Focus on what is under your control

The world today is challenging all of us. For most of us in the United States, we are accustomed to being able to do what we want, go where we want, and live in any fashion that we choose. By standards of yesteryear and even many countries today, we live in luxury. And, most people here have never experienced restrictions on our freedom. Now, we are facing a time where restrictions limit us. In that light, each of us must focus on what we can control.

 

The Great Depression & WWII

 

The last time there were significant nationwide restrictions on Americans was during World War II. Most of the people that experienced the days of the Great Depression and WWII are no longer with us. Only the few remaining members of the Greatest Generation remember those days. It is from them that we can get some perspective on the situation we are facing today.

 

Availability of Items

 

The challenges of the Great Depression and WWII were different than the challenge we face today. Still, there are some commonalities. During the 1930s and 1940s, the government rationed items because we could not get items, such as, sugar and coffee in a big enough supply for everyone to have as much as they desired. Other items, such as, shoes were rationed to save materials for the war. An important factor is that this wasn’t for a couple of months. These restrictions went on for several years, although some were eased over time.

 

Today items, such as, toilet paper and hand sanitizer are difficult to find in stores. However, the reasons are different. It isn’t that we can’t get materials to make them or that they are needed for another reason. Instead, they are scarce because of panic buying and in some cases hoarding with the idea of profiting off of the situation.

 

The availability of most items should return to normal shortly as people see that supplies are replenished and opportunists find that selling these items more difficult than they imagined due to rules put in place by online marketplaces. To assist with the situation, stores have begun rationing the number of some items that an individual can purchase at a given time until people return to normal purchasing patterns.

 

You can’t control what is on the shelves, but you can ensure that you buy only what you need. Perhaps consider a few extra items so that you have to shop less often, but don’t over do it. Consider how long it will take you to use the items you purchase. The less we all panic buy, the less likely we will have new restrictions on our freedom to purchase items of our choosing.

 

Restaurants and Bars

 

During the war, restaurants stayed open in most areas. However, some had limited hours. Likewise, in some areas nightlife was put on hold by local governments. The reasoning being that it was wrong for people to have fun while our soldiers were risking their lives. Yet, theaters were still open and people did get a burger and fries now and then.

 

Today, restaurants and bars are closed or have limited take-out and delivery services not because it wouldn’t look right, but instead to curb the transmission of COVID-19. One huge difference is that today people eat out far more than they did 80 years ago.

 

Eating out is a habit and some people do it daily. Thus, it seems like a much bigger issue to most people today than it was in 1940. This restriction on our freedom seems to some as overwhelming. If you are one of them, I recommend learning to cook (if you don’t know how), spending time with your family, learning about something you are interested in, or doing some other home activity that you enjoy. If you are an extrovert, talk on the phone, have group chats, email, message, and use social media sites to stay in contact.

 

Businesses

 

Already gyms, restaurants, museums, theaters, and other businesses have had their doors closed or their business greatly altered by government rules. Additionally, there are rumors that some businesses will be asked (or told) to convert to making medical supplies. This type of thing did happen during WWII. Businesses had no choice. The government told them what they would be making and the timeline they had to make it.

 

We aren’t accustomed to the government dictating the closure of businesses or what businesses can and cannot do. However, the longer this outbreak goes on, the more likely business decisions will be controlled by the government. Still, it doesn’t mean that it will be forever. As WWII ramped down, businesses returned to making the products they had made before the war almost overnight. In some cases, the first new civilian products rolled off the assembly lines the same day the restriction was lifted.

 

Travel Restrictions

 

People travel much more today than they did in the 1930s and 1940s. People fly at the drop of a hat, cruise on the oceans, and drive across the country without it being a big deal. It was just a part of life up until the last few weeks when travel restrictions started being put in place.

 

Travel restrictions today are a bit different than during WWII. During WWII, people weren’t technically restricted from travel. However, gas rationing made it nearly impossible to travel. And, if you blew a tire, you probably weren’t getting a new one for a long time, as they required government approval to purchase. Likewise, you had to have government approval to purchase a car or a tractor. Fortunately, we haven’t reached that point.

