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

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

Why Your “Mother” May Not Know Best!

In Tangled, the 21st century version of the age-old fairy tale about Rapunzel–a princess stolen from her parents and locked away in a tower by an evil witch for the first 18 years of her life–the significance of her captivity is that she is less bound by the high tower and concrete walls than by her own mind.

Why?

Because the witch in this story does not wear a black robe, a tall pointy hat nor have a long crooked nose with a nasty knot on the end. She has beautiful wavy hair, enchanting eyes and sings to Rapunzel in a sweet soothing voice “mother knows best!”

Rapunzel’s witch is her “mother”! Or at least, the only mother she’s ever known. And, of course, with the terrifying picture that she paints of the horrors that await Rapunzel outside the safety of her tower, she has convinced her “daughter” that it is best to keep her magic locked inside. Thus far, Rapunzel has been content to stay put despite the breath that catches in her throat as she peers out of her window imagining the freedom that eludes her.

But one day, everything changes!

The tower is breached by a stranger while “mother” is away and she steps out for the first time. It proves to be the most memorable day of Rapunzel’s life: she meets the man she will eventually marry and discovers a world beyond her four walls that is not so scary after all.

Have you ever felt like you were held captive by something–trapped in an ivory tower by an overbearing “mother” who may or may not have your best interest at heart? How often do we make choices about what to do or not do, because of some imposed standard or set of circumstances rather than our own desires? Perhaps it’s not practical to venture beyond the four walls because of dangers and evils—real or imagined! Yet, how much of our maturity and growth as individuals are impeded by the inability to venture out?

As creatives, we are often discouraged from venturing. If we stick to the traditional paths, we are assured safety, stability, and a 401k! Creative work is less predictable and far less understood by those who may appreciate beauty, but not value it. Like Rapunzel, we’re faced with the choice of peering out of the window and imagining the freedom to explore our creative selves while keeping to the confining tower of “serious work.” We’re discouraged from stepping onto the delicate grass of creative spaces to explore fully, openly and with reckless abandon. What would that even look like? Perhaps it would mean submitting creative works for publication rather than stuffing them under the mattress! Perhaps it would mean writing our stories rather than just thinking about them! What about volunteering to play or sing for church rather than just in the shower! Or attending conferences and networking with others who do similar work? For some of us, it’s as simple as acknowledging that we are creatives—writers, singers, artists—naming it and claiming it is the first step in the process of becoming!

Because your gifts are part of who you are, they are what make you special! You can’t really suppress them, they will manifest themselves in everything you do, in different ways, and those around you will notice. They will call on you to do things that they see you are gifted at. You will be the “go to” person for those jobs that you are naturally inclined to do. Even if you don’t know what your gift is, pay attention to what you tend to do without thinking and that is probably it!

The reality is creative work is hard. When you have to make a living, it is easier to pay the bills with a nursing degree than a degree in art history. But here’s where the lies of the evil witch are exposed. Your creative gifts are being used where you are. Even while you’re locked in the tower of your circumstances, toiling away your days under the tyranny of the mother—whoever she is—your gifts are benefitting someone!

So, if your gifts are already being used where you are and benefitting those around you whom you find oppressive or overbearing, why not step out? Why not put your bare feet on the lush green grass just outside of that tall tower that you think is so safe and see how it feels? Why not take a step towards your dream and see if you can do more with your gifts than just appease the selfish needs of the mother? It may be time to put those gifts to use for other purposes. It may be time for you to decide the uses of those gifts rather than have the uses dictated to you.

If it’s any comfort to you, the tower will always be there. You can always go back if you find that your attempts at achieving the dream are not worth the pain. In the movie, when the witch finds Rapunzel, she convinces her that her boyfriend has betrayed her and coaxes the “lost” princess back to “safety”.

But, even if the world is a harsh and hurtful place, can you be comfortable in an isolated tower once you’ve experienced the freedom of wide open spaces? Rapunzel had been forever changed. It was clear she could never again be appeased by a simple song–mother didn’t know best! Rapunzel had seen and heard for herself what the world was like, and the tower–even with its promise of peace– was no substitute for life.

Life begins when you open your eyes and recognize who you are. If you are a circle among squares you will forever be unhappy trying to make yourself a square. Your circleness (is that a word?) will come through no matter how you try to conform, so step out of the confining tower–even if it means stepping out of what’s “best” for you.

What is best for you is doing what comes naturally to you. Find a way to make your life’s work and your natural abilities work together. The world needs your gifts! They should not be locked away in a tower where no one can get to them, no matter what your “mother” says!

Happy Monday!

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Cover photo: special thanks to Julian Santa Ana on Unsplash