Briefly: A Symbiotic Wonder of the World

The Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, India are a fascinating wonder to behold! Grown naturally and yet carefully cultivated by the trained Khasi and Jaintia tribes who live there, these bridges can withstand the monsoon season. Of course they also avoid rot! Most bridges built from traditional materials would deteriorate swiftly in such a wet locale.

The eleven Living Root Bridges in place today are nearly 180 years old, though the roots are known to last up to 500 years once fully established. As some roots in the bridge age and weaken, the trees are constantly growing others, which can take their place and keep the bridges strong enough to support around 50 people at one time.

Another daily screensaver image led me to this beautiful discovery. There is even a double-decker bridge over one stretch of water!

Update: there may be many more of these beautiful, growing structures in place. A three-year study from 2015-2017 apparently examined dozens of them (and their history), considering applications in modern cities around the world. More ecosystems than simple structures, these Living Root Bridges demonstrate harmony and care that could provide even more obvious benefits to urban areas than the greenery alone, if such a concept could thrive elsewhere.

Learning the Sum of Your Parts

So I was listening to ‘Dreamlover’ by Mariah Carey, and she sang, “Just want someone to belong to, every day of my life, always, so come and take me away.” And of course that set me to thinking.

It feels great to belong. It feels great to be needed. But if it’s your defining emotion, you might be codependent.

If you don’t feel like anything’s right until this happens, that might be the sign of a problem.

However, if you know who you are, and you relish that feeling, but it’s not THE defining characteristic of your life, then you understand the difference between an emotion and your core being. That’s a difficult lesson to learn in life.

Reading the Map

Emotions are powerful; they’re meant to be. And the amygdala actually releases brain chemicals when we feel emotions. It’s more than just a brain wave. It’s more than just a moment. You feel it throughout your entire body, good or bad. It can fill us with euphoria; it can flush us with dread; it can paralyze us with terror; it can make us angry and drive us to make things better when there’s an injustice. It can also make you warm and tingly, or incite passions. All of these things are real, physical reactions to emotions. Emotions are real, but they’re not everything.

You are more than the sum of your emotions; you are more than the sum of your body chemistry; you are more than just your thoughts. Your thoughts and those you choose to turn into actions are incredibly important. They may define how others perceive you, but they don’t define your whole self. You are more than the sum of all of your parts, inside and out.

So feeling like you belong to someone, or feeling like you are completed by someone; a fine line separates those two, and if you don’t understand the difference, you might be on the wrong side of it.

Feeling like you’re incomplete without someone – that’s the sign of a problem, too. If you felt incomplete before you met this person, then you had a problem before you met them, and meeting them has not solved it.

If you don’t think you’re missing any pieces in your personal puzzle, and then you find someone with whom you just “click”; someone who fascinates you, or who enriches your days and nights in any way; then you two could be a great fit!

A Brief Success Story

Meredith and I followed this last course. We were each doing well enough on our own when we met, and we had a couple of things in common from the beginning. “You know, I really liked the way you said that.” “Oh, that’s a very good point about kindness.” “Oh, isn’t that mutual friend great?” It sparked some interest. Once we really looked at each other, and we liked what we saw, that sparked a little more interest.

But then we started getting to know each other. And when THAT happened, that’s when we began to learn just how well we meshed.

Now, nobody’s perfect. But it was a lot like a zipper zipping up correctly. So many things lined up with our values and our humor and our thinking, that we’ve been together ever since, and happily so.

To Keep or Not to Keep?

Plenty of couples are simply mismatches. You may have some wild passion, or strong attraction; you may have this one cause that brings you together, but you just can’t agree on anything else…. You two are not meant to be together! You can spend time together; you can talk; you can exchange ideas; you can have great sex; just understand that this is not a relationship that’s gonna last forever and fulfill you both, if you don’t complement each other in a lot of ways.

Enough common interests to enjoy them together; enough shared values to believe that the same types of things are important in life (that’s a big one!); but enough differences to remain interesting to each other: THAT is a formula with the potential for a long-term relationship.

And I do believe in love that lasts forever. Don’t think for a minute that I’m saying anything else. It’s just that until you figure out who you are first, you’re not gonna know if you really fit someone else, or if they’re just shielding you from the things that you don’t want to face.

If all they do is keep you from being alone at night, because you can’t stand to get into a cold, empty bed – that’s another sign of a problem.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking somebody home if you want; if you trust them, you like them, and you know that there’s no commitment here, that’s fine (as long as you’re all consenting adults who feel the same way). But if you’re not actually talking about that, then how are you gonna know that you’re on the same page?

There’s nothing wrong with falling in love with somebody immediately, either. But you still should take the time to find out these things about each other. If you fall in love immediately, and you get married three days later – good luck! I don’t know how that’s gonna work out. I haven’t seen it work very often, but it certainly can.

However, if you fall in love immediately and then spend three months getting to know each other, and then you decide, “Hey, I’m gonna spend a lot more time with this person,” and then, six months after that, you get married? Congratulations! Married a year later because you know what’s right and you’ve checked all these things? That has a lot of promise. (Yes, I might know a little extra about this type of scenario!)

And if you decide never to marry anyone, but you simply cultivate terrific relationships throughout your life? Anything that fulfills you, that doesn’t leave broken hearts in its wake, sounds admirable and worthwhile to me!

You don’t have to fit into any mold to find true contentment or even overflowing joy. Just learn who you really are, don’t hurt anyone on purpose, and try not to hurt anyone by accident, and you’re on your way to a rich life of friends, family, or whoever and whatever you choose to fill it with.

Find yourself, forge your path, and enjoy.

Briefly: Silvopasture

Silvopasture means that trees are left standing on grazing lands, and the balance is carefully managed. This hands-on practice leads to greater health for the trees, the pastures, and the animals, and is a solid improvement over clear-cutting trees for grazing turf.

My screensaver changes daily, and this beautiful cover image led me to my discovery. The USDA’s Forestry Center and of course Wikipedia both had more to add, if you’re as intrigued as I am and want to read a few more tidbits.

Better Manners of Getting Things Done

Today I found myself in line at a big hardware store to return something that had arrived broken. Not the end of the world; it was just something that I’d hoped I could get without an involved trip to the store, but I wouldn’t have ordered a replacement to be shipped when I had weekend time to resolve it more safely. There was only one guy in front of me at the Returns line, and he was FURIOUS. But he didn’t know how to handle the problem he was facing.

If you go to Returns for something large and heavy in your vehicle, and they ask you to have the Pro Desk (at the other end of the store) unload it first – sensibly, so you don’t get a refund and then run away with it – fine. If the Pro Desk then sends you back to Returns, you don’t need to go to Returns and throw a swearing tantrum, threatening to dump your return in the middle of the parking lot and blow off your money before storming away without a resolution. Of course he did just that, which got me thinking. I’ve been in the same type of situation before, and you may have, too… at the store, at work, or anywhere else.

What you CAN do in this situation is much simpler. You thank the first person and assume they’re right until you learn otherwise. Then you get the name of the second person who sent you backward and take it to the first person or place. If the first place sticks to their story, you calmly tell them that Ron at the Pro Desk (for example) insisted on the Return being done before the unload, and you calmly ask Lynn at Returns (for example) to get hold of Ron by phone or radio and sort this out. You calmly explain that they (not you – you’re being calm and civil) have a misunderstanding and that they (not you) need to straighten it out before you go back and forth and waste any more of THEIR (not your) time. Then you smile expectantly and stand calmly and quietly in the way until Lynn reaches Ron or gets him to come to you. Once both people are in the same place or at least on the same page, you get a straight answer and have a firm plan on who will help you first. That’s all it takes.

We’re all going through a lot right now, but yelling at people who just need a little guidance and respect doesn’t really solve anything, and it can darken everyone’s day.

