Saturday, 26 March 2016

Humility. Or, What You Acquire When You Fail at Conflict.

I just wrote a blog about loving conflict.

For those of you who pray, this is the equivalent of praying for patience.


Do you know how you get the gift of patience? Through people and situations that irritate the hell out of you.

Well do you know how you learn to love conflict?  Not sitting by yourself sipping hot coffee and pondering the philosophies of life, that's for sure.

You say you want to love conflict?  Well you're going to get your chance....  Because conflict is gonna' climb all over you.

Literally one day after professing my righteous and noble goal of leaning in and embracing conflict I found myself in the middle of a shit storm with my husband, Brendan.

It started the night before with a little spat over the correction of the dog's bad behaviour, and we picked it all back up the next night without missing a beat.

Hostility, harsh words and accusations of insensitivity and frustration ensued.

Long story short it ended with Brendan warning me to stop quoting Brene Brown to him and me storming out for a drive at 11 at night. (I have to confess I'm giggling a little at the Brene Brown thing).

Life has this funny way, as soon as you commit yourself to some awesome change in habits, mindsets, attitudes or lifestyle, of hitting you with all it's got in the opposite direction.

Commit to your diet? Well why don't we just make that lunchroom donut delivery a double order? (And you forgot your lunch.)

Going to pray more? Well wouldn't you know it the dog ate the bible.

Going to yell less at your kids  ... And then they seem to be the most heinous little beasts ever?

I hear you. This phenomena is real.

Call it coincidence,  call it the enemy, either way there is only one way around it.

Eat your humble pie and move on.

When you set a goal it is usually centered around an end goal, an ideal outcome ... a goal weight, more patience, less anger, cleaner floors, etc.

But no one said it all had to be up and to the right.

You know,  like on a growth or progress chart where your success or achievement is on the left axis, the time line is on the bottom and the goal is in the top right corner.  When you start you plot a line that goes straight up and to the right, directly toward the goal.

But reality is a far more squiggly thing. That line will soar and dip and do loop-de-loops. You will get to your goal, but not in a straight line.

The key is NOT TO QUIT when things get swirling.

Smile. Take a deep breath. Calm down and realize you are a human "being", not a human "finished". It's okay. We all screw up.

You can pick right on up and keep on going.  You can do that.

We all can.

That is the beauty of life.

The only thing that will stop you is pride.

An inability to see that mistakes ARE the journey... And the journey is far more exciting than the goal itself. Fear will tell you you're done for but you are not.

You are developing fortitude, character and humility.

You'll need these things because what you are moving towards is far greater than you could ever imagine.

So stand up, dust off, lean in, be courageous. You can do this. You can do it again. And again.

Bravely forth my humble fighters,

Jac :)

Thursday, 24 March 2016

My New "Love" of Conflict (Warning: Foul Language)

I started this as a facebook status post but I realized I had far too much to say.

I hate conflict. Contrary to that totally misleading blog title above, conflict (or the thought of potential conflict) washes me over with a wave of physical illness.

Before I continue too much further, I should define what I mean by conflict, or maybe better describe some hypothetical scenarios that I would refer to as triggering "conflict feelings".

 (These are of course only loosely based on reality.  Any resemblance to real persons or situations is purely coincidental).

Conflict feelings arise when I have an encounter with someone (it may be a person I know and I'm in communication with or might be someone I've read about, heard speak or watched but have never met) who has in some way offended or disagreed with me on something I have a strong or fundamental belief about.  This could be very obvious (such as someone stating, "Anyone who goes to church is obviously an idiot") or it could be more obscure or indirect, such as an implication that goes against how I see myself (like a coworker asking "Does it bug you to work at a messy desk?" even though you consider yourself fairly organized, most days).  You may be surprised at how strongly you feel, even about seemingly insignificant topics.

Conflict feelings arise when we are CONFRONTED.  Confrontation can happen in an overtly aggressive way, but by definition confrontation can also mean facing a difficult situation or being forced to consider something in a different way, sometimes through accusations.

