The Potential Pitfalls of Positive Thinking

Allow me to begin by saying I firmly believe in the power of positivity. Completely. That said, the concept of positive thinking has always been a challenge for me… which is interesting— given the idea behind this blog.

The truth is, I’m an optimist by nature. But I’ve been through enough trials and tribulations to realize that always trying to see the best in every situation— or hoping that your positive thoughts will result in an avalanche of good tidings—- often feels like trying to fit the Pacific Ocean into a thimble.

In fact, I’ve wrestled with the concept of positive thinking for several years. To the point where if I heard someone talking about it, I would practically run screaming in the other direction.

(Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. It was more like “run crying” than “run screaming.”)

Name any positive thinking/affirmation method out there and chances are I’ve tried it at some point over the past twenty years.  My attempts especially picked up during The-Enlightened-But-Still-Dark-Ages (I’m big into acronyms, so I call it TEBSDA for short). That era started about two years into my unemployment (I was laid off from my job right as the recession started in 2009).

I checked out dozens of books from the library. I attended free seminars. I perused websites and blogs. I followed the protocols and steps and kept a gratitude journal while taking part in affirmation programs. I started and ended my days with prayers of thanks and gratitude. I did my best to avoid negative people and negative news. I did what I could to bring light and happiness and joy to others through random and not-so-random acts of kindness.

During this time, I noticed two things… #1) there is no shortage of SHuGs out there (again with the acronyms! This stands for “Self-Help Guru”— and I pronounce it like “sug” in “sugar”).

And #2)…. positive thinking is damn near impossible when you have a lot of craziness hitting your life at once. And I’ve had plenty. Near the top of the list: no job and no prospects for a job. After sending out literally hundreds of resumes, I’ve found I can’t even get a job as a barista at Starbucks— much less something in communications (my chosen profession for almost two decades). It seems no one wants to hire a former news anchor… apparently because they think I’m not going to take the job seriously, or stick around long. As someone who firmly believes that EVERY job deserves the best performance you can give (in my lifetime I’ve done everything from fast food to retail to news) and also someone who just would be grateful to have a purpose in life, this is especially frustrating.

I feel the need to say here that I have nothing but complete respect and gratitude and awe for many SHuGs out there. I will acknowledge that— as is the case in every business— some are only out for a quick buck, but there are many others who have changed lives and helped millions of people.

That said, when it comes to trying to apply their principles to my personal experience, I’ve struggled. Specifically, it’s difficult for me to put positive thinking into practice for extended lengths of time. After every book, every seminar, every blog post— I start out very hopeful that I can keep my positive outlook. However, the Dark Side of the Force proves to be too powerful. They have cookies after all (if you haven’t seen the meme, google “Dark Side cookies”).

As is my way, I completely over-analyzed the situation. I’ve since changed my outlook concerning these particular points (admittedly with mixed results). Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1) I confused “positive thinking” with “positive attitude.” This was at the core of my issues with positive thinking. For a long time, I thought of it as something that I should be able to simply turn on like a switch— a trait that could prove especially helpful when I was going through something horrible.

Case in point: when I was laid off, I was in a bit of a daze even though I knew it was coming. I told myself repeatedly before/during/and after the actual layoff that I should think of this as a “course correction” in my life— that it shouldn’t be viewed as a “setback,” but rather should be considered an “opportunity.”

In other words, I pretty much filled my head with every cliché in the book.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t wrong. It was an opportunity. But trying to keep a positive mindset with platitudes didn’t diminish the reality of the situation. The reality is, getting laid off really sucks.

It was especially difficult because I was considered a valuable employee— but the recession meant that our particular department was considered more of a luxury than a necessity. Since I was doing my best to think “positive thoughts,” I’m not sure I completely understood the gravity of the situation at the time. Losing a paycheck, affordable health insurance, and—- as it turned out later when I couldn’t find another job— my self-confidence, turned out to be devastating. And the fact that I peered into the void with a smile on my face didn’t change that fact.

2) I expected… something. Unfortunately, I unconsciously created my own despair spiral as a result of trying to think more positively… because I expected different benefits than the ones I received. And what made things worse was the fact that I couldn’t even enjoy the benefits I was receiving from thinking positively, because I didn’t recognize them as benefits. I had blinders on, waiting for a totally different outcome.

