Rule 1: Compassion

Every day in your life is a special occasion.

Fortune cookies provide the best life lessons. Looking at every day as a special occasion helps me remember to act on my good intentions and to treat others with compassion.

When I graduated in May 2014, I adjusted my tagline to “Reports from the intersection of library & information science, education, and lifelong learning.” I thought that change would help me focus my writing. What it actually did was trip me up and stop me from writing about things that were important to me. I am the same “me” I have always been–an advocate for intellectual freedom; an antsy goofball who sometimes rushes to action before carefully considering the consequences; and, a true believer that kindness, compassion, and an open mind lead to satisfaction in life. I have been a military spouse for over twenty years now, and that experience helps me to see life through a unique lens. I am also the mother of a boy on the cusp of his teen years, a role which colors my interpretation of everything from pedagogical theory articles to the practical business of best practices for providing unrestricted access to information and reading materials to high school students. I realized after reviewing the sparse posts of the last few months that I had left my soap box, my strength of purpose, and my voice at a different intersection than the one I had parked my blog near. Luckily, I went back and found those things right where I left them.

A few weeks ago I read the article Top 10 Things to START Doing in Your Military Life | SpouseBUZZ.com by Jacey Eckhart. The article is a positive spin on those “Top Ten Things Not To…” articles that exist for everything from careers to social situations to bikini waxing. While the article is a “Military Spouse” article, the list is a good reminder to everyone that you truly can make choices that have the potential to positively affect your sense of well-being. I’ve been thinking about Eckhart’s article in the context of getting comfortable in a new community, and developing new neighborhood friendships and work relationships. Although I was excited to take on a new adventure when we moved to Coastal Georgia last winter, I knew that making friends and feeling like a part of my community was going to take effort on my part. I knew I would be homesick for my Northern New York friends and neighbors, so I promised myself that I would just go “all in” in our new community and would give myself the best possible chance of being happy here. So far, so good.

While the entire Top 10 is worth paying attention to, there are two ideas on the list that resonate strongly with me.

One of the Top 10 that I take particular inspiration from is the directive to start acting on your good intentions. I have had the “good intention” to update my blog regularly since the school year started. I have the “good intention” to actually deliver those hand-written thank you cards I bothered to write (months ago). I have the “good intention” to make time to do the Couch-to-5K program with my son. The first step is always the hardest. In the case of the Couch-to-5K, I’m hoping the first week was the hardest! As for the rest, well, I’m working on it.

The absolute top of the Top 10 is, in the article as well as in my estimation, to start showing a little more compassion. Whether I am wearing my military spouse hat, my library change agent hat, my educator hat, or my trying-to-resist-being-a-helicopter-parent hat I have found that “we” are our own fiercest advocates and our own worst critics. I believe we should always strive to be better, to do better, and to make things in our world better, so I think constructive criticism is important. But, I also think that we need to cut ourselves and our fellow human beings some slack. Life is better when we practice compassion in our thinking and our actions. I remind myself of this when I’m responding to a less experienced military spouse’s frustration about something my experience tells me is not a big deal in the overall scheme of life; when I’m talking to a fellow educator who may not be quite as forward-thinking about the role of libraries as bustling community spaces as I am; and, when I’m dealing with teens who are frustrated and impatient with research assignments that they don’t understand the need for. I sometimes miss the mark. I sometimes get caught up in the moment and think “suck it up and drive on.” In those moments, I try to remember that we are all, myself included, just doing our best. That we are each dealing with life in the context of a complex set of circumstances, that we are each working with the best information that we have at the time, and that both the giver and receiver benefit from compassion and kindness.

One of my favorite authors is Kurt Vonnegut–as much for his ideas about stories and people as for his writing. In God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Vonnegut’s protagonist emphasizes the importance of compassion in a way that makes me smile every time I read it.

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here.

There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

Here’s to kindness and compassion! May you find them at every intersection.

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