Kindness is my Kryptonite

“Kind” isn’t the usual description for a rejection. It should be. Yesterday, I experienced two examples of rejections softened with kindness.

The personal example was a rejection delivered so kindly that I almost didn’t mind not getting the answer I preferred. He has power and was kind while using it, taking time to explain his opinion and urge me to keep trying. Of course I’m disappointed. I also felt empowered and encouraged.

The US election offered the second example. Ms. Clinton was kind and gracious in her concession. One hopes Mr. Trump would do the same to concede a loss.

Even if neither of yesterday’s decisions were my choice, conceding my loses with kindness feels healthier.

Much has been said and written about poor role models in the public realm: the accusations, rudeness, vitriol, and nastiness. Where can I vote to bring back language rooted in kindness as an antidote?

 

The Power of Pessimism

Many people believe positivity in thinking and attitude are needed for healing. In several blog posts I wrote about what I call the twin tyrannies of positive thinking and good attitude. When I posted those opinions I didn’t have any evidence to back me up.

Those posts expressed my discomfort with being told how I was supposed to think or feel about cancer and survival. After all, life’s problems bring a whole roller-coaster of thinking and attitudes, all of which are appropriate at different times and days.
Recently I read, and greatly enjoyed, Originals, by Adam Grant.
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Eureka, there it was. Research in support of my belief that positive thinking and good attitude will get you only so far. I’m happy to share this news with you.
Turns out that pessimists also do very well if they see the risks and prepare themselves to meet those risks. If they think strategically, the pessimists build capacity to overcome obstacles, and create resilience.
Time to turn the twin tyrannies into something less oppressive to those who have problems. How about strategic thinking and defensive attitude?
Go forth and be negative if that’s how you feel at the moment. Add defensive (as in thinking through the bad things that might happen to plan how to overcome them) and strategic and you should do well.
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Here’s the URL to take your measure of the Original’s action planimg_4057

Rob Ford; leadership guru

Rob Ford, 1969-2016

I wrote a post nominating Rob Ford as a guru during the height of the wreckage he wrought at Toronto City Hall. Rob Ford’s leadership offers all kinds of lessons, so that post still applies, and I repost it now in his memory. Perhaps it applies south of the Canadian border as well, to another constituency of angry, alienated voters.

photo credit: City of Toronto website

photo credit: City of Toronto website

I nominate Toronto Rob Ford as guru of the year.

No, seriously. Buffoonery aside – and that’s a huge aside – his ability to keep voters willing to vote for him defies credibility. It’s what I find most astonishing – his self-imposed implosion and dizzying public unraveling hasn’t deterred his Ford Nation from believing in him. That means he has something to teach.

Had Mr. Ford behaved and been competent, no one outside Toronto would know his name. Now he’s stratospheric famous, enjoying status as a late night joke and top ten list attraction. How does he foster such devotion? Are other politicians paying attention? 

Clearly it isn’t his charisma and charm attracting such loyal and loving constituents. Then what, I ask, accounts for it? 

Rob Ford’s simple rules for finding and fostering love and faithfulness.

What I uncovered from Mr. Ford’s musing are life rules to follow for conflict management and living joyously. Surprise – it turns out Mr. Ford’s good, bad and ugly behavior all conceal useful lessons. It’s a shame Mr. Ford subverted these to the Dark Side:

The Good

1. Respond to people, such as return phone calls 

When his loyal fans and constituents explain clinging to his failed leadership, their refrain goes: “He called me back.”

2. Get involved in small problems people care about

Sure, people seek to save the world, but it’s problems on our doorstep that relegate the world’s problems to second billing. When asked about their loyalty, Mr. Ford’s constituents said: “He had an interest in my problem and tried to help me.”

3. Show up

He had an important title and lots of staff, but when he got a call from a constituent, Mr. Ford rang the doorbell. Those who plan to vote for him in his re-election bid maintain: “I needed a solution and he came to my house to discuss it with me.”

4. Have a clear message

Without more evidence, devotees believe he’s great because Mr. Ford says he’s wonderful and does his job well: “I don’t want to toot my own horn here but I’m the best mayor this city has ever had.” (from NewsTalk 1010, November 3, 2013).

The Bad

5. Pay attention

When Toronto City Council held a vote on honoring Canada’s Olympic athletes and the late Nelson Mandela there was only one vote against – Rob Ford. Upon noticing he was on the wrong side of no-brainer issues, he requested a revote to rectify what he claimed was a mistake. Consensus appears to be he voted ‘no’ because he wasn’t paying attention. People have compassion so long as we’re trying our best. Ford’s theory is that if experts urge you to get fit, eat better, pay attention, and be honourable, he’ll purse his lips, curl his tongue, expel a burst of air, and go ‘pthut.

6. Strive for a goal and then share successes and failures

We know 90% of New Year’s Resolutions are broken before January ends, but we make them anyway. We cheer for milestones along the way, and, most important, we tolerate slippage if we believe the person is striving to achieve the goal. We forgive failure if there’s a perception of effort.

The Truly Ugly

7. Be consistent

Toronto still functions despite the gong show at City Hall, but each exhausting eruption of bad behaviour and expiatory explanation drains its energy. The ups and downs keep everyone off balance.

8. Keep expectations reasonable

Communicate boundaries as well as openness, because people react badly when their expectations are disappointed.

9. Apologize as soon as you’re sincere

If Decker apologized to me so insincerely, one of us would sleep in the guest room. No one except die-hards in Ford Nation believes Mr. Ford’s delayed, vague and hollow apologies. Sincerity matters as much as the words.

10.  Hone good judgment

The questionable company he keeps can’t be justified with noble theory such as, ‘I don’t throw my friends under the bus.’ What’s being judged is that those people are his friends in the first place.

 

RIP Mr. Ford

Does regret deserve another chance?

What is it about regret?
Regret has quite the reputation. Dictionaries shove regret in with remorse, apology and disappointment. For years I accepted this connotation and have been regret avoidant, determined to live without regrets. Lately, I reconsidered my regret aversion.

How many flavours does regret come in?
duhEven when I meant no harm I’ve said stupid and done dumb. I didn’t always realize it right away. It sometimes took me years to understand – slap forehead with palm. And then I’d regret the stupid and dumb stuff and vow to be better.

How did regret get marinated in one negative sauce when regret grows in varied soil? In regret’s favour, it motivates reassessment, curiosity and determination.

At least two types of regrets are teachers.

The ‘what if’ regret poses questions without answers
What if X had happened instead of Y? What if I’d stayed at my great, secure job with opportunities for promotion instead of risking a career change? It sure makes me aware of my privilege in having life choices.

imdb.com‘What if’ regret is often imposed without choice. Helen, the protagonist in Sliding Doors lived two time lines. In the original the train door shut in her face. She got the next train home and her life unfolded. Then, the scene replayed. Helen yanked open the train door, got home to find her partner’s infidelity and her life shattered. Her two parallel lives continued their different trajectories until her futures converged.

Would I wind up in the same place whatever I decide?
It’s comforting to believe such convergence happens. Convergence isn’t my experience. My present life depended on specific decisions. At each ‘what if’ bifurcation point my decision meant irrevocable life changes.

That’s the blessing buried in the ‘what if’ regret. No matter which path to where I end, I’d like to believe I’d have adapted.

‘How could’ regret looks inward to prevent repeating mistakes
How could I have been so [fill in the blank]. Helen #2, who caught the train, couldn’t believe she’d been so [stupid, blind, in love, misled – pick a failing] to miss the signs her partner was unfaithful. Helen #2 adapted to her changed circumstances. Helen #1, who missed the train, didn’t change anything and her infantile cheating partner held her back.

The blessing in the ‘how could’ lesson is the growth opportunity.

Do regrets deserve rehabilitation?
Although I began on a challenging quest to live without regret, I now ‘regret’ that.

photo from CD available on amazon.ca

photo from CD available on amazon.ca

What would it be like to live without regrets? Well, I’d lose valuable lessons. Making mistakes, hurting others, and disappointing myself is inevitable. Regret is born in understanding rather than being oblivious. So, like the lovely Edith Piaf, I regret nothing.

Regret offers the chance to fix hurt feelings or mistakes
My late mother and I regretted our relationship wasn’t closer. A lot of issues we worked out. In the seven years since she died our relationship keeps improving. She’s been my silent partner, and I’ve written some of our conflicts out of existence in my (still) unpublished novel.

My conclusion: it’s never  too late to fix a relationship or hurt feeling. The other person will deal with his or her stuff, and if there’s anything I regret, it motivates me to work on mine.

What regrets are you holding on to that could be turned into teachers?

How did national elections descend into a reality TV show?

If cancer reinforced any lesson, it’s that fear is paralyzing. This troubled world needs leaders, not fear-mongers. I expect shenanigans from the Kardashians. None of their clan expects to emerge as elected leader of a democratic nation. Maybe democracy is now courtesy of “reality TV” producers Jeff Probst, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell. Why else would election candidates resemble contestants on Survivor and Big Brother?

I envision a panel of Jeff, Ryan and Simon, seated behind desks, as a candidate enters the audition room and pivots to face the judges.

Jeff opens. “Tell us what’s unique about you that we should pick you to compete in an election.”

The candidate: “Well, Jeff, I’m average, middle class, very wealthy and know every important person on the planet. So I completely understand the challenges ordinary people face in their little lives. I’m committed to helping them overcome those challenges.”

Ryan says to the camera: “Beautiful answer, love it.” He turns to the candidate. “Tell us what kind of experience qualifies you as a contestant – er, I mean, candidate, in our game, uh, I mean our election?”

The candidate: “Great question, Ryan. I’m a true player; competitive, argumentative, no pushover, can’t be persuaded to change my mind, don’t see other’s perspectives, and I win at all costs. I don’t let others finish a sentence. People will root for me because I’m ruthless and good-looking. You should select people like me. No one would watch or vote for unattractive people.”

Simon leans far back: “So, if you see people arguing, I take it you’d look for strategic ways to make their situations worse and your situation better.”

The candidate: “Of course I would.”

Hmm, this candidate must have been selected to appear in the election debates.

Here’s my message to candidates: Jeff, Ryan, and Simon aren’t your judges, voters or pollsters. Ditch the divisive fear, and expensive promises no one expects you to keep. Show leadership to solve the planet’s many problems instead.

3 questions better than ‘why me’

I get it. Living is deadly. The risks are huge and, in time, death is certain. So, my first question on learning I had advanced, aggressive, rare breast cancer was too obvious: “Am I going to die?”

My partner, Decker, said: “Yes.”

When we were done laughing, my next question was: “Soon?”

He said: “I hope not.”

The last question I asked my wonderful oncologist: “How will I know I’ve survived cancer?”  “When you die of something else,” he said as he cheerfully discharged me from care.

Yippee. I’ve survived cancer if I die in a car accident, have a fatal heart attack, or win the Darwin Award.

If I want different answers, I have to ask different questions. Here are my replacement questions:

1. What do I fear? I survive ’til I die and not longer. All the expensive powders, pills and lifestyle secrets won’t deliver immortality. Survival is day-by-day, much like life is. Once I accept this, I can, at the same time, want to avoid and yet not fear dying.

2. Why do I want to know? It’s tempting to ask “why me” but that isn’t the right question for at least four reasons. First, there often isn’t an answer. Second, knowing “the” reason buys into blame as if I should regret my past that ’caused’ the cancer. Third, ‘why me’ makes me anxious about my actions now, when really, I’m doing the best I can. Fourth, ‘why me’ is a despairing cry for my future, as if I have no reason for optimism.

