Only we are going to fix our problems, one volunteer at a time

We all know bad stuff and good stuff happens to people. But our reactions to those things often differ.

Many people live their lives in gratitude for all the good things they have.  Other people tend to downplay the good things in their life and constantly lust for more. And there are people who have a great deal, clamor for more and are convinced they are smarter, better looking and more talented than the people who have less. Barry Switzer and Jim Hightower are credited with saying “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” I always credit that quote to my youngest brother, David, but the point is many view good things as something they earned.

People who deal with bad things often accept that bad stuff happens and they just need to roll with the punches. Others need to blame someone such as God, their rotten parents and/or the government. Those carping complainers shake their fists at this cruel world and fault everyone except themselves. Just this past weekend I said some reckless, insensitive things to a couple of close friends. There were no excuses to be had. I was a jerk plain and simple. I apologized in a text and will rely on forgiveness and our longtime friendship to heal the problem. People who can’t own their screw ups  fail to accept the truth. As my insightful wife, Candace, declares so eloquently, “our troubles are usually an inside job.”

I recently read an article that contended that a tremendous number of Americans believe authoritarian behavior is the answer to our challenges. The author wrote, “Authoritarianism, by which I mean Americans’ inclination to authoritarian behavior. When political scientists use the term authoritarianism, we are not talking about dictatorships but about a worldview. People who score high on the authoritarian scale value conformity and order, protect social norms, and are wary of outsiders. And when authoritarians feel threatened, they support aggressive leaders and policies.”

That frightens me. I like some order as much as the next guy, but I do not believe our problems are caused by a vengeful God, parents or the government. I believe some people live dangerous lifestyles, don’t pursue enough education, refuse to embrace technology, but mostly I believe good things happen in this world and bad things happen, just because. To quote Forrest Gump “It happens.”

I especially refuse to believe that there is some giant hand in the sky or a  commanding government that can erode civic liberties and fix everything. I am reminded of a great ongoing Saturday Night Live bit performed by Kenan Thompson during the Great Recession several years ago. Thompson would rant and rave at some invisible force he called “they”  and scream “Fix It, Fix it, Fix it.” Nobody ever appeared from the ether to “fix it.”

I reject fear, authoritarianism and hate as viable “fixes” to our country’s problems. I subscribe to Gandhi’s famous admonition,If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” That has been popularized as “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and it is the only way we can improve things.

My wife Candace was so distraught over the refugee ban this weekend she went to church and sponsored a Mexican child for more more money than was asked. She took action to change the world for the better. Two of my dear friends volunteer for that program, Casa Franciscana Outreach at our church. They give countless hours to a program the improves the lot of people in Guaymas Mexico. Another friend of mine has spent years finding guardians for struggling children in his small Michigan town. Another friend spends hours sitting with and talking with hospice patients to relieve the burdens of their loving caregivers.

I, and you, know thousands of people like these who don’t rail at the condition of the world, or blame God or the government. They do something themselves to fix our society.

All of us pulling together to extinguish fear and hate strikes me as a better solution to whatever ails us.

 

 

Being judgmental is easy for me but I hate to receive it

A long look at someone, a few brief words out of their mouth or a few lines of background can lead me to pretty complete judgments about people.

I am not proud of it, but I jump to conclusions about people all the time. It’s that old judging “books by their cover” thing and I am a huge culprit. But brother, you better not try to judge me.

A person from my past thinks I made a terrible mistake marrying 15 months after my late wife’s death. The person has been pointed about expressing dismay and has even refused to break bread with my wife and I.

This has made me hopping mad. I have obsessed about it far too much. I imagine the harsh things I would say to the person if I get a chance. I constantly construct arguments about how wrong the judgement is and I live in befuddlement why the person thinks my actions are any of their business in the first place.

And yet, what I keep coming back to is I have judged that person in the past and never gave it a second thought. Increasingly, when I judge others I find myself jerked back to the ugly fact that I am doing exactly what I despise.

Certainly some of us have to judge people as a part of what we do. When people worked for me I needed to judge their performance. And, I obviously judge and grade the work of my students.

But judging whether people are making the correct choices or following the right life path is silly, mean and even vicious because we have no idea of the person’s backstory, motives or needs.

When we judge people’s choices and actions, when it’s really none of our business, we are insisting that our own frame and values are perfect for everyone. That, is of course, poppycock.

That arbitrary judging is wrong is certainly not a new discovery for me, but I have found that my anger over being judged has dramatically increased my sensitivity to my own judgmental ways.

If I had a nickel for every time I mistakenly jumped to conclusions about people I’d have a huge bucket load of nickels. Perhaps the recent scars of being judged myself will produce a few less nickels as I move forward.

And, I hope my realization that I am often guilty of mean judgments can also lead me toward the path of forgiveness.

Tim McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

Love is a verb and it would be nice if we all understood that

My new wife, Candace Hadley McGuire, is smart and deeply compassionate. She amazes me with her concern for other people. But she also articulates her concern beautifully.

If I had a nickel for every time she tells me “love is a verb,” I would have a damn big jar full of nickels. Her powerful point is that love without action, love without good deeds or love without solving a problem is hollow.

It is easy to say I am in love with you, but it is far more difficult to say I love you and my behavior will prove it.

