5 Ways to Be a Better Human in the New Year
There is plenty of chatter about 2021 solving the roller coaster of suck that has become known as 2020. Perhaps if we take some time for introspection and work on developing some skills, we have a chance as humans to improve our general direction.
Here at Pura Vida With Kids, we’ve come up with a short list of easy starting points.
Choose words thoughtfully
Observe your surroundings. Take a moment, when you walk into a new place or when you enter the living room in the morning, to observe your space, your animals, your people. Make a habit of noticing what is happening around you.
Listen when people are talking to you. Hold your own words and wait for theirs. Everyone has a story to tell. Allow others space and time to speak their words and fight the urge to insert your own into their narrative.
Patience. Pura vida. Things don’t always go the way you planned. Practice patience, but invest in good planning and strategy, too. Having a backup provides peace of mind, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be willing to relax, remain flexible and take things as they come.
Empathy is so incredibly important in this world. Right now it feels like there is far too little of it.
Words matter. It’s not just a curriculum theme, it’s reality. How we speak and what we say are very important. We set the standards for our children. Words can make people feel welcome and comfortable or shunned and excluded. Words can show we care or cause harm. Before we speak, we should decide if our words are both necessary and kind.
If the world of social media and reality television has taught us anything about ourselves, it’s that we are infinitely narcissistic and our egos are huge. Take the selfie. Photos of ourselves aren’t enough. We’ve developed apps like FaceTune to help perfect our perceived imperfections.
We are so self-absorbed; we have become a society that accepts the supreme importance of the smartphone and gives it a seat at the table to feed our incessant need for the hit of dopamine provided by the ding of another like.
Watch a busy street for 15 minutes. How many people do you see with their faces turned downwards, staring into a screen? Most of them, I’d wager. We have become deficient at the ability to engage with our surroundings.
Pay attention. Put the device down. When you enter the room, what do you notice? Who is there? How does the mood feel? What things are happening? Is there talking? What colors do you see? Is there food?
As you walk down the street, what is the weather like? Is the street busy? Are there cars parked along the sides?
In your meetings, look around at the other faces? What can you see in others’ expressions and body language? What are the feelings being conveyed? What information can you glean from their backgrounds and clothing? Taking information in and processing it in order to assess the environment is so simple and we can practice it all the time.
When you hear someone say, “Read the room,” this is what it means. Pay attention and try to get a feel for what is happening and the emotional content of the space. Observe people when they’re talking.
Be more aware. Be more present. Take stock of your environment and others who are in it. Additional tips for improving observation skills can be found here.
In her book Why We Swim, Bonnie Tsui meets with Icelandic fisherman Gudlaugur Fridporsson who survived when his trawler sank in 5℃ waters for 6 hours, swimming back to his island. Upon his first approach, he realized he would have to get back in the water to swim to a better landing spot. After landing, he trekked for another 3 hours across lava fields to reach help.
A doctor who treated him afterwards says he often gets asked at conferences, “Is he all right in the head?” Gudlauger credits his father staying by his bedside during recovery for a solid month and listening to his dramatic and repeated story repeatedly for his relative sanity today. “My father was a very good listener. I think that’s why I am OK now.”
By reliving his trauma in a safe and unjudged space, Gudlauger was free to make his recovery while simultaneously processing the events.
Listening is a skill that must be cultivated and practiced. We have been trained to gather our own thoughts and ready our next comment for the perfect flow of witty conversation, rather than simply listen to what someone is saying.
The next time you have a conversation, pay attention to the words, the body language, and the emotions. Really pause your mind and consciously create a space for that person to fill with their experience.
Toni Bernhard in Psychology Today offers some important ways in which we can become more conscious of impatience in order to work on our ability to be more patient.
Recognize that impatience is happening. We can’t transform something we don’t recognize, so the first step is to take notice when you are being impatient. Then take time to feel what impatience is like. How does your body feel? How does your mind feel? It’s likely the feeling isn’t pleasant.
Once you can both recognize impatience and associate it with feelings, you can transform impatience into patience. Ask yourself if you can change the situation and if you can’t, look around for something positive in the moment. This is where observation comes in handy. Notice the environment and the surrounding things. Find something pleasant and focus your attention meaningfully. This is mindfulness.
Even if your environment or the people in it are problematic and push your buttons, isn’t it a better feeling when you can change your focus from being annoyed to finding calm? Last, have patience with yourself. Set your expectations accordingly and adjust them if you find yourself challenged to keep a certain pace.
By being patient, especially with ourselves, we are treating others and ourselves with respect and reminding ourselves that feeling good about a situation is better than feeling angry and upset. Give those negative feelings less weight.
You might not understand exactly what others are going through, but you can take time to listen and look at situations from a fresh perspective. Everyone is going through something. Accept that and maybe take some time to respect that.
Recently, an article in the New York Times offered some ways in which we can develop empathy. Talk to new people, join forces for a shared cause like building or fundraising for a community garden, and try to spend time in someone else’s shoes (attend a mosque or try to imagine what your kids are living every day).
Maybe you could understand better how someone becomes invested in a community garden if you understood how they’re living in what we call a food desert. Is it possible your kids are acting out because they lack control over any aspect of their daily lives? Think about their behavior in relation to their perspective.
Admitting you have bias is another step in practicing empathy. What perspective are you bringing to the table? What lenses are you using with which to view a situation? We are all biased and we all carry certain privilege. “Your privileges are things that give you special status and that you didn’t earn and don’t necessarily realize you benefit from.” (Claire Cain Miller, NYT)
Stand up for others and use your voice to amplify those that can’t be heard as clearly. Check your ego and remember everything isn’t about you. Recognize and help correct problems that don't affect you directly, but that have negative effects on others. Be respectful. Don’t assume things about others based on your own experiences.
Empathy isn’t in short supply. We just need to work consciously on our ability to set aside our own biases and experiences so we can respectfully share in the feelings of others. Notice how observation, listening, and patience all weave into the cultivation of empathy?
Words come fast and easy, so it’s important that we think carefully about what words we are choosing when we speak. In a basic cognitive sense, words carry so much meaning that translates to our minds in certain ways.
Take, for instance, the difference between a “price drop” versus a “price improvement” in the world of real estate. Price drop immediately conveys a negative connotation, while price improvement signifies something positive. Are you more likely to be interested in a price drop or a price improvement?
Price drop implies that there could be something wrong with the house. Has it been on the market so long for a reason? Is the owner trying to dump it because of an expensive problem? Price improvement sounds much more uplifting. Would you agree?
How we frame things by simply using different words and phrases can shape how we experience things. As a teacher who has been trained in and practices the responsive classroom approach, how we respond and interact with kids and the words we choose are essential to creating positive learning outcomes.
If it’s important enough that we’re teaching our children in this way, and that we are creating curriculum around the “words matter” theme, isn’t it important for us to consider our adult interactions also? Words carry weight. Choose them wisely. Be thoughtful. Before you speak, ask yourself if the words are kind.
Five Simple Things
Five things: observe, listen, be patient, empathize, and choose words wisely. In this new year, can we agree to work on these?
It’s not my year. It’s not your year. It’s just a year. As humans on this shared planet in this connected world, we can do better. Let’s.