 

Travel may be greatly restricted right now. So, what can we do? Travel online. Research places that you would like to someday visit, find museum collections online, share stories of previous travel, etc. Use technology to bring travel and exotic places into your life.

 

Focus On What We Can Control

 

The government may control many aspects of life, however, they don’t control everything. Thus, it is important for each of us to focus on what we can control. We cannot control that we can’t hang out at our favorite restaurant. However, if we can afford it, we can still order take out. We can also experiment with making new kinds of food, try new hobbies, etc.

 

We don’t have to allow restrictions on our freedoms to lead to negative thinking. By focusing on what is under your control, we will keep a positive mindset and make it through this situation better people than we were before. We have the Greatest Generation as our role model. Make them proud.

 

Join us March 26 as we discuss Being In Control In Uncertain Times.  The event is FREE.

 

 

connecting in 2020

 

 

Welcome to 2020! Or, as Barbara Walters would say, “I’m Barbara Walters, and this is 2020.

 

Twenty-twenty is a great number with the potential to be an amazing year. Only once in a century are the first two digits of the year and the second two digits of the year the same. So, this is your one chance to experience this phenomenon – unless you are currently 100 years old or plan to hang around till 2121.

 

Perfect Vision

 

Dates like 1919 and 2020 roll easily off the tongue making them candidates to be included in advertising and more. However, 2020 is much more. It is also associated with having perfect vision. Both eyesight and hindsight can be 20/20. Thus, many believe that 2020 has the potential to be a wonderful and insightful year.

 

Connect & Reconnect

 

In order to create a wonderful 2020 for yourself, consider making connecting and re-connecting a daily habit. Connecting can come in many forms: connecting with people, physically or virtually, connecting objects, connecting ideas and more.

 

When desiring to connect with people, look around you. Are there people that you encounter regularly with whom you really never connect? They are a great place to start. Try to understand their point of view, their feelings and who they really are. Extend this practice to new people that you meet. And, consider reconnecting with people from your past.

 

New Eyes

 

Similarly, look at activities, passions, and objects with new eyes. Do those things speak to you differently now than they did in the past? Connect to them in new ways. Also, consider reconnecting with an activity or a passion that you sat aside years ago when life got busy or you were encouraged to focus elsewhere.

 

Connect The Dots

 

Consider how other things are connected. Connect the dots between behaviors and actions. Look for connections between very different things and find an entirely new perspective. For example, Steve Jobs sat in on a calligraphy class where he learned about serif and sans serif typefaces (fonts). He was fascinated by the artistry of the characters. At the time, it was simply something that peaked his interest. However, later he applied what he learned and created a choice of fonts for Mac – something that was unheard of in the computing world at that time.

 

Steve Jobs’ connection between calligraphy and computer fonts not only changed the world of computing, but extended into digital media, print media, and beyond. Yet, he had no idea when he was learning calligraphy where it would lead.

 

At a graduation speech at Stanford years later he said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

 

Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow

 

So, as you go through 2020 consider if something you have encountered in the past applies to what you are doing today – even if they are two very different things. Also, pay close attention to the things you are now encountering as they may apply to something tomorrow.

 

In the words of Doc Brown (Back to the Future), “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”

 

 

Looking Deeper

 

As we have discussed in other posts, humans come in contact with millions of stimuli every day. Out of necessity, we ignore many of the stimuli and gloss over others. This helps us to get through each day without being overwhelmed. However, we lose a lot if we never stop and really take a deep look at things.

 

Looking Outside The Lines

 

Often the information that is intended for our attention is well defined and within a graph, report, or painting. It is important to look not only at the image or message that the author or painter is trying to convey, but also look at what else is surrounding the intended message. Then, consider what is excluded. For a painting, look at the frame, the mat, and even the wall where the painting is hung. Look for additional information outside of the painting that supports or contradicts the message of the painting. Lastly, consider what is not included in the painting.

 

The same is true of reports and graphs. Look at the information that supports the core information, information about the authors, and information about the magazine or other source. Also, consider what the authors did not say. For instance, if the information is based on a study, is the size and location of the study included in the information?

