Category Archives: good faith
On Monday I drove to a local shopping mall to pick up my daughter from work. As I waited in my car for her, I watched people and cars come and go. One woman in an SUV drove aggressively into the parking lot and veered into the last available handicapped spot. The woman, wearing a cropped top and short shorts, jumped out, tossed her highlighted hair, checked her French manicure and trit-trotted (I might say “flounced”) into the mall in her platform shoes. (I swear none of that is an exaggeration.)
I thought of all the people I know who have, or have had, mobility issues. I thought of the people who really need that spot because chemo treatments depleted their strength, or they are recovering from knee surgery, or they must use a cane or walker.
I didn’t do anything though. It happened so fast I wouldn’t have had time to, and you never know. There wasn’t a lot of her that wasn’t exposed for all to see, but maybe—just maybe—she had a disability I couldn’t know about.
Flash forward to the next day. My friend, Jo-Ann, writes The Ostomy Factor blog. (Better WITH a bag than IN a bag.) She has an ostomy bag that she calls Percy, and she writes with humour and inspiration about her life as an ostomate. In her Tuesday post, entitled “Walk a Mile in Other Shoes,” she shared an encounter she had with a woman outside an handicapped washroom. Jo-Ann’s close personal relationship with Percy is not visible to others, so an indignant woman scolded her for using a facility intended for the handicapped.
Jo-Ann responded with her usual grace and dignity. Bravo to her.
When I read Jo-Ann’s post, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had not said anything to the woman the previous day, because you never know. I wouldn’t want to be the person who reprimands another person for taking an action they really needed to take.
But. The woman the previous day had no handicapped sticker in her window. She bounced into the mall with no difficulty. I waited fifteen minutes for my daughter, and the woman did not come back out during that time, so even the lame “I’m just popping in for a minute” excuse didn’t apply. My gut instinct told me that she is one of the hapless people who prances through life with a selfish disregard for others, somehow Teflon impervious to cosmic justice (at least in this life.)
What to do with that?
I guess, day to day, we have faith that most people respect the reason and the need for handicapped parking spots. Day to day, we have faith that the people we see using them are doing what they need to do to deal with a challenge, whether that challenge is visible to us or not.
And maybe every once in a while we can take a “reminder action,” like they did in Lisbon. The wheelchairs in this photo all had signs on them saying “Be right back,” or “Just picking up something.”
“Failure made me look forward to the next game. If I had a bad game, I couldn’t wait for the next day, when I could brush off the failure and try to do better.” —Gary Carter in Still a Kid at Heart: My Life in Baseball and Beyond
The book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck made me look at the people around in a whole new way. The results of her studies show people approach life in one of two ways (or a mix of both): with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
As Benjamin Barber says it, people are learners or non-learners.
People living in a fixed mindset believe their abilities, like intelligence or talent, are inherited and fixed. They evaluate their intelligence and believe it cannot be changed. They give up on music lessons because they don’t believe they inherited the “gift” of musical talent. They document their abilities, but they don’t spend any time developing them.
When people choose to live in a growth mindset, they work at developing their abilities through perseverance and hard work.
People who live in a fixed mindset believe that when they fail at something it means they are a failure. They don’t want to be seen to fail; they perform routine, repetitive tasks they know they can manage instead of risking more challenging tasks at which they might fail.
When growth mindset people fail, they use it as an impetus to work harder and to try new approaches. Their resilience leads to success.
When I read the quote at the top of this post, I know Gary Carter had a growth mindset; his failures led him to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Thomas Edison had a growth mindset; his failures led him to lightbulbs and other fantastic inventions. J.K. Rowling had a growth mindset; her many rejections led to my favourite Harry Potter books.
Sometimes we inadvertently encourage a fixed mindset in others when we measure success only in terms of winning or losing, or when we try to protect our children from the pain of failure. When soccer teams don’t keep score so no team “loses,” or when schools hold “leaving ceremonies” instead of graduations, the result is a washout of mediocrity.
We definitely encourage a fixed mindset when we see intelligence and talents as inherited and fixed. When math teachers believe students either “get” math or not, and sport coaches favour a certain physical build over a determined athletic spirit, they pass over gold mines of potential talent.
The good news is that the first step to progressive change is accepting that we have a problem. We can ask ourselves, “Do I want to stall myself, or my kids, or other people kids, in a fear-filled miasma of mediocrity? Or do I want to keep growing and getting better and taking on new challenges even if it sometimes hurts when I fail along the way?
We can teach our kids that to fail is to succeed because that means they are out there doing something. We can teach them to feel the pain and then extract lessons from their failures. We can teach them that a single failure doesn’t define them and that there’s always room for growth.
We can teach them to do the hard stuff with excitement and not a fear of failure.
