Why is negativity so seductive?

In random tweets rolling across my phone this morning came this quote “Distance yourself from negativity and great things will happen.” Those words immediately captured me and my impulse was copy and share that idea repeatedly. After all, it’s a great, wise thought.

Overcoming Negativity

photo credit: Gabriel Pangilinan, unsplash.com

And, it’s true.

Yet, as I thought over it, I started to question why it resounded so strongly with me. Was I in quest of great things? Or did I just covet the distance from negative people, negative talk, and negative reaction?

Granted, there’s nothing bad about wanting either. But I think I would seek the distance above the greatness. Negativity makes me tired. It makes me tired when I roll in it. It makes me tired when you do. I totally understand that negativity is sometimes necessary as part of our decision-making process.

The irony of this line of reasoning is that much of the negativity I see in others is a direct byproduct of my own negative ways. When we hear a criticism — particularly if it rings true with our own experience — we jump on the bandwagon. Negativity begets negativity.

So, when I go back to look at the quote, I feel pulled to like it on the greatness side.

If you and I do great things, negativity doesn’t disappear. But it loses its power.

Be powerful today. Help someone else. Give a compliment. Step to the side and give others the time they need. Be joyful in the work you’ve been given to do. Rejoice in recreation. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Do it on your own and with others.

Experience greatness.

Dealing With Difficult People

The hotel clerk simply lied to me. As I watched his face when I confronted him with his lie, I saw his eyes narrow and his chin become set. And thus began another real-life opportunity for me in an area I wish I didn’t have to endure — dealing with difficult people.

I had asked for a simple form. “We don’t provide that form,” he asserted.

“You know,” I said, “I’m a frequent guest with this hotel chain — in fact, I have a fancy membership card. I’ve even stayed here at this hotel before. On many occasions, I have asked for the form and received it.”

“Well, my manager told me that we don’t provide that form,” he asserted. “So we don’t.”

“Let me get your full name so that when I talk with your manager, there won’t be any confusion,” I replied.

He shifted his name badge my direction but it had only his first name. “That’s all you need to know,” he said. “And if you want that form you can download it and print it.”

I did just that. When I handed it to him a few minutes later, I could see what he was thinking, “OH! That form!” He slid my keycard across the counter and said nothing.

“Thanks!” I said. “You know, an apology and acknowledgment now would be nice.”

He said nothing. I picked up the key and headed to my room. Within fifteen minutes, I had written and saved the text I would paste into the survey I always get from this hotel chain after a stay. Here’s what it said:

“Your desk clerk, Tim (not his real name), was having a very bad day when I arrived. I hope that you’ll encourage him. Tell him that I understand his difficult position and sometimes he just needs to pause and breathe. Often, the right thing to do is easy to choose when you simply pause and breathe.”

That, of course, wasn’t the first thing I’d written. It was what came to me after I paused and did a little breathing.

 

 

“If just” — our answer to all things Ferguson

When I went to bed last Monday night with the images of mayhem in the streets of Ferguson burning as brightly as the fires in those streets, I knew that I would have to write something to express my feelings. So I did.

Thankfully, my writing session yesterday was interrupted repeatedly with meetings. I would return to my computer, read through the words that were there, edit a few, and then be called away again. What a blessing that turned out to be!

When I give advice to others about writing, I decry the evils of interruptions. Focus, write, close, ship! My advice is classic and echoes the lessons taught by many of the great writers of all time. And in this day of instant publishing, that outline for success could be seen as essential.

But it wouldn’t have served me well yesterday.

I wrote a long article. It had some great elements to it. But there was something haunting about those words. Slowly, I realized that I had fallen prey to my desire to judge and to correct from my sole perspective. That view is not simple — particularly when you add my thoughts on social and legal systems and my penchant for productive activities. Yet, I realize that my sole perspective should never be the only consideration. And I realized that I should never assume I fully know the perspectives of others.

Despite the fact that I invested several hours on that post, I couldn’t hit “publish.” This morning, just a few hours ago, I opened it one last time and then sent it to the trash. I thank God that it is gone.

Why?

Because, like most of the things I saw in social media and from the news media in the last 36 hours, it was from the “IF JUST” angle. If just people would do this. If just people would not do that. If just the prosecutor had done this. If just President Obama had used these words in stead of those words. If just . . .

“If just” paints my view and my judgment on everything. That’s the problem with most of our “justice” conversations. The concept of justice is self-centered. We agree to a set of norms or rules because, under certain circumstances, we want those rules to benefit us.