 

Digging Deeper

 

It is important to look at what supports this “prepared” information. To do this, look at your child’s homework and see where they are struggling instead of just looking at their grade. Likewise, look at the sources of reports and graphs. Analyze if those are valid sources. Are the trends shown in the report only based on the experience of 100 people? If so, do you consider it a large enough study for you to accept that the trend is meaningful?

 

It also means researching news stories and looking at articles from multiple perspectives. What were their sources? Were the sources used for the article selected to represent only one point of view? Do other sources support the perspective of the article?

 

The Little Details

 

Take a deeper look at the little details. This isn’t about seeing the trees instead of the forest. It is about seeing the small insects crawling out of the cracks in the bark of the tree and then noticing how the veins of the leaves form an unusual image that reminds you of a bear claw.

 

For a painting, look at small details of the image. For instance, look at the brush stroke. Is it different in different parts of the painting? Does that seem significant? Does the brush stroke tell a story?

 

For an article, graph, or other information, look at the details and the representation of the information. For instance, on a graph is the scale such that it is misleading? Likewise, look at small details that may be the focus when they are not the primary part of the article. On the flip side, look for more significant details that are left out or downplayed in the article.

 

Sounds, Smells, Texture, and Taste Count, Too

 

Our investigation of things in our environment is not limited to what we can experience with our sight. We can learn a lot by really listening, taking time to experience the smells in the room, touching the surface of something to feel the texture, and tasting edible items. Not all senses apply to every item. For instance, a person is not generally going to taste a painting. However, they might smell the paint.

 

It is by choosing to really deeply experience some items in our environment that we gain greater knowledge and understanding of our world. When we allow too many stimuli to be dismissed, we are on auto-pilot and aren’t really experiencing anything. Find something each day to truly experience!

 

Losing focus on intent

 

I watched a Facts of Life episode the other day where Jo, a college student representing students at a school board meeting, was upset that the college didn’t have the funds to support new scholarships. At the same meeting, the chairperson of the board was thrilled to announce that an alumnus had just offered funds to build an expensive new scoreboard for the football stadium. All the attendees, except Jo, were excited to have the opportunity to purchase a new scoreboard. Meanwhile, most of them seemed quite indifferent to the lack of funds for new scholarship.

 

Scholarships First

 

Jo believed scholarships should be funded before a scoreboard, which she viewed as unnecessary. She could have requested that the school approach the alumus to request that the funds be directed to scholarships. However, she became focused on rejecting the scoreboard leading a campus-wide campaign to against it.

 

Under great political pressure and with the approval of the contributing alumnus, the school board chair proposed a compromise where the funds for the scoreboard would be split between a less expensive scoreboard and scholarships. Neither side would receive 100% of what they wanted, but they both would benefit. Jo, however, refused to compromise.

 

No Compromise

 

Jo had lost focus on the intention of getting scholarship funding. Instead, she was focused on refusing any new scoreboard at all. Her refusal to compromise forced the board to reject the donation entirely in order to retain other donations that had been threatened due to the controversy. As a result, the school would receive no new scoreboard and no additional scholarship money.

 

Jo was excited that she had been able to stop the scoreboard until Blair, Jo’s friend, pointed out to Jo that her perceived win was actually a loss. At that point, Jo realized her mistake. She also recognized that she had to apologize to the students who had put their faith in her to do the right thing for them. And, she had to grovel to the chairperson in hopes it wasn’t too late to accept the proposed compromise.

 

Lost Focus

 

Jo had become obsessed with the scoreboard, which really had nothing to do with her original intent. Such obsessions can happen to all of us. Our minds make associations between two things, but sometimes the associations don’t really exist or don’t exist in the manner that we perceive them.

 

The more obsessed we are with a particular outcome, the less likely we will be receptive to compromise. Sometimes we lose our ability to see clearly. This may lead to conflict that has no possible resolution. Therefore, becoming obsessed with something not really connected to your intent often results in nothing but stress and frustration.

 

Be Open To Alternatives

 

The next time you feel like there is one and only one solution take a break and rejuvenate yourself before coming back to the topic. Make sure you are open to hearing alternatives. One or more of these alternatives may result in a win-win for everyone, even if it means some compromise.

