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There’s a time-worn idiom in the English language that I’ve always loved (English Lit. undergrad, I love all forms of word-play). This idiom is a verbal visual of someone painting a floor (I guess that was common, back in the day of rough-hewn floors) ‘blindly’, not realizing that his back’s against a wall: no way to leave the scene without stepping on wet paint and ruining the floor.

“Painting oneself into a corner” means, You did this to yourself; a blind move; a stupid move. The kind of move we all make in our lives – some of us many times over. The actual mistake can be harsh words that can’t be taken back; it can be bluff and nonsense about our skills; it’s very often a lie told that is sure to be discovered as a lie. Finding yourself in a corner, with no way to back-out unnoticed (without paint on your shoes and having to re-do the floor) is embarrassing on many levels:  it’s feeling exposed and foolish. For a minute, it’s hard to know just what to do. Then, the urge to get out of that corner becomes critical and there’s just no choice. You’re going to leave a mess, and be stuck with paint on the soles of your shoes.

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As human beings, we all say and do things that are ignorant, or that reveal our “tunnel vision” toward a situation. Our ego gets in the way and the resulting ‘corner’ we find ourselves in escapes our attention until it’s too late. Then, we  immediately feel the absurdity and humiliation of our predicament. (Anyone who’s ever embellished their resumé and then been asked about a particular aspect of it during an interview has lived through this idiom.) It’s clear to everyone watching or participating what’s happened. It’s usually pretty clear, also, what needs to happen next. But this is what’s so very hard for most of us (unless we’re toddlers, then it’s totally easy-peasy denial).

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Acknowledging that the predicament we’re in is of our own making, and reconciling this within ourselves is awkward. Even though making mistakes and ‘owning’ them is part of Life’s process of learning and growing, self-forgiveness — especially with a harsh Inner Critic –requires reflection and peace-making. But that’s only Part I. Part II is the way in which the person or people we’ve hurt or deceived react.

I had the opportunity today to watch and listen to someone – an older family member – realize he’d ‘painted himself into a corner’ — with snarky words aimed at a much younger relative who in no way deserved them. Within a matter of moments it was clear to me that – at his mature age (almost 70 years old) – the older man was still nurturing an ancient wound ; a grudge, to be exact; and had no way to explain (or back out from a painted-in corner with any dignity) his misplaced anger.

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What needed to happen right then?  “I’m sorry” would have been really good — perhaps even preventing the need for any further explanation. And what was the response from the other ‘side’? Sadly, but wonderfully, even though an apology never came, the recipient of the nasty words responded with grace by not acknowledging the misplaced anger. The younger man left the older man in his ‘corner’. Like a few people I’ve known in my life, I’m guessing he’ll stay in that corner until the garish red paint he splashed all over the floor with his words dries completely, and he can slink away. Even when Grace is extended, sometimes people don’t recognize it, or don’t feel they deserve it.

The Truth is, we all deserve Grace. We can wait, and hope it comes somehow, or, we can summon the courage in ourselves to ask for it.

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I can still remember the day my teenaged son screamed “I hate you!”:  three words that totally gut-punched me and shut down the argument we were having about his extremely poor choices (for the record, the kind that threaten life and limb). I was standing my ground, holding firm, sticking to the tenets of Tough Love. Until those three words eviscerated me. Feeling almost mortally wounded, I retreated. I’ve never forgotten how that felt.

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Whether we’re on the receiving end of Hate, or delivering Hate, the result is the same, as far as our bodies are concerned. In his book, “The Biology of Belief”, Dr. Bruce Lipton talks about the mind-body connection and the changes brought-about on a cellular level by negative emotions (giving or receiving). Lipton’s not the first (and won’t be the last) to connect the dots between human emotion and overall well-being.

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Anger – whether it’s impulsive, or becomes a lifestyle – is particularly harmful in the way it slowly corrodes our delicate internal systems. Lipton’s studies are too fascinating, too important, and much too data-detailed  (he’s a scientist, first and foremost) to summarize here. Instead, I’ll just share that Lipton’s one of my main Go-To’s,  when I’m struggling to understand hateful people.  

Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004) is another ‘giant’ in this area. Although she’s probably best known for her theory of The Five Stages of Grief, what I often — especially lately, here in the United States– “consult” (in my own head, anyway!) with her on is this:   when it comes to human emotions, there are really only two:  Love, and Fear.

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We know a lot about Love:  what it feels like, what it can do in our lives and in the World; how our bodies ‘float’ when we engage in pure acts of love toward other people, animals, Nature and our own Planet Earth. There’s no mistaking authentic Love. Even the superficial, media-created (think: films and TV) versions of ‘Love’– often cheesy and formulaic – can still be charming and sweet in their attempt to ‘copycat’ the Real Thing. What is harder to get a handle on is Fear, because it wears a few disguises: Hate being one of them  (Kübler-Ross, by the way, adds ‘anxiety’ and ‘guilt’ as other “masks” worn by Fear).

