Friday, December 30, 2011

Easing into The New Year

We are all about to welcome in a New Year. Many of us will culminate our holiday celebrations with a big bash filled with champagne and resolutions. To most of us there is nothing new to these traditions. Some of us have chosen to downplay the festivities, even foregoing ringing in the New Year entirely. But fewer of us escape the temptation or challenge of making resolutions for the coming year. We frequently feel resolutions will improve our lives usually through deprivation or perhaps some sort of painful new fitness program. It has been a while since I have stayed up to ring in the New Year, but I have always given in to the temptation to set an unattainable goal for the coming year. I am undecided as to why this temptation befalls us and we so easily submit, but for some reason we get some pleasure from this fantasy world, if only for a short while.

Making resolutions can be a wonderful exercise however. It allows us a few minutes to examine our lives and reevaluate our priorities and raise the bar by which we measure our levels of success and happiness. As complicated as this may all sound, I truly believe that many of these seemingly impossible-to-attain goals are well within our reach. And the desired outcome of greater success or happiness can happen.

One of the main reasons we fail to stick to our newly hatched plan is that it’s the middle of winter. This is a time of rest and rejuvenation, not a time for launching new self-improvement schemes. Saving these plans until the spring will likely result in a much higher success rate, plus it satisfies our innate need to procrastinate. Spring will be here soon enough.

I espouse the idea of easing into the New Year. In so doing, we still have an opportunity to examine our lives as far as our priorities are concerned; we can review those times during the past year where we have made a difference in someone else’s life; we can think back with gratitude to the times when our best friends have been available to us in times of need and in times of joy. As important planning for the future is, there is nothing to replace being fully aware of the life we are presently living. Winter is the season when we have the time for this sort of reflection.

A few dos and don’ts for welcoming in the New Year

1. Make is list of all of as many of your short, medium and long-term goals as you can remember. Keep this list handy and revise it as changes occur.

2. Don’t affix arbitrary time lines to these goals. This only produces unnecessary stress. This does not mean accountability is not at play; it is just on an untethered schedule.

3. Make a list of your 2011 accomplishments. Take plenty of time to make this list as complete as possible.

4. Update your address books and contact lists. Make note of those people who have done you a good turn and of those whom you have helped. This list will never be complete because we will never know all the people we have helped if only with a smile.

5. Decide on an organization you will commit time to as a volunteer. Contact them and make a commitment. If you have never done this before, expect some discomfort, but realize that your effort will bring immediate gratification to you and to those people the organization helps. If you have a history of volunteerism in your life, keep it up!

6. Schedule some ‘me’ time. This might include yoga, meditation, time reading a book, time crafting a quilt or creating a painting. Rejuvenation and restoration happens more easily if we can detach from the outside world and enjoy some time alone.

7. Write down one, two, or more potential resolutions. Put this list away for safe keeping until spring arrives. The idea of keeping a resolution through the winter is unrealistic for most of us, so have some compassion for yourself and put this exercise off for a few months. You may be surprised how much easier this plan will be to implement after spring arrives.

Happy New Year everyone. I am looking forward to an exciting 2012. I hope you have good health and happiness. My continued wish is for greater civility and compassion in our families, our communities, and the world in which we live.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Etiquette of Pet Peeves

Let's face it. We all have pet peeves- something that someone else does that irritates the heck out of you. As I have stated on many occasions, one of my biggest is baseball hats worn inside. I was never a fan of baseball hats to begin with, but worn inside they send me round the bend. A man should always remove his hat when indoors. To not do so is a sign of disrespect. The problem is that some people do not understand how to show respect in many cases. Tipping one's hat as one passes someone on the street, especially a woman, does not occur to most men today. It is such an easy way to make a small connection with someone and to make them feel recognized. A smile accompanying a tip of the hat can make someone's day!

One reader has suggested that her greatest pet peeve is someone licking a knife at the table. I must admit, that one hadn't occurred to me, but I can see why it would revolt a fellow diner. Aside from being potentially dangerous, no one wants to watch this act. If they did, a sword swallower at the circus would do the trick. Licking a knife could put someone off because of the imagined danger. At no time is it appropriate to make someone else feel uncomfortable, whether at the dining table or not.

Another reader has suggested that spitting, tossing cigarette butts, or discarding chewing gum on the sidewalk or street annoys him the most. This is another area where a total disregard for respecting public spaces seems de rigueur these days. In some places there are actual signs admonishing such behavior; and in some places this can carry a fine. It is not much of a step away from littering or leaving one's garbage by the side of the road. As stewards of the communities in which we live or visit, we should think about leaving places as clean or cleaner for the next person as it was for us.

One of my pet driving peeves is the arrogant person who is either in a bad mood or simply in a rush who gleefully cuts in and out of on going traffic just to get a vehicle or two ahead particularly at slow moving, crowded rush hours and completely ignores the concept of alternate merge. They somehow feel entitled to keep sticking themselves in front of other vehicles, as though it was going to get them to their destination any faster. This is a form of bullying. It is dangerous, rude, and shows a lack of respect for fellow drivers. It's right up there with horn honking - that monosyllabic form of communication which was originally designed to alert one to danger, not as a non-verbal chastisement. Or the driver who sticks into a street so far that it makes it almost impossible for on coming traffic to continue up the road. Courtesy while driving makes for safer conditions on highways and streets and keeps people in a more alert frame of mind.

A friend this morning mentioned how men should wear jackets if they are going to wear neckties and shirts, especially in church. We discussed the idea that often the interiors of many buildings and halls heat up when filled with people. Although that is true enough, this is not an excuse to take off jackets unless under the most extreme circumstances. I find that many men today are simply not accustomed to wearing a jacket and this extra layer of clothing is viewed as optional. This is an inaccurate assumption. And should you be part of a funeral, such as a pallbearer, your jacket stays on no matter what!

What is it about pet peeves that push our various buttons? Could it be that these are habits that we were taught as children to be taboo? Could it be that we assume that the people who do these things are doing them to be deliberately disrespectful? And are we truly grossed out by behavior that is disgusting, selfish and done without any awareness of others? It is a combination of these factors. And it's interesting how what is one person's pet peeve is another's normal behavior.

Having pet peeves is a way of seeing faults in others. Perhaps we can feel better about ourselves and hopefully avoid doing things that are truly annoying to someone else. Being human beings, we all have frailties and where we often times fall short is in not accepting this as a truth. Being aware of how we influence those around us can be a big step towards this acceptance. Leading by example, which we do both consciously and unconsciously, allows us to teach our children, students and others what we accept as appropriate behavior. Taken as a whole, this amalgamation of behaviors is a true reflection of the society in which we live. It's never too late to do our part to make our communities as healthy and as vibrant as possible by showing respect, civility, and compassion whenever possible. And, it's always possible.