Honestly, every society in history has written laws and rules to benefit self. And the “self” that was benefited was always those who were in power at the moment. I’m not just talking Democrats and Republicans here. For the sake of continuity, the concept of legal precedent surfaced to help people make decisions — so they would know what to expect from their behavior and from society’s response to that behavior. And the laws and the precedents have shaped multiple systems that raise barriers and increase the likelihood that you and I will never have true relationship and understanding with those we perceive to be different from us.

Systems are efficient. But systems aren’t perfect. Some systems are just bad. One of the strengths of a system is its ability to resist change. That strength is also the biggest threat posed by systems.

We must change some systems in this country. I am of the opinion that we suffer from systemic racism. Maybe you don’t share that view. Yet, perhaps you would agree that we have some sort of problem. However, if your answer to that problem is preceded by “IF JUST” it has little chance of success in the long term.

I hope I haven’t urged “IF JUST” beyond what I hope is a clear statement of our need to make this conversation about more than our personal justice perspectives. Let’s truly scrutinize the things we do and the things we permit that discriminate and devalue others. And let’s do it in a spirit of building instead of destruction. And let’s take action.

You know, perhaps our conversations should be framed “IF JESUS.”

 

Day 8 – Contrast

The private bus was waiting for us as we trudged up the hillside at ALARM Rwanda. We loaded our luggage and said goodbye to the ALARM staff already on duty that Saturday morning. Our dear friend and the Alarm Rwanda National Coordinator, Ben Nkusi, was there with a big smile and, if I read them correctly, eyes that were a little sad. There is something that touches the deepest part of our hearts when we see that kind of contrast.

I tried to say goodbye to Ben, but he waved me off. “I’m coming with you to the airport,” he said. When I tried to tell him that wasn’t necessary, he simply asserted, “You are my responsibility. It is my duty to see you safely out of Rwanda.”

And so we all boarded that bus. The driver, his helper, Ben, and seven tired, but incredibly blessed travelers. We were closing out an incredible chapter of our journey and we were already beginning to fill the ache of leaving friends who had just recently been strangers. We were seeing the contrast between our lives before and after we had experienced this wonderful part of Africa and had come to know the people.

At the airport, we said our goodbyes to Ben at the security checkpoint. We had a little extra time — Betty had to look for her passport. But then, papers in order, we filed in, filled out more forms, and negotiated passport control.

The first bit of business was coffee and souvenirs. Our busy itinerary while in Rwanda had not allowed a time for shopping and we all had lists of people we wanted to include in our travel experience. We were soon on board RwandAir Flight 400 to Nairobi. More coffee, a surprisingly nice breakfast, and air-conditioned comfort.

Through passport control in the capital of Kenya, we claimed our bags and made our way to the front of the airport to await our ride with Jackson to our new destination, the Made In The Streets Ministry in Kamulu, just outside of Nairobi.

Photo: Betty Gilmore

Photo: Betty Gilmore

Jackson came in his family vehicle. With luggage and seven of us, we joked about being overloaded. Jackson remarked, “We have room for 6 more Kenyans.” And, despite the cramped quarters, we came to believe that there probably was. The traffic was even crazier than what we had seen in Rwanda. Including the necessity of dealing with “cows doing what cows do,” as Jackson would say.

Everything on the drive seemed crowded. The clean streets and green hills of Rwanda had given way to the dust, the litter, and the throngs of people and cars. Another contrast.

When we arrived at Kamulu, Jackson unlocked the gate to the housing compound. We were beginning to understand that we were in a far different place. Heavy iron gates. Ten-foot walls with wire netting extending 4 feet beyond. A guest house with bars on the window and steel doors with massive bolts. And Jackson’s admonition to keep the doors locked at all times.

In truth, we were very safe and secure. But we were safe because the routine here demanded vigilance.

Our hosts, Charles and Darlene Coulson, soon dropped by and oriented us to the operation of the guest house. That included a lesson in flushing the toilets. We were all quick studies when it came to the bucket flush.

2014-09-27 08.44.15After we had settled in, the Coulsons took us on a tour of Made In The Streets Ministry. We walked down dusty dirt streets and took in not one, but a number of compounds. We saw the learning center, the girls living area, one of the boys living areas, the

Photo: Aaron Horn

Photo: Aaron Horn

chapel. And dusty roads. As we watched the little clouds of dirt around our feet, we were told how fortunate we were that it wasn’t the rainy season. The dust turned to sticky mud and everyone wore heavy overshoes — gum boots. In fact, just in case, there were boots in the guest house.

We were eager to meet the children and we soon begin that process. But even with that excitement, we were dealing with the contrasts brought on by our short plane ride from Rwanda and Kenya. And those contrasts and these kids would touch the deepest parts of our hearts.

