Human ROI

Anyone who works in a financial field knows what a return on investment, or ROI, is. Essentially, it’s how much money you net on an investment. Say, for example, you buy $1,000 worth of stocks this year and sell your shares next year for $1,500. Your net profit is $500, and your ROI is, thus, 50%. Hooray for you!

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There’s another kind of ROI that’s much harder to calculate, and it has little or nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with investing, however.

Every day, we choose how to spend our time, energy, love, words, and deeds. When you choose to invest your resources in other people, you reap an ROI that is worth more than any amount of money can buy.

All of us hurt. Not one of us escapes the trials and heartaches of our brief existence on this planet. We’re all haunted by ghosts: regrets that gnaw at our souls, shameful behavior, mistakes we could have avoided, good advice we rejected, years spent on every detour that led us farther from our dreams. We all need kindness, respect, hope, and reassurance that we haven’t screwed up our lives beyond recognition and redemption.

What’s your ROI when you invest in lifting others up and encouraging them? It’s indeterminate and incalculable. It may take a few days or months or even years. You may not even see the results in your lifetime. But when you change one person’s life for the better, you set in motion a positive ripple effect that theoretically may have no end.

How do you reap your human ROI? Look around you. Then simply show up and care.

clothing-977402_1920Help serve meals at your local Salvation Army, homeless shelter, or church outreach event. The more often you serve, the more opportunities you have to get to know people on a deeper level than just in passing. Learn their names and their stories. Pray with them. Offer a ride to church. Press a few dollars into someone’s hand for a bus pass to get to a job interview. Buy a much-needed coat when the weather turns cold.

childrens-books-1246675_1920Volunteer at your child’s school. More than likely, there will be at least one child in his class whose clothes are a bit shabby, who lacks basic hygiene, or who is lagging behind the other students. Befriend that child. Read with him. Take a sincere interest in him. Tell him what a miracle he is. Maybe no one at home takes much notice of him. Your smile may be the highlight of his day or whole week. Your compassion and encouragement may mean more than you’ll ever know.

freedom-1125539_1920Visit your local jail or youth center and become a mentor to a teenager or young adult who needs to know it’s not too late to turn his life around. Share your story honestly and without shame. Share your mistakes and regrets. Talk about how you did the work to get to the high road and what it takes to stay there. You’re living proof that it can be done and that no one is beyond hope.

car-1485671_1920Visit people who are confined to a hospital or a nursing home or are homebound. You might never feel alone or lonely, but countless people struggle with feeling abandoned, overlooked, and hopeless every minute of their lives. More than likely, there’s at least one person in your own neighborhood who feels forgotten. Stop by, deliver a treat, chat for a while.

Time is not money. It’s free. But you can’t get back the time you waste, and you can’t buy more. We all get the same 24 hours every single day. Choose wisely how you spend your time. Be deliberate. Make it count.

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How We All Deserve to Be Treated at Work

Have you ever worked for or with someone who treated you with disdain, disrespect, or downright contempt? How did it make you feel? Even if you’re the most confident person on the planet, you’re not immune to the unwarranted nastiness of others.

We’ve all heard that children live up or down to our expectations of them. That’s also true of adults, whether they’re our family members, friends, employees, or coworkers. When you expect the best of people, they tend to deliver exactly that: the best they can offer. Most people want to excel, to do good work, and to contribute to the success of those around them.

Lift people up with your words. Tell them that they’re doing a great job. I’m not talking about empty compliments here. I’m talking about constructive, honest, specific feedback when someone does something well, e.g.: “I’m impressed by how you handled the Baker contract, Emma. Their reps had some difficulty articulating exactly what they wanted, but you asked the right questions and delivered a custom-designed product. Great work!”

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I recently accompanied my teenage son and the rest of his high school orchestra on a field trip to a nearby school for what’s called a Music Performance Assessment. At the last minute, the music teacher was unable to attend, so the music intern was in charge. He’s a college senior who is finishing a degree in music and music education, and he’s been working with my son and his peers for all of four months. Not only did he evoke stellar performances from his charges, he successfully herded 60 silly, giggling teenagers around an unfamiliar school for several hours, ensuring that they were seated and ready to perform at the appointed times and that they all got to eat lunch before heading home—all the while being interrupted by an almost-constant barrage of questions from students and chaperones alike.

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In the teeming orchestra room back at my son’s school, the intern made his way over to another mom and me to thank us for chaperoning the trip. I made a point of complimenting him on his obvious conducting prowess and also on his ability to transform what could have been a disastrous day into something quite enjoyable.

“You handled the logistics like a pro,” I said. Everyone standing within earshot agreed. It felt good to give someone a well-deserved compliment, and he seemed to truly appreciate hearing it.

When you deliver positive feedback with genuineness and humility, the people around you will not only work harder to overcome every difficulty and roadblock at work, they will more than likely carry their newfound confidence into every other area of their lives and become better spouses, parents, children, and friends. It’s a win-win all around.

We all need encouragement. We all need to hear that we’re doing a good job and making a difference, even if it’s just in our own little corner of the world.

Call Me Clueless

I’m not a rocket scientist; neither am I a buffoon. I’m a college graduate, after all. I’ve been a copy editor/proofreader for the past twenty years. I’m raising two teenage boys. (You need at least a modicum of intelligence to pull that last one off!) But sometimes I’m absolutely clueless.

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Hmm . . .

If you’re worried that your brain sometimes goes on vacation without the rest of you, take heart: You are so not alone. I know because my friends share their blunders and brain blips with me. I suppose they don’t want me to feel too bad about myself.

Here’s the short list of the dumb things I’ve done.

I sometimes emerge from the shower with conditioner still clinging to my hair. I forget that whole final rinse thing, even though it’s right there in plain English on the bottle.

I once “introduced” two friends who had known each other for several years.

Recently I had to run three errands in the same plaza. Bank: check. Dry cleaner: check. Grocery store: duh. Drove. Right. By. It.

Getting ready to go to the YMCA one evening, I put my exercise pants on inside out and then thought, Have those tie strings always been on the outside?

toast-1077984_1920If I find myself staring at the toaster and wondering why a slice of bread hasn’t yet been transformed into a slice of toast, I must eventually ask myself, “Did you press the lever, Kris? Is this appliance even plugged in?” (Yes, this is generally the time when I start talking to myself and referring to you-know-who in the third person.)

Then there was the time I insisted I knew how to get to a school field trip at the airport fire station. No, I didn’t need directions. No, I didn’t need to follow someone. Thirty minutes after everyone else got there, I sheepishly arrived, hoping to blend in as if my son and I had been there from the get-go. No such luck. Everyone stared and giggled as we approached. How fortuitous that I was able to get directions after the fact, yes?

Not a clue.

Mrs. Malaprop, I Exhume?

Mrs. Malaprop was a character in Richard Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals and was so-named because she routinely chose the wrong (though very similar) word whenever she opened her mouth. At one point in this convoluted comedy of errors, Mrs. Malaprop calls her niece Lydia as headstrong as “an allegory on the banks of the Nile.” Did she mean to say “alligator,” do you suppose?

The fictional Mrs. Malaprop gave us the word malapropism. Sheridan formed his character’s name from the French term mal à propos, meaning, appropriately enough, “inappropriate.” Having been a copy editor for the past 20 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at noticing when someone writes “illicit” when he means “elicit” or says something like, “Jesus healed leopards.”

The little mix-ups I’ve shared here may not officially be malapropisms, but it’s always funny (and often inappropriate) when people honestly misunderstand what others say.

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One morning when my older son, Luke, was four years old, I helped him blow his nose. There was still some sticky stuff in there, so I said, “I’ll have to use a Q-tip to get that out.”

No, not a cucumber!” he yelled.

When Luke was about six years old, the topic of JFK’s assassination came up. I mentioned the name Jack Ruby, and Luke asked who he was.

He’s the guy who killed Lee Harvey Oswald,” I replied.

Four-year-old Jake asked quizzically, “The guy who spilled tea on the wall?”

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One day, when my boys were much older, I ran into a quilt shop to buy a few supplies for a class I had signed up for. The woman helping me asked if I wanted to look at fabric, but I said I didn’t have time right then.

My cherubic children are waiting in the car,” I explained, using one of my favorite phrases.

You have eleven children in your car?” she exclaimed. (I’m still not sure how she got eleven from cherubic, but never mind that.)

No,” I replied. “My cherubic children! I can’t even fit eleven kids in my car!” (As if that were the only issue.)

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I called the local library to ask if I could donate some used college textbooks.

Do you accept hardcover textbooks?” I asked the librarian.

Hardcore sex books?” she asked incredulously.

No! Hard . . . cover . . . text . . . books!” I repeated with emphasis. We both guffawed.

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Would you care for a soft peppermint?” my friend William asked me one day.

