Category Archives for "Parenting"

The Discomfort Zone … choosing your life path

A few weeks ago, Handsome was talking with a friend about a tough situation they were in, and they said they knew they needed to get out of their “Comfort Zone” and fix it.  Then they took a pause, and said, “But wait, I’m not comfortable at all!” 

We often hear about “Comfort Zones.”  Situations that are easy to stay in, while we know we’d be better off if we made the difficult choice to get out of them.  For me, lots of my learning as a puppy fit this – it might be comfortable to lie on the forbidden couch or pee inside the house, but I was better off improving my behavior!  Humans might find a situation like staying in their parents’ home, staying in a go-nowhere job, or avoiding a difficult conversation to be Comfort Zones.

But what I see so often is what I’ll call DIScomfort Zones!  Situations one stays in that make them actively miserable. 

For example, if you have nice parents who treat you well, and it’s comfortable to live with them although you know you need to move out and start to live your own life, that’s a Comfort Zone.  But if you’re staying with parents who abuse, shame, and harass you… you’re in a Discomfort Zone. 

In dealing with my Pack members, where I see this most often is young relationships.  Whether friendships or romances, people will stay with others they might not think the best of or get the most out of, just because that’s the way things are.  And really, that’s fine, until something changes.  But it breaks my heart to see you guys stay with people who treat you badly.  Who ignore you, who put you down (not in fun ways), who cheat on you, who blame you, who make you feel horrible about yourself.

Either zone requires strength and hope to leave.  But with a Discomfort Zone, I also think it’s really important to look at the question of Why:  What has kept you there?  What do you get from it, and what’s so scary about being out of it that you’ve stayed?

In the relationship question, what is it that keeps you with those friends, or in that romance?  Is it love, or is it maybe a deep-seated fear that you’re not good enough for someone else?  That no one else is going to accept you?  That this crumminess is as good as you’ll ever get?

And if that’s the case, then I want to challenge you to do one thing for me.  I’m not telling you what decisions to make in your life, but I do just want you to look at that question anew.  Really ask yourself – Is This True?

If you’re thinking no one else could love you, ask yourself why you have that belief.  Who told you that?  What about you is so unlovable?

Now I need to take a little pause here:  If this is just that you’re feeling your relationship isn’t good enough because the other person doesn’t have a billion euros or look like Ana De Armas, that’s another story.  You might be correct to think you’re not that very rare individual who’ll land someone with gifts such as those.  But if you’re thinking no one worthy could love you, or even like you, please look over your past.  Have you had other friends?  Has someone else been interested in you?  And if so, doesn’t that prove that you don’t need to stay in your Discomfort?

You see, the superpower of Comfort Zones and Discomfort Zones is in their telling you “Don’t think too much about this!”  If you’re staying out of shape because it’s easier to sit around watching YouTube than to go for a run, that’ll work until the day you start wanting to be stronger and fitter so much you turn that iPad off.  And if you stay sedentary it so much that you start having back problems and can’t stand what you see in the mirror, then it’s even more so: Once you ask yourself about the choice you’re making, you’ll start making a different choice!

Now again, I’m never going to argue anyone out of a true, considered choice to stay in an uncomfortable situation.  The selflessness that leads one to a life of austere help to others, the nobility of defending your homeland against attackers, the deep love of taking care of ailing family members… these are virtues, not flaws.  I bow to you for them.

But even with those, it’s good to step back and look at your choices.  Because maybe doing so will help remind you of just how great you are!  (I’m happy to do it too, but can’t be there with you all the time!)

Life offers joys, comforts, discomforts, and horrors.  Everyone’s.  All I’m pushing on you this month is to do what I do when I’m sleeping somewhere and it gets a little too sunny – so I wake, get up, and move to a shadier spot and go back to sleep.

To get conscious just long enough to do what’s best for you.

And do it Often!

Shirelle

How to get over someone who treats you badly

Blessing special asks:

How do I get over someone I really like?  After we spent time for the first time (cause we have been talking for a while), we finally met through a friend of mine – but even before we met he didn’t want any strings attached even though we liked each other. And then it wasn’t all good because he’s this kind of bossy type that always wants to do all the talking and giving out instructions. I always try not to make mistakes because he doesn’t hesitate to judge my mistake or point it out, but I really liked him because he was cool. As well we had some great moments, but when I got back he no longer talked or called me as before. When I asked, he said I wasn’t the vibe he needed, and it really hurt me so much!  I have been trying to get over it!

Hi Blessing special –

I have seen this same situation so many times.  We dogs tend to fall in love with whoever takes care of us, but you humans have a crazy tendency to fall in love with people who treat you horribly!  I’ve seen it in so many letters, and even at home.  I remember a few years back, Handsome was just nuts about this woman who had many wonderful qualities but treated him horribly (not abusive, just pulling him in, pushing him away, back and forth).  Eventually she broke up with him and he was simply devastated.  A friend of his said the words I couldn’t speak, “I know you’re heartbroken, but I have to say I’m glad she left you.  I couldn’t stand to watch her keep hurting you anymore.” 

