Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gratitude Journal #248

Today, I am grateful that Jack turned 12 on Sunday. I'm grateful that his friend Jeremy was able to join us at the aquarium. I'm grateful that Jack chose brownies over cake. I'm grateful Jack is our son.

Our baby is 12!

Today, I am grateful for 248 weeks of gratitude. Gratitude grows us like no other feeling, in positive and constructive ways.

Today, I am grateful for the start of another school year. The kids are excited and off to a great start. I'm so grateful we are in this school district and are blessed with amazing and wonderful teachers.

Today, I am grateful for peace and quiet.

Today, I am grateful for friends and lunch.

Today, I am grateful for my lime green coffee mug.

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Observational Bias

Scientists often discuss the dangers of observational bias in experiments. Researchers look for results that confirm their working hypothesis, and can unconsciously skew data to support their own expectations. Remember the horse who could count? The original researchers wanted the horse to count, so they proved he did. But the horse was picking up on nonverbal cues from his testers rather than actually counting. When he couldn't see the tester, he couldn't do the math.

I think it's a pretty smart horse that can read people that well.

Recently, I've encountered articles in science magazines about how observational bias affects relationships. Take, for instance, housework. Each individual in a house knows exactly what housework he or she has done because s/he can't forget those nasty or tedious acts like sticking gloved hands in dirty toilets and emptying the fridge of science experiments and sorting 163 socks belonging to 4 different people. These tasks loom large in her/his mind. When called on to estimate what percentage of overall housework we do, we will usually over-estimate our own work and under-estimate others' work.

We think we're doing more than we are, and we don't give others credit for the work we don't see them do.

Observational bias plays out in many human interactions. How often have you been the one doing all the work on a team project or committee? I can feel your grumbling through the internet, people. Those lazy sons of guns stood back and let us do all the work, and then they took credit for it. Darn them all to heck!

Of course we feel this way. It's observational bias at work.

I recently had the delightful experience of being on a church committee to put together a photo directory. Ordinarily, such a committee would hardly inspire the adjective "delightful" because everyone in a church wants a photo directory but no one wants to 1) be on the committee to make it happen or 2) schedule themselves for a photo session. Oh the grumbling of a congregation!

But this committee service has been truly delightful because every single woman on the committee felt like she wasn't doing much to get the job done...we all felt that the others were doing more work than we were, and we felt bad about it! It was, indeed, a most refreshing experience, and I credit the chair of the committee for choosing her team so well that observational bias didn't apply.

What a rare and precious treat!

So how do we compensate for observational bias in our personal relationships? How do we fairly and realistically assess what others are doing and acknowledge their contributions in positive ways? How do we keep from feeling like put-upon martyrs being victimized by the indifference, neglect, or lack of appreciation of those for whom we have done so much?

Several ideas come to mind.

First, figure out why you do what you do. Am I ironing George's shirts to get praise and love for being such a dutiful wife, or am I ironing them because I love him and because I have more time at home than he does? If I'm ironing for praise and love, I'll never be able to iron enough. That's a bottomless pit of neediness I firmly reject. If I'm ironing as an expression of love, what's there to feel victimized by or resentful of? Be aware of the reasons you do things, and you'll understand better why those things are or are not satisfying.

Second, ask if you're really doing as much as you think you are. When was the last time I ironed George's shirts? Well, shucks. There's a whole pile of them sitting, neglected, on the closet shelf. I'm falling down on the job here! Don't we all? When you consider what you're really doing, you might find it's not so much after all.

Third, evaluate your expectations of others. Expectation is the mother of disappointment. Are you expecting too much from other people? During years of military moves, I was hurt by the fact that so few friends and family members bothered to write or call after I moved away. I wrote them letters, called back when long-distance calls were expensive, and sent Christmas cards. They rarely wrote, rarely called, and usually cut me from their Christmas card lists after just a year or two.

