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Archive for January 10th, 2008

A New Year, a New Attitude?

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Chelle writes about choosing a word as the theme for each new year. Every year for many in a row I’ve considered “Balance” to be my choice. I think for me that balance will be a life-long learning session, and one well worth the learning curve.

I sometimes tend to “bounce off walls,” which is perhaps OK when it’s about passion for a new creative idea or project. It’s clear to me that it’s not so good when I get distracted by something negative.

Recognizing Small Potatoes

I keep thinking about my Gramma Illa, who might be said to have had a hard life, at least during parts of her 82 years. Surely if you looked at the statistics, it would appear so.

She lost her mother and a younger sister when she was 6, which is pretty big all by itself. She and Grandpa moved to the farm as adults when the depression made it clear Grandpa’s job as principal of a school would not last much longer. They farmed with horses at first, at a time when there was no public electricity in their corner of Minnesota, no flush toilets, no central heating, things I absolutely take for granted every day of my own routine life.

But no matter what the list of these and other facts might be (between happy facts, I’m sure), I do not remember hearing her complain about anything. Someone else might focus on the down side. Illa was not that sort of person.

If you wanted to go on about what this or that person said that you disagreed with, she might reflect to you (in her own gentle and loving way) that your complaint/concern might be “small potatoes.” When her kids came home from school with he said/she said kid concerns (which might disappear on their own tomorrow), that was her common reply.

And isn’t that really true? The things we get stirred up about today, we often do not remember next week. And people who try to take us down are no doubt not worthy of our energy. If we go forward and make our own lives right for us, standing tall about our own behaviors, then another person’s petty maneuverings are indeed small potatoes in the garden of life.

Being Right/ Being Heard/ Being Happy

I believe that in great part, happiness is a choice. We all have disappointments and losses but we can choose how to approach those. We can certainly grieve when that is appropriate, but focusing on being right all the time will just make a person tired. And it seems to me most of the time when I spend excess emotional energy on things that are truly small potatoes, it’s because I need to feel that I am right.

But I was thinking about this the other day. Maybe what I really need to feel is that I have been heard? Maybe I need to know that my input has been weighed and factored in to what is going on, if in fact the situation calls for input at all. After all, there often might be more than one correct view in a situation. What is “right” depends on more than just my own opinion.

I am not the Boss of Life

I have been practicing for the three years since my Africa trip, the concept that “I’m not in charge.” This is in no way intended to shirk my responsibility… I tend to be too responsible if anything. But sometimes we spend much energy trying to change things that do not have anything to do with us. Figuring out when we are *not* in charge, leaves us room to spend energy on those things which we truly *can* influence.

I can not change the weather. I might unwisely spend a lot of time focusing on how the weather “should” be, how the city should plow my street (which is one block long and clearly should not be first priority to the city, no matter how much I want it plowed) or how I don’t want flights cancelled or whatever. Actually, the first sign that something is out of balance is the word “should” in the first place. I tend to hold that word suspect.

If I am an employee, I can use the channels of communication to express my input or opinion, but in the end, I am not in charge of the resulting decision. If I get sick, I am not the boss of when my body will get better, though I *am* in charge of doing whatever my system needs to get stronger, if I know what those things are.

Letting Go When Useful

I can not make the winter be 84F, as much as I would like that. I need to give in to nature and the seasons, which others experience differently than I do, anyway. I *can* wear longjohns and warm sweaters and warm socks, wristwarmers, shawls, whatever will help me. I can get out my wonderful hot water bottle and put my feet on it when my toes are cold. I can even turn up the thermostat (this was neither an option when we were cold in Africa, nor for Illa on the farm).

So: being clear about what I have control over versus what is not my job, my responsibility, within my control, is important to my happiness. Getting angry about how businesses do their work is not within my reach to change, but choosing which bank, telephone company, restaurant or clothing store I choose to do business with *is* in my power.

isabelhappy3scarves.jpg

Watching Kids’ Learn these Lessons

And I can remember, like Gramma Illa, that when someone feels like picking on me, their pushes and pulls are truly “small potatoes.” I remember working with kids at a community center years ago. They would get into a fight because “He said my Momma…”

I would ask “Does he know your Momma? No? Do you think he was trying to get to you? Did it work?” Kids do not know that they can just walk away saying “You don’t know what you are talking about, goodbye.”

My mother used to teach first grade. Kids would come to her with “he said/she said” stories. She would ask them “Does he have a problem?” The reply would be “Yes.” The next question was “Aren’t you glad that you don’t have a problem?” Another affirmative. And that would be the end of that. Maybe advice to stay away from someone who has a problem, but generally it was about boundaries. And how good is that?

Learning from a Toddler

I have spent some quality time lately with little Isabel, who is one of the most enthusiastic and positive people I know. She happens to be 3-1/2 years old, with all the enthusiasm for learning that comes with that age.

I take her on dates to the coffee house when I am lucky. She plays with my polymer clay buttons, sorting by size or color. She counts them, she makes me put them in her outstretched cupped hands until she can hold no more. She stacks them until they fall down. She also has an ongoing commentary as she works, often about colors.

The other day when I was helping Rae and her mom put samples out in the new store, they were reviewing old sample items and decided to let go of three scarves they felt were tired. I asked if I could pass them on to my little friend. I was pretty sure she would enjoy playing dress-up with the shiny but soft ruffles.

Here is a photo with Isabel wearing her three new scarves, all at once. I took this photo at the coffee shop about a week ago. Um, I think we can safely say that she liked her gift. Thanks, Rae! (That first photo is of my Gramma Illa as a young woman, I’m guessing somewhere around 1920.)

A Question… You often like questions.

So how do you all keep focused… if not toward the good stuff/happiness, at least away from the tempting complaints and low moods that can come your way? I’m thinking about “small potatoes” this week, myself. I am trying to focus on the stuff that really matters… and remember that if someone is causing me trouble they may have a problem, as my Mom says. I hope I don’t also have a problem of my own. I’ll work on that one hour at a time if need be.