Mayhem Monday: Why We Should Be More Understanding

“I can’t tell you what’s in this folder” she said tapping the file on her desk.

“But just trust me when I tell you that even the expression on your face spoke volumes.”

The disabilities coordinator was explaining to me how my perplexity at a student’s question had caused an explosion. The creases in my forehead were a live wire that ran straight from my brain to her trigger and lit the fuse.

I wanted to defend my response, but I realized there was no defense. Nothing I could say would change the student’s perception. Whatever I said or didn’t say was wrong. It was enough to make her feel inadequate. She had left the room defeated and heated.

I replayed the scene several times in my mind and wondered how I might have done it differently. It’s so much easier to find the right words after the fact! But in this case, it wasn’t even as much about what I said as how! The reality is, I might have spoken the exact same words in a different way and there may have been a different outcome…

Hmmm…

How often have I heard someone say, in their own defense, “I don’t know what the problem is, all I said was…”

I thought about her words: “I can’t tell you what’s in this folder.” The contents of that folder are protected by privacy laws. They contain the details of the student’s past experiences. Her medical history and all the things that would likely explain the inner workings of her mind. Yet they are protected by her right to privacy and would only be revealed if the student were to discuss them with me. As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that this student isn’t the only one.

We all have a file.

It may not reside in a metal cabinet or be managed by a disabilities coordinator, but it certainly holds all the details of our past experiences and history that would explain the inner workings of our minds. Those who interact with us don’t have the privilege of knowing what’s in our files any more than I did when interacting with this student. The best that we can do is guess as we interpret each other’s words and actions. Yet, how much are our actions and reactions the result of our own past experiences? How much do our own sensitivities come from the files each of us has that determines the lens through which we view the world? Our perceptions are always skewed by our files. We register every experience according to the experiences we’ve had before. We judge every new relationship according to our personal card catalogue of previous relationships. We recognize verbal cues, facial expressions and physical gestures because of those we filed away in our memory bank of painful or pleasant engagements. So when we see or hear them again, we respond accordingly.

“What, am I supposed to be a mind reader now?” was my sarcastic retort.

She smiled.

“Not at all. We simply need you to be aware that she’s not like every other kid. You have to be a little more considerate of her feelings.”

It’s all about consideration and accommodation. Thinking about the other person’s point of view first. What might she be thinking? Rather than standing apart from her I have to try to stand under her—literally understand.  It’s an intentional act that requires intention and forethought. It’s not something that will come naturally, but I feel like it is something that could be transformative.

If I can learn to respond to people—not just my special students–with an attitude of accommodation, assuming that there’s something in their file that I can’t see which causes them to say or do things that I may not understand, perhaps I can at least delay judgment.  Perhaps I can avoid conflicts and frustration.  Because, if I could see inside the file I might have a different perspective on their behavior. I might not judge at all. I might even understand them. Not knowing what’s in the file, I should at least give them the benefit of the doubt.  At least.

So, the word for today is understanding—to stand under—because  everybody has a file that you don’t have permission to see.

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Photo by Amanda Bear on Unsplash

Wait for It…

They say patience is a virtue. But, it’s not a virtue that I naturally possess. When I want it, I want it now!  Yet, immediacy and present action has been more of a wish than a reality for me over the years. For example, my plans to move immediately after I graduated from college dissolved into a settlement in my present location.  My intentions to launch directly from school to a shining career have dragged through a meandering road of unexpected detours and traffic delays.

Yet, I’m told by the wise man that “for everything there is a season” …so I should not see these digressions as stumbling blocks but stepping stones. It’s just that when you’re a person who struggles with that patience virtue, it’s hard to conceive that the extended delay at the stop light is in any way a benefit to reaching the destination.

So, what is it with waiting? What is it about that pause, that is so helpful for the future?

And what about you creatives out there? Do you struggle with waiting?

When you sit at the canvas…

at the piano…

at the keyboard and wait…

for something:  an image, an inspiration, a melody? a breakthrough?