Manners and diplomacy aren’t taught in most schools in the USA. Perhaps they should be. There is almost always room for a better manner of getting things done.

Curbside Pickup Is Here to Stay… Right??

Welcome to 21 in 21: a collaborative publishing project by Matthew D. Futter and Meredith Silverman! This is the first in a series of 21 things we look forward to being different in 2021. From the mundane to the profound, whether global or local in nature, we will write about each item (same subject, separate pieces) and publish on our blogs throughout the year. You can find us both at the links above.

 

One of the simpler things that joined our common parlance in 2020 is the concept of curbside pickup at stores. I doubt anyone reading this in the United States even had to consider what that phrase means now. A year ago, it might have drawn frowns of disbelief or even confusion, but now this service is offered more places than it’s not.

Not long ago, I saw a meme about Aldi, pointing out ways that they have been “working in the future” for years now. Five points were listed, including renting carts (for a quarter you get back when you return it) to keep employees from having to chase them down all day and night, to giving cashiers a stool to sit on while they ring up groceries (industry studies have actually shown that cashiers are more efficient while seated). While of course Aldi has also introduced curbside pickup as a safety measure, it’s no wonder why they waited until there was a solid need for this update.

Curbside pickup undoubtedly costs retailers plenty (in upfront costs and lost business from impulse buys, at least). But the overall advantages may keep it around for the long term.

Let’s consider five points of our own about why curbside pickup is SUCH a good idea, hopefully one that remains in the new equilibrium we are all still working to find.

  1. Shopper safety

Obviously physical distancing, along with some new in-store practices, helps limit everyone’s exposure to each other, limiting the spread of common infections as well as a novel one that has dominated headlines for nearly a year now. Taking this to the next level — preventing shoppers from needing to enter the store at all — naturally extends this gain even further.

Employees have less contact with shoppers this way, so they benefit, too. Healthy employees can continue to work, and healthy shoppers can continue to buy. Everyone wins!

  1. Disabled shoppers are on more equal footing now.

Almost every storefront I have seen, large or small, has extra parking close to the doors, designated for people with limited mobility. This is a design feature with which I grew up, and it just makes sense.

Curbside pickup, where shoppers need not exit their vehicles at all to receive their purchases, brings even more equity to this process.

My father suffered ten years of continually-declining mobility at the end of his life, due to a disease that slowly and inexorably atrophied his muscles. He kept a balanced view of this at most times, simply adapting to whatever new cautions or limitations were necessary to keep going.

Long before the current pandemic developed, my father LOVED curbside pickup! Not all of the stores he once frequented offered it, but those that did earned ever more of his business, because they made it so fast and easy for him to get whatever he needed.

Between better digital ordering and pickup in their own cars, I hope that more shoppers are able to access a wider variety of stores these days, and more easily, too.

  1. A little more exercise is good for staff, especially in a country where we don’t usually let cashiers even have a stool (except at Aldi, of course, on their well-researched European model).

This one might sound strange, but I have a reason for it. Really.

I have been in the workforce for decades. During that time, I have worked in a grocery store (on my feet all day), in an office (seated all day), in a warehouse (moving 75%, driving/sitting 25%), and in the office of a factory (sitting 80%, moving 20%). In those four positions, I learned that standing still all day can be difficult and dissatisfying, while sitting all day is exhausting for other reasons.

My best balance comes with less sitting and more walking. Happily, I have this at my current company, with a convertible standing desk and lots of zipping about in my work (almost all on foot). This keeps me limber while avoiding fatigue, and I imagine the best case for most retail employees probably falls along the same lines.

Moving in and out of the store, either with carts or carrying only lightweight packages, helps keep the heart and lungs in shape. In decent weather, sharing time between conditioned air (and comfort) to natural air (and health) is probably beneficial overall. And in worse weather? Well, that’s what coats, hats, and umbrellas are for… and every curbside employee is probably wearing some sort of gloves these days already, so there’s that, too!