2014-09-27 07.54.13

Day 5.2 – Overwhelmed

Our bus was directed to a narrow parking space close by a gathering hall where we were to meet with a group of refugee camp leaders and officials. As more and more children and curious adults began to press in on our vehicle, we became aware of the enormity of what lay ahead. I, for one, began to feel a little overwhelmed. The camp was much larger than we had been told. Far more people. Far more children. Far more need. Perhaps more than a little overwhelmed.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Relief workers directed us to step out of the bus. The crowds parted at their direction and our team made its way through the masses single file. We stuck close to our guide in this experience, Benjamin Nkusi, the national coordinator for ALARM Rwanda.

Inside the meeting place, a group of 40 to 50 adults were seated along with just as many children. Quietly watching us, over 100 pair of eyes were bright and expectant . . . hopeful.

As seems to be customary in our Rwandan experience, our team was seated as a panel at tables at the front of the room — places of prestige for the opening ceremonies that were to come. Leaders among the people in the refugee camp, along with officials from the camp administration, were seated there, as well.

Two more groups of children were ushered in — maybe three. Before all was said and done, 213 little ones had been hand-selected to interact with us.

Our friend, Ben, made our introductions and explained our purpose in coming. Four of our team members (Aaron, Robyn, Malcolm and Dan with the assistance of Ben) would spend time with the children, while Betty and I would be left with the adults for a time of special training on trauma and compassion fatigue. Eli, the business development coordinator for ALARM Rwanda, would serve as our interpreter. The ever-smiling Eli was surprised to learn of his role in our presentation, but stepped up and did a marvelous job.

As Betty and I watched the camp workers herd the children out the back door and watched our team members follow, I again felt overwhelmed. We had thought that our training time would be with camp social workers and officials. However, the group we faced had some of those people, but about half appeared to be camp dwellers.

In the moments before we started, there was a certain amount of clamor as tables were set up to the side of the room and as goods and crafts were set out on display. We had been told that we would have the opportunity to purchase goods from some of the people and the marketplace was being readied.

The original plan, the one that pinpointed social workers and officials as our audience, called for four hours of training. I was to bring a lesson on servant leadership while Betty was scheduled to speak on trauma, self-care and compassion fatigue. Frankly, I wasn’t sure that I could teach these dedicated and selfless people anything about servant leadership. Thus, I was a little relieved to learn that our time was to be shortened — a little more than hour for the entire training.

Betty and I reconfigured our outline. I stepped forward to open the session with some spiritual connections. Then, things began going very well.

I would tell Betty later that it brought tears to my eyes to see the way that she worked with these people. That was made more difficult as we worked through Eli as interpreter. Yet, Betty won these people over. Soon, they were telling their stories and sharing ways that they believed they could help each other through their present difficulties.

Several women told of being chased from their homes with their children. Forced to flee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, they had made their way across the border into Rwanda and had eventually been directed to the camp. With nothing but the few possessions they could carry on their backs, these little families were building a new life under conditions that most of us in the Western world cannot imagine. Most of them had lost loved ones to violence.

And Betty listened carefully to them. She reassured them. She affirmed them. And she encouraged them. Betty was awes0me.

One of the women spoke of how important it was to come together with other women — undoubtedly widows or, at the very least, women separated from their husbands — to talk, to work on their crafts, and to sing.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

In my closing thoughts, I congratulated them on their determination and spirit — and I asked them to sing. And they did! (The pictures on this post were taken by a camp official and were carefully framed in order to prevent identification of the refugees.) It was marvelous to hear the joyous noise! But, again I was overwhelmed.

Just as we completed our time, team members began to return along with the children. We could tell from our comrades’ faces that something was wrong. (That will be the topic of the next post.)

But we later learned that, for a little over an hour, they had begun to establish a kinship with those 213 children.

Ben addressed the adults and the children again in Kinyarwandan and then instructed us to gather our things to leave. We were headed toward the door when we were reminded that the refugee marketplace was open to us.

We shopped for about ten minutes. Crocheted items, soda pop, soap, baskets were purchased and, I’m certain, far too many Rwandan francs were given. But it wasn’t about fair dealing. It was all about providing a little something from those who had much to those who were in need.

Then, things began to unravel just a bit. All of the children had gathered around us as we shopped. And now, by the dozens they were approaching each of us and using a substantial part of their English.

“Give me money! Give me money!”

The camp social workers moved in, separating us from the children and directed us to make our way toward the bus. Through the bedlam outside, we were pushed that way. Onboard the bus, the door shut behind us. I couldn’t help but notice as I made my way to my seat, that the duffel bags with the donations were still in the back.

The bus edged its way through the crowds and slowly made its way down the hill and out of the camp.

And the kids ran alongside.

And we were overwhelmed.