Friday, May 30, 2008

The best way to build karma

A friend of a friend told me one time about how she has this theory that helping people move is the best way to build up karma in the world. It was such a little thing but it totally stuck with me, and it's something I've come to believe is really pretty true. But it's become more than a "karma building" thing for me. This sounds silly, but the process of helping people move has, to some extent, restored my faith in people and acts of kindness. I've helped several friends move in the last year or two, and each time I have been so impressed at how easily and readily people come together to help each other. With moving, it's exactly the kind of task where it goes about a million times quicker if you have several people doing it. So, really, the more people who volunteer, the less time and energy everyone has to put in. I mean, it's kind of fun too once you get into it. But let's be honest - I'm sure there are at least 10 things most people would prefer to do before carrying heavy boxes and furniture up and down stairs. It's exactly for that reason (yes, I realize how seriously sappy this sounds!) that I think there's something sort of 'moving' (really, no pun intended, I swear!) to see a group of people filing in and out of a house, carrying things, and helping out. It's sort of the epitome of coming together and teamwork and all that stuff that teachers try to instill in you in elementary school. And it's a very concrete way to demonstrate support and the fact that you would be there for a friend.

(Obviously you can help someone move without having deeper ties to them, but let me have my moment of sappy friendship-ness!).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Being the 'bigger person'

Rising above it. Taking the high road. Being the bigger person. Call it what you will. Deciding to do something you know is right or for the best even when it is not what you would prefer to do has many different names. What is never reflected in any of these phrases is the feeling that goes along with it. To put it very eloquently: it sucks.

Knowing that there is so much you could (and want to!) say, so many points you could make to put the other person in his/her place (or even just to make him/her aware of what you are thinking/feeling), and still not saying *any* of it is HARD. Might be one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life... and it takes every last ounce of self-regulation I have to really keep it up through the end. But I did, and I'm better for it.

Or something like that.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Decisions, decisions.

I am generally bad at making decisions. Right now, I have two fairly major decisions to make. Both involve travel, and both really needed to happen, let's say, yesterday. As much as I hate making big decisions, I hate being put on the spot for big decisions even more. With each passing day, each passing moment it feels like, the consequences (financial and otherwise) of *not* making the decisions become greater. Regardless of what I decide, I need to make plans accordingly, but I just can't decide yet. I don't have enough information. In one case, I don't know that I'll ever have any more information (other than an extra opinion, I suppose) and in the other, I may have more information but by that point costs will have gone up. It's a trade-off.

The worst part is, these are both situations where the decisions -- and plans -- were already made. The changes are last-minute, and not within my control. The upshot is that I feel very trapped at the moment, and it is very quickly becoming a lose-lose situation. Gah.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On Loyalty: If you're not with me, are you necessarily against me?

The concept of loyalty is something I have always struggled with, both personally and philosophically. I'm speaking specifically in regards to loyalty in friendships. Trusting that someone is loyal is one thing that has proven difficult for me in many different situations over the course of my life. This is largely because in many cases where I have trusted someone, my trust has been betrayed. This is not to say that there aren't some people who have stuck by me regardless. But the number of cases of "disloyalty" far outweigh those. Personally, this is something I am still dealing with. But philosophically, my thoughts have changed a bit -- perhaps to a more muddled state than it was before.

When we were younger (think junior high and high school) it was generally pretty clear-cut. "If you're not with me, you're against me." The idea that my friend dislikes someone so I dislike them too was very common and acceptable - especially among teenage girls. As we grew up, we realized that this isn't necessarily a good way of operating in the world. It *is* theoretically possible to be friends with two people who are not friends with each other. It is even possible (albeit often difficult) to remain friends with two people who are fighting or very decidedly do not like each other. But when is such a case not okay?

Consider this scenario: I am friends with Lily and Daisy. Lily does not like Daisy and has not treated her particularly nicely. Consequently, Daisy also does not like Lily. What does it say about my loyalty towards/friendship with Daisy if I continue to be friends with Lily? Am I supporting her negative treatment of another friend of mine by continuing to maintain my own friendship with her? Is it enough to state to Lily that I don't agree with her and I don't like what she is doing? People are responsible for their own actions. We cannot control what other people do. But when and where does that line fall in friendships? And how can this be done without being viewed as 'taking sides'?

We are taught that all evil needs in order to take over is for good people to sit by and do nothing. So what happens if we do speak up to the friend who is not being particularly nice -- if we refuse to be a bystander and intervene, but the 'evil' (yes, I realize 'evil' is a bit of a stretch from 'not nice') still continues? How do we show our approval/disapproval for someone's actions, and what constitutes supporting (or not supporting) said actions?

