My Father part 4 – Leading by Example

Dad's Birthday

Dad’s Birthday

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” ~ John C. Maxwell

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” ~ Lao Tzu

“Example is leadership.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

This past weekend I had a Facebook conversation, if you can call it that, with one of my friends. His politics are conservative judging by his posts and there have been times when he’s posted photos and memes that are, in my opinion, hateful toward Muslims. Sometimes when I see those, I hide them, because the photo or sentiment promotes violence and hatred, and I don’t want them on my feed. I have not unfriended him, because one thing I learned from my father is that the only way to change someone’s mind is to try to understand them and then lead by example.

Now, this person and I only have contact on Facebook. However, I believe social media can be a powerful tool. With it you can spread any message you choose. I choose to try to spread compassion, understanding, kindness and love. I’m not perfect and sometimes I post questions that are nagging at me about our current national dialogue on so many issues. And sometimes I post memes that express something that I hope people will think about.

Thursday, I found this meme on my newsfeed, which I reposted: “There are well over a billion Muslims on this planet. If Islam was really about violence you’d all be dead by now. Stop letting your TV and Newspaper tell you who to hate.” Most of my friends liked the post, however, it set off a firestorm of nasty comments from the above mentioned Facebook friend. I admit it is rather confrontational and unlike me to repost such a thing, but sometimes we do need to state clearly our point of view which this meme did for me.

However, as I was reminded by the debate I set in motion, you can’t change anyone’s mind once they’ve become entrenched in that point of view. My dad used to say that and he was right as I relearned last week. Fortunately for me, this man did not unfriend me. I stopped trying to convince him of my point of view and he did the same. Maybe if I continue to post my viewpoint about treating others with compassion and empathy, eventually he and I will change our feelings toward each other.

I know it seems like there is so much hatred in the world but if you look you can find messages of hope. Saturday I reposted this meme from “Parliament of the World’s Religions,” after the attacks on Brussels. It reads: “If you are not Muslim, say to someone who is: ‘I’m glad you’re here.’ If you do not know a Muslim, meet a Muslim, then say to them: ‘I’m glad you’re here.’” Whoever created this meme is trying to get us to think in new more loving ways instead of continuing to perpetuate retaliation which only exacerbates a situation. Insert any word that describes a group different that you into the meme and be kind not confrontational with them. That’s easier said than done for me when it comes to politics especially since the extreme conservatives have entrenched themselves and are, figuratively speaking, arming themselves for political battle. It’s been like this for almost eight years and the situation seems hopeless. Yet, we can change the situation by taking a new tack. I’ve read two articles recently that give me hope that the tide is changing away from attack to empathy.

The first is from Popular Resistance titled: “History Teaches That We have the Power to Transform the Nation, Here’s How.” The authors, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers published this on June 12, 2013, but it seems even more relevant today and points out all the times in history when regular everyday people banded together to effect huge changes in their societies. Most of their examples are based on non-violent movements, but our country was formed by people banding together and saying, “We want to govern ourselves.” It seems we’re having to do that again. I hope we accomplish it using empathy this time.

Another article I read recently on the same theme of non-violent change, was a much more personal piece published on March 18, 2016 by George Lakey on the Waging Nonviolence website It’s about his experience protesting outside a Trump rally. The title of the article is “How empathy, not protest, can defeat Trump and right-wing extremism.” In the article he asks these questions: where does the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, and by extension other hate groups, come from? And where is empathy honored in our culture? He believes empathy is the vital tool to bridging the gap in the wide divide between political groups. I think he makes some important points in his article. Each side has been attacking the other. That hasn’t worked to solve our problems. Maybe using empathy will.

These are just two examples of people who are advocating that instead of continuing to confront our “enemies”, we should lead by example and use compassion and understanding to create a bridge. I’m all for that and will continue to plant seeds and show compassion and use empathy wherever I can. My first act of compassion is to keep as friends people who don’t agree with me and show as much empathy toward them as I can. Remember, “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” ~ Lao Tzu. My father was soft when dealing with people. I want to be that too.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

My Father part 3 – Honoring Others

Getting a hug from Dad

Getting a hug from Dad

“Find the sweetness in your own heart, then you may find the sweetness in every heart.” ~ Rumi

“Some cause happiness wherever they go.” ~ Oscar Wilde

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

There are some people who light up a room when they come into it, who make everyone feel good, and when you’re with them they make you feel like you are the most important person in the world. My father was one of those people. That was remarkable because he wasn’t the loud extrovert who makes a noisy entrance. He was a humble introvert, but when he spoke people listened, and when people spoke he listened with eloquence. He honored everyone he encountered. What this taught me was that if you are interested in people, you can make a big difference in their lives, and in your own life too.

