Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cleansing Negativity

As a mother, I avoid saying, "No!" in daily behavior management. I prefer to focus on using positive terms, such as, "Use a fork" instead of "Don't eat with your fingers."  "Volume control please" instead of "Shut up." "Take turns" instead of "Quit fighting." These twists in semantics may or may not have statistical backing, but they say you get more bees with honey than vinegar.

In life or work when you screw up, people love to tell you the rules or the shoulds. "You should wear a seatbelt. You should have a back up plan. You should get that in writing." It seems like rules are brought up just before someone pounces on you or flogs you to death. This kind of stuff drains the life out of me.

I wonder why so many people think that quoting rules and demanding are effective ways to get what they want? Doesn't everyone like a carrot or positive reward? If we have to do the shoulds and the rules, we are so down near the bottom of creating any thing interesting that it's hard to want to do it. When the work is compelling, I listen. When the way is clear, I follow. When the environment is safe, I grow. My life force opens with sun, gentle breezes, and colorful flowers.

If you have to whine, wheedle, cajole, or remind others of the rules, you are at rock bottom. It's time to reconsider how the negative, squeaky wheel gets the grease, is working for you. Maybe it's time to try being positive, helpful, amping up the experience, or just letting something pass?

When I volunteer in the community to support an activity, organization, or group, the experience is part of the payback or reward. When the experience is negative, I often use a mantra to remind myself of the value of the cause to help wash the negativity out of my mind. "They mean well. The long run is about..."

As a fallible human, I also have to work on being kind to myself when I don't live up to standards that I apply more to myself than others.

At the moment, I'm in a log jam of negative feedback, and I'm busy washing my mind of other's negativity. Which is why I was thrilled to hear my pilates instructor today explaining an exercise to cleanse the mind. It is something along these lines:

Sit cross-legged with hands in namaste, bring your hands down to your lower abdomen area, turn your hands horizontal with one over the other plams together, breath in and bring your arms out and up overhead, return to namaste. Repeat for as long as it takes to cleanse your mind.

I'll be here all week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Riddle

"What sees, but has no eyes, and speaks, but has no mouth?" asks the child. The parents, stumped, sat quietly. "A thought," answered the child.

Our son told us that he made up this riddle-- likely while he was not raising his hand to speak in class, maybe when he was supposed to be spelling something correctly, or perhaps when he wasn't listening to his mother call him to dinner. 

What we value and what is valuable are not the same things.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spring Fever

The daffodils and tulips are here now. The trees are budding with flowers. The earth is rising to the occasion of spring, and I am in awe because it felt like winter had taken over, that it might go on and on.

The plants are poking through the earth, stretching toward the sun, and rushing, as if behind schedule, to unfurl into their flowery glory. The return to life is both a marvel to witness and a quickening felt within.

The old and the dead must be cleared from the yard. Cobwebs and fingerprints wiped from the kitchen cabinets. The new is calling me. Then, to sit quietly amongst things that grow and absorb the glorious light that fuels us all. 

I am giddy with spring fever.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Homemade Nutella (No Palm Oil)

Kiddos, like other consumers, impact the world by their choices. A research project on Bornean Orangutans, an endangered animal, lead to the realization that orangutan habitat is being destroyed to make room for mono-plantations of palms, for the palm oil, in South East Asia. This led to some label reading and the discovery that the beloved nutella was made with palm oil (20% from what I gather).

Not wanting to eat palm oil, led to researching palm oil free nutella recipes. This one is by Adrien Gontier, a French geochemistry student that gave up palm oil and was featured on PRI. Palm oil is in many products beyond foods-- soaps, shampoos, etc. This is going to make selling Girl Scout cookies interesting. In the meantime, I'm hoping to find a sustainably harvested kind of nutella and there are a few jars stashed in the pantry to finish off.

Consider that beyond health concerns, palm oil usage in processed foods is destroying unique habitat. Saving habitat and avoiding palm oil is a choice that will impact more than a momentary cookie break or the fifteen minutes you spend making your own spread, reading labels, and making choices that matter.

