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Five Ways You Can Make a Difference This Month

Everyday we see articles about how awful the world is, the problems–unemployment, violence, homelessness, bad laws… And we sit there and feel depressed, and yet, we do nothing. Day after day after day, we do nothing. Why? Why don’t we do something to change the world we live in for the better? Why don’t we solve our problems, and the world’s problems?

Because we think we can’t.

We live in a state of learned helplessness, where we assume that things that we haven’t done before, and that none of our close friends has done before, are impossible. We look and think, “that’s impossible,” and then we don’t even try.

We never even take the first step, which is sad, because, as Woody Allen is famous for saying, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”Once you show up, reaching your goal is often so much easier that you thought was possible.

I personally know a girl who started a girls’ camp when she was 18. She wanted it to happen, and instead of wishing for someone else to do it, she decided to see what it would take. She made it happen. I know also know a man who decided to run for state representative. He did the work—went to the parades, talked to people, published his campaign literature—and won by a large margin. He said he thought it would be much harder than it was.

You’ve perhaps heard that the first step is the hardest. It’s not quite accurate. The hardest thing is deciding that taking the first step is not only worthwhile, but also possible.

“But wait,” you say. “Can I get some suggestions? I have no political connections, I’m not a natural leader, I’m not rich, and I’m not a good writer or speaker. Worst of all, I have no idea where to start.”

Look no further. Here’s five small things that you can do, this month, that will help those around you, and that could be your first step towards a long life of transforming the world for the better.

Meet your neighbors

The benefits of knowing your neighbors, and of having more social ties with your neighbors, are many. For example, social ties actually decrease people’s rate of strokes and heart-attacks. More important, though, is the fact that neighborhoods in which the residents know each other and care about each other are safer. According to a report on the neighborhoods in Miami-Dade county, “When residents meet with each other and interact, they form social ties or acquaintanceships.… These social ties represent a resource for the residents living in a neighborhood. Residents living in neighborhoods with close social ties tend to watch out for each other and their property. For example, they will make sure their kids are not getting into trouble, assist in shoveling snow off of sidewalks, monitor people hanging out in the neighborhood, and generally provide a sense of safety within the neighborhood.”

This sounds great, but meeting your neighbors can be harder than it seems like it should be. Sure, you see them as they go from house to car, and from car to house. You may even greet them. But do you actually meet them? Do you get to know them and trust them?

There’s a few ways you can try to meet your neighbors. One is to bake cookies and try to bring them over to the houses nearby. I tried this, however, and I couldn’t get anyone to take them. The people who were home were afraid to get fat. It was rather discouraging. I did get someone to accept a squash from the garden, though. I might try it again sometime, and see if it works better.

This summer we tried having a barbecue and inviting people. We got four people to show up, one of whom wasn’t technically a neighbor, and we had a lovely chat while trying not to be eaten alive by mosquitoes. (Perhaps spring or autumn would be a better time for such an event.) The neighbors who came were happy about it and said they thought it was a great idea and they should do something like it sometime. Not bad results for a few dollars spent on hotdogs and hamburgers. We will definitely do it again. We’ll try other things too. Building a culture of community connection takes time. I’ll update you on our progress.

Read and spread good books

When Lenin and the Bolsheviks took over Russia in 1917, they were only a tiny minority of the country and had no official position of power. But they shared a vision, and this shared vision allowed them to transform a huge and populous nation.

One of the best ways to share a vision with others is to share your reading with them. Think of the influence Uncle Tom’s Cabin had in ending slavery in the United States.

Fiction has many benefits that non-fiction lacks. Read our article about that here. And find some good books to start with here.

Non-fiction can also be very valuable. Some self-help books, like Dale Carnegie’s famous How to Win Friends and Influence People have changed hundred’s of people’s lives for the better. Other books teach valuable skills, or bring awareness of problems that need to be solved. Passing on the lessons learned from books and other media is one of the best ways to contribute to whatever cause you are interested in. Besides, it lets you hone your interpersonal skills, and broaden your network, which are important skills if you want to get anything done.

Volunteer

If you look around you neighborhood, you will probably find that there are already several organizations out there making a difference. Homeless shelters, food banks, and aid organizations fight poverty every day. Other organizations try to combat loneliness, especially among senior citizens, by working with older people in communities and spending time with them. You can volunteer with these charities and others to make a small difference in your community, and a big difference in the lives of the individuals you help.

Volunteering can also benefit you, by giving you valuable experience. Working with people who need help and who are outside your own circle makes you a deeper and more informed person.

