Category Archives: Random Acts of Courage

Listen to Your Soul

 

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So much about our world today is making our souls shudder.

I’m referring to things like unleashed hatred, brazen condemnation of differences, unbridled exploitation, an emerging epidemic of violence, rudeness and disrespect in all forms.

Increasingly, we’re seeing that a cold-hearted mentality is valued—even admired—over a kind and warm heart.

These disturbing elements have been around for eons—though only faintly visible, so they’ve been easily ignored and denied. That convenience has evaporated. We’re forced to own some harsh truths about “us” and the evolving character of our world. Daily examples are displayed on every screen we own. They’re rampant in the entertainment industry, on social media, in the news and in the political arena.

Outrage, revulsion and anguish are natural responses, but we can’t bear to experience such emotions for sustained periods of time. So we have coping mechanisms that make reality seem a little more palatable. Here are a few:

  • Resort to anger and then blame or attack. Anger is a numbing agent. It gives us the illusion of power and control.
  • Discount the truth or seriousness of certain circumstances. We downplay or deny their existence.
  • Rationalize. We humans have a tendency to reflexively justify and side with the status quo . . . even when it’s wrong.
  • Adapt. That is, we get used to or oblivious to disturbing and unpleasant occurrences or conditions.

I have a recent example of adaptation in action:

Not long ago, while making a purchase in a department store, the background music was . . . well . . . let’s just say hard to take. The longer I stood there, the stronger my empathy grew for the employees, including the one waiting on me. “That music has got to get annoying after awhile,” I said. “Not really,” she said flippantly. “I’ve learned how to tune it out.”

We humans are wired with an ability to adapt to almost any annoying situation. It saves us from unending and sometimes unbearable torment. That can work to our advantage, as in the case of the sales clerk. But adapting has a downside. Consider what happens when we ignore the weeds in our garden. Not good.

Closing our eyes to troublesome realities doesn’t serve us very well. Things go wrong. In essence, the weeds get out of control.

We see this happening when we put Band-Aids on problems at home, when we ignore wrongs at work, and when we turn a blind eye to what our soul finds repugnant on the national or world stage.

Robert Bly, acclaimed poet and author, has garnered attention for his thoughts on the collective human condition—how we behave as a society and how that impacts the human psyche.  There are people, he says in Men and the Life of Desire, whose souls shudder when exposed to “the cruel things people can do to each other.” He also points out that “when you learn to shudder, you can’t take part in it any longer.” To illustrate, Bly used the movie Casualties of War. The character played by Michael J. Fox couldn’t bring himself to participate in a gang rape despite the fact that he was harshly ridiculed by the other men for refusing. Such men, according to Bly, are “not men, but bully boys.”

Fox’s character went against the gravitational pull of conformity and listened to his soul instead. I label that courage.

Bly goes on to say that our culture discourages shuddering. Let’s face it, we’re paying a stiff price for that—personally and socially.

In one of my posts from a few years ago, Be Brave and Speak UpI wrote:

Every time we ignore or neglect to speak out against unkind acts, we allow one more piece of debris to contaminate the collective spirit of humankind.

In other words, weeds multiply.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2017

 

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Cool, Calm, Gutsy Courage

stoplight

 

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  Emerson

Imagine being in your car at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. It seems forever . . . and your mind drifts. In other words, you’ve stopped paying attention, but the driver behind you hasn’t. The instant the light changes, he or she lays on the horn.

I’ve been the day-dreamer in that scenario on multiple occasions, and—admittedly—I’ve been the horn-honker, too. But sometimes I’m the passenger . . . a mere innocent bystander. That was the situation a few months ago. My friend Lana and I were engrossed in conversation when the light changed, and guess what? Yep, it happened.

Lana didn’t waste a millisecond—she obeyed. Bearing down on the accelerator, we were in full motion in no time.

“Now, if my grandmother had been driving,” she said, “we would still be waiting back there at the light.” Lana recalled an incident that took place when she was nine or ten.  She was riding in the car with her grandmother. They were at a stoplight and when it changed her grandmother apparently wasn’t responding fast enough for the driver behind them. He communicated this very effectively with his horn. Lana’s grandmother didn’t budge.

“We just sat there,” Lana said.

Lana was mystified, and after a few seconds had elapsed, she finally asked: “Grandma, what are you doing? “Unfazed, her grandmother simply replied, “I’m helping the person behind me learn patience, sweetie.”

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Love’s Magic

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The heart is a weapon of mass construction.

 

A light bulb finally turned on in my head one day. It was the wiser part of me saying: Okay, Salee, if you’re brilliant enough to know something isn’t right, then you should be brilliant enough to do something about it. In other words: Speak up!

I’ve learned to be careful when deciding to cooperate with such nudgings because opportunities start cropping up everywhere.

