“To communicate effectively, first you need to listen.” Yeahhhh… I mean, sure listening is important, but only if one of you is already speaking. It seems to me that maybe listening should logically be the second thing; first SOMEONE needs to speak.
Of course I’m mostly being deliberately obtuse, I know the point being made, is you need to know how the other person feels, to know how best to communicate with them. True, but my point still stands; someone has to start that off.
Forever Hold It
I know a couple who moan ABOUT each other constantly but never actually say a word TO the other.
Whilst they are both silent, they are silent in very different ways.
If you are mad at someone for something, you have to TELL THEM. If you don’t tell them, then you have to accept that they might not know what you’re mad at them for.
I blame old films and television; they are full of role models for high-maintenance women, and stoic, taciturn men.
There is no good time to expect someone else to be psychic. If we have learned nothing else from TV psychics, psychic powers can’t be utilised at will (also, that an 18-month waiting list to get on a show will improve them no end…)
But How Do I Know If I’ve Already Told Them?
Simply thinking about what makes you mad every day is not the same as having told them.
Mentioning in passing that you don’t like the thing that annoys you, without specifying that they do it, isn’t telling them.
Telling everyone else you know except them, isn’t telling them.
Life can be busy and frantic, and memories are not always what they should be. If you are not sure whether you have told someone why you’re mad at them, give them the benefit of the doubt, tell them again.
P.s. If they’re under 18. You probably did tell them already. Several times…
P.p.s. If you’re thinking of telling someone that they drive you crazy in some way today, maybe also think about communicating all the reasons that you love them too – a spoonful of sugar and all that.
Enthusiastic volunteering is a wonderful force for good, but indiscriminate rampant volunteering is bad for your mental health. One person can change the world, but no ONE person can solve ALL of the world’s problems.
People do appreciate a volunteer. Your Dad for example is always jumping in to help someone else out (despite the long list of jobs I already have planned for him) and he is widely loved for this.
Grandma is also an avid volunteer. She’s spent a lifetime sacrificing her own time to help others. Sometimes against their will, but she’s from the olden days; a time when no-one let a little thing like consent stop them.
We’ve all done it in our younger, more enthusiastic, days. Sat in a meeting at work, the Boss asks for a volunteer for some God-forsaken task that no-one in their right-mind wants to do, and as the tense silence becomes just too loud you hear your own voice thunder in slow-motion:-
I’ll do it
The three most regularly regretted words in the English language. You regret those words before they are all the way out of your mouth, and even more when you’re sat in a room full of straw wondering how the hell you’re supposed to spin it all into gold.
The worst reason in the world to volunteer is because no-one else wanted to do it. With volunteering, the clue is in the name, it should be voluntary, not obligatory.
I’m not saying don’t help people, and I’m certainly not saying don’t try to change the world, but what I am saying is, not everything is within your remit. YOU don’t have to do everything.
It can be hard not to volunteer against your will when no-one else is putting their hand up, especially if you care about things getting done. A good way to achieve this is to make a conscious note of what is within your remit, and what is not.
I bloody love spreadsheets and pivot tables. Yes, I am slight odd, thanks for asking. If anyone needs a spreadsheet sorting out, and I have time, I’ll happily give them a hand.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I also love talking and interfering in other people’s lives so I’m always happy to provide bossy advice, even if often, it’s unsolicited and under-researched…
I don’t enjoy getting in the middle of fights, but I am actually a good mediator so even though I don’t enjoy it, if the opportunity arises to calm some waters I will step in. Unless I don’t like the people involved, then I’ll probably pull up a chair and grab some popcorn.
We only get one life (unless you’re Buddhist or a cat). Your life and your time are precious, and they belong to you. If you want to give away your gold and platinum time, that is a fabulous gift to give, but don’t throw such an amazing commodity away on people and tasks that don’t deserve you.
You don’t have to do a thing because no-one else wants to, or is capable. You are not John McLean in Die Hard, you are NOT THAT GUY. Sometimes there is no guy.
