Courage, the Cowardly Lion Said

There is a scene in the movie The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, where Gandalf finds a small sword in a cave.  He leaves the cave and gives it to Bilbo Baggins.  If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what happened next.  If you haven’t, it’s okay.  You don’t need to have seen it to get what Gandalf tells Bilbo a few seconds later.  You don’t even have to know what the movie is about to understand the context of what Gandalf says.

To preface the statement, Bilbo tells Gandalf he had never used a sword in his life, and Gandalf tells him he hopes he never has to and (here’s the statement):

“True courage is about knowing, not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”

I’m not going to tell you what happens, but if you’ve never seen the movie, that particular line comes into play later.

That leads me to my topic today.  I want to talk about courage and compassion for a minute.

True courage.  It takes courage to be a soldier in any military, especially during times of war, which seem to be never ending.  It takes courage to be a firefighter, especially when you have to run into a burning building to save someone.  It takes courage to face something you are afraid of.  Afraid of heights?  Get on a rollercoaster or look over the edge of a high rise building or a mountain.  It takes courage to step outside your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done.  It takes courage to ask that pretty little girl out to the prom knowing she might say no.

It takes courage to be who you are.

The next few lines of what I am about to write may or may not offend some folks, but I’m going to say them anyway.  If you will, just stick with me through the next few lines, and do it with an open mind.

In today’s world it takes courage to be different.  Think I’m wrong?  How many people have come out as gay or lesbian and immediately been scorned by their family or friends or co-workers or local religious group?

How many people have had a differing opinion than those around them and immediately been threatened with hateful words or deeds?  You want an example?  Okay, here you go:

Bruce Jenner, a.k.a. Caitlyn Jenner.  I’m going to be honest with you here.  I have no clue what’s going through his/her mind.  I don’t understand what made him choose to go from being a man to being a woman.  I don’t know.  And here is where I will get completely honest with you:  I don’t care.  What he/she has done is really none of my business.  It doesn’t have a direct effect on my life or my children’s lives.  What he chose to do is between himself, his psyche and his God.  It has nothing to do with me. Do you know what that means?  My opinion on the matter, well, it doesn’t matter.  And it shouldn’t.  As I said up a few sentences, I don’t care what he does.  It is his life and the only person/people this really effects is him and his family.  End of story.

You wanted an example.  I gave you one.

Here’s what I do know:  people are quick to criticize others.  They are quick to point out everything they have done (or are doing) wrong.  They are quick to try and change those they feel are doing all these wrong things.  They are quick to judge.  Do you know how many times I’ve heard otherwise good people make comments like ‘that person’s going to hell’ or ‘this country’s going to hell in a handbasket’?  Maybe it is, but does it do any good for someone to criticize others for things they have done that do not affect the person doing the criticizing?  I don’t think so.

People are critical because they don’t understand a person’s motives or a situation.  They don’t know what’s going through someone’s head when they decide to do something.

Okay, I guess it’s time to anger some folks.  Criticizing something or someone because you don’t understand it or them is weak and narrow-minded.

If you haven’t clicked off the page, yet, I appreciate it.

The human mind is a very defensive thing.  When it doesn’t understand something, it makes excuses for not trying to understand it.  It allows the fear mechanism to kick in.  I’ve stated it here before, but F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.  I learned that a few years ago at work.  (It’s a long story I won’t go into now.  If you want to know about it, drop me a line and I’ll explain to you where I got it from.)  When our defenses kick in we are quick to judge, to react, and to criticize.  Sometimes that leads us to talking bad about people.  Other times the defenses are so strong that we would rather break someone down, cuss at them, lie about them, beat them or bend the truth to fit out needs.  We’ve seen it happen a lot over the last few years.

Fear makes people do stupid things.  We’ve seen all the horror movies and the display of stupidity that takes place in most of them.  Funny thing about real life, sometimes the movies aren’t too far off.  Fear is a critical part of our psyche.  If we fear something we will get away from it and avoid it as much as we possibly can.  I am absolutely terrified of snakes, so I stay away from them.  If I see one in the woods, I back away slowly while keeping it in sight.

A buddy of mine used to have a couple of snakes and he went to take one of them out of its cage and asked me if I wanted to hold it.

‘If you want that thing to stay alive, you might want to put it back in its cage.’

I was not kidding.  It would have been very bad for me, the snake and my friend if he wouldn’t have put it back in its cage.