I also find conflict feelings can arise through criticism or perceived judgement.

The feelings start as a bit of sickness in the gut, and then as I begin to think about why I feel wronged, offended or defensive, they often turn to anger, resent and a fierce need for justification.

I truly believe that the majority of everyday conflict (within homes, marriages, workplaces, malls, parking lots, etc) comes from a lack of communication or ineffective communication.  I'm not so concerned here with where conflict comes from or how to prevent it in a global sense.

I want to talk instead about how I've started to expose myself to conflict, or things that give me that low gut discomfort, in order to lean in and deal with these feelings.  These gut reactions.

I've had to start with people, topics and conversations that I am NOT directly involved in.  Watching things like political debates, religious debates or speakers who are not from the same camp as I am. People who I don't directly have to answer to, but who elicit these gross feelings inside of me and make me want to defend what is right (well, in my mind).

If you still aren't sure what these feelings I'm talking about are, or if you think you do just fine at handling them, I'll challenge you to a fierce and potentially dangerous mission.  Surf Facebook for a while, or go check out some internet forums on something you are passionate about.

Parenting.  Politics. Religion. Animal abuse.  Human rights. Immigration.  Terrorism.  The government. Vaccinations. Assisted suicide.  Donald Trump.  (sorry did I let that last one sneak in there??)

For some of you, just reading this list already has your mental reel running full speed with all of your opinions, convictions and defenses.

Good.  That's really good.

Now sit with those feelings for a second.  Breathe really deeply and try to bring up more of those feelings (make sure there are no sharp objects or potential victims within your reach!).

Start to think deeper about WHY you are so fired up.  Why does it matter to you?  Why do you think you are right?

I've started writing a lot.  I write down everything.  When I start to experience these feelings bubbling up and I am asking myself the above questions, I will write down what I'm discovering.

Here's an example ...

I was out getting groceries a few weeks ago when I returned to my van to put the groceries in it and leave.  There was a man in his car beside me who, after I sat down to start the van, motioned for me to roll down my window. I did, and he proceeded to tear a strip off me for parking too close to his car.  He ranted that I was inconsiderate and didn't think about how much room he might need to open his door and get in. This lasted about 2 minutes.  I said I was very sorry and drove away.

Then, when I was out of sight, I slung a whole string of profanities his way.  Then I cried.

Instead of brewing like I normally would I decided to do an experiment.  So I pulled over and I wrote. Here is what I came up with (I apologize for the profanities but this is the real deal) :

That fucking ass. Who does he think he is? Shit its not like everyone else there wasn't parked close.  Uggghhh ... I hate mean people.  Did he have to be so angry.  It's not like I meant to inconvenience or annoy him.  

I am ALWAYS helpful.  I guess that's it.  I always try to go out of my way to be kind and helpful.  I am so offended he would think I was just "one of those" snotty or inconsiderate people.  My feelings are hurt.  I wanted to tell him ... I'M NOT LIKE THAT.  I try so hard to help people out and it feels like you just get crapped on for it.  

Maybe he is very sad and lonely.  It probably had nothing to do with me.  If I was a little less insecure I could have made it about him, his struggle.  Maybe I could have asked him if there was any way I could help him? Maybe I could have asked him a question?  Whatever it's too late now. 

I want everyone to make generous assumptions about me and not just assume I am a delinquent or bad person.  It is SO FRUSTRATING when people just assume something negative about my intentions.  I try SO HARD to keep people happy. 

And that is often a source of my frustration.  The people-pleaser in me.  That's really what it comes down to. Okay well now I can at least breathe and I'm not so angry.  

And that was it.

I didn't think of it much after that, and I only remembered it again when writing this blog.  In the past, I would have stewed and brewed, posted a ranting facebook post re-iterating the scenario in great detail and defending my position.

But something funny happens when you lean into your feelings and dig down to the root of where they come from.  When you turn them over and shine some light into the dark places.

