WordFood - how we feed or starve our realtionships

- Julia Hubbel

Julia’s ability to get this group of type-A executives to engage in true networking was incredible. She is truly skilled at motivating the group to engage and interact with each other, and her openness and honesty really come through.

— Shelley Stewart, Jr.,
Senior Vice President of Operational Excellence and Chief Procurement Officer, Tyco

March 13, 2016

What WordFood are we feeding our daughters?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 6:49 pm

Having never been a parent, nor ever wanting to be one, the issue of how to raise kids doesn’t usually concern me. However, a couple of recent posts on Facebook got me thinking. One was linked to a New York Times article which pointed out how parents tend to baby their girls and warn them of danger rather than encourage them to be brave. The other was about helicopter parents, who, as George Carlin used to point out, would sue the school of their kid’s foot feel asleep from “just standing around.”

Both pointed to behaviors I find troubling, in part because we are at a point where we need strong women, and strong kids in general. The habit of parents to over coddle and warn kids of imminent danger teaches fear and insecurity. This has far more to do with Mommy and Daddy than the kid. Those of us who grew up on farms with a host of dangers to deal with paid the occasional price for an accident. Being a Baby Boomer, I didn’t wear helmets for any sports, and I got my share of bumps. However, as with any child, that’s part of the price we pay to learn what not to do. With girls in particular, the constant shriek of terror from Mommy every time her adventurous daughter decides to try something new is precisely the wrong message. While I’m not saying that you should let your kid climb the ladder to the roof, why not climb it WITH her and teach her how?

When I left the Army in 1976, I was treated to the beginning of a movie Renaissance with the May opening that year of “Aliens” with Sigourney Weaver. The Lieutenant Ripley character has been my point of reference ever since. A no prisoners, smart, savvy, competent woman who deals with fear, depression, has mothering instincts and shows love, and still takes on the nastiest creature in the Universe. The message that I got out of the movie was that one doesn’t forfeit our womanhood by being brave. If anything, by not learning to be courageous, we teach our girls to be timid, apologetic, fearful and ridiculous.

By ridiculous, I point to every single time I hear some nitwit scream because she sees a roach, a snake, a wasp, a spider, or any creepy crawly. It’s an embarrassment to me personally and it’s an embarrassment to all women in general. It’s not cute to be afraid, the NYT author said, and I totally agree. Life is full of dangers, whether a poisonous snake or an abuser. Without learning courage, our daughters become easy victims.

I would invite all parents who have daughters to start watching your language. Are you feeding your kids fear? Are you teaching timidity? My veteran buddy Grace Tiscareno-Sato has a blind daughter who is an overachiever and she takes school and sports and just about all the world can hand her. Grace has fed her a steady diet of support and encouragement. She has her daughter’s back, rather than trying to protect her. As a result, her daughter is gutsy and brave and against all odds, incredibly self assured.

Watch that you don’t project your own fears onto your kids. Encourage. Challenge. Have their backs. Put a bandaid on the boo boo or a cast on that broken arm. Let the kids learn. Otherwise we cripple them with fear.

September 29, 2014

The Beneficial WordFood of “NO”

At an all day Diversity & Inclusion Program last week, I met a lovely woman who was having a challenge with her sixteen year old daughter. As their speaker, I was on an hour break, and she  asked me for my thoughts since she knew I was an equestrian. She  wanted to know whether she should buy her daughter  a $50k show horse.

As you can guess, it was far more complex than this. This woman, a secretary, is married to a mechanic. The daughter, who is a fine competitor, has worked her way up in the very elite world of show jumping. She also wants to attend Baylor University. She also hangs out with an elite crowd of rich girls her age for whom a $50k horse is a drop in the bucket.

When pressed, this young mother admitted that the daughter, who, to her credit, had worked hard at the barns to earn her way up til now. But she was starting to make comments about their pedestrian transportation compared to the Beamers and Caddies that her friends drove.

Internally I smiled, and remembered that my dad, at best, earned about $20k a year when I was growing up, and I got a “salary” of $5.25 a week, from which I had to pay for all my horse related goodies. He shouldered the vet bills, shoeing, all costs I couldn’t bear. But I worked from the time I was four years old on my dad’s farm, and from that, learned what money could and couldn’t buy.

