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Building Community

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I saw this picture posted on Facebook recently.

While I’m not really one for re-posting images with neat little sayings on them, this one happened to catch my eye and stand out to me.  Since I haven’t written anything for awhile, (I apologize for that by the way, I’m still rather broken up about my dog and honestly, finding the motivation for writing “non dark” material has been tough to say the least) I thought it might be a fun little exercise to break this down a bit, explore each saying and briefly share a thought or two on why I think each are important for the human species to adopt into regular every day living.  Really, the two main reasons I thought this might be a good idea are:

A.) If I write it all out, hopefully it will help to embed the ideas in my own head, therefore helping me become a better person.

B.) Hopefully this will garner some feedback from people who chose to read this.  I’ve learned over the years that if I really am serious about expanding my own mind, I need to be interested in knowing what other people’s perspectives are, so please… if you care to share your thoughts…

At any rate, here goes nothin’.

Turn off the t.v. (and I’ll include computer with that too)

A great idea!  It’s not called and “idiot box” or “boob tube” for nothing.  Like anyone else, there are times when I need to take a short break and enjoy some mindless entertainment.  The thing is, watching t.v. can suddenly be like falling into a black hole if you’re not careful.  I freely admit to probably having been one of the biggest offenders when it comes to watching too much.  Luckily, due to being poor,  too much t.v. is no longer an option.  Had the cable taken out awhile ago now.  Mostly it came down to it being a needless expense when compared to things like utilities, food and rent.  Guess what though.  Don’t miss it at all.  The bonus is, I’m finding that I now have way more time for all sorts of new and exciting activities, and… I’m not mindlessly filling my face with sugary or salty crap.  Turning off the t.v. (and/or the computer) is good for the brain… and the body.

Leave your house

Currently I’m totally guilty of not doing this enough.  I keep making excuses as to why I can’t… mostly the lack of money… but ultimately what happens is that I start getting squirrelly when I haven’t left the house in awhile.  To me, home starts to feel like a prison and I start feeling like a caged animal.  When that happens, and you’d only need to ask my wife for proof, I start getting seriously crabby and I’m no fun to be around.  I even get on my own nerves.  I will say this though, I’ve definitely learned to appreciate even the most mundane of outings now… even trips to the grocery store are better than sitting and staring at the same ceiling and walls.

Know your neighbors

This seems kind of self explanatory to me… why wouldn’t you want to know your neighbors?  You have to live next to/near them.  I’ve had neighbors who have been great… and some who’ve been jerks… but honestly, even the less than stellar ones I’ve somehow managed to get along with.  Just seems to make everything easier in the long run, plus… you never know when you might need to borrow something.

Look up when you are walking

I’m pretty sure this means to look up from the ground, not up to the heavens.  Aside from not wanting to crash into things, it’s pretty nifty to see what’s going on in the world around you.  Your feet pretty much know what they’re supposed to be doing when you walk… so why look at them?  I get that you don’t want to step on (or in) something, but it seems to me that it’s possible to scan the ground in front of you to avoid such obstacles plus… eye contact with other humans seems to be important.

Greet People

If you’ve ever worked in a service industry such as being a bartender, waitstaff or even retail sales, hopefully you’ve learned how important greeting people really is.  When you greet someone, even if it’s just a smile or simple “hello”, it makes them feel noticed and therefore, important.  When people feel like they’re important to you, a lot of times (not always) you become more important to them and that can lead to better tips and repeat business.  (There’s also something to be said about greeting a customer from a security standpoint simply because that person knows that they’ve been seen, making them less likely to try and swipe something.)  Also, if you think about it, it feels rather nice to have someone you don’t even know pay you some positive attention.  In my mind, it stands to reason that if someone can do that for me… I should be able to do the same.

Sit on your stoop

Sit and watch the world go by, read a book, kibitz with your neighbors.  Enjoy being outside and take in all that surrounds you.  Listen to the passing traffic, the birds or whatever there is in your area to hear.  Try to avoid doing this in the rain (unless you have a roof over your head) as you will look like a weirdo, although once in awhile sitting in the rain is not a bad thing .