It was never my intention, but I almost thought of positive thinking as a means to an end. I held a not-so-subconscious belief that once I started thinking more positively— that is, if I did it “properly”— it was going to yield some pretty fantastic results. Near the top of the expectation list: peace, happiness and abundance— not necessarily in that order.

Yes, positive thinking can definitely lead to those things. In fact, I’m now happier than I’ve been in a very long time (even though I still don’t have the abundance part— by a LONG shot). But for many years, I automatically set myself up for disappointment by expecting those things.

3) Every time I “slipped,” I blamed myself. This was the most damaging effect I encountered during my quest to bring more positivity into my life. I had watched several SHuG’s give their own accounts of personal discovery and transformation, and followed their advice to the best of my ability. Still, for whatever reason, I was unable to actually make my life better.

I’m expecting to get the award for Most Obvious Statement with this next sentence: many SHuG’s focus on the importance of shifting your way of thinking when it comes to positive thinking (I can hear the collective “well, DUH” even as I type this). And once again, that philosophy is not wrong. But it’s at the center of one of the bigger potential downsides of the current positive thinking movement, because it’s all too easy to blame yourself when you don’t feel the results.

I can’t tell you how many times I walked down the following path:

Step #1: I think to myself, “all I have to do in order to bring more [love/light/abundance] into my life is to change my thinking so that I’m more positive.”

Step #2: I think to myself, “I am taking the advice of the [book/blog/seminar] and doing [insert suggested action here] in order to change my way of thinking. And once I’ve taken these steps, results should follow.”

Step #3: I think to myself, “I’ve done [insert suggested action here], but I’m still not able to think positively.”

-or-

“I’ve done [insert suggested action here], my thinking has indeed changed, but I’m not feeling any changes in my life.”

-or-

“I’ve done [insert suggested action here], my thinking has indeed changed, but I’m not feeling any movement in my life, and since this has worked for millions of other people I’m obviously doing it wrong. I am a failure in all of my attempts at Life and don’t know why I even try. I give up.”

When it comes to self-punishment, I’m the queen of my own little personal fiefdom, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I jumped to that final thought many, many times. Thankfully (or maddeningly, depending on how you look at it) I’m also an optimist by nature, so once I got finished yelling at the Universe and huddling in a ball in the corner of the room, I would slowly pick myself up and try again. But each time I started over again, I felt like I was less of a person because I hadn’t figured “It” out yet.

This happened countless times over several years.

Please know that I make light of this only because humor helped me survive the TEBSDA years (even though it didn’t really do a damn thing for me in terms of paying the electricity bill). So please know that if the above situations are familiar to you, I am not mocking you. I feel your pain only too well. Positive thinking isn’t something that comes naturally. Which, if you think about it, is really unfortunate. I’m still working on that.

As a matter of fact, I’m still working on all of this. But being able to break down why the SHuG’s theories didn’t work for me has helped me avoid falling back into old habits like the ones I list above.

It’s a daily process.

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Achieving the "impossible"

(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… however, I’ve updated it with new information.)

“One can’t believe impossible things,” said Alice.

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” the White Queen replied. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ~~ Lewis Carroll

I decided to look up this quote one day after reading my horoscope. The horoscope told me (regarding impossible things): “the funny thing is once you let yourself believe them, they don’t seem all that impossible to begin with. The first step is to let yourself believe that such benevolence is in store for you. So go ahead — what are three wonderful, lovely and no-way-that-could-happen-to-me things that you want in your life?”

That caused me to pause– because from an early age we are taught, like Alice, to not even consider impossible things. It’s just a waste of time, right? Why even go there?

Then it dawned on me… that’s the main problem, isn’t it? Very few people dream anymore. I know I’m guilty of this.

Many years ago— when I was really struggling for happiness in the news business— a mentor of mine asked me what I wanted out of life. I told him that I really wanted to start my own business: a public relations firm for charities and non-profit organizations. But I had no money to start one. And even if I could get past that hurdle, I would most likely not make enough money to survive — since I wouldn’t want to charge my clients a lot for my services.

“Why don’t you try to get a small business loan from the bank?” he asked innocently… as if getting a loan is the easiest thing in the world.

“Um,” I was slightly annoyed. “because I would never get one.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because they aren’t going to give a loan to a person who might not be able to pay it back. There isn’t a lot of money in providing PR services to charities at a discount.”

He gave me a little smile. “So you’re going to admit defeat before you even try.”

(NOTE: By this time, I was highly annoyed and my head hurt — which was always a sign that he was making a valid point.)

“I just don’t see the point since I’m just going to be rejected anyway.”

This is where he pulled out the maddening wisdom that always made sense: “So what? You could be rejected 300 times before you find someone who says ‘yes’. At that point, it’s only the ‘yes’ that matters.”

And yet another dear friend of mine pulled out this quote from Thomas Edison just last year during a similar conversation. Edison says regarding the time that it took him to invent the light bulb:

“I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

And as my friend went on to say very succinctly and wisely: “Sometimes you have to figure out the wrong ways before you can find the right way.”

Very often we get stuck in a rut, thinking there is no way out… so why even try? We give up on our dreams thinking that there is no way.

But just because you haven’t found the right way yet, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way at all. Like Edison, allow yourself to eliminate the ways that won’t work.

I’m going to repeat that with emphasis on a different part of the sentence, because it bears repeating: ALLOW yourself to eliminate the ways that won’t work. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t throw in the towel and declare automatic defeat.

I know. Easier said than done. I’m still working on this myself. Constantly.

So my challenge for myself is this. I’m going to believe in three “impossible” things— I’m also going to put the word “impossible” in quotes from now on ;)— and reaffirm my belief for these things every day. At the same time, I’m going to take small steps toward achieving these things.

The worst that could happen is that I don’t achieve the “impossible.” But at least I can move forward knowing that I tried.

 

Enjoy the ride.

(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… however, I’ve updated it with new information.)

“Once you stop learning… you stop living.”

The above phrase started floating through my head a few years ago, right before a reunion with an old friend.

Before I talk about what we discussed, I think it’s important to explain how I met this particular person.

In August 2003, my son and I boarded a plane to visit my mother in North Carolina. My son was around six months old, and was actually a pretty good air traveler at that point (much better than when he reached the age of two).

We sat next to a very kind looking man. I have to admit I was a little preoccupied with the kiddo, so didn’t really chat. Until something very unusual happened.

As we taxied out to the runway, the plane pulled over to the side and stopped, and the pilot turned off the engines. His voice came over the PA system.

“Um, this is going to sound a bit unusual, but our flight is on hold right now because of storms over Cincinnati.” (We had a scheduled layover in Ohio.) “What’s really strange is that it’s not the storm system itself that’s holding us up— it’s the fact that lightning has struck the runway. So workers are now checking for damage, and will let us know soon if we have clearance to take off.”

I’ve been flying regularly since I was a child— a result of divorced parents who lived in different states. I’ve never heard of lightning striking a runway. I’m sure it happens, but it had never happened to delay one of my flights.

I became a little worried about my son. He had fallen asleep when the plane started to move. When the plane stopped, though… he was wide awake. The man next to me looked over at him, and started up a conversation about his own grandchildren. My son beamed at him.

We moved from talking about family to discussing work. He told me he was a theology professor. I told him I was a TV journalist. We started to discuss — one of my favorite subjects — good news and the power of good news. We had something in common: I had always wanted to report more of it, and he had always wanted to see more of it.

He told me he spent much of his time traveling all over the world, and he sees good news happening on a regular basis.

So it turns out the lightning had a purpose. We had plenty of time to talk about our passion for good news. Much more time than we would have had otherwise. Once we were up in the air, the trip wasn’t that long.

We emailed each other a few times after that trip, but lost touch eventually. I moved to another state and took one more news job before I decided I had to leave the business.

I wandered aimlessly for a while, trying to figure out what to do next. I started my good news blog, but found myself unable to keep it up regularly. Then something happened to remind me about the importance of good news.

Five years after that plane encounter, one of my co-anchors at my last station took some time off from work to make a personal trip to China. He was there to observe a forum of theological experts. Right before he headed home, he happened to strike up a conversation with one of the participants while they were on a train going through rural China. It was 4am and they appeared to be the only two people in the 45-member party who couldn’t sleep. They decided to go to the dining car to chat. The conversation moved to news. And good news. And the theologian happened to mention the name of a reporter he once talked to on a plane, one he had really admired because of her passion for good news.

My colleague told me later he about fell out of his chair.

Names and notes were exchanged. A couple of weeks later, I received an email from my former co-anchor asking about having lunch to talk about how things were going. At that lunch, he handed me a note.

And a year after reading that note… I found myself sitting in the same restaurant I sat in when I first read that note, with the person who’d written it.

Anyway, this person is really special. He glows with a resonance matching that of Santa Claus. He has a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step wherever he goes. He has had so many powerful experiences around the world…. and has so many great stories… I could listen to him for hours.

Something he told me at this lunch meeting really resonated with me. He loves to travel around the world because he’s always learning something new. There’s so much out there to explore… why would we limit ourselves to just one location, one way of life, one way of thinking….? He pointed out that so many people out there believe that once they are able to get their big house in the suburbs, their 2.2 kids, and their high-paying job— their lives will be set. They honestly believe that once they get those things, they will not need to go any further than that.

But his philosophy is different. He believes life isn’t about accomplishing goals. It’s all about the journey.

So many of us have been taught to believe that once we make enough money… once we get the right house… once we find the right job… once we find the right partner…. our lives will be complete. And we’ll live happily ever after.

And yet, how many stories do we hear about people who have those things– who still are not satisfied?

Some just live with the underlying feeling that something is missing. Others start doing other things to stir things up a bit…. drink a little too much, or cheat on their spouses, or embezzle from their companies.

Life is a journey. It is a constant challenge to grow and evolve and change our lives for the better.

Right after we are born, we strive to learn as much as we can about the world around us… how to smile, how to talk, how to walk, etc. Once we achieve those goals, we set new ones. Eventually we move from the basics and start to learn things that help us understand our world better— things like literature, philosophy, science.

At some point, though… we grow tired. We have so much going on in our lives that we get to a point where we just want to survive, much less grow. But there’s always a nagging voice in the back of our head telling us…. “there has to be more than this.”

That’s because there is. Much more.

Of course, not all of us can drop everything and travel around the world ;)…. but there are always opportunities to learn new things. You don’t have to start big. Take up a new hobby. Sign up for a community college class. Buy art supplies and create something new. Plant a garden.

Life doesn’t stop when we accomplish our goals— why should we? Why stop learning and growing and creating…?

I’d like to thank my friend for reminding me of something I’ve always believed— but had forgotten until he reminded me that afternoon in 2009. Once you stop learning… you do, in fact, stop living. And that’s where the ennui comes in.

Now it’s 2014. Since we had that discussion… I’ve become a Reiki Master, I started working toward a Master’s degree in education, and I will soon have a paralegal degree.

Yes, I realize those things are all over the map. That’s part of the fun, isn’t it? And definitely keeping with the Making the Mundane Magical theme.

At the risk of sounding like a Nissan commercial from the 90’s: life is a journey. Never stop moving forward. And enjoy the ride.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… and it’s been modified.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I love football. I have many reasons for this that aren’t even remotely relevant to this post— so I won’t go there now.

Something that cracks me up about football, however, are the cliches you hear coming out of coaches’ mouths. Among my favorites: “the team that scores the most points wins the game” and “big players make big plays in big games.” Every once in a while, however, a coach comes along with a phrase that sums up everything perfectly. Like this one from former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz:

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”

This probably sums up best my attitude towards life. I’ve had this conversation with many people in the past.

There is no denying that bad things happen to good people. And it happens on a daily basis. How many stories do we hear about people suffering or hurting in some way— and think to ourselves, “how horrible! Life can be so unfair!” Personally, I can tell you when I was a journalist I felt an ache in my chest every time I I told a story of a family who lost a child to violence. And I know everyone who heard the story felt the same way.

And yet, when a horrific story happens, how many times do we see people focus their grief and anger in such a way that it brings about something extraordinary?

It happens more often than we might think. But it’s hard to recognize because it’s very difficult to see past the pain of the original incident. There are some truly evil people in the world.

On a January day in 1996, a man in Texas jumped out of a pickup truck and dragged a 9-year-old girl off of her bike… throwing her in the truck. A witness called police and gave them a description of the man and the vehicle. Volunteers, the FBI, and police searched the area for four days before someone discovered her body in a creek bed. An autopsy determined she had lived for two days before being killed.

