Once again it’s time to make resolutions for a new year—and yes, they can be kept, so don’t let any of those pesky doubts sneak in! One of my coworkers shared this motivational graphic in an email recently, and I thought it was a good fit for the season. Wishing everyone a successful, can-do year in 2017!

Word-art with a picture of a beverage can that says "Success comes in a can not a can't."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I didn’t plan to have an imaginary conversation with one of my younger selves when I went to the Rec Center this morning with my husband. We just wanted to get in a quick workout before the facility closed early for Christmas Eve. While he walked over to the rowing machine in the corner, I went upstairs to run around the indoor track.

As usual, the track had both runners and walkers. I got into the outside lane designated for runners and settled into a good comfortable pace, listening to the music from the wall speakers. The radio was set to a station playing a mix of new songs and oldies. When a song from the 1980s came on, it triggered a memory of running around the same track about nine or ten years ago, listening to a different ’80s song called “Invincible” by Pat Benatar—a fight song in which life is a struggle to survive in a world of enemies.

Only one line came clearly to mind: “We’ve got the right to be angry.” Much more vividly than the lyrics, I remembered the emotional content of the song and how much it resonated with my younger self. Anger, stand and fight, do or die.

The culture is full of such messages, of course. Angry, dramatic life-or-death struggles get a lot more attention than calmly going about one’s business. In a fast-paced world where we are constantly surrounded by media, it can be harder to distance ourselves from the drama than it was in ancient times, when villagers sat around the fire on a dark winter night while a bard spoke of heroes and dragons.

Dragon breathing fire in a night sky.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

My younger self didn’t seem to understand that even though anger and drama can make us feel stronger, after a while they get seriously unhealthy. Maybe we have the right to do something unhealthy, but that’s kind of beside the point. The Rec Center seemed like as good a place as any to set Younger-Me straight, since I still had plenty more laps around the track to go.

“It’s just a song,” I told her, imagining that the words in my thoughts echoed from my time to hers. “Real life doesn’t always have to be a fight, you know. Chill.”

She didn’t give me any response, but the memory of her strong emotions when she heard the song faded until I couldn’t feel them anymore. Something in that recollection shifted, settling into a different place in my mind—or perhaps a different category, rather like stripping a tag or category off an archived blog post and replacing it with another one.

Because the past largely consists of what we tell ourselves about it, my imaginary conversation left me feeling as if I had gone back and changed the timeline to give myself a healthier worldview in the past, even if I didn’t literally do so. Time-travel mission accomplished!

When the winter days are dark and still, and the usual workday routine has been put on the shelf till January, self-doubting thoughts can start popping up in the quiet moments. Even when there really isn’t anything that needs to be done right away, we’re so used to having tasks and goals, it feels that there is always more left unfinished—that whatever we did wasn’t enough.

In truth, there is always more we could be doing in this busy world, so full of possibilities. But without having the quiet, reflective, self-nurturing moments to center us, we likely would just scurry around aimlessly, rather than making meaningful choices. No need to rush through life—whatever might be happening at a particular moment is probably okay, and there is always more to explore, learn, and enjoy!

Word-art that says "Live freely. Learn obsessively. Work happily."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

As the winter solstice draws near, staying cheerful doesn’t always come naturally. The lack of sunshine can leave us subconsciously feeling as if all the light has drained out of the world. Our ancestors dealt with such feelings by lighting candles and bonfires as symbols of longer and happier days to come, a tradition that has carried over into our modern-day Christmas decorations. This morning I put a sparkly purple Christmas tree animation on the art display in my dining room.

Animated art of a purple Christmas tree with sparkling stars.

The star on top twinkles while other small stars appear and then fade slowly around the tree, like fireworks, cheering up an area on the north side of the house that is otherwise dark and still for much of the day. Wishing you lots of fun sparkly things to brighten your home too!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I sometimes have imaginary chats with my younger selves, as I’ve described in past blog posts. That can be a helpful way to gain insight. One of those past selves has not been much fun to be around, though. Like a ghost, she haunts creepy corridors of the mind that lead away into darkness, wailing about long-ago hurts and betrayals. Her world is full of lurking enemies who might strike at any moment. Put in psychological terms, she is what Jung called the Shadow—that part of the subconscious where anger, fear, and other unpleasant emotions are kept for protective purposes, rather like a bad-tempered watchdog.

My Shadow-self roams at will through various time periods; she is not tied to childhood or to any particular incident. I generally picture her as thirty-something and angry about having been treated unfairly in one way or another. She doesn’t offer much in the way of constructive suggestions, given the fact that most of her grudges inhabit the distant past and there’s nothing useful that can be done about them now. All the same, that doesn’t stop her from wanting to yell about them anyway.

I couldn’t shut her up with positive thinking and reminding myself that all is well in the present. She just kept on muttering and grumbling to herself as she paced those dark hallways of the mind, occasionally rushing up to the ramparts in great alarm to scream about an invading horde of barbarians. When that wasn’t enough to get my attention, she resorted to splattering my dreams with nasty, gory nightmares. I finally decided there wasn’t much choice but to sit down and have a talk with her.

