Love For Others Starts Within
[Last night I taught a class at The Room in Baltimore through The Artist’s Compound. I decided to put my presentation up as a blog post for you non-Baltimore Babes to read if you wanted.]
Towards the end of the year, we’re inundated with “Your Year In Review” features from social media, and Best Of lists from the past twelve months. We’re reminded of what we did, and most certainly, what we didn’t do over the past year. It seems like it was just last week where it was December a year ago and we were looking forward to January as a clean slate we were going to cover with new accomplishments and high fives for goals that came to fruition.
This is a big time where we compare ourselves to the self we had dreamed of last year. Our future, better self. Maybe we were richer, thinner, or had better time management. However we looked in our mind’s eye then, it’s likely we’re being pretty harsh with how we’re measuring ourselves up now. Even if you met a tangible goal like “cut back from smoking a pack a day to half a pack a day”, you might be telling yourself you could have done better. You could have cut back more, you could have worked out more, you could have saved more money. More, more, more. And who are we in comparison to this non-existent phantom future-self? Less, less, less.
This is a seriously dangerous time for negativity and negative self-talk. We’re already in a vulnerable space because for many people, this time of year is one where we’re stretched very thin. And for many others, it’s time that reminds us of unfortunate events we’d rather not have trudged up. This is a time we’re likely to engage in self-sabotaging behavior. Sometimes that’s why it feels so easy (and better) to just make a resolution. We can say fuck December, I can do whatever I want and when that ball drops on New Years Eve I’m going to turn a leaf and completely change this aspect of my life on its head!
That works for some people for sure. I know people from many walks of life who have chosen January 1st as the day to change their life. Everything from losing a hundred pounds to coming out and transitioning gender. The thing is, it doesn’t work for most of us and there’s a lot of logical reasons for that. Really, though, it just makes sense that you’re more likely to stick to a goal you make for yourself on a random Tuesday because you wake up with conviction to change than January 1st because you’re told that’s the day we should make goals.
I bring this up for a couple reasons. One, I want you to be nice to yourself this December and all future Decembers. It’s not fair to look at your life in terms of what you didn’t do. That is the ultimate glass half empty situation. In fact, that’s basically a perpetually empty glass. Did I accomplish all the goals I set out for myself this year? Nope. I tried something different this year and only set like ten major goals and I barely got to cross five of them off, and you know what? I’m okay with it. Because I can look back at the things I did get to do.
It seems, cosmically — or cyclically if you prefer – that certain years seem to be a big bang for the masses and some are just utter shit. Sometimes you’ll feel the opposite as what you’re seeing overall on your Facebook feed. For example, right now if you’re scrolling through social media and seeing all the memes with Michael Scott saying, “I’m going through a rough patch right now; whole year, actually” and the caption below it is, “Me about 2016” and you’re like, “I don’t identify with that at all!” Then GOOD. I’m glad you didn’t feel like 2016 sucked your soul out of your body and sent it to outer space. You’re operating on a different frequency than us, and I’m slightly envious.
But sometimes you see all those memes and realize, “Holy hell, this seems to have been a terrible year for… everyone”. There’s a bit of comfort in misery for sure, but more of a comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
I can’t speak for you, but my 2016 has had high highs and low lows. It’s usually that or medium goodness the entire time in my experience. I don’t get to have the greatness without the shittyness. So for example, I got to cross the number one thing off my bucket list this year and publish my first book! That was incredible. Everything surrounding that was incredible. But I also spent an entire summer developing Bipolar Disorder and I got in the worst car crash of my life. With good comes bad, always. Because the awesome parts of my year happened earlier on, it seems easier to remember the bad parts, if only because they’re chronologically closer to me.
It kind of feels like when they host the Oscars, and it seems like the only movies they’re mentioning came out in the past four months. Am I the only one who feels that way? Like if you release a movie in March, you’re definitely not getting an Oscar. Good luck. Hahah.
So something I want you to try to tangibly do right now is to think of just one GOOD thing that happened to you in each month of 2016. I know January and February feel really far away, and if you really can’t think of something it’s okay. Just search your mind and look for the highlights of your year and try to fill them in chronologically. It’s okay if you double up, it’s okay if you skip. Just do your best to take the next couple minutes to find the good things you got to experience, and realize they actually were stretched out over the whole year. (Yeah, you reading. Do it.)
