Big Girls Do Cry

woman-cryingI didn’t cry much when my father died, not because I had no emotions but rather because I somehow believed that I needed to stay strong for my mother and my brothers. I don’t think that it was particularly healthy of me to prevent the natural feelings that were causing me so much internal pain from becoming public. For a great deal of my life I have tended to be stoic. I’ve often put forth a strong face when what I really wanted to do was allow myself to sob. Over time I realized that tears and sadness are a natural aspect of our humanity that is to be celebrated rather than hidden. We are made to react to hurt and loss and pain with a release of our real feelings. Big girls really do cry and it is not just an okay thing to do, but a therapeutic release. When our minds and bodies urge us to set our tears free, we should feel comfortable responding to the instinct.

Of late I have been crying a great deal, but still not so much in front of other people. I’m in the process of becoming able to do that. It have been through a difficult three months as have so many. I find myself reliving the moment when my husband had his stroke, and I cry, mostly because I am relieved that he is still alive and thriving. I have cried almost every single day for the last month because invariably I see or hear something related to the horrible flood in my city, and I sense the struggles that so many are still enduring and will face for months to come. I can hardly watch the news reports of the conditions in Puerto Rico, a place that I recall being so friendly and beautiful. The images that flash across the screen are heartbreaking, and I feel helpless, so I cry. I have cried for my friends whose loved ones so recently died, as well as for those who are reliving anniversaries of their losses. I cried for my father-in-law who had an accident that has left him barely able to move. I shed twelve hours of tears while watching the Ken Burns series on Vietnam that ran for the last two weeks on PBS. The memories of that era of my life are still raw with emotion and the poignancy of the presentation brought long past feelings to the surface once again. I have cried for the state of our country today which seems as divided and angry and confused as it did back then. Problems that I believed to have been solved were evidently just festering beneath the surface. All of it has made me feel weary because I know of no magical solutions to make things better, and so I cry.

I am by nature a peacemaker. I have always wanted to help people to get along. I have loved living the role of a supporter, a motivator, an inspirer. I feel uncomfortable when people are angry and fighting. I suppose that this is because I learned so long ago that our lives are quite fragile. We simply do not know from one moment to the next how much more time we have on this earth, and so I believe that we must make the best of however many hours that we have. My heroes have been individuals like my Uncle William who was the epitome of kindness. I would be quite surprised to learn of even a single time when he purposely set out to hurt someone. He was a man who mostly set aside his own thoughts and did his very best to consider the wants and needs and dreams of everyone else around him. He was always willing to listen and to love. In that regard as a child I viewed him as the strongest person that I ever knew, and even as I have grown older I still think of him that way.

I remember our neighbor Mr. Barry whom everyone seemed to regard as a living saint. There was nothing wimpy about him. He had served in the Navy during World War II. He managed a large bank for years. He knew how to get things done, but he always accomplished them with an eye toward being sympathetic and good. He was one of those people who noticed the individual who was unseen by everyone else. He didn’t know it, but he was the male role model that I needed after my own father died.

There is a tendency these days to admire people who possess what I call a false bravado, individuals who bully, blame others for their mistakes and take pride in demeaning those who do not agree with them. I personally find such folks to be offensive and weak. They remind me of a student that I once had who found joy in hurting other kids. When he went after a blind girl in order to increase his own popularity I put him down with a vengeance that I have never used on another student before or after. I was unwilling to allow him to parade like a champion when what he had done was so vile and cowardly. For that reason I have cried a  great deal of late, because our society appears to be mesmerized by those who behave the ugliest. It is something that I can’t understand.

Social media was a lifesaver during our Houston floods. I kept my sanity because I was able to stay in touch with friends and family members during the long days and nights when the waters filled our streets and homes. Unfortunately there is a negative aspect of that same wondrous means of communication that is hacking away at our decency. I suppose that it is simply too easy these days to dash off a quick and dirty reply to any person or situation that offends us. When we don’t have to look someone in the eye it is more likely that we will be willing to vent in ways that are hurtful. Too often we forget to think about how our comments may affect someone else. Too many among us don’t take the time to consider the impact of their words. When I see the fighting that ensues among people who were once friends and family members it make me cry. There is simply no reason for any of us to be hateful and yet even some of our leaders are not able to control their basest tendencies.

