Open Eyes. Open Heart. Open Hands. #NotAlone

10011940914_5e94cc9718_mLike many people, there came a moment in my life when I was not sure I really wanted to keep on living. I felt unloved despite numerous people bending over backwards to help me. I felt unwanted despite numerous people seeking me out. I felt unworthy despite numerous people trying to convince me that I was doing great. I could not see, hear, or feel these things. I was untouchable in my fortress of despair. The words of kindness I was receiving were tricks. They were efforts just to get me to shut up already. People didn’t really mean that stuff. How could they?

I have walked in the darkness and I know how it twists the world. I have gotten to the point now, thank goodness, where I can usually sense pretty easily what is true and what lies a wave of depression is telling me. It is like walking through a fun house when you are depressed. Everything becomes distorted and twisted until your life and your world become unrecognizable.

Ultimately, it is up to us to seek help when we are in those pits and ruts, but I know for a fact that my life was saved by people who against all odds stuck around. I figured if they stuck around for me when I was feeling that gross, they must really be worth keeping. And maybe if people I admired so much thought I was great, maybe I should see what they were seeing. As I have continued down the very long and winding road of healing, I have learned that much of that journey is about opening. Opening your eyes, your heart, and your hands is how you move from the darkness, ever so slowly, into the light. Let me explain what I mean.

Open Your Eyes

When you are depressed and when you are feeling alone, that darkness will tell you that you really are alone. It will tell you that you have nothing and that you are nothing. At these times, you must open your eyes. By this I mean you must force yourself to see with your real eyes, not the eyes that your dark thoughts give you. If you reach out to someone, you have them. If you go for a walk in the sun, you have that ability and that capacity to create joy for yourself. If you listen to the sound of the ocean, you have that in your life to soothe you. Seeing these things is not easy. Sometimes I would sit down and make myself list 3 things I was grateful for on any given day. Then I would try to stretch it to 5. Even if to some extent you are going through the motions, embrace what you see when you truly open your eyes.

Open Your Heart

One of the most frightening things about depression and suicidal thoughts is that love, one of the things you need most, is one of the things you cannot absorb. You do not feel worthy of it. You feel certain that the people who say they love you are just being charitable. You need to try your hardest to open your heart and let people love you. Try to push aside the train of thoughts that tells you they are lying or that they don’t mean it. Let their love move into your heart. Also open your heart to loving other people back. Do not let fear of rejection or fear of unworthiness prevent you from opening your heart to loving hands. It is hard. Very hard. But opening your heart to love will allow you to open your heart to other things, like the joy you find in a certain song or the enjoyment you gain from a certain movie.

Open Your Hands

This may be the hardest step of all. The final step to healing is to open your hands and let go of what you don’t need. That can be hurt. That can be people who are toxic for you. That can be ways of thinking about yourself and the world. Opening your hands also means reaching out. While you sift through what you don’t need, also take inventory of what you do need. You do not need a person who will abuse you, but that person who made you go out for ice cream? Keep them. Open your hands so that you can grasp new ways of thinking, new experiences, and the hands of new people.

These things seem so easy when you see them on a piece of paper or on a screen. Change your way of thinking. Sure. No problem. The fact is that none of these things are easy. I have been on my journey for about 20 years now, and still there are days that I chalk up as days the bear ate me instead of the other way around. On those days I start my process all over again, from scratch. Open my eyes to what I have. Open my heart to all I love. Open my hands to let go of what is poisoning my mind. It is hard work. Never-ending work. But it is the only way I know to remind myself, or to teach myself, that I am not alone.

Neither are you.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/80497449@N04/10011940914 via Creative Commons

The Shepherd of the Broken-Hearted Babies, Chapter 5 (#SBHB)

For Chapter 4, click here.

That day I followed Tony all the way to Indianapolis, where the Shepherd was due to speak. I was told we were going to be staying at the Dragon House, another landing point of the Shepherd’s. As I drove across the very flat, field-lined interstate between Akron and Indianapolis, I found myself pondering whether this had all been a huge mistake. I even found myself thinking about how I could bow out. What excuse could I make? It’s not like the Shepherd had approached me. This whole thing had been my idea. I couldn’t suddenly say, “Oh, guess what, I’m too busy.”

I was, as I say, surprised these thoughts were running through my head. I just felt let down, I guess. I had had expectations about the Shepherd – what she’d be like, how she’d be one-on-one, and very few of those expectations turned out to be on point. I found her distant, insensitive to a certain extent, flighty, fickle…and what was this deal with having a house everywhere we went? Did she have a house in every city? She presented herself as maybe not poor, but certainly one of the people. I wonder if everyone but me knew about this driver and all of the houses.

The speech that she gave the next day in Indianapolis was more along the lines of what I had expected, I guess. It was the best speech I ever saw her give. I was allowed to record the event on video, which I did, and the Shepherd gave me a typed out transcript as well. The talk was in front of college students, hosted by their student council. She got a very warm round of applause. I was a little surprised that college-aged kids would be interested in this lady. It sort of gave me some hope for the future.