When you are making resolutions, think about what you’re actually trying to accomplish. Ask “Why?” till you get to the root of the disturbance or motivation of the goal. A good example is losing weight. Why do you want to lose weight? A common answer might be “to be healthier” or to “look better”. Losing weight objectively helps out countless health issues, so let’s focus more on the latter answer. Sometimes people will actually want to lose weight because they think it will make them look better but will guise it under the justification of being healthier. There’s always a root issue, and I want to trace yours down to the bone.
So if you want to lose weight to look better, what makes you believe that losing weight will make you look better? Is it because you’ve been told you’re overweight? Is it because you’ve been made fun of? Is it because someone close to you has constantly made note about your size for your entire life so you assume it’s an issue? Is it because in comparison to your friends or coworkers you seem to be the largest? Is it because you have low self-esteem and it’s wrapped up in your body image and you believe if you were to lose weight you would become happier? Is it because you see thin people on social media who seem to be happy and you equate happiness with thinness? Is it because you’ve tried everything else and you’re still not happy so it has to be losing weight that will be the thing that will be the fix-all? Is it because you don’t consider yourself beautiful because the media has taught you what is socially acceptable in terms of aesthetic beauty since you emerged from the womb and in comparison to what you’ve been taught you don’t think you’ll ever measure up? Is it because you measure your self-worth and beauty only on physical appearance and no other value system? Is it because you actually have no idea what you innately consider to be beautiful and aesthetically attractive because it’s become impossible to rip apart our values and ideals from what advertisements, commercials, movies, and magazines have shown us?
Any of your goals have this many questions to be asked to get to the core. It might not seem like it, but goals are ice burgs with an enormous amount of “whys” waiting to be answered underwater. I really urge you to dive deep to answer those questions when you make goals. And it helps when we think about what our overall goals for being a human are.
That’s kind of a humongous question, right? What are your overall goals for being a human? Fuck, I don’t know. It’s actually easier than you think. Think, non-morbidly, far in the future to that quintessential metaphorical moment of being on your death bed. That moment people reference that usually isn’t ever actually a thing where you get to make confessions and list regrets. But hypothetically fast forward to it. What do you hope you’ve accomplished? Who do you hope you’ve been? What do you hope to have felt? What do you hope to be remembered for?
Your answers are probably really simple. They might look something like, “I want to be happy” or “I want to be a part of a loving family” or “I want to be remembered for my kindness”. The basics of human life. Your specific human life. As bare-bones as these might be, they’ll be different than your neighbor’s. It’s a good idea to have these in the back of your mind, or even written down, to refer to when you’re making your short-term goals. Ask yourself, “Does this fit in with my overall human goals?” And if it does, figure out how to make it happen! But don’t beat yourself up if you need a longer period than a year to make it happen. Don’t beat yourself up if your priorities change and you never get to it at all. Life is fluid, so are you.
Speaking of which, as we’re approaching the new year I want to remind you that yeah, self-improvement is awesome. We have these goals and we want to learn and grow alongside them. But that doesn’t mean you don’t get to love yourself till you put a check mark beside that goal! It is absolutely imperative to love yourself while you’re working on improving yourself because acceptance and improvement are NOT mutually exclusive. They never will be.
So when you reflect on 2016, be nice to yourself, even if 2016 wasn’t nice to you. Speaking of which, this year certainly was a doozie whether you identify with the aforementioned memes or not. No matter who you voted for or how you feel about the election, we all got to see a lot of unkind behavior on a micro level. People like you and me being extremely unkind to each other. Not just unkind, but judgmental, nasty, cruel, violent.
It’s led a lot of people to feel more inclined to get active and spread positivity in any way they can. I’m really happy about this reaction of reacting with kindness, art, and activism instead of vengeance and I want to talk more about how you can spread positivity. The good news is that as much as the “Don’t put your oxygen mask on without helping others” logic is true, kindness is actually a give and take situation. Immediately after spreading happiness and kindness, you will feel good and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people ask me if it’s bad to feel good for doing a good deed and here’s how I feel about that: No.