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When I consider the times in my life that I’ve encountered Hate, of course it’s always been a hateful person or hateful people:  animals don’t hate. That may seem like an idiotic observation, but I mention animals to make a distinction between what happens when Fear dons the mask of Aggression, versus when it shows itself as Hate. Fear can cause animals and people to feel threatened and go into offensive-mode.

But Hate is entirely different:  hate is a choice. Hate takes the normal survival-instinct of Fear and shoots one thousand volts of aggressive current through the body so that ‘fending off a predator’ is no longer the primary goal:  mental, emotional and even physical annihilation is.  And great suffering is a desirable part of the process.

How do we cope with hateful people? Is there a way of reaching their hearts, soothing their fears, disarming their need to inflict pain? I can only speak from experience and share what I know about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of this thinking. In my own family relationships, I came to the conclusion that, sometimes – regrettably — Fear appears more powerful than Love.

actor Malcolm McDowell as the despot Caligula

The Roman emperor Caligula, known for his extreme sadism and brutality, is supposed to have said, “I don’t care if [the People] love me, so long as they fear me!”  Some people, it seems to me, would much rather be feared than loved. Instilling fear in others equates with power, for these types. When powerful people (who have the ability to influence your happiness, sense of safety, stability and general welfare) decide to mobilize their own insecurities in hate-filled ‘attacks’, there’s really no reaching them.

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Kübler-Ross says that Love and Fear are mutually-exclusive:  they can’t co-exist at the same time. We must always – therefore – choose to operate from one or the other. In countering Hate, it seems to me that the only strategy is to acknowledge (actively, demonstrably) that Love is the better option. But since Hate is in full-body armor in our World today, Love must shield itself also, while remaining fully ‘present’ and steadfast, in a genuine struggle for Survival. It really doesn’t matter to me if you’d prefer to call Love’s armor God, the Universe, Allah, Jehovah, Divine Spirit, Gaia, or something else. As long as we stand together under one of Love’s many names, I’m with you.

My colleague and friend Deepak Patil recently published his doctoral dissertation. His topic was related to the Theory of Collective Intelligence. Think:  the wisdom of bees, ants, migrating birds and whales, and even plants and trees. A kind of inner-knowing, without a whole lot of empirical evidence beyond the research and speculation of scientists that study systems and patterns. What my friend Deepak did was investigate an emerging application of this theory, to human organizations.

While doing his research Deepak uncovered some very interesting, fairly recent studies and subsequent conclusions about how Collective Intelligence functions in groups:  allowing humans to come together more productively by exploring – among other things — the power of empathy, compassion, tolerance and something called “social perceptiveness”.

Why should we care about this? Because despite what our eyes and ears might be telling us at this very moment, Humans Beings – as a large and complex Tribe –actually have very positive tribal instincts. (I’m not referring here to the media’s version “tribalism”, which is more narrow in focus and typically pernicious.)

At the very depths of our being, we humans recognize the practical value of unity and cooperation. In the process of survival, the emotions and skill mentioned above become the “glue” that forges and cements relationships, ensuring that nurturing and protection is extended to all members of the tribe. This is the foundation of our Collective Intelligence as human beings.  And even though it’s not exactly‘ on display’ in the world around us, it’s not just an ideal, or a dream. It’s evident, in studies that began (Carnegie Mellon Institute) back in 2010.

From what I’ve just learned from Deepak about the actual science of it, on a human level I think that Collective Intelligence could  be casually defined as “what happens when we listen to our better angels.” Or, what happens when we try to stay in that “higher vibration” of daily living.

The Carnegie Mellon Institute (after its lengthy study of organizations worldwide), identified the presence of Collective Intelligence through a variety of assessments and observations. The resulting data indicated that significant Collective Intelligence could be identified and measured by three factors. The first was a high degree of Social Perceptiveness (the ability to read non-verbal cues); the second was the Distribution of Conversation (the degree of shared and transactional dialogue); and third was the Proportion of Females in the group (the higher number women, the stronger the Collective Intelligence.)

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The full Carnegie Mellon study is much too detailed to summarize here, but I’ll offer my own takeaways: Our Collective Intelligence will, if we allow it, see us through our challenges as a Human Race. Also, when (not if) women are fully validated by global societies (females, by the way, scored much higher in Social Perceptiveness and in the facilitation of Conversation), we’ll experience how profoundly this benefits everyone.

Now: all we have to do is remember that we are better, stronger, smarter, happier and healthier when we are truly “Together”. Nothing else matters – arguments, divisions, disagreements – as much as this particular reality. It’s not really up for debate…is it?