Because of her perspective that the world is always full of battles, I decided a suitable place for this conversation would be the landscape of an old computer game, Age of Mythology. It’s an empire-building game in which the armies include mythological creatures.

Screenshot of ancient village from Age of Mythology game.

Bright sunshine blazed from an ancient Greek sky. Birds sang in the soundtrack. A centaur, armed with a bow, stood sentry duty near a temple of healing. Watch towers overlooked quiet fields where peasants picked berries and goats grazed. The scene was about as peaceful as it could get in a war game.

Spreading out a blanket on the soft grass beside the temple for a picnic, I gave the centaur a fresh fig and looked around for Dame Shadow. Garbed like a warrior queen in a deep blue dress with a dagger in her belt, she was striding impatiently from one tower to the next, gazing up at the soldiers inside to make sure they were properly attentive. When she came my way, I gave her a wooden plate with bread, cheese, olives and figs, in keeping with the surroundings. Two cups filled with wine sat on a stone; the centaur looked longingly toward them, but because he was on duty I didn’t offer him any wine.

Dame Shadow bit into the crusty bread and chewed for a while, scowling at a far-away smudge of dust on the horizon where an enemy army was on the march. Then she turned abruptly to face me and snapped, “It’s about time you started listening to what I have to say. You’re always acting like everything is fine and it’s all just a game—but the world really is a dangerous place, I tell you! It’s full of nasty enemies, and if you let down your guard for so much as an instant, they might get you!”

I put down the olive that I’d been about to eat. “Okay, so you want me to be more on my guard by doing what, exactly?”

“Trust no one!” Dame Shadow shrieked, jabbing an accusing finger toward me. Startled, I flinched out of reflex, and the olive rolled into the grass. A raven perched in a nearby tree screeched as if answering.

“Haven’t you learned by now that whenever you expect people to be kind and helpful, they end up hurting you instead? Maybe you think they have good intentions—but even if they do, how long is that going to last? Besides, what’s to stop them from doing something bad out of carelessness, ignorance, and wrong assumptions, even if they mean well? It happens all the time. You’ve heard that old saying about what the road to hell is paved with.” To illustrate the point, Dame Shadow stamped a dusty, sandaled foot on the stones of the temple courtyard. A peasant who was praying to an idol gave her a nervous sidelong glance.

I picked up my wine cup and drank slowly, putting my thoughts together before I gave her a reply. “Yes, things are always changing and people make mistakes. That’s all true, as far as it goes. How well or poorly something turns out in the long run depends on your time horizon, though, and how far you go in tracing the chain of cause and effect.”

She frowned in response, turning her head to gaze once more toward the blur of hostile soldiers marching in the distance. The dust had started to settle as they moved on by.

“You can be sure they’ll get here after a while, even if it doesn’t happen right away,” she said, waving her right hand generally in that direction. When it came back down, her fingers rested lightly on the hilt of the dagger. “They always do.”

A marauding army wasn’t likely to roam through my quiet suburban neighborhood, I thought, unless maybe it was a herd of hungry deer attacking the shrubbery. Of course, a snide remark like that wouldn’t have been at all constructive, so I just ate another olive while reflecting further on what was going on here.

“Building these defenses must have been quite a lot of work,” I finally acknowledged, as I looked around at Dame Shadow’s towers and military buildings. “You certainly put plenty of time and careful planning into them. Wanting to be recognized and appreciated for your effort is only fair. I haven’t shown enough gratitude for all your hard work on my behalf; and for that, you have my apologies.”

Her face softened, as much as it could with the rough frown lines etched into it. “Everything that I’ve done, for so many years, has been for you,” she declared, holding her hands widely apart to encompass all of the surrounding landscape.

“Yes, I understand. From now on, whenever you have something to say, I promise to give it respectful and fair consideration.” Picking up my wine cup, I raised it in a pledge.

Just then, a horn sounded in one of the watch towers. Dame Shadow glanced quickly in that direction before turning to give orders to the centaur. “Manticores are attacking! We must loose the Medusas!”

After the centaur galloped away, his hoofbeats echoing from the rocks of a nearby cliff, Dame Shadow turned back toward me with a cheerful grin. “A few stone manticores would be just the thing to strike fear into the enemy’s hearts, wouldn’t you say?”

“Definitely, and I’ll keep in mind the importance of having suitable defenses going forward.” Smiling back at her, I started to clean up what was left from the picnic, getting ready to make my way home.

Christmas may be bright and merry, but it’s also the season when many of us have tasks to finish up at work before going on vacation for the rest of the year. That can get us stressed out, especially if we are rushing around buying presents and making holiday plans. Something is bound to go wrong.

Word-art that says "If Plan A didn't work, keep your cool. The alphabet has 25 more letters."