I am weary of hearing epithets of snowflakes, commies, ingrates, sons of bitches, entitled kids, abominable people, fascists, racists, homophobes, rednecks, ignoramuses. I listen as we devour one another with words and accusations that often have little or no basis in fact, and yet we speak as though they are gospel. I grow tired of seeing memes and tweets that trivialize serious situations or poke fun at entire groups of people. We seem intent on boiling a pot of furor, and so I cry.

I remember a time when I went on a civil rights tour with my students. We sat in the church in Birmingham where little girls were murdered because of hate. We crossed a bridge in Selma were fire hoses and snarling dogs had once been let lose on protestors whose only crime was asking for the same rights as their white counterparts. I walked down the street toward the capitol building in Montgomery and remembered the hateful rhetoric of  George Wallace. I cried as I looked at my students and remembered the violence and racism that I had witnessed when I was young. I stood in Dr. King’s kitchen and ran my hand across the very table where he sat and prayed for God’s guidance. I cried as I thought of his courage and wisdom and I knew that he too would always be one of my heroes.

I cry when I think of Jesus and the lessons He taught us, the sacrifices that He made. I wonder why it seems so difficult for us humans to follow His very simple message of love whether we believe He was God or not. What is it in our natures that makes us complicate and misinterpret His teachings? Why did we not learn how horrific hate can become from His death on the cross? What prevents us from being like my uncle or the man who was my neighbor?

As I grow older I find that I remember the kindnesses that were extended to me and I cry tears of joy and gratitude when I recall the people who touched my heart so beautifully. I also think of the ugly things that I have witnessed. They make me cry as well. I had hoped that we would be evolving toward a better way of living with one another by now. Unfortunately we are instead being taunted to take the low road, to dialogue with our fellow men and women with rancor rather than understanding. We give power to the rabble rousers instead of ignoring them and siding with those who would challenge us to bring out the good that resides in our souls. The fact that this is happening makes me cry.

I would so much rather cry over a beautiful sunrise or sunset. I want to shed tears when I see people helping people. I want to release those positive emotions when I watch a toddler so innocently embracing the world. I would prefer feeling a heave in my heart from listening to music or sharing a wonderful time with friends and family. I know that there will be uncontrollable events like natural disasters and deaths, but I am so tired of seeing the kind made by people. It really is up to all of us to begin to demonstrate the kind of understanding that was the hallmark of Uncle William’s and Mr. Barry’s lives. Those two men were so loved because they never hesitated to love. Perhaps the most telling story about my uncle came when he was delivering mail along the route that had been his for years. He came upon the mother of a notorious serial killer and the emotion that he felt for her was unadulterated love. He spoke of how sad it must have been for her to lose her only son under such circumstances. He did not judge the woman nor consider that she might have somehow been responsible for how her son had become. Instead he simply cared for her and worried about how she would be now that her son was condemned to prison for life. My uncle taught me how to love. I’m still trying to be as good as he always was and while I am learning I sometimes cry.

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When Children Lose Hope

Sad ChildA recent study reported that for the first time ever more middle school students are dying from suicide than from car crashes. Not only that, but the number of suicides among children as young as eight, nine or ten years old is also increasing. Researchers are only guessing as to why so many of our children and teenagers are ending their lives in such record numbers. The trend has become an epidemic that is rarely mentioned and far too many parents are unaware of the signs that there is trouble.

There are a number of possibilities suggested as to why suicide has become such a problem. Young people today increasingly see the world as being a dangerous and violent place. News stories often make them feel as though they are living under constant threat of harm. In addition there has been a breakdown of healthy relationships in many families leading children to feel insecure and sometimes even unloved. Ours is a fast paced world that stresses hard work and excellence. Some kids feel unrelenting pressures to excel in every aspect of their lives. Television and movies all too often depict suicide as a good way to end problems. Of course there is also the specter of social media which sometimes serves as a catalyst for bullying and the creation of unrealistic expectations of beauty, luxury and unending happiness. There is also a problem with adults, particularly parents failing to acknowledge the signs of depression and its power to lead their children to suicide.

There have always been young people who decided to take their lives, but never in the numbers that are being recorded today. When I was young virtually everyone sat down together with members of the family to share dinner. We took that opportunity to talk about the days’ events and to reinforce the idea that we cared for one another. All too often today the tradition of gathering around the table has been replaced with meals quickly consumed in front of the television or on the go. Members of the family are often moving in so many different directions that opportunities to actually talk with one another are brief or rare, especially once children become teenagers.