 

Lessons From Our Ancestors

 

 

In the previous series “The Day The World Stopped,” we discussed various eras and proposed questions to the reader regarding specific challenges of each era. Only a few eras were discussed with a very minimal set of challenges described. Many more challenges were considered for each post. However, in the interest of focus and length, a very narrow focus was determined for each article. Each of the modern eras would require an entire book to take an in-depth look at the challenges of each era.

 

Life In The Past

 

This brings us to the question “What can we learn from our ancestors?” A study of history shows us many different things. In some cases, they did things we applaud, but in other cases we disapprove of their behavior. We also know that their lifestyle was very different.

 

Many people in the past lived in conditions that we would not be able to tolerate today. Likewise, they ate food and drank water that we would consider inedible and undrinkable. They also had a different perspective on life. The behaviors of people today would be considered abhorrent to people of years gone by.

 

Perspective

 

Thus, as much as people find some of the behaviors of people in the past unacceptable, people of those eras would find behaviors of today equally unacceptable. This is something to really consider. Are people today really better? Are people today in a place to judge?

 

My argument would be that until we understand history and learn from it, we should not judge those who came before us. Each of them has a story and until we know enough to begin to understand their life, we cannot know their struggles or their joys. We need to understand the cultures of the past as well as the life of any individual that we are judging. Additionally, we need to judge on all merits not a single dimension that we deem bad.

 

Changes Through Time

 

Views on everything from marriage, families, work, social norms, slavery, war, and more have changed throughout time. Some of the changes one might say are because we have become more sophisticated and aware while other changes were a matter of necessity. We will take a brief look at a few examples.

 

Families

 

The family unit has changed dramatically over the course of history. If we limit the scope of discussion to the approximately 400 years since Europeans came to America, we will see drastic changes. For instance, many families years ago had a large number of children – partially out of necessity (e.g. children to work the farm) and partially because of limited forms of birth control. Today, the average number of children per family is small with many people having no children.

 

If we look at households, we will find many more single parent households today than 150 years ago. In part, people in the past were much more likely to marry if a woman became pregnant than they are today. Secondly, men needed women to cook, clean, and care for children while they worked and women needed a man to provide for her and the children. Thus, many marriages were a matter of convenience and not love.

 

Another major shift is that elders today typically live on their own or in some type of senior living. Years ago, they would live with their children. If they had no children, a younger sibling, niece, nephew, or neighbor often helped care for them. Facilities still existed, but they were mostly for people who required help their families could not provide.

 

Slavery

 

When people think of slavery, a lot of them think of early America. Slavery, however, has existed throughout recorded time and has existed in various forms.

 

If we look at slavery in America, it varied widely. Slavery, thought of as restricted to the southern states actually existed in the northern states for a period of time. Even in the South, the number of slaves and percentage of people owning slaves varied from area to area. In 1860, one source states that 75% of white Americans owned no slaves; however, this was across all states. The story is very different if you focus on the southern states.*

 

Plantation owners with lots of slaves were likely to treat slaves as we perceive slave life. ** However, families that had a handful of slaves treated them in a variety of different ways. Some were treated no different than those on plantations. However, others were treated more humanely. I have personally seen a will that provided financial support for an elderly slave for the remainder of her life. In another will, land was designated to become the property of the head of a slave family if the laws at the time of the person’s death allowed him to own property. If not, the family was to be allowed to continue living there indefinitely.

 

There were other groups, such as, the Quakers that strongly believed slavery was wrong. Some of these people actually became slave owners to keep the slaves from being treated poorly and as a means to free them. Thus, when you find out that someone was a slave owner, you really need to ask the question, “What kind of a slave owner was he?” Knowing the person owned slaves is not enough to determine the person’s character or behavior. In those days, there were many different perceptions and practices when it came to slavery.

 

War

 

The last example is the view on war. It seems nations, clans, regions, etc. have always been at war with each other. Conflict appears to be part of human nature and the various cultures around the world. Yet, the view on war has changed over time.

