A tale of Language and Privilege
How do you define indigenous?
Each of us is a product of our background. In life, we often look for ideas and people that reinforce the way we think and thereby validate our values and beliefs. As a kid, my mom shared office space with several other women at her university. Together they worked on gender and diversity issues in education. The women my mother worked with self-identified as Chicana, Black, and Native American. The result is that from an early age, despite being a little white girl from a Colorado Ranching family, my exposure to other experiences and cultures started early. At the time, I didn’t know the difference; I simply saw strong, intelligent and passionate women who inspired me to be my own person.
Recent events and discussion about white privilege have led me to understand how this inclusive and intersectional experience of my childhood prepared me to be open to diverse ideas and probably led to my decision to study abroad in Madagascar in 1998, which is where I met my husband. This “tale of Language and Privilege” is an exercise in thinking, not an argument for or against the usage of the word indigenous. I invite you to read it, to think and to discuss.
De-Nile is a River in Egypt
This is a post is best read slowly and thoughtful with a cup of coffee or tea. When you finish take a moment to sit a enjoy and to be followed by a long moment of contemplation.
My look at the word “indigenous” is a look at semantics and language. At meaning and usage. At language and privilege.
Specifically, I would like to show you how I transitioned from seeing the word “indigenous” as a conscientious word to describe native peoples, to a word that instead highlights a history of White Privilege and Colonial Imperialism. Although not everyone will agree on intent, the way that Indigenous is generally applied to populations around the world also implies “primitive.”
This subject has been brought to us originally by a discussion I had a few years ago with my husband. When our discussion started, I was very very lost on a long ride down the River De-Nile. My guess is that most of my readers are probably also bobbing along on a raft that is not as sturdy as they once thought…
This conversation originally came to my attention after a discussion I had a few years ago with my husband. When our discussion started, I eventually found myself very very lost on a long ride down the River De-Nile. My guess is that most of my readers are probably also bobbing along on a raft that is not as sturdy or directed as they once thought…
My husband and I grew up several thousand miles apart, but in families that value respecting individuals and cultures for their face value. We don’t judge. We walk our own path.
He grew up in the Antanosy region of Madagascar. I grew up in the State of Colorado, in the United States. Despite the geographic distance in our upbringing, it is often surprising how much we think alike. At the same time, we have had very different life experiences. Sometimes these experiences mean that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes these experiences mean that we have experienced very different things. Racism. Sexism. And, the vestiges of Slavery and Colonialism.
Madagascar is just off the tip of South Africa and is on one of the trade routes from Europe to India. As a consequence, for many years ships with slaves, pirates, and various individuals intent on colonizing or just taking a break (for a few years or twenty), stopped off to settle and to terrorize in my husband’s hometown of Tôlanaro. A town that has two names, one used by the locals and one used by foreigners and given to it by the French (Fort Dauphin).
Because of the already diverse cultural heritage of the Malagasy, the people of the Antanosy region are long accustomed to the idea that not everyone looks the same. Because of the passing of Indian (from India), Asian, Middle Eastern, and East African peoples, walking down the street you can see people that are clearly of mixed heritage. Blue and green eyes, deep pool black eyes, tufts of blond hair, straight hair and curly hair can be found.
Certainly, the Antanosy tribe has a particular look, as do each of the 18 tribes in Madagascar, but historically, the Malagasy have not really been caught up in this idea of race. Foreigners are called Vazaha, which translates to “stranger” or “foreigner,” but not in a derogatory sense. Malagasy people simply consider themselves Malagasy rather than get overly caught up in origins and shades of skin color.
Growing up, my husband knew that some people were foreigners, but he didn’t know that racism existed. Some people were Vazaha, but people were people. And guests were to be honored in your home. Growing up in Tôlanaro, his parents were particularly interested in the foreigners that came to town, inviting them into their home, and learning as much as they could from the outside world. As far as my husband knew, guests and visitors were to be honored. And the color of your skin or the birthplace or birth status of your parents had little if anything to do with your personal value.
And then he moved to France.
In the last 15+ years, my husband has become well versed in racism, white privilege, imperialist thought, and every other repulsive thing that goes alongside. This essay is however not a pity party and I won’t get all the details, but I do want to share with you just enough that you can see how moving from Madagascar to France, changed his world view, forever.
I also want you to think about what his experience might have been if he had been white (say British or American white). Or if he had been a Black American coming to France. Let’s note during all of this that my husband has passed down through his family, French Nationality, so when arriving in France, his legal status never has been that of an immigrant. He arrived in France, legally, French.
Language and privilege: American versus African
When I was home in Colorado a few months ago, I had the honor of joining my mom’s book club. The members had just read a book by a contemporary Black American Author. He, like so many other Black Americans traveling to France (particularly Paris), thinks the French are not really racist because as Black Americans, they don’t experience the same racism they experience in the US. If you are reading this and you are a Black American, I want to you to think twice about what you experience in France.
For example, if my husband dresses in jeans, flip-flops, and an American flag t-shirt, and he speaks English, he can get into a fancy cigar club on the Champs Elysees, no problem because the doorman thinks he is AMERICAN. If he returns with his Senegalese friend (who parks a Maserati and Aston Martin in his garage in Miami) dressed in a suit jacket and nice jeans, but speaking French, they will be turned away from the same club, because they don’t meet the “dress code.”
In other words, they are guilty in the eyes of the doorman of being African and not French or American. Being rich doesn’t even make a difference, which is surprising to an American. Poor Americans rank higher than Rich Africans and French Africans in France. Ponder that.
Imperialism (usually White Capitalist Occidental People’s superiority complex)
Americans (both black and white) are known in France to be hard workers, but people of more recent African heritage (immigrants and born French alike) are not. Many white French consistently and publicly espouse the view of Africans as lazy. As uneducated. My nieces and nephews who attended a French school in the Seychelles arrived in France confronted by the assumption that they would be behind.
