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Category Archives: being better

Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59

I traveled 8000 miles to see Mount Kilimanjaro, and I almost missed it. It’s true that I also came to see lions, elephants and zebra in the wild, and to have an adventure with my relatives, but Kilimanjaro was near the top of my list of reasons for making a daunting journey that took three plane flights, eighteen hours in the air, four vaccinations and sixteen days on malaria meds.

Unfortunately, the 19,341 foot former volcano that rises 15,000 feet up off  the plains of Tanzania tends to be covered in clouds in August, which is something I didn’t know ahead of time. On the drive to our camp, we got to see the very top of the peak poking out above the clouds, impossibly high in the sky. At the very end of our stay, we would get to see much of the base of the mountain glowing in the sunrise. But my one chance for the best, the fullest view, happened when I was busy reading a guidebook to Kenya. I know, it’s ironic. And I should have read that book before I left home.

My amateur photo

Earlier, I’d noticed the clearing skies overhead, and gone for a walk trying to get a better vantage point and figure out exactly where on the haze-covered horizon the mountain would appear in our camp. I couldn’t find Kilimanjaro on my walk, but I did find another tourist who appeared to be Chinese and who was doing what I was. Only he was equipped with a much better camera, and he had a compass.

He spoke a few words of English, and I speak no Chinese, so our exchange was pretty simple. He held his compass out to me, trying to remember the words for the four directions, then gave up. It was annotated in Chinese characters, but had Arabic numbers, and because I’ve worked with compasses it meant something to me. I found 180, and suggested south, he agreed happily and showed me the exact setting where I could expect to see the mountain if it ever appeared. I thanked him, we both pointed to the thick, low clouds and shrugged.

About half an hour later I was sitting on the porch to my tent, engrossed in reading, when he came running by. “Mountain! Now!”

I hope his photo looks like this

I jumped up and followed him. Three tents down he’d left his son waiting, and as I ran to a better vantage point, the two of them hurried off with his camera, exchanging animated exclamations. I realized that he’d probably traveled as far as I had to see this, and it likely meant as much to him as it did to me. Maybe more. Yet, he’d given up a few precious minutes of his viewing time to alert me, a total stranger who would never have known about it if he had not bothered.

Why?

Maybe he recognized a kindred spirit, a lover of mountains and photography, or of compasses and secrets of nature that seldom reveal themselves. Or maybe he is just one heck of a nice guy. I’ll never know. I do hope he got some great pictures.

Thursday, September 21, is the 2017 International Day of Peace. I always write about it on this blog, and I try to wish happiness to someone I’ve met in the past year from far away. This year, times being what they are, I’m starting my greetings a little early.

My photo from the next day

I don’t really know anyone from China. I’ve never been there. I don’t hear great things about it. But now I do know one man from there who bothered to tell me that Kilimanjaro was visible.

So, happy International Day of Peace, random Chinese man in tent 59. I don’t know what either of our governments are up to these days, but you demonstrated how alliances are forged. May your life be filled with many sudden bursts of kindness like the one you shared with me, at the foot of a mountain in Africa.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Like Eating Crab, Still a Sunrise?, Replacing me with … and Smiling my way across Kenya)

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2017 in being better, peace

 

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It’s About What You Believe

kind2I learned to love Kurt Vonnegut decades ago, based on reading only six of his earliest and most famous works. Much later, I tried to read Breakfast of Champions and couldn’t get through it. I never even tried his later novels. He’d changed. I’d changed. Or maybe, I’d just gotten from him the one message that I most needed to hear.

For all that I loved his cynicism and his humor, this one quote was it. The words have stuck with me through decades of living.

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” — God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

That’s right. All that wit and imagination of his, and this was my main take-away. I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that was disrespectful, although I think Mr. Vonnegut wouldn’t have minded a bit.

I’m attempting to summarize what I do believe in and it’s been an interesting exercise. Am I dying soon? Planing to run for public office? No, neither. I just really liked the movie “Wonder Woman” and it got me thinking.

What do I believe in so strongly that I want it to shape my behavior?

At this point, you might be concerned that too much of my personal philosophy comes from science fiction, but I’ll argue back. Stories of a speculative nature throw out a lot of societal constraints found in other frameworks, making it a fine realm in which to develop one’s code of ethics. It is absolutely where I have developed mine.

And I have the fictional Eliot Rosewater to thank for my most central belief. If I can’t be anything else, I want to be kind.

 

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2017 in being better, other authors

 

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A way to wish you joy and peace

sunriseI woke up to this sunrise today,  a reminder that every day brings us a fresh chance to embrace, improve and enjoy this wonderful gift we call life.

It’s been a tough couple of months for me, and for others who want to encourage tolerance and empathy. I’m looking for positive ways to deal with my concerns about the direction in which my country is headed, and I hope that you are too. Lucky for me, my sister, who is full of good ideas, had a suggestion for me.

With her encouragement, I reviewed, edited and sorted through the 159 posts on this blog and put the best of them into a new book called “Face Painting for World Peace.” This short (121 page) volume of essays attempts to be both humorous and thought provoking as it examines what I like to call “intra-species harmony” (aka world peace) from a wide variety of angles.

The eBook is available for FREE on Smashwords, for a short time. Soon it will be published on Amazon as well, and distributed by Barnes & Nobel, Apple and other retailers, at which point I will be required to charge ninety-nine cents. This is not intended to be a money making project; I have pledged to donate half of all proceeds to “Doctors Without Borders”.

Here is the description:

I am passionate about the cause of the world peace. From early 2012 on I have maintained a blog in which I often write about empathy and peace. I have arranged these short essays in book form, to be published for Christmas 2016. A lot has changed in the world over the past four years, but what has not changed is how I continue to cherish time with those I love, and how others do the same throughout the world. This book is my holiday card; my way of wishing hope, joy and peace to every human on earth, with no exceptions.

Please download, please enjoy, and please share with others. Meanwhile, I will try to wake up every day during this coming year, catch a glimpse of that beautiful dawn, and then seek out positive ways to add my voice to the chorus still being sung by those who believe that kindness should guide our politics, our words and our actions. I invite you to sing along, too.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2016 in being better, empathy, peace, writing

 

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Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria!

Thanks to a crude bomb that just exploded in a dumpster in New York, much of the world learned that the United Nations General Assembly is preparing to convene in New York, as it does it does every year at this time. What much of the world does not know is that at the same time the U.N. sponsors an annual International Day of Peace “devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.”

1-multiGiven that I write a blog about world peace, I’m a big fan of this day. This year, I will celebrate it in another country. I’m also a big fan of travel. I believe that war is often (though not always) the result of old grievances and common fears being nurtured and ignited by politicians eager to preserve power and prestige for themselves and wealth for their friends. I recognize that any interaction that results in armed conflict is complicated, and that many people try to do what is best. However, my own reading of history tells me that “bloody few” armed conflicts were ever noble or unavoidable; the only thing they all have in common is that they were bloody.

Those of us not in politics have few ways to steer the human race away from the machinery of war. One of those is travel. As we spend time with others who are currently demonized, or who once were, we learn to question the assumptions about other nations, religions, races, continents, and what ever else you have when you describe “those people” in terms vile enough to make the average citizen believe that they must die. Of course, you can’t just get on a bus or plane and go somewhere. You need to interact.

roadYou need to try to drive up a road that your GPS should never have thought was a road in the first place. You need to try to turn around on a steep, narrow hairpin curve and manage to get your rental car stuck with its nose in the dirt and its ass two feet off the ground while your tires spin. You need to hike down the hill, stand out on a highway, and hope that some decent people will stop and give you a hand.

Odds are they will. If you are lucky, someone like Alberto and Maria will pull over cautiously, looking nervously at their daughter in the back seat. They will see how sweaty and frustrated you are, and ask what is wrong in a language of which you speak only a hundred words quite poorly. You will figure out that they speak no English, but you might manage to convey carro for car and espouso for husband and point up the hill. If you are very lucky Alberto will say “cima?” very clearly, like he cannot believe both the car and husband are up there, and you will recognize his word for “on top of” from your hours with Rosetta Stone and you will nod.

