Accepting Our Differences

Seeing certain videos of how people treat others, particularly people who are different from them, when they don’t know cameras are rolling make me embarrassed for the human race.  I’m talking about ones where a man gets repeatedly harassed just walking through NYC dressed in bright colors and carrying a shopping bag to imply he is gay and doesn’t even talk to anyone, let alone do anything to provoke anyone.  I’ve seen several where people pretend to be a homeless person or someone of the opposite sex or any number of different situations.  The disrespectful, mean, and hateful things people say and do are appalling.  I understand that people have different beliefs, political views, and so on, but that does not give anyone the right to be so mean and hurtful, especially when someone is not doing anything but walking by you.

I’m all for having a respectful discussion about politics or religion or anything else people may disagree on, but that’s where it needs to end.  Making fun of someone because they are gay or have a different skin color or religious belief is not going to make them change or go away.  It just breeds animosity and makes people feel even more like they need to defend themselves or their position.  Telling someone who considers themselves to be an atheist that 9/11 was their fault because they don’t believe in God is not only not a very Christian thing to say but also makes that person question the idea of religion even more.  That person is now thinking that if believing in God is going to prompt you to say such hurtful things, then he doesn’t want to be any part of it.

Unfortunately, the go-to response and mentality for so many people seems to be when someone is different from you somehow, you make fun of them either behind their back or to their face.  I think a lot of that is just a giant chain reaction.  Someone gets picked on because they are different, so they turn around and pick on the next person who is different from them.  And then consciously or subconsciously, that person feels that somehow makes them a better or stronger person.

That’s the real issue in my mind.  Some people don’t know how to make themselves feel good without making others feel bad about themselves.  And too many people don’t feel good about themselves in the first place for a variety of reasons.  It’s too bad we live in a society where cooperation and helping others succeed is not valued as much as making a name for yourself and succeeding personally, which I somewhat address in a previous post called “Competition vs. Cooperation” and then again in “Being Humble.” And it’s too bad we can’t just accept people for who they are, as long as they are not hurting us or anyone else.

Instead of labeling people according to their race, religion, sexual preference, political viewpoints, and so on, I think we should consider just two categories: whether someone has good character traits, values, and morals or whether they don’t. Everything else shouldn’t matter.  And I wish everyone could be more focused on accepting others’ differences and helping others and themselves be the best person they can be, rather than be so quick to put others down.  I know that sounds pretty idealistic and unattainable, but one can only hope.

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There are an awful lot of stereotypes out there, and I’m sure anyone reading this could think of at least five right off the top of their head.  There are plenty that have to do with a person’s race, religion, or sexual preference.  Then there are ones like geeks, nerds, and dorks (or are those one in the same?).  I would be willing to bet that at least half the jokes people tell have something to do with a stereotype because there are so many.  I suppose that would be one good thing about stereotypes…they can make us laugh.  But there are definitely some downsides.

Many people don’t realize that not everyone who fits a particular category has all or even any of the characteristics that are associated with that stereotype.  Or they think just because you have one of the characteristics, that you must be whatever the stereotype is.  An easy example is that not all blondes are ditzy.  Many are quite intelligent. Too often people get boxed in to a particular stereotype and are judged based on the associated characteristics instead of who they really are.  That can be very dangerous, offensive, and disrespectful, depending on the person and the stereotype.

Part of the problem is that people don’t take the time to understand fully about certain issues or groups of people, but they poke fun or make comments based on the stereotypes, which can offend others and make themselves appear ignorant at the same time.  One particular example that is close to home for me is OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I think OCD is very misunderstood, and I hear people say things like, “She went all OCD on me,” meaning the person was being super organized and on top of all the details.  I think too many people believe having OCD just means being a neat freak, a perfectionist, and/or a germaphobe, which has become the understood stereotypical behavior.  Those can be symptoms of OCD, but you can have OCD and have neither of those symptoms.  You could be a hoarder instead and have stuff everywhere that appears to have no sense of organization whatsoever to anyone else, but it makes sense to you.  And you can be neither a hoarder nor a neat freak, or you can be both. You can also be very organized and/or be conscious about germs without having OCD. It is basically an anxiety disorder where phobias lead to compulsions and other behaviors, and the phobias and compulsions and other symptoms can be very different from person to person.  Many people don’t understand the anxiety part of it.

Another stereotype that really bothers me is the notion that any man who likes the color pink, is good at coordinating his clothes, is interested in interior design, or likes to do anything that is considered typically more of a female interest or skill must be gay.  I feel bad for men who feel they can’t admit they like to bake, sew, plant flowers, or that they like pink because they are afraid people will think they are gay. The phrase, “That’s so gay” is so overused and definitely shows ignorance.  The fact that is considered to be something negative is a whole separate topic, which I will not address here.  The flip side to all of this would be girls who enjoy playing sports or engaging in other activities typically considered something boys would do and who don’t show much interest in having tea parties and playing with dolls are called tomboys.  Fortunately, for girls, I don’t believe that’s as much of an issue as boys who like to play with dolls or play dress-up and who are feared to be gay.

People should be allowed to be who they are and do what they like to do without the fear of being given a label or made to feel that they are somehow inferior or doing something wrong.  My hope is that someday people won’t be so quick to put people into categories and give them labels, especially ones that they may not even understand.

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It’s Not About The Laundry…

… or the interrupting, or the lawn that didn’t get mowed, or the fact that you changed the radio or TV station without asking again, etc.  It’s about respect, trust, and boundaries.  In my experience and the experience of several other people I know, it seems like most men don’t understand as well as women do that when women get upset over something, we’re not really upset as much about the specific event as we are about what it represents and how it makes us feel.  So allow me to help the men out a little.

For example, if my husband were to take a load of clothes that I had in the washing machine and put them in the dryer so he could start a load of his laundry without asking me if that was OK first, that would bother me because I know he wouldn’t check to see if there were any clothes that shouldn’t be put in the dryer.  I would be somewhat upset about any stains set in the clothes or clothes that shrunk, but I would also be upset because I would interpret that as a lack of respect not only for my things but for me as well, if I had specifically asked him not to handle the kids’ and my laundry.  If I knew he was doing it to be helpful and that he could do it without ruining any clothes, that would be a different story.  I wouldn’t have asked him to check with me first, and I would appreciate it.

Similarly, if he were to rearrange things that are in an area that is typically my space such as my office, kitchen cupboards, or my closet without asking, that would be invading my space.  Once in a while, I have the urge to straighten out his workbench that is a disaster area he will probably never get to, but that is his space that I don’t want to invade, so I leave it alone.  When he snoops through my computer looking for I don’t know what, that is an invasion of my space and showing lack of trust.  When he constantly interrupts and talks over me, that is showing lack of respect for me and anything I might have to say that he obviously doesn’t value.

When we come up with a plan for the weekend and figure out that Saturday morning is the best time to mow the lawn and he says he will have it done by lunchtime and then spends the morning reading the paper, writing emails, talking to the neighbor for 45 minutes and doesn’t start the lawn until at least lunchtime, I am not so much upset that things didn’t get done exactly at a certain time (which is how it gets interpreted), but I am frustrated that he once again agreed to a plan and then didn’t stick to it because of things he chose to do for himself instead, and now the plans for the rest of the day are thrown off.  It’s one more example of him putting himself first, not following through and keeping his word, and not understanding that his actions do affect everyone else in the family.  It’s a lack of respect thing.

You also have to factor in the repeated pattern of doing anything along these lines. When these things happen over and over and over, I keep addressing them, and he still does them, each time is more frustrating than the last because, in my mind, he should know that what he is about to do is going to irritate me.  And the fact that he shows no interest in making any effort to make any improvements shows lack of respect for my feelings.  So it becomes about the pattern of disrespect, and the actual event becomes trivial.

It’s a big picture thing, and I think many men are not capable of thinking in terms of a bigger picture when it comes to relationships and that they like to focus on the individual events as single, unrelated events.  They tend to focus on the facts surrounding those events, whereas I believe women tend to focus more on the feelings that are being evoked.  My frustration is usually only somewhat related to the actual event and is mostly about how the actions or behavior are making me feel.  No one wants to feel disrespected, unappreciated, not valued, not trusted, and so many other things.  That’s what it is about.

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I recently read a Facebook post that suggested people try going 24 hours without complaining, not even once, and see how their world starts changing.  That is one big, giant ”if only” in my book!  I can’t even begin to tell you how much complaining goes on in my house.  Some of it is done by me, but most of the time I am doing it in a way that ties in with making a suggestion about someone doing something differently in the future so as not to keep repeating a behavior that causes stress, frustration, or hurt feelings.  I am not just complaining for the sake of complaining.  I am trying to work on a solution.

I can’t really say that about the rest of my family though.  It’s one complaint after the next after the next a good part of the time.  I keep telling them that instead of complaining, they should just ask nicely for what they want.  There’s a big difference between, “You’re making me late again!” and, “Could we please leave now so I am not late again?”  “Could you get some more of the granola bars that I like the next time you’re at the store?” sounds much better than, “How come you never buy the granola bars I like anymore!?!”  I would much rather hear, “Could you please do some laundry soon? I am all out of white socks.” than, “I never have any clean socks when I need them!”  (Of course, there’s the matter of how many socks didn’t make it into the hamper before I DID do the laundry, but that’s a whole separate topic.)

