Taking the Long View

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” (Albert Camus)

Attribution: Donna CameronIt’s time for a light-hearted blog post, I told myself. I’ve been dreadfully serious lately—blogging about politics, corruption, and evil (which may actually be one-in-the-same). Blogging about injustice, inequality, and incivility. How about some sunny, end-of-summer froth? I need it, and so, probably, do you.

Unfortunately, my blogging muse, Bessie, had other ideas. She kept sending me clips and quotes of politicians loudly demonstrating their incivility and idiocy. Or articles about celebrity excesses that mock my belief that we should choose to live simply so others may simply live.

Finally, I conceded to Bessie that my clever concoction of comedy (and alliteration) could be postponed (but not too long, please!). I waited to see what the old girl would send. Bess delivered through a delicious luncheon conversation with my friend, Kris, and a Washington Post article entitled “Caring About Tomorrow,” by Jamil Zaki, Stanford professor of Psychology and director of the University’s Social Neuroscience Laboratory. Continue reading

Flawed or Flawesome?

“We’re all just walking each other home.” (Ram Dass)

Some people are effortlessly kind. I’m not one of them. I’d like to be able to claim that after studying and writing about kindness for going on five years I am now a paragon of compassion, consideration, and benevolence. Eh, not so much. I still get cranky (though it’s no longer my default setting), I can still make judgments, and I still succumb to obliviousness. I’m remain fully and imperfectly human.

Those rare people for whom kindness comes naturally and instinctively probably don’t think about it a lot. Kindness, for them, is as water to a fish. For the rest of us, kindness ebbs and flow. There are times when it comes effortlessly, and times when mustering kindness is harder than summoning a genie. Instead—often to our own chagrin—we’re snarky, indifferent, oblivious, and worse.

If you’re like me, you can even feel it happening. Continue reading

When Kind Meets Nasty

“Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” (Marcel Proust)

Attribution: Donna CameronHave you ever come into contact with someone who is just . . . nasty? Rude, insensitive, unpleasant, maybe even a bully? I suspect we all have.

The first thing to ask when we encounter such people is whether “offensive” is their default setting, or if maybe they are—like Judith Viorst’s Alexander—having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

If it appears that the latter is the case, the kind response might be to offer some empathy. “It looks like you’re having a tough day. Can I help?” Or even just silently give them the benefit of the doubt—she must be struggling with some challenges right now. I know this isn’t who she really is. Sometimes these acknowledgements—offered without responding in the same tone or attitude of the offender—will give them the opportunity to pause and look at their behavior, and sometimes even alter it or apologize for it.

But if you’ve had similar encounters with this person before and know them to be perpetually unpleasant, angry, and aggressive, giving them a pass is less than satisfying. Sometimes it feels like we’re letting mean win. So, what’s the best strategy for those inevitable encounters with thoroughly odious people? Continue reading

There May Be Hope for the World

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” (L.R. Knost)

Attribution: Donna CameronI don’t have children. When asked why, I usually respond with a line from my favorite David Mamet movie,  State and Main, “I’ve never seen the point of them.”

Yes, that’s a glib answer, but it has the desired effect: widened eyes and no further comment. Sometimes, the inquisitor takes a step or two back from me. I’m okay with that, too.

It’s not that I don’t like children, but I have never felt the need or desire to have any of my own.

All that being said, I am pinning my hopes for the future on the youth of today. We’ve screwed up the world royally. I hope they can fix things before it’s too late.

Some recent examples that give me hope: Continue reading

The Gifts of Winter

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” (Dr. Seuss)

Attribution: Donna CameronWhile much of the country suffered through the bitterest winter ever, we in the Seattle area watched wide-eyed, sympathetic, and thankful for our own temperate winter. By our household’s unscientific analysis—the frequency of having to thaw the water in the birdbath or replace frozen hummingbird water—it was a mild winter, indeed.

But early February brought us both humility and snow—lots of snow. More snow than most of us have ever seen in these parts. For an area as hilly as this, even an inch or two of snow can wreak havoc. And when it’s 18-24 inches, with brief thaws that then refreeze to create sheer ice slides, all but the most essential services come to a standstill. Kids have missed a week or more of school. To compound the problem, the fact that snow is such a rarity means we have limited snow removal equipment and it concentrates on the main roads and arterials, leaving the side streets and remoter areas to fend for themselves. Continue reading