We had a good heart to heart about boundaries and limitations, and the toxic nature of the rich crowd this young woman was now hanging out with. At sixteen, there’s no telling where her whims would take her next. My suggestion was to offer her the horse OR Baylor, or suggest that she take on some jobs so that she can pay for one or the other. Otherwise her working class family could well end up with a very expensive horse, a huge college bill  and a daughter off with another new passion. It’s just that age.

We love our kids and want them to do well. But setting realistic boundaries and requiring them to earn what they have forces them to understand how much $50,000 really is. That’s one heck of a lot of money. Not to her friends. And while that may embarrass this sixteen year old, it does require her to take ownership of her real conditions, and not demand that her parents to pay for a lifestyle that is wholly unrealistic. Many competitors have had to patch their breeches to keep going. If that causes her shame, let her work, and bask in the pride that such hard work brings. In this case, “No” is WordFood of the highest kind. It feeds the fire of self sufficiency, of making the kinds of hard choices that come to all of us later in life.  For her rich friends, such material hard choices don’t exist.

This may not seem like such a gift to a kid of sixteen. After all her effort to get where she is as an equestrian, it may feel like a setback. But this is life and it’s full of evaluations and choices.  If we always get what we want, then when we get one of life’s first big NOs we truly aren’t prepared. And as parents, it’s our job to help our young ones learn to deal with disappointments. It’s called character building.

In a case like this, NO has a lot to do with love your child enough, and trusting your gut enough, to do what’s right for the long haul.

September 16, 2014

We Speak With Our Feet

Over the last few years I’ve been taking riding lessons at a place called Cottonwood here in the Denver area. Suffice it to say that Colorado is horse country, and there are a lot of stables. I was referred to this facility through a mutual friend, and for the most part was pretty happy with it.

I say “pretty happy” because there were some drawbacks. On one hand the instructors didn’t stay for long. The other drawback was the owner, who has the unfortunate characteristic of publicly dressing you down if she didn’t like what you were doing. Didn’t matter who you were, how old you were, what you were paying to be there. If she didn’t happen to like something,  she would take out her fury on you at full volume,  treat you as though you had the brains of a caterpillar, and make sure everyone in a mile radius knew about it.

The first time this happened  I was simply appalled. What kind of an owner treats paying customers like this? I later found my sense of humor, wrote it off and got over it. However, I made sure that I stayed out of this woman’s way as much as possible. As my instructors always said, “Tara’s barn, Tara’s rules,” which were capricious at best. Avoidance worked til last Thursday.

This past May I came home from Nepal with girardia, which just got diagnosed.  In addition I’ve been riding bareback saddle pad which was fine on some horses but not on others, whose rougher trot caused me considerable pain and bleeding. Thursday I was both in pain and ill, and I had put on a saddle for the first time this year. I was sliding and slipping and frustrated, in pain and annoyed at myself and my physical condition . In addition my young instructor was nagging at me for the second time that week- for reasons unbeknownst to me. Her horse had died the previous Sunday, she was angry and hurt and no wonder. She was taking it out on me, and the two of us were having a rough day. Not an impossible one, but we were a little short tempered.

Add to this inside the big internal ring, the owner’s habit of riding around and around, back and forth, this way and that, wholly unpredictably, so that not only do I not have a clue where she’s going or what she’s doing I end up stopping completely so that I don’t run into her. She lays into me at full volume, on and on and on and on and ON, without the courtesy of asking what might be the matter. Tara’s dressing me down the way you might a three year old kid who’s smeared food on the wall. I’m at least fifteen years older than she is. I grew up saying Ma’am to my elders. And betters. It’s a spectacle indeed.

A sane person with a modicum of decency might quietly pull us both aside and inquire as to why we were complaining at each other.  While I have compassion for whatever is causing her so much pain she must take her fury out on others, my riding boots and bucks belong elsewhere.

I fired Cottonwood,  and wrote the kind of Yelp review they had coming.  You do not shame, punish and verbally abuse customers. You do not take out your personal damage on clients. Anyone even thinking about Cottonwood should be forewarned.

