I am thinking about this quote:
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places” – Ernest Hemingway
I was reminded of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which means to repair broken pottery with gold or silver, in order to emphasize – rather than hide – the broken places. The philosophy behind Kintsugi is that such a vessel is even more beautiful than before it was broken, and that its “brokenness” becomes part of the whole.
It’s been 10 years since I had life-saving surgery that involved a five-week hospital stay, some of which was spent in intensive care. The experience changed my life. I have physical scars that have faded with time, but they’ll never disappear. But that chapter of life changed me in other ways that can’t be seen; it changed my views on wellness, life goals, and my own mortality.
I would say that it left me stronger. And while I bear the physical marks of the surgery, I feel more whole than ever before.
Sometimes our “flaws” feel shameful, like something to hide. But there can be great beauty in honoring the difficult experiences that have made us stronger, and integrating them into our sense of self.
Blessings, flaws and all,
This quote is a great summary of my attitude toward teaching:
“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” – Lloyd Alexander
A college education shouldn’t be (solely) about learning a list of facts. Students need to learn the value of following their curiosity, of figuring out what questions to ask, of seeking answers to the more nuanced dilemmas of this life.
Information used to live in books, at the schoolhouse, with the teacher. Not any more.
Some professors take the role of “sage on the stage,” handing down information to students. But information is ubiquitous these days. Anyone with a smart phone, a tablet, a laptop, a desktop, has access to information. But what do we do with it? How can we learn to think critically about about the information that bombards us each day?
I once attended a conference where I presented an idea for a classroom activity, designed to help students better understand cultural differences. A teacher in my audience said, “This is a difficult activity. I’m afraid my students would struggle with it.”
At that point, our group’s conversation shifted to the value of struggle itself. Most of us decided that it was ok if students wrestled with the questions and couldn’t come up with any answers – for such an outcome would reveal other, deeper issues, like not being able to see past their preconceived ideas. They might also learn not to give up when thinking gets hard and answers are not obvious.
I’m not sure that our skeptic was convinced. Perhaps it made him uncomfortable, as a teacher, to give his students questions that were difficult to answer. But in many areas of life, there are no easy answers, but we must grapple with the questions anyway. We must examine issues like poverty, racism, and injustice, even if cannot readily solve them.
I hope I can teach my students not to abandon a difficult problem just because the answer doesn’t come quickly.
It wasn’t my best moment, and it didn’t leave me feeling very proud of myself. I won’t bore you with the details, but I lost my temper during a phone call with the “customer service representative” of a large business. I called regarding an ongoing problem that I’ve been dealing with for months, and every time they assure me it’s resolved, it comes up again. This time was the last straw.
This time I was furious.
I’m not proud of my behavior. I yelled. I ranted. I used language that I normally don’t use. I lost control of myself.
I apologized to the poor guy on the phone. The problem wasn’t his fault, and I felt ashamed I’d taken my anger out on him. I’m the one who’s always preaching hearts and flowers, peace and kindness, and yet I’d behaved like a shrew.
Friends have assured me this is a forgivable transgression. I apologized, and I’ve reflected on it. I don’t usually lose my temper, and I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, so perhaps I just … blew up. I needed to open the steam valve.
Even so, I’m sorry. And I’ve been reflecting on the advice attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.”
Next time, I’ll try to remember to take a moment, to pause and allow the red-hot fury to pass before I engage with others. This was a good reminder, and a life lesson.
Working on kindness today.
What does it mean to be kind to ourselves? It’s going to mean different things at different times, depending on what we need.
Sometimes it means making yourself go to the party; other times it means allowing yourself to stay home.
Sometimes it means enjoying a big meal; other times it means watching nutrition and calories.
Sometimes it means getting up early; other times it means sleeping in.
Every day, we must make the decision – what is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now? If we make decisions from a place of self-kindness, rather than a place of self-punishment, I think we’ll make much better decisions.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t discipline ourselves – oftentimes, we need to. Sometimes self-love means doing laundry, or studying for several hours, or doing an unappealing task because it will benefit us in the long run. But we can rethink these things, and see them not as hateful chores we must force ourselves to do, but rather as steps in a journey to where we want to be.
On a long journey, not all of the steps are pleasant, but each one brings us closer to the goal.
Be kind to yourself today.
I’ve seen several studies lately that suggest a connection between high social media use and low self-esteem. It seems the more we engage in social comparison, the worse we may feel about ourselves.
I hate to admit that I’ve fallen into this trap myself. When you’re an academic, and most of your social media contacts are academics too, you can find yourself scrolling through a long list of posts about publications, awards, and honors that others have achieved – and that you have not. Sometimes it’s discouraging.
On the personal side, there are always dozens of posts about engagements, marriages, anniversaries, children, spouses, vacations … an exhausting litany of love and excitement that can make one’s own life seem rather dull in comparison.
When social comparison becomes discouraging, I remind myself: the life we see on social media is not real life, it’s the greatest hits reel. Most of us don’t share our failures, or the mundane aspects of life. That new mom will show the adorable photos of the new baby, but may not write about the sleep deprivation and feeding struggles. That former coworker may post photos of the tropical vacation, but hide the fact that it was an attempt to save a failing marriage, and they went broke paying for it.
And there are many aspects of my life that others would envy.
Healthy social comparison can be useful, but if our self-esteem is taking a hit, we’ve probably taken it too far. That’s when I remind myself to keep it in perspective – remember that others are showing their “greatest hits reel” – and if I stay in my lane and do what I do best, I feel great about myself.
Create your own “greatest hits reel,” and play it in your mind until it makes you smile.
Today’s coffee mug (thanks Heather and Jon for sending it!):
How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming along? You know, all the things you promised yourself you’d do in 2017?
Yeah, me too.
Fortunately, this life affords us (nearly) infinite opportunities to start over. Many of us start over on the first of the month, or on a Monday morning, or on our birthdays. Perhaps you’re nearly finished with a long-term project, and you vow that as soon as it’s over, you’ll tackle another area of your life. Perhaps you’ve been waiting for a sign that the time is right.
Today is Mardi Gras, aka “Fat Tuesday.”
What does that mean?
Well, in the Christian tradition, it’s a day of feasting before the fasting season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter). It’s also known as “Pancake Tuesday” in some circles. The feasting tradition began as a way to use up all the fattening things in the house – sugar, butter – before the Lenten fast begins on Ash Wednesday. It’s a last chance to get all the gluttony out of your system, and eat some goodies.
On Ash Wednesday, the symbolic fast begins. You may have heard people say they are “giving up” something for Lent. For Christians, it’s a way of honoring God, and being mindful of higher things. It’s also a challenge, to abstain from something for a long period of time.
It concerns me when people set goals that are a form of self-attack: “I’ll work out for two hours every day” or “I’ll never eat chocolate again.” We’re programmed to resist attack, even when it comes from within. Self-attacks are bound to fail, and only make us feel worse about ourselves. So, how can we choose something to abstain from, and do it in a positive way? Consider this:
Whether you observe the symbolic Lenten fast in a religious or secular manner, I urge you to keep your focus on the good, the soul-nourishing, the higher things in life. Fast from anger, fast from worry. Use this time as an opportunity to slow down and focus on what’s really important.
I believe in you.