K is for (Books About) Kindness #atozchallenge

For A to Z 2018, my theme is Books About ____. If you’re stopping by from your own A to Z blog, feel free to leave a link. If you need help with how to do that, you can look here.

If you’re someone looking to read a lot of great blogs, here’s the link for the A to Z challenge.

When I did an Internet search to help me brainstorm what books are about kindness, I got lists upon lists of books for kids.

What? We don’t need to be kind anymore once we’re adults? I’d argue that it’s perhaps more important since our actions as adults are often more impactful than our actions as children.

Luckily, there are books out there that teach kindness without an overt lesson. And if you haven’t heard, reading literary fiction promotes empathy. Not that I needed an excuse to read, but I’ll take it!

Where The Heart Is, by Billie Letts (contemporary): You only saw the movie, you say? Fix that. The movie was good, but, say it with me, everyone, “The book was better.” 🙂 This is one of my all-time favorite books, for a myriad of reasons. One of those is the fact that for every awful person in the book, there are multiple kind people waiting to help. I really believe the world is like that. It’s just that what we see is all the awful stuff that happens. When 17-year-old Novalee Nation gets ditched by her loser boyfriend, she encounters a number of people who offer her simple kindness, and eventually become her family. It’s a lovely book, full of heartbreak, but also kindness and forgiveness.

The Silver Link, The Silken Tie, by Mildred Ames (YA science fiction/ fantasy): I am the only person I’ve ever met who’s read this book, and it is one of my favorites. Tim and Felice are both outcasts, and when they first meet, they bring out the worst in one another. An impulsive invitation throws them together, and they become friends. It’s not long before they realize that all their assumptions about one another are wrong, and they start treating one another with care and kindness. Not that this has anything to do with the theme of today’s blog, but this book also involves mind control and shared dreaming. It’s weird, in a good way.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (literary): I know that there are a lot of Rochester-haters out there, and to you, I say, “You’re wrong.” Rochester wasn’t a nice man, by any means, but he was kind to Jane. He treated her with care, and like an equal. Jane was abused by people growing up, yet she grew into someone who consistently treated people around her with kindness. There are many lessons in its pages. And yes, I know people take issue with the way Rochester treated his wife, but honestly, I’ve heard about asylums from back then, and she probably had it better in the attic.

What books about kindness have you enjoyed?

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My 10 Most Popular Posts of 2017 and My Plan for 2018

I got a lot of new subscribers in 2017, which was nice. (I know you’re there, even if you’re not talking… come join the conversation!)

2017 was a year I tried to settle into a groove with blogging. In previous years, I tried to do daily (which was way too much) and other times when I had no schedule. In 2017, I tried to post on Tuesdays and Fridays. For 2018, I’m going to go back to a Monday/ Wednesday/ Friday format. Because of the interest in book challenges, I’m going to try to check in once a week with what I’m reading and my progress on various challenges. Starting next week, that will be on Mondays. (Happy New Year, BTW!)

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Most of the popular posts from this list are from 2017, but some are older (some much older). Without further ado, my top 10 from this year…

  1. 11 Best Non-Fiction Books About Mental Illness You have no idea how happy I am to see this at #1. People are becoming more interested in mental illness, and I think that’s a wonderful step toward conversation and destigmatizing what so many people struggle with.
  2. 10 Best Novels from Over 100 Years Ago This post is from 2011 and has consistently been one of my most popular posts. It’s a little sparse, back when I just made lists but didn’t consistently post pictures or say anything about the books. But… I guess that’s what Amazon is for?
  3. What Bullying Looks Like as An Adult Again, another post I’m happy to see as popular. We really, really need to stop telling children no to be bullies and then turn around and do it ourselves. Take a look to see the subtle ways you might be participating in bullying.
  4. Don’t Ban Eleanor & Park A post from 2016. I’m so against book banning. I think that any book that really speaks to someone is going to make someone else mad, and that’s okay. Kids need books like these. Eleanor & Park is a book I wish had been around when I was in high school
  5. Book Challenges 2018 A very recent post, but it just goes to show how interested in book challenges people are becoming. I’m going to try to be better about posting updates on my progress next year. Join me and feel free to update me on your progress too!
  6. Open Letter to the Writer Who Left My Writer’s Group You know, I almost didn’t write this post. I hate that I may have contributed to discouraging another writer. But it wasn’t done out of a spirit of meanness, and I think that it’s important to admit to my mistakes so I can become a better person. None of us are perfect. And even though the writer who this letter was intended for will probably never see it, maybe someone else who needs to see it will.
  7. 5 Things Not to Say to a Writer This post is from 2013, and I remember what made me write it. I was still working at crisis back then. We had some down time and were sitting around. I was working on a story and started bouncing ideas off my Arizona bestie, who is not a writer. He pretty much said everything on this list, and it made me crazy. When I showed him the blog post, he laughed.
  8. Promoting Kindness This post was inspired by all the vitriol I see (even among friends) over differing opinions regarding politics.
  9. 10 Best Fiction Books About Mental Illness I love that more people are trying to write characters with mental illnesses; I just prefer that people get it right. Exposure to fiction is known to increase empathy, so reading about characters with mental illness definitely can promote understanding and reduce fear of these disorders.
  10. The Pros and Cons of Writing in Coffee Shops Spoiler alert… it’s not my thing!

Doing a very scientific analysis, it seems that my most popular posts are lists of books and more personal type posts. I’ll try to keep that in mind as I’m brainstorming topics next year.

Are there any topics you’d like to see me write about? Any topics you’d like less of? I’m always open to suggestions, so feel free to comment on this (or any post) or email me at doreeweller@gmail.com.

Thanks for coming along for the ride that was 2017 for me! I’m hoping that 2018 will be even better.

Promoting Kindness

I feel inadequate to talk about this, but I’m going to, because even if I don’t cover it well or completely, at least I may help others think about it.

The world is in turmoil. I think everyone knows that. And from what I see, everyone wants to place blame somewhere. I’m very afraid of the mentality I’m seeing: “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

I can understand the attraction of this idea, but I think it’s problematic on a number of levels. The most important one being: You don’t eradicate hate by promoting hate and divisiveness.

An Eye For An Eye Leave The Whole World Blind

Meeting hate with public shaming and more hatred isn’t likely to tame it; that’s like pouring gas on a fire. When you shame someone, most people don’t respond with, “Sorry; I was wrong.” They respond with anger and defensiveness, trying to explain their side. It reinforces their own idea that they’re right, because you’re treating them like the enemy. No matter how wrong thinking people are, almost no one is a villain in their own mind, and if you really want to bring people together, you won’t treat them as one.

That doesn’t mean that certain behaviors are acceptable; they aren’t. But you can hate the behavior and still show love and kindness toward the person.

People Can Change When Shown Compassion & Understanding

Daryl Davis is a black man who gets to know KKK members. As of December 2016, thirteen of them befriended him and turned in their hoods. Would he have been justified in hating these people who hated him for nothing more than the color of his skin? Yep, absolutely. Would it have changed anything? Unlikely.

Balpreet Kaur was the focus of ridicule online when a man snapped a picture of her. She’s a woman with facial hair. Instead of responding defensively (which would have been understandable), she explained that she’s a Sikh, and that looking different from most people does not interfere with her ability to be of service. As a result of her kind, lovely response, the original poster apologized to her, and she got lots of support. I first read this story in 2012, and I’m still thinking about it. My hope is that everyone who read her story thought twice about cyberbullying from that point forward.

Christian Piccolini became a white supremacist at 16, looking for a place to belong. After he opened up a music store and had contact with people of different races and religions, he said, “I received compassion and empathy from the people I least deserved it from.” That changed his thinking, and he’s now a member of Life After Hate, an organization that helps people leave violent extremist groups.

Understanding Matters

I don’t know what the solution to everything is. But people who seek to tear others down aren’t usually people who feel good about themselves. It’s not a good excuse, but it is something to think about. Making already insecure and angry people feel worse isn’t the way to change the world. People gravitate toward hate groups in order to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.

People make changes when they feel understood, and more importantly, when they understand others. It’s easy to hate what you don’t know and understand. (This goes for both sides.) But it’s not as easy to hate something known. It’s like Ender said in Ender’s Game:

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.