Our mutual friend argues that Tara is strong. I’ve build women’s networks out of powerful, incredible women. They were also immensely humble, compassionate and gracious. These are the precise characteristics that made them strong.

Emotional maturity is born of our ability to take what life has handed us and turn it into gifts, not grandiosity. Every truly strong woman I know isn’t the least bit arrogant or hateful.

We all have the right to put ourselves into healthy, nurturing environments where we are fed the kind of WordFood that develops us. If you find yourself around someone whose self hatred spills out in toxicity, leave as soon as possible. You cannot do their work for them, but you can improve your quality of life.

September 1, 2014

WordFood Verstatility in a Diverse Country

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 5:59 pm

In early August I found myself in the top bunk of a girls’ dorm at the Glenwood Springs Hostel, surrounded by a bevy of females from all over the world. They came from China, Japan, Russia, Croatia, Jamaica, far-flung countries. The hostel owner had actually shut down the place for the summer to board these girls so that they could work and go to school but my reservation had slipped in under the wire. Lucky me, I had a three day kayaking trip planned, and hostels are a lot cheaper than hotels. Besides, what a fascinating group of women.

The days were long and eventful, and as expected I would drag in late. Also as expected (and as warned) the girls were also up late, texting friends back home, and sometimes, as my Russian bunk mate and immediate neighbor would have it, time for loud music. As gently and as politely as I could I asked these women if they would kindly lower their music so that I could sleep as I had a 5 am wakeup call. Begrudgingly, they did. However, when I then thanked them in Russian, they not only burst out in glee, they responded very warmly- and that opened up a different door for us, which we continued the next day at breakfast.

I don’t speak fluent Russian. However I do know a few words. And over my various travels I’ve learned to say hello and thank you and a few other phrases, often complimentary, in a variety of languages ranging from Thai to Korean to Swahili to Vietnamese. As in the scenario at the hostel, I have found that knowing even just a few words  in someone else’s language is such a gift. Whenever I travel I buy a phrasebook, and where possible, I  hire a coach. It’s good to know “where’s the bathroom” to “your country is beautiful” to “I’m injured, I need help.”

For those who don’t travel, we are the host country to many, many immigrants. It behooves us to know Spanish, if nothing else. Mine is workable, as I travel to South America every year. But we also have Sudanese and Vietnamese tribal people and large numbers of others who have come here to make a life. They are part of our culture. Many struggle mightily to learn English.

Today I was standing behind an African woman who was buying a lottery ticket at my local gas station. She turned and looked at me, kindly, and I said to her “Jambo, Mama,” and tipped my head. She looked surprised, then enormously pleased. She spoke to me in her own language, which I did not understand, but the exchange was gracious nonetheless. She is here with her daughter, who does speak English.

It’s hard enough to come to a country and make a life, often having to give up your professional credentials to work at minimum wage to provide for your family. Learning English is tough enough. Many top doctors  make donuts rather than perform brain surgery because the English language is too much. We don’t always appreciate the sacrifices people have to make. A small gesture to learn a word in an immigrant’s language is such a small price to pay to help someone feel welcome in  their new home.

Every time I say kim sa ham ne dah, or “thank you” in Korean to the women who take care of my postal services and my dry cleaning, it is an acknowledgement. It reminds me that I, too have immigrant ancestors who may not have been welcomed. For my part, I’m going to do my best to open my heart and speak welcoming WordFood to the rich cultural gifts that have come and continue to bring variety and color to this great continent.  These wonderful people are constantly reminding me of what I have, and why I value it so much.

August 25, 2014

Green WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 2:21 pm

Last Tuesday I was prepping my sweet little grey mare Calypso for my riding lesson. Now there’s a back story to this. About two weeks prior, I had attempted to learn how to inline skate. Suffice it to say that said attempt ended quickly as a result of two extremely hard landings on skinny butt on hard concrete. Since then those skates have been relegated to Craig’s List, and my patootie is slowly recovering. Now, fast forward to Tuesday.

