Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Handling Wedding Expenses

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The cost of weddings can be daunting in today’s economic climate, where excess can, in some cases, overtake the true meaning of the marriage ceremony. Unfortunately, the hope for a special occasion can become quite a disappointment when budgetary limits are reached or exceeded before you’ve even reached the half way mark in planning. The stark reality, which most people must face, is not without its silver lining however. 

Working within a comfortable budget is essential. By comfortable, I mean a budget that does not require mortgaging the house, going into deep debt or suffering in any way. Do you remember experiencing this kind of ‘comfortable’ for the first time? For some of us, this is a way of life; for others, just thinking about it is challenging. I have written about compassion in these columns many times over the years. Planning your wedding should go near the top of the list for when compassion comes in handy. You need to be very real about this process because the consequences of being too tough on yourself can ruin this special occasion. 

There are usual expenses for formal weddings that create awkward moments when the responsibility of who is paying for what has not been agreed upon from the start. Granted, many couples first marry at a slightly older age than before, although marrying under the age of twenty is not uncommon. Older couples are often better established financially than younger couples, and as a result feel a greater responsibility to at least help pay for the cost of their wedding, especially if it is to be an event. There are no rules for how this should or should not be handled. Common sense and trusting your inner wisdom both help.

Today, every marriage has its own character, and as long as the process is handled gracefully, creativity and flexibility can be unleashed. Traditionally, there is a gathering of the bridesmaids and the bride two nights before the wedding for a fun ‘girls’ party, which can take on almost any shape and form. The same ‘stag’ party is enjoyed by the groom and his groomsmen. These parties are often paid for by the fathers of the bride or groom. The parents of the groom host the rehearsal dinner, generally reserved for close family and out of town special guests. The parents of the bride host the wedding and reception following. As you know, these expenses can become impossible and much smaller weddings are becoming the norm across the board. The guide above can be extrapolated to fit most weddings and many other special occasions.

Once you do decide on your comfortable budget, my advice is to have the best version of whatever kind of celebration you can within that budget. Memories are made from the beautiful moments with friends much more so than the surroundings. We want to remember those moments with smiles on our faces. I have advised many couples, gay and straight, on wedding plans. In gay weddings, frankly the only difference from a traditional wedding is that there are two husbands or two wives. 

There is always one thought that I share with all of them, no matter what. Don’t let the trappings of the celebration outshine, in your mind, the significance of the uniqueness of your union. The union is what is special. The trappings are a bonus. So, be sure not to allow finances to cast dark clouds on something so special. Celebrate celebrating comfortably.

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Bridesmaids can experience overwhelm some years when many of their friends are marrying and want them to stand up for them. Questions arise around the responsibility for the expenses bridesmaids have, and which ones should be paid for by the bride. Similar discussions can arise on the groom’s side as well. Once again, there are no hard and fast rules today because circumstances vary so. Traditionally, however, the bride would pay for her bridesmaids’ dresses and shoes, hair and nails, and accommodation, but not transportation. When possible, this should still be preferred, as the financial burden on a young person would be unreasonable in most cases. Finances can be a very difficult topic to discuss, but discussing it brings great clarity and peace. 

Who doesn’t love being invited to a wedding? When you receive an invitation, be sure to RSVP as soon as possible, certainly within a week or two of receiving it. If you accept the invitation, you should be sure to go to the wedding. And be sure to remember to bring or send a gift you can comfortably afford. Do not be pressured into spending more money than you can reasonably budget for such expenses. A lot of the stress around the whole wedding scene would be greatly reduced if we remind ourselves of The Golden Rule. And, have gratitude because with compassion and kindness comes trust and friendship.

Image result for prince harry and meghan markle wedding

I would like to write a few words in honor of the royal wedding taking place today in Windsor. Thank you to Their Royal Highnesses for setting such a sparkling example of compassion, kindness and love for us all to admire and aspire to. I hope your many happy years together allow you to share your joy throughout the world. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Civil Discourse - Essential to a Civil Society

Communication is one of the most fundamental actions human beings undertake. We are in fact dependent upon such actions for our very survival. Logically, the better we are at communicating with one another, the safer and more civil our society is. 

Communication skills follow the general cultural temperament of the community. If the culture is based in fear, as ours now is, communication can be reduced to an inflexible state where you are either right or wrong, where civil debate is impossible, and where discussions about uncomfortable topics turn into knock down drag out fights.

This dynamic is true at home, in the workplace, and socially. Frustration and anger are often the result of this vitriolic discourse. We all have experienced this; most of us have been guilty of it; and none of us particularly enjoy it. But as with so many challenges we face in the constantly changing world we live in, the abnormal has become normalized, accepted, and even promoted. This is indeed a sorry state of affairs and if something doesn’t happen soon, a revolution of sorts is inevitable. Some will argue such a revolution is already underway.