Plant flowers

They’re nice to look at, they usually smell pretty good and there’s something to be said about working with dirt and seeds.  There’s a kind of satisfaction in planting a seed and watching it grow into something beautiful…  Also, flowers attract bees… and we need bees… or we die.

Use your library

I’m guilty of not doing this since the internet is so handy, and frankly it’s kind of a shame.  The things I like about an actual library are pretty simple.  I like getting my hands on actual books from time to time, and strangely, I like how books smell.  Weird, I know.  If your city or town has a library it’s a great place to go and learn new things, meet new people and best of all… it’s cheap entertainment.

Play together

Because playing with yourself…  Ok, that was a cheap attempt at a joke and I mostly apologize.  Remember what it was like when you were a kid and nothing really mattered except having a good time and playing until you couldn’t see straight anymore?

Take some time out of your busy life to play as an adult.  Play with someone.  Play cards, tennis, tiddlywinks or whatever you find enjoyable.  (and yes… even sex can be considered play as long as it’s consensual and no one gets hurt)

Buy from local merchants

There are so many good reasons… but here’s a Dave Letterman style Top 10 list of why you should buy local as often as possible.  And yes, I know that places like Wally World (Wal-mart) are cheap and fairly convenient… but the fact of the matter is the people that run that company are not interested in you or your well being at all.  They are interested solely in acquiring your money… and to do that, they try and make you believe you are getting quality merchandise… but you aren’t.  You’re getting the cheapest crap that they can get their hands on.

Share what you have

Sadly this is a concept that seemingly is lost on way too many people.  The first thing that comes to mind when I think about sharing is making donations to your local food bank… and I don’t mean cleaning out the inedible shit you have in your pantry.  It boggles my mind that in this day and age there are people anywhere that go to sleep hungry.  (incidentally, I found this site while researching for this piece… you should check it out… it’s really cool)

Help a lost dog (or kitty)

In my mind, this is the exact same thing as helping a lost child… although to be fair, you should probably approach any unfamiliar animal with a bit more caution than you’d use on a kid.  Keep in mind that in most cases the animal that you’re attempting to help is probably terrified, hungry and possibly not overly trusting of the upright hairless monkeys that we are.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, or the animal appears injured or sick… call a professional… don’t leave the animal hanging.

Take children to the park

Aside from teaching them how to be social it gets them off their little asses, outside… and away from video games and all the nonsense on the t.v.  As a grown up, it also helps you learn to be social with the other park goers.

Garden together

Pretty much a combination of my thoughts on Play together and Grow flowers.  Any activities that promote fellowship and goodwill are always good.  Getting dirty is good and growing your own food is good.  The actual work part doesn’t hurt too much either.

Support neighborhood schools

To me, this one is a no-brainer.  These are the places we send our children to get an education.  Of course by education I mean that this is where they go to learn actual facts and the art of critical thinking.  I know that some people (I’m looking at you Republican Party of Texas) have a problem with these things and really, I don’t know what to say to them other than get with the program, or… are you F’n kidding me?  Support for your local schools also means that you get involved somehow… even if it’s just something simple like buying from their bake/candy/pizza sale or volunteering to help out in some way.

Fix it even if you didn’t break it

As a self proclaimed “fixer of things”, I have some mixed thoughts about this one.  I agree with the sentiment, but I’m thinking you should probably seek out the owner of “it” before you just go ahead and fix “it”.  Also, if you don’t really know how to fix “it” but just want to be helpful… keep your damn hands off.  You’re not helping at that point, only making it worse.

