Have you looked at the world around you lately? Are you seeing what I'm seeing? I see a lot of pain. I see conflict, tension, and differences, that have turned into hostility, disdain, and ruptured relationships. What part of your life do you think of when you read those words:

  • conflict, tension, differences

  • hostility, disdain, and ruptured relationships?

Maybe your thoughts go to work relationships where tensions have flared up and divisions between factions in the team are widening. Maybe you think about a siblings with whom you have a complicated (at best) or contentious relationship. Maybe your thoughts went directly to the political and racial divisions in the United States (and you can't even believe I would wait to list it third in the paragraph)! In quieter moments, you might even recognize those words as descriptors of your relationship with yourself. I confess my inner thesaurus is energized by finding synonyms for "conflict," "tension," "differences," "division" and the resulting "hostility," "distain," and "ruptured relationships" (I hope that is simply evidence I like words!). As much as I want to keep those lists of words growing, I could just as easily write instead about the absence of peace in us and around us. Like you, I have experienced the absence of peace with coworkers, family, friends, and anonymous others on social media. Like you, my soul longs for peace, and I know how depleting it can be to live without it.

When I was completing my training as a coach, we read two books that address this human longing for peace: The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. The insights offered in these two books rang so true to me that I come back to them over and over again. They have shaped how I understand conflict and the resulting loss of peace. More than that, they have given me tools to work with to address conflict--tools which have helped me honor myself and others and then grow in peace! I have found them so transformative that I have designed a 5-week online group learning experience (aka interactive course) around the key ideas and tools in these books. Moreover, I am convinced that the focus of my work through Anderful Life needs to center on helping people grow in peace in all facets of their lives.

In my studies, I am learning that growing in peace requires growing in compassion for ourselves and others. Consider this insight from The Anatomy of Peace,

In the way we regard our children, our spouses, neighbors, colleagues, and strangers, we choose to see others either as people like ourselves or as objects....[when] we regard them as we regard ourselves, we say our hearts are at peace toward them" (2015, p. 31).

I find myself asking whether I am really seeing others with my heart at peace. To answer "yes," I have to see the other person as someone with value, I have to honor their humanity (the good, the bad, the ugly), and recognize their inherent worth. Recognize the value in others, however, requires me to do the work necessary to see and honor my own humanity. I have to see myself for who I really am (the good, the bad, and the ugly in my own life) through a lens of compassion. When I see myself, warts and all as they say, but still can recognize my value, then I can extend that same compassion to others. I honor myself and honor others as human beings with inherent value--even if we're also mix of gifts and flaws. Nonviolent communication (aka NVC or Compassionate Communication) helps me understand who I am and take responsibility for my needs, feelings, and how I speak to others. It helps me extend compassion to myself and others. All of this strikes me as counter-intuitive. On some level, I want to believe that peace will come when other people change...when they wise up...when they start being nicer...when they _______ (fill in the blank). The problem is that I don't have any control over other people. None. Zero. Not a lick. If I'm waiting for others to change in order for me to find peace, I'm stuck. It's not going to happen. Instead, I'm choosing to look honestly at my own life to see how I can be a force for peace. I'm increasingly convinced that it comes by honoring my own humanity and the humanity of others, and then speaking from compassion and living from a heart at peace. [I'll say more about this in future blog posts.] Honor. Compassion. Peace. These are the things I want to mark my life, and they are the attributes I want YOU to experience in abundance. They are the driving force behind Anderful Life, and my reason for working as a life coach and offering the upcoming course: "honoring self. honoring others. growing in peace."

I don't believe conflict, division, derision, and ruptured relationships need to be the norm in our lives. We can develop the tools needed to live with hearts at peace and interact with ourselves and others from a place of honor and compassion. Join me, and my work through Anderful Life, to learn more and develop the tools to live a life marked by honor, compassion, and peace.

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As a kid, I loved church potlucks. I always took my mom's food, because I knew I liked it (then again, so did everyone else). I remember learning early on that not all jello was created equal. Some people put really weird stuff in to make it a "salad." Carrots, celery, and cottage cheese do not belong in jello. Full stop.

Potlucks have changed over time. We've learned to label foods so that people with allergies and food sensitivities can pick wisely. Got a gluten sensitivity? This dish has wheat flour in it. Lactose intolerant? This dish has cheese. Nut allergy? The nut toppings are in a separate dish to the side. Avoiding foods that cause inflammatory responses in your body? This cake and those cookies were made with white flour and s.u.g.a.r!! I wish someone had invented labels 50 years ago so I could've avoided a few of those jello salads.

What does any of this have to do with social media? I'd better pivot to the metaphor, before I make myself hungry.

For me, logging into social media is like going to a potluck. Everyone brings what they want to share with others and puts it on the table. We can bring spicy food, comfort food, foods with gluten, dairy, nuts, or something vegan. We can bring a main dish or dessert. It's all fair game. Moreover (and this is the key) when we go through the line, each of us gets to choose what we want to eat or partake of ("partaking" fits better with the idea of social media engagement, I think). Lately I've realized that I don't like how I'm feeling after partaking in social media, so here's what I want to do differently.

1. I need better portion control. Most of us don't attend potlucks on a daily basis, but many of us attend the social media potluck multiple times a day. That's more than I need, and I need to cut back. It's hard to eat a balanced meal at a potluck, and it's hard to be balanced on social media. Too much is unhelpful to me. 2. I want to be more intentional about what I partake of and engage. The easiest decision is to avoid food and posts that I find distasteful. I don't like olives, so I don't eat them. I don't like hateful speech or crude content, so I block sources of ugly content, and I "snooze for 30 days" or "unfollow" people that post distasteful things consistently (and, yes, I've unfollowed people for being hateful). That's pretty simple. What about posts I agree with and like? In this case, I find myself asking if they are good for me. Let's go back to the food metaphor. I like dairy, breads, and sweets. I can eat them without any immediate physical difficulty or distress. I have learned, however, that there are foods that will inflame my body after the fact, causing my joints to ache and leaving me feeling pretty yucky. The same is true for social media I agree with/enjoy--it can have an inflammatory effect on my spirit. It can feed my anxiety, stir up deep disgust, and leave me depressed. When I'm stuck in those places, I'm unable help others or contribute positively in the world. Right now, it's easy to overindulge content that negatively impacts my emotional and spiritual health, and this in turn can impact my physical well-being. But what about content that genuinely does harm? That's a good question (I'm glad you/I asked it). It may be pushing the metaphor further than is wise, but let's think about this briefly. I would not allow someone to serve food with nuts to someone else who has a life-threatening nut allergy. If I knew there was danger to another person, I would speak to both the cook and the person with the allergy to ensure both understood the dangers. In the same way, there's a place for advocacy on behalf of others who are hurt by hateful speech and content that harms others. In these cases, I believe we who are healthy and less directly impacted must step up as advocates for what good and right for those who will be hurt. In this way, I'll stand up against racism, hate speech (in all directions), and for people who might not have a voice. I think that's the responsible thing to do, and I'll try to find the right way to respond so that I don't enflame a conversation. The potluck metaphor works for me. I'm going to let this metaphor guide my thoughts and actions on social media. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these ideas or learn about metaphors you use to shape your social media use. Comment on this blog or reply in social media and let's make this a conversation.

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Updated: Mar 21, 2020

This is the SECOND post in a series about living an "Anderful Life"(click on this link to start with Part 1 in the series). My thoughts are developing, and your input will make them better. I'll do my best to write with insight and stay "in my lane." Your insights and expertise will fill in areas that I have not addressed and cannot speak to with any authority or depth. Please share thoughts and questions in the comments (or on social media)!

A Meaningful and Purposeful Life (my initial proposal)

We seek lives that matter, with connections to others and a sense of direction. We're invested in work, service, and people for the greater good of those in our circles and those we will never meet personally (from Part 1 in this series).

Need to Back Up...Already

When I wrote my first post, I conceptualized this it as one that would talk about finding meaning and purpose in relationship to others and by doing work or service that matters. In general, I imagined it being about what we produce in our lives.

My thinking has already changed in a week's time. For many who are reading this blog, life has changed in the last week. What we did in the world has changed. How we interact with others has changed. We are socially/physically distancing. We are working remotely and attending school online. We are staying at home--both as personal choice and state mandate. We go out for the essentials, as able, but are keep our distance. In a brief window of time, life has changed.

While reflecting on the coronavirus began shifting my thinking, the movement continued as I wondered about the variety of ways that changes in our lives can challenge our ability to root our meaning and purpose in our doing. Illness, aging, employment loss, and so much more, can interrupt our ability to find meaning in our work, service, or productivity.

What now? I propose we back up and think about meaning and purpose a bit differently than how I wrote about it in my initial post.

Finding Meaning and Purpose in our Being

Before we can find meaning in our doing, it is essential that we find meaning in our being. This isn't an easy idea for many of us. "If I'm just sitting on a chair, do I really have meaning and purpose?" we might wonder. Philosophers, particularly those who study "ontology," have long explored the "nature of being." I am not a philosopher, so what I have to say on this matter may not pass muster with more sophisticated thinkers.

Here's my basic proposal: before we could DO anything we were simply BEING, and even at that point in our lives, our existence had meaning and purpose. At that most basic level, as our newborn selves, we were people who lived, breathed, ate, and slept. Our fundamental output involved smiles, cooing, and filled diapers. That's it! And yet, we were people deserving of love, welcome, and belonging. We had meaning and purpose, simply by being.

As we grew up, something shifted for many of us. Very quickly, it became important for us to do more than fill diapers (amirite?). Maybe we learned to walk, talk, laugh, read, and write. [A quick word about our contexts: I realize that this list may vary depending on the bodies, families, or social settings into which we were born, and that may further impacts what comes next). Whether at school or at home, soon enough we learned to produce. In my world that started at school work, and in due time it was a part-time job, then full-time work, and then a career. As time went on, doing became more important than being. What gave life meaning and purpose was what I did, what I contributed to the world, and how the world saw me me in light of what I contributed to it. That's a big shift.

I'm convinced we need to get back in touch with our being. If we're really going to find our meaning and purpose in life, we will do well to start by knowing that before we've done anything in life, we matter. Our being, in and of itself, gives us meaning and purpose.

Why Start with Being?

My contention that we must start by finding meaning and purpose in our being is first and foremost an acknowledgement that our capacity for doing changes over time. If we put all our proverbial eggs in the doing basket, we are going to flounder. Our physical capacity, whether through aging, injury, or illness, will at some point be compromised. If you find your meaning in running a certain paced mile, that's fine, until you get a stress fracture. Then what? If you find your meaning in leading your division of the company you work for, what happens when they downsize? If your meaning is in being the life of the party, what happens when you have to socially distance and stay at home? Life changes, and our ability to DO changes with it. If we root our essential meaning and purpose in our being, then maybe we can weather those changes more easily. Many of you reading this blog post know that my mom had ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease). She was older, by ALS standards, when the disease was diagnosed (about 70 at the time). Her journey with ALS took another 2 1/2 to 3 years, about average for what is called Bulbar ALS. The disease started presenting itself in her feet and legs. She tripped often and then fell and broke her leg (sorry, Mom, I know that as a nurse, you'd prefer I'd written "fractured her femur"). While in the hospital, she had surgery to insert a feeding tube. Over time, Mom lost her ability to do so many things: walk, cook, eat, talk, and care for herself. I remember noting that while each loss was profound, somehow she managed to still be herself. She couldn't do the things she was known for (make great meals, bake bread, host gatherings with family and friends, lead a meeting, or have a lively conversation about life and current events), but her essence was still there. SHE was still there in her being.

Not only was Mom was still there with all of us, she made her presence known in many ways. When she could tell there was an active conversation going among family members that she wanted to be part of, she rang a bell in her room to summon us. When my oldest brother and my dad tried to clean a dirty path in the dining room carpeting, Mom made it clear that in her judgment the dining room table needed to be moved and the whole carpet cleaned (all this was communicated by snapping of her fingers and insistent pointing with her index finger). The night before she died, all six of her kids gathered around her. My brother had just returned from his first job interview after completing his PhD. With mom, we listened to my brother and sister-in-law tell us about the interview. Her response was the one that really mattered that night. She scratched out a note saying simply that she'd "heard it all." Later, when my dad was getting ready to leave their room and get some rest, she reached out with urgency to hug him once more. The next morning, sitting next to her, I began to hold her hand. She pulled her hand out from under mine, placed it on top of mine and rubbed it gently until she took her last breaths. Even in the end, in her being, she was a loving wife, mom and grandma. It had been a long time since my mom was doing the things she was known for, but throughout her illness, to the moment of her passing, she had meaning and purpose in her being. Even as so much was taken from her, she lived a meaningful and purposeful life. The same can be true for each of us as well.

When we affirm that our existence is meaningful and purposeful just because we are, we create a foundation on which to build the other aspects of what I'm calling an "Anderful Life." Watch for upcoming posts in which I unpack all of this further. In particular, watch for Part 3 to come soon. In that post, I'll explore how, having found our meaning and purpose in our being, we can then build on it to find meaning and purpose in our doing. They are, of course, interrelated, and I'm sure we'll see that in the end, we need both being and doing in balance.

I would love to hear how you connect to your own meaning and purpose at the level of being rather than doing. How do you affirm your value at that starting point? If you would share your thoughts here in the comments or in or on social media, I feel certain that others will be encouraged by your insights.

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