Perhaps none of the organizations in your area sound like your kind of thing? You should still consider joining one of them, if only for the training you will get.

Get involved in (local) politics

Most of us, when we think of politics, think of presidential elections. Millions and millions of people, party politics, and impressing all the right people. It seems impossible to have any influence on national politics. Sure, you vote, but your vote seems like a drop in the ocean, scarcely capable of making a difference.

But in local politics the story is different. On the town or county level, it is quite possible to influence elections and nominations.

Here are a couple ways of doing it.

Join your local party’s organization. These are usually very small groups of people who run their party’s business in that county or district. They plan conventions, raise money for candidates, and campaign for them. Joining is often as easy as showing up and being willing to work; even if you are not officially made a member of a board or committee, you will almost certainly be welcome to sit in on meetings, if you are polite and helpful. Once there, you have an “inside view” of politics, and get opportunities to talk to Congressmen and Senators, both on the state and the national level. As a member of these organizations, you are an influencer, and therefore your opinions matter more to elected officials.

Go to caucuses, debates, and other political events. Caucuses are local gatherings of people in a political party who influence the party platform and elect delegates who help determine the party’s candidates. Often caucuses are poorly attended, especially when there is not a presidential election, and it is easy to become a delegate simply by showing up and being willing to go the convention. These events also give you an opportunity to contribute ideas to your party’s platform. Not all states have caucuses, but if you live in one that does, it is a simple way to get started in politics.

Political debates between candidates are a useful way to become informed about which candidates best support your views, and are also an opportunity to meet the candidates in person; they will try to make themselves available before and after the event, so that they can hear from as many people personally as possible. Many politicians will also host townhall meetings or meet-and-greets, even outside of an election year. Which leads to yet another strategy for helping those around you.

Learn how to talk to people

Imagine if you could walk up to any person and have an interesting conversation. You’ve probably met someone who can do this, and wished you could do it too. And you can. It’s not as hard as it might seem., and yet fewer and fewer people know how to do it. In a world in which texting and snapchat mediate so much of our “communication,” the ability to talk engagingly in person will increasingly make you stand out from the crowd.

Basically, you have to find something to say to get started. Sometimes, it’s as simple as “Hi, I’m _____.” Other times, it works better to be more casual. I remember sitting next to a woman in an airport for over an hour, wanting to talk to her. I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Finally, I asked her what time it was. We ended up talking for a couple hours, waiting for our flights to be called. She was a speech therapist and was coming back from Morocco. I learned something about speech therapy, and I also passed my time much more pleasantly than I otherwise would have as I waited for my delayed flight. I like to think she did, too. The Art of Manliness has a great presentation on small-talk strategy here, which applies equally well to women as it does to men.

The best way to learn small talk skills is simply to talk to strangers. It’s easiest to do it at events, because you share something with the people there, and it’s usually easy to find something to talk about there. But you don’t have to wait for the perfect situation: there are people everywhere—cashiers, servers, the lady in front of you in line—just waiting to be talked to as a person, and knowing how to do it will make your life richer and more fun, and your efforts to change the world more effective. Not only will it make you more effective, just the act of talking to more people will increase social ties which makes people more motivated to invest in their communities.

So, what change to you want to bring about today? What will you do, this month, to make it happen?

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The Qualities of the Ideal Woman

What is a woman supposed to be like? This is a fascinating question that has been answered in radically different ways over the course of history. But there must be an answer that works in all places and in all times.

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How does one determine what any given thing is supposed to be like? How do we know what a chair is supposed to be like, for instance? We determine what the purpose of the thing is. For a chair, the purpose is to be sat on. So, therefore, the chair which is best, is the chair that fulfills that purpose the best. A chair that has no seat would not be considered a good chair. A chair that had a spike sticking out of the backrest would also not be an ideal chair. These traits would prevent the chair from being sat on comfortably.

Living beings, being more complex, have more complex purposes than chairs do. So, if we want to know what makes an ideal woman, we need to know what a woman is for. We know that she is a female of the human species, and like all humans therefore has some traits in common with animals of other species. Humans are not mere animals though, but are capable of culture, thought and altruism.

Still, we can often learn about ourselves from the traits we share with animals, so it might be helpful to briefly study the traits of females of other mammalian species.

As a mate, or spouse

The first and most obvious purpose of the female in any animal species is to provide one half of the reproductive equation. The male and female work together to produce offspring. If either is missing, the species does not continue. In the animal realm this is called mating. It is obviously necessary for the good of any species that reproduction occur. So, how can we apply this to humans, who are not mere animals, and have purposes beyond mere survival of their species?

