Compassion

It’s a complicated world we live in, and it’s important that we stop dancing around some of the bigger issues that threaten our safety and our society.

Today, I received a lengthy and detailed email from some overarching authority at one of the institutions for which I work. This email discussed how to recognize and assist individuals in Distress, with a capital D. “Distress” was then broken down further into several categories: general distress, victims of sexual misconduct, those at risk of suicide or self-harm, and those who may be dangerous.

This last one—oh yikes! But true, even though it seems to hit a bit too close to home as we begin to dissect yet another mass shooting. I listen to the news as the sheriff says, “No one expects this…” even though we are all coming to expect this. I hear an official on ABCNews instruct, “We all should think about what we would do in this situation…” and I know that any plan I could make would be lost in the terror of the situation.

But for those of us who daily deal with vulnerable individuals on a personal level, it is important that we are familiar with the warning signs of Distress. It is important to know what hurt looks like; how pain manifests; and when anger crosses into danger. So I read through the email, and I will read it again to commit the details to memory.

To all of my family, friends, students, neighbors, acquaintances, past and present; to all the people I know only in passing… if you are in Distress, I am here, and I am listening. If you need to talk, I will hear you. If you need a shoulder to cry on, mine are strong and broad. If you need a hug, my arms are open. If you need to sit in the corner and cry without judgment, I will sit with you. If you need encouragement, I will cheer you on. If you need prayers, I will offer them up.

I know I am not alone in the offer of help. The world is full of caring, kind, compassionate individuals who will listen and be present. They are willing to lend a hand, give a hug, connect over coffee, offer words of encouragement, or say just the right thing to make you smile. If you need something, we are here. Please… speak up and let someone know. If we all work together, perhaps we can make this world a little friendlier, a bit softer, and just a touch less complicated.

Positivity Post: Helping out…

It was nearing lunchtime on a recent rainy day when one of my students appeared at my office door with a mystery that needed solving. She was breathless and dripping from her trek across campus. “Did I leave my jacket here last night?” she asked.

My memory completed a quick inventory of what I’d seen in the classroom that morning when I was cleaning up from last night’s late meeting. “I don’t think so, but we can check.” I stood and walked to the classroom door and flicked on the lights. A visual sweep revealed no jacket. “What does it look like?”

“It looks like this one,” she flipped up her hands, which were in her jacket pockets. “But it’s navy blue. I had it when I was tutoring, and I thought I brought it down here with me.” She sighed. “My ID is in the pocket.”

If you’ve been on a college campus lately—or had any contact with college students—you know that students need their IDs for pretty much everything—to get food in the dining hall, to unlock their dorms, to do their laundry…. This was serious.

“Do you remember when you last had it?” I questioned, taking on the diligent mom role, a role that seems to blend and bend into many aspects of my life.

“I wore it over when I was tutoring last night. That’s why I thought I might have left it in the meeting.”

Together, we went upstairs toward the tutoring room, but as I walked past the reception desk, I had a thought. “Hold on,” I said, stopping to check the drawer in the desk. The previous receptionist would sometimes put found items there for safe-keeping. The drawer was locked. “Not there, but let’s try the closet.” I opened the closed where we keep the mail, copy paper, and the receptacle for documents that need shredding. Two jackets hung from the rack, one of which was a navy blue windbreaker. “Is this it?” I asked, and her face brightened.

“That’s it!” she smiled.

I felt the pockets. “And your ID is in the pocket!” I handed her the jacket, and she left for lunch.

Now, I’m not saying it was my job to help this student find her jacket. In fact, it would have been very easy to send her off to find it herself. But it took less than five minutes out of my day, and because I know the building better than she does (and the places her “found” jacket was likely to end up), it made sense for me to help her. And the mom in me wanted to make sure she’d be able to get lunch….

A little kindness goes a long way, it seems. Not only did I help her find her jacket and ID, I scored some wins of my own. I gathered a few extra steps on my Fitbit, I had the satisfaction of making my student smile, and I was the recipient of her gratitude.

The next time I’m gong to send someone off to find something on their own, I might think twice. A little extra kindness goes a long way.

Encouragement

On a recent college visit, I was escorting my daughter across campus to the dining hall where she would meet up with the student who would be her “day host” for a class visit. As we walked, we passed by a post on which was taped a hand-written sign that said, “It gets better. I promise.”