A salt-and-pepper mint? What the heck is that?” I asked, thinking this was a new trend in candy.

No, a soft peppermint.” He chuckled and produced a wrapped, red-and-white glob from his pocket.

Oh,” I responded sheepishly.

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Yup, people are often their funniest when they’re not trying to be.

Forgiveness 101

What’s harder than forgiving someone who has offended you? Forgiving someone who continues to offend you.

Sometimes you’re required by your circumstances to be in a relationship with someone who continues to hurt you in some way. It may be a former spouse with whom you share children and with whom, therefore, you must co-parent. It may be a parent, sibling, coworker, or employer.

How many times are we required to forgive our enemies? Peter asked Jesus the same question: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven (seventy times seven) times.” (Matthew 18:21–22, NIV) 

Does this mean you keep count and refuse to forgive your enemy at offense number 491? No. This was Jesus’s way of saying that you need to keep forgiving your enemies as your Father keeps forgiving you for your sins and transgressions.

Refusing to forgive your enemies not only offends God; it makes you a slave to sin. It fills you with rage and bitterness, which will kill your mind, body, and spirit. And before sin kills you, it will render your life miserable. Not your enemy’s life. Yours.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14–15, NIV)

You have a choice to forgive your enemies, and God is more than willing and able to help you. When you decide to forgive—and keep forgiving—those who come against you, God goes to work replacing the bitterness in your heart with His supernatural, unfathomable peace. If you’ve never experienced God’s peace in your heart, you’re in for a remarkable surprise. It will heal you, calm you, and even make you feel loving toward your enemy. God’s peace allows you to see Jesus in your enemy. Remember, God loves all of us, even those who are far from Him. 

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27–28, NIV) 

The secret to inviting God’s peace into your heart is relying on Him to fight your battles. He is your warrior King and gladly dispatches His angels to battle every force of darkness in the unseen realm. You can lay down your weapons and surrender all of the hatred, fear, and anger in your heart. God will deal with your enemy in His own way. It may not be your way of handling the situation, but it will be the right way.

As Jesus suffered the undeserved torment and humiliation of crucifixion, He asked His Father in heaven to forgive the very people who not only demanded His death but jeered, insulted, and mocked Him and took sinful delight in His incredible pain and suffering.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NIV)

If Jesus, who was as human as we are, could rise above such horrific circumstances, so can we.

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Nature’s Microcosm

In the pond behind my house—tiny by any standard and manmade to boot—life abounds. This little pool of water is home to myriad creatures: turtles, a couple of alligators, and an astounding variety of birds including (but certainly not limited to) sandhill cranes, great blue and great white herons, anhingas, coots, ibis, limpkins, ducks, and even the occasional pelican, though I’m quite far from the nearest shore. A heron once chased a pelican out of the pond and sent him packing.

Even more birds find rest and refuge in the cypress trees that line the pond: noisy blackbirds, blue jays, sparrows, warblers, mourning doves, and a hawk who announces, with loud screeching, the start of his day of hunting around dawn most mornings. Anhingas balance on bare cypress branches, their wings outstretched to dry after a morning spent diving for fish.

 

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An anhinga rests on a cypress knee at water’s edge. A beautiful pattern adorns his wings.

 

Blackbirds chase one another from branch to branch on the cypress trees, grandstanding in their peculiarly avian way, screeching and fluffing their feathers to intimidate each other. Tiny warblers flit nonstop, sometimes alighting on the ground, grabbing a bug here and there in the coarse grass.

Two alligators—one much larger than the other—peacefully coexist with every other life form. During the winter, the big one often hauls himself onto the same spot on the grassy bank to heat his cold-blooded body, lying perfectly still for hours at a time. Soft-shell turtles do the same, often ending up in a messy clump. Wood storks with their beautiful, white wings lined with black and their craggy heads stand hunched over on the banks between fishing excursions.

In my postage-stamp backyard, a live oak provides sustenance and endless entertainment for squirrels, who chase one another up and down its trunk in dizzying zig-zags. They scurry under its branches, stealthily burying acorns with their adroit paws, hoping to remember later where they hid the tasty morsels. Sometimes one will scurry across the screen of my lanai, an acorn in his mouth, his tail twitching when he spies me out of the corner of his eye.

Something is always happenIMG_20170214_132838011_HDRing here. Blackbirds collect Spanish moss for their nests. A white ibis swipes his bill in a puddle to wash off the dirt accumulated from digging in the grass for insects. A handsome hawk eats his meal on my next-door neighbor’s roof. A turtle starts to dig a hole near another neighbor’s downspout to lay eggs. Because the earth is more sand than soil and surface roots foil her progress, she discards the idea and plops back into the pond. A woodpecker tries fruitlessly to bore a hole in the metal fascia of my roof, his beak producing a rat-a-tat like an electric drill makes when it has finished its job but you keep pressing the power button.

A spiny-backed orb weaver spider has constructed his ornate web between the lanai and a corner of the house. A spider weaves a perfectly symmetrical web. It’s his gift, his job, his livelihood. Sadly for him, because he lives within his masterpiece, he is unable to step back and admire his handiwork from afar to truly appreciate its perfection. If he could, he would no doubt be amazed and astounded at his innate ability.

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The latest spectacle around here is the baby sandhill cranes, born less than two months ago. Their parents, who mate for life, are superior providers. For every worm Mom or Dad eats, a baby gets at least half a dozen. Sometimes the babies will flop down in the grass in a fuzzy heap or stretch one of their legs out behind them or flap their tiny wings, which are useless as of now. They stay close to their parents, safe within their sphere of protection.

 

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The baby sandhill cranes are about 6 weeks old here . . .

 

 

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and a week older here.

 

When these little guys were first born, people camped out nearby for hours, their professional-grade cameras mounted on tripods to capture images of one of nature’s most majestic creatures in infancy.

Stuff I Do Get

The list of things I’ll never understand is a long one. I’ll never quite get why the sky is blue and not some other color, how eyeballs work, or what on earth a black hole is. And don’t even get me started on things like trickle-down economics, parallel universes, the theory of relativity, or that giant atom smasher thing in Switzerland. Physics? You can’t be serious.

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My brain isn’t wired for technology, finance, or business. Simple math? Yes. I can balance my checkbook, calculate percentages in my head, and discern the best price of any product in the grocery store. Anything more complicated . . . not so much. During my freshman year at college, I had to drop out of calculus after two long, frustrating weeks because I knew that no amount of reading, studying, or memorizing would have any effect on my ability to understand it. Required to choose either another math class or a science class, I switched to biology, which I actually did well in, only because I could apply its concepts to real life without too much of a stretch. In addition, I remember exactly nothing from the one economics class I took except that there’s something called microeconomics and something else called macroeconomics. ’Nuff said.

Let’s add politics to that list, just for good measure. I find the maneuverings and alliances and grievances between and among different peoples in the world mind-boggling. And it all seems to change almost daily. There’s no keeping up with it.

Fortunately, there are things I do get. Every day, I successfully assemble words into sentences into paragraphs into essays because grammar and punctuation and semantics are my thing. Working as an editorial assistant at a small book press forced me to surrender to The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam and Webster and let them teach me everything they knew. I learned more from them in a few short years than I did in all my sixteen years of formal schooling.

Art and architecture fascinate me, mostly because they have little to do with intellect and everything to do with our creativity and right-braininess and uniqueness. I’m intrigued by how certain colors just seem to peacefully coexist. My favorite artists were the Impressionists, those nomadic and often-penniless mavericks who defied convention and challenged the status quo. No one paints like that anymore. Similarly, I love old houses filled with quirky elements from another time and place: French doors and pocket doors, butler’s pantries, grand staircases and servants’ staircases, built-in china cabinets, crown molding, transoms, stained glass, foyers, turrets, and wraparound porches. Architecture is art on a grander scale.

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Art and . . .

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architecture

History holds me spellbound, especially the years from 1880 to 1945. The Victorians with their calling cards and dance cards and strict etiquette, elegant balls, classical music, and curious courting habits. The Roaring Twenties: full of decadence, the Steins’ salon in Paris, new kinds of art and writing. The 1930s and 1940s: the lean years, the war years, men in suits, women in dresses and hats and brooches, some of the best classic movies ever made. After that, we ushered in the Atomic Age, and nothing was quite the same again.

 

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Yes, it’s the beautiful, talented Ingrid Bergman.

I’m also a student of psychology, especially the abnormal kind. I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring people out. Let’s face it: We’re all dysfunctional to some degree because we’re all human and fallible. It’s so much easier to get along with others and accept and forgive them when you understand the whys and wherefores of their often-baffling behavior (especially when they’re your teenage sons).

 

No one is an expert in everything. Each of us is a unique recipe of gifts and talents and interests that’s never duplicated. I don’t need to know everything, and that’s all I need to know.