Thursday, January 26, 2017

THE VOICE OF AUTHORITY

If there were only one Voice of Authority, life would be a lot simpler. 

Instead, Authority is one of those concepts that varies from person to person. Not only does the definition change, but the spin each of us puts on what Authority says/advises/demands comes out of our own lives and experiences.

I'll start the ball rolling with my own spin--that ought to get your editorial juices flowing.

In my long life I've encountered three distinct types of advice from Authority:

1. Parental Guidance
2. Well-Meaning Advice, or One Size Fits Most
3. Self-Serving Advice

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When I was growing up, it was natural to hear words of wisdom or suggestions about behavior from my parents. The two things I remember most are these:

Mom: Put yourself in the other person's place.
Dad:  Don't get too close to people, you'll only get hurt.

Mom's advice always stayed with me. When I was critical of someone, or their words hurt me, I tried to put myself in that person's place--find out what lay behind the unkindness; and if I couldn't discern it correctly, I looked at several possible reasons. I still do that to this day, and I find it makes my life a happier place to inhabit.

Dad's advice has, alas, also stayed with me. It isn't quite the antithesis of Mom's advice, but it definitely puts a barrier between me and others. What I've learned on my own is that I'm always going to get hurt--by someone, by something, by matters outside my control. The getting hurt part isn't the issue; what I do with the hurt, or about it, is.

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A kid hears lots of advice--besides parents, there are extended family members (older siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), neighbors, friends of the family who feel they have a right to tell a kid what to do or not do. 

I call this kind of advice "One Size Fits Most." Examples: Work hard. Practice. Do your best. (And to little girls, Act like a lady.) Always be on time. Think of others. 

Now I'm not against working for one's goals, practicing the oboe/soccer/knitting/cursive writing, or doing one's best. They're all positive actions. Sometimes, though, those pieces of advice come at a time when a young person is vulnerable--tries too hard; breaks down; wears out too soon. And let's face it--sometimes we just can't be on time, or thinking of others means neglecting the self we're given that needs nourishing to be a positive force in the world.

As for acting like a lady--my all-time favorite coffee mug reads: "Well-Behaved Women Don't Make History." Enough said.

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Self-Serving advice was another Voice from childhood. It said, Behave. Be quiet; speak only if you're spoken to. Don't go any place you'll be embarrassed to be seen.

Lots of negatives in that short and un-sweet list. Not bad advice, per se, but look at the emphasis: Each one isn't about what might happen to me, the advisee, but about what reflects back on the advisor. Hmm.

The same messages can be turned into positive statements. Or, they can be the springboards for a discussion with the young person.

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My last type of advice: Advice to Self. Or, Learning from Our Experiences.

We encounter all types of messages from others: positive, negative; practical, impractical. What we seize on comes out of our leaning--our own way of dealing with the world--and is likely based on our experiences.

My Note to Self: Beware of giving Unasked-for Advice! (There's already plenty of that around.)







Thursday, January 19, 2017

JANUARY - BIRTHDAY MONTH

My birthday is in January. So is our church secretary's, our priest's, and half a dozen (or more) members of our parish. Plus another five people in my family.

Yesterday we had a surprise cake-and-ice-cream mini party at the church after a noon service--this was to celebrate the secretary's and the priest's birthdays. Then someone asked me when mine is--or was--and I admitted it's coming up in another four or five days.

Some people said, "I never celebrate my birthday." I wondered why not . . . do they not want to recognize that another year has passed? Does the number of their age cause them distress? 

I actually like having a birthday. It reminds me that I'm alive. That I was born into a large extended family, some of whom are still living and with whom I have contact from time to time.

Yes, I like having a birthday. But then, I also liked spinach when I was a kid, and school, and reading all the time. Maybe I'm not a good example in the question of liking birthdays.

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What strikes me about birthdays is the subject of identity. Who am I? Where did I come from? Who were my family? 

The trouble with those questions is: They're all about "I." In the 50s we called that navel-gazing, an image that succinctly defines narcissism.

Try it this way: Who do other people say I am?

This question occurred to me when I read my morning devotions yesterday. Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do people say I am?" The Rev. Sallie Schisler, an Episcopalian priest, elaborates:

"No computer program, social networking algorithm, or guessing game reveals the true nature of anyone. We learn about ourselves and others through relationships . . . . This is true for all of us. We reveal ourselves to one another through time spent together at meals, on mission trips, working on projects that matter to us. We learn about one another through shared work, laughter, and tears. There is no shortcut to being truly known."

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In the small photos scattered throughout this post, you'll see a few members of my family.





Here are my mother and father and me. (I'm in the middle, of course; aren't we all the center of our own universe?)

My mother is about 25 in her picture. My father is 50. I am in first grade, 6 going on 7.

My identity is directly connected to these two people, my parents. They were hard-working people, always busy; had high standards for themselves as well as for others. The phrase, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well," may not have been spoken, but the message was lived out every single day by my parents.

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These photos show two of my favorite aunts--my mother's youngest sister, Virginia, on the left; and Sara, the sister next oldest to my mother, on the right (with my mom).

Aunt Virginia was always somewhat serious, more philosophical than her five sisters, but she had a great sense of humor. I felt closer to her than any of the others--maybe because she had no little girls of her own, only two little boys. Because she was the youngest of the ten children, she lived into the early years of this century.

Aunt Sara was a schoolteacher. She taught eight grades in a one-room country school for many years; it was an elegant brick building, and in memory it has long windows to let in sunlight, and shiny wood floors, and a little room with shelves for books. My mother and I often visited Aunt Sara; I loved going to her house because she had a piano and I could pick out tunes I knew.