One of the chores one does to prep your horse for riding is to clean the mess out of their hooves, the glop and dirt they pick up from being in their stalls or the corral. So you must work your way around the animal and pick up the hooves one by one and pick this mess out. I was dutifully doing this until I got to Calypso’s rear end. Then she started to balk. It was painful for me to lean over (a leftover from my aborted skating career). She’d dance away every time I went for her hoof. Bend. Dance. Ouch. Bend. Dance. Ouch. Three times. I popped her on the butt in frustration. Not hard. But enough to get her attention.

She leapt away from my hand and gave me that hurt LOOK. I have never popped Calypso. Ours is a most affectionate and loving relationship, made up of kisses and nuzzles and many handfuls of soft green grass. She was not happy with me.

However she did offer up her left back leg without protest so I leaned over and got to work.

Seconds later I felt, and smelled, a copious amount of reeking green wet material landing on my bare left shoulder, over my arm, onto my wrist, watch, fingers, leg, boots.

I started laughing helplessly. Looked over my right shoulder. Calypso was looking right back. “Got the message, cowgirl?”

I kept right on cleaning her foot. No water anywhere close by. I’d stink to high heaven my entire lesson.

Put her foot down gently. Eased up and walked to her head. We eyeballed each other. I reached up and nabbed her ears, and scratched them. Rubbed that sweet spot right over her eyes and then rubbed her eyes gently shut. Scrubbed her cheeks under the halter. She placed her muzzle into my chest and rested it there, then pushed me. “You’re forgiven.”

She gave me a lovely ride that day.

Her eloquent green WordFood was a fine reminder that it wasn’t her fault I was sore or irritated about my back. Not her fault I was stupid enough to try to learn a sport for six year olds. I wasn’t present for her and she knew it.  If I’m dumb enough to smack her and then sit in the landing zone, well then. I deserve precisely what I got.

What I loved about Calypso’s sweet lesson in humble green pie is that we don’t have the right to cascade our stuff onto innocents, be they animals, children, spouses, work partners, anyone else. It’s ours to process.  Let’s be courageous enough to deal with it ourselves before we find ourselves in the loading zone.

June 26, 2014

Wordless WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 9:01 am

It had been a very long journey of seventy miles up and down the Himalayas. The adventure had been great fun even though some of us hadn’t quite gotten to Everest Base Camp, thanks to a very late spring snow storm that dumped nearly three feet on our heads over the course of three days. As it was, the views were stupendous, the journey amazing, the company great fun.

However, at the teahouse at the top, I managed to pick up an ugly bug which chased me all the way down the mountain back to Kathmandu, and I barely made it back to the hotel to collapse into that big king bed before I succumbed to a combination of the Kumbu cough, a digestive “disorder” and whatever else attacked my innards.

For the next four days I spent most of my time in bed, sleeping. The cleaning crew, a group of very sweet natured Nepali women led by their supervisor Anu, came in every day and went about their business quietly and carefully, minding that I was ill. I had a supply of Snickers bars and dried cherries and made sure that they were distributed among the women. As I got well enough to venture out, I visited the neighborhood supermarket and bought more supplies, including Oreos (you can get them anywhere), which the women loved.

Anu took to spending more and more time in my room. Their office was right across the hall from my suite, so I saw them every day coming and going. We got to know each other a bit, and Anu and I had long conversations about work and life and women’s opportunities in Nepal. Over the course of that week I became very fond of them, and having them visit every day as I began to shake off the ugly bug with my antibiotics was some of the most fun of my time at the hotel.

Two days before I was scheduled to leave I was locking my room in preparation to head up to the top floor breakfast bar when I spotted Anu heading up the hall towards me with a small package in her hands. She made a beeline for me. In her halting English she gave me the bag and said that she and her crew wanted to express their appreciation for my being a kind client for the past week.

Inside the package was a pair of turquoise Nepali pants and a light cotton top, clothing far more appropriate for the 90+ temperatures than what I had been wearing during my Snickers hunting excursions. The items were lovely. But it wasn’t that.