Eventually, it occurred to me that these people had not stopped loving me...they were just living their lives. If observational bias exaggerates the busyness and importance of our own lives, it also significantly minimizes our understanding and appreciation of how busy and important other people's lives are.

But seriously? Other people are--generally speaking--working hard, making choices, planning for their futures, enjoying life on their own terms. We expect this right to pursue happiness for ourselves, so why do we have such a hard time accepting that other people might simply be exercising the same right?

My long-distance friends and family were focusing on the people in front of them, their children and husbands and parents and coworkers and local friends. Their "neglect" of our friendship wasn't personal. It was a necessary fact of separation in the modern, mobile world.

So I erased my expectations and accepted that others live their lives as busily and actively as I live mine...and I stopped taking it personally. Needless to say, I'm a lot happier for my change of attitude.

About the time I came to this healthy and reasonable conclusion, Facebook exploded onto the internet scene. As annoying and strange as it can be, Facebook enabled me to reconnect with some old friends in lovely, easy ways. I miss the ones whom I can't find on Facebook, but really, both my life and my Facebook feed are quite full and busy enough.

If you're like I used to be...sitting around feeling hurt because others aren't giving you a higher priority in their lives...ask yourself what you're giving to the relationship and if it's realistic to expect more from others than they are already giving. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine all they must be dealing with. Consider how observational bias might be skewing your perspective.

And then, if it is the healthy and reasonable thing to do, change your attitude and expectations. You'll be happier for it.


Of course, you might find, upon honest examination, that you are indeed being treated unfairly or taken advantage of. Then, well, you have two positive choices: 1) open the lines of communication, assertively state your feelings, establish healthy boundaries, and see what happens, or 2) let it go.

Feel free to burst into song here. Let it go, let it go....

And now I'm off to iron some shirts. That's the least I can do for my honey-bunny who works forty hours a week so I can eat bon-bons and read novels all day long. Thank you, my dear.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gratitude Journal #247

Today, I'm grateful still for my week in Pittsburgh and the lingering positive effects of meeting all these wonderful people, all of whom were committed to learning how to equip people to serve those who are suffering through Stephen Ministry.

Kim and Hilde

Mike and Jewell

Ellen, Kim, and Elaine

The Two Carols


Althea and I


Walking around Pittsburgh

Banquet Night

Today, I am grateful for the last week of summer, for cooler weather, for rain, for flowers and butterflies and the promise of my favorite season soon to come.

Today, I am grateful for freshman orientation at our high school and for my baby who is excited to go to high school.

Today, I am grateful for Jack's sixth-grade building, for a principal who understands special needs, for an intervention specialist who wants to keep the lines of communication open, and for the chance to spend as long as we need practicing opening his locker in an empty building with no distractions.

Today, I am grateful that my aunt Linda continues to recover from her broken back. It will be a long recovery, but she will recover.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What They Suffer

"We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”  --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

My thoughts have been somewhat sad and chaotic since the police confirmed that Robin Williams committed suicide. As I've read some of the articles and online chatter on the subjects of depression and suicide, it's painfully obvious that some people judge suicide out of ignorance. If you think that people who commit suicide are selfish or that people who are depressed just need to take a walk and get over it, you are wrong. Dead wrong.

First and foremost, depression is an illness. It's not exactly like cancer or asthma or ALS, though those sorts of illnesses can cause depression. But just as people with cancer or asthma can't control the growth of tumors or the ease of a breath, people with depression can't control their thoughts...and those thoughts are really, really, unutterably sad.

When those unutterably sad thoughts continue long enough, people get worn out and can lose hope. It's exhausting to live with such sad thoughts all the time, and even more exhausting to pretend that everything is okay. People with depression can be superb actors. Robin Williams won an Oscar. People very close to me during my depression had no idea.

No. Idea.

All I wanted was for the pain to go away, and death seemed like a perfectly lovely and peaceful way to end that pain. Had I ended my suffering by suicide, my friends and family would have wondered the same thing people are wondering about Robin Williams...what in the world did she have to be so sad about?

