YOUR MOST USEFUL ASSET

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What is your most useful asset? Are you smart? Are you physically attractive? Maybe you are strong? Perhaps you have a lot of wealth? Maybe you are a good conversationalist? The ironic thing about any of these traits, is that they are of little use unless they are put into the service of others. If you are strong, but do nothing with your muscles how useful are they? If you acquire a great deal of wealth, but never spend anything what good does that wealth amount to?

Each one of us has assets. Maybe it is a nice smile? Maybe a good deal of compassion? As the week draws to a close, let us spend the weekend taking stock of our unique skills and talents. After we do so, let us also find ways in which we can put them into the service of others. The picture above gives us three very good ideas. Let us make sure we approach others with our hearts full of love, our ears ready to listen to all they have to share and our hands ready to help them as they need.

In our modern world many people will do anything for a feeling of significance. What many of them fail to realize is that you do not need to make a video for YouTube of you doing something ridiculous or dangerous. You do not have to prove how important or better you are than anyone else. To be a truly useful, valuable and yes, important person, all you have to do is be of service to others. Who would not want to be around someone who is loving, listens to what we have to say and is always willing to help.

If you still want to make that crazy video for the internet, why not show off your talent in the service of others? Use that amazing smile to brighten the lives of others. Use that wealth to help those less fortunate. Maybe use your muscles to help your neighbor with a project they are working on. The more you help others, the more useful you become.

A NEW AVENUE EXPLORED

Recently, I had the honor of being part of an inspiring publication. See Beyond is a wonderful magazine that tackles the gritty issues facing our youth and does so while encouraging and inspiring them.

In this issue, I had the great pleasure of joining other authors while sharing the challenges I face in my career as a writer. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of such a unique and thought-provoking publication. I am already looking forward to contributing more.

CLICK ON THIS LINK TO READ MY ARTICLE ON PAGE 32 OF THIS MONTH’S ISSUE

JOHNNY APPLE SEED AREN’T WE ALL?

Countless are the times that people have come up to me and said things such as, “I was thinking about what we talked about a while back….” I am sure we have all heard this in our lives. We have all been on the opposite side too, haven’t we? Something someone was telling us didn’t make sense to us at the time, but through some change in life circumstance, we can appreciate it now. Maybe it is a loving thing they told us, the reminder of which has helped us make it through a tough time we are currently facing. This can work in the opposite way too. How many times have we remembered something hurtful that was said or done to us? I am not sure why we choose to do that, but that can be how the human brain works.

What we must keep in mind is that everyday we go through life we are planting seeds. Much like a farmer, what we grow will depend on what seeds we plant. We can plant beautiful flowers, fruit, or even a poisonous plant. The seed may take root or it may not. It may grow in our garden or others may be left to benefit, or be poisoned by what grows. In this way we have an ability to affect not only our life, but the world at large. Allow me to explain what I mean by use of a historical figure.

Johnny Appleseed, better known as John Chapman was an American Pioneer nurseryman who planted apple trees in several states and in part of Canada during the late 18th and early 19th century. A lot of the trees he never saw grow, but in the places he visited people were eating apples long after he was gone. We do much the same things with our words and actions. They may not be apple trees, but we are planting seeds just the same.

If we think in terms of Johnny Appleseed’s story, what will grow from the seeds we plant? If we are planting seeds of kindness and encouragement every where we go, we will see kindness blossom and grow. We will see the confidence and joy continue to grow in the hearts of our friends and family. If we plant seeds of gossip and complaint, we will see melancholy, sadness and resentment blossom all around us. In this way we do a great deal to shape the world in which we live.

What about the world at large? Truly, the seeds we plant can’t make much of a difference on a global scale? Think about this. When you go to purchase a cup of coffee at your local Starbucks, treating the employee with extra kindness could ease a tough day they are having. There you affect one person. Due to that act of kindness, they may treat the next person in line with an extra amount of customer service. Then you have affected two people. Maybe that person is on the way to the airport to fly home to a different city or even country and now feels good thanks to the good service they received. They may go on to treat people they encounter on their journey with more kindness and compassion. Thus, your simple act of kindness could affect people halfway across the world. It may not reach such global proportions, then again with comments on social media and the internet we can spread a great deal of seeds without even leaving our homes.