A few months after my arrival in France, I attended a CV workshop, on the recommendation of the French Employment office. The white French woman running the workshop started off by asking us to introduce ourselves. When I introduced myself as an American the woman responded, “Great! You shouldn’t have a problem getting a job, everyone knows that Americans are hard-workers, unlike Africans….” Um. Um. Ok. So Americans may be loud and impolite, but we work hard…
The aftershocks of colonialism and the imperial point of view, also continue to ripple through the United States. I grew up in Colorado. My mom’s family had been homesteaders around the turn of the century (1900). I grew up proud of my heritage and my family’s work ethic (I still am. Cowboys and Cowgirls are to be respected). We were tough, proud people.
As a child and as a young adult, road-trips often included visits to regional museums, which in an attempt at Grace, often focused on the people who had lived in the area before white (and black) settlers came to the region. Boulder had been home to the Arapahoe Indians and numerous streets, neighborhoods and even towns (Niwot) are named after local leaders and tribes. One of my favorite childhood storybooks was about Sacajawea and I knew plenty about the history of the Native Americans or American Indians that had lived in the region.
Museums cover the past. History is a study of the past. My experience (and I assume that of the majority of white and black Americans) was as though Indians were mythical romantic creatures of the past. We studied them in school. We visited heritage sites and museums. When I traveled to France, I was asked if Indians really wore headdresses and rode horses. My AP US History textbook (you know the same one that a conservative school board in Jefferson County, CO tried to ban because it is too LIBERAL) had a section titled the “Noble Savage.”
We studied dead Indians, but we never studied living ones. Well, I studied them, a bit, as part of my Unitarian Universalist 9th Grade-trip. We spent 10 days between the Navajo and Hopi Nations in New Mexico and Arizona. We stayed with homestay families. We took walks. We visited the longest operating Trading Post in the United States. We also visited the longest inhabited village in the Americas. Old Oraibi.
Maybe it was my own naivete, but the trip was still more like a trip to the past. I didn’t really stop to think about the separation of living American Indian society from mainstream (primarily white) American society. The people I met seemed more like ghosts from the past than living people. I was disconnected and I didn’t stop to consider what it must be like to be a First American, living amongst the vestiges of colonization. Getting up each morning and stepping out to be a part of “American” society.
I had a dear childhood friend with whom I spent hours playing after school. Our mothers were friends and had offices in the same building at the University of Colorado. At some level, I knew she was Indian, Navajo to be precise. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, she told me that the Navajo’s true name was actually “Diné” and that it meant “the people.” Navajo was actually a name given the tribe by an opposing tribe. I don’t recall it’s meaning, but it is not a complimentary name.
After this, for many years, in fact, I tried using the name Diné, but just about nobody, outside of people from the Four Corners region, has ever recognized the term. Many people, to my surprise, are not really even familiar with the term Navajo, and yet the Diné is one of the largest tribes remaining in the USA (of the 560+ that are recognized).
Despite our friendship, I never realized the implication of our diverging backgrounds until my husband and I started to discuss the word Indigenous. I frankly never thought to ask my friend about her experience growing up in Boulder. Never. I may have been raised in an open-minded, politically correct family, but I was still the recipient of white privilege and I had no reason to consider that her childhood experience was any different from mine.
I don’t remember how the subject came up, but I argued my point valiantly, for probably a week or more, before I finally saw it from my husband’s point of view. Growing up, I had been introduced to the terms Indian, American Indian and Native American. At the time indigenous referred to what I perceived to be semi-wild and innocent people still living in the bush in Australia, the Amazon, various islands or even parts of Africa. Aborigines. Bushmen.
And then I took a trip to British Columbia and went to the Royal Museum and I was astounded at the exhibit on Indigenous Peoples. As a student of Anthropology, I was in awe. Wow! I thought that the use of indigenous to describe Native Americans or American Indians was magnificent. Of course in ecology or plant biology, we talk about indigenous plants, so what better word, to call native peoples than “indigenous?” Or so I thought.
And then I took a trip to British Columbia and went to the Royal Museum. The museum had an in-depth and thoughtfully done exhibit on Indigenous Peoples. As a student of Anthropology, I found myself in awe and I left with a new perception and understanding of the word indigenous.
No longer did “we” need to worry about what “Native” and “American” meant, we should simply follow the step of the Canadians and call Native Americans or American Indians instead “indigenous peoples.” Of course in ecology or plant biology, we talk about indigenous plants, so what better word, to call native peoples than “indigenous?” Or so I thought.
And so, for the next 15 years or so, I proudly called Native Americans, “Indigenous peoples,” when I referred to them in conversation. Just as I did when talking about Pacific Islanders or the Kung! and others who suffered under the invasive regimes of Occidental Colonialism. Until that fateful day, in which my husband said, don’t use that word. I hate that word. “Indigenous” is a dirty, dirty, and demeaning word.
It gets complicated: implications of usage
I proudly paraded my open-mindedness until that fateful day, in which my husband said: “Don’t use that word. I hate that word. ‘Indigenous’ is a dirty, dirty, and demeaning word.” What? How? Why?
I tried to argue. I told my husband all the ways my usage of “indigenous” in fact demonstrated an open-minded and respectful usage. He told me I had a serious case of white-privilege. I was shocked. I was outraged. My own husband telling me — ME! — of all people that I was practicing imperialism in my speech absolutely scandalized me. And then I let it sit. And I started to think. And I started to question.
I felt feelings of shock and outrage. How could my own husband tell me — ME! — of all people that my speech and my thought process demonstrated my privilege and embraced imperialism. I felt scandalized. And then I let it sit. And I started to think. And I started to question. And I saw my privilege.
