Saturday, August 24, 2013

Your World View - Optimist / Pessimist?

I have a friend with an extremely negative worldview. If there are five different interpretations of a someone's actions or words, he will choose the most negative of them and then react according to his interpretation, rather than the actual behavior. There is also no learning curve with this person. No matter how many times someone proves they can be trusted or that they will follow through or that they will always behave in a way that is supportive, the negative interpretation happens first and there is no acknowledgment that he might have been wrong. The cycle repeats ad nauseum and it becomes difficult to believe anything he says about anyone. No one in this person's life is trustworthy. He is always skeptical.

On the other hand, there is my sister. It has taken years and years of beatings and slapdowns for her to finally accept the fact that there are mean people in the world. She gets hijacked by friends and family alike because her first instinct is to trust their motives and actions. I used to go out of my mind when we owned a business together because salesmen could walk in and she would get sucked into their spiel. The next thing I knew we were listening to long drawn out sales pitches until I'd finally had enough and made them go away.  She is the best of us in the world and even though I know it is dangerous, I'd like to be more like her in this regard.

I consider myself to be a fairly positive / optimistic person and all of a sudden this morning it occurred to me that this dichotomy is why there are such interesting comments about my books.

I get crushed by the negative reviews that show up. They suck the life out of me and no matter what anyone says to me, I internalize them until they actually stop me from writing. It's as if there are people who believe I should never write another word because what I've put out there is so awful. Consequently, I'm under strict orders to go nowhere near my reviews. As long as I'm obedient, the joy returns to my writing.

It was hard to realize that when I began writing the Bellingwood series I had the most fun I'd ever had in my life ... doing anything!  I'd finally found it ... you know ... that thing that completes you.  Then, the reviews came in and all of that was replaced with a feeling that I had no business intruding on these people's lives with my words. What was I thinking?

I can talk a little bit about this now, because I'm way on the other side of it. As long as I don't pay attention to the 'haters' (who are gonna hate), I am back to having more fun than anyone deserves to have.  (Please don't let this part of the blogpost become your focus.)

There is something about optimists and pessimists though, and the difference in their worldviews that is triggered by my books. Originally I set out to write something fun and show the world how much I loved the folks in rural Iowa. All of a sudden, people were saying terrible things about my characters and the story itself (comments about my writing ... well, damn ... those hurt, but okay).

The women who befriend the main character, Polly, were looked at with suspicion and derision.  I wrote them as women who extended themselves to others and easily made friends, building relationships and friendships. The sweet stories that are told in the books drew extremely negative reactions - people said they couldn't believe that this was even possible.

Then it occurred to me that I could probably identify those who believed there were horrors behind every tree and those who believed the best about people based on how they reacted to my stories.  If someone lives with a pessimistic world view and believes the worst about people, they will hate what I write and call every action into question. They don't see hope easily and for them, joy comes with a price. Their first reaction is to criticize and to assert themselves as an authority so they don't get stuck in situations they can't handle.

On the other hand (and thankfully these people are more numerous than you can believe), there are those who have weathered pain and struggles and still believe in the goodness of others. They know what it is like to encounter genuinely friendly people because they are that type of person. It is easy to be around my readers because they like folks and will trust them first and allow others to be real and make mistakes.  Judgment doesn't occur because they recognize that they've been there before themselves.

These things make me consider my own behavior. I want people to recognize me as one of those wonderful women in Bellingwood who are open and ready to bring new friends into their lives.  And I want to be Polly Giller (the protagonist of the Bellingwood series), who sees the best in others, no matter what their background.

I want to trust first and learn whether or not I've made the right decision - rather than mistrust at the outset and discover that I was right all along.

See, that's the thing with negative reactions to the world. If we begin by being mistrustful, it only takes one time to justify our behavior - even if one thousand other interactions disprove us.  But, if we believe that it happens only once in a thousand times, we see the world through eyes of joy and happiness and others will be more ready to respond to us with the same behavior.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Could you change your brand of toilet paper?

Last year I got tired of buying toilet paper all the time and hauling it around, so I checked out Amazon's 'Subscribe and Save' and discovered that not only could I have the UPS guy deliver it right to my front door, but I would also end up saving some money. They didn't have the type of toilet paper I was used to, but I went ahead and placed an order. When it showed up, I did NOT like it. At all.

The only problem was that I had forty-eight rolls of toilet paper. I was committed to this new stuff, whether I liked it or not.  Five months passed and the second shipment showed up. I didn't think a thing about it.

Five more months ... almost ... passed and I realized I wasn't going to make it until the next shipment arrived, so I purchased a four-pack from the grocery store. It was the stuff I'd always used up until my big decision to shop from Amazon. I couldn't believe it. Now I didn't like the old stuff.  The toilet paper I had been using for years and years was no longer my favorite. I couldn't wait to finish the package and get back to what I was now used to using.

As I thought about this, I giggled because first of all, I knew it would probably end up as a blog post. But secondly, it occurred to me that change isn't always about leaping into something new, it's about leaving behind something that we are comfortable with - that we are familiar with.