The Shepherd adjusted the microphone down so that she could talk into it. She gave an exasperated sigh as she struggled with it and finally someone had to come out and help her. “I bet you never have this problem,” she said to the very tall man. The crowd laughed.

“So hi everyone,” she began after the chuckling died down. “I’m very honored to be here today. It’s great to see so many fresh young faces in front of me. When you get to be my age all  you see in the mirror is an old and wrinkly face, and that gets tiresome.”

More chuckles.

“I want to talk to you today about how Jesus was an idiot. That’s right. By today’s standards, Jesus was exceedingly foolish. Now, let’s not get involved in whether he was the son of God or not. It doesn’t matter if you believe that he was divine or if he was just a man. I’m just going by the stories in the New Testament, which I’m sure many of you have at least heard of.”

She paused and looked at the crowd and pushed her glasses down to the tip of her nose to signify a disapproving look to anyone who would say they had never heard of Jesus. I think she was also looking to see if anyone was preparing to throw darts at her. The crowd was quiet. Silent, in fact. Nobody was making outcries of anger. It seemed they wanted to see if she could talk her way out of this. She started walking from the center of the stage over towards the left.

“Now, there are three main ways that Jesus was foolish. First of all, he kept running towards people who thought that he was insane, a heretic, or a criminal. He was intent on convincing non-believers that what he said was true. Why would you do that? You’ve got 12 frickin men following you around who believe everything you say and who want to learn more. But Jesus kept going to places where he would not be accepted. His home town, towards the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, and amongst the masses. We know how the masses can be, don’t we? What an idiot to keep talking to people whom he know would, quite literally, crucify him.”

The Shepherd walked back towards the center of the stage. She was wearing a sharp, black, pin-striped suit that somehow, it appeared to me, made her look taller than she really was. Or maybe it was just how she was controlling the room. She seemed far different from the woman I had eaten breakfast with that morning.

“The second stupid thing Jesus did was throw away all of his belongings. Jesus could have had an ok life. He could have been a carpenter like Joseph, or maybe he could have been a rabbi, where he could have had a congregation that he could preach to and guide. But no. Jesus became a wanderer. He had no home, no real belongings so far as the Bible is concerned. He advised other people to toss away everything they had, remember? A rich young man said, ‘Hey dude, I dig what you’re saying, how can I help?’ Jesus told him to give everything away and join the Disciples. And you know, that young man said what most of us would probably say. ‘Are you CRAZY?!?” Jesus came back and said that this was why it was easier to pull a camel through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to get to God’s kingdom. Yeah, ok Jesus. Whatever. This is stuff my family worked for, that I worked for. Give it all away so I can walk around Israel? No thanks.”

“Finally, and this is really the stupidest thing Jesus did, he decided that he would spend his life amongst the people society liked and approved of the least. Whose house did he want to eat at at the beginning of his wanderings? Not John’s. Not Simon Peter’s. No, he decided to chill at Matthew’s house, right? He hung out with Mary Magdalene, who was apparently a woman of ill repute. He wandered among the lepers, among the possessed, among the poorest of the poor. Surely this was a waste of his talents. I mean, ok, he could cure the lepers, we get that, but honestly, couldn’t he have used his time better? He could have probably visited with the Romans and told them to chill the hell out, right? He could have told his parables in the richest palaces of his time. He could have built a house, his own temple, kept his disciples around him, and he’d have been totally beloved. But this moron decided to dedicate all of his time and effort to the people the rest of society didn’t even want to think about. What an idiot, right?”

Maybe the rest of the people in the crowd were smarter than me, but I couldn’t begin to guess where this tirade was leading. I had never heard of the Shepherd talking about religion, not to mention Christianity. So far as I knew she was somewhere between agnostic and ambiguous.

“You know, there are two things that really bug me about the story of Jesus,” the Shepherd continued. “First of all, most of the people he saved – they don’t stick around. All of those people he heals pretty much jump out of the story right after that. They don’t say, ‘Can I return the favor?’ They don’t say, ‘I am going to do whatever you ask me to do.’ They just slip out of the story. You don’t see a lot of gratitude in the New Testament, it seems to me. Mary Magdalene is an exception with the whole foot-washing scene, but that is a rarity.”

“The other thing that has always driven me crazy is the story of the Garden of Gethsemane. After all of this work Jesus has done, after he has told his Disciples that he is scared and wants their company, after he has elevated their status through his own presence, they abandon him. They fail him. They all fall asleep while he is waiting for the beginning of his journey to death. It’s no doubt Jesus struggles. How would you feel if you said to a friend that you were going to die in a few hours and their response is snoring? Darned right I’d struggle.”

The Shepherd was off to the right now. I watched as the heads in the audience seemed to follow her as one unit, all of them tracking her movements. They were clearly engaged in what she was saying, but was it a positive or a negative engagement?

“I’m not a religious woman,” the Shepherd said. “I don’t know if there was a Jesus or if there was simply a man named Joshua who did some amazing things when Israel was being persecuted by the Romans. Either way, we have these stories in the Bible, and we have other figures from throughout history, all over the world, who did stupid idiotic things. Nearer to our own time we have Gandhi, who decided to starve himself as part of a protest. Who does that? What kind of idiot steps out of a comfortable life and ends up starving himself? We have Martin Luther King, Jr. He could have had a comfortable life, like his father, leading his congregation, building his family. Sure, he’d have faced racism and segregation, but he could have had an okay life. A comfortable life. But he gravitated towards the white people who were so against the existence of his people that they burned down churches and killed children. What an idiot.”

“Now let’s talk about you. You’re sitting here as part of a college event. You’re getting educated. This room is comfortable, right? Apart from the fact that you have someone gabbing at you.”

More chuckles. It was hard to smile after the serious tone the Shepherd had set, but somehow it worked.

“You probably have parents and friends and teachers who are guiding you to reach up and out. Gravitate, or I guess they would say ‘network’ with people who can help pull you up. Look for people who can be a positive influence on you. If you run into someone who’s negative, woah. Stay away from them. If you know someone who is kind of ‘messed up’ you definitely want to stay away from that shit, right? They just ruin your vibe. They distract you from what you’re all about. They could pull you in, as if they are made of magnets and you’re made of metal. I saw something online the other day that said something like, ‘You can’t lead a positive life if you’re surrounded by negative people.’”

“Guess what? I think that’s the worst advice we can give each other. That’s right. I think we’re the idiots if we believe that crap. If all of us adopt that kind of attitude, how can the people who need help ever really get it? How can the sad ever get cheered up? How can the hurt ever get healed? All I do, all I have ever done, is go out of my way to find the people we are supposed to avoid. I talk to the homeless and the crackheads. I talk to the guy who cheated on his wife and can’t live with himself. I talk to criminals who have done unspeakable, completely unspeakable things. I seek them out. Now I don’t have a mission like Jesus or MLK or Gandhi did. I’m not trying to solve a big problem or create something huge. Rather, I’m in the weeds. I’m working on the tiny details of the universe – the individuals among us who somehow have fallen through the cracks. I want to talk to them to tell them that there is at least one person in the world, me, who cares about them. No matter what. I can’t forgive their sins or cure their illnesses and addictions, but I can go to them and I can say, ‘I care what happens to you. Is there anything I can do?’”

“You might think that this makes me an idiot. And you’re probably right. And you might think that’s too much of an effort. But let me tell you something, babies. There are people in this room who could use your care.”

Now the Shepherd sat down, her legs dangling off the stage.

“I’m going to ask a few questions, and if this relates to you, I want you to stand up. Stand up if you have recently experienced the end of a relationship.”

A few people stood up.

“Stand up if you were abused as a child. It’s ok, we’re here for you.”

A few more people stood up.

“Stand up if you feel like you are unlovable.”

Remarkably, and this took my breath away, a few people stood up.

“Mmhmm,” the Shepherd nodded at them and put her hand on her heart. “Stand up if you have been bullied, made to feel small and unimportant.”

A few people stood up, and the Shepherd herself stood up.

“Stand up if you feel like you could fade away from this world and nothing would change.”

More people stood up. I stood up. Without realizing it I had started to cry. Giant tears were rolling down my cheeks. Almost everyone in the auditorium was standing at this point. Many other people had tears rolling down their faces. A few people were leaning against the person standing next to them.

“Pretty much everyone you meet is a broken-hearted baby, my darlings. Everyone has a story. Everyone has ‘that thing.’ Look around. Are you surprised at some of the people who are standing? Did you think they were fine, always happy, always content? These are the people you can start reaching out to. Your roommate, your siblings, your parents. That’s right, you can reach out to your parents. Everyone can and does have off days. Things go wrong. People feel bad or left out or sad. That’s when you can reach out to them. No expectations of gratitude. No expectations of any benefit for you. Just reach out and lift ‘em up. Be an idiot, ok?”

The Shepherd asked everyone who was standing to remain standing, right where they were. She went down the stage stairs and row by row made her way to each person. Some gave her a handshake. Some, as soon as she stepped in front of them, burst into tears. Some gave her a hug, and some of those hugs lasted a long while. But she got to everyone, and everyone waited for her. Some people who were sitting stood up when she went by and whispered something to her, probably confessing they should have stood up but didn’t want to draw attention to themselves.

Be an idiot. You wouldn’t think that would be a great message for college kids. Somehow, though, it made all of the sense in the world.

 

 

A Celebration of American History this July 4th

34439_444456166277_6184119_nAh, July 4th. What a great time it is in the US. I can’t remember exactly what it is we are celebrating but I love how we use fireworks, which were created in America. It’s also great because we get to eat sweet corn perhaps for the first time all summer. Thank God our ancestors brought corn over from England and Ireland. Can you imagine a summer without corn?