I was struck by this sign because the truth is that life is a series of peaks and valleys and everything in between. When things are bad, they generally get better. We fight; we work; we pray; we cry; time goes by; and things get better. But a college student with less life experience may not realize this to be the case, especially when students are often told, “College is the best four years of your life.”

Newsflash: College is NOT the best four years of your life.

In fact, on that same college visit, I met with a professor, who was my professor when I was in college—about a gazillion or so years ago. Now, I haven’t seen this woman in a very long time. She looked at me and she said, “You look just like you did when you were twenty. But might I say, you look happier.” Her words prompted me to conduct an instant internal inventory that revealed that yes, I am happier than I was in college.

I tried to express my thoughts, “College… well, high school and college, really… they were tough times. Lots of social pressure and trying to figure out my identity and what I wanted from life.” And then we got to talking about kids today, the pressures they face, and the complications of social media in all its superficial glory. Truly, it was tough enough to grow up back in the seventies and eighties without the pressures brought on by social media. Is it any wonder so many young people nowadays suffer from anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other mental illnesses?

On my way back to the parking lot, I stopped and took a picture of the sign I had seen earlier. This sign is a message to all of us that whatever we’re going through… this too, shall pass.

And perhaps there will be one person who walks by this sign, and these words of encouragement might just make a world of difference. Whatever it is, it will get better. I promise.

Me Too

As the #metoo posts began to populate my Facebook timeline last weekend, I grew deeply disturbed at how widespread the problems of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, gender discrimination, etc. have been. How has our society continued to perpetuate the objectification of women without question? Yet, despite the fact that every one of my woman friends was posting #metoo, I couldn’t bring myself to post on my status, and it took me some time to figure out why not.

Even many years later, in each case without exception, I can still tell you exactly why I was at fault—for one reason or other—for the times I was a victim of abuse or harassment. If I had done something differently, if I had been more careful… these situations would not have happened. It seems that when the lines of appropriate and inappropriate are blurred from the time a girl is young, that girl accepts blurred lines as the manner in which the world is set up.

When I was 17, I was walking through the town square in a country far away. It was early afternoon—siesta time—and the square was nearly deserted. I should have been back to my host home earlier, and I was trying to get back as quickly as I could. I was walking quickly on a path that ran diagonally through the center of the square. As I passed an older man, he grabbed my thigh as if he had a right to touch me however he wanted. My heart and pace quickened, and I did not look back. I was young, alone, and scared, walking the fence between two cultures, unable to speak the local language. I should not have been out during siesta when the streets were quiet and everyone else was settling in at home. I had been out with a friend and time slipped away from us. It was a risky move, and the unwanted advance—it clearly could have been prevented if I had been returned earlier.

In my early 20s, one of my student charges was popping popcorn and tripped a breaker in the dorm where I served as hall parent. It was after evening study hall, and I had to request help from a campus security guard to fix it. I followed him to the breaker box—in a dark room—where he lit our path with a flashlight. Until he had other ideas and switched off the flashlight. It was my fault for following him into a dark room and trusting him to light the way.

Again in my 20s, I was told that an entire office of male workers would discuss my backside as they watched me in the parking lot from a nearby window. First of all, do men not have anything better to do? Second, what did one man expect when he came to me to tell me that—with a creepy smile on his face? And third, why were there no self-checking men in the group who were willing to step forward and stop the others from objectifying a young woman? Was I not supposed to venture into the parking lot where they could see me?

I have faced unwanted advances, harassment, and discrimination from peers, coworkers, teachers, doctors, bosses, and strangers on the street, and thanks to #metoo, I know I am not alone. It is a process that begins when girls are young and continues through adulthood. We become so accustomed to this behavior from the other half of the population that we begin to accept it without question, often blaming ourselves for not being strong enough, for wearing the wrong clothes, for being in the wrong place, or for trusting when we shouldn’t.

What I find disturbing is not only that we allow this harassment—this clear display of man’s power over woman—to perpetuate, but we make women feel responsible for the abuse. You shouldn’t have dressed that way. How many of us have heard those words? You shouldn’t have walked that way or You shouldn’t have been in that place.