Homemade Nutella (No Palm Oil)
Powdered Milk, 25 gm (~1oz)
Cocoa Powder, 60 gm (~2.5 oz)
Powdered Hazelnuts, 95 gm (~3 oz)
Agave Syrup, 100 gm (~3.5 oz)
Sugar cane syrup: (50 g water et 100g cane sugar) = cane syrup made with 3.5 oz cane sugar and 1.75 oz water

Mix all ingredients together and eat it on bananas, bread, or with a spoon.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Me vs. We Thinkers

"Look at me, look at me, look at me." "Go out there and show them who's number one!" 

We Americans talk a lot. Talk. Talk. Talk. Many an American teacher sees the child (with a raised hand) that talks a lot as intelligent. This talk, talk, talk busy-ness is an American concept of intelligence often ridiculed in other cultures. Watch any Monty Python lately? You can verify it for yourself by watching many a newscaster.

In America, we hustle to get to the front of the line. We do not encourage our children to defer to others; this is seen as a sign of weakness. What is lost in deferring to those who think they need to be first? The result of this is that in America, time and energy are spent on me, me, me, which cultivates a certain amount of rudeness.

In Japan, children learn to wait to eat with other people so that everyone eats at the same time. Admittedly, this waiting drove me crazy with the preschool set, but by starting early, the tone is set for the "we" concept.

The me vs. we culture yields some tangible differences.

"Which culture is easier to get along with, Japanese or American?" my husband asked our son. With no hesitation, our son answered, "Japanese." I piped in, "Why?" Our son replied, "Because they're kinder, quieter, and they're not mean." 

Reeling at the sting of my own culture being meaner, I sat quietly, knowing that he spoke a truth. My husband brought up a difficult friend for our son while we lived in Japan. Our son responded, "The American kids are meaner." 

While Americans focus on, "I'm the boss," our Japanese friends focus on, "We are all part of the group." 

The focus on the we leads to some tedious experiences in trying to reach consensus. If everyone is part of the group, then any one member can lead the group astray as everyone has the right to challenge the group. You are not allowed to be mean to some because everyone has the right to be there.

Wow! Everyone has the right to be there. 

Japanese friends might say the niceness is feigned. My point is that the individual is important enough to the group that they fake being nice which beats vitriol anytime, just ask my nine year old.

In America we spend time dismissing everyone else's right to be at the table-- he's an athlete, they're gay, she's poor, he's uneducated. We're so busy eliminating differences that we end up serving only ourselves-- me, me, me.

We could benefit from thinking not about the me but about the we.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Girl Scout's Ban Bossy Campaign

Last month, my daughter talked me into volunteering with Girl Scouts as a Junior Troop leader. This month, my book group selection is Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Now, Girl Scouts of the USA have a Ban Bossy campaign. I should lean in and jump at the opportunity to wax poetically about how I too was called bossy and that it held me back. Except, I was one of those annoying girls when faced with a leadership vacuum, I stepped up-- just like I did when my daughter asked me to help.

If a label is going to get in your way, you've got bigger problems.

Maybe I should have let it fester and grow into some kind of discontent worthy of demanding others to ban the behavior? The women chiming in on this campaign are wildly successful in their fields-- you can see them in the video on the Girl Scout site where things like this are said,

"Pushy, Stubborn, Bossy. When I was growing up, I was called bossy. Being labeled something matters. Words matter. Let's just ban the word bossy. Listen to your own voice. There are no limits. Its ok to be ambitious. Let's ban bossy. Join us to ban bossy." 

I'm struggling to not want to throw a cream pie at this. I get the concern about girl's having self-esteem drops, but I can't chalk it up to name calling.

Consider what young girls begin to hear about their body, looks, development. Even Sandberg brought up the client who wanted her to meet his son. And this is in America. Try being around Saudi men in Bahrain wearing jeans and a t-shirt with your husband; they think you're a prostitute.

There is so much more to the self-esteem gap than the name bossy, although its probably not as comfortable to talk about.