Don’t Hate The Person

Hate the behavior. Hate the violence. Hate the rhetoric. But when possible, show compassion for the person. Because most people who join these groups aren’t evil; they’re just seeking belonging, understanding, acting out of fear, etc.

Is there a way to promote love and compassion without implicitly condoning bad behavior? I’m not sure. I’m afraid that showing love and compassion to everyone who needs it will be misconstrued as trying to stay in the middle and “not take sides.” I don’t want to do that, but I really believe that hating and shaming anyone creates a bigger problem. I want to be part of the solution.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. But please, no politics.

What Bullying Looks Like As An Adult

_DSF5680I was on Facebook recently, and a friend shared a meme with a large chested woman in a dress that barely covered the basics. It looked like a wedding dress. My friend tagged someone else, and captioned it, “Don’t wear this to prom!” The rest of the comments were things like “trashy” and “she paid so much for her breasts that she couldn’t afford the rest of the dress.”

And all I could think was: that’s someone’s moment that other people are ripping to shreds.

Picture this: you’re surfing the internet, and an embarrassing photo of you comes up. Maybe you were actually doing something embarrassing. Maybe it just was an unfortunate moment where you had a wardrobe malfunction, or it looked like you were doing something you weren’t. It’s bad lighting or a bad angle.

Or maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s your daughter. Your brother. Your best friend.

You look at the comments because you can’t help yourself, and they’re things like “trashy,” “don’t wear this!” and “she couldn’t afford the whole dress.”

What do you do if it’s someone you care about who’s being ripped to shreds?

In the case of the woman and the dress, one of the comments was from a “wedding designer” who said that the top was supposed to be higher, but had folded under the weight of her breasts. Maybe the dress came defective or the straps broke. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to look like that. Maybe she had a wardrobe malfunction, and someone snapped a photo at that moment.

Or, maybe she looked in the mirror and thought that dress was the one that made her feel pretty. Maybe she thought she looked like a princess. Does it matter?

She’s a person, just like the rest of us. And while I wouldn’t wear a dress like that, and maybe you wouldn’t either, why do any of us have the right to judge her? To bully her?

If she goes online and sees that picture of herself, how do you think she’ll feel about it? Most people, no matter how confident, can’t ignore bullying. No matter how brave we feel, something in us crumbles when we’re told, especially repeatedly, that there’s something wrong with us.

So, the next time you see a “funny” meme, think before you comment or share. Remember that it’s a real person, and if that were you, how would you feel about it being shared?

In case you’re interested, here’s a few real life stories where people found that they’d become memes.

Lizzie Velasquez was called the “world’s ugliest woman” when she was 17.

Danielle Ann is a troubled young lady who appeared on Dr. Phil, and one fake news site joked about how she’d committed suicide.

Balpreet Kaur is a Sikh, and as such, forbidden from changing her appearance. A man took a picture of her, and posted it on Reddit. This woman’s response makes me admire her endlessly. She’s the epitome of the person I’m striving to be. She gave a really great TED talk on kindness.

 

Sharing the Positive

IMG_8227This has been on my mind to write for awhile.

I’m a member of several Facebook groups, like Humans of New York and the Kindness Challenge. But I also click any link that promises a happy story, one that highlights the positive things my fellow man does.

While most of the comments on these positive posts are encouraging and loving, I do sometimes see people ask why the person filmed and shared what they did instead of just quietly and altruistically doing it.

While I understand the sentiment, I also know that we’re in a world where, if it’s not captured by a cameraphone or on social media, it didn’t happen.

The news inundates us with all the worst stuff that people do to one another. I don’t care if the people who share these videos are looking for attention. I don’t care if they wouldn’t do this nice stuff if no one was watching.

I care that they did something nice for another human being, and I get to see that good stuff happens in the world. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Good deeds are good deeds, no matter the motivation. Spreading positivity is always better than the alternative.

We’re in an increasingly connected, visible world. I can’t imagine what it must be like, as a teenager and young adult, to have all the stupid things you said and did preserved in a public forum. So when someone shares a video of some kindness they did, don’t look at it as vanity (though it might be). Look at it as a product of the times, and be glad you got to see someone doing something nice for one another.

The world can always use more kindness.

Book Shopping at Goodwill

IMG_8237My local Goodwill has these old metal shelves holding the books. They’re jumbled, in no particular order. I can tell that someone has tried to put them in order (the cookbooks are separated from the fiction), but it’s probably a losing battle.

One time, as I stood there, looking over the shelves, a man came up to me and asked if he could help me find anything. I politely declined, but asked me again what I was looking for. I said, “I don’t know. Just whatever I feel like buying.” He then asked if I was looking for fiction or nonfiction, any particular authors. I admit, I was getting a bit annoyed by this point. (My default setting is to be antisocial… I’m working on it. Sort of.) Finally, I said that I was looking for classics, and other books I don’t have.

The man’s eyes lit up, and he said, “I pick the books that get put out, and no one ever wants the classics! If I know that’s what you’re looking for, I can start to put them out.” And then he showed me where a few of them were.

I firmly believe that sometimes people come to me to teach me lessons. This man reminded me to slow down, and instead of being annoyed when people ask me seemingly random questions, to figure out what they’re really asking, then answer.

Often I forget that most people like to be helpful, and I was really doing this man a kindness by letting him help me. He was genuinely enthusiastic about books, and excited to help me find what I wanted.

In a world full of bad news, it’s nice to make a genuine human connection, even if only for a minute. Thanks, Random Goodwill Book Guy.

Judgement Free Zone

There aren’t many judgement free zones these days.  Facebook has become an excuse to post all kinds of judgements that come in the form of complaining about others, commenting on articles, and other things too numerous to list.

This morning, a friend of mine posted a picture of a sports car parked in a handicapped spot, and a lot of people commented that the friend should park too close to it, that if someone can get in and out of a car like that, they don’t need a handicapped space, that the person who had that car was probably “lawsuit-happy,” and other things.

I want to encourage you to try to make your brain into a judgement free zone, free from judging yourself, and free from judging others.  I con’t know how many times I’ve heard people say some variation of “don’t judge me until you know me.”

Well, guess what?

We all have stories.

I get it; it’s easy to jump to conclusions about people.  It’s easy to say that if a person is handicapped, they shouldn’t be getting in and out of a sports car.  But there are a lot of handicaps that don’t show.  People sometimes have muscle disorders that make it difficult for them to move.  Or maybe they’re moving just fine now, but can’t predict if they’ll still be moving fine five minutes from now.

I know someone who’s had 3 or 4 cervical spine surgeries.  This person has struggled with walking.  Some days she can walk a mile.  Some days she falls a lot.  She used to have to ride a motorized cart around the grocery store, and it embarrassed her because she thought people would think she was using it because she was “fat” instead of because of medical issues.  These days, she doesn’t need the cart, but parking lots continue to be tripping hazards.  She still parks in the handicapped spots because she is handicapped, and she never knows when she’ll struggle with walking.

She’s relatively young looking, and most of the time, she walks fine.  She doesn’t limp or stumble, and you can’t see the scars on her neck because they’re covered with hair.  It would be easy to assume that she parks in the handicapped spot because of her weight or because of laziness.

Don’t judge.

If you want to make an assumption, assume that everyone has a story.  When I first started trying to change my mindset from judgement to acceptance, I found it easier to make up stories about someone.

That person who cut me off in traffic isn’t a jerk; he just got the news that his child is sick and he’s rushing home because he loves her so much.  That person who was rude to me in the grocery store was up all night caring for her mother, who has cancer.  That 20 year old who parked in the handicapped spot and appears to be in perfect health actually has multiple sclerosis.

It doesn’t matter to me if these stories are true or not.  What matters is that they could be true.  How horrible would I feel if I found out that one of those things was true, and I hadn’t responded with compassion?  I’m okay with being wrong in the opposite direction; I was compassionate and kind, but the person was really a jerk.  I can live with that.  But unkindness to someone who’s struggling with something?  Wouldn’t I want people to be a little kinder to me if I were trying to manage a heavy burden that day?

None of us is going to be perfect at this.  There are days when I just want to growl at everyone and everything.  But I would hope that on those days, someone out there who has to deal with me, thinks, “I bet she’s not always like this.  She’s probably just having a bad day, so I’ll be a little nicer.”

Kindness costs nothing, but judgement is expensive.