Combat Loneliness by Practicing Compromise

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

I get plenty of time to myself. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing. In our amazing era of customized entertainment options, it may have become too easy for family homes to devolve into a warren of disconnected recluses. Society laments increased loneliness and depression and often lays blame on technology and busy schedules for this growing sense of disconnectedness. But I blame selfishness and the ease with which we need not compromise.

Let me explain. For nearly two years, the lower level of our home was under construction. The hubs and I had this grand idea to completely renovate the space into an entertainment hangout for our kids.

During construction, most of which the hubs did himself, the kids and I lived our waking hours on the main level with–(gasp)–only one television. This meant all viewing decisions were made by polite compromise, heated debate or parental tyranny. I chose not to watch the evening news or Entertainment Tonight while making dinner, lest the youngsters think mom is drawn to politics, natural disaster and celebrity breakups. (Which I kinda am, but pretend not to be.)

But what our boys love more than watching television is playing video games. And this mind-numbing, thumb-frenzied activity was happening right under my upturned nose. I couldn’t wait for our basement to be finished so I could banish Super Mario from my main level kingdom.

And then it happened. The paint dried. The carpet was laid. And TWO televisions were installed in two rooms of our renovated lower level. The original plan called for only one TV in a movie room. But a friend suggested we add a second TV in an outer room so that guests could choose to play video games or watch different movies at the same time. Sounded reasonable. And better yet, the main level TV would be mine. ALL MINE!

Here’s the downside, so pay attention. I can now watch whatever I want whenever I want. I don’t ever have to sit through episodes of Arrow or watch Lego Batman’s endless attempts to save the world. No one needs to compromise anymore. We live in completely self-interested entertainment freedom.

So, for the sake of family togetherness, I force myself to switch off the main floor television, go downstairs, and spend screen time with my kids. I even flex my thumbs at driving a videogame version of my favorite sports car.

You see, left to our natural tendencies, we drift toward personal desires, toward that which resonates best with our own temperaments, beliefs and comfort levels. And I’m not just talkin’ TV shows here. The more opportunities we have to separate ourselves into completely like-minded groups, or be alone with our personalized diversions, the less opportunity there is to practice compromise or develop an appreciation for the longings of others. These perceived freedoms weaken relationships and lead to loneliness.

Our new basement is amazing. But I refuse to let its luxuries break down our family connectivity. In what areas of life should you consider compromise and resist self-interested isolation?


Thoughts on Living a Small but Full Life

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

It’s film and television award show season, and NFL playoff season, and soon to be the winter Olympic season. Those times when people with big lives make big news. Special people. Accomplished people.

As a child, I was told I could be anything. And I believed it. I’d watch television and see Olympians or ballerinas or senators (yes, senators) do big things. And I never thought for one second that living a big life was beyond my reach.

But as my backend drifts wide around the corner of middle age and begins to pick up speed and zoom downhill toward old age, I realize that most opportunities for a big life are behind me. If they ever really existed at all. And it’s not because I’m a failure at becoming anything special that I ponder the following question, “Why is a big life considered more special or more fulfilled than a small life?”

Frumpy-guts middle-aged moms, editorialists and street corner preachers all lament the impact of social media on our culture. How young people seek fame by broadcasting over-the-top details of their lives. But is it truly fame people seek? Or do some simply want a pat on the back? To feel a sense of accomplishment? Do we paint a picture of a big life because small lives are so often treated as less valuable?

I recall hearing author, Abraham Verghese once say that his parents believed he could only grow up to become one of four things; a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a failure. Is this what we teach our children? That a good life, a successful life, can only be made up of big accomplishments and lofty goals, and that anything less is failure? I may be guilty of this. And parents out there who push your kiddos too hard in sports, academics or performing arts may be guilty of this too.

I’m not suggesting we tell our kids, “don’t try” or “go ahead and settle for mediocrity.” I’m simply wondering if we should demonstrate more appreciation for smaller lives. Do we dare tell our children it’s okay to grow up to be “average?” Is that even allowed anymore?

In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, author Wendy Mogel notes how the culture seems to label children as either gifted or learning disabled. Any middle ground, any room for average, is disappearing and parents clamor to boost their kiddos onto the high achievement train before it leaves the station and their offspring are doomed to live small lives.