Think about the following countries and list off the ones which you personally think of supporting populations of indigenous peoples:
What qualifies a group of people as indigenous? Why have “indigenous” populations failed to embrace certain or many aspects of so-called “modern” society? What is the difference between a poor developing population and an indigenous population? The lines may not be clear cut, but hopefully, you can see what I am trying to demonstrate.
Why don’t we study “indigenous Koreans?” Or “indigenous Norwegians?” Why is it that the Maori are an “indigenous tribe,” but the Danish people are just…Danes? As an adjective, indigenous is indeed accurate to describe American Indians, but if we are going to call Indians “Indigenous” with a capital “I” then maybe we ought to also call those of European, Asian and African descent who live in the USA, “Invasive.” As we should anyone living in New Zealand or Australia, whose ancestors arrived sometime in the last 400 years.
Let’s look at the definitions of the two words according to our old friend Merriam-Webster:
1: produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment indigenous plants the indigenous culture
1: of, relating to, or characterized by military aggression
2: tending to spread especially in a quick or aggressive manner: such as of a non-native organism: growing and dispersing easily usually to the detriment of native species and ecosystems
“A non-native organism: growing and dispersing easily usually to the detriment of native species and ecosystems.” Are we talking about thistles? Or Colonialists? I can’t tell. As adjectives, indigenous and invasive are appropriate, but as nouns, especially proper nouns they are not. Why? Because it is the Invader who identifies the Indigenous as so.
The Imperialist Perspective
In other words, my white privilege, the same privilege, that never called me to question my girlfriend’s perspective growing up, led me to see the word indigenous in a very different light than my husband.
Growing up in Madagascar, my husband went out into a world in which he saw the unequal usage of the word indigenous. He saw that by classifying a population as Indigenous they suddenly become fragile and weak. Children to be protected by the laws and the money of dominant world powers.
Now, I acknowledge that indeed certain populations embrace the word indigenous and that there is value in the distinction “indigenous” makes when looking different groups around the world. Furthermore, many groups that choose to use the word “indigenous” do so in trying to make amends for previous wrongs.
At the same time, let us not forget that the individuals making these decisions still tend to come from positions of imperialist power and privilege.
You may not understand what I have shared with you today, you may even disagree, but I ask you to let it sit. Think about it. Contemplate it. And then think about how your experience and your perceptions may be different those that you encounter in your daily life. At work. At school. In the supermarket. How does our background or our origins influence our world view and how the world views us?
For further reading:
This post has turned out to be too much for me to bite off and finish today. The idea is rather complex and I let a stomach bug get the better of my efficiency goals for most of the day. I did get some satisfying professional work in. And I did eventually manage (barely) to get three kids off to bed. The 2-year-old finally falling asleep amongst a pile of sniffles and sobs just before 10 PM. (Dad is off training this week and she doesn’t see to understand.) But now, I find myself getting in my 30 minutes of writing just before 11 PM and suddenly it is actually 12:04 AM and I have yet to finish.
And so, I will introduce the concept to you today, even if I have to finish off the meat of my discourse tomorrow. The subject is yet another look at semantics and language. At meaning and usage. My focus is the word Indigenous. And how the use of Indigenous is evidence of White Privilege/Occidentalism. This subject has been brought to us originally by a discussion I had a few years ago with my husband. As you have probably noticed by now, my husband and I are both rather opinionated individuals. We both live very value driven lives, but we have had very different life experiences. Sometimes these experiences mean that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. In other words, my white privilege led me to see the word indigenous in a very different light than my husband.
Before I get into my story and the following discussion, I want you to read an article that came through my Facebook feed several times in the previous 24 hours. This article is responsible for reminding me in the shift in my understanding of the word Indigenous and the implications behind its usage.
And so, I have cut and pasted the body of today’s writings into a template for Day 21. And instead of reading me, your assignment for today is to read this article by Ijeoma Oluo and then come back and read my discussion tomorrow.
“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.”
Sunshine and exercise
There is nothing that makes me feel better than a little sunshine and exercise. Running is for me as effective, if not more effective than hiring a personal coach or a psychologist. I think that the majority of major personal revelations and professional problems that I have solved on a run, a bike ride or a hike in the mountains is probably close to 80% over my lifetime. I am not sure why it is, but the same problems that can cause insomnia, seem to be magically resolved when my feet hit the pavement. It’s almost as if my hippocampus is powered by gears attached to my leg muscles!
Not only do I solve my problems when I exercise, the more I exercise the stronger and the happier I feel. Physical fitness contributes to mental fitness. And yet, physical fitness is one of the easiest things to let slide when the going gets a little bumpy. Sometimes it is easier to soothe (food, alcohol, Netflix on mind numbing repeats), but soothing doesn’t do much more than soothe. It doesn’t solve problems and can, in fact, lead to worse problems in the form of a food or alcohol hangover or just plain exhaustion from watching Spartacus until 2 AM…
Most of my life I have been relatively physically fit, more so at certain times than others. That said, I have never really set goals. In my early 20s, I had a membership to a rock club and that involved some goal setting. Climbing routes are based on ratings, and I knew that to be strong enough to climb outdoors, I had to get over the 8s and 9s to the 10s and 11s. The time in my life in which I was climbing, running, working out at the gym and commuting my bike were probably the fittest years of my life. I could not only climb, I could pull up and I could kick butt. This year, my goal is to be that fit, but at age 40.
- Physical Fitness Goals 2017 (age 40)
- Running — this is a three-tiered goal:
- Right now I can run 5k in 30 minutes or 9.7 kph. My goal is to do 5k in 25 minutes or 12k in 60 minutes.
- To achieve this I want to run 3 days a week. Two shorter runs (Monday and Thursday) and a longer one on Saturday.
- I would like my Saturday run to consistently be 10k.
