Election Countdown: 21 Alternatives to Angst and Fury

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.” –Jonathan Swift, 1738

“There are none so blind as those who will not see that the faults of my candidate of choice pale in comparison to those of yours, and that your political party is corruption incarnate, and that a vote for your candidate is a vote for evil, and that no valid reason—not even one—exists to support your candidate.” –Facebook (et al), 2016

Twenty-one days remain until the U.S. Presidential election. Without diminishing the importance of voting or of thoughtful discourse beforehand, these are not the only avenues of change around these parts. A recent bit of well-articulated wisdom (erroneously attributed to C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters) points out that arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people we have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control.

True.

I tell my kids not to worry about other people’s faults, but let’s face it: dwelling on others’ shortcomings is much more satisfying than confronting my own. Another bit of wisdom (rightfully attributed to C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters), notes that we can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about ourselves that are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with us or worked in the same office.

What does advancing in personal virtue, character, and things we can control look like? Those who have ever lived in the same house or worked in the same office with me would probably be glad to sum up what this would look like for me specifically. Maybe I’ll gather the courage to ask them sometime, but meanwhile, here are 21 ideas that would be good companions to anyone’s political positions.

Anyone care to join me in tackling some of these?

  1. Donate food to a food pantry. Here’s a list of what is most useful.
  2. Forgive someone.
  3. Let your encouraging words and compliments outweigh your criticisms.
  4. Send a gas card to someone who travels regularly to doctor’s appointments and hospital visits.
  5. Help a foster family. (Yes, they receive reimbursement rates; no, these rates do not cover the expenses they incur.) Donate your kids’ outgrown clothes to a foster-care closet; bring the family a meal; babysit; invite the kids along with your family on an outing.
  6. Pay for an extracurricular activity for a kid who cannot afford one.
  7. Describe one positive trait of someone who is not your favorite person. Maybe describe three.
  8. Contribute to an ESL class: volunteer, provide transportation, donate books, bring supper.
  9. Be kinder than usual, one situation at a time.
  10. Be more patient than usual, one situation at a time.
  11. Give up your need to be right, one situation at a time.
  12. Be gentler than necessary, one situation at a time, even when you believe you have the right to be harsh. Especially when you believe you have the right to be harsh.
  13. Identify someone who does more than his or her share. Do something nice anonymously for that person.
  14. Write a note of appreciation to someone who is often taken for granted.
  15. Squelch gossip. Don’t start it, and don’t pass it on. Be slow to believe it. Challenge it when you hear it.
  16. Ponder a promise you’ve not yet kept. Fulfill that promise.
  17. If there’s something (recent or otherwise) for which you should apologize, do so.
  18. Rid yourself of sarcasm. (Sarcasm comes from the Greek word sarkazein, which literally means “to tear flesh like a dog.” Ouch.)
  19. Grant children the same basic dignity and respect that you grant adults.
  20. Give practical help to a single mother who chose to give birth despite challenges.
  21. Make a list of everyone who has helped you tug yourself up by your bootstraps. Include those who taught you what you have come to consider to be common knowledge and skills. Be thankful for these people. Tell them you are thankful.

Vote? Absolutely. Discuss the candidates and election process? Of course. But don’t limit yourself to those things.

“The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.”  Frederick Buechner

What would you add to this list?

 

 

 

 

 

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Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way, Parenting Edition

Recently Ace offered up a useful piece of advice: “If you ever pick up a toad and it seems extra squishy, be careful, because that means it’s about to pee on you. I had to learn this the hard way.”

When Sonny nodded sympathetically, Ace asked him if he’d ever had to learn anything the hard way. He had. Specifically: “When you are really tired and your eye is bleeding, don’t ride your bike, because you will crash it.”

(It’s good to learn from others’ mistakes, so everyone take heed.)

My sons wanted to know what sorts of things I’d learned the hard way. I paused, wanting to select the most useful example among so many. It’s best to tell the truth the first time? People who gossip to you will also gossip about you? Do what is right despite what other people think? You can’t pull words back in once you’ve unleashed them?

While I considered, Sonny and Ace wandered away. Perhaps they’d already learned the hard way that my particular expression was a portent of a boring tale.

But now I was thinking about things I’d learned the hard way during my eight-plus years of parenting, and of the many more that will come. Some plant deep regrets. Others may not be as harsh, but they’re still worth tucking away so as not to have to learn them a second time. Here are but a few of those:

  1. Parenting books never include enough disclaimers and may tempt the reader to take false hope in particular formulas.
  2. Never let your vehicle to be without something that can serve as an emergency barf bucket.
  3. The child who is seemingly talking to himself in the living room for 15 minutes may in fact be talking to a toad. (May it not be an extra-squishy one.)
  4. Telling your kids that your name is not But Mom will send them to the floor in homophone-induced hilarity. Also, they will still call you But Mom but now will probably laugh while doing so.
  5. To mention that the entire household has remained exceptionally healthy this winter is to invite trouble.
  6. The kid crafting the paper airplane from the church bulletin may suddenly launch it over the heads of fellow congregants, even if he has always previously kept these airplanes grounded.
  7. Not all root beer is caffeine free.
  8. The longer you wait to respond to the Sign-Up Genius for the school event, the more likely it is that you will end up providing chocolate spoons or cheesecake on a stick instead of ketchup or paper plates.
  9. It’s unwise to take one child to urgent care with strep-throat symptoms early on a Sunday without confirming that his brother, who is still abed, does not have similar symptoms. Making two back-to-back trips to urgent care feels very inefficient.
  10. If you get pulled over for going a wee bit over the speed limit with a three-year-old in the back seat, that three-year-old will proudly and with great relish rat you out to everyone he sees for the next two weeks.
  11. Failure to warn your kids from the get-go that the Tooth Fairy keeps an erratic schedule may require you to scrape up early-morning excuses for her unpunctuality.
  12. Despite best efforts, sometimes the hard way is the only way to learn.