Latch key kids are abundant and they spend their afternoons unsupervised. They may become isolated by hours of playing video games or may even find inappropriate television programs to watch. They spend hours texting friends with their parents rarely being privy to what kind of messages are being exchanged. They may be engaged in dangerous situations for which they do not have the maturity to react in a healthy manner. In a sense they often lead secret and disturbing lives apart from their parents without anyone knowing the extent of the treacherous paths down which they are travelling.

There are ways that adults should more closely monitor their children rather than just assuming that all is well. When my own daughters were teenagers a very good friend advised me to find out as much about what they were doing as possible. I did so in both overt and covert ways. I talked with my girls constantly and observed their behaviors, watching for even subtle changes. I also listened to their friends and the parents of their friends to find out more information about their habits. I enlisted the help of an army of caring people to make sure that all was well. Even then I missed cues now and again.

My youngest daughter suffers from depression just as my mother did. She began to exhibit more and more isolated behavior and seemed to be in a continual state of tears when she was in high school. I remember the night when I found her sitting in the dark in her bedroom rocking back and forth while crying. I sat on the floor with her and held her in my arms as though she was a toddler, coaxing her to tell me about her feelings and what was driving them until she finally admitted that she felt lost and confused. I made an appointment for her to see a doctor the next day and began to engage in more and more frank conversations with her. She made it past that valley of despair, but she often told me that ultimately it was her profound belief in God and the sanctity of life that had prevented her from harming herself. Ironically my mother had often told me the same thing about her own moments of mental distress. Needless to say I rejoiced in knowing that by providing my child with a religious foundation I may have saved her life.

If parents see dramatic changes in their children it is dangerous to simply assume that the new behaviors are hormonal or typical. Warning signs come in the form of falling grades, difficulties sleeping, headaches or other physical manifestations. Children who lose interest in hobbies or friends are sending signals that something is very wrong. Changes in personality are another clue. Frequent tears, outbursts of anger, long periods of isolation inside a darkened room may all be pointing to problems that must be addressed. While teenagers are infamous for their constant texting, if this habit also appears to be associated with aggression or a lack of self esteem there may be a need for getting to the bottom of what kind of information is being exchanged.

We’ve always had bullies but never to the twenty four seven extent that some kids now endure. Social media all too often becomes a minefield for attacking youngsters. Sometimes those participating in the emotional assaults don’t even know the people that they are intimidating. For them it is just a sick game, but for the teenager who is the butt of their commentaries it can become unbearable. There is nowhere to hide, no way to stop the misery. They all too often hide what is happening out of a feeling of shame. Being so alone bears heavily on them. They need help but don’t know how to find it. It is up to adults to be conscious of such situations and work to assist the victims in retrieving their sense of security and self respect.

It’s become popular for some adults to refer to youth who struggle to adjust to the many challenges that they face as “snowflakes” as though they are simply so delicate that they cannot adjust to the realities of life. This is akin to the people who would urge my mother to get control of herself when she was in the midst of a psychotic episode as part of her bipolar disorder. At the time the chemistry of her brain was so askew that she did not possess the power to stop the madness that engulfed her. She needed the help of caring family members, friends and medical professionals to get her life back on track. The lack of understanding that she continually faced made her challenges even more difficult than they needed to be. Such it is for youngsters who are in crisis. Shaming them for falling victim to depression so debilitating that they have suicidal thoughts is not an answer. Instead we all must be vigilant in assisting anyone whose ideation becomes dark and worrisome.

Teachers are often the first to notice problems with a young person. Instead of ignoring such concerns it is paramount that they contact the school counselor, the nurse, the parents or all of the above. Sometimes kids are so good at hiding their pain that their families are the last to know that there are difficulties. Honest conversations have to take place, always punctuated with love and concern. At the same time we should teach our kids to be good friends who are willing to let us know if someone is struggling more than normal. We must then either contact the school or the parents to alert them to what is happening. Those are difficult conversations, but they may save lives. 

Rescuing our children from thoughts of suicide should be of paramount concern to all of us. We need to spend more time talking with them and helping them to feel safe in confessing their problems. We need to watch for the warning signs and take aggressive and loving action before the worst happens. It is up to all of us to bring down the distressing suicide statistics among the youngest in our society. We need to begin some difficult discussions with ourselves, each other and our children. Nothing else that we do is more important. 

