If you guys have been around here at all, you know I believe the fastest route to joy is staying in the moment. If you’re buried in your phone, lost in your head with worry, constantly distracted by to do lists, it’s hard to connect in a deep way with life and the others around you.
And, I don’t know about you, but the events of this past weekend, past month, past year, have made it harder and harder to stay in the moment. My head has been a hamster wheel of worry, stress, feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, shame at not doing enough, and fear that I’ll do the wrong thing.
And I’m over it.
Last year, aka the greatest teacher I never asked for, I learned that fear is a terrible guide. Its intentions are good – to keep us safe – but really it keeps us small, at a time when the world needs people who are willing to be bold. It keeps us quiet when the world needs people to stand up and speak. It keeps us shamed when the world needs us to be vulnerable and curious, unafraid to ask what we might not know. It keeps us defensive when we need to be open without ego. And it keeps us isolated when, now more than ever, we need to be connected.
But, you know what fear hates? Action. When you’re in action, it’s harder to hear fear’s voice because you’re busy, working towards the future, working towards connection, working towards hope.
Have you ever had that experience where you go to a networking event or party or conference and you’re terrified and want to run because you don’t know anyone there? And then you take a risk and meet one person, who’s really nice and you talk about your shared love of “Playing House” and suddenly you’re excited again?
That, my friends, is fear taking a backseat to action and losing itself to possibility.
So, what can we do? As a community of moms who wants better for our kids, who are tired of sitting idly by?
Gals, we can take action. And I can’t think of any group more primed and ready for this task than moms (um, see the 547 things each of us accomplished yesterday. And that was after a full day of work.) – we are people who get things done, we want more for our kids, and I’m officially anointing us “holders of hope” because somebody has to do it.
Now, I’ve put together some ideas to get the ball rolling, but, listen, this is a group activity. We need to talk and share and listen, all the things we daily encourage our kids to do, so please let me know your thoughts! I can’t think of any more valuable comments than those.
1. Talk to your kids. As moms, we, obviously, have a huge influence on our kids’ outlook (see: my daughter’s overuse of the word “omg”) and I can’t think of anyone better to discuss what is happening in the world right now. SheKnows has a pretty good post on how to talk to your kids about world events to get you started while The Family Dinner Project has tons of resources to make dinner a time for conversation.
And if your kids are pretty little like mine, I can’t recommend Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls enough. A lot of questions come up every time we read it from why people would be unkind to someone who looks different to what a dictator is, and it’s not always easy, but I’m hopefully laying the groundwork for continued conversations and building kids who will care about people and their place in the world.
2. Read your local paper. I’ve heard from numerous activist friends that the best thing you can do is get involved at a local level and you’d be surprised at what may be going on in your community and the opportunities to help.
For example, our school has a father who was picked up by ICE (and thrown into prison (!) while he’s awaiting a judge’s decision) and our community has been incredibly active in calling congress people, attending rallies, and supporting the family. Things often aren’t happening “out there” but right in your neighborhood.
3. Share the stories. We respond to stories and to other people. When I tell people about the specifics of the father’s case from our school and about how it’s affected their family, it changes things. Suddenly it’s not faceless groups, but real people with real lives in areas where we live and that’s a harder pill to swallow. I see it as my duty to share as many stories of disenfranchised as I can (I’m a real hit at dinner parties, as you can imagine).
4. Ask your local school, library, or civic center if there are ways you can support and help. Schools are often the epicenter of what’s going on in a neighborhood and can give you guidance as to where help is most needed (just last year our school raised money for a local boy who was fighting cancer without health care, offered immigration clinics, and partnered with our local JCC after they received several bomb threats).
After the election, I went into the main office and asked if there were ways I could support our community and was able to gift books for kids’ birthdays who couldn’t afford it, donate a bunch of our baby stuff, and volunteer with kids who needed more reading help. They were small things, but most important things in life are, aren’t they?
5. Be friendly and smile at people. I know, I know. The one thing any woman hates is to be told to smile (I still bristle when I think about how many times I heard this in my 20s). But, you guys, if we want to build a better, more compassionate world, we have to connect with people. It’s just how it is.
I make it my goal to talk to at least one person every time I go out, no matter how uncomfortable I may be (I’m a connection weirdo, okay?). But, listen, the world IS a better place when we are kinder and connected.
It doesn’t have to be hard – all you have to do is look, really look, at the barista when you order your coffee and ask genuinely how they’re doing; or say hi to the harried dad walking down the street and tell him you get it; or offer a good morning with a smile to the person who looks nothing like you; or look a homeless person in the eye and ask them if they’d like a coffee. Let people know they are seen and the world is better because they are in it.
