“If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.” – Toni Morrison
Growing up, I was taught to believe that age brings wisdom, that those who know best have been around for a long time. I might be smart, I might be informed, but when the elders speak, whatever is in question is decided, and whatever is decided is correct.
Being raised with that perspective isn’t unusual. Children, especially very young children, don’t have the life experience or the knowledge necessary to safely navigate the world; that is why parents, caregivers, and other adults protect and teach them. Respect for our elders is logical. Cultivating and encouraging that perspective is an effective means of safeguarding our offspring.
It makes sense, then, to believe that children should be seen and not heard. Except – there are times when children are wise. There are times when children know best.
Consider Anne Frank. Anne and her family hid from the Nazis, beginning when Anne was 13 years old. She and her family were discovered, arrested, and sent to concentration camps when she was 15 years old.
During her years in hiding, Anne kept a diary, documenting daily life and her thoughts and feelings. She was a teenager living in extreme and terrifying circumstances, which undoubtedly influenced her perspective. But in most ways, she was still a child, with limited knowledge and experience beyond her home, her school, her family and friends.
As a child, she wrote enduring words of wisdom and insight that have been and continue to be shared around the world. Her words remind us that understanding, awareness, and intelligence take time to develop, but they are not uniquely linked to age. Wisdom is gained when we listen and observe, believing in the power of hope and kindness; when we are steadfast in our values but open to possibilities, respectful of differences, willing to connect, eager to share.
Today, June 12, is Anne Frank’s birthday. Today’s cuppa celebrates her spirit and the wisdom of children. There are many lessons they can teach us, if we are ready to learn.
“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams
In the 1960s, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted experiments to gain insight into the concepts of obedience and conformity.
In these experiments, participants (volunteers) were told that the study was intended to gather information about learning. The participants were instructed to deliver electric shocks when their “learning partner” made a mistake. These shocks would increase in intensity each time a new mistake was made.
However, the electric shocks weren’t real, and the experiment wasn’t what it appeared. Although they didn’t know it, the participants were actually the ones being evaluated. Their “learning partners” were part of the evaluation teams conducting the experiments. Also included in these teams were the people wearing white lab coats and giving directions.
What is the most well-known outcome of these experiments? That most of the participants continued giving electric shocks all the way to the point where it appeared that their learning partner was no longer responsive. These were ordinary people who wouldn’t otherwise be considered violent or evil; they were simply doing as they were told.
The implications are stunning. What’s not as widely acknowledged about these experiments, however, is that there was a percentage of people who did not comply, especially in situations in which the experimental environment and instructions were modified.
What were the greatest influencers of outcomes at both ends of the spectrum? Whether the participants believed that the person giving instructions had both the authority to give the directions and the willingness to accept responsibility for the outcome. Additionally – significantly – if the participants and their learning partners were in the same room or were connected in some way during the experiment (either remotely, via telephone, or physically, by holding hands), the participants became much less willing to continue with the shocks.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this experiment these past few days. I’m interested in why we say yes, why we are inclined to agree and follow and comply, even when we know that doing so could cause harm. But I’m equally interested in why we say no.
What is the spark, the catalyst that causes us to choose direction? What makes us decide which path to take?
Some people scoff at Mr. Rogers and the kindness he represents. I’ve heard him called weak, unrealistic; a passive idealist, simple and boring. I get it; if you’re looking for quick, decisive action, the kind of action that might be necessary to ensure safety and order, to deliver speedy results and unequivocal outcomes, Mr. Rogers isn’t the first name that comes to mind.
But – he’s beloved. Countless people find comfort, wisdom, guidance and strength in his words and example – and in the voices and choices of so many others like him – especially in times of conflict, pain, sadness, worry.
There are reasons why we turn to these leaders, why we listen to them and consider them to be role models. Personally, I believe it’s because we recognize (sometimes consciously, sometimes instinctively) how deeply we are influenced by empathy and trust. We know that vulnerability requires strength and that there is power in human connection.
Most of us want to choose the path that ends with a good outcome. I’m grateful for those who help me see my options as I figure out which direction I want to go.
I’m a Dolly Parton fan.
I don’t actually know much of her music. The most popular tunes, yes, and I like them – especially Jolene. But I’m not familiar with much else.
I’ve seen two of her best-known movies many, many times. 9-5 influenced my perspective on corporate culture. Even though it was made decades ago, I still find little nuggets of business wisdom in it each time I watch. Doralee is a heckuva lot smarter than people give her credit for. Steel Magnolias? Always a good option when you want to curl up with a lovely, bittersweet story that has some really funny moments. The “laughter through tears” lines is one of Truvy’s best.
But – while I respect her musical talent and enjoy her acting, that’s not what I appreciate the most about her.
What I admire, what makes me a fan, is her authentic hopefulness. She radiates genuine positivity. She’s not blindly cheerful; she knows the difference between the good, the bad, and the ugly, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. But she chooses to focus on constructive outcomes.
For example, her Imagination Library, which mails a book to children every month from birth to kindergarten. As an extension of this work, she recently started a weekly bedtime story video series, Goodnight With Dolly. If you’re finding it hard to sleep these days, I recommend tuning in. Her voice is sweet and comforting, and the books she reads are hopeful and kind. Even if you don’t have any young-uns in the house, I’m sure you’ll be welcome.
She’s also self-aware, emotionally intelligent. She knows who she is, her skills and talents, but also her flaws. She doesn’t hide who she is, and she knows that she’s not perfect. That type of sincerity is refreshing.
When acknowledging her flaws, she often uses humor. It’s not directed at others; she points it at herself, and there’s a kindness in her humor, an element of forgiveness. We laugh with her because we see ourselves in that moment. We share those same thoughts about our own flaws or the things we do, and we’re grateful for the chuckle instead of the judgment. Dolly’s laughing with us, not at us.
I just learned that Dolly released a new song, When Life Is Good Again. It’s intended to address the COVID-19 situation, but the underlying message of respect and love is universal. It’s a nice little something to go along with this morning’s cuppa, a reminder that goodness and kindness, trust and hope still exist; that caring about each other is an essential element in moving forward, and that each moment of doing so is worthwhile.
I find myself doing a lot of this these days: Yay! Oh no… and Hooray! Yikes… and Woo-hoo! Uh-oh…
I’m not unique in this; everybody I talk to has similar feelings. We’re living in times of extreme emotions.
Even if we shield ourselves from the news, avoid social media, stay away from the TV and internet, we can’t ignore the ups and downs of our own lives. For most of us, that now includes some type of impact on our jobs or our health (or both) – if not to us directly, then to someone we know, someone we love.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, my go-to comfort is a hug. I’ll take a hug, or I’ll give a hug. Or both.
It doesn’t fix things, but it does help. It centers me, slows me down, and reminds me to breathe. I stop thinking about what’s going on in my own head and, instead, focus on the person on the other side of the hug. In that moment, everything is better.
Right now, real hugs aren’t always a good idea. But the value of that kind of emotional connection hasn’t changed.
So, if you, like me, are feeling a little bit of emotional whiplash right now, caught between hope and worry, optimism and skepticism, courage and fear, this cuppa is for you. Come back whenever you need another one. I’m happy to share.
If you think about a U.S. military funeral, you probably think of Taps.
Taps originated as a bugle call to tell soldiers it was lights out, time to go to sleep. The 24-note Taps that we’re familiar with today originated from a Civil War bugle call called Extinguish Lights, which was a French tune. General Daniel Butterfield wanted something a little different, and so he and a brigade bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, revised it. Their version was made the official version after the Civil War.
This year, many of the traditional Memorial Day tributes have been cancelled. However, “Taps Across America” gives us a creative option to recognize those who’ve fallen in service to our country.
At 3:00 p.m. local time, you’re invited to sound Taps from your front yard, your balcony, your driveway – wherever you are. The idea is Steve Hartmann’s (of CBS Evening News). More details can be found at this link: https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/how-to-participate-in-steve-hartmans-taps-across-america/?fbclid=IwAR2nyvVVv2rAIor84_0Ivci21h96FLfV32-tQ0eIvUXy5z4GHaPvLfvhnCw
I don’t know how to play a bugle or a trumpet, so I won’t be able to sound Taps. However, I will step outside at 3:00 today and listen. Perhaps one of my neighbors will play. If not, I will still appreciate that moment, knowing that there are people elsewhere who are playing.
During that time, I’ll think about the meaning of those 24 notes. I’ll think about duty, and honor, and sacrifice. I’ll remember what today represents. And I’ll gratefully share in this collective spirit of thanks – of sincere, heartfelt respect and appreciation – for those who’ve given all.
Will Ferrell is making another funny movie!
This one’s called Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and will be available on Netflix in June. Rachel McAdams will also star.
Will and Rachel play Icelandic musicians. Their song is Volcano Man, and it appears to be exactly the wacky, hilarious stuff you’d expect from Will Ferrell. Here’s a link with more details, including a video clip of the song: https://nerdist.com/article/netflixs-eurovision-parody-trailer/
To accompany this news, I got out the Viking cuppa. As you can see, my choice is Mollie-approved. She’s a Viking at heart, especially when she’s protecting us from the squirrels.
CBS All Access is creating a new limited series based on Stephen King’s novel The Stand.
I read The Stand when I was in high school. It was my introduction to the world of Stephen King. Like many others, I was hooked – and for years, eagerly dove into each of his new books as soon as they were released. It was scary stuff wrapped in vivid adventures, the kinds of stories that created a rush of adrenaline and made you check under the bed (and in the closet and behind the curtains) before turning out the lights.
After my first son was born, however, I stopped wanting to read them. Becoming a parent changes the way you perceive fear. Every dangerous or terrifying scenario, even if only in a fiction novel, becomes a trigger for late-night worry and anxious overthinking. You empathize with imperiled characters in new ways. Monsters don’t seem as imaginary.
Then an interesting thing happened. As my children grew older, I found myself wanting to re-read some of my SK favorites. The Stand was one of them. Weirdly, I found comfort in the characters and the plot, despite the awful premise and the disturbing descriptions.
What changed? This time around, the fear didn’t take center stage. Instead, my attention shifted from the scare to the relationships and the resilience. The people and their perspectives, their experiences. The way they came together, and faced the impossible, and prevailed. I found hope in the story.
I will watch the new series; I’m looking forward to it. The cast looks great (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail! Alexander Skarsgård as Randall Flagg!). It will be interesting to see a new take on the tale. But I won’t be tuning in for the fear. Fear is everywhere. Fear is easy.
I’ll watch because I want to see the true story. The one that inspires me because it speaks of tenacity, empathy, trust, and hope. Fear is the distraction. The true story is courage.
Some books stay with you long after you read them.
I read Gilda Radner’s book, It’s Always Something, many years ago. From time to time, I re-read it, always finding new things to laugh about or a fresh nugget of wisdom to mull over.
In the book, Gilda writes:
”Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
I like to start Mondays with those words – Delicious Ambiguity – in mind.
It’s comforting to know what to expect. But the flavor is found in the maybe, the possibly, the what if and the wow.
Here’s to a delicious week.