I think, as a fan of history, that this is the perfect time to reflect on the great history of our country. We are certainly going through some interesting times these days and I think it’s important to trace the roots of where we are and see how we got here. Will you travel back in time with me to honor July 4th?

The first people

America can trace our history all the way back to um…when did the Mayflower land? Well, at least 500 years ago. People came over to America because it was the land of the free and the home of the brave and that is what they were. They wanted to be able to use their guns and practice their religion, so they came to this empty land and decided to build their empire here. Now, they did encounter some Indians when they got here, and they did their best to get along with those people at first. They even let the Indians teach them how to farm and stuff. But you know, this really needed to be a white man’s land and these Indians just didn’t seem to get that, so they had to go. If the Indians had just tried to assimilate maybe things would have been smoother. I think you can talk to the Cherokee about that, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, living in this new country was really hard. There were a lot of trees and rivers and stuff and there were not any Starbucks or Target stores, and there were several other changes as well. Our ancestors tried to get the Indians to help with farm work and stuff but the Indians just fell over and died. Now, luckily the fates were with us from the start. There was a whole continent where the weather was always gross and there was just no civilization – Africa. So our ancestors started bringing those folks over so they could be productive and help out with planting fields and other stuff. In return, these African people got homes, food, and lots of other stuff. Now it’s true that sometimes bad things had to be done to the African helpers if they weren’t really getting how lucky they were. Much like the Indians, if they had just understood how privileged they were things would have gone better.

Why we are celebrating

So the years went on and our ancestors were still having to deal with the Indians and the Africans who were all like, “This sucks” for some reason. But we had our own problems. England was making us talk British and drink tea, so we threw tea in the water somewhere (California?) and that started a war. The English really like their tea When the war did break out the English tried to steal our guns, so we wrote up the Declaration of Independence that said that everyone except the Africans, the Indians, women, and people from other countries who were trying to live here could pursue happiness via Christianity and gun possession. Thomas Jefferson really wanted to drive the point about the guns home, so he not only signed his name really big but he also created fireworks to mimic the sound of American guns.

At some point between that and now some of our ancestors wrote up the Constitution. The guys who wrote that up were very conscious of the fact that the whole world was watching them, including us in the future, so they decided to give freedom to everyone just like they had. That meant that people who had come from Africa could continue to help out our ancestors, Indians could try to assimilate into white culture, and women could continue to make food and babies just like they always want to do. Some cynical people have said it’s crappy that only white guys wrote up this document, but I mean, they had settled the country and like, the whole continent by then, so I think everyone at the time was ok with this and we’d be ok with it now.

From the start, America has been about and for people who were born here and who have white skin and also who are men, and that’s really the way it should be. Like I said, they did all the work. With guns. That is the ancestry we are celebrating tomorrow, going back to when our forefathers declared that no British person would take our guns or make us drink tea.

Happy July Fourth!

The End of Women’s Rights As We (Briefly) Knew Them

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 1.59.56 PMToday is a horrifying day in the history of the United States of America. Today, our Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby that a privately held company can avoid covering women’s contraception if doing so collides with the company’s religious beliefs.

Let’s think about this in an over-arching way first. We are saying that companies, corporations, have religious beliefs AND rights. We are saying that a company can distinguish between what it will cover and what it will not cover, but only where women are concerned.

This is disturbing enough.

What I wonder about are the implications for women like me who use “birth control” as a form of hormone replacement therapy. Companies can proclaim in grandiose statements that they will not cover contraception for a woman, but in doing so they are also preventing women from getting the hormonal support they need in the wake of problems like infertility. A woman who cannot access HRT is more prone to organ failure, and that is just the tip of the iceburg. Of course, it would be difficult for a woman to stand up and explain this today, in an era when candidates for the Presidency advise women to just hold an aspirin between their legs to avoid pregnancy. With an audience like that, how can you explain the endocrine system and why some women need to take pills to help their systems work properly?

I wonder about where we go from here. If it is ok for companies to refuse to cover this part of a woman’s health, what could they refuse to cover next? Maybe they will proclaim that they shouldn’t have to pay for a woman’s annual PAP test or breast exam because, I dunno, that’s just all yucky womanly stuff, and hey, if a woman gets cancer it’s probably because she did something to anger God, right? Maybe maternity leave will be the next to go. I mean, it’s not the company’s fault that a woman decided to get pregnant. Besides, isn’t the next logical step to remind women that we should be staying home minding the kids anyway? If you want to have kids stay home all the time, not just the first few months.

I wonder what will be deemed permissible by our ruling body next. Maybe women shouldn’t be allowed to run for office anymore. That 5-4 decision would have probably been less close if those pesky women hadn’t been around, right? And women politicians? We all know everything went downhill politically when women like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren started popping up. Maybe women shouldn’t vote anymore, because they tend to vote for those women politicians.

