Hurt People Hurt People

Hurt people hurt people.  People hurt others because they themselves are hurt.  The people who they hurt, hurt others.  It is an endless cycle… unless it is not.  What can stop the cycle?

flockPeople like you and I point fingers at one another saying, “You hurt me!”  The truth is, I did hurt you, whether I meant to or not.  You hurt me, whether you meant to or not.  I am hurt.  You are hurt.  I cannot see your hurt because of my own hurt.  You can’t see mine because of yours.  We are each stuck in our own pain, pointing fingers of blame.  Again, the endless cycle.  What can stop the cycle.

The only choice other than feeling the pain and looking for blame seems to be to just sweep it all under the rug.  Just pretend as if nothing happened.  But it did.  The hurt is real.  The pain is intense.  To ignore it is to direct the rage inward.  Inward where it will eat us alive.  What else can we do?  Am I supposed to just “forgive and forget”?  I can’t forget.  It hurts too bad.   The two choices to a) live in the pain and feel the hurt or b) bury the pain and pretend it is not there both feed the cycle.  But it is all most of us have ever seen… ever!  There must be another way.

Enter Grace stage left…

No, I’m not getting religious.  As much as I have heard grace talked about at church, rarely if ever have I seen it practiced.  I’m not talking about some cosmic thing that you can’t quite put your brain around.  I mean the kind of demonstrated grace we can experience in this life.  It understands we are both in pain and that much of that pain is born from misunderstanding.  The grace I am talking about allows me to listen to you without defense when you are accusing me.  (Ever experienced that?)  In this kind of grace I recognize that I am a pain giver as well as a pain receiver. (Ouch!)   This grace creates a space where you and I can listen to one another for understanding, not to fix the problem and not even to agree!  The kind of grace space I mean is one where you and I can feel both listened to and understood.  Where we are not so concerned with who got the most points or who won.

The world is full of hurt people.  Some of them were hurt by me.  Some by you. I know some of the wounds I have inflicted, but not all of them.  I want to live in a place of grace where I can confess my faults and feel understood.  If there is to be any hope of having a space like that, someone has to start.  Someone must break the cycle.  In that spirit, I want to be one who helps create those kinds of spaces for others.  It has to start somewhere.  Why not here?  Why not now?  It is not an easier way to live, but it is a better way to live.

Publish

When I tell people that I am writing a book, they ask what kind of a book or what it is about.  I don’t have a good answer to that question.  This may sound silly, but right now, I want to write a book so that I can experience what it is like to write a book.  I don’t need it to be wildly successful in the marketplace.  After all, I have a good job.  I don’t need people to love it or to even read it.  I just need to write it.  I do not fully understand why.  I just feel compelled to do it.  One of the reasons I started blogging was to practice writing.  This blog gives me a reason and a place to write.

publishThere is a button on the screen where I write my blog that reads “Publish”.  All I have to do to publish my blog entry is to click that button!  What a great time to live.  In order to publish 1000 years ago, I would have had to manually copy or hire someone to print every individual copy of my manuscript by hand.  Every single printing would have been a manual process!  Just 500 years ago, I could have had it printed by machine, but I’m guessing there weren’t many machines around.  Truth be told, if I were around 500 or 1000 years ago, I probably would have been illiterate and this wouldn’t be an issue.  If I were trying to publish even as recently as 15 years ago, I would have had no choice but to find a publisher who would accept my work and print the books.  With the advent of better and easier blogging software, now I merely click a button and it is published. <clicks safe draft button before losing his work>  Never before in history could I type a few paragraphs and click the Publish button to find my words immediately available to almost anyone anywhere on the planet.

So why do I want to write a book?  What’s it going to be about?  Fiction or Non-fiction?  I don’t know yet.  Blogging is giving me the discipline to do the work of writing.  The hard thing is making the time and doing the work… especially when I am tired. <clicks the Publish button>

A Plum Ending

plumsI’ve got one more thing to say about Plums, then I’ll be quiet (unless I think of something else).  I admit that I went a little overboard with the thanks, but I couldn’t help myself.  You see, I was really worried where Danae would wait for me for five hours while I drove from Charlotte.  I had visions of her at best sitting in an uncomfortable fast food joint and at worst wandering the streets.  When I found out that she was in a safe place, I was able to stop worrying and focus my attention on getting there.  When she told me that Michael offered to wait with her no matter how long it took me to get there, I was beside myself with grattitude.  He treated her kindly and with respect all day long.  What a gentleman!

