How Stereotypes Affect us All

I recently had to travel out of town for work. I went to Houston. Now I’ve never been to Texas before, and I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but this just wasn’t it! I had an image in my brain about Texas. (Mostly based on movies I’d seen involving Texas)

1. Cowboy hats and boots
2. Ranches
3. Dry dirt, tumbleweeds, perhaps cactus… this one I knew was pretty outrageous, but that’s what I pictured!
4. Horses
5. Accents!!! Where’s the “ya’ll” and “fixin to”?!
6. I shouted in the airport “The stars at night are big and bright…” and no one answered “Deep in the heart of Texas” like in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. (Ok, so maybe this one wasn’t my actual idea of what Texas is like.)

So needless to say my visit to Houston was a little disappointing when I learned that not everyone has a hat and boots, there are SO MANY TREES and so much green grass. I saw no cactus either. But there were palm trees, which surprised me. None of the employees in the Houston office were ranchers or rode a horse, at least not to work. Very few people had a southern drawl, and in this I was very disappointed because I love how accents sound!

Now to a point I’m being facetious, and I’m aware that there are many stereotypes about Iowa as well, but my idea of Texas was clearly all wrong! Like that commercial for pasta sauce I got to thinking “What else have I got wrong about the world?!” Clearly my stereotypes were holding me back. I can’t describe my surprise at what I found in Texas. It was immense.

So many stereotypes exist in this world and they are forged from different sources. My stereotypes for Texas were based on mostly TV and movie examples. But how many times do we base our opinion on a person based on their clothing, haircut, what things they carry (purse, backpack, briefcase, etc), their car or lack there of, or other outward aspect that we use to define them?! I know I’m guilty of it. How much different would the world be if we accepted more people and didn’t judge and walk away?

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I’m a firm believer in wearing and doing what makes you happy and not worrying about what others think about you based on those choices. And I live by that motto. I’m sure there are people who see me and LITERALLY RUN AWAY because not every clothing choice I make looks “normal”. There are plenty of clothes I own which my friends say “Only YOU would own a dress like that”… I’m not always sure how I should take that one because I’m not sure if they mean I look great but they don’t have the guts to were anything so bold or because I look borderline crazy in it… But needles to say, I look unique most of the time. (Plus I have CRAAAAZY curly hair that I sometimes “let free” and it’s quite big.)

None of this makes me less of a good person. None of this makes me less kind. None of my outward appearance makes me any less of a good employee or friend. I’m still brilliant and funny and (I think) pretty damn amazing. Nothing anyone could say about me would stop me from expressing myself. That’s not to say it couldn’t hurt my feelings, but I’m pretty confident about my outward weird.

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So the next time you encounter someone, don’t judge them by their outward appearance, but talk to them. Get to know them. Learn about them. And accept them. See what happens and how it changes your life.

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The Stigma of a Criminal History

When I tell people that I have a criminal charge, the looks I get are just classic.

SHOCK.

AWE.

AMAZEMENT.

The thought that a kind, gentle and loving person like me could possibly have a criminal background is just unthinkable, but it’s true. I have a criminal charge.

Misdemeanor: 3rd degree harassment via communication.

When you say it like that, it sounds pretty bad. It sounds like I was seriously bothering someone on a constant basis. It sounds like something that took time and a lot of effort, but the truth is that it took 50 minutes. 50 minutes of my life which I can never take back, never get expunged and never delete. It’s a part of me now. People look at me like I’m a psychopath, but the truth is that I made a mistake.

I’m not a criminal. I made a mistake.

handcuffed

One of my friends is currently in federal prison for a conspiracy to commit murder charge. Let me give you a few minutes to let that sink in…

Now I know the full story. I know exactly what happened, and it wasn’t anything dangerous, it wasn’t anything serious. It was her making a mistake. HOWEVER, the things that people think when she shares that with them is RIDICULOUS!!! You would not believe the kinds of reactions she gets. She is a tender, loving, kind, funny and very sweet girl. She messed up. She knows she did wrong, and she’s serving her time for what she did. All 7 years of it. And once she gets out, it’s not going to get any better for her.

Now some people will say “But every criminal considers themselves innocent, and that’s just not true.” But my friend has never said she was innocent. I’ve never claimed I was innocent of my crime either. We both made an epic failure in our lives. Her offense is larger than mine, but you get the idea. Making a mistake is human.

Why does a criminal charge make people instantly jump to conclusions and judge others based on their mistakes?

My friend has big plans for her life. She wants to volunteer to help others. She loves animals. She has a BEAUTIFUL smile. She tells hilarious jokes. She loves snow and winter. She likes sports. She has brown hair. She has a few tattoos. She adores music. She’s incredibly smart. All of these things describe my friend. The label “criminal” does not. But here we are in our American society where everyone is either good or bad, and she’s included in the lumped category of bad people when she is so clearly not and it’s such a shame.

So I would like you to take a moment to think about how my friend will feel when she goes to a job interview and tells the hiring manager that she has a criminal charge. Then imagine the hiring manager’s face when he finds out it’s a MURDER charge. (Because that’s what people hear when she says it, they hear the word murder and nothing else.) How would that make you feel to have to tell people that? How would it feel to see that reaction on someone’s face knowing that what you actually did was much less violent and much less serious than how it sounds?

People make mistakes. It’s a fact of life.

Alexander Pope said “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

Wouldn’t it be easier to forgive people who make mistakes than to hold on to those mistakes for the rest of their lives? Think about how it would change our world! If everyone was able to admit fault, pay their penance for their mistake and move on with their life instead of chronically living in the past and being soiled by their mistakes think of what the world would be like. That’s what I call kindness. That’s how I’d like to show people love; to allow them to make mistakes, continue to show the same compassion and care for them as I did before the mistake, and allow them to heal from the trauma the mistake has caused them.

Paying it Forward

I read a blog tonight about paying it forward and decided that instead of leaving a comment, I would create it as a blog of my own and “pay it forward” as a way to spread the words which inspired me.


Read the original blog here

When I was younger, I was in an abusive relationship. My ex and I would constantly have arguments and I would constantly leave to avoid the abuse and my place of choice was to walk the neighborhood since it was public and he couldn’t chase after me. One time I was walking the neighborhood, obviously I had just been crying. And a woman came outside and asked me if I was ok. I lied and said I was, but that moment really stuck with me. That moment was what started me down the path to getting out of the situation. Fast forward almost ten years, and I now volunteer with a domestic violence program. I would never be able to thank that woman for what she’d done, but I have been able to help countless women in the position I had been in that day. I never ask their thanks, and I don’t need it. I know that what I do for the women I help could make a difference and that’s all that matters to me.

So I encourage all of you to pay it forward. I set my own personal goals pretty high and want to make a big impact, but not every “pay it forward” moment has to be this big.

I buy lunch for the person in the drive through behind me.

I leave cash in bus stops.

I donate to charity.

I volunteer with a few (Ok, so it’s more like A LOT OF) organizations.

I smile at people who look sad.

I let people use my phone when they ask.

Once I saw a woman crying, and I gave her a hug. It was a very small gesture and didn’t take a lot of effort on my part, but to the woman it meant a lot. (She told me her story and she’d been kicked out of her home and was facing a night on the street. I gave her some resources to find a place to sleep for the night. But this would have never happened if I didn’t get over myself and help a crying woman! She said loads of people had already passed by her and not said or done anything.)

When I see pennies on the ground heads down, I flip them over so that the next person will get a lucky penny.

I bring sandwiches and coffee to pan handlers.

Until now I’ve never shared all the ways in which I practice random acts of kindness. I don’t publicize it. I don’t make a big deal of it, I do it for others, not for recognition.

What do you do for random acts of kindness? Share in the comments! I’m excited to hear!

Look at me

I want to address a serious problem in our society: ignoring one another! I went on a walk tonight in my neighborhood and I was shocked and appalled by how many of my neighbors avoided eye contact as I walked by! I’m a lady walking all by myself in a neighborhood at night.

What happened to the sense of community?

What happened to knowing and watching out for your neighbors?

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for about 2 1/2 years. In those years I have made many walks through my neighborhood. I know that I’ve talked to some of them. I know that they have seen me around, yet they turn away!

Now I’m the kind of person that will go above and beyond to be friendly with others, so here I am staring down my neighbor with a big smile on my face… I surely look like a serial killer out to stab them with their own arm at this point. But I want nothing more but to connect with the people who live around me!

50 years ago communities joined together to raise their families. People weren’t afraid to let their children play outside by themselves because they knew that their neighbors were also looking out for their kids. People knew their neighbors by first name and were friendly. They helped one another. They had dinner and spent time together.

Now people are downright scared of their neighbors! People think that their neighbors are the bad guy. There’s fear about kidnapping, child molestation, gang violence and many other issues. Is there a real fear of this happening in most communities? I’m not sure that it is, but then again, I’m under the impression that most people are good.

Maybe I’m naive.

Maybe I’m gullible.

But I’d like to still think that there are people out there who would watch out for a child if they saw him fall and he needed help.

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Tonight I helped a dog find his way home. He ran out to greet me, no tags and no leash attached with an owner. He wasn’t afraid of me. He was young and energetic and he just wanted to run along side me. I knocked on a few doors nearby and found the owner pretty easily. I can’t imagine many people doing that. Such a small effort to make such a big difference for the dog.

Smile 2

But then again, other people are worried that there are rapists and murderers living in the houses near them.

So the next time you see someone walking in your neighborhood, make a conscious effort to smile at them.

Smile

It’s a small effort on your part, but it can make a huge difference in your community.

Imagine if everyone in your neighborhood did this. Imagine the kind of friendly communities we’d enjoy living in.

Imagine the love that would be spread.

My Uterus is Feeling Left Out

As a 30-something woman I have a lot of friends who are having babies right now. While I am thrilled that they are expanding their families, some small part of me is jealous. Don’t get me wrong, I could have been less safe with my sexual encounters and I could have already had a baby. I wanted to be the responsible one and wait until I was “in the right place” or “financially stable”. Now here I am, 2 years into my 30’s with no baby in sight any time soon and it makes my uterus ache…

Now let’s be perfectly clear: I love children. I adore my niece and my friends’ kiddos. And now I want kids of my own. My struggle is that I want to be happy for my friends, but can’t help feeling sorry for myself at the same time. It’s my turn already! Recently each pregnancy announcement and each birth is nothing but another knife in my childless wounds. And it hurts.

Sure I try my best to stay positive. That doesn’t always happen. Some days I just cry. Some days I’m weak. Some days I give in and I pout like a jealous 5 year old. Some days people say really ignorant and stupid things to me like:

“You’re still young”

“You’re ONLY 32.”

“Enjoy your freedom because you will miss it once you have kids!”

This doesn’t help.

You know what? I’d give ANYTHING and be chained to my baby 24 hours a day. It would be worth it. I would gladly give my sleep and my money and all my time to have a baby. I would gladly change diapers for the next 6 years for my adorable cherub-cheeked child. But sadly that’s not what was planned for me.

Instead what was planned for me was to be married, then divorced, then have a series of relationships which all end in failure (except for my current one). And now I have no choice but to be patient and wait my turn. I know there are others who experience this as well, but there’s no support groups for women who are waiting to conceive. There’s no chat rooms for women who aren’t ready to have a baby yet. So until that happens, I’ll continue to be here with my uterus feeling left out.

Humility

In my life one of the main things that people are really lacking in this world is humility. There’s such an emphasis in American culture to be the best, the fastest, the smartest, the most educated, the best at something and to always come in first place. We’re so eager to teach our children to strive for their best and never settle for 2nd place, but in the real world there’s always a loser. When competing for a promotion, the hiring manager won’t give everyone who interviews a medal. So why are we giving every child an award just for participating instead of celebrating that they tried, but they weren’t the best team and they didn’t win?

I’m not a parent. Let me make that perfectly clear. I worked in childcare for 12 years, have a degree in Early Childhood education and have MUCH MORE experience in appropriate discipline and proper teaching of young children than many parents, but many people still don’t feel that holds up since I have never spewed a child from my vagina personally. *cough bullshit cough* But as such I am able to make objective observations about things that parents are too biased to notice. I don’t understand why we are rewarding effort, no matter how small, instead of teaching kids some real life lessons. Teach them there will always be a winner and a loser. Teach them to lose gracefully and not throw a tantrum when they aren’t the best. Teach them to be humble and not to brag about their successes. This is a great teachable moment that most parents forget.

Now I am not the most graceful loser. My parents banned me from playing checkers and chess all together after I threw the board across the room one too many times as a kid. I’m not saying that I am perfect, or better than anyone else. I have talents and gifts and I use them when I am able. But for every one of my talents, I know that there’s someone out there who’s better than I am. So when someone compliments me on my gifts and talents, I will graciously accept their compliment and thank them for their kindness, then go back to the thought that there’s always someone better than I am.

By no means does humility make me less confident in my abilities. I still know there are talents and gifts that I have that I excel compared to my friends and family. Some of the things I’m capable of doing better than those I know, and I’m grateful for that ability. I’m thankful that I am able to use my gifts and I’m glad I can help my friends out sometimes. I’m humble in the fact that I don’t need to brag, boast or tell everyone I meet about every one of my gifts. Every once in a while someone I’ve known for a while will find out about a hidden skill I have and be really shocked.

One of the gifts I value the most is that I am a good and generous friend. I take care of the people who I love. I comfort them when they are upset. I give every last cent I have to help them. I never expect a single thing back for it. I’m happy to provide for my friends in exchange for their friendship and the smile on their face. I currently have a friend who is in prison (Long story) and she was thrilled when I told her I would be willing to drive the 6+ hours it takes to come see her. To me that’s a part of being her friend and being there for her. It’s a part of sharing my life with her and her sharing hers with me. That’s what friends do. This isn’t my best friend or even a close friend, this is a friend who I am just getting to know on a deeper level, but someone I felt an instant bond with and someone whom I want to support through this hard time in her life not because I want people to think I’m a great person, but because it’s what makes her smile and helps her get through her week.

I have a lot of people who think I’m a good person for volunteering as much as I do, but that’s not why I do it. I volunteer so that I can keep humble. I serve others (humans and animals alike) so that I won’t become greedy and disillusioned that the things in this life are more important than the lives I touch. I’ve mentioned before that the women I help in the local jail help keep me humble. They frequently tell me how much I am helping them, and I turn right back around and tell them “No, you’re the one helping me.” They are always confused and look at me with a puzzled face. They don’t understand how they could possibly be helping me, but their stories and their interactions help keep me humble. It makes me grateful for all the ways in which I’m blessed. It makes me appreciate things other people take for granted. It makes me value my experiences in this life so much more.

There will come a day when I will die, and when that happens I hope to do so humbly. I want to leave this world knowing that I have done whatever I could to make it a better place, to touch the lives of others and to encourage others to do the same. I want to spread humility as a virus, like a force which can not be stopped.

Humility is something which can never be taken from you. It’s only when you choose to stop being humble that it ends. Hold your humility close to your heart. Spread it like wildfire. Don’t get caught up in the fame and recognition from your gifts, but give them until you are completely empty and have nothing more to give. That’s when your life will truly be full.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

When’s the last time you laughed? I don’t mean “When’s the last time you numbly typed ‘LOL’ in a text message because you had nothing else to say?” or “When’s the last time you had a little chuckle?”. I mean when is the last time you were laughing so hard that you were falling out of your chair and nearly wetting yourself? When’s the last time you were holding your gut because it physically hurt to laugh so hard? It’s funny how something so small can make such a HUGE difference in our lives; how getting a really good laugh can completely change our entire day.

I volunteer in my spare time with some women who… well let’s just say they aren’t having a lot of good luck and laughs are pretty hard to come by in their lives. Tonight we spent lots of time just laughing about silly things and for a moment in time, we all connected because at that moment it felt so good to laugh for all of them, and I was just so happy that they all for a moment were so happy.