From my father I learned to be empathetic, to listen and try to see past the outer behaviors and attitudes we all protect ourselves with; the faces we present to the world. These tools helped me as I went out into the world. I encountered people at school, college and work who didn’t know how to use empathy as a tool. Having to associate with them was extremely uncomfortable and confusing. I was surprised that not everyone had learned those skills from their parents. However, as I thought about how different I was from others, eventually, a kernel of an idea began to grow. Maybe everyone comes into this world with a hidden purpose that contributes to whatever it is that is driving all of humanity toward some eventual bright future.

It was at this point that I read the book, Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch. In the book Neale asks God why we had to have a person like Hitler? What was the purpose of having a person who was so filled with fear and hatred that millions of people were killed as a result of his drive for power? Why hadn’t He stepped in to protect us? God’s answer made so much sense to me. Humans have free will. People like Hitler show us the contrast between love and hatred. And when we’re confronted with those people, we have an opportunity to choose whether to follow them, or follow the path of love as set out by people like Jesus, or Buddha or other great teachers. When a Hitler comes into so much power, the only solution, if we choose love, is to stand up to them. In other words, God said World War II was necessary to affirm that we, as a human collective wanted to live by love rather than hatred. That made so much sense to me. Situations like that force us to come together to use our free will and choose what kind of society we want to live in. It is, of course, a slow process. More opportunities to choose, like the seminal moment in which we find ourselves right now, will present themselves. Each individual who chooses to honor others, rather than to grab for power, pushes us toward growth. The process isn’t easy. It’s messy and uncomfortable, but necessary.

We like to think that our lives don’t matter but they do. My dad was a humble man who didn’t aspire to be a world leader, but I felt good when I was around him. He made the people he associated with feel good about themselves. He helped us all discover talents we didn’t know we had, he honored us in ways not many other people did. I’m so grateful that he was my father because as I’ve tried to emulate him, I know that others who knew him are doing the same. The ripples of his influence continue out into the world. He wouldn’t want any more of a tribute than that. And I’m grateful for what I learned from him so I can make my own contributions for love. Thanks, Dad.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, or share the link for this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Things I Learned from My Father part 2 – Kindness

Dad and me on Easter Sunday

Dad and me on Easter Sunday

“No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted.” ~ Aesop

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” ~ Dalai Lama

“Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me those are traditional values.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres

The other day I was trolling Facebook and saw a video that fits perfectly something I learned from my father: it’s important to always be kind and give people the benefit of the doubt. My dad was almost always kind to others. He rarely lost his temper even at home, even when people were in his face challenging, or yelling at him.

But back to the video. In it a man with a “Trump Supporter” T-shirt and a sign that asked for hugs was standing outside a Bernie Sanders rally. He had a camera crew with him, so I don’t know if he was a real Trump supporter, or someone doing a social experiment. In any case as the rally ended and people poured out, he held up his sign asking for a hug. Only one person said, “F**k you.” Many people walked by without saying a word, but once the first person gave him a hug, many others followed. One woman even said, “Oh, you poor guy.” There was one man who wasn’t sure he wanted to give this Trump supporter a hug, he kind of hemmed and hawed, but finally he approached and gave the best hug. At the end of the video the young man said something like, “See we can overlook our differences and find common ground.”

In this season of so much controversy, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what my dad taught me about being kind.

The summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, we moved from Wilbur, Washington to a five acre lot, twelve miles south of Spokane. There I was starting at a new country school that just happened to be rivals with the school I had been attending. The students at the new school were much nicer to me than the ones at the old had been when I started school there. That was wonderful, but church wasn’t so wonderful. My father was a progressive thinker in every aspect of his life. The members of the three congregations in Spokane were mostly conservative which as they got to know my father caused some real problems for our family.

At various times my father was, the district wide youth leader, and later pastor of our congregation. As youth leader, he wanted to broaden our experiences, so he did things like start a “Coffee House” in the basement of our congregation every Friday or Saturday night. We drank soda or tea, ate cookies or popcorn and had an open mic where people could sing, or recite or read what they’d written. We were encouraged to invite our friends. The atmosphere was dark with candles on the tables which made it feel very intimate. We kids loved it. The parents did not. We were, of course, chaperoned, but that didn’t matter. There was an uproar that inappropriate things were happening at the coffee house and the experiment was shut down.