I wonder about young women especially because I'm raising one and because I see the college aged women in my new hometown doing things like peeing in the streets and having sexual encounters on bank machines (that one was on the web thanks to a kind passerby's widget recording). These encounters were fueled by alcohol which likely bolsters false confidence, but it puts the thought into my head of why? Apparently not enough women are attracted to corporate boardrooms or aping male behavior.

My frustrations with the Lean In book, for all that was good in it, was that it encouraged women to play at a man's game without raising the point that we need a new game, new rules, and better standards for all of us. A ban feels enormously misguided in the face of the need to educate women about so much more, and please, call me bossy.

(Just in, this is the kind of news that bites into the core of the problems women face--a lopsided system that fails the victim... a letter to Harvard from a victim of sexual assault.)

 When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.

As part of Ban Bossy, Girl Scouts of the USA and have teamed up in partnership with Lifetime television to create a PSA featuring Beyoncé, Jane Lynch, Condoleezza Rice, Diane von Furstenberg, Garner and others that points out that girls are discouraged from taking leadership roles because of labeling and name-calling.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) & Miyazaki Plans Exit

The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu), an epic film that sweeps through earthquake, fire, and dreams, is seen through the thick round bespectacled airplane designer, Jiro Horikoshi. His singleminded devotion to airplanes and love of flying machines dominates his life and dreams against the historical backdrop of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, an economic depression, a tuberculous epidemic, and war in Japan. 

Jiro's story is fueled by dreams, sponge cake, and cigarettes. His dreams are shared with an Italian airplane designer, Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci), who notes that though the work is designing airplanes, they are used for war and destruction, but he chooses to stay focused on the beauty of the machines, "Airplanes are not for war or making money. Airplanes are beautiful dreams waiting to be swallowed by the sky." Jiro's curmudgeon boss, Kurokawa, (voiced by Martin Short) attempts to counter Jiro's dreaminess. Leaving a meeting with the military brass, Kurokawa says to Jiro, "You weren't even listening!" Jiro's focus is on creating and his response is classic Clint Eastwood, "Nope." 

Work dominates Jiro's life, and yet he is one to pause momentarily for music, to help others, to read poetry, and to take in the beauty of the Japanese countryside. He is not paralyzed by the pain of life or by the knowledge that his flying machines are wanted by the military. Instead he remains steadfast in his efforts to create something original and, to him, beautiful.  In a nod to the economic depression and his military minded customer he knows that he'll need ingenuity to overcome the lack of resources at his disposal from flush rivets to leaving off the guns. My eight year old history buff noted that Jiro's final aircraft was the Zero combat plane used in World War II.

A French poem, "The Graveyard by the Sea" ("Le Cimetière marin") by Paul Valery "The wind is rising!…We must try to live!" ("Le vent se lève!... Il faut tenter de vivre!"), gives the film its title and is at the core the way Jiro deals with obstacles in war, life, and love, it is about living, not regret.

Small doses of humor pepper the story through other characters such as when the Germans complain, "You Japanese copy everything!" Jiro's friend, Honjo (voiced by John Krasinski) quips, "What? Are you afraid we'll improve it?" Still the heart of this Jiro's story is about creating. In a dream sequence Caproni says "Artist are only created for ten years." At the end Caproni returns in another dream to ask him, "Ten years in the sun, did you live them well?"

Jiro's love, Nahoko Satomi (voiced by Emily Blunt) continues the theme of focusing on beauty and the moments at hand instead of the of what they cannot control or have due to the tuberculosis shortening her days. The most poignant scene is voiced by the landlady who stops Jiro's sister from going after Nahoka when she is seen walking away. The landlady (voiced by Jennifer Grey) understands that Nahoka wants Jiro to remember her as she was.

The animation is rich and detailed, the film long. The story's themes are complex and not for children, but for those who can understand the call of beauty and creating art and that the outcome of such work, though it can be used destructively, is born from an inner vision and drive that is without guile. Longing and loss play heavily in the second half of the film. Perhaps writer, director, and animator, Hayao Miyazaki wants us to remember him in a certain way while he still has the energy and will to direct his creativity. The Wind Rises seems a fitting capstone to his career.

"Ten years in the sun, did you live them well?" is a worthy question to ask ourselves.