“If you only go through life doing stuff that’s easy, shame on you.” —Patricia Miranda
Just for fun, I used this as a writing prompt this morning.
I spent the weekend at a writing retreat, and one might assume such a gathering would inspire a wellspring of words. Alas, it had the opposite effect, and I felt word-drained. To start the words flowing again, I told myself to leave my comfortable couch, walk upstairs to my office, select the third book on the top book shelf and open it to page 56. I had no idea what I would find.
It happened to be Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer. On page 56 I read:
“Gandhi was neither a conforming Hindu nor a conforming nationalist. No ism help him in its grip. He never hewed to a line. He was independent, unpredictable, and hence exciting to all and difficult for the British. “Do I contradict myself?” he asked. “Consistency is a hobgoblin.” He had the rebel’s courage to be true to himself today and different tomorrow. “My aim,” he once wrote, “is not to be consistent with my previous statement on a given question, but to be consistent with the truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result is that I have grown from truth to truth . . .”
I think most of us would agree that Gandhi lived a brave life, but before I had framed that bravery in terms of constancy or perseverance. I thought of the determined way in which Gandhi lived what he believed to be right, unwavering in his march to human rights.
Inconsistency takes courage. It takes courage to admit that we need to leave something behind, or to float free in the world without anchoring ourselves in a religion, a philosophy, a political stance or a national identity. We cling to beliefs that served us in the past, even when they don’t serve us so well in the present. We hate to “eat our words,” so we stand by them even when they don’t resonate with truth anymore.
How brave, to let go of identity anchors and evolve. truth to truth.
May this day bring you freedom from anchors that weigh you down, courage to contradict your past self and inspiration to seek your new truth.
And, I’m curious: What’s on your top shelf, third book from the right, page 56?
“Don’t give up before the miracle happens.”
—Fannie Flagg in I Still Dream About You.
Hundreds of years from now, the children of our children’s children’s children’s children face a seemingly insurmountable challenge. To inspire themselves to succeed they look to wisdom from the past. They scan their retinas (because surely they’ll have Google Retina by then) for pithy, profound insights into the complexities of life.
Might they find inspiration from Rumi? Perhaps. Jesus? Also possible. Shakespeare, Einstein or Confucius might also be strong contenders. But they might also stumble upon some wisdom from another great wise man: Jim Carrey.
Who would have thought, right? But Carrey nails it in a convocation speech at (of all places) the Maharishi University of Management. In less than a minute he alludes to one incident from his life that encapsulates these spiritual principles:
- Be here now
- Make your decisions based on love not fear
- Ask the universe for it and allow yourself to be surprised by the miracle
- You can fail at what you don’t want, so do what you love.
“. . . all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment which are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying—I’m the proof—that you can ask the universe for it.“
He went on to say:
“My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”
The sun and warmth called to me at the end of the afternoon yesterday, so I ventured out for a big walk in my neighbourhood. I usually follow the same five kilometre route, but yesterday I took a different path. As I turned one corner, I saw a woman about five houses ahead of me make a hasty trip across the street. She went to the aid of an elderly man and his wife who had also heeded the call of the sun and the warmth, but who had walked a little too far. The man had run out of energy at the end of his driveway and couldn’t take another step—or stand for that matter.
My adrenaline kicked in, and I prepared to make a fast move to their aid. Just then, a car pulled over, and two young women hopped out. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I assume they offered help. The wife shook her head, so the girls hesitantly climbed into the car and drove away. I relaxed, thinking that maybe things were going to be okay. By the time I reached the house though, I knew the situation had deteriorated. The two woman could not support the man enough to help him to the house.
“Are you sure I can’t help?” I said.
The wife reluctantly agreed. “If you hold him, I’ll get his walker,” she said.
I stayed long enough to see him safely into his home. As we left, his wife said, “You both are angels. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
I had the remainder of my walk to ponder her comment and to remember other situations in my life when people materialized at just the right time in just the right place: a cab driver who drove me all the way home late at night even when I told him I didn’t have enough money to pay the full fare, the woman who provided the phone so I could call my parents after a car accident, and the grocery store cashier who shared some life wisdom and turned my dark mood into a bright one.
I thought about how strange it was that I had taken a different route that day, almost like I needed to rearrange things to be there at that time. I wondered what kind of forces in the universe work together to create these kind of scenarios.
I mused about how the woman had declined the first offer of help. She had more help than she needed really, but she didn’t want to accept it. I wondered how many human angels I have refused to accept.
I contemplated her gratitude and her sense of relief in response to something that had cost me very little. The situation for her was dire, but for me it was nothing more than a temporary detour from my path. I wondered if all the human angels who have appeared to me felt the depth of my gratitude, and I hoped that their aid was as light a burden for them.
Have you ever been an angel? Has a human angel ever come to you?