Although this was a positive example, the same holds true in reverse. You may think comments and they way you treat people are harmless, but you are forever planting seeds. We may not see them grow and it may take years for them to blossom, but given time they will. Let us all do our part to plant seeds of kindness, compassion, encouragement and joy. We will grow a garden of positive results. Let us be equally vigilant against casting seeds of negativity, gossip and judgment to the wind. They too, will grow into a world of negative people, places and things.

Let us all remember we are Johnny Appleseed in our own way. Let us plant seeds to grow positive families, friends, communities and the world at large.

SMILE, IT IS TAX DAY!

Today in the United States it is Federal Income Tax day. Generally, a somber day for most. After paying what seems like the bulk of your earnings out of your paycheck, you have the dubious honor of paying some more today. Even if after paying your required amount every check, you get a small portion back, you still face the prospect of filling out time-consuming paperwork that can often be very confusing. At the least, you are going to pay someone to do this for you or face penalties for not doing so. This time of year we are also supplied with many facts of the not so logical way our government chooses to spend our hard earned dollars. Not very inspiring or motivational.

Before I continue, allow me to let you know I do not work for the IRS, nor am I a fan of tax season. That being said, today I stopped and pondered all that our tax dollars give us. Yes, there is lots of waste and mismanagement when it comes to government spending, but let us focus on what does get done. As I write this mid April has brought my city freezing rain and snow. The roads are currently being plowed and salted. I cannot imagine what it would be like if that were left up to the public to do. We can look at the sidewalks for an example. Some people shovel and clean them off, some do not. Imagine if the roads were the same. How would we get around? How long would we have to wait? How about sanitation? Imagine having to deal with your garbage daily. Would you take it to the dump on your own? Would there even be a dump? How about the public library? Free education for anyone regardless of race, religion or social status.

For a lot of us, tax day will always be a painful experience. By focusing on what we do receive from the money that is unceremoniously taken from us each paycheck, we may ease the pain we feel. If we look hard enough, for every story of the government buying a $200 hammer, we will find one of a young woman who studied at the public library and went on to become a doctor who saved many lives.

Could and should the government do a lot better? Absolutely and we can and should keep voting to make sure they do. In the meantime, let us be grateful that we do not have to bury our trash in our own back yard or clear the snow of the street in front of our house. While we are at it let us rent a movie from our public library and enjoy some of the tax day deals that some companies are offering.

A LESSON I HAVE LEARNED

There are a handful of lessons I have learned in my life that really stuck with me and defined who I am to this very day. One of them I was told was that “If you hate someone or something you just do not know enough about it. If you learn about it and still hate it, that does not mean it is bad, it means you still have more to learn.” This is something I keep with me to this very day.

If we are being honest, we would have to admit there are lots of messages telling us who we should dislike, who the bad guys are and why. From politics, sports and even religion have messages telling us that there are people who are less than us. When we read about some violent episode conducted by a group of people it can be easy to say “Look this group of people are evil.” If we were to apply that same guilt by association to every terrible act that has been done I fear we would all belong to some group of evil.

How can we ever not harbor some sort of negative emotions towards people who by their very acts cause the death of hundred, or even thousands of people? It is a very difficult question to answer. Quite often we must look back in history for answers as to why things happen today. Was there an event in history where this group of people were made to suffer under the group they attacked?

Even personal history can shed some light on why people can do acts most of us would find unspeakable. Did this person suffer years of physical and emotional abuse? Did their family constantly remind them of judgmental or even hateful beliefs that hand been handed down for generations? Were they raised in a neighborhood that also promoted these beliefs? Maybe while attending school for 8 hours a day surrounded by peers their age they learned to adopt their beliefs? They might have even did so just to fit in at first, but after years of trying to fit in those beliefs became part of their spirit.

This can be even worse when an entire society is fed information that is hateful. We can use both Nazi Germany during World War two, as well as early America as examples. In the 1930’s Germany began a campaign against the Jewish people. This was not only political, but in schools, the media and in the home. An entire generation grew up being taught a terrible doctrine of hate and evil. This resulted in the death of over 6 million men, women and children of Jewish decent. In the founding years of America the same thing happened. Americans were told the native people were uncivilized and less than they were. They were told they were violent and threatened their safety. It was also said that the Native Americans stood in the way of the prosperity and freedom of the white settlers. Again, this message was delivered in the media, the government, the home and even the church pulpit. This resulted in the death of over 100 million men, women and children. What is worse is that often entire nations and cultures were lost. Medicine and knowledge we could use today are gone forever.