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Despite having been born into an environment that most people would consider ‘advantaged’ (white, middle-class, educated parents), I was a really young kid when major dysfunction in my household erupted. Happenings that were absolutely beyond my control created an atmosphere of fear, anxiety and insecurity. My life was upended numerous times, by the mental health issues of my mother, and the volatile and sometimes violent behavior of my father. My family unit became deeply fractured a long, long time ago; and some of its members still live in that deep, dark crevasse. I was able to climb out; in part, through my education and study of human development and psychology. But also as a result of an important realization and understanding that I grew into.

As I entered adulthood, I soon discovered the value – the extreme importance – of having Choices and Options in my life. No matter what came my way, as long as I had wiggle-room to consider possibilities – regardless of how dire the current circumstances – there was Hope. I got myself into some pretty sketchy situations during my growth years, but always had the ability to feel strengthened and even empowered by the fact that I could choose my path forward. Even when the choices were ‘bad’ , or ‘worse’, not feeling helpless and hopeless was something to be grateful for. I was, and I still am, so grateful.

 “Keep your doors open, and your options as plentiful as possible” was one of my messages to my son as he was becoming a man. (Happy to say that it’s ‘saved his bacon’ several times.) But the message is actually just a part of my larger goal of remaining flexible and resilient, despite setbacks and heartbreaks, large or small.

Recently I was thinking about this:   the vast difference between having, and not having, a ‘say’ in my daily existence. Truth be told, I’d much rather be able to steer my little boat confidently, when Life buffets it with gusty winds and gigantic waves. Sometimes, however – especially lately – the only option is to Hold On and Wait it Out.

Olha Darchuk, Artist

For a while now I’ve been on an adventure of both self-discovery and  re-invention. People and situations – along with my own self-limiting beliefs and behaviors – have begun to vanish along the way. It’s a little disconcerting. Sailing along (to continue my metaphor!) with a newfound sense of freedom , I’ve been losing my guideposts:  those familiar reminders (even if they’re negative, they’re still a kind of comfort) of my former life. One by one, a person or a situation drifts behind me and away, like passing through shoals that eventually, far out to sea, disappear altogether. Just the sky and the horizon, now.

Despite feeling liberated – which I do — there’s really no Option for me in this. I’ve accepted that I’ve had to move past my Past. To linger would have been pointless. More than this:  I would have stopped growing and stopped discovering my Self. I can think of just a few other times in life that were more painful than “staying”, when all signs, and my heart, told me it was time for a change of course. It might be a job; a relationship; a home I’ve lived in for decades. It might be something simple, like a precious memory that only brings sadness now and must be released. It might be something vague:  a subtle sensation that I’ve completed an important Phase and am ready to expand Who I Am, Where I’m Going, and What I’m Supposed to be Doing.

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There’s evidence all around me that I should be scared, or at least apprehensive, during Major Shifts and new adventures. The fact that the current unfolding seems to be happening, guided by an unseen Navigator, without my taking direct action most of the time, is sort of unnerving. Nevertheless, I don’t feel afraid – only excited. I’ve passed almost all the little buoys (I’m really stuck on this nautical theme, but it feels right!) marking Safe Waters. I can’t tell you how I know, or why I trust that I’m going in the right direction. But I’m looking at the nighttime sky now, and choosing to sail by the stars.

I’ve learned to practice — more and more as I relax into it — Gratitude, as part of my daily ritual:  thinking about and offering it – even for minor ‘pluses’ in a given day. Sometimes, in periods of off-the-charts stress, finding something to be happy about and grateful for – even something small – brings relief. It might be, that after a night of restless sleep worrying about an important choice I need to make, the neighbor across the street chooses to carpool, instead of firing up his Monster Truck at 4 a.m. (rattling my windows and catapulting me out of bed). Yes. Thank You.

One of the most amazing aspects of growing older and wiser (there are so many, really, but this one is Big) is the way that Perspective becomes one of the easiest life-skills to appreciate. The kind of Perspective I’m referring to here can only be gained (earned, actually), through time and experience on the planet. The highs and lows — celebrations and tragedies, successes and failures — allow me to understand what’s truly important, and what’s either a distraction, or totally meaningless in my experience.

By the time that penicillin was discovered in 1928, my grandmother had lost 6 of her siblings to bacterial infections that could have easily been treated with this medication. From her mid-30’s on, she had a belief in doctors and medicine that went far beyond rational. While pregnant with her first child, a doctor told her she was anemic. She agreed to be given oral doses of a liquid that made all of her teeth fall out and caused, so she later learned, her first daughter to be stillborn.

I’m definitely grateful for living in a time of so much advanced scientific information, technology and innovation in general. But lately I’ve also been thinking, adjusting my perspective, about how many innovations are a tricky balance of benefit and detriment.