Life Is Always Now

240_F_46669875_qRWK0dnz12vE8MCZGcrMX1I1GR6UCF3tI often wonder how people find the links to interesting articles and blogs that pop up on Facebook now and again. If there is something intriguing about the title I am prone to take the bait and actually read some of them. Not long ago one of my cousins who thinks very much like me posted an entry from a woman named Maria Stenvinkel who discussed ten things that she would do differently if she had the opportunity to relive her life. One of her ideas was that “life is always now, not tomorrow or next week.”

That particularly struck me because like most people I often put things off until it is too late. I suppose that it is a bit of a family trait. I had a grandmother who hoarded her Christmas presents. Instead of using the lovely gifts that her children and grandchildren brought her each year she saved them for a rainy day. Sadly upon her death many of them were still in their original packages. No doubt her life of economic want had made her cautious, but it was sad to think that she so often wore raggedy old dresses when beautiful new ones were stored away in her closet.

On our fortieth anniversary my husband Mike bought me a lovely leather jacket with a fox fur collar in Estes Park Colorado. I’ve only worn it a few times thinking that I needed the perfect occasion. I’ve lately thought of a friend who owned a full length fur that she used on every cold day whether she was wearing jeans or a designer dress. She was so relaxed in that beautiful garment that she would throw it across the back of a chair as though it was just made of plain cloth. She used the heck out of it and thus really enjoyed having it. I’m thinking that maybe it’s time for me to be less like my grandmother and a bit more like my friend. This winter I plan to wear my coat even on ordinary days.

We purchase china and then store it away in a cabinet for use on special occasions only. Why not take it out in the middle of the week and enjoy it out on the patio? So what if we accidentally break a piece. There’s little point in owning it if we never use it. It will just be something for people to deal with once we’re gone.

The same is true of following those dreams. I’ll never forget an older man that Mike once carpooled with to a downtown bank. Almost every day he told Mike of the places that he would eventually go once he had retired. He hardly ever took a day off and sometimes let some of his vacation time go to waste. He was focused on reaching that glorious day when he would no longer have to go to his job rather than taking advantage of the leisure time that he had. Sadly he died only days after he retired, never to see all of those wonderful places that had so filled his imagination.

Life can be filled with regrets and thoughts of “if only” when we constantly plan for the future rather than doing our best to enjoy today. We simply have no idea what tomorrow will bring, so seizing our todays whenever possible really is the thing to do. If we have thought of telling someone how much we admire them, why do we wait? Why don’t we just pick up the phone right now or at least dash off a quick note or an email? I wonder what compels us to be so conservative in the use of our time. We all know that it is limited. None of us will live for eternity. What are we waiting for?

For years I had spoken of earning an advanced degree but never quite got around to getting started. I was all talk and no action until my brother one day left a university catalog and all of the paperwork for applying in my mailbox. I was too embarrassed not to follow through and before long I had been accepted and was signing up for my first classes. It proved to be an exhilarating adventure that ultimately lead to the degree that I had wanted, not to mention better job opportunities. Without his less than subtle push I doubt that I would have ever done more than just blather on about what I wanted to do.

Sometimes it is fear of the unknown that compels us to procrastinate. We worry too much about what might happen if we try or say something daring. Even when we are less than happy or excited about our current state of affairs we often would rather remain in a state of boredom and unhappiness that take risks. We think that we might fail and so we do nothing.

Every single time that I have taken a leap of faith it has turned out to be magnificent. There was even an occasion when I was asked to teach a class for mathematics educators at Rice University. I was terrified of the very idea but my co-teacher insisted that I would be just fine. At one point I had to admit to her that I was just not up to speed and that I felt lost. Instead of thinking ill of me she patiently tutored me and in the end I felt quite confident and proud that I had actually accomplished something that scared me.

My husband has been told not to sit in a chair all day since having his stroke. We sometimes live our lives as though we don’t have the strength to move when being stationary is actually bad for our health. The only way that we remain vital is by constantly living each day to the fullest and remembering to enjoy whatever we have with gusto.

Like Ms. Stenvinkel I have learned that life should always be now. It is important that we squeeze every moment out of every day. We need to use our nicest things, voice our compliments, do whatever we have always dreamed of doing. Waiting for tomorrow or next week when we have opportunities today will cause us to miss some of the best moments of our lives. So get up and get started right now.

