Fast, Efficient, and Furious — Is This U.S. Culture?

One of the most conspicuous aspects of U.S. culture is that we do things fast.

Not necessarily well, not with joy and satisfaction, but fast.

novel landscape woman reading tree mountains relaxing steve henderson art

She is in no hurry, this wise woman reading a book. The day is sunny, the landscape beautiful, the book delightful. Why hurry through this? A Novel Landscape, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

Efficiency, the sister to speed, is also a major facet of our culture. Working in tandem, the two elements are a foundation of capitalistic, corporate thinking, a thinking that infuses itself in our schools, political arena, workplace (of course), entertainment world, even our churches.

Smart people do things fast. They don’t waste time, and their successful day is marked by productivity: make and produce (not necessarily well, not with joy and satisfaction) lots of stuff, or, if you’re in management, drive and push the people below you to perform. Numbers matter and time is short.

We even extol the virtues of reading fast — again, not necessarily well, not with joy and satisfaction — fooling ourselves that by the sheer volume of matter we mentally ingest, we will attain wisdom, intelligence, and understanding.

“Read through the top 100 classics in a year!”

Or better yet, “Watch the synopsis of the plots, in these fun, short video clips, of the last three centuries of major literature!”

More realistically, it’s, “Here’s this week movie! It’s based on fact! The year 1792 really did happen! This is what we think it could have looked like!”

It does not have to be this way, however. If we choose to step away from the scuffle and scrimmage of hyper frenzy, we can. It won’t be easy, because we’ll be accused of being lazy, unambitious, slothful, and shiftless, but part of becoming wise is learning to think for ourselves, and not allowing others to do it for us.

The artwork, A Novel Landscape, invites us to step into a world of quiet and peace. Resting against a tree, a young woman divides her time between reading the pages of a very good book, and looking up at the beauty before her. She has set aside time to simply enjoy this day, to lose herself in the words of the novelist, to “do nothing” all day with no obligation, no drive, no sense of guilt.

She is not speed reading.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

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We Don’t Need Influencers; We Need Each Other

Think about the people who have made the most impact in your life.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably wasted precious time paying attention to strangers whose faces you recognize: celebrities, “role models,” Influencers (great word — it doesn’t even try to hide its intent) and an assortment of pushed and publicized others who are largely famous for being famous. It’s easy to confuse our familiarity with their public persona for some sort of relationship.

hairpin beautiful woman thinking nostalgic innocence steve henderson drawing

Becoming a person of grace and wisdom, the type of person others want to emulate, takes thought and reflection. The Hairpin, artwork by Steve Henderson

But the ones who matter, the ones who make a lifetime impact, generally don’t post viral social media posts or attract the paparazzi. Many of them won’t show up on the Internet at all, other than on the White Pages.

One of these is my high school English teacher, a woman I haven’t seen for, well, many many years. But her actions, her mien, her deportment, showed me at a young age what class, compassion, respect, and honor look like.

I never heard her raise her voice, because she didn’t have to. And while she clearly expected respect from each of her students, it was willingly given because we knew that she just as clearly respected us first, treating a motley crew of potential teenage rabble as intelligent, reasonable adults. We sought to do our best for her not because we were afraid of her, but because we valued her esteem. And her esteem was worth valuing.

This is not an encomium that the famous for being famous have earned, nor deserve. (Perhaps, just perhaps, we might stop giving it to them?)

The artwork, The Hairpin, invites us to look deep within ourselves and contemplate the type of person we want to be. We do not become good, wise, kind people by accident.

It is through our experiences, our interaction with others, and a great deal of thinking and meditation that we grow, day by day, into a person of grace, wisdom, and kindness, a person, in short, worth emulating. Fingers running through her hair, the young woman stops, arrested by a thought that needs to be explored — and that thought has little to do with the placement of the hairpin.

