Positivity Post: Middle Ground

The recent trend in society focuses on rigid dichotomies. On all issues, it seems, we must fall on one side or the other. We are either one thing or the opposite; for some unknown reason, it is no longer okay for our ideas to fall anywhere in the middle.

Just ask anyone who is directing the societal rhetoric these days. We are either right or wrong. We are either winning or losing. We are a success or a failure. As everyone on social media is happy to tell us, we cannot be a partial success or a partial failure—we are one or the other. There is no longer and acceptable in-between and there is no way to be anything other than an extreme. Or is there?

It seems we have forgotten that all the good stuff resides in the middle. If we are wrong—and even if we are right—there are lessons to be learned from our situation. If we win, there are still important things that we should examine in order to continue the trend of winning. And if we lose, there are moments of greatness within our losing that are worth reviewing. These lessons, these moments, these important messages… they lie somewhere in the middle.

When we have two sides that are opposing—Republican and Democrat, to name a hot one—it is vital that we don’t let our differences get in the way of our progress. We must examine the middle ground to see what we have tossed aside in our desperate need to be right—so right that we forget to leave room for something else.

That middle ground—it is incredibly fertile. That’s where there are ideas and inspirations and moments and messages and tidbits and wisdom and experience that we can use as tools to help us navigate our differences, overcome our struggles, and get us closer to the spot where the sun shines and “argument” turns into “discourse.”

So come with me to the Middle Ground. Let’s go together. Let’s have some brilliant discussion and come up with some inspiring ideas. Let’s toss around our creativity, have some snacks, and share some laughs. If we can meet in the middle [and linger there], there is no doubt that our common threads of color and light and inspiration will lead us to solutions. Perhaps by examining the Middle Ground, we might even rediscover how much we like spending time together in conversation, and we can begin to build a bridge between us.

Advertisements

Advice to My Younger Self

Watching teens go through their various challenges is one of the more difficult parts of parenting. I always thought it would be great if I could somehow spare my children the trauma of middle school and high school. These are the years when kids are jockeying for some kind of ridiculous social position. They want to be seen as the best, the brightest, the funniest, the prettiest, the most popular, the most athletic, etc. The “senior superlatives” celebrated in the local high school speak to the role such competition plays in the lives of teens.

And yet, competition—being the best athlete, having the most friends—these are not the things that are the most important in life. The most important things in life are how we treat other people and how we treat ourselves.

By channeling my younger self and tapping into some of the challenging experiences I remember, I can offer some advice to my teenage self [which is actually thinly veiled advice to my teens…].

Mind your own business, and don’t get involved in other people’s drama. There may be situations that look enticing, and times when it is tempting to step into someone else’s train wreck. And there is no reason not to step in with a sincere offer of help. Otherwise, drama is always good to avoid—your own, and that of others.

Set your goals high. The higher your goals are, the farther you will go. If your goals are easily obtainable, you will not have a reason to keep pushing yourself and keep growing. As a wise teacher once said, “If you are not growing, you are dying.” Setting your goals high will give you a reason to keep growing.

Find your own internal motivators. You have to find meaning in what you do, and that meaning has to come from you. No one else can make sense of your life and your activities. No one else can give you reason to complete tasks, to earn good grades, and to pursue your goals. That meaning and sense of purpose has to come from you.

Walk away from those who don’t treat you well. Keep walking and don’t look back. There are many people who use others, manipulate them, control them, etc. These people, they will get what’s coming to them. It’s called karma, and it really does exist.

Don’t let other people define your limits. Other people are always quick to tell you what you can and can’t do. For example, You shouldn’t pursue a career in [insert creative endeavor here] because you won’t be able to make a living. When I was in graduate school, my advisor—who had met me moments before—looked at my proposed plan of study and said, “You can’t take that many courses. You won’t be successful.” I wanted to say, Watch me! Instead, I just nodded and said these were the courses I would take, thank you very much. Sometimes, people tell you things because they want what’s best for you. Sometimes, they don’t want you to be disappointed. However, only you can determine what’s best for you. And that leads to the next point…

Find your passion and pursue it. If you love to write, find a way to incorporate that love into your college program or your career path. If you are passionate about biology and music, be creative about how these two pursuits might fit together into a career that will feed your soul. If you can’t figure out how to form your passion into a career, at least continue to pursue the activity in a way that is meaningful to you.

Always be true to yourself. You know who you are and what you stand for. Don’t compromise your values or yourself to fit another person’s idea of who you should be. Be you because that is the best and most viable choice you can make.

Happy New You

If you are looking for resolutions for 2018, if you are thinking about a way to improve yourself as we rush headlong into a new year, take a moment to think about the conversations you play and repeat in your head.

What do you tell yourself about who you are? What societal influences have you allowed to slip into your sub-conscious and become a part of who you are? In what ways have you lost touch with your true, authentic self?

Flush out all of the negative thoughts that make you feel you are not good enough. Move away from the constant pressure of social media and the “friends” you maintain there. Take some time away from the Internet to meditate and reflect on who you are and who you want to be. Do what’s necessary to find your true, authentic self.

That is where you will find your happiness and your best self this year and in the years to come. Happy New Year!

The Right Tools

On Christmas morning, we woke up to the quintessential “white Christmas.” Snow was falling thick and heavy, sticking to the trees and piling up on the lawn and driveway. It was the scene everyone longs for on Christmas.

But a white Christmas does not come without its challenges, most notably, the need to deal with snow removal. Snow doesn’t simply go away, and it can’t stay on the driveway and walkways… unless we want to be immobilized until spring, that is, and I’m pretty sure that was not in the cards. So I donned my warm winter snow boots, jacket, and gloves, and I trudged to the shed where—it was promised—I would find my dad’s “snow shovel.”

