Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


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Does character matter any more?

Somewhere in the last week or so I was half-listening to or watching a show – either on TV or on the radio. (That will tell you how much attention I was paying to it – not only do I not remember the show, I don’t even remember the medium.) Anyway, somewhere in there I heard someone refer to character as being old-fashioned.

That really struck me. My first reaction was, “What? What’s he talking about???” And then I thought, “Huh…he might have a point.” And I’ve been thinking about it off and on ever since.

A person’s character used to be really important, both to himself and to those around him. It was almost a currency of its own. Business deals didn’t always require reams of legal paper – a handshake or spoken commitment between two people of “strong character” was as binding or more than signatures on said legal papers. Even if those legal papers were still involved, they were more of a technicality; the handshake or verbal agreement was the “true” contract.

But does having a strong character matter any more? Is it something that really has become old-fashioned, and not in that trendy “retro” way? I know it matters for some people. I’ve met them. But it seems to be the exception more than the rule these days. I mean, when’s the last time you thought about your own character? Or when’s the last time you thought about or talked about someone else’s character? (Just to be clear, we’re not talking about LARP here… 😉 )

For that matter…do we even know what character is?

Google says it is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” Educationplanner.org says: “Your character is the sum of all the qualities that make you who you are: your values, your thoughts, your words, your actions.”

There are a plethora of other definitions you could find, too. We could spend days going into it indepth – even to further define things like “mental and moral qualities”. But this is enough to at least get us on the same page, or close to the same page. Certainly enough for the purposes of this post, which is to just get us thinking about it.

Essentially, I think, our character is the guts of who we really are. It’s an internal thing that drives a lot of how we interact with the world and people around us. It has nothing to do with the things we have, our income bracket, or our physical attributes. It’s not what spurs the decision to swipe left or right on Tinder. It might take a while to truly understand someone’s character. Hmmm… it might take a while to even understand our own character – what it currently is as well as what we want it to be.

So again, does it matter any more? There are all kinds of plans out there to help us:

  • get more money
  • get in shape
  • lose weight
  • find the person of our dreams.

But there aren’t very many dedicated to helping us develop our character. I even found one that is dedicated to helping you develop your “character habits” – what habits to get into that will bring you success, not for the sake of having a good character, but to help you get more stuff. Kind of like faking a good character. Seems to miss the point. But, to each their own.

Our character is the foundation of who we are as individuals, and individuals are the foundation of families, communities, societies, countries, etc. If that’s the case, then for families, communities, et al to have strong foundations, they need strong individuals. For individuals to be strong, they need strong characters. For us to have strong characters, we should at least know what that is and what kind of character we want to have. Then we need to know what to do in order to develop that type of character.

I’m not saying that trying to have more financial and professional success is a bad thing. Nor is striving for physical goals. I’m just wondering if maybe we shouldn’t also start thinking at least a little bit more about our character than we currently do.

What do you think?

 


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Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. As with my other posts, it’s something that’s been bouncing around inside of my head for a while and I’ve mulled it over, thinking about the different sides of it, mentally chewing on it before writing about it.

This is a longer post than I planned, so in case you don’t have the time to read the full thing, the gist of it is this: With our rights and freedoms, come responsibilities. Sometimes we seem to forget about that and think that simply because we have the right to do something, we will go ahead and do it, forgetting – or perhaps not even ever having realized – that there are responsibilities attached to that action.

First, before getting into what I am talking about, I think I need to clear up what I’m not talking about. This post isn’t about whether or not I think someone has or should have a particular right or not. Neither am I promoting or negating any of the positions on this question. I think all sides have the right to their positions and I think they all have valid points.

What seems to be missing in a lot of cases, though, is the recognition or acknowledgement of the reality that while we may very well have the right to do something, we also need to accept that there are consequences when we exercise those rights. Subsequently, when we accept those consequences, it seems to me that we also accept that there is an inherent acceptance of responsibility, as well.

For example, we have probably all been asked, at some point or another, by a friend, spouse, or family member: “Do I look fat in this?” Now, I live where we have freedom of speech. Therefore, I am within my legal rights to say:  “Well, you are fat. Of course you look fat.” But…somewhere inside of me (perhaps burned in from past experience) there is a little voice that says: “DON’T say it! DON’T say it!!!” Because if I do, there are various consequences, and none of them positive. (You should probably make sure you have your will and all your affairs in order, if you do decide to take the first option!!)

Nooooo…. I’m not suggesting that we full out lie to them and let our friends/spouses/family members run around wearing things that are totally unflattering, if they’ve asked. I’m just saying there are probably ways to do it that differ from what our initial, internal response would have us say. Perhaps a gentler, “You know, that other dress you tried on brought out the colour of your eyes better. I think that one is more flattering.”

