Monthly Archives: April 2014

Heresy on Mother’s Day


"Mother and child" by Juan Gris

“Mother and child,” Juan Gris (1922) Source: The Athenaeum

Bear with me. Here are some thoughts regarding this sacrosanct day:

Sure, I love flowers. Sure, I could go for a nice meal and no cleaning-up afterwards. Sure, I love the attention. Sure, I could use a day of being the object of people’s admiration, adoration, adulation even. I’ll accept gifts. And cards. And phone calls. Not to mention chocolates.

But you know what? If I was a good mother to my children, then I already have all that. So it’s a moot issue, isn’t it?

Yes, I understand the principles of economics.

Yes, I understand that conventional Mother’s Day celebrations are a welcome relief for some of us.

Yes, I understand that recognizing a mother’s accomplishments with a day dedicated to her is an important statement, considering the invisibility of womankind throughout history.

Which brings me to the gist of this post.

We women living in what was commonly referred to as “the West” (the distinction between East and West no longer applies in our globalized, digitalized, twitterized world) lead privileged lives. I usually try to avoid generalizations, which tend to feed into stereotypes that the culturally savvy (like the followers of this blog) abhor. However, it behooves us, women whose basic needs are met, whose aspirations are realizable, women with access to education, legal representation, healthcare–in short, women who have choices, to acknowledge that freedom of choice is not a given.

On Mother’s Day, rather than to partake in the fleeting rituals called for by our consumer society, I will be thinking of women around the globe who do not have the luxury of resting, even for a moment, let alone a day. These women are in survival mode: They do whatever is necessary to stay alive, taking care of their children as best they can.

Should we feel bad that we have so much and they have so little? Far be it from me to tell you what you should feel. But being aware of our privileged position might be helpful.

This Mother’s Day, do something different. Help another mother, one who is not as lucky as you.


Paintings II

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Tiger © 2013 Monique Hendricks I painted the tiger for my son after he told me he wanted the panda painting (see February 19th post) for his apartment. Since I wasn’t giving away paintings at the time–besides, I had become … Continue reading

Wisdom du jour III

Epictetus is back.

“It shows a lack of refinement to spend a lot of time exercising, eating, drinking, defecating or copulating. Tending to the body’s needs should be done incidentally, as it were; the mind and its functions require the bulk of our attention.”

(Enchiridion, ch. 41)

Poor Epictetus! He couldn’t have imagined how controversial his words would sound, two thousand years later, to those of us living in an Epicurean, hyper-sexualized society that is obsessed, in equal parts, with exercise and elimination.

In Praise of Arguing

We hold in our minds a picture of what we look and sound like in our interactions with others. That picture is based on various assumptions, perceptions, and opinions–primarily our own. Do we really appear to others as we think we do?

Most of us adjust our communication style according to the context in which it takes place–by not behaving in church as we would in a bar during happy hour, for example. Somewhat paradoxically, we often put less effort into communicating with the people closest to us, perhaps because we take those relationships for granted. It is, of course, much easier to charm strangers who mean little or nothing to us: Such encounters do not require any emotional investment on our part.

An argument arises over a difference of opinion. In the realm of human relations, divergent viewpoints are par for the course. The challenge lies in knowing how to express them calmly, without hostility or condescendence. That means focusing not only on what we are trying to convey (content), but how we convey it (delivery). Yes, it’s more work, but the payback, a “good” argument, is invaluable.

Good arguments are exchanges in which the participants follow a few basic rules of engagement, thereby facilitating the emergence of a solution that suits all parties. A “bad” argument, on the other hand, is one that escalates to the point where a discussion is no longer possible and the contentious subject is relegated to the back burner.

The condition sine qua non of good arguing is self-awareness: being attuned to the non-verbal cues we give away while we speak; our choice of words; our tone of voice; our capacity for listening and hearing what our partner is saying; our calmness in the face of repeated provocations.

What I am proposing is that arguing well is a skill that can be learned. You might call it an oxymoron. I see it as a reachable goal. Contrary to popular belief, communication is not about venting–it’s about being heard.

To that end, I have devised an action plan that features five basic rules of effective communication:

The Five Rules of Communication

  • Timing (choose the right moment to have a discussion)
  • Tone (stay calm)
  • Topic (bring up one topic only)
  • I-Statements (start sentences with I, I, I, not you, you, you)
  • Time-Out (call time-out to end a non-productive discussion)

Pretty simple, right? Try it. See what happens. Think of it as learning a new language: the more you practice, the better you speak it.

Make all the mistakes you want, then get back on the horse. Never give up. The stakes are too high.