I have told this story many times this week and many have responded with statements like,  “You just don’t see things like that anymore.”   I do not agree.  I believe that there are many decent people doing nice things for no other reason than to be gracious.  Most of us miss it most of the time.  Don’t get me wrong, Michael is one in a million (and so are the other million).  It doesn’t diminish his kindness at all.  The actual thing we don’t see much of is thanks.  We expect people to treat others with respect.  It’s the way things ought to be.  When someone is disrespectful, we feel angry and rightly so.  But the opposite does not hold true as often.  When we are treated courteously and respectfully, we ignore it or dismiss it.  We don’t say thank you enough.  That’s what’s missing.

I think there are biological roots for why we are not as thankful as we could be.  The book, On Intelligence explains from a logical standpoint how the mind works (intelligence).  In short, the authors explain each of us is constantly “predicting the future”.  We constantly receive sensory information from our eyes and ears and nose… We know what’s going on and we expect things to continue like they always have.  Driving down the road in traffic, we expect the cars to stay in their lanes going the right direction, or change lanes slowly and hopefully with a signal.  If someone darts out or passes us like a bat out of hell, we are startled because we didn’t predict that.  As I write this, the ceiling fan in moving the air about in the room.  Until I stopped to think about it I was unaware of the feeling of the air blowing my bald spot.  I was also unaware of the sound of a plane flying overhead.  My mind was used to these sensations and predicted that they would continue.  Here’s the kicker… When the predictions come true, our minds simply throw the information away.  It is not needed.

As humans, we can intentionally stop and pay attention to details that we would otherwise miss.  A fun exercise in Improv Wisdom is to close your eyes and describe the room you are in in as much detail as possible.  Then open your eyes and see what you missed or what you just got wrong.  Clearly we can override our automatic intelligence systems sometimes, but we cannot do it all the time.  It takes effort.

Back to thankfulness.  We miss the gifts that others give us.  Carl Sagan said, “In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” We are all dependent on the work and gifts from others present and past.  It would be impossible to be completely present and aware of everything that we could possibly be thankful for at any one time. But it is a wonderfully eye opening experience to stop and thank someone for what they did for us… even if it was their job.

My final act of thankfulness to Plums (until I get a chance to visit them) is a letter to the editor of the Bryan County News (click to read online).  Facebook messages are nice, but I’m willing to bet that the owners of Plums didn’t go into business to get nice compliments.  They surely did it as a financial investment.  My sincere hope is that one day soon, they are able look at their financial statements and say, “On June 19th, when we were nice to Jim Anderson’s daughter, everything changed for the better.”

Thank you.

P.S.  I just realized today that the letter to the editor will not remain online forever, so I have captured it here…

Bryan County News (Wednesday, June 23, 2010)

Dear Editor: My daughter’s car broke down at exit 87 on her way to Charlotte, N.C. from Orlando, Fla., on Saturday.

I drove the 5 hours from Charlotte to get her and was worried about where she could wait for me. Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop was where she chose to wait. Michael, the manager, was so very helpful and friendly to her. He even let her stay there after closing time until I could get there!

Since we returned home, my friends have been filling their business’ Facebook page with thanks. As satisfying as that has been, none of us live near Richmond Hill.

The Richmond Hill community needs to know what a jewel they have in Michael at Plums. He went above and beyond.

If Michael had been rude or worse, I would have taken the opportunity to blast the restaurant and the people of Richmond Hill. I want to be just as intentional about shining a light on our positive experience. Would you help me go overboard with lavishing thanks on Michael at Plums?

This was my personal blog entry asking my friends to help… http://jimazing.com/blog/2010/06/a-plum-day/

Thank you,

Jim Anderson

Stirred Part 3 – If Only

free-guyIf only…

When I was a young man, I had all the answers.  In fact, I still have most of the answers, but they changed.  Now I am not so sure of these new answers.  One of the reasons for this lack of surety is because of those very changes.  Why should I think that I would stop and settle on “the truth” as I know it now?  I’m pretty sure I’ll keep “adding to” and “taking from” as long as I am breathing in and out.

