Justice

Disclaimer: I realize that candidly discussing what limits our ability to care about social justice risks offending someone. You may read my thoughts below and think I’m grossly misinformed and misguided. You may think I’m oversimplifying, missing key points or “missing the boat” completely. I understand that and will admit that this list is far from complete. It’s just a start. Feel free to send this around with comments about your thoughts or even how wrong you think I got it. Either way, let’s start talking about why we don’t care about each other. If I’ve gotten it wrong here (and I might have) I want you to correct me because it’s important that I get it right.

Since you decided to read this post, I’m going to make the assumption that you are a “reasonable, good-hearted” person. I don’t need to know your gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, racial nor economic status. All I need to know is that you are an intelligent human being capable of understanding social complexity and feeling compassion.

When discussing injustice there are two points of view – the oppressed minority and the privileged majority. You will likely find yourself moving between categories depending on the issue. For example, if the topic is racial injustice I’m in the oppressed minority but if it is sexual orientation discrimination then I’m in the privileged majority. No matter the issue, you probably prefer to discuss it with those in the same category as you. They likely share your opinions and around the same level of interest (i.e. is this consuming your world, a major issue to keep track of or simply a passing news story.) You many not want to discuss the issue at all. If you are in the oppressed majority, you have little choice but to take notice of topics that directly affect your life. But if you happen to be in the privileged majority, you have options – care a lot, care a little, don’t care at all. I’m hoping to define the factors that play into that decision?

What limits you from caring about injustice and social unrest when you’re in the privileged majority?

  • You may be embarrassed by your ignorance and unconscious bias. You may avoid topics about an oppressed minority because you’ve never cared enough to learn much about them. You’re afraid that you will accidently say the wrong thing or express an opinion that opens you up to critique and embarrassment. But here’s the thing, the oppressed minority doesn’t expect you to know much about them. Yes, they would like it if you knew more than stereotypes and characters’. They would also like it if you cared more, but it is definitely NOT an expectation. Your assumption that the oppressed minority expects you to know more about them comes from your own experience of being in the privileged majority. In the privileged majority, your experience is the standard that everyone has to learn. Minority groups don’t expect that. If you’re talking to a “reasonable, good-hearted” person in a minority group they would much rather engage with you in an ill-informed discussion that highlights your unconscious bias than to assume you don’t care about the impact injustice has on their life.
  • You don’t want to create conflict within yourself. You walk a delicate balance between privately supporting social justice and not getting so emotionally drawn in that you can’t fight the urge of making your belief more public. You know that publicly supporting the oppressed minority could create tension with the subtle and not so subtle bigots you like and love. They might be your family members or your church members (yes, unfortunately there are church-going bigots) or the people you work with. They don’t know what you support in private, but you are careful not to get too informed or too emotionally drawn in because it may mean that you have less tolerance to ignore the comments and views of the bigots around you. It may get harder to fully believe the reasons why injustice is really the victim’s fault.
  • You can’t decide which issues (and how much) you have mental energy for. You have significant problems of your own. Perhaps there is another category for which you are already an oppressed minority and you’re dealing with that struggle. Perhaps you have life circumstances (illness, grief, heart ache, failure, etc) that are consuming your every waking thought. Perhaps you just have a calendar terribly packed full of stressful work and family obligations. It’s probably too selfish to say publicly, but you have enough on your plate to add someone’s injustice. You have a hard enough time being grateful amidst your daily struggles, you don’t want to add any additional negative news nor tough conversations. You wished you cared more about injustice because clearly the oppressed minority is in a some sort of pain, but its easier to make a joke here or there and mostly ignore it. You don’t have the time to question whether it’s worth more time. You don’t have the time to debate your obligation to humanity or your faith. You don’t have the time to ask yourself what kind of life or legacy you want to leave. You’re a “reasonable, good hearted” person but you don’t have the time for justice.

What else should be on this list? What did I get wrong?

Clothes

Spring cleaning is usually a good time to rid your surroundings of unnecessary clutter. It’s also a good time to think about what “enough” looks like for you. When you have enough it allows you to reallocate some of your money from buying new things to saving for financial security, creating new experiences and investing in the greater good.

But, how many jackets are enough? How many pairs of shoes are enough? How many ties are enough? There’s a good chance that you have more than you “need” in several areas, but how much do you “want”? I hope you will take some time to think that through.

If you decide to take on your closet, attic or garage this month below is a list of questions that may help you decide what to keep and what to donate.

 Do I love/need it or should I release it?

  1. How many items in this category do I think is enough? (i.e. How many T-shirts? Pairs of sneakers? Coffee mugs?)
  2. If someone stole this item from me, how long would it take to notice it was gone?
  3. If I didn’t have this exact item, would I to buy it again within the next year?
  4. If I didn’t have this item, is there something else I’d use in its place?
  5. If someone offered me the price I paid for this item would I sell it to them?
  6. How do I feel when I imagine this item meeting a need for someone else?
  7. Would holding on to this item for one more year reduce its value as a donation?
  8. Might someone else find more joy in this item than I do?
  9. Would I give this item away to a friend that kept admiring it?
  10. After answering these questions do I feel more inspired to keep this item or donate it?

What was the hardest thing you ever let go?

Flowers

May has to be one of my favorite months. In addition to the many flowers that come into bloom. May is the home of Mother’s Day and my wedding anniversary. I find myself feeling pretty grateful during the month of May. And this leads me to the spectacular marriage of service and gratitude. Rarely do two things bring out the best in each other so well. This May, let’s make gratitude the center of attention because time spent on gratitude will surely inspire service.

Gratitude married to service

The practice of gratitude focuses on being thankful but it also introduces your heart to the concept of “enough”. Most of our lives we’ve strived to have “more” so “enough” is a somewhat foreign notion.

Take a look at the lines below and pay attention to how you feel about the “More” line versus the “Enough” line.

More money. More beauty. More power. More things. More time.
Enough money. Enough beauty. Enough power. Enough things. Enough time.
  • Which one is most comfortable for you to read?
  • Which one most reflects your current thinking?
  • Do you have enough of some, but want more of others?

Practicing gratitude allows you to take a step back and appreciate what you already have. It also allows the concept of “having enough” and “being enough” to take root in your life. This makes you likely to serve others for two reasons. First, you feel a sense of duty to bless others when you are more aware of your blessings. Second, you have more to give emotionally (and physically) when you aren’t exhausted from chasing more accumulation. When your heart and hands are free you’ll want to use them to serve. Gratitude helps free you.

Welcome May. You’re another wonderful month for serving. And a great time for gratitude to bloom.

What are you grateful for?

Ice Skates

I often tell people that winter is my favorite season, but this year even I’m ready for spring. As beautiful as the snow has been, having so many storms has been disruptive. It has thrown off my ability to accurately anticipate what the next days or weeks will bring. It’s highlighted to me that as much as I try to control my life – I’m not in charge.

When winter comes

The most common use of the word “winter” describes the season marked by cold weather and bare trees. During Mother Nature’s winter season, we are forced to retreat inside and many things stop growing. The characteristics of the winter season can show up in other parts of our lives. We experience winters in our careers, in our relationships, in our health, and in our hearts. Often our focus on serving the world around us has to shift to hibernating and healing. It can be especially hard for people focused on service to go through times of winter. We are used to serving others and have to allow ourselves to be cared for.

The last full day of this winter season is tomorrow, March 19th. If you’re coming to the end of any kind of winter, here are 10 questions to ask yourself before ushering in spring.

  1. What stopped growing this winter?
  2. Do I want to see all, some, or none of it grow back?
  3. What do I want to plant next?
  4. How much energy do I have to care for a new blossom?
  5. Which habits helped me through this winter?
  6. Which habits made this season more difficult for me?
  7. Was my home a place I wanted to retreat to?
  8. Who kept me warm during my coldest days?
  9. What will I do to prepare for the next winter?
  10. How has this winter better equipped me to serve?

What would you add to this list?

Little Girl Behind Wheel

Seriously, more snow? Yesterday wasn’t a major accumulation, but it was enough to create lots of traffic. I grew up just outside of New York City so I should be used to traffic. But I’m a closeted country girl. I dream of traveling on uninhabited roads instead of congested highways. But, the country is not where I live. So I spend plenty of time in my car navigating traffic each day.

And I’m not out there alone.

If you’re out there with me, here are seven ways to serve while sitting behind the wheel.

  1. Sing and car dance to your heart’s desire, especially when you’re at a light. It spreads the joy to those watching.
  2. Respect the “fast lane”. If you don’t plan to drive fast (meaning faster than the cars in the other lanes) please move over. This is not a demand. You have a right to be in the fast lane at any reasonable speed. But, respecting this unspoken rule is much appreciated by your fellow drivers.
  3. Show some love. If you see a car with the name of a team or school you support, give them a “thumbs up”.
  4. Be honest about your sense of urgency. Decide if arriving three minutes later would make a difference for you. Sometimes it truly does. Safely rush if you’re in a rush. Yield to another car that needs to enter into traffic if you aren’t.
  5. Grant forgiveness. There have likely been times when you were driving too slow or made an incorrect maneuver. You were probably lost, tired or distracted. It happens. Give your fellow drivers a break.
  6. Never do it. Get serious about never driving while texting, under the influence, or exhausted. And don’t underestimate exhaustion. Similar to texting and being impaired, exhaustion has been proven to put lives at risk.
  7. Smile! People are all around you. Many get a chance to briefly enjoy your smile. Share it freely.

Grandma

In honor my grandmother’s 80th birthday, I’m kicking off a series of posts that share the answers people gave when asked:

“What are some ways to serve you?”

This one features responses from grandparents with adult grandchildren. And oh how we love our grandparents! If you’re blessed to still have grandparents in your life, here are 15 ways they want to be served.

  1. Tell them things they can brag about. You may hate talking about your successes, but they don’t.
  2. Let them show you off to anyone willing to meet you. You’re a living tribute to their lives.
  3. Help them feel significant. Tell them the ways they’ve shaped who you are.
  4. Ignore their advice if it doesn’t work for you. They just can’t help but offer it.
  5. Don’t pick sides. Share your time with both your mother’s and father’s side of the family.
  6. Send pictures of yourself. You’re grown so they no longer receive your annual school pictures, but they wish they did.
  7. Call them often. And never underestimate the power of a surprise phone call.
  8. Don’t worry about them dying. They hate for you to be sad about anything.
  9. Let them teach you. Learn their traditions, skills, and recipes. They want to pass their wisdom on.
  10. Call. (Oh wait, wasn’t that #7? I guess it came up a bunch of times.)
  11. Achieve more than they did. Witnessing it serves their soul.
  12. Call frequently. (Yes, they mentioned wanting more phone calls enough to warrant three slots.)
  13. Make time to visit them for the holidays. It’s a major highlight of the year.
  14. Reach out to them when you’re in need. They’d still rather serve you.
  15. Tell stories about them forever.

Are you a grandparent? Anything we missed?

(The next post in this series will be on how parents can serve teachers. If you’re a teacher and would like to contribute your thoughts please send them to kserving@gmail.com).

Tired cat

Picture yourself in my kitchen two nights ago. My husband and I just got home from work. I came into the kitchen a little later than him. I’d just hung up my coat and was starting to think about dinner. Here’s the exchange that followed.

Him: “Were things really crazy getting the kids out this morning?”

Me: “No, not really? School had a 2 hour delay because of the weather. I had extra time.”

Him: “Oh, because you left the cereal out on the counter.”

Me: “Oh ok. Sorry.” (Meanwhile I’m wondering where he’s going with this conversation.)

Him: “…And then I saw that you put the milk away in the pantry.”

Me: “Wow. I really didn’t sleep well last night.”

Sleep matters. For most of us, it matters a lot. The only thing that makes being sleepy better is getting more sleep. I want to make that clear because this post will not help you with being sleepy. It can ONLY help you with being tired. Being tired is a completely different animal than sleepy. Tired is more about energy and motivation. Sleepy is about a physical need to restore your systems. But it can be hard to distinguish them from each other. The chart below has some examples that might help you tell them apart.

Sleepy

Tired

“I wonder if anyone would notice if I got 15 minutes of sleep here at my desk.” “I don’t really feel like taking a nap, but I do feel like laying in my bed.”
“I keep trying to get online, but the light from the screen is giving me a headache.” “Wow, have I been on this site for two hours? I can’t get anything done today.”
“Where did I put my keys? Not again!” “Since I’ve gotten up and gotten my keys, I should probably head to the grocery store. But man, I really don’t feel like it!”
“God, please give me the strength to feed these kids tonight.” “Why can’t these kids feed themselves yet?”

So are you sleepy or are you tired? If you’re sleepy, stop reading and at least rest your eyes. If you’re tired, read on.

 

  1. Chances are good that you will be getting up tomorrow. Life is short, but more than likely it will be pretty long. It’s probable that you will get up tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. Point being – You are going to have a lot of waking hours to pass time in.
  2. You will be putting in work. If you have any obligations such as family, friends, and/or a job you will be performing work during a large part of your waking hours. Point being – Doing things that need to get done is going to be a required part of your day every day.

Can we agree on these two things? Sounds simple.

Getting up and putting in work will likely happen every day of our lives. We are going to do it regardless of how we feel about it. But what if putting in work partially feed us with energy instead of merely draining it? That’s basically what “inspired action” is. Inspired action is also a type of work but it’s work that feeds us emotionally. That’s different from plain-old “action” which is work we have to do because we’re awake and we have responsibilities. In many small ways, we can shift our thinking toward viewing work as inspired action. Most if not all of that shift has to do with intentionally trying to serve others. This can be done in small ways while doing your daily routine. Inspired action leaves you more connected and energized. Since we’re going to be awake and putting in work anyway, it just feels better to be serving others.

And it makes us A LOT less tired.

 

Don’t believe me? Try it for three days. I don’t mean taking time off from your job to do more community service. I’m talking about serving as part of your normal day. Easy examples are letting someone in front of you in traffic, correcting a small problem for someone on your job, or getting a meal on the table for dinner. Consciously and intentionally think of everything you do as service and then see how you feel.

Are you tired enough to try it?

Onthebeach

Like any mother, the safety of my sons is constantly on my mind. So this week has been scary. I’ve wondered if there is an entire US state where I should not send my sons to college. I’ve wondered if a place that I associate mostly with Mickey Mouse is a place where the law can’t protect their lives. I’m not an expert on these cases. And this post isn’t about that. If I’m being honest, I’ve tried not to follow the cases too closely. They scare me too much. They make me feel small.

I was reminded by a friend on Facebook that individual lives may feel small at times, but they are powerful.

This was his response to one of my status updates.

“Think globally, act locally. If everyone looks after their family and friends, a geometric progression suggests everyone is better off and taken care of.”

Here are six things we can do whenever we’re feeling small.

  1. Be still. Notice that I didn’t say pray. Prayer is speaking to God. Stillness is allowing time to listen.
  2. Cook for someone. Sure you can eat some too, but cook with the idea of serving and nourishing another. Any recipe will do.
  3. Seek out a child. There is something about a child’s energy that neutralizes defeat.
  4. Find art that moves you. My favorite book is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I find it hard to believe that a person could weave together a story so complex and vivid. It reminds me that humans are capable of beautiful things. Sometimes I need the reminder.
  5. Take up someone else’s cause. We all have struggles that are unique to our position in life. Help someone else with theirs. Embody the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  6. Serve in the way that only you can. If you aren’t sure what that is yet, refer to #1 on this list.

What do you do when you’re feeling small?

Stainglass

Oh Saint Valentine – sometimes we love you. Sometimes we hate you. And we know very little about you. There may have even been two Saint Valentines. But one of the saints died on February 14th. Why we celebrate his (or their) legacy of love is the subject of much debate.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a saint.

When I look across my life it is hard to ignore that there are things I regret. I’ve hurt people. I’ve failed to be the person I hoped I was. Thanks to God that hasn’t been my whole story. I’ve also loved deeply. I’ve been fiercely loyal. I’ve encouraged and protected.

People are complex and they are neither good nor bad. We can’t be a “good person” nor a “bad person”. All the things we do are part of who we are. I’m working to make peace with that. I’m working to forgive some of my past faults and focus on my current actions.

“Legacy” appears as just a word, but embedded in that word are a bunch of questions.

  • What will you be known for?
  • How will your life have mattered?
  • Who did you serve?

Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any to work harder at answering those questions. Every day we can get up in the morning and have another shot at building our legacies. I hope you have a great one!

How are you spending your Valentine’s Day?

Love languageEvery now and then I receive a call on my cell phone from someone speaking another language. When I don’t answer the call they leave me a voicemail. But I don’t understand the voicemail. I usually guess at the language they are speaking. Then I wonder how they got my number. Eventually, I start worrying that they might need something urgent. I try to judge how urgent the call is based on the tone of their voice. A few times I’ve called back the number and tried to say “Wrong Number!” in hopes they also speak English. Each time, I’ve not been able to tell if calling back helped them or not.

THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES

For some things in life you get credit for effort alone. But when you speak different languages the recipient may not be able to appreciate your effort. This is the basic gist of The 5 Love Languages written by Gary Chapman. This book completely changed the way I serve the people I love.

You may already be familiar with his work. If not, his main point is that everyone has a primary and secondary love language. These are the ways that they most like to receive love. Those ways are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

Do you have a guess which one is your primary Love Language?

What about your spouse? Your children? Your best friend?

Knowing the love languages of the people you care about will allow you to serve them better. It will give them the opportunity to feel your love more deeply. It will give you a much higher return on your efforts to serve them. Knowing your own love language will also help you tell them how to best love you.

SPEAKING ANOTHER LANGUAGE

Here is how this concept has played out in my marriage:

My primary love language is Physical Touch and my secondary love language is Words of Affirmation. My husband’s primary love language is Acts of Service and his secondary love language is Quality Time. Now we both value ALL five ways of receiving love to some extent, but our primary and secondary styles are the way we hear the love messages most clearly. Since we have two completely different languages we have to make special effort to speak each other’s languages. This does not come naturally. It has to be deliberate and I’ve had to remind myself about it almost daily.

When I feel most loving towards my husband, I want to be with him physically or tell him how much I love him. Because those are my love language preferences and how I instinctually think to show love to him. Instead, I have to make sure I place a high priority on cooking for him and doing our laundry. Those things show him love through his primary Act of Service language. To me, laundry is definitely NOT sexy. For him, it gets him feeling loved and energized. He would instinctually show me love by doing housework. He thought most women desired more help around the house (and many do). And though I appreciate the help, it is much more important to me that he rub my back or tell me I look beautiful. He has to make a special effort to be more touchy and verbal than his natural style so I feel loved.

TAKE THE QUIZ

You can find your love language preferences and have others in your life take the Love Language Quiz by visiting Gary’s website. http://www.5lovelanguages.com/

READ THE BOOK

If you want to read more about how to use the love languages in your relationships, see Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Language: The Secret to Love that Lasts at http://www.amazon.com/The-Love-Languages-Secret-Lasts/dp/0802473156/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392047956&sr=8-1&keywords=the+five+love+languages.

He also has a number of companion books and other books that speak specifically to children and teens.

What’s your love language?

Do you love someone that speaks a different language?