Quiet, intense contemplation: when we engage in this, we look as if we are doing nothing, but in truth, we are doing something incredible. We are taking the next step toward becoming a person whose impact on the world, while it won’t result in Likes, Shares, reposts, and a mention on whatever talk show is in vogue for the next ten minutes, will make an impact that lasts.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

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Compassion and Pride Don’t Mix

The people who, theoretically, are supposed to show compassion, too often don’t. And that is wrenchingly sad.

Against all my better instincts, I wandered around a locally-based social media page, one that extols itself for “speaking the truth, and proud of it.”

traveler vintage nostalgia innocence woman paris france steve henderson art

None of us knows everything, and all of us are vulnerable in our journey through life. We are travelers together. The Traveler, art print by Steve Henderson

Well, the pride part fits.

A discussion came up about people who work low paying jobs, and whether or not they “deserve” the difficulties attendant with long hours, demanding customers, no benefits, and the need to possess a skill — which many people, even those with higher paying, “professional” jobs, do not have — of smiling graciously when you are treated poorly.

“It’s their choice,” one person wrote. “If they want something that pays more, then they should get a better job.”

Sniff.

Such an easy, simplistic solution, tossing the blame back on the person along with a series of implied “should haves” — “You should have gone to school.” “You shouldn’t have had a child that you can’t take care of.” “You should have thought ahead.” “You should work harder.” “You shouldn’t have married the jerk.” “You should move to another city where the opportunities are better.”

The intriguing thing is that I am acquainted with this commenting person, and am aware of their belief of being a good citizen, due to ascribing to a system that promotes itself for the love, compassion, and grace of the person they consider to be its principle spokesperson and founder. That founder spoke a lot about not judging others.

And while it’s difficult to see any of the founder’s love, compassion, or grace in that social media comment, to be fair, social media isn’t the best site for thoughtful, honest, meaningful communication.

The artwork, The Traveler, reminds us that we are all travelers on this planet, in the journey of life, and as with anyone on unfamiliar ground, we are vulnerable. To the sharks out there we are easy prey, deserving of being cheated if we fall into it.

But when we fall, we find little sympathy from the weak and insecure (who often look confident and strong), who opine, “You should have been smarter. Look at me — I don’t have problems like yours.”

And that, they conclude, is enough reason to withhold help, to forego compassion, to pronounce judgment.

Love. Compassion. Grace. These are not easy attributes to practice. But when we do, they turn our journey into an adventure well worth experiencing.

Perhaps we should stop waiting around for the people who theoretically should be showing compassion, and just start showing it ourselves.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

Explore a World without Walls or Fences

Judging Others: We’re Usually Wrong

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What Will Others Think? Honestly, It Doesn’t Matter

We waste a lot of our lives worrying about what others think of us.

It’s not just a social media thing. Long before we courted “Likes” and hearts and smiling emojis, we looked around after we said something, did something, even thought something, wondering how others in the room would react.

wild child girl running playing imagination steve henderson art

Running wild, running free, a little girl is at home with her imagination and her dreams. Wild Child, art print by Steve Henderson

It’s a natural outcome, actually, of living in a society that brews and foments peer pressure. We start young: two-year-olds are smarter than we think, and in a tight cluster, they learn quickly how to act and not act to protect their trucks and dolls.

Throughout our school years, if we’re not the bullies then we work around them (because for some odd reason, grown-ups simply have no ability to protect), subtly adjusting our behavior to fit into our group placement. Hierarchies emerge, with the top chickens, the popular hens, the stud roosters, controlling and manipulating the pecked upon and the picked upon. (To avoid this, it’s best to not draw attention to ourselves. Blend in. Fit in. Look and act like everyone else. This attitude will help once we get out in the work world, unless, of course, our plan is to become one of the top fowl.)

Our entertainment industry is there, throughout our lives, helping us through the process, prompting us to obsess about how we dress, what we drive, how much we make, how much we weigh. If we do not consciously stop and think, we will find our lives, our precious and irreplaceable lives, mapped out for us, circumscribed by shadowy rules.

The artwork, Wild Child, encourages us to break free, to run with joy and abandon through the landscape, allowing our imagination and creativity to lead us into beautiful and unexpected places. (How long has it been since we literally ran somewhere? Not to exercise, but simply to feel the wind in our face and the glory of our feet racing over the ground?)

And this joyous running starts inside, with our thoughts — thoughts that only God can see and ones that he does not punish us for having. Because it is through thinking, through questioning, through wondering, that we begin the process of being who we are — unique individuals — and grow into the fullness of our being.

Run wild. Run free.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

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We Have More Than Two Choices

“A or B?”

Though we live in a complex world, rich with options, we are too frequently pressured to decide between two rigidly defined choices, especially when politics is involved. But then again, organized religion imposes its own limited parameters, as do science and finance and entertainment.

grand canyon landscape arizona southwest many hues steve henderson

Not all rocks in Red Rock Country are red. Many Hues, art print by Steve Henderson.

Are you right or left? Democrat or Republican? A good patriot or an infidel? Heading to heaven or hell? Evolutionist or Creationist? Scientist or faithful?

A or B, with never any option of C or D, or even an awareness that there are 26 letters in the alphabet, and they can be combined in a myriad of ways.

The bully on the playground, the monarch on the throne, demands:

“Do you want to be beheaded or drowned?”

“Well, neither actually. I find both options untenable.”

“But that’s not an option! You have to choose one!”

This game only works when others opt to play. Of course, in the case of the despotic monarch, he does have the power to literally execute. But in a “free” society we are never required to play the game the bully demands. If we don’t like either option A or B, we can say:

“The game itself is at fault, because the rules are set up by people who benefit in ways I cannot share in. I opt to not waste my time playing a game I will never win, and instead invest my time and energy, my skills and heart, into areas where what I do makes a difference.”

The artwork, Many Hues, encourages us to not allow others to dictate our choices. Located in the Grand Canyon, this landscape is Red Rock country, but this does not mean we are forced to choose between red and orange.

The colors of the canyon shift and change with the light — they are nuanced, subtle, deep and rich with variety, much like life itself. Forcing people to choose between two colors when there are obviously many is absurd, circumscribing, shallow, narrow, and oppressive, and any person with the ability to use their eyes sees clearly that the choices are not limited to two.

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Explore a World without Walls or Fences

How easy it is to limit ourselves!

How effortlessly and gently we fall into complacency —¬† content in a landscape surrounded by fences, or circumscribing our physical and mental beings to the space allotted by cubicle walls.

ladycamp wilderness mountain forest woods trees countryside steve henderson art

The only enclosure in this landscape is the mountains, and they can be climbed. Ladycamp, art print by Steve Henderson

“Ah, but we need fences and walls and barriers,” is the wisdom. “Without them, the wolves get in and the cows get out.”

And that is very true.

But there is another side, to the fence, so to speak.

When we compliantly accept all the fences and walls, the barricades and balustrades that hem us in and keep them out, we find ourselves — with the cows — limited by the size of our paddock. And no matter how big that paddock is, if we want to see what is outside of it — if we want to try something new, question the way things have always been done, pursue an uncharted course — in other words, if we desire a life beyond that of a cow, then the fence will imprison us.

The artwork, Ladycamp, shows us a landscape without fences. Because this remote spot is in a wilderness area, nobody technically owns it, so there are no walls to keep the rabble out, or the masses in. One is free to hike through the trees, to climb the hills, to explore the woods and experience their wonder and their beauty.

A rare and unusual place, Ladycamp takes work and determination (and a decent vehicle) to get to.

It is not an easy landscape to traverse, nor will one do so quickly. If our goal is to get from one spot to another as effortlessly as possible with no need to change our shoes, then an interior, carpeted hallway between offices is the most efficient route. But if we’re patient and perseverant, and our goal is to explore someplace a bit wild, not neatly docketed and planned, and definitely different from the daily norm, then we will benefit greatly by spending some time here — whether “here” is a physical, touchable place, or a state of being, thought, and belief.