Being the father of four teenage daughters at the same time was a challenge.  I envisioned myself as the stoic leader of my family.  the one with the answers and the rules.  Of course, I expected them to believe the truth as I knew it and to live by the same rules that I was trying to live by.  I was mostly unaware of how little they were interested in following those rules. I thought it was a phase and they would eventually come around.  Rules are created to prevent pain, which is a good thing until the rules become the point and we stop feeling pain because we don’t feel anything.  When the kids were living at home with us, I felt the need to be the example for them to follow.  After all, If I broke the rules, how could I possibly expect them to follow the rules?

Now that they are all out on their own, the scales begin to fall from my eyes.  I realize now that I do break the rules and no one knew that better than my daughters.  In 2004, I went to France to play music with LaClef. The group was mostly people my kids’ ages at the time (late teens early twenties).  I kind of became “the dad” on the trip.  I remember hearing their stories and on one occasion in particular, several of them were sharing their painful family stories.  As I listened to them talk about their parents shouting and how it frightened them, I cried with them.  I was angry that anyone could do that to such great kids.  Later when I had some time of prayer and reflection, I thought about the pain they felt and related it to my own pain.  I remembered how I too shouted where my girls could hear.  I remembered one of them coming to me in tears asking if her mom and I were going to get a divorce.  It hurts to write that.  In that moment I realized that I was not only the recipient of pain, I was also the giver of pain.

It is humbling to realize that finger-pointing works both ways.  I want grace for all the dumb things I do.  I want to be let off the hook for my mistakes.  I think the best place to start is by giving grace.  Giving it to others and to myself.  Letting others off the hook and me too.

Over the years, I have always thought it was silly when I heard people say, “If only I could go back and do it over with what I know now.”  It’s goofy to think you could win the lottery or buy Microsoft (even though it makes for a pretty fun movie).  As I step into a new understanding of graceful living,  I find myself wishing for the first time every that I could go back and do some things over.  I wish I had understood grace better and lived it better rather than so much rule giving and following.

A Plum Day

The kindness of a stranger can make the difference between a totally rotten day and a tolerable one with pleasant overtones… A “Plum” Day.

plumsThis morning after mowing the lawn, I was fixing or breaking my edger (depending on whether you consider my intentions or the results) when my phone rang.  Danae was driving to Charlotte from Orlando, FL after a week of Music Therapy training.  When she got to Savannah, GA (well… almost) she stopped for a bite to eat.  When she exited I-95 the engine cut off and wouldn’t restart.  Google and I helped her find a place that would look at it today. She was towed in and the news was not hopeful.  It looks like the timing belt broke, which could be very expensive to fix.

I drove from Charlotte to get her and bring her to our house where her baby girl and dogs were waiting… in fact we are on the road as I type this (Danae is driving). I was very concerned about where she would be for the 4.5 hours it would take me to drive to her.

When the repair shop closed, she walked down the street to a little sandwich shop and made herself at home.  She didn’t know what to expect.  It was, after all, a local place hidden in the back of a little shopping center.  What she found was a gracious store manager named Michael who treated her like royalty all afternoon.

On my way down, I-26 (or as Danae says, “I-twenty-sux) was a parking lot.  I took a longer route around the traffic, which was faster than sitting in it, but slower than I anticipated.  It was clear that I was not going to make it before the restaurant closed at 7:00.

Michael told her not to worry.  Even if he had to close the restaurant for the evening, he would let Danae stay there until I arrived. When I got there around 7:20, Danae was safe and sound and full of terrific stories from her adventure at Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop. Michael was a wonderful host who gave my daughter a safe and pleasant experience in the midst of a pretty horrible day.

I have three little requests for you to consider…

First: I would like to overwhelm Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop with Facebook Fans.  If you are thankful and/or impressed with what they did for Danae, would you go to their page (click here) and click the button to join them?  They had 92 members before me.  Wouldn’t it be cool for their kindness to be the start of a wave of positive attention and new customers for them?  Let’s do it!

Second: Would you share this story with your friends and ask them to become a fan of Plums?

Lastly: If you find yourself traveling south of Savannah in the area called Richmond Hill, please get off I-95 at exit 87, head East on Hwy 17 for a little over a mile.  They are hidden in the shopping center right behind the Verizon store on your right.  Stop in for a sandwich or the best blueberry cheesecake ice cream you ever had.  Tell Michael, “Thanks for watching over Danae and making her day a Plum day.”

See also A Plum Ending

Improv Wisdom

shell-artI picked up, Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Madson in one of the many bookstores in Berkeley last month when we were visiting Erin and Justin.  The title stirred me and a cursory browse of the book showed promise.  I wasn’t mistaken.