A lot is being said (and studied) about the ways in which personal technology is impacting our lives. When Television came on the scene (our family’s first was a black and white model – hard to imagine, now), it was quickly decried as The Idiot Box, and The Boob Tube. The end of Reading; the end of Conversation; meals eaten on “tv trays” instead of at a table; and networks subtly shaping our buying and spending habits through advertising.

It’s an escalating addiction, Technology. The more I incorporate it into my life, the more my life seems to demand the latest versions of ‘whatever’;  so that Having is way better than Not Having. I get the big picture; I see the inevitable way that innovations will continue to improve our lives, but also make us more dependent on them (and less so, on one another).  I’m not exactly embracing it unilaterally (the way that my grandmother did the wisdom of the medical field); but I’m not rejecting it either. It’s an uneasy communion, for sure.

I’m at the age now where I can appreciate Knowing the Difference. Life before television; before the Internet, computers, smart phones, smart speakers and smart homes; virtual experiences that  might feel preferable to reality. We’re all transitioning – along with the technology of our time – and I am right there with those anticipating The Next Upgrade.

So, this  isn’t a dystopian rant. It’s an expression of extreme gratitude for Knowing the Difference, in the experiencing of Life. What it was before, and what it is now. “It’s all good,” we tell ourselves. Actually, it’s going to be exactly what we choose to make it:  Choice being the operative word. I’m feeling thankful, to have the ‘age’ and experience to know what the choices actually are, and how profoundly meaningful they will be.

(Channeling The Who to begin this Post…) Here’s my question for today:  Other than for sociologic discussions, why do we need to isolate, characterize and compare Generations of human beings? It seems to me that we’re already in our ‘corners’ on all kinds of topics, ready to advance with fists up, to argue, fight and defend. Or, we’re ready to cower meekly when others shove us into one-size-fits-all boxes.Why is it that birth generations have become fodder for even more discord? I mean, do we need more?

The Greatest Generation (aka, The Silent Generation). Baby Boom-ers. Generation X, Y and Z (how insulting that Mainstream Minds have so far been unable to create more flattering ‘tags’ for those born after 1965). What purpose do these labels serve? How can they possibly be representative of all people born into certain timespans?

Yesterday I read an editorial by a prolific journalist, commentator and author who writes for the New York Times. His piece was titled, “Will Gen Z Save the World?” Fact: you’ll get no argument from me that our Earth and the people on it need saving. But the implication of the editorial was that everyone else prior to Gen Z has already screwed-up or given up. So now the survival of our planet and its inhabitants rests on the shoulders of those born after 1995. No Pressure, right?

Not to say that 24 or 25 year olds aren’t up to the task; but, what does this say about everyone not in this group? Are they, like the Roman emperor Nero, just blindly playing their fiddles while Rome burns? I don’t know about you, but I’m more aligned with the character Howard Beale, in the movie “Network”. His famous rallying cry  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” is still hailed as a pivotal moment (righteous tirade) in U.S. film (and social) culture evolution. (Especially appropriate, here in the States, right now.)

According to a nationwide Pew survey conducted in 2018 (as noted in the editorial I’m referring to), thousands of American citizens were asked what, if anything, brought meaning to their lives. An overwhelming number of respondents (of all ages, btw) reported feeling besieged by depression, drug and alcohol dependency; a bit fuzzy about meaning and purpose; and struggling with a nationwide moral-compass spinning cartoonishly, out of control.Once again, you’ll hear no disagreement from me about the confusion and chaos, despair and divisiveness coating our hearts and minds like toxic sludge. But – how far back do we go, to arrive at the beginning of how this current situation evolved?

Looking at the way we put people into buckets, we tend to start with The Silent Generation:  stoic, penny-pinching Depression-era survivors who, incidentally, also heroically joined with allies to defeat Hitler. They came home from World War II and celebrated by creating a tsunami of babies:  These Baby Boom-ers were raised in households focused on Exsitential Lessons. Finding some kind of work (e.g., mowing lawns) just to have pocket money was a motivator starting at around age 10. The drive continued, to college or trade schools; making money and busting all kinds of materialistic moves in the world. Their actions may seem a little selfish in hindsight, but such were the expectations.The common belief now seems to be that this group has done little beyond consuming too much and trashing the earth. To add insult to injury, Boom-ers are also showing remarkable longevity.

Pros and cons are debated and on-view ( books, articles and on the Internet) about Boom-ers and subsequent generations, with finger-pointing and labeling in all directions. But the truth is, each generation is unique in the challenges it faces, growing up and then entering the world. No single group of people can or should take all of the blame for our society’s dysfunctions;  nor should “X, Y, or Z” be assumed to be the only groups in possession of the morality, sensibility, intelligence and motivation needed to get-moving on fixes (as the writer of the editorial directly claims the Z-ers are).

