Monday Notes: Ask Nothing; Just Be

We should ask nothing of others that we don’t ask of ourselves” – kelley from Black Burgundy.

I read this quote on kelley’s blog a month or so ago. It resonated so deeply with me that I typed it into my notes and vowed to write about it one day.

We should ask nothing of others that we don’t ask of ourselves. But we do it often. My father did this when he discovered he had Stage 4 throat cancer. He wanted me to demonstrate a self-less, compassionate, and giving love towards him, when many times he had not shown the same towards others, especially me. How could he expect me to do something that he had never done, and because he was dying, would never do? It baffled me for the first two years, until I made a choice and decided who he chose to be didn’t matter. All that mattered is who I chose to be because I had to sit with my own character.

We should ask nothing of others that we don’t ask of ourselves reminds me of a Jill Scott interlude. It’s called Willing. In it, Scott describes a relationship that all too many women may be used to. It’s a relationship where the man wants his mate to exhibit certain characteristics: “flawless,” “patient,” “willing,” “honest,” and “loyal,” just to name a few. Have you seen this type of romantic relationship? One person expects these qualities, but doesn’t offer it themselves. In fact, consciously or unconsciously, they may be the opposite: flawed, impatient, stubborn, dishonest, and disloyal, yet they desire something else.

We should ask nothing of others that we don’t ask of ourselves seems like commonsensical advice for all relationships, but I suppose it’s not. I have a great aunt, who is 96 years old. All of my life she’s never called me. In fact, she relies on her sister, my Grannie, to call, keep up with, and pass on information about my life’s happenings and me. However, in her later years, she’s become a widow, lost her eyesight to macular degeneration, and lost her mobility to old age. As she sits in her tiny apartment, this way of keeping up with me has stopped working for her. Her solution?

“Call me once a month,” she says.

Notice, she didn’t say, “I’ll call you once a month.” Instead, she wants me to do something that even she doesn’t plan to begin doing.

People are funny. And because of that, relationships and how we relate to one another and tend to one another’s needs (or not) are also laughable.

I’d advise that we stop this behavior and begin anew. Give to others what you desire. If you want love, then give love. If you want compassion, then be compassionate. If you want honesty, then tell the truth as much as possible. In this way, you’ll always have what you want because it will begin with you. And if you don’t have it to give, then it might be time to dig deep to figure out why.

Let me know what you think, and if you want to check out the Jill Scott interlude, here it is. It’s a little over a minute.

Monday Notes: How Are You?

When someone asks you how you’re doing, what do you say? Do you give the traditional “I’m fine”? If so, why is that?

A friend once posted to social media that no one really wants to know how you’re doing when they ask. So, just say, “I’m good” and keep it moving.

img_7513I agree. But I’m done interacting in that way. Here’s why. I’ve spent a large part of my life pretending that everything was okay when it wasn’t. I’ve also learned the hard way that repressing emotions and going about life in a “business as usual” fashion is no healthier than eating junk food everyday. Ill feelings stay with you until you release them.

Now, if you ask me how I’m doing or how something is going, you will get the truth.

If I really am good, then I’ll let you know. But if I’m not? I still let you know.

For example, When people ask, how are the girls, which is a common question, I pause because they’re no longer one unit called, “the girls.” Quite honestly, they never were. But being in their late teenage years makes it more evident.

So, I pause. I provide detail. Kesi is doing this, that, and a third. Desi is doing X, Y, and Z. Sometimes it’s unicorns and rainbows. Other times, I wish either of them were making different choices and headed down a path of clarity.

Either way, if you ask, then you’ll get a real answer.

I’ve learned to answer people truthfully about every aspect of my life because there are enough of us covering up sadness and anger with fake smiles and high-pitched laughs. I don’t want to be another one.

For me, reality is what’s up.

But what I’ve found is that people can’t quite take the real answer. Uncomfortable squirms and bug eyes show me that they, like my friend, would rather hear the traditional “fine.”

Quickly changing the subject when I explain how either of my daughters is really doing signals they’d like to discuss something more chipper, like the weather. But only if the sun has shone brightly for several days in a row. If not, then a conversation about when it might return is in order, because like real discussions about our lives, people also don’t like crappy weather.

So, tell me. How are you…really? And how do you typically answer this question?

Monday Notes: Being Yourself

I was raised in a family with a lot of rules about how to function in socially acceptable ways. I grew up in the ghetto where I had to learn a whole different set of rules for safety. And I attended schools with routines that didn’t fit either of the first two situations. A lot of times, I sat quietly until I determined which set of rules I was supposed to apply. For decades, I learned not to be myself and for just as long I had to unlearn it by simply trusting that who I am in each moment is okay.

