Lessons Learned & Random Ramblings

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Sticks & Stones January 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 8:13 pm

Whoever came up with the saying “sticks & stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” was either delusional, outright lying or attempting to make someone feel better.

I’ve worked with children and teens for nearly 15 years. Very rarely to they come to me to discuss a physical altercation. Hopefully this is because they don’t happen often but I also think that it is because in general when people have a fight – especially guys – they can duke it out and move on. They release their frustration, they get out the tension and then they get on with it. On the other hand, I have worked with many teens and young adults – both male and female – who come to me to discuss something that was said to them and the incredible hurt they feel at the comment(s). These comments can be an hour old, a day old, a week old or more and their impact doesn’t necessarily decrease and the hurt feelings don’t go always go away right away.

Personally, I’d rather be punched than have hateful comments hurled at me and I’d rather jump in front of a train for someone I love than allow them to be the target of hatred, bigotry or ignorance. I don’t remember any physical altercations from my past – though I am sure there were a few minor skirmishes but I do remember some of the verbal assaults I faced and ignorant comments I heard. Even things that seemed minor sometimes stick with us. When I was about 15 my great-uncle said to me “You may be the pretty one but your sister is the smart one”. I didn’t even hear the (backhanded!) compliment because I was so insulted that he seemed to think I wasn’t smart AND/OR that he (and very likely many others in society) believed that a woman couldn’t be both attractive and intelligent. Another incident I recall is that in college a dean asked me if I was sure I wanted to live in a “multicultural” dorm and reminded me that I was white. I was outraged that she seemed to believe that because I was white I might not value diversity or I might not feel comfortable in a “multicultural” setting. I have to believe that both my great-uncle and the dean were speaking without thinking and that they didn’t realize the negative ramifications of their comments because otherwise I would have to assume that they were hateful and ignorant and that makes me sad.

When I teach writing classes I stress the power of words. I encourage my students to really think about what they want to say and then how they say it. I remind them that they deserve to have a voice but that they are also responsible for what they say and the possible consequences – both good and bad. I remind them that to get respect they also have to give respect. This is particularly important in present day because of the emphasis on digital communication – facebook, text messages, emails, etc. I remind the kids that I work with that tone and intention aren’t always obvious in our social networking and that we may be trying to be funny or sarcastic and instead it may come across as mean or aggressive. I also remind them that once they put something out there, they can’t take it back and that they will very likely be judged based on what they said.

When I teach women’s studies classes I stress not only the power of words but also the impact we unintentionally have on others – esp. related to self-confidence and body image. For example, if I always deflect compliments or say that I feel fat or unattractive and I say it in front of my ten-year old niece or my younger cousins what message does it send? If they love me the way I am and they think I am beautiful yet I don’t accept their beliefs what will it make them think about themselves and what they believe? I can’t imagine something worse than having my niece look at herself differently or judge herself because of something negative I said about myself without realizing she was paying attention.

I went to a social media training about a year ago and the trainer encouraged us to imagine facebook (and any other social networking) as a cocktail party. She said that anything you say at a cocktail party – no matter how discreet you are trying to be – can be overheard, analyzed and shared with others. More importantly, she reminded us that once we have opened our mouths we can’t take back what we said OR control what happens next as our words are shared, our intentions are twisted and the game of telephone begins. This is especially true when we say something mean. If I quietly whisper to a friend at a party that I think the host looks fat and her friend overhears and shares it with someone else what happens? At best, I look petty to the few people who know what I said. At worst it gets back to the host and I hurt her feelings and look like an insecure or judgmental bitch. However, if I think carefully about what I say and the weight my words might carry I wouldn’t say the host looked fat even if it was true and instead I might talk about how she has created a great atmosphere for a gathering. In that situation at best my words get back to the host and she feels good about herself. At a minimum, I put good vibes out in the universe and the people who hear me hopefully remember me as a kind person with good things to say about people.

In all of my interaction with youth – personal relationships, mentoring programs, teaching/advising, etc. I have a pretty strict policy on word choice. In the movie Malcolm X one of the characters says: “A man curses because he doesn’t have the words to say what’s on his mind.” I believe this and I believe that when we put down others, or use negative words to describe others, it is because we are scared of something we don’t understand or that we are not smart enough or compassionate enough to come up with an alternate word choice. I tell my students that in order to create a respectful environment we have to be careful of the words we use. For example: I call my students out when they say “that’s so gay” or “that’s so retarded”. I discourage them from using the words “stupid” and “hate”. I don’t do this to restrict their freedom of speech but rather to encourage them to actually think about what they want to say and what reaction they are hoping for by saying it.

The recent shootings in Tucson have reminded us how important it is to be inclusive instead of divisive. Politics aside I do believe that our rhetoric has power and is often negative. Do sane people become violent because of one comment – not likely. However when we create a culture of hate how can we be surprised that people are affected by it? This is just one more reminder of how important it is to think before we speak. We can disagree with people about politics, religion, social issues, etc. without attacking them. We can dislike what people say without disliking the people saying it.

Today is Martin Luther King Day – an important day to remember the power of words and the impact we can have on one and other. We each have a choice – to put love and respect out there or to add to the hatred and ignorance. We can work to positively affect others or we can sit back and wait for someone else to do it. To me that seems sad and cowardly.  As Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Take a moment and reflect on the power of his words…


You Can’t Always Get What You Want…. January 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 11:21 am

It sounds less mean when you sing it like the Rolling Stones song….

I usually get what I want. I don’t expect things to be given to me, or to come easily. But typically, I can get what I want – personally, educationally, professionally. I dream big, I set realistic goals and I work REALLY hard to achieve what I want. I have a tremendous support system and personal cheerleaders that are there to help and I am always willing to return the favor. When I get whatever it might be or make whatever it is happen, I don’t take it for granted either. I appreciate it. I am grateful for it. I share it with others. Obviously there have been times when I have had to wait for something or overcome an obstacle (or many obstacles!) to achieve what I wanted. There have been times when I have wanted to give up or felt completely overwhelmed but I have almost always had within my power the ability to work things out or make things happen.

That is why I am having such a hard time with the fact that after nearly a year – and one emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy – I am not yet pregnant.

I am a smart woman, logically I know that on average it takes 6-12 months to get pregnant. Logically I understand that the surgery threw things off a bit. Logically I understand that I am capable of getting pregnant and I just have to be patient. Logically I count out my 14 days and use the silly sticks and take as most control as possible. Logically I understand that there are millions of women who have had to wait much longer, or chosen a path of medical intervention, and I remind myself that I should be grateful.

Emotionally I lament over the amount of time it is taking. Emotionally each time my period comes again I am disappointed. Emotionally I keep thinking about the what-ifs. I am a college professor – the semesters start and end the same time every year and I obsess over how I will keep my job depending on when I get pregnant and when our child might arrive. Emotionally I think of people I know who have gotten pregnant despite health risks, unhealthy lifestyles, and in spite of almost never having sex. Emotionally this feels SO unfair. Emotionally I drive myself crazy!

Sex education in high school is almost too effective — and popular culture makes it seem like pregnancy is the norm. When I was in high school I believed that if I had sex even once without protection I would be instantly pregnant. This would lead to the believe that as soon as I started trying to get pregnant it would work out. Watching TV today every reality show “celebrity” and 16-year-old is having a baby. Were they trying? Are they excited? Did they just want a reality TV show? It can be overwhelming.

I try very hard to think of the positives. If I am not pregnant I can keep trying to be healthier and lose a few pounds, I can work harder to save money, I can plan a trip to CA to see friends, I can have a couple of drinks at the weddings we have been invited to in the next two months and not feel guilty. I don’t have to worry about throwing up from morning sickness in front of my students (that would be super embarrassing!) and I don’t have to worry about buying new maternity clothes yet.

My husband’s grandmother told me that she is praying to St. Jude for me. I am not religious so I thought this sounded like a nice gesture and I thanked her for putting good thoughts out in the universe. I came home and googled St. Jude. He is the patron saint of lost and desperate causes. Are you kidding me? I am sure there is something I am missing but I couldn’t help but think: Am I the lost cause? Is the baby the lost cause? Should I be insulted? I am still not sure. Perhaps I should do some more research.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want….perhaps the next line should be : exactly when you want it. That is the part that I have to remember. Patience is a virtue, right? I’ll have to work on that too.

Any advice or tips to refocusing my energy & focusing on the positive would be much appreciated! Thanks!


GRACE: My word for 2011 January 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 3:55 pm

I subscribe to a great blog called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I always enjoy what she has to say but recently something in particular stuck with me. Rubin featured a “Happiness Resolution” which encouraged readers to “choose a one word theme for the new year”. I’ve been thinking about this for several weeks and I have officially selected my word for 2011: GRACE.

According to Dictionary.com – Grace is defined as the following: “elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action; a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment;  favor or good will”.

When I think of grace I think about grace in motion, treating all people with kindness and respect. I think of the state of grace and of graceful simplicity. I also think about the importance of saying no gracefully and the fear of falling from grace. The word is pretty powerful and has so many different ideas and emotions attached.

When I was little my grandfather called me “Grace”. It started because I was less than graceful as a child. I was a bit of a klutz and often made people laugh with my lack of gracefulness. As I got older – and thankfully less klutzy! – the name stuck. My grandfather passed away when I was 14 but in the nearly 20 years that have passed my family continues to occasionally refer to me as Grace – thankfully almost always in a positive light!

As I started to think about how I would like to define 2011 it just came to me – it will be “The Year of grace”. I want to be graceful in the way I carry myself, I want to be graceful in the way I communicate and interact with others. I want to try to exhibit grace under pressure when things get crazy and I hope to be able to get back up gracefully if I should happen to fall down.

2011 will bring a LOT of changes – I have committed to tackling a new job in higher education, I have taken on new courses to teach and I have committed to writing more – in particular I plan to tackle the topic I previously blogged about. My husband and I want to have children, I have friends who have moved away that I hope to visit and remain connected to. I will be an aunt in a few months and have lots of family obligations to balance as well. I hope to handle all of it with grace and create a life that whenever possible exudes graceful simplicity.

What is your word for 2011? How will you define your year? Best of luck and Happy New Year!