Most people feel anxious when confronted with significant, or unwelcome Change. This is especially true now, with so many high-stakes topics to deal with globally, and all at once. But for each generation of human beings so far, there’ve always been challenges to navigate. It seems to me, that humanity has much more to concern itself with in the Now than calling-out past or current generations.

Our world is more complicated and dangerous than it ever has been. This we know. What are the Forces at work, causing us to focus so intently on our differences, rather than on our commonalities? Not one of us can go back and re-write the time or circumstances of our birth. We just have to “Deal”: whatever it takes. Spoken like a True Boom-er, I know; but it’s a lesson I learned from The Silent Generation, and feel it’s pretty much worth passing-on.

It’s natural  to search for meaning, some sort of anchor or True North in all of existence, following the untimely death of someone in your family or friendship circle. It can feel like you’ve fallen off of a cliff:  arms and legs cartwheeling, trying to grab hold of something, anything, to slow down the momentum of this new reality.

Trying to comfort someone who’s grieving is almost as difficult,  as I recently experienced with a friend. Words are just words. Cards and flowers are meant to express love and care, but can feel like absurd gestures when offered to a widow who was expecting another 30 years with her husband. Loss can feel like such a solitary thing, especially in Western culture. We tend to perceive the grief process as something that can never truly be felt, never fully experienced, by anyone but the closest person left behind. In my friend’s home, wooden blinds tightly covered her windows; she seldom went outside; and visitors, even friends, felt like intruders (as she later told me). As I thought about what I could, or should do as her friend – if anything – I recalled a travel experience that comforted me in its dramatic contrast.

I was in Egypt, walking with my companions through a square in Cairo, at around 10 o’clock at night. There were so many people out and about: a chaos of jostling bodies packed so closely that it almost felt intentional; a kind of slow, seductive dance that a thousand or so people were engaged in; enjoying the relative cool of the evening. One of my friends was Egyptian – totally used to this scene — who held tightly to my hand, pulling me along in the crowd as we pushed toward our destination (a coffee bar). The lights in the square were pale gold orbs on top of tall, futuristic-looking poles:  not bright enough to fully illuminate our walk, but some help in the growing dark. The lights washed the faces in the crowd in sepia tones. It was an odd, dreamy, slow-motion party filled with animated conversation in Arabic or Farsi (and probably other languages as well).

The coffee bar we were headed to was in a swank hotel on the Nile River. It felt like everyone in the square was headed there also. As we made our progress, I heard a loud, high-pitched scream: more of a wail, now that I think back on it. Knowing what can happen in large cities at night, I instantly assumed there’d been some kind of violence. I felt a little panicky. But my Egyptian friend didn’t react to the first, nor a second scream; he just kept pulling me along at the same pace. The crowd didn’t seem agitated either. I kept looking behind me, expecting some awful visual. Peoples’ bodies behind us were parting to allow what I thought might be law enforcement through.

All in black, some faces covered and some clearly visible, murky shapes of women were forging through the nighttime crowd, 2or 3 abreast. They were shrieking and crying, raising their arms above their heads. Their cries were painfully loud and visceral. The emotion vibrated in my body and made tears well in my eyes. It felt overwhelming. My friend gave a quick tug on my hand, indicating  that we should stop walking and step aside to let the women by. It seemed that at least 100 women passed us, all sobbing in the most heartfelt way. Next, a group of men came from behind the women, holding what looked like a stretcher on their shoulders. I was completely transfixed: there was a human body on the stretcher (wrapped in white cloth), and this crowd of men and women appeared to be part of a funeral procession. At 10 o’clock at night. In a crowded public square. In the middle of a sea of strangers.The grief of the mourners was not only on display, but a full-on public expression of emotional pain. The interest of the onlookers around us intensified; they began shouting out what seemed like commiseration and chanted prayers. Some tried to touch the body on the stretcher as it passed.

At the coffee bar my friends were nonchalant about what’d just happened. But I wanted and needed to talk about it; to be eased-into the idea that this was actually a very natural way for people to cope with death. As unsettling as it was, the group-catharsis I’d been a part of was also mesmerizing. I know that other cultures have similar rituals, but this one, in particular, was the most primal I’d ever witnessed: a mixture of deep sadness, surrender, release and relief. The relief came in being comforted by so many others who were physically, emotionally and spiritually ‘present’ for the mourners.

When my widowed friend finally emerged from her seclusion I spoke in a flood of words: what I’d been thinking and feeling about her, and her loss. She seemed appreciative, but reluctant to talk. When she did, for just a moment, the tears came, along with the look of “What am I going to do now??” Just as quickly, however, she changed the conversation. It made my stomach hurt, to be honest. There was still so much sadness.