Personally, if one friend of mine is treating another friend of mine crappily, I wouldn't feel comfortable continuing to be friends with that person because I would feel like an enabler. But then again, how much control would I ever have over that person's actions anyway? If I said something and it still doesn't stop, what more can I do? Do I sacrifice my own friendship with that person as a statement? Would it do anyone any good?

I guess a lot of it just boils down to maturity. And the sad reality is that even post-adolescence, it is often difficult to find two (or three) people who are all on the same high enough level of maturity to handle difficult social interactions in an adult manner. Sometimes the "mean girls" just grow up into mean women.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

On Liberals and Feminists.

A few conversations in the past couple of days have gotten me thinking about two things, liberals and feminists. One might argue that I'm being somewhat redundant here, as most feminists are liberals, and quite often the reverse is also true. But for the sake of my points, I'm considering them separately.

So, first, on liberals: the common conception about people who are liberal is that they are very open-minded. While I agree with this, generally, I've found in recent years that some of the liberal people I know are also some of the most closed-minded people I've ever met. How can this be, you ask? Well, the fact is that these people are open-minded in their views as long as you agree with them. Heaven forbid you should express a more conservative viewpoint in the presence of "diehard" liberal... they look at you like you're stupid and everything that subsequently comes out of your mouth is disregarded or at least taken with a grain of salt. This was especially true in undergrad. Being liberal was clearly the thing to be at Stanford, and although there were a handful of Republicans, they were looked down upon in many ways. Their thoughts were laughed off, and their arguments were disregarded by most people. This is not to say that I agree(d) with most of their views, but the thing is, if we are truly as liberal as we claim, then we should at least be "open-minded" enough to acknowledge others' points of view.

This came up recently in a discussion about a woman's decision (one who happens to be a friend of mine) to take her husband's last name after they are married. One of the other people in the conversation (a very liberal, feminist woman) basically flipped out when my friend said she was changing her name. [Incidentally, this second person didn't really know my friend, so I thought her attacking of the idea was especially out of line]. However, while it was not something I would necessarily do or even have expected my friend to do, I was taken aback by the strong (and rather condescending) reaction that this woman had to the decision. It seems to me that as long as we are not trying to make a rule that every woman has to give up her name, then why should it matter whether one woman makes the choice to keep or change her name? It's a personal thing, so why should one be looked down upon for making that decision for herself?

This is where the feminist part comes in as well. Part of the argument was that it was going against feminism to give up her name. Why should my friend give up her name? What was her fiancee giving up? etc. etc. The discussion thankfully did not go on too long, but it left me feeling rather unsettled. In an age where so many women are "pro-choice" it seems odd and a bit disrespectful to put down the choice that someone makes. If you really are "pro-choice" then you need to be willing to accept either choice that any given individual makes.

I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies, The American President:

"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.

I think that we forget this a lot of the time, especially as "liberals." Of course, when the conservative viewpoint involves restricting the rights of others (e.g. banning gay marriage), that's a different story. But if you are creating a situation in which there are multiple options, you have to be willing to accept the option you may not agree with as an equally valid choice for a person to make.

On Feminism:
I already alluded to the feminist part a bit in the thoughts about liberalism. But it also came up in another way, which is the idea of a sisterhood and female energy. In the last year I've experienced these things in a way I never have before. First, was actually my internship last summer. There was a moment where I was sitting in a meeting with the rest of the Education Team and realized that it was all women. Some of the most high-powered, influential people in the city, the people who outlined and set important policies, were women. That was an incredible moment for me. Then, joining choir in the fall provided a more personal (as opposed to professional) realization of a similar nature. The experience of 100+ women in a room, joining their voices into one sound, and creating incredible music gave me this huge sense of energy unlike anything I have ever experienced. It's not like there's any talk about it, but you just feel accepted and supported in being who you are as a part of this group.

So, when a friend of mine was discussing the merits of having a women's group to fill the need that "some women" have for a "sisterhood," it got me thinking. She was questioning whether that was really a good way of accessing feminism, because she felt like she almost needed to be in the presence of men, proving herself, in order to really be progressing women forward. But to me, these are sort of different ideas... the idea of having a place where it is all women and you feel accepted and supported feels like something very different than fighting to be considered an equal with men. To me, the former is more about an affirmation of what you are and being supported in that. Whereas, when surrounded by men, or when in a traditionally male setting, women often feel like they need to prove themselves. But being in a community of women sort of takes away that pressure to be the poster child or the educator. It allows you to just experience the company and support that other women can provide. The baseline is that you're all equals, so you get to experience a feeling of empowerment that comes from within rather than from conquering a stereotype or breaking a glass ceiling.

It's really a unique kind of energy as well. There's something about it that is difficult to explain, but it just feels empowering to be surrounded by other women who have the same focus or goal as you, to know that you can all accomplish something together. It's just different somehow than being on a mixed-sex team.

