Grayscale

There are things we face in life that can be hard to reconcile. It would be easier to divide things in black and white, to ignore information that doesn’t line up with our understanding of the world. This week I’m talking about the importance of investing time and thought into our beliefs about the world around us and being intentional about trying to understand people and ideas that are different from us.

Binary Opposition

I first learned about the concept of binary opposition in a communication and conflict management class I took last fall. Communication scholar John Hartley describes this theory as a way which meaning is generated by defining thing as direct opposites. These binaries function to create order or meaning. Essentially, it is “the system by which, in language and thought, two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another”.

Binary opposition is a “comfortable” way of organizing ideas and seeing the world, but it can often lead to simplistic understandings, such as:

“That person is good, that person is bad”

“That neighbourhood is sketchy, that neighbourhood is safe”

“That university is innovative, that one is fun”

“I’m right, you’re wrong”

Binaries inform our ideologies of how we understand spaces, people, and ideas. They are problematic because create exclusive positive and negative categories with which to understand our world and miss a lot of important exceptions. What this does is that is that it frames our world in a way that we see people or ideas as good or bad and there is no in-between.

The problem with that type of thinking, and the reason it creates so much conflict, is that its rare to find a perfectly good person or a truly bad one. And so, despite the fact that sometimes it’s easier to divide people into those categories – and often I believe we don’t even see that we are doing it – but it does both us and them an injustice of ignorance.

In the middle of these binaries is an area my professor referred to as the “space of ambiguity” where there are outliers that don’t fit into binaries – so what do we do with the space in the middle and how does it effect how we see the world? Not reconciling these differences, and allowing ourselves to see the world in the form of binaries, leads to polarization.

The Uncomfortable Task of Sitting with Difficult Things

We need to do the difficult work of sitting in the middle and understand that there is  often no binary of right and wrong. I think it’s important to use the terms “work” when talking about feelings and ideas because emotional and intellectual labour is important and, emotional labour especially, is undervalued.

It can be hard to lean into challenging ideas or deep questions that feel impossible to resolve. Conflict within yourself, of reconciling difficult ideas and feeling all the confusing feels, or addressing conflict with others is an opportunity to think deeply. Wrestleing with these things looks different for everyone, it might be questioning how your religion and politics add up, it might be understanding how someone you trusted could have let you down, it might be coming to a place where you can respect neighbour or coworker who make different choices than you.

Wether or not you’re facing grey area within yourself, with people in your life, or on a larger scale – I know setting out this time isn’t easy. It can be so challenging to sit down and process these things. It may even down right painful to accept that sometimes there are truths that don’t line up and that aren’t easily categorized. But when you push yourself to think this way you’ll discover new pathways to peace within yourself and with people you’re in relationships with.

Wading into the Murky Grey

Wading into the grey area of your life to recognize that people are people. Just because you disagree with someone does not mean their opinion is invalid; just because people have the capacity to make mistakes or break trust doesn’t mean they can’t still be good.

And then we have to do the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable job of sitting with these things and understanding the world more deeply. Trying to make the best of your situation, embracing discomfort and being willing to sit with these ideas and wrestle against labels or binaries will help you grow.

I think that people are sometimes afraid of what they don’t understand, but maybe instead of dismissing the things we don’t understand, the interests, passions or values people have, we could try to understand where they are coming from. And imagine if they did the same, and instead of arguing or not talking about issues we could create space in the grey area to develop meaningful understandings of one another.

The thing today is this, the world isn’t black and white, and as tempting as it is to see the world that way – its lazy. There is a Rupi Kaur poem I love that says

to hate

is an easy lazy thing

but to love

takes strength

everyone has

but not all are

willing to practice

I’m not sure what grey area you have in your life, but this week I hope you consider taking up the job of sitting with difficult questions, feelings, or even conversations. Accepting that the world isn’t black and white does make it harder to categorize and sort it – but working through the grey area will help you make meaning of the world in a more purposeful and loving way.

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For Allison

At the beginning of the year, on a blustery cold day, I went to Balzac’s for one of many coffee dates I had this winter with my friend Allison.

We talked school, stress, heartache, and the future. Two women on the cusp of graduation feeling that “wow everyone has a job, is getting married, or going to grad school and I have no clue what my plan is” feeling.

It was a conversation that stuck with me because as I told her of the hopes and dreams I had for life after school, of programs to apply for, I said “I would really love to go do that, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up”. And I’ll always remember that she said, “But why not? Why not get your hopes up?”. This week’s post is inspired by her enthusiasm for life and her encouragement to get my hopes up.

Unlikely Dreams

Sometimes we dream unlikely dreams. And it’s easy to say “I would like that to happen but I’m going to assume it won’t because I don’t want to feel letdown when things don’t work out”. That is the safe thing to do, it keeps you from being vulnerable.

Brené Brown’s TED Talk (guys she just has realllllly amazing TED Talks – okay?) The price of invulnerability talks about why people avoid getting our hopes up and relates perfectly with today’s topic.

She speaks to the fact that “It is much easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointment… We sidestep getting excited about something, because we’re not sure it’s actually going to happen”. When we avoid getting our hopes up, and avoid being vulnerable to our hopes and dreams we aren’t really protecting ourselves from the disappointment.

Similar to this avoidance of vulnerability Brown also talks about “numbing” emotions, to avoid getting hurt. However, she argues it is problematic because “.. you cannot selectively numb emotion. When we numb the dark emotion, when we numb vulnerability and fear, and the shame of not being good enough, we by default numb joy. We cannot selectively just numb the dark emotions.” So essentially, if we don’t let ourselves get excited about things we do avoid the feeling of being let down, but we also avoid the excitement about cool opportunities life presents us.

Sprinting into Hope

It might be vulnerable to invest your hope into something or someone, but the truth is certainty about things evades our lives and we might never know exactly what we can get our hopes up about. Sometimes we get true signs of confirmation, like an acceptance letter that tells us we got into the program we wanted, but other times it is not so clear. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut and let yourself get excited about things.

Don’t be afraid to get your hopes up. What is the worst that will happen? You might get hurt but you will move on and find something new to be excited about. Life is good, life is exciting and full of amazing things.

To me, it’s scarier not to get my hopes up. If you don’t invest in relationships? Sure you completely avoid the possibility of getting hurt but you also avoid the possibility of community, love, and worthwhile friendships. Not pursing dreams because you’re afraid they won’t workout the way you want? It avoids the disappointment but also the possible joy and success of putting yourself out there.

If you’re reading this and you’re thinking this is completely unrealistic because there are things we really can’t predict and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to get your hopes up – you’re right. Maybe it doesn’t always make sense, but I would rather it be a habit to be optimistic and occasionally try to not get my hopes up about something than form a habit of saying “I would really love to go do that, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up”.

Love is an Action

Another thing I love about Al is that she not only encouraged me to get my hopes up about the things I wanted to be excited about (but was afraid to be), but she got her hopes up for me too. When we talk about the future she talks about those dreams as if they will really come true. And if I point out to her that the future is uncertain she tells me we’re planning on those things to happen because she believes in me.

It can be hard to be vulnerable for yourself, let alone be willing to open your heart for the benefit of others, so I am very grateful for her. There is a Jamie Tworkowski quite I really like, that goes:  “You’ll need coffee shops and sunsets and road trips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe better things.” Al, I’m lucky to call you a friend and beyond thankful to have you in my life blessing me with your encouragement, love, and challenging me to believe in better things and to be the best version of myself I can be.

“Love ain’t a thing, Love is a verb”

Excellence > Perfection

Happy Wednesday friends! This week’s post is going to be short and sweet. I’m talking about perfection and  touching on a few different categories of wellness!

Why write perfectionism in a wellness blog?

I think that being mindful of perfectionism is in line with the “striving for congruent wellness” theme of this blog. Avoiding holding yourself to a standard to perfectionism can be difficult, especially for people who tend to be self-proclaimed perfectionists (me!) but it is an unattainable goal that we shouldn’t hold ourselves to. Perfectionism is unhealthy and eclipses successes you’re making in all areas of wellness.

Serving up Lattes & Words of Wisdom

I started working at a coffee shop this summer and one of my favourite parts are the interactions I have with customers. There are the lovely families with little kids, the regular who never fails to get a soy green tea latte, and the memorable moments. I’m what you might call “hyperbolically enthusiastic” and this is especially true when I’m talking to customers; “Great!” , “Awesome!” , “Perfect!”, are all responses you could hear from me in response to you successfully tapping your credit card on the card reader.

