Sometimes it doesn’t take much to inspire ideas to flow. This morning, it only took 7¢. It was scattered on the pavement, a nickel and two pennies. Perhaps the coins were dropped unintentionally, or perhaps they were purposely cast aside. I have no idea.

Let’s be real, friends. It’s been a tough week. Deep, heavy events occurred here in the U.S. Events that should affect the entire manner in which this country moves forward. Events that should bring us to our knees. Events that should pull us together, encourage us to rally around each other and our political system and begin a long overdue healing process. But healing and working together would be arduous and protracted, and to be honest, I think many Americans lack the capacity to truly work on the issues that divide us. Attention spans are short, and people don’t see themselves as part of anything larger than themselves. These days, many people seem to be repelled by hard work, patience, and understanding. We have proven too selfish, too unkind, too hateful to reflect on the big things. To dwell on the meaningful. We are too focused on the newest cell phone, the latest version of a video game, the things money can buy that bring only momentary satisfaction. We have become shallow shells moving through time and blaming everyone else for the problems in our society.

But let’s hope this one is the tipping point. Let’s hope this is not like every single natural disaster, school shooting, raging pandemic, and act of terrorism in which Americans have been better at making excuses than addressing the broken. Let’s hope we do not shove this into the past and move on without looking back. Without learning important and difficult lessons. Without dealing with the core issues that created the problem in the first place. Without reflecting on who we are as a nation. Without a second glance.

I’m told people have lost faith in loose change. Coins are an annoyance. They are heavy. Noisy. Not worth the effort it takes to carry around. We cast them aside as soon as they come into our possession, leaving a trail of change in our wake as we move through life. On the floor by the cash register. In the cracks of our car seats and sofas. On the pavement in the parking lot as we enter and exit our cars.

It’s not worth much. You can’t buy anything with it. But loose change adds up. If you drop it in a container on your way into your house at the end of each day, it will eventually become something worthwhile. If you were to save 7¢ every day, you will fill a cup or a jar, and you might soon be able to buy a carton of milk. Or go to a movie. Or pay a bill. Loose change is only inconsequential if you cast it aside.

Come to think of it, this is much like small acts of kindness. They fill our cup. They help us to feel better about who we are and the life we are leading. They make us feel like we are part of something. Small acts of kindness add up to large acts of kindness and these, in turn, contribute to an improved outlook on life.

If you make a habit of saving 7¢ a day, your loose change will begin to come together. It will begin to be useful. You will have 49¢ over the course of a week. And at the end of a year, you would have an extra $25. Kindness is like this, too. If you make it a habit to hold the door for someone on their way in to work, eventually you will be holding the door for someone each day. Then you might start to say, “Good morning,” and this might lead to longer conversations and deeper connections. Pretty soon, you will be starting your day in conversation with new friends, and this may prompt you—and those around you—to perform more acts of kindness, changing your outlook (and theirs) for the better.

We all say we want our society to change—there’s too much hate… we are too divided… we have lost patience with others. But change doesn’t happen all at once. It happens 7¢ at a time. Small kindness perpetuates more kindness, and with a lot of time and tremendous patience, we will begin to see the changes that will shift the attitudes of an entire society and finally begin to make a difference that matters.

{Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst on Unsplash}

Beads on a String

Years ago, I was part of a writing group in which we often talked about our inner critic. You know the one I am talking about. My inner critic sits on my shoulder and tells me all the things I am doing wrong. She says things like, “You’re not going to write that, are you?”

I can’t shake her.

I could go out and run three miles or hike a mountain, and when I come back into the house and sit down to write, there she is. Still sitting on my shoulder. Still letting me know my ideas are not good enough. My handwriting isn’t neat enough. My typing isn’t fast enough. The list of criticisms is never ending.

I swipe at my shoulder, trying to brush her off. “Go away!” I grunt, batting at her as if she is an annoying and persistent mosquito.

“Your pen is running out of ink,” she taunts. “It’s a sign. Stop writing. You’re no good anyway.”

I take a deep, slow breath in, gritting my teeth as I gather strength to deal with her. Unlike an annoying bug or persistent distraction, this is my inner critic. She is a part of me, the result of too many years of disappointments and all the voices that told me I wasn’t good enough, from school-yard bullies to power-seeking bosses to abusive partners.

Logically, I can piece together all of the experiences that gave her strength. And as I quickly run through each of these negative people and events, I visualize them as beads on a string, misshapen, dull, and discolored. One by one, I pluck them from the string and flick them to the floor. They ping, bounce once or twice, and scatter to the far reaches of the room, disappearing in dark corners and under seldom-moved appliances.

With a now bare and empty string, I can re-string it with ideas, positive thoughts, and encouragement. These beads are perfect in their varied shapes. Their colors are complementary and offer hope for an uncertain future. Together, they create a beauty that is striking.

The more I am able to diminish my inner critic and soften her criticism, the more beauty I can add to this growing strand of beads.

We all have our own inner critic, and mine is not limited to writing. She is always with me, trying to pull me off track. The metaphor of beads on a string allows me to be selective about the messages I keep. By plucking negative thoughts from the string and casting them away, I can replace them with positive ones. I can refocus away from my inner critic’s constant commentary and work on creating beauty—in writing and in life. My ideas flow more freely, and I am able to play in imagination, unencumbered.

2021 – Bring Your Thunder

Recently, I saw this new message circulating on Facebook. It was clearly a post directed to the turning of the calendar, and it said something like, “What is one thing you want to tell me?” And so, here are my thoughts as inspired by that question.

What are the things I want to tell you? I want to tell you that no matter what anyone says, you are special and unique. You have your own individual gifts and talents that make you perfectly you. These gifts and talents, when fully realized, will help you to be the best version of yourself. Don’t minimize your talents because someone doesn’t like who you are. Don’t let someone else’s expectations of you influence your essence.

I want to tell you to embrace your passions because doing so will help you and the world around you. If you are passionate about helping others, get out there and do it. If you love to build things and work with your hands, go find a place where you can build. If you know you need to create beautiful things or generate ideas, find a way to feed that passion so you can nurture your soul. Don’t give up what you want to do because you feel constrained. Look for ways to engage your passions.

I want to tell you to shed unhealthy influences so you can truly live your best life. I am not denying there are things we all have to do that we might not enjoy. However, if you are losing who you are for others or for unhealthy habits, rethink your relationship to that person or thing. Unless the person is a child or elder who depends on you for their very existence, you might consider limiting their influence on you and your activities for your own wellbeing. Work to combat unhealthy addictions so you can move forward unencumbered. Recognize toxic influences for what they are and take steps to let them go.

I want to tell you to set boundaries that work for you. If you are working too much, step back and reconsider your schedule. Are you taking on extra work? Are you constantly going above and beyond expectations? Do you feel you are picking up slack for others in your work environment? Critically evaluate your schedule. Cut back where you can and let someone else pick up the slack every now and then. Time is our most valuable resource. Use it wisely.

I want to tell you to take care of yourself. Time and again, we hear that we will only be our best for others if we are our best for ourselves. I truly believe this is the case. We are given one body just as we are giving limited time. If we do our best to take care of it—in sickness and in health—we will feel our best and perform our best. When we eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep, we have the energy necessary to get through the day and to push through the tough times. Improved physical health can contribute to better mental health and overall attitude. Make a positive investment in yourself.

I want to remind you to be realistic. If you have not exercised in years, you won’t be running a marathon next week. If your living space is full of clutter, tackle it one room at a time (or one shelf at a time, if necessary) rather than all at once. Small improvements will give you satisfaction that will encourage continued effort until the job is done. Being realistic is not telling yourself all the reasons you can’t do something but taking the steps to move toward success.

I want to tell you that a spirit of gratefulness goes a long way to fostering a positive attitude. Create a habit of thankfulness for all that you have and all that you’ve gone through. Each day, each journey—good or bad—contributes to who you are and who you are becoming. Your identity—your self—is made up of every experience, every lesson, and a small bit of every individual you have come across. Be grateful for the richness of your life and experience—past, present, and future—as these things weave together to create the best you possible.

I want to encourage you to move into 2021 with intention. I want to encourage you to focus on all the ways you can bring your best self to all that you do. Despite whatever may happen this year, find a way to look for the positive. Be fully you. Make some noise. As you move into 2021, bring your thunder.

{Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash}