Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More stuff I need to know that I learned long after Kindergarten

...Continued from an earlier post.

Robert Fulghum wrote a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, listing such nuggets of wisdom as "share your toys" and "wash your hands." (Cute concept, though I've never read the book: All I really need to know is what the title says.)

Sadly, I'm slower; it took me many years to accumulate some things I really needed to know. In the interests of my younger readers, I'm offering an evolving list here. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

More stuff I need to know that I learned long after Kindergarten:

  • Check it out
If you have questions or don't understand what's going on or what another person means or is really feeling (and you are getting mixed or confusing signals), ASK about it. You don’t really know what people are thinking and they don’t know what’s in your mind unless you talk about it. The wise person risks looking stupid by asking questions to clarify a situation. Open your mouth and use words to progress in work and personal relationships. When in doubt, don't assume you know what people are thinking until you "check it out" and ask them.
  • Assertiveness is an asset

It is not wrong to disagree with people, as long as you do it politely, and there is always a polite way to say "no." Learn the differences between aggressiveness, being too pushy, and assertiveness (there are books on this). Learn techniques for standing up for yourself (politely). You also have the responsibility to politely cope with being refused or disagreed with by others. It helps to know some basic rules of etiquette so you can rest assured you are remaining politely correct when others pressure you to join them in being boorish.

  • Beware of gossip

Don't participate in gossip or start or pass on gossip or rumors behind other people’s backs. "What goes around comes around and will bite you in the back." Gossip once unleashed is uncontrollable and can be devastating to you and to others. When making a new friend, go slowly in trusting them with your private life and at first tell them only secrets you don’t mind too much if they reveal. If you find that they reveal your secrets to others in ways you don’t like, don't trust them again with anything more important about your private affairs. People can't take advantage of you more than once if you don't let them.

  • One strike and they're out

No one deserves to be abused, verbally, emotionally, or physically. Know the lines between friendly teasing and real bullying, and don’t bully people or let others bully you. If a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse ever hits you, know that the relationship is over and get out of it immediately. If your "friends" treat you disrespectfully or hurt your feelings just to be mean on purpose (even if they deny it, or accuse you of being too sensitive), they are not really your friends. If they attempt to get you to do things that are not healthy or legal (drugs, alcohol, lie to your parents, slack off in school, shoplift, etc.), or if they try to be controlling of your own decisions, actions, and thoughts, they are not your friends either. Don't go into contortions to please them; don’t go into denial about it—face reality and find better friends. It really is a much better feeling to be alone and open for new friendships than to be mired in an abusive situation.

  • You can't choose your family but you can choose your friends
Choose your friends carefully, as you will be judged by those you associate with. Your friends will affect you and you will affect your friends. Hang with people who will inspire and uplift you, support and bring out the best in you, not bring you down. Choose those who will listen and understand and be there for you when you need them. And be the kind of friend who listens, supports and uplifts others.
  • Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
I have found that a grateful heart is a happy and peaceful heart. I am touched and humbled by those who go out of their way for me, and I try to remember to thank everyone I can and tell and show my loved ones how I appreciate them, for you never know when the day may come that will be the last day you'll see them. I'm grateful for those teachers, ancestors, and unknown private and public figures already gone who made sacrifices resulting in allowing my life to be as privileged as it is. Finally, I thank my Creator for the many blessings I've received through no effort of my own. When you are unable to personally thank someone, you can still express gratitude by passing on the favor to others in his or her name. I have found the words of John Wesley to be a good guide in expressing love and thanks in this way to the world at large, too: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." I may have been taught to say "thank-you" as a little kid, but it took me many adult years to understand the power and the treasure that is gratitude.
  • Make a list
Write down what you need/want to do and accomplish (whether it’s for the day, for the week, for the next ten years, etc.). It's the only way to stay organized, focused, and not forget or lose things. When facing a decision, it also helps to write down reasons pro and con. It helps to have lists available for rainy days, too ("Ten Things I Can Do Immediately to Cheer Myself Up When I’m Feeling Too Blue to Even Think Straight").
  • Make lemonade out of lemons
John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you are making other plans." There is a lot in life we can’t control and would not choose for ourselves. How you cope with the unexpected and the uncontrollable makes all the difference in your life—and your way of coping or not coping is entirely up to you. I have learned that facing a crisis realistically and rationally and working through it (not trying to avoid it, deny it, or run away from it) is the only way to really triumph over and wring some good out of a bad situation.
  • Apologize--it opens doors
Whenever I am feeling hurt or injured by someone (and angry at them), I can usually think about it and turn it around and see that somewhere in the conflict I did something wrong too. When I can spot this I gain a sense of control over the situation. When I sincerely apologize for the wrong I did, and just focus on my own responsibility to repair what I’ve done wrong, my anger is defused and usually a constructive and honest conversation can be started.
The quality and even length of your life will depend on the decisions you make. It’s important to listen to your heart, but it is almost always more important to be ruled by your head. Consider matters rationally, methodically (pros and cons) and visualize possible consequences before you make decisions. (See "Maximize your options" above.) Learn about logical proofs in arguments, and be able to spot fallacies so you won’t be taken advantage of. Also learn something about psychology and human defense mechanisms so you can spot how and why other people might be mistaken, deluded, or acting out in emotional or other mystifying ways that you would not want to be fooled by or drawn into. Protect yourself by developing discerning judgment about people, things, and ideas. As human nature and its frailties become more obvious to you, you will grow to cherish your ability to think clearly and wisely about the important things in your life. This ability becomes part of your accumulated "human capital," an invaluable tool in the bag of assets you carry with you through life.
  • Mistakes and failures are inevitable
You and everybody else will make them--mistakes and failures in judgment and in character. They may be nasty to experience, but they are not the enemy per se—they are a part of human life (or human sin, as Christians say). No matter how cautious and earnest you are, or how well educated or intelligent you are, though you can learn secondhand how the world works from others, nobody can tell you how to learn to know yourself. Your life is a brand-new story to tell and you must do that yourself through trial and error by encountering and dealing with many different people, circumstances, and ideas. Make a decision to take responsibility for and learn from your mistakes, and you will make far fewer of them. And then you may go ahead and be one of those who decide to say, along with Alfred Lord Tennyson, that "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Or, as W.C. Fields said, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it." Which leads me to my last bit of advice:
  • Don’t forget to laugh


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