These women, Anu and her crew, don’t make very much money. In fact, they make very little. For them to make such a gesture was a gift of great consequence, and it moved me to tears. I honestly didn’t know what to say, and Anu saw this in my face. She understood that sometimes, there just aren’t words. We hugged. We also agreed that I would dress in this clothing the next day and I asked her for a group photo.

The following day I was in my Nepali clothing- and someone had an excellent eye because everything fit perfectly-and we hustled the entire group together on my floor for a big group photo. Later, Anu asked if I would be willing to write her a letter of recommendation to her boss, and she provided me with paper and a pen to do so. Easy to do.  I wrote her and her crew a glowing letter. She was delighted.

While the adventure was an amazing trip, I consider these moments with Anu and her crew some of the highlights of my time in Nepal. Sometimes it’s what we don’t expect that moves us the most. Anu floored me with her generosity, humbled me with her gift.

To be graced in such a way, there are no words.

May 5, 2014

WordFood without Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 8:06 pm

The horse, Presente, stood tied to a post near the stables, partially hidden by a lush willow. Roberto the challan (Peruvian trainer) stepped aside as I walked quietly up to him and gently touched his neck. His muscles were quivering, energy was coming off him in waves. His long black mane hung down his neck and his liquid eyes took me in while I very lightly touched his face.  I’d never seen animal so fierce, so beautiful. Roberto led him into the riding ring, a long oval of bright green grass, the animal’s owner and his wife seated across from us.

Roberto mounted and rode Presente around the ring a few times for the owner, then stopped in front of me and dismounted. He offered me the reins. Having just watched this show animal stride around the ring in perfect form, floating like some ethereal being in the paso llano (a gait unique to the Peruvian Paso horse) I wasn’t sure I had the skills to ride him. Roberto gestured again and I got up. As soon as I took the reins I felt the electricity. For the next fifteen minutes I rode this exquisite animal around the oval, quite outside myself, but very aware of every movement of this remarkable horse.

Javier, the owner, whose horses I was riding every day, asked me a few days later which day had been my favorite. I struggled to answer this, having ridden multiple horses and for six hours each day. I couldn’t answer him. Later that day I told his wife, Blanca, that Presente was the crowning moment of my entire time at their stable. That night, when I came in from my long day’s ride, Blanca and Javier had Presente waiting for me, in full competition regalia, as soon as I came in the gate.

As a child of about 12 I had read The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, and had forever held the dream of someday owning, having, riding an animal like Farley had described. It wasn’t my journey. Yet here stood an animal just as slightly wild, just as furiously beautiful, waiting for me to get on and ride again. I was speechless with emotion.

The party walked with me, Roberto leading Presente to the oval, and they all watched as I took this animal from my wildest dreams around the ring once again. I had tears coursing down my face. Blanca was taking photographs. Roberto stood in the center to take over if something went wrong. The slightest butterfly’s touch moved him left or right, no need for a heel, and I spoke to him in a whisper.

Finally it was time to give him back to Roberto, who looked in my face and asked, “Bueno?” at which point I started crying. In my limited Spanish I told him that Presente was a magnificent horse, got off gently, and gave Roberto a hug.

The whole family, seeing my emotion, ran to wrap me in a group hug, and I had to explain that sometimes when God wants to punish you He grants you your dreams. I had no words to express my gratitude to these generous people for allowing me to ride on their finest animal. There are times that your heart is so wide open with joy that words don’t suffice. Such times are so humbling, be it at a baby’s birth, a wedding, falling in love, when someone survives an accident, we can only be deeply humbled and give thanks, and thanks, and thanks. Such times we truly understand what it is to be human, to know such emotion.

What Presente taught me was that at 20,30, 40 or 50, I would not have known how to receive such a gift. Perhaps would have wanted more. But 15 minutes of pure ecstasy was enough. That this family would give me such a gift was beyond words. And they knew. They most assuredly knew.

March 31, 2014

WordFood of Promises

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 4:56 pm

Promises are tricky things. We make them when we’re in love. We promise the moon and the stars,we make impossible promises because we’re hopelessly crosseyed. We make promises at work and to our family members. Daily, mundane things like “Honey, I’ll get the dry cleaning,” or “I promise I’ll get that paper done by this afternoon.” We make them, most of the time, with the intention of keeping them, unless we are being manipulative, and there is a tacit understanding on the other person’s part that the promise will be kept.