I’d love to say this is all just hyperbole, but you know, I am really starting to wonder. Who would have thought that less than 100 years after women finally got the right to vote we would have to be clawing our way to have rights in the face of companies that now claim religious beliefs. It sounds like something out of The Onion. Maybe we have all entered into an Onion Universe. That would at least explain a day like today. Nothing else seems to be doing the trick.

When will it be time to be mindful of our Native American population?

Side view of the Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee.

Side view of the Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee.

This past weekend I spent some time in Nashville, Tennessee, for a trade show. On the first day, before the show began, my parents and I decided to venture out to The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. The museum and the tour paid careful attention to the legacy of slavery on the planation, which I thought was encouraging. As you are walking up the path to the mansion, for example, the audio tour notes that back in 1837 the whole area would have been a cotton field and you would definitely have seen slaves working in those fields. These are no-brainer facts, but it’s important that Americans incorporate these ugly truths into the romanticized stories of past heroes.

That being said, another key aspect of Jackson’s life and career went unmentioned and unnoticed. No where did I see any mention of the fact that part of Jackson’s legacy is that he helped to completely crippled the “5 civilized tribes” of Native Americans who up until his Presidency had mostly lived peacefully in the Southeast. Those five tribes were the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Creek, the Choctaw, and the Seminoles. Jackson was a notorious proponent of Indian removal, and while the Cherokee marched on the Trail of Tears under Martin van Buren’s Presidency, the foundation of that trail was set during Jackson’s term as President. This entire aspect of Jackson’s Presidency lies untouched at his home. Why?

Lately there has been a lot of talk about sports teams who use names like “Indians” or “Redskins.” That’s great, but are you aware of some of these statistics?

“American Indians and Native Alaskans number 4.5 million. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, these Americans earn a median annual income of $33,627. One in every four (25.3 percent) lives in poverty and nearly a third (29.9 percent) are without health insurance coverage.”  via http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/

“A recent class action suit alleged that the government mismanaged billions of dollars in Indian assets. The case settled in 2009 for $3.4 billion—far less than what was lost by the feds.” via Forbes

“One-quarter of Indian children live in poverty, versus 13 percent in the United States. They graduate high school at a rate 17 percent lower than the national average. Their substance-abuse rates are higher. They’re twice as likely as any other race to die before the age of 24. They have a 2.3 percent higher rate of exposure to trauma. They have two times the rate of abuse and neglect. Their experience with post-traumatic stress disorder rivals the rates of returning veterans from Afghanistan.” via Washington Post

What it seems like to me is that we are not just brushing American history under the rug where whites and Native Americans are concerned – we are simply brushing all Native Americans under the rug. If we don’t see them and we don’t witness their difficulties, then fighting to get a logo changed can certainly seem like ample effort. Right?

There are Native Americans alive today whose great-grandparents fought Custer. The massacre at Wounded Knee, the massacre of Black Kettle and his tribe, the abuse of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, all happened towards the end of the 19th century. That’s not that long ago, but the sands of time are threatening to bury it all, and we are letting it happen.

When will we be able to face the fact that Andrew Jackson was not just a slave-owner but also an Indian killer? When will we recognize that many Civil War heroes, including Sheridan and Sherman, went out West and declared that the only good Indian was a dead Indian? There are people alive today who were sent to schools in the East to get rid of their Native American culture. They were prohibited from speaking their native language. They were not allowed to keep their sacred possessions. Are we going to continue to sweep them under the rug too?

I am deeply concerned that we are going to simply turn a blind eye to our history and to our present where Native Americans are concerned. When will the battle end? When will we come to terms with what has happened on this “land of the free?” Huge portions of our population are still waiting.

Social Media – I’ve Been Doing It Wrong

148970581_cfd3d9f9e8_mOver the last few months I’ve been watching an effort increasingly gain momentum in the online world. When I first heard about it I shared it myself because I thought it was really really cool, but then I found out that the person who started promoting it initially was doing so because this group was actually their client. That wasn’t the puzzling part, however. The puzzling part was that this person somehow managed to get lots of other people I was connected to to promote the cause too. There have been Twitter chats, blog posts, Facebook shares, and who knows what else. I have been scratching my head trying to figure out if these other folks even know that they are helping this person do client work.

Suddenly, lying around in my sickly stupor today, I figured it out. Of course they are aware that this is all for this person’s client. People in the online world tap their connections on the shoulder and say, “Hey, my client is doing this thing and I really want them to make a big splash. Can you help me?”

Would you believe that doing that has never occurred to me over the years I’ve been online? I feel yucky when I decide to let someone know I’m writing a post that they’re tagged in, so I try to do it in advance of the post being published or well after so they know I’m just letting them know and am not requesting that they share it. But this is really what people do in the PR and marketing world today, apparently. They say, “I’m going to be running a Twitter chat for this client – can you come and make it look like it’s popular?”