So lots of people will tell you their suggestions on how to get over this guy.  “Eat a tub of ice cream.”  “Go out with ten other guys.”  “Dye your hair light green.”  I can’t say which of these will help or won’t, but I do know that the only way you’ll truly get over him is to make a change in your attitude toward yourself, where you say, “It doesn’t matter how great he is in other regards.  I deserve someone who treats me well.” 

And what does “treat well” mean to you?  Does it mean showering you with jewelry and flowers?  Writing you love songs?  Taking you out lots to help you escape from the boredom of your job?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I can tell you what it doesn’t include: “No strings attached,” bossing you around, judging your mistakes, ghosting you, or saying “you’re not the vibe I need!”  In other words, you deserve someone who’s at least better than this guy!

Blessing special, you are a special blessing!  Any guy who can’t see that isn’t worthy of you.  And the only one making you be in relationships that feel bad is you. 

So my answer is to like yourself better, and value yourself more.  You wouldn’t accept a person kicking a dog, so why would you accept a guy who treated anyone that way, especially you?

You deserve better.  If you don’t know it yet, take my word for it.  You do.

And the day you learn that is the day you’ll be over him – and anyone else like him – forever!

Here’s hoping it’s soon!

Shirelle

Sorry Not Sorry … the nature of regret

            Handsome recently told me about a fascinating movie he’d just seen.  Hard to describe, but in many ways, it was fundamentally about the nature of regret. 

            We dogs don’t deal a lot with regret.  Or rather, we don’t deal with it for long.  We’ll regret something we did because of its immediate consequences (whether that’s the punishment sort, like when I steal food off Handsome’s plate and he yells at me and makes me go outside, or the cause-effect sort, like where I stick my nose too far to sniff inside a hot oven and… OW!), but we don’t carry regrets on for days, or months, or years, the way you do.

            So I look on the whole concept in a different way than people would.  And what I see is… mixed.

            Okay, first let’s talk about the good.  A person does something thoughtless or awful, that has terrible consequences.  They drive drunk and cause an accident with permanent injuries, or they say something hurtful that someone never gets over.  And having realized the effects of their actions, they make a change.  They stop driving intoxicated (or maybe stop drinking altogether), and hold back on comments that might be taken in the worst ways. 

            Well that’s great!  They’ve grown, matured, learned… they make themselves into better people, more useful citizens of their community.  Regret has prodded them to self-improvement. Fantastic.

            And then there’s the bad.  A person does something they regret, and it damages them forever.  A breakup goes badly, and the instigator says “I hurt someone I cared about, and feel awful, so I never want to try romance again.  I’m too harmful.”  Or on a more general level, someone does something they regret and never feels good about themselves after that.  “I’m just not a good person.  I make mistakes that go bad.”  You know the type – the person who never stands up straight, only smiles with a nervousness, and can’t accept a compliment.  It’s not their breakup or mistake that’s ruined their life; it’s their regret that’s done it.

            But then there’s another sort.  Let’s call it “Dramatic Regret.”  The person who wears their regret, makes a show of it, lets it define them by choice.  You know them too.  The girl who is always telling her schoolmates she shouldn’t have broken up with that guy, the young man who’s always putting on a show about what a bad person he is for having punched his dad.  The regret might be real, but, again, these folk tend to make their regret into a new set of clothes for themselves! 

            Of course, what’s the very best is when regret leads one to simply act in a way that undoes it.  I know that’s not always possible, but when it can, I’m for it.  When Handsome accidentally steps on my toes, I yelp, and he collapses down, hugging me, apologizing, and kissing the tops of my feet to make them feel better… it works!  Sure I don’t want him stepping there again, but all the pain has gone away, and I’m fine!

            So, about this movie.  It was hard for Handsome to describe to me, and it’ll be even harder for me to relate, but it’s about a good woman with a bland husband, a rebellious daughter, and a distant father, trying to get through her difficult working day, while facing economic difficulties.  But suddenly she’s enabled to see all the different possibilities out there – of her past choices and her present.  It’s confusing, and surprisingly violent, as she confronts all these different realities.  But in doing so, she grows to learn more about who she is. 

            In other words, to grow, she is forced to face countless regrets.  Even for things she didn’t know were choices she’d made.

            If you’re able to see it, I recommend this movie.  It’s called Everything Everywhere All at Once, and while it’s being compared to superhero multiverse stories, it’s really more unique than that.

            But if you miss seeing it, or you think it’s not your type, that’s okay too.  It’s YOUR choice, and you don’t need to walk around in regret about it!

            What I want most is for you to look at yourself, at your own life, right now.  And see what regrets you have.  Are any of them fixable, like Handsome kissing my toes?  Or “growable,” like the driver changing their drinking habits?  Or if not, are any of them unfair, just pulling you down?  Maybe you can let those go.  (Or are any of them ones you choose to indulge, for attention-grabbing reason?  PLEASE let those go!)

            As a human, you have a huge brain that holds incredible amounts of memory and imagination.  You will never be able to live with no regrets.  But if you handle them right, and carry just the ones that you absolutely have to, then maybe, just maybe, you can live as happy and constantly-refreshingly-happy a life as a dog.

