Saturday, August 31, 2013

'Sorry' Seems to be the Hardest Word

Apologizing cleanses relationships
Why can it sometimes be so hard to apologize? What is it about an apology that makes it so terrible for a person to issue? So often it seems that one person who wrongs another would rather sit stubbornly in denial, self-guilt or some other self-important pot of goo rather than acknowledge they have acted wrongly or moved in some unintentional way that has hurt another human being.
               Then there are the times when a group of people participate in an action that most recognize as a situation in which an apology is in order, yet there is none. Individuals, groups of people, it happens everywhere. It’s also done between nations, often with deadly consequences. One country somehow negatively impacts another and, in the name of saving face, would rather risk war than apologize. So what is it about making an apology that is so terrible that mortal combat is often seen as preferable to a peaceful solution by being humble?
               I’ve seen and heard on more than one occasion scenarios in which person A refuses to apologize to person B only to witness person B’s death. The result? Person A condemns himself to lifelong guilt for having never made peace with the departed. I have also heard of people who take their hardness to their own grave by failing to make amends with someone they slighted in a major way. Wonder what the afterlife is like for them?
               Sadly, many regard apologies as a sign of weakness. This has been reinforced by courtroom lawyers who have taught us not to apologize, warning that's the path to being sued. Politicians reinforce this position by not working together and perpetuating the ‘weakness argument’ and further suggesting that to apologize akin to appeasement.
               The irony in all this is how we insist our children behave. When witnessing kids commit transgressions, what’s the order of business? Make them apologize. Guess it must be a case of, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’
Ahh... that's better!
               There’s a brighter side. Apologies can have a cleansing effect – one that impacts both sides of a relationship. On one side, there's the person who has committed either a perceived or actual affront to one or more individuals. On the other are those who have been hurt, emotionally, physically or even spiritually. An authentic apology for some reason has the capacity to affect both parties in terms of the negative energy or whatever you want to call it. The result, at least from my experience, is that opportunities present themselves that allow people to begin anew. Good things can happen.
               Issuing apologies are like stepping outside after a heavy rain shower. All is calm come, all is right. Sometimes. Of course, all this assumes the apology is sincere. When it is, the air is clear and so is your conscience. But don't get it twisted; apologies don't let a person off the hook for something they've done. Instead what they seem to do, again when they are real and authentic, is lay the groundwork for repairing and/or building relationships.
               Still, so many of us see apologies as insignificant gestures. After all, actions speak louder than words, and I'm totally in agreement with that. But words can often be a good start, or even a great one. That’s because when properly rendered they can set into motion a conversation or chain of events that can diffuse an accidental situation or create a pathway through which healing can occur around a more intentional one. At the very least they have the potential to infuse a healthy dose of humanity. And that can lead to forgiveness. But that's a whole other conversation.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Friendship is Essential to the Soul

Better to give (by listening) than receive?

Are you using your friends every chance you get? I mean taking advantage of them whenever possible. You should be. I do. It hasn’t always the case but I learned the hard way that’s what you need to do, given we live in a cold, cruel world.
               That's right, you need to use them whenever you can. After all, what are friends for if you can’t use them? Of course, I don’t mean treating them like doormats or flunkies. And ‘friend’ in this case doesn’t refer to acquaintances that go only skin deep. I’m talking about personal relationships that have weathered the stormiest situations and stood the test of time; the kind in which you’ve accepted each other’s uh, peculiarities. You’ve met the skeletons in each other’s closets and despite knowing the worst, you’re still okay with one another. Could be in-laws or outlaws but in the end there’s give and take. Well, not always.
               Some folks, like me, have no trouble giving; that is, listening to a friend. The tricky part comes when I’m the one with a problem. There was a time when I didn’t do a lot of personal sharing (some say I still don’t). But back then I was self-centered enough to believe my problems were so unique that no one could understand. So I didn’t share. What nonsense.
It's no fun being alone with your problems
               In the old days I used to find it easier to reside solely on the giving end of friendships. That is, be the one with the listening ear. It’s only in the last few years I’ve learned to let my friends in when I’m really low, experience trouble or need a sounding board. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them with my problems. Instead, it was because I didn’t believe our friendship could bear the stress of whatever it was I needed to get out. The weight of it all seemed too much to place on someone whom I valued so highly. After all, who’d want to listen to my pathetic life struggles?
               But when I finally learned to trust the integrity of my friendships and started sharing my problems, worries and fears, a funny thing happened: nothing. That is to say, it didn’t negatively affect my relationships. In fact with my true friends, it reinforced our bonds in ways I never dreamed. Being the strong, silent type has its limits.
               Over time, I learned that by simply listening, my friends allowed me to process out loud what I’d been dealing with inside. And it has a therapeutic effect; one that I always knew benefited others but never believed would be of help to me.
It's nice to have friends
All of this of course assumes that you even have friends. Friends of a sort who want and encourage you to use them in this manner. Friends you know you can trust to keep you feeling emotionally safe when you lower your guard long enough to get something off your chest. Or admit to something most would view unflattering. Or break down emotionally – in anger, sadness and/or in grief.
               Today, I’m a lot more open with my friends. The result? Deeper relationships, less internal stress (caused from holding so much in), and more enlightenment into who I am as a human being. A long time ago someone told me, friendship is essential to the soul. Too bad it took me so long to actually live into that phrase. But now that I do, life is so much easier. Check that; life is still hard, but thanks to my true friends, I have an easier time getting through it. I wager they’ll say the same.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Find and Embrace Your Purpose in Life

Release the hounds, er... I mean the words.

I am a writer, one who shares his experiences and those of others using words. It’s my claim to fame, even if that makes me a legend in my own mind. I tell stories. It’s my mission in life. My purpose. But hasn’t always been that way.
               I used to be a drifter. It sounds more dramatic than it is but there was a time when I went through life without having a purpose to existence. It was awful. I lacked focus and had no sense of who I was or what I wanted.
               I envy folks who at a very young age know what they want to do in life. Me? I was near into my 30s before discovering it was writing. And it had been right in front of me all along; in my face but couldn’t see it.
               Writing has been with me since birth. Well, maybe it was really grade school but the point is I never considered writing as a way to earn a living. It was fun; something to do when I got tired of bike riding, watching TV, shooting hoops or whatever. Raining outside? Go and write. Grounded in my bedroom? No problem; put pen to paper. Scribing was a pleasure.
Being near any body of water helps fuel my purpose.
               It continued in high school. Then college. I sailed through classes that required term papers. Even then it wasn't as a career option. Instead my motto was, “Show me the money.” After graduation, the primary criteria for taking jobs was how much they paid.
               I was happy for a while. The turning point was as a new home construction superintendent. The money was great; job satisfaction was not. ‘Being handy’ is not in my skill set and building tract homes was just not my thing. It filled my savings account but bankrupted my spirit. It wasn’t my purpose in life and I was miserable. Took me more than a year of deep, honest soul searching to ‘discover’ writing was my calling.
               I’m happier now, though not all the time. Like everybody else, I suffer setbacks and have ups and downs. Sometimes way downs. But through it all there’s my writing. I’ve been a music journalist, publicist, copywriter, strategic communications professional and now social change agent. Sharing stories is my purpose; it’s what helps give life meaning.
With purpose, the sky's the limit.
Most folks have at the very least a glimmer of awareness of their life's purpose. Trouble is, they often don’t or can’t pay attention to it. Job, kids, life: a lot can get in the way of realizing what it is you’re meant to do on this earth. A lot of times it’s just a vague feeling - something that pulls at you. And more times than not, it’s right in front of your face. The challenge is recognizing it.
               No matter your age, instilling yourself with a sense of purpose constitutes a huge step in helping find value and meaning in your own life. It also can literally spell the difference between life and death – for young and old. It can steer youth toward a promising future, and can help elders maintain vitality. In both cases, it is the sense of usefulness and value (rather than mere productivity) that is important.
               Caution: your sense of purpose can shift as you age. Another consideration is the impact our culture has on what young or old people are ‘supposed’ to do. Take it from me, both can clutter your mind and keep you from seeing your own personal truth. That said, what is your life purpose?