Posts Tagged ‘revolution’

You’ve seen the commercial, probably a hundred times now. 

Liberty Mutual’s Helping Hand Campaign

I feel great after watching it, and I think proudly to myself that I’m that kind of person.  Then I get out of my seat and enter the world — the message a faded memory, like the shadow of a dream. 

I become irritated and gripe out loud in my car at the driver who cuts me off only to be one car ahead in an endless line of cars barely moving on the interstate.  I walk past and laugh to myself at the person juggling their planner, computer bag, coffee and cell phone, which is open and pinched between their head and shoulder while they try to push the elevator button.  And on my way to a meeting, I rush around the woman in the hallway who’s dropped her wallet spilling change everywhere.

At lunch, I head to the dance shop to pick up my new ballroom shoes and find the owner talking to a tall, slender woman, tears streaming down her face.  I can’t help but overhear. 

“Oh, it was nothing really,” says the tall, slender woman.  “If she left the house she could have gotten sick.  Her doctor said dancing could be her physical therapy, saving her parents the cost and aggravation of formal therapy.  I couldn’t walk away from that; I couldn’t charge her family. She was one of my most passionate students.  Anyone would have done the same.”

The dance store owner looks shocked and begins shaking her head vehemently.  “No!  In fact, I think most people wouldn’t have even thought of it!”

I think of the commercial.  I think of my behavior of the morning.  And I am frozen as my inner Muses teach me.

How often do we come across people in desperate situations where help is a a godsend?  And how often do we come across people in a situation where help is a gift?  And what is the magnitude of help required in each situation?  Yet which are we more likely to participate in?  To pay attention to? 

Which has the most impact? 

Throw a large rock into a pond.  Throw a scattered handful of small pebbles in the pond.  Which has the greater likelihood of covering the entire pond with ripples?

That afternoon, I found myself acutely aware of the small needs of the people around me.  And I found myself reaching out to help.  Moments of my time, minimal effort.  Later that day,  I noticed one of the people I helped open a door for the cleaning lady, a warm smile spread across his face, and subsequently over hers.  Perhaps I was part of the cycle that caused that smile, that open door…

The thought froze me to the spot, for the second time that day.

If we are separated by six degrees and have three-degrees of influence, we might be able to change half the world.  And perhaps it’s these small moments and minimal outlays of effort that will be the key to doing so.

Liberty Mutual’s Let Go

I invite you to join my civility revolution.

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My daughters’ sporting events are entertaining in more ways than just the action on the fields…or court, in this case. 

These parents and teachers and other related spectators in the stands teach me so much.  Two women in their 80s sit in the front row doing a better job of coaching than the actual coaches–spirited and tough, but nice about it.  And they know the game rules better than the refs!  Two single moms (other than me) sit physically separated from all affiliations with a purposeful veil of silence around them in the midst of this noisy gym.  The babies gradually become more nervous, whistle after whistle, buzzer after buzzer.  The teenagers have their heads buried in iPods and cell phones and other digital devices.  And the players on the bench all look bored.

About halfway through the second quarter–with the score 0-2 in our team’s favor–I overhear two mothers in front of me gossiping about one of the single moms.  “She’s always so quiet.  She comes in, takes her seat and doesn’t talk to anyone or shout out to her kid or anything.  And she never even cheers,” says one.  “I hear she spends all her time working or holed up at home with her daughters,” says the other.  “When the girls are with their dad, no one knows what she does.  I mean it’s like she disappears. She must be a cold and selfish.  After all, her husband is already remarried and expecting!”  They steal sly glances over at a beautiful woman sitting quietly and tall apart from everyone else.

I feel my blood boil as my mind immediately fires defense after defense for the single mom.  I can’t help it.  I take a deep breath, close my eyes and gather myself. 