            And that’s something you will NEVER regret!

How to cope with the effects of a traumatic experience.

Shelby asks:

My life was normal until I was on my way to work, waiting for my shuttle service, and my phone got snatched. I have been living at my parents’ for so many years. But that night changed my life. I am so thankful that the robbers did not hurt me physically and just took my phone. Along with my phone is my ID which contains my photo, address, birthday etc. Ever since then, I’ve felt like someone is watching me always and is waiting for the chance to harm me again. And worst, I always feel like there are some people who will hurt my child too. I lost trust in everyone and I feel like any of them might harm or hurt my child or me. I can’t sleep, I can’t focus on my job. Please help me find the way to cope.

Hi Shelby –

You are dealing with something very specific, called Trauma.  People often refer to it as PTSD, meaning Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I don’t know that you’re having a real “disorder.”  You just are in the effects of this awful trauma.

Now let me make something clear about this – Trauma is not about what happened to you; it’s about the effect it had on you.  So when someone tells you, “You’re overreacting – lots of worse things happen to people every day,” it’s not that they’re exactly wrong, but they’re missing the point!  Yes, some people would order a new phone and shrug this experience off.  But they’re not you.  This incident cut to your core, making you distrustful of everyone and frightened of life.  The word psychologists use is “Hypervigilant,” meaning you’re always on the watch, and can’t relax and enjoy your life.

There are many treatments out there for trauma.  For some people, some deep breathing is enough.  For others, a massage, a glass of wine, and a good talk with a caring friend works.  Or of course I’m going to suggest a dog – both for the calming walks and for the barking protector with big teeth!

But for others, those aren’t enough.  There are psychotherapists everywhere who specialize in methods of trauma-reduction.  For some people, fascinating methods like specialized tapping on their face and body, or eye movements, can help heal the damage the trauma did to their nervous system.  For others, it might be a more in-depth work (perhaps the robbery triggered a memory in you of another violation to your safety when you were young, and accessing that memory will relieve your more recent anxiety).

I’m a pretty happy pup, and have likely caused more traumas than I’ve suffered!  But I have a few slight cases.  For example, when I was a puppy, Handsome tried to befriend me to a medium-sized long-haired black dog he loved, who attacked and tried to kill me before he got me away from her.  I was okay, but to this day, when I see a long-haired black dog bigger than me, I instantly fall onto my back and pee submissively, from the deep-seated terror in my memory.

There’s nothing wrong with your mind, Shelby.  You’re sane and smart.  But this incident has caused you the same sort of damage another person might get from an attack, a car accident, or being near a bomb explosion.  

I urge you to find a therapist of some sort to help you through this.  You’re not wrong to be bothered by being robbed, but you want to live a happier life in the future, and good trauma treatment can get that for you.

(Though I still say buying a dog is a GREAT idea as well!)

All my very best,

Shirelle

Because I Could … the danger of Entitlement

            A president, having lost an election, spreads lies about having actually won it, to the degree that hundreds of his supporters storm their own government in a failed attempt to take it over and undo the election – after which he denies any blame for it while many of them get arrested.

            A dictator bombards a neighboring country, arguing that they’re an urgent danger for having left his country and asking to join an opposing coalition – something they did a quarter-century ago.

            A popular successful actor, on the most honoring night of his life, hears a comedian make a dumb joke about his wife, storms onto the stage, strikes him, and yells obscenities at him before an international audience.

            What do these huge news stories have in common?

            I’ll answer in one word: Entitlement.  That’s the attitude one has when they think the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them, and, worse, that they deserve these special rights.

            You’ve likely known people like this, especially when you were growing up.  Some snotty kid in your school who thought they were “all that” and treated others with disdain or even cruelty.  (Maybe you were one of these yourself!)  But that’s childhood, when everyone’s supposed to go through bad phases and learn from them.  The problem is when we see these qualities in adults!

            But meanwhile, while it’s easy to despise spoiled brats, at any age, doesn’t our society also honor them?  That president and that dictator gained their powers by thrilling people with their senses of entitlement, creating a viewpoint of “If he can do it, and I’m on his side, I’ll be entitled too!  I won’t have to play by the boring rules I’ve had to before.  And even my country won’t have to!”

Now this brings up a question, though.  When a leader takes charge and directs their people through a difficult situation, making horribly risky decisions, is that also entitlement?

What about when someone sacrifices their own life for a cause, when none of their friends or family would have allowed them to do such a thing?

Or what about when a person walks up to a poor person on the street and insists on giving them their lunch?  Is that entitlement?

I will certainly argue that it’s not.  Rather, they show a viewpoint that they have the right to make choices for themselves, but each of these involves a thoughtfulness, a consideration of the greater good, that renders their action the opposite.

So let’s look at those examples I started with.  Imagine that president had said “I lost, but I think I can do a better job if they give me another chance.  I’ll run again, and spend the next four years giving people reasons to vote for me.”  Or if that dictator had said “I need to find ways to help that country, to encourage them to ally with us.”  Or if that actor had waited until later and publicly stated, “I thought that joke was stupid and even cruel.”

