walk without a crutch or a prop of some kind until we learn to stand stably on our own two feet. This is true of emotional stability as well, but unfortunately we have many emotional infancies. Moments of rebirth or redefinition that require us to prop ourselves up till we regain our footing. And those props often become so familiar and comfotable that we have a difficult time letting them go and learning to be stable again. And then, sometimes, certain things happen that leave us crippled in such a way that we cannot stand on our own without the aid of something or someone else. And that is okay. Recognizing weakness that cannot be worked through alone is a brave and noble thing. One that we should never be ashamed of. On a recent trip to the zoo, my son saw a crippled man walking with braces because his legs were bent. And, in typical toddler fashion, he loudly exclaimed, “Mommy, what’s that?” Rather than shush him as many parents are apt to do, I told him openly and within earshot of the man that those were crutches that helped the man walk because his legs were hurt and he couldn’t walk on his own. Amazingly, the man smiled and the look in the his eyes could only be described as relief that someone had actually acknowledged him. And I found myself wondering how it must feel to walk through life with no one meeting your eye because they are ashamed to acknowledge your handicap. How often are we ashamed to acknowledge each others weaknesses. To look one another in the eye and affirm, non-verbally, that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

So which are you, the man walking with a cane not because he needs it but because he finds it debonaire while everyone else finds it ridiculous? Or the man who has a handicap he cannot overcome without the help of a crutch, but with which he can accomplish so much?

Compliments or Criticisms?

There is extraordinary power in the words we speak to one another. Be they negative or affirming, they are capable of completely making or breaking a moment, a day, a relationship. This, of course, is more true of some of us than others. I am a word person. I have never taken any of the “love languages” tests, but if I did, I feel fairly confident that ‘words of affirmation’ would be the primary vocabulary in which I speak. (‘Receiving gifts’ would be second, but that’s an entirely different blog post!) My husband, on the other hand, is an ‘acts of service’ kind of guy. He will do whatever needs doing without blinking an eye. He thrives on taking care of me and our son. Need groceries? He will go, after a long day at work, to get them in order to spare me the hassle of going with a toddler. Is there a huge mess after the elaborate supper I just created? He’ll clean it all up while Aiden and I play so that I don’t have to cook and clean. Getting behind on the laundry? He can do it while listening to a podcast (one of his favorite pastimes), so no biggie! I know that I am extremely lucky. Many women would kill for what I have. I recognize these things are a demonstration of love that I would never trade. Unfortunately, they just don’t speak to me as a gesture of affection. Whereas a note left by my coffee in the morning will make my entire day. Or an offhanded remark about my outfit will make me feel sexy for a week. Why is it that such seemingly frivolous things seem to speak so much more loudly to me than practical things that really matter? I think the answer lies in the availability, or lack thereof, of such affirming words. Not just between husbands and wives but in all types of relationships. We as a society are, unfortunatly, not in the practice of lifting one another up – being generally encouraging or even interested in others. And this lact of verbalizing about things we admire, makes the rare compliment seem so unusual and valuable. I want to change this aspect of society. Every time I think something nice about someone else, I want to have the nerve to speak it, knowing it will probably make their day.