Last week I used the word perfect to describe something along those lines and the customer asked me if I knew what perfect meant. He went on to tell me that there was an important distinction between perfection and excellence, saying that excellence is a level you strive for without being perfect. I smiled and wrote down what he said after he left because it struck a cord with me – and that is that its okay not to aim for perfection. I think I often focus on letting myself off the hook for not being perfect, but what if perfect simply ceased to be the goal?

Well, Well, Wellness

In relational, spiritual, physical, emotional and mental wellness, we’re never going to achieve perfection. And we don’t have to either. When we give ourselves and the people we love the room to be imperfect, relationships flourish. When we stop striving for perfection in our lives we emotionally “give ourselves a break”, and when we realize the only way to have a “perfect” body is to stop eating fun food – it’s clear, for me, to see that chocolate cake is better than abs.

I have a small collection of quotes that jumped out at me when thinking about perfection and what it means and why it’s beautiful to explore alternatives to perfection. Rather than write long paragraphs about why I think it’s wonderful to embrace that we weren’t meant to live perfect lives, I’m going to let these words that inspire me speak for themselves:

  • “You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” – Brené Brown
  • “The problem [with being a perfectionist] is this : those of us who are never satisfied with our accomplishments secretly believe nobody will love us unless we’re perfect. We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds to the people we love, but they are.” – Donald Miller
  • “I will hold myself to a standard of grace not perfection.” – Emily Ley
  • “We need to stop trying to attain perfection because we are good enough already” – Iskra Lawrence

If you need more convincing, take it from my girl Anne Hathaway :

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Here is to an imperfect, but excellent Wednesday!

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Lets talk about em-pa-thy

Lets talk about you and me

Lets talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be

Lets talk about em-pa-thy

*jazz hands*


Empathy is one of those terms, like vulnerability, that has been popping up in my life lately. It is relevant because I think when we feel people aren’t empathetic to us it removes the willingness to be authentic and vulnerable, and essentially it has a negative impact on relationships.

Defining Empathy

One of these days I’ll write a post that doesn’t quote Brené Brown, but today is not that day, folks. In this video (its short, sweet, and if you have five minutes you should go watch it) she describes empathy as “the skill set to bring compassion alive”, and “communicating deep love for people so they know they aren’t alone”.

Brené Brown has another video called Empathy vs. Sympathy that I saw in countless classes throughout my degree, it’s brilliant and worth sharing. She talks about the important differences between being empathic and sympathetic, how empathy fuels connection and cites Theresa Wiseman’s 4 Attributes of Empathy, which are:

  1. Perspective taking
  2. Staying out of judgement
  3. Recognizing emotion in others
  4. Communicating the emotion you see

My favourite line from this video is, “Rarely if ever does an empathic response start with “at least…”.” I always think about that when I’m about to say “well at least” to someone and notice how those comments can impact people and relationships, and what better alternatives can be said that foster empathy.

Feeling WITH Others

In both of the videos I linked to above, Dr. Brown talks about “feeling with someone” and I love this language and imagery. Often, we don’t need easy solutions to challenges, we just need people to stick by our side, and let us know they understand how we’re feeling. Sometimes I think of empathy as “voluntary vulnerability”, when people say “I get it, I’ve been there too” and it requires opening themselves up to let you know that you’re not alone.

While I was writing this post I kept thinking about how the challenging experiences we go through actually enable us to be more empathetic to people. If you’ve got your heart-broken, or lost someone you love, gone through a serious illness, moved away from a place you loved, or whatever difficult things you’ve faced it actually enables you to understand and empathize with people when they go through their own hard things.

Even though life has its share of hard, sad, challenging experiences – the silver lining is that we can learn to be more empathetic and loving to people.

You can repurpose every moment of feeling hurt, let down, left out, unheard, forgotten, and use it to love people harder. You can use it to understand their struggle and to empathize with them.

But wait…

Empathy is wonderful, it grows relationships, makes people feel connected – why wouldn’t it be your go to response? The thing is empathy can be hard. One of the biggest challenges we face when practicing and discussing empathy is that if you don’t know the feeling, it is hard to empathize. You might have a friend going through something and you’ve totally been where they are, but if you’ve never experienced it what do you say? I know I’ve had experiences where I just didn’t know what to say or how to relate to what a friend was going through, but recognizing and honouring their struggle is a good place to start.

Another challenge to empathy I’ve experienced is people thinking the thing you’re going through isn’t that bad or they want you to empathize with them. A while back I was at the grocery store after working an 8 hour shift and I was staring at the sushi bar a little longer than necessary. A lady asked me if I was okay and I laughed and said “yeah I just got off work and I’m tired” and she launched into why she was more tired than me and I didn’t have a reason to be complaining.  It struck me that she wanted to make it clear that she was more entitled to feeling tired. I also thought about how exhausted she must have been for that to be her immediate reaction.

Empathy isn’t always easy, and it requires energy we might not always feel like we have but moments of empathy from strangers, or when friends surprise you with how much love and empathy they can give you, can be so meaningful and I love being on the end where I can empathize with others.

What Next?

A story of empathy that I’m inspired by is from the book Love Does by Bob Goff. He talks about being in a car accident and having someone drive through a stop sign and hit his car. But his first instinct was to go check on the other driver. It was an elderly woman and he talks about how she was worried she wouldn’t be allowed to drive anymore and he empathized with her. Now, I’ve actually been in a similar situation and empathy was not my first thought, which is why this story really strikes me. He was not angry his car was totalled, he was empathetic to a woman who might lose her license.

I think if we interact with people from a place of love, like Bob, we are able to empathize with people and connect with them in ways that are truly meaningful.

So this week’s take away?

  • Empathy does not need to be earned. If you feel like you are working to earn empathy from someone who is a big problem. If you share something with someone and they need you to share more or justify why you deserve empathy, well that’s just frustrating and they probably aren’t the best person to talk to.
  • Practice self-care to give you strength and energy to empathize and care about other people. If you don’t change your batteries you burn out and lose the ability to love people well and empathize.
  • Be as empathetic as possible to everyone you encounter

 

 

A Girl Worth Fighting For 

Some of you will remember the song A Girl Worth Fighting For from the 1998 Disney film Mulan. And if you haven’t seen it or don’t remember it then please put down this blog post and watch it because it is a wonderful movie. I loved it so much when I was a kid that it even inspired me to cut my hair like Mulan does in the movie… it turns out that I didn’t look good with bangs but that’s a whole other story.

A Girl Worth Fighting For is a song about the women that inspire the male characters in the movie to be brave and fight in a war. Today’s post is not about that – it’s actually about friendship, and the strong, incredible women who inspire me in general. But I couldn’t resist the Mulan reference.

I have many male friends who are wonderful people, however, this week I’m focusing on celebrating female friendship and sisterhood. In the future I might write about friendship more generally but for now, as you read, please apply it to your own experience of friendship as you see fit.

(Platonic) Love Affairs

I have found that in life there are ebbs and flows of friendship. We go through different experiences, go to new places, meet new people, and develop new relationships. Some friendships grow slowly evolve into life long affairs, some are intense but short phases.

Sometimes we meet people earlier in life and reconnect later; two of my good friends are people I knew when I was young and became close to again in university. There will be times you might have falling outs with people, which can be incredibly sad, or friendships that fizzled because you move away or develop new interests, but there will also be people who you work to stay close with and come out as stronger friends on the other side.

I’m not saying there are relationships that aren’t worth fighting for, every person is a unique and incredible being who brings something special to every relationship. But there will be exceptional people in your life who you will want to go out of your way to hang on to.

What friendships are worth fighting for?

In the song A Girl Worth Fighting For they list attributes of women worth fighting for; they are pretty outdated, and apart from Mulan’s contribution of “How ’bout a girl who’s got a brain, Who always speaks her mind”, it’s not very flattering to women a really only speaks to physical appearance and “wife material” qualities.

So here, I would just like to say that the people and friends I think are worth fighting for are the women who you laugh with, cry with, and the people who stick up and show up for you – women who build up other women. The sisters who are always there to give you a hug, who are willing to drop anything to be with you when you need them. The people who “feel like sunshine” and make you feel so good about yourself you’re glowing. The women who you can be yourself around. Women of character and integrity. The friends who love you fiercely and you know, even if you haven’t seen them lately, will be there for you.

I think when we care about people it’s easy to feel like they are the best, we look past the flaws and get blind sided when they let us down. Newsflash: Nobody is perfect and in all relationships. We can get hurt, feel let down, or misunderstood. We annoy our siblings, hurt our friend’s feelings, even when it’s unintentional we can damage relationships. There is a quote attributed to Bob Marley about how everyone will hurt you but you choose the people you want to love despite that; the people who are worth it. What I think is important to remember is that despite getting hurt we can’t hold people to a standard of perfection – we all make mistakes and if you aren’t willing to forgive and move on you’ll miss out on amazing people.

What does it look like to fight for a friendship?

If you’re feeling like things are up in the air with a relationship, or you’re experiencing conflict or tension, it can be hard to say to a friend “hey that thing you said really hurt my feelings,” “hey are we doing okay? I feel like something is off,” “I feel like we are drifting, want to hangout more?”.

Or the worst one… “I feel insecure about our friendship because you’re hanging out with other people a lot and not me” – because you might feel incredibly clingy saying that. But hey, if you really do feel that way and it’s an important relationship to you, it might be important to talk about it. Those can be awkward conversations to have and questions to ask – but if you don’t push through the awkward feelings you might lose that connection.

Other ways to fight for friendships are:

Initiating a conversation. Its 2017 and we are SO past waiting for friends to text you first, don’t be too proud to reach out.

Avoiding competition between other friends. Insecurity is a 100% natural feeling, especially when we throw around terms like ‘best friend’ that make us second guess how our friendships compare to others. I think that stems from a feeling of scarcity – thinking your friend only has so much love to give to people you might fall to the side. I really try to not call people my “best friend” and prefer to use it as a general term like “some of my best friends” because I don’t want people I care about to feel like they matter less than someone else. Simple solution? Don’t compare your friendships to anyone else.

Telling them how you feel. If you know me in real life you know I L O V E talking about my feelings and I think it’s really beneficial to tell people how much you care about them. One time I even convinced a group of my friends to sit in a circle and all go around and tell everyone how much we liked them – it is a great way to let people know they matter to you (but less public interactions like cards or notes also work).

Make an effort to connect. Missing a friend who you haven’t seen in a while? Wondering where the relationship is at? Try inviting them for coffee, or to an art show, or whatever it is that you’re into. Sometimes sleepy relationships just need to be woken up by putting in a little effort.

Acknowledge your part. I’ve been flipping through the book Uninvited by Lisa TerKeurst lately and in the chapter about Friendship Breakups a line I loved was “She has her own version, and to deny that would make me guilty of more than just losing a friendship. It would further complicate things with selfishness”. It can be easy to blame issues in relationships on the other person but that is truly not fair. Conflict is never that simple and it is rarely one person’s fault.

Hindsight 

I think we like to avoid feeling awkward and putting ourselves on the line. It seems safer to just not say anything – and I really have been there where I wanted to say something to a friend I was losing touch with and didn’t because it felt silly and I thought she was fine for us to drift. But I would just like to pose a question, would you rather avoid an uncomfortable conversation and miss out on a friend because it’s “natural” to drift? Or open up yourself and potentially keep that wonderful person in your life in a real way.

When I look back on the journey I’ve been on with friends I have, I am glad for the friends who called me out when we were drifting, and for the times I found the courage to say “hey I want us to hangout more”. The other night I was driving home from hanging out with friends, some of the women who inspired this post, and I felt happy to know that through the ebbs and flows of friendship I’ve found some incredible people who are truly worth fighting for.

I am thankful for the strong, amazing, kind, driven women I am proud to call my friends. The ones that inspire me and teach me to live life to the fullest. I hope this post can serve as a small inspiration to be brave and fight for those important friendships in your life and to celebrate the people we are lucky to call friends.

If extreme vulnerability was a sport

This week marks five years since I went to Kenya with Free The Children. Its one of those things that I still can’t believe happened sometimes and it makes me feel old when I think about how much time has passed since I embarked on that adventure.

Get Your Butt On The Plane 

As excited as I was to go to Kenya  and build a school I was also very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, I wouldn’t have contact with my family for almost a month, I didn’t know the people I was going with very well, or if I would be able to communicate with the people in the community we were visiting. To say it pushed me out of my comfort zone is an understatement. How does this relate to wellness? An integral aspect of emotional and relational wellness is learning to face fears and pushing your boundaries to achieve personal growth.

The thing about being vulnerable and stretching your comfort zone is that once you get on the other side of that fear you realize it wasn’t as scary as you thought and you’re more capable than you imagined. It requires vulnerability to put yourself out there but once you know you can succeed you’re inspired to keep moving forward. Getting on the flight to Kenya was so nerve-wracking, but once I got myself on the plane and arrived I was jumping at the chance to try even more new things and push myself further. When you expand your comfort zone you create room in your life to keep growing and you realize those things you were nervous to try aren’t as intimidating as they seemed.