  1. Introverts win!

Okay, now you MUST think I’m joking. Unless you are an introvert yourself, in which case you know I am completely serious, and you’re probably grateful someone else gets it.

Introverts, by their nature, are drained of energy by interacting with other people. Going to a store might involve a greeter, countless other shoppers, employees asking if they can help you, a cashier, a bagger, and even security personnel. That is a LOT of interactions for just a single shopping trip, and it can wipe out an introvert for hours if not all day.

Extroverts may not understand this at all, feeling energized by engaging with more people. But introverts have the opposite experience.

Limiting contact to just one store employee, maybe through a car window and a smartphone app, can save an enormous amount of energy for introverts, giving them more to use on the rest of their day. Yes, I know, humans are social creatures by nature, and we do need each other. But certain patterns are draining for some people, and this is one shift where introverts are more likely to celebrate the new format than to mourn the time and energy that was once lost with a simple shopping excursion.

  1. Opportunities for stores to show off improved service and win greater customer loyalty

Let’s bring this back to the first question of cost and benefit for a moment. Curbside costs stores more, at least up front, right? This is where we get to the stores’ less obvious gains.

In dealing with a large company or store chain, customers often feel like they must take the services offered or leave them, going someplace else if their needs are not being met. While some people like the challenge of getting a retailer or a service provider to accommodate their demands, plenty of people simply don’t have the energy for those battles, and they are used to accepting the offer or doing without, at least until they can find another company who does things differently.

Now every company is getting the chance to show people that shopper safety matters; that their convenience matters to the store in the form of dollars spent and time saved.

Stores that step up to the challenge, making online ordering easier and curbside pickup possible, are showing their customer base that they care about these things. And customers who appreciate being able to protect their own health (and that of those they may live with) AND shop more quickly, are customers who will keep coming back to those stores, virtually or physically.

Once the pandemic is under control (however long that takes), I am far more likely to remember the stores who made it possible for me to support them safely during these times. Those companies will get a lot more business from me for years to come!

One retailer I had hardly used for several months prior, transformed their game so completely in response to these challenges, that I now patronize them almost weekly. A number of my favorite stores have improved their responses, and so I always look there first for whatever I need. Of course there may be great deals elsewhere, and I do still comparison shop, but when I don’t have the time or energy to do that, I feel confident in supporting these companies that I know are spending their time and money to help keep ME safe and happy. This way of doing business can earn dividends that far outlast the troubled times we are working our way through right now.

In summary…

These points begin to show what a huge benefit curbside pickup is for many people with different preferences and needs. Why fight your way through a crowded store when you only have to go in for a few things? Why spend hours shopping when you could spend minutes instead?

Whether filling your car for a month or scooping up that one thing that you have to replace suddenly, a safe and easy pickup is good business for everyone involved. I do hope that curbside pickup is here to stay.

You Deserve Better

Six months ago, and a year ago, things may have seemed simpler for a lot of us, for so many reasons. Today I considered a crucial one that we often overlook.

I have heard a number of friends lately struggle with this concept, as have I. Anyone who is trying to build a brand, or write a blog, or start a podcast, or anything that you are trying to do… you want people to listen. You want people to hear you. And on the surface – in the beginning – ANY reader, viewer, or follower seems important. And everyone IS important.

But.

If you walk one of these paths – indeed, if you strive to achieve any goal at all – you will find trolls. You will find people who want to tear you down. You will find people who always have something to say about what you said, or did, or wrote, or made. But it’s never uplifting; it’s never constructive; it’s never encouraging. It’s never even questioning. Some of these people just always want to tear you down.

I’m all about questioning. I love to have people challenge my ideas (most of the time, anyway). But challenge them with your own thoughts and your own ideas, not just some twisted dogma or vitriol, because you had a hard day, or a hard year, or even a hard life! I feel for you, if you have. Everyone has gone through struggles, but that’s one of the things that connects us.

