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One aspect of myself I am often most frustrated with is my inability to not think on the spot. So many times over the course of my life I've found myself in very annoying situations where I had wished I had the ability to respond much faster than I had; especially when someone is being rude or disrespectful.
Part of my problem is that I am by nature, very trusting. I assume most people will just be decent to me, so when caught in a situation where someone is being rude to me or surpassing some boundary, I stay in 'shock-mode' too long.
For example, today I was in Hyattsville, MD shopping. Every store there is run by Latinos and since I am Latina and I speak fluent Spanish I ordered my food in Spanish. The man in front of me sees me talking to my own kids in English and thought to make it his business to come over to me to tell me how he does not like it when Latinos don't speak to their kids in Spanish. He did not come off obviously confrontational, so it took me a while to figure out he was actually judging me to my face and telling me essentially that it 'bothered' him that my kids are not being spoken to in Spanish; seeing as I'm Latina. As I filled my ketchup cups and standing beside him gathering all we needed for our meal, I responded quite calmly, explaining that when you're second generation Latina, as I am, and married to non-Latino those ideals are hard to follow through as much as you'd like to.
Of course, only after I leave the store do I feel the full force of his rude comments and get mad that I did not respond more forcefully. How dare anyone come and tell me how I should be speaking to my kids?!! Is he serious? I would never think to say that to anyone? But of course, the moment has passed and I had left the store. I am left mentally kicking myself for not putting him in his rightful place and for not being able to pick up on his rudeness from the start.
I know some of you might be all about 'turning the other cheek' when it comes to dealing with rude people or rude comments. But I firmly believe rude people need to be addressed; whether the rudeness is intentional or not. I have experienced too many people who live their lives spewing caustic comments to others and no one ever tells them the degree damage caused by their words. We can only learn from our mistakes and when we don't make ourselves formally address these uncomfortable situations, we don't allow these to learn from their mistakes.
Perhaps the solution lies in being slightly more aware. I do feel that I need to be more awake to my general surroundings, especially when I'm around people and places I do not know. I will take these incidents as a calling for me to wake up and become aware when in unfamiliar surroundings.
We are becoming a world of black and white, rights and wrongs, where mistakes and imperfections are unforgivable. People who live in the public eye, for example, are treated with this wire-thin measure and when they inevitably fail, as all humans do, we crucify them, we pellet them with hard hatred. When I witness utter self-righteousness on the side of people who claim to be 'right' I am reminded of the Gandhi's famous quote, "We need to be the change we wish to see in the world" and wonder whether or not these same people would like this same type of treatment when they (and they inevitably will) make mistakes.
I am blessed to be married. In marriage you learn how to be soft, how to forgive, how to practice compassion daily, how to work with the other, and how to love both yourself and the other despite your imperfections. Yet, in order to have a marriage work, really work, one needs to abandon these essentially fundamentalist, black and white ways of looking at life and delve in the grey. Most married couples I know have recurring arguments about and around the same subjects that often come up again and again. The issue then becomes how does one address these recurring arguments once and for all so that the ugly interaction does not recur over and over? Assuming there is love in the marriage and real interest in its success coming from both sides, one then starts to examine the 'whys', the purpose, the 'behind the scenes' thought processes that led to these actions. Eventually, one discovers, to make things work, one must abandon the black and white ways of looking at life and live, breathe, exist in the grey. Understanding the other and developing understanding in ourselves then becomes the vehicle for forgiveness and compassion. I am more likely to forgive a person who hurt my feelings if I understand why it happened. Surprisingly, I have found, that more often than not a negative interaction is brought on by factors external to me.
Oprah is always talking about the evolution of the person and where people are on this continuum. I have come to believe that reaching this point in our lives where we start to abandon the hard self-righteousness, stop thinking in absolutes and soften our deeply held fundamentalist-style way, rates much higher on the proverbial human evolutionary scale. If there were a revolutionary scale, I am more than confident that softness, understanding, and compassion would be fairly high up there.
If you doubt that the world is getting harder and less compassionate. Look at these facts. The amount of money allocated for Clinton-Lewinsky investigation was $40 million, while the amount of money allocated for the 9/11 Commission was only $14 million. These facts tells me that in the 'modern' world we care more about sounding right and winning then actually doing right by people.
Anybody can say they are doing what they are doing for a righteous cause but it's in how they pave their solutions that one must look instead. When I meet someone with hard, unrelenting views and with forgiveness and compassion nowhere to be found, I get very wary. In fact, I most often walk away. No solutions that agrees with all stakeholders can come from hard, unrelenting, self-righteous people.
The most traumatizing movie I ever watched and that to this day still haunts me to the core is the movie, The Stoning of Soriya M. (it's on streaming video on Netflix). In the end of this movie you see a horrific, no bars held, stoning of an innocent mother of three you have come to respect and understand. Although this type of bloody justice is far from our modern reality in the US, we do as a society exact that same severity and intensity of 'justice' through our judgements. Our leaders, our celebrities, our politicians may not be literally stoned when they do wrong, but they are symbolically stoned with words, with judgements, with hatred.
I believe self-righteousness is close neighbors with hatred. I've come to experience these brutal forms of justice in my own personal world and have come to the conclusion that self-righteousness is one of the last vehicles left for uninhibited hatred. It's like watching those 'revenge movies" that begin with some child abduction that then makes all killings in the next two hours justified.