Transparency is a word that gets tossed around a lot in the online world, so I have to say that it is disturbing to me that this whole realization I just had is anti-transparency in two ways. For people who, like me, think that all of these people are jumping onto a cause just because it’s super cool, it is frustrating to realize that you have in a way been duped. These folks may not feel particularly passionate about the product or the project. They are scratching someone’s back – without revealing it to be so. But I wonder too if this is not also showing a lack of transparency to the client. If you are looking to make a report on how many times your chat’s hashtag was used in an hour, sure, getting lots of people to join in makes sense. Are those people ever going to buy your client’s product? Eh.

It is sort of sad it took me this long to come to this realization, which may seem completely obvious to you. I have always tried to do favors to people while I’ve been online because I thought I was helping out, being nice, even building friendships. But I realize now that in many cases the expectation was that I was doing that favor because then I would say to that person, “OK, now can you share this post I wrote for our agency blog?” I never do that, really. I have always figured if people want to read my content they will. If they want to share it they will. So, people took their favors, waited for the other shoe to drop, and when it didn’t, well – they were able to go on their merry way. I was not playing the game correctly.

Do I regret doing things the way I did? Not at all. At all times I have done my best to remain true to what I feel is right. I have never felt that begging for readers and shares was appropriate, so I didn’t do it. I wouldn’t feel right telling a client that their amount of Twitter followers increased because I messaged 50 of my friends and asked them to give my client a “like” or a follow. I don’t regret doing any of the favors I did. Every book review I have ever written I did from the heart with the hope that it would help the person in question. When I participated in this or that to support a friend, I did it as just that – a friend. I can’t have any regrets about that.

Having said that, it is bitterly frustrating to watch other people present the illusion of success, both for themselves and for their clients, when it so often is just a house of cards, a masterful disguise of what is really going on in the online world. Perhaps companies are experiencing such difficulty in measuring their Social Media ROI not because it’s difficult but rather because the numbers would reveal the truth – all of those impressions, likes, hashtag uses, and retweets are the function of behind-the-scenes back scratching and nothing more. Where does that leave these companies? Good question.

I don’t regret doing social media wrong. Not one bit. I would easily be able to defend myself before any clients, and I can look in the mirror every night and every morning and know that even if I am not on the surface the most successful person around, at least I have maintained honesty, integrity, and yes, even that famous buzz word – transparency. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. And to people like Kaarina Dillabough, Marsha Collier, and Brian Vickery, who support me without my ever even hinting at an ask – thank you. My appreciation knows no bounds.

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hkvam/148970581/ via Creative Commons

Why I decided to deactivate my personal Facebook account

7722015606_f879ab85bb_mTomorrow will mark one week since I deactivated my personal Facebook account. A few people have asked me why I did this, so I thought I would write out a single blog post and hopefully explain things in a way that is understandable. Just to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, I am still running a few pages. I transferred administration capabilities to an account I created just for that purpose. So no, I am not completely off Facebook. I just removed my own personal account.

Now that we have that little point cleared up, why? What’s the dealio, yo? Well, a few things come to mind.

A fate worse than slacktivism

For the last few years, people have been talking about online “Slacktivism.” I think the Kony video going viral brought this term to the forefront. People shared a video that they probably did not watch because it was about 12 minutes long and it was depressing. They shared it because Oprah and a few other celebrities said they should, or maybe they just figured it was worth sharing and maybe one more retweet or “like” would do some good. Slacktivism has also been used to describe Twibbons, Avatar ribbons on Facebook, and more. You aren’t necessarily doing anything to help, but the idea (and hope) is that you are raising awareness.

What I have been seeing on Facebook is a new stage of this kind of mentality. I started to notice it in myself as well as others, so I am not pointing any fingers. I found that if I shared a story about an important issue I would get a sense of satisfaction or a feeling that I had done something to improve the world. The most recent example of this was the “Bring Back Our Girls” effort. Boy did I share their page and their Twitter account. And as daft as it may seem, I felt like I was helping, just by doing that. I think it’s easy to fall into that trap especially if you make such a post and then you get a lot of likes and comments. “OK,” you think. “I’ve brought this issue to some folks’ attention and I’ve started a dialogue about it. I helped!”

This is of course all a big illusion. I mean, to some extent raising awareness online is good. To some extent. Ultimately, though, I fear that Facebook is allowing us to make a post from the comfort of our homes and then feel like we’ve helped. I am connected to about 200 people on Facebook. If I make a public post maybe a few more might chip in. If we all sit and comment and like each others’ comments, nothing will get better. We will just continue to feed that endorphin rush, and not surprisingly, there will be even more stories for us to share productively. Why? We are not fixing the world. We are talking. We are typing. And the odd thing that is social media – with its thumbs up and shares and likes – is fooling us into thinking that this is what is important. This is one reason I have to let Facebook go. I need a slap in the face. If I want to change the world for the better, I can’t do it (for the most part) sitting behind my computer screen in my comfortable life. No matter what century you live in, that is just not going to do the trick.

The out-of-control snark

Some of you reading this have probably seen me complain about this before, but the things that people say on Facebook in the name of “I was just kidding” are really horrifying. On a single evening two different friends posted new profile pictures. Both of them received not just one but several comments along the lines of, “Oh, you grew a beard. Barf.” Really. This is an odd sort of contrast with the concept of positive reinforcement, but Facebook manages to harbor both of them.