Many of you will have heard this before, or one of its variations:

“Always be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you do not know.”

Struggles, challenges, courage, hope, overcoming, even grief! These are things that can bond us together. These are things that can help us find common ground, understanding, compassion, for each other. I don’t worry much when someone has a bad day and says one rude thing. (I’ve certainly done this! And no one is too big to apologize.)

Anyone can have a bad day, and anyone can say one hurtful thing. Accidentally, or even on purpose, by lashing out because of some emotional damage they didn’t realize was being externalized in the moment. And if that person realizes what happened and apologizes, the odds are very strong that I will forgive them and we will move on, as adults.

But some people just want to trash talk, and I don’t have time for those people anymore.

I have a tiny blog, with perhaps a handful of readers. But I already don’t have time for people who just want to hate. I have had to part company with some old friends, because while we once had spirited discussions, debates, and even disagreements, they became bitter over something. Anything! Often politics. Sometimes personal losses that weighed so heavily on them that, instead of leaning on their friends for support, they simply became sour, toward everything.

One of them, I had to separate from months ago. I saw him struggling, read what little he shared online, and reached out to him and asked him what I could do. I made sure to take it offline, so there would be no audience, and we could just be two adults who respected each other, having a discussion about our lives. He dismissed me; brushed away my offers, which is fine; that’s his right. But he continued to be extremely caustic in public, and whether that’s his brand, and he wants an audience, or whether he’s just become so filled with frustration that he hates everything most days… I don’t have time for that now.

That’s just one example. If you’re reading this now, you may have encountered what we call The Internet (!), and you can likely think of many more!

If you’re an artist, an engineer, a builder, a designer of any kind, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

You need to know this: shutting out destructive people, toxic people, bitter people, who have no room left for joy, encouragement, hope? Sometimes that is the only option you have, for your own survival.

If you have a strong foundation, if you’re in a good place, with lots of resources – time, energy, even money – and you want to help a lot of people… do so! I encourage that, too. If you want to start an organization that can reach people who are struggling in a community, in a sector, in a country… by all means, go for it! That can be a wonderful cause!

Even if you have limited resources, but you’re still in a position to help someone else, and you want to, that’s terrific. But if you’re in a troubled place right now, maybe you should start with yourself. Maybe you should get yourself on steady footing before you try to throw a line to others.

Of course I don’t mean to be rude, or heartless; not ever! Sometimes we find new strength and energy in the very act of helping other people. And that can make us stronger, help bring us more focus, and more confidence. Even fulfillment.

All these aspects of human emotion and psychology and character are real. But if you’re struggling, whatever your work hustle is, or even if you’re just trying to survive this moment, don’t give anyone who wants to hurt you the time of day. Don’t give anyone who has nothing useful to say to you, a minute of your time, or one spark of your energy.

I’ve long said that you can only truly love another person once you love yourself. You can’t appreciate respect from another person until you respect yourself. Plenty of people struggle with these aspects, too. In fact, I wrote another entire blog about my own journey from self-loathing to self-respect, and it has literally turned my life around.

You must help yourself first. If you don’t put some of your energy into yourself first, you will very quickly feel spent dealing with other people, even people you love, even people you’re trying to help. Thankless work may be fine for saints, but most of us walk a line somewhere in the middle! Most of us want to feel appreciated, at least from time to time. Most of us want to know that we’re doing the right thing, as often as possible.

If you know your path well, you have an excellent start. But if you can filter out some of these people who have nothing to add to your life, and who only take things away, then the struggles won’t be as hard. And your successes just might feel every bit as sweet as you deserve.

Regular pruning helps trees and other plants to thrive, because life is about growth, and growth is messy. How many people do you know whose life has followed exactly the course that they charted for it? At best, I know people who have accomplished one or two major goals that they set when they were younger. But most of us are finding our way every day, and it’s okay to change that course.

