how to respond to hatred and violence (especially in the wake of terrorism)

i was on a layover in los angeles when i heard about yesterday’s terrorist attacks in france. my husband, knowing my deep and pained response to violence, texted me so that i wouldn’t be caught off guard and rendered a puddle of tears as i raced through the airport. regardless of how the news was delivered, however, it made me feel sick, as i am guessing it did many others.

news of tragedies and terror acts capture our attention in complex ways. they raise our heart rate, activate our brains and endocrine systems, and create a weird soup of repulsion and interest. this heightened physiological response which sits alongside strong emotions and a sense of helplessness in the face of such personal, political, and national wreckage cause us to go into a sort of reactive state. for some of us this involves denial, for others anger/sadness/profound helplessness/fear, and, for others, an obsessive need to watch the news.

last week, while lecturing at a southern liberal arts college, i met with a group of media and journalism students for a conversation over lunch. one of the topics that emerged centered around what images are ethical to broadcast when covering a violent occurrence. the consensus was that the display of images that would compromise the dignity of a victim or sensationalize an abhorant event should not be displayed for public consumption. i agree with this and take it further to say that our every day exposure to simulated violence makes us overly comfortable with blurring the line regarding what is shown after actual traumas.

as someone who has given a bulk of time to determining how i choose to respond to violence and hatred in life and in the media, i offer my own response to how to live in the days following a traumatic event. i recognize that we are all different (we are all soooooooooooo different) and that each of us must discern our own best way of getting by and through. with that in mind, i humbly offer the following.

1 once you know what has happened, what is happening in response, and have educated yourself about the basic framework of the motivation behind the incident, walk away from the screens. while it is important to understand international politics, dynamics, and the tensions that exist, the days following a traumatic incident are not filled with high quality educational data. you can get that later (or now) from sources that are not presented in reaction and sensationalistic response mode. these first few days are filled with high emotion reactivity that will serve to stir you up and leave you over stimulated. this kind of human state does little to promote healthy response or action.

2 when taking in mainstream sources of news, heed mr. roger’s advice and look for the helpers. let their actions inspire you to go out and perform heroic deeds of love and peace making. similarly, when considering the victims, work to honor their lives more than remembering them in their deaths. this places the attention where it should be...on their dignity as fellow humans who were making their way through life in the ways only they could.

3 consider in prayer, intention, or deed those who are suffering losses, those who are required to take strong action, and those who will be deeply impacted by their associations with the perpetrators who would have, in no way, condoned their actions. practicing this kind of loving kindness helps balance out the anger, confusion, and tendency to want to stay stuck on the powerlessness that is understandable in relation to our thoughts and feelings toward the individuals who have perpetuated the terror. 

4 find places of beauty and hopefulness to soothe yourself in. for the world to become filled with more harmony and peaceful co-existence we will all be needed to respond to the pockets of hatred and systems of oppression that exist around us. for this reason, filling our minds with violence and the reactive information available right after an event uses up our energy in less than helpful ways. we can educate ourselves well and find potent ways of helping in the days to come but simply watching the news does not accomplish this. today we can find regulation and get to work on the number 5 suggestion below so that, tomorrow (or a week from now) we will be ready to dig in to the kind of education we really need to respond well and in a balanced way.

5 do something loving and kind. be it small or large, find a way to promote peace and friendship by getting active. write someone a note of encouragement, make a contribution to a ministry or non profit that promotes healthy relationships, bring cookies to the local fire station or emergency room staff or bring donuts to the responders at your local suicide hot line. get out your side walk chalk and write notes of gratitude outside your neighbor’s homes. go buy a large package of socks and fill your thermos with hot chocolate and walk through downtown giving the opportunity for warmth of feet and bellies to those without roofs over their heads. call a retirement center near you to see if you might join a resident without family nearby for dinner. donate to your local food bank. to really push the loving kindness, visit an ethnic market in your neighborhood and consider yourself an ambassador of friendliness. smile at those you encounter, purchase something you’ve never tasted, wish the sales clerk well and pray for/intend blessings for their business. if radicalism is your thing, forgive someone you’ve held a grudge against.

responding with dazed, blank stares, hopeless angry feelings, and fear does little to make the world a better place. intentionally chosen, wisely lived out responses to traumatic events, however, can create a readiness within us to respond in pro-active, community building ways. may we all, in as much as it depends upon us, choose love and peace and friendship and inspire these traits in others as well.


thoughts on guns, violence, and getting through

today there were shootings at two universities in the southern united states. two people were killed and four injured. on a campus in kentucky there was a threat of an active shooter. just last week, nine people were killed and nine injured at umpqua community college in roseburg oregon. within the past month i have consulted with a school community close to my heart about credible threats to it’s teachers, administration, and students that resulted in an fbi investigation and arrest. this is all on the heels of having visited ferguson missouri where i came face to face with the real problem of racial and socio-economic inequality in a way that undid me.

since i have written on topics related to the murder of children, how to handle processing violence, my own grappling with children’s gun play, my own experience with homicide, and the depiction of murder in entertainment (part 1 and part 2), i have been flooded with questions this past week relating to the current climate around guns, violence, and more.

to be honest, i am at a loss for words and, mostly, i just cry a lot. i’m not kidding. often, these days, i am sort of undone by the massive hurt that exists in this world. the fact that this deep hurt ends up leading people to intentionally or unintentionally act with the kind of violence that kills and wounds is almost beyond what i can currently sit with with enough rationality to form words into paragraphs that make sense. complicating matters, every possible discussion around the topics of guns or violence is amplified by people’s (strong) opinions, the fact that we are in the lead up to an election year, and world views and values. whether these world views, values, and opinions have been explored, examined, and intentionally chosen is a whole other issue.

even with my current loss for words, i have a few thoughts i would like to share.

thought 1) there is a particular kind of complexity to the grief of a person whose loved one dies as a result of violence. the person who is killed is somehow inextricably linked with a heinous act which creates a horrible reality for those left behind. it is important to place emphasis on the life that was lived more than on the death that was suffered and to do this over and over and over and over again. the media will repeat the death. we must hold out the life.

thought 2) an effective way of speaking out against the violence in this world is to live from a place of compassion and loving kindness toward every person we meet. we cannot change a system of oppression and violence as individuals acting alone. we can, however, begin to make ripples that can build to waves by acting with grace, love, and respect toward self and others. make no mistake, the kind of compassion i am referring to is not a simple smile and nod to those we pass. while that would, of course, be a good start, i am referring to an intentional way of living where we listen more than we speak and where we relate to others more often as our teachers than as our students. it is easy to think that our opinions are the right ones or that our worldview is the most sensical. what is difficult is to adopt a stance of flexible groundedness where our confidence comes from honest, examined, informed, and humble self awareness that doesn’t need to convince others but, rather, can welcome connection to everyone we meet without threat.

thought 3: the best time for a conversation is rarely when we are hot and bothered. when our emotions are high we tend to be reactive and dis-regulated. fight, flight, or freeze mechanisms in our bodies are triggered at these moments and it would be best for us to take some deep breaths, a run around the block (or city), or to remove ourselves from the situation for a while before we respond. i recently broke a tooth while enjoying some finely pureed and very soft lentil dip. come to find out, i hadn’t picked through the lentils carefully enough and had left a rock that my vita mix couldn’t grind. if i only would have paused a bit longer to examine my colander of dried lentils i could have avoided a lot of pain. when we speak out too quickly and passionately, without picking through all that is behind our personal response or position, we can cause undue and unintentional pain to others and put ourselves in the way of all manner of personal discomfort. giving our selves time to process and think and get clear with our selves and work off some of the heat of our initial reactions will almost always make us more effective and empathic communicators.

thought 4: in situations where violence and murder are involved, there is simply nothing simple. very few people enjoy sitting with complex, unsolvable puzzles. our brains and guts yearn to have things clear and understandable. we want a good guy and a bad guy, some black and some white, a wrap up. the reality is, however, that where death and violence is concerned there is simply complexity and pain and un-answerable questions. the night that my sister in law and three nieces were murdered a well meaning pastor came to our home. in his time of prayer with us he asked God to enable us to forgive the murderer (our brother in law). while we have, in time, worked to make peace with this person who has since died, that day was not the time to instruct us in this way. from outside of the situation, it may have seemed clear but i will tell you, from inside, there was only raw pain. the same is true in most situations. as you hold, from where ever you are, the many involved parties in the Light or in your mind or even in your physical presence, always do so lightly and with empathy, knowing that their reality is complex beyond what can be imagined. this goes for all parties from the victim’s families to the leaders who are entrusted with information we may never know and given the responsibility to set policy as a result.

thought 5: we are humans and, as such, mortal. it is important to invest your “breaths and blinks” (stolen lovingly from my daughter’s lexicon of amazing phrases) with both great care and wild abandon. now is the time to love boldly and well, to risk wisely and widely, to invest your self in things that matter and are lovely and worthwhile and fun. it is time to live a rich and thoughtful and complicated and bold life bound closely to the heartbeat of God within you and to inspire this in those you encounter. in so doing we speak out and act up against the power of violence and spread seeds of health, respect, and love.


refugee crisis', genocide, and the dislike feature

the news is all abuzz today about “disliking.” late last night, as i drove home from visiting someone in neuro icu after spine surgery, i heard the news break on bbc radio. nestled between stories about syrian refugees and rawandan genocide was the news that facebook will be adding a dislike button to it’s site.  intended, according to facebook’s founder, mark zuckerburg, to offer users a way of expressing empathy in response to sad or troublesome posts, the dislike option will be ready to beta test in the not too distant future. i must admit that i squirmed a bit when i realized that i wasn’t really paying attention to what i was hearing until i head the words “dislike” and “facebook.” here i was, in transit from a relatively emotionally intense situation, hearing about atrocities occurring to my fellow humankind and what piqued my interest was facebook? i felt sort of sick.

this morning, as i quickly scanned the tech world responses, i found that most early discussion appeared to be around how this feature might impact the tonal quality of interactions within the facebook community. as the day goes on, however, i am finding myself less aware of the actual dislike button and more aware of the larger issue of social networking as headline news even when the headlines it sits alongside of are tragic and dire. 

in a culture where a 24 hour news cycle keeps us abreast of even minute nuances of current events, how numb have we become to ongoing global difficulties? when we’ve been flooded with information about the refugee crisis for a week is it possible that the facebook story piques our interest for the simple reason that it is new and applies, in very real ways, to something we interact with every day?

it is human to listen with an ear toward that which applies to one’s self. this means that we constantly filter that which we hear and see, categorizing information into groups such as “applies to me” and “doesn’t apply to me,” “things i think are important” and “things i couldn’t care less about.”  in addition, as the information we encounter is increasingly based upon the digital path of breadcrumbs that every click we have made has produced, it is easier than ever to live in a world where we disregard or never encounter information that makes us wrestle with new ideas and realities. never before have we been able to live in a world wherein the only news we engage is news with which our own viewpoints, values, and world views are put forth.

so, today, as we notice headlines, commentaries, and editorials about social networking and new options for disliking as a sign of empathy, may we also seek out and notice the headlines that create in us complexity, deeper thought, discomfort, and, ultimately, growth toward a more lovingly connected world.



i don’t know about you, but i have a few drawers that are less than tidy. one of them is frequently accessed by both me and anyone else who happens to use my kitchen. in it are measuring cups and spatulas, birthday candles and can openers, matches, and a cork screw or two. of late this drawer has been giving me trouble. not only has it become so full that i can’t easily find what i am looking for, but it has also been failing to close properly. frustrated, i recently shoved my hand deeply into the drawer and wiggled everything about, hoping this would lead to an easy closure. it did not. i pushed and redistributed things and, still, it would not shut. 

once the drawer was removed, it was immediately clear why it had not been closing. all manner of things had been jostled out of the drawer and come to live in the tracks that facilitate opening and closing. chopsticks, baggies, a grocery list, and even a dishrag had been tossed off victims of my overstuffing.  in a hurry, i removed the obstacles and replaced the drawer to an even greater gap in its ability to close. knowing my intense impatience and lack of detailed attention for tasks such as these, my husband came to my aid. using his trusted headlamp and light hearted patience he found, and removed, a ridiculous number of items my overly quick excavation had missed. there, among the second dishrag, a book of matches, a kitchen tool i do not know the use for, and several wrapped straws, he found my almost new, fancy, silicone coated tongs.

 these were the exact tongs i had been looking for just a few days before when i, who have spent the last 22 years not eating meat, had decided to serve chicken to dinner guests. figuring chicken couldn’t be all that difficult to prepare, i dove right in, doing no research on what type of pan, heat, or tools to use. it didn’t take long to realize i had the heat far too hot and i had not planned how to flip the large breasts. in digging through my disheveled drawer to find the tongs, i let the chicken cook far too long and resorted to what i could grab to flip it. as a result i seriously ruined the meat and deeply scarred the skillet by using a tool that didn’t fit the cookware. had i simply been prepared for this new-to-me task i could have avoided both results.

this feels like a perfect metaphor for life. 

many communities of which i am a part are currently trying to tackle all sorts of relational, cognitive (thinking), and affective (feeling) tasks. they are trying to sort out policy, of sorts, and also guidelines by which individual and communal relationships can thrive. it seems that a startling number of these tasks center around how people might come to understand, work through, and eventually overcome the ways in which power differentials, history, privilege, economics, and more divide us in order to create communities where all people are loved and cared for in ways that respect and honor them. this is no small task.

we all operate with the tools we have available to us. these tools have been gathered, developed, and amassed over the course of our lives. some, we were given by our families of origin. some of these may have been replaced with different models that are more in keeping with the advances that time has offered or are more suited for our current needs. some tools have been tossed in our drawers or boxes simply because we attained them and figured they were worth keeping. for many of us there are tools in our possession that we aren’t even sure the origin of. they simply have come to be part of our collection. similarly, there are tools we know that we have, somewhere, but we have not kept good track of them or practiced their effective use. finally, there are some things that have simply fallen out of the drawer but that still impact our day to day living.

when we encounter a task of any kind we either deliberately search to find the tool that we need and choose to use it or we react unconsciously, grabbing at the first passable gadget. some times we have the time and energy (and the setting allows) us to do the work of tool selection with care and intention. at other times, however, we are rushed or reactive or clueless so we just grab and go. that was what happened with the chicken. i was a novice, the heat was too hot, and i didn’t gather my tools before they were needed. as a result, i made a mess out of the food and it’s container. because i’d been avoiding the mess in my tool drawer i didn’t have access to what i needed when i needed it. in compensating, i made some grievous errors.

we do this with people all the time. consciously or unconsciously we grab our communication and relational skills and go to cooking up connection. if we feel uncertain or inexperienced with the tools we have we might avoid relational encounters or tend to place ourselves in well curated situations that we feel confident about. this often means planting ourselves deeply in the center of a homogenous community. if we are “creative cooks,” willing to take relational risks with “ingredients, recipes,” and tools that are new to us, we might move among more diversity where a variety of relational and communication tools are helpful. 

just like cooking, the art of relating is complex business unless we want to limit ourselves to a diet of the same meal, prepared in the same manner every single day. it takes training/exposure to information, guts, resilience, and a certain ability to take ones’ self lightly to try a new recipe or technique in the kitchen. it takes the same set of tools/skills to create a relational reality that is balanced and free of myopic, evaluative (“i’m right and they are wrong”), and polarizing separateness.

each of us has a set of tools that we employ in relating to the people we encounter every day. how have we cared for these tools? have we kept them with intention and because they make sense for us to keep or do we keep them because they are familiar and known? has the passage of time, the amassing of wisdom, or the progress of maturation developed a tool that might actually work more effectively for the task at hand? do you even know what is in your relational toolkit drawer and are all tools accounted for? have some fallen out due to lack of use, order, or care?

i believe that every person on the planet, if they are introspective, reflective, and honest, has left at least one encounter in life feeling either invisible or irrelevant. like the heat and tools i exposed my chicken and cookware too, we have all been met with communication and relational tools that do not take us into account. on the flip side, every person on the planet, if they are introspective, reflective, and honest, has likely contributed to some one else feeling the exact same sense of invisibility and or irrelevance. we all relate to eachother out of bias’, experiences, world views, values, and even wishes that have built up over time and been stored for later use. sometimes this use ends up being completely inappropriate or ill advised for the task at hand. 

the internal drawers where we hold our tools are our “selves.” this is the seat from which we act (use harshly scuffed metal tongs) when confronted with situations we are unfamiliar with (meat and a new pan). so often, we act in ways that have mostly to do with our tools and very little to do with the form upon which our tools are working. we grew up in a homogenous context so we feel most comfortable with sameness or we were parented or taught by a strict authoritarian so we perpetuate the tendency to see the world as black or white or we react against this and see only grey. we’ve been surrounded by values that become assimilated as tools or necessities and we haven’t taken the time to consider and evaluate them in years and years. 

there are so many ways in which we act as though the existence of our hammer makes everything we see seem like nails. where our tools pertain to the way in which we interact in relationships, this is a costly assumption.

the moral of my story is this: i have chosen a meatless life style. over the years my set of tried and true, readily available kitchen tools has come to reflect this choice. i have also chosen to have a home wherein others feel welcomed which sometimes means my dietary choices need to flex and i will want to cook meat. knowing how to prepare tofu does not equal knowing how to prepare chicken. without me becoming consciously aware of this, doing some work to prep, and undertaking the task with deliberate care i will likely experience a substandard result, ruining the food and having nothing to serve my guests. if i make this about the meat, and not about my part in misusing heat and tools and more, i have failed.

it is time for me (and for all of us, perhaps) to take stock of my tools and to organize my drawers. it is time for me to think ahead and prepare myself for the specific needs of the recipes i undertake. the tools i have already gathered may not be the best, and are certainly not the only, tools available. my own experience may not be enough to prepare me for a task and my attempts might be impacted by losing track of important tools (empathy, recognition of shared humanity, love, Love), misuse of heat (tending toward too much conflict or none at all), or underprepared (tofu is not chicken).

may i, today, operate with intention and care. treating others as the unique and worthy-of-respect humans that they are. may i keep my tools ready and available and diverse, my “self” internally organized enough to be able to find what i need when i need it. may i discern appropriate temperatures for each interpersonal interaction (more on this in the coming days), and may i, most of all, see people as people and not nails.


when we hurt

when we are hurting it is hard work to make our way to comfort. such. hard. work. 

sometimes, when we hurt, our minds and bodies and hearts slow down. at times, to the point that we feel as though they are no longer capable of recovery. and sometimes they are not. there are just some hurts that are not recoverable from, so to speak. while we may move past them to other states of being, they leave scars. at other times our hurt speeds us up. adrenaline and the urge to defend ourselves against further pain cause us to lash out, hit back, or stew. at still other times our hurt seeks out more of itself because wejustcan’tlookaway. in these moments we “console” ourselves by heaping more hurt onto the pile. this is the state from which “misery loves company” was born. while the sentiment may not be completely accurate it is typically true that humans choose the familiar to the unknown. when we hurt, pain becomes our familiar.

hurt is complex and messy. we establish patterns, early on, of how we will deal with it, often moving through life either craving or avoiding it in one way or another. these patterns, unexamined, rarely serve us well. 

to that end, might i make a suggestion? if you are feeling hurt, take a few deep breaths. look up and around, out past the hurt, for just a moment or two. find something that is absolutely beautiful, simple, soothing, comforting and go to it. resist the voices that tell you that you don’t have time, that your hurt is too big/serious/important to look away from for a few moments, or that there is nothing that could possibly comfort you in this state. go to the thing of beauty, of simplicity, of soothing, or comfort and be with it fully. let it’s power seep into your core. let it relieve you. even for just a moment. these moments of comfort provide a pain holiday of sorts, allowing you to come back to your hurt with a new resilience and perspective. sometimes with resources to address the hurt in more healthy ways.

after a long series of pains and hurts and burdens, i met week old wesley today. for the bit of time i was honored to hold him, i let the peace, beauty, serenity, bold goodness, and newness of life that is wes seep deeply into me. as i returned him to his (amazing) parent’s arms and hopped into my car i was surprised by a deep rumbling in my soul. this was followed by unexpected and uncontrollable tears. i wept. and then i wept some more. finally, at my destination, i wept until my stomach hurt and my eyes were swollen and my hurt was lessened.  like rain after a drought, the tears softened the hard earth of my hurt. tonight none of the heavy situations around me are resolved but i am more ready to face them. 

finding that which is uniquely comforting or soothing to you may be hard work. it is, however, hard work worth doing. let your senses guide you...eat or smell or look at something beautiful. jump on a trampoline, run hard and fast, or take a lingering walk one slow step at a time. take a bath. put your feet in a fountain. get lost in a crowd. hole up in your room or your yard or the library. read something silly or mindless or completely other worldly. let a familiar and safe location “hold” you. wrap yourself in a blanket and pull it tight around you, picturing the gaze of a loving (truly loving...that’s all...loving) God who delights in you. find someone who does delight in you and ask them to gaze at you or hold your hand or toss the frisbee or whatever it is that would help. whatever that is...find it...engage it. let it comfort you until the tears or the yells or the laughter or whatever else needs to come out of you comes out to make space for newness, softness, and the receptivity for grace.

if your hurt or your patterns of response to hurt are such that you simply can’t find a comforting place, path, or action, reach out to someone who can help you find that which will sooth your soul. therapists, counselors, children, wise elders, pastors, your sponsor, possibly even your neighbor are all good sources. if none of those are available to you, email me at doreen@doreendm.com and let’s help you find your place of solace and rest.


what is easy (and what is not)

I recently spent several days in the company of an 11 year old. This capable, brilliant, big hearted human has many gifts. He is remarkably relational, uber responsible, and deeply curious. He can engage just about anyone in an enjoyable conversation and makes nearly everyone he interacts with smile. He has a passion for presidents, is gifted musically, and can explain the dynamics of a group with amazing clarity. Puzzles, however, are a totally different animal. This kiddo, blessed with a million and one gifts, struggles with all things mathematical.

Not thinking, I grabbed a hand held manipulative puzzle game to play with him while we waited for dusk at the drive in movie theater. Starting with the most basic level, he struggled to complete it. I immediately realized my mistake and sweated, trying to help him accomplish the task with his sense of independence and competency intact. This was no easy task. I am attached to this person and could see the absolute cluelessness in his eyes as he tried to figure out how the lizards should leap to get to their lily pads. I could sense how confused and untethered he felt as he faced down a task that was not suited to his strengths. I squirmed. He kept at it, all the while saying “This is easy!” Anyone near by would have thought it should be...an 11 year old playing a puzzle game. He finished that first mission declaring, one final time, that the task had been “so easy” but I knew better. There was nothing easy about what he had just done. Nothing.