In each of those cases, the person would have still pursued their goal, but in a way that would have honored the rights and even lives of those around them.

            Now here’s another question: Is my writing this to you a sign of a sense entitlement?  I’m certainly believing my thoughts are worth your attention. 

But no, it’s not.  Because you have the right to click off this page, or shut down your computer, and walk away and grab a nice pastry any time you like.  If I barged into your home, jumped onto your bed, bared my fangs, growled while drooling onto your throat, and, keeping you terrified, demanded you listen to what I had to say about the Oscars Slap, then… yeah THAT would be Entitlement!

            So does that mean that nothing can undo the actions that these entitled men have done, or even some of the rotten things some people did as kids?  Maybe not.  But is there a way to undo entitlement itself?  To move on from it?

            I think so, and can think of one excellent example.  A couple of decades ago, another U.S. President was caught having had, and lied about, an extramarital affair.  He denied it for a long time, and confessed to it only when undeniable evidence proved him guilty.  Years later, he wrote an autobiography, and in it said some amazing words.  He said that he’d had the affair “for the worst reason in the world.  I did it because I could.”

            It was no big deal for him to confess to the cheating yet again.  But instead, he confessed to entitlement.  Something so rare as to be truly beautiful.

            Have you been guilty of acting entitled?  Do you have it in you to admit it? 

            If so, you will have redeemed yourself.  And you can move on into a world of bravery, humility, and strength.

            But if not, you’ll be stuck in it.  And even those who think you were right to… oh, to contest some election results, or attempt a takeover of your neighboring country, or stand up for your wife to a comedian…  even they will see you as less than they did before.  

            Because you have proved your truth.  And the truth isn’t just bad; it’s entitled, which might be the most disgusting quality a person can have.

            Look, if I climb onto a couch I’m not supposed to, I know I’m breaking the rules.  But nothing I or any other dog does comes from that entitled place (our brains just don’t work that way). 

So I’m not asking you to be better than us. 

Just… don’t be worse.

            All my love,

            Shirelle

PS: And just to repeat my last newsletter’s complete text:  ALL. DOGS. HATE. WAR.

Why can’t the people who care about us understand what we’re feeling?

Soumyaguna asks:

I want to know why do people tend to show their emotions to us and when we try to say what we have to, we are not understood.

Why do people not care about what the other person might be going through, especially when you are not just anyone….you are someone special.

To be clear, I’m tired of explaining myself every time….I’m tired of making others understand what exactly I feel and how.

But deep inside I’m very sad realizing that I actually don’t have even one person in my life who understands me or with whom I can share things, not even my closest ones.

I ‘m tired of this all happening to me all the time….I’m done with this and cannot take anymore, cause it is causing so much harm to my mental peace where I don’t know how to move forward.

Things have just burdened me a lot, with piles of stress and a lot of complaints with close ones as they are the ones whom I care about and always will. But the ignorant attitude just isn’t going down well with me.

Hi Soumyaguna –

         I know you asked about a lot of things, but fundamentally it seems to me that you’re asking about the problem that people aren’t sensitively picking up on what you’re feeling, or even expressing, and seem to need you to spell everything out for them (if they even care then!).

         Of course I don’t know the people in your life, but I will point out something I’ve noticed about humans, which is that you guys have gigantic brains, and they tend to be filled with gigantic amounts of stuff!

         We dogs are relatively simple.  We feel every bit as deeply as humans do, but our thoughts tend to center on a smaller number of items: our safety, food, play, territory, and giving and receiving love.  That’s largely it.  Even the super-smart dogs you see doing amazing tricks in shows have been trained through love and food.

         Meanwhile, you guys have SO MUCH STUFF on your minds.  The same day your heart is broken by someone dumping you, you might have a big exam in a science class, you’re trying to remember all the lyrics to that new song you like, you’re trying to master how to drive your parents’ car, you’re struggling with conflicting feelings about your dad, you’re wondering if you wore the right outfit, and you’re responsible to remember all the different plays on your basketball team.  That’s SO MUCH!

         And my point is that that goes two ways.  When a dog is upset, we’re clear about it.  Maybe we yelp in pain, maybe we whine and lay our head in your lap, maybe we growl and snarl… whatever it is, it’s clear.  But you guys have so many subtler expressions – sarcasm and silence and distance and begging for attention (okay yeah we do that last one too). 

         But when it comes to understanding what another person is feeling, that gets many times more complex.  A person has to focus on someone else (and not that science exam or their jeans), and then read their feelings correctly, and then respond in a way that lets that person know their feelings have been seen in just the right way…

         It’s hard, Soumyaguna.  It’s hard for everyone.  All the time.

         But I’m going to make one big argument about your concern that no one understands.  With all the complexities of the human mind, the amazing astounding unbelievable fact is that people everywhere are mostly just the same.  There’s a reason certain movies or songs or shows are universally popular – it’s because everyone can relate to those feelings. 