A Facebook Story

h0fvargheeyaybm4oyytI’ve been a member of Facebook for some time now, so I’ve watched it change. In the beginning it was a great way for me to keep up with friends and even to find people that I had lost along the way. Over time I accumulated a rather large following and I suppose that it was the same for most of the people who had signed up for the service. I understand that it would be rather chaotic if the posts from my hundreds of friends were to show up on my wall each day. It somewhat made sense that the folks at Facebook had to find a way to tame the beast so to speak. The result was the creation of various algorithms designed to ferret out the main people whose posts they thought I would most like to see. Unfortunately the rendering of a mathematical analysis resulted in my losing touch with a number of individuals with whom I had happily reunited. Facebook appears to think that I mostly want to hear from relatives and people who are my own age. While I have definitely enjoyed hearing from those individuals I have to admit that I am angry that I no longer see the posts from so many of my younger friends. The Facebook methodology is a rather presumptuous way of determining whose photos and comments I will see from day to day and who will see mine.

Since I write a blog each weekday I eventually created a special page on which to share the information. The idea was to find a larger audience for my stories. Admittedly it has been a bit of a bust in the last year or so, and I suspect that it is because Facebook is doing the same kind of things with that account that it does with my main one. In other words over half of the people who I number as my friends never see the post. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Facebook is perfectly willing to boost my reach if I pay them a certain amount each month. Since I am unwilling to give them any money we appear to be at an impasse.

I suppose that I should be happy enough that Facebook provides me with an advertising platform, albeit quite small, but a few years ago I was managing to inform around four to five hundred people a day in the same venue. Now I am lucky to gain the notice of a hundred. Perhaps it is the result of my writing having grown dull, or maybe it is because of another one of those strange Facebook algorithms, which leads me to another bone that I wish to pick.

Since setting up a page for my blog I have written over four hundred fifty entries, each with a special image attached. I tend to believe that a photo has a certain ability to entice people to read my thoughts, so I never simply use words. Awhile back I composed a piece about Heinrich Himmler. I had seen a documentary about him that prompted me to consider how often we have monsters in our midst whose physical appearance and background seems so harmless. The theme of my essay revolved around the horrors that this seemingly innocuous individual managed to perpetrate. My composition was in reality a verbal takedown of Himmler and his henchmen, and as usual I included a picture to illustrate my points.

For some reason out of the four hundred fifty odd other images that I had posted Facebook chose to single out the Himmler photo and display it prominently on my page as an example of what I have to offer. Seeing that horrible face again and again quickly began to irritate me, but I hoped that it would eventually be replaced by a newer offering. Day after day after day I had to look at that mugshot and wonder what someone who did not know me might think about that image being so prominently displayed on my wall. I began to worry that Facebook had some kind of algorithm designed to find right wing extremists and that perhaps they had pegged me as someone to watch because I had used that picture.

I’m a bit hard headed so I decided just to wait and see what might eventually happen, but the image never went away. They did not replace it with the lovely photos of my students or Mother Theresa or the heavens. Somehow the people who decide such things thought that it should stay. Finally in sheer desperation, and my own aversion to constantly viewing that mug, I simply deleted the entire post. He is gone forever from my wall but I truly wonder what kind of indelible and erroneous impression I may have made on someone who has never met me or read my ideas.

The world of social media can be a very scary place in which we take risks each time that we reveal a bit of ourselves. We never really know who is seeing our posts nor how they are interpreting them. I suspect that from time to time we all draw hasty conclusions about things that we see without ever bothering to read more about them or even to ask questions about why they are there. We fall for stories that are dubious without following up to determine their veracity or lack of it. We make instantaneous judgements and read between the lines overlaying our own thoughts on others. We question the intelligence of someone because of grammatically confusing posts and poor word choices when sometimes those errors are the result of autocorrect. What we think we see can be a real slippery slope of incorrect judgement, and in today’s world lots of people are being tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion without virtue of valid evidence.

I have so few visitors to my blog Facebook page that I’m probably okay, especially now that Himmler”s ugly mug is gone, but my own story made me think about how we all too often indict people without ever seeking explanations for the things that we think we see them doing. Mine is a good lesson in both being circumspect in how we present things and taking care not to draw swift conclusions. I have long held that our first recourse should be to give people the benefit of doubt. In most cases they are innocent of bad intentions. Only after we have assembled facts and evidence should we make judgements that might prove them guilty.

We are all too often manipulated by a steady barrage of opinions and innuendo from questionable sources. A good way to combat the propaganda is to always start by assuming the best and then put in the time and work to uncover the truth.

