Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Personal Integrity

Recently, I have been faced with some difficult situations with people around me, which has brought the topic of personal integrity to the forefront of my mind. Normally, this concept is unconscious, queitly guiding me in my decisions and interactions with others. Lately, however, it has emerged as a recurring theme in the constant dialogue in my head, as I naviate my way through delicate, and sometimes volatile, interactions with others.

Personal integrity and morality go hand in hand. Morality is the basic concept of "right vs. wrong", and is defined by a combination of society, culture, history and religious teachings. Integrity is a superset of morality; that is, someone with integrity will utilize their sense of right and wrong to make the choice they feel is most appropriate.

Morality in itself is fairly well-defined in today's society. Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't hurt other people (except in self-defense of course). Be honest. Keep your promises. Honor your commitments, especially within the context of an intimate relationship. Respect other people's commitments. These messages are taught to us by our parents and teachers, and are reinforced by countless others along the way.

Integrity is less cut-and-dry, and is variably defined depending on who you ask. The focus of my thought processes of late have been on three aspects of integrity that I think are most important and dominant in the realm of my own consciousness. Over the years, I have continuously endeavored to apply these concepts to every facet of my daily life. I still continue this quest to this day.

Integrity means considering other people's feelings, not just my own.

When I was a teenager, like most others that age, I had a selfish streak in me. I am not in the least bit proud of this, however, it was who I was at that time. Part of my coming-of-age was to start thinking of other people's feelings and opinions, and valuing them as important, instead of thinking only about myself.

Growing up, the strong-armed, my-way-or-the-highway approach was the only method used by my family members to influence others. That was all I knew, and hence, the only basis I had to work with. Undoubtedly, it was the cause of many of my interpersonal issues as a child and a teenager.

Over time, I started becoming more sensitive to how my words, actions and choices could potentially affect those around me. As my circle grew, and I interacted with a wider variety of personalities, I learned that there were many more effective methods of handling conflict with others.

Slowly, a metamorphosis occurred. Instead of always demanding my way, I approached situations calmly, with the intent to work together for a mutually-acceptable compromise. Instead of concerning myself solely with only my own needs, I also considered, and put high importance on, the needs of others. Sometimes, the group decided on my suggestions, other times, I acquiesced for the greater good. The key to success was balance.

As I changed my own attitude, outlook and approach, I found that others reacted much more positively. As Steven Covey so eloquently wrote in "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", a win-win solution is a worthy and desirable goal. I made that goal my own. With this growing ability to show respect for others, and to negotiate and compromise for win-win solutions, I was able to build deeper, more trusting, and more mature relationships with those around me.

Of course, one must always be cognizant of the possibility of giving too much, and compromising one's own happiness by placing oneself as last priority. I have been guilty of this in the past, when I thought that giving and sacrificing would ensure another person's love and acceptance. Creating an equilibrium between one's needs and those of others comes with time, practice, and the gentle setting of personal boundaries. I have made great headway in this journey over the past year, and am now in a much better place than ever to ensure this balance.

Integrity means being the bigger person.

Throughout my life so far, I have witnessed a number of disputes amongst friends and family, and seen firsthand the effects of various players' choices in dealing with their hurt, anger and disappointment. I have seen close friendships broken up, irreparably, over minor issues that turned into dealbreakers when both sides refused to budge. I have seen grudges held for decades, fracturing families and spreading distrust and hate. I have seen the detrimental effects of unbounded pride that often transforms relatively minor disputes into all-out wars.

Two of my uncles, (one blood related, one by marriage) maintained a continuous, bitter feud for decades. None of us younger generation were ever told why they were fighting; I have to wonder if they even remembered themselves. All I knew was that, for as long as I could remember, we had to keep the two groups far apart - or only invite one side - to any family gathering.

Tragically, the uncle by marriage passed away at the age of 57, after a 2-year battle with cancer. At the funeral, the surviving feuding uncle (the brother of the widow) showed up to pay his respects. When it came time for the family-only time, however, he was asked to leave. By his own siblings.

The feud continued, even beyond the grave.

This begs the question - was whatever they were fighting about really that important ? Was the reason for their disagreement worth all the animosity, the bitterness, and the perpetual war of wills that spanned decades of time ?

Not knowing the details, I am not in a position to judge. Only those involved can answer those questions. My guess is that it eventually became less about the issue itself, and more about winning the battle. Since both sides refused to budge, the impasse continued for years.

Resentment is a poison. A filthy, black, reeking poison that infects the hearts and minds of everyone nearby. If left to fester, its stench spreads far and wide, stifling everything in its path, affecting all facets of the lives of those involved.

In my own past, I have been taken advantage of, hurt and wronged more times than I can possibly remember. However, I have resolved to never hold a grudge, even when given a perfectly justified reason to do so. Instead, I learn the lessons that I need to learn, limit or cease my dealings with the person in question, and move forward with a clear conscience, knowing I have taken the high road and refused to succumb to the poison. Revenge is not necessary; the best response is to hold my head high, and not let a malicious adversary exert any control over my life or my sense of well-being.

Both sides of my family have had their share of disagreements in recent years. Even so, I talk to everyone, respect everyone, and refuse to become involved in the drama. When needed, I am a peacekeeper; otherwise, I stay out of it. This strategy has worked well so far.

The families involved in the dispute between my uncles have slowly started reintegrating themselves since the funeral. I am delighted that they were able to mend fences and, at very least, be cordial to one another. They are, after all, family. There is no restoring the years of lost time, however, there are still many more years left to build a relationship.

Integrity means treating everyone with respect and fairness.

One of the things I have learned from my emergency medical training is that one should never pass judgment on a patient. A good provider never bases their treatment of a patient on their own opinion of that person's worth.

Someone once asked me if I would stop and help a mass murderer who was injured in an accident. Why should I try to help that person ? Why save his life ? Why does he deserve my assistance ?

My answer: Of course I would help him, just as I would any other human being. It is not my job, nor my place, to judge a person's worth. I leave that to the legal system and to the higher power. I help my fellow human beings when I can. Opinions about their worthiness are not my concern.

Showing respect in every situation, however, is difficult. Often it is unconscious; we act bristly with a rude store clerk, we snap at our belligerent coworker, we take our sweet time answering emails from demanding customers. It happens to all of us. Integrity is temporarily putting a lid on our own feelings, and treating everyone with an equal amount of respect.

Of course, if nobody sees you flipping them the bird over the phone, then it doesn't count, right ? :)

I admit that I still have some work to do in this area. Just the other day, I found myself becoming a little more aggressive than I would prefer while dealing with a difficult and combative coworker. I realize that my handling of these situations needs improvement, and have started formulating a plan on how better to deal with it in the future. I know I need to work on my naturally defensive reaction when I feel that a peer is exerting an inordinate amount of pressure or criticism on me. This is an ongoing quest, and part of my continuing mission of self-improvement.

There is a letter-sized, laminated poster on the wall by my computer, printed with an excerpt from "Life's Little Instruction Book". One of the lessons on this little gem is:

"Live so that when others think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you."

I hope one day to make this come true.

These three aspects of integrity - considering others, being the bigger person, and treating everyone with fairness and respect - are the stepping stones to that precious goal.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Money vs. Freedom

Do you know why divorce is so expensive?

Because it's worth it.

Amen, my friend.

No dollar amount is worth my freedom, my empowerment, my peace of mind or my future.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Nerd, Geek or Dork ?

Got this one from Rakesh, the Cool Nerd himself !

For The Record:
A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

According to this test I am:

78% Nerd
26% Geek
21% Dork

The title bestowed on me was Pure Nerd. Greeeeeeeeeeeat.... I think I'll wear that on my shirt tomorrow night at Molly Magee's.

Check out the test here. Weigh in your results on the 'Comments' link below !!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bite Me, Spammers

Not 10 minutes after putting up the last post, I get two comments on it from automated spam bots. One trying to sell me ceiling fans, the other offering me free cable TV.

Spammers have sunk to a new low. FOAD, assholes. All your trash will be promptly deleted. :P

The Price of Home Ownership

Last night, I drove to my old house to do the final clean-up and preparation for its sale. As per the thoughtful tradition started by the previous owners of my first house, I left a cheery pot of flowers and a note, welcoming the buyers to their new home.

While on the 60-mile drive back to my new residence, I couldn't help but feel that it was just taking forever. There was no traffic, I had my satellite radio to keep me company, but halfway home, I felt myself just wanting to get there. Enough with this dark, lonely freeway. I just wanted to go home, put my feet up, and rest my overtaxed mind and body.

While contemplating the remaining journey, I thought to myself, how the hell did I do this every day for 4 1/2 years ??

At that moment in time, I couldn't answer that question.

When I first bought the house with my then-husband, in a beautiful suburban town in the valley, I thought that 4 bedrooms and a 2-car garage were worth the sacrifice.

120 miles, round-trip, every day.

3 hours if I drove, 4 if I took the train. Even though 2 of those 4 train hours were spent in varying stages of blissful unconsciousness, it was still 4 full hours. Every single weekday.

Is having a spacious house really worth the time and expense of long-range commuting ? I used to think so. Now, I beg to differ.