There are bigger complaints in my household than the ones I have mentioned.  In response to those, I often find myself saying something along the lines of, “Maybe you can stop being part of the problem and try being part of the solution.”  For example, I might tell other family members that they shouldn’t moan and groan so much about being reminded to do the things that they are responsible for getting done if they are not going to take the self-initiative to get them done or do them when asked the first time or two, rather than saying they’ll do it later and then forgetting multiple times.  I wouldn’t mind the complaints so much if there was willingness to try to make some improvements.

Complaining for the sake of complaining only puts people on the defensive.  My feeling is, if you’re going to complain, then you should first take the time to figure out a solution to the problem that you can offer along with your complaint and, hopefully, not make it sound like a complaint in the process.  Perhaps then the person to whom you are complaining will be more open to hearing what you have to say.  And perhaps you will consider if there is anything you could do differently to help as well (like make more of an effort to get all of your socks in the hamper in the first place).


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Being Valued vs. Being Validated

Something reminded me recently of a first session with a marriage counselor years ago when she was asking me what I wanted.  I started to answer by saying that I wanted to feel valued, appreciated, respected, and so on, but she interrupted to ask me, “You want [your husband] to validate you?”  That’s not what I was trying to say at all, because being valued and being validated are two different things in my mind.  To me, feeling validated means feeling one has good character, good morals, good qualities, good intentions, and is worthy of having as a friend or significant other.  I do not need anyone else to validate me because I already know that I am all of those things. However, having someone else recognize, acknowledge, appreciate, and value some or all of those things about me is different.

There are numerous ways to show someone you value and appreciate them.  There are the obvious gifts, cards, compliments, thanking someone, forms of affection, telling someone what you appreciate about them, doing something special for someone, and things of that nature.  To me, those are the easier ones because most of them can be done pretty easily and every so often, although some people find these things somewhat challenging.

The harder ones involve how you treat someone on a day-to-day basis and fall under the category of respect.  How well you listen to someone, what tone of voice you use when you speak to them, whether you make eye contact when you are talking to someone, whether you are willing to give them 100% of your attention, whether you respect a person’s space and belongings, whether you consult with them before making certain decisions, whether you are willing to make compromises for someone else, and things along those lines are more challenging for many people.  These are the things that let someone know that you value what they have to say, their opinion, their ideas and thoughts, their feelings, and them as a whole person.

If you can do the things on the former list but can’t do the things on the latter list, then the things on the former list can become sort of empty and meaningless and do not make up for the fact that you are not treating that person respectfully on a regular basis.  I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand.  You can’t treat someone disrespectfully a good part of the time and then buy them a nice gift or take them out to dinner and a movie once in a while and think that makes up for everything.  Of course, if you don’t realize how disrespectful you are being in the first place, you may not be trying to make up for anything and just think that’s enough, but for most people it is not.

Who doesn’t want to feel valued and appreciated?  We all have different levels of needing this from others, but we shouldn’t rely on recognition from other people to feel validated.  We should all know our own worth so that we don’t let others make us feel worthless.  Most of us do need to know that there are other people who appreciate some or all of our good qualities though.  We should surround ourselves with those people and let go of the people who don’t.

We shouldn’t expect that others will do all of these things for us though if we are not willing to do them in return.  The more we give, the more we get in return.  So take the time to figure out what will make each of the special people in your life feel like they are special, valued, appreciated, and important to you, and then make an effort to do those things whenever you can.  Perhaps then you will get the same in return, but if not, don’t forget…


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Equal Parenting

My kids sometimes complain about how I am always asking them to do stuff.  Of course, I am their mom, and it is part of my job to make sure they are not forgetting to do things that need to be done.  And of course they are going to not do plenty of things because they are kids who would rather do something fun than their homework or chores or put their belongings where they need to be.  The only way I can seem to motivate them to do certain things a good part of the time is to insist that those things get done first before they do something more fun.  So I am often seen as a nag who only wants to get things done and doesn’t want them to have fun or like to do anything fun myself.

I definitely do like to have fun and am always encouraging them to get things done quickly so that there is more time to do something fun afterwards.  That part gets forgotten though.  Sometimes the fun things do happen first so there is a balance. And at some point they will need to learn to be responsible for themselves without all the reminders from me, so I try to leave some things for them to get done on their own accord, like homework.

Enter my spouse.  I’m beginning to think he took a class way back when called, “How to Opt Out of Parenting 101.”  He has not been nearly as in tune as I am with all of the things that the kids need to get done and by what deadline, not just because he’s the dad and dads typically are less involved with those things, but because he doesn’t choose to be involved.  He doesn’t exactly have the same sense of self-initiative as I do either and doesn’t typically like anyone else telling him how to spend his time. Therefore, he is not one to suggest to anyone else how to spend his or her time.

Sometimes he even does the kids’ chores for them when they haven’t been done rather than making sure the kids to do them because it’s more convenient for him and avoids the kids seeing him in a negative light.  And he would also rather do something fun than do work or supervise the kids getting through their “to do” list. Consequently, the kids view him as the more fun parent.

This has been a source of frustration for many years, because not only is he not being as involved as he could be with encouraging the kids to get their things done, but he is perpetuating the kids’ viewpoints of us that he is the fun parent and I am the nag. Even asking them once in a while to clean up something would show that I am not the only one who cares about how messy our house is and that I am asking them to clean up not because I am a neat freak or that I am trying to make their life miserable but because I am trying to teach them to be responsible for their belongings and that they should chip in and help when they can.

I believe in most households with two parents, the parents typically divide up the responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, etc. with or without the kids chipping in to help with those responsibilities.  Every household is different with regard to which parent handles which tasks.  What I don’t think should be divided is the parenting responsibilities.  And by that I mean parents need to be on the same page with what values and character traits they wish to teach their children, and they both need to work at modeling those behaviors and encouraging them in their children.  One parent shouldn’t do most of the parenting tasks while the other gets to sit back and have most of the fun and consequently be viewed as the fun parent.  That’s really not fair to the other parent and can be very harmful to the relationships that parent has with the child(ren).  Parents also need to support each other rather than undermine each other, because kids will take advantage when they see there is not a united front.

I am not looking to be best friends with my kids or have them view me as the fun or better parent, but it would be nice if my spouse would be more conscious of what he could do to help dispel the myth that Mom is just a nag and doesn’t like to have fun or see anyone else have fun.

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Feeling Full or Feeling Empty

There have definitely been plenty of days where I have felt pretty empty, meaning mentally drained and/or physically exhausted and my outlook on life is pretty poor. When I am feeling empty, it’s easy to get lost in all the negativity around me and feel like nothing will ever improve or I will never catch a break.  It is in these times that it is difficult to find any positives, even though they are there.  There is always something we can be grateful for though, whether it is something small or something big.  A previous post titled “The Little Things and The Big Picture” addresses this.

There are definitely days where I would say I have felt full, meaning full of love, full of joy, full of hope, and full of positive thoughts and energy. The day each of my kids was born is the first thing coming to mind as I write this.  There are other examples popping into my head as well, many of which are special occasions like holidays, vacations, weddings, and so on.  When the kids were younger and needed me more and things were better in many ways, I did have more days where I felt content and emotionally full that had nothing to do with any special occasions.  Over the last decade or so, things have changed and I have had my fair share of challenges, and consequently the number of “feeling full” days significantly decreased during this time.

More recently however, not only have some of those stresses diminished some, but I have been more consciously trying to focus on the positives and being grateful whenever possible.  Plus, things like volunteering at the kids’ schools makes me feel like I am making a difference and has reminded me of my purpose and what makes me happy.  In other words, sometimes I am making myself feel more emotionally full by doing things for others, which in some cases may be helping them feel more emotionally full as well.  And I am trying to fit more things in like yoga class, going to a good concert, or taking some time out of my day to put on some music and just sing along without doing anything else. These things always helps tip the scale closer to a feeling emotionally full day.

If only there were more time in a day to do more things that might help make me feel more full!  I would love to find time to sing in a choir, which has always made me feel so good in so many ways, but I just can’t fit that in right now.  However, I am being more conscious of soaking in the positive feelings from the things I can enjoy.  Even raking the leaves satisfies my senses, and I think about that while I am raking.  I like the smell of the leaves and the crunch of them under my feet.  And there is something about the methodical “whoosh” of the rake pushing the leaves that is soothing to me.  Plus, I am using my muscles, which releases dopamine, the hormone that helps us deal with stress better and feel more calm.

I guess it’s kind of like the glass half empty, glass half full metaphor.  For a while, I had more days that were half empty or less, but now I am having more days that are half full or more, partly because I am choosing to look at things differently.  I still have my half empty days, but they are less often.  I think they key is to find time to do things that will make me feel full but also do things for others that will help them feel full. Imagine if we all went through the day consciously thinking about that!  I am increasingly more hopeful that in my future I will have more days where I am feeling emotionally full.  I’m trying, anyway!  I hope you will, too.

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