theledger.com:
The Renowned Miss Manners

When it comes to social niceties, I wouldn’t put myself up there with Miss Manners. (Where in the world is she, by the way…and is she feeling hopelessly redundant these days?). But, even when it requires effort and feels really tedious, I can behave as I’m expected to “in polite society” – at least for an acceptable amount of time. It’s not that I want to be disrespectful – definitely not mean – it’s just that certain social conventions seem so silly:  like we’re doing things according to some script, and not because anyone really wants to do ‘the thing’.

workingmums.co.uk

Cases in point:  I will never say, “Oh, that’s ok” if it really isn’t. I’ll never invite you to lunch if I don’t ever intend to have lunch with you. If I’m not ‘feeling it’, but you press to get my phone number, I’m going to send immediate signals that’ll be very hard for you to misinterpret.

On my recent overseas trip I met another traveler who telegraphed romantic interest right away. I enjoyed our conversations in the moment, but when he asked if I might like to visit him in New York, well…

There’s a social convention that I find totally mystifying. I don’t know if it’s a lack of authenticity, Extreme Manners, or just a discomfort with self-expression. Here’s one scenario:  I run into a friend I haven’t seen in a long, long time. We were never very close – never shared personal information, family updates, etc. When we meet, we hug and smile and briefly catch up. When we’re about to part company – there it is:  “We should get together for lunch or a drink sometime!” So we exchange phone numbers, pretty sure that neither of us is going to call or text the other. (Sometimes we do, but mostly we don’t.) Why is this?

For busy people – jobs, family, our hobbies, or just being happy hermits — we’re all engaged in what I used to call ‘sifting’, but now realize is actually Swiping. Who has access to us begins with our close-personals:  spouses, kids, genuine friends; sometimes co-workers.

Working outward from our Inner Circle, we begin sifting / swiping our Connections. After all, we only have a finite amount of time, energy, compassion, interest, (I call it mental file space) to entertain the thought of more Person-able responsibility. Which means more conversation; more sharing; perhaps more obligations. Most of us have to guard against becoming overloaded. Makes sense. Add to this a delicate Truth:  we all know the person who ‘means well’, or has ‘a good heart’, but who is a human Black Hole, demanding more time and energy than we can muster or give.

So, as we all go about our lives, conventional behavior dictates that we also go through the motions of “let’s try to get together’, or, “I’ll call you”, even though we know there’s never going to be any follow through. But what’s the polite alternative? Pretty rough to say, “I’ve enjoyed seeing you again but – sorry – I’ve gotta Swipe Left.”  I don’t know…is this actually worse than committing to a call or a text, with no intention of doing either?

The fellow traveler suggested that I plan to visit him ( in NYC) – a gutsy leap, considering our short and superficial chats, so, ‘points’ for assertiveness. Still, I did not, could not say, “Sure, that sounds great.” Because it didn’t. (The ‘chemistry’s’ there, or it isn’t). So, I just smiled and pointed to an enormous stork nest atop a minaret, in Morocco – with a stork perched in it. The New Yorker clocked my stork-distraction as a ruse to get out of answering his invitation, and the moment passed.

I did feel a little bad that I couldn’t respond more favorably to New York, but proud that I didn’t say that I would come – or, even worse – create a plan to go without feeling a genuine interest in the man.

At the end of the day, these kinds of things can weigh heavy on my mind, causing me to scrutinize my own authenticity. I don’t ever want to intentionally mislead anyone, or be hypocritical. So yes: I’m going to Swipe My Life, hoping that that the other person can somehow appreciate this as a kindness. I doubt that Miss Manners would approve, but my own conscience does, and that’s what matters most.

I hate going to the doctor. Any doctor, any time (even when I’m sick and might need one), for any reason. Even benign check-ups. It’s not quite at the phobic-level, but close. Recall what early American pioneers took note of as they moved out West, and encountered Native Americans for the first time. If a newcomer wanted to take a photograph of an indigenous person, they were refused. As American folklore explains it, these original Americans felt that a photograph would rob them of all, or part of, their soul-essence. Thanks, but no thanks. That’s how I feel about most of the medical profession. Irrational, maybe, but there it is.

telegraph.co.uk

When a person reaches his or her 90’s, even in relatively good health, more and more doctors creep quietly onto the stage. Yesterday, as I do every week, I spoke with my uncle who lives about 2,500 miles from me. He’s 91 and still able to be independent; mentally and physically active. And yet, his health has to be ‘monitored’. As he puts it, “At my age, it’s always something.” So off he went, to one of his half-dozen doctors two days before our talk, feeling fairly strong and fit, considering. But as soon as he was put into a room to wait for the physician’s assistant, my uncle said he began to feel anxious. When the P.A. arrived and did a blood pressure check, my uncle’s was abnormally high. “You know,” he later told me on the phone, “it doesn’t do a damn bit of good for them to tell me to ‘relax’.