A promise is a pact. It involves trust. I will do this, and the other person believes that it will be done. When it isn’t, and there isn’t a good explanation, then something happens. A little trust is lost. Where there is a valid explanation, no harm done. Where there is a a string of broken promises, trust is also broken, so ultimately a promise from this source has little meaning.

A promise begins as WordFood to ourselves, something that we have committed to inside from a place of integrity. Most of us have a pretty strong sense of ourselves as good people, so when we make a promise we mean to do something about it, and do our best to make that promise happen. Where there are significant emotional ties it becomes even more important. A promise to protect our country, for example. A promise to have and to hold for life. A promise creates a relationship where there are expectations on both sides.

Nutritious WordFood supports our completion of our promises to others and doesn’t tolerate cheap excuses: “I forgot,” “I was too busy,” “It slipped my mind.” It places a demand on us to do what we said we would do, knowing that our personal integrity is on the line, and that someone or something is counting on us, and it matters. That feeling of knowing you can be counted upon for your word is important, something that defines your values.

There are times that people can’t or won’t keep promises because of conditions beyond their control. It doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person, but what it does require is a level of graciousness on our part to accept what we don’t know.

There is a person I’ve known for a number of years who repeatedly makes promises he doesn’t keep. Whether it’s to make a call, spend a weekend, be in closer touch, any one of a myriad of commitments that have never come about. Recently he offered to call at night over the course of three days. Despite the track history, I kept my phone close, because this particular conversation meant a lot to me. Of course, he didn’t call, and it hurt. His behavior was no different from the previous years, I has simply hoped for more.

I could choose to be furious or hurt, or realize that there are things going on in this person’s life that are beyond my understanding. Toxic thoughts about how he’s a jerk and doesn’t care jump to the forefront, but I know them not to be true. We don’t know what we don’t know. What’s probably closer to the truth is that my friend, like many of us, makes promises he cannot keep, and shouldn’t make in the first place. This causes pain, erodes trust, and makes any kind of deep understanding more challenging.

It’s wise to promise what is reasonable. And when we cannot perform, we inform. This is nutritious WordFood. Life is full of promise and promises- and we are guaranteed nothing at all except the opportunity have experiences. If we can keep the promises we make to ourselves first then we can best be counted on to keep our promises to others.

February 26, 2014

Noticing What’s Right

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 10:06 am

My mother was a perfectionist, and as such, my brother and I were constantly subjected to her observations of what was wrong with us. Whether it was a curl out of place or a pants leg too long, a public behavior that was unseemly or an unwanted comment at the dinner table, it seemed that we were simply flawed beyond repair. If you’ve grown up with such a parent, live with a partner or a boss like this, you know how this feels. And chances are, this behavior may well be cascading through you to others. It’s often tough to see ourselves doing it. We can justify it by claiming that we “want the best out of others,” or some other lame excuse for simply being over critical. The real truth is that it’s easier to look for what’s wrong around us than what’s right.

Looking to find what’s wrong sets up expectations for discomfort and blame. Kids, friends, family members, coworkers find us hard to be around when our critical eye lasers over them, searching for flaws. AHA! There, see it? You need to fix that! We turn in a paper that took us three weeks to complete. Our best work. The boss picks it up and in seconds takes out the red pen and starts to pick it apart. Not a word about how long we’ve been at it, nothing. We’re deflated, defeated. We can often feel like, what’s the point?

In personal relationships it’s the same thing. After the glow has worn off a marriage, we come home to a litany of household issues. Perhaps we walk in the door and bypass our husband who has, for once, dressed up for us after taking care of the kids and the house and making sure the place is in perfect shape. We complain about the day. We find things to nitpick about the kitchen. We don’t notice anything he’s done to make the house look great for us. How do you think he feels? Defeated. Deflated. We miss the candles, the flowers on the table.  All we do is complain.