 

Why We Gotta Be So Mean?

troubled-teens-bully.jpgI truly believe that we humans are mostly good. Still I see far more signs of bullying and ugliness these days than ever before. A friend confided that her son was being mistreated by the girls in his class. He is a very sweet, almost naive soul who can’t quite understand what he may have done to deserve their ire. An acquaintance who is generally a very kind and sensitive person recently took the bait of societal anger and posted an article poking fun at a female political figure. It was quite negative in tone, and unnecessarily so. It’s only purpose was to be cruel and so it stunned me to see this normally good hearted individual becoming part of the negative crowd. It seems as though just living in the world today can quickly devolve into a blood sport.

There is a certain anonymity that comes with the impersonal nature of social media. Being part of a group that initiates callousness feels safe and without consequence. Bandying about words seems a harmless joke given the old saw that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Besides, don’t some of our leaders get by with verbal attacks with impunity? What does it really matter to vent our feelings? Shouldn’t people be mature enough to handle our truths?

Thus we find posts on Facebook that create confrontations and tweets on Twitter that seem to revel in their use of cleverly noxious words. There are those among us who have lost their sense of propriety and are even celebrated for their ability to get a rise from some unsuspecting soul. When such attacks occur frequently enough the inflicted pain can become unbearable and then depression and fear follow quite naturally.

We have tried to instruct our children in how to handle the barbs that may come their way. We teach youngsters to curb any tendencies to be bullies and to help those who are victims. Somehow none of our efforts ever completely take hold. No matter how hard we try the ugliness persists and at times even appears to grow, making life quite difficult for those who are the butt of mean spirited behaviors.

There are celebrities like Lady Gaga who pour themselves into the task of helping to reduce bullying. She has created a brigade of young folks who are trained to encourage and celebrate acts of kindness. The hope is that focusing on the positive natures of humans just might mitigate the more negative aspects of the way we treat one another. It’s a glorious idea and bears watching. God knows that we have nothing to lose by actively trying to improve the ways that we interact. Those who demonstrate concern should become our winners, our heroes, not those whose overbearing remarks and actions wound and leave scars.

I read about a school where the students are encouraged to look for anyone who is seemingly alone and welcome that person into a warm and friendly circle. The young people who have adopted this attitude are finding that they are learning as much about themselves as they are about their classmates. They report that everyone feels safer and better understood.

A little boy in a small town heard about a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. The newscasters spoke of how devastated the fellow officers were, so the child decided to donate his Wii to the station. He remarked that playing the games usually made him feel better even when he was sad and he hoped that the bereaved men and women would find solace in the activities that they would be able to share together.

There are good people everywhere who do the most remarkable things without ever expecting credit or even thanks for their efforts. I still recall a young woman who helped me to feel welcome on my first day of teaching in a new school. I can envision her beautiful smile and hear her encouraging words. Somehow she sensed my nervousness and did her best to assuage my fears. Her thoughtfulness made a discernible difference.

I can only imagine how much more wonderful the world would become if we all tried very hard to turn our temptations to be angry or insulting into opportunities to be caring. It takes so little to be nice but it really does turn the tables. Instead of answering anger with anger we might try showing patience and understanding. Love should always trump hate or as someone has said, “When they go low, we go high.”

I suppose that the most difficult situations are those in which we find ourselves facing someone who is blatantly obnoxious. We might simply ignore that person, especially if we sense that attempting to change him/her is impossible. Walking away is not cowardice. Sometimes it’s the bravest thing we might do.

We should also consider answering unpleasantness with warmth. Sometimes it is possible to disarm the negativity by countering it with understanding. I was involved in an incident in which a parent was loudly upbraiding a colleague at one of my schools. When I asked her to calm down she cursed me and told me to mind my own business. I quietly left the scene and came back with cold drinks, snacks and an invitation to come to the comfort of my office. The lady seemed stunned by my calmness and my small gesture of hospitality. Her demeanor became more relaxed as I told her that as a mother I understood her passionate concern for her child. I suggested that together we might be able to devise a plan that would help. Before long we were all partners in an effort to set things right. The ill feeling had disappeared on all sides.

It is doubtful that we will ever eliminate all of the cruelty that exists but we can make focused efforts to do our own parts to approach our daily lives with a sensitivity to the needs of those with whom we interact. We should strive to consciously compliment rather than criticize, smile rather than frown, find common ground rather than dwell on differences. We really don’t have to be so mean. We can change someone’s state of mind simply by remembering to be kind.