You are Awesome http://angelanoelauthor.com Blog and books of author Angela Noel Thu, 08 Jun 2017 12:00:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://i2.wp.com/angelanoelauthor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/EDTnfZza_400x400.jpg?fit=32%2C32 You are Awesome http://angelanoelauthor.com 32 32 110438343 The Secret Life of Trees and What It Means for Humans http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/the-secret-life-of-trees-and-what-it-means-for-humans/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/the-secret-life-of-trees-and-what-it-means-for-humans/#comments Thu, 08 Jun 2017 12:00:21 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1329 By Angela Noel June 8, 2017 When we first moved into our house I sat in my backyard gazing up at the canopy of tree branches overhead. Two trees, their trunks big enough around that two adults with arms outstretched couldn’t encircle them, blotted the sun. For reasons I cannot explain two names popped into … Continue reading "The Secret Life of Trees and What It Means for Humans"

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By Angela Noel

June 8, 2017

When we first moved into our house I sat in my backyard gazing up at the canopy of tree branches overhead. Two trees, their trunks big enough around that two adults with arms outstretched couldn’t encircle them, blotted the sun. For reasons I cannot explain two names popped into my brain: Erin and Bertie. I told my husband and son the trees had names. Not that I had given them names, but that they already had them–like they’d accepted me into their community as one of their own. (Weird, I know.)

Among the oaks and cottonwoods that dot the rest of my little wooded lot, Erin and Bertie are special. A fact, Suzanne Simard, noted forest ecologist, professor, and TED speaker would find not-at-all surprising. Her work, and those of other researches around the globe, has opened up a greater understanding of the complex and beautiful world of tree interdependence. How trees communicate and contribute to the common good of the ecosystem in which they live has a lot to tell us not only about nature, but about ourselves as well.

Mycorrhizal fungi
Mushrooms are mycorrhizal fungi. Imagine these tiny little caps as outposts of the network below.

Bertie is an elm tree, Erin, a silver maple. Beneath my feet, a network of mycorrhizal fungi and roots connect these two to each other, and to many of the other trees within what ecologists call a stand. (Of course, I call this stand, “my backyard.”) Through this network, they pass nutrients and information. Professor Simard proved this more than twenty-five years ago.

At first, people scoffed. But over time, her results and persistence in speaking about trees as having communication networks, has resulted in even more study of the mind-boggling complexity beneath the ground. For example other ecologists, like Richard Karban or Yuan Yaun Song seek to decode the alien language of trees and plants as they attempt to defend themselves and each other from invasive species and pests. A bestselling book by forest ranger Peter Wohlleben entitled, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate–Discoveries from a Secret World makes the case for reimagining trees as something more they may seem. The science speaks for itself: Trees are talking to each other–and to us. But what are they saying?

Certainly, competition for resources like sunlight and water seem obvious. The tree with the best access to the most resources grows the biggest and it’s offspring populates more of the forest, right? But that’s only part of the story.

While the trees reach for the sky, climbing higher and spreading farther, their roots are doing the same–but not always to squeeze out other trees–to nurture them. When one tree has an excess of a particular nutrient, it shares. When another tree is in trouble, because its been shaded too long or sustained an injury, it receives aid. It doesn’t have to be a related tree- it just has to belong. In other words, trees share within their community.

Trees form an interdependence with each other, regulated in some way by “Mother” trees. These trees, unlike the Ents of Tolkien’s novels, are not tree herders. They don’t direct the behavior of other trees, so much as distribute the wealth. Their superior size and age, makes them repositories of knowledge the younger trees need. Without these hub trees, forests suffer. The presence of hub tree weakens disease outbreaks and pest infestations. Mature trees, though, do not live forever. There must be young ones to pass their knowledge on to. All forests need variety in species and in age. They need diversity and a chance to thrive. However, not all trees get along.

Interestingly, according to Professor Simard’s research, some trees don’t participate in the underground network. Professor Simard’s hypothesized a Douglas fir replicant and a paper birch would communicate. But a western redcedar would be in “it’s own world.” In her experiment, the redcedar received no nutrients and no communications from the other trees. Yet, fir and redcedar share forest space in Oregon. So, what’s going on? Why can’t fir, birch, and redcedar get along in Simard’s experiment?

One reason may be the fungal networks that form the interconnected webbing of the “wood wide web,” can be selective. Some fungi are generalists, others are more particular, pairing only with certain plants. In Simard’s experiment, the fungal network–the link to understanding each other–may not have included the right biological language for redcedar.

Forest communities can teach us a great deal about the wonders of

Forest community
Flowers, moss, grasses and more dot the forest floor–all part of the community.

interconnected relationships, and the importance of sharing resources for the good of all. But they are–in the end–trees. A tree, even one as special as Erin or Bertie, can’t bridge the distance between a tree whose fungal language it recognizes and one it doesn’t. And yet, humans can. Humans, I think you’ll agree, can be smarter than trees. As smart, at least, as the generalist fungi that connect the biologically diverse forests we live in, near, or around.

But we aren’t sometimes. And that’s a shame.

I’d like to think that if given the choice, Bertie and Erin would step up to the challenge. They, and their generalist fungi would invite a western redcedar to a dinner of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus. But, I wouldn’t expect that of them. But I do expect it of myself. The next time I meet someone who doesn’t seem to be a part of my world, I want to find out the ways we’re the same. And the ways we can share our knowledge, to build a stronger, more resilient world.

Your turn: What are the best ways to help someone integrate into a community? How do you create connections?

 

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Mechanics of Art and Poetry of Work http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/love-the-mechanic-of-art-and-poet-of-work/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/love-the-mechanic-of-art-and-poet-of-work/#comments Thu, 01 Jun 2017 16:50:03 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1320 By Angela Noel June 1, 2017 The man works on a car–fixes its engine, buffs the exterior–long hours of loving pains. Maybe he smokes a cigar. Maybe he drinks a light beer. Or maybe it’s Pellegrino. Maybe he has a family–a son, a wife. Or maybe a daughter, the apple of his eye. Maybe he … Continue reading "Mechanics of Art and Poetry of Work"

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By Angela Noel

June 1, 2017

The man works on a car–fixes its engine, buffs the exterior–long hours of loving pains.

Maybe he smokes a cigar. Maybe he drinks a light beer. Or maybe it’s Pellegrino.

Maybe he has a family–a son, a wife. Or maybe a daughter, the apple of his eye.

Maybe he writes sonnets that touch the infinite in a journal hidden among the tools in his garage. Or maybe he listens to mixed tapes of Madonna and Beethoven on an old, grease-stained boombox.

Every day . . . every hour . . . he loves the car more. Each bead of salty sweat escaping his brow is a tear dropping.

Eventually, nothing more can be fixed. The car shines like a new morning after rain.

The man smiles. Maybe he lifts his hand to touch a smooth fender, but stops. His stilled hand hovers. His fingers curl inward, hugging themselves. He lets his breath go, a deep exhale. Maybe then he turns the lights off and closes the garage door. The night envelopes him.

The next day, the car is gone. Sold for a dollar to a poet who understands.

Everything has beauty graffiti on a wall

This story is dedicated to everyday poets, whose work speaks for itself.

Your turn: Who are the everyday poets in your life?

A final note: To my surprise, this little blog was nominated for a #BloggersBash award for Inspirational Blogger. The criteria is: Who consistently inspires you? Is there a blogger that’s thought provoking and inquisitive? Or perhaps they have become a muse to you with constant provision of inspirational content or imagery? Who’s the one blogger that’s touched your heart? This is the nomination for them. 

There are lots of wonderful blogs nominated. Check them out, and vote for your favorites! Click the image below or here to vote. Voting ends June 2nd.

Bloggers Bash Nomination Badge
Click the image to vote today! Voting closes June 2nd.

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Strength and Dignity: The Power of Choice http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/strength-and-dignity-the-power-of-choice/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/strength-and-dignity-the-power-of-choice/#comments Thu, 25 May 2017 11:47:13 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1290 By Angela Noel May 25, 2017 Charlie, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, unwraps only the tiniest morsel of chocolate each birthday, hoping to make the treat last as long as possible. He nibbles off just a corner—just a taste—each day. Joi Campbell isn’t a fictional English boy living in a shack with four bedridden … Continue reading "Strength and Dignity: The Power of Choice"

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By Angela Noel

May 25, 2017

Charlie, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, unwraps only the tiniest morsel of chocolate each birthday, hoping to make the treat last as long as possible. He nibbles off just a corner—just a taste—each day. Joi Campbell isn’t a fictional English boy living in a shack with four bedridden grandparents. But she’s as careful with her story as Charlie is with his chocolate. And her story has hidden depths, flavors, textures, meaning, and significance just as important to the world as Charlie’s birthday treat was to him.

Joi revealed her life to me in small pieces, inching closer to a deeper truth about who she is and what made her into an extraordinary, resilient, and delightful human being. Some of what she said made me uncomfortable. Because truth can, and sometimes should, hurt. I wanted to feature Joi because her smile lights a room. She always has a kind word, and she’s exceptionally good at truth-telling with both empathy and grit. But now I know better: Joi’s all those things, yet so much more.

Joi as a child in Nebraska
Joi as a child in Nebraska.

Adopted at a young age from a country outside the US, Joi grew up in a small town in Nebraska. As an adult, she moved to Minnesota where she decided to raise her family and make her life as she knows it

The facts of Joi’s life are not who she is. They do, however, play a role in shaping the woman she’s chosen to become. Just as our parents shape us, so, too, do the circumstances we find ourselves in. How we respond to those facts and circumstances makes all the difference. Not what happens to us, but what happens because of us defines the message of our livesJoi’s life has a story to tell. The obstacles she’s faced are our obstacles, whether we know it yet or not. But her message, as you’ll see, empowers us all.

Unconscious Bias

When Joi first moved in to her current home she met a few of her neighbors. One white, older gentleman asked many of the usual questions. Where did she work? What did she do for a living? But something else lingered there. Something Joi, and other people of color can feel, but white people often cannot. Jessica Nordell articulates some of the reason why in her article Is This How Discrimination Ends published by The Atlantic. She writes:

“ . . . studies demonstrate bias across nearly every field and for nearly every group of people. . . . And they show that at this moment in time, if person A is white and person B is black, if person X is a woman and person Y is a man, they will be treated differently in American society for no other reason than that their identities have a cultural meaning. And that meaning clings to each person like a film that cannot be peeled away.”

Joi Campbell
Joi Campbell

Nordell goes on to say, “While people in the majority may only see intentional acts of discrimination, people in the minority may register both those acts and unintended ones. White people, for instance, might only hear a racist remark, while people of color might register subtler actions, like someone scooting away slightly on a bus—behaviors the majority may not even be aware they’re doing.” Joi felt uncomfortable with the conversation with her neighbor. Later, the reason why became crystal clear.

Joi learned from another resident that this gentleman, surprise in his voice, had said of her, “She’s so pretty and so articulate.” His words confirmed what she’d suspected. When a person in a marginalized or minority group hears this kind of statement it sounds patronizing, even hostile. As if, in words and gesture, the words actually mean, “I am surprised to find one of YOUR kind so pretty and so articulate.”

Confronting this man and explaining why his “compliment” offended her might seem like the right thing to do. But he’d need to be ready to hear the message. Or else Joi, or anyone else who spoke up now or in the future would be wasting his or her breath. Yet, there’s hope.

Admitting Prejudice

A C-SPAN clip from an appearance of Heather McGhee president of Demos, a public policy organization with a mission to support “an equal say and an equal chance for all” has millions of views. In it, a man from North Carolina admitted his prejudice, saying, “I have these different fears, and I don’t want these fears to come true . . . but what can I do to change?” He asked McGhee for suggestions.

With poise and emotional intelligence, she thanked him for taking a step towards leading change by acknowledging his fear and prejudice. Then, McGhee offered practical suggestions on ways he can change his own mind. Her suggestions include:

  • Turn off the news because studies have shown an overrepresentation of African American crime
  • Read about the history of African Americans (or other people of color)
  • Join an interracial church
  • Get to know black families

This response, not only what she said, but how she said it, reminds me of Joi. Joi affirmed that I’d taken the right first step when I admitted to a similar prejudice born of fear and lack of understanding. Wanting to change, failing with grace, and keeping my ears and heart open will make a difference, Joi assured me. She’s learned to wait for these signs of openness. When her message can be heard, she speaks.

It’s not Joi’s job to make me or other white people feel good about how “inclusive” we can be. Or affirm how “not-racist” we think we are. Cast in this role sometimes, Joi chooses her words carefully. But she knows she elected to live in Minnesota, where 85% of the population identifies as white. She chose to live, to work, and to raise her children here. And that means understanding there will be challenges.

Her choices empower her, yet Joi knows the rules are different for her. That, despite what everyone says, if she’s late for a meeting, people will notice because she’s the only brown face in the room. If the conversation requires a “person of color” perspective, all heads swivel her way, whether she likes it or not. Sometimes, it’s draining. Other times, it’s scary.

Clear and Present Danger?

For example, Joi went to Nicaragua this past winter as part of her master’s degree program. President Trump’s executive order to restrict immigration had taken effect; but Joi had little access to wifi or news while abroad. She had no idea what awaited her. She found herself detained, questioned, and searched, while seeing white counterparts moving through the line with ease. “For the first time, I felt fear. I wasn’t sure if I’d get home to my babies.” She had paperwork to prove she was a citizen. But why would she think to bring anything but her passport? All these thoughts ran through her head as she waited for clearance through customs—clearance to rejoin her family, in her own country.

Joi Campbells three children
Joi’s three babies. From Left: Mia, Mark, and Mac. “The loves of my life,” Joi says.

Joi’s eyes well with tears as she tells this story, and mine do, too. Having done nothing wrong, no mother–no person–should be subjected to the fear that they cannot return to his or her child or to his or her country because of the color of their skin, the origin of their birth, or the religion they practice. But the problem isn’t agreeing on this most basic fact. The problem is changing a culture where “done nothing wrong” means something different for people of color than it does for the white majority.

Do Stereotypes Protect Us?

In an excellent TEDMED Talk, David R. Williams points out the frequency of different words used in the media coupled with either black or white. The top six word associations with black in American media are: poor, violent, religious, lazy, cheerful, and dangerous. The top words for white are: wealthy, progressive, conventional, stubborn, successful, and educated. It’s impossible to see that and not think we’re being brainwashed—by ourselves. We’re accepting and reinforcing fictions without even knowing it. And because, mixed in with all the fictions are facts—real people doing real things wrong—we think our stereotypes protect us from harm. But, what if we’re wrong? 

Otherness

Joi grew up in a loving household in Nebraska. The second youngest of four, she has three siblings—all white, all the biological children of her adoptive family. “They love the mess out of me,” Joi says, smiling.

Fiercely protective against the cruel comments of neighbors, her sister once threatened to drown a kid for calling Joi a name. But they couldn’t protect her from everyone. And they couldn’t protect her from always feeling like an outsider.

Only after Joi had her own children, saw their faces as a reflection of her own, did the wounds of “otherness” begin to heal. The scars, she knows, remain. But, they don’t own her. She moves through the world with confidence, choosing her own path.

Seeing the One, Serving the Many
Joi and her best friend, Zola
Joi (left) and her best friend, Zola.

Joi acknowledges how much it hurts sometimes. But she’s staying engaged in the conversation about social justice, race, and the impacts of negative stereotypes. She’s taking one step at a time; one person, one situation at a time. She spends energy every day to help people like me: People who want to wake up a little more to the invisible side of the world. It’s a world we thought we saw clearly, but really see only through murky glasses. The road she’s taking looks at ways to develop people–ALL people–into the beings they want and need to be.

Armed with her master’s degree in human resources, she’s ready to begin a new chapter in her life. Willy Wonka would have chosen Joi to run his marvelous factory. Her heart and her good sense, has always been her guide.

If Joi can do it, so can I. So can you.

Be awesome in real life.

Your turn: When have you seen a friend or co-worker demonstrate courage and resilience? How do you challenge your own beliefs and fears?

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What Matters More: Numbers or Relationships? http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/what-matters-more-numbers-or-relationships/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/what-matters-more-numbers-or-relationships/#comments Thu, 18 May 2017 11:56:34 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1255 By Angela Noel May 18, 2017 Almost a year ago now, I sat agonizing over my first blog post. I’d convinced two or three brave souls to let me profile them. Each had placed tremendous trust in me, but I worried. Would the words I put on the page both honor my subjects and connect … Continue reading "What Matters More: Numbers or Relationships?"

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By Angela Noel

May 18, 2017

Almost a year ago now, I sat agonizing over my first blog post. I’d convinced two or three brave souls to let me profile them. Each had placed tremendous trust in me, but I worried. Would the words I put on the page both honor my subjects and connect with readers?

As a few people read that first post, then a few more, I felt the rush. My heart pounded in anticipation every time I checked the stats. Ten people. Then twenty. A hundred. Matt French, the subject of my first post, liked it. His friends and family liked it. That’s what mattered most, right?

But the more I read other blogs, and the more research I did to understand what “success” for a new blog should look like, the ickier I felt. A few months in, after I’d faithfully posted each week, I remember reading a piece from another blogger. She lamented she had only a “small” following–10,000 views a month. I felt shame. If she was disappointed with 10,000 what did it mean that 1/10th of that number visited mine? Clearly, something was wrong.

Work vs Fun

To find out how to improve my stats I spent hours reading about how successful bloggers crafted posts and promoted them. To boost my subscription sign-ups I did pop-up gymnastics and experimented with different plug-ins, each promising to increase my numbers. I worked late into the night, writing and re-writing blog posts. I enjoyed the writing. I enjoyed the people. But anxiety ate at me.

Each article I write celebrating an inspiring person ends with a call to action, both for myself, and for every reader who finds my blog: Be Awesome in Real Life. But, according to my family, during these first few months I was more irritable than awesome (by far).

To make matters worse, over lunch one day, a writer friend told me he knew a successful blogger who committed to spending no more than an hour on any article. I must be doing it wrong, I thought.

Success seemed out of reach. More importantly, I had to ask myself: Was the effort to make this blog successful making it less fun?

Yikes. Something had to change. One day, on the advice of a good friend, I listened to a Magic Lessons podcast. The six-word key to my conundrum waited within.

Just What I Needed to Hear
Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert
Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert

Glennon Doyle Melton, author and activist, spoke at length about her blogging and writing efforts to Elizabeth Gilbert in the podcast Magic Lessons Ep. 209: “Show Up Before You’re Ready.” I turned up the volume when the conversation turned to Glennon’s frustration with earnest bloggers asking her for advice on how to grow a million-viewer audience like her’s. With grace and wisdom, she offered up an alternative to focusing on growing an audience. Instead, she advises,”Serve the people who show up.” Serve them to the best of your ability. “It’s such an honor,” she says. When I listened to her words, my fingers tingled. The anxiety in my chest eased. I knew she was right.

I started the blog to do two things I love: write and celebrate awesome people and ideas. I got to do that every week! I’d failed to see the success I already had. Bogged down by numbers, I’d forgot to listen to my heart. But I’m not alone.

Evidently, losing sight of why we create is a common problem. Creative people,  Glennon says, don’t quit because they don’t like making things, they quit because they can’t handle defending what they’ve created. And that includes defending it to ourselves. If no one likes it, I used to ask myself, why am I doing it at all? But Glennon has the answer for that too, “There’s the during, and there is no after.” Meaning, creation IS the thing. Babysitting it or “following it around” to see how people react to it kills the spirit. Whether I have two followers or a million, “give them the light,” Glennon advises. Lucky for me, I follow at least two bloggers who’ve already figured this out.

Avoiding the “Blogging Bubble”
Suzie Speaks
Suzie’s a lifestyle blogger based in the UK, but with fans from all over the world.

Suzie Speaks has blogged for the past four years, with impressive stats to show for her efforts. But like Glennon, she didn’t set out to build a successful blog. She set out to tell her truth. And as she did that, she found ways to connect with others. She created a community through engaging with people, supporting their efforts, and being a constant learner. She shares what she learns and sets healthy boundaries for herself. She gives joyfully, without worrying about what she’ll receive in return. A thriving Facebook community, Big Up Your Blog, a popular Twitter hashtag, #Sundayblogshare, and nominations from other bloggers for numerous awards, show her success. Yet even Suzie isn’t immune to losing sight of why she blogs.

Recently, she confessed to falling into what she calls a “the blogging bubble-the point where bloggers focus solely on their own little space of the Internet and forget about the potentially millions of similar spaces out there, just waiting to be explored.” Taking her community for granted was never her intention, but it’s easy to do. “A community,” she says “is not about the stats . . . it’s about building and maintaining connections with others, and avoiding the blogging bubble.”Suzie’s blogger magic comes not from never losing focus, but from realizing when she’s gotten off track, then getting right back on. In that, she has much in common with another favorite blogger of mine: self-avowed wild child, Susie Lindau.

Finding Passion
Susie Lindau's Wild Ride
Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride

Susie, whom I featured as a Blog to Love in December, posted an An Open Letter to New WordPress Bloggers. In it, she asks new bloggers to evaluate their motivations and what equals success. She says:

Why do I want to be a blogger? To become famous and spew? To build an author’s platform? To sell books?  To make money? Those are all end-games. Blogging for results will get you nowhere.

Instead, focus on the path of writing what you are passionate about and you will see results. It’s all about practice and community building.

Follow blogs without the expectation of a followback.

 

Susie’s words carry weight because her followers feel her authentic self shining through. For example, I’ve never met Susie in person, yet when she shared the news about the sudden death of her brother, tears welled up in my eyes. Her humanity and mine are connected. As Glennon points out, “The deeper you go into yourself, the more everybody else can see themselves in you.” That’s exactly what Susie has achieved with her followers. She shows us a different side of ourselves by allowing us a clean, clear, honest window into her own experiences. This is the writer’s duty and gift: To show the reader to him or herself. Susie continues to do just that with every post–living her adventure and sharing it with others.

The Stats that Matter to Me

Success is liking yourself and liking what you do.Therefore, with these examples of true success before me, I ponder the numbers that matter most. In particular, I’m thinking about these stats:

  • Twelve people allowed me to poke into their lives and feature his or her particular brand of awesome in a post.
  • Two beautiful writers penned guest posts.
  • Five readers of the blog wrote Love Letters to someone in their lives they admire.
  • Six people I didn’t know had been reading the blog stopped me in a hallway or at a party to tell me how much they loved reading a post or two, or ten.
  • I’ve heard from many mothers, fathers, siblings, or cousins of post subjects. They already knew how amazing their loved one was, but they’re so happy I can see it, too.
  • I’ve found bloggers from all over the world to follow–who’s adventures and insights have shaped what I think, say, and write.

Today, whenever I ask myself what blogging success means to me, it’s not numbers and stats. Most days, I gauge success by the richness of my experience, the wonder and curiosity I feel, and the opportunity I have to keep creating every day.

Thank you, all of you, for helping me be awesome in real life.

 

Your turn: How do you define your own creative success? Have you ever gotten caught up in the wrong measurement based on your goals?

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Come Play With Me: A Writer’s Wish http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/come-play-with-me/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/come-play-with-me/#comments Thu, 11 May 2017 12:17:26 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1261 By Angela Noel May 11, 2017 Words, Come Play With Me Sun-warmed pine reminds me of home and mountain vacations. I want to write like evergreen smells. My husband’s heart beats steady and strong when I lay my head on his chest, ear pressed against skin. I want to write like his heart sounds. My son sighs when … Continue reading "Come Play With Me: A Writer’s Wish"

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By Angela Noel

May 11, 2017

Words, Come Play With Me

Sun-warmed pine reminds me of home and mountain vacations. I want to write like evergreen smells.

My husband’s heart beats steady and strong when I lay my head on his chest, ear pressed against skin. I want to write like his heart sounds.

My son sighs when he snuggles into the crook of my arm for bedtime. His contentment and mine fuse like a warm blanket. I want to write like these moments feel.

Clean water rushing over my hot toes cools and tickles. I want to write like the water flows.

The petals of wildflowers on tender stems weave and nod when bees visit or wind blows. I want to write like these flowers play.

After three hours of errands, a tired glance at the mirror reveals inside-out pants. The snorts of my laughter scare the dog. I want to write like life is laughing with me. 

Creators weave unique tapestries with universal threads. We mine the diamonds of memory to touch the divine.

Your turn: What are your favorite things? What diamonds have you found?

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Write a Love Letter: How you Can and Why you Should http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/love-letters/write-letter-someone-love/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/love-letters/write-letter-someone-love/#comments Thu, 04 May 2017 12:30:36 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1247 By Angela Noel May 4, 2017 To feel love and to express it boldly without expectation of return requires tremendous courage. The word courage originates from the Latin word for heart. Not the organ itself, but what it represents–the living room for our feelings. In my original I Want Your Love Letters post I ask readers of my … Continue reading "Write a Love Letter: How you Can and Why you Should"

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By Angela Noel

May 4, 2017

To feel love and to express it boldly without expectation of return requires tremendous courage. The word courage originates from the Latin word for heart. Not the organ itself, but what it represents–the living room for our feelings. In my original I Want Your Love Letters post I ask readers of my blog to pen a letter to anyone he or she loves or admires–friend, teacher, lover, mentor, parent, bus driver, coach, sibling–anyone. Each writer of a love letter demonstrates the essence of heart. Every one of the letters makes me smile and fills me with a kind of quiet inspiration. And I want more.

For this post, I’ve gathered these letters together to celebrate the writers and their loved ones. I also want to invite others, like you, to contribute your love letters to the collection.

Write a love letter and I’ll publish it on the You are Awesome blog. It’s as simple as that.

Here’s a look at the letters published in 2016. I hope this list grows with your contribution in 2017.

35 Years of Secrets, Laughter, and Love

From Angela: Love Letters are written by subscribers to the You Are Awesome blog. Each of us know teachers, friends, lovers, parents, grandparents, children, bosses, artists, mentors, or teammates who embody goodness, who give the best of themselves in unique… #friendship #gratitude #loveletters

Saying Goodbye (For Now)

A Love Letter by Tessa Moore August 25, 2016 Dear Kyra, We told you for months that I was leaving for college, but it wasn’t until you were looking through my bottles of shampoo, laundry detergent, silverware, and soap that you finally understood. You turned… #family #inspiration #loveletters

First Love

A Love Letter by Destiny Ely September 8, 2016 Excited to write for Angela’s blog, I couldn’t wait to go home, open up the computer, and begin writing a letter to someone I love. Of course, my parents came to mind first, then I thought about my sisters or my…

Wanted: Best Big Sister Ever

A Love Letter by Julia Zhang October 13, 2016 I was a two-year-old preparing for the most important role of my life: Best Big Sister Ever. My parents told me it was my job to take good care of my little sister because she would look up to me, which is a big…

I am Adopted

A Love Letter by Dana Mason Womer January 12, 2017 I am adopted. This is a phrase I have said hundreds of times in my life. When I’m at a new doctor and they want my family history: I am adopted. When my kid’s doctor wants a family history on his maternal side:…

Your turn: Who do you love? What impact did they have on you?

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Amish Friendship Bread: More Than Just Delicious http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/amish-friendship-bread-just-delicious/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/amish-friendship-bread-just-delicious/#comments Thu, 27 Apr 2017 12:11:04 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1233 By Angela Noel April 27, 2017 My mother-in-law, Karry, makes a bread that tastes like the intersection of pound cake, cinnamon sugar donuts, and the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. It’s so good, my son wanted me to save some so he could invite his friends over for a slice, and my … Continue reading "Amish Friendship Bread: More Than Just Delicious"

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By Angela Noel

April 27, 2017

My mother-in-law, Karry, makes a bread that tastes like the intersection of pound cake, cinnamon sugar donuts, and the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. It’s so good, my son wanted me to save some so he could invite his friends over for a slice, and my husband and I had an uncomfortable stand-off over who should eat the last piece. (He won—but only because I didn’t tell him I wanted it. I just stared at him while he popped the crumbly, chocolate chip-studded morsel into his mouth.)

This evanescent bread, a variant of Amish Friendship Bread, has a mission beyond being delicious.

Surprising no one, I hungered (pun intended) for more.

What’s Done is Done?

After quizzing Karry and searching the internet, I learned the friendship element of the bread comes from the tradition of sharing not only loaves of the finished product, but a bit of the starter as well. This sharing business–of first spending ten days tending the starter, reserving some of it to use for next time, then giving some away–caught my attention. Some of the articles I read compared the practice to a chain letter, but I disagree. Instead, I see it as a metaphor for life.

Amish Friendship Bread Recipe
Karry’s well-loved Amish Friendship Bread recipe. The key, says Karry, is using TWO packages of pudding.

The recipe for starter begins with combining at least three basic ingredients: flour, sugar, and milk. (You can also use baker’s yeast.) Then you knead and feed the mixture for the allotted time until it’s ready to take part in the magical process of bread making. In baking, you typically make something. But not starter. You don’t make a starter, you nurture it.

We call many things done when they reach a final, stable state. I’m done with the dishes, for instance, when I’ve either broken them all, or they’re clean. A starter is done, however, when it’s ready to be shared or transformed into something else.

Different from gifts of money, acts of charity, how-to books, or volunteering in the traditional sense, creating and offering starter to others assumes a collaboration between what is, and what could be. It starts with one creative person and passes forward, morphing and developing in new and wondrous ways. I’ve been lucky enough to come across several examples of this kind of starter recently.

Or, perhaps because I was looking for them, they found me.

Creative Collaboration

Traci Cavanaugh York
An example of Traci’s handiwork. Check out her blog and contribute your own quote!

Traci Cavanaugh York posted an offer on her blog this week: Send her a favorite quote and she’ll pair it with one of the photographs in her collection. (Read her post here.) She wants to do more with her photos–she wants us to do more with them.

Bakers already know this, but the magic of starter dough (when you’re not using baker’s yeast) comes from the natural, albeit invisible, bacteria in the air. Create an enticing environment for these bacteria and chemical hocus pocus occurs.  Traci’s invitation attracts others she can’t necessarily see–like me–to contribute to her creations. She wants collaboration, and wants the result of the collaboration to be more than it could have been had either of us acted on our own.

A Willing Recipient

I call this next example my Twitter angel story. A fellow writer and I shared a few tweets back and forth some months ago. She’d told me at some point that she’d attended a writer’s conference or two. The week before I planned to attend my first conference I asked her for some pointers. Not only did she offer advice and moral support, she gave me so much more.

Selling a novel to literary agents requires a particular skill I’ve yet to master. In the course of our conversation, she politely asked if I’d like her help with my marketing materials. Past midnight on a Friday, she edited, suggested, critiqued, and cajoled my words–transforming them from a passable product into an intriguing invitation.

I call her my Twitter angel because without her I couldn’t see where I’d gone wrong. This expert friend used the raw ingredients of what I had, and helped me make it better. She worked hard, and expected I would do the same. In fact, she asked for my buy-in up front before she edited a word. This step can mean the difference between a successful, joyful collaboration, and a mess of pointless goo.

A bubbling jar of starter
A bubbling jar of starter.
Photo by basykes and licensed through Creative Commons

The articles on Friendship Bread extol its virtues but warn a gift of starter should be carefully considered. “Everyone will eat the bread, but not everyone wants a bag or a jar of this stuff,” Karry explained with a smile. The bubbling, needy mix can confer an unwanted or unintended obligation. Some gifts, like advice and starter, are best offered when the receiver is willing and able to act on it.

Offered with Love, Not Judgement

No one learned this lesson more powerfully than a queer, muslim woman in Bahrain named Esra’a. Fearing violence in a culture where the law won’t protect her, she doesn’t appear in public in her activist persona. She took to the internet instead, founding a website, Majal.org. People can ask questions, and share their feelings–sometimes raw and painful–to get honest answers without judgment. Aiming to open minds through dialogue, she offers first-hand knowledge in a loving and simple way, believing the act of collaboration and shared experiences will bring change.

So, as I look at this gift, this bread, and what it represents, I see more than just delicious snack food. The combination of ingredients–those found in our kitchens or those we find in ourselves–nurtured over time and then shared with others creates amazing, often delightful, results. A starter is the beginning of something, each of us decides what we do next.

Your turn: What kinds of starters can you think of or have you observed?

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How One Connects to Many: An Only Child’s Story http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/how-one-connects-to-many-an-only-childs-story/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/how-one-connects-to-many-an-only-childs-story/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 12:05:33 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1180 By Angela Noel April 6, 2017 “How’s your son? How’s Jackson?” Danny asks me, almost every time we meet. Danny and Jackson have something in common. They’re both “only” children. Often I’ve wished for a better way to describe my son’s lack of siblings. Being an only child has cultural baggage for both child and … Continue reading "How One Connects to Many: An Only Child’s Story"

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By Angela Noel

April 6, 2017

“How’s your son? How’s Jackson?” Danny asks me, almost every time we meet. Danny and Jackson have something in common. They’re both “only” children. Often I’ve wished for a better way to describe my son’s lack of siblings. Being an only child has cultural baggage for both child and parent. Even the way we describe only children, as if they are by turns selfish and lonely, feels messed up to me. Particularly because my experience with the sibling-challenged has universally been positive. Several friends of mine grew up without a sibling. Each of them are among the most independent, generous, outgoing, thoughtful people I know. Danny is no exception.

Pitching in

Danny grew up watching Lifetime movies and Judge Judy after school with his indomitable grandmother. They’d share a bag of popcorn and perhaps a thuringer sandwich and sit on the couch together to watch the shows after he’d finished his homework. From her, Danny learned the importance of standing up for himself and for others. She’d tell him, “Don’t take shit from anybody.” She’s also the grandmother you call at four a.m. when you shouldn’t be driving. “She was the most loving person . . . always agreeing with me,” Danny recalls with a smile. Though, Danny admits, he still can’t watch scary movies–the kind with stalker ex-husbands and Meredith Baxter-Birney.

Danny Shields and grandma
Danny and his grandma. She passed away just a week before his college graduation in 2014.

His grandmother pitched in to watch young Danny while both his parents worked. The “pitch-in” mindset formed a core tenet of Danny’s youth. Julia Lythcott-Haims is the dean of Freshman at Stanford. In her TED Talk on how to raise successful kids–without over-parenting she references the results of a study done by the Harvard Grant Study. She says it turns out, ” . . . professional success in life comes from having done chores as a kid.” It’s a mindset that says, “I will contribute my effort to the betterment of the whole . . . that’s what gets you ahead in the workplace.”Danny, in charge of mowing the lawn, cleaning and doing the dishes–even making dinner for the family–knows all about doing his part. But contributing at home is only part of Danny’s story.

His dad, Tim, practices law and is the general counsel for the Minnesota Federated Humane Societies. Fighting for animals, and against animal cruelty, matters to the Shields. Other social issues, like the recent Women’s March in Minnesota, matter, too. A picture with mom, Barb, dad, Danny, and a protest sign, show the Shields doing more than armchair quarterbacking. An apt metaphor (if I do say so myself) considering football played a significant role in Danny’s youth.

Doing the Work

He decided he wanted to be the starting quarterback at Holy Angels. Along with encouraging his academic success, his parents supported Danny’s drive to work for what he wanted. Holy Angels had already produced one NFL player, why not another? Though without aspiring to join the big leagues, Danny chose to attend the rigorous high school program both for the academics and the athletic opportunity. He played football and baseball for the school, and went on to play baseball in college. “I compete with myself to be the best I can,” Danny says, his shoulders lifting in the tiniest shrug. Danny’s not interested in being better than anyone else. Competition is part of athletics, but it’s not about winning for Danny. It’s about doing the work, asking the question of himself, “Can I be a little bit better today?”

Danny Shields Quarterback #16 Academy of Holy Angels Minneapolis 2008 Football Highlight Tape

· Danny Shields Quarterback #16 Academy of Holy Angels Minneapolis 2008 Football Highlight Tape


Many of the kids he competed against in high school for spots on the team are part of his posse today. Ten or so good friends, all about the same age, having BBQs each Saturday during the summertime. “If I need them, they’d be there for me.” From all these examples, peers and parents, Danny didn’t hesitate when a recent volunteer opportunity to help a school in a lower-income neighborhood with their annual field day arose.

Connecting to Hope

Kids at Bethune Elementary have a high rate of homelessness. Too high. Food insecurity. Language barriers. These kids face challenges many of us will never know. One of the biggest issues isn’t money, or even food. It’s hope. Some of these kids are the easiest to forget. One day they’re in school. The next they’re not. But that’s not what Danny saw when he went to help the teachers and administrators run athletic events for the kids to try. The one-mile run, the obstacle course, the ball-toss–teams of students with laughter in their eyes ran and jumped across weedy grass, while volunteers and a few parents cheered them on. Danny wanted to do more than just participate on a single day.

Bethune Field Day 2016
The kids and volunteers pose for Bethune Field Day 2016. You can see Danny WAY in the back, slightly left of center in red.
“They just have this spark, you know.”

Danny’s own eyes light up when he talks about the Bethune kids. “They’re pretty amazing.” Danny made a commitment to help the kids with their homework every week. “They just need a little support, a little extra guidance. They have all the talent, they make the effort. You never know who they can grow up to be.” Danny’s delight in working with these kids, the things they teach him as he helps them read the words on the page or subtract lines of digits, radiates from him–as if he’s back on the field at Holy Angels, throwing a touchdown pass. These days, instead of aiming a ball to a wide-receiver, he’s connecting children to hope. No one could ask for more.

Danny’s nice-guy superpower comes from the many examples of his past, and his willingness to contribute the best of himself to others. Maybe some only children see themselves as the center of the universe, but not Danny Shields. The only universe that matters to him is the one where everyone, animals, children, grandmothers, and the occasional unusual sausage sandwich can sit together and enjoy the show.

If Danny can do it, so can I. So can you.

Be awesome in real life.

Your turn: What motivates you to serve others? Who have your mentors been?

I’d love to connect with you on Twitter , Facebook, or Instagram.

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Creating Community by Reaching Out http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/creating-community-by-reaching-out/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/creating-community-by-reaching-out/#comments Thu, 13 Apr 2017 12:55:53 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1211 By Angela Noel April 13, 2017 I practice hot, sweaty yoga. I love the quiet, dark room filled with other people. We start and end each session in savasana, or corpse pose. The yogi leading the practice provides an intention, the only voice in the room, as we begin. He or she might share a … Continue reading "Creating Community by Reaching Out"

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By Angela Noel

April 13, 2017

I practice hot, sweaty yoga. I love the quiet, dark room filled with other people. We start and end each session in savasana, or corpse pose. The yogi leading the practice provides an intention, the only voice in the room, as we begin. He or she might share a quote, a song lyric, a poem, or a riddle. I’ve both giggled, and allowed tears to flow. There’s something about yoga that opens up possibilities in me.

No competition. No expectations.

Akin to a spiritual revival, the bunch of us sweat together, breathe together, slurp quantities of water after six sets of chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed staff pose) together. But this feeling of community doesn’t happen by accident.

My yoga studio, Modo Yoga Minneapolis, goes out of its way to foster a sense of belonging. Modo is driven by values–putting people first.

Modo (also known as Moksha in Canada) Yoga was built on the dream of having independently owned and community-driven studios that share their ideas, their love of conservation, an awesome hot yoga series rooted in the traditional teachings of yoga and yoga therapy concepts, and a passion for our 7 philosophical pillars. Today, studios are community hubs where yoga is just the beginning.

The Seven Pillars are a philosophical extensions of what inspired and intentional living can look like. There’s even fun videos to illustrate each concept.

On Modo’s Inspired Life blog, they’re featuring a series of posts about the Seven Pillars. A recent article discusses the beginner’s mindset, part of the sixth pillar, Live to Learn. Each post uncovers more ways for all of us to put philosophy into practice. The fifth pillar, Reach Out, particularly spoke to me. The piece I wrote for Modo’s blog compliments Speaking and Listening: The Power of Truth. It offers five ideas about how simple things can make a big difference.

Modo Pillar: Reach Out – Modo Yoga Minneapolis

Reaching out is an extension of self. It’s an effort to go beyond the comfortable, or the normal, and do something extraordinary. Folks like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Bill and Melinda Gates, Amma, and Martin Luther King do big things and impact millions.

You don’t have to be a yogi to love what Modo is doing. They host many community events open to all, as well as work to support their members’ creative journeys–mine and others. For example, after class one day I found Dave Driver, author of The Bottom Turtle: A Christian’s Journey Into Yoga, in the lobby ready to talk about and sign his book. No friendlier or kinder face could greet a student after a steamy workout. A yoga instructor and member of Modo, Dave writes for everyone (not just Christians) about how, as one reviewer put it, “we can all find the good and grow together.”

Find the good and grow together. Filled with possibilities, that phrase perfectly describes what yoga, and community, mean to me.

Your turn: What does community mean to you? How do you reach out to support others?

 

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Speaking and Listening: The Power of Truth http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/speaking-and-listening-the-power-of-truth/ http://angelanoelauthor.com/inspiration-motivation/be-awesome-in-real-life/speaking-and-listening-the-power-of-truth/#comments Thu, 06 Apr 2017 12:15:40 +0000 http://angelanoelauthor.com/?p=1182 By Angela Noel April 6, 2017 “You know,” my dad said from his living room in California, “for that You are Awesome thingy you do . . . maybe you could ask people about speaking truth to power.” “Tell me more.” I held my phone to my ear, enjoying a peek of springtime sun three-thousand … Continue reading "Speaking and Listening: The Power of Truth"

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By Angela Noel

April 6, 2017

“You know,” my dad said from his living room in California, “for that You are Awesome thingy you do . . . maybe you could ask people about speaking truth to power.”