These two women helped make me who I am today--Aunt Virginia always had time for me, was never impatient. From her I learned it's all right to be quiet. Aunt Sara encouraged my love of reading and bought me books for Christmas or birthday gifts. From her I learned education is important for everyone, and it's all right to do well in school.

I have no photographs of my far-back ancestors, but family stories from both sides reveal great-grandparents in Germany, France, The Netherlands, and all of Great Britain. These people I never knew are--literally--part of who I am today. 

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Who am I? Depends on who you talk to--what relationship I had with the person you ask--how reliable their memory is--whether they liked me, tolerated me, had little time for me.

Fortunately, my well-being doesn't depend on everyone else's opinion of me. (And that was a long, hard lesson to learn. Trust me.)

The main thing to remember is this: My identity--your identity--anyone's identity isn't static. Who I am, who you are, in any one moment is, well, momentary. We're always a work in progress. 

I find that exciting.



The beat goes on . . . .


Thursday, January 12, 2017

IN REVIEW . . .


Years ago when I worked in an office, we had annual reviews. These were scheduled around the anniversary of the employee’s hire date.

The review process was simple. The senior partner of the firm, the supervisor of the employee, and the employee met in a conference room. The senior partner had a folder of employee information. The supervisor had an encouraging smile, clearly didn’t need notes. The employee wore a deer-in-headlights look.

The interview went something like this:

“How are things going?”

“How are you getting along with _____?” (This was a project, not a person.)

And then the biggie: “Tell us one good thing and one bad thing about your job.”

When I’d been in the employee’s chair, that was stomach-clenching time. Who wants to say something bad about the job?

The point, however, was not to pin the worker to the wall with criticism dribbling from her (usually a her) lips. It was to give her a chance to air a problem her bosses might now know about, and help her recognize what she did like about her work.

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The past two weeks have been unusual, in my view. I’ve heard a lot of people saying, almost in the same words, “Boy, am I glad 2016 is over!” From the tone of voice, the review process was clearly all about the bad things.

Now I’m not thrilled with some of the stuff that happened in the year gone by. And I didn’t even have sad news or horrible events to deal with, so maybe mine is a jaundiced view. 

There were a number of good things—my sewing group delivered over 300 items to the regional hospital’s NICU (only four women did the sewing); my newest great-grandson is gaining weight and smiling and generally behaving like a baby who met the world at regular birth weight instead of 13 weeks early; my oldest daughter graduated from Arizona State University with her Ph.D.; my son bought a second business to coordinate with his lock and safe company; another daughter is the proud grandmother of the new great-grandson, among the many hats she wears; my youngest started her own homeopathy practice. I got to see most of my kids at one time or another during the year. I heard from friends who couldn’t make it to Indiana for Christmas. My health problems are no worse and some are better now with a different medication.

Let me say right here: I’m not a Pollyanna (in the commonly accepted sense of that word—more on that later). Yes, I try to look for good in most situations. Sometimes that’s difficult. But I believe in hope, and keeping faith, and praying for better times for folks who need relief. (Lots of them out there--just scan the headlines in the news.)


So, 2016 is over. 2017 is installed and operating. Will it be better? Possibly worse? We’ll review it about 365 days from now.

I'm convinced each one of us can make 2017 better--even a little teeny tiny bit better--just by focusing on good things. If we put our energy to positive use, who knows what might happen? 

And the one bad thing? Well, if we limit ourselves to one, then we have something to work on.

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Yesterday I put the next-to-last Christmas gift in the mail to one of my great-granddaughters. It was one of my favorite gifts to give—a stack of books and a “reading pillow,” an oversize travel pillow with a cover made in batiks of her favorite colors.

Today I’ll start the quilting process for the last (bed size) quilt for a great-grandson.

In a few days, after my eyes and hands and shoulders have recovered, I’ll look at sewing projects waiting for my attention. The piles of fabrics—some cut out, some still just an idea—are colorful reminders of why I like making things out of cloth.

Recently I took instruction to be a Lay Eucharistic Minister in my church. We serve communion and are given permission to take the communion elements to shut-ins. This is a new path for me.

And—I’ve accepted a challenge to read 50 books this year! Liz Flaherty featured it in her recent blog post, and it was mentioned by CurtissAnn Matlock and before her, Deborah Chester. Apparently I don’t get a prize for reading those 50 books, or an award or certificate, or even another book . . . . But still—50 books! That’s only one per week, and I intend to count any rereads (can’t get through a year without reading some of my favorite authors who are, alas, no longer writing). Mainly, though, I’m going to search for new authors or new books by authors I know. Grow a little. Stretch my mental wings. (How's that for an image?)

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This may be the year I finish a novel that's been languishing in its computer file for, uh, quite a while now. It’s about two-thirds finished.

This may be the year I travel a little more—Minnesota to visit my youngest daughter, or Arizona to see the newest Dr. Palmer.

This may be a year with surprises! If they’re good ones, I love ‘em. It’s the ones that bowl me over that I dread. But—we take what comes.

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Hope your new year is bubbling up with new ideas, new projects, new adventures. And with hope for a better world/life/attitude. I'm taking that challenge also. We’ll check in next January to see how it went. I better take notes!



Thursday, January 5, 2017

TAKING A DAY OFF


Thursday's Child is taking a day off--which means a week off--to catch up with herself.

Hope you're either enjoying the winter weather, or taking care of yourself if you've succumbed to cold/flu/the blahs.

We'll be back next week with a regular essay. In the meantime, celebrate life!

And while you're celebrating, here are four words for you. Add them to your life: