Earth Day Plans

This week as we approach Earth Day I’m thinking about going green!  Today I’ve got a few ways you can go green and take care of our earth and celebrate this special day.  After all, I want the earth to stick around for at least a few more years, don’t you?

1-take action in your community.  There are lots of ways you can do this, from cleaning up litter and removing dead plants and trees to planting trees and flowers to putting up bird houses and even bee hives to encourage the natural population of your area

2-if you’re not able to go out and physically help in your community, there are tons of petitions online you can sign to support environmental initiatives online.  From organics to GMOs to smog and endangered species, there are tons of great causes you can support.

3-in line with the previous idea there are tons of earth-friendly organizations who would really appreciate a donation.  Even organizations like PETA and Charity: Water have an earth-focused mission that would benefit, you don’t just have to look to the more political organizations.

4-I love my hot showers so I’m not really willing to give them up, so if you’re like me that’s not one way you want to help save the earth.  But you can however wash your clothes in cold water.  They won’t complain and it will save your energy bill too!

5-if you’re looking for a spring refresh for your house there are tons of garage and yard sales that have begun with the favorable change in weather.  Not only are you saving a few dollars, you’re also saving the landfills from some items that would be in them for many years to come.  (And if you’re having a yard sale and everything doesn’t sell there are lots of local organizations who can benefit from the left over items too).

What are you planning this week to celebrate Earth Day and honor this place we all live?

Gifting and Giving

It has arrived!  No, I’m not talking about any of the items I ordered on Black Friday, I’m talking about Giving Tuesday!  You may have rolled your eyes, but I’m serious.  I’m glad that someone realized that non-profits and charities need a day like Black Friday as much as for-profit businesses do. They’re as concerned about their bottom line as all other businesses out there.  Just because they’re not looking to put money in their pockets the way that for-profit businesses do, it doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to increase their funds so they can better work towards fulfilling their mission.

I know that some people donate around the year end for one reason or another, I personally donate all year long (I love recurring payments on a credit card, it makes it so easy!), but during this season it does seem like non-profits and charities get the remainders of whatever is left after the holiday gifts have been purchased and the transportation for holiday celebrations and holiday food is paid for too.  If you think about even one of the best known holiday non-profits, the Salvation Army often gets shortchanged (no pun intended).  They stand outside shopping centers with their red buckets ringing for the change left over from shopper’s purchases.  Non-profits and charities certainly won’t say no to any size donation, but it’s sad that we tend to give them our leftovers rather than being part of our shopping lists.

Of course non-profits and charities would love if you donated all year long because it would mean that they would be in the black before year-end, but I know it doesn’t always work that way for any business.  This year I did hear about several businesses who chose to donate their Thanksgiving profits to non-profits and charities, which I thought was a great idea.  Another great thing I’ve seen this year more than any other year is the number of for-profit businesses suggesting a non-profit or charity that they support or recommend that their customers could support, or choosing to donate in partnership with you on Giving Tuesday (or just the holiday season), through a matched gift or some other arrangement.

Today is a great opportunity to donate to causes and organizations that you personally feel passionate about.  In my work I run across hundreds of people trying to make a difference, right a wrong or give people an opportunity that they would not have otherwise.  I encourage you to support at least one business today, or spread the gift around to a few non-profits and charities.  What is your chosen non-profit or charity?

Selfless Giving

I hope you had a good Day of Thanks, and that you were able to celebrate with some of your favorite people, people who make you smile and laugh and dream big dreams.  We’ve got a little more than a month left in the year and I really want to make it a good one.  Today I want to talk a bit about Thanksgiving yesterday and the first Thanksgiving all those years ago.  We remember the first Thanksgiving as a time of joining between the Native Americans and Pilgrims who had recently arrived in America.  For the Pilgrims this day was a celebration of life and new friends.  For the Native Americans they also celebrated new friendships. It’s unfortunate that in the generations following things got really screwed up between the settlers and the large people group they would become.  Not only were settlers famous for “gifting” diseases that native populations had no defenses for, they ended up taking land and resources from them.  This wasn’t just a problem in America but in all countries that were settled by people from Europe.