Anyway, just some thoughts that were on my mind this weekend. How's that for hippie crunchy liberalism? :-)

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Window to Your World

In the last several months, I've been lucky enough to be able to visit various friends of mine from high school and college. Even though I've known these people for years and years, I've realized that one thing is substantially different now than it was when I knew them at those respective times: the fact that many of them have their own places. Seeing how my friends choose to decorate their spaces (better insight when they have a whole apartment to themselves, but even just a bedroom and living area is illuminating) and how they live in those spaces has really given me some new insights into my old friends. One friend who I would have expected to have a fun and trendy bedroom went completely "grown up" and classy. Another friend who I expected to be more on the classy side went for fun decor (not that fun isn't classy!). One of my best friends who I would have expected to be on the messier side keeps her apartment pretty immaculate ("Everything in it's place" as she puts it) and another who I would have thought would be pretty laid back is really anal about dishes in the sink, etc. Who would have thought?

It's funny to realize what new contexts and situations can show me about friends I've known forever and thought I knew nearly everything about. Learn something new every day, I suppose. I would have thought I'd be a little weirded out to discover things so contrary to what I would expect of my close friends. But it's actually kind of fun to learn about these new sides of people... adds to the mystery of life and our friendships!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

To Sing is to Fly and Affirm.

This weekend marked the official end of my first choir season with the Twin Cities Women's Choir, so in honor of that, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on my year with the TCWC. For those of you who didn't know, I joined this wonderful community choir back in September in hopes of finding a bit of a sanity break from the craziness of grad school. I hadn't been in a choir since high school and was really missing it, so when I found the choir it seemed like a perfect opportunity.

TCWC is a non-audition choir that requires no previous musical theory/education experience. At first glance, you would probably wonder how in the world this works. Well, to some extent it's a self-selecting group (most people have at least some experience in a choir or with music in some way). But the rest is pure magic and we wind up having an amazing sound together as a group. The songs we sing are mainly contemporary, but there is a good mix of upbeat, fun songs, and more serious, slower songs. It's exactly the type of music I enjoy singing most.

Anyway, I was hooked after the first night... the energy the director and all of the women in choir give is incredible. The director has a way of giving enough musical theory information to understand the piece (and for those who have some background in it), but not going overboard for those who don't read music. We work hard and take a break only for announcements, but our director mixes in anecdotes about her day job as an elementary school principal (cute kid stories always win over a crowd!), and we laugh and joke between songs, so the two hours fly by. I have always loved singing, but I've never enjoyed choir rehearsals as much as I have this year. In the past, rehearsals have felt largely arduous, but I stuck with them because I know I'll like the end result of all the work. This year, rehearsals have truly felt like a break. I come home feeling happy regardless of the day I've had, on some nights I border on giddy.

We have had three big concerts this year -- a holiday concert (Illuminations), a Winter concert (I Am Beautiful America), and our Spring concert (Divas and Desserts) this weekend. Each has been completely amazing in its own way. The holiday concert was the first time I felt a true outpouring of support from my friends. A group of about 10 of them came to see the concert... in as many years as I've been singing/doing activities, I can think of only one other time (my Honors Thesis presentation) where I felt that supported. It was an amazing feeling to look out into the audience and see a little cheering section for me! At the Winter concert, I again had some great supporters. But it was also possibly the most amazing concert I have ever performed in. The songs were all wonderful and fun to sing (they all really came together at the end!), and the energy of the audience was like nothing I've ever experienced. It was fantastic to be a part of that energy... our last song became an unplanned encore because people were on their feet cheering and singing, so the band re-started the chorus and we just joined in. I have never felt so elated by singing before in my life!

This weekend, at our Divas and Desserts concert, I was again privileged to have a full table of supporters! One of the best parts was that two of my closest friends from college were able to see the concert this time... neither one of them had seen me sing before, so it was a real treat to have them there. A couple of newer friends also came, which was fantastic as well (not to mention my more "established" but equally awesome grad school friends who came out to the concert!). Overall, it was great. But the concerts were a little bittersweet for me because I knew. To know that I won't get to have this feeling (and the choir nights themselves) every Wednesday night -- we don't rehearse over the summer -- is really sad. Of course, I know I'll be back in the fall (it's hard to imagine my life without choir now!), but it will definitely feel like there is a big space in my life for the next three months.

The title of this post comes from one of the songs we sang this weekend, entitled "To Sing is to Fly." It sounds cheesy, but the song is really pretty and the lyrics couldn't be truer:

To sing is to fly and affirm. ...
To fly and soar, to fly and soar.
To coast in to the hearts of people who listen.
To tell them that life is to live...
That nothing is a promise.
But that beauty exists and must be hunted for and found!