They cool.  They dissolve.  They may not go away entirely but they'll become a shadow of their former, destructive selves.

It's not stuffing your feelings down and it's not just being resolute and self-defended. It's allowing yourself to fully feel everything, then examine it and determine the more deep and resounding truths hidden there.  The truths about yourself, your tendencies, your hurts and your challenges.

At the end of the day we all want to be happier, and not allowing conflict to get you upset or riled up will inevitably lead to more peace and joy.

So this is why I now say I love conflict.  Not is a sadistic, argumentative way.  In an experimental way.

I watch debates, listen to political leaders and discuss hot topics in a whole new way now.  I am interested and intrigued to see the feelings and reactions that arise.  I examine them, pick them apart and validate them when appropriate.

And then I let them go.

Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it's a disaster.  But either way, I am far less a victim of these situations and my own emotions than I once was.

I haven't yet mastered this art of reflection and leaning in when it comes to things closer to home.  I am still extremely defensive when my feelings are hurt and I remain angry and disgusted when I encounter passive-aggression.  But it's getting better.

It takes courage and commitment to resist our primal, knee-jerk reactions to conflict.  I think it's something we'll work on for the entirety of our lives.  It's a commitment I'm willing to make because I think we live in a world full of dangerous and damaging conflict. Folks are searching and yearning for kindness, compassion and understanding.  And we can't give out what we don't have.

Love and blessings to you in your own experimental lives.  May you face your conflicts with a deeper understanding and more productive reflection.

Bravely forth my heroic friends, 

Jac :)

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Secret Life of a Creative Junkie.

Confession time friends.

I have a problem.  And like any true addict I took a long time to even recognize that what I had was a problem.

I mean, being creative is a good thing, right?

Producing things, making things, orchestrating things.  Seems like a stretch to think of these things as anything but valuable.

Those of you who might actually agree (with my facetious banter) are likely those who also believe that "good is good enough" or rarely get overly stressed about what you produce, how much you produce and when it is produced by.

The other folks ... the ones who totally get exactly how these things might create a problem ... you are most likely in some of the same categories that I am.

Helper. Perfectionist. People-pleaser. Workaholic.  The tormented artist. Entrepreneurs.

If you fall under any of these labels you most likely place some of your worth and value in what you create.

Now hear me clearly here.  "Create" does not just refer to art or poetry or books or things of that nature. You might create a business plan.  Create a soccer team or a mom's book club.  You might create amazing landscaping or gardens. You might create a comfortable, well-decorated home and great kids.  You might create wonderful coaching, accounting or home decorating services.

Anything that involves using your mind to come up with new ideas, original developments or unique services falls under the banner of "creativity".

And these "creations", by the time they make it out for public consumption can feel as much a part of our "self" as our beating heart.

So now let me ask you something.

How would you feel if I told you to stop?  Stop making.  Stop producing.  Stop creating.

Not indefinitely.  Maybe not for any longer than a day (or gasp, 3 days).

Let me tell you how this makes me feel.

Like s#$%.  Honestly, I feel like crap and I start to feel the immediate buzz of anxiety and panic.

I start having thoughts like,

Well who will do it if I don't?  What if I miss out on a great idea or opportunity and someone else takes it?  What if I lose clients or my family is mad or the world stops turning on its proper rotation?

Okay I'm getting carried away, but I do that.

For me, new ideas, new creations and thoughts of growth, change and new endeavors are like a drug. When I'm feeling down, I just pick up a book about new business ideas or how to build a better website and pretty soon I'm humming.

I love to serve.  I love bringing joy, value and worth into people's lives, and I think that is a noble thing.  The problem arises when what comes from me becomes more important than what is within me. 

Here arises the deadly world of scarcity or "never enough".  The same "never enough" that any addict becomes all too familiar with.  Never enough money, drugs, alcohol, sex, work, time, art produced, blog posts, clean floors, etc.