3. How can I express my authentic feelings even if they aren’t happy? Yes, cancer patients do better with positive thinking and good attitude. ‘Positive’ and ‘good’ are twin tyrannies, judging when I think negative with a bad attitude. I  could suppress my authentic feelings or just accept that’s how I feel right now and it’ll change. Conflict teaches that feelings, like relationships, can change, be enriched, repair, heal.

Cancer reduced my ‘bucket’ list to three entries: do volunteer work, write publishable novel(s), and enrich my relationships. Volunteering and writing are my solitary tasks. Relationships – now that’s something I work on with others. After all, everyone still alive is a survivor like me.

I try to ignore or manage the daily risks, live a meaningful life despite those risks, and to delay the certain end. That’s my current answer to the questions for life itself.

Get over it or get past it (or both)?

No! I didn’t get over it already. What’s more realistic is I’ve gotten past it. Trauma is like flowers that bloom, go dormant, and bloom again. Get over it implies the impact ended. Get past it implies overcoming the impact. Overcome and end have different finish lines. I’ll get over the cancer experience once there’s a cure.

Here’s evidence I’m past it:

  • Less intense panic attacks
  • Fewer decisions I’m too paralyzed to make
  • No need to explain that quadruple mastectomies dictate my wardrobe choices.
  • Haircuts are haircuts, not flashbacks about being bald.

What’s the ‘it’ I’m past?

The radiologist, who I’d never met, entered the room, stared at the screen, and declared with certainty the abnormalities on my breast ultrasound were benign. The ultrasound technician looked shocked but didn’t contradict him. The radiologist missed the cancer. When my doctor did follow up, one year late, I was four months from dead of advanced breast cancer. Treatment left me exhausted, underweight, brain-fried, and angry the cancer wasn’t diagnosed before it required heavy artillery.

They made mistakes where they’re supposed to be experts. But, most decisions rely on imperfect information; even experts can’t know every variable. My diagnosis was in time, if not timely.

I’m grateful. I’m past it.

Is peace a reward for patience?

German Israel lapel pin

Photo from thegalileeexperience.com/

Is peace imaginable even though it isn’t yet within reach? Is there a vision of what the other side of our current age of turbulence might look like?

The entwined German and Israeli flag lapel pin surprised me. Bigger shock; the lapel pin was on a German army officer’s uniform. I accosted the officer in our hotel lobby. Smiling, the officer explained.

“Israeli and German troops are colleagues. Training in Israel was the highlight of my career.”

Imagine. 70+ years ago Germany exterminated Jews and now they train together. Later, I hiked on the red soil of East Africa’s beautiful, peaceful Rift Valley. Imagine. 40+ years ago Idi Amin Dada took power and slaughtered Ugandans. 20+ years ago Rwanda was riven with genocide. Tourists on safari now watch big game roam where people once ravaged the land and each other. My mind whirled at the passing time and effort that healed three massacres with three reconciliations.

Peace isn’t evenly distributed and there’s never a guarantee of permanent peace. Peace is too big a miracle to expect in a world of escalating violence. Transforming societies post-genocide is not an overnight miracle. It’s many people working hard and forgiving the unforgettable.

Here’s my belief – no, more accurate to call it a prayer – as expiring 2014 bequeaths expanding war zones to incoming 2015:

History is dynamic; the future undetermined. People get exhausted with war, money for munitions dries up, governments change, dictatorships collapse, policy catches up with new realities, evil runs its course, and peace gets a chance. Unknowables include how long it may take and whether it’s minimal peace, or social justice with a real future.

At a personal level, would the cancer treatment that saved my life have been available if I lived in a war torn country? Probably not when resources are disproportionately budgeted to military over healthy people and environments, and education. Headlines in the global news include child soldiers, abducted girls, death from curable diseases, poverty, food insecurity, and many barriers to health and education. World-wide hatred, fear, distrust, and anti-Semitism abound.

And, in these amazing months of travel, I’ve seen resilient peoples rebound and offer a vision of what peace brings. Peace in East Africa has meant healthier children, opportunities for universal education, and awareness of environmental needs.

Since no war lasts forever, what sustainable vision of peace can we work for, each in our own way?

red soil

Queen Elizabeth National Park’s red earth, Uganda

Healthy Child Uganda

Healthy Child Uganda is an NGO helping mothers help families thrive.

Girls go to school, women in cities attend university and achieve high positions at work.

HCU clinic

Dr. Ida reviews the Impressive child immunization rates with Decker at a Healthy Child Uganda District Clinic.

Dr. Ida shows Decker the data

Trust the tail, the truth is there

“This little guy will save your life.” Between diagnosis and my first mastectomy, my partner Decker put his trust in a ten-week-old puppy named Trail to keep me alive. How’d that go? Well, Trail’s living large, having figured out my operating system*. Wow, imagine replicating Trail’s job style:

Self-written job description.

Trail lifted a rear leg on our pet expectations.

White Westhighland (Westies) need plenty of exercise and playtime … excel at agility, obedience, flyball, and other canine sports. These activities stimulate his bright mind and channel his boundless energy.

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Grey face

Yup, playful, agile, energetic, obedient White Westies. So says the website. Trail clarified our delusions starting with his breed’s name. White? Trail rejects White.

Trail hurtles himself hedonist-style, buries his nose and rolls, talking non-stop to the dirt, grass, or snow. He emerges joyfully, his coat drenched in goop, chlorophyll, or icy pompoms.

In a competition between a brilliant-white dog and a joyful dog, I relinquish roll control to Trail.

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photo: Cat Harbord

Be useful.

Trail matured with an unusual attitude and a secret identity, Rescue Dog. Trail’s rescues include:

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• Waking us to help a disabled house guest who’d fallen during the night.
• Diving into the water to help when someone toppled out of the canoe.
• Waiting at forks to guide laggard hikers on the right path.
• Running a black bear thirty feet up a tree in our back yard, where it clung while Trail barked and tried to climb after it.

When it seems he’s all about him, he accommodates himself completely to others.

unsure tail

Read my tail

Speak heart to hearts.

His responsive tail, bendable to his mood, telegraphs Trail’s emotions with an honesty that wrenches my heart. If I misread hisarticulated tail tail’s meaning, he’s kind and forgiving.

I want that collaborative heart in all my relationships.

 

scared tailalert tailneutral tail

Find fun everywhere.

Trail ignores me prance about with dog toys to entice him. “Poor pathetic human,” his eyes say. “So sad she can’t entertain herself sniffing.”

He retrieved ball and stick – one of each. The first ball I threw, Trail brought back in his little mouth and dropped at my feet. Trail stroked the lake until the stick I tossed was drawn to where he could reach it without getting wet. Both times I unplayful tailpraised, rewarded him, and threw it again. Both times he tilted his head as if saying, “I already brought it back, you get it.” I tug a toy and he walks foward holding his end.

So, he misses out on play or sport; he’s endless fun of his own kind. Avoiding one kind opens space for others.

Take my time.

Other humans spell w-a-l-k or their dog explodes. We excitedly say, “Walk”, and Trail lies down, chin on paws. “Okay,” he seems to sigh, “if you insist.” We ‘walk at a Trail’s pace’, more pulse than walk – shuffle, stop, shuffle, stop. Repeat.

An eighteen pound anchor on a rope, he’ll sit to watch any activity like his personal television, leaving me on standby until his program ends. happy tail

We should’ve named him Speedy since ‘Trail’ became destiny.

His nicknames include: Trailer; Trailing; and

Trail Mix (from his friend Cat, if Trail were trail mix, he’d be the premium kind with all sorts of great surprises hidden in each handful); and,

Trail Thunderpaws because he runs to catch up; and,

Trail Houdini when we backtrack to find him; and,

Princess Trail in kayak Princess Trail prefers human powered rides like stroller, kayak or bicycle basket;

Princess Trail

photo Beth Lawrence: Marcus ‘walks’ Trail

and finally,

Yoda Trail      Yoda Trail, for oh so many reasons.   Yoda

It’s our particular compromise, Trail’s and mine. He’ll eventually arrive, and I get to practice patience.

Live an authentic life.  

curious tail

Trail learns concepts incredibly fast, and, when inclined or not distracted sniffing every petal of every flower, he obeys the dozens of words he understands – eventually.

Maybe Trail is too smart to waste his boundless energy. He waits until we’re committed to a direction, in case we reverse and can pick him up on our return. He walks 4.5 kilometers to my five.

We’re sure he solves problems, counts at least three, and understands basic geometry and connectivity. He studied a cattle grid and then trotted across, each paw set confidently.

For errands and time sensitive walks, Trail tolerates a leash. He’s clear what he won’t tolerate. Trail intervenes like a mediator between dogs playing rough. If Decker and I split to do separate errands, Trail refuses to follow either of us.

Trail couldn’t fake it if he tried. His tail tells his truth.

concerned tail

Would it be helpful if people still had tails?

 

TKI preferences (Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating, Avoiding, Competing).

 

I got news that trumped Fear with Optimism

I met the man who owns my left breast. I chatted with a stranger who said he’s a Medical Researcher studying what breast cancers spread to bones. I said I’d donated the tissue formerly known as my breast to his research project. He said my breast’s in a petrie dish in his lab freezer, and I asked if that’s next to the vegetables.

He said he owes me because without tissue donations he has no research. Now that I’ve had time to process the encounter, I owe him more.

Fear of meaninglessness

I’d searched for the disease’s bigger meaning, overlooking I’d donated my breasts to science. Quadruple mastectomies, chemo and radiation hid the memory. So long as I got my breasts off my chest before they killed me, I didn’t care if they froze or incinerated. They weren’t coming home in a jar.

Now he’s given me hope my tissue can help, especially since the cancer was rare Triple Negative. Unintended, but he reduced my Fear the cancer meant nothing.

Meaninglessness of Fear

Like so many with cancer diagnoses, I experienced numb shock, waves of terror, and masses of esoteric information. Daytime, distracted and busy, I almost forgot Fear. But at night, or when tired, oh, Fear roared.

Where’d Fear’s dizzying power come from? How’d I let Fear dominate me into I’m-gonna-die, world-gone-nuts, paralysis?

Turns out, Fear, you don’t act alone, you get help. Lots of help.

Fear rides with powerful friends

Fear, you shape-shift as Triple Negative Breast Cancer or a herd of stampeding horses, or whatever terrifies. But you boost into big time with government, media, and corporate injections of Fear into anxious mortals. Election cycle, news cycle, and economic cycle – there you and they are, with thin explanations, replaying your message du jour.

Fear, you’re sometimes effective when people feel they lack power in uncertain times. Negative campaigns rely on you – Boo – we’re scared into voting your way, buying a product or service, believing a stereotype.

horse7

What’s the opposite of Fear?

The Medical Researcher invested me with Optimism in the best sense of the word: curious, and informed. Take that, Fear, and negative attack ads. I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer; I gotta have game. Fear, you’re a cycle in need of breaking. And I’m breaking up with you.

Now, I want a name for the state of non-fear. Dictionaries offer antonyms: courage, fearlessness, bravery. But those can co-exist within a stew-pot of fear, stress and anxiety. So they don’t fit as names for non-fear.

How about curiosity or optimism? Research suggests Optimism is both genetic and can be learned to shrink Fear, so I owe my grandparents too.

I’d welcome suggestions: what’s the name of this tentative state of being that’s the opposite of Fear?