The 'old' may not be better than the new, but we hate the idea that change is involved.

It really bothers me to discover areas of my life where I am so averse to change. That's not the way I was raised.  Because my father was an itinerant United Methodist pastor, we moved pretty regularly. We packed up everything we owned, moved into a new community and a new house. We made new friends, got used to new shops, discovered new ways to get from our house to the schools and fell into new routines. It didn't occur to us to complain or whine about it because both Mom and Dad made sure that they expressed excitement over what was inevitable. They talked about how much fun we would have meeting new people. They always took a couple of road trips so we could see the new town and get excited about our new school and the new parsonage and the new church. They would pick out one thing or another that would be fun for us to know about our new home. Even packing up the house for a move became opportunities for them to encourage us to look forward to the new home. Mom would muse about how her furniture would look in the new place and get us involved in thinking about what we might do with our new room.

For us, moving and change meant that something exciting was in store for us.

I've changed colleges, jobs and homes several times throughout my life and have always approached them with a sense of joyous anticipation. When we closed our business, I looked forward to the next adventure. When I transferred from Asbury to Grand Canyon University, I could hardly wait to dive into a new program.

There is nothing I love more than changing my living space around. I don't do it as much any more because it seems that I have way too much stuff in my life, but one of these days I'll grow uncomfortable with my writing area and everything will be unplugged and pulled away from where it currently resides and shuffled to make a better work space. It happens every six months or so whether it needs to or not.  I really look forward to changing things.

Most things ... because when it comes to changing my brand of toilet paper, I guess I prefer the comfortable and familiar.

The funny thing is - it doesn't really take long for something new to be comfortable and familiar.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Inflammatory Conversations

I'm beginning to see rapid re-posts of this horrid letter delivered to a woman who was babysitting her autistic grandson. It is shocking and disgusting.  Many comments I see in response to this letter are just as shocking and disgusting, though. People call for terrible things to happen to the woman and it makes me realize that so often we do not understand how to perpetuate love and kindness - we are more likely to bring more vile behavior to the table because we are so offended.

Yesterday, I was waiting for my laundry to finish when a woman walked in to begin hers. She was chatting on the phone and since there was no one other than myself there, I listened to what she was saying to her friend - she was speaking loudly and clearly within three feet of me.

However, I wanted to hug her and tell her that she was exactly right.  Apparently, the friend wanted to verbally destroy someone who had hurt her, but this gal went on and on about how that would only add fuel to a fire that needed to be put out. When the friend said something about how her feelings were hurt, the woman told her that feelings were temporary, but the lessons she taught her children would be life-long and she must want to teach them to be kind and loving, not mean and hurtful.

The woman talked of her ex-husband and how it would have been easy for her to say terrible things about him because of what he'd done, but she wanted her own kids to grow up understanding forgiveness, love, and kindness. She made a choice to treat him with respect and encourage her kids to do so as well even though he must have done awful things to her when they were together.

The conversation went on and on as she listened to her friend and attempted to calm her down, reiterating a call to be sensible, if nothing else, for the sake of teaching children the right way to interact with others.

Even in our response to awful behavior, we must remember to not lower ourselves to another's level.  We can't justify their actions by behaving as badly as they do.

My father told of a man who came in to his office once a month, like clockwork. As soon as he got into the office he began to curse and swear, verbally destroying everything that was happening around him.  Rather than getting upset with him and making things worse, Dad calmly listened, expressed his disagreement and thanked the man for taking the time to come in.  After a while, those visits began to become more random until he no longer had anything awful to swear and curse about.

I have a tendency to react quickly with my mouth and so I often walk away from a situation rather than respond to it. My response won't help the situation and I won't win anything by reacting, so a quick retreat is generally more appropriate. I have to ask myself if my words will change anything. If the answer is no, I don't need to encourage any continuation of a bad moment in time.

I have also found that publicly telling someone about their poor choices inflames the situations as well ... unless of course you are in the first grade and don't know any better.

When I did my student teaching in an elementary school in Cedar Rapids, I had a music classroom filled with first graders. The back of the piano faced the class and I was seated so I could look over it, see the children, and still play.  One little boy came up behind the piano, got up close to me and said, "I wet my pants and need to go to the office."  Apparently, they were prepared for this and had fresh clothes for him to wear. So far no one else in the room had seen what he had done and I knew that all he needed to do was leave by the door right behind me and still be saved the embarrassment of wet khaki pants in a class full of peers. I told him that it was fine and he could leave. I didn't want to inflame the situation by making this public.

He chose, instead, to walk back over to the side of the piano and stand in front of everyone. Why? I have no idea. Then he took off running out the door and down to the office.

Sometimes you can't help but make something public, I guess ... and after reading this awful story about a woman who needs more help than the autistic child she is degrading ... I thought you needed a story of an adorable child who still makes me giggle.  It occurs to me that he is at least 30 years old now. He'll never know how much he's made me smile over the years.

Instead of calling for this woman's head, avoid inflaming the discussion. Be that kindness and love to those around you.