Even if you feel you ARE that guy, by all means save an office building from hostile terrorists, but if your team leader Sheila needs someone (but not her) to thin out files on a Saturday, then frankly, Sheila can do it herself. …or reinvent a little something called PAID overtime.
I spend quite a lot of time joking that you need to behave like a normal human. I say joking, I do of course mean screaming. The reason I get so upset by your unruly behaviour is because you have inherited it almost exclusively from me.
Don’t get me wrong, your Dad is also a weirdo, but ultimately he’s a much more normal weirdo than me. However, I’m kind of lying because, and here’s the thing, EVERYONE is a total weirdo.
Ultimately, there is no such thing as a normal human. Social convention dictates that in public we should behave a certain way, and some of us (specifically us) are slower to learn or take notice of those social edicts than others.
But in truth, we are all different and all break social rules sometimes. Those who break them less often and less obviously might be considered more “normal” but they’re not, they’re just better at hiding the weird.
In my life I have experienced a certain amount of difficulty through not immediately conforming to behaviour that is expected of me, and because of that I try to get you to moderate your behaviour so you can avoid that same difficulty. For example, I would not recommend going to school dressed as the Australian flag, just because you already made the outfit and you felt like it.
That doesn’t mean I think you should always conform to social convention – see my Be Yourselfpost for more thoughts on that. What I’m trying to say in this post is, don’t feel weird because you’re different, everyone is unique, but don’t expect a round of applause when you break with social convention.
Every single person out there is a bit odd. Different, unique, special, crazy, whatever you want to call it, we are all that, because there is no such thing as a “normal human”. It’s a big myth, more so than Bigfoot, because there haven’t even ever been any reported sightings of one.
At this point someone will usually say or think “I see people who seem normal all the time?” To those people I say, search your gut-feelings, they aren’t normal are they? Somewhere deep-down we all know that the people that seem most normal are the least normal of all.
Anyone can pretend to be a normal human, that’s why I ask you to try to do it so often. Never think you know everything about someone because you know something about them. People do actually purposefully try to present a different façade to how they feel inside.
Grandad for example, in my lifetime at least 3 people have told me what an all-round regular guy he is!?! I can only assume they’ve not yet spent the requisite length of time with him for him to lose it and call them the C-word for little or no reason. Certainly I would venture that he’s never dangled THEM over a castle wall to cure their fear of heights.
A colleague of mine, who used to be a colleague of his, once told me that I’d probably got a very one-sided view of him because my parents were divorced. She’d spent a couple of years working in the same building as him, whereas I’d only been his actual daughter for 44 years, so of course she had every right to think she knew him better.
Never berate yourself for being or feeling different, but that still doesn’t mean that you should clean your teeth whilst doing a headstand. A great many social conventions exist for a reason, in this case to stop toothpaste dripping into your eyes.
Also, a super-market trip is far quicker and less eventful if you don’t launch into your full Nickelback repertoire whilst using the trolley as a scooter.
The word “fun” can be problematic because it is often used to unintentionally flag up a distinct lack of fun; for example fun-runs, fun-size, and any activity that begins with someone using the phrase “come on, it’ll be FUN” but fun is actually quite important.
Used correctly, the word actually means enjoyment or light-hearted pleasure; not (as the above activities would indicate) disappointment, pain and / or boredom.
Yes, of course I’m a MASSIVE hypocrite. I spend at least 50% of each day screaming at you both that you need to have less fun and be more bloody responsible.
In my defence, adults spend their whole lives trying to fit in tonnes of necessary and important things each day, and this inadvertently trains us to live without the “fun”. We even end up prioritising things we enjoy behind things we feel obliged to do.
Some of us need to re-learn how to have fun. Once we’ve learned how to successfully be grown-ups, we need to re-learn how not to be. I think C.S.Lewis said it best:-
Some adults can’t remember how much fun it is to sit and colour something in, or make a collage, or a working volcano. They just lurch from box-set to box-set vicariously experiencing the same kinds of ups and downs they already have in real life (though some of us do also find this fun).