If you’ve found your North Star, and you can follow it firmly, so much the better. If you’re still looking for it, that’s fine, too! Some people know what they want in life at age 20; some people are still seeking it at age 50.

Grandma Moses always loved art and preferred embroidery until her late 70s, when her arthritis made that craft too difficult. She took up painting again, and we all know that turned out well. But she found joy in it, and sold paintings for just a few dollars at first, and later for thousands of dollars. Quite the success story, though she started off doing something else.

So there’s plenty of hope for all of us.

Prune your life of people, places, and things that hold nothing but ill will or bad memories for you. If you need to give away something from an old relationship so that you can let it go and finally move on with your life, give it away. And if it was a bad relationship, break it. Burn it. Consecrate it and bury it in the ground. Whatever you need to do.

If there’s a place you can no longer stand to be, consider a move. I know that’s a huge step! I don’t pretend that’s easy or simple. But it is possible. It’s possible, and it can give you the fresh start you need. It can give you a fresh outlook, new energy, and a clean slate.

And if it’s people that are holding you back, or holding you down, or always trying to discourage everything you do, you can change that, too. If you’re brave and they’re reasonable, bring it up. Frankly, honestly, simply. Plan a time, plan a place, make it over a meal, make it in a public place, make it at home – wherever it needs to be – and talk. Tell them what’s bothering you. And if that’s not possible, you can simply break off contact, with or without an explanation. Whatever is appropriate for you.

You deserve to have people around you who support you, who lift you up. My best friend says that you become like the five people that you spend the most time around and invest the most time in. And so he makes sure that those five people are good for him. He feels that I enrich his life and that he can learn from me, and that I help him strive for better things. And I feel exactly the same way about him.

Maybe it’s time you start choosing the top five people in your life. And if you have a close family of twenty or more people, maybe some of your top five will be in that family. Maybe they all will. Maybe none of them will. That’s okay! I’m not telling you to abandon your family if they’re not in your top five. I’m just saying, find the people who lift you up, and make sure to invest your time and energy in those relationships.

It doesn’t have to be five. It can be three, or ten, or whatever you have the time and energy for. Extroverts will have more energy to deal with more people. Introverts may only be able to handle two or three people.

You CAN do this.

You deserve strong, supportive relationships in your life.

Carve out some time to start thinking about this. It could be in your commute. It could be while you’re washing dishes, or sewing, or working out, or cleaning your house or apartment, or sunbathing, or on the beach, or at the library, or hiking through trees, or in any place where you can hear your own thoughts. Write these things out if you need to, and be honest. No one else ever has to see it. But you’ll appreciate figuring this out, and you may have more energy than you ever dreamed possible once you do.

You can do this. Find a safe space and start now. You can thank yourself in six months.

Independence Day evolved

I don’t have PTSD from combat, and I still felt like I was in a war zone last night, with bombs exploding all around. I understand that the Star-Spangled Banner was inspired by and written during the overnight defense of Fort McHenry, but why do we celebrate our post-war freedom by simulating the violence of combat all over again?

To counter the risks of wildfires, people have developed drone-based LED light shows to replace firework shows, and this is an excellent development. Even a buzzing hum that may sound like a swarm of bees is replicating a natural phenomenon, and the lights are visible from a distance and can be used to make incredibly elaborate figures. These spectacular displays are vivid, harmless, and all electric, not even generating exhaust, much less the concussive noise and air pollution that result from explosive powder and burning paper over an area.

I know how much US citizens love their guns, and with the ferocious defense of the right to bear arms, I doubt that fireworks will be outlawed in this country anytime soon. However, for the physical safety of humans, animals, and plant life in the area, banning handheld packages of gunpowder just makes sense. Moreover, out of respect for veterans who have served their nation in active duty, we should refrain from allowing even private citizens to detonate these items for days before and after every holiday.

Humans and our technology are constantly evolving. Embrace the present and the future. Love life, be kind to nature, and love your neighbors, especially our armed forces, whether active, reserve, or retired.