Waiting can be hard.  Yet, waiting does something…

It allows for preparation. If you’ve ever been in that weird space in between, you may remember what you learned. Just think back to middle school—that awkward educational, emotional and developmental space after elementary and just before high school. For some of us it may bring back nightmares of embarrassing moments, bad hair days and acne, but it was also a time of discovery. When the world was opening up, when we began to recognize ourselves as individuals and to establish our own sense of self. Granted, it was the beginning, but that safe space in between allowed us to prepare for the subsequent steps which would be more demanding.

Each phase of our lives is really a space between the previous one and the next which allows us time to learn from the past and anticipate the future. While it can be awkward, it is also comforting because we can take advantage of what we know while enjoying the freedom from what we don’t know.  Let’s face it, sometimes the best part about middle management is passing the buck! (“Sorry, I’m not authorized to make that decision, you’ll have to ask my supervisor!”) Yet, watching what happens at the next level, keeping our eyes and ears open to what goes on at the front of the line allows us time to think about what works and what doesn’t.

While you’re waiting for inspiration to come, what can you learn from what you already know?

It facilitates maturation.  You may not like being in middle school or “middle management” because, the other reality is that you’re often reminded of what you “can’t” do! You’re old enough to “know better” not old enough to have the keys.  You have just enough power (knowledge or skill) to do lots of work, but not enough to get much credit for it. Those around you call the shots, make the decisions and hold your future in their hands. Waiting for your day is like watching grass grow!  Yet, as those of us who survived middle school know, the years in between mark a period of significant change, growth and development. Our bodies and minds matured so much during that time that family and friends hardly recognized us by the end of it! The time of waiting may feel long, but it is necessary to facilitate this maturity. If our parents gave us the keys when we were 12, disaster would have certainly followed. But, within 4-6 years, we matured from those awkward middle stages into more mature (though still maturing) teenagers capable of greater responsibilities and independence.

As adults, moving from middle to upper management–or from novices to masters in our fields–may feel like a work of futility, but the work that we’re doing, the small steps we are taking, every task we complete is part of our maturation. We don’t notice it while it’s happening because the changes are imperceptible, but over time, the accumulation of every small effort—even unintentional ones—is contributing to our development until one day we’ll look up and, perhaps, not even recognize ourselves!

It builds anticipation. Then, when you’ve been in that middle zone long enough to see how it works, long enough to watch what’s next, long enough to study and prepare, you’ll feel that preparation welling up. What may have started out as fear will transform into energy.  When you were a middle-school kid, you may have felt out of sorts–uncomfortable in your own skin. Maybe you worried what other people thought about you and cared what others said.  But during the waiting you’ve had time to settle in. You’ve had time to observe the cycles, to see that people talk about what they admire and camouflage their jealousy with disdain. You understand leadership—that blind ambition clouds judgement, but humility covers a multitude of sins.

You’ve grown and matured.  Now you’re ready for your shot.

You’re ready to take your place at the front of the line–to step out onto center stage.  The time spent waiting is like wood stacked for a fire and the anticipation is a simmering cauldron on an open flame ready to explode!

This is your moment. When preparation meets opportunity, you’ll know it, you’ll feel it and you’ll be ready. “Despise not the day of small beginnings”. Be patient…it’s coming…just wait for it!

 

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Special thanks to Anaya Katlego on Unsplash for cover photo

FIRST Monday: How to Beat Back to School Blues

Well, here we are–like it or not–at the beginning of another school year and the end of another summer. It’s enough to bring on a serious case of the blues. Soon we’ll trade in the easy breeze of summer for the hustle and flow of fall, to say nothing of the cold that blows through as winter months loom. Back to the mayhem of homework and projects, student/teacher conferences and music lessons. Mid-week meetings, programs and late night studying. Even if you’re not in academia—as a student or teacher—I’ll bet you notice a shift in the atmosphere when the summer season switches from summer to fall. Bosses won’t be out on vacation, kids won’t be away at camp. Let’s face it, the pace slows during the summer. We might even be caught with flip flops on under our desks or come in a little tanned from relaxing by the pool over the weekend. Or maybe our smiles stay over on Monday morning because cool summer nights linger and so do the memories.