If we consider the Revolutionary War, most people in America considered it a necessity to gain independence. Even the Quakers, who technically did not support war, found ways at times to provide support to the men who were fighting for independence.

 

Revolutionary War soldiers were considered heroes; hence, the creation of Sons of the American Revolution and Daughters of the American Revolution. Soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War were also treated with great respect. Later, after WWII, the soldiers and the people of the time were referred to as the greatest generation.

 

After that, however, Americans view of war began to break down with those who served in Vietnam being treated awful by the public. People failed to see that those who served were simply doing the job their country requested of them. Instead, they saw the service members themselves as bad.

 

Today, people appear split, often along political lines, in their support for the latest conflict and for our service men and women.

 

A New Perspective

 

With these examples, you can see that views and perspectives have changed over time. Sometimes the changes have been for the better, but have they always been for the better? And, how many things really haven’t changed, but we simply perceive that they have.

 

The next time you find yourself beginning to judge a group of people of the past, a specific ancestor that may have committed a crime or lived a less than stellar lifestyle, or even someone in your life today, stop. Instead of judging, ask yourself, what do I really know about their life and the choices that the person/group may or may not have faced.

 

I highly recommend that you research and learn about the people and the era. For situations since the time print has existed, I recommend books and newspapers from the era as a source of understanding. Books and articles written later have a perspective of people of that time on the past and are less accurate at conveying the real situation. Research often gives you a much better understanding of the person and the perspective of the times.

 

If the person is someone in your life today, research by talking with the person and truly seeking to understand. Whether, in the past or present, truly trying to understand someone else, their culture, and the issues in their life is a great way to expand your awareness. You may even find your life changed because of it!

 

 

*https://www.theroot.com/slavery-by-the-numbers-1790874492

** 31% of slaves in 1860 were on plantations according to https://www.theroot.com/slavery-by-the-numbers-1790874492

 

 

Steppin in someone else's shoes

 

 

People often use phrases such as, “You can’t understand until you have walked a mile in their shoes” and “Before you judge, step into her shoes.” These sayings were likely derived from the phrase “step into someone’s shoes,” which means to take on a particular role that someone else has been doing.

 

In this case, it means to live the other person’s life or to connect with them in a way that you truly understand what has been going on in their life. The idea is to be empathetic to the person. This is never as easy as one might make it out to be because no two people’s experience is the same.

 

Differences

 

Two people that have lost a partner may react differently to that loss. One person may have died suddenly, while another died after years of illness. These two situations are very different. The partner will grieve in both cases, but in the case of the person who dies after a long illness, much of the grieving may have occurred before the actual death.

 

Even two people that are going through very similar losses will grieve differently. One person may grieve over a couple of months while another one may grieve for a year. Additionally, people’s grieving may take different forms. One person may need to surround themselves with friends and family. They may talk a lot about the person that has passed. The other person may grieve very privately needing space and alone time.

 

Empathy

 

Thus, when we put ourselves in their shoes, it is not good enough to have general empathy for the person. It is important to take it a step further. We must listen and try to understand what that person specifically is going through. Additionally, we must be extremely careful not to put our experiences or beliefs on others.

 

For example, if a person has had a loss and grieved deeply and inwardly for months, they shouldn’t believe that they are showing empathy for someone else if they encourage them to be alone and out of the social network. If they do and the other person is the type of person that needs to be out with friends to heal, they are not showing empathy at all despite their good intentions.

 

Truly In The Person’s Shoes

 

This example can be extrapolated to infinite scenarios. It is important to allow people to speak for themselves and express what they are going through. Then, people can support them in their situation. People should not, however, assume they understand what any specific individual or group is going through.

 

 

This is why it is important to give individuals and groups a voice rather than speaking for them. Even when people try to advocate for others with the absolute best of intentions, they are bound to get it wrong. They are advocating a story that they have created rather than the real story. Sometimes those stories overlap considerably; sometimes they don’t.

 

It is only by listening to others and their personal journey that we can have true empathy for them. Attempts at empathy are better than none, but does not stand up to true empathy, which is gained only by connecting to the person and their story.