Soon after, the girl’s mother went before Congress to call for tougher laws for sex offenders. Her father talked with other parents who’d gone through the same heartache… trying to find out what they believed police really needed to know immediately after an abduction.

Two things came out of this incident: the National Sex Offender Registry and what we now know as the AMBER alert — named after that young girl, Amber Hagerman.

Before I continue, I want to make something perfectly clear. I am NOT saying that Amber Hagerman’s death was a good thing… in ANY way. As a matter of fact— even though I am generally a positive and non-violent person— if her killer (who was never caught) were standing before me right now, he’d most likely be begging for mercy by the time I was done with him.

I have ZERO tolerance for anyone who would ever harm another human being— especially a child. IMHO, there’s a special (and not in a good way) place in the afterlife for those people.

Rather, my main point here is— the aftermath of this horrific incident could have gone very differently.

Amber’s parents could have chosen to back away and privately try to put their lives back together the best they could after losing their daughter. And no one would have blamed them for doing so. After something like that, I can’t imagine even trying to get out of bed day after day.

Instead, they took that anger and that grief and pushed it back in the faces of potential child abductors everywhere. To date, the AMBER alert has resulted in the successful rescue of nearly 500 children in the United States alone… including some who were released as soon as the abductor heard there was an AMBER alert issued.

And the program is now international. Who knows how many children around the world will be saved because of it?

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.

Lou was onto something when he said that quote.

Most of us will never have to go through what Amber’s parents went through. Again, I can’t even imagine. But the fact that her parents were able to get back up and not let evil “win” in this case is inspiring to me.

Bad things happen. In most cases, we can’t prevent them from happening. What we do after those things happen, though, is up to us. We have that power.

When something bad happens to you, it’s up to YOU to decide whether you will allow those circumstances to paralyze you. When someone does something bad to you, it’s up to YOU to decide whether you want to continue to feel like a victim and let that person steal your future happiness.

It’s our choice. I hope we all choose to make the best of that other ninety percent.

 

Life Isn’t a Pass/Fail Course

(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… and it’s been modified.)

As I get older, I find that I tend to learn the most valuable lessons from the most horrible situations. I wish there were a better way— if someone knows of one, please share it with me!

One especially meaningful experience involves someone I once loved very dearly, but am no longer friends with. He seems to think that my life is a lot better than his, and he resents me for it. This isn’t just an assumption on my part. He actually said this to me.

It’s been a while since we’ve communicated, and given how much anger he threw at me the last few times that we talked, I’m okay with that. However, as part of my never-ending quest to turn misfortune into something better, I can honestly say that he’s taught me something valuable.

The last time we talked, he made it clear that he felt like time has passed him by— that he would no longer will be able to find that dream job, that dream partner, etc. Basically, he’d given up. I tried to convince him that wasn’t the case, but when someone has his mind made up that his life is really crappy— it’s hard to get him to think otherwise.

Here’s my attitude… and I understand if others don’t subscribe to this philosophy (trust me, I know I do not have all the answers): Life is NOT a pass/fail course— at least when it comes to most things. Most of the time, you can’t “fail”… because there is no limit to how many times or how long you can keep trying (until you pass away, of course— but that’s a whole other issue).

Every stumbling block, every obstacle, every hole you fall into while you’re trying to get to your goal… is really frustrating and crushing. Trust me, I know. But if you choose to examine the obstacles more closely, they can also be incredible learning experiences that ultimately help you grow. They never have to mean that you’ve failed. Unless *you* decide to give yourself that “F”— and give up.

In Life, there are no referees on the sidelines ready to blow that final whistle. No judges declaring, “game over— stop all of your efforts now!” Only YOU can make that declaration. And if you truly want something more than life itself, why would you do that to yourself?

I understand the feeling of being knocked down and not wanting to get up again. I understand the feeling of being too tired to keep fighting a battle you don’t think you will ever win. Those times are inevitable, and they are a sure sign that you need to take a rest and recuperate. Surround yourself with things and people that you love. Laugh. Remind yourself about what’s important in life. Take as much time as you need (be it five minutes or five months) to regain your strength. Then get back up and get moving again.