The point is, I have the right to say almost whatever I want in this situation, including something insulting, but should I? Probably not. If there’s another way to act, with better consequences, not just for me, but for others, including society in general, then I should at least consider following that path.

Before we speak, for most of us, there’s an automatic process that lets us know if there is a potentially dangerous situation ahead. If we ignore that first indication, there’s usually another one when we start down a path that’s particularly dangerous. You know…the old “foot in mouth” path. “Ohhhh….How nice that you are taking your mother out to dinner!” “She’s not my mother; she’s my wife.” Oops.

Sometimes, if we keep ignoring that alert, it stops alerting us. Then we become really flexible because one or both feet are quite regularly in our mouths. 🙂

If we pay attention to it, and to the reactions of those around us when we speak, we can strengthen that alert system, and it can keep us pretty safe. We recognize from either our own past experiences or from those we’ve heard about that just because one member of a couple is obviously (or appears to be) considerably older/younger than the other, it does not mean there is a parental relationship. And we avoid said gaffe. Phew!!

Conversely, there are times when something can be important enough that even though the alert is sounding, we know that we still need to speak. I was on a train once that was filled mostly with Sikhs. I sat in the first available seat and across from me was a white guy. He made some disparaging comments about the Sikhs. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember that I couldn’t stomach it. My alert system said I should shut up because I didn’t know this man and didn’t know how he would react. I knew that at the very least he wouldn’t be pleased, though. But I had to ignore the alert and I calmly told him to not assume that all white people feel the same as him and that I would appreciate it if he kept his comments to himself.

I knew there was the potentiality for unpleasant consequences if I spoke, but there would for sure be unpleasant consequences if I didn’t speak. Firstly, he, and those around us, would assume I agreed with his close-minded, hateful comments. Secondly, I would have had difficulty respecting myself if I kept silent. So I accepted the responsibility of ignoring that alert. Thankfully, he just looked surprised, sat back, and didn’t say or do anything else. Maybe he thought twice before he did the same thing the next time. I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. I did what I felt was right and did not need to be ashamed.

That responsibility for consequence applies to probably all of our rights. I don’t think our forebears came up with our respective rights (depending on whatever country we are in) so that we could run amok, doing whatever we want, willy-nilly, just because we have the right to do it. There are literally billions of people on this planet who don’t have the same rights and freedoms that I have. I think the best way to protect those rights and freedoms is to respect them. For me, respecting them includes using them more mindfully.

I say “more mindfully” because this whole exercise (the pre-writing thought process and the writing itself) has really made me think about them more seriously. I’ve grown up with a wonderful set of liberties, most of them I probably was not even aware of while growing up and I’ve just taken them for granted. As an adult, though, I became more aware of them and came to respect them, particularly as I’ve become more and more aware of the lack of freedom in other parts of the world.

My objective was to hopefully bring others to think more about the responsibility incumbent upon us as we exercise our rights and liberties. And I still hope that will happen. But, quite unexpectedly, I’ve also come myself to have an even greater respect and even a reverence for my rights and freedoms. Unexpected, but welcome. 🙂

That’s one of the things I love about journaling (this blog is just an online journal of sorts) – it forces me to think about my thoughts (sounds kinda oxymoronic, huh?!) and frequently lands me in a different place than I ever intended!

Take away? Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. If I realize I am responsible for the consequences, maybe that will help me better decide what I do.

NOTE: In talking about responsibility in this, I don’t mean to imply that we are responsible for other people’s actions. I don’t expand on that here because that would make this entry even longer and if you’ve made it this far, well, you deserve a break. Go, get a mug of tea or hot chocolate or something, and have a rest. You’ve earned it!! 😉


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You’re not just watering dirt

About a year or so ago, a guy gave a talk at Church and he told a story that had a key phrase that really stuck with me: You’re not just watering dirt.

I meant to write this particular post closer to when I heard the story, but… Surprise! I didn’t. So I don’t remember the details. But the gist of it was, he was on his grandfather’s farm helping out. He planted seeds and tended the ground, which included watering, waiting, watching, watering, waiting, watching, and so on. He wanted to see the results of all that watering, waiting, and watching, but day after day after day…nothing.

His grandfather explained to him that just because he didn’t see anything happen didn’t mean nothing was happening. He explained how there was a lot happening underneath the ground, in the seed itself, and eventually, the plant would begin to be visible above ground. He wasn’t wasting his time; he wasn’t just watering dirt.

