Wednesday, November 28, 2007

5 Simple Things that Make a Life of Joy

1. Cultivate Kindness. Tell the tired Wal Mart cashier how much you appreciate her hard work. She may be the slowest one in the store today, but a kind word is a great motivator. Yes you've been in line forever, and everyone around you is grumpy and impatient. Don't get caught up in the negativity. Make it your challenge to help them put things in perspective. Be pleasant. Be patient. Smile and start some pleasant small talk. After all, isn't your presence in the store a contributing factor to the crowds and long lines? Cheerfulness and kindness will make the wait seem much shorter than complaining and unpleasantness.

2. Take Responsibility. If you drop something, pick it up. If you make a mess in the microwave, clean it up. Go a step further. If you see a small task that needs to be done, be a grownup and do it. Even if its not your mess in the company microwave. I'm not saying we should all be martyrs, but if more people would actually have a mature attitude about doing the little things, then there would be fewer 'big' things that need to be done.

3. Old Fashioned Manners. The reason for them is simple... it makes living shoulder to shoulder and cheek to cheek bearable for us all. When our day to day encounters are pleasant and easy, anxiety, aggression, and stress levels are magically reduced. Polite driving keeps traffic moving smoothly. Holding doors keeps foot traffic moving smoothly. Teach your adolescents and teens to stand so that the elderly and infirm can sit. It builds character! Remember that rudeness is an indictment of the person who practices it, not the recipient.

4. Talk About What's Important. Too many children today are growing up in a 'values vacuum.' How many of us discuss the importance of honesty, integrity, and compassion. We run them from activity to activity so that they will be well-rounded, well-adjusted individuals, but forget to teach them that 'teamwork' goes beyond the sports arena. We cultivate their educations, their self-esteem, and even encourage them to be generous to charities and the needy. But we also need to remind ourselves and them daily that we are all responsible for making our day to day encounters with friends, family, co-workers, salespeople, and co-commuters as pleasant and enjoyable as they can.

5. Remind Yourself That You are NOT More Important Than Everyone Else. In my mind, this is the number one cause of all unpleasant interactions between people. We all have deadlines and demands on our time, and we are all coping as best we can. That does not give us a right to insist that our issues take priority over another. When we allow negative attitudes and actions to determine our behaviour, we only add to our own stress and everyone elses'. It becomes a vicious circle of stress, anxiety, and aggression. Break the cycle by forcing yourself to think of the positive effect of a smile and kind word versus impatience and rudeness.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What's Missing in Today's Society

How many of you have seen this.... a crowded bus or metro train... teenagers sprawled all over the seats. An elderly or disabled person struggles to get on the train and there are no available seats. Its obvious to anyone watching that they are in distress. But does anyone move, or offer their seat. Sometimes, yes. But rarely is that generous person under the age of 45.

Yes... this infuriates me! Who are the parents of these kids? They are probably the same parents who insisted that the toddler say please when asking for a cookie, but then didn't bother to teach the rest of those lessons. Holding doors. Standing for a lady. Shaking hands when introduced. All the little things that make life a little more pleasant for everyone we come into contact with. They are probably the same parents who cheat in HOV lanes, rush to fill that empty spot in front of them so another vehicle can't, run red lights, tailgate, and leave their exploded food all over the microwave in their office.

My feelings on this subject may seem a bit extreme to some... but take a good look around you and you may see my point.

Civilized behaviour isn't just about saying please and thank you, or even about turning your cell phone off in a movie theatre. It's acknowledging that we should all feel responsible for each other's feelings, comfort, and happiness. When we are trained to think of the effect of our behaviour on others, we make the world a better place, set responsible examples for our children, and, hopefully, make ourselves happier and less stressed on a daily basis. When we inconvenience ourselves in small ways in consideration of another person, the rewards are far greater than whatever avoiding that inconvenience would have been. Yes, I had to stand for 10 minutes so another could sit. Big deal. It felt good to be nice, and it made that little old man feel special. Definitely a greater reward than 10 minutes on my butt would have been.

As a parent, I've tried to teach my kids that we're all in this together. That it's their responsibility to look after the people they come in contact with on a daily basis, no matter how casually. I'll admit to having more success with my son than my daughter, due most likely to their entirely different dispositions, but I never give up trying. And frankly, even my daughter exhibits a level of maturity and manners that far exceeds the average teenager, thankfully. The most important thing to me is to talk to them about having civilized values, and to set a good example. Not to just lecture them, or remotely say "what do you say...." when they ask for a cookie. True manners come from making conscious choices, not from saying please and thank you out of habit.

For all of you out there who are confused and bewildered by the rudeness, aggression, and unpleasantness of your daily contact with 'society', think about what you are teaching your own children. What example you are setting for your co-workers, other drivers on the road, and, most importantly, your family.