Left Wing Loves Right Wing

What if I told you the left wing and the right wing belong to the same bird?

– Author Unknown

My husband and I have been married 38 years. My husband is a Republican who is quite content being part of South Dakota’s majority party. I’ve been a Democrat since I registered to vote at age 18 and am quite content to remain part of South Dakota’s minority party. What is perhaps surprising is that we both are also quite content to stay married to each other until death do us part.

Have our political party labels caused some problems? Yes.

My husband has been asked questions like, “How can you be married to a Democrat?” Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and powerful politicians say all sorts of horrible things about me based on my political party label. I know because I listen to KOTA radio and I read their tweets. Since I live in South Dakota, I don’t hear as much criticism of Republicans (unless they’re criticizing each other), but I realize nasty, demeaning name calling plagues both political parties.   

Marriage and relationships are difficult enough without certain politicians and media maniacs doing their best to hinder our efforts at understanding and unity. Powerful people are encouraging us to distrust and disrespect each other. It’s frightening because it wasn’t all that long ago that we had a horrible civil war in our country in which family members, neighbors – fellow Americans – fought and killed each other over issues that continue to plague us today.

I’m an educator and have spent my career in the service sector. My husband has spent his entire career as a businessman. I love teaching and the community service work I have done and do, but I count myself lucky to have fallen in love with someone who could show me a different perspective. I’ve studied and taught economics but being married to a businessman has helped me better understand the complexities of a sector I wasn’t previously connected to. My husband gets to hear from me about the education and service segments of our nation. Ideally, we will always appreciate the insights and awareness each of us brings to the relationship and use our diverse experiences to make wiser decisions and produce more intelligent opinions. And often (not always unfortunately) that is just what happens.

There’s a myth out there that we can’t talk about politics or religion in polite company. We’re just too different and can’t agree. It’s true that our pride, egos, and lack of self-control can really derail a conversation and ruin a dinner party. But if we don’t communicate, we’ll never understand those with different life experiences and concerns. We’ll never see the whole picture and we’ll be stuck with our limited vision, unable to let in the light of knowledge and empathy, unable to courageously explore new ideas and adapt to an ever-changing world.

Another myth is that it’s weak and wishy-washy to change our minds or consider compromise. If we believe it’s weak to admit uncertainty or seek balanced solutions, we certainly won’t listen to anyone who challenges our self-declared righteousness, especially if they’re from a group or political party we’ve been told is inferior and trying to ruin our country. We cover ourselves with a shield of defensiveness and pride and attack those who disagree with us. Just as detrimental can be hiding behind a shield of shame and denial, afraid to challenge lies and injustice.

Tolerating uncertainty, listening to different perspectives, and striving for cooperative, win-win solutions isn’t just kind and nice; it’s productive, intelligent, and wise. Imagine if we tried not to impose our views on others and not to conform to the demands of others. Instead, we shared our thoughts freely and respectfully, without fear or manipulation, and listened to the stories of others with open minds and open hearts. That behavior could result in genuine dialogue that focused on solving problems and finding answers that unify, not divide us.

If we want to fly, we need our right wing, our left wing, and everything in between working together. We can trade in our shields of defensiveness and denial and pick up the shield of love and compassion. That takes courage and effort.

My husband and I may be labeled differently when we go to vote, but we, like most Democrats and Republicans, have so much in common. Both of us support equal rights, affordable health care for all, clean water and air, parks and wilderness areas, freedom from unnecessary regulations, sensible gun laws, responsible fiscal policies, child protection, and the list goes on. We value generosity, honesty, hard work, conscientiousness, compassion and respect for others, and the list goes on.

There will always be conflict and struggle because we’re humans who have different needs, experiences, and personalities. We’re not always logical or rational and we get emotional about issues that matter deeply to us. But we don’t have to be enemies, and we don’t have to listen to people who try to convince us that we are. We can dare to fly using both our wings.

The Gift of Forgiveness

Wondering what to get and give for Christmas and the holidays? I suggest the gift that fits every budget: forgiveness.

2020 has been a tough year for many of us. COVID-19, divisive politics, natural disasters and more have created mental and spiritual anguish. We may find ourselves with relationships that need mending, regrets that need healing, and anger that needs to be transformed into more thoughtful, productive energy. Forgiveness has been a method of lightening our burdens and spreading joy for millenniums and is a caring, priceless gift to give ourselves and others.

Forgiveness Is the Gift of Freedom from Past Pain and Hope for the Future

When I was young, I was uplifted by hearing Janis Joplin singing, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Those words helped me accept my past mistakes and losses, plus reminded me to lose my expectations and desires for a perfect life so I could experience freedom. Freedom to create new ways of thinking. Freedom to just enjoy being me.

We experience freedom when we let go of rigid beliefs as to what we and others should be. Life is inevitably full of struggle with detours and wrong turns along the way. Shoulding all over ourselves and others is rarely beneficial.

When Plan A goes amiss, we don’t have to beat ourselves or anyone else up about it. We can instead free ourselves of unworkable expectations, accept and make peace with the past, and embrace the opportunity we have to learn, grow, and create a Plan B, C, or D (whatever it takes). We can break free of the personal prison we create when we become entangled in destructive thoughts and emotions. The gift of amazing grace is waiting for us to graciously receive it and extend it to others.  

We’re All a Little Crazy Sometimes and Need the Gift of Forgiveness

If you’re feeling a little crazy, you’re not alone. We all deal with tough stuff at some point in our lives and 2020 has been a challenge for most of us. You don’t have to be hard on yourself even if life is being hard on you. Give yourself some love and forgiveness and pass it on.

If we think everyone else has the glorious life we often see on social media or cherry-picked holiday card narratives, our stress is compounded by shame, confusion, and loneliness. Sometimes just knowing we’re not alone helps us understand and accept ourselves better. A person once told me, “I found out other people were feeling what I was and so either I wasn’t crazy, or we were all crazy together. Either way, I was comforted.”

A long time ago, a book called I’m Okay, You’re Okay inspired me to work towards more humility and acceptance of what I am and what others are. I don’t like being burdened and in pain due to bitterness, resentment, pride, or fear. The joy I receive by letting go of troublesome, detrimental thoughts and emotions motivates me to forgive myself for being less than I’d like to be; to forgive others because they’re just being themselves and doing the best they can; to forgive the Creator because there’s good out there, all the time, and I can work on becoming a small part of that.  

Forgiveness Is For Giving

Forgiveness is a wonderful gift to give ourselves, and once we do, we can give more of ourselves to others. Unforgiving people tend to be angry, bitter, distrustful, and arrogant.  They may create headlines and add a lot of drama to life, but at what cost? At times, it does feel good to vent about the things that frustrate and disappoint us, but a steady diet of rage and stress creates a cortisol overload that damages our physical health as well as hardens our hearts (figuratively and literally).

When I’m being unforgiving, I don’t have much good to give. It’s likely I’ll add to my list of regrets and shameful behaviors, not my list of generous gifts of kindness. I realize my naughty list will inevitably grow, but I do try to keep my numbers down. Accepting myself and others, reminding myself that the world doesn’t exist just to please me, and evaluating a painful situation with curiosity and compassion, rather than self-righteous indignation or pity helps.

When we unwrap the gift of forgiveness, we are delighted to find freedom from hostility, resentment, and shame. We discover the compassion needed to accept and understand human weaknesses (our own and others) and the strength and courage needed to create a brighter future.

Give yourself and others the gift wise philosophers and spiritual leaders throughout history have advised generously sharing: forgiveness.

(Photo by Ben White on Unsplash)

Fuel Up On Gratitude This Thanksgiving

I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving all my life by eating a big turkey dinner and then making myself slightly miserable by topping it off with pie and whipped cream. When I think Thanksgiving, I often envision food, which fuels my body. However, I’ve learned that fueling my spirit with gratitude and thankfulness empowers me in ways turkey and mashed potatoes never will, plus there’s fewer calories involved.

The Thanksgiving holiday was officially declared in the midst of the Civil War (1863) by President Lincoln. Sarah Josepha Hale is known as the Mother of Thanksgiving because she lobbied to create an official day of thanksgiving which she hoped would help unify the nation and reduce tensions between the North and the South. People across the world have long desired a special time to be set aside for thankfulness and celebrating the harvest season. All the major world religions emphasize the importance of spending time appreciating whatever blessings have been bestowed upon us, whether large or small.

Gratitude Is Especially Important When Our Lives Are at Their Worst

I’ve known factually that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, but it has only been in the last decade or two that I’ve truly realized what a wonderful blessing gratitude and giving thanks is to our spirits. I’ve become truly grateful for the opportunity to spend time thinking about what’s good about the world and my life. And I appreciate gratitude time the most when my life is a horrible, painful mess and the world seems to have gone crazy.

I try to take regular thanksgiving breaks in which I allow myself time to focus on the delightful things I appreciate about life. Worries and fears are placed in temporary storage while I count blessings. My personal list includes morning coffee, chocolate, loved ones, kind words, birds, dogs, humorous videos, dancing, singing, sunshine, naps . . . the list goes on and doesn’t include anything extravagant or difficult to achieve. It’s based on gratitude for being, but not for being anything in particular.

Being grateful doesn’t mean worries disappear or we become Pollyannas, oblivious to hard realities and inconvenient truths. It doesn’t mean overindulging in things we’re grateful for – like chocolate chip cookies or an excellent merlot. It does mean being aware that even though much in our lives might be no good, terrible, awful; digging deep and finding that which can light our paths will keep us from despairing. Gratitude is the fuel that empowers us to move forward, especially when times are tough.

I’ve been researching forgiveness for the past 7 years. When I first started, I wasn’t too impressed with studies that showed a relationship between gratitude and forgiveness. Why was that significant? Then I had a very painful experience and became more aware of how essential gratitude is to forgiveness. When I found my mood sinking, my thoughts becoming bitter, and my body losing energy, I found the nourishment I needed to keep going down a positive path through gratitude breaks. I picked a calming place and counted my blessings instead of my worries and hurts. It was a mini vacation away from shame, regret, anger, and resentment. Gratitude breaks can energize us, change our perspective, and provide the lift we need to create new and improved chapters in our life story.