Sure enough, of course, the tiny green shoots poked through the ground, but it took a while.

You know where I’m going with this…analogy with life in general. Yup. You got it.

Since we are heading into the new year and a lot of people are going to be thinking about and/or making resolutions, I thought this would be a good time to write this.

When we are kids, we are pretty impatient with things. The younger we are, the less understanding we have of time – waiting for something is just not a concept we understand. As we get older, we get a better understanding of it and in differing degrees, we get the concept of “wait”. Not saying we like it – just that we get it. 😉

These days, though, we don’t really want to wait for anything, no matter our age. We for sure don’t wait for purchases, hence the huge amounts of debt many/most of us carry. With other things we expect instant results, too. If we decide to lose weight, we expect to be Heidi Klum inside of a week and if it’s not all done in a month, then forget it! If we are trying to kick a habit (or integrate a new one), we want it accomplished NOW. And then there are things like grief and pain that we have to deal with at times in our lives and getting through those things are going to take time, too.

Oh…and we don’t want any of it to be inconvenient or uncomfortable. Essentially, we want what we want now and we want it to be easy. Please and thank you.

Needless to say (and yet I will say it anyway!), it doesn’t happen that way. If we try and don’t see immediate results, or at least quick results, we feel like we are looking at a patch of dirt that we have prepared, planted, and watered and nothing grows.

But just because you don’t see the changes right away, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. Some things just can’t be hurried. Or, if they are hurried, they don’t provide the results you want. (Ever cranked up the heat while cooking something because you wanted it done quicker? I have…it ain’t pretty…or usually edible!)

So give yourself time. Find a way to enjoy the process, too. People who love gardening get the fact that their gardens don’t sprout up overnight. There’s planning that goes into it – frequently advanced planning, too. It doesn’t just pop up overnight.

Real life changes – whether of our own choice or thrust upon us from uncontrollable circumstances – take time. And don’t let that deter you. Keep watering and tending and you will see the results.

Because, again… You aren’t just watering dirt.


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It’s not about the job title

Before I go any further with this entry, I should confess something. I watch OWN. You know: the Oprah Winfrey Network. Yup. I do. Maybe you aren’t too surprised, so the pause to catch your breath on that won’t be too long. In which case, let’s move on.

There are a couple of shows in particular that I really like: Super Soul Sunday and Oprah’s Master Class. Essentially, each episode of those shows has a guest who shares what they’ve learned about life. It might be just regular, every day “how to deal with stuff” stuff, or it might be on the spiritual side of things. People from all walks (associated with a specific faith or with no faith, denomination, or particular belief) just share ideas and thoughts. Frequently they resonate with me, and the topic for this blog was one of those instances.

I had previously been of the mind that “finding your bliss” (please pardon the cliché), meant getting a job in the thing that was your bliss. So, step 1: What is your bliss? And Step 2: Get a job doing that. And, really, there is a lot of talk out there that says that very thing. And if you don’t get a job doing your bliss, then you have somehow failed at life.

Now, I love teaching people, but having had the job title of “teacher” for three years, I have learned that continuing on that career path would absolutely not bring me to my “bliss”. Subsequently, I spent a lot of time thinking about the types of jobs that might bring me to that “I found my bliss” point. A couple of possibilities were (insert corny alert here) motivational speaker and/or life coach. I do think I could be good at those things to a certain degree, but the more I looked into doing them as actual jobs, the less appealing they became. So, I put them aside.

In doing so, I felt a little as though I had “thrown away a dream”, and was failing miserably at the whole bliss search thing. Strangely enough, though, I also felt good about it. I started thinking about it in a different way at that point, and that was when I started writing this blog. I get to write about things that I find interesting and/or important, and while there certainly aren’t a kajillion who people read this, maybe some of my ramblings will strike a chord with someone and that’s enough for me. I get to share AND keep my day job! 

Anyway, when I watched a particular episode of Super Soul Sunday sometime last year, the guy talked about how we don’t have to be a particular thing, in a job description sort of way, in order to really “be” that thing in life. To really “be” something, we just need to “do” it.

I don’t have to be a teacher… I just need to teach and voilà, I’m a teacher. I don’t need to be an up-on-the-stage, cutting-an-album singer. I just need to sing – in the car, at my desk, in the shower, at home…wherever – and I am automatically a singer. I don’t need to be a published writer…I just need to write. You get the gist. There are many and varied aspects of my life that offer me the opportunities to do the things I love – the things that give me my bliss – and all I need to do is take advantage of them. If someone can’t figure out how to set up a meeting in Outlook and I show them how – Poof! I’m teaching! It’s so easy, really.