The addiction to "producing" can be just as exhausting, health depleting and damaging as any of the more high profile addictions.  Families are torn apart by exhausted workaholics, over-stressed moms who both work and parent full time and artists who swear that the next piece (book, blog, painting, movie, etc) will be the big one, but once produced it just isn't quite enough.

Want to know the secret?  It won't be enough.  EVER.  The world will never stop consuming what you have to give them.

And that is a good thing, if you recognize it.

The fact that you have something to give that the world needs is truly a mark of beautiful synergy and symbiosis. You need to create. The world needs to consume.

You need to clean. Your family and friends need a clean house.

You need to write and people need to read.

You need to make shoes and those gosh darn little babies just keep on coming out with feet.

This swirling cycle of need and production are really good things.

As long as you don't get drowned in the current.  
As long as you remember that you ARE NOT WHAT YOU CREATE.
As long as you remember that if you didn't create or produce one more thing ever for the rest of your human life, you STILL HAVE WORTH AND VALUE.

Seems simple.


We get so tied up in believing that in order to be of any worth to anyone, to keep everyone happy and to thus ensure that we are "good" we must continue to produce something that will maintain their satisfaction and allegiance.  

But this is the beautiful and mysterious truth ...

What you create and produce, once it leaves your mouth, your mind, your desk or your fingertips, is NO LONGER YOU.  It might have been part of you once.  In your mind, your dreams, your psyche.
But now that you have created it or produced it, you have done your part.

Your job is done.

Let it go.  Your work is done.

The reason the creative junkie feels the need to keep feeding the beast and running themselves to the depths of exertion and exhaustion is because they spend far too long over-analyzing what they've already created.

It was okay, but not quite there.
That was a good effort, but I could do better. 
That meal was nice but tomorrow I will really wow them! 
That art was junk ... I need to start again.
This next business opportunity, it will make up for that last fail.
That session was pretty productive, but if I'd only said ....

You see where I'm going.

What if we decided it is our job to produce or create something, the best something that we can possibly muster up at the moment, and to put it out into the world.  Then our job is to step back. Hand it off and walk away.  Deliver the lesson, and then put down the plans. Start the business and then let it run.  Make the art and then turn away and let the art now do it's job.

Detach.  Smile and breathe a sigh of contentment and relief.

A job well done. Or a job done shitty.  It doesn't matter because I tried my best and now it's done.

I cannot tell you how much my life changed when I read Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, and this quote in particular ...

“Recognizing that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest - as politely as you possibly can - that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” 

I love this so much because it means that it no longer matters if my house is clean enough, my blog is popular enough or my business gets enough likes. I mean, obviously I want to make a living and a good life, but as a responsible human being I can find many ways to make that happen.

Do you know how I am going to make certain that I sabotage myself from creating that good life?

By running myself into the ground with attempts to please the masses, perfect the imperfectible or keep up with the Jones'.  By beating myself up constantly for not being good enough, thin enough, "mom"enough, successful enough or productive enough. By trying to get my next "fix" of accolades or recognition through yet another accomplishment or creation.

I can create.  Heck, I can create an amazing home, a successful business, fantastic kids, art, books or whatever my heart desires.  And I can create a lot of it ... As long as the need for some sort of response to my creation doesn't start to own me, or define me, or destroy me.

As long as I could stop and any time and I would still survive, even thrive, without creating any more. 

If you're anything like me, this is a bit of a scary proposition, but a necessary reflection.  If you want to find peace, satisfaction or any semblance of rest in your life you will have to find the courage to detach yourself from your productivity. You will have to be able to to define yourself outside of your creations.  You will need to base your worth and value on something else.  On you.

It's tough to kick the habit, but let me tell you it's life changing.  And totally worth it.

Because you are worth it.

Bravely Forth my fellow junkies, 

Jac :)

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Feedback Filter ... Who Makes the Cut?

Any self-development, business or leadership content you read these days suggest you get feedback from your target audience.

Last blog I talked about having conversations that matter and speaking into each other's lives.

But when I reflected more on the idea of just having more conversations (without boundaries), I realized that lately I don't take feedback from everyone on every topic. Sure there are some things that I will open up for more public debate (you know, new wall color or flooring, fencing options for our new dog pen, new vehicle purchases) but there are somethings I will NOT accept input on from just anyone.

Why the censoring?

We live in a culture that has learned to embrace failure, almost as a trendy necessity to success. I mean, who doesn't love a great "rise from the ashes" story to pump you up for your next big endeavor. There are even failure conventions.  REALLY.

I have some failures already in my pocket, and being the creative and curiosity-driven kind of adventurer that I am, I know I will have more.  I have some very trusted friends, family and advisers who I will share these moments of struggle, strife and personal development with.

But they have to make it through the "Feedback Filter".

This is a short and intuitive process I've developed (in my head) to determine whether someone is safe to let into the personal feedback zone.

I naturally struggle with criticism and critique.  I far prefer to be awesome right out of the gates ... study and perfect to nauseum before presenting or launching anything.  But this isn't always possible (or practical or smart). So we turn out things that are a work-in-progress.

Heck I myself am a work in progress.  And I always will be.

So when I'm looking for feedback on something I've done, a new skill I've picked up, my attitudes, approaches and behaviors and whether or not they will support or inhibit my goals, I look for a little feedback.  I am very careful though about those from whom I will elicit this commentary.

The 'feedback filter' serves to tell me many things about a potential candidate's worthiness to speak into the most vulnerable part of my life. The vital component and question regarding said candidate's requirements ...

Are you out there getting your ass kicked?  Or have you recently? 

No I'm not just a jerk who wants to see others get knocked down.

I do want to ensure that those who are sharing their insights into my own struggles, failures and shortcomings are other people who are also out there trying. 

In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown (yes I love her, as you can now likely tell!) advises:

"We need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives.  For me, if you're not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback."

I've developed kind of a mental list of people I admire, respect and trust because they are the people who know what its like to be there. In that place where you are taking extraordinary risk (maybe psychologically, emotionally, financially) to reach a crazy goal you are passionate about.

Maybe you are launching a new idea or changing careers.  You could be deciding to do something completely different than your family, friends or colleagues expect of you.

In these vulnerable, exciting, terrifying and wonderful adventures we need to solicit feedback from people who are (or have recently been) in the same kinds of situations.  People who are moving bravely toward their own goals, failing and getting back up. (Note: If they moved toward a brave goal 25 years ago, failed and never tried again, I might not include them my list of candidates.)

If I am wondering if I have what it takes to start up with my new idea, if I am looking for some assessment (honestly and openly) about my strengths and weaknesses, or if I'm just looking for someone to bounce ideas off of, I have a fairly short list of people I consult.

A handful really. Depending on the specific arena I'm entering ...2, maybe 5 people.

And here's the touchy part (I'm wincing one eye as I write this).

It might not be who YOU want it to be. 

It may not be your spouse, sibling, best friend or parent.  These people LOVE you. So much.

They may not be able to honestly reflect on your character strengths and weaknesses for fear of hurting or upsetting you. Or you may be unable to process their feedback without overloading it with innuendo, unspoken assumptions or baggage.  You may just read way too much into it.

You also have to consider that they might not be willing to see you fail at all.  They may try to thwart your efforts or sabotage your plans in an effort to save you from hurt.

Of course, if you are a brave and relentless warrior for change their attempts to stop you may be more painful than the failure would have ever been.

But that IS NOT their intent.

Or maybe they've never taken any risks.  Maybe they have personalities that reside in the "always play-it-safe" category.  Maybe they are not big on self-reflection in their own lives.

You need people on your feedback "safe" list who are open, honest and vulnerable themselves and have their own story of bravery and heartbreak to share. If you choose to share with people you love and they do not have these pre-requisites you will end up resenting them or their feedback.