As you really get going with this, you’ll be surprised at the genuine interactions that arise in a matter of minutes! I’ve chatted with people for sometimes less than two minutes and had them tell me things they’ve said no one else knows. We can’t really know what’s going on with other people until we connect and listen.
5. Speaking of, expose yourself to different perspectives. Listen, I’m a white, middle-aged (gah!) mom who unloads her dishwasher for a living and writes late at night. And while I don’t know what it’s like to be someone else, that shouldn’t be an excuse for not trying to understand.
I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to find more places to read and understand other people’s perspectives (please leave me ideas in the comments!) but here are a few I’ve recently partaken in:
Sarah Jones podcast, “Play Date”: First, Sarah is a GENIUS. She is known for her plays and performances where she plays multiple characters across multiple nationalities, pitch perfect. On her podcast, she interviews creatives IN CHARACTER, which would be remarkable enough, but it’s the wisdom her guests come out with that is truly astounding and life-altering.
Podcast, Maeve in America: Maeve is an Irish gal who interviews immigrants around topics like the most difficult part of moving to the US, raising kids here, and giving your parents a hard time (I feel like that’s a universal thing, isn’t it?). Because she’s a comedian and a lot of the people she interviews are also it’s a lighter listen that still gets to the heart of things.
Read stuff that makes you uncomfortable (I find that’s usually a good barometer for knowing I’m being challenged and growing): Design Mom has intelligent, thoughtful discussions around challenging ideas while Awesomely Luvvie is hilarious and thought-provoking (and is going to be on the Together conference, which looks like exactly what we need right now). If you want a super-sharp dose of reality, Erynn Brook’s blog and her article “White Feelings for Charlottesville” will do the job and is, honestly, what put a fire under me.
Host a student from another country: One of the greatest gifts my parents gave us (next to travel) was a whole lotta exchange students. Sharing a home with someone from another country opens your eyes to different ways of living and your mind to different ways of seeing the world. It shifts your perspective and makes it very difficult to make blanket statements about “people” when you’ve experienced an actual person. One of my fave organizations ever, Up with People, is always looking for families!
6. Be curious. Fear shuts us down and makes us think we have the only answer, curiosity opens us up. Which is not to say it’s easy, but can you imagine how different things would be right now if curiosity were the bottom line? If, instead of getting defensive, we listened and asked, “Can you tell me more so I understand what you’re saying?” If we operated from a place of unknowing rather than having the answers?
I’m constantly working on this in my life, but I’ve noticed even with my husband and close friends how much more I learn when I stay curious and ask questions rather than try and hop in with the “answer.” People feel listened to and understood and our connection runs that much deeper.
7. Donate to organizations that are already fighting the fight. We all know this one, but it bears repeating, because the one thing non-profits always need is money to keep the things moving. Great things are happening by people who have dedicated their work to causes and it’s our responsibility as people who have chosen other career paths to make their lives as painless and seamless as possible.
8. Double-down on one cause. Part of my inertia comes from feeling totally and completely overwhelmed by the amount of issues I read about on a daily basis. What does it matter what one little person does in the face of all this mess?
So, I think about how I would treat this if it were my business or life. I would pick one thing and give it everything I had because I know that immersing yourself in the details and learning everything there is to know about a subject leads to success. It’s when we try and do everything at once that things get done half-assed, right?
So, I say pick one thing. It’s way better than doing nothing, which is where most of us are standing, right?
9. Don’t lose your sense of humor. I totally get how hard this one is, but the world needs lightness and joy. Selfishly, I need lightness and joy! I want to raise kids who are filled with love and laughter and that can’t happen if we lose our collective sense of humor so start watching “Playing House’ IMMEDIATELY.
10. Use your gifts. You guys, the world needs you right now. You are the only one of you that we’ve got and we need you to shake what your mama gave ya, okay? There has never been a better time for you to use your force for good and to share your gifts with the world.
I think I’ll end with one last thought – you’re bound to mess up. Cheery, right? 😁
But, it’s actually meant to be freeing. Because this is messy business we’re dealing with, all of us coming together. And we’re bound to say the wrong thing, make mistakes, let fear overtake our compassion, but we can’t let that stop us. It’s like I tell my kids 1439 times a day: You do your best and apologize when you hurt someone and get up try again. Now, c’mon, mamas, let’s get going on this thing.