It’s sad that what was such a happy event turned into something so challenging and tragic, and it’s sad that we didn’t learn our lesson from it, but people all over the world are still hurting each other without thinking about it or taking the time to consider what might happen if they made such a huge change (no political talk today, promise).  We’ve got a long way to go before that’s the default practice, but I have hope that someday we may get there or at least get closer to being more considerate more of the time.

But what I really wanted to talk about today was the amazing gift that the Native Americans gave and what we can learn from their generosity.  These people didn’t have to help the Pilgrims as they did.  They didn’t have to build the relationships with them that they did.  But I think their heritage and culture taught them that it’s the right thing to do and the best way of living, especially if you’re aware of Mother Earth/Mother Nature’s role in your life as many of them were and are still today. These people were willing to give to the Pilgrims without necessarily expecting a lot back, regardless of what the Pilgrims were really able to bring to the table like weapons or knowledge of the world at large.

Today there are still men and women who are giving selflessly of themselves, or giving because they see a need.  You’ve probably heard of CNN Heroes and shows like Extreme Home Makeover, not to mention countless service men and women and other men and women, boys and girls who are making a difference around the world without a national stage or recognition.  These people are willing to give without knowing if their gift and/or generosity will ever really be appreciated.  They’re willing to give because they saw a need and were able to fill it.  This weekend as you’re out shopping I encourage you to look for opportunities to give.  Maybe it’s a little money in the Salvation Army buckets, maybe it’s a little extra spent on someone special or picking up an extra to donate to a shelter or food/clothing/toy drive.  What will you give?

A Call for Change

As we look back at this past week some of us are feeling really challenged and surprised by how things have turned out. Throughout the US people are reeling over the dramatic wake-up call that was the Election on Tuesday night. Some of us are surprised that our candidate actually won and others of us are surprised that our candidate didn’t win and people picked the other person. There were several “upsets” throughout the different races around the US, the presidency being just one of them (but the one that affected everyone). I’ve been reading lots of different responses over the past week, some I’m surprised by because I never thought the person who wrote them would feel that way, some I cringe over because of how much hate is being thrown around, and others impress me with their willingness to really dive into things that are painful and challenging with sensitivity and wisdom.

I’m a big Christmas person. I love the cheer, the celebration, the happiness, the love, the gifting, the giving and the togetherness. I have to be honest and say that I’m OK with Christmas decorations being up in stores and showing up around the towns I go to and even on some houses as early as Halloween. While I don’t know if I could live in a “Christmas village” where it’s Christmas all year long, there are things about the concept that are appealing. However, as awesome as it might be to be in a Christmas mood all year long I don’t think it would change who we are as people and the mistakes we make, failures we have and challenges we have that we should work through but often put aside during the holidays.

But what the holidays each year do remind us is that together things are better. The next few months and year will probably be filled with lots of adjustments, and some of them will be more painful and difficult than others. The election has shown us exactly how divided we are as a nation with about half of the people who voted voting for each candidate. We’ve been hearing over the past months and years how isolated minorities have been and felt, we’ve seen the ways that people generalize and make assumptions (and bad actions/reactions) based on qualities of age, race and belief systems. Change has been called for over and over with varying degrees of success. But as the definition of insanity states (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results), if we really want change, we actually have to change. The victory of a non-political candidate for the biggest leadership role in the nation is a big indication to me that people really do want change (even if the elected individual seems to not be the right one for the job because of some things they’ve said) and are willing to work with the challenges that will be present to make that change happen.

Together doesn’t mean that we ignore things that are wrong, together means to me that we choose to work together to be better. Together means to me that we’re stronger when we’re together. Together means to me that we’ve got more minds to come up with more ideas. Together means to me that we have to be open to forgive each other because we will do and say stupid things sometimes. Together means to me that we’re not alone when we’re grieving or upset or hurt. Together doesn’t mean to me that we all have the same ideas or beliefs, we’re all different and that is to be respected and appreciated.

I don’t have all the answers, I never claim to. But I do believe that we will be a better nation and world if we work together. It won’t be easy for us to truly come together given how divided we are, but if we really are upset with how some people are treated, and how the future looks for some of our children and grandchildren and for some of the nations of the world, I think we have to put aside some of our differences and find the common ground that we can work with and build from.

The Story of a Veteran

You probably know that I’m a big reader. I love fiction as well as non-fiction and kids books too.  In November one of the days that are celebrated is Chicken Soup for the Soul day.  While it isn’t as talked about now as it was years ago, you’re probably familiar with the book series that swept the nation and the world, but to refresh, each book is filled with inspirational true stories about ordinary people’s lives.  What I love most about the book series is that they’re a reminder that the world and our past, present and future are made up of individuals with stories.  So often we hear about events or dates or places and it may not mean a whole lot to you, for example November 14, 1440, do you know what happened that day?  Probably not, which means that the date doesn’t mean much to you.  It’s one reason many people don’t like history or learning because they aren’t able to find a personal connection to what they’re supposed to be learning.   But when you add a face and a story to what seemed like a random date, event or place all of a sudden it becomes a lot more real and interesting.

Friday in the US was Veteran’s Day, the day that we take time to honor and remember the men and women who have put their lives on the line in one way or another for our country.  It’s not always easy to talk with kids about topics like war, fighting and dying.  We want to protect them from the reality that we worry about, but in countries around the world kids of their age are right in the middle of war zones and don’t know if they will see tomorrow.  That said with all of the devices and access to the internet that kids have today it’s a lot harder to hide the truth from them, and sometimes you have to ask if it’s really the right thing to do.  No, I don’t think kids should be exposed to the details of the horrors and hurtful things that people do to each other, but I do think they need to know that there is hurt in the world and they have to decide if they’re going to add to it or do something to change it.

But the point of today’s post is to not only thank the Veterans, but to give you an idea of how to talk with your kids about the men and women who face such horrors, especially if they’re killed in war and the kids never had a chance to know them.  Each and every Veteran has a story, they’ve got a life before they went to war, they have a family they left, and veterans have a life after the war.  Yes, the war changed them; you can’t see what they’ve seen and not be changed.  While most Veterans aren’t comfortable talking about what went on during their time in war, there are stories they are willing to share about their life or the war that aren’t about the horrors they saw.  Maybe they’ve got some crazy ship and travel stories, maybe they had some of the best food of their life from crazy little shacks in tiny towns that no one really knows exist, maybe they played cards with people from a bunch of other countries every night for months, or maybe they have stories about their lives before the war that they can share.  War can take a lot from our Veterans, but we can give them something back by asking for and sharing their stories, whether they’re stories of heroism, crazy drunk activities or sweet family moments, and reminding the rest of the country and the world that Veterans are people just like you and me whose life and choices have taken them down a very difficult path.

So this month as you think about Thanksgiving coming up, I encourage you to find some way to give back to the Veterans in your life and community.  Maybe you can invite a military family over for Thanksgiving.  Maybe you can donate a meal to a Veteran’s organization in your area.  Maybe you can give a military family in your area a gift of service from your business.  Or maybe you will just sit and listen to the stories they have gathered through their life and pass them on to future generations so they and their sacrifice aren’t forgotten.

Judge and Jury

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of how elections are run these days, right?  I wish we would hear more about how the world could improve if a certain candidate is picked instead of all of the bashing and hatred that goes on. I can’t stand that people are more interested in using the dirt in someone’s past against them instead of making themselves look good by doing the right things and being a contributory person.  Yes, everyone has flaws and mistakes in their past, and everyone has opinions that someone else might not agree with.  In this election for Trump there have been some recordings released that people are up in arms over, and for Clinton there has been a lot of talk around her email practices.

When it comes to looking at another person or company, if we’re considering getting to know them better, considering hiring them for something, checking them out for someone else, or just hear something interesting about them and want to know more, typically we’ll look for three things: what they’re doing presently (current/the past 12 months), what they’ve done in the recent past (up to 5 years ago), and what they’ve done in the distant past (more than 5 years ago).  We typically weigh the present stuff as the most important, but sometimes there are things in the distant past that we place large importance on.

For some people or businesses I believe this does them a huge disservice.  It’s wrong to assume that someone (person or business) hasn’t changed since that/those negative event(s) in the distant past.  To assume that what someone said, believed, did or practiced 10+ years ago is still how they 100% feel and live their lives/run their businesses is a gross oversight.  Yes, there are some people who don’t change a whole lot, but each and every one of us changes!  Whether it’s just appearance as we age, or if we did things as a young one that we weren’t so proud of, things have changed.  To assume that a business that was known for a serious failure in the 80’s is still equally screwed up today, or a person that committed murder 30 years ago doesn’t regret that decision does them a disservice.

Before stringing someone (individual or business) up for something they did in the distant past, take a look at what they’re doing in the present. Have they shown that they’ve changed?  Do they say that they’re doing things different?  Have they just become older and wiser?  Don’t write the last chapter of a book before the rest of the chapters have been written.  Some people and businesses may not change, but don’t lump everyone into that category before considering all things.  You wouldn’t want to be treated as such, so do everyone else the courtesy of not treating them that way either.

Grief and Loss Today and Tomorrow

Every day someone around the world is faced with the news that someone they love has died.  For some it’s a person who has had a great impact on their life, even if they never knew them personally.  When someone who has made a difference around the world dies there are many people who mourn their loss.  When it is someone who only a few knew there are only a few who mourn at the time, although years from now they may be remembered by many more if it is found that they did something during their lifetime to be honored for like some of the artists, chemists, scientists and doctors from many years ago whose research and creations we’re only beginning to understand. But there are those who are just forgotten as time passes, some not even remembered in genealogical resources.

We also mourn losses of pets, animals, places and icons because they have played an important role in our lives, are a memorial to the past or have important cultural references.  I don’t believe it’s wrong to mourn their loss, mourning the loss of anything that is part of a memory, has had an impact on our lives or has had value to us is actually healthy.  When we don’t take the time to consider loss, to think about how important someone or something was to us we unfortunately end up with lives that don’t have a lot of meaning.  Yes, living a simple life with few possessions and moving from place to place can be healthy, but even at those places you have experiences and meet people who place a stamp on your life.  I don’t believe that you can get through life without being impacted by something or someone else, and I don’t think you should.

If you’re facing a loss today first and foremost know that you have my sympathies.  I’m sorry that you’re going through that pain.  As much as we know that pain and loss are part of life it doesn’t make it easier to deal with.  Second, after an appropriate period of grief (only you can determine what “appropriate” is, but it most definitely is not staying in grief and pain forever) it will be time to move on.  That doesn’t mean that you forget it/them, it means that you choose to think of them with love rather than just in grief and loss.   Look for ways that you can share the passion and inspiration that they had in your life with others each day you’re alive.  Finally, don’t be afraid to find a new love or inspiration.  Don’t feel guilty about moving on, don’t feel ashamed that you’re still alive and want to keep living.  Live every moment you can in respect to and in honor of their contribution to the world and your life.

Teaching for Eternity

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about a topic that is top of mind for many families: going back to school.  Today I want to talk about one of the most fundamental and key aspects to school: teachers.  My mom has been involved in schools in many different ways for as long as I can remember.  She’s taught, been an aide, been a substitute teacher and of course gone back to school.  I’ve taught classes and groups and helped in many types of classrooms too and know how much work in involved, as well as how challenging some students can be, and how rewarding it can be as well as a teacher.  As a student I’ve had a few good teachers, some average (and forgettable) ones, and a few bad ones.  While there’s a shortage of teachers I don’t believe that’s a good reason to let the bad teachers stay at schools and continue to damage the learning experience for kids (and adults).

First I want to encourage each of us to accept the role of teacher as part of our lives.  I don’t think it’s necessary or right to hand that off to those who are officially teachers and say that we don’t have to do any teaching as parents, neighbors or community members.  All of us have skills and knowledge that can benefit the youngest of us, as well as the adults around us too.  Parents and caretakers especially have a big responsibility to not only make sure their kids are having fun, but also that the learning continues outside the classroom.  It’s a great opportunity to educate them about topics that most interest them and in ways that they learn best.

Second, it’s important to support the teachers.  Teachers are always in need of books and supplies for the classrooms, as budgets are tight in most schools.  I’ve known countless teachers who reach into their own pockets to pay for supplies, and to help students who aren’t as well-off as others.  A great way to help would be to sponsor kids for field trips, support the music or arts programs or give gift cards to the teachers so they can pick up what they need most.  For the teachers who regularly interact with your kids, you can give them gift baskets with things they like, gift certificates to restaurants, and most important ask how you can support them and your kids in their classroom.

Learning is a life-long activity but our foundations are built in those early classroom years by the men and women who give hours, days, months and years to invest in the next generation of minds.  Their impact continues long after a child leaves their classroom and goes out into the world.  What are you teaching those around you?

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Henry Adams

A Response to Violence

I’ve been receiving lots of emails about the violent deaths of black men and women around the US over the past few months and especially these past few days, and you probably have too.  I’ve shared some thoughts on violence before, but to sum up I believe it’s sometimes necessary, but only for reasons of showing your strength or defending those who are weaker and in trouble.  I don’t believe violence should be the answer to fear, differences, disagreements or the way to gain power.  We each have our differences and our similarities.  Just because we’re different in one way or another, it doesn’t make it right to treat anyone as less than a human with rights.  We all have our biases and beliefs, but if we really believe we’re meant to live in a global, connected world, we have to start working together at some point in time.

So today I wanted to share with you a few of the comments I have heard that stood out to me, I may reflect in depth on some of them on the Life and Spirituality blog over the coming days and weeks as well.

“We[‘ve] talked about the terror some of us feel in our own homes. Scared of feeling rejected, ignored, dismissed, or unheard by the people who matter most, we reactively retreat to passivity and self-protection.  This is not the path to peace in our own homes, nor in our own hearts…Ultimately, learn to represent your fullest self to the fullest. That way you give yourself, and the ones who matter most, the best chance at the relationships we all crave.”  Hal Runkel

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“… the attack is a reminder that no life will be safe and truly valued until we also confront the broader American culture of violence.”  Kai Wright

“There is a deep wound in this nation and we must re-double our commitment to be a part of healing it — and it must be done nonviolently.  The only way we can truly generate healing is to take the skills and values of peacebuilding deep into our communities.”  Matthew Albracht

“Everybody’s got to reach deep down and find some empathy.  If you cried for the brother who bled out next to his fiancee, but you didn’t cry this morning for those police officers, it’s time to do a heart check.  If you cried for those police officers, but you have a hard time taking seriously all these videos that are coming out about African Americans dying, it’s time to do a heart check.  Because we are either going to come together or come apart.  There’s enough pain on both sides that there should be some empathy starting to kick in.’  Van Jones

“You need the courage to push yourself beyond your own fears.  You need to embrace your fears in order to make your life everything it was meant to be.”  Chris Howard

The world you grew up in is much different than it was for your parents, and the world your kids and their kids grow up in will be much different than the world you grew up in.  I want a world that will be a place to grow, thrive and blossom, and that’s not possible if the threat of violence remains so high.  What world do you want to create for your future generations?

Creativity for the Future

Today as we finish out this month I wanted to share one last thought for Memorial Day and one last thought on creativity, too, as inspired by this quote from Robert Reich: “True patriotism isn’t cheap. It’s about taking on a fair share of the burden of keeping America going.”

Life isn’t easy.  We keep asking for it to be and expecting that our requests will not only be heard but answered as well.  Yes, there are things we can do to make life easier for ourselves, but there will always be challenges and obstacles we’ll face. They’re good because they help us grow and learn new things and make new connections, but they also can put a lot of stress on our lives and relationships.  One of the ways to make those challenges easier is to work together.  On a day like Memorial Day we’re all reminded of what it is to be a team, be part of a country, and challenged to do better.

The only way the world will improve and we’ll enjoy our lives even more is if we make a point of doing things differently.  You’re familiar with the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results), it’s one that we’ve talked about before and is well known, yet there are so many people who believe it’s not insanity and keep trying the same thing.

To what distances are you willing to go for your passions and for the country you call home?  Are you willing to make some small changes like trying to waste less energy and being more conscious of how you’re treating others?  Are you willing to work long hours and try things that others may call crazy to share your creativity with the world? Change starts with the few and grows to the many when others see what an awesome difference the changes you’ve made have had on your life.

Are you willing to do what it takes to be great?  Don’t give up because it hasn’t happened yet, keep trying things and telling others what you’re trying to do.  There are people out there who believe what you believe and can be that source of encouragement you need when things get tough, and you can be an encouragement for them as well.