There will be times, if you are truly moving towards growth and peace that you will need some reflection from others. Honest, raw, authentic and truthful feedback.  And you will need skills in vulnerability, self-compassion and courage in order to take it and make it into something productive. Just make sure that those who you request feedback of (or those who you allow to voluntarily thrust it upon you) are others in the same boat.

Once you are super comfortable receiving feedback openly and vulnerably and assessing it with clarity, calmness and authenticity, then you may try widening your circle.

But this takes immense strength and preparation.  You will know when you are ready because it will be far more exciting and helpful than it is terrifying or painful.

It will be worth it. 

We live, grow and develop in community.  Feedback is an essential part of this.  So ensure that yours (both that which you receive and that which you give) is meaningful, loving and honest.

It will push you forward to new levels you never imagined.

Bravely forth in this my friends,

Jac :)

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Conversations We Can't Afford to Miss

I was inspired yesterday by a group of women who I am beyond proud to know.

I coach a horse riding team of young girls (aged 11-28 or so and their families).  I have known them all for different lengths of time.  Two years, six years, ten years.  I've also gotten to know their families and their struggles.

And they know mine.

Watching them grow and become women has been such an honor and has been truly awesome. Yesterday morning a few of us got chatting.  One of the gals began sharing about a speaker she had recently seen who talked about mental health, success, and expectations especially when you have baggage or a rough family history (which I'm pretty sure most people do to some extent).

It ended up unfolding into a few hours of conversation about how life as a teenager is hard.  Some of the moms were there and we talked about how life as a mom is hard.  We shared stories, advice and the things we've learned so far in this life.  And we laughed a lot about how we all seem to face the same struggles (dark, raw and real struggles).

We talked a lot about how we don't talk enough.  Why, when these are the things that matter, do we keep so quiet?

Depression, anxiety and many other resulting health issues are rampant today.  We live in a society that tells you that you can have it all.  And so we push and grind and try to get it, and when we don't we wonder what is wrong with us.

And there is further confusion because after all, how dare we feel so bad when we have so much? So much more than most of the world in fact.  And yet it never seems we are (or we have) enough.

Never enough time. Money. Talent. Patience. Skills.  Awards. Success. Achievements. Likes and shares. Retweets.

The attitude of scarcity (or "never enough") runs in direct contrast to a culture where we have more than we could ever use or need. Still we struggle, strive and generally feel very alone.

And yet, in the midst of this, here is this group of women leaning in.  Talking about the tough spots. The things we all think about and yet never really put out in the open.

Depression.  Conflict. Addiction. Coping. Suicide. And real success.

I am overwhelmed with how blessed I am to have these people in my life.

One of the gals made a comment about how she wishes she had a bigger platform.  She questioned how a person could get a springboard to help more people and get more of these issues out in the open.

Here's the thing.  We already have one.

I have very little doubt that any of the group of us who stood talking yesterday went home and forgot about the conversation.  And once you've put it out there once, you'll be far more likely to do it again. We all had a little more brave in our step, I'd say.

We have to stick together. Be on the same team. Disregard who might "over hear" and who might judge.  The cool thing is, we all struggle.

Standing there saying "Being a mom is so hard.  Harder than anything I've ever done.  And not always hard in a good way. Sometimes it feels so brutal, unfair and like it's too much to handle" and hearing another mom say, "I totally know what you mean.  We do give up a lot".

And then hearing her teenage daughter talk about her own struggles.

Laughing, sharing, contemplating, reflecting.  Leaning in.  Not running away, making uncomfortable attempts to escape the conversation or change the subject.

And the moral of the story?  We are enough. Each one of us, with all our flaws and struggles and stories.  We belong here.

But we need to tell each other that.

This is what it's going to take to raise up a brave new generation. And to keep us who are already into crazy, busy and complicated lives moving forward with courage, empathy, authenticity and humanity.

We have a platform.

It's all around us.  We just have to be courageous enough to use it.