I am not buying it any more. I am staying clear of all forms of fundamentalism with their hard, relentless and cut-throat solutions that take us all in the wrong direction. Long lasting solutions can only come from conversations with the other, understanding of the other and compassion. From now on I will live, breathe and walk the change I wish to see in the world and I am choosing people for my circle who mirror back these softer qualities.
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Luke is telling me all about black holes as he adds details to his painting called, 'Death by black hole'
I might not be the best speaker, the best writer, or have the best ideas, but blogging has allowed me a place to say yes to my thoughts, yes to my ideas and yes to my imperfections in a way that simultaneously allows others to see value in their own voice.
Blogging is not about saying my ideas are better or the best ideas out there. I know people sometimes confuse assertiveness and openness for arrogance, especially if they never afforded you a voice or place at the table to begin with. That is the beauty of Blogging, everyone has a seat at the table.
My aim in writing to has always been to validate my own imperfect voice; it's the daily practice of finding the true and genuine inside myself and validating it through its sharing. Posting a blog is like putting a stamp on each idea and saying to the world, "I stand by this", in the world where nothing placed online ever truly disappears, that is a huge commitment. You place your posts out there for the world to judge, share, laugh at or laugh with and regardless of the external response, the internal YES that happens is incredibly empowering.
The added external benefits to the readers are secondary, but also very meaningful to the whole process. In allowing yourself to lower your own walls and essentially show your own vulnerability, you magically allow others others to lower their own walls and at best, find more value in their own journey and voice. In showing ourselves in the glory of our full messy humanity with all our glaring imperfections while all along still accepting ourselves, we afford that same level of self-compassion to bloom in others.
I've been thinking a lot about class lately. Not about the class that's associated with schools and classes. I am talking about the "economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society of which the most basic class distinction is between the powerful and the powerless" (according to Wikipedia).
Funny, growing up in a home where my mom worked as a housekeeper to a wealthy family never made me feel I was part of a separate class at all, neither did going to a private high school where 90% of the students in my grade could actually afford to live in Manhattan while all along I commuted from Queens daily. So why suddenly now, working as a teacher in a affluent community do I feel the affects of class and experience powerlessness?
Recently, I read an amazing, life-changing piece in New York Magazine, called Paper Tigers written by a young man named, Wesley Yang. The 10+ pages in this article made me allowed me to experience his life being unilaterally discounted by the people in power due to the fact that he was born to Korean parents. As a teacher in America and more specifically, as a teacher living in an affluent part of DC, I have been subjected to a certain level of powerlessness perpetuated by people who perceive themselves to be in control.
Instead of coming up with the general and obvious questions about class, such as why or how, I want to address how does one begin work alongside these divergent realities that essentially have a very powerful discounting or canceling affect on your own reality? How do you maintain a sense of balance when faced with complete and utter powerlessness? As someone who follows Buddhist philosophy, fighting back with the same type of energy just seems futile.
The solution that rises in me tells me that the power is not and will never truly be in the hands of the powerful; that it just appears that way. Another answer that floats up from within me tells me that no matter what happens, you still own your own power. That it's what you do with the sense of powerlessness that defines whether you have lost it or not. In other words, the feeling of powerlessness only happens when you actually give into the pressures of being placed in powerless situations. Therefore, by simply redefining our situation to ourselves we begin to free ourselves from the feeling of powerlessness.
Wesley Yang perfectly summed up the very solution I'm about to offer:
"There is something salutary in that proud defiance. ....we will need more people with this kind of defiance, willing to push themselves into the spotlight and to make some noise, to make mistakes, to become entrepreneurs, to stop doggedly pursuing official paper emblems attesting to their worthiness, to stop thinking those scraps of paper will secure anyone’s happiness, and to dare to be interesting."
Like Yang, the powerless could simply choose to continue on their predetermined path, strengthened by their own inner priorities and intentions, and being overtly unperturbed by the bold attempts of others to dispossess them from their voices. People who abuse their power usually have huge issues with differing opinions of any kind as well as differing realities that threaten their highly guarded structure. When people boldly guard their realities with such intense energy I immediately know they have an ego problem. In the Buddhist world, a person with an 'ego' problem is suffering. This person desperately needs a certain reality to be perpetuated in order for them to function and feel happy. Unfortunately, anyone with an ego problem cannot entirely be trusted, for their top priority is and will always be fiercely protecting their reality and nothing else. That being said, set your own sail, plan your own agenda, define your own world. FULLY accept that there will always be people who cannot live without being in control for no other reason than to just be in control. But also be assured that they are the ones suffering and that you can always choose to simply ignore their loud claims and carry on your own merry path if so you choose.
I feel so incredibly blessed tonight.
I have a built a great family,
Two amazing children who make me laugh several times daily,
A great partner,
Loads of loving friends who support me despite my many, many faults.
And most importantly, I have a strong and energetic body that has not failed me yet.
This is the very perspective I turn to when I get too entangled in the small stuff.
I've been through enough roller-coasters in life to know that in time, they all sprout these awesome life lessons.
Trustingly, I welcome all conflicts and disappointments with fearlessness, an open heart and an open mind. For no matter what, the pure essence of me remains intact.