I strongly urge everyone to become more familiar with the concepts of compassion and self-compassion, for it is by clearly understanding them that there is the greatest chance for the greatest number of people to incorporate civil discourse into their lives. Compassion is the ability to relate to the suffering of others, to feel empathetic towards them, and to allow them to choose their path without judging them. We would hope, following the Golden Rule, that they would do the same for us. Self-compassion is far more challenging to us because we have to look inward and take full responsibility for all of our words and actions – all of them. We are our own worst enemies and taking responsibility for ourselves is so filled with judgment that we tend to spend a lot of valuable time seeking a place outside of ourselves to lay the blame for our suffering.

I was recently struck by an article in the Telegraph Journal about a rainbow sidewalk for Sussex. There was some strong disagreement over this issue, which has caused some controversies in other communities. The sad part about this disagreement was the apparent necessity for participants to reduce the discussion to a religious brawl. I am one person who feels that everyone has a right to their own beliefs and the ability to express those beliefs. Where the rub comes is when all perspectives in the discussion take the position that they are right and everyone else is wrong. I am also one person who learned in the sandbox that not everyone is always right or always wrong in any argument. 
The saddest part of that situation was that those who were most vocal and extreme in expressing their views were supposed to be leaders in the community. Clearly, whatever leadership qualities they may have had took a leave of absence. The collateral damage of mean-spirited arguments cloaked in the guise of Christianity, which they demonstrated was grossly misunderstood, is immeasurable but profound. Thankfully, the majority could not be swayed by the careless argument and the sidewalk was installed post haste the next day.

So, what do we do to make the necessary shift from black and white to grey? First, we must understand that it is simply not possible to have a rational discussion when we are in a heightened emotional state. We can shift from an excited state to a calmer state by breathing and removing all judgment. We usually resist both of these actions however, and therein lies the problem. It’s not easy; it requires courage, compassion and respect for everyone. Most of us are in such a state of fear for a variety of survival-based reasons that we just can’t budge.

I cannot encourage you strongly enough to make communicating civilly your highest priority. Your children will benefit and learn by good example how to go forth in the world and live fulfilling lives, to which we all have a right. Your relationships with your life partner and close friends will benefit because you will no longer have the need to be right all the time. Your co-workers and subordinates will benefit for similar reasons. Most importantly, you will benefit by living a far less stressful life, where exhaling and thriving are the norms, not the exceptions.

May I suggest you try doing what one of my mentors does – collect as many perspectives as possible. By being open to what other people have to say, you might surprise yourself by the amount of common ground you have with others. You may find validation of your perspective. You may find a compromise position that results in a win-win outcome. Keep an open mind; don’t judge yourself or others; and remember to always, always follow The Golden Rule. Had the folks in Sussex tried this, any suffering may have been avoided.  

Monday, May 28, 2018

Please and Thank You Is Only a Start

I could not help but notice the recent headline in this paper stating that New Brunswick is Canada’s most polite province. Diving right into the article, I quickly realized that this grand pronouncement was based on the percentage of businesses that say please and thank you in email communication. As wonderful as the headline sounds, 15 percent of the 250,000 examined emails that include please and thank you is hardly a ringing endorsement for politeness.

Saying please and thank you is what we are supposed to be taught as soon as we learn to speak. The fact that so few of us use these phrases in business communication explains at least in part why the general culture in the North American workplace is not polite but is fear-based.

A work environment must go far beyond simple platitudes to qualify as truly polite. An organization that provides a safe work space for all of its employees, one in which encouragement and appropriate support are a part of the culture, qualifies. An organization where high employee retention is reflective of a high morale qualifies. An organization where employees speak highly of their job and of their boss qualifies. An organization where civil debate and respectful communication occurs qualifies. An organization where an employee has someone to turn to if unnecessary stress, harassment, or abuse rears its ugly head qualifies. And, an organization where every point of human interaction is a positive one qualifies.

If you look at these qualifiers within your own organization or place of work, what answers do you discover? Dismally low ratings are revealed on an almost daily basis, with survey after survey uncovering the ugly truth. Mental Health America and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence have both conducted such surveys in partnership with Canada’s Faas Foundation that indicate that less than 25 percent of employees are fully engaged in their work or speak highly of their boss or the organization for which they work. And the remaining 75 percent are actively looking for other work.

These are facts that cannot be refuted. They are however clear indicators for where we need to look to begin to fix this colossal problem. It’s not much of a stretch to see what a long road we have to travel to have businesses that qualify as being truly polite. Although please and thank you are a start, companies need to understand the interconnectedness between our life at work and our life outside of work. Given that most of us spend more of our waking hours at work than we do at home with our families and friends, I suggest that significantly more attention needs to be focused on our workplace culture.

Most human resource trainings, though regularly offered, seldom have any lasting impact. The reason for this is a lack of desire at the top to welcome any real change. If this desire to maintain the status quo is the experience you are coping with, you have little choice but to change jobs. Given that 75 percent of the workforce is in this situation, it’s a scary jungle out there.

As scary as the landscape may be, it is up to you/us to make choices for ourselves that help steer us to a more fulfilled life. Employers need to refocus their thinking from simply being a place that is offering work to anyone qualified, to a place of excellence, where there is little turnover and a line-up of potential employees seeking work because of the way everyone is treated. That would qualify as polite.

There is an effort afoot within the province to become the innovative province. I have my doubts that leadership found within the government has the ability to accomplish this without a tremendous amount of input from the public at large that they will listen to and implement when appropriate. My doubt comes from the number of fundamental challenges facing the province that have gone unresolved for generations.

If one looks at poverty, education, and access to quality healthcare, the steep hill to climb ahead of us is daunting. These challenges will not go away without significant effort. This requires realigning priorities from community to community. Without changing the water on the beans, you can expect the status quo to continue. The weakest links in our society will continue to be marginalized and not given the assistance needed to achieve a real change. Not until this real change occurs do we deserve to be dubbed as polite.

Please and thank you is a start. What will you do to carry the conversation further?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Moving From Fear to Calm

I had the privilege of teaching my fourth group of recent immigrants who are aspiring entrepreneurs. As part of the Business Immigrant Mentoring Program (BIMP), this group of nine participants were, as usual, had plenty of questions for me to help them to understand the business culture in Canada. Surprisingly, most of the questions that these budding entrepreneurs asked were very similar to questions posed by non-immigrants. The two most prevalent common themes that emerged were the importance of learning to communicate effectively and the need to make connections that can further their businesses. What also came to light was that the fact that fear of making mistakes in achieving their goals around these two themes was the biggest obstacle to success.

This same fear is prevalent in the North American workforce. Two studies by the Faas Foundation in partnership with Mental health America and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence have shown that over 70% of the entire workforce are not fulfilled in their jobs, do not speak highly of their bosses, and are looking for other 
jobs. Sadly, this dynamic produces a culture of fear where bullying and unnecessary stress are the underlying reasons for 120,000 deaths per year due to stress at work in addition to the loss of productivity that translates to a $1.5 trillion loss to the economy annually. These statistics cannot be ignored if there is going to be any hope to bring civility and success into the workplace.

How do we move from a culture of fear to one where the workplace is psychologically safe, healthy and fair? This requires a conscious effort by all concerned to want to see a change. There must be a desire by enough people to embrace the ethic of reciprocity (The Golden Rule) and employ common sense.

The path to creating such a cultural revolution must always begin with us. We are reminded of this ever time we board an airplane. The flight attendant’s command is that when the airbag drops down due to a change in cabin pressure, place the mask on your face first, then assist others. This is how life works in general. We must be sure to have our own ‘house’ in order before we can effectively be of any assistance to anyone else.

Perhaps I am a slow learner; perhaps I am incredibly stubborn; perhaps my resistance to change is where my commitments lie, but up until recently, I have poo-pooed the importance of the breathing. Odd that we need to breathe to stay alive, yet when we can use this automatic function in a purposeful way, we can actually change our ‘world’ from fear to calm. We have all heard the directive, ‘now just calm down’. That is one of those friendly suggestions that so often fall on deaf ears simply because we have no idea how to actually accomplish this! Breathing is one very practical and successful answer. Try this the next time you are feeling stressed. Four nice long even breaths and a feeling of calm will begin to replace the fear and panic. And, we can then begin to process rational thoughts and figure stuff out again.

Once you have regained balance and are centered within yourself, encourage others within your circle to do the same. A calm state of mind allows us to more easily show respect to one another and to listen to what others have to say.

This change of behaviour is proving useful in schools. Schools are introducing time outs in the form of meditation breaks. This translates directly to the workplace as well. Many organizations are providing quiet rooms where people can take some time to regain their composure after a particularly challenging interaction with a co-worker or employer. A calm mind achieves clear thinking. A fearful mind thinks only of surviving the immediate moment. This is no way to live.

I really want to encourage everyone to honestly look at your life and ask yourself if you like what you are doing – both personally and professionally. Then go further and ask yourself why. If you aren’t feeling fulfilled or even safe, you need to be aware of this, and know that you can change this. Some of us may need to change jobs; some of us may need to edit our list of friends; some may realize that a professional counsellor would be helpful.

All of these choices are big changes for us to make. We need to remember to have compassion for those who are making our lives too challenging. We must also have compassion for ourselves. We are all human beings. We need to connect with one another for our very survival. But the people with whom we connect are our choice.