Take a moment to think about the people you most enjoy spending time with - really give it some thought.
Some of your favorite people to spend time with could be the usual suspects –the loving parent, the devoted spouse, the friend since elementary school. However, it is not necessarily for the reasons you may think. Consider for a moment the fact that you may feel obligated to say you enjoy spending time with them.
If middle-age has given me any gift, it is the gift of understanding how to spend my time in more meaningful, less soul-draining ways. And I can’t get you to my normal schtick of happiness at work without taking you through the personal journey of happiness in general. It starts with understanding that you most enjoy spending time with people who accept you.
In my book, The Attitude Influence, I discuss the importance of authenticity. “Go where you are accepted, not where you are tolerated.” Why? Because it feels better when we are not having to constantly filter ourselves or dismiss the most important parts of our identity or value system. Couple this with my recommendation to stay away from the people who become the ducks in your life because they peck away at your happiness one subtle, hateful comment at a time.
I have the most rewarding group of friendships I have ever had in my entire life. There is no one I consider a close, dear friend who makes snide comments about me or my family. They do not belittle my accomplishments or take satisfaction in my failures. My friends are not interested in filtering me. Instead, they are laughing with me – not at me. They are rooting for good things to come my way and standing by when life has handed me a blow. With their acceptance, I am not inclined to hide who I am, play small, and be apathetic. Those things will get me nowhere I genuinely want to go.
I get that it is a lot easier being me than being other people out there in this crazy world because if there is an honest conversation I have had with myself, it is the one in which I recognize my own privilege. The privilege of my white skin, my long-term heterosexual relationship, and the sexual identity I am fortunate to embrace wholeheartedly. Those are the parts you can see or witness, and those are the easy parts for me. What about the ones you can't see or witness? You make assumptions about my religion, politics, childhood, and the ease of my life as a mother of three white, intelligent, heterosexual (and dare I say, attractive?) children. There is a lot you don't know about my story, and maybe we can save that for another day.
Please understand, no part of me feels sorry for myself. There are simply parts of my life that are difficult and complicated. And they happen to be the parts that are the greatest gift towards any sense of empathy and shared humanity I possess.
I will never know the experience of being black or brown, gay, or transgender. So far, I have never experienced more than temporary hunger or mental health issues. It is important that others know I am not trying to speak for an experience I have not had. It is also important that my friends who struggle with systemic racism or discrimination know that I will be their ally. I will celebrate their differences, embrace their authenticity, and advocate for their rights, even if that advocacy makes a few of my straight, white acquaintances uncomfortable or angry.
When it comes to human connection, it doesn’t matter how attractive you are, how smart you are, or how much money you have. More than anything, what matters is that we do not play judge and jury over someone else's life. I can’t comprehend any realm of religious, political, or spiritual ideology that would justify that. Life is short. Sometimes it is also hard, messy, and difficult. With an open mind and an open heart, it is also easier and more worthwhile.
No one feels good about pretending to be someone they are not, believing things they cannot rationalize, or acting as though your racism or bigotry doesn’t matter.
Love starts with you. Change for a more connected world starts with you.
Acceptance starts with you.