Does this mean we should hate the German people who did not stand up to their government? Should we hate those who acted on the beliefs they were raised on? Should we still hate the American soldiers who killed pregnant Native American women because when they were being forced to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma they were going to slow? Sure those acts, among many others in history are hard to understand and even harder to forgive for some people.

We must not only view the history, but be careful not to view it through our own eyes. It may be easy to say “If I was in Germany back then I would have told Hitler to go to hell !” We can say that as somebody who was raised free and without judgment. If we had been told, and often given ‘proof’ as to how bad this group of people were from the time we were born, we might act differently. While there is plenty of proof of people who have overcome very challenging situations to be loving non-violent people, it is impossible to know how we would act in the same situation. In fact, we will never know as we will never have their exact life and genetic makeup.

In a world that urges us to blame and condemn, there is very little accent on compassion and understanding. Those two elements are essential if we ever hope to change the world we live in for the better. Let me be perfectly clear on one very important point. Understanding someone’s violent action does not mean Condoning it. We can certainly condemn acts that harm others, and we should, but without following that with an equal effort to understand why they happened in the first place history would be doomed to repeat itself.

WHY BOTHER?

Last post we investigated why it is important to give all of yourself when it comes to your relationship with the one you love. We learned that it allows them to give all of themselves to us, we learned that by not doing so we end up drawing into our lives the very circumstances that we are trying to prevent. That is certainly important when it comes to our romantic partners. Most of the time we are not only sharing our hearts and souls with each other, but also our homes. Not only is it very important to keep someone who lives in the same house with you happy, but they are probably thinking something very similar.

What about the other people in our lives? What about our friends? Why is important to put so much effort into our friendships? In case you didn’t read the last post let me refresh some of the points that apply equally to friendships as they do to romantic relationships. There are friends we might be afraid to trust completely because they might take advantage of our trust and hurt us. Unlike the romantic partner, there are less repercussions if they do. We do not have to go home to our friends. The connection is generally not as deep as our romantic relationships and therefore the ending of a friendship is usually less painful than a romantic relationship. Same with sharing ourselves with friends. The less we tell them, the less information they would have to use against us should they decide to do so.

To a lot of us this may seem very safe and logical. The less we give people the chance to hurt us, the less we will be hurt. Seems to make sense, right? Wrong. By doing this we are not only short-changing ourselves out of the deep, meaningful relationships we could be enjoying, but we are also hurting others and increasing the chances that we will be hurt in the future. Wait, what?

That’s right. So far we have been looking at this from only one side of the equation. Let us look at the other side for a second. If you feel that your friend views you as untrustworthy or at best does not trust you completely, how would that make you feel? Do you think you would feel like extending your trust to that person? You would probably end up feeling like they do not hold you in that high of regard. Now follow that up with them not completely sharing themselves with you. That could leave you feeling that they think you are either not worth knowing that information, or again cannot be trusted with it. Do you think you would share things about yourself with them? Probably not. This would leave us with very shallow and incomplete relationships at best. It also leaves the door open to upset or anger people even by accident. If you do not know what a person likes or dislikes, their opinions on certain matters or even their fears and joys you could say something you truly regret even not trying to do so.

We have exhausted why it is important not to not give ourselves to friendships. How it can end up increasing the chances we will get hurt instead of keeping us safe as we may think. What advantages, if any, can we gain by trusting and giving ourselves completely to our friendships? I give you exhibit A in the picture above. This is a story that is so exciting I can hardly wait to share it with you. While Margie and I were DJing at a local establishment on Sunday night, my good friend Cari messaged Margie and asked her what door we use when we come home as she had a surprise for me.

When we arrived home around 2 a.m., after what was a very busy evening I was exhausted. Currently, the date here is January 95th, or so it feels. We should be having highs in the mid 50’s but they had been barely above freezing with the sun so fed up with the long winter it decided to take a vacation. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so prolonged cold weather minus the sunshine can be quite trying for me and those around me. At this point if you would like to light a candle for Margie it would not be a bad idea. Because I do indeed trust my friends with this information and share it with them as well, Cari was able to do something so thoughtful and amazing. I arrived home to see the above signs taped to my front door! They ranged from reminding me warm weather was coming, to the fact that the cold weather is what makes the tropics so special to me. She added the Wisconsin State Fair, which I love as well. She even encouraged me by reminding me how much my writing touches her and others.