I was reading the journal I took with me recently, reminiscing about the trip, and laughed when I read this line “I conquered using an airplane toilet so now I’m confident I can be a world traveler”. I was already so self-assured and it was only the second day, if only I would have known that I would eventually travel to places that didn’t even have toilets.

Shed Your Zebra Stripes

There were lots of ways the trip challenged me to expand my comfort zone. On the second day in Kenya we were invited to sing in front of the group because, as my facilitator put it “the best way to get to know someone is to see them sing”. I enjoy singing but I’m well aware that I’m pitchy at best, and I really wanted to make a good impression, so this was terrifying. I stood up in front of 24+ people, future friends who I still didn’t know very well yet, and I sang. I was surprised that it wasn’t that bad to sing in front of people, which is how I think a lot of us feel when we get up the courage to do something that scares us.

Later in the trip we had an activity called “The Hot Seat” where each of us was invited to stand up and get asked questions in front of the group so people could get to know us better. This activity is the definition to me of extreme vulnerability, yet we volunteered to do it because we wanted people to know us. It was emotional because most people ended up telling personal stories but I  learned to be willing to share my story, to open up and be seen.

When they are in large groups, zebra’s stripes act as camouflage because the patte­rn of their collective stripes blends in with the stripes of the zebras around it. When you open up and tell your story you’re making the choice to be seen, heard and shed the protection of your zebra stripes. It is a life lesson that has helped me so much since then in developing meaningful friendships and embracing vulnerability. If extreme vulnerability was sport, maybe I would actually like sports.

Lions, Tigers, and more relatable experiences, Oh My!

Not everyone has been to the other side of the world and I don’t think you need to get on a plane to know that life if full of experiences that challenge us to grow. Moving into residence was another one of those things where I constantly tried new things, got pushed to new limits and, again, expanded my comfort zone. It’s those times when you’re stretched that you learn some of the most important life lessons.

Do you remember how amazing and empowering it felt to learn to swim or ride a bike for the firs time? When you learned a complicated sports maneuver (is that what they call it?), or a dance technique? We’ve been learning new things since we learned to play, talk and walk  but somewhere along the way we also learned to feel insecure, self-conscious, and it’s harder to put yourself out there and try new things.

What’s a good response to something you don’t know how to do? Be nervous that you don’t know if you can do it or run head first into it with a “I can’t wait to learn how to” attitude? Letting yourself be vulnerable and embrace the opportunities life throws at you isn’t always easy. It might mean packing your bags for a residence room or your first apartment, it might mean testing the waters in your dream career, trying to make new friends, reaching for a new level of independence in your life, or using an airplane washroom.

I hope you find that you are surprised by the empowerment you feel when you try new things and realize how capable you truly are.

Loving People Well

I wrote a post last week that was about the importance of being vulnerable in relationships and accepting love from the people in your life. When I receive love I feel inspired to love others the same way, so this week is part two and I’m talking about giving love and loving people well.

The more I recognize acts of grace and kindness the more inspired I become to be kind to others. On days when I’m tired, sad, frustrated, I’m inspired to be more gracious, patient and kind because I’m honoured when others do the same for me. Appreciating small acts of kindness can give you energy to pay it forward. I know this all probably sounds very elementary – but honestly, how often do you apply it your life?

Invisible Love: Making the Best Assumptions

I think of ‘invisible love’ as the actions that people might not see. For example, being discreetly generous, making generous assumptions about people, or being patient despite your own stress is what I might consider ‘invisible’ love. You’ll never hit your “nice quota” for the day and there is always room to try to be more patient, gracious, considerate and kind toward the people you encounter each day.

As a teenager I worked at a summer camp that had a sign on the wall by the kitchen that essentially said “Are you hungry? Tired? Grouchy? Go take care of your needs before you interact with people”. The sign was there because when we are hungry, over tired, etc. we aren’t our best (or most loving) selves. It’s like that snickers slogan, ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’. To love people well, we should try to look at this from the other side too, by recognizing it in others. For example, if your friend is grouchy there are a few ways you can react:

  1. Point out the person is in a bad mood (because they’ll love it)
  2. Recognize the cause of their behaviour might not have to do with you and try to make them feel better
  3. Ignore the cause of their behaviour and get upset or frustrated with them for being grumpy

Number 2 is the best option, because that’s offering grace and making a generous assumption about them. It can be hard to figure out why people are stressed or upset; people get hangry, frustrated, they have other internal things going on that you can’t see, or they are just having a bad day. Often times, we all just need a little understanding.