What have you learned the hard way?

Weird Things I Once Believed

When I was very young I thought that the tails side of a penny featured the trolley from the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

tailpenny     rogerstrolley_437x220

When I was very young I thought that monkeys imprisoned in off-site towers operated the traffic lights. Someone had to control them, after all, and flipping switches at set intervals all day, every day would be too boring of a job for people, so: monkeys. Obviously.

When I was very young I thought that a bear lived in the cedar closet at the bottom of our staircase. My dad asked me once why I always ran up the stairs instead of walked. “I don’t know,” I answered, but I was thinking, “Well, because of the bear. Obviously.”

When I was very young I thought that old folks were wrinkled because everyone grows an additional layer of skin every year. Can eighty layers of skin lie smooth? Of course not. They naturally bunch up, creating wrinkles.

When I was young I thought that quicksand was an omnipresent danger. Every sand pile and patch of dirt was suspect. Keep to the sidewalk everybody, lest you sink helplessly into the ground!

When I was young I thought that nothing of inferior literary quality could be published. When I’d try to read a stilted or plotless book, I’d slow down or re-read parts, searching for hidden meaning or cleverly understated character development. Surely I must be missing something, because nobody would publish a poorly-written book. (Right?)

When I was young I thought that adults could be trusted to have kids’ best interests at heart. And that adults were never petty. And that adults always knew exactly what to do.

When I was young I thought that the sovereignty inherent in adulthood (the freedom to choose what to eat, for example, or to rent unlimited VHS tapes from Blockbuster, or to skip one’s chores if one felt like it) would eclipse any day-to-day adult hardships—assuming such hardships even existed.

I once thought that any baby could be easily trained to sleep through the night. (Certain books really ought to come with disclaimers; that’s all I have to say about that.)

I once thought that any child whose whining was not accommodated would quickly cease to whine. (I know, I know. Go ahead—point and laugh!)

I once thought that only someone who had been sappy since birth would tear up at her child singing “Away in a Manger” at the Christmas program, or bounding into school on his first day, or offering her a dandelion or tulip head picked “just for you, Mommy!”

And I once thought that I would be upset if my child beheaded the only surviving tulip in the yard.

As it turns out, I’ve often been wrong. And I still am. I still find myself on the trolley headed toward the Neighborhood of Make Believe once in a while. (The trolley that, in case you are wondering, I realize is not the subject of a penny’s tail.) To wit:

Expecting that late-onset elegance will wash over me any day now.

Believing that it’s okay to pass judgment on others.

Supposing that one of these days, my house will become perfectly (or even mostly) organized.

Thinking that extra patience will descend on me so that, with no effort on my own part, I will always speak calmly to Sonny and Ace.

Presuming that lecturing and nagging my kids will in any way be fruitful. (Doesn’t everyone just love to be lectured?)

Assuming that there will always be some other day for me to let people dear to me know how much I care about them.

I’ve come a long way since fearing a bear in the cedar closet, but I guess I still believe some pretty weird things.

What weird things have you believed?

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

My dad has two sayings related to possessions.

The first: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” This one is nice in theory, but I’ve never been able to achieve anything loftier than “A place for most things, and most things in their place a lot of the time.” (I should probably mention that in order to cast a more favorable light on my habits, I’m conveniently including items such as the couch and refrigerator, which obligingly remain in their places at all times, in the tally of “most things”.)

The second saying: “Whatever you own owns you.” Dad would offer up this one up whenever we suggested getting a horse, for example, or buying our own camper instead of renting one. Or installing a pool. It seemed that horses, campers, and pools all demand a lot of work and time. If we acquired these things, they would own us. We’d labor on their behalf; we would be their slave. Their slave!

This second piece of wisdom works better for me. Its truth looms large whenever we’re faced with a home repair or car problem. And recently I spent several hours in the basement, rearranging the storage area and trying to determine which items were worth saving after a water leak had dampened them. “Whatever you own owns you,” a voice in my head mentioned. Yes, it was true. I was sweating over stuff we seldom or never used. This stuff owned me—or at least it had retained me for the afternoon.

In that moment, new motivation dawned for spring cleaning. Humming “You Don’t Own Me,” I surveyed the house and pondered which possessions were worth even moments of my service to them.

Old magazines? No.

This tower of rags? A few, yes; the rest, no.

The paint left behind by the previous homeowners? No.

The pipe-cleaner and bead necklace that Ace made for me? Yes.

The bundt pan? No.

The springform pan? Yes. Cheesecake, you know.

This shrieky little toy from a long-ago kids’ meal? Obviously a rhetorical question.

The note that Sonny wrote me in church last week? Yes.

The malfunctioning camera that could possibly be repaired? No.

The Hunger Walk shirt that I haven’t worn in years, even for yard work? No.

Decisions about small things were easy. Those about large things were more challenging. The TV? The extra electronic devices? Stored furniture, even though we like it? Well . . . no.

Meanwhile, what else could I emancipate myself from?

The embryonic grudge from yesterday’s misunderstanding.

Concern about what others think of me.

The avoidance of conflict, even potentially helpful conflict.

Unrealistic expectations of myself and others.

Impatience.

I don’t want these things to own me, either, even briefly. They are not worth my time and effort. Nor do I want them to shape who I am and infect my relationships. So although tossing them out won’t be as easy as dropping that shrieky little toy into the trash can, it’s an effort worth owning—and owning me.

What things own you?