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I love reading fantasy and sci-fi books. I find these genres, provided they are well written, to be thought provoking beyond that of non-fiction.
A good fiction writer takes you out of the doldrums of your daily life, out of the consequences of your actions. They detach your mind from your reality and then subject you to situations in which real world problems or concerns arise. But since this is not your reality, you are free to challenge your existing presuppositions of how you would react or feel in the situation. This is a very powerful tool as a savvy writer can expose your biases and/or challenge your morals simply by removing you from your immediate context.
One writer who I believe does this in a fantastic way is R.A. Salvatore. His series The Legend of Drizzt, has quickly become one of my favorites and I would highly recommend it to anyone (I would recommend starting with Book IV: The Crystal Shard for those of you who want to give the series a try). One of the devices that Salvatore uses in these books is sporadic letters from the main character and ultimate hero, Drizzt.
These letters are often Salvatore’s thoughts on life and current events but since they are told from the viewpoint of the stalwart hero you are more inclined to listen and process what is said. Not long ago I was reading one of these letters and it resonated with me. I will share a brief summation of the high points of that letter, trying to cut out any inside information.
“How I wanted to stand by her and protect her!…and yet she did not want me there, could not have me there, for she knew this battle was hers to fight alone. I had to respect her decision…I came to learn that sometimes the most difficult battles are the ones we are forced not to fight. I came to learn why mothers and fathers seldom have fingernails and often carry an expression of forlorn resignation. What agony it must be for a parent to be told by her offspring, no longer a child, that he or she has decided to head west, to sail for adventure. Everything within that parent wants to hug the child close, to protect that child forever. And yet, ultimately, those instincts are wrong. In the heart there is no sting greater than watching the struggles of one you love, knowing that only through such strife will that person grow and recognize the potential of his or her existence… By taking any course to prevent Catti-brie’s battle, I would have, in effect, failed to trust her, failed to respect her individual needs and her chosen destiny, and thus I would have stolen a bit of her freedom… How ironic it is that our instincts often run exactly opposite from what we truly desire for those we love.”
That, dear reader, is what I would call an extended introduction! If you are still with me at this point you might be wondering, what is the point of all of this?
My point in this article is to highlight the fact that often we rush into situations when we shouldn’t. We get so fixated on what WE can do to help a hurting loved one that we forget to ask what THAT PERSON needs.
Do they need a fix? Do they need that perfect quip? Do they need a conversation or merely a set of ears? Do they simply need a warm body to share space with them?
It’s a funny but sad thing that so often we are selfish, unintentionally, with how we want to love and help others. We get fixated on our actions and the fix we can bring, and our culture of instant gratification doesn’t help. It propagates ideals that anything and everything has a quick fix but that is so far from the truth. Pain, difficulty, even a life changing decision takes time.Pain, difficulty, even a life changing decision takes time. Click To Tweet
These things can only be moved past as the owner of that pain, difficulty, or decision rationalizes and comes to terms with them. Unfortunately, it cannot be done by others but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be supported through their trials. We just have to realize that support is not always doing, fixing, talking; sometimes it is just showing up. The realization and application of this will not only make us better leaders, in our respective spheres, but will also help us to be productive and responsible members of our families and friend groups.Support is not always doing, fixing, talking; sometimes it is just showing up. Click To Tweet
The following story happened a couple years ago but I have always cherished it. I have always respected said neighbor for his selfless reaction.
My mother was preparing to sell her dream house and land. She was standing in one of our pastures ragged, aloof, consumed in her thoughts of anger, confusion, and loss. She was staring off into the distance holding back tears and wanting to scream when our neighbor approached her. He was concerned for this tiny crestfallen lady generally so full of energy and spirit. He asked sheepishly, “Hey Vandi, how are you doing?” “Bad,” she replied, as if not aware she was talking to a physical being. After a short pause he asked, “Do you want to talk about it?” A flat, “No,” was her response. And there they stood, for that moment in time, two adults looking at the horizon with the brisk fall wind blowing their hair and some of their dreams in all directions.
Gentlemen, my advice is twofold:
First, think back on your life. Think about the friends and loved ones who have been that silent positive reinforcement in your life; the ones who without words said, “I’m with you and for you, I believe in you.” If you have the capacity to do so make sure to thank the people who have played that role in your life. My guess is that many of them will be surprised that this seemingly simple action has had such an impact on you. As you reflect on these occurrences, think of ways you can integrate these meaningful actions into your own life.
Second, be slow to enter into other people’s trouble. This seems backwards, but it will often be more loving than rushing in and potentially saying or doing something foolish. Fully consider the situation; try to imagine the consequences of your words and actions in that person’s life.
We frequently throw around the idea of “putting ourselves in other people’s shoes”. While this is a great starting point, I would argue that this is not enough. If we simply place ourselves in someone else’s situation we miss something vital. We miss that person’s unique set of ideals, history, and goals. I believe it is foolish to say “if I were in your situation” because we all want different things out of life and will take a myriad of paths to achieve what is valuable to us. This is why full consideration of the situation, worldview, life experience, and goals, as much possible at least, should be granted to those we are seeking to love.If we simply place ourselves in someone else's situation we miss something vital. Click To Tweet
If you don’t know what to do, ask! If someone doesn’t want to talk that doesn’t mean they don’t want you around. Silence can be painful and awkward but a true friend would risk some awkward moments to show real love.
I leave you with one last word of wisdom that has meant a great deal to me lately.
“Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.”