Each day I understand better that our value is not tied to what we do or even what we can do.  We all have value because we are.  There’s value in just showing up and being present.  Planning and preparing are important, but they aren’t everything.  I am learning that, while being prepared is invaluable, being present is just as important if not more so.

The section I read today in the book was on rituals.  Being one who loves variety, I have always thought of rituals as ruts, but this book has given me a different perspective.  Rituals can help us get in the groove.  Madson was relating about the rituals she was introduced to in some classes she took.  She says,

At our desks in calligraphy class, we began with the ritual of grinding  the ink.  There is a correct way to hold the ink stick and to move it in small circles in a tiny pool of water on the stone that serves as an inkwell.  The action of making ink became both a physical and mental preparation for the work of learning how to paint Japanese characters and bamboo leaves.

These rituals at the beginning of each session had the effect of creating order and harmony.  We knew what we had to do when we entered the sace.  Cleaning and grinding ink got us into the world of the art without the stress of creation.  There was a calming effect…

My best meetings have been the ones where I not only prepared for the content, but took time to prepare my self to clear out the clutter and be more present.  What a wonderful way to look at rituals as preparation for the art of being present.

Stirred Part 2

Watching my granddaughter, Molly, grow is so incredibly rewarding.  She is constantly learning new things.  Every day she wakes up so full of life.  It’s as if she’s wondering, “What cool things am I going to learn today?” I used to believe that kids learn new things until they become adults.  Then you are are “just a grownup” for the rest of your life.  This was around the same time that I thought grownups could do whatever they wanted. I don’t know about all adults, but it sure hasn’t turned out to be true for me.  Each stirring is another opportunity to learn.

When I feel stirred, it feels like a small voice saying, “Pay attention.  Something cool is going on.”  It is an opportunity to see something new that I never saw before, or something old in a new way… hearing a new sound… smelling a new smell (what did I have for lunch?).  For me, being stirred is learning.  My artist/neighbor/friend says, “To truly live and grow is to always be open to being stirred/ stimulated/ moved, isn’t it?” What does stirring mean for you?

Reading for stirring

america-mapWhen I was younger, I read mostly for information.  I was (and am) a learner. The rule makers I was trying to please said, “Learn the rules and obey them and you will be okay.”  So I studied and listened in order to learn the rules of life.  The better I learned the rules, the better I could recite them and the more I felt like I fit in.  Unfortunately, with my head down, learning and applying the rules, I didn’t see that I was following a map through life that was written by others who were as clueless as I was.  They saw what they saw and no more. Lately I have found myself understanding that most rules are someone else’s ideas about how life works.  They remind me of the ancient maps of the world drawn by people who had a very limited perspective.  Yes, they were invaluable in their day, but really… are you kidding me.  This is North America?

Lately I find that I am reading less for learning and more for stirring.  I want to learn, but to get more perspective, not the right answer.  Don’t get me wrong, I do read to learn, but the ideas the author is trying to convey are less important to me than what her words stir in me. Not because I have all the answers, but because some things I am ready to learn and others… not so much.  The stirrings are a clue to what I’m ready for.  Some of my recent reads have stirred me to irritation.  Even that has value.  I was able to ask myself what I believed and what was this author stirring in me.  That was way more valuable than reading an author I agreed with completely (if that were possible).

Lately, I find that I enjoy two kinds of books.  The first type is books that explain some facet of the way life works in a way that I have never thought of before.  Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Seth Godin’s Linchpin are two that I particularly enjoyed.  I’m reading one now, called Nudge that talks about the kinds of things that influence the thousands of decisions we make every day.  Fascinating stuff.  Not the whole story, but a new perspective.  The other kind of books I find myself gravitating to are biographies.  I got stuck on presidential bios for a while and then got out of that rut by reading a biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops.

I am a little surprised that I like biographies so much for two reasons.  First because, I like surprises. I don’t want to know what is coming next.  With a biography, you already know the ending.  For me, knowing that the story is true and experiencing the depth of the whole person is fascinating and stirring.  I pick a biography because of what the person did.  But when I as I slow down long enough to read the details of his life, he becomes a real person with real difficulties to overcome.  The other reason my interest in biographies surprises me is that I’m not a big fan of history.  I find facts and dates to be overwhelming and boring.  But reading the biography of a historical figure helps me experience history through their eyes.  They become much more than their accomplishments.  That stirs me, and I like being stirred.