Have potlucks

I don’t know about you, but this is pretty much the only way we (my wife and I) know how to accept an invitation to a party.  “What can we bring?”  (usually it’s deviled eggs and/or potato salad)  Potlucks are great not only for the variety of food and flavors, but sharing a meal with an equally diverse flavor of people can be an amazing experience…  I know… again with the fellowship and goodwill thing…

Honor elders

Ok… this is just my personal opinion… but I think it’s a crime that so many of our older residents are forgotten about and/or locked away in retirement homes.  The bigger crime is that there is somehow magically no money to properly take care of these folks.  They’ve done their time… just as you are doing right now… and the very least we can do is show them some respect, and give them a little dignity.  I’m pretty sure they’ve earned it.  Besides, if we’d just take a minute and listen, there is a lot we can learn from people who’ve been there and done that long before we even considered it.

The other side to that coin… and people might not like to hear this… but when it’s time for them to go, and by go I mean die… let them.  It’s not an easy decision to make and something you’ll re-think over and over for the rest of your life, trust me… but make the difficult (and right) choice.  Wasting away or being kept alive by machines is undignified, more than a little bit selfish and frankly, a waste of resources.

Pick up litter

I used to hunt.  The general rule I had hammered into my skull was; when you’re out in nature, leave it cleaner than you found it.  Not only does trash look like hell when it’s lying all over the place, but some of it can be a danger or even cause injury or death to the creatures that live out there.  Give a hoot… don’t pollute… oh, and smokers… please dispose of your nasty ass butts properly.  That shit is not only disgusting but toxic to the environment as well.

Read stories aloud

As someone who writes, my mission is to get the words down on the page in such a way that my reality becomes your reality.  When someone reads aloud they inject a piece of their self into the story, many times making it more compelling than it might have originally been.  While the story itself is important, sometimes it’s just as important that the story have life.

Dance in the street

I’m not much of a dancer so instead what I’ll say is this.  Don’t be afraid to share your happiness and joy in public.  It’s contagious.

Talk to the mail carrier

While my first inclination is to make a joke about this… ie. “going postal”… the fact of the matter is this.  Your mail carrier has a thankless job.  They work in conditions that a lot of people would balk at.  I know this because I used to work for the USPS.  For all the faults that the postal service has… the carriers are not to blame.  They’re just out there trying to make ends meet like the rest of us.  Say “hi”, offer them something cool to drink on a hot day or something warm on a cold one.  Make conversation once in awhile.  Remember them at Christmas.

Listen to the birds

For me, one of life’s simple little pleasures is being up at first light, drinking a cup of coffee and listening to the various birds chirping away.  I know it sounds silly, but given the right conditions, you can almost hear Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” playing along with them.

Put up a swing

Because who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of weightless flying?

Help carry something heavy

Another no-brainer.  You know as well as I do that when YOU are carrying something heavy you’ll accept help from anyone… return the favor.

Barter for your goods

My brother-in-law is an expert at this.  He’s managed to find so many different ways to negotiate and/or trade goods and services for goods and services he should teach a course.  Of course the key to bartering is being able to offer something of at least equal or greater value than what you seek… or at least give the impression that it’s of greater value anyway.  Another key to being successful at bartering is; don’t screw anyone over.  Word travels fast and ultimately you’ll be the one who suffers.

Start a tradition

Have take out on Christmas Eve, go see an opera once a year or get together with a group of friends every couple of months.  Personally I don’t think it really matters what you do as much as who you do whatever it is with.  For example, I have a friend that lives in a neighboring state.  While I get to talk to that person pretty much whenever I want via the computer or text or whatever… it’s not really feasible to visit in person all that much.  By accident a tradition of sorts has developed over the past several years where a day is picked  and we meet in the middle and go for lunch.  I can’t speak for my friend, but I know that it’s something I eagerly look forward to when that time of year rolls around.

Ask a question

The only dumb question is the one that goes unasked, so never be afraid to ask questions.  (it also doesn’t hurt to be open to hearing and comprehending the answer)

Hire neighborhood young people for odd jobs

The sense of entitlement some young people have today is flabbergasting, but on the other hand, kids shouldn’t be treated as slave labor either.  If you’ve got a job that needs to be done… and if you can find them… maybe you can hire, no… not the A-Team… some kid who wants money for candy or a video game or whatever.  Just be fair about it.  If you have them shoveling your 50 yard snowy walk in sub zero temperatures… pay them.  You’re helping them learn about work ethic, a job well done… and reward.  Something no video game in the world can teach them.