Let me take a moment to explain my use of quotes on the term “snow shovel.” In my parents’ house, the shovel that had been used (for many years) to rid the walkways of snow seems to be more of a lightweight garden shovel than an actual, dedicated snow shovel.

Sure enough, the shovel that I expected to find was standing at attention on the floor of the shed, waiting for me, taunting me, no doubt. Mom had also offered me a beautiful, rusty child’s snow shovel that I had when I was a child, back in the Dark Ages. This shovel held a picture of a cheerful snowman, and the handle was wiggly and just a few sizes too short for my adult frame.

I used the child-shovel to do a quick scraping of the stairs before I grabbed the larger shovel and headed out toward Mom’s car. After I removed the snow from the car (with a proper tool, not with the shovel!), I started to clean out the snow around the car. I shoveled, removing the snow so she would be able to get to the drivers side door without incident. The shovel was heavy with a long handle. It wasn’t flat like the scraper I was used to, and I struggled with it. With each scoop of snow I threw, I could hear Dad’s voice: “I’ve used this shovel for 40 winters, and it has always served me well. It’s a good snow shovel, nice and light.” Clearly, Dad had not held one of the newer plastic shovels designed specifically for snow. If he had, he’d know it was the right tool for the job.

From the car, I shoveled a narrow path down the driveway, a temporary walkway until the plow arrived to remove the snow from the driveway. When I was done, I retreated to the cozy warmth of the house.

The next day, I went out and purchased two new shovels for Mom, one large with a wide, flat blade and one, a very small scoop with a telescoping handle. It was far from an extravagant purchase, but Mom now has the tools she needs for the next storm. However, I am willing to confess it was maybe a little selfish of me. Now, when I’m at Mom’s house and it snows, I have the shovels I need so I don’t feel like I’m stuck and trying to dig out from the 1950s!

Weather

The weather outside is frightful. And by frightful, I mean the weather has been anything but mild. This weekend started as a snowy mess, and the next day—as the temperature was hovering just below freezing—it rained. Nonstop.

Friday morning, I had a long overdue hair appointment, and I stopped on the way home to pick up some Christmas presents. The drive was slow and somewhat dicey, and I was more than happy to finally land safely at home. My children were already home as the last day of school before vacation had been cut short for an inclement weather dismissal.

I had been home for about half an hour when the question came from the living room. “Mom, are the roads really that bad?” It was a question fashioned to determine whether or not the ask-er would be allowed to head out to the home of one friend or another.

“Yes,” I responded. “They’re pretty bad. No one is going to venture out on the roads today.”

From the kitchen table behind me, as if I had been conversing with a different child, came the statement, “I’m hearing off-roading.” I paused for a minute, just long enough to process that comment. And then I turned around and looked at W, my eyebrows raised in question.

He was smiling. “What?” he shrugged. “You said, ‘No one is going out on the roads today.’ You didn’t say anything about going somewhere off the roads,” he responded. And then he started to list off all of the places he could go off-roading.

These kids, they are always full of great ideas ….

Things I learn…

There are so many reasons I love working with college students. They have an energy and enthusiasm for life that is contagious. They have a wonderful perspective on the world that is both insightful and refreshing. They are at an age where they are poised on the edge of independence, but they still look to adults for guidance. And they are not afraid to settle in and get comfortable.

Yesterday, as I walked through one of the main student areas in our building, I noticed the shoes of one of my student workers tossed haphazardly on the floor under the chair on which she was perched. No doubt as she settled in for her tutoring shift, she kicked them off in an effort to make herself at home. And in truth, this—the college—is her home. And the fact that she had kicked off her shoes peeked my curiosity about this student, and I wanted to sit down with her, have a conversation, and learn about her life.

As I passed by these shoes on the floor, it didn’t even occur to me to suggest that she put them on to maintain a more “professional” appearance. In fact, I wanted to applaud her for her level of comfort, for being herself, and for taking this step to ground herself in the present and connect more closely with place. I found myself wanting to remove my own shoes and join her at the table. But I didn’t… because I had work to do.

I love working with college students because they have so many lessons to teach me. Pull up a chair, take off your shoes, and stay awhile. I’d love to tell you about all I’ve learned from the students I work with.

Periphery

I was driving home from a dance class this evening. It was rainy and dark and more than a little bit foggy. I was listening to a story on NPR about baking and bread and devising new recipes. The story had my attention because I hadn’t had enough dinner before I ran out the door, and I was hungry.

In the distance, a barely visible shadow streaked across the road in front of me, jolting my attention from the radio and from the task of driving. I strained my vision through the fog to discern what it was I was seeing. Was it a cat? It seemed a tad too large. Was it a fisher? It didn’t move in that awkward, uneven manner of a fisher. Or was it someone’s escaped dog? The figure was gray—barely a shade lighter than the gray of the foggy night—and I wondered if, in fact, I had really seen an animal dart across the road despite the clear sparkle of its eye.

But then my mind wandered to all of the things that are constantly playing at the edges of my consciousness. Just like the animal that had crossed my path, these things could slip by unnoticed unless they are given attention. A butterfly flits through the meadow on a summer breeze. A deer stands in the brush, munching on leaves and grass. A streetlight blinks and turns off.

But there are other things that hang out in the periphery, as well…. Ideas that aren’t yet fully formed, that are just beginning to take shape. Words that might have been spoken before the opportunity slipped away. Prayers that need to be said rather than kept inside.

Life has very few distinct edges. It blurs and frays and blends. The physical blends into the cognitive which blends into the spiritual in ways that are reminiscent of this evening’s fog. Our lives blend into the lives of others. If we relocate our attention, we might just shift our focus, our decisions, and quite possibly our reality. Imagine the possibilities.

{Photo by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash}