Saturday, August 28, 2010

Respect yourself

All of us have challenges in our relationships. It's easy to point fingers of blame at those who oppose us, offend us and annoy us. It's difficult to look at ourselves as troublemakers in our own lives.

In some instances, a little offense is the best defense. But as a way of life, not so much. If I'm often taking offense at what people say or do, it's time to look at my reactivity and control issues. Who am I to think I can get everything I want, when there's a whole world of people who want things, too? I get through my days better and sleep through the night when I let the small-minded stuff go. I'm clearer about what I really need.

It all comes down to respect. Respect for others is important, but I argue self-respect comes first. You can't truly respect anyone until you respect yourself. When we don't properly respect ourselves, we drive ourselves hard, or we let ourselves off too easily. We don't allow ourselves to rest, or we get lazy. We judge ourselves, or when that's too painful, we tell ourselves we have the right to blame somebody else for our problems.

One of my favorite songs on my MP3 is the Staples Singers' "Respect Yourself." The Staples aren't letting anybody get away with blaming anybody else. Respect yourself by taking responsibility, not by expecting somebody else to do it for you. When my energy is flagging during a run and that song comes on, my legs lighten, my breathing eases and I hold my head up high. With my new attitude, I know I can make it.

I pride myself on my physical flexibility, which allows me to easily do almost any physical activity. For instance, I used to be able to get out of bed in the morning and touch my toes. In the past year, I haven't been able to do it. Like cold silly putty, it takes a little while for my muscles to warm up before I can lengthen them. Intellectually, this isn't such a bad thing. I am pushing 50, after all. If this is the worst thing I can say about my physical condition, I'll take it.

But I've noticed something more insidious: I'm judging myself, and therefore disrespecting myself, for not being able to touch my toes first thing in the morning. Something within, some combination of ego and early conditioning, tells me, Why, you used to be able to do that. You ought to still be able to. When I began to notice I was judging myself, I started to think about how self-judgment was infiltrating other areas of my life. I haven't been successful in my job search, not to mention that I haven't been that successful in my career as I'd like. I'm not a good mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. You see the potential for a downward spiral. For disrespecting myself.

I also found, to my amusement, that I was judging myself for judging myself! So then I gave myself some kudos for honesty and a sense of humor about my foibles--a value and a talent I've been working on for most of my adult life.

See how easy it is to respect yourself? Just begin where you are. Don't worry too much about where you've been. As your relationship with yourself improves, you relationship with others will improve, too.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Learning from Pagans

I'd never heard of Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits until I heard his obituary on NPR last week. He was the founder of Ar nDraiocht Fein, a Druid Fellowship.

I was raised in a Christian home, and I'm still an active member of a Christian denomination, but I've been accused of having pagan tendencies. Hiking, and running--heck, just about any strenuous physical activity--transport me not to a state of praising Jesus (though I'm not averse to it) but to one of reverent awe.

It turns out we all have something to learn from Isaac Bonewits. He developed a framework to gauge whether religious groups like his own were edging toward cultism. He called it the "Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame." Simple as ABCDEF. It measures a religious organization's level of internal and external control, wisdom/knowledge claimed and credited to, and dogma, among other things. My favorite is of Grimness, or in Bonewits' words, "The amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader." People who take themselves too seriously are funny, yet frightening.

Take The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida and its plans for the 9/11 anniversary.

Will the center:

a. plan a day of prayer in remembrance of those who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania

b. host an interfaith dialog between Muslim, Christian and other religious leaders

c. burn as many Korans as it can

Ding, ding, ding, if you guessed 'c'! Hard to believe a church that calls itself Christian would host a Koran roast, but there it is. Now which religion is it that we're supposed to be tolerant of?

Terry Jones, the church's pastor and his so-called "congregation" are registering high marks on Bonewits' Grimness measure. Ain't nothing funny about hate.

If Dove World Outreach Center and Ar nDraiocht Fein were the only places of worship left on the planet, one guess which one I'd attend.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Humor Deficit

There's lots of talk about budget deficits. But the humor deficit, arguably easier to address, is raging out of control. There are way too many people taking themselves way too seriously. People seriously need to lighten up.

You see it in Charlie Rangel's pissy response to Luke Russert's question, "What are you going to do if you lose your job?" You see tea partiers being unintentionally funny when they hoist photos of President Obama sporting a Hitler 'stache.

I've been known to laugh at comedy that excoriates people, especially when it's aimed at politicians and celebrities who have started to believe in their own hype. But there's a special place in my heart for comics who use themselves as the subject and object of their humor. Dave Chappelle is a genius at this. Chris Rock of "Everybody Hates Chris" fame also uses self-deprecation to great effect.

I'd like to add another to the list, Greg Keeler, one of my English professors at Montana State. He ought to be better known than he is, because he is one of the funniest people on the planet. He teaches poetry, and he's also turned his talented hand to writing songs in the cowboy poet tradition. The first time I met Greg was at a retreat at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel the week before my first semester at MSU. I was slightly older than most of the other students, and the professors had already heard Greg perform many times before. But his songs, delivered in Greg's deadpan, Kristoffersonian voice (I think that's a good thing, by the way), completely cracked me up. From "Bunny Hell" to "Trout Fishing Beatitudes," I was the only person to laugh out loud.

After that, I made sure to take a poetry class I could with Greg, hoping some of his magic would rub off on me. To no avail, because my poetry still sucked. Still does suck. But I always had fun in his class, and he was unfailingly encouraging.

The first time my husband Don ever met Greg was at an English department picnic. Don was instantly charmed when Greg invited him to shoot targets with a BB gun he'd brought along. The target? "Poetry Man" comic books another student had made, with Greg's cartooned image on the cover. Luckily he had brought a big stack of them along. People were shootin' 'em up!

Who knows? Maybe laughter is some kind of wealth engine we can use to attack our budget deficits.