On the other hand, if we don’t run from the thing that scares us, we attack it, which I mentioned several ways how above.  Criticism and hatred are two of the biggest ways to attack someone you don’t like or understand.

What is the opposite of Fear?  I believe it is Courage.

Courage.  It’s what the cowardly lion wanted in The Wizard of Oz.  It’s what we all want.

It takes courage to be different.  Even more so, it takes courage to defend someone different than you, even if everyone else disagrees with you.  It takes courage to show compassion to someone who wouldn’t show you the same compassion.  It takes courage to do the right thing.  In this day and age, in the world we live in, very few people want to do the right thing.  They want to do their thing.  If it can benefit them, even if it’s not necessarily right or fair, then there’s a chance people will do it.  Like I said, it takes courage to do the right thing.  None of us are always courageous in our decision making.  None.  Of.  Us.

Let’s go back to that quote from The Hobbit and let’s change it up a little.

“Courage is knowing, not when to criticize others, but when to show compassion to them.”

Compassion is concern for others.  It’s helping someone shorter than you reach something on the top shelf.  It’s helping someone struggling to carry something heavy by taking part of the load.  It’s seeing a need and trying to address it, but without stipulations.  None of the ‘I’ll do this, but you have to do this’ nonsense.  No, that’s not compassion.  Compassion comes with no strings attached.  It’s a genuine feeling of concern for someone to the point that you want to help them without expecting anything else in return.  It’s a woman giving a young couple 20 bucks so they can buy a kiddie pool for their young son because they couldn’t afford to do it themselves.

Compassion.  There’s not enough of it in this world.  There needs to be more.  Much, much more.  Courage.  The cowardly lion wanted it, but it wasn’t given to him.  He developed it when he did the right thing and tried to save Dorothy and his friends from the wicked witch.  It takes courage these days to show compassion and understanding, even in the face of things we may not understand.  But it takes neither courage, nor compassion to criticize and break people down because they think differently or choose differently or believe differently or look differently than we do or if they make decisions for their lives that hurts no one that we don’t agree with.

Everyone is different.  Everyone has their own idea of how things should be.  Why should it matter to someone if someone else doesn’t have those same beliefs?  It shouldn’t, but for some reason, it does.  I’ll never understand it.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…

Paying it Forward, In its Purest State

Today I want to talk about paying it forward. Okay, I heard the collective groans out there, but stick with me. Don’t I always take you on a little journey that sometimes goes around my hand to get to my thumb just to make a point?

We’ve all heard the term ‘paying it forward.’ You hear about it happening a lot at Starbucks. I’m not sure why it happens so often there, maybe it’s because Starbucks is a coffee-type place, and for some reason, folks need their coffee in order to keep from killing people. I don’t know, but that is a possibility. Before I continue, let me clarify: Starbucks is not a coffee shop. You see, coffee shops sell, well, coffee. I don’t know what that stuff is that Starbucks sells, and just because they use coffee in a lot of it does not make the items they sell actual coffee. My blog. My two cents.

At any rate, you often hear that people will pay for the frappe-crappo-cino-latte-vanillo-grande-caramello-drink-o for the car behind them. Then the next person does the same and so on and so on until someone finally says, ‘Cool, I get a free frappe-crappo-cino-latte-vanillo-grande-caramello-drink-o.’ Most people don’t want to be the one who breaks that chain, but there are those who will. I’m not sure if that’s a good for you or a shame on you.

Paying it forward is simply you do something nice for someone without wanting anything in return, and hopefully, that person will do the same for someone else, and so on and so on. In the end, paying it forward is kind of like rumors—they come back around, and usually not in the same manner as when it started. In the case of rumors, that sucks. In the case of paying it forward, well, it’s often a good thing.

So often in today’s society, paying it forward or just being kind to one another, isn’t such a popular concept. It’s all about me, me, me, me, and giving someone money or buying something for a total stranger is considered crazy and somewhat stupid by many folks.

Not one person, at least.

Let me tell you a story real quickly:

I was perusing Facebook this morning. Yeah, that great worldwide killer of time. I wasn’t feeling all that well and was debating on going back to bed. After all, it wasn’t even seven a.m. at this point and I really didn’t need to get up earlier than eight. I was about to click off when I saw a post from an author friend of mine. The post was about his wife, Linda.

Let’s break this up or we’re going to have one really long paragraph here.

Linda had been at the Wally World (Wal-Mart, for those who don’t know that term) and she overheard a young couple talking about wanting to buy their son a kiddie pool. It wasn’t one of those ginormous fifteen foot in circumference, four feet deep ones. No, it was your standard plastic kiddie pool with little fish designs on it.

The pool was eighteen dollars and the young couple couldn’t afford it. Having been a young couple at one time with my wife, Cate, and wanting to buy something for my children and not being able to, it’s a bad feeling. As the parent, you feel guilty and sad and like a bad parent who needs to be put in the corner or spanked (no, not that type of spanking). It sucks.

So what did Linda do? She walked off, ignoring them.

No. No. I’m just kidding.

Linda pulled out a twenty dollar bill and gave it to them and told the young couple, and I quote, “Get the pool for your son.”

Wait, it gets better. You see, their son was with them, and the mother was holding another child. So, the son saw this act of kindness. They thanked her profusely and Linda watched as they went and paid for the pool.

She cried as she told her husband this story.

Okay, did you picture any of that? Can you see the young couple? They wanted to do something for their son, but they couldn’t. I can see the kid—probably somewhere between the ages of two and five, maybe six, his eyes turned down and sad. I can almost hear his thoughts. Summer’s coming, Ma, and all we got is an old radio flyer wagon for a pool. Or something like that.

I can hear the man’s voice as he says, ‘We can’t afford it.’

I can almost hear the collective of three hearts breaking after that statement. I can almost feel the boy’s tears, and probably the momma’s, too.

But then, out of nowhere, like a knight in shiny armor on a white steed, a woman walked up holding the magical green paper that makes everyone happy. Okay, that was a little too much, but you get the picture. Linda walked up. Let’s just assume Linda is like any other woman, doing her shopping, minding her own business when she overheard this conversation. Instead of walking off, she showed compassion to the young couple, and more importantly, for the young boy. She gave them the money to buy the pool. No, she didn’t give them eighteen dollars, but a full twenty, which would cover the taxes as well.

This woman—Linda—gave money to total strangers so they could do something for their kid. Here’s something to think about: Obviously, the young couple were overjoyed at the sudden act of kindness. They were probably overwhelmed a little. The boy was probably excited—he was going to get his pool and not have to play in a rusty old radio flyer wagon. Okay, sorry—flashback, 1978. There’s no rusty radio flyer wagon.

Now, as much as Linda touched the lives of three—possibly four—members of a family, she also touched her own life. What? How? Simple: she cried when she told the story. Her own compassion moved her in such a way it made her cry. Why? She was probably happier than the parents and the child combined. Seeing their joy probably lifted her heart more than her giving that money to them lifted theirs.

I’ve learned that by doing things like what Linda did it can have a positive impact on others, but it also can have a positive impact on you. It can be uplifting for the person doing the giving. It can change how you feel about life and people and money and things that we take for granted, like how mindlessly we blow twenty bucks. We don’t think about it, we just do it. I don’t have a lot of money. I barely get from paycheck to paycheck, but guess what? I’ve blown more than twenty bucks at a time without thinking about it. I’m sure many of you have, as well. There’s nothing wrong with that. You earned the money, you get to spend it, right? Absolutely.

Linda paid it forward. Do you think she will ever get that money back? I don’t. And I don’t think she cares if she does, either. What she received in return was the joy of seeing how much happiness her compassionate deed brought to that young family. And there is nothing like that feeling. Having done something similar, I can honestly say the joy of seeing someone’s face light up and hope surface in a set of eyes, it’s a better rush than any drug and it last longer because it hits you right in the heart—and that’s where it matters.

Here’s the clincher: Linda wasn’t going to tell anyone else. She was going to let her good deed be known to her husband and no one else. Not only was she compassionate, she was humble. She didn’t shout to the world, ‘hey, look what I’ve done.’ No, she whispered it to her husband and she cried while doing so.

Pay it forward. It isn’t all that hard.

I’m not going to give the name of the writer. I don’t think that is necessary. But, he and I chatted on Facebook briefly about this today and he was gracious enough to let me use this story for this particular piece. I learned a lot about him and his wife in that brief conversation, and in the post that he shared with the world. They’re my type of people.

I mentioned he is an author, didn’t I? Yup, right there and there and, yup, there, as well. I like to get to know writers before I purchase anything from them. I like to get to know if they are cool or jerks just out for a buck. I don’t want to support writers who are jerks. It’s just that simple. But this dude and his wife are not jerks. So, now…now I want to purchase one of his books to see if I like his style. He has several books to choose from, so when I head over to Amazon I will have to choose carefully. No, I’m not paying it forward by doing so. I’m doing what I always do: buy books from someone I would hang out with if we knew each other in person, from someone who would do the right thing when the right thing needs to be done. My type of people.

Before I go, I want to say one more thing: Thank you, Linda, for being a light in that family’s life, and an inspiration to others.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

Ellen Degeneres, I Love You…

I love Ellen Degeneres.  There I said it.  I’m a guy and I love Ellen Degeneres.  My wife loves her, too.  So does The Boy and The Girl.  I’m willing to wager that the Hell Spawn (better known as Mia, the cat) and The Dog like her as well.  I don’t have proof of this, but I’m going to say they do.

I know her show is geared toward women.  Most talk-type shows are.  But hers is different.  First of all, she’s funny.  That gives her a leg up on all daytime shows.  Second, and this is more important than being funny, she is compassionate.

I’m just going to stop here for a moment.  Compassion is defined as:  sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

I don’t particularly care much for the term ‘pity’ in there, but I firmly believe compassion is, indeed, concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.  If there were ever a celebrity who has concerns for the sufferings and misfortunes of others, it is Ellen.  If you think I am wrong, watch her show for a few days and you will see, not only humor and other celebrities, but you will see compassion.  You will see a person who truly believes in helping others and who uses her star power for the betterment of people.

Cate watches Ellen every day.  It is set to record every morning, and in the evening, usually around supper time, she sits on the couch and flips on Ellen.  Sometimes when I am not in there with her, I hear Cate laughing and I can’t help but smile.  Laughter makes the heart lighter, even on bad days.  I’m good at making jokes and wisecracks and saying things to make people laugh, but Ellen is different.  Her humor makes herself laugh, and why shouldn’t it?  If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’ll be the only one not in on the jokes.  I love hearing Cate laugh when she is watching Ellen.

Back to the compassion thing.  As I said earlier, if you don’t believe me, watch her show for a few days—a week, tops—and you will see someone who truly believes in helping people.  She gives.  She gives.  Do you understand that?  She gives.  Not just money, but time.  She gives hope to folks who might not have had it before.  She gives money where there is a need, but she doesn’t just say, ‘here is a few thousand bucks, have a good life.’  No, she goes back and checks on some of the people she has helped, to see how they are progressing, to see if they are okay.  She’s a huge celebrity who acts just like the average person.

How refreshing is that?

I know that at the end of an hour of Ellen, whatever bad day Cate may have been having just got better.  To me, that is a person who makes an impact on others’ lives in a positive way.

And there’s one other thing that Ellen does that I think is awesome.  As a matter of fact, I’ve adopted it—well, partially.  At the end of each show, Ellen says, to me, the most important words anyone can say to each other: Be kind to one another. Do you understand the importance of those words?  In a world where there is so much violence and hate and selfishness and me, me, me mentality, being kind to one another has kind of gone out the window.  We don’t hold the doors for others.  We don’t say ‘thank you’ anymore.  We let others negative opinions and attitudes rub off on us.  We have road rage and shopping rage and whatever we feel like rage.

In a society where most everything on the news is negative, to hear ‘be kind to one another’ is such a radical thing, it’s almost unheard of.  And every time I hear it, I smile.

Back in January I made it a point to try and be as upbeat as possible; to try and be as positive as I can be.  Sometimes it’s extremely difficult.  Sometimes I want to just pack it up and say ‘I can’t do this anymore.’  Sometimes things happen and my nerves become frayed and my temper has a short fuse.  But the power of positive thinking is real.  Being kind to one another really does have a positive effect on people.  Just like being rude or mean to others has a negative effect.  If just hearing ‘be kind to one another’ can make people smile, imagine what actually doing it can do.

This is my challenge to you—all eight of you:  Go out and do something nice for someone. Do this every day.  Be nice to someone every day and see if your attitude doesn’t change over time; see if you, as a person, doesn’t have a better outlook on life.

To Ellen Degeneres, thank you.  Thank you for being a positive influence and role model in a society where there are few of these.  Thank you for your concern for others, and your desire to help them.  Thank you for making my wife laugh.  It’s the most beautiful sound.

As I’ve done in every blog since January, I leave you with my modified closing:  Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…