Personal time is often sacrificed when obilgations and activities take over. For those 4 1/2 years, I was always running from one thing to the next, never resetting myself and decompressing. I didn't have time to read or to watch movies, and my only television exposure was listening with half an ear while I bustled around cooking or doing housework. My friendships suffered, as I have always been one to prefer face-to-face visits and outings to picking up the telephone.

After years of this, I finally broke down. I couldn't stand it anymore. The constant stress on my mind and body, the strain on my relationships with others, and the complete alienation of the quiet time I used to enjoy, finally caught up with me.

It was then that I realized that no dwelling, no matter how large, inexpensive or luxurious, is worth one's sanity or sense of well-being.

I now live in a 2-bedroom apartment instead of a 4-bedroom house. 11 miles from work instead of 60. When it comes time to buy again, a condo will be the only feasible choice. But, I have reclaimed 3-4 hours of every single day. What time was once spent on commuting, is now spent on rejuvenating my mind and building my relationships with others. I have reclaimed my personal time. I have reclaimed my sanity. I have reclaimed my life.

Now, I am able to weather the storms of high-profile crises at work without feeling overwhelmed like I have in the past. The delicate, but essential balance of a stressful yet rewarding job with my own personal time has left me refreshed, relaxed, and better able to handle the situations that face me.

That is worth much more to me than real estate.

The sunny pot of orange flowers now sits on the counter of my old house, waiting to be discovered. As I departed the place I used to call home last night, they smiled brightly on me, as if to wish me well. Undoubtedly, they will smile on the new owners too.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Ben's Song

My friend Matthew has been writing in his own blog about a special young man named Ben, stricken with Burkitt's lymphoma at the tender young age of 7. Since his diagnosis 8 months ago, a large, extended network of friends and family has gathered to support Ben and his family on his battle with cancer. More than once, many of those involved in this extraordinary child's battle with this disease have asked, why Ben ? Why this innocent boy ? What possible reason could there be for the infliction of this horrendous disease on such a young child ?

Blood transfusions. Bone marrow transplants. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Intrusive, destructive therapies, supposedly intended to heal, but who often cause unbearable pain, weakness and fatigue. Medicines, taken to ease symptoms and slow tumor growth, but who carry horrendous side effects, including anxiety, rage, hunger and constant vomiting.

No human being should ever have to go through this. Much less a young boy of 7.

How does one make sense of this ? There is no easy answer.

Those who are religious may comfort themselves in the belief that there is a master plan; and may lament the fact that a compassionate, merciful higher power could inflict such hardship on the weak and innocent. Others may say that the cards that were dealt were the luck of the draw, a result of the random, chaotic nature of the universe. Still others believe in fate and predetermined destiny. Whichever theory one subscribes to, the truth is clear: there is no one rational, logical explanation for human suffering.

While I do not think that fate is all-ecompassing, I do believe that some things happen for a reason. I believe that people come in and out of our lives with a purpose - to open our eyes to possibilities that we had never considered, to teach us a lesson, to change, to enrich or to overhaul our existence.

Throughout my years, there have been countless people who have entered my own life, some changing it for the better, others for the worse. I am thankful for all of them, even those who caused me pain and suffering, because I would not be the person I am today without those experiences. The untimely passing of my uncle and grandfather taught me the warning signs, and the complex psychological issues surrounding long-term alcohol abuse. The cruel, merciless treatment by my middle school classmates taught me compassion and understanding for others in a similar situation. The warmth and kindness of two people, a former mentor and a friend, taught me the sheer strength and rich depth of the human emotional connection.

Perhaps there was a reason that Ben entered our lives.

He was only here for seven short years, the last 8 months in his spirited, determined battle with cancer. But in that short time, he showed those around him, and those touched by his journey, the unwavering strength of the human spirit. He taught them how to laugh, even when it seemed that all hope was gone. He taught them that there is a special, intrinsic value in playing a simple child's game. He taught them that one can still smile, still love, still laugh - even through seemingly insurmountable challenges and immeasurable pain. Although I did not know him personally, I am touched by his spirit, and by the determination and dedication of all those around him; caring friends and family who put countless hours of their time and emotional energy into supporting this young boy and each other.

Friday night, Ben lost his battle, and peacefully left this earth surrounded by those who love him.

Although he is no longer here, Ben's legacy will live on in those who were touched by his life and his journey. His spirit, his tenaciousness, his child-like innocence, his persistent smile and his sense of humor through unbearable pain is an inspiration to all. His untimely passing at a tender young age is a reminder that one must never take life, or the people and relationships within, for granted. His struggle with cancer brought out the unyielding support of those around him; a touching example of the power and strength of unconditional love.