So basically there’s no need to wait for someone to come over to you and say YOU ARE SELF-ACTUALIZED before you go out and start spreading happiness and positivity, because it’s in turn going to make you feel good as well and build up your self-esteem and give you courage to go back out and do more.
A great way to start is with random acts of kindness. They can happen on the tiniest of levels that cost zero dollars and go all the way up to talk show host level where you’re funding an entire classroom’s college tuition. Basically, the idea is that you’re doing something nice for someone else out of the goodness of your heart. It’s a true gift. A gift without the expectation of absolutely anything in return. You don’t expect so much as a ‘thank you’ or eye contact or even the lack of a negative response. You give because you believe it will bring good to that person, environment, or world. That is your only intention: causing good.
Examples can be very simple but still meaningful, like holding open a door for a few people in a row or making eye contact with a person you’re passing and saying you like their outfit as you smile sincerely. You can take things a step further and offer up services for free like house sitting or baking. You can choose to get money involved and pay for the person behind you in a drive-thru or put change in an expired parking meter. You can make little treat bags and scatter them all over town or put your favorite quotes in your favorite books at your local bookstore while you browse. There are so many ways you can bring kindness and happiness to the world for little to no money it’s actually kind of insane. And if everyone operated with the intent to perform three random acts of kindness a day, I believe we’d feel an energy shift within twenty-four hours. [103 Random Acts Of Kindness]
Like demonstrated in the famous movie about RAOKs, Pay It Forward, the act of someone being kind to you makes you want to be kind as well. In that movie it was kind of mandated, a stipulation if you will, that you spread the love. But the kind of acts I’m talking about are more open than that. You do the thing and leave, hoping it did good. And it works. I remember being a cashier and if a customer was super mean to me it would affect my disposition with the next customer, unfairly for them. But if the customer was really kind and cheerful with me, I would be way more likely to emulate that mood back towards the next customer in line. It’s a ripple effect. Your actions, words, and body language DO have an effect on other people. Don’t ever let yourself think otherwise.
There are definitely ways to track projects if that’s what you want to do, with things like hashtags or this great thing someone sent me called Sneaky Cards where there’s a code at the bottom of each card and as you do the thing you hand the card to the recipient of the deed and they’re supposed to register the card and you get to see the card travel the world. It’s amazing. But sometimes it’s nice just to know you’re being kind just for the sake of being kind. Spreading happy just because you know we could always use a little more. Or a lot more.
Speaking of projects, there’s more you can do to spread happiness than random acts of kindness. Like art. So much art. So many forms! I personally love street art, and I think it’s a great format for spreading happiness just due to the fact that it’s public so anyone can experience it. Spray painting a smiley face on a wall or getting a group of people together to make a collaborative mural will bring color to an area there once wasn’t. There’s a million ways to participate in street art, guerrilla art, public art, whatever you want to call it. There’s stickering, flyers, wheat pasting, yarnbombing, graffiti/spray paint, stencils, sidewalk chalk, disposable camera installations, sculpture, guerrilla gardening, eyebombing, murals, performance art… [Guerrilla Art 101]
There’s also plenty of ways you can spread happiness through activism. Many times, activism is fighting for a population of people who don’t have the same rights or privileges another population does. By fighting for their rights, you’re fighting for their future happiness. You can do things that are more of the long haul like protesting, letter campaigns, petitions, etc. to actually address legislature, but you can also take things into your own hands as immediately as possible. Neither one of these ways is better than the other, and you can obviously do both at different times. You can also combine random acts of kindness and art with activism!
Maybe you could make flyers, stencils, or stickers that have a slogan for the thing you’re fighting for. Maybe you could organize a flash mob/performance art piece in front of a municipal building to protest a point. Next month, I’m calling on people’s crafting skills to knit and crochet scarves for the homeless and we will be hanging them on a fence in a Scarf Abandonment project for the homeless. That’s a way to immediately spread happiness with your own two hands. Knit a scarf, give a scarf, have that scarf provide warmth to someone who needs it. It’s a tangible gesture with a tangible result. It’s activism, it’s art, it’s kindness.
Spreading love and happiness is necessary for us to keep progressing as a society and as a species. But remember you can’t give from a completely empty cup. Love for others starts within yourself.