Gratitude Improves Relationships

The people around us are grateful when we take gratitude breaks. Sharing smiles, laughs, and kind words – even for a short time – can improve relationships and change the atmosphere in a home or workplace.

If we really want to go all out with the gratitude theme, we can make a point to tell family, friends, and anyone else we’re thankful for, how much they mean to us. There may be all sorts of things that annoy us about someone, but seeking to find that which we respect and admire can smooth out many bumps in our relationships. Especially if we’re willing to tell the person we’re annoyed with. Would you rather cooperate with someone who appreciates your strengths or someone who constantly reminds you of your weaknesses?

Sometimes the person we’re annoyed with is ourselves, but giving ourselves credit for what we do right may be a better path to self-improvement than scolding ourselves for what we do wrong. And we can work on being thankful for all those things we’ve done wrong because we can learn and grow from those experiences. (I know – that’s easier to say than do.)

Gratitude Breaks Are Like Living in the Moment

Gratitude breaks are like the current advice to live in the moment. We can’t forget the past; we need to learn from it. We can’t forget about the future; we need to plan for it. We can, however, treat ourselves to joyful, peaceful moments in which we simply bask in the delight of whatever brings us happiness.

Take time to be thankful. It’s advice that’s been given to us through the centuries and throughout the world. Gratitude enables us to see the light in dark situations and empowers us to face our worries and fears with courage and hope. Giving thanks is like letting the sunshine come in and clear away the dark clouds that inevitably appear from time to time, leaving us with a rainbow of possibilities and brighter days.

Reading Guide for Being Human Is Hard: Choose Forgiveness

I recently was able to discuss my book, Being Human Is Hard: Choose Forgiveness, with my friend Nadine’s book club. What a wonderful group of women! I enjoyed discovering what touched them about the stories and hearing their perspectives.

My friend Liz provided me with the above photo of her book and the tabs she’d mark so we could discuss various ideas and share insights. I appreciate learning from my readers!

The following Reading Group Guide is for book clubs or for anyone who likes thought-provoking questions. If you’d like more detailed discussion questions, I’m doing a book study at my church and have developed questions that explore each story. Please contact me if you would like me to visit your book club or group, either in person or by zoom, or if you would like to discuss a more long-term book study.

Reading Guide for Being Human Is Hard: Choose Forgiveness by Christy Heacock, PhD

  1. Did your understanding of forgiveness change after reading the book? In what way?
  2. What story was most meaningful to you? Why?
  3. Did you identify with any of the forgiveness heroes? What did you have in common?
  4. How important do you think the 4Cs are to forgiveness? Is one more important than the other? Would you add an additional component?
  5. What role does humility and vulnerability play in the ability to forgive? Gratitude? Acceptance?
  6. How important is self-forgiveness to forgiveness of others and forgiveness of God or Fate?
  7. What is hard about forgiveness and how can we try to overcome obstacles to letting go and moving forward?
  8. Is there a quote, passage, or insight you’d like to be sure and remember as you face forgiveness challenges?

It Could Have Been Different

One impediment to forgiveness is not understanding how someone could do something hurtful. Shouldn’t they have known better?

A helpful forgiveness belief is that everyone is on their own developmental and spiritual path – learning, growing, and doing the best they can. This helps us forgive others and also ourselves.

I wrote the following poem, It Could Have Been Different, with the purpose of better understanding how circumstances impact who we are and the choices we make.  

It Could Have Been Different 
By Christy Heacock

She was born a farm girl at a time when farm girls got married, had babies,
and were supposed to be fulfilled by family, faith, and a clean house.
She wasn’t supposed to like books so much,
and learning new things,
and dancing and dreaming.

She was a good girl
and dropped out of school to care for her sick mother.
But woman’s work wasn’t happy work for her
and she decided to blame that unpleasant truth on other women,
who it seemed to her had created the box she’d been stuffed into.
She idolized the male gender, as they got to do the things she wanted to do.
Their lives seemed a little closer to heaven than the hell she was experiencing.

She became pregnant in an age that required you marry,
even if you were only 17 and the man who got you pregnant was 20 years older.
She had a second baby ten months after the first
in a small rural community where you didn’t talk about
birth control or family planning.

She became depressed in a time and place
that didn’t tolerate sadness, sorrow, or compassion,
but gave a nod to anger, meanness, and harsh judgments.
She became isolated and unforgiving
and didn’t realize she was hurting her family,
because the only hurt she could feel was her own.

Sometimes she would be rescued by books
that took her on journeys that stirred her imagination and gave her hope.
As she grew older she created a fairy tale in her mind
of the way things were,
and she tried not to let real people or unsettling experiences
intrude on that story.

She grew up learning you didn’t complain
until you were visibly and incontrovertibly ill.
Consequently, when the heart attack threatened,
the available modern hospital did not take the place of
a solitary bedroom and rosary beads.
So she died young.

She did the best she could
with what she had
and who she was.

It could have been different,
but not for that person,
in that time,
and in that place.