We tend to be so much better about doing this naturally with children. “Good job, sweetheart! What a beautiful picture you drew!” And yet, for some reason, we assume that, as adults, we just don’t need encouragement. We’ve all got this thing called life down pat by now, we shouldn’t need someone telling us what a good job we’re doing at it. But even if we don’t need the encouragement to succeed, it sure makes the path so much more rewarding! My husband recently went on a short business trip and when he returned, he seemed to be buzzing for days. When I asked him where all his positive energy was coming from, he said that he had met someone on his trip who was exceptionally good at being interested in and encouraging everyone that he met. And it was sincere and uplifting and inspiring. Why are people like this so rare? Why do we find it so hard to say nice things about and to one another? Shouldn’t this be the norm rather than the exception? I have a friend who taught me to fly a remote control helicopter. I was a natural, if I do say so myself, but I didn’t have to say so myself because he said it to me. As I was leaving, he kissed me on the head and said I did such a good job and that it was rare for someone so new to flying to do so well. Such a small and insignificant thing, but it made me feel good for days. I hope and pray we are training our son well in this aspect of life and relationships. And lately, he’s been complimenting me at such a rate, that I think we are succeeding. The other day as he was bent over for me to wipe his booty, he said, “Oooh, mama, I yuv your bootiful shoes!” I smiled all day. Later that week as I was trying on some clothes at a thrift store, he repeatedly told me, “I yike dat one! Dat one’s nice mama!” And these are not just the cute nothings of a two year old. They mean something! Perhaps we should all take note and learn to praise with the unreserved honesty of a child. If we complimented half as much as we criticized, we’d probably all feel a lot better about ourselves . . . or at least our footwear.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I have just finished reading an extraordinary book entitled, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” I read it for a book club that I lead once a month, but I did not select it. It was chosen by a friend of mine and I must admit, I was sceptical at first. As a matter of fact, I was still sceptical a quarter of the way in, much like one is sceptical of an odd new acquaintance that they just might like to befriend, but they’re not quite sure. Yet the story and the characters so richly developed as I made further progress, that I could not help but be swept away by the poignance, beauty, and humanity that was exhibited in it’s pages. As I began the book, I felt that there was a pervasive cynicism that would be hard to overcome for someone as deliberately optimistic as myself. The two main characters were so isolated in their own minds, that they themselves had a hard time overcoming it. But it was this change from cynicism to hope that gave the book it’s depth. It was utterly beautiful to walk beside, and actually in the very minds of these two women as they learned to believe in humanity and the endless potential hidden in some people that we are fortunate enough to really see and call friends. The story is saturated in philosophy and psychology, which can make it a bit burdensome at times, but also intellectually stimulating and enriching. Because it ends with such a worthy example of what I am trying to accomplish here in my blog, finding beauty in the little thing and using those beautiful moments as building blocks of our happiness, I thought I would share the book with my readers along with my definite stamp of approval.

“In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Renée, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated “super” to avoid suspicion from the building’s pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Renée’s observations and Paloma’s journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together. A critical success in France, the novel may strike a different chord with some readers in the U.S. The plot thins at moments and is supplanted with philosophical discourse on culture, the ruling class, and the injustices done to the poor.”
Review by Heather Paulson found on Amazon.

The Fun Theory

Why is it that most of the things in our lives that we should do feel like chores?  Eating healthy, exercising, recycling, keeping an organized household, doing yard work, maintaining the car . . . the list goes on and on, but I think you get the picture.  As children, simple tasks like unloading the dishwasher were exciting endeavors because we hadn’t done them 8 million times before and they were filled with interesting colors, shapes, textures, and ideas.  The simple act of stacking plastic cups as high as they would go and then watching them tumble before putting them away provided endless entertainment.  Perhaps this is exactly the point.  We as “grown-ups” are too sophisticated to do such silly things as make cup towers before putting them away.  We are much to busy to waste our time on such frivolities.  We have crammed our lives so full we no longer have time to make simple tasks FUN.  And because we don’t take the time to add the ridiculous to the mundane, we find ourselves should-ing our way through life rather than enjoying it.  I was pondering this idea while watching my son pretend to be a ghost as he put away his blanket, when I remembered an ad campaign by Volkswagen that I had seen some time ago which centered around this very concept.  It was called “The Fun Theory”  and its goal was to coax people out of their boxes by taking everyday tasks, injecting them with a healthy dose of fun and seeing how dramatically it improved people’s participation in those activities as well as the quality of their work while doing them.  The results were often remarkable.  Demonstrating that it’s not that people don’t want to do the things they should, it’s just that most of us are bored and under-stimulated.  If we could expand on this idea and start seeking out ways to make ordinary tasks enjoyable, I believe we would all lead much more productive and fulfilling lives.  So lets stop should-ing all over ourselves and start looking for ways to make life more interesting and everyday things more FUN!

Piano Stairs - 66% more people than normal chose the stairs over the escalator!

 

Bottle Bank Arcade - in one evening, this was used by over 100 people, as opposed to the normal 2 or 3

 

Speed Camera Lottery - caused a reduction of speed of 22% in three days!