Now would be a good time to point out that no-one else gets to define “fun” for you, only you know what you find “fun”. Otherwise we’re back in “come on it’ll be fun” territory.
Personally, I like writing, sewing and watching lots of lovely telly. Grandma likes walking, gardening and lying to small children (or “extolling the virtues of literature” as she likes to call it). Daddy likes photography, horror films and writing lists of jobs for Mummy to do.
You can’t count as fun anything you feel a responsibility to do. If you enjoy going to the gym then that is fun. If you “mostly have fun once I’m there and think it’s good for me anyway” it is NOT FUN.
“Fun” is different for everybody. Find what you enjoy pottering about at, then potter away.
…Potter! That’s the word I should have used to start with, not fun – see post on Family Memory for further details.
Living an open and honest life, being yourself, and hiding nothing is an admirable way to live, if a little impractical sometimes.
Lies are bad OBVIOUSLY, but if you are going to lie for the love of God do it well. Half-arsed lying helps no-one.
If Grandad has taught me anything in life, it’s how to lie effectively. As usual, he taught me this through the medium of being a cautionary tale, rather than actually being much good at it.
Sometimes we have to lie to people for good reasons. We call these white lies. Good examples of these would be things like when a friend, who’s recently put on weight, asks if you can tell that they have recently put on weight, or when a relative or friend has a really ugly baby.
A less good example of a white lie would be when your parent with anger-management problems asks if you are writing a blog about their appalling behaviour.
…Or, if you are asked to go to any event that you won’t enjoy more than staying at home and watching Star Wars in your pants.
Ok, so not all white lies are “good” but I think we can agree they’re fairly innocuous and will likely become a necessity at some point. So let’s look at how to lie in the most plausible way.
The first rule in effective lying is that the lie must sound like the truth. Your Dad is a TERRIBLE liar, and by that I don’t mean he lies often. I mean he’s REALLY bad at it. I mean awful, just awful.
The second rule of effective lying is to check that there is no immediate evidence that you are lying.
The biggest problem for those of us with working memory issues is, and always will be, remembering the lie – which is another good reason for keeping lies to a minimum.
The best way to prevent this happening is not to lie at all; the second best way is to use something that actually happened, but at a different point in time.
The final rule for effective lying is not to do it too often. You can miss one wedding by going to Rome, but if you go to Rome every time there’s a wedding, people will start to suspect you hate weddings, or that you are people-trafficking in Italy, either way you don’t want that.
Frequency matters. Your dog might eat your homework once in a lifetime, but if it’s every week you must be dipping it in gravy first. The only time that frequency can be ignored is when you are both in on the lie.
One warning about white lies, they are gateway lies. Use them often and they could lead to bigger lies, or the worst kind of lies, the ones you tell yourself.
Never lie to move blame to someone else, or to obtain or achieve what should not be yours – If that happens, you’ve gone too far and need to tell the truth. There’s a phrase “the truth will out”. It’s true, it will, and it’ll take you out with it.
Never lie to yourself. It might seem like a victimless crime but it’s not. It will stunt you emotionally, psychologically, and as a human being and that way madness lies.
If you want to really upset Auntie Kate or I, give us a gift that we can’t give a literal equal response to. We are incredibly awkward around gifts anyway, but we are especially messed up around unequal giving.
Why? Well this is quite obviously another Grandad El Paso story. Normal people give gifts because they want to see you happy. Grandad gives gifts because he wants to OWN your happiness, which is a very different thing.
If Grandad has given you a gift, he wants to see the kind of gratitude usually reserved for being rescued from the jaws of a Kraken. Also, Grandad will remind you of the happiness he has provided and will call in favours against it for years after, like Don Corleone.
Unfortunately, from this we have developed a Pavlovian response that gifts “bring pain” or at the very least require aggressively reciprocal gifts to negate the power of the original gift. These are of course completely INAPPROPRIATE responses to gifts from NORMAL people.
So, here comes the “do as I say, not as I do” advice. If a normal person gives you something amazing they probably just want to make you happy. So, simply show them that they have made you happy and say thank you, rather than panic and splutter that you can’t afford anything of equal value for them.
If someone (Grandad) gives you a gift because they want something in return, then that is their problem, they should not have declared it to be a gift. In any barter system worth it’s salt, the choice of what you are bartering away has to be known up front in the agreement, otherwise it is less bartering, more extortion.
That is not to say you shouldn’t reciprocate gifts, but you should do so because you want to make that person happy not because you owe them an equal amount of happiness. Gifts should be a voluntary and benevolent act, not a straight-up swap, and certainly not a bargaining chip.
Most people are NOT Grandad and when they do something nice for you they are simply trying to spread a bit of joy in the world. Help them spread that joy by experiencing the joy and then pay it forward when and to whomever you can.
Disclaimer – Grandad has never really asked us to kill anyone, neither have we ever offered.
I realise that saying “be yourself” after spending most of your childhood training you not to be must seem incongruous, but in my defence, mostly it was to keep you from delinquency.
I stand by the example above though. When meeting new people especially, it is important to hold the crazy in for as long as you can manage. It is also important to be yourself though, if for no other reason than that holding in the crazy can look a bit like this:-
Seriously though, it is important to be yourself and not let other people’s preconceptions of who you should be define you. What makes this world a wonderful and interesting place is the variety of unique people you can interact with. Be yourself and add to that community.
John Lennon said it best I think with:-
This is 100% true. I’ve pretended to be someone else before (to fit in, not for any kind of identity fraud). Pretending not to be me got me the wrong friends; people I neither liked nor wanted to be around.
Actually, that’s not 100% true. That time in my life did get me one truly brilliant friend, who has stuck with me even though the crazy is now 100% out of the bag. Though in all honesty that was probably more luck than judgement.
When To Let The Crazy Out
I enjoy being myself almost all the time now. Letting the old ADHD out for a daily run is great. People who know me are used to my inability to shut up, or sit still ever, and either they’re too polite to say or they don’t mind. I choose to believe they don’t mind.
It’s not always great, sometimes I forget to “hold the crazy in” for the requisite time period and say things like this when meeting my new boss:-
He backed away slowly, smiling and nodding. That’s a good sign right?
It doesn’t always go so badly. Last week I decided to excitedly use my rudimentary “knowledge” (i.e. 2am Googling) of quantum physics to explain to a complete stranger at the tea point why I thought a watched kettle might take longer to boil. It turned into a lovely chat and ended with them reading my blog and leaving a really kind comment.
So in summary, sometimes it’s good to hold the crazy in, sometimes it’s fine to let it out, always be yourself, and if you ever find out how to balance this effectively, be sure to let me know won’t you?
One important thing I think you should know about the human race, we mess up. We do this regularly, sometimes moderately, and very often spectacularly, but we ALL do it.
To Err is Human
Whilst the above phrase has fallen out of favour lately, the phrase “who did the risk assessment on this?” is very much on the up. This, and the continuing popularity of “who can I sue for this?” have resulted in a tendency to try to apportion blame in any given situation.
There is another lesser-known saying that I think applies quite aptly here:
Mistakes are part of the natural world, and need acceptance for what they are. Attempting to eradicate all errors is like trying to wipe out flies – Firstly, it can’t be done, secondly, if it could, sure you might enjoy a drink outside, free from the winged-pesterers for a week or two, but shortly after the whole eco-system would collapse and die in a horrible chain-reaction.
Errors have their place in the world, they are educators. They happen so that we can learn from them.
As you know I myself am very risk-averse, so my mistakes tend to be limited to small embarrassments. For example, the other day I came out of a shop and I tried to get back into the wrong car, inadvertently causing the startled elderly couple in the Mitsubishi Estate to think carjacking had reached rural Staffordshire.
Some people (i.e. Daddy) would say I should have checked whether the car was ours BEFORE trying to scramble in. Of course, I SHOULD have, but I DIDN’T. I will next time though because that mistake has taught me a valuable lesson; look before you leap.
