About Donna Cameron

After many deeply-satisfying years in non-profit management, I’ve been spending my time exploring the good life that Rachel Remen describes as “pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” I blog about the power of kindness, and my book, A YEAR OF LIVING KINDLY, will be published in September 2018. Always looking for ways to convey the power of stories in our lives, I believe that we can change the world through our stories . . . and through kindness. https://ayearoflivingkindly.com/

Mystery and Mastery in a Wuzzle

“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” (Neil Armstrong)

Do you know what a Wuzzle is? A Wuzzle is a word puzzle that reveals a common phrase or saying. The first example to the left represents the phrase “good afternoon.” The one below it is “read between the lines.” No, it’s not rocket science.

Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson from a Wuzzle. I happened to be in a hotel room in Denver, immobilized by an ice-pack nursing an injured arm. Having planned poorly, I had only the comics page of The Rocky Mountain News within my reach. I read Peanuts, Doonesbury, and probably even Mary Worth, and then turned to the Wuzzle. It was an easy one and I got it in seconds. With nothing else to read, I continued to stare at the Wuzzle. Very soon, I saw another possible solution for the puzzle, and shortly after, a third came to mind. I liked that one best of all.

By now, I was intrigued. “Okay, if I see three, why not four?” I asked myself.

Sure enough, a fourth appeared. One problem yielded four equally workable solutions. And perhaps there were still more. By now, I realized I was no longer musing about newspaper puzzles, but about life.

This is the Wuzzle that got me thinking. How many solutions can you find? The four that came to me are at the end of the post.

We may be straying into Zen koan territory here, but how often do we stop searching for an answer once we find it? Where is it written that there is only one solution to a problem? If we stop looking or stop thinking about it, we’ll never know if there is a different solution, perhaps a better and more elegant one. Perhaps there are multiple alternate solutions.

Here’s where it helps to have “shoshin,” or “beginner’s mind.” It’s a concept from Zen Buddhism where we maintain an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. Instead of clinging to our assumptions and fixed notions, we remain open to new possibilities.

What a glorious way to approach life!

In today’s world, we seem to value knowing above all else—sometimes even when what we “know” is a lie. But what if we could value not-knowing?

In Rachel Remen’s wonderful book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, she shares her thoughts about how we are surrounded by mystery—by things that we cannot know and cannot explain. She suggests that often these mysteries are best lived fully, rather than solved. Dr. Remen further notes, “An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering.”

Therein lies the problem: when we assume we have the answer, we stop wondering, we stop exploring. But aren’t there times when wonder is exactly what we need?

I recall a story I heard from a friend. It’s not my story to tell, so I will only share the gist. His life was changed—dramatically—by a cryptic comment made to him when he was a teenager. His interpretation of that comment redirected him from one path to a very different one and served as a beacon for much of his life—it literally changed his life. Many years later, he saw the individual who had made the comment and asked about it—it was something he had wondered about for years. Her answer, however, deflated him. They remembered the life-changing conversation very differently, and with this new understanding, what had meant most to my friend changed. It was as if there was now an asterisk added to this key moment of his life.

In a world where people seem to want certainty—even if it isn’t true—can we learn to appreciate mystery as much as mastery? Can we learn to be comfortable with not-knowing and even see the beauty in ambiguity and uncertainty? I think it’s largely a matter of giving ourselves permission to say, “I don’t know” and to recognize the awesome power of wonder.

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” (Anais Nin)

[Wuzzle solutions: time after time … double-time … time and time again … two-timing. There are probably more. What did you come up with?]

Willy-Nilly Acts of Kindness

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” (Maya Angelou)

As Random Acts of Kindness Day approaches, I confess I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the notion of random acts of kindness. Heaven knows we need all the kindness we can get, so I’m not going to quibble or critique any kind deed. But, let’s remember how much power there is in intentional kindness.

Maybe it’s because I am a consummate planner that that the notion of doing anything random goes against my nature. Random, to me, feels so … random.

Merriam-Webster defines random as without definite aim, direction, rule, or method. That sounds rather hit-or-miss to me. It implies an indifference that discounts the importance of kindness, that shrugs its shoulders and says, “Whatever.”

I think if we are going to change the world and make kindness a priority in our interactions, we need to be intentional. Continue reading

Just Show Up

“We cannot, of course, save the World because we do not have authority over its parts. We can serve the world though. That is everyone’s calling, to lead a life that helps.” (Barry Lopez)

Yesterday, I participated in a Saging International webinar on “Cultivating Compassion.” I signed up for it weeks ago, not noticing that it was scheduled for the day after the inauguration. As it turned out, it was a perfect follow-up to President Biden’s powerful and beautifully inclusive speech, and also to Amanda Gorman’s luminous poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

Both asked us to step up to this moment in history with a commitment to unity and to bringing our best selves to the task. Each, in their own way, acknowledged that it will not be easy and there may be some who do not share the vision. Nonetheless, the time is now. Continue reading

12 Lessons I Learned in 2020

“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: We will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.” (Göran Persson)

Attribution: Donna CameronA year ago, so many of us were making resolutions or setting intentions for a new year, cleverly referring to our effort as our “20-20 Vision.”

And how’d that work out for us?

In my own myopic wisdom, I referred to the epidemic of incivility swirling around us and even predicted that it would become a “pandemic” as the presidential election took center-stage. I should not have used the word pandemic quite so blithely, nor assumed that the universe would ration its epidemics to one-at-a-time.

While I may still muster the enthusiasm to set a few intentions for the coming year, I prefer to use this time to look back (with 20-20 hindsight) on the lessons I learned from this year—lessons that shed light on many things we needed to see, some horrific and some truly enlightening.

The Lessons of 2020

The Culinary Determinant: When you plan your meals in advance and only shop for groceries every two weeks, you eat better and healthier. And cheaper.

The Connubial Covenant: If you’re going to be in isolation with one person, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end, it’s good to 1) have married or partnered wisely, and 2) have a sense of humor.

The Theory of Judicious Balance: Self-control and self-discipline are essential, but so is an occasional dish of mint chocolate chip ice-cream. Either without the other leads to protracted gloom.

The Good Guy Postulate: The people who are heroes will never tell you how great they are. The people who are a blight on the planet will do everything they can to convince you—and themselves—that they are important and worthy. The harder they try, the more unimportant and unworthy they reveal themselves to be.

The I’m-a-Good-Liberal Deception: If you are absolutely certain you are free of any bias or prejudice, you’re undoubtedly wrong. Read a book, listen to a podcast, or engage in conversation that challenges your assumptions. Then, allow what you read or heard to get past your defenses. 

The Omission Revelation: The more quickly we learn how to overlook small annoyances, the happier we will be. The more quickly we learn to moderate our own annoying habits, the happier our partner will be. Do not overthink this one, just do the best you can.

The Comfortable Shoe Cognition: A fuzzy slipper with a supportive sole is all one really needs 93.7 percent of the time. A good athletic shoe will suffice for everything else. High heels can be repurposed as garden ornaments.

The Rob and Laura Inevitability: Any dark day or period of despondency can be lightened by healthy doses of The Dick Van Dyke Show or either Bob Newhart series. This is a scientific fact.

The Flawed Human Disclosure: If you find it hard to admit that you’re wrong, start by admitting that.

The Who’s Winning Delusion: Unless you’re playing cards or a board game, it is unnecessary to keep score. We’re all just doing the best we can—what does it matter who emptied the dishwasher last?

The Elasticity Certainty: As crappy as 2020 has been, there are myriad reasons to enter 2021 with optimism and hope. We are resilient. We can learn to do better. We know how to encourage and support one another. We are here to listen to each other’s stories, and to eat one another’s cooking, and declare it delicious.

The Kindness Constant: Every kindness matters, even the smallest. If you’re in a place where you can’t find kindness, it’s up to you to make it.

“Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand. Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin. Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.” (Neil Gaiman)

Restoring Trust, Restoring Hope….

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

attribution Donna CameronGeorge Shultz is not a man I ever expected to write about with any admiration. Or at all, for that matter.

Having served in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations—as Secretary of Labor, Treasury, and State—it’s safe to say that our political leanings are in opposite directions. Yet, I believe he is a man of honor, and a voice to be listened to as we seek to find light after this year of so much darkness. On more than one occasion in the last couple of years, Shultz has lamented the climate of distrust at home and abroad that the current administration has fostered, noting that it will take years to reverse.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, which happens to be today, December 13, he wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that is worth your attention. It’s a reminder of a time when we may not have agreed with politicians, but we could still believe that their motives were honorable and their commitment to public service genuine.

In “The 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Trust Over My 100 Years,” Shultz recounts moments—some personal, some significantly political—when he saw that trust is the essential element that must be present if we humans are to accomplish great things together. As he put it, “When trust was in the room, whatever room that was—the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room—good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen.”

Perhaps that is one explanation for the world we find ourselves in today. Trust is not in the room.

Years ago, I used to teach seminars on trust, and, like, Shultz, I saw it as the quality that must come first—in a friendship, a marriage, a business, and a community. Once trust is established, you can deal with just about anything. Trust serves as the solid foundation upon which futures are built.

In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey contends that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the number-one leadership competency. Where trust is low, you find hidden agendas, interpersonal conflict, win-lose thinking, and defensive communication—all of which impede progress.

Where trust is high, you find transparency, confidence, win-win thinking, effective communication … and progress. Doesn’t this explain a lot about our country today?

Covey further explains that for trust to be present, a leader must display both character—which he defines as integrity and good intent, and competence—which comprises both capabilities and results. Again, we can readily see how trust has been eroded.

How do we establish trust once it has been lost? That’s the question we are facing today. Fortunately, it’s not rocket science, but it will require effort. As individuals and as a nation, we must consistently model behaviors that generate trust:

  • Speaking the truth
  • Following through on our promises—both the big ones and the little ones
  • Showing respect for others
  • Admitting our mistakes and taking responsibility to fix them
  • Holding ourselves accountable and expecting others to do the same
  • Confronting reality—having the courage to tackle the tough issues head-on
  • Listening to one another with the desire to understand
  • Extending trust to others, while at the same time not being gullible

All of these take awareness and practice. But all are doable if we have the genuine desire to come together as a nation. There’s evidence that many Americans do not share that desire, but if enough of us do—and are willing to do the necessary work—perhaps a year from now we can look back with pride on the changes we made in 2021.

I’ll give George Shultz, on his 100th birthday, the last word:

“The best leaders trust their followers with the truth, and you know what happens as a result? Their followers trust them back. With that bond, they can do big, hard things together, changing the world for the better.”