Everyone processes loss differently. Sometimes just surviving the day, by carrying-on with routines, is the only option. But, might being able to let loose — to scream  and howl one’s pain to the skies – as in the crowded Cairo square, with so many people engaging with you in your despair – be a healthier way of coping, than suffering in quiet solitude? How many emotions do we feel we must endure in silence because they’re too fearsome and powerful to let loose? Why are we so reluctant to let others know the depth of our sadness, while it consumes us completely? There was community, that night in the square:   a joining of people’s hearts, in the midst of unfathomable sorrow. There’s a message in that, I believe – for all who feel alone in sadness and despair – and for those of us who stand as close as we dare, wondering what to do.

When I finally felt ready to have a child I was 38 years old. (Which sounds almost young to me now, given recent statistics.) The experience of having ‘just one’ was plenty satisfying to me. I also knew in my bones that going into ‘production’ at 38 was not part of my Life Path. Turns out, the one child I had was challenge enough, especially in the 18-21 years.

My family was thrilled when I chose to get pregnant, and openly disappointed when I announced I was “one and done”. They understood how important my career still was to me (I wasn’t anywhere near the apex), but they lectured (guilted) me about the perils of having an ‘only child’. From my vantage point, multiple children in a household didn’t necessarily make for an ideal atmosphere. There was the ongoing lesson about ‘sharing’; and the one that got repeated during long road trips (trying to stakeout your exclusive personal space in the backseat of a station wagon, with two siblings and a dog) that usually meant  a lot of yelling from adults and children. Having one child felt do-able to me.

As my son grew older and his friendships expanded, my instincts felt confirmed. More than once he made comments about how ‘easy’ his life was, compared to his friends’ families (more kids in the household). Whatever the opportunity or resource (including love and attention) was, my son saw it as a ‘plus’- to not have any competition. I believed then, and still do, that for a woman who chooses to have only one child, there are advantages. There’s also a little more effort required to make sure your ‘only’ gets dosed with essential social skills. (We used summer camp, travel with cousins, and lots sleepovers). But the point of this story isn’t about raising  a well-adjusted only-child, if that’s the choice made. It’s about how you get to that choice. It’s about Cooperation, Compromise and Consensus, and how willing we are to engage in them.

When I was a young woman in a management role, the above 3 C’s (as I learned to call them) were drilled into my brain by my mentors. Through formal training and a lot of trial-and-error, I became a master (mistress?) team-builder and negotiator. In fact, this was my forté for the majority of my career. Over time, however, a quote from a friend and colleague who was a mental health professional (therapist) began to loop in my brain. Observing me in my office one day, in a state of complete exhaustion, she said, “Never work harder than your client.” The proverbial ‘light’ went on in my head: this was exactly what I’d been doing. In my earnest desire to get my team to see the personal /organizational value in cooperation, compromise and consensus, I’d dicounted the fact that human beings are not sled-dogs. Some enjoy pulling together; some will do it, grudgingly; and some want and need to craft their own roles, and define their own degree of commitment.

My son’s now approaching 30 and we often talk about how millennials are thoughtfully considering key life choices. “People aren’t having kids so much anymore – they’re getting dogs; it’s just easier “, he says. That actually makes a little bit of sense to me, but I need time to adjust to the idea of grand-dogs vs. grand-kids. More to the point is this question: are careers, relationships, marriage, babies, and mortgages coming to represent the antithesis of a value-add ? Is the thinking now, that Cooperation, Compromise and Consensus are activities that only unimaginative, Non-Woke people engage in?

From an older, wiser perspective, the answer is, Yes, and No. Careers, marriages, babies and mortgages often feel fulfilling and constricting, at the same time. Too much focus on what other people want can also jeopardize inner peace and happiness. There’s no single formula for a happy life, and, all choices involve some kind of trade-off, whether or not “the ask” is immediately apparent. The key, I think, is to pursue what’s heartfelt, and to keep growing (regardless of your age at the moment!), trying not to hurt anyone along the way.

When it feels good and correct to cooperate and compromise in a situation, I believe that this is a solid prompt to make adjustments to your own Non-Negotiables. When reaching agreement on a super-important topic, especially with a person you care for, consensus can make your inner light glow brighter, like an All is Well neon heart. The process is circular (read: ‘never-ending’) however, and has to be re-visited and repeated as people and circumstances change.

I’m always – in my head, anyway- planning my next travel adventure. The first question is whether I’ll travel solo, or try to work with the busy schedules of others. Sometimes travel alone is the best ‘medicine’ for the soul. Sometimes it’s just a lot easier on the nerves.

