Reaching beyond "us" and "them"

As I've been inviting more people to participate in the Signs of Kindness project, it's been sparking some interesting conversations.

Most recently, I've heard fear from a few people that if they put a sign in front of their home it would be stolen, or put them at risk for vandalism, presumably because others would see it as a veiled political message and find it offensive or threatening.

This is something I really want to understand and address, because this project is emphatically not intended to be partisan. In fact, my goal is quite the opposite: to help us soothe our fears and misunderstandings about one another, and find ways to connect at a human level that goes beyond our differences.

When I put a sign in front of my house that says "You are Needed," it's not just meant for people who agree with me about politics and causes. It's also meant for people who actively disagree with me, or whose interests may not be on my radar at all. I believe the world needs all of us, showing up at our best, if our planet is to truly thrive.

My sign that says "You Belong" isn't only for people who look and talk and think like me. It's also not intended specifically for immigrants or outsiders or minorities. It is for all people who sometimes wonder if they are wanted, if they have a place in the world, if their particular uniqueness is welcome. I expect that includes all of us, no matter how mainstream we may appear.

Likewise, when I put out signs that say "You are Loved," "You are Worthy," and "You Deserve Happiness," they are not just meant for people whose behavior I approve of, who have never hurt or offended me, or who have somehow "earned" my goodwill. They are for people who regularly fall short of their ideals, who have made mistakes they regret, or could simply use an occasional reminder of their worth. In other words, all of us.

These messages are intended for me. And for you. For your enemies. For your friends. For people who vote like you, vote differently from you, or don't vote at all.

That is my intention, anyway.

It seems to me that all of us are harmed by narratives of fear, separation and exclusion. At best, they distract us, and at worst, they put us into fight/flight/freeze mode where we can't access our full wisdom and frankly tend to make problems worse.

I want us to help each other remember that we are all in this together. That we share common goals. That we need each other. That we each have something to contribute. That we have reasons to be grateful to the people around us. Reasons to delight in being alive.

I can't think of any problem that wouldn't be easier to solve, or any goal that wouldn't be easier to reach, if we consistently related to each other that way. And that is the purpose I want my Signs of Kindness to serve.

I wonder, though, how you and others see them.

Someone pointed out recently that so far signs have been planted mostly in "blue" cities and states (see the map below), and that gave me pause. Is it because I live in liberal Massachusetts and happen to have mostly liberal friends and neighbors who naturally spread the word to their liberal friends in other liberal states?

Or, having lived in a liberal bubble myself for the last 20+ years, am I missing something important about how these messages actually land for people in other parts of the country?

I would love from you to share my Signs of Kindness project with your non-liberal friends and family members (including yourself, if applicable), and ask them for feedback.

How do they respond to the particular messages I've chosen? What assumptions would they have about the intentions behind them if they saw them on a neighbor's lawn? Would it make them smile to see those messages around town? Would they want them in front of their kids' schools?

If not, what would be better?

I look forward to learning, and continuing to find more and better ways to connect us.

A call for kindness

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday from a teacher at a school where a student recently committed suicide. He wanted to know: What could he and others do to help the community?

My thoughts immediately went to my Signs of Kindness, and how awesome it would be for this community to surround its kids (and adults!) with those words: You are Loved, You are Needed, You Belong, You are Worthy, You Deserve Happiness.

I would love to send him a big order of signs that he and his fellow teachers could plant. And maybe some connection cards, too.

Is this something you'd like to help fund? Or is there some other person or place that you would like to gift with messages of love, welcome and encouragement? If so, you can!

There is a "pay it forward" option here that allows you to buy a single sign, or set of signs, for someone else.

Since August of this year, eight people have already helped pay for seven sign deliveries in six different states. Let's see how high those numbers can go!

Leaders go first

I shared with a friend recently that I see leaders as my target audience for the Gift of Happiness. Not necessarily people in leadership roles (although they could be), but people who think and act like leaders.

I happen to consider this friend such a person, so it surprised me a little when she pushed back on my use of the word, cautioning me that there may be people in my audience who wouldn't use that word to describe themselves. Herself, for instance.

For her, the word "leader" brought to mind the person in charge who seeks power and control, and puts their own needs above others'. Someone who is bossy and manipulative, and maintains their position by instilling fear.

This is decidedly not what I mean by leadership.

Lately I've been defining leadership very simply as the willingness to go first. Quite literally, to take the lead. To do something before other people do it. Before it's "normal" or comfortable or accepted, and before the outcome is guaranteed. Not because it will win you acceptance or approval from others, but because it feels to you like the right thing to do.

To be kind to someone who hasn't yet been kind to you is a form of leadership. To be the first one to apologize after an argument is leadership. To do any scary-but-important thing that others are avoiding is leadership. Being a leader makes it easier for others to follow suit, so that positive changes can happen in your collective experience.

To me, starting to put signs on my lawn that said things like You are Loved and You are Worthy was a form of leadership. Why? Because no one else was doing it. By definition, it was weird. And it made me weird, in a much more public way than I was used to.

It scared me to go first. But it also felt really important, because these are messages that I know people are longing for right now. I see us longing for our kids to feel safe and cared for. Longing to believe for ourselves that we are needed and important. Longing to hear from our leaders that our lives and interests matter. Longing to see love and wisdom embodied in our collective actions.

These signs help give us a taste of what all of that would feel like at the community level, and can help inspire people to act in other ways that create feelings of love and care and belonging. To be leaders for kindness.

My hope is that all of you who plant Signs of Kindness, or use Connection Cards, or help create happiness and well-being in so many other ways, recognize that you, too, are leaders. Not ego-trippy ones like my friend (wisely) wanted to distance herself from, but leaders who know what they truly value and are committed to bringing more of it into their lives -- even if it sometimes means facing the discomfort of going first.

Expectations, schmecpectations

Last week, a woman named Sarah Buckley Friedberg posted a long list of advice from society to working moms that quickly went viral on Facebook. Here is just a subset:

  • Go back to work 6-8 weeks after having the baby.

  • Keep your mind on work.

  • Make sure to break the glass ceiling and excel at your job- you can do anything a man can do!

  • Also breastfeed for at least a year. So take 2-3 pumping breaks a day at work, but don't let it throw you off your game or let you lose your focus.

  • Also, lose that baby weight and get back in shape, as quickly and as gracefully as possible.

  • Maintain a clean, Pinterest-worthy house.

  • Be fun. Be firm. Read books. Have dance parties.

  • Ensure the kids are learning to swim, play an instrument, read, ride a bike, be a good human being, eat vegetables, wear sunscreen, drink enough water, say please and thank you.

  • Most parents are volunteering at least once during the year, would you like to come make a craft with the kids?

  • Date your spouse! It's important to keep your relationship alive and fresh.

  • Oh hey you should have a hobby too. It's important to have "you time".

  • Also be well read, keep up with the latest pop culture and tv shows, and keep an eye on politics

  • Make sure to have friends. Social time is SO important.

  • Self care though. SO important.

  • Get off your phone, turn off the TV, and enjoy your life. Enjoy your kids. THESE ARE THE GOOD TIMES make sure to love every minute of life.

Taken individually, a lot of these things can sound appealing and worth striving for. But put them together, and they become a set of impossible expectations that can easily leave working moms feeling overwhelmed and not enough.

This is not just about working moms, though.

My 14-year-old could make a similar list of the contradictory expectations we place on students and teenagers.

My husband could make a similar list of the impossible standards we use to judge men, husbands, and fathers.

And I bet you could make a similar list for yourself, too: All the ways that society says you "should" be, the yardsticks you're measured by, the ridiculous expectations for how you are supposed to look, think and behave.

What are some of the contradictory standards and expectations that you've experienced based on your own demographics?

More importantly, how do you prevent those societal messages from bossing you around and making you feel bad? How do you remember that you are fully free to be you, no matter what?

Don't call it vulnerability; call it leadership

Today’s blog post was inspired by this video from Center for Joyful Business founder Laura West, in which she beautifully articulates what it means to reach out to others with LovingKindness. It is what she teaches business owners to do with their networks, and it is what I hope to inspire people to do through my own work, too.

There was one thing in her video that didn’t sit right with me, though, which is that she seemed to keep emphasizing how vulnerable LovingKindness is. To open your heart and not know what you’re going to get back. To be the first one to say that you care.

Of course, all of that can feel vulnerable. But is that really the part of kindness and generosity that I want to emphasize? Not if I want to encourage those behaviors!

According to the dictionary, to be vulnerable is to be “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” Can you imagine if, when we sent soldiers to war, the primary narrative we offered them was about how vulnerable they were going to be? That would be nuts!

Instead of calling it vulnerable to reach out with love and care, what if we called it leadership? To be willing to go first in standing for who and what matters to you. To put yourself out there, even when there’s no guarantee that others will follow. To risk your personal comfort in service to something bigger.

Changing the language doesn’t take the vulnerability away, but it can encourage a person to make a powerful choice in the face of it. And isn’t that the goal?

Don't give me research; give me hope

As I do more work with businesses, helping bring more kindness and connection into the workplace, a number of people have suggested that I should put together an information sheet with research that would convince leaders that positive work environments lead to more business success.

It's a reasonable suggestion, and so a few weeks ago I decided I would work on it.... Only I found that I couldn't muster the energy to do it. 

Upon reflection, I realized why, and recorded this 5-minute video about it. Basically, I had no interest in proving why workplace culture matters, because I don't actually think that's in question. I think we already know that it leads to better outcomes to be surrounded by gratitude, generosity and goodwill than resentment, cynicism and blame.

What we doubt is that it's actually possible

"Sure, that company has a great culture," we might say, "but it would never work here." Or we think it would be way too costly an investment, or require a rare and special kind of leader. It's all too easy to make those kinds of claims, come up with evidence to support them -- and then not even try.

That is a shame, because positive change is entirely possible, and can be led by the simplest of interventions.

The hardest part may simply be to recognize that that's the case.

What do you think? Does that ring true for you? What is the culture like in your business or organization? If it's not yet fully where you would like it to be, what do you think it would take to improve it?

I’d love to read your comments below, or contact me if you’d like to talk in more depth. I am willing to be stumped, but it is my firm belief that there is always something you can do to make a positive difference, if you want to.

It's time to own it

Earlier this month, I had an important and somewhat startling new realization: I'm actually enjoying being an entrepreneur.

I like being committed to something I care about.

I like learning that there are things I can provide that people would be happy to spend money on.

I like that it's totally up to me to decide what's important, what I'm going to try next, and what I'm going to say "no" to.

I like noticing the natural cycle of ups and downs, and not making it mean that something is wrong.

I like what it feels like to keep going.

Tomorrow, I will be heading to a day-long retreat for "creative visionaries," where I'll be working on an implementation guide for leaders who want to build intentional acts of kindness into their business operations. I'm both nervous and excited -- which I think means I'm on the right track. 

What is coming up for you that you are nervous/excited about? What new identity are you ready to step into? Share below so I and others can cheer you on!

Card-writing advice for businesses

Lately I've been helping clients think about how to integrate card-sending into their business processes, as a way of building and sustaining relationships with customers.

At a time when so much communicating is done electronically, getting a personal card in your actual mailbox is a special treat, and I love helping people brainstorm who they could reach out to, and what they might say.

One of the tools I often recommend is SendOutCards, which will print and mail custom cards on your behalf, without your having to go to the post office. It makes card-sending quick and easy, and allows you to do things that you can't easily do in a typical handwritten card, like add photos from your phone or computer. Very cool!

SendOutCards also has features that can help automate the card-sending process, like pre-scheduling cards to go out at specific times and sending the same card to multiple people at once. Which also is very cool -- but I'm learning to caution people about. It's all too easy to get excited about efficiencies of scale, and lose the personal touch that makes card-sending powerful in the first place.

As a customer, you know there is a huge difference between getting a card because you know you're on someone's mailing list, and getting a card that was sent specifically to you because someone was thinking about you. And when created with the right mindset, those personalized cards are a gift to the sender as well: not just another item on the "to do" list, but an expression of kindness and gratitude that is inherently satisfying.

So my advice for anyone considering integrating card-sending into their business strategy is this: start small and personal, one card at a time. Heck, you can start right now! Think of someone who has had a significant positive impact on your business, and send them a quick thank you. (If you don't have a card and stamp handy, create a free SendOutCards account and use that.)

When you're done, I'd love to hear what it was like, and what questions it raised for you. Either comment below or contact me if you'd like to set up a time to talk.

Finally, if you know others who might be interested in this approach, please share it! Our world is aching for more kindness right now, and there is so much we can do to help.

I am grateful to have you on board.

The gift of a recipe

For the last few weeks, my family has been experimenting with a no white sugar/no white flour diet, to see if it makes a noticeable difference for our well-being.

It's been a bit of a challenge with my sweet tooth, but it's led to a nice expansion of my repertoire of desserts. :) 

This Healthy Peanut Butter Cups recipe is one we recently discovered that everyone loves. It takes just 5 ingredients (peanut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup, cocoa powder and vanilla) and 15 minutes, and tastes absolutely decadent.

It is my gift to you this week.

I'm reminded of the time, a few years ago, when I met an older man in town who carried copies of his late wife's favorite recipes around with him, so that he could give them to people he met who liked to cook. It was such a sweet gesture, and a reminder of the many simple gifts that we each have to offer.

Do you have a recipe that you especially love and would like to share? Or a quote, or a song, or something else that makes you smile? Share it below, so it can make someone else smile, too.