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last week prompted me to think of Candace’s words. The Pope doesn’t spout theoretical puffery about love, he goes to lunch with the homeless. He hugs immigrants and pays special attention to children. He makes love a verb and many Americans are stumped by his behavior. One Fox News commentator said he’s “tired” of the Pope and suggested he is in the wrong country.

Perhaps the Pope doesn’t have American values and, sadly, that may be a good thing. This media obsession with whether the Pope is liberal or conservative is absolutely silly. He is a man of faith who believes that rules and prescriptions don’t create love, actions do.

Rather than attempting to categorize the Pope as liberal or conservative, Americans should be listening and watching Francis love. The truth is that in our me-obsessed, Ayn Rand believing, selfish society, it does seem radical to actively love everyone. Americans keep insisting we are a Christian nation, but too often we hate people who are different than us and we care little for those who have less than we do. The rhetoric from some Presidential candidates is terrifically anti-Christian. That Sermon on the Mount thing from Jesus should guide us to love and care.

If we truly let Pope Francis show us that love is a verb, this country would look different. It might actually look like a country concerned about something bigger than self-interest.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

It is so easy to run the lives of others rather than our own

Let’s go back to the coffee shop on a sunny Arizona morning for today’s life lesson.

I am sitting alone so I can’t get into much trouble gossiping about my neighbors. But at that table over there, two people are going through a litany of friends and bad-mouthing each and every one. The people at the table right next to me are doing the same thing. They are all talking in voices I don’t have to strain to hear. The people at both tables are theorizing about what Tom, Dick and Julie should be doing, ought to do and things they “just need to realize.”

They all seem to have just the right answers about what their friends, families and acquaintances ought to do with their lives. It doesn’t matter a whit that the gossipers own lives are probably train wrecks, but by God they know what someone else ought to do. They seem to have the special rule book that tells them all the “right ” things other people should do. They know that even if they really don’t understand their “friends” real circumstances.

I am certainly guilty of the same behavior. It is always very clear to me how someone else ought to run their lives. On my good days I shut my mouth. On bad days, I tell someone else how and what that other person should do.

We all frequently attempt to direct other people’s live from afar, but we feel remarkably different when we hear that other people are second-guessing our decisions and our behavior. We get huffy and angry. “How dare they presume to know all the things I struggle with and carry. How dare they assume they have a guidebook to behavior that I don’t.” I can work myself into a perfect snit over other people’s audacity and cheekiness, all the while forgetting that I do it to other people all the time.

As I have written in this space so many times, our journey is our own. Only we know what makes sense for us. Only we know where our heart takes us and where it’s been. It is impertinent and maddening when other people judge our journey with an implied arrogance that they know best.

But every time I find myself in high dudgeon over those people who think they could run my life better than I can, I try to remind myself that I own that sin too. I judge them too. Until we walk other people’s journey in their shoes we don’t know squat about what they are going through or what their best decision might be.

We would all be best off if we remember the lyrics of an old Hank Williams tune: “Cause if you mind your business, then you won’t be mindin’ mine.”

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

My “take-back” machine fantasy would be a winner but reality is tougher

I spent a good part of an airplane flight this weekend tinkering in my head with a fantastic idea for an invention that would revolutionize human behavior. I tried to develop the “take-back” machine.

My fool proof concept would allow us all to take back the stupid, inconsiderate, mean things we say. You know, the ones we regret the minute they pass our lips. The ones that hurt and do damage to the last people we want to hurt. We all do it. Our demons grab our tongues, we lash out and then spend the next minutes, hours, days and even years regretting what we said. The “take back”  machine would allow us to take back those things and act as if they were never said.

Now, I can’t claim my idea is original. This weekend, for the second time, I watched a 2013 movie called About Time. It’s about a young man, who at age 21 finds out the males in his family can repeat time. If the young man, Tim, botches a date or hurts someone or wants to avoid a terrible event, he simply backs up time and gets a “do-over.”

The concept of  “do-overs” in our life is so delicious, so alluring and such a giant problem solver that I decided that super-fix should not be allocated to one person or one family. My “take-back’ machine would be universal and available to all of us who have very big feet and even bigger mouths to stick our foot into.

But “do-overs” and “take-back” machines are fantasies. We don’t get second chances. Life is to be lived once with all our pearls and lovely statements and our foolish, mean-spirited attacks. We really don’t need do-overs if we have three things.

1.Forgiveness. We are all human. There is not a perfect person among us. We will all screw up and say stupid, ill-considered things. We need to forgive those who say things like that and we need to seek forgiveness for our mess-ups.

2.Lessons. We need to learn from the bad, ill-tempered things we say. If we find ourselves saying something that cuts someone to the quick we need to learn that comment hurts and vow never to say that sort of thing again. If we do say it again and even again, we need to go back to number one and seek forgiveness and figure out why we are so ugly.

3.Reconciliation. I had a Facebook conversation last week with someone from my past who wrote from the heart about reconciliation in his life. It made a mighty impression on me. Letting old hurts and contempt fester, damages our soul and leaves us the loser. Reconciliation and reconnecting to people we have hurt or who have hurt us is the only route. And, reconciliation doesn’t have to wait years, it should wait minutes.

Do-overs would be nice, but being more considerate, opting for forgiveness and reconciliation, and learning from our mistakes are really the only options available for mortals like us.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance