1. Be Kind. If this is the one thing I manage to do, I’ve done enough. Kindness may seem like a personality trait, but I think of it more as a habitual spiritual practice. Being kind has taught me that simple, seemingly insignificant human interactions can be profound. It has opened people and their stories to me. And, perhaps most important to my work, being kind has taught me that I know far less than I think I do. Always.
2. Love What You Do. This is not a passive thing, or a happenstance of trying to do what you love. It is a proactive, daily decision to nurture and seek satisfaction in the work I am doing. I think of it like marriage: sometimes it’s easy and simple. Sometimes it’s a daily, grinding decision to love. And sometimes, when you can’t do it any more, the last act of love is walking away.
3. Keep Your Brain Spongy. This is the fun part. I’m a big believer in feeding curiosity, and offering my subconscious mind a cornucopia of ideas. I read history, literature, and ancient Chinese murder mysteries. I feed the birds, train my ear to identify distinct birdsong, and try to learn the differences between sparrow species (almost all are the same buffy, brown color). I study physics, the latest developments in the modeling of protein-folding, and the genetic underpinnings of personality. I dig big holes in the yard, play and talk with animals, and right now I’m thinking about buying a metal detector. I am never bored.
4. Do the Next, Most Interesting Thing. This is a corollary of keeping your brain spongy, but it requires a very loose hold on one’s life-plans. In fact, I do very little life-planning at all; for better or worse, no career path can hold my attention for very long. So when people ask me how I became an NPR correspondent at such a young age, (or for that matter, how I ended up with a bit part in a Mexican telenovela) my best answer is that I didn’t really mean to. I just did a long series of the next, most interesting things. It’s kind of an informed version of winging-it.”
“Narrative therapy, as we think of it, is a growing body of ideas and practices that stems from the work of Michael White and David Epston. White’s early published work was based on ideas from Gregory Bateson, which gave it some theoretical overlap with strategic and cybernetic approaches to therapy. Epston, who had encountered the narrative metaphor in studying anthropology, and Cheryl White, who had enthusiasm for this analogy from her readings in feminism encouraged White to use the “story analogy”—the notion that meaning is constituted through the stories we tell and hear concerning our lives. Their advice proved fruitful, so much so that since the early 1990’s narrative has been the central organizing metaphor for this approach to therapy.
Therapists who began to use the narrative metaphor in White’s and Epston’s sense experienced quite a large shift in their worldview. Instead of trying to solve problems, we began to focus on collaboratively enriching the narratives of people’s lives. We work to bring forth and develop “thick descriptions” or rich, meaningful, multi-stranded stories of those aspects of people’s life narratives that lie outside the influence of problems. Through these alternative stories, people can live out new identities, new possibilities for relationship, and new futures.”
Jill Freedman & Gene Combs (2009). Narrative Couple Therapy. In A. Gurman & N. Jacobson (eds.) Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy (revised edition). New York: Guilford.
“There is no way that the proportions of Black and Native American children in foster care would ever happen to white children[…] if child welfare systems removed 1 in 10 white children from their families as they have in many Black and Native American communities, the systems would be shut down.”
Dorothy Roberts, author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare
Black children constitute only 17 percent of the youth population in the U.S, yet make up 42 percent of all children in foster care nationwide. [pdf source download]
Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity…
Assume nobody else has any idea what they’re doing either. A lot of people refuse to try something because they feel they don’t know enough about it or they assume other people must have already tried everything they could have thought of. Well, few people really have any idea how to do things right and even fewer are to try new things, so usually if you give your best shot at something you’ll do pretty well.”