I know this to be true because being myself has served others well, even when I wasn’t aware. For example, my goddaughter visited me over ten years ago because she was going through personal problems that left her feeling less than worthy. She was suicidal. Instead of embracing her in a big bear hug, I asked her one simple question, are you fucking crazy?

img_5554There is more, but my point is I didn’t stop to wonder if I should use a cuss word, or try to figure out what type of language would comfort her best. I didn’t offer a hug because that’s not my thing. I was myself in that moment, and years later, she’s grateful for that conversation and more because she viewed them as helpful.

Likewise, a former student reached out to me a couple years ago.

“You saved my life,” he said.

His statement was bold. I was humbled. How could little old me have “saved someone’s life?” He recounted a time when he was traveling down a path of self-destruction. His mother had begged me to encourage him to apply to a university. Because I take everything I do seriously, especially educating people’s children, I did as she asked. I bugged the heck out of him about applying, and to get me off his back, he applied to one, Florida International. He was accepted and the rest is how he redirected his life.

In both of those situations, I didn’t think twice. Actually, I didn’t even think once. I just acted according to my personality and beliefs at the time. I’ve since grown to believe that’s what being yourself is all about.

img_5553If you have to stop and ponder on how to perfect your words and actions for the person or the moment, then perhaps those people and experiences are not aligned with who you are in the first place. Because I’ll tell you what, being yourself will never require you to change parts about you to accommodate others.

Let me know what you think. Have you struggled to be yourself? Do you think it’s possible to be yourself 100% of the time? Do you change who you are to fit the setting?

Monday Notes: Faking It ’til you Make it!

Growing up I’d always been told that I had to be twice as good as white people to be seen as just as good at what they do. This was the rule, simply because I was a black girl. Being raised in Chicago and attending a diverse elementary and high school for gifted students, this never proved true. We seemed to each be held by our own merits. We were all smart, and if we applied ourselves accordingly, then we achieved greatness, accordingly.

As I ventured through undergrad at Western Michigan University, I still didn’t see it. I mean I worked hard, but my own productivity and those around me seemed to equal the work we put into it. Working hard equaled success like As and Bs. Doing less proved attaining less, such as probation for poor grades. Seemed simple.

This trend continued with graduate work and ultimately with my doctorate. I really had begun to believe that the rule I’d been given about working twice as hard was false. Everyone around me seemed to be working just as hard and we were on equal footing.

But the truth was unveiled in one of the most unlikely places, academia.

I remember these events like they happened yesterday. I’d applied for a tenure-track position at the same institution…three times. Even though I was more qualified because I’d been in an academic position for two years, and even though he didn’t have the specific type of degree they’d asked for, they hired him instead. The following year, they hired me as visiting prof. This not only meant that he ranked higher, but that he also made about $12,000 more than I did.

He was a charismatic, white male, whose six-foot stature commanded attention every time he entered the room. He was a talker. You know the kind who has a story for every situation? The guy who’s like, “Yeah that reminds me of the time that…”

He was perfect in every way, except he didn’t know what he was doing. And as it turns out, he had a story for that as well.

He fondly remembered a time during his graduate career when he had no idea what the professor was talking about. He recounted this story to the program coordinator and me. She sat in her comfortable chair, glancing every so often at her Mac, then up at him, and back to me, where she offered an eye roll.

“So, the professor kept talking about some theory that he thought I should know. And, you know. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just nodded along and you know…I was just faking it ‘til I made it. You know? That’s how I got through.”

I didn’t know.

Remember, I’d spent twelve years working hard to attain everything thus far. I had no idea what he meant when he said he faked it ‘til he made it. Did he mean he faked it to here, where we stood…side-by-side? Surely that couldn’t be true.

img_5125It wasn’t until the following year when he had to teach a methodology course that the curtain of my naiveté was removed.

He knocked on my door.

“Got a minute?” he asked.

“Sure.”

He pulled up a chair. The difference in our stature was obvious, even while sitting. We faced one another, feigning a position of equality.

“How do you teach this?” he asked.

Jesus Christ, I thought. He really had no idea, and he wanted me to teach him how to do his job. He had a PhD, just like me. But he needed me to demonstrate how to teach the class because he lacked background knowledge and experience.

So, I explained it to him.

I seethed with resentment for several months. But once I calmed down, I learned something valuable. Systemic racism exists and structural inequality is real. White privilege is not just a theory or hashtag and the patriarchy is alive.

But what can any of us do?

I believe a first step is to be transparent about our experiences and situations. Maybe speaking candidly will open a space for change to occur among those of us who care about such issues. Because one thing’s for sure…raising another generation who’s taught to work harder than them to make it where they are seems like a disservice to everyone.

Thoughts are always welcomed.