         Now you might have people in your life who don’t understand WHY you feel the way you do.  But I promise, there’s no feeling you’ve had that everyone you know hasn’t also had.  Sadness, heartbreak, ecstasy, hilarity, loneliness, alienation… everyone’s been there. 

         So your job – and I know it’s hard – is to find a way to connect to other people’s feelings, even if your reasons are your own.

         Here’s an example.  A guy falls head over heels in love with a woman who doesn’t love him back.  In fact, they don’t share many interests, and she doesn’t treat him well.  She breaks up with him, and he’s devastated.  He goes to see a friend.  The friend gets annoyed with him for acting so glum.  Now we’re looking at just one of those “no one understands” situations, right?

         So our guy explains he’s just been dumped.  The friend says “Good, she was useless!”

         He explains that he loved her.  “Well that’s just stupid.  She treated you horribly!”

         He explains that that’s true, but he still loved every second with her.  “But that’s silly.  You weren’t doing any of the things you like to do!”

         He explains that that’s true too, but that his love for her was bigger than all that, and her leaving makes him feel hopeless and unlovable.

         OH OKAY!  That friend has felt THAT!  And that’s when that friend, if they’re a good friend, says “Oh man I’ve been there!” and tells them THEIR awful story about when they felt that way.  Maybe they have a couple of beers.  Maybe they talk till they start laughing about their awful relationships.  Whatever it is, a line has been crossed.  And our fellow doesn’t feel alone anymore.

         Sure he still misses her, and his heart still hurts, but connecting with that friend helped him move forward.

         But as you see, the friend didn’t get it at first.  It took some work to get there.

         Now Soumyaguna, you may be right about some of the people in your life, that they’re not interested enough in your feelings to care.  If so, those don’t seem to be the best people for you to put your trust and emotions onto.  Better to find someone who’s better at it.

         And you know where I’m going to go with this – there’s NO ONE better for this than a dog!  We may not understand your reasons or your stories, but we connect to every emotion you have, and WE CARE.  We care as much as we do about ourselves! 

         And unlike your human friends, we’re very happy to lick all the tears off your face!

         So please don’t give up on everyone, and give people the chance and the information they need to connect with you.  But if they can’t… just remember, we’re out here, always eager to give you just what you need.

         All my best,

         Shirelle

What’s the best way to deal with false rumors at school?

Arty asks:

A few weeks ago at lunch one of my friends at school told me that someone who I thought was my friend made a story about me on FaceTime (Maybe she was jealous but she also might have just been bored or feeling mean. I’m not sure.). It was about me having sex with someone else who is now out of our school, and us having a child and giving the child away. When I heard the story I went to someone who’s always supervising us during lunch. She’s someone I guess I trust, and we’ve known each other for however long I’ve been at this school, and my friends and I love her and always talk to her. So I told her everything. And this lady I trust called the girl who made the story about me and told her she was very disappointed in her because the same thing had happened to her last year. Then lunch ended and my teacher called everyone who was involved. She talked to us and the lady I trust also talked to us. I was silent the whole time and was on the verge of tears (I had wanted the lunch supervisor to talk about it to the person who made the story, but not to bring my teacher into it and get people in trouble and stuff like that cause I feel people would call me a tattle tale.), but tried not to show it. When they were done talking, I asked if I could use the restroom. I felt vindicated but also horribly embarrassed.  When I reached the restroom, I started crying. Then one of my used-to-be best friends but now sorta-friends walked in, gave me a hug, and we both cried a little bit. Then we went back to class. I’m sorta over this, and no one talks about it anymore, but whenever I think about it I feel like I still wanna cry. I don’t know what to do anymore and who to trust or who I can trust. My parents don’t know about this and after a few days no one at school talked about it anymore – which always happens whenever something major occurs. Now I feel like I’m wearing a mask and everyone thinks I’m ok. It’s just so hard not to have anyone to talk to (Sometimes when I say stuff, my schoolmates sorta just laugh at me. I feel like I just can’t get personal with them. And I don’t want to dump my problems on them because I’m sure that they have problems of their own.). And right now I myself feel like I’m being dramatic and selfish.


Then… a whole different story happened! Almost all of my classmates were added to a new group chat a few days ago (including me). And they started talking about a kid in my class. I’m going to name him r. Ok. So they were just talking about r liking every girl in the classroom and wanting to date me! And then they sent a picture of r with like a huge grin on his face and below it wrote r when he sees (I’m going to put j for my name) j. And I’m just like ‘ooook then’… I didn’t really have anything to say so I kept quiet. But with my friends (in a different group chat) were talking about it and stuff. Then r texted in the group chat ‘I like j’ and I was just completely shocked but told myself it was probably a dare or he’s just seeking attention and stuff like that. Then one of my other friends who was not in the group chat with my friends but was in the group chat with the entire class texted me and asked me if I saw the text r wrote. I told her yes. Then she asked if I liked him back. I knew that she was going to ask me and when I answered she would send it to her bestie and her bestie would send it to the whole class. So I just ignored her text. That was during the weekend. So come the school week, everyone is asking me ‘do u like r?’ ‘Are you and r dating’ ‘do you know’ and all that jazz. And one brat  told me ‘go kiss r’. My answer for all of those questions except the last one were ‘I’m not going to answer that question’ ‘no’ and ‘yes’ respectively (is that the right word?). Now, my question for u is what do I do? Do I text this boy and ask him why he did that? If it was a dare? Does he actually like me? (But I’m worried that if I do, he’ll take a picture and send it to everyone) or do I talk to him in real life. Or do I just ignore it and wait for it to be forgotten?  I will appreciate any piece of advise you have to offer. Thank you! 