Ben was here to teach us these lessons. They are his legacy. By applying them to our own lives, and passing them on to others, he will forever be remembered. Ben may no longer be with us in body, but he will always be with us in spirit.

Rest in peace, Benjamin Edward Diffenderfer.

Links: [Matthew, Ben]

Monday, August 15, 2005

What Have I Done ?

One of the rites of passage of moving to a new area is to find all the services that one required in the previous location, such as dry cleaners, grocery stores, hair salon and so on. The latter was my quest this past weekend as I searched for someone to touch up my color. I ended up in a boutique not far from my Saturday karate class.

The hairdresser I was paired with is an interesting character. After 12 years of military intelligence work in Hawaii and Italy, this tall, robust gentleman with the beefy (but surprisingly delicate) hands, is now designing hair at this quaint little salon in downtown Los Gatos.

Not just any stylist, he is one that takes utmost pride in his work. The client's hair is his stamp, his identity, his call sign to the world. His job is not done until the client's style meets this lofty personal standard. I have never known any hair professional with such a sincere and heartfelt investment into the results of his work. After a short conversation, I knew I could trust my future appearance to him.

Then came the crossroads: What to do with my hair ?

I have been perming it since I was a zit-faced 13-year-old entering high school. I hated how my jet-straight, fine hair would plaster itself against my head no matter what I did to try to revive it. In order to keep it the length that I liked, it needed body, it needed life - and curls were the answer at the time. However, years of these harsh chemical treatments, plus the color change I fell in love with, have taken their toll. It is unlikely that my hair will tolerate much more of this abuse. And as the hairdresser pointed out, I am riding on the crest of a massive wave of life changes. What better way to promote the new and improved me than to change my style ?

So I did it. I took a leap of faith. I clutched the picture of Carrie Underwood that he handed to me as an example of his vision, and watched as layers of my treasured hair began softly drifting to the floor.

Oh my God. What have I done ?

Slowly, the pile under the chair grew larger, as the sun glinted off the polished metal scissors dancing around my head. Panic gripped me as I wrestled with the knowledge that there was no turning back. This was it. This was the point of no return.

Fear. Fear of change. Fear of regrets. Fear of what that mirror will tell me when I muster the courage to look into it. I was paralyzed by it. Silenced. Frozen.

What have I done ?

On cue by my stylist, I slowly opened my eyes to survey the damage. For a moment, I was speechless. I didn't know whether to laugh, to cry, or to just sit there with a dumb look on my face. I think I did all three.

Honestly ? It didn't look all that bad. I daresay it was better than I expected.

It will take some getting used to, as all major changes do. I will need to let the curls grow out, to be replaced with healthy, naturally-straight hair. I will need to set aside an extra few minutes of blow-drying time per day to remedy the head-plastering tendency. But surprisingly, I am looking forward to it.

What have I done ?

I have taken a leap of faith, and have updated my outward appearance to reflect the metamorphosis occurring within. I have conquered one more piece of debilitating fear and uncertainty that had been holding me back from making a change like this for years. I have taken another bold step in my ongoing journey of reinvention and self-improvement. And in doing so, I have moved just a little bit closer to becoming the person I have always wanted to be.

My hairdresser's business card shows a cute drawing of a rebellious-looking kid, with the caption "NO MORE HARMLESS HAIR !"

Today, that kid is me.

Friday, August 05, 2005

A Week of Firsts

A momentous week it was, as I became the proud owner of my very first power drill.

Fear me.

This same week, I also became the proud owner of my very first shower poof.

Fear me !

(Or not..)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

More Licence Plates

If you haven't had enough of funny vehicle plates, please check out this site, :)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

This Takes the Cake

** Warning: This post is off-color in nature. **

I saw this licence plate in the parking lot at my work. I have no idea how the owner managed to pass this by the DMV's vulgarity checks, but I nearly fell out of my car laughing when I saw it:

For those who don't know what the British slang expression "Toss Off" means, take a look at the last entry in the definition here.

Now you know why I dissolve into hysterical laughter when an American sportscaster calls a baseball pitcher a "Tosser". :)
Keywords: Andrea Di Lecce, andrea di lecce, Andrea DiLecce, andrea dilecce, Andrea Abrahamsen, andrea abrahamsen, Slinky, slinky, SlinkyGal, SLiNKyGaL, slinkygal, SlinkyDee, slinkydee, Toronto, toronto, San Francisco, san francisco, San Jose, san jose, softball, Seido karate, volleyball, blog, emotion, philosophy, funny, jokes, musings, psychology, EMT, EMS, emergency medical services