Mean Girls at the Health Club

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Mean Girls at the Health Club

It is hard to believe that mean girls are still around after high school. Don’t be too quick to breathe a sigh of relief that female middle-age brings with it an end to the days of dodging the mean girls. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the gym or the locker room, you are apt to encounter that iconic mean girl who will dare to go down into the abyss of old age, spitting the same old venom just to make sure she never loses that poisonous touch. She will grab the exercise equipment you just gathered for yourself. She will bark at you when a simple apology for her intrusiveness would have served just as well. She will name-call you. She will snub you and walk in the opposite direction when you enter the room. She will cover her  restylane-filled lips with her hand and whisper evil nothings about you. All this at a Health Club that, for an enormous monthly fee, touts a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy.

As if that weren’t enough of a bitter pill to swallow, there are the “enablers of mean girl”; who surround, buffer and prohibit mean girl-enlightenment. Here is the drill: Mean girl attacks, enablers of mean girls surround her like a blanket and talk trash about their victim. Mean girl quickly becomes unreachable and therefore, never experiences the necessary conversation where she is expected to take accountability for her nasty, attacking behavior and all the damage it causes to others.

And how about those bystanders of mean girl? You know, the ones who say, “Just ignore it” or “You’re not letting yourself be bothered by her, are you?” or worse yet…they say nothing at all, which suggests acceptance. This phenomenon of bullying can take place at any time, any place, any age. It is an awful experience to be bullied…it is at best, emotionally violent; it is isolating; and, it is full of despair. It represents an apathetic and pathetic society that doesn’t even stand for the core value of human kindness.

Women bullying other women is one variation that I find to be especially tortuous. Don’t we, as a gender, have enough challenges in being treated respectfully? Isn’t it counter-intuitive to turn on our own Sisters? How are we ever going to embrace equality when we can’t trust each other? Maybe female bullies should be forced to wear the Scarlet B?

Pity we cannot treat the transgression of bullying like we treat a DUI. If only they could make you spit into a cup and test your saliva for “bully venom”. Then if you test positive, you would be ticketed for bullying, and you could be assured that you will spend at least a night in jail. If it is a second or third offense, expect the book to be thrown at you. If you are an accessory to bullying, you will also have to pay the price.

Surely, there has to be some way to more effectively criminalize this heinous behavior. Its continued stronghold threatens the very fabric of our society. If we can deal with a drunk, then we can certainly find some way to bust a bully…of any variety.

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A Mid-Century Man

My baby brother is officially a mid-century man. He is turning fifty. How he got there is beyond me. Nine years my junior, it seems like only yesterday when he was a toddler, crawling up and down the narrow little hall-way of our modest home in New York. He sure has come a long way since then.

I’ll never forget the day he was born. Nine years old, myself; I was in the bathroom getting ready for school when I heard my father take the fateful call in the kitchen. “I have a son”, he said. I could hear Dad’s voice quake with joy as he uttered the words. I intensely gazed into the mirror at myself and quietly muttered, “Oh s#*t, a son.”  Faced with the birth of a male sibling and immediately ousted out of my position as youngest…that was a day of great transformation for me. I was officially bumped into middle-child position in my nuclear family; but that Shakespearean-soliloquy is meant for another day, another blog.

I can not say I am extremely close to my brother. Almost a decade his senior, time and space has created a gap between us that has been somewhat hard to bridge. I would have to say I admire him greatly, although from afar. The upside of that vantage point is an appreciation of the big picture of his life-experience. So here is the fraternal view from where I sit…

The half century point of my brother’s life, like any human’s, is probably one of reflection and introspection. “Does my life manifest my talents?  Does my life demonstrate my contribution? Does my life embody a legacy for others to carry forward?” I believe my brother’s response to these questions would have to be a resounding “Yes”.

He went to work for IBM after graduating from Tuft’s University with a degree in Chemical Engineering. While young in his job, he completed an MBA at New York University, which launched an incredible career path. He travels all over the world, creating and sustaining vital,  global business-relationships. He and his wife of many years (also a Tuft’s and NYU grad), have fantastic children with accomplishments of their own.

As if all the above weren’t enough, my brother possesses a gentle, unassuming air, a honed skill in appreciative inquiry, and a passion to pursue various hobbies and creative interests. Most of all, he embodies an awesome, entrepreneurial spirit that has remarkably inspired others.

All I can say is, “Mario, you are a great brother and although you are always “the baby”, I can authentically assert that I look up to you as a role model for how I wish I could be. Happy 50th to you!”

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The Gender Revolution

We are in the midst of a powerful sociocultural shift: a Gender Revolution. No longer can we ascribe the same old traits for purposes of defining gender. Historically, our sex was the first thing noted about us and then our early personalities were expected to conform in some predetermined framework to our gender. If we were girls, we were socialized to be “feminine”. If we were boys, we were socialized to be “masculine”.

Many of us suffered in our development simply because, and for a myriad of reasons, we did not fall into any one assumed gender-category. Guess what? We are now encased in a Gender Revolution which demands a redefinition and recognition of what makes a person male or female. And guess what? One is no longer easily distinguishable from the other!

A stay-at-home dad? Households where Mom and Dad ebb and flow between parenting and working roles? Male nurses? A high-powered female CEO who doesn’t want to marry or have children? Society has taken huge leaps since the June Cleaver days. It’s a good time to take a look at and redefine shifting views of men and women’s place in the world.

Attitudes towards gender roles are more varied than ever. Nearly every school of thought, whether it’s business, theology, sociology, marketing, psychology, or family studies, has its view of where men and women “belong” and naturally, these views are not without controversy. The Web is rich with sites that bring to mind an ongoing tug-of-war of “he said, she said”. However, one observation is clear: in today’s world there is way more to gender roles than trite, stereotypical archetypes.

While most of us can agree that change takes time, we have seen gender roles evolve in leaps and bounds. Many people are positively transforming with the idea of being taken care of by a male nurse; they are seeing the value in having their sons play with dolls and they are championing their daughters to become firefighters or serve in the military. There continues to be an ever-strengthening movement where the boundaries between the masculine and feminine are becoming more fluid and easily transmuted.

As far as gender is concerned, it is no longer a case of the tail wagging the dog. We are increasingly less pressured to have to engage in self-limiting activities to prove our gender. I, for one, am relieved and excited about the possibilities for women and men alike.

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Steve Jobs: Think Outside of the Motherboard

The world has come to attention, if only for a bit, with the passing of Steve Jobs. Described as “Iconic”, he achieved things in his shortened life that might have taken much longer if left in the hands of those less gifted. His technological virtues have been extolled and certainly don’t need to be repeated here.

One abstract legacy that Steve Jobs leaves behind is his lifelong resilience; his capacity to bounce back in the face of adversity and to rise above his challenges.  He came from humble beginnings; he didn’t have enough money for room and board in college; he didn’t graduate; he left his business, he worked hard and productively for eight years while fighting an aggressive form of cancer; and, perhaps what many would consider the biggest challenge, that he was given up for adoption at birth.

Steve Jobs is an Icon of Resilience. He refused to conform to the confines and definitions of what society deems “normal” and consistently believed there were a multitude of creative ways to overcome challenges and get to a goal.  Because he wouldn’t be constrained by certain social norms and societal limitations; he was able to let his creativity flow and artistically find his resilience through every challenge he faced.

Here is what I take away from the sad loss of this great man: when you are looking to bounce back from life’s hard knocks, remember that there may be many more paths to resilience than you might conventionally notice. Don’t let yourself be limited by the constraints of social norms and dictates when you need to find a way to rise above your challenges. Be creative and search for answers in places that push you out of your comfort zone. When you are in adversity, think of Steve Job’s original challenge: he may have been displaced by his Mother; but he bounced back, connected to the world and flourished by thinking outside of the Motherboard.

RIP Steve Jobs.

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My Mother’s Father: A Deliberate and Gentle Life

This Father’s day, my mind does not go to my late father who literally ran himself into an early grave by overdoing anything and everything he did. God rest his soul; he lived addictively and it cost him his life. Life with my father may have to wait for another blog because he is actually not who I am thinking of on Father’s Day.

As I was washing dishes yesterday and thinking about Fathers Day, I noticed the clear, crisp water rushing out of the faucet and I was reminded of my mother’s father and the example he set for living a deliberate and gentle life. The running water reminded me of him because when he washed dishes in his tiny kitchen, he would set the water to a trickle so as not to waste it. This trickle of water greatly lengthened the time he spent at the sink, but he never seemed to care. He enjoyed himself in every moment of his life; whatever that moment happened to encompass.

My grandfather immigrated to America in his teens from a little mountainside town in Italy. He worked as a tailor and met my grandmother in a sweatshop in New York. He owned very little and learned at an early age to appreciate the gentle nuances of life: the fresh air he breathed, the warmth of the sun, the caress of a breeze, the taste of a succulent peach, the melodious song of a sparrow.

He approached his world deliberately and slowly. He would be the last person at the dinner table, chewing slowly and savoring every bite of his food. He would press a garment as if he were creating a sculpture, methodically steaming every inch of it so that it looked like a work of art when he was finished. He tended his garden for hours, gently pruning and watering his abundant tomato plants. He would repeat to me in Italian, “Piano, piano, carissima.” In this context, the word “piano” means “gently” in English. He wanted me to learn the value of slowing down and taking it all in.

My grandmother would become irritated at him and yell at him, “Andiamo! Subito!” “Let’s go! Hurry!” She would sometimes say to me in exasperation, “How can I live with a man who goes so slowly?” I would laugh because her approach to life was the opposite of his. How they died provides a significant example of this: my grandmother died in her early eighties of a massive stroke and my grandfather was well into his nineties when he passed. He died predictably in his sleep after giving his nurse a goodnight kiss on the cheek.

My mother’s father approached life humbly, gently and deliberately. He noticed the details around him and took the time to appreciate all the tiny treasures in life that many of us multitaskers fail to notice in today’s electronic jungle. He was impressed by the beauty in all things and he experienced his life with patience and gratitude.

Happy Fathers Day to fathers everywhere. I dedicate this day to my mother’s father. My wish for you, if only for this one day: “Piano, piano.”