We’d all love for people to do things for us- and maybe they already do. But do we notice? By noticing what people do right, complimenting those things, small to large, we highlight what’s good in others. What they’re proud of, what they did well. Their kindnesses. their goodness. We’re full of flaws and failings and things we’re not very proud of, and who needs to be reminded of those?
We already aware of them. But we do need to be noticed doing things right.

When you take the time to notice what’s right, people shine. Bloom. Glow. Smile. Their confidence builds. Be it a kid, a coworker, a granddad, a neighbor, man on the street, a lover. The most delightful part of this is that when you do this, it graces you, too. It’s a two way street. This is nutritious WordFood of the highest order, the kind that brings us together.

Save the criticisms, say the compliments. You’ll find yourself in the habit of finding what’s right all around you in no time.

February 17, 2014

WordFood on the Road

The SUV was pulling onto the main road heading north from the parking lot just to my right, just after I’d already done the same thing, just to his south. No traffic was coming, so I paused, gave him a quick beep, and waited until he finished pulling out onto the road and got going. Then he did something that surprised the heck out of me.

He waved in thanks.

Now that’s surprising only because I haven’t seen anyone do that in a long time. I try to make a habit out of traffic courtesies and by all means to acknowledge them with a wave. We’ve all seen the opposite end of the spectrum as road manners have devolved. I’ve gotten the one-finger salute even when I’ve tried to be polite. What delighted me was to get waved at myself. Made my tummy warm. And got me thinking about how we use WordFood- both nutritious and toxic- on the road.

Those of us who’ve lived in the country, who’ve gotten to know our neighbors, are all familiar with the waves or the simple gestures we use when we pass by those we know: familiar vehicles, faces, folks in the yard planting flowers. In some remote areas there’s a shared sign, like a single forefinger raise that everyone in a valley uses to say “Howdy.” This connects us, reminds us that we’re part of a neighborhood. I’m part of a generation who also used to raise a hand to firemen and policemen- and still do- because that’s how my folks raised me.  Mountain or farm, desert or forest, the hand on the wheel has a way of including you in the “family.”

At some point when getting somewhere fast, and certainly faster than the other guy became paramount, our ability to be courteous took a detour and a variety of other, less friendly gestures came into vogue. Language added spice and soon we were seeing road rage and guns and deaths, all of which have subsided because now we have smart phones and texting and televisions in our cars in addition to putting on makeup, shaving, eating, and all the other things we do instead of drive. Not only are many of us not looking at each other, we’re not driving either.

In other countries, we communicate by headlights, in some ways similar to what we do in the US. However there are some startling differences. Whereas in the US if someone coming at you flashes you, it could be a warning about a speed trap or an accident. In a country such as Vietnam, where I just spent a month, it could be something entirely different. They might be telling you that they are about to enter your lane, head on. So move over. I’m not making this up. You then have to flash your lights, and beep your horn, which the oncoming driver is doing as well, and both of you end up making way for each other by going off the road.

Now you must understand that there’s a good reason for this. Most roads in Vietnam are too narrow for two vehicles. So coming at each other head on around corners is common. Another factor to add to the fun are the millions upon millions of motorcycles that everyone drives, far more than cars. Cars and motorbikes are always trying to pass each other around blind corners in the mountains, especially if there are big slow trucks . This is happening both uphill and downhill.

That’s not all. Add to this the men and women who are walking their water buffalo and cattle on the road, the way they’ve done for millenia, long before there was a road there. They see no reason to move over. Then  there are the people walking with their carts, kids, grandmothers and crates for market, the way they’ve done for milennnia. They don’t see any reason to move over. Add to this all the cyclists, many of which are carrying massive loads so big the rider can barely see. This proliferation on the side of the road forces vehicle traffic into the middle of the road, so all the cars and semis end up playing chicken on the middle line. They flash their lights, beep their horns, and  hundreds of motorcycles weave in and out of the maelstrom. Yet it all seems to work.

They’re watching where they’re going, and watching out for each other.

WordFood is as much about the little courtesies that require no words- but are just as eloquent: “please, you first” for example, and the wonderfully unexpected kind wave given in return. These things bring us into community. Remind us that we care about each other- on the road as well as anywhere else. It says: ” I’m looking out for you. You matter.”

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