Tag Archives | relating to others

FRIENDSHIP

It’s the growing season for us gardeners. I have little plants making their way in the garden, in my conservatory, and I do my best to nurture them, so they can grow strong and healthy. I water them, feed them, and check on them regularly. If they’re not doing very well, I try to find a way to help them recover themselves. My reward will be some lovely vegetables to eat, and some beautiful flowers filling my garden with scent and colour.

What has this to do with friendship? Well, it’s made me think about how we need to nurture our friendships as well, if we want the benefits of those strong, healthy relationships.

I am very lucky: I have a number of really good friends. They are valuable to me, and have been a saving grace for me over the last year or so particularly. And I don’t take them for granted.

Nurturing friendships means checking in regularly – that phone call to say how are you doing when they cross your mind. It means accepting and taking notice if friends are going through a rough patch, and offering the sympathy that makes them feel heard. It means encouraging the change of perspective that shared laughter can bring. It means celebrating with them when things go well for them.

Real friendships also need honesty about our ups and downs. If I don’t ever admit to bad moods, being upset, or just ‘off’ for no good reason, nor can my friends with me. If I don’t say how I’m over the moon about something daft like finishing a hard jigsaw, they can’t tell me about the perfect loaf of bread they made and how chuffed they are.

And when you know that you can be just however you are that day with a friend, it allows us to relax into the moment, allow bad moods to pass, enjoy the good moods, and look forward to each other’s company no matter what.

My friends are fab – thank you! And I hope I am a good friend most of the time, but there is always more we can do to nurture those relationships. It’s worth it, the rewards are great.

So, who’s crossing your mind as you read this? Give them a call, ask them how they’re doing, bring a little extra sunshine into their life today – they deserve it for being a friend.

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WE DON’T KNOW SOMEONE ELSE’S ANSWER

I was talking with a friend a while ago, and she was describing a camping trip she and her husband had been on. It was obvious how much that had recharged her batteries – joy and energy exuded from her. Now that would be something I would endure rather than delight in, especially if the weather was cold!

It reminded me that we’re all different, and yet we are prone to suggest solutions to others that would work for us. For example, I always think going in the garden to do something is a great positive mood-changer, because it is for me. But for others, it may just be another chore to be done, and have the opposite effect.

I know I often say: ‘What you need is…’, but I hope that most of the time that is followed by either a vague generalisation – ‘a pick-me-up’ or ‘a distraction’ – or if specific, is something that I already know works for that person, rather than for me.

If we really want to help someone to feel better, or solve a problem they have, the most useful thing we can do is to ask them the right questions, to help them to find their own answers.

  • What would help you to feel better/solve this/cope with this?
  • When have you dealt with something like this in the past, and what did you do then?

If they don’t come up with something, we can make suggestions, but we need a repertoire of possible solutions, garnering ideas from all the different ways in which we see people sort things out. And we need to make it clear that we’re not invested in giving them ‘the answer’, only in helping them to find it.

And don’t forget, if someone does try to solve your problems for you, don’t get cross – they’re trying to help. Use their suggestions as a springboard to find your own best answer.

Now, I suggest you go and spend some time in the garden!!!

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JUST ONE SMALL ACT OF KINDNESS

The other day three different people were kind to me. It wasn’t ‘big stuff’ – just small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. I wasn’t having a great day, and it transformed the feel of the day. I felt cared for, appreciated, loved. And it made me think about how powerful kindness is.

We don’t have to become saints to be kind. It comes naturally to human beings, particularly when we switch on our caring button – the part of us that listens to and cares about other human beings. It is an important element of our inter-connectedness, and we gain almost as much from being kind to others as we do from them being kind to us.

Physically the act of kindness produces the same chemicals in both parties – and even in those who just observe an act of kindness – the ‘happy’ hormones. And these create that feeling of worth, gratitude, appreciation, thus enhancing our mood.

Right now, we all need kindness – it has been a tough year for most. So make that small effort: phone someone and say something of your appreciation of them to make them glow; give a stranger a compliment as you pass them on the street; offer to help a friend with a chore; move something heavy for someone who isn’t as strong as you – the possibilities are endless.  

And really show your appreciation for the small, everyday acts of kindness that others offer you. Let them know that it helped to make your day a good day.

And of course, don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well. When we ‘let ourselves off’, give ourselves a break, we make ourselves feel better.

If we all just did one small act of kindness every day, we could transform the world!

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CAN YOU STILL SMILE?

My friend Rebecca and I were talking a short while ago, discussing, as we all do, the effects of the pandemic. We got into the subject of masks and how they affect our interactions.

Not only do glasses steam up when we wear them, and our verbal communication become less clear, but they also significantly affect our non-verbal communication. We all express our emotions most strongly through our body language and our facial expressions – but half our faces are now covered a lot of the time in our interactions.

So we don’t see each other smile or grimace in that unconscious way we used to, giving us feedback about others’ reactions. It requires us to be conscious, if we want to come past that barrier to making friendly contact with others.

If I really want to smile at someone, I have to make sure that I take that smile beyond my mouth and put it into my eyes and into the tone of my voice. And I need to look at others directly, and notice their voice tone, what their eyes are saying.

We have learnt almost to do the opposite: we look away from people so we don’t breathe the same air, and we are already feeling isolated from others because of the mask, so often we will retreat into our own world.

Yet we also all miss that human contact – with loved ones of course, but also all the peripheral relationships we have, with people in shops, on the street, in transport.

So let’s make a real effort to show our friendly smiles and provoke others into smiling too. Light your eyes up, soften your voice tone, smile at people despite the masks.

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APPRECIATING OR JUDGING?

I was listening to a talk by Ram Dass, my teacher, the other day, and he said something that I found really challenging, about appreciating difference. He was proposing that we needed to learn how to simply appreciate the difference between different people who weren’t like us, rather than judging them as better or worse. He compared it to how we are with plants: we appreciate their diverse beauty and distinctiveness rather than judge them.

My initial reaction was to agree with him and castigate myself because I certainly judge other people some of the time.

As I thought about it more, I began to wish that he were here in the flesh, so I could debate it with him! I am good at appreciating our differences to a certain level: different histories, cultures, skin colour, shape, interests talents. I enjoy meeting people who are different from me because it is an opportunity to widen my own horizons.

The sticking point comes when they demonstrate values or behaviours which are at odds with my core values. I cannot accept cruelty, abuse, manipulation, misuse of power, to name a few. These go against values which are fundamental in every religion.

I then went back to the plants! I love my diverse mix of plants, I love woodland, but there are some plants which are definitely thugs! They may look attractive in the first place, but they take over the space, bullying other plants and using up the goodness of the soil. These ones I have to take out.

Now I know Ram Dass well enough to know that he would say that we should look past the behaviour and see that the soul of that person who’s behaving badly is either a ‘young soul’ that we could feel sorry for, that it has this incarnation, or that it has come to each us a lesson by being a nasty person, so we can remember what goodness and kindness is.

He was an amazing being, who could do that a lot of the time. I’m not there yet. I do judge some people for their behaviour and find it unacceptable at a fundamental level. I believe that kindness and consideration for others are crucial in this world and we need to stand up and speak out against those who offend these values.

What do you think?

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HOW CAN I HELP?

I do like to be helpful! When someone is finding life hard, I love to be able to suggest ways of making it easier. But it’s important to remember that we all walk our own path. I might think I know what will help, but I’m not living their life, with their lessons, their approaches, their beliefs. My view is only my view, from my perspective.

So how do we help others? I have had a to of help from friends over the last few months, so it’s obviously possible!

To begin with, we need to be in a good state ourselves. If we are OK in ourselves, we remind others at an unconscious level that there is that space to be OK, that it exists. We’re like the light at the end of the tunnel, saying: ‘You can come through this.’

Also, if we’re OK, we don’t need them to make us feel better by taking on our suggestions, our solutions. We’re not so invested in sorting it out for them, in order to make ourselves feel like a good person.

