Monthly Archives: March 2013

Venture Outside Your Comfort Zone

My job involves working with people who are Developmentally Disabled. Their IQ is lower than average, they often have physical differences and speech problems. Sometimes they cannot enunciate as clearly as someone who is not developmentally disabled. There are levels of DD and I work with people who are able to do most things for themselves-bathing, dressing, and simple household tasks. They go to school at a community college and several have outside jobs. They are responsible for maintaining their rooms, laundry and helping prepare meals. They do these things every day, and most of the time need only prompts from those of us who supervise the home we all share.

Something has been tugging at my conscious for a few weeks. I want to say something to the world at large. Venture outside your comfort zone! Do something with people who don’t look like you, don’t have the same lifestyle, don’t live in the same neighborhood or go to the same school or work in the same building. Turn off the TV, the computer, your Notebook and interact in a way that takes some effort.

People with developmental disabilities aren’t as pretty, sometimes have trouble enunciating, move differently and often with difficulty. Get past that (and it doesn’t take long) and you’ll get to know the individuals. You’ll see how radiantly they respond to music, to each other, to having fun, to living. My group is in a bowling league every Monday night. The bowling alley is filled with other DD groups and the laughter, shouts of joy (you’d be amazed how many strikes happen on those Mondays) and bright shining faces. Everyone has his own style. After I watched and clapped the first night, I could hardly wait for the next Monday. They have a banquet in a couple of weeks to celebrate the end of the league, and there will be awards for everyone. We are looking for the next activity and I’m as excited about opportunities as everyone else. I wasn’t bowling, but I was watching, clapping and shouting encouragement. I felt joy. Actual joy. I’m not happy because they did something for me, I’m happy because they were having such fun, because they were happy. It is indeed an infectious emotion. We need more of it.

I’ve read lots of articles about how rewarding it can be to work with people who are disabled. It’s true. I’m glad I’m working with them. It’s an interaction. We help each other.

Get out of your comfort zone. Get involved with people who welcome your presence, regardless of your age, your looks, and your belief system. Experience this very real connection between human beings.

Process

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I listened to a song “The Climb” recently and it started me thinking. (After I stopped laughing about the singer, someone so young and privileged I doubt they have a clue about a real climb. Anyway.

I thought longer and harder about “the climb.” What does it really mean? Is life a climb? A process? Is that why so many people are so miserable when they don’t get what they want immediately (including me?)

“Maybe it depends on what it is you’re seeking,” says Tonya, one therapist I spoke with. “When you have unrealistic expectations, you set yourself up for disappointment.”

“So what are realistic expectations?” I asked, searching for definitive answers.

“If you don’t have a degree in Business Administration, and no actual working management experience, it isn’t realistic to apply for a CEO position in a Fortune 500 corporation,” Tonya explained, “But if you’ve made an effort to educate yourself beyond just acquiring a degree, pursued a specific career goal, then you can use that to show your unique initiative when you apply for a management position. You have to make decisions about what you ultimately want-not just more money, and all right now.”

“OK, I see how that applies to job seekers, but what about happiness?”

“Happiness isn’t a destination, its part of the journey, like sadness, frustration, hunger, joy, anxiety…the journey of life is a process.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that you can’t have everything you want right this minute, and that’s not a bad thing.” Tonya smiled as she explained.

Savor the process, another person told me. He’s an artist and is working on something all the time.
“I don’t worry about how long it takes me to finish a painting,” he says, “I like the feel of the brush on the canvas. I like mixing paints. I like stretching canvas. I love the process. If you don’t love process, you’re going to be frustrated with most things in life, I think.”

“Think about process in everything,” a new mother told me, “I get up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, a terrible odor. I never get a ‘thanks for my bottle, Mom,’ when I stumble into my baby’s bedroom at 2am. I listen to his wails and I’ve learned to identify the difference between ‘I’m hungry, I’m wet, I’m lonesome and what’s going on out there?’ And I love it all because I accept the process. My other child, my 5 year old daughter, helps me prepare dinner, change the baby, plant vegetables, feed the cats… and no, it isn’t as fast as I could do it myself, but she’s learning to be a person, not just a creature that needs entertainment! She drops things in the kitchen. and we clean it up together. I don’t have to have everything perfectly aligned, or just so. My children depend on me to teach them how to be independent, responsible human beings. Nothing significant happens in an instant. I make myself stop occasionally, even when I’m changing a diaper, and consciously acknowledge what I’m doing. That’s how I figured out what process means.”

So now, I am actively catching myself “in process.” I don’t try to hurry up and get dinner on the table. I cut the vegetables and boil water for tea and think about what foods taste good with what other foods. I experiment. That also means I miss a lot of TV. On purpose. Life is not TV. I’m watching and listening, I’m paying attention. Process means paying attention. It’s interesting, this idea of process. It makes almost every activity more interesting, more meaningful. It also reduces stress because I’m not panicking.

I even manage work better- I’m paying attention to what I’m doing, not thinking about what I have to do next. At first, I’m slower because it’s a new behavior, but I eventually become faster because I’m focused. And I enjoy everything a lot more. At the end of the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment rather than feeling that I hadn’t done enough. Process means there will always be more to do.

This week, make a conscious effort to stop what you’re doing-whatever you’re doing-at least once a day and really pay attention. Listen to your wife, husband, children. Really listen, don’t try to formulate answers while they’re talking. Look at the color of their hair, the way their mouth shapes the words. At least once this week stop and experience the process of life, of living. It’s over much too quickly.

Recess

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Where did we learn our childhood games? Hide and Seek, A Tisket, a Tasket, a green and yellow basket…Red Light…Follow The Leader.

Some of them maybe we learned form teachers at school, but I don’t remember any teachers at recess-not teaching games. They were sitting in the sun with the other teachers, talking or reading, watching us to make sure no one misbehaved. But I don’t remember a lesson that explained the meaning of the words, “You’re It!”

We played dodge ball in the dirt road between our house and my best friend’s house. We lived in the country, and our little neighborhood boasted a lot of children. My brother was older, and a Boy Scout. He taught us how to build a fire and the right way to roast marshmallows. He told us skin prickling ghost stories. He sometimes told us of his adventures on Boy Scout Camporees, but not often. I don’t remember him explaining the intricacies of dodge ball. I do remember he showed up a time or two when someone threatened to break the rules, or when someone small was getting bashed too often. My brother didn’t suffer bullies.

But I still don’t remember an actual lesson in childhood games, yet I see them being played all around me. The same shouts, the same rules, the same unbridled glee at slapping someone’s arm and shouting “You’re It!” Watching children at recess in a nearby schoolyard recently brought so many bright, tender memories to mind that I hated to leave.

I have often despaired of children missing out on the benefits of playing outdoor games, real playing. So many children never go outside in their own neighborhoods except to get to the car. And I despise the practice of small children being hypnotized by computer games that keep them locked in a solitary fantasy world. But then I watched these children in a local schoolyard and I felt some of that sadness lift. Maybe there are still games passed through some kind of primal childhood osmosis so strong, so important, and so much FUN that they will always be with children lucky enough to have recess.