I'm so thankful that yesterday someone shared. We all walked away a little lighter because of it.  And what a gift that truly is in what sometimes seems like a heavy, dark world.

You are all so amazing. And loved. And enough.

Bravely forth my friends, 

Jac :)

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Assume Generously

Why are we so mean to each other?

Do I sound like a 12 year old girl lamenting about trouble at school? Probably.

Sometimes life as a 33 year old wife, mom and business owner doesn't feel any less tumultuous than it did in junior high. Let's be straight up here ... we spend tons of time trying to fit in and be "cool" or keep up. We want to create marriages, families and careers that get enough "likes".  After all, we have to live up to a ton of expectations (both our own and those set by the Pinterest gods).

And we're still so damn mean to each other.

I don't want to oversimplify here or imply that I'm ignorant of life's intricate complexities.  People have unbelievable stories and hurts and challenges, but I think the reason is related directly to these stories.

When I say harsh I don't necessarily mean something as obvious as laying a smack down on your neighbor for parking in your spot or delivering a knuckle sandwich to the lady who buds you in line. (Yes I used the phrase "knuckle sandwich" ... this explains a lot about my struggle with being cool). It's way more unsuspecting than that.

It's sideways glances, snide comments, and rude conversations about people we don't know.  It's passive aggressive notes at work aimed at "the person who..." when we know full well who we are targeting. It's the viral photo of the mom on her phone at the park. HOW DARE SHE miss one moment of her child's growing life to breathe and find her sanity (even if that constitutes answering an email, reading an article or browsing Facebook?).

It's the conclusions that we leap to so eagerly and fiercely when they are about someone else and yet snap when these same rash judgments are applied to ourselves.  And don't even get me going on Internet trolling or forum banter. It's disgusting. Like, I vomit-in-my-mouth-a-bit kind of disgusting (am I being completely clear that I despise Internet comment/forum fights?).

I'm no saint. I've done all of these things (even the nasty Internet squabbles ... I get drawn in too which is why I dislike them so much).

And I know exactly why I get reeled into these things.

I am shitty with my assumptions.

Stingy.  Narrow. Shallow. Frugal. Judgmental. Mean.

Just shitty.

When I see or hear or encounter someone else, especially when they confront, disagree or offend me, I'm quick to defend myself, usually by knocking them down a rung or two (at least in my mind). I start the story in my head immediately...

"Who the hell does she think she is?  That's totally not fair, after all I've done for them. How dare they take advantage of me? Say that?  Treat me so poorly? How dare they snap at me that way?"

But here's the fascinating thing ... What is the story in my head when I am the one who is snappy with the lady at the counter?

Well she just doesn't understand what kind of a day I've had.  She doesn't know what it takes to be in my shoes.

Of course I have a list.

You know, the list.   We all have one.  It's the one we play over and over in our heads.  It's our defenses, justifications and reasons.  The things we throw at people when they dare confront us about our behaviors or actions.

I think we've all had times when we wish we could carry around this list and hand out to people when we aren't acting our best (and feel the need to justify it).

For instance, I forget to respond to messages ...a lot. I try my best I really do but life moves quickly and I have a hard time keeping up.  I don't generally enjoy correction or criticism about it. I immediately want to explain.

Or occasionally (most of the time) I am late (and don't be fooled, I HATE being late).

These are times I often pull out my list.

My life is crazy.

I have four kids. I home school because the  school system failed us and it was our last ditch effort to keep our son off meds and enjoying school.  He really is so talented. Homeschooling makes our life so nuts!

I also have to make a full time income on the "side" of raising my kids with my small business teaching riding and training horses . So I try to squish 8 hours of work a day into 3 hours in the evening (many of which I have to bring the kids along if Brendan is working late or has other commitments).

Between cleaning, cooking (which I suck at and loathe), laundry and basically 2 full time jobs I often feel entitled to the occasional lapse in manners or judgement...