Then we probably help most by just being there to listen. By allowing someone to talk about their issues without judging or interrupting, whilst paying them proper attention, we give them the space to express it for themselves. This both relieves the pressure of it going round and round in their head, and often helps them to unravel it a bit for themselves. We call this being a witness – someone who is just there with you, supporting without interfering.

Now, as a witness, you have a different perspective from the person who is caught up in their story. You may notice that they have the problem out of proportion, or that a possible resolution is sitting there in their description, or that, if they looked at it from a different angle, it would feel different. Telling them what you notice can be helpful, but remember, they may not be ready to accept what you’re observing, and that’s OK.

Similarly, you may have ideas about what might help from your own experience of similar situations. And it’s good to offer them up as possibilities, but again, you have to accept that they may reject them – your ideas may not resonate with them in their story.

Finally, practical simple help can make a big difference. You may not be able to help with the problem, but you could read through that document they can’t make sense of, or get that thing from the shops for them so they’ve one less thing to think about, or just take them out for a coffee so they are literally in a different space for a little while.

When it comes down to it, being helpful is all about creating some space where someone has the possibility to sort it out for themselves. We can’t do it for them, but we can give them the room to begin to find their own way through.

And thank you to all my friends who have been so helpful to me in a time of turbulence!

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SOCIAL ACTION

I have taken my time to say something about the worldwide protests about inequality that were prompted by the death of George Floyd in the USA, because I wanted to reflect on the bigger picture of what’s happening. This is only my thoughts, of course, and I’d welcome any other ideas you may have that add to my thinking.

This felt like more than just a protest about a particular event, however horrifying that may be.

It seems to me that the lockdown we’ve all experienced has brought with it a greater awareness of some of the other things that are not right about our world. Our governments lie and bluster – they may claim that they’re doing things for the good of all, but it’s blatantly obvious that’s not true. Our way of managing economics means that some have money and some don’t, that businesses won’t survive this setback because of running a debt model, and that those people who will lose out the most are those who can least afford it. And our social policies have left vital areas of our public services unable to fulfil their intention.

I think that the time, for many, to reflect on what their lives are like, combined with daily briefings and covid-related news that serve to highlight some of the wrongs, have brought about a greater awareness of how our world isn’t working for the majority, and how prevalent the building of fear is.

We have massive redundancies and people losing their jobs; we have under-staffed care homes and hospitals; we rely on low-paid, often migrant workers to keep our economy going yet have policies to keep them out; and there are far more deaths from this disease in the ethnic minority communities. On top of that, most people were already under stress, working too long hours, trying to do more than is humanly possible, or struggling to maintain some dignity in poverty – food banks were already over-stretched, before the pandemic made it worse.

The intensification of that feeling of ‘It’s not right’ was given a particular focus by the killing of George Floyd – it gave people a reason to protest against injustice and inequality and they came out in their thousands – and yes, there were some fringe elements that caused problems, looting and fighting, but the majority were peacefully asserting everyone’s right to a decent and respected life.

It is more than a protest about inequality and injustice for black people, although that is undoubtedly a just cause, it is a protest about a world where that inequality and injustice is still a big part of the story, a world where respect and care for other human beings is lacking, where there are many versions of ‘them and us’, where basic support and care are lacking.

And if that is to change, we all need to make our voices heard. We need to move beyond the feeling of ‘it’s not right’ and begin to define what ‘right’ would be. Then we can stand up for what is right, rather than protest against what is wrong.

And please, let’s stand up. It is us that our governments, our policy makers, represent. Most of us are caring and believe in fairness. We need to ensure that those who represent us demonstrate our values in their actions and push them to listen to what we really want in our world.

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THE THINGS WE TAKE FOR GRANTED

It’s strange times we live in. Being asked to stay at home except for essential trips, and to maintain social distancing are great reminders of the normal things we take for granted.

A minor example: my watch stopped working, and I would usually pop into town and get a new battery inserted – but the places that do that are closed. No one is having their hair trimmed or their nails done. There are no yoga classes or gyms –and yes, you can find replacements to do it remotely on-line, but it’s not the same.

And the biggest gap in our normality is all those casual relationships that we don’t even think of – the everyday human contact, with shop assistants, people in the street, the postman or delivery person, the other people at the gym or class. They are only brief exchanges, and we may not even know their name, but they enliven our days and often give us reason to smile.

We are biologically designed to interconnect with others – it is a basic human drive. The upturn in the use of zoom, facetime, skype etc. is an indicator of that. People are making a big effort to keep in touch with those they are close to. But these other relationships are also really important – I’m certainly missing them.

So maybe in future, when we are able to go about our normal daily business, we will take a little more time to appreciate the simple human interactions we take for granted: speak to the bank clerk, the shop assistant, the people who smile on the street, the refuse collectors, the delivery person. They all contribute to our well-being and our need to be connected, to have human contact.

(By the way, since I wrote this, I have had a house fire – and it means I have had to move in with my son and daughter-in-law until the repairs can be done. I now have a greater sympathy with those who are not in their own home with those things we take for granted – so please appreciate your own bed, your own chairs etc. They also contribute to our wellbeing and make our home our own place of peace and refuge – so love being with them during this period!)

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KINDNESS IS THE WAY

We are all of us affected by what’s going on with Covid 19, and it is something which can bring out the worst in us. There is panic buying, flouting of the social distancing guidelines and other forms of selfish or mean behaviour. All of this is driven by fear – an understandable emotion right now.

However, fear, anxiety, stress, are the emotions that will make us more vulnerable to the infection, because they release chemicals into our bodies that suppress the immune system.

Kindness is the way, and there are more and more examples of kindness being reported:

  • People helping each other out
  • Strangers offering to help anyone who needs it in their community
  • Postmen who check that those they deliver to are OK
  • And the amazing response when the National Health Service in the UK asked for 250,00 volunteers, and got 405,00 in less than 24 hours.
  • Then there are those who are videoing concerts for people, or activities to occupy small children at home, or virtual classes for exercise – and the list goes on.

People the world over are showing their appreciation for those on the front line, continuing to maintain services, and the health workers who are caring for those who have caught the infection. And more and more people are coming up with creative ways to help each other out.

This is the best of human behaviour, and it is also a really good way to stay healthy. Kindness releases all the health-giving chemicals into our bodies, and helps us to build our immunity.

And kindness is also highly infectious! We see an example of kindness, or we experience someone being kind to us, and we get prompted to be kinder ourselves.

This time will change our societies. Let’s make sure it’s a change for the better, and spread the infection of kindness, to the point where it’s habitual rather than occasional. We can all do something: a phone call to a friend; a bit of food shopping for a self-isolating neighbour; a big smile and thank you to those who are working to deliver things to keep us going and to care for the vulnerable and sick.

Let’s infect as many as we can with kindness!!

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CLEANING UP YOUR ACT

We so often launch into things without stopping to consider what our intention is. And that’s OK a lot of the time.

Sometimes, though, it is useful to stop for a moment. It is those situations where you are ambivalent that benefit from that moment’s thought – otherwise we may find that we get caught in our ambivalence and end up doing it badly or resentfully.

I know that there are times when I am unclear about why I’m dong something. It may be a task: am I doing this ironing because it’s piled up and I should, or because I want to clear it and I’m in the mood? Once I’ve identified my own contradictory thoughts about it, I can choose which version of my intention to follow – or to leave the task until I’m genuinely ready to approach it in a positive way.

Of course, the same applies to interactions with others. We’ve all had those times where we’ve arranged to meet someone and then, as the time got nearer, wished we hadn’t. If we go into that situation without cleaning up our intention, we will be half-hearted in our connection and both sides will be dissatisfied.

Unclean intentions always result in muddied communication – a little sharpness in the voice tone, a lacklustre response, a misunderstood comment – which in turn can lead easily into disagreement or disappointment.

This doesn’t mean that we have to always approach everything in a positive way – it just means we think about what will work best for us, what outcome we want from the situation, which thread of our possibilities to follow, so it’s not accidental.

Those few moments asking myself what outcome I intend from anything I engage in can make my life easier and more enjoyable – and that’s always my intention!!

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