“The story is always better than your ability to write it.” — Robin McKinley
The 90-in-90 writing challenges I’ve posted have sometimes taken on a life on their own. Other times they’ve taken on my life. And other times still they have simply faded away.
Fortunately, I’m way more into process than product so the outcome of my personal missions is rarely the point.
For this challenge, though, the product is more important than the process. Let me explain:
One aspect of my life is that of a teacher. I have taught at various times students in middle school, high school, and college.
There moments – and sometimes days – when the process is rewarding. There are other times when every moment of the day tries my patience. (There are other days where so many elements have gone completely wrong that you question whether you truly understand what you are doing.)
The worst is when you have that student, the one who makes you dread coming to class because they simply disrupt every task you try to accomplish. It’s easy for teachers to focus so much attention on that one negative influence that the view of the entire class is skewed.
Instead of focusing on the major successes with the classroom, you find you whole worldview skewed by one person.
I know this happens often because I have listened to colleagues at different institutions tell me a version of this story.
In just a bit more than two months, I’ll marry the woman I love. I fell in love with her the very first minute we met, and since that time we have spent almost no time apart. She makes me better in just about every conceivable way.
One part of her personality that I absolutely adore is her ability to make anyone she is talking with feel special. I’ve heard people describe former President Bill Clinton’s charisma as overwhelming. He makes you feel as if you are the most important person who has ever spoken.
I watch Rebecca with people and I think of this. People just flock to her.
Our little family is facing some interesting decisions in the near future. Life is funny that way. As we contemplate what life may look like in different locations, we continually find ourselves saying this: “We have some really good people around us right now.”
And we do. The world we have constructed in Indianapolis is more fulfilling than I could imagine. We have an amazing pet family at PetSmart; we have great, healthy friends at CrossFit; we have a small circle of friends in the city; we have many connections with my former students; and we live quite close to our families.
We have crafted the very type of life we have both longed to have.
This life, though, wasn’t one that just appeared. We actively created it.
This brings me to the 52 in 365.
I don’t want to sound old and tell you that today’s society is somehow worse than what it was when I was growing up. It’s an easy trap into which many people fall, but some simple cognitive science lets us know that our memories are pretty terrible and we tend to erase that which we don’t like.
As such, I suspect today’s world is very much like yesterday’s world. This is to say: fast and cold.
For whatever reason, we humans are very quick to complain. We will let the one bad attitude in a room ruin our day even if 19 other attitudes are sunny. We are convinced that the people moving through this world are idiots who wake up with the single-minded intent of making our days suck.
We get so caught up in the day-to-day mundane tidbits that fill up life that we sometimes forget that our minds will seek out the patterns for which we program it look. Wake up in a bad mood, and you will see bad around you all day. Wake up in a good mood, you will see good everywhere.
We have the power to control how we experience the world. We can create the life we want.
So here’s what I’ve decided to do.
Each week for the next 52 weeks, I’ve decided to write one letter to someone who I think deserves a pat on the back for doing something. The kicker is that I’m not going give that person the letter. Instead, I am writing the letter to their manager, boss, significant other, or whomever else I might find appropriate.
The point: I want to go into the world actively looking for goodness, and then I want to make sure that I take the time to stop and appreciate that for what it is.
“Why?” you might ask. This answer is simple. When we treat goodness with the same negligence with which we treat badness, we end up giving people no reason to strive to be better. We have silently said that great effort and no effort are the same, and that isn’t a world where I want to live.
So this is my stand. One year, once a week, write a letter thanking somebody for the kindness they have shown.
Once the letters have been received, I will post them here because I nothing keeps me honest like a public show. And if you decide to join in my little endeavor, I’d love to hear your story as well.