That, in retrospect, sounds so totally obvious to me now. And I think that on a certain level, I already knew it. That’s why I felt good about throwing away what I thought was a dream and the only path to my bliss. But the guest on the show put it in the words that I needed to hear and it all twigged into place.

There’s a lot of pressure associated with that whole “follow your bliss” thing. And I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do. I just think it’s important to understand and realize that finding, and consequently following, your bliss doesn’t mean your job title will change. Sometimes it might. But I’d say probably most times it won’t. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s more than OK – it’s wonderful! The important thing, I think, is to just find ways to incorporate things you love into your life. Just because you might never make money at it doesn’t mean you can’t feel fulfilled from it, or that your life can’t advance or expand because of it. You don’t have to “be” it; you just need to “do” it and you automatically “are” it. And it was actually a relief to figure that out. I was able to totally put aside what I thought it was supposed to look like and just look for and take advantage of the opportunities that bring the bliss.

I wish you success in learning what it is that makes you happy and then in finding ways to incorporate it into your life!

 


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Newsflash: You aren’t perfect. And that’s ok.

Over the last, oh…couple of years or so, there’s been this recurring message in various media that there’s nothing wrong with any of us; we’re all perfect just the way we are. And initially I thought that was a great message. There are so many media messages that tell us how imperfect we are (too fat, too skinny, too pale, too dark, too stupid, too rich, too poor, etc.) that it was nice to see something different. I thought it would be especially important for children and youth to be exposed to such positive messaging.

But in the last month or so, I’ve wondered is being told we are perfect really a positive message?

I’m absolutely not perfect. You are absolutely note perfect. And it’s pretty obvious that the people around us aren’t perfect, either. If we were all perfect, there’d be no road-rage because nobody would ever cut us off, drive 20 kph below the speed limit, or block the passing lane. The milk and juice jugs would not be put back in the fridge empty (or with only a swallow left at the bottom). And the men of the house would not sprinkle when they tinkle (or if they did, they’d clean it up perfectly, without being asked).

So we aren’t perfect. Big deal. Why bother to write about it?

I think it’s yet another end of the pendulum swing. In order to counter all the negative messaging, we need to go to the polar opposite in order to find a positive message. I disagree with that. Positive messaging, if it is to truly resonate, should be, well, true. For me, there’s no realism in the message of perfection.

If I’m perfect – even if you want to say, “Well, it doesn’t mean you are absolutely perfect; it just means you are the perfect you.” I gotta say that’s almost worse. If this, the way I am right this minute, is as perfect as I am going to be – that’s pretty unfortunate. That would mean I not only won’t get any better, I actually can’t get any better. You can’t perfect perfection. I’m in my mid-40s…I would like to think that I have quite a few years left to go, and I’d like to think that in 10, 20, 30 years I’ll be better than I am today.

Now, as an adult, I can look at that message and take it with a grain of salt, because I can see a bigger picture. But telling our children and youth that they are perfect…I don’t think that’s fair to them. They need goals and aspirations. If they are already perfect, what room is left for aspirations? And, perhaps more importantly, how much of a shock will the grown-up world be to them when their college roommates, professors, romantic partners, and future employers make no bones about letting them know, in finite detail, just how imperfect they are.

Additionally, being told that you are perfect also strongly implies that you should remain perfect. That’s a lot of pressure to live up to, too. Isn’t a realistic, true impression of our skills and abilities more important than an untrue, blanket statement?

So, I propose this message instead:

You aren’t perfect. And that’s not only ok, it’s actually a good thing. You are the only “you” there is, and your potential is incomprehensible. It’s in your control how wonderful, amazing, and astounding you are or you become.


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Passive propaganda?

OK… this rant has been coming for a long time. It’s been on my mind a LOT in the past year and I’ve avoided writing it because it’s such a negative topic and it galls me that it should even be an issue today. Yet it is, and from what I’m seeing posted on my Facebook wall, it’s becoming more of an issue and, as such, I think I really need to get this out of my system before I bust.

The issue? Racism. Particularly that expressed against Muslims and Islam.

People keep posting things on Facebook about how evil Islam is and those Muslims… well, taking over, they are!! And, according to one article, it’s happening all over the world! The great Muslim conspiracy.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s what the Jews were doing, don’t you remember? No, maybe you don’t because you, like me, were either too young or not born yet and we weren’t subjected to that propaganda. We heard about it third hand. Well, in case your knowledge of the Holocaust is somewhat lacking, the Nazis used propaganda to “educate” the public as to the dangers of the Jewish element. They were the cause of everything that was going wrong and if they weren’t stopped…well, if you thought the present was bad, wait till you see the future. Without getting too much into the psychology of propaganda, these messages played into the fears of the people. Things weren’t great economically. People needed someone/something to blame and Hitler’s paranoia provided the perfect scapegoat – the Jews. And, sadly, many of the people bought into it. (Not all, as we know, but many.)

