Monday, July 28, 2008

Lucky #13

I know I'm opening up a can of worms, but I'm going to tackle a tough topic -- Gossip. And before I get into the nitty gritty, I'll admit, I gossip and participate in gossip by listening to it. What I would like to believe is that what I say isn't hurtful or damaging and when I gossip it's with friends who know the kind of person I am. It might sound bit harsh, but I'd venture to say that people who say they never gossip are probably lying.

Is gossip always bad? And if gossip is bad, is the gossiper necessarily a bad person?

A couple of years ago, my brother gave me a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The premise of the book was to try to teach the reader how to be a righteous person by agreeing to do 4 simple things. The first agreement is, "Be impeccable with your word". The author asks the reader to say only kind and truthful things; to be aware of what you are saying and how you say it. When I called my brother weeks later and told him that I was really working hard on being impeccable with my word, he said, "great, now work on your thoughts".

I took on the first agreement with a vengeance. When friends or acquaintances talked about others, I tried not to be pulled into the conversation, or when I heard someone say something that wasn't impeccable, I told them so and then explained what being impeccable meant and where I learned this. When I told a friend of mine that I was working on being impeccable with my words, she told me about Lashon Hara. She explained that in the Jewish religion, saying truthful remarks about anyone--be it good or bad--is called Lashon Hara. It doesn't matter if you say something nice [like "Isn't she pretty"], because this statement could invoke jealousy in the other person and cause them to say or even think Lashon Hara. My friend told me that the best thing you can do is never talk about anyone. I asked her if this was possible and she said yes - that her husband won't talk about other people at all and when she wants to vent about someone or participate in idle gossip, he won't listen because by her speaking to him about these people, she is causing him to participate in Lashon Hara. Oy Vey! This was hard for me to fathom. Wasn't trying to be impeccable with my word good enough? And to be truthful, I was beginning to miss "sharing information".

When does a fun and interesting chit chat amongst friends become gossip? I really want to know. The word gossip has a negative connotation. I believe that true gossip is hurtful and mean and I think it is also when the people sharing are getting more out of the sharing than just the information; where cruel thoughts are conjured and where delight at someone else's misfortune is felt. Roget defines gossip as, "idle, often sensational and groundless talk about others". Wikipedia says, "gossip is idle talk or rumor especially about the personal or private affairs of others". Neither one of these definitions says anything about gossip being nasty, mean or hurtful, but in our hearts we know when our exchanging of information becomes gossip. And what about people we know who are good and nice and exchange information? Are they gossipers? Are they bad people? Don't get me wrong, I live in a glass house, so I'm not throwing any stones.

I think there should be another word to refer to the event of friends exchanging information where there is no malice nor hurtful intention. I remember reading in one of my Psychology classes in college that gossip between two people is a friendship ritual, it brings people closer. It's a shared intimacy. This is what friends do. Conni Sharp, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling, says that although gossip usually has a negative connotation, it can sometimes serve the purpose of spreading information. For example, finding out about sick neighbors, the death of a pet or a car accident is sometimes learned through "nature's telephone". See, this is what I mean. There should be another word besides gossip for this kind of information sharing. Putting aside Lashon Hara [because you can't talk about anybody, good or bad], why can't I hear about something in someone's life and just take it for what it is---namely, information?

The other day I was sitting with some good friends and one of them was telling the story of this couple who were separated, who then got back together, who then separated again and finally got divorced. I happen to know this couple, but am not friendly with them nor do I move in the same social circle. This information was just that: information. I thought to myself, hmm, that's sad, poor kids, and so on. It made some things clearer to me about stuff I had heard in the past, but did this story make my heart beat faster, my pupils dilate in fascination or make me feel better for knowing? NO! Did my friend telling this story get pleasure from relaying this information? I can tell you definitely not. If anything, it made us all feel sad and more importantly grateful for what we have. Professor Sharp validated these feelings. She says,"By talking about other people's difficulties, we discover that they don't have perfect lives and this makes us realize that we are not the only ones with problems'.

I would love to get into the whole gossip thing as it relates to men vs. women, but that would make this babble even longer. Let me just say, why is it that a man can say to another man, "Hey Joe, did you know that John isn't living with Jane anymore?" and it not be considered gossip, but if this question is asked between two women, it's considered gossip? I think there is an unfairness here. Some of my best gossip sessions have been with men. Interestingly, as I write that sentence, I wonder if they would consider what we talked about gossip? Sharon Shepherd, a marriage counselor, says, "While gossip among women is universally ridiculed as low and trivial, gossip among men is called theory, or idea or fact". Perhaps it comes down to this: It's not just how something is presented, it's also who is sharing the information.

I'll end on this note. The only time we dislike scuttlebutt is when it is pointed at us. To help ensure that I keep the finger pointed away from me and mine, I will continue to strive to be impeccable with my word, and as Eckert Toller [who wrote The New Earth] recommends, I'll try not to "get drawn into other people's drama". I never did get around to sharing the other three agreements with you, but for the purpose of this babble, I'll end with the 4th Agreement. This one states: Always do your best!

