Good Samaritan

Earlier this week, I got to hear a thoughtful speaker, Dr. Richard Weissbourd–Harvard Education School professor and author– talk about how to raise caring, ethical and happy children.  His point was that we are so focused as parents today on our kids’ happiness, that it’s often at the expense of other people.  In addition, we are focusing so much on our kids’ high achievement, that it crowds out the time or energy it takes to care about a friend or family member or a stranger in need of our help.  Dr. Weissbourd described a poll in which teenagers from various schools were asked to rank how important happiness vs. high achievement vs. caring for others was.  Most of the students ranked high achievement first and happiness second.  Most of the rest of the students ranked happiness first and then high achievement second.  Very few put caring first, because the assumption is that caring for others doesn’t get you into an Ivy League school, or a corner office on Wall Street.

I think about the famous study done at the Princeton Theological Seminary in which divinity students on the way to an exam on the Good Samaritan encountered a fake Good Samaritan scenario, in which a person had slumped over and needed their help.  The question of the experiment was how many students, in a rush to get to their exam, would stop and be a good samaritan?  The results were astounding.  60% didn’t bother to stop, even though they were on their way to preach about being a Good Samaritan.  (http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/darley_samarit.html)

Georgia O’Keefe was quoted as saying, “Nobody sees a flower really.  It is so small, it takes time.  We haven’t time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”  This time of year in Boston all the tulips are up and unfolding in shades of yellow and red and orange.  But how many people really see them?  Taking the time to really see a flower or notice someone in need is hard to do in our rushed, achievement-driven society.  But it is, in fact, the key to being happy, since being present allows us to really experience our lives and to make a difference.

To find your voice and claim your world stage, it starts by noticing the flowers that are blooming and the people around you who need you.  The more attentive we are to the larger world, the easier it will be to discover how our unique talents will inspire and elevate the world.  This week, really look inside a tulip.  You’ll be amazed at what you see.

 

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No Excuses

If you listen closely, you will find that lots of us make excuses for ourselves all the time.  People says things like, “I’m not good at keeping in touch with friends” or “I’m not good at exercising” or “I’m not good at saving money,” when the reality is that they just don’t make it a priority.  Anyone can stay in touch with friends, or go for a walk, or cut back on discretionary spending. (After all, nobody forced us to buy that latte!)  But we don’t do it and come up with excuses to justify it instead of telling the truth, which is that we do the things that are important to us.  What would happen if we changed our language to say, “I don’t want to exercise” or “I don’t want to work to keep in touch with friends” or “I don’t feel like saving because spending is more fun?”

If we aren’t doing them, then they aren’t important to us.  So if you’re not learning Chinese or becoming a better potter, maybe that’s because it’s not important to you.  But what if they are important?  What if what you’re really saying is, “It’s important to me but it’s too hard to do, so I’m not going to do it.” What then?

Tony Robbins is famous for having asked this question to his audiences:  “How long would you give your average baby to walk?” He gives suggestions, such as a month, a few months, up to a year.  His audience always responds with, “Are you kidding?  There’s no time limit.  My baby is going to learn to walk no matter how hard it is and how long it takes.”  And then Tony’s response is “Interesting.”

What if we came up with excuses as to why our baby wasn’t going to walk?  Would we have a human race in which 99% learn to walk?  What if we let go of our excuses and realized that the most important things are often the hardest, but in doing them, they are usually the most worthwhile?  How about being married 50 years?  Or raising great kids?  Or starting a company?  How many of those are easy to do or have guaranteed results?

To step onto your world stage, you must let go of excuses and know that you will learn to walk metaphorically, and that the world is waiting for your next steps.  So next time you catch yourself saying that you’re not good at something, either accept that it doesn’t matter to you or realize that it does and make a commitment to do something about it today.

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Simplify

Our lives have gotten so complicated these days, with the constant demands of social media and email.  Is it any wonder that we are feeling stressed by the onslaught?  The fact is, we were not designed to handle this level of input.  Professor Theodore Roszak, famously quoted:  “A weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information  than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England.” Even though we have access to more education today than a few hundred years ago, the quote is chilling.  How can we not be distracted by all the demands in our lives? I often wonder how much geniuses like Mozart would have accomplished if they were constantly distracted by texting.  How many plays would Shakespeare have written if he had spent a few hours every night catching up on Facebook?