Other people, who are not as risk-averse as me, may unfortunately make more life-changing mistakes. Perhaps, they weren’t lucky enough to be parented by the weird tag-team I had growing up, where one made me learn my fire-exits in every building I entered, and the other dangled me over a 300-foot-drop to show me that heights were “nothing to be afraid of”.
Some people might jump or fall off things that they shouldn’t have climbed. Some might not take out insurance and then lose all their stuff. Some people work in jobs where one mistake can cost someone else their health, or even their life. Whatever their mistake was, it was still a mistake, an error, not a malicious act.
I’m not saying don’t sue, or that people shouldn’t pay due care and attention to what they’re doing, or that there aren’t irresponsible, dangerous, people out there (Grandad). I’m just saying that everyone makes mistakes.
Perhaps for those irresponsible people (for example the kind of person that would dangle a 12-year-old over a castle’s retaining wall) we could introduce some kind of three strikes rule? On their third “mistake” we’re allowed to get properly angry at them.
Forgive Your Own Mistakes
The most important thing I’m trying to say is, if you make a mistake, be kind to yourself. Don’t waste time beating yourself up for mistakes you have made but couldn’t help making.
No matter how much you think about something that has already happened, nothing can make it un-happen, and if you didn’t deliberately do it, how could you have deliberately not done it?
To err is human, and entirely out of your control. Don’t give yourself such a hard time, because they’ll always be someone out there more than willing to do that for you.
If you don’t know what the Glad Game is, then, despite my best efforts to coerce you into watching it, you have obviously managed to avoid the 1960’s film Pollyanna starring Hayley Mills.
Depending on your point of view, it’s either about a little girl who’s so full of positivity that she wins the hearts of a grumpy town of misanthropes, or it’s about an obnoxious little brat who thinks servants should be grateful for Sundays and old ladies should be constantly sewing quilts for charity instead of lazing around on their death beds.
My feelings about Pollyanna are somewhere between those two, but the moral of the story is spot on; if you’re thankful for the good stuff in your life it makes you happier.
It’s SO important in life to be thankful and glad – I know that sounds like something a vicar would say, with deadly halitosis and dandruff, haunting your school assembly, but bear with me. It’s important because it’s guaranteed to bring you happiness in this life rather than necessarily redemption in the next.
Plenty of psychological studies back this up (if you can be arsed to Google them) but it really is just plain common sense; if you regularly remind yourself of the good things in your life, you will be happier because you’ll be more likely to remember them during tougher times.
It does sound simple doesn’t it? In that respect it’s a bit like “I just won’t eat cake this week and then I’ll be thin” …aaand I think we all know how that usually works out in practice.
It’s easy to be glad about all the great stuff in your life when things are going well.
It’s less easy when they’re not going so well.
Unfortunately it’s when things are not going so well that it is most useful to remember the things you are thankful for. Try to think of them every day to effectively “rote” learn the joy in your life, so that those memories are there waiting to pop forward when you need them.
Some people list what they are thankful for in the form of prayers, some write it in a diary, others repeat it silently to themselves during meditation. There is no right or wrong way. Strike that. Remembering how weird we can all be, I’ll specify, don’t shout them out loud as you walk down the street. That’s definitely frowned upon.
Here’s three easy rules; list what you’re thankful for, do so regularly, talk about things you are grateful for whenever you can. Basically, it’s the opposite of Fight Club.
What happens if you don’t? Well, you turn into a Kardashian. What? No, of course that’s NOT a good thing! Alright, better example, you’ll turn into one of those people who leave book reviews that start “This was the worst experience of my life-“ Those people either have some kind of reading-triggered PTSD or they’ve led seriously charmed lives.
Now that might look like I’m bitter about a bad book review – I haven’t written a book yet so if anything, it’s a pre-emptive strike, but I have read a lot of book reviews (because I leave book reviews and I’m nosey).
Life really is in the details. Celebrate and cherish all the details you enjoy, and in return they’ll keep you going through the tough times.