Easier said than done, I know. But IMHO, it beats the alternative— dwelling in misery and depression. And it’s certainly better than attacking people who you think are doing “better” than you are. Each of us needs all the help we can get.

Depression and Resurrection

 

(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… and it’s been modified.)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way… ~Charles Dickens

I once read an article talking about the Great Depression— and the lasting effect it had on that generation. The people who chose to tell their stories ranged from musicians to Supreme Court justices. Of course, they were all just kids during that era, and undoubtedly saw things a bit differently than adults did at the time. But still, I thought their words were telling.

When describing that time, they used words like “rich” and “special.” U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens talked about how his family lost 27 million dollars in the stock market crash of 1929— and as a result he took a different path. Instead of growing up to run the family business, he had a number of— quoting him “eventful and interesting” jobs— such as a laundry assistant and a bellhop. Jobs that helped shape him into the person he is today.

“It might be hard to understand today, but the 30’s were a very special time,” he said.

Writer Gay Talese talks about how his childhood in the 30’s provided him with survival skills that he took with him well into adulthood: “The Depression taught me a useful skill: how to live poor and not be frightened by it. At my father’s tailoring shop, I gained another kind of education. Pointing out through the windows of his shop at roving apple salesmen and other people who were down on their luck, he would remind me that they were once bankers or entrepreneurs. He taught me to take nothing for granted, to be frugal and above all to be self-sufficient.”

Jazz musician Roy Haynes says the Depression fostered his love of music: “Artie Shaw, Bennie Goodman, Irving Berlin. They were who I believed in. They were my shelter and my religion. It was a rich period.”

Others talk about how the Depression led to them spend more time with their families, forced them to use their imaginations to have fun instead of relying on material things, and encouraged them to become closer to their neighbors. Many people would help anyone who needed it– even though there was barely enough for themselves.

As another interviewee, country singer Ray Price, put it, “I’ve come to the conclusion that hard times bring out the best in men, good times bring out the worst.”

It’s such an interesting lesson for today, don’t you think?

I’ve heard the argument that people were more “innocent” back then— “it was a gentler time” is the phrase I hear often (I think it might have been “gentler” for some people more than others— but that’s another subject for another time). And I also hear that people are just a lot meaner now than they used to be. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Rather, I think we’re just out of practice. For the past couple of decades we’ve been setting up a society that has caused us to forget how to socialize.

I fully admit that I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I’ve always had a fascination with computers (ever since I first learned BASIC in the early 80’s). I also love the ability to communicate immediately with loved ones. Trust me— you don’t want to be near me when my wireless router starts acting up. And taking away my laptop and/or my iPhone would be akin to taking away my left arm. Since I’m right-handed, I could function— but it wouldn’t be easy, and it would really suck.

On the flip side, don’t get me started on how anonymity provided by the Internet has led to significant deterioration of people’s social skills (I never read the “comments” section of a news story these days). And people close to me will tell you that I hate things like self-pay automated gas pumps and self-checkout stands at the grocery store. In my opinion, those types of inventions were the beginning of the end of courtesy and civility in our society!

Okay. I’ll admit I’m being a little extreme here to make a point. But in all seriousness, one of the most pleasant conversations I have during the day is with the people behind the checkout counter at my neighborhood grocery store. I know them all pretty well. As the mother of an active tween who can eat an entire pizza on his own— I’m in there almost every day. I also enjoy talking/complaining about the weather with the clerk at my favorite gas station— who gives my son a free lollipop when we come inside to pay.

I’m not saying that the world’s problems will be solved by getting rid of automated tellers (although, those tellers are taking people’s jobs away— but again— another subject for another time).

Nor do I think that every clerk you encounter will immediately start being your best friend. I hear some of the horror stories about customers who yell at them when they tell them to have a nice day— so keep in mind that unless they know you, there may be a reason they aren’t saying that phrase. But it’s good to keep trying. And it’s good to keep in practice. We— as a society that increasingly values speed and convenience— are out of practice.

Going back to the original point of this post, perhaps hard times give us the incentive we need to slow down a bit and start talking to each other again. Perhaps we need those detours and obstacles in the road to help remind us that human relationships are key— in the worst of times, and in the best of times.

And you can start simply. Something as small as a smile and a kind word can be contagious. Pass it on.