Travelers know that one of the tried-and-true tests of how real and how deep a friendship or relationship is, is to take a trip together. It doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to include a few stressors typical of travel:  adhering to timetables (flights and trains, for example); being able to pack well; generic discomforts such as missed connections; struggling with a new currency or language; jet lag; digestive upsets; environmental factors (heat, bugs, rain, traffic) and the potential for physical exhaustion and frayed nerves.

No matter how much enthusiasm for the trip there is from the get-go, no matter how beautiful or exciting the itinerary, fundamental personality differences will emerge on a small, or grand scale. How people cope with stress in day-to-day life is magnified tenfold during travel. I can usually spot those that are headed for trouble, even in the airport. They’re the couple who’s already bickering about grabbing food before getting on the plane. One suggests a quick snack from the Au Bon Pain kiosk; the other wants a sit-down, full-dining experience at Texas Barbecue. ‘Boarding’ is in 35 minutes. Guaranteed: the barbecue will end up being To Go, with more angst ahead when the Styrofoam pops open on the crowded plane.

I’ve traveled a lot, domestically and internationally, and I still learn things about myself in the midst of new places and situations. Some of my less than “stellar” moments have been during travel – I’ve overlooked some important detail or chosen a really bad hotel (bad, as in Bug-bad). Solo travelers can suck it up and learn, no one to complain to, or to blame for not packing the correct adapter. But traveling in the company of someone else requires patience, compassion, diplomacy and sometimes earplugs and a mini-pharmacy.

Nowadays, I’m much more circumspect and even outspoken, when need be, when someone suggests taking a trip together. If the travel is proposed for Spring, for example, and we’re talking about it a year in advance, I’m going to make sure I pay more attention to how my friend deals with change, uncertainty, and pressure overall. It’s my own little ‘gauntlet’ of trial-beforehand: maybe a three day or weeklong adventure somewhere. This may seem petty and strange, but a poor-fit with a traveling companion can can ruin the entire experience, and friendships too.

My Kyoto Fountain memory is seared into my brain, never to be forgotten, as a lesson-learned about traveling with others. Japan is, for me, a culture-shock experience of epic proportions. Tokyo and Osaka vibrate with intensity, novelty and situations pushing me far out of my comfort zone (in a good way). Kyoto, on the other hand, is beautiful and ethereal; wonderfully quiet in its lush, green antiquity. I was traveling with two other people who were clearly in awe, as I was, of Kyoto. On the day of our visit, a large bus of Japanese tourists converged on the same shrine as we were making our way to. They moved en masse, a blur of tennis shoes, matching white shirts, and cameras, talking animatedly, moving quickly toward a specific area of the shrine. Luckily, there happened to be an English-speaking guide with another, smaller group that explained what the excitement was about.

As we inched closer (my curiosity was now in control, so that I had to push my way through a wall of people jostling one another) to the shrine, I saw what the guide explained was an ancient, sacred and magical fountain. The water was trickling down a fairly large outcropping of rock covered with dark green moss. There were three separate fountains, each stream of water separated by about 18 inches of rock. At the bottom of each stream was a little recessed area, a small oblong pool, created – I guessed – my the 1,000+ years this fountain had worked its magic on the stone. The Japanese tourists had brought little expandable cups and they were slurping up the water from each small stream:  1 – 2 – 3, in order. I asked the guide “What gives?” and she told me that each small spring had a name: Wisdom, Beauty and Longevity. Apparently, the Japanese were in full-acceptance of the powers inherent in this water, but I was done being pushed and stepped-on and so started to turn away. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of my friends dash through the huddle in front of the pool and dip her hand in the fountain. She then stopped the flow of each little spring with her hand, drinking the water from all three with absolute glee. It was one of those slow-motion moments when you wish you had super-powers. If I had, I would have extended my rubber super-arm and grabbed my friend full-body, away from the fountain. But it was too late. The Japanese tourists stopped talking. They looked at my friend as though she were a being from another planet; then, they looked down or away. The Japanese are extremely discreet. Without saying anything, they’d made their feelings known about my friend’s behavior.

About three days later, we were now in Egypt. We had an early morning visit to a temple planned, but the friend who’d done the fountain dive hadn’t come down to breakfast. My other friend went up to her room to find our companion righteously (not using that word as in ‘just punishment’ for her fountain faux-pas) ill. She’d been in intestinal distress ( been there, done that horrible gig) all night and had a high fever. Of course, the hotel called a doctor immediately, samples were taken, and amoebic dysentery was the diagnosis. Her illness last through another country, then into Malaysia, and then turned into a kind of emotional paralysis:  she wanted to go home, immediately, and she wanted complete agreement on aborting the rest of the trip.