- Cross Training:
- 2 x per week: Musculation (as they say in French) or Weight Training: I need to do a weight training workout twice per week
- Daily: each month I will set a goal. For the month of April, it is 300 squats per day.
- Climbing/Bouldering: They opened a studio in Bayonne. I intend to check it out!
- Cycling: I will cycle one time per week (road or MTB).
- I want to be able to do 10 pull-ups (which means I could maybe climb a 10 or 11 route once again…)
- Yoga & Flexibility: yoga just makes me feel yummy and also a little bit like a superhero. I have done yoga off and on most of my life. My first memory of yoga is from attending classes at the North Boulder Recreation Center with my grandmother when I was off from school at around age 4. I remember that by the time I was 8 years old, I was impressed that my grandmother was more flexible than me. My first real yoga practice started at CU-Boulder when a girlfriend and I would get up twice a week for a 7 am class. Over the years I have done yoga off and on, sometimes at home, sometimes in a studio. I adore adore adore CorePower Yoga (hot yoga) back in Boulder.
- Running — this is a three-tiered goal:
When I moved to France, the first person I met and the first friend I made happened to be a yoga teacher. Zoe of Bloom Yoga is the first yoga teacher to kick my butt (very nicely). Well, actually, Zoe didn’t kick anything, but she did show me I could do things that I didn’t think I could do. From balancing on my hands/elbows in the Crow pose, to doing a headstand. I really never thought that I could do a headstand in which you use your abs to pull you up and hold you straight, but Zoe taught me how. And now, less than a year after my last son was born, and after several months of following Allison Westfahl’s Core Envy book, I can again do a headstand (will try and upload a video)!
And so, my last Physical Goal for 2017 is to make yoga part of my life as a regular home practice. I also commit to practicing yoga for at least 30 minutes 3 times per week with the goal of attending a class or extending that practice to an hour or more at least once per week. I know I will feel amazing!
“Whether we have happiness or not depends on the seeds in our consciousness. If our seeds of compassion, understanding, and love are strong, those qualities will be able to manifest in us. If the seeds of anger, hostility and sadness in us are strong, then we will experience much suffering. To understand someone, we have to be aware of the quality of the seeds in his consciousness. And we need to remember that his is not solely responsible for those seeds. His ancestors, parents, and society are co-responsible for the quality of the seeds in his consciousness. When we understand this, we are able to feel compassion for that person. With understanding and love, we will know how to water our own beautiful seeds and those of others, and we will recognize seeds of suffering and find ways to transform them.”
- Being Grounded:
Most of my life I have experienced a strange dichotomy; when the shit hits the fan, I tend to be as cool as a cucumber. I can see right away what needs to be done to provide the most effective triage or pull off the show without anyone ever knowing that something was amiss. At the same time, when my close relations (my son, my husband, my mother) do something that angers me, I can lose that cool with the flip of a switch. I have never been proud of this ability of mine, but I have discovered in the last year, that it is not only emotionally uncomfortable, but it is also physically uncomfortable. It makes my head hurt and my heart race. And I probably look like someone who is going to blow a gasket. And so, I pledge, I set the goal this year, to learn to keep my cool and talk it through later. I need to find a way to ground myself when the switch has been flipped. Maybe it is meditation, maybe it is awareness, maybe it is setting the goal here in front of you, publicly.
2. Finding Connection:
Some people hate Facebook. Some people can’t help Facebook. I adore Facebook, I am full of gratitude for Facebook. Why? Because I am an extroverted shy person. Yes. You read that right. I charge my batteries by social interaction, and yet, I am terrified to interact socially. I am always afraid (and I have been since I was a kid) of bothering people. And so, I give you my number or my email and I wait for YOU to call or write me. If you call me, and I get distracted (which is easy for me to do), then I am embarrassed to call you back, because, well, it’s been 3 weeks. And then I never call.
And so, Facebook makes my life fuller. I am so excited when someone from my past finds me and connects. I love watching your children, your dogs, your car problems, and seeing how our “core being” really stays the same after all these years. I’ll use an example, there was a young New Yorker who joined our staff at the Boulderado years ago. At first, his New Yorker attitude kind of got on the nerves of our Boulder groove, but after awhile, folks couldn’t stay annoyed at someone who had so much love of life, a twinkle in his blue eyes, and a perpetual sense of humor.
I haven’t seen him in person in a good 15 years but found him on Facebook a few months ago and I haven’t been disappointed. Despite the ups and downs, car problems, you name it, everything he posts makes me laugh. I have to control myself from commenting all the time because I don’t want to be that weird stalker from the past. Anyhow, I digress. So back to my goal of connection. This year I pledge to let people in my life know that they matter to me. I pledge to let go of my fear of “bothering” people and instead focus on showing people they matter. I have ended up doing “career services” writing resumes and LinkedIn
This year I pledge to let people in my life know that they matter to me. I pledge to let go of my fear of “bothering” people and instead focus on showing people they matter. I have ended up doing “career services” writing resumes and LinkedIn profiles because it gives me so much pleasure to help people find their inner light and shine it on the world.
How will I achieve this goal? Well, I will start small. First I am going to call my Aunt(s) from time to time. Just like I used to call my grandmother. And then from there, I am going to write a note every week. A hand-written note so, between now and next year, I plan to write 52 notes “petit mots” to share with my world the things that make me smile. And I hope, that by next year I will feel more connected with stronger personal relationships and feel less like a Facebook stalker. 😉
3. Visualization and Gratitude Practice:
I am going to continue a daily practice of gratitude, thinking concretely about all that has blessed me and my family and friends. I will visualize this gratitude love and light going out into the world, and creating a richer fuller world not just for me, but for everyone. We live in an amazing world, filled with amazing people and amazing opportunity. I set the goal to continue to water the good seeds. To create, to manifest spiritual, physical, mental and financial wealth and richness for all of us.
I set the goal to meditate daily. At least 5 minutes. And once per week for 30 minutes. The times in my life that I have had the most clarity and had the greatest ability to tackle life’s little ups and downs have been when I had a regular meditation practice. Having kids, especially little ones that get up at 6 AM to pee, makes this a bit of a challenge. That said, for the last year or so I have been using the Breathe app on my phone. Many of the meditations are only 5 or 6 minutes long. There is one called “Lion Mind” that I am particularly fond of. When I am tired and unfocused when I feel the world is all rushing in to crush me or when I forget to apply my oxygen mask first, I have found that even a 5-minute meditation can be as restorative as a good night’s sleep. It. Is. Amazing.
You might be wondering why meditation is not under my spiritual goals, it could be, but for me (and for science), meditation has been shown to have the power to change the way we think. Meditation and prayer can be spiritual practices, but they are also mental practices. Personally, I am easily distracted. Too often I am like a dog chasing a tennis ball, and not like an owl keeping guard on my neighborhood. To be a good master of my own destiny and to be a compassionate spouse and partner, to be an effective and loving parent, I need to transform my dog mind into an owl mind. Which takes me to my next goal.
2. Effectiveness & Efficiency:
Life’s a funny dichotomy. I can plan something from top to bottom, set business goals and then live my personal life haphazardly. This is definitely a consequence of applying the oxygen mask to others around me first and so a major goal for me this year is to be effective in my personal life. Honestly, I am not 100% sure what this goal looks like in implementation, but my intent is that I want to be able to cross items off of my personal and family care list, to feel less like my life controls me and more like I control my life. To stop and make sure I have what I need before I run out the door (and back in 3 times). To actually make it to the grocery store with my list in hand. To declutter our house and my mind! Perhaps this entails daily or weekly goal setting on the home front.
3. Grammar in English and French:
After three years in the French school system, my son can both out grammar me and out speak me. My spoken French isn’t bad, but honestly, I have never cared much for grammar and at this point in my life it is starting to get a bit embarrassing. J’ai honte que je fasse encores trops de fautes quand je parle et quand j’écris le français. Même en anglais, je ne sais pas biens les règles de grammaires. I know intuitively what is correct and what is incorrect, but I don’t know know the rules.
This year I will study my French grammar and refresh my English grammar. If I wish to be an effective writer, speaker, storyteller, copy editor and proofreader, then I better mind my commas and my gerunds. I certainly don’t want to just Eat, Shoot & Leave. Hee hee!
Physical…back tomorrow with my physical goals …
I started my day with the intention of writing for 30 minutes and goal setting this morning, while I drank a cup of black coffee and the munchkins were still in PJs, content to watch something on Netflix. The Universe had another plan in-store, as I quickly realized when my nearly new (Christmas Present 2016) Macbook kept crashing after I logged in. I followed the instructions for a safe restart on the Apple website and finally had to submit a ticket to support. After about 30 minutes on the phone, being walked through various diagnostics, Apple support kindly had me reinstall my OS.
Deep breathing and a nice gratitude practice got me through it all with relatively little distress. I don’t generally store anything on my computer itself, everything is “in the cloud,” so I was not particularly worried about data loss; however, I was worried about a working computer. When you work remotely, sending off your computer to get fixed for two weeks is not exactly ideal! Apparently, reinstalling an OS is quite time to consume, so finally, around 7 PM this evening I was finally able to login. Whoop! Happy Dance! Not only did it work, but I was delighted to be greeted by the same tabs that I’d left open in Chrome and Safari when I signed off last night. As far as I can tell, nothing has been lost.
I don’t know exactly what happened or why, but Support thinks that it may have been an update to an App. My computer requested to install some updates when I shut down last night and since the issue seemed to happen after I logged in (not when I turned my computer on), my contact thought it likely that an App/update is probably to blame. This means that tomorrow I’ll have to look through my Apps and see if any of the are known to break computers.
But for now, I find myself here at 10:20 PM after the kids are in bed, with a cup of tea at my side, squeaking in a few goals and my daily dose of writing. I think one goal I may need to have, is to figure out what I need to do to implement a backup plan for working if my laptop goes out…ha!
My 2017 Goals center on being “my best self.” “You can help others more by making the most of yourself than in any other way,” writes Wallace Wattles in the Science of Getting Rich. Or as they say, put your oxygen mask on first, before helping those around you. This is a difficult challenge for many of us, especially for moms. It is so easy for moms to get caught up in making sure everyone else around me has on their oxygen mask that sometimes I forget to even breathe. And it is not much better when I am working, the desire to put my best foot forward and serve my clients, means that it is all too easy to find myself working at 10 PM or skipping my run, to get something finished. And this needs to come to an end.
There are three categories of goals and one overarching goal, which I have already mentioned. My overarching goal is to create an income stream that allows me express my desires and achieve the function of which I am capable, and provide opportunity for those around me.
- Grounded: Most of my life I have experienced a strange dichotomy; when the shit hits the fan, I tend to be as cool as a cucumber. I can see right away what needs to be done to provide the most effective triage or pull-off the show without anyone ever knowing that something was amiss. At the same time, when my close relations (my son, my husband, my mother) do something that angers me, I can lose that cool with the flip of a switch. I have never been proud of this ability of mine, but I have discovered in the last year, that it is not only emotionally uncomfortable, but it is also physically uncomfortable. It makes my head hurt and my heart race. And I probably look like someone who is going to blow a gasket. And so, I pledge, I set the goal this year, to learn to keep my cool and talk it through later. I need to find a way to ground myself when the switch has been flipped. Maybe it is meditation, maybe it is awareness, maybe it is setting the goal here in front of you, publicly.
- Meditation: I set the goal to meditate daily. At least 5 minutes. And once per week for 30 minutes. The times in my life that I have had the most clarity and had the greatest ability to tackle life’s little ups and downs have been when I had a regular meditation practice. Having kids, especially little ones that get up at 6 AM to pee, makes this a bit of a challenge. That said, for the last year or so I have been using the Breathe app on my phone. Many of the mediations are only 5 or 6 minutes long. There is one called “Lion Mind” that I am particularly fond of. When I am tired and unfocused, when I feel the world is all rushing in to crush me or when I forget to apply my oxygen mask first, I have found that even a 5 minute meditation can be as restorative as a good night’s sleep. It. Is. Amazing.
- French: After three years in the French school system, my son can both out grammar me and out speak me.
Time’s up for the day…I will be back tomorrow. My goal is to set at least three goals for each category. Don’t worry, I’ll get the best of Murphy yet!
As I sit here on Easter morning, I realize that it is rather appropriate to have my 40th Birthday on Easter. Particularly, in consideration of all the navel-gazing and goal setting, I have been up to for the last few weeks. Abundance. Fertility. Re-birth. Kismet.
I don’t personally ascribe to one particular religion. Growing up surrounded by a mix of freethinkers, humanists, Buddhists, Christians and Native American tradition, I have always been impressed by the symbolism and the concordance and parallelism in world religions. There are many tales of the origins of Easter and at the most pragmatic level, it makes sense that in spring, humans would celebrate rebirth and fertility.
Personally, with a strong founding in the Christian tradition, I appreciate the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and rebirth. I won’t get into my personal interpretations of the Bible, you’ll have to wait another 40 years before I write about that, but I will say that I do think the symbolism contained within, is something to be meditated upon. There is always hope. There is always a path of light through the darkness.
The idea that I like most in Christianity, is the idea of being of service to our fellow humans. Buddhism, which is the religion I know second best, also has this principle. I think that the ability to be of service to others, may, in fact, be the ultimate key to happiness. Gratitude and achievement as I have discussed already, also contribute to feelings of happiness and satisfaction, but there is something magical about the act of being of service to our fellow humans.
When we see our fellow humans fully engaged in being of service, we may say that they are being Christlike or that they are expressing the Bodhisattva within. I once had the pleasure to listen to Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh give a talk about the Bodhisattva within all of us. He pointed out that many people think that only saint like individuals, such as Mother Theresa, can be Bodhisattvas, but in fact, each and every one of us has the capacity. Indeed, when we focus on watering the good seeds, when we focus on being of service, when we take our focus off of “me” and put it out to the world, we can all experience the act of being Christlike.
When I worked for the Colorado Haiti Project, one of my mentors and my first travel partner to Petit Trou de Nippes, Don, was the first who introduced me to this idea of service from a Christian perspective. Don did not go to Haiti out of charity, he went in the spirit of service to his brothers and sisters in Haiti, and in giving service, he received in return the love and the spirit of connection to humankind. Don often said that the service provided to him by his experiences and relationships in Haiti significantly outweighed anything that he had given.
Many people think that Christ asks us to give charity and many people see giving charity simply as sending money or gifts to people who have less than they do. However; if you look at it from a perspective of Service, your experience becomes very different. Indeed, you may realize that the people to whom who wish to give charity, in fact, live very rich lives. They may have want of material needs, even food, and clean water, but they are rich. Conversely, there are those who are rich in material goods, while experiencing extreme poverty inside. And then there are those of us who are somewhere in between.
I will try to explain this another way. When Winston was a toddler, I felt like I was not an active participant in society. I spent too much time at home with just one other person, Winston. I decided I needed to get out and do something. I’d always enjoyed spending time with elderly people and after the death of my maternal grandmother, I was missing our weekly phone calls. This led me to volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels (MOW). I thought this would be a good way to help out homebound elderly people with a hot meal. This is what they advertise, but what I learned is that through just a simple interaction of even just a minute of conversation between two humans, so much could be shared. Some people see MOW as a simple act of charity, of giving food to those in need, but it is so much more. MOW provides a true service to both its clients and to its volunteers.
My regular route was just one day per week on Wednesday. I had about 14 regulars, many of whom lived in an affordable housing apartment complex for seniors. I had a young man who was a paraplegic from a car accident, but who insisted on living independently. His body may have given out, but his spirit was full of light and laughter. I had an elderly man who was a WWII veteran who dressed every day in black jeans, thick black glasses (think the 1950s), a crisp white shirt and a turquoise bolo tie. Herbert. He always had a joke and smile to share. Another was an elderly woman who had been born deaf attended Helen Keller’s school, she was thrilled that Winston and I knew a few signs, even if we couldn’t have a conversation. Yet another woman had lived her entire life Louisana, she often had a pot of collard greens simmering on her stove, but I think ordered MOWs because she was lonely. Her son had moved her to CO a few years before to be close to his family, but they worked too much and she had left all her friends behind. One house I visited was a Lafayette original. The woman’s family had been original settlers in Lafayette, her house had once stood almost alone in a neighborhood that was now surrounded by houses.
At first, I was concerned Winston coming with me would be a hindrance, but my people loved Winston. Our smiling faces at their doors brought a little bit of sunshine into lives that were primarily homebound. If it was super cold or windy and I left him in the car, sometimes they would insist that I at least roll down his window so they could blow him a kiss and a wave. When Winston started preschool, folks were seriously disappointed not to see his big blue eyes at their door each week.
In the minute it took to ring a doorbell, open a door and take a meal inside, I learned the histories the likes and dislikes, the medical problems, the dreams and stories of my clients. I learned to tell when they were feeling good or when something bad had happened. Once, I could tell that my WWII veteran was a little dazed, I called the MOW supervisor and told her he was a little off. He’d told me he was ok, but my gut knew he was different. The supervisor went and visited and called the medics to come check him out. He was in the process of suffering some kind of progressive stroke when I saw him he was just “out of it.” But, if I had not stopped by that day at noon, he would have died alone that night. Instead, he was around for a few more happy years, regaling his MOW drivers and his neighbors with stories and jokes.
In the end, I will never forget the several years I volunteered for meals-on-wheels. My heart swells every time I think of the people I met and I have so much gratitude for this program that brings not only physical nourishment to the bellies of homebound seniors (and the disabled) but most importantly spiritual nourishment. Many volunteers have been with the program for years, and if you find a moment to speak with them, their experiences will mirror mine. And they will mirror Don’s experience in Haiti. True service is a two-way street and it is much more than charity. True service is an exchange and it is the basis for genuine human connection and happiness.
And so, I invite you this Easter to find abundance through giving or sharing the act of service. If you have a need. If you are lonely. If you are sad or depressed. If you lack connection. Don’t ask for something to come to you or to take away your pain. Instead, look and see how you can be of service to another human. And in this exchange, I guarantee you will find your own suffering diminished. And, if you have a life that is already full of joy, then I ask you to spread that joy and share it through service.
God Bless. Namaste.
I love you. Go in peace.
Hello, Dear Readers!
You know you are living big if sometimes you drop a ball. Friday, I certainly got in my 30 minutes of writing, but it was client work. Saturday, I took a day of rest.
Please enjoy my post for the 16th instead. I spent an hour on it. 😉
Goals and Stepping out of your Comfort Zone
I had some interesting feedback on my post yesterday, from friends and family that have seen me as a goal setter and a goal getter. Inspiring even in my ability to do so. It is true, I can talk a good talk. And I have had a vision. I have always had a fairly good sense of the direction that I should be going. And I have an idea of what I need to do to get there…
You will note that I put “should” in italics. Why? Because should is not really a real goal. It is fulfilling someone else’s expectation. As a young person, I went to University because it was what I should be doing. I studied anthropology because I’d heard “do you what you love and you will find success.”
Growing up my family was comfortable. We had a nice home in the mountains outside of Boulder, my father had built much of it with his own hands. My mother had a secure life and work at the University. My grandparents were never far (Boulder and Steamboat). I had a small extended family, an older brother than always came bearing gifts (watermelons, ice cream, and truck stop oddities) and I never wanted for anything. I never knew hunger or poverty, except in tales. I saw divorce, but I never witnessed it personally. I saw death, but with older family (grand and great-grandparents) it was a natural progression for loved ones who had lived good lives and been loved.
And so, I have moved my life in a direction, a safe direction. And I have met with relative success, in the relative security of a life lived on the hard work of my ancestors and my fellow Americans. I have been lucky and blessed.
It takes more than intentions to breakout…
As I wrote about in my piece on Turning Points a few weeks ago, after a time, I found myself content, but secure. I started to be more intentional with my life. And, I suppose this in a sense has been an introduction to the satisfaction of goal setting and finding both happiness and success. However, I have to confess that despite setting intentions, my actions have still often been more “go with the flow” than visualizing and following the actual steps to achieve a certain goal. I have followed more of a “what if” and a “what the hell” method than a first I need to do A, then B, then C to achieve X.
I realize a lot of what I am talking about here may just sound like a bunch of semantics and plays on words, but words and semantics are important. There is a difference between making a decision and making a choice. A decision is final. A choice can be changed. If I decide that I like strawberry ice cream, I will always order strawberry ice cream. If I make a choice to order strawberry ice cream today, maybe tomorrow I will order chocolate.
Goals vs Intentions
To me, a goal is something that I want to achieve, whereas an intention aligns with my values. When I divorced in 2011, I decided that I valued my happiness and that I need to break out of my comfort zone and start to stepping into things that caused me fear and uncertainty. This has indeed brought me great happiness. It has also opened up the possibility for me to experience great and abundant gratitude. I think that those who have watched me and who have been inspired by my actions have watched me step into my fears and out of my comfort zone.
However, you have not yet seen me set specific goals. This is truly a new ground for me. Let me tell you a story that shows the distinction between living in comfort and stepping out of your comfort zone. A distinction that I have learned with the help of my husband.
The tale of two children: one Malagasy and one American
I’ll continue with my story that I started above. I grew up in a comfortable family. Living in Colorado we were outdoorsy and naturally a bit athletic. I adored going to watch the games of my older cousin who was a local basketball champion and I’d grown up shooting baskets on my patio. When I was 12 I decided to join the basketball team and my junior high school. At first, I was pretty good because I was naturally tall and I was an accurate shot, but as the years passed (only three to be precise), the other girls started by passing me in skill and I spent more time on the bench. I was frustrated that I was not very good at dribbling. How did I address this challenge? I didn’t decide to practice more at home or ask for coaching with my dribbling. Nope, I just gave up. I quit.
Just around the time that I quit, a few oceans and time zones away there was a boy. By the time he had reached his teenage years, he had experienced several nationwide famines, times in which the only things his family had to eat were rice or vegetables his mother had grown in their garden. He shared his table with not only his brothers and sisters (there were six of them in total), but also cousins, and other extended family. His parents were fortunate to have good work, so he generally had food and shoes, but many people he knew did not. His mother always set an extra seat at the dinner table, even when guests were not expected that she called “a seat for Jesus,” because you never knew when someone might come by and certainly they would need to eat.
This boy was the youngest of his brothers and sisters. He was also the smallest and he had learned to fight for what he wanted. He saw things, he set goals and he achieved. He also loved basketball. By the time he was 16 he was the youngest on the regional team that made it to the champions. And then during their big game, he got clobbered by a guy who could slam dunk. He could have quit. He could have said, I am too skinny, too short, there is no way I will ever be able to slam dunk… But no, he decided that he would beat this guy. He would not only be able to slam dunk, he would be able to jump so high his head could hit the basket.
And so, he took to training: he did squats, he ran, he lifted weights and he practiced jumping. Two years later at the next match up, not only could he slam-dunk he could out play the big dude. And, if I started to list off the challenges he has faced and overcome through serious goal setting, from the time he was born to the time he arrived in France in 2000 with less than 200 French francs in his pocket, you would be seriously impressed. This young man, is now my husband. His inspiration and success have shown me what you can do if you set a goal, visualize it, figure out your plan of action, and set-it in motion.
So look out world, because now we are a team.
Achieving goals and setting goals is not easy. First you need to be honest with your current situation. Next you need to know what you want to achieve and you need to be able to visualize how you are going to get where you want to be. It takes more than simple intention to achieve big. It takes goal setting, strategy, follow through, and intention. Achieving goals requires one to step out of your comfort zone and risk failure, but also risk success. Real success and satisfaction come from hard earned goals. Or as they say, nothing worth having is easy to get.
Do you set goals?
I will confess that I have never been much of a goal setter. My husband is just the opposite. He is, in fact, the one that pointed this out to me quite recently. At the time I vehemently denied his accusation.
Doesn’t everyone set goals? How could I not set goals?
The reality is that I have set intentions, but the practice of setting rock hard, concrete and specific goals seems to have evaded me over the years. I am not sure if this is an issue of nature versus nurture or perhaps just a unique personality quirk.
My mom may have noticed this when I was younger, as I do recall her sharing with me a template that she used with her graduate students. The template laid out how to set and achieve short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. It was an excellent template. Not only did it ask you to layout your goals, it also asked you to list who could help you achieve your goals and to think about who or what could negatively impact your ability to achieve your goals.
I completed the worksheet because I like worksheets. I also like tests and questionnaires. I like to fill things out. I like information and writing and feeling like I have accomplished something. And so, I completed my mom’s worksheet. I felt like I accomplished something. And then I went on my merry way. I didn’t commit to achieving the goals that I had set…maybe I didn’t actually complete the worksheet. To be honest, it is all a bit fuzzy.
There is something about turning 40 that does cause one to look back and assess, to gaze at the navel a bit more than usual. As I mentioned in another post, one mistake that I have made in my life is not doing things because of a fear of failing. Another miscalculation that I believe I have made, is not understanding the relationship between setting goals and having a sense of achieving success.
As someone that appreciates metrics and measures of success in the world, this is a little bit embarrassing to confess. How exactly, did I think I could measure my success if I didn’t have a starting point and an ending point by which to measure it? How can I measure my success or failure in achieving a goal, if I haven’t exactly HAD a goal?
Although I have done many interesting things, learned many interesting things, created friends, won influence, achieved good grades, and so on…I have lacked the feeling of being successful. At first, when I started to study the practice of gratitude, I thought that perhaps my lack of successfulness was related to a lack of self-gratitude. I now realize it is in fact due to a lack of setting goals. By vaguely moving forward based on my interests and desires, I have certainly done a lot; however, without knowing if I have achieved or missed the mark when it comes to specific goals, I have not had a personal metric by which to measure my own success. Oops.
And so, my intention for my 40th year is not just to “set intentions,” such as stepping into my fear but to actually set GOALs. Clear concrete goals. Goals that I can visualize and imagine achieving. Goals that can be used to actually measure success or failure. Or that can be reassessed and modified based on lessons learned. This is quite exciting.
Lost in Translation
Traveling overseas or to areas that are geographically and culturally distinct can be both exciting and surprising. I mentioned a few days ago that what I found most surprising when I studied abroad in Madagascar, was that the Malagasy were just like me. In other words, their ultimate, basic human curiosities, interests, etc. were the same. Cultural traditions, taught value systems, religious traditions, celebrations and so on are, as we know, often quite distinct.
Living in France I have gained further insight into the differences between cultures that often arise from distinct languages and cultural traditions. The first is that after spending some quality time with a different country’s bureaucracy and daily life, you learn that many “rules” and cultural certitudes are simply arbitrary. The second is that there are certain ideas and phrases that do not have direct translations from one language to another. Even something as simple as sugar can be quite confusing!
I am not a big fan of sweets. Most sweet things are in fact “too sweet” for my tastes. However, I love to bake. And real baking requires sugar. The first time I went to the store to buy some sugar to bake a cake, I was stumped. Despite France’s reputation for pastries and sweet delights the grocery store only seemed to sell bags and bags of powdered sugar and raw sugar. I was a bit confused, as I’d never before considered whether the French used the same kind of sugars as Americans to bake.
I decided to buy a bag of each. It turns out the “sucre de poudre” is what an American would likely call table or baking sugar. Powdered sugar that we’d use for icing or special recipes is “sucre de glace” or “ice sugar.” Cassonade is brown sugar, but it is generally sold with bigger crystals, similar to raw sugar in the US. I’ve been told that American style brown sugar can be found in some health food stores, but I haven’t yet done the research.
The French also sell quite a bit of sugar in cube form to put in their coffee and tea. British take their tea with milk. The French take it with sugar. Sugar cubes can be found in white sugar and also in raw sugar form or “sucre roux.” This one is confusing to me as the word “roux” is generally translated to the color red, and raw sugar is not red… Caster sugar is “sucre de semoule,” a fact I learned looking up the recipe for making real French Macaroons. Corn syrup doesn’t exist in France, although you can find “sucre inverti” and “sucre liquid,” either for making candy or alcoholic drinks, like a mojito or rum punch.
One thing that is consistent across all cultures, is that children love sugar. And children that have eaten sugar are sticky. I’ve tested this.
And lastly, one of the most amusing aspects of sugar shopping in France, is that one of the main brands of sugar is called “Daddy.” So, if you are looking for a “Sugar Daddy,” you may not need to go any farther than the baking aisle of a French supermarket.