I can relate. The next day I went to get a flu shot (which I always argue with myself about, but end up doing it anyway). Waiting for the nurse my pulse was amped and my breathing was shallow. When she arrived and was ready to jab my shoulder with her needle, she put her arm down, eyeballed me, and said, “Relax this muscle and try to breathe through it!” as she poked the target on my arm. Easier said than done.

As I was leaving that place (as fast as I could), I began thinking about all of the scenarios in which someone had told me to Just-relax-and-breathe-through-it. Labor pains, and the birth of my son; a therapist I went to, when my entire organization was melting-down and people were literally ‘keying’ one another’s cars and slashing tires out of spite; trying to focus on my attorney’s words, as we discussed my brother’s lawsuit over my father’s inheritance, robbing me of two years of peace of mind.

whitespacestudio.co.uk

Relax. Breathe. Sometimes I play a mental game with myself during stress. I compare what I’m presently going through to the absolute worst-case moments I’ve had before.  Just to keep perspective. Which, I know,  isn’t the same as breathing-through whatever ‘it’ is. Because breathing-through it means allowing the terror to enter my heart, to lie coiled there for as long as it wants (while I try to ignore it), until it gets bored and goes away. Intellectually, I understand that a tensed muscle equals resistance, which equals more pain. But something much deeper, and more primal closes my ears and makes me want to hide from scary moments. When I hear, “Relax and Just Breathe Through It”? Well, the expression “Hold my beer…” comes to mind.

en.wikipedia.org

Moments ago I was packing my carry-on for my flight (just hours away now) to Montreal, then Casablanca and beyond, when a long-ago memory flashed in my mind. I was a little girl, with friends at a community swimming pool, being goaded into climbing the high-dive:  about 10 meters, or 33 feet above the pool’s surface. Most of my friends were excellent swimmers and divers, but I wasn’t. Nevertheless, I climbed the metal ladder to the diving platform. My friends below laughed, pointed, not believing I’d go through with it. On the platform I was completely terrified. My internal organs felt like jelly – which I was sure they actually would be, once I hit the water. The audience below, now, also included most of the kids and parents at the pool that day.

All my life, as I think about it now, I’ve been taking ‘dares’ to do what others said I was incapable of:  too young, too old, too weak (read, a female). Or, what others said was too risky (read, ‘stupid’). Why, I wonder, have I always embraced fresh dares enthusiastically ? Those patterns were set as a child. Motherless at age 11 and living in a full household of males, I quickly realized that I was going to have to toughen up, fast. Being the baby (read ‘runt’) of the family didn’t endear me to my male tribe in terms of protection. I was expected to fight my own fights – literally.

dailymail.co.uk

One day at school that same year, a boy at school – a very big, heavy kid in my class about three times my weight – started talking trash about me. With the recent death of my mother, my father had gone into complete shock. Ever the little trooper, I dressed myself and made my own breakfast before school. Most of the time, nothing I decided to throw on that day matched, or was even appropriate for the weather. Who cared? I had bigger concerns on my mind.

So this boy started talking and I set him straight with some smart talk of my own. He backed off, but later on that day, I was playing with friends in my neighborhood and he – for some reason – was there. He approached me, pushed me to the ground and then…sat on me. Laughing. His weight made me feel like a bug being squashed. I, of course, was screaming and cursing like a banshee, scratching and trying to bite (he eventually let me go). On that exact day, at that exact moment, I realized that fear was not going to squash my spirit – ever. Despite the odds, despite the risks, I was going to ensure that every single day would involve something just a little bit out of my comfort zone.

travelnation.co.uk

In one of Deepak Choprah’s books (I can’t remember which one), he urges us to “Look to this day:  it is the very life of Life”. My trip to Morocco will be new territory for me. Making the dive from 33 feet above the water was a game-changer for me. Making sure the school bully got his come-uppence after “teaching the little skinny girl a lesson” ? That was just pure, sweet icing on the cake.

Michaelangelo’s David, vam.ac.uk

Before I turn the spotlight on men, I want to offer two bits of context. First, my Post for today is from a ‘binary’ perspective. Limited, I know, but there it is. And second, I need to give a fact-based “nod” (you’ll see how it relates, promise) to women. Author Gita Patel (2013) compiled extensive research-based data about how uniquely qualified women are considered in global business and overall professional settings. Women are valued in the corporate world as being more “people-based”, “democratic and participative”,  and more “inclusive”.

womankind.org.uk

The stunner (for me, anyway):  Patel’s research reveals that women were “rated more competent in taking initiative, practicing self-development, integrity and honesty, as well as for being results-driven.” These are generally considered more masculine attributes in many societies.

Which leads me (and other Readers, I imagine) to wander – mentally – into the territory of Power, and what it means to men and women. But since this Post is In Praise of Men, that’s where I’m headed.

Social psychologists (pop, or legit) have always regarded Power as a key driver in the male psyche. Personal power. Professional power. Feeling a degree of control and influence over internal and external happenings. As I think about the men (surrounded by them while growing up) in my life — the energy, aspirations and drive…the tension, aggression and occasional acting-out – this makes so much sense. Maybe it was because I was the only girl in a crowd of brothers, but my father liked to ‘school’ me about males. Paraphrasing here, my own father (a stern, strong, stoic) said that, despite how single-minded they can appear (trying to address the need to find, and hold on to Power), most men need and deserve compassion and, most importantly, praise. No matter how gruff, ego-centric or stoic they appear (of course, Dad was also referring to himself), they are “no match for women and they know it” (a direct quote).

The Red Planet, Mars, independent.co.uk

Men, as author Robert Ardrey implied, have always been – since the days of early man – programmed in certain ways that have become increasingly difficult to act out in today’s world. Since the early days of Feminism, many men have struggled to re-align themselves with the changing needs and perspectives of women.

As a young (single) man in his 30’s recently confided, “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”. Too emotionally attuned to your girlfriend’s needs? She ghosts you for a Bad Boy. Too focused on your career and establishing yourself (trying to find your own balance of power in the corporation)? She accuses you of not valuing the relationship and your future together – she suddenly wants to marry and start a family.

psychologytoday.com

Yesterday I was out and about and had to stop in for a shot of espresso to fortify myself for another few hours. A man was coming out of the bistro as I was entering. I reached for the door handle, which he already had a hold of on his side. Our eyes met. Not for the first time, I saw the tentativeness in the man’s expression as he prepared to hold the door open for me. As I tell my millennial son, “Your mom raised you right.” It’s not that I needed the door opened for me, being perfectly able-bodied to do so myself. It’s that the man chose to open the door, in gallant fashion. (Personal experience note:  Southern men will always open doors for women.) This was his choice, and I allowed it.

It’s not just ‘gallantry’ that I appreciate in men – far from it. It’s more the way they’ve continued to evolve and find their correct and comfortable place in confusing situations. As a woman, I encourage and embrace men: “Welcome to our world.” That’s just a small part of my role on Planet Earth.

La Tour Eiffel:
independent.co.uk

I notice and appreciate any kind of advertising that credits consumers with being able to react and respond to cleverness and wit. Especially when use of language (not just catchy music or jingles) involves more creativity than just repetitive slogans. There’s a popular clothing company, brick and mortar and (of course) online that has adopted a phrase that the French would call a “double entendre” —  double-meaning in English. The phrase is in fact in French, “Bien Fait”, and can translate as ‘well-made’ or ‘well-done’ (as in an accomplishment, not a piece of meat). Bien Fait is clever because it implies that the clothing and accessories made by the company are of quality. But it also slyly compliments the purchaser on her taste in selecting whatever item(s) from the company.

Golden Gate Bridge: jigsawpuzzlesdirect.co.uk

Which got me thinking recently, how important, yet how rare positive recognition can be in our society. I’m speaking specifically of Life in California, which I’ll acknowledge may not be similar to Life anywhere else on planet Earth – in terms of our social interactions. In fairness to my home state, however, this phenomenon may actually be more of a Big City affliction. I think of it as an affliction because, very often, there’s a deliberate effort in our personal interactions as well as professions to refrain from too much positive affirmation. Compliments. Praise. Recognition. Aside from promotions and pay bumps, how often do people in positions of power extend meaningful ‘kudos’:  eye contact, a smile, a handshake or pat on the shoulder; a Thank You ?

independent.co.uk

I have colleagues who, for one reason or another, have been unable to find employment in the field of organizational consulting or human resources in California. But other states in the U.S. are more than happy to hire them. These other states have lured my friends with higher salaries and better benefits. But more importantly, my erstwhile colleagues report feeling enthusiastically welcomed and treated like rare professional “gems” by companies outside of California.

Closer to home, I’ve observed that in both personal and professional settings, many people are almost hyper- judicious in their praise and gratitude for hard work. Why is this? We’ll “gush” over a new baby or a new puppy, but perhaps not so enthusiastically recognize a fellow human who creates or receives a standout moment in his or her life. Are we jealous? Are we in the belief that offering recognition or praise somehow compromises our own ‘standing’, in relationship to the person who’s experienced a triumph? Do we let our egos get in the way, when someone deserves and would really flourish with a “Well-done!”  from us?

canstockphoto.co.uk

I’m often in a hurry and distracted by my various projects. I’ll admit that I have to make a conscious effort to slow down, make eye-contact, and offer authentic gratitude and praise to those who make my life easier; and to those who’ve accomplished meaningful growth or tasks, large or small, in or outside of my immediate purview. I can see what a difference a simple “nod” can make, in the way even strangers’ faces light up; their shoulders relax, and they smile. They feel, for a second, connected and included through their value. Bien Fait.