I once worked on a project which required some technical support. We met with our IT guys thinking we had an ideal solution, but inadvertently found ourselves discussing the same points over and over again. One of the guys finally blurted out, “Don’t automate a broken process.” The meeting stopped cold. In that short sentence, we realized that a new website wasn’t the answer; fixing the way the work got done was.
It’s good advice. So many times we think the right tool will make everything better. If we can only install a custom closet, it will take care of the clothes falling onto the floor. Why make hard decisions about what can stay or go if a few shelves can solve your problems? If you’re a viewer of reality home shows, you know decisions like that usually lead to calling in a professional organizer who often loves the new shelves you’ve just installed…as long as you take their advice to get rid of 80% of your stuff, too.
I’m a fan of technology. I love how I can consume books and music through digital platforms. Anywhere I go. But I’ve also learned that simply buying a new computer doesn’t clean off that pile of papers gathering dust at the edge of your desk any more than installing shelves organizes your closet. And sometimes technology can mask deeper decisions, the true decisions, which need to be made, especially as you dive into the complexities of digital specs. This week, don’t get distracted by the quick answer, no matter how cool or slick it is. Have the courage to be the one in the room to admit the real problem. In the words of former Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”
I’m so happy to share the trailer for the movie I saw at SIFF on Sunday. “The Intouchables” is THE feel good picture of the year. It tells the true story of a quadrapalegic man and his irreverent assistant. It is funny, poignant and completely disarming. My screening was filled with people of all ages, and the young guy next to me was wiping away tears as the closing credits rolled. Once you see it, it will come as no surprise that it is one of the top grossing French pictures. I can’t encourage you enough to put this on your list this year.
I had a fun time at my first SIFF screening on Sunday. I learned a hard lesson about timing a couple of years ago by getting to a screening with just minutes to spare. With a full house, everything was more complicated – the parking, ticket pick-up and finding a seat. I literally sprinted from the parking lot and ended up in the front row, never my favorite place to be. (Although the movie, Il Divo, was worth the effort.)
I had a sense my pick would be popular, and arrived to a large crowd and bumper-to-bumper parking garage. I felt for this year’s SIFF staff and volunteers. Some people were kind and upbeat about standing in the line that stretched around the theater and down the block, in spite of the Seattle drizzle. Other people treated the staff as if they were a personal assistant or concierge. (Yes, I mean you - lady in the purple dress yelling “EXCUSE ME!” at the volunteer who had the audacity to ask you to wait while the prior screening exited.)
Watching the crowd reminded me of a recent blog by poet Nancy Levin. Although she’s constantly traveling for business, she found herself stuck in a long line during Spring Break weekend which caused her to miss her flight. She was able to get a new ticket – for the low, low price of $1,100. (Ouch!) Instead of arguing with the ticket agent or berating them, she surrendered to the situation, smiled and simply said, “I am determined to be your kindest customer today.”
The next time you’re compelled or even entitled this week to snap at someone, think of Nancy. Softening your response could make all the difference. I’m not talking about changing to manipulate others or get your desired outcome, I mean changing because you’re in control of your emotions. Because you’re aware of how harmful chasing anger through your body can be. Because you’re past lashing out uncontrollably when you’re triggered.
Thanks for the inspiration, Nancy. Since SIFF has 2 more weeks to go, I may need it!
I saw Edie Falco on MSNBC recently, and she described her work with Y-ME Breast Cancer Support. It’s such a fantastic idea. People battling breast cancer can call and talk with a survivor – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In 150 different languages.
If you know someone in treatment, you may want to pass along this link. There’s nothing like talking to someone who understands your side effects, your fears, or even your frustration that you can’t get poked for one more blood test.
It seems like I’m seeing a slideshow for some celebrity award show every other week in the media. Nominees of all shapes and sizes. It’s fun to celebrate the winner, but you have to feel for everyone else in the category. People who also did good work, even consistently, but somehow didn’t get the nod. There was an item today about Michael Fassbender’s GQ cover where he talks about his possible Academy Award nomination: “At the beginning people [say], ‘You’re going to be going to the Oscars,’ and you’re like, ‘Whatever, doesn’t matter, don’t think so.’ But after a while it does penetrate. After a while you’re like, ‘Anyway, so I’m going to the Oscars…’ ” He laughs. “And you start to believe it. And I did. I thought I was going. And then I found out I wasn’t and I was upset. I was very upset by it. It’s a vanity thing. It does become important to you. And it shouldn’t.”
Do you ever feel like this is happening to you? Keep your chin up if you happen to be the person getting passed over at the moment. Traditional prizes rarely take the meaningful things into consideration. When I look at some of the favorite people in my life, they’ll never qualify for the awards they should:
Best vegan baker.
Favorite Summer BBQ host and fantastic grillmaster.
Team member who always responds to their colleagues messages first.
Most imaginative storyteller.
In case you don’t hear it from anyone else this week, let me be the first to congratulate you on your extraordinary accomplishment, whatever that is. Don’t worry if you’re not getting a standing ovation everywhere you go. As Denzel Washington’s Mom liked to remind him, “Man gives the award. God gives the reward.”
The Huffington Post had a delightful article this week describing how the Copenhagen Philharmonic played the theme from “Peer Gynt” on a city train. Of course the music is beautiful, but I was totally fascinated by the responses of the people around them. Amazed. Charmed. Smiling. Now that’s my kind of flash mob!
Have you ever met someone who won’t stop talking? Not someone who has dementia. Or someone telling their funniest stories when they meet new people or on a first date. I mean people who spend 20 minutes telling you something they mentioned 3 days before.
I read an interesting article which stated that sometimes people will repeat themselves simply as a way of being heard. It gave me a whole new perspective. Possibly they did not receive attention or acknowledgement in their family of origin; to be heard, they needed to do things again and again. (We’ve all heard the poor 5 year old in the grocery store – “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom,” while the mother ignores him.) Some people carry this habit into adulthood, not realizing the wearing effect it can have on people around them.
I’ve been frustrated by conduct like this, but I found a surprising silver lining. It caused me to realign my behavior of needing to get my point across. Sometimes listening to someone for the third time that week is simply polite, but other times it’s simply saving your breath with someone who’s more interested in talking than hearing your response.
Are you someone who has to have the last word? Articulate about making your point, but unrelenting? Joyce Meyer once laughed that she was the kind of Mom who would lecture her teenagers for 20 minutes, go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, think of something else, and then go back and start in again (usually while they rolled their eyes at her).
Maybe the thought for the week is finding peace in silence. Knowing that there can be as much elegance in keeping quiet and saving your energy as in stating your opinion. I’ll leave you with a quote from Caroline Myss:
Contain your experience with the Divine
so that it does not escape you but rather shapes you.
Silence will help you avoid engaging in the games of competition and illusion
that regularly seduce us in the outside world.
Silence also helps you avoid distraction.
It helps focus the busy mind -
the mind that always has to be doing something, thinking something,
the mind that always has to be otherwise engaged
lest it become introspective and allow the soul’s voice to override its own.
The silence I am describing is a silence that you use
to contain the grace you receive when you enter the Castle of your soul.
This quality of silence allows you to engage in discernment.
You carry this silence within you, even when you are with others.
It allows you to hold your center amid the chaos of your life;
it keeps you clear so that you do not do or say things you will regret
or make decisions out of fear.
I’ve started watching Moyers & Company on PBS on Friday nights. Somehow Bill Moyers finds the most interesting mix of people as guests. I tuned in to catch the excellent Kathleen Hall Jamieson comment on the Republican primaries, and was hooked. This is more than political conversation. I’ve met everyone from poet Christian Wiman to former Disney executive turned media specialist, Marty Kaplan. Although Bill is always friendly with his guests, he doesn’t hesitate to challenge them on their opinions. I have a tendency of turning it on thinking I’ll just listen passively, but I’m always provoked about my own thoughts on the evening’s topic by the end of the hour.
If you like in-depth, intelligent and civil discussion, this show’s for you. Enjoy!
How to disengage from negative situations (page 69)
One caution: don’t overlook this book by thinking, “Well, I’m not a political person” or “Sitting still is so boring – I could never do that.” You will have insights into your actions and the environment around you even if you only select certain chapters.
I was especially interested in his observations about ways stress affects the body, and the transformative effect of using intention. Listen to his description of his old morning routine. Sound familiar? “Mindfulness helped me become aware of how my body and mind reacted to the stress of daily life, to get in touch with how my built-in survival mechanism could go into high gear when it had no valid reason to. I could feel myself tense up if someone told me something I didn’t want to hear. I would lose focus during a conversation because I was fretting about something that happened hours before. I looked at my BlackBerry messages first thing in the morning and got thrown into a tailspin before I even got out of bed.”
Imagine growing up with awareness of your actions and their effect on others. In this book, Fred Rogers (a/k/a “Mr. Rogers”) inspired me to envision a world where these ideas are commonplace. “If we can teach children that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”