Henry David Thoreau, even in the 1840’s, felt that he needed to simplify and get away from the hustle of Concord so that he could think and write. It did help that Thoreau did not have to do a lot of chores, since he regularly walked into town for dinner and conversation with friends (he was not in fact a hermit) and that his mother did his laundry!  (One way to simplify definitely is to delegate chores to others if possible.)  But he realized how important it is to slow down, spend more time in nature, and have time to reflect on one’s life: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

How many of us are so scheduled that we are doing a lot but not really living?  The fact is that our in boxes will still be full someday when we die.  Do you really want people to remember you for how much you jammed into a day? All of us want meaning in our lives and yet, in the day-to-day hustle, it’s easy to forget.

In order to clear the path to your ideal life, one important step is to build in time for silence and reflection, even if it’s just a few minutes per day.  Make time to be outside, to play with your kids, to do something creative.  These are the moments you will remember, not plowing through your to do list.  Every day, ask yourself, “What can I let go of?  What doesn’t really matter to me?” Doing this clears a path to what does matter.

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Make Lemonade

I had a client once who had been sexually abused for years by her stepfather, and even when she finally told her mother years later, her mom refused to believe her.  And yet, my client was one of the happiest people I’d ever met.  She felt grateful for having survived and felt that she had the ability to choose to be happy and create a life that she loved, in spite of her past.

In contrast, I spoke recently with a friend who had been out of work for over a year. He had once made great money in business, but left it over 10 years ago to pursue the arts, which hadn’t made him much money, and now his savings were almost gone.  “I might as well work in business again, but no one wants to hire me.  It must be ageism since I’m 50.”  I tried to gently remind him that he hadn’t been in the business world for almost a decade and that employers weren’t necessarily eager to hire him unless he showed new skills that were relevant today.  My friend responded with, “The economy collapsed, which is why I can’t find a job.  It’s not my fault.”

We tend to live in a victim-filled world, with lots of blame, finger pointing, and law suits.  How often do we hear people say, “It’s my fault.  I take full responsibility for it?”  Take Enron and the various oil spills over the last few decades for example.  We complain about our lives, instead of focusing on what we can do to create a life that we love.  It is true that life can be difficult and none of us is immune to hardship. Viktor Frankl, in his famous book, Man’s Search For Meaning, wrote about the horrific experience of being in a concentration camp, where everything had been taken away from the prisoners.  And yet Frankl wrote, they still had the freedom to control their attitude.  And that realization set him free.

In order to claim your world stage, it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and choices. There’s a lot we can’t control in life, but we can control our thoughts and words and attitude.  And doing so might just set us free as well.

This week, think about a struggle in your life that you could spin as a positive one in some way.  For every lemon in your life, think about how you can turn it into lemonade.  And if you can’t turn it into lemonade, maybe you can at least embrace the lemons you have.

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Play Big

I was attending a middle school presentation last night at my son’s school.  All the presentations by the middle school teachers were great, but I noticed that the women presenters tended to apologize either in words or body language.  One apologized for talking behind the podium, since she said she “wasn’t a podium kind of person,” even though all the speakers used the podium. Then she went on to give a riveting speech about learning and adolescence.  The other had a quiet little voice and made sure that she didn’t take up too much space on the podium, even though she was the focus of our attention.  Both women are very bright, talented professionals, and yet clearly on some level they were letting themselves play small.

When I lived in New York City after college, I rode the subway a lot to and from my job and navigated the crowded commuter trains.  What I’ll never forget is how many women took up half a seat or didn’t even claim an empty seat that opened up, whereas the men often took two seats and grabbed the free seats.  The men would really spread out in their seats too, with their legs spread apart and their hands crossed behind their heads with elbows out.  There’s now a term for it– Manspreading– because it’s still a huge problem.  But why aren’t women claiming their space?

Marianne Williamson, a spiritual writer and speaker, wrote once, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”  She goes on to write that we often think, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?  Actually who are you not to be?” How many of us apologize for ourselves because we’re afraid that if we shine too brightly, we might overshadow someone else.  What would happen if we really did let ourselves shine?

As you contemplate stepping onto your world stage, remember that a stage can only really light up if the people on it allow themselves to shine.  And it’s when we shine that we allow others to see their brilliance.

Notice when you want to play small and try this week to play big.

 

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