No, I am not to blame in these situations. Men are to blame. Men who feel it is their right to objectify women and treat them as pieces and parts rather than as whole, intelligent, amazing, complicated, and competent human beings. And the silent men are to blame. Men who sit by listening to other men talk about women this way and watching other men treat women this way. Because if you sit idly by and say nothing, you are part of the problem.

It is time that women gather together, draw on our collective power, and release it out into the society as a loud and resounding NO! It is time that men stand up to other men and stop tolerating the “locker room talk” simply because it was once an accepted part of male culture. These people you are discussing…? These are mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. What if it was your mother or your daughter that was being discussed? These people—these women—they should be your people.

We have tolerated this behavior for far too long. It’s time we create a different world, a better world, for our daughters and their daughters, and all the daughters to come. It’s time expect better and end the cycle of #metoo.

{Image credit: Unsplash.com/Mihai Surdu}

Tools for Online Pursuits

As a mom, I feel it is my job to make sure my children know everything they need to know when I send them out into the world, but there are two problems with that. First, how could I possibly know all that they will need to know? And second, I can’t keep up with the ever-changing world to make sure my children are fully protected with an armor of knowledge. I can only give them tools they will need to build their own armor and change it as necessary. And the tools they will need are constantly evolving.

Take the recent situation of one of my students as an example. She did everything as she thought she should, yet she still got stuck in a situation that seemed a bit sketchy. Thankfully, she recognized enough signs of danger to seek advice.

I entered the situation as she was negotiating feelings of mounting unease around a potential job opportunity. She had responded to an interesting job posting she found on a professor’s course site, a seemingly legit opportunity because of where she found it. She applied, and—through communication completely via text message—was asked to attend an interview, which she did. But the interview situation was a bit off. First, the student was greeted by the father of a client (here is where age and experience are beneficial—those of us who have been in the real world for any amount of time know that a professional organization would never have a client greet a potential worker in the first interview.)

When the interviewer finally did show up, she was dressed in leggings and a t-shirt and made excuses about the work not being conducive to business attire. Both of these things caught my student off guard, and made her more attentive to her feelings about this job.

It wasn’t until the following week that she dug in her heels. The woman texted my student that she had scheduled an orientation session before the second interview—in fact, it was before she had officially been offered a job—and it would be that afternoon. The student was given an address and a time and told to bring her identification documents.

It seemed like an odd turn of events, and this is where I started asking questions: What is the name of the company? Where are they located? What will you be doing? When she could answer none of these questions, we sat down and did some research. We looked up the address that she had been given for her “orientation.” Google maps gave us a nondescript office building on which there was no company name. We Googled any and all information the student had, but we came up with no more answers than when we started. At that point, I advised her to forgo this particular job and look for something more certain.

A few days later, she and I sat with the Career Planning director to figure out where the job posting had originated and how best to deal with it. The director had the same advice that I had already given the student. Even if this was a legitimate job offer, the company was so unprofessional that she didn’t want to work there, anyway.

In truth, there is no way of knowing what might have happened if my student ignored her instincts and went to the orientation session. However, this situation got me to thinking about how best to guide my children as they navigate the tangled web of the “business” aspects of the online environment.

Teach your children—and any young people you are in contact with—to be aware of fraud and scams such as this may have been. Teach them to look for inconsistencies, to be alert to potential problems, and help them to determine when something is legitimate and when it is not. The fact that there was no searchable company information on this job posting was the first of many red flags.

Let your kids know that the rules of safety in social situations also apply to any other situation that is unknown—professional opportunities, buying/selling items off Internet sites, meet-up groups, etc. Bring a buddy, let others know where you are, check in, and meet in a neutral and public location.

If things don’t seem to add up, don’t pretend they do or dismiss any warning signs. It is easy to excuse one issue. Okay, the interviewer is dressed for comfort because the company works with children. However, when there are two things that don’t add up, three, or four, pay attention. The pieces don’t fit together because the situation may not be what it seems to be.

Encourage your teens/young adults to listen to their instincts. That “bad feeling” you have? It’s there to warn you. Too often, we encourage ourselves to deny our gut reactions to situations. Animals are equipped with instinct to protect them from harm. We, too, are animals, and if we pay attention to our instincts, they will help to guide and protect us.

Teach them to ask for help when they need it. If young people need advice about a situation, or they are feeling threatened, they shouldn’t hesitate to seek help—even if that means making some noise. And likewise, if you see a young person who seems to be struggling or needs some advice, step in and offer to help them out. So many young people are left to figure out the subtleties of life, of growing up, on their own, and they may welcome the guidance an older, more experienced adult.