Depending on how defensive I feel this could go on for a long, long time ...

I think the fact that I have a list is fairly normal.  This is my story. My narrative.  And how I deal with, prioritize and justify my list isn't actually what I think the problem is.

The problem is how I deal with YOUR LIST. 

How do I react to the lists of others?

Am I understanding, open and empathetic?  Or knee-jerk, short-tempered, narrow-minded and opinionated?

Here's a question ...

How would the world look if we all treated other peoples' lists as important, legitimate and valuable as our own.  What if we gave other people's stories as much thought, credence and validation as our own? 

In her writing,  Brene Brown talks a lot about "generous assumptions" and it has been really transformative for me. She is faced with (and poses to her readers) the simple question,

Are people really doing the best they can?

The wise and kind of the world generally answer, YES.

Think about the implications of this suggestion.  Everyone (like, EVERYONE YOU MEET) is DOING THE BEST THEY CAN.

What would this mean in our everyday lives?

Well, it means that when you encounter someone who offends you or rubs you the wrong way, you would consider the most generous, wide-thinking and kind thing you could muster in order to explain their behavior.

You need to consider their list.  Think about it, and then validate it in your mind.  Give it credit.  Allow their story to become as important to you as your own (or at the very least someone you love deeply and unconditionally). You could even try a little experiment and defend it.

You don't need to know the actually story, or the person's actual list (although you'd be surprised what happens when you take the time to listen).  It might be as simple as:

"Maybe that mom on her phone has been tirelessly tending to her kids all week and this is her first moment to herself in days?" or
"That man driving too fast or cutting me off in traffic could be on the way to see his wife give birth."

Or it might even (more honestly) look like,

"That person looks distracted.  Maybe they are losing their job.  Maybe their child just failed a test, or they got a bad health diagnosis."  

What comes across as inconsiderate and rude might just be that person coping.

This becomes insanely challenging when it comes to things closer to your heart or of more consequence.  A cheating spouse. An angry boss.  An unfaithful friend.  A bully (and believe me, adults can be bullies too).  A thief or offender who has stolen, hurt or even killed someone you love. You may need some professional assistance in order to make generous assumptions in some of these cases.  It may take a lot of time.

But here's the thing.  Those people have lists.  Reasons.  (Unless they are a clinically diagnosed
sociopath, which although we may joke, is a very serious condition wherein someone does not have any remorse or conscience or empathy for the consequences of their actions.  The majority of people you will meet are likely not sociopaths, despite your initial assessment).

Here is my question ... what could it hurt?

Would it really make your life worse to make generous assumptions about other people's lives, problems, effort, and actions?

Think about a time when you behaved your WORST.

You could probably come up with a justification or defense for your behavior.  You may regret doing it.  You may be in complete remorse for it.  But you still had a reason.

And the only way you are going to get beyond the incident, behavior or attitude is by acknowledging it as being "the best you could do" at the time.  And then, as they say, once you know better you can do better.

We have to be kinder to ourselves first.  Then we need to extend this gentleness and understanding out to others.

We are mean to each other because we want to defend our own list of justifications for our role, actions and attitudes, while at the same time invalidating the other person's.

Living a brave and authentic life (which I think translates into a more peaceful, joyful and satisfying life) means breathing deeply and allowing ourselves to reflect on the position of the other before jumping to defend ourselves. 

When we do this, we truly experience empathy and we find even more growth and peace in our own lives as we consider ourselves through the lens of the other. We see ourselves how they might see us then we can then decide if we like what we see (not in a self-defensive way, but with honesty, vulnerability and openness).

When we are open to another's story, their narrative and the possibility that they are doing the best they can we allow ourselves to enter deeper reflection, understanding and relationship, and we can often elicit less hostility back.

Even if not, it won't matter.  We won't feel nearly as attacked and we certainly won't be as inclined to counter attack.

And when we have tools to stop these attacks (even if only from our end), that my friends is when we stop being so mean.

Bravely forth in all you do,