Isn’t it interesting how we comfort and challenge ourselves with the words, “This is easy”? We use the phrase to push ourselves along and motivate. We also use it to criticize our slow progress or halting successes. “This is easy dummy! Why can’t you get it done?” In other situations we use the phrase to announce to others how simple things are for us. “Oh, that was easy!” affirms our giftedness, abilities, and smarts. Finally, we employ it to ward off compliments that are difficult to receive or to express a sort of false humility. “Oh that little(huge) thing I pulled off? It was easy.”  In the context of our relationships, we use it to compliment and criticize interchangeably. “You’re so lucky that that is so easy for you.” and “What’s up with that imbecile? Seriously, that should be so easy.” both roll off our tongues. We swap disregard for acknowledgement and judgement for empathy. We assume that which is easy is good and that which is easy for us should be easy for others. We are so often so wrong.

Basically, the phrase itself is rarely accurate. When something is actually simple for us to accomplish, it is uncommon for us to announce it. When an architect designs a building they don’t do so out of ease. Instead, they have developed a set of skills and practiced them, making it relatively easy to accomplish at a basic level. They don’t decry, at the end of the process, the ease with which they completed the task. That is because it is never that simple. It just isn’t. 

The same can be true of all sorts of skills and all variety of people. We say, “This is easy,” however, most commonly when we need comfort, attention, or, bizarrely, motivation to persevere. We are sweating at a task and don’t want anyone to notice so our words say “This is easy” to distract from our struggle. We feel unseen and as though our accomplishments don’t matter so we point them out by decrying the ease with which we accomplished them. Or, we feel incompetent to complete a task and spur ourselves on by telling ourselves that “This should be easy (idiot!). Keep going (stupid!). Even a moron could accomplish this silly little (absolutely impossible!) task.”

This phrase is so counterproductive. When we use it, we are often referring to something that could, in fact, contribute to our own feelings of competence, mastery, or satisfaction. In firing it off we shoot our own selves in the foot. If my dear 11 year old friend could have said, “This is totally and frustratingly hard! I am, however, keeping at it!” at the end, we could have celebrated his persistence and effort. Instead, since it was “so easy” there is nothing for which to collect affirmation or kudos. 

I believe that many of the most important actions required for living a healthy and engaged life are far from easy. I also believe that being honest about the challenges we take on has merit. “Personing up” to the things that are difficult for us has the potential of inviting entirely new levels of inspiration, connection, and support. When I am willing to express to a safe community that I am taking on a difficult (for me) challenge, I invite others to encourage me as well as to take on their own new pursuits. Yes, there is the risk that some might use this information against me, but the greater likelihood is that I will find partners for my journey and develop the internal ability to persist and be resilient. 

Persistence and resilience are twin traits that allow us to take on that which is not easy. When we are persistent we keep at the task, even when it is difficult, believing that there is a pay off for continued effort. Resilience determines our ability to handle difficulties and disappointments without experiencing undue levels of psychological distress (anxiety, depression, mania, etc). These two skills cannot be developed without struggle. They are not purchasable and can’t be “granted.” Without risking that which is not easy we simply don’t learn how to keep going in the face of obstacles. Neither do we magically inherit the ability to make sense of our successes or failures and all the states in between. This skill must be developed. We must “thicken our emotional skin” over time and repeated efforts to master things. We must find that which suits us and that which does not and discern those risks which will contribute to our being healthier humans with optimally complex lives.

Not only do we benefit from attempting the difficult, but there is much to be gained by acknowledging the “uneasy tasks” that those around us undertake. It may feel odd at first to speak into the life of another, but as a difficult task in it’s own rite this process can be a gift to both parties. “I imagine that this process/task might be very difficult. I think it’s amazing that you are undertaking it.” “I bet that this accomplishment was far from easy. Way to go persisting at it.” “I see how hard you are trying. Do you need help along the way?” are all ways of communicating that there is no need for false humility or unnecessary effort to make something look simple. They also acknowledge that the process is often as important as the outcome. 

Every one of us lives with complications and complexities. I’ve written it here before and will do so again. “Be kind to everyone, for their’s is a difficult journey.” Mine. Yours. That person over there’s. All of ours. Our journeys are difficult. The requirements: not easy. Given this, I propose a set of new go-to phrases for use in place of “This is easy.” These statements will encourage persistence, resilience, effort, and authentic connection potential. Jot them down somewhere where you’ll see them and then give them a whirl, knowing that you are telling the truth in the service of a healthier life and encouraging the same in others. 