Positivity Post: Lessons from the Bug

Last week, I was driving to my son’s college to drop him off for the start of the school year. The car was stuffed to bursting with all of the necessities of college dorm life, so much so that my son was in the car in front of me. We were traveling up the highway at a good clip when a peculiar bug appeared from somewhere in the back of the car, flew directly between my face and the windshield, and settled on the window of the driver side door. I batted at it, and as I started to roll down the window, it flew to the windshield.

The bug was long and thin and black and pointy like it would sting with a vengeance. My daughter was in the seat next to me, pressing up against the door and watching as I frantically batted at the bug. I was not sure whether I was trying to kill it or brush it out the window—whatever was necessary to remove it from the car—all the while continuing to drive at highway speeds. My window was open, and each time I tried to flick it out, it would fly in the other direction.

“Mom, I think you should pull over,” my passenger commanded. “You’re going to crash the car if you don’t.” She had a point. I turned on my directional signal, glanced in my completely blocked rear view mirror, and pulled to the side of the road, my tires buzzing across the rumble strip.

At this point, the bug was on the windshield, and as I tried to move it toward my open window, it flew to the other side of the car and landed on my daughter’s window. She shifted to the other side of her seat as she slowly and carefully rolled down her window and was able to coax the bug out of the car. She quickly put up the window before it found its way back in, and we carefully pulled onto the highway, navigating the blind spots (i.e. anything behind me or to my right) provided by the cargo.

A few miles ahead, we merged with another highway, and as we did, I looked to my right, attempting unsuccessfully to check the right lane around my loaded car. As I did so, I was surprised to see the bug clinging to the outside of the passenger window.

“That bug must be mad at you,” I said to my daughter. “It’s clinging to your window.”

But it wasn’t long before its thread-like legs couldn’t hold on through the winds of highway speed travel, and it was gone. But this got me thinking…. The bug was clinging to what it thought was safe, what it knew. Letting go was a much bigger risk because the bug didn’t know what would happen to it when it let go. Yet, letting go would provide it with the very freedom it was seeking.

How many things do we hold on to because we can’t see the unknown? How often do we cling to what is safe and familiar when we might be better off if we take a risk, let go, and tumble through the unknown, growing wings and strength as we go?

Perhaps next time I find myself in a situation where I’m clinging to what is safe, I’ll remember the lesson of the bug. Rather than using all of my strength to hold on, maybe I’ll take a risk—let go and enjoy the ride. Taking a risk may be scary, but gaining newfound freedom might just be priceless!

(Not so) Random Ads

So… I’m on Facebook today, and a random ad for Home Depot pops up. Well, I’m not really going to say it was “random” because I was on the Home Depot website earlier today looking for a new umbrella for my deck. The wind apparently took mine the other day when I wasn’t home. [This time, I think I’ll get a base and some clamps….]

But this pop-up ad was a bit surprising. It was for a “Life Pod Shelter,” purportedly for protection from tornadoes. The one for which I had an ad was a “14-Person Underground Storm Shelter,” for the bargain price of $7865. A similar storm shelter that will hold four people is only $3809.

Now here’s the thing. I live in New England, which is not known tornado country, though tornadoes have been known to strike upon occasion and under the right circumstances (perhaps that’s what happened to my umbrella…). I have not been searching for any kind of storm shelter, fallout shelter, or even a garden shed. In fact, I live in a townhouse, so I couldn’t bury one in my backyard if I wanted to (which I don’t). So I’m wondering if anyone else has similar ads popping up on their social media sites. Since the political climate is glaringly volatile right now, perhaps Home Depot thought they would be proactive in promoting this product.

Not surprisingly, this product “isn’t currently sold in stores.” I imagine storing these pods in your average big box store could be quite a challenge. However, you can order one with standard shipping (curbside delivery at the bargain rate of $55…) and it will arrive at your house between September 5 and 11. I’m afraid that might be too late. It seems the danger may be more imminent than that, but if you start excavating your yard before it arrives….

If you are curious and want to check it out, go to Home Depot. It’s listed under “Storage & Organization.” No kidding.

{Image credit: FreeImages.com / Michael Kaufmann}