Peace on this Earth

My monthly posts discuss a variety of health-related issues. Some discuss afflictions that affect many people, some discuss general health-care information and maintenance, some are informational, some discuss the nuts and bolts of healthcare funding and some discuss important factors such as stress. All of these posts are created to enrich your understanding of that particular aspect of health.

Fueling all these efforts to inform you about health care, however, is the deep desire that humans have to simply feel good, inside and out. In our bodies, minds and souls. That is the big idea. That is what we all want, whether it is for the long term, or a short term fix. We all simply want to enjoy the feeling of feeling good.

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In light of these main ideas, I am going out on a limb, taking a departure from my normal posts to address, in first-person style, an issue that affects the well-being—and ultimately the health–of everyone in this country, even everyone on this planet. This issue, whether we realize it or not, does indeed affect our ability to feel good in our hearts and souls. We are all in this together, and once again, we have all been touched by yet another senseless mass shooting. This time it was a major airport in Florida.

I was scheduled to arrive at another nearby major airport in Florida the day before the shooting, but my trip was postponed. I was close to this tragedy in my heart, simply because I was supposed to be so close geographically. Because it could have been the airport I was going to, or any airport for that matter. It could have been me, or someone I love. One of my brothers is a captain for a passenger airline. It could be him someday, if the actual airplane becomes a weapon once again.

We shake our heads and wonder “When will the next one be?” “What makes people do such awful things?” “Where will the next mass shooting occur? “Who will be the next victims?” And perhaps the most difficult question of all, “Why?”

There are no answers to these questions, although we all wonder. I do, and I am certain you do too. For the vast majority of people, these heinous acts are not able to be understood. And this is a good thing. We don’t want to have the mental state that allows us to understand. We don’t want to be in these people’s minds.

Another question we all ask ourselves, if not others is this: “What can we do to keep this from happening again?” This is a tough question with no good answers, but there are a few answers worth considering. On a macro, societal level, we can remain aware. We can report any actions that are clearly questionable, or any statements made by others that suggest that this person is considering such an act of violence. Sometimes the person in question is a loved one. There are reports of parents expressing concern regarding the potential actions of their own children. As a parent myself, this must certainly be the most difficult kind of love to show for your own child. Not giving in to the denial that your child could indeed be capable of such an act is an admirable act of selflessness. It certainly must be difficult, but I commend any person who has reported such suspicions, possibly saving countless lives at the expense of the relationship they had with their child.

The same holds true for any other loved ones or acquaintances you may have suspicions about. Talk to someone else who knows them. Listen to your gut, your little voice. It is usually the voice of reason and intuition. If something about what that person said or did doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t ignore this feeling.

Remaining aware and not denying any obvious red flags are very important obligations we all have toward our families and society in general. Again, we are all in this together. There are likely countless such efforts made that have already thwarted outbursts and attacks that never made headlines simply because they didn’t happen—thanks to the vigilance and responsibility of people like you, normal citizens who spoke up when they had a concern.

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So these ideas are all a given, we already knew these. Perhaps a gentle reminder didn’t hurt. Beyond the obvious precautions we can take on a larger, societal level, we can make other, smaller changes within.

Not having a window into the minds of the people who carry out these acts of terror and hatred, we can safely assume they are tortured by a complete lack of peace of mind.

We all want peace of mind. We all want to feel no anxiety or nervousness, fear or dread, delusion or lack of control. We medicate—either by ourselves or by prescription, alleviate by tuning out these thoughts and tuning in to TV or social media, or fabricate—we tell ourselves lies to ease the pain. We all suffer at least a little bit, at least sometimes. How much, and how we handle it makes all the difference.

We know our own suffering, but too often, we have no idea what someone else—even someone we think we know—is going through. They could be suffering from one or more of the Devastating Ds: death of a loved one, diagnosis, divorce, depression or disaster. They may be our waitress, nurse, neighbor, seatmate on a plane. If their actions seem unkind or unwarranted, consider that they may be going through their own troubles we know nothing of. Perhaps their mother just died. Offer them kindness instead of hostility.

Getting out of our own minds and seeing through someone else’s perspective can be a difficult thing. Realizing that we are a tiny spoke in a great big wheel, a mere blade of grass in a giant yard is a difficult thing. Humans are egocentric beings, and we focus most often on ourselves. We want what we want for ourselves, even if it means that others may suffer in the process. Too often, however, we don’t know that our actions can hurt other people.

  • Taking a step back and asking how would I feel if they did/said this to me? is a positive step toward awareness of how we are perceived by others. How, perhaps, they may feel we have hurt them, even if we didn’t intend to.
  • Sometimes, our tone of voice implies so much more than we know.
  • Sometimes, the comments we make in jest can be taken the wrong way. Remember, humor is funny because of the truth that often lies beneath the message, and it can easily be taken for truth.
  • Sarcasm can also be mistaken for truth, because it, like humor, works because of the likely truth beneath the words.
  • If we are offended or hurt by someone, there is a good chance they had no intention of hurting you, they simply were taking care of their own needs, and happened to step on your toes in the process. Look at the situation again from this perspective, and let it go.
  • Do our words contain messages that may be even mildly offensive to someone’s ethnic heritage, religion, race, orientation, political views or other personal choices and/or characteristics?
  • If the conversation involves someone who is not present, ask yourself: “Would I still say this if they were here in front of me?”

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Enough don’ts. Now, let’s think in positive terms and see what we can actively do to help bring about peace in our own minds, other’s minds and hopefully in the world.

Consider first the example of the butterfly effect. It is a metaphor to illustrate the point that very small actions can produce very large results. The butterfly example is used to illustrate the point in scientific terms, that even the smallest motion such as the movement of a butterfly’s wings in a far-off location can affect the development, course and strength of a hurricane hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

The same could be true for small actions from you. They could have far-reaching effects that you would likely never be aware of.

It seems that kindness is a buzzword lately, and it’s a good word to be buzzing about. Being kind to just one person in one small way can set off a ripple effect that can bring about huge, positive results. You likely have your own small acts of kindness—random or otherwise—that you like to share, but below are a few that may or may not be in your repertoire:

  • Pay for the person behind you in line, whether it’s at the coffee shop, tollbooth, or movie theater.
  • Take flowers to a nursing home. The staff won’t have a problem finding a good recipient.
  • Bake some goodies at home and give them to neighbors. Leave some in the mailbox for the mail carrier.
  • Purchase a grocery gift card and hand it out to someone in the grocery store with many children in tow, or who otherwise looks like it would put it to good use.
  • Ask your electric, phone or utilities company who needs a little help with their bill and donate towards it.
  • Ask an independent mechanic if he has a customer who needs a donation toward their car repair bill.
  • If a loved one has recently received medical care, bring food to the doctor’s office/hospital nursing unit who provided care.
  • Give young parents the gift of time and offer to babysit for an evening out. Throw in a restaurant gift card if you see the need.
  • Compliment a stranger on their clothing or beautiful smile.
  • Thank strangers for something that may seem small, like a door they held open.
  • Smile at someone who cuts you off in traffic instead of cursing them.

May these kind acts and others you engage in create ripples you may never know of.

We are truly all in this together, whether we feel connected or not. Your kindness may make the difference in someone’s day, week, month or life. Your kindness may bring them peace of mind that may change their course, just like the butterfly’s wing flapping could theoretically change the course of a hurricane, a powerful, negative force. Their negative force could be changed into something positive with your one small action.

And you may never know, but you don’t need to know. Your acts of kindness will bring their own reward to you: peace of mind. Research bears this out, but we can feel it the minute we do it. And feeling good, my friend, starts in the mind.