Organize a block party

To be honest, I’ve never done this (actually organized one) but I think it’s a magnificent idea.  I haven’t been to a block party since I was a kid.  My parents old house was in the exact center of the small town we lived in, had a nice big yard, and we had a pool.  It was natural location for the neighborhood to congregate, have a cookout and some drinks and just socialize.  Good times!

Bake extra and share

This is another thing my family has done for as long as I can remember.  Baking cookies??  Take some to work for your co-workers.  Give some to the mailman.  Catch the guy who picks up your trash and give them a nice, unexpected treat.  Take a plate full of Rice Krispie squares to your neighbor… just because.  You might be surprised to find your generosity reciprocated someday.

Ask for help when you need it

Here’s another thing that I struggle mightily with.  For whatever reason, for as long as I can remember I’ve had it stuck in my head that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but actually the opposite is true.  I think Dirty Harry sums it up best.  Know what your limitations are, and if you’re exceeding them, be smart and ask for assistance.  The very worst thing that will happen is someone will say “no”, but it’s not like none of us have ever heard that before.  The other thing to remember is that none of us are mind readers.  We won’t know that you need help unless you say something.

Open your shades

Click here then read on.  I always kind of thought it was nonsense but then I was diagnosed as having Seasonal Affective Disorder and pardon the pun, it cast new light on the situation.  At any rate, opening the shades will let in all the natural light you can stand.  The only time I would recommend leaving your shades closed would be during the day if you run an air-conditioner.  Rather pointless to continually attempt to cool what is essentially the same thing as a greenhouse.

Sing together

Boy the way Glenn Miller played…  I feel lucky that I grew up in a household that had a professional musician living in it.  My mom was a piano teacher/travelling musician (church/wedding/funeral/etc.)  Often times for practice, she’d gather up my sister and I and we’d belt out show tunes (and other favorites like this one) while mom hammered away on the ivory.  It doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like  or if you sound like a cat screeching… singing is good for you, and when done with others?  Even better.  There is a reason karaoke is popular.

Share your skills

Why?  Because anything worth doing is worth doing right.  The only example I can think to give here (besides the give a man a fish vs. teaching a man to fish thing) is; among other things, I taught my wife how to check and correct tire pressures, fluid levels and so forth in our vehicles.  It’s not because I don’t want to do these things but instead I want her to know how to do it (and do it correctly) just in case I’m not around sometime when it needs to be done.  Sure she could ask someone for help, but the feeling of satisfaction she gets when she’s done something she previously didn’t know how to do before… all by herself… is it’s own reward.  She is able to be more self sufficient, and I feel better knowing she can not only take care of herself should she need to… but that she knows the right way to handle it.

Take back the night

In the wake of the shootings at the Batman premiere in Aurora, CO, it’s all too easy to feel frightened of any number of bogeymen that could materialize out of the darkness.  It doesn’t help matters any that the “news” media promotes fear instead of logical, rational “here’s what happened” reporting like days of old.  Night time really is a whole new (and enjoyable) world to explore and there really is nothing scary about it… at all.  Take it back… it’s yours.

Turn up the music

Turn up the radio… I need the music, gimme some more.  Yes those are the lyrics to a cheesy 80’s hair band tune, but so what?  It doesn’t matter what kind of music you enjoy, there’s something about cranking it up that just brings (for me anyway) a sense of joy.  P.S. if you clicked that link thinking it was going to be the Autograph song I hope you enjoyed the little surprise instead.  :)

Turn down the music

Wait what?  You just said for to turn UP the music and now you want us to turn it down?  Yeah… your music sucks and you should be listening to mine instead!