Hi Arty –

Before anything else, I have one big statement for you:  you are NOT being “dramatic and selfish.”  You went through something terrifying with that crazy FaceTime incident, and are still trying to make sense of it, as anyone would. 

But I’m going to give you a suggestion on how to deal with all this that might sound really odd:  Take a deep breath, and do nothing!

Here’s my thought.  First of all, it seems quite clear that everyone quickly forgot about that idiotic story about you and the child.  It sounds to me like your class looooooves drama, and so is always looking for something new to talk about, so that crazy tale was forgotten as soon as some other nutty one came around!

Secondly, with the story about r, all he’s done was to write that note that said he liked you.  Well “like” is a very vague word.  I like you and I’ve never met you!  But he might mean that he thinks you’re cute (which anyone could say, whether or not they were actually interested in getting involved with you).  Or he might mean he has a huge crush on you.   Or, as you suggest, he might have just said it on a dare.

Regardless, he hasn’t done anything more about it.  And while a bunch of people are asking you how you feel about him (and I don’t know – do you actually feel anything toward him, good or bad?), they’ve probably moved on to other, equally earth-shaking questions, in the seven days since you wrote me.  But unless he’s done anything (like talk with you, or even try to get your attention), you have no responsibility in this at all!

You see, you care a lot about what your peers say and think about you, of course.  But what you’re not focusing on, or at least not telling me, is what you want.  In all the nutty stuff you wrote me about, I don’t hear anything about your excitement or hurt or wishes.  And I’m guessing that’s because they aren’t as important to you right now as what the group thinks and feels about you!

So focus on that.  Would you like r to approach you?  Let him know.  Would you prefer he not?  Then keep things as they are.

I know it seems the opposite is true, but YOU HAVE ALL THE POWER HERE!  Someone saying they like you is a nice compliment but nothing more.  People talk all the time about liking pop stars and actresses, who don’t need to respond at all.  Neither do you!  

You’re just fine, my friend.  And what’s cool is that, for the second time in a very short while, everyone at school got focused on you.  Think how it would feel to be one of those kids no one ever thinks about!  You’re one of the lucky ones!

So stay cool, and take that deep breath — and don’t do anything till you have a feeling that makes you do something.  You have the power, and you have the right!

All my best,

Shirellle

2 Acts of Contrition – the importance of apology

In a popular movie of 1970, a famous actress tells her boyfriend Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  A couple of years later, he was in another hit movie, where another famed actress tells him the same line, and he responds “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I agree more with the second one.

People say they’re sorry all the time, and even though they may not truly mean it at a deep level, it’s usually appreciated.  You interrupt a conversation with, “Sorry to bother you, but…” and it’s accepted.  Or you bump into someone accidentally, and say “Oh, sorry!”  Now do you truly, in these situations, feel deep sorrow about your action?  Of course not.  It’s not that big a deal.  It’s just nice to say.

But with bigger deals, it’s often far more important – and more difficult – to express sorrow and remorse.  To feel and relay it to a degree that changes how others look at you.

This issue got on my mind recently, due to some international political scandals I heard about. On May 20, 2020, a world leader attended a party while making rules that people should stay in and not go to parties.  In November of that year, another leader did just the same thing.  And both then lied when they were caught!  And both got in trouble for their hypocrisy.  But today, one of them is hugely popular, while the other might well be dumped by his own party.  What’s the difference? 

I’d argue it’s all about apology.

In May of 2020, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, attended a party at his home, while pushing the people of his nation to, in caution against the Coronavirus, not even attend funerals, much less parties just for fun.  When asked about the party, he said he hadn’t even known about it.  Then he was forced to admit he’d actually been there.

Then six months later, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, attended a dinner at a fancy restaurant, while he was pushing the people of his state to stay home and not go to restaurants.  When asked about it, he admitted going, but said that everyone had safely stayed outdoors.  Then when press photos of him showed that he was sitting under an indoor chandelier, he had to admit he’d been inside.

Two lying politicians, hypocritical about the rules they expected others to follow.  So what’s the difference?

Mr. Newsom began apologizing at once.  And then, for the next year, he constantly kept doing so, saying what he’d done was stupid, and made a strong point of not making a mistake like that again.

Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson continued to avoid talking about that party, and has been caught at others, including a celebratory one the night before his nation’s Prince’s funeral!  Finally this week he apologized for the 2020 party to Parliament, and for the recent one to their Queen. 

Both politicians have faced public fury, and attempts from their opposition parties to replace them in office.  In Mr. Newsom’s case, it even led to a special election.  But by that time, he’d apologized enough, and shown his better qualities in contrast to his opponent’s ideas, and won a greater percentage of the vote than in the election that had originally given him the job.

While, in Mr. Johnson’s case, many members of his own party are calling for him to resign immediately.

Again, I’m not trying to say either one is a total hero or total villain here.  Both showed stupidity and arrogance in the first place.  But one eventually handled it right, and the other didn’t.  And as Mr. Newsom approaches his originally-scheduled battle for re-election, no member of his opposition party has even yet publicly announced they want to run!

What’s the difference between the two?  Mr. Newsom might just be saying and doing the things he ought to, but he appears to be legitimately sorry he went to that party, and to see how hurtful it was to the people of his state.  While Mr. Johnson appears to only be admitting his fault to get out of trouble, nearly two years later, in a way that no one believes.

Now I’ll give another couple of examples of what I’m talking about, a bit closer to home: These are about me!

For the first few years I lived with Handsome, I tore up, chewed, or broke more things in his home than I can count – from windows to album covers to plumbing to furniture.  And, young and headstrong, I could see that he was upset about them but didn’t really care all that much.  Sure I wanted him to be happy with me, but that was about it.

But as I got older, I wanted to be more careful.  To stop disappointing him.  To be more of a partner.

But things happen. And sure enough, one day I was near a window when a neighbor I loved to bark at walked by.  I jumped up to let him know I saw him and wasn’t going to take that lying down – and knocked over a large potted plant, that shattered onto the floor, spilling dirt everywhere. 

Handsome heard the noise and ran into the room, and stopped when he saw it, “oh NO!” he yelled at the mess.

Now, again, I’d done things far worse, but not at this stage in my life.  I felt just awful!  I bowed my head into the floor, my eyes squeezed shut, full of remorse and pain. 

And what did Handsome do?  Oh you can guess.  His heart just melted.  He came and hugged me and murmured, “Oh sweetie, it was only a plant.  I can clean it up.  It’s fine.” 

And it was.

A year or two later, a friend of his, one of my favorites, was at our place.  I’d brought her a stuffed toy, and she was playing tug-of-war with me with it, both having a great time.  But then I took a deeper bite to get more of it into my mouth, and accidentally bit her hand.  “OWW!” she yelled, and pulled her hand back. 

All over again, my heart just broke.  I loved this lady (still do).  The last thing I’d ever want would be to hurt her, or to make her not want to play with me.  So again, my head bowed, my chest hitting the floor, my eyes wanting to shut this truth out completely.

And again, she saw it and knew it was true.  She petted me and said “It’s okay, you knucklehead.  You just have to be more careful.”  And gave me a hug.

Boy did I lick her face clean that day!

The point I’m making in all this is about sincerity.  To say you’re sorry is a nice gesture, but to truly feel sorrow over something you’ve done to someone – that means the world.

In an old movie Handsome loves, a character says that apologizing is a sign of weakness.  Well, maybe that’s true.  Maybe a true apology is telling someone “I’m weakening myself to you, because I feel so bad about what I did.”

I certainly showed weakness about that plant and that toy.  And I’m not ashamed of it – I’m proud!

You see, Handsome and his friend both gained respect for me when I did that.  And Mr. Newsom gained respect from the people of his state when he came clean about that stupid party.  Maybe Mr. Johnson can gain some respect from this too – althought it might be too late for that.

So my doggy advice, if you find yourself in a situation where you should apologize?

  1. Apologize as soon as you can.  Right away is best.
  2. Don’t say anything you don’t mean.  Just tell your heart’s truth.
  3. Don’t make excuses.  (Mr. Johnson, in his speech to Parliament, said he’d only been at that party for “25 minutes.”  So?  Who cares whether he broke his own rule for five minutes or five hours?  It just made him sound insincere.)
  4. Don’t ask for forgiveness, at least not yet.  That’s immediately asking the person you hurt to do something for you!  If they don’t forgive you, you can ask later, but don’t make that part of the apology.
  5. And for crying out loud, don’t just go back and do the same thing again!

If you can master these, your apology has a great chance of being accepted.  And with that, your life will be able to move on from whatever it was you did.

Because in truth, love often IS saying you’re sorry.  And meaning it!

What to do when others are intimidated by your size and energy?

Arty asks: I feel very self-conscious lots of the time. I’m overweight, and I have pimples and acne. My friends also call me mean and evil (though that’s just one guy) and aggressive and sarcastic, to an extent where they can’t tell if I’m even being serious or not. Of course, I know that most of the time, when they call me that, they are just joking around, but sometimes I feel they are serious. One girl even tells me that my voice just sounds a way in which she can tell that I’m being serious. Sure I’m loud, sometimes I’m ‘energetic’ and sometimes I shout (in a joking manner). But overall, I feel like one day, I’m just gonna be abandoned by my friends and that scares me. What do I do?