“Tell me more.” I held my phone to my ear, enjoying a peek of springtime sun three-thousand miles away.

“Well, in my career (he’s retired) I never really gave much thought to whether I should say something, I just said it. And it got me in trouble, even fired. But, it’s really important. Especially now. So, I want to know how people do it, and do it well.”

Separated both by geography and sometimes ideology, my dad and I do agree on many things. We both, for example, believe societies big and small–families, workplaces, neighborhoods, countries–need healthy, well-informed debate by people that care. We believe respectful discourse among equals brings clarity, if not agreement.

But, there’s that whole power thing that mucks things up.

Many, many social constructs imbue power to one individual over another. Parent to child. Boss to employee. Dominant culture over minority culture. Rich over poor. Masculine over feminine. The types of power an individual can possess are equally numerous and complex: physical, economic, psychological, and legal; just to name a few.

We hold these powers at different times, at different strengths, and among different people. Some examples: a mother has power over her child, but no power over her work schedule; a father has power at work, but can only see his kids on the weekends; an entrepreneur owns her own business, but can’t stop a stranger from grabbing her crotch as she walks down the street; a college professor minding the law gets pulled over three times a year, every year. There’s a similar thread among these experiences, though it may not be easy to spot at first.

A 1995 Versace Ad
This Versace ad was the subject of my 1995 paper. The woman looks like she’s in power, but is she?

I wrote a paper in college, the only one I saved for more than twenty years, titled, “The Other Product of Advertisements.” In it, I argued that though the post-modern era attempted to redefine the power differential, the basic structures that create and maintain that differential remained the same. Writing one paper on the dynamics of power and reading a few books on social justice do not make me an expert on, well, anything. But I do have eyeballs and am living in the world today. What was true in 1995 is still true. We haven’t moved the needle much when it comes to redefining core power structures. We’re changing the way things look, without changing the way they feel.

And that’s not good enough.

We’ve changed the names for things without changing the dominant context around them. We say LGBTQIA to offer a more inclusive moniker for non-heterosexuals. But we still use the term straight. If I’m straight, does that make someone else crooked? Isn’t crooked the term we use for criminals and fraudsters? And that’s just one example.

The words we use matter, they’re the buckets we cart meaning around in. But, the words we choose follow patterns we’ve learned, reflecting the world we’ve grown up in.

Communication isn’t just about saying what we want to say, how we want to say it, it’s about saying it in a way that helps others to hear. The words that jump up from the archives of my mind aren’t always the best words to use for this purpose. If what I say causes someone else to feel “less than” will they hear me? Or will I just be another petty tyrant reinforcing the story they’ve heard all their lives of their otherness and vulnerability?

And all this comes back to power. When we have it, people don’t mess with us. When we don’t, they do. If we see each other as equals, we have open dialogue and respectful conversations. If we aren’t equals we have exhausted mothers, heartsick fathers, crotch-grabbers, and frustrated professors. This is not news. I am one more voice, saying what many have said before me. No law or mission statement can make equality real. Individual people must feel it, and act upon it in everyday ways; at the grocery store, choosing a movie, taking kids to school . . . you get the idea.

But making equality a part of every day isn’t easy. We’ve been fed a steady diet of images, words, and experiences that reinforce inequalities from our earliest memories. The messages we thought were innocent, are not.

Disney’s Princess Problem

An excellent blog post by Hayley Beasley Dye on her daughter’s broken Disney Princess cup got me thinking.

Princess Tiana
Princess Tiana of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. (Image for non-profit use only.)

Hayley points out that her daughter’s favorite princess, Princess Tiana, had gone missing. Tiana, unlike Belle or Ariel, didn’t (presumably) sell enough merch.

Disney sells stuff to people, that’s their business. Magic and all that loveliness aside, their purpose is to make money. They have no vested interest in upending their Princess machine to change the world for the better.

Or do they?

My son vociferously protested against seeing Moana. He thought it was another one of those “pretty dress movies,” a topic he’s not interested in at all. But, when he learned Moana was an adventurer appointed by the ocean itself for an important mission, he said, “Oh! THAT Moana. Yeah, I want to see that.”

By offering characters representative of more than the damsel in distress, pretty pink dresses, trim waists, and pale white skin, Disney can capture the imaginations of boys and girls of all races, classes, body-types, and orientations. Teaching every child they can be who they want to be with the help of loyal friends and a boatload of hard work, but without needing anyone’s permission, creates a positive tension in the world. They do great things because they know they can and want to try.

A Brave New World

Plenty of evidence suggests children aren’t predisposed to prefer one type of toy or hero over another. Girls don’t naturally gravitate to dolls, and boys to cars. We teach them these things.

A recent experience by a little girl, rewarded for her potty training success, demonstrates both sides of our culture today. The two-year-old white girl who sees herself reflected in the African American doll in a lab coat (inspired by a Disney show, Doc McStuffins); and the cashier who can’t understand why, perfectly illustrates where we’ve been and offers a glimmer of hope on where we could be going.

That is, if we speak up. And if we do a whole lot of listening.

Disney’s business follows customer demand. A whole lot of customers want to buy the damsel-in-distress-style Princess gear for their girls. And as long as people still see this merchandise filling the shelves, the dominant themes persist. Until the demand ceases, the supply will remain. Individual customers might seem to have little power to influence Disney. Much like individual employees have little power to influence CEOs. So how does change occur?

One mind, one choice, at a time.

It’s slow, but important. One voice speaking truth to power when it counts, is added to another voice that does the same.

Listening looks Easy
One Mind at a Time. Speaking and Listening takes courage.

Getting fired isn’t the goal. Being a jerk is not the goal. But, speaking up with whatever power we possess–economic, positional, social–and speaking out in defense of respect and equality to those who can influence large scale change, is the goal.

And when we’re the ones in those positions of power, listening is our most courageous act. 

So I’m using my You are Awesome thingy, to ask you my dad’s questions:

  • What issues matter to you?
  • How have you used your voice to speak truth to power?  
  • What was the result?
  • How have you used your power to listen to others?

I’d love to know your thoughts (and my dad would, too.)

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