A few summers ago I went on a road-trip with friends to Quebec and a story I may never live down from that trip was when I started crying in a Montreal H&M. We’d been up driving from our town since 4am, I had a stomach ache from eating lunch too fast, and a revolving door hit my heel and it started to bleed. It was nonsense, but I started crying profusely. It was funny once I pulled myself together and realized I just needed to take a minute to sit and rest. We all experience moments when you need people to be patient with you. It’s a bonus when the people around you simply suggest we just sit on a bench and take a break without making you feel silly.

The moral of the story is, if you see someone upset, stressed, or grumpy, maybe from your perspective overreacting, take a step back and think about what’s going on with them. Don’t assume it’s about you, assume they need a little extra love today.

Visible Love: Showing Up 

I think one of the best ways to love people is to just show up and be present for them. Just being there for someone, even if you don’t know what to say can mean a lot. Showing up can take many forms; it can be a listening ear, a hug, a shoulder to cry on, or moral support. Bob Goff’s book Love Does talks about the idea that love is an action, it goes out, says “I’m with you” and makes things happen. I couldn’t agree more. Even if you’re not sure how to support someone the first step is always to show up and let them know you are there for them. I’ve never called a friend looking for a person to talk things out with and been upset that they picked up the phone. As long as you’re willing to be there, that’s enough.

I read this blog the other day about the importance of “holding up your 50%” in a relationship, it’s a good reminder that we should be intentional about investing into people who invest in relationships with us and loving the people who love us. It can be easy to be wrapped up in your life and appreciate receiving love from people, but healthy friendships and relationships are give and take. You can’t take advantage of love and not give it back.

Some other ways to love people is by practicing inclusivity or being a source of encouragement. You can love people by inviting them to hangout and grab coffee, have a girls night or go to goat yoga with you (or whatever activities you’re into). Honestly, it never hurts to be inclusive. And encouraging people and telling them what they mean to you is a great way to remind them how much they mean to you and how you value them.

Enforce Boundaries that Allow You to Love Fiercely 

To love people well you need to set boundaries. Brené Brown describes setting boundaries as outlining what behaviour is okay and what is not okay. It can be hard to set boundaries because we don’t want to disappoint people. She said it best when she said, rather than being resentful of people because of a lack of boundaries, she “would rather be loving and generous and be very straight forward about what is okay and whats not okay”. When thinking about the invisible love and the generous assumptions, ask yourself the question Brown asks in her book, “What boundaries need to be in place for me to make the most generous assumptions about people?”.

In Donald Miller’s Scary Close he writes about a conversation with his friend where his friend tells him “I’ve learned there are givers and takers in this life. I’ve slowly let the takers go and I’ve had it for the better…. God bless them, when they learn to play by the rules they are welcome back, but my heart it worth protecting”. That hit home for me. YES! My heart and your heart and your heart and your heart, and everybody’s hearts are worth protecting. Remembering that and setting healthy boundaries are important to allow yourself love people in the most genuine and wholehearted way.

Just Love Them

In my first post I wrote that I love to love people, and I really do. If I could find a full-time job where I encourage people and send them love and practice kindness I would accept it in an instant. The cool thing is that, we can actually all have that job. It’s not a paid position, but I think positive impact your actions make in the world is worth it.

I want to be like the sweet woman in a coffee shop who lends you a laptop charger when you forget yours, the stranger ahead of you in line who hears you say what cupcake you want and they purposely don’t buy it so you can have it, and the people who leave generous tips. On a bad day when you show up at your friend’s door saying “I know we haven’t been close lately”, and you feel like maybe you don’t deserve to ask for their support, and they say that doesn’t matter I’m so glad you came to me and hug you tight – that is the way I want to love others.

This week I’ll leave you with a passage from Ephesians 4:2 that I really like which says that when interacting with people to be humble, gentle and patient, “bearing with one another in love”. It reminds me of when people say “please bear with me” and I think we just need to have people bear with us and say its okay, I’ll be patient. Just imagine everyone you encounter is asking you to bear with them and needs that understanding and grace, because they probably do.