I’m a huge promoter in choosing to be happy. I believe that even in the darkest, bleakest of times a person can choose to be happy. They don’t have to “cheer the fuck up” and they don’t have to like whatever sucky circumstance they are experiencing, but they can choose to be happy for what they have, happy for the lesson they are learning from the unfortunate circumstance, or happy they will one day be done dealing with the situation. I believe that has helped me a lot in my life.

As someone who suffers from mental illness (bipolar disorder) I also realize that some days this seems impossible! There are definitely days when choosing to be happy is a really huge struggle for me, but I do it anyway most days just because if I choose to be happy enough, eventually I really will be happy. And inevitably that’s always what happens. It may take a week or two or even a month, but eventually I end up being happy again. Laughter plays a big part in this.

I think that some people when they are sad (myself included) choose not to do things which would make them happy or worse choose to do things to make themselves even MORE miserable! We isolate ourselves from people who may make us smile or laugh. We want to stay in bed or at home alone to avoid activities which previously made us happy. And we are miserable for it. It does nothing to make us better, it only makes things worse. My addiction is to really REALLY sad movies when I’m depressed… it’s pathetic and makes me feel so much worse when I do it, but it’s easier to just cry it all out than to pretend everything is awesome when it’s totally not in my head. Then we get to do the oh-so-fun game of “Why am I so miserable?” and when the answer is that it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain and we have no control over it, the game becomes “Why the fuck did I get stuck with this mental illness and why the fuck can’t I do anything about it?!” #frustration

It’s a totally vicious cycle and for everyone who experiences it, you know what I mean. And there’s always that one asshole that really just doesn’t get it, and who is lucky to be alive because we want to kill this person. And this person says things like “You have such a great life. Why are you sad?” or “You just need to cheer up.” or “Ice cream/getting laid/getting drunk will make you feel better.”…. now this person usually has good intentions. This person usually cares about you and wants to not feel like your being sad is totally out of his control (which it is). But this asshole is truly lucky that we are kind and patient people because OF COURSE WE WANT TO CHEER THE FUCK UP!!! That just isn’t possible sometimes. And oh, you’re helping so very much by reminding us of the fact that there’s usually no reason for us to be sad, and that we have no control over it. (Friends of people who suffer from depression… pay attention because at some point, you’ve probably been this asshole.)

Guess what? You might not be able to fix the chemical imbalance, but there are definitely things you can do which can help a little maybe. (I’d try them just because the worst case scenario is that you feel the same, and so it’s a “nowhere to go but up” type of situation.)

1. Get some sunshine! 20 minutes of sunshine and walking a day has been proven to be more effective than psychotherapy. Now think of all those hours you spent in expensive therapy and cry about all the money you could have saved, I know I did when I found out about this. WHY AREN’T THEY SPREADING THIS SHIT LIKE WILDFIRE?!

2. Call a good friend. Tell them you don’t want to talk about you, you just want them to tell you the stupidest joke or pickup line they’ve ever heard. If they haven’t heard one, then tell them to share a favorite story about the two of you or about a bad date. Any funny or embarrassing story helps, and good friends are more than willing to share.

3. Try to continue to do what you normally do. Staying in a routine helps keep your body on an even keel. I know that working some shitty job when you are sick (mentally) absolutely sucks. I know that taking care of your kids or listening to the guy in line at Target talk about his foot fungus makes you want to cry, but seriously, just try it.

4. This is the most important one… try anything and everything you can possibly think of to laugh as hard as you can. Watch a goofy movie, think about something silly, watch stupid You Tube videos. I have suggestions if you need them. Seriously, it will do wonders for you.

DISCLAIMER: Let’s please remember that I’m not a doctor, this is not medical advice, and I’m not guaranteeing that any of these will work 100% of the time for everyone, I’m just letting you know what’s worked for me in the past in the hopes that maybe it can help you also.

Please don’t sue me.

Seriously, I have no money and own no property. My financial planner just told me the other day that I’m seriously fucked if I don’t start saving for retirement.

Bottom line, laughter does wonders for a person. So laugh. Enjoy life.

CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY. Every day.

LAUGH sometimes. Even when you’re sad or when life really sucks. It’s ok.