Budding Insight

This past weekend I spent a beautiful afternoon at my brother Steve’s farm. Many of my siblings were camped out there and we enjoyed a potluck dinner, campfire and some fireworks together. Of special note, Steve has about half an acre of lilacs, and they were all in full bloom for the affair; the fragrance was huge and the colourful flowers just took my breath away. 

Here’s the thing, when my brother looks at the lilacs, he sees a weed.  When I asked if I could dig a couple of the shrubs up to move to my house, he said he would rent a backhoe; he hates the lilacs. 

I am always amazed at how people see the same things so differently. I see a lovely field flanked on all sides by beauty and my brother sees yet more farm work, the clearing out of rows of the shrubs that keep on spreading and encroaching on his fields. 

We have different roles in the space – I am relaxing and he is relying on the farmland for growing crops.  There are so many layers to our experiences and our roles, and our opinions based on where we are. Yet this is yet another reminder that we all need to have a little patience, to take a moment for a little reflection on how things might look different and a little perspective on the other person’s vantage point.  I love lilacs, but I do not think that I want an acre of them either.

Basket Case

Three years ago, I bought a dishwasher over the phone.  We were desperate as we had house guests and no dishwasher, so I bought the one on sale, sight unseen. I knew that I was taking a chance but as the appliance was described it sounded pretty much like the one we had, and I believed in the brand name. 

The dishwasher arrived and we found it to be a passable model, with one huge flaw for us.  The silverware compartment was in the door. Now I’m not suggesting that this is a substandard design, but for our household we had always had a basket that could be removed and carried over to the drawer. We had always loaded the dishwasher in a certain way and now we had to innovate and retrain our habits to do that differently. 

Today we had to replace this dishwasher. (Did I mention it may have also been the cheapest, so it has already broken down?) Shopping for the new one, we had one definite wish-list item – the cutlery basket in the bottom drawer, just the way we like it. 

This is the way, isn’t it? We know what we like, what we have always had, what we gravitate toward. These could be called biases, and they are not necessarily good or bad.  What’s key is to acknowledge them, look over them to see another side. 

I am sure countless households prefer the door basket. And I am also sure that recognizing that we are diverse and have different biases is a great first step to get us all closer to the wish list item of making welcome all differences, all gifts and all people.  

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Pit or Pity?

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I went for a hike on my brother’s farm this past weekend. Right next to the rolling hills of his place is a gravel pit that you can take in from the high point of one of his top fields.  My seven-year-old nephew urged me to make my way over to see the gravel pit because, in his words, it was “beautiful”. 

I was intrigued, and wondered what I would behold when I crested the final knoll to see the gravel pit. After all, it was a gravel pit – piles of gravel and sand, deep holes in the ground, a bit of water collecting in low spots, rock piles and an earth mover parked in the centre. What’s beautiful about that? 

I guess if you are a seven-year-old boy, a gravel pit is a tremendous spectacle of machines working and huge piles of the very same stuff that passes time by the hour in backyard sand boxes. He saw something wonderful where I saw something sort of tragic, realizing that the pit was once a rolling field of wildflowers like I was standing now. 

The trek to view the pit reminded me that we all see things differently and what is beautiful to me I cannot just expect will stir the same emotions in others. As an agency we are taking a deep look at our diversity and how to honour our differences, and it all begins with acknowledging that we are different. And that we all have biases based on our different world views, experiences and culture; in acknowledging that, we can take that further step beyond the hurdles to begin to look at things just a little differently, to appreciate what we may not have noticed and to take a different point of view.  Further, it is in the exploring that we learn, challenge ourselves to try to see what others do, better understand that fresh perspective and appreciate what that other person’s journey. 

All this is not to say that I must now see a sprawling gravel pit in the same way as a young boy fascinated by mighty machines; however I do need to realize that there are different ways to look at almost anything.  With fresh eyes I can appreciate the differences and the perspective my nephew has. Through fresh eyes we can start to see the differing journeys that we are all on, the potential blind spots and the glimmers of unique perspective that can keep on adding richness to the experience for all of us. 

Golden Opportunities

Like millions of others, I am getting a little frustrated that the treasure on Oak Island remains a mystery 567 bore holes later, but like a lot of guilty pleasures, I still watch the show. A few weeks ago, after yet another drill that arose from the ground not crusted in gold, one of the brothers declared, “We may not have found the treasure, but we found information.” Of course, in this case, the information was that the treasure was not in that spot and that the show will need to continue for another 12 seasons before it is found. Got me thinking, though, about the timeless wisdom of looking for the lesson, the learning and the information that abounds in challenge, strife and failure.

Recently someone sent me a photo of myself at 17 and for a few moments I just looked at that face, I remember her. She had some clear ideas about how her adult life would turn out, and it bears little resemblance to the current reality. There have been twists and turns that I did not plan for, but overall, I have learned and changed and renewed my strength in challenges and joys.

Just like those bore holes I have tried to find things where they were not hidden and made different decisions on the information and learning that came with each flat on my face teachable moment. What will the next opportunity reveal, what lies ahead, what can I drill for next?

We have this one fabulous life, we make goals, change them, try something else, sometimes miss the gold, but then sometimes we find the boundless treasure of doing something that was exactly right for us at the time. Not sure what to do next, try something. Take it from the Oak Island team , punch another exploratory hole in the ground, and if you miss the mark, you will have the new information – the next right thing was not there, and you need to keep seeking. Or as I am expectantly waiting for each week with the show, you will find the treasure and it will be at the exactly right time for you.

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Lunchtime Laments

I love the joke about the construction workers who have lunch together each day. Comparing what they have, one seems to have a bologna sandwich day after day and complains bitterly. After a while some of the others offer advice, suggesting he ask his wife to pack something different. And his response is? Oh, I pack my own lunches. 

Lots of times I use movie quotes or other sound bites that may only make sense to me, and I often to reflect when people are lamenting with me about their current situation that they may in fact be making their own bologna sandwiches and are not yet ready to make a change.  So I share this little mantra that I have made for myself: “Am I making this bologna sandwich?”  

Bologna is comfortable, it’s what we have always made, it takes a great deal of courage to embark into the unknown, and sometimes there are so many intertwined responsibilities, roles, people and self- image tied to the perfect sandwich.  I so admire people who are able to take a hard look and make a humongous change. A change to find a job better suited, a relationship change, a business partner change, a change in lifestyle to promote better health or even a tiny change – like a different brand of coffee. 

It is important from time to time that we all take stock of what is hard, what it is draining our energy, what is it that we often grumble about – and can we address our own role in it?  Bologna is comfortable, was an important part of our lives, its offering a bit of stability, but if it is now making us bored, miserable, overworked, dissatisfied and complaining, it could be time for a change, even a small one could change the direction the spin and be the start of something delicious. 

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We’d Best Take Note

Spring is a ridiculous miracle every single time, all that ice and snow and freezing cold, and then one day it starts to all feel differently. Last weekend it was so warm that I was in the yard with short sleeves and marvelling at what is already poking through the earth – irises, lilies, all kinds of grasses and, of course, the hardiest plants in my yard, the ones I call weeds.

A weed by definition is a plant that is where I do not want it. Golden rod is a native plant and provides important bee food, but left unchecked would take over my entire yard. Thistles are revered in Scotland, but at my place I have special gloves for pulling them out by the dozen. 

The stuff that makes weeds grow all over the place is their strength, their adaptability to different challenges, their hardiness in all kinds of weather. Countless times I have bought something beautiful from the greenhouse and it did not make it through the first winter. Weeds, however, are all about tenacity, strength, resilience and the ability to just keep blooming no matter how many times they are pulled out or mowed.

So while my habits in the garden will still be to control the spread, let’s take a moment to think about this. The survivors and thrivers in this world take no notice of who is trying to mow them down. Pay no mind to the discouragers, the critics, the negative, the problem finders. What can we learn from a weed is keep on growing, keep on finding a way to expand into your potential, keep on blooming – and make the space you are in that much fuller of life and strength. 

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The Way We Get There

I am amazed by complicated highway systems. I cannot picture their grids and swirls in my head, but I am an expert at following the signs. 

I often must attend meetings near the Toronto International Airport. When leaving to get back home, I just merge onto whatever the sign overhead is telling me will take me to 401 East. The same when I am dropping someone off at the airport, just follow the signs that lead me out of the airport complex and, before I know it, I am on the 401 east and I really have no idea how I got there.  Other people I know can picture the Toronto grid, have a better sense of direction than I, understand how all these 400 series highways intersect and where they all go.  Not me, I follow the signs or the captivating voice of my GPS.  

I think there is comparison to be made here about a lot of things.  Many of us want to see the whole landscape, understand where each move might take us or not, see the entire spectrum of possibilities. Then there are times when, like my airport road excursions, we are just too much in the middle of unknown territory and making the next right move in real time, without looking much beyond where to merge. 

I think there is definitely a time for both ways of travel. A time to leap and trust the signs and a time to print the map out, study all the possibilities and make a plan.  Maybe the magic elixir is to know when it is the right time for which kind of planning.  Long range strategic direction setting or short-range crisis response, and then when to move out of day-to-day reacting into a more planned out long-term course of action.  Then adding a bit of time when you have reached the destination to look back and evaluate if the road you took or the plan you made was the route to remember for next time.   When my dad and I travelled, we sometimes got lost, this was before GPS systems, and he would always say, all roads lead to home.

Happiness Abounds

There is a tremendous line in the television show Afterlife starring Ricky Gervais, his character being told by a wise friend: “Happiness is amazing, its so amazing, it doesn’t matter if its yours or not.”

Now, let’s just sit with this for a moment… when I am upset, or scared, or worried or sad, someone else is happy. That is the way it works, people in their own lanes experiencing their own journeys, sometimes doing better than us, sometimes not.

Happiness could be seen as a mildly overused idea that we are smiling and walking in some kind of field of blooming flowers wearing flowing clothing? Or is it just that feeling deep down that we are where we need to be, that we have done something to be proud of, that things are going to work out or that someone around us is feeling theses things?

Happiness is amazing, we can lean on the contentment, joy and accomplishments of others when we’re running on empty. How stupendous then, that there are billions of people around us, close up and far away, to see being happy in their turns. New jobs, retirements, babies, weddings, new hobbies, new loves, excursions, graduations, even the odd divorce celebration complete with the ceremonial burning of the wedding dress – these things are making people around us happy and it is easily infectious if we celebrate for a moment with them. It doesn’t matter if its yours or not, its just there to be felt, to be celebrated to be noticed. There will be time for each of us to light up our wedding dresses of joy in our turn.

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Tales from the Whitehouse

In a book club I am part of we just read Michelle Obama’s book, The Light We Carry.  Here is the thing, Michelle Obama is a polished, professional, glamourous, strong change-maker who spent eight years in the Whitehouse, wearing designer gowns to receptions, addressing the nation and just being visible and fantastic.  So, it would stand to reason that her book could be about how to choose a designer gown based on the country of origin of the diplomats or graceful exits from a limousine or how to be photogenic at all times of the day or night. 

Instead, though Michelle Obama’s book gave me a glimpse into her thoughts that are so often like all of ours. She questions, she has anxiety, she second guesses her actions and she, like all of us, has to decide each day to face fears and keep on going. She speaks so eloquently about being seen, knowing who you are and staying in that focus to run your own race. 

Michelle offers: “There are people in this world who are more comfortable and feel more powerful when others are made to feel isolated, broken or unwelcome.”  She envisions a world in which people can all be seen for the unique capabilities and that each of us has  our trusted “kitchen table” friends to shore us up when we are battle weary. 

I so often try to tell people I love at my kitchen table to shine bright and let the critics stay in the stands with their sharp comments returned to sender, sometimes I even do that myself.  What I think we can all take away, again and again, is that everyone is working on their own race and, yes, it looks like some have an easier time, designer active wear and all the confidence in the world. 

We just cannot assume, there is so much we don’t know about the fears and criticisms and weight that each person carries.  All we can do is keep going, keep shining our light, do our best and wish the naysayers well while cancelling our subscription to their commentary.  And we keep on going, keep on trying, keep on shining our light.

Photo: Michelle Obama visits the Treasury by U.S. Department of the Treasury is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

With Our Compliments

What was the greatest compliment you’ve ever received? It is my greatest hope that there are several from which to choose; however, I know we all have a few that make us smile just to remember. Two great compliments stand out for me, the first in grade four when the smartest, funniest and most popular kid in my class, Jeff Walker, turned to me and said, “You are very funny.” Truly I think this feedback gave me the confidence to try to be humourous and to regale my family and friends with my high-class humour in all these intervening years.

I received the second super memorable compliment when I worked in a community home near Oshawa; I had two children under three and I felt tired and overwhelmed all the time. A co-worker said to me that she admired how I came in for each shift looking well put together and ready for anything. I think this compliment instilled in me the idea that whatever is going on, I can bring it and get it done. This comment was just what I needed to feel like I was contributing despite my frazzled state.

Compliments can change our trajectory in big and small ways. Here is the thing, they have less impact if sprinkled all over the place in a disingenuous fire hose method to anyone standing close by. People want to be seen, heard and given some space. Speak up when you notice something great big and small, you never know what the whole story of a person’s day is, that one comment about having your hair done with only a hint of baby food in it could be the ticket to a more energetic day and a long-cherished memory.

You just never know, and it literally costs nothing to pass on a little hint of complimentary fuel to the journey of the others around you. Notice what’s great, and even in a messy day of lots going wrong, you will notice more of what’s great starts to happen. And to Jeff Walker, if this gets to you, many have since told me I am not that funny – especially in my affection for puns – but you and I know the truth.