Then dad started a program with the local mental hospital. Those of us who attended their monthly socials, would just talk to the inmates of the hospital, play games or read to them, or maybe dance with them. But again, people objected. Why should we be subjected to those unsavory people in the mental hospital? Maybe the parents were jealous. My father was very popular with the younger generation. Whatever the case, our trips to the hospital stopped.

When my father became pastor of our congregation, he started a relationship with the minister of the Baptist church a few blocks away. The congregation was made up of mostly black people and the two ministers cooked up a scheme where the two congregations would get to know each other so we could do some community outreach together. Unfortunately, that too fell flat.

Each of these attempts by my father to help get us out of our insular activities and worship, caused great anger toward him and our entire family. My parents received hate mail and terrible phone calls from congregation and district members. Though my parents tried to shield us from the controversy, I was old enough to catch snippets of conversations that gave me a pretty clear picture of what was going on. My father was considered a rabble rouser and many people didn’t like him. There were times when I witnessed people confronting him at church. No matter what they said or how they treated him, he was always kind.

Witnessing the way my father interacted with people left a deep impression on me. I asked myself how he was able to stay so calm and return hatred with kindness? One thing I noticed was that after such confrontations, he’d go to his bedroom, or some other quiet place to be alone for awhile. When I took up this same practice, I found that it helped me in my attempts to be kind to others.

I’m not perfect. There are times when I feel overwhelmed by emotions I don’t understand and I want to make nasty comments either in person, or on social media. But that would only escalate an already volatile situation. When I feel strong negative emotions, I follow what I learned from my father, I go to a quiet place, write down my feelings and meditate to calm myself. I wish we taught those skills in our schools because if we did, we might have a more peaceful world. I’m grateful I learned them from my father.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Things I Learned from My Father

James Calvin Sage

James Calvin Sage

“Here is my secret, A very simple secret, It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ The Little Prince

“We are approaching a new age of synthesis. Knowledge cannot be merely a degree or a skill … it demands a broader vision, capabilities in critical thinking and logical deduction without which we cannot have constructive progress.” ~ Li Ka-shing

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and aiming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ~ Adrienne Rich

“Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better.” ~ Richard W. Paul

Yesterday, March 8, would have been my father’s 86th birthday. I still miss him though it’s been twelve years since his death. He was my mentor, and on this anniversary of his birth, I’d like to share some of the wonderful things he taught me.

First and foremost was to Question everything. My father was extremely intelligent, even though he had to drop out of school. His teachers called him lazy, and told him that he’d never amount to anything. Boy were they wrong. It’s amazing the extent of influence one person has on the world.

After years of struggling, my dad discovered that he had dyslexia, which was unheard of in the 1930s and 40s when he was in school. But by the time he had a label for his condition it didn’t matter because he had taught himself how to read. And what he read about was history and historical places. He loved biographies like those of the Founding Fathers. When my brother and I began college he read philosophy and theology, which was what we were studying. In fact, dad was interested in everything, especially what was going on in the present. “It’s history in the making,” he’d say. So, of course, he read news magazines, the newspaper and watched both the early and late news every night. And he questioned all of it.

He taught me never to assume that I understood what someone was saying or writing. We each attach different meanings to the same words. So, I should analyze information by asking lots of questions. He taught me this, oddly enough, by watching movies with me. When I was a teenager, we’d stay up late on weekend evenings watching and discussing old movies. We’d talk about the plot and characters, their motivations and what we thought the theme might be. Every question he asked me sent me to a deeper level of thinking.

Because he watched movies with me, I began to watch the news with him. I’d ask him questions like, why the police were beating the peaceful demonstrators, or why people were killing black people who wanted equal rights, or why we were fighting the Viet Nam War, and he would say things like, “People hurt others because they’re deeply wounded themselves. They’re scared.” “Scared of what?” I’d ask. “Scared of losing their way of life,” he’d answer. Another thing he used to say was, “People who are in great pain don’t know what they’re doing. They just want to feel better. They think hurting someone else will get rid of their pain, not realizing that one violent act leads to another.” So I began asking lots of questions no matter what I was listening to, or reading, or who I was interacting with.

When I became a public school teacher I learned that asking questions is called the Socratic Method. It’s the method Socrates used to help his students learn to think. Thanks to dad, it’s the way I teach, it’s the way I live my life.

Asking questions about why people do what they do is a particularly valuable tool for me in my day to day life. It’s extremely important to ask what a commentator, a politician, a TV ad, or a writer means by the words they use in their news and TV shows, ads, articles, movies and books. When I ask questions, it causes me to take a deeper look and helps me understand someone’s intent, or their motives. When I have a clearer picture, I’m better equipped to make decisions, and understand my family, friends, students and colleagues in a way I might not have realized had I not asked questions.

This method has also helped me a great deal as a writer. Because as I ask questions about the challenges I face in my personal life, what I learn becomes part of my novel or these blog entries. I’m mining my own life to help me convey complex undercurrents of thoughts and feelings that are pushing their way to the surface of my consciousness hoping to be expressed. I don’t always understand what wants to come forth until I begin writing.

Asking questions has helped me in other ways as well. There have been times when some tragedy happens and because I’ve asked lots of questions for so long, I can make connections between historical events and what’s happening in the present moment. What looks like chaos is really an opportunity for all of us to grow.

Hmmm, I took up so much time on this first important thing I learned from my father, that I didn’t have time to write about the other wonderful things he taught me. I guess I’ll have to turn these posts about my dad into a series. I’m happy to take another look at what he taught me and share it with you. I’ll probably gain some new insights by doing that which is a good thing. Thanks, Dad.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Empathy and Mean Memes

Hands of different races

Hands of different races

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” ~ Stephen Covey

“The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

“I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done.” ~ Andrea Arnold

About a week ago I saw this meme on Facebook. “Unpopular opinion: We are not all equal. I worked my ass off to get where I am, I deserve what I have, I shouldn’t have to give up what I’ve worked for to make things equal.” ~ Whisper. When I read this meme, I found it disturbing on several different levels. First of all, it shows a lack of empathy, which I believe to be extremely important in human relations. Second of all, the writer assumes there is not enough abundance to go around which I believe to be completely untrue. We just need to spread the abundance around so everyone has enough.

The other day I was at Target before going to teach my evening class at the college. I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between the man in front of me and the cashier. The customer said that he hoped the cashier’s shift was nearly over, to which the cashier replied, “Nope. I don’t get off until 9:00 tonight … four more hours. And I’m tired. I just came from my other job.” Of course the customer commiserated with the cashier which affected me deeply. I nearly cried. What must that young man’s life be like? Does he have any down time at all? Or is his life going from one job to the next just so he can survive. How horrible. It’s like he’s condemned to a living hell.

We often make the assumption that people who are poor are lazy. I don’t believe that’s true as evidenced by the cashier at Target. It takes a great deal of effort for the less fortunate to make ends meet, which leaves little time for additional education, or looking for a better job, or having fun with family and friends.

When I overheard the conversation in Target, I thought again of the above meme. The writer assumes that some people are more deserving than others. I don’t believe that to be true. We all come from the same place and our country is founded on that very idea. In the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I think what Thomas Jefferson meant was that every single person born on this planet is seen by the Creator as having the same value to every other person, and that VALUE has nothing to do with what we own, the job we have, how hard we work, or anything else which is visible. Our value is something intangible, known to God and only minimally to ourselves.

Most of us are incapable of seeing another person’s or even our own true self. We have no idea who they or we are beyond the tangible things we associate with personhood. That’s the tragedy humans have been trying to overcome since we became the human race. The have nots feel their worth instinctively, while the haves sometimes arrogantly assume they have more worth than anyone else. We hold so tightly onto what we have because we’re afraid of losing it. But our country was founded on the idea that if we share what we have with each other, we all become richer. It has been one attempt to give everyone a chance to be free to navigate their own path and to fulfill their personal destiny. It hasn’t been a perfect experiment as we all know. However, I think, perhaps, we are in a new era of attempting to reset the balance so that everyone can thrive and find their perfect life. It seems to be happening in various ways all over the planet, people standing up for their rights and doing things that change our perspective of what it means to be a person of worth.

In my opinion the solution to our current financial, political, and religious imbalance is to share what abundance we have with each other, to be open and try to understand one another. Compassion and empathy are things each of us can learn. Now when the world is in such turmoil it seems a particularly good time to dedicate ourselves to cultivating both empathy and compassion. It doesn’t take much, just do what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mockingbird. “You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016