When I was younger, I did not understand how that could work. Even now, when I understand propaganda – what it is and how strong an impact it can have on people – I still find it difficult to truly grasp. But now I find that I’m seeing it in action. Right now. In this day and age, we are witnessing it.

I can’t believe I’m seeing it. I can’t believe who is posting it. I can’t believe that it’s seen as OK. I just deleted one person from my Facebook because there’ve been a couple of things he’s posted that are more than objectionable to me. I’ve tried not to do that because I figure it’s my duty to be the voice that speaks out against it. But I couldn’t do it any more. My blood pressure just rockets whenever I see that stuff. I had posted my comment but then just couldn’t bear to keep him because I know that stuff will just keep coming. So perhaps I’ve failed in that one.

I have several Muslim friends and have worked with several. 9-11 changed their lives forever. Travelling carries with it additional stress and burden for them. If they are on Facebook, they probably see some of the same things I see. It’s got to be so hard on them to have their beliefs and very lives categorized as these media categorize them. I can only imagine how they feel should their religion ever come up in conversation.

The radical fundamentalists who are the proponents of the acts of terrorism are NOT regular, every day Muslims. They are the minority in Islam. Islam itself does NOT promote acts of terrorism. They have bastardized it and are using it for their own control-driven aspirations.

Please, please, please do not lump all Muslims in with them.

For that matter, do not lump ANY group of people into one mold. I’ve met annoying, obnoxious, rude, mean, pleasant, happy, kind, generous people in all races, cultures, countries. Are there people who fit the stereotypes? Yup. I’ve met those, too. But the moment we start applying the stereotypes to everyone in that group, the closer we are coming to creating the environment where, within a few short steps, it becomes OK to kill 6,000,000 people.

It’s like the boiling frog story (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog): If someone walked up to us today and said, “Hey, we should kill all the Muslims. They’re really creating havoc, you know.” We’d absolutely rebel against that! That’s horrible! No way!! But… with enough messages that sound plausible, and with the evidence of the Taliban and 9-11, gradually what we accept as being OK to do to/with Muslims will change. From some of the posts I’ve seen on Facebook, it appears, tragically, that some people have already arrived there.

I sure hope that in 50 years people aren’t looking back at us and wondering how on earth WE allowed such a thing to happen…


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Good fathers and husbands – where do they come from?

At Church in June, for Father’s Day, one of the speakers* said something that surprised me. It took me off guard because I had never thought about it before.

This man recounted how he had been in the line up at the grocery store recently and was, as many of us do, perusing the covers of the various magazines that are around the cash area. He noticed that while there were magazines that promoted men’s health and fashion, there weren’t any magazines, directed towards men, that talked of how to be good fathers or husbands.

I had never thought of that before, but as I thought about it then, and since, I realized it’s so true! We, as women, are almost bombarded with magazines that talk about life at home. Now, there are also a plethora of magazines for women that tout how to be sexier, what to wear, how to be more beautiful, etc. But we do have magazines that promote and give tips and support about being mothers and wives.

I haven’t found such things directed just towards men. There are magazines directed towards “parents”, but not just fathers.

In addition to the printed resources we have, we also have another, perhaps even more important resource: each other. We call each other; we visit each other; we share recipes; we cry and we laugh together.

Men don’t seem to have that. When they get together with their buddies and pals, they aren’t talking about recipes, potty training, and so on. Well, from what I can gather from men I know, that’s not what they are talking about. That’s not to say it never happens; I just don’t think it happens as frequently, freely, and easily as it does between women.

So where do men learn how to be good fathers and husbands? The only constant I can see is that it must come from the examples of the men around them as they grow up. Hopefully they had good fathers themselves. Otherwise, perhaps they had other good examples around them.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since that Sunday and it has helped me have more respect for the men I know who are good fathers and husbands because with the almost bombarding of information about other things they “should” have as their priorities, some of them (can I say many of them?) still put their families first and I have to give them serious kudos for that!!

Would love to hear what you think… where did you learn how to be a good husband and father? Do you think society is changing in that it’s easier these days for fathers to put their priorities inside the home rather than strictly outside it?

* In my Church, we don’t have paid clergy. Each week, members of the congregation (usually 3 different people each Sunday) are asked to give talks on various topics.