Monday, July 7, 2008

#12 How a Self Breast Exam Set Me on My Career Path

Some of us go through life without a calling. Sometimes luck helps dictate our life's direction...

I was driving home from tennis the other day and turned the radio to NPR. They were doing one of their 15 minute "interesting news bits" about kids signing up for military duty. They were talking to new high school graduates who couldn't wait to get to boot camp. They were so gung ho!! What I realized was - these kids have a calling - a calling to serve. Sometime during their formative years, something or somebody clicked for them and they just knew. Some kids know from the time they can walk what they want to be. You also hear about people being called to the cloth and I've also heard stories from people who say they got their calling later in life. Well, either my "phone" was busy or I wasn't home, but somewhere during my 46 years, I missed my call. I have often wondered though if missing that call was such a bad thing...

Never during elementary school, middle school or high school did I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach or in my heart or in my head that called to me. I had no well-worn path in front of me to follow. I didn't have an innate talent and didn't know anyone in the business world that had a career that I thought I wanted to do. When I arrived at college I went to meet my guidance counselor to help me explore career choices. Unfortunately, his interest was more about how I got my nail polish to match the shirt I was wearing than helping me figure out "what I wanted to be when I grew up". In ways known only to the cosmos, I literally fell onto my career path. And metaphorically speaking, I didn't hurt myself.

I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but honestly, I was worried that I wasn't smart enough and if I was smart enough then I surely didn't feel I was a good enough student. So, like thousands of students at George Washington University, I became a psychology major. After my sophomore year, for a number of reasons, I decided to go to school part-time and work full time. I applied for a job in the Emergency Department as a Trauma Technologist. This was an on the job training position where I would learn to perform emergency minor surgery, start IVs, open infected wounds and so on. The job description said that I would be learning all I needed to know during a one year intense internship. This, scarily, would be while I was still finishing my junior and senior years at college. Although the salary was very appealing, I wasn't sure I wanted to do this or could handle the extra work or even had the experience needed. However, if I got the job surely it would help me discover if being a doctor was my "calling". Cutting to the chase, I got the job. How? Pure luck and timing! In life, other forces are in play and without us knowing it, we are pawns on their chess board. When I brought over my application, the head of the Trauma Team happened to be working. He was a young guy who "liked my looks" and told me he wanted me on his staff. He said that he was going to push my application to the top and lo and behold I had an interview with the chairman the next day. During the interview the chairman asked me how my manual dexterity was. I answered that I typed very quickly. He said, not that kind, but on the human body. Not wanting to get into my sex life, I was at a loss. Finally I told him I did a mean self breast exam. His eyes bugged out of his head and when he finally stopped laughing, he told me I had chutzpah and hired me.

When I decided that medical school was not in my future and I was a few months from graduating college, I was at a loss and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. One day I was talking to my sister and she said, "Well, you like medicine and working in the hospital, why don't you get an MBA in Health Services and track it in Acute Care?" I smiled, thought why not, and went the next day to register for the Graduate Entrance Exam. A week later, I took the exam, got a good enough score and was accepted into the Masters program. Fall came and without missing a beat I started taking classes while continuing to work in the ER.

At the end of the two years I decided instead of doing a thesis I would opt for doing a 2 year administrative fellowship in a hospital. There was one problem - I really wanted to stay in Washington. However, since there were only five fellowship positions in DC and hundreds of applicants I knew my chances were slim. I finally made the decision to apply to just those and if I didn't get one, I would worry then. Waiting interminably, I finally got a phone call [the only phone call] for an interview. During the interview process, an interviewer let it slip that I and the other applicants interviewing that day were actually the hospital's third tier group and that the first two groups had either all accepted positions elsewhere or had declined to interview at this hospital. Some of the graduates with me were offended and hurt, but I felt lucky. I didn't care if I was 60th on their list, I was there and other people who may have had more experience and/or better grades weren't. My interview went very well and I got the fellowship. Yea for me.

My next few jobs over the years were, I feel, based a lot on luck and timing. I'm not belittling a good education, personal appearance, grades and all the hard work put into one's future, but looking back, I truly see that for me, timing and luck may sometimes have played a bigger role than those other things I mention above. I still envy those people who have a calling or who knew from a young age what they wanted to be. I think it may be easier when you know what you want and have some type of path to follow even if it has some bumps along the way. Flying by the seat of your pants can be exciting, but I'm not sure it trumps a calling.

I wonder though if people with a calling are not the norm, but people like me are. No, I didn't have a calling and am not sure I'll ever feel one, but over the years I have learned that if you're in the right place at the right time and your heart and mind are open to the possibilities, good things happen. That's how I met my husband... but that's another babble.