Not really… but it is always a good idea to be mindful of your surroundings.  Listening to your car stereo at full volume is all well and good if you’re cruising down the highway or out in the sticks.  If you’re in a populated area though… please turn it down to a reasonable level.  One of the best things a friend ever told me (which hurt like hell at the time) was that the world did not in fact, revolve around me… and it doesn’t revolve around you either.  Be respectful about your music listening… you know you want others to be respectful of you so show the same courtesy.

Listen before you react to anger

After years of trial and error, my wife and I finally learned how to fight with one another.  While that probably sounds like a weird statement, it’s the god’s honest truth.  Used to be that when one of us would be angry about something, rather than the non-angry party stopping to figure out why the other was so pissed off, there would be a knee jerk reaction to the anger instead and it would open up a whole new can of tuna.  (who would can worms?)  We finally learned to stop for a second and try and figure out what was the root cause of the anger.  Worlds of difference now.  While we still fight from time to time, (who doesn’t?) things get resolved much more quickly now, and it’s a much better way to live.  Don’t be fooled though, it takes a lot of effort at first to just shut up and listen for a minute.  Like everything else though, it gets easier with practice… so don’t quit practicing.

Mediate a conflict

This is a tough one if you have a problem staying neutral.

My stepsons used to get so angry at me when they’d get in trouble at school and the first question out of my mouth would be; “well, what part did you actually play in this?”  For whatever reason they believed (at the time) that I should automatically just take their side against their evil teachers and school administrators… just on their say so… but I couldn’t (and can’t to this day) do it.  I think they wanted me to be like so many other parents who delude themselves into thinking that their kid wouldn’t do such a thing… whatever that thing may be.

At any rate, I’m a believer in causality.  For me it’s imperative that I get as much good information as I can, from all sides, before trying to understand a conflict… let alone mediate one.  The great thing about mediating though, is that if you manage to resolve the conflict in a fair and equitable manor, not only do you get a nice little boost of self satisfaction because you’ve helped others… the others learn that you are a person who can be trusted with handling such things.  Win-win in my book.

Seek to understand

This requires active (and on-going) participation on your part.  Take any thought you want that’s rattling around in your brain and ask yourself why you think that way.  When you’ve come up with a reasonable answer, take that same thought in the complete opposite direction and see what else you come up with.

For example, (and this is a really over simplified dissection) there was a time in my life where I truly believed that “gay” was just plain wrong.  The more I investigated that thought internally though, I was able to come to the conclusion that while the term doesn’t apply to me, I have no right what-so-ever to cast any type of judgement on people that the term does apply to.

In my mind I truly believe that the thought process is like walking down a path.  You can choose to stay with the thought that you feel comfortable with, but to truly expand your mind you need to investigate other paths, no matter how hard to walk down they might seem.

Learn from new and uncomfortable angles

For me, this pretty much goes hand in hand with seeking to understand.  The same principle described above applies.  Make the effort to take something you’re comfortable with and turn it upside down.  You may be pleasantly surprised.

Know that no one is silent though many are not heard… work to change this

While I could go on a tirade about Citizens United and the stunningly moronic ruling of the United States Supreme Court, I’m not going to.  What I will say is that e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e. has a voice… everyone.  I don’t care who you are… what color or gender you are… what your ethnic background and beliefs are… or if you wear underwear or not.  I truly can’t wrap my head around the fact that there are people out there who actively engage in suppressing the voices of others.  To me, this is a clear violation of the golden rule.

The thing of it is, with the invention of the internet we’re all suddenly aware of the billions of voices that are out there.  For me this is a wondrous thing as it drives home the point that it’s perfectly okay that my way may not be your way and neither of ours are the only way… and as Martha Stewart would say… that’s a good thing.

* * *

So there you have it.  Me preaching from high upon the mountaintop.  As I mentioned at the very beginning of this long-winded post, I would love to get some honest to goodness feedback from anyone who’s comfortable giving it.  If you like, feel free to write your comments out below or shoot me an email or whatever.  I look forward to “hearing” from you.

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