Needless to say, things became a bit strained at that point. Sitting in the historic Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore…the 20-foot palms surrounding us in the green and white décor, the slow ‘swoosh’ of the ceiling fans moving the damp air only slightly…my ‘healthy’ companion and I discussed what to do. She confided, being able to speak and understand more than a little Japanese (which she hadn’t really shared until now), that our friend had invited some kind of bad ju-ju from the fountain, according to the Japanese onlookers. Best-case scenario, this meant, “No Beauty, Wisdom or Longevity for you!” (Thank you, Seinfeld.) It would be a stretch to assume that her parasitic invasion was The Fountain’s Revenge. We’ll never know. But the cautionary tale is still told among my friends and fellow travelers.

Raffles, Singapore. A bygone era still thrives!

Sending Love…

My interest in what I call My Tribal DNA has increased over time. Not the popular “Twenty-three-and-Me” kind of sleuthing we can do to determine our cultural lineage. No, I’m referring here to how my sense of Self was formed, based on the experiences sent to me, via the DNA of my ancestors. This is a huge area of scientific study: how things like wars, famine, migration, and exposure to violence and other traumas create changes in our gene pool. In many instances, this is done through words.

It definitely helps, when you’re trying to figure yourself out (focusing on reasons behind the negative stuff, usually) to have a basic idea of who your grandparents and great-grandparents were; where and how they lived; and the events they may have lived through. In a previous Post of mine, “Wait for Me…”, I shared a story about my maternal grandmother (born in 1898) who’d lost 7 siblings to the dominant illness of her time, tuberculosis. There are parallels, nowadays, for this kind of loss. But, other than my granny, I know of no one else in my biological tribe who’s lost seven immediate family members during the formative years of growing up. I can only imagine the deep pain, seeping into the remaining family members, quietly and gradually changing their internal biology. Words of hopelessness, and grief, uttered in hushed tones. Words of frustration and anger shouted to the heavens. “Why?!

The experiments of Dr. Masaru Emoto have offered proof, for years now, that thoughts and feelings affect physical reality. Emoto’s research has helped me understand how and why I’ve been so incredibly hard on myself for most of my life. I can’t summarize here (do justice to) these amazing studies of how spoken words affect water-crystal formation; hopefully, my Readers are already familiar with Emoto’s research. (If not, it’s really a worthwhile detour). The takeaway for me is that Words Have Extraordinary Power. More than I was ever taught through The Golden Rule; more so than I ever learned in psychology and leadership classes.

Growing up with negative words or too much critical analysis in the family can change a child’s physical chemistry (just as Emoto’s water crystals were affected by words like Love, and Hate). I don’t feel that my family, two or three generations back, were a bunch of mean and dysfunctional nut-jobs. But I can piece together how their conversations– their words and vocal tones – could well have been fearful, angry, sad, stressed and utterly confused. My ancestral family, based on my research, were emotionally-tough people; they had to be, just to be able to survive in times fraught with challenges and unwanted sacrifices. If I’d lost so many children, I’d be a complete “basket-case”. I can only imagine how they were able to get through that.

My strong ambition to achieve; my perfectionism; my self-criticism; my worry and fears; my sense of life being a ‘struggle’ – usually over-exaggerated – is clearly a part of my tribal DNA. I don’t offer this as an excuse, but an explanation for, and a way of understand, a lot of my “issues”. I also think of this imprinting (and its results in my life ) as a reason to try to change this emotional DNA in raising my own child, and through my contacts with other people (and their conversations).

Words don’t just nurture, encourage, diminish or debase on-the-spot (as in the instant-impact of social media). Harsh, or loving, words are also creating generational patterns of attitudes and behaviors across the globe. Bringing about change begins with my own understanding of the power I have to resist those words (The Critic) that cause me to be less than I know I can be. With others in my life (even my pets!), making sure that my words soothe, even when I’m tempted to “go off”, sends a ripple — I believe — of Hope into the world.

When I worked with extremely at-risk adolescents, the vast majority were growing up in emotionally and physically toxic environments. In a formal study I did, it was remarkable (and disheartening) how much yelling and verbal abuse occured daily in their lives. But, I also felt a resilience emanating from many of these kids; a determination to someday live in a way that was vastly different. Despite the verbal messages of, “You’re not smart enough to…” “You’ll never be more than you are right now (pregnant, under-educated and unemployed)”, these young people were already in the process of canceling-out the ability of such words to shape their futures.

Current reality may be very tough; we may be harrassing ourselves constantly with negative messages. If we choose to, however, we can begin to change outcomes by noticing and questioning where this stuff comes from. I remember a short blurb I began seeing in my college Psych classes, about the power of words and the temptation to use them recklessly: Is it True? Is it Kind? Is it Helpful? This little check-in can nip sabotaging self-talk right in the bud, before it takes root in our souls. It’s a slow process, but it feels so good when it becomes habit. And it will.