In place of “This is easy!” how about try:

“This is not easy.”

“I could use some help.”

“I began something that I wasn’t ready for. I need to decide to lay it down or to persist. Which is better for me?”

“I wonder if you began something that you weren’t ready for. What would it cost you to lay it down? What would it cost you to persist? Which seems healthier for you?”

“If persisting at this makes sense, where might I find help.”

“Things that are difficult may be worth working at.”

“This being difficult for me does not make me stupid/incapable/less than/not enough.”

“I have many gifts. This is not one of them. That is o.k.”

“I can handle trying this, even if it is not simple and even if I do not succeed. My value and worth is intact.”

“Ease is not a static measure. What is easy for me is not easy for others. There is value in diversity and beautify in complex communities.”


lament & cleaning old wounds

things i know and don’t know about lament:

what is clear about lament:
1 it is excruciating.
2 it isn’t chosen. i just comes out of you. from your core. your toes. your bones.
3 it feels out of control to be in a state of lament and even more out of control to witness someone else in that space.
4 westerners avoid it. at all costs. always.
5 it is the only way to healing. un-grieved losses/unfelt regrets fester. they infect the soul and body and take their toll on you and all those around you.
6 it cannot be “fixed,” coaxed, or prayed out of a person. it is a natural process. crisis (of all kinds) causes reactions. one of them is grief and regret. pretending that these don’t exist will not make them go away. it will, in fact, make them grow.

what is not clear about lament:
1 it cannot be objectively defined and/or quantified. for some, lament will include sorrow and tears, for others anger and yelling. for some, isolation and, for others, intense desire for enmeshed connection. because of this, it cannot be judged.
2 what may cause strong lamentation for one person may not for another. our personal experiences are just that, personal. there is no way any of us can know, unless we are privy to disclosures, how deeply a loss or regret might impact anyone other than ourselves. what we see on the surface (or show on the surface) is just that, on the surface. there is always a root sustaining a weed above the ground. always.

3 lament is different from disappointment. it isn’t complaining. it is bigger than simply blowing off steam and it is close to wanting to die. when one is in a state of lament they are in the messy process of closet cleaning. everything must be thrown out, surveyed, chosen or disgarded before any semblance of order can be found.

cleaning old wounds:

the act of lament (which i consider honest and authentic expressions of grief or regret) requires a lot of work. intentional and accidental. deliberate and passive. it is often accompanied by seemingly non-sensical desires for both isolation and connection, imbalanced cravings for both the bright lights of the city and the darkness of ones’ bedroom. it is rarely within one’s control and it is often accompanied by a proliferation of bodily fluids. especially sweat and snot.

lament is not pretty. neither is it safe. it resists easy answers, tidy appearances, and platitudes. it doesn’t mind its manners. it raises its voice (and sometimes its fist) and uses salty language. it makes us unpredictable and leads us to feel untethered, unraveled, and adrift. lament is complicated and most of us are looking for less, not more, complications (read messy, complex, unpredictable, and emotional) in our lives. and so, it stays locked up, under the surface. especially within the shared spaces of our communities. who wants to invite mess? welcome pain? to not know what to say?

in Truth and Love seeking communities, however, the act of lament is necessary. if we are to love each other authentically, how can we justify being unwilling to wipe the eyes (and noses) of those among us who face excruciating pain, unimaginable loss, and unrelenting regret. to bring about peace there must be space for lament. the remnants of loss breed complex emotional reactions similar to the infections caused at the site of an uncleaned wound. for the skin to heal peacefully there must be a cleansing and that process will almost always hurt. 

opening ourselves and our communities to the reality of pain takes courage and a letting go of control regarding how things “should” look. oh, and, kleenex doesn’t hurt and neither does the loving rich deep silence of simply being there.

(originally published in the "making peace through lament 2015 peace reader" published by the northwest yearly meeting of friends)