So yep, a challenge presented itself just a few days later. It took place while I was standing at a counter in a restaurant. I had just placed my order and the cashier told me what I owed. I asked her if I could write a check. “Oh no,” she said in her usual brusque and tactless manner. “You can only pay with a card or cash.”

Over the years, I had watched this woman’s attitude as she dealt with customers and puzzled over how she managed to keep her job.

I just couldn’t remain passive anymore.

Reaching out to something deeper in her, I asked warmly: “Can you say that with a smile?”

Blushing, she said: “I don’t like my smile.”

She was smiling.

“Your smile is beautiful,” I said. “It lights up your whole face . . . and besides, it makes me—the customer—feel good inside.”

The look on her face was priceless as she thanked me.

                                                    I felt hugged!

Increasingly over the years, I see that being forthright—when it comes from the heart— is a gift, even an act of love. Unfortunately, we tend to shy away from such directness because we fear it might seem rude, or it could inflict pain, or it may be a wasted effort.

All I know is I’m grateful for the people in my life who didn’t hold back telling me what I needed to hear.  How lucky for me they didn’t tell themselves: What good will it do? It won’t make any difference. Those bold people made me stretch. I thank them for that.

By the way, that employee I was talking about . . . she hasn’t stopped smiling.

Yes! We CAN make a difference.

 

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Latest Wow: What Love Does

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Love doesn’t involve pain or control … it sets you free. 

   ~Don Armstrong

Not long ago, a former client—who’s in her forties—was telling me of an incident involving her father. He was giving one of his typical straightening-out-her-thinking talks and at some point he began shaming her . . . “just as he did when I was ten,” she said.

That was a definite mistake on his part. Why? Because she doesn’t just sit and wilt anymore. Nooo. She’s earned her black belt in speaking up. So she called him out—objecting to his unwelcomed shaming tactics and firmly declaring that it wasn’t okay thirty years ago and it isn’t okay now.

He excused it away by saying he “does it out of love.”

Her black belt response:

“Dad, being loving is building someone up, not tearing them down.” He had no words.

Wow!

 

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Husband and Doormat

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The problem with walking on eggshells is that it imprisons you, and nothing gets better.

That was my response to Naomi in our counseling session. She habitually succumbs to her hot-tempered husband.

“I’m careful about everything I say because, well, he gets ugly if I tell him what he doesn’t want to hear,” she said.

He routinely undermines her self-worth with hurtful, sarcastic remarks. But instead of objecting, Naomi immediately self-censors how she feels.

There’s a price to muzzling ourselves: a restricted voice—unspoken words held captive in the throat—is a form of confinement. If we can’t talk freely, we aren’t free.

Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist, would agree. In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he equates freedom with the ability to articulate grievances. Our founding fathers understood that basic truth when they wrote the constitution.

“When did you become a slave to his moods?” I asked. “And why is degrading treatment okay with you?”

Naomi lowered her head …. and after some tears and lots of sighs, she opened up about the many years of putting up with his abusiveness.

A pattern, though, took root way before Naomi met her husband—when she was a small child. Her one sibling—a sister—kept the household in constant turmoil with her explosive outbursts. Naomi was frequently the target of her sister’s rage and hostility.

“My parents catered to my sister in order to keep things peaceful,” she said.

And they coached Naomi to do the same. When her sister was offensive toward Naomi, instead of being supportive by prompting her to stand up for herself, they hushed her.

“They would tell me to not make waves,” she said.

In fact, Naomi was reprimanded if she fought back or defended herself. Anger wasn’t allowed, even when it was unquestionably justified.

“I was supposed to be understanding,” she said.

Clearly, Naomi and her sister weren’t held to the same standards of conduct and selflessness.

This sent a distinct message to Naomi: the difficult people—those hard to live with—are to be excused.

In this seedbed of her early formation, Naomi naturally concluded that her feelings should always take a back seat, and that she’s expected to quietly endure harsh treatment.

This early programming set the stage for the dynamics in her current relationship. In effect, Naomi married her sister. And now her parents reside inside her head, instructing her to “not make waves” and to tolerate her raging and demeaning husband while ignoring her emotional wounds. A clear-eyed, critical stance toward her husband’s behavior leaves Naomi feeling guilty, causing her to second-guess whether her feelings and observations are accurate, acceptable or even normal. My work with Naomi has included helping her question her programming instead of herself.

“What did your parents need to do differently?” I asked.

“I should have been allowed to assert myself with my sister,” she responded. “They should have let me fight her, stand my ground and say how angry she made me feel. Instead, everything was suppressed. I was never able to speak up to verbal abuse.”

Since her feelings weren’t validated as a child, Naomi has to learn how to do that for herself as an adult. Trusting her emotions is an important hurdle. She is learning just how important it is to be able to honestly assess how others treat her, and how to do it without feeling guilty. Sometimes, subjecting another person to critical analysis is absolutely called for—and necessary for both parties.

I asked her, “Now, what does your husband need from you?”

She seemed surprised by the question. “He needs . . . he really needs me to be myself. He needs me to be honest with him, or he’ll treat me like this until the end of time and we’ll have no chance of really being together. We’ll be ‘husband and doormat’ until we’re old and gray . . . .”

A few sessions later, Naomi told me how she had successfully stood up to her husband after he made a rude comment. She told him she didn’t deserve being talked to that way. And as one could easily predict, he flared up. She, on the other hand, felt bad about upsetting him.

In so many words I said this to Naomi:

He’s upset because you’ve given up your doormat status. Remember, he married a doormat. He didn’t opt for a partner who stood up for herself. So understandably, he’s not in a jubilant mood upon running headlong into your integrity. He’s going to fight back at first, hoping to return things to how they were. Consider his fury a clear sign that you’re evolving.

She smiled, and I could see the relief on her face. Clearly, a new day is coming for Naomi! 🙂

Hopefully, Naomi’s husband follows suit and does some evolving himself. If not, she probably won’t stick around. That’s because once we perceive things through clear eyes, and once we become our own advocate, it’s impossible to go back to tolerating the status quo.

Something to keep in mind:

Don’t automatically assume when someone’s angry at you that you’ve done something wrong. Maybe, just maybe, you did something right.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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No Limits

 eagle

There are those among us who put things in clear focus even when not intending to.

I cross paths occasionally with a woman confined to a wheelchair. Several years ago, she lost the use of her legs due to a car accident. I chuckle over that word “confined” when I describe her because nothing could be further from the truth. The agility I witness as she opens doors and maneuvers corners and tight spaces puts me in a state of awe. She whizzes from here to there with that wheelchair like it’s an extension of her body . . . not a hindrance. Actually, it’s an extension of her spirit—free and determined.

And … AND, I might add, she does all that with a baby strapped to her chest!

The world sees her as confined. She doesn’t. Therefore, she isn’t.

My client Bob was just waking up to the fact of his wheelchair-less confinement. You can read about it  here.

If we believe we are confined in our life—in any way—we are.

 

What do you think? How do we needlessly limit ourselves?

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2009

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Be Brave and Speak Up

 

sunrise

Ever find yourself in the midst of a group of people engaged in a bashfest? Some unfortunate individual is being maligned or trashed behind their back.

What to do?

Join in to feel a part of things? Or stand there, silently uncomfortable? Either choice makes our soul uneasy. It feels like we’re participating in a betrayal of sorts. And we are. It’s a betrayal of the person being targeted and a betrayal of ourselves at some deeper level.

Not long ago a friend of mine, Tina, found herself in one of those situations. The conversation started out as idle chit-chat, but then regressed to bashing other people. “It didn’t feel good,” she said, “but I didn’t know what to do.”

The model for what to do arrived in the form of a woman who happened upon the scene. The first words out of her mouth were:

“Enough feeding the darkness. What are you doing to feed the lightness?”

The woman didn’t wait for an answer to her question. Without a moment’s hesitation, she took charge of the conversation, redirecting it to a positive topic. “It was amazing,” Tina said. “The energy shifted immediately.”

Simply put, the atmosphere morphed because one person decided to feed the lightness.

I love that story of courage. I call it courage because it’s so very difficult to speak up and risk others’ scorn.

Years ago, I was at a picnic, and sitting near me on a blanket was a happy two-year-old. Characteristic of her age, she was a bit squirmy. Eventually, she stood up, clearly eager to do some exploring. But her mother immediately gave her a spanking while uttering these harsh words: “You sit down, young lady, until you eat all your food!”

The little girl’s cheerfulness quickly evaporated, replaced with tears and a crestfallen spirit. It hurt to watch. Like many of us in such situations, I asked myself: What can I do?  I wanted to say something but was frozen, lacking both words and courage. I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything, and I imagined the woman coming back at me with this response: “How I raise my children is none of your business!”

I left the picnic with a sour taste in my mouth, not because of food, but because the incident left me heartsick. Unable to remove it from my consciousness, I pondered the question: Is it really none of my business?

My conclusion: It is my business. How fellow human beings are treated is the business of everyone. That’s because we’re all members of the same family—the human family. And how we raise our children shapes the world we inhabit together.

Every time we ignore or neglect to speak out against unkind acts, we allow one more piece of debris to contaminate the collective spirit of humankind.

If I could redo the picnic scenario, what would I say to the spanking mother? I would hope to muster the spiritual courage to say: “Oooo, my heart aches for your little girl. How bad she must feel, and probably doesn’t understand what she did wrong. It’s so natural to want to explore at her age.”

I would hope that my response would provoke thoughtful reflection and perhaps make a difference. There’s a chance it wouldn’t, but remaining silent would ensure the latter.

I‘m expanding my blog to include a new category, Random Acts of Courage. I invite you to share with me your experiences with courage—times when you’ve successfully fought the temptation to keep silent in the face of unkindness, or when you’ve witnessed others successfully doing so.

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