P.s. This is not advice for people with serious conditions like Depression. When in the grip of such things, reality shifts, and they may be unable to access positive memories, even if staring at a list of them on a piece of paper. If someone seems ungrateful, be kind, they may be going through things you can’t see.
With one parent whose attitude to life is incredibly wild (Grandad El Paso) and another who is fairly cautious (Grandma Tiny-Face) you might expect that Auntie Kate and I would be at least a little wild.
In actual fact, Kate and I would be better described instead as “wildly cautious”. We take caution TO THE EXTREME! There are very few people, even very few health and safety officials, that are wilder about being cautious than we are. We are COMPLETELY 100% risk averse.
In our defence I’d like to give some examples of the parenting we experienced, so that you can at least understand where these wild levels of caution began. Also, as I still don’t have the balance right yet, there’s a pretty strong chance that you’re going to grow up with some “issues” in that area. I’m not saying explaining it will help, but hey, who doesn’t love a good origin story?
I think we’ll start with a Grandad El Paso story because, well, there are so very many of those to choose from. First, our trip to Devon when I was five and Kate was around three.
It was a long journey from the Midlands, but with Grandad driving our Triumph Toledo at speeds ordinarily only achieved by jet planes, and with the same level of care and attention as the Dukes of Hazzard escaping the law, if anything, it felt even longer.
Flattenin’ The Hills
We reached the steep and windy roads of Devon in record time, powered by Grandad’s competitive nature, and seemingly inexhaustible levels of anger. As the car skidded around tight bends, atop steep hills, my “fear of heights” (or as I like to call it, my fear of death) kicked in rather strongly.
Grandad, annoyed by my constant whimpering and occasional screams, pulled the car over, and calmly explained why there was no reason to be afraid, promising he would drive slower to put me at ease.
No of course he didn’t, that’s what a “normal” parent would have done. What Grandad DID, was on the largest STEEPEST hill he could find, he drove straight off the road, skidding down the almost vertical drop, in an, admittedly impressive, handbrake turn, until we finally came to “rest” at a fortunately-positioned tree. I shall never forget his reassuring words:-
Now, Grandma Tiny-Face, as I’m sure you’ll know from the way she flouts use-by dates, is not overly cautious. However she is a big fan of pre-empting trauma.
To be fair to her, despite Grandad’s best efforts, she did a pretty decent job of keeping us alive. …Which brings me neatly around to the way Grandad often mistook homeless people for a reliable source of childcare.
I realise, from my proof-reader’s sharp intake of breath here, that this looks like quite a dangerous situation, even to people who aren’t as risk averse as I am. However, I want to reassure you that he was indeed back in under 3 hours as promised, and the homeless people we met were very kind, offering us sweets and drinks, only some of which were alcoholic, so you know, no harm no foul.
Ok, even though this goes against every single one of my instincts, and mental scars from childhood, I need to tell you, DON’T be wildly cautious like me. For the love of God don’t be as crazy with risk-taking as Grandad, but don’t be like me either.
The Dalai Lama said “Great love and great achievements involve great risks” and unfortunately he’s right. You can’t get the most out of life without taking at least a few anxiety-inducing risks.
Bearing in mind that I consider going to a different branch of the same supermarket a risk, at eighteen I still said yes when Daddy asked me to marry him – even though everyone else said we were too young, and one of my friends had helpfully declared him to be “too handsome for me”.
Daddy and I have been together for 26 years now and, although I don’t like to say this too often, he’s pretty bloody brilliant still, and marrying him is one of my favourite big decisions ever.
You two are obviously my other favourite big decisions. Pregnancy and childbirth aren’t fun for ladies (or indeed for anyone in the vicinity). You go through all that discomfort, then intense prolonged pain, with absolutely no guarantees of what the outcome will be.
You can’t know if your baby will be healthy, how long you’ll have them in your life for, or indeed whether they will grow up to write a blog about what a terrible parent you were, but for me you’ll always be two of the best risky ventures I ever embarked upon.