Even more disturbing is the snark I have begun to see on Facebook surrounding any story about a shooting. Sometimes it appears in the post itself, and other times it appears in the comments. Before we talk about the NRA, the sarcastically used #thanksObama hashtag, and more, can we not take time to notice that a person is dead? Sure, the way they died was stupid and unnecessary. But they still died. Have we become so callous that we don’t even notice anymore? These people are real. Again, Facebook allows us to comment as if we are sitting on Mount Olympus, kind of separate from these events we eagerly share and comment on. The dehumanization of our society, both person-to-person and in the bigger picture, is another reason why I have to let Facebook go.

The endless complaining

Finally, I have found that Facebook has evolved (or devolved) to become a sort of dumping ground for all things negative. Now, when I mention this people accuse me of wanting to be all sunshine and rainbows. They accuse me of burying my head in the sand. This is not the case at all. I am fully aware of how scary the world is right now, which is exactly why I am a proponent of making sure we are grateful for all we have. If your biggest problem tomorrow is that a social media guru did something stupid again, your life is pretty good in the grand scheme of things. I would love to see people balance “So and so is so stupid” posts with, “Here is someone doing it right” posts, but that just does not seem to happen. Bad news sells, both in the media and in social media.

My life has hammered into my head the fact that life is not obligated to give us anything. When I was a very young child, I assumed that I would have my grandparents until I was an adult. I knew that I was going to have two kids and I knew their names already. I assumed I would have time to make peace with various people whom I seemed to mix with like oil and water. All of these things proved not to be true or possible. For a LONG time that made me bitter. Now it just makes me realize that everything is special. You could wake up tomorrow and discover your eyesight has gone. Someone you love could have a stroke out of no where. Life is precious. Time is precious.

It is any individual’s choice how they want to spend their time. If they want to spend it sending out bad news on Facebook, there is nothing I can say or do about that. But I can choose not to bear witness. And that is why I have to let Facebook go.

I hope this answers any questions that may have arisen. Is it possible I may return to Facebook some day? Perhaps. But I doubt it at this point. I do not see these things changing any time soon, and in fact with Presidential elections coming up soon, I only see these facets of Facebook growing stronger. But I have deactivated my account. I have not deleted it. I will not burn bridges. You never know what life may throw at you.

Thanks for listening.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/84346589@N00/7722015606 via Creative Commons

Does it really need saying?

12065654826_a5efcb44e6_mFor the last several weeks I’ve finally been doing the smart thing – I’ve been catching up on Dr. Who (just starting with 2005). Last night I watched an episode during which The Doctor has a chance to finally tell someone he loves that he loves them. The moment is perfect. She’s waiting for it. You’re waiting for it. But instead he says, “Does it really need saying?”

I think a lot of people have been in a position where, given the opportunity to say, “I love you,” they instead say something completely hokey or maybe even something kind of mean to deflect away from the situation. The reasoning is almost always the same. To the person, it is obvious that they love the other person. Why does saying it make it any more real or meaningful?

There are three reasons why I feel strongly that it does need saying.

Humans are insecure and self-absorbed

OK, that’s not a very nice thing to say, but as a species, let’s face it…it’s pretty darned true. We are just sure that in the grand scheme of the universe, we are wastes of space. We also are obsessed with anything having to do with making us feel better about ourselves. With that activity keeping us busy, and with our lack of confidence in the affection of other people, is it any wonder that we might miss the signs that seem so obvious to others? As a friend once told me, getting up and getting someone a glass of juice will not be universally translated as “I love you.” They had a point. We need to say the words not just so the person feels loved but also so that they don’t have to guess anymore.

Saying the words is brave

It was poignant that the Doctor could not make himself say the words. He faces all kinds of fierce opponents throughout the series. He is known throughout the universe. But a letter and two words – he couldn’t make it happen. I envision saying “I love you” like you are giving someone a little piece of your heart to hold in their hands. You are saying, with those 3 words, “OK, look, I am fully invested in your well-being. When you are glad I’ll be glad, and when you are sad I’ll be sad, but I’ll try to make you feel better too, and I want to enjoy the good times with you.” That’s a lot. And you know, it almost seems foolish. We give other people the chance to hold a bit of our heart in their hands? There is so much risk! They could squish it up. They could drop it and just leave it on the ground. Something could happen to them and our heart could break. Geeze. Who wants to go through all of that? Yes, saying “I love you” is brave. Only the bravest can do it, but bravery can be developed.

You might not get a chance tomorrow

This particular scene in Doctor Who was especially heart-wrenching because it was the last chance he had to tell this person he loved them. He knew that going in and still asked, “Does it really need saying?” Of course as humans we never know when our last chance is. When I was a little kid, I called my grandma to ask if I could spend the night and she ended up talking to my mom. Later that day, my grandma had a massive asthma attack that ultimately ended up taking her life. My mom always said that I had done something great – by calling my grandma I had let my mom say “I love you” one last time. Any conversation, online or offline, could be your last. That sounds dire, but it really is true. Why gamble when saying the words takes only a few seconds and means so much to you as well as to the person you love?

