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.

Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

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The pit in your stomach that starts to form on Sunday night. Being disengaged at home. A preoccupation with how you are treated at work. A slow erosion of your self-worth.

Years ago, I planned to write a book titled, "Who Raised You? Did You Mean to Say That Out Loud?". I felt there should be a chapter titled, "Middle School Bullies are Bad: Adult Bullies are Worse."

Adult bullies represent entitlement in its most extreme form. Adult bullies are not courageous for the way they treat people, and those of us who have felt the wrath of a bully are not weak for being upset. It is the bully who is weak. It is the bully who shows a lack of emotional intelligence, empathy, or common human decency.

In our every day lives, we can choose to either engage with a bully or not. We can decide to sever ties with people who consistently bully us. In the workplace, it isn’t that simple.

From my experience and research into toxic work cultures, I have learned a lot about this trend of workplace bullies. Here is what I have discovered:

1. Workplace bullies are often (but not always) leaders or people with influence. They have no sense of what it truly means to be a strong leader. Instead, they have decided that their power position allows them the privilege of chronic finger-pointing when something goes wrong. Additionally, they feel no obligation to consider either the needs or the effects their behaviors have on the team.

2. Workplace bullies are often not confronted by people in power because they intimidate their leaders and colleagues.

3. The workplace bully's lack of approachability leads to severe breakdowns in communication that prevent meaningful resolution.

4. Abusive behaviors lead to the loss of valuable people and productivity.

What can leaders do to prevent workplace bullies?

1. Remember that leadership is a privilege. If you lack the courage to confront and appropriately handle abusive behavior, you need to rethink your effectiveness.

2. What are you pretending not to know? When you watch your work buddy plow over their staff, do you find yourself justifying their behavior because of their contributions or knowledge base, even if you know the organization would run perfectly fine without them?

3. Check your metrics. Do you need to improve quality or productivity? Do you need to reduce turnover or absenteeism? Follow the breadcrumbs. There’s a strong possibility those breadcrumbs will lead you directly to the workplace bully.

4. Quit pointing the finger. As a leader, the buck stops with you. Perhaps standing up for your team and assuring them you have their back isn't enough incentive to clean-up your toxic work environment. If not, consider why you receive a higher salary, the title, the office, the accolades, and the power to make decisions.

5. Do not promote people simply because of their influence, job knowledge, or seniority. Promote people whom you know can lead in a meaningful and effective manner.

Your organization needs leaders who dare to do the right thing and understand that you earn respect. It needs leaders who do not turn a blind eye to poor treatment and the diminishment of your people.

It isn't just about the numbers. It's about human beings maintaining their dignity, happiness, and sense of self-worth. It is an honor to provide that to the people who are showing up and doing their best.

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The year 2020 has put my teachings around attitude firmly in the hot seat. I have often attempted to explain the difficulties of maintaining a positive attitude and choosing to be happy. After all, working to be happy when life is kicking your ass makes you a stronger person.

Negativity is necessary. We should feel angered by injustice. We should be concerned when we see a lack of compassion or empathy from our fellow human beings – especially our leaders. More than anything, we should feel afraid for our country when it has erupted into chaos, hate, and bitterness.

Covid-19 has spiked, especially in my home state of Florida. Florida is where my elderly parents live, my daughter attends high school, and my husband works as a first responder.

The divisiveness of the country haunts me.

The race issues both sadden and terrify me.

The thought of bounties placed on the heads of our brave military men and women sickens me.

Where is the positivity to be found here? Now? In this horrible year?

Here is where I see the light –

I see it through young people. I see my teenage daughter's passion for all of her friends with their different races, backgrounds, religions, and sexual orientation, and I am inspired. Too often, we hear about "kids these days." But I have faith in the positive difference they will make with their ability to keep their hearts and minds open to their fellow human beings. They will come together in a way that no generation before them has been able to do.

I see it in my desire to be a better person. The willingness to step outside of everything I ever believed and reassess. To understand that not being racist is not the same as understanding what my black friends have lived with for so long. To know that just because I do not have hate in my heart does not mean I should be naïve enough to believe that hate does not exist – and, therefore, does not need to be addressed. I have unburied my head, and I see things more clearly.

I see it through the hope that many of us have for a better tomorrow by acknowledging our mistakes of yesterday. Hope, now more than ever, can inspire us to reach across the aisle. It can motivate us to admit where we have failed. Most importantly, it can guide us to the answers. Hope will make us stronger, more courageous, and wiser than we ever were before.

We have an opportunity to take everything that is weighing on our minds and hearts, and finally say, "this is not working."

Maybe it starts with something as simple as a prayer – for the safety and well-being of everyone. Perhaps it begins with using our privilege to stand up for the marginalized and our voices to speak up for what we know is right. Or, maybe, we need not forget how bad this feels.

We know better. Now it is time to do better.

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