That night I fell asleep with a heart filled with gratitude for the caring and loving friends I have. The reminders and motivation served their purpose, but so did the fact that I have such a great friend. Her efforts did more than she could possibly imagine and her timing could not have been more perfect!

My point is that this all would not have been possible if I did not open my heart to my good friend. It would not have happened if I did not trust her enough to share not only my joys, but also my struggles and fears. It is true that not many friends can be as awesome as Cari, but by trusting and sharing with your friends you give them the opportunity to be so.

SEE THE SIGNS

When people find that I am an advocate for positive living, the same question seems to pop up, “Why bother?” They want to know why you should bother being nice to people. Why is it important to stop and greet strangers with a smile? Why is it important to check in with friends even if you really have nothing else to say? Why is it important to keep courting the love of your life, long after they have agreed to the ‘happily ever after’?

These are all very good questions. Some people who may fit into the pessimistic lifestyle even ask me questions such as “Why bother being nice to people when all they will do is end up taking advantage of you?” No doubt this question has arises from some past experience they have had. The funny thing about that is it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you treat people with the forgone conclusion that at some point they are going to take advantage of you or do something hurtful, you withhold certain things. You may not give them the full amount of trust. You may not be completely open and vulnerable with them. Perhaps you may even skip doing the little extra things that may inconvenience you but mean the world to them. After all why would you go out of your way when sooner or later you are going to end up with the short end of the stick?

The ironic thing here is by doing these actions you perpetuate those very circumstances. How? If someone makes you feel like they can’t trust you, how would that make you feel about them? If they never seem to share about themselves and seem guarded would you feel close to them? Trying to keep yourself from getting hurt ends up pushing people away.

Here is another reality – no matter how hard you try at some point you will get hurt. Your paths will cross with some malevolent people, and even good people on occasion do things that hurt us without meaning to. Especially if they don’t know you well enough to know what might upset you.

So why be nice? Why go out of your way to do the things mentioned in the first paragraph? Here’s why. In the picture you see both a sign and a card. The first my lovely Margie left the sign on the mirror while she was shopping with her daughter and I was at the gym. How do you think that sign made me feel as I left for work? Loved? Grateful? Happy? All warm and fuzzy inside? Yes to all the above! The reason she did it she told me was because of how I was making her feel.

The card is an even better story. I shared with Margie how hard it is for me when the Wisconsin State Fair ends. It is not only the end of that festival, which I have loved since a child, but the end of my vacation that year and summer coming to a close. Three things I enjoy coming to a conclusion all at the same time can leave me feeling a little blue. Knowing this the love of my life bought me a ‘get well’  card of sorts. Cheering me up and reminding me of good times to come.

Do you think that would’ve happened had I taken or relationship for granted? Assuming your relationship is ‘handled’ because it is going ok is one of the biggest mistakes a couple can make. Love is one thing you should never put on autopilot. Let me be clear, the reason I put in so much effort in making my lady understand how much she is loved and how beautiful she I find her is not so I can see what creative and wonderful surprises she can leave me. I do it because I am the man in her life and I believe that is what a real man should do. I work as hard as I can to give her a man she can be proud of. I also do my best to not only tell her, but show her how beautiful she is to me and how loved she is. As you can see, the rewards I receive are well worth it.

Here is a wonderful thing I have done with both the card and the sign. I put them inside my laptop and every time I write I open it up to find examples of the love she has shown me. This not only helps on the days when a reminder comes in handy, but each and every time that I see them. It has taken two single very thoughtful moments from my love and made them gifts that give me joy every time I open my computer to write. This not only has me feeling loved it puts me in a great mood to write. It also fills me with gratitude for the amazing woman I have.

How do you think having these reminders serves our relationship? When we are not seeing eye to eye on something, having an example of how great our love can be creates an urge to get back there. When I am away writing, looking over and seeing these reminders helps me stay focused and get my work done so I can come home to the wonderful lady who created them. They are gifts that continue to keep on giving.

Take the time to share with the one you love. The only way for them to love all of you is if all of you loves all of them. That might be tricky to read, but it certainly will make your relationship a glorious source of joy and growth like Margie and I are blessed to have. It also helps to carry reminders of your love with you when you go somewhere.