Emily Articulated: Relearned lessons

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

I had plans to write another article, to put a different set of words to my thoughts and ideas. I’d filled my customary notebook sheet with a loose outline and titled my Google document with a catchy phrase. But then, I saw someone wearing a “Make America Kind Again” hat, and something else clicked into place. I recognized there are just some things that resonate extra poignantly right now — at this moment in time, in America, in our town, in myself — and that some lessons feel newly relevant, despite having learned them a million times before. 

Small acts of kindness have a ripple effect. Reaching out to tell someone they’re doing a good job, that you like their sweater or that you appreciate their point of view has the power to add a blot of joy on the canvas of their unknowable day. Buying a coffee for the person in line behind you, dropping a hand-written card in the mail “just because”, or leaving a zucchini on the porch next door creates ripples; not only expanding into additional acts of kindness by the recipients of your kindness, but also, in ourselves. 

Emily Erickson.

Gratitude breeds more gratitude. Viewing the world with wonder — that sunflowers turn their faces toward a shifting sun, that dogs exist, that we’re made of up a trillion parts and pieces that fit together perfectly so we can breathe, run, think and play — is like rubbing the crust of monotony out of our eyes. Taking the time to intentionally tally up all for which we’re grateful opens us up to recognizing the infinite beauty in the world and in the people around us.

Most often, changes in behavior precede changes in attitude. It’s far more difficult to think our way into behaving differently than it is to behave our way into thinking differently. To incite more happiness, wellness, thoughtfulness or engagement in ourselves, we have to participate in the actions we know to create those feelings. Going to a concert, calling that friend, taking a hike, buying new paints or jumping off a swing is a far more effective strategy to change how we feel than ruminating on the ways in which we’d like things to be different.

Whenever possible, leave it better than you found it. Our impact on our surroundings — the way we walk the earth, shift the energy in a room, and create and cultivate community — is infinite and immeasurable. Our actions (of all sizes and significance) can be filled with consideration and positively contribute to our world and the lives of people connected to us. Or they can leave a trail of sludge, marking our self-important, entitled, greedy journey to wherever our destination may be.

It’s not necessary to take advice from people living a life you don’t want to live. There is no limit to the lessons we can learn from others — especially when we spend time listening to their stories, fears, failures and victories. But advice, no matter how generously given, has the potential to steer us further away from who and where we want to be. Guidance is the byproduct of a perspective built from someone’s unique way of navigating life; and, if the outcome (their life) isn’t appealing, then the stepping stones laid out before that outcome shouldn’t be blindly followed.

Expertise is different from advice. When people dedicate their lives to learning a specific subject, material or craft, they understand the thing they have studied with a depth and complexity a non-expert cannot comprehend. They follow procedures to ensure the accuracy of their knowledge and share insights as they apply to their area of expertise. This knowledge sharing is different from advice like learning to construct a house from a lifetime builder is different than reading the back of a LEGO box. 

When feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of problems out of our control, focus on something you can control. The grandeur of the problems we’re asked to carry and the scale they reach inevitably makes us feel inadequate and helpless. But, small actions, numerous fragments of everyday choices, can contribute to the grand mosaic of change we want to see in the world.

Emily Erickson is a writer and business owner with an affinity for black coffee and playing in the mountains. Connect with her online at bigbluehat.studio.

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