Well, guess what? A life filled with average activities like sewing a button on a shirt, preparing a home-cooked meal, walking the dog through the park, reading books, volunteering at homeless shelters or working at a job where you most likely won’t discover a cure for cancer, may be a small life–But it can still be a great life, a blessed life, an earnest life most worthy of living to its fullest.


God Loves You-So I’ll Try Not to Treat You Like You’re Stupid

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

I have what some may call an abrasive personality. I’m a loud talker, a loud laugher and someone who finds it near impossible to hide my feelings even if I don’t say a word. A sneer, frown, grin, a raised eyebrow or a loud guffaw all find ways to escape my face before I have time to think better of it. These behaviors are not always the best way to make friends or influence people. And there once was a time that I didn’t really care.

My belief was that if I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings, then any hurt feelings were not my fault. I’ve since learned this is an unacceptable way to function as a human being.

Obviously, we all curate our circles of friends who share our interests, sense of humor and values. But what about those outside those circles? What obligation do we have beyond common courtesy? (And yes, I’ve always been capable of common courtesy despite my abrasiveness.)

The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. But we are also called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Let’s just roll with the notion that our neighbor is every individual we encounter. But what of love? What does it mean to love others? To love all?

Some things I’ve learned about loving others:

  • Be quiet sometimes and let other people talk – even people you disagree with or think are stupid.
  • Try not to think all people are stupid.
  • When you do talk, be helpful, not condescending or rude (unless you are already friends and you’re certain your friends think sarcasm is funny).
  • Use your turn signals.
  • Don’t measure others by your own yardstick. So you’re amazing. But you probably got that way because somebody in your life gave you a hand up or some good advice. Pay it forward and help somebody else inch toward becoming as amazing as you.
  • Acknowledge life events like birthdays, promotions, births and deaths. A card, a gift, a simple note, or your presence at a party or a funeral tell people you care about them and what’s happening in their lives.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Make an effort not to hurt people’s feelings even if their feelings are too easily hurt and you’d rather just roll your eyes. And when you do hurt someone’s feelings, intentionally or unintentionally, because you’re insensitive or clumsy or clueless or just a loudmouth cranky-pants like me, say you’re sorry.

Lastly, here’s a tip I learned from a friend: When dealing with someone you don’t much enjoy, think to yourself, “This person is a miracle, a marvel and a wonder. God loves them and so should I.”

Somehow, reminding myself that all people matter to God helps me behave more like they also matter to me. And hopefully, better behavior will blossom into better feelings and make me less likely to roll my eyes when you talk.


The Lowdown on Lifelong Learning

Grandma Learns to Facetime. Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Grandma Learns to FaceTime at age 93. Photo by Sarah Dibbern

The holidays are over but my curiosity lingers. Conversations with other humans make me wonder, at what point in life do people decide they cannot learn anything new? Am I approaching that point? And can I avoid becoming suspicious of new-fangled ideas like online shopping or eating whole grains?

Some seem to believe their brains are at capacity, that no additional information or skills can be added to their mind/body databanks. Others simply scoff at any innovative ideas, methods or gadgets. Dedicated to the tried and true through and through.

But old dogs can learn new tricks. Advances in neuroscience research have revealed that mature brains are more capable of continued learning than once thought. But we sabotage our lifelong learning when we won’t invest the time it takes to learn, fear looking foolish when attempting to learn or simply believe we can’t learn.

As with most things, innate intelligence and skill can only take a person just so far. Even young people, who seem to excel at learning new things, need to develop good study habits, a strong work ethic and perseverance to learn truly marketable 21st century skills. Excellent students and high achievers are not merely smart. They are hard workers. They, like lifelong learners, must welcome challenge and prefer to push personal limits rather than settle into them.

But if people doubt their ability to succeed, then why would anyone, young or old, ever attempt to learn anything new? Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, writes about how mindset affects outcomes. She describes those with fixed mindsets who believe their intelligence is a fixed trait versus those with growth mindsets who believe their intelligence can continue to be developed.

Please, please, please let me be someone with a growth mindset lest I become flummoxed by future versions of direct deposit and microwave ovens.

I beg your pardon if you’re perfectly happy living life according to everything you’ve already learned years ago. But if this New Year is inviting you to learn a new skill, concept, method, recipe, language or habit, I support you. I encourage you. But, as with any typical New Year’s diet or exercise resolution, learning also takes commitment, a regular investment of time and belief in your ability to succeed.

I believe in you. Do you?