I wonder that, too, now, from the perspective of middle age and many intervening years of happiness. I know I felt like a failure, inadequate, an embarrassment to my loved ones, rejected by my best friend, a disappointment to my father. My brain saw all these negatives as the only truths and wouldn't let me see that I was so very loved, so very appreciated and respected and admired and smart and successful. Nope. I was 16, and all I saw was complete failure.

My brain was broken, sick, suffering.  

No one knows what was going on in Robin Williams brain before he hanged himself, and I've been disturbed to read comments that presume such knowledge. I don't know what Robin Williams was thinking, but I've been to that black hole he was in, and it's so very dark and lonely and insufferably painful, and climbing out of that black hole took years.

I recovered from severe depression with professional help and lots of love from my husband, mother, and sister. Ever since, I've stayed alert to the tone of my thoughts, and when they start getting negative, I act. I go to the doctor. I talk to professionals and friends and family who help me reset my inner perspective. I don't ever want to get sucked back into the hole of mental suffering again.

The tragedy of Williams' death is that his depression was so persistent that the help he got didn't alleviate his symptoms well enough. Some of those he left behind--his family, friends, fans--might naturally want to place blame. But this wasn't Williams' fault any more than it was the fault of his therapists and doctors. When my aunt committed suicide, her psychiatrist blamed himself. He shouldn't have.

We certainly don't blame the family and friends when a cancer patient dies, but family and friends of suicide victims often blame themselves. They shouldn't.

Rarely is blame-placing helpful or just.

But what is helpful and just?

If you are depressed, get professional help. Tell your doctor. Get therapy. Take meds if the doctor thinks they will help and be honest with the doctor if they're not working. Talk to a priest or pastor or other faith leader if that feels right to you. In those really dark moments, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Depression doesn't have to last forever...it can be followed by happiness in this life. Seriously, it can. I'm living proof of that.

If you know someone who might be depressed, love them, listen to them, call them, stay in touch. Don't tell them how to fix their problem or to go for a walk. Ask them to take a walk with you, however, so you can listen to them talk. Listening without judging or bossing someone around helps enormously. Encourage them to get professional help.

But don't blame the sufferer. Don't judge him or her until you've been in the pit yourself. Once you've been there, you know that judgment is pointless and cruel. Remember: as you judge, so shall you be judged.

The most powerful things you can give to people suffering from depression are mercy, compassion, and love. Try those instead of judging.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Gratitude Journal #246

Today, I am grateful for last week and everything about it. For the friends I made, the many things I learned, the fireworks I saw, the prayers I said, the skills I gained, the safe travels of many, the loving care of my family, the fun they had without me, the joy we felt at reunion, the kindness and generosity of my sister-in-law and brother-in-law...the list goes on.

Today, I am grateful for my prayer partner in Pittsburgh: Althea. And I'm grateful for all the other women and men I met who made the experience so rich and educational.

Today, I am grateful for the piles of stuff all over my house. At least, I am trying to be grateful. Mostly, I just want to tackle and tame them. But really, they represent a full and wonderful life, and I repeat that mantra when I want to burn them all with fire.

Today, I am grateful for my aunt, who broke her back (at the L-1 vertebra) falling off a ladder at church while decorating for vacation Bible school. She is recovering well after that terrifying experience and will be fine. I am also grateful to all my friends who prayed for her when we didn't know what the prognosis was.

Today, I am grateful for our plans to go to Wisconsin for the Ironman race...George's eighth attempt and possibly fifth finish. What a fun experience...again. Especially since Angela (George's sister) and her husband Mike will be there with us again this year!

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Gratitude Journal #245

For the full list of my gratitude this week, please click over to my other blog, Transforming Common Days, for this post:

A Road Beginning with Gratitude

This week, I'm in Pittsburgh for a God-filled week of the Stephen Ministries Leadership Training Course. My plan is to post periodically on Transforming Common Days as I am able and as the Spirit moves me. If you are at all interested, please join me over there!