Does it really need saying? Oh yes. Every time. Every possible occasion. We need to tell the people we love that we love them. You can never say it too much. You can never assume you’ll get another chance.

Yes. It really needs saying.

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bevgoodwin/12065654826 via Creative Commons

Book Review: Soul Models

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 5.59.16 PMAs soon as I started to read Soul Models, by Angela Daffron and Elizabeth Bryan, I knew that the book was going to be my cup of tea. Part of this was that I have known Angela for just about as long as I have been online, and to me she epitomizes what a soul model is. Angela founded the anti-stalking organization Jodi’s Voice after her young friend Jodi was tragically killed by a stalker. Most people would have mourned, would have lamented how crappy teh world is and how unfair that was. Angela did something about it and continues to do so.

Soul Models consists of several stories of individuals or families who faced challenges of various kinds and used those challenges to motivate them to DO. The challenges and the actions vary by person. In most cases, the challenge is a tragedy a person faced – the death of a child, the death of a loved one, or bearing witness to the challenge of others.

In my own life I have had the immense privilege of watching a few soul models in action. In addition to Angela, I have seen Molly Cantrell-Kraig build her Women with Drive Foundation based on her own challenges as a car-less single mother. I have watched Jennifer Stauss build her SMAC! Monkeys Against Cancer effort even while she had to say goodbye to her inspiration – her own mother, who passed away after a long battle with lung cancer. I watched people ride and walk and run races to raises funds for the American Cancer Society because they lost someone to that disease.

Being a Soul Model, as Angel and Elizabeth define it, is something I think we all strive for in a way. We would love to think, universally, that we could find the strength to make the world a better place even if our own world seems to be crashing down. What separates these very special people from the rest of us is that they actually do it.

Reading this book made me cry at times. Some of the challenges these people faced are hard to grasp because of their enormity. The fact that they went on from those events to try to help other people is hard to fathom. But this is another book that you can’t read and then sit still. I found myself engaged, energized, inspired, and motivated, and now that I have finished reading, I want to see if I can also help make the world a better place. That’s a pretty amazing return on investment for buying a book don’t you think?

You can buy Soul Models here, and I highly encourage you to do so.

Your Chance to Make a Difference -#Stand4theManinBlack

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 11.41.53 AMAs is the case with so many of my online friends, I can’t remember *exactly* when I met Amber-Lee Dibble. It just seems like I’ve known her forever. I am fairly certain I met her over at Gini Dietrich’s popular Spin Sucks blog. In fact, Gini featured Amber-Lee in the SpinSucks Follow Friday series last year. I feel like I’ve just kind of known Amber-Lee forever.

I remember the first time I got to hear Amber-Lee talk about what her life is like up in Chisana, Alaska, working for Pioneer Outfitters. It was a video and her vivaciousness jumped out of the screen. Then Amber-Lee wrote a book talking about her combined role as a marketer, a mom, and a big game guide. In what is predominantly a man’s world, Amber-Lee is a boss, but she is not afraid to show her sweet side, her sentimental side. As I read Amber-Lee’s book, which she so kindly gifted me, I thought how rare the Pioneer Outfitters experience is these days. There aren’t very many people who can show you how to survive in the world’s wild places. To be able to dabble in that world is a real gift.

Recently I started seeing Amber-Lee post a lot about something called Stand for the Man in Black. She was posting a lot of pictures of her with master guide and her surrogate father Terry Overly. I clicked to see what was up. What I learned is that last September, the Pioneer Outfitters aircraft exploded. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this aircraft for Pioneer Outfitters. Chisana is not a place that makes itself accessible. In order to get food, find missing horses, and help rescue lost or stranded people, the aircraft is vital. Pioneer Outfitters has been hanging on these last several months but supplies are limited and their way of life just may not be sustainable without a new aircraft at hand.

This is where you come in. This is where we come in.

The money that Pioneer Outfitters needs is not over the top. They need $250,000. You could look at that objective as just being for an aircraft, but that’s not really true. That money is what is needed to keep a rare way of life intact.

Amber-Lee, my friend and a real role model for me, has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise these funds. She is working so hard. So very very hard. And she is graciously thanking EVERYONE who supports her. But she isn’t to her goal yet.

I know that money is tight for a lot of people right now. If you can’t donate, would you consider sharing the campaign? You can do either one here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/stand-for-the-man-in-black

Remember, in an effort like this, no amount of money is too small a contribution. If we all say, “Well, my $10 can’t do anything,” then nothing will occur. If we all say, “I’ll add my $10 or $5 or $1 to the bucket, it will add up,” then we can help Pioneer Outfitters get what they need so they can continue giving people the experience of a lifetime.

It’s a pretty easy trade, don’t you think?