Hi Arty –

So if I see this correctly, you’re bigger than your friends, and your playfulness can be overwhelming to the degree they don’t know if you’re being playful or aggressive?  ARTY YOU’RE ME!!  That’s just what I get in the dog park!  I want to play with everyone, but because I’m big and very active (I don’t have the skin issue, but no dogs do!), many of them get scared.  Both dogs and people!

While pretty much all humans get self-conscious, and dogs don’t, it does sound to me like you’re dealing with a problem that we dogs do face a lot.  Little dogs bark all the time, even bite a lot, and no one takes them seriously, just laughing at them and going “Oh you’re so adorable!”  Then a huge dog makes one friendly bark and everyone is terrified they’re going to get eaten!  You’d think this means us more-medium-sized dogs would have all communication perfect, but no, it doesn’t work out that way.

The truth is, Arty, everyone needs to adjust their energy somewhat to others.  I can’t run up and jump on everyone the way I’d like to.  Smaller dogs have to be more careful of people stepping on them than I do.  And you – you’re a big guy with a voice that somehow intimidates some people (at least that one girl).  So my advice is simple – learn to soften it.  Learn to approach people in a way that shows you’re not threatening them.

But also learn that these qualities are YOUR POWERS, and you shouldn’t shut them all the way down.  There will be times when it’s great that you’re big, and have that powerful voice!  Don’t give that up!  Think of the SpiderMan line, that with great power comes great responsibility.  I’m saying to, yes, take that responsibility – but for heaven’s sake don’t give up the power!

I once heard a great line, that the definition of a gentleman is a man who knows how to play the accordion and then doesn’t.  Yes that is meant to be silly (after all, lots of people love to hear accordions!), but there’s a lot of truth in it: Having the power to do something, and choosing when to do it, is the key to greatness.  It does no one any good for you to deny your strengths, but it also doesn’t help you if everyone is always afraid of your uncontrollable presence. 

So learn to be able to keep your voice down.  And learn to be able to hold back your sarcasm.  And (and this will take time) learn just the right amounts to let them out to serve your purposes.

If you can master that, you won’t just be Arty.  You’ll be an ArtISTE!

Best,
Shirelle

Is it right to give a new spouse properties of the late one?

K-Xengah asks: My mum passed away in 2014 and I got a step-mum the following year. I was okay with it until I saw her wearing my mum’s wedding rings. I really find that disrespectful. And what hurts is that that’s something I wouldn’t expect from her…or anyone for that matter. We tried talking to her and dad but they didn’t budge and made it seem like we were wrong and those weren’t even mum’s rings until my sister called her and gave her a piece of her mind. And even though the rings are off her fingers, emotionally I don’t think I’m okay and I have barely said a word to her for three days now, because all I can think about is “what type of person does that?”

Please advise.

Hi K-Xengah –

            I certainly understand your concern, but I don’t think I agree with you about who to blame in this.

            I know some people who have a dog as a pet, love that pup like crazy, take perfect care of it all the way including putting their beloved soulmate down when it’s time, and then save the pooch’s collar, leash, water bowl, etc., and give them all to their next dog.  While others find that just grotesque, and say “No, you save those as memories, and give the new dog new things.”

            Which is right?  I can tell you we dogs don’t really care, so I’d say it’s whatever’s right for the person.

            Now I’m not trying to compare your mother to a pet, but the issue is kind of the same.  I agree with you that most people would argue that her wedding rings are hers alone, and no one else ought to wear them (or if anyone should, it’s you or some other descendant – or the woman a descendant marries, which can be quite lovely, “I want you to be my wife, and I’m giving you my great grandmother’s ring as a statement of commitment!”).  But then, your father is sharing so much else that would have been your mother’s – his home, furniture, finances… and biggest of all, you! – that he might see giving her the rings as a statement of love and continuity.  In fact, I could imagine he might even see it as a way of honoring your mother, by saying “Every time I look at my second wife, I’ll be reminded of my first wife, so that I can be faithful in my heart forever.”

            My point is that, just as I wouldn’t blame a dog for wearing a collar a human put onto her, I wouldn’t blame your stepmother for wearing those rings.  It was your father’s choice to give them to her, and his alone.

            Clearly, between your reaction and your sister’s, your father and stepmother got the message that you two find your stepmother wearing those rings unacceptable, and acted accordingly.

            And so, my very strong suggestion is… Let the whole issue go.  Forget about it.

            Again, this was your father’s choice.  Maybe it wasn’t the best one, but you’re not planning on exchanging him for another father; he’s the one you’ve got and you’re sticking with him.  And assuming they stay together, he and your stepmother will be your family for a very long time.  And again, they’ve honored your and your sister’s wishes (though maybe you’d be happier about it if they’d honored your feelings without her having to speak up!).  So my suggestion is to pretend it never happened, and have the family life you deserve.

            Then, maybe a few years from now, you and your sister might talk with your father about what to do with the rings.  Again, maybe one of you should have them, maybe someone else. 

            But in the meantime, you will have honored your mother by speaking up, and you can honor your father by letting him move forward from his mistake.  That sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

            Best,

            Shirelle

1 2 3 63