When a problem does come up, we should keep in mind that in all likelihood, it’s not going to be that hard to fix. Most of the time it’s just a minor annoyance, not a catastrophe—and we should plan to relax and enjoy the holidays anyway!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

December 3, 2016 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Here’s a thought-experiment to consider: Imagine a third party in the American political system bringing about civility and respectful dialogue, without electing even a single candidate to office.

Let’s call it the Civility Party. It would never do any negative campaigning. Indeed, it wouldn’t even have a platform, nor would it campaign at all. It would have only one role—as a spoiler. When a major-party candidate got too nasty, the moderate and independent voters who otherwise would have supported him or her could, instead, cast a protest vote for the Civility Party’s candidate.

So what, you’re probably thinking. There are plenty of third parties now, but it doesn’t matter. The nastiness just keeps getting worse, and everybody knows protest votes are useless.

True enough—but let’s take a closer look at just why that is. Most voters who are offended by nasty campaigning do not cast protest votes. Instead, they “hold their noses” and vote for the major-party candidate they dislike least. Because negative campaigning is so widespread, both candidates probably are doing it, so a lot of people reluctantly vote for whichever candidate they would have chosen anyway. As a result, there is no downside to negative campaigning. Politicians sling the mud without restraint, hoping more of it sticks to their opponent.

Mud wrestling in an outdoor pit.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Even if some voters are disgusted enough to choose third parties, they are not making a clear statement in favor of civility because nobody knows why they voted as they did. If a third party gets more votes than usual in a particular year, that might have nothing to do with the behavior of the major-party candidates. Maybe it’s because voters are more interested in the third party’s issues or see the third party’s candidate as having better qualifications.

The Civility Party would change things by accurately tracking the number of votes lost because of campaign nastiness. In close elections with a lot of mudslinging, that number could end up being more than the margin of victory. Such results would demonstrate to both politicians and voters that it really is possible to punish uncivil candidates with enough protest votes to cost them the election. If enough voters got in the habit of doing it, there would be an effective structural deterrent to negative campaigning.

Of course, in states or districts where one major party or the other regularly wins by a large margin, Civility Party votes would have no impact (except in a state like California that has open primaries). But realistically, the campaign budgets for such areas are small anyway. The vast majority of general-election campaigning takes place in competitive states and districts where victory comes down to persuading a small number of moderate and independent voters to choose one side or the other. And that’s where the Civility Party could play the spoiler effectively.

It probably will never happen though, because by the time we reached the point where enough voters cared strongly about civility to make a difference in the outcome of elections, our culture likely would have changed enough for the better that a Civility Party wouldn’t be needed.

Dealing with problems doesn’t necessarily mean working on them right away. Often it’s more effective to slow down and consider the alternatives. But because the modern world is so busy and competitive, not solving a problem quickly can get uncomfortable—it brings up all sorts of old anxieties about wasting time, not knowing what to do, and being a failure. So, instead of calmly looking at the situation and realizing that there are many possibilities, people are likely to overlook all but the most obvious solutions and to pick one without giving it much thought.

Word-art with a light bulb that says "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven't." -Thomas Edison

Taking time to consider possible solutions, rather than doing whatever comes to mind first, is not really wasteful. It leads to a calmer and more productive mindset in dealing with problems generally, and it’s likely to have much better results than hurrying to do something right now.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

No, I didn’t really go on a cruise, but when we get into these dark wintery days it’s fun to think about traveling somewhere sunny. So, yesterday afternoon I put an ocean view on the digital art display in my dining room. The caption for the photo said it was taken in Croatia. I’ve never been to Croatia, but I figured it was as good a place as any for an imaginary cruise.

Seashore photo taken in Croatia as shown on a digital art display.

Although this wasn’t a video, with the lights turned off in the room, I could almost imagine the seagull gliding higher on an updraft and hear the sound of the waves when I walked by. Just a little bit of diversion to make my day brighter and more cheerful. Hope you enjoyed it too!

With so much changing all around us in the busy modern world, on Thanksgiving we feel glad for the things that stay constant—family, friends, and the small comforts of home. There is much to appreciate in the random things, as well. Instead of trying to plan everything in detail and then getting stressed when it doesn’t all work out, sometimes we do better just to go with the flow and discover what comes along.

Two years ago, I wanted to buy an angel for the top of my family’s Christmas tree. We had been putting different ornaments at the top each year—a star, a dove, a sun—but we never had an old-fashioned angel. I looked at several stores, getting frustrated when I couldn’t find what I had in mind. When I browsed online, I gave up after wading through many pages of angel ornaments that just didn’t look right.

I brought some old stuff from my basement to donate at a nearby thrift store on Tuesday. I wasn’t thinking about angels at all when, after a quick glance at a shelf of holiday decorations, I noticed this regal figure looking back at me as if bestowing blessings:

Christmas tree angel with gold wings, wearing a fancy old-fashioned dress.

She’ll make a lovely addition to the Christmas tree when we set it up this weekend! And in the spirit of the season, another random thing I came across last week is a blog with a random acts of kindness generator that suggests good deeds for the day. The more kindness there is to go around, the merrier!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.