Their attention returns to the game briefly before I see them begin to look over at the loner again.  I’m startled to hear a throat clear loudly, but quickly realize it’s me.  And I’m about to interrupt.  “Excuse me.”  They both look up to where I’m sitting, slightly startled. I’m always surprised when this sort of thing happens.  I watch myself as from a great distance.  I feel the warmth of my smile and genuinely admire the infusion of fairy dust around my words.  “I heard she’s an upstanding and influential member of the community who is just painfully shy.  I think it’s marvelous that she spends her time with her daughters.  And how lovely that she doesn’t feel the need to air her laundry during her own time!  What a wonderful role model for all of us single women.”   I scan my own body for signs that I’m angry while also scanning the women’s reaction to my little lecture (as Meg would call it).  I only feel the twinkle in my eye and warmth in my chest.  Of course I know nothing about this woman whom I’ve never seen before, but I can’t help it. 

Still watching the women I’m acutely aware of the look that passes between them and wonder which they decided on:  I’m being a bitch, or I’m giving them the really useful information to consider.  It doesn’t matter.  The conversation stopps, and they quit looking over at their prey.

The incident is forgotten until I return home to find a message from a friend who’s very upset.  She’s had a bit of a rough go the past few months and has been doing a marvelous job of keeping herself together.  But apparently today her best friend told her that her problem is that she has confidence still.  “She said, ‘You need to doubt your ability more because you have so much to work on…’  Is it true?” she asks fearfully “Should I doubt myself and everything I’m working towards?  Am I on the wrong path?” 

Now just a minute.  Don’t we all have much to work on?  When Jo March confides to Frederich in Little Women that “it’s just…there is much emphasis on perfecting oneself, and I am hopelessly flawed,” Frederich says (it’s a moment forever burned in my memory from childhood as the first moment I fell in love with a man…albeit a fictional character…and the first of many at that: Alec Ramsey, Edmund Dantes, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Francisco d’Anconia…) “I think we are all hopelessly flawed.” 

So I want to know, is there every a time when you should doubt yourself because someone else tells you they know you better?

Perhaps it wasn’t right of me to say anything in either situation.  Perhaps I shouldn’t say anything now.  These were not my battles. 

But it is my war!  And it’s my war for two very important reasons:

  1. Before the clock struck twelve and we entered 2010, I made the civility revolution my cause–where success is defined as people acknowledging and treating ALL other people with respect.  I’m not talking gender or skin color, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.  It’s MUCH more basic than that.  I’m talking about people you encounter everyday, moment-by-moment.  See them, acknowledge them, respect their humanity…and respect yourself.
  2. My daughters.  Not only do they belong to my civility revolution (I intend that they be front line leaders in this war), they should never have to repeat my mistakes if they can learn from them through stories.  And as with most everyone else, I’ve been told by people who supposedly had my best interest at heart (bosses, my parents, friends and lovers) that they knew me better than I knew myself.  Then, I listened as they rattled off their litany of my “faults.”   No problem there.  It’s good to be aware of what other people think.  However, when your heart screams “IT’S NOT TRUE!  That isn’t what I think/believe/feel/know,” don’t ever doubt it.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

Part of my daily intention.  Perhaps though I should be clear, you should look good and talk wisely.  It’s a lesson we’ve all learned delightfully thanks to Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.  But it’s also worth noting that you have no control over others.  If Henry Higgins is determined to see you as a common flower girl, so you shall be one.  It’s another musical to which I want to turn your attention, oh gentle reader, for the truth about you. 

The quintessential Fairy Tale, Cinderella. 

Remember when Cinderella was left alone in the garden with her once-beautiful dreams in shreds to match her once-beautiful dress?  She cries.  And she says, “It’s just no use.  No use at all.  I can’t believe.  Not anymore.  There’s nothing left to believe in.  Nothing.” 

Well, any of you who knows me well knows I espouse that there is NO Fairy Godmother.  And it’s true.  Just like with any book, any lesson, any story, you must really examine the message to move beyond the top layer.  I like to think of it as Wonka candy.  You can see all those chocolate bars wrapped in brown branding, but you must open it to find the golden ticket.  So too with stories. 

So too with you.

You are truly the only expert in the subject of “You.”  You know what’s under your wrapper.  Every blessing, every curse, every scar, every ticklish spot, every beauty mark.  That’s your golden ticket.  So you better cherish it.  All of it.  Now, that doesn’t mean don’t strive to be better.  A key factor of knowing who you are is knowing who you want to be.  You are responsible for making that happen.  Charlie wouldn’t have won his golden ticket without paying attention.  Cinderella wouldn’t have ever be able to go to the ball if she hadn’t stepped up when the invitation arrived and claimed her rightful spot.   

But she was torn down, just like all of us will be at some point.  And here’s where the beauty of Cinderalla’s journey offers us hope.

It starts with the magic words.  Not “bibidi-bobidi-boo” or “Fol-de-rol and fiddle dee dee and fiddley faddley foddle.”  It’s the first words from the Fairy Godmother:

“Nonsense, child.  If you’d lost all your faith, I couldn’t be here….And here I am.”

That’s right, the magic resides in you.  Just like most fairy tales tell you…because it’s true. 

And know, oh gentle reader, I have faith in you too.

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I’ve just finished reading about the Merry Affair, and I must say, THIS is an affair to remember, with a crucial etiquette lesson.

Snapshot of the event:  the young nation, not even 10 years old, has a new president–Thomas Jefferson, who desperately wants to make sure that this new nation doesn’t become a monarchy.  He abhors the old ways and purposefully goes out of his way to squelch anything resembling European.  He is building a capital in the middle of the swamp with designs that reflect Roman influence.  Roman influence is what Jefferson designed the country after politically anyway. 

Enter the Merry’s–a newly married couple acting as ambassadors for England.  Anthony Merry presents himself to Jefferson for a formal introduction, as was the protocol.  Jefferson receives him in his…well…his pajamas!  Next evening, Jefferson hosts a formal dinner for the introduction of Elizabeth Merry.  When the dinner bell rang, Jefferson slights Mrs. Merry by escorting another woman (despite the other woman’s protests) to dinner and seats her in Mrs. Merry’s spot.  By doing so, Jefferson disarranges the entire seating structure leaving people to “scramble for a seat.” 

Jefferson’s new etiquette begins being emulated by others in the government, much to the chagrin of all the European ambassadors who start sending reports home of the inconsistent, lacking-discipline order that reigns in the new “wilderness.”  Europe begins to count the number of months to the new country’s demise under this “pele mele” etiquette.

As pele mele etiquette continues, more and more gentlemen and, more deleterious to society, women are offended.  No one seems to know how to act and when to be offended.  Soon, under Elizabeth Merry’s advice, the foreign ladies begin declining invitations to formal social events entirely so as not to expose their husbands to continued embarrassments. 

Jefferson claims victory.  However, it soon becomes clear that these women weren’t just societal creatures disposable and unnecessary in the building of the new country.  The very nature of women’s society had political advantages.  Women, it seemed, acted as advisers to their spouses, shared or gathered information of use that might not otherwise be brought to light, smoothed out misunderstandings, led discussions…

Jefferson began specifically soliciting the Merry’s company in hopes of stopping this “etiquette war” that he had started.  The Merry’s, however, stuck to their boycott.  In a last ditch attempt to recover, Jefferson finally printed the new rules of etiquette and circulated them throughout the international society.  Receiving these “Cannons of Etiquette” almost a year after his formal introduction, Anthony Merry replied that “I certainly should have been presented with these rules when I arrived to take up this post.”

Ah…and so now to my point.  In order to avoid affairs, you must set proper expectations. 

I used to say that everything in life would work well if people knew how to negotiate properly.  I still believe that is true, but the key to negotiation, to etiquette, to success is setting expectations.

In my observation, study and research, most offenses, misunderstandings, frustrations, anger, hatred and other of the ugly emotions, stem from lack of knowing or following set expectations.  Etiquette, in fact, is simply following a generally understood and agreed upon set of expectations. 

Jefferson lost the etiquette war and the respect of Europe through this affair.  But his motives were not vicious.  He simply wanted to change the etiquette of his country.  He knew, rightfully, that society and politics were intimately entwined, and that should society be allowed to follow the example of the monarchies of Europe, so too soon would the politics.   His only misstep was not making that clear up front. 

I recommend learning more about this affair to everyone, but especially to two groups of people:  those who are curious about what our founding fathers really intended for our country (because democracy of today is NOT it), and those who think that history really means “his story.”  For the former, this affair, more than any other, shows an encapsulated snapshot of the early vision.  For the latter, this affair shows that women may not have been the ones writing about what was going on, but they were certainly influencing it immensely–in a feminine way.

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