Ah summer…ya gotta love it!
TODAY’S SENSATION

Sadly, all that’s over now, but to beat the blues today, I’m offering a sensation that’s summer-inspired. It’s a grilled turkey and veggies burger with some blue cheese sprinkled in to keep with the “blue” theme. This can easily be a veggie burger too, just leave off the turkey or add your favorite meat substitute, yum! Check out the recipe here.
TODAY’S INSPIRATION

Why so blue? Of course, there are many causes for the blues besides the passing of summer. Sometimes we can explain it. Sometimes we can’t. To beat the blues, we need a good coach. They’re not just for athletes, you know? We each need someone who can stand on the sideline of our life with enough distance from and perspective on our situation to be able to see what we’re dealing with and give us advice about the next step. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need someone who can yell louder than the voices in my head. I need someone to tell me I can when those voices keep telling me I can’t. But then, I have to do my part. It’s not enough just to listen. I also have to believe. Too often I’m more willing to believe the negative voices than I am the positive affirmation.

Do you know what I mean? Last week I talked about the messy middle. Sometimes in the muck and the mire we feel as though the outlook is hopeless. The voices in our heads are so loud that the voice of the coach is a distant hum. But the difference between us and Him is position. We’re only able to see the situation from where we stand—or sit. But from the coach’s vantage, there’s a view of the entire field. The coach can see how our situation fits within the context of the whole game, not just this one move at this one moment. If we would not only listen, but also believe when the Coach says, “you’ll make it, you’re okay, the game’s not over,” we might actually be able to beat back the blues…

TODAY’S CHALLENGE

In last month’s First Monday I promised a writing challenge, so here it is. Check out this video on beating Writer’s Block. Every writer has experienced it and every writer thinks there’s no cure, but there is. Your challenge is to watch the video and follow the 5 or 6 steps provided. Then tell me in the comments box if the method actually worked for you! Remember, this doesn’t have to be for creative writers only. This works for any writing project you might be faced with. Do you need to write a letter, but can’t find the right words? Need to write a personal statement, but can’t put it together? Have to write an essay for class? Sit down, set a timer and start putting words on the page. You’ll be surprised by what happens.

 

WILD CARD

Nothing beats back the blues—or writer’s block—like blood flow! Health professionals recommend a minimum of 2 ½ hours of physical activity each week, but that can be broken up into 10 minute spurts which is perfect if you don’t have a lot of time to go to the gym! So, here’s your wild card back-to-school-blues-buster for today:

If you have a treadmill:

  1. Set your incline to 2 or 4 and your speed to a moderate pace so that you are speed walking. That means probably around 3 or 4. Keep it there for 5 minutes! (Note: adjust the incline and pace based on your own fitness level. Your rate of perceived exertion—RPE—should reach about 5 on a scale of 10)
  2. Set your timer for 5 minutes. Bring the incline down to 0 then for 1 minute jog or run at your fastest pace. Walk at an easy pace for 1 minute then repeat speed run for 1 minute until the 5 minutes is up (Your RPE should reach about 7-8)
  3. Increase incline and pace and set timer for as much time as you have. Repeat cycle with speed runs and walks as many times as you feel strong enough for. If 10 minutes is all you have, decrease pace, cool down, drink plenty of water and head to school or work knowing you can conquer the world with your Coach and the proper perspective! (Jeremiah 29:11)

Happy Monday!

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If you don’t have a treadmill…

These exercises can still be done on a track or open road adjusting your pace according to the timer. If you have access to hills or stairs you can add the incline also. If space or weather is an issue for running outdoors, another alternative is jumping rope or jogging in place. To keep these options from becoming too redundant, set your timer for 1 minute and switch between the following:

  1. march in place
  2. jog in place
  3. jump rope
  4. jumping jacks
  5. squats
  6. plank

For more exercise options, check out Monday Mayhem: Tabata Mania! and Monday Mayhem! How to Get Back to Work after Vacation

Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash