Celebrating 2013 and Envisioning 2014

As we turn the page on 2013 and move into 2014, it is important to take time to celebrate the year that has gone by and all we’ve experienced.  We can do this by taking stock of the successes and the challenges that we’ve lived in 2013.

One way I like to look back on the previous year is to ask myself the following questions:

  • What goals did I accomplish this year?
  • What were some of the most rewarding aspects of 2013?
  • What challenges did I face?  How did I overcome them?
  • What is the most helpful lesson I learned?

Once we’ve given time to our experiences in 2013, we can move forward into the new year in a positive way.  When I look forward to 2014 and envision my best year yet, I like to think about the following questions:

  • What 3 goals do I want to accomplish this year?  (If you’re ambitious, you can start to outline an action plan for each goal – keeping the steps specific, measurable, and attainable!)
  • What challenges do I think I might face in 2014?  What are some positive ways I might be able to overcome them?
  • What enjoyable things or activities can I do more of this year?
  • What kind of environment, experiences, and people do I want to surround myself with this coming year?

These are just a few of the types of questions you can ask and answer for yourself when you are celebrating your own journey in 2013 and planning your way forward in 2014.

It’s important to practice “praxis”: the process of action and reflection.  We can’t move to a better future without examining our past actions and patterns and changing our actions and patterns for the future.  As we engage in this process we should remember that, while we can plan our ideal future, we should be flexible in our planning and allow for our future to unfold in beautifully unexpected ways.

2013 has been by turns, challenging and rewarding, and I am looking forward to all that 2014 has to offer!  What are you celebrating from 2013 and planning for 2014?

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A Lesson of Love from Nelson Mandela

Today we said goodbye to one of the most inspiring individuals in the world, Nelson Mandela.

His legacy is one of determination and a deep commitment to positive peace.  Despite all he suffered, he still spoke of teaching love and encouraged mutual understanding in the most challenging contexts.  While he was very much human, his capacity for patience, empathy, and forgiveness was (and continues to be) very rarely matched.

At this time, I wish to share with you one of my favorite quotes and a link to a few more.  And I wish to say thank you, Madiba, for your sacrifice and incredible contributions in working toward a state of positive peace.

Mandela - Love

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/15-of-nelson-mandelas-most-inspiring-quotes

A Case for Empathy

A couple friends sent me a fantastic NY Times article by Nicholas Kristof, called “Where Is The Love”.  In it, Kristof addresses the “widespread scorn” and lack of empathy that is shown for the less fortunate in our country.  He writes that “A Princeton University psychology professor, Susan Fiske, has found that when research subjects hooked up to neuro-imaging machines look at photos of the poor and homeless, their brains often react as if they are seeing things, not people. Her analysis suggests that Americans sometimes react to poverty not with sympathy but with revulsion.”

This is a phenomenon that I have considered for a long time.  American society promotes a cultural narrative of “if you work hard enough, you will be successful”.   We see this in the “self-made man” stories.  With such a national emphasis on this narrative, I often hear the belief expressed that the inverse is also true: “if you do not succeed, it is because you did not work hard enough”.

We hear statements like “You are responsible for your results.”  And, “The only thing that stands between you and what you want in life is the will to try it and the faith to believe it possible.”  These two sentiments (and the overall narrative) are problematic for me because they discount the impact that structure (social, economic, educational, cultural, etc) has on the process and the outcome.

If we take two individuals from completely opposite ends of the American social structure (high socioeconomic status, low socioeconomic status) we cannot deny that there is often a substantive difference in the opportunities presented to each student and the subsequent outcomes.  I would propose that much of the difference results from the structure in which we function.

Even if the same opportunity is presented to each individual (although we know that not everyone has equal opportunities), the person with a lower socioeconomic status might have serious doubt about the viability of the opportunity (quite often based on past experiences) and would quite possibly face structural obstacles to taking advantage of that opportunity.   Given this, I would strongly object to a blanket judgement that if a goal is not reached, the effort, will, or faith of the individual was lacking.

I absolutely agree with Kristof’s statement, “As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s remember that the difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline, but also by an inextricable mix of luck, biography, brain chemistry and genetics.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/kristof-where-is-the-love.html?src=rechp&_r=0