On a good day, Alberto and Maria will take it from there. They will drive their old car up the road that brought you to a standstill, chuckle with sympathy when they see your predicament, and gesture to the two of you to help them lift your car and literally set its rear end down in a better place. While you marvel that it is even possible, it is done. You will try to press some money into their hands, helpless to thank them any other way, and they will not want it, at least not until you insist. Maria will give you a hug and, as she does, you and she will both have tears in your eyes, brought on by the intensity of the exchange you have managed without a single word. They will drive off and you will never see them again.

c_norman_rockwell_do_unto_others_2But later that night, as you read about the ideals of learning to coexist with your fellow humans, you will think of them, and understand how one can travel for world peace.

So, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria. May others always treat you with the same kindness that you showed to us. And happy Peace Day, as well, to your seven billion brothers and sisters, most of whom have needed help at least once or twice and, in turn, have helped a stranger or two along their way.

(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see The Moon Rises on my c3 blog, Our Brand is Crisis on my z2 blog, and That’s Why They Play the Game on my d4 blog.)

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2016 in being better, empathy, peace

 

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Too much!

say and learnI drew this up this in my head the other night when I couldn’t fall asleep. This is my brain on overload.

So you can see that I had this post in mind before I read Danae Wulfe’s brilliant post Too Many Books but she gets full credit for getting me to sit down today and write this. I am bursting out like the weeds on my front lawn. I am filled with ideas to write about. Blogs, short stories, and wonderful new twists for the book I am working on now all pop in and out of my head. Are they all that great? I’m sure they are not, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t found the time to write down half of them. The point is that I have SO MUCH to say I can’t contain myself. It must be the spring air.

Then I walk into a book store, or have a conversation with another writer I respect. (I did both last week and I think that is what set me off.) Suddenly, I realize that I haven’t read anything recent. Or important. Not to mention keeping up with the news which any sensible person should be doing these days. Then there is research for my volunteer position, professional growth in my real life job, studying up on how to grow a garden in the mountains and okay, you get the idea. How can I possibly be this old and still not know so many things?

life lessons14My yoga/qigong brain tells me to take a few breaths, it will all be okay. The problem is that my monkey mind is considering staging a coup because it is starting to suspect that all these meditative arts are the main reason I don’t seem to have enough time to write or learn as much as I want. A rebellious faction tucked deep in the cerebral cortex thinks I need to be quiet and learn more. I seem to have a populist revolt going on over in the right brain that favors running away to an obscure foreign country and just writing my heart out. The parent in my head thinks I really out to finish unpacking the rest of my crap before I do either. And the child in my brain would just like to sit down and color for awhile.

It’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it? There are too many things I want to do. People rely on me. I’m curious about my world. Okay, okay, I recognize that there are worse situations in which to be. Still, what I need is a forty-eight hour day in which to get everything done.

A tiny voice in the back of my brain whispers to me. “You can have a forty-eight hour day, you know, any time you want. Just cram two days together and call it one day. What’s to stop you?”

I have to laugh. Yeah, it’s not really the same but I could do that and maybe I’d feel better; like I just had a long nap and got a whole lot more done that day.

“It’s kind of brilliant,” I say to the tiny voice. “Maybe I should put you in charge for awhile.”

It whispers back to me. “Don’t worry. I already am.”

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2016 in being better, writing

 

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I live here

not in my nameI’ve watched the news in sorrow. News of deaths, of outpourings of sympathy, of despair that other deaths go relatively unmourned as people of all faiths and backgrounds flee in terror. Mostly they are running from those would kill them if they cannot control them. Sometimes, though, they are fleeing the bombs of those trying to stop the terror. Everyone runs from bombs, no matter what their source. And the hate and the fear and mistrust grows all around.

peace parisI write a blog about world peace. It’s an odd topic for a blog, but it grew out of the premise that if we all understood each other better, if we listened, if we could feel another’s pain and joy as our own, world peace would be achievable. I know how idealistic this is. But I believe it.

We have to harden our hearts, steel our minds against empathy in order to commit the sorts of atrocities that have filled the news. We have to lie to ourselves deep within to justify behavior that we know is wrong. It is easy to argue and point fingers and incite others to be afraid and angry with us. It takes so much more strength to soften and allow understanding. It is far more difficult to admit that, at our core, we are sisters and brothers.

parisYet here we are, throwing rocks at each other on this little playground that we call earth. The teachers and other adults appear to have left, and we seem like a bunch of rambunctious children, often dedicating ourselves to finding ways to make each other miserable. It’s time for us to grow up. The playground gets smaller every day. The calls to hate and hurt grow stronger, made more powerful by the technologies we have invented. Our “rocks” and other ways of harming each other have grown exponentially with our cleverness.

Most of us want better. Yes, the few who prefer chaos, or think they have a right to control others lives or end them if they cannot, must be won over to compassion, and they must be isolated and rendered harmless until they are. But as we do that, we must avoid becoming insensitized to the humanity of others, lest we become the very thing that we are trying to stop.

We need to fix this, not make it worse. It’s important. We are talking about our home here. herelive

 

 

 

 

 

 

(For more on this subject see my post “And the Hate Goes On…“)

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2015 in being better, empathy, peace

 

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My Imaginary Prison Time

sceince of mind 1We get by. When those around us have more, we feel cheated. When those around us have less, there is this sense of satisfaction, or gratitude, or relief at our good fortune, that makes us happy. I don’t think most of us consciously want to have more than others, but I do think that we define normal based on what we see.

Everyone in the neighborhood has a hover car but you and maybe one other person. Feeling bad? No one in the neighborhood has a car of any kind but you and this real rich guy up the hill. Feeling good? You get the idea.I recently read a short story that intimated that fairly tale princesses were far less well off than today’s teenagers. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that princesses were happier though, because they were special. Then again maybe not. We are talking about about teenagers here.

At any rate, a while back I hit a difficult time in my career and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I’d made my way into some management positions early on and the perks were pretty nice. I had a corner office and I do like my windows. Nice wood furniture and big plants can make you feel pretty important, especially when yours is little nicer than everyone else’s on the floor.

Things changed. My company was bought out and as my career morphed with new circumstances, I returned to technical work and a single window, cheaper office furniture and a small plant. Still not bad.Things kept changing. I had choices to make and went with consulting as I liked the freedom. But consultants usually get put in cubes. My little cubicle wasn’t bad. I could see out of a window down the hall. But when a new contract put me in the tiniest cube yet in the darkest corner of a windowless room, something in me screamed. This isn’t fair. I work hard. The situation wasn’t helped by the many beautifully furnished window offices sitting empty, being held for “real” employees soon to be hired.

Okay, I thought, time to get a grip. So I started to do what I do best. I began to make things up.

I was being held in a minimum security prison. I’m not sure what crime I committed, but it was something non-violent and even kind of noble. Maybe I refused to give up the name of a source and was being held for contempt. Yeah, that was good. My sentence included being kept in this little dark cube all day, where I was required to contribute by working on some inane thing I could care less about. (Not every piece of this fantasy was total fiction.) But lucky, lucky me. Due to prison overcrowding and my general good behavior, I was released every night to go directly home, where I could see my husband, eat a good home-cooked meal, watch TV shows of my choice and sleep in my own bed. The requirement (enforced by some sort of ankle-bracelet arrangement I was a little vague about) was that I had to return at the same time the next morning and continue to serve my sentence.

Not a bad deal when you think about it. I had creature comforts at the end of every day and all the sky I wanted to see from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and most of the other women here weren’t half as lucky. I started to feel bad for them, and feel pretty good about my own situation at the same time.

The fantasy was helped along by the fact that my real-life contract was for 10 months, after which I knew I would be moving on. I exed off the days on my calendar like any prisoner would, and did my best to savor and appreciate the wonderful privileges I had been granted while I served. When the real-life contracted ended, I said something to my husband about being so excited to finally get out of jail.

“It was that bad?” He looked shocked.

“No, not really.” I squeezed his hand. “They treated me okay and let me come home every night to you and it could have been so much worse.”

“You’re a weird one,” is all he said.

Yeah, well, we all find a way to get by. Some methods leave us feeling happier than others.

(Read more at “My Imaginary Time in Witness Protection“.)

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in being better, empathy

 

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