The important thing is that we’re not fenced in.

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Too Many Items on Your List? Do This . . .

We all keep lists.

Mental, scribbled on the back of an envelope, or neatly docketed in our phones, these lists remind us of the many things there are to do each day.

bath bathe woman relaxing spa towel tub steve henderson serene art

She moves slowly, quietly, sedately, enjoying the sheer calmness of the moment. It’s worth taking time to do this. After the Bath, by Steve Henderson

And the most intriguing thing about these lists is that they’re never completed. No sooner do we accomplish one task — make bed, prepare proposal, pick up bananas at the grocery, call the client, fill out tax forms, write Aunt Emmeline¬† — then we address another.

Dishes, laundry, appointments, homework, work assignments, meal preparation, shopping, meetings — these never end. And while not all items on our list are unpleasant — shopping’s kind of fun, isn’t it? — the list itself can become a taskmaster, determining our thoughts and actions all through the day.

Rarely, if ever, does one write, “Do nothing,” on a list. Or, “relax.”

And yet, these latter two tasks, which aren’t tasks at all, are vital to our well being, our sense of serenity, our mental and physical and spiritual health.

The artwork, After the Bath, invites us to put our lists to the side and immerse ourselves in the quiet of the moment. A young woman sits on a stool next to an elegant shelf and seeks a hairpin to hold up her tresses. There is no specific time by which she must find this pin, and if she does not find it at all, the situation will not be calamitous.

The search is a gentle one, her pose is relaxed, her mind is calm. She has just emerged from a relaxing bath in which, we presume, she luxuriated in delightfully steaming water. The feeling is one of quiet, serenity, tranquility, and repose.

Ahhhhhhh . . .

You know, if there’s no other way we’ll do it, maybe we should write “relax” and “do nothing” on our daily lists.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

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Vacation Every Day?

Given a choice, most people would choose a week at a sunny, warm beach over the same period of time in the office. (For those who hate oceans — seriously? — there are options: a snowy mountain on which to ski, or a week in a major metropolis to see the sights. Let’s be flexible.)

phonograph vintage nostalgia woman music hat

It’s a moment from the day, a mini-vacation in which the mind and spirit wander to a place of beauty and peace. Phonograph Days, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

The point is, we thrive on time away from obligations, free time in which our major decision of the day upon waking is what to have for breakfast and then, after that, where to go and what to do.

Vacation.

But reality, for most people who aren’t reality TV stars, is that vacation constitutes a short period of time within the year, and does not necessarily take place on a warm, sunny beach. If we don’t determinedly take control of the various minutes and opportunities that abound, we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of lists, projects, schedules, appointments and duties.

The artwork, Phonograph Days, invites us to take a minute — several minutes — out of our day to simply enjoy the moment.

Relaxed and at ease, a young woman stands before the great technological advancement of her day and listens to beauty. A slight smile playing around her lips, she is, for the moment, far from the room in which she stands. Rather, she is strolling through a place of wonder and peace and goodness.

(Today, we have advanced far beyond the phonograph, with music and podcasts streaming through our ears continuously. But how often do we stop and let them take us to a place of wonder and peace and goodness?)

Throughout the day, each day, there are numerous opportunities to pause from our schedules, lists, projects, appointments, and duties to close our eyes, to breathe deeply, to gently touch the blossom of a flower and marvel at its fragility and strength, to humbly observe a child absorbed in play, to feel the warm golden sunshine (the same sun that shines on the beach) softly breathing onto our face.

The more we seek out the moments, the more we find and appreciate and experience them, the more they imbue our daily lives and change them for the better.

And we find that we are no longer living for vacation. Because we are living every day.

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Judging Others — We’re Usually Wrong

Perhaps one of the best reasons not to judge other people is that we’re so very bad at it.

Most of the time (pretty much all of the time, actually), we don’t know the whole story. Though we think we’ve got the facts, if we’re missing just one — and it’s an important one — we’ll misinterpret everything.

mountain nebo utah wilderness range hills southwest steve henderson painting

There are just enough clouds to obscure a clear view of the landscape, so we can’t say with complete accuracy what it looks like at the top. Mount Nebo Range, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

Take the chair my daughter recently bought at a secondhand store.

It was a steal — a beautiful leather chair in elegant cream, for $15. So she bought it.

Three weeks later, at the same store, she found the matching ottoman, which hadn’t been there before.

Given what we know about this particular store, we assumed that the eccentric staff, for odd reasons of their own, simply hid the ottoman in the back and didn’t put it out until later. It fit neatly with our presumptions about the place, some of them based upon actual facts. It was a sound, logical, reasonable judgment.

Two weeks later, a friend walked into my daughter’s home and said, “Oh, you have my old chair. My husband didn’t like it, so we sent it to the secondhand store. But we didn’t send the ottoman because it was at my grandma’s house. We put that in three weeks later.”

One salient fact. But it changed everything.

The artwork, Mount Nebo Range, is an encouragement to us to withhold quick judgment, because things are not always as clear as they seem. Clouds and mist obscure the peaks of the mountain top, and if we did not know better, we would say that there was no top — because we can’t see it.

And even if we say it’s there because reason says it should be — we have no idea how high it is, what shape it is, or even, actually, whether it does exist. (In the case of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State, there is no longer a peaked, domed top, as it was blown off during the 1980 volcanic eruption.)

We can make our best judgement with what we’ve got, but it’s always wise to remember that what we’ve got may not be all that there is.

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How to Complain, without Hurting Others

It’s easy to complain today, because there’s so much to complain about.

Because we live in a society dominated and shaped by mega-corporations, we deal a lot with inefficiency, products that aren’t necessarily made with an eye for quality, and interesting “customer service.” While it’s something we reluctantly expect and accept, at the same time, we know it’s wrong, and things could be better.

hailey girl female country flower spring portrait innocence Steve Henderson art

There is a child inside of all of us who wants to be accepted and treated with dignity. Hailey, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

Layers of people between us and the CEOs and shareholders — the ones with actual power to change things — mean we get frustrated and irritable when we feel that we’re being put off, ignored, stuck on hold, and not listened to.

So, we get cranky with the person we’re dealing with, a person with limited ability to make any changes, who’s working there because they need a job and probably doesn’t like the situation any more than we do. The messenger, so to speak.

And this makes the day poor for both us and them. It also doesn’t solve the problem of products that look nicer (and bigger) in the ads than they do in our homes, and the vague suspicion that, to many billion dollar profit making entities, we are nothing more than a piece of currency.

But there are solutions beyond attacking the messenger, perhaps one of the best ones being that — if our voice cannot reach the ears at the top — we look elsewhere for the same product, preferably from a business (small? mid-sized? local? start-up?) that is more attentive to quality and customer service. (Don’t give up! We spent years thinking we were stuck with an impersonal, inefficient, and frustratingly inept bloated company that effectively monopolized our rural options, but we never stopped looking for alternatives. We finally found one.)

The artwork, Hailey, is a reminder to us of what individual people — us, and those we meet in person and on the phone all day, look like. Like children, we are vulnerable: nobody likes to be yelled at, denigrated, publicly embarrassed, and excoriated.

And while mega-corporations — which are not individual human beings but, in the U.S., carry many of the same rights that individuals do — can handle critique and excoriation, the wage earners who work for them are our brothers and sisters on the planet, and they could use a smile, a polite greeting, kindness, an egalitarian interaction that reminds us both that we are equals.

As individual people, valuing honesty, respect, compassion, kindness, and goodness, we can make a difference. One individual person at a time.

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