Because humans do have a purpose beyond reproduction, “mating” for humans has historically been enshrined in the institution of marriage, which is a cooperative lifelong endeavor. What qualities would a woman need in a marriage, or for that matter, in any relationship of trust and commitment? Cooperation is a necessity. Communication skills would also be necessary, as humans don’t act instinctively as animals do, but emotionally and rationally. Loyalty also would be important, as marriage requires trust to function well, and trust presupposes that each party will respect the other’s dignity, property and secrets.

As creator of the home culture

What else does the female do? In species as widely disparate as rabbits and gorillas, the female is also the nest builder. While pregnant rabbits dig a burrow, line it with grasses and other vegetation, and finally with their own hair, thus providing a warm, safe place for their helpless young.

Among humans women are also usually the ones who create the environment for the children to grow up in. While rabbits are limited to their instinctive nest-building behavior, and can only make one kind of nest, and care for their children in only one way, human women on the other hand are capable of thought and artistic expression, and the homes they make are not merely shelters for the bodies of their family, but also homes for the mind. A good home is an environment which stimulates, forms, and civilizes those who live in it, and only a woman can make such an environment.

To do this well, she will need many talents, like resourcefulness, using what is available to make something better; frugality, using what there is well; and last but not least, an appreciation for beauty. The ability to recognize and deliberately create beauty is a uniquely human trait, and one of the most important skills for a homemaker.

As giver of life

The female in every species is also the one that gives birth to the young and nurtures them from her own body. She is provided with special organs which allow this. For humans, it is hard work, requiring endurance and patience to get through the pregnancy and labor, which require a special sort of toughness, but also gentleness and as it deals with fragile and helpless beings who require constant feeding, protection, and love.

As teacher

Once the young are beyond the helpless stage of infancy, they begin to learn the skills of their species. Female cats will teach the kittens how to hunt their own food by dragging dead prey back to the nest and eating it in the presence of the kittens, later she will bring back live prey for the kittens to experiment with. This is not particularly enjoyable to watch, but it is an important part of a kitten’s learning development. Finally, the mother cat will bring kittens along on a hunting trip and they will soon be ready to hunt alone. Chimpanzees will show their young how to build nests, and other species will teach their young the skills they need to survive.

Humans however, need to do more than just survive. They have to build, think, connect, and grow in ways that other animals will never do. And human mothers have to be ready to teach their children how to do these things. As G.K. Chesterton put it in his entertaining book What’s Wrong with the World, she must “be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books, be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene…” A challenging task to be sure! And she will need patience, tact, patience, wisdom, patience, and a strong sense of humor, if she is to do it well.

While not all women want to become spouses or mothers, these same virtues, or good qualities—cooperation, communication, loyalty, reserve, resourcefulness, frugality, order, appreciation of beauty, kindness, endurance, patience, wisdom, and tact—are necessary to any woman who wishes to be a well-developed human.

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Five Classic Books That Every Woman Should Read

If you are ever looking for some quality reading, here are some tried and true choices which you certainly won’t regret.

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Charles Dickens

Hard Times

One of the shorter of Dickens’s novels, Hard Times follows the lives of people trying to find happiness in the rapidly-changing industrial society of Victorian-era Coketown. School, marriage, death, labor strikes—it’s all here.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

This book illustrates the dangers of taking a materialistic outlook. There is more to life than monetary success or Mr. Gradgrind’s “facts,” and making decisions solely based on statistics and bank statements is going to yield nothing but misery and hypocrisy. The character of Sissy Jupe embodies a more realistic and functional outlook on life, understanding that there is a reality beneath the surface, and that feelings and emotions are legitimate parts of the human experience.

C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces

This retelling of the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche adds complexity and interest to the story. The main character, Orual, the ugly older sister of the divinely beautiful Psyche, loves her deeply and is troubled when the god of the Mountain takes her for his bride. She convinces Psyche that she must look at the face of her lover, despite his telling her she must not. Psyche does, and is cast out, to wander as an exile. Orual is struck with remorse, and bottles up her feelings inside herself, and when her father dies, rules the kingdom wisely and well. She lives as queen, trying to forget the past until finally, as an old woman, she learns what she has been and done, and gains true knowledge before her death.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

Far more complex and nuanced than the original tale as we received it from the ancient Romans, C. S. Lewis’s version of this story encourages readers to take a long hard look at their own hearts and their own love. Orual loves Psyche and loves deeply, thinking herself good and noble in her love. But through the course of the story she comes to realize that her love turns easily to hatred, and that she destroys that which she thinks she loves most. Only by discovering what is lacking in her love, and what she actually looked for when she thought she was seeking other’s good, will she finally find happiness and peace.

Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s most popular book, Pride and Prejudice, is a classic love story in which two happy couples get married at the end, presumably poised to live happily ever after. But there’s more to it than that.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

Jane Austen wasn’t just a talented writer who could keep people entertained. She also had a keen understanding of what people are like. In Pride and Prejudice, she skillfully presents all kinds of women (and men). In her witty and graceful manner, she points out all the different ways that we make ourselves miserable in life by choosing superficial attractions like a pretty face, or a large bank balance, over deeper qualities like respect and integrity. While most of the characters serve as examples of mistakes one can make, Jane and Lizzy Bennet stand as characters of integrity who are willing to take the time to think for themselves, and who value what is genuinely worthwhile.

L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables

In L. M. Montgomery’s beloved story, the talkative and imaginative red-headed orphan, Anne Shirley, is adopted by two old people who hadn’t wanted her at all—they’d wanted a boy to help with the farm work, but Anne had been sent instead. She struggles to conform herself to their strict notions of propriety, learning a great deal in the process, and perhaps teaching them even more.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

While the story of red-headed Anne Shirley is heartwarming, and amusing, it is also an excellent coming-of-age story. Anne begins the story with a load of preconceived notions stuffing her romantic little head. She learns that many of her ideas are false, and many of her prejudices unfounded, but she always remains true to her vision of what the world should be. She also gains self-esteem and confidence through the various trials she encounters, learns that what she fears might not be so bad after all, and ends the book as a poised and mature young lady.

William Shakespeare

King Lear

In William Shakespeare’s classic retelling of the age-old myth, old King Lear decides to divide his kingdom up among his three daughters, demanding from each that she tell him how much she loves him. The first two give extravagant and outrageous expressions of love, and receive handsome territories. The last, Cordelia, refuses to lower herself to this sort of flattery, and is sent off with nothing. As soon as the King has divided his kingdom, his daughters begin plotting against him, and eventually, through their jealousy and greed, set the entire kingdom at war.

Why Every Woman Should Read It:

Everyone should read some Shakespeare in their lives, and King Lear is a particularly powerful play, showing in vivid realism the effects of foolish and loveless lives. Lear’s two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, are women who love no one but their own ambition. Their lack of love of their father tears the kingdom apart and drives Lear out into a literal storm. Their lack of love for their husbands destroys their marriages, and their lack of love for each other leads them to murder and suicide. Cordelia, on the other hand, loves her father truly. Her love for him, however, is more enlightened than he is, and she refuses to tell absurd lies merely to please him. Instead, while her sisters proclaim their utmost adoration for Lear, only to drive him out when he becomes inconvenient, she says merely that she loves him as any daughter should—and later sacrifices herself in her efforts to save his body and his mind.

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Why Women Should Read Fiction

“I haven’t picked up a book since college. I don’t have time to read anymore. If I read anything it’s going to be something useful…”
How many times have you heard (or said) one of these things?

A lot of women are very busy. Full-time outside jobs, taking care of children, running a household, whatever it is; when every second counts, reading a book will likely seem like a waste of time. But is it?

Studies show that far from being a waste of time, reading, and particularly reading fiction, actually has many benefits, some of which you might not expect.

Language Skills

Okay, yes, you probably would expect that reading literature improves your language skills, but wouldn’t any reading do the same? One study about reading and vocabulary levels indicates “that while increasing your reading matters, increasing your reading of fiction, specifically, matters equally as much.”

Having a larger vocabulary is beneficial in many ways. It makes it possible to understand a greater number of conversations more easily, and it also makes it easier to learn other languages, like French, Latin and Spanish.Also, knowing more words will help you at least sound smarter, and may even allow you to think more clearly. Being able to express your ideas in different words can make your thoughts more distinct, and will allow your ideas to be less limited by your ability to express them.

Theory of Mind

Even more important than language skills, though related to them, is the ability to think. Theory of Mind is the ability to understand that others know different things and think differently from you. Imagine that you assumed that all people knew your likes and dislikes, past experiences, etc. This is what lacking a theory of mind means. With this attitude, you would be perpetually offended, because whenever someone else did something that you found irritating, you would believe that it was a deliberate act to annoy you. This attitude would make good relationships impossible.

Fiction is particularly helpful in developing theory of mind, because the author opens a door into the minds of the characters. In literature with a first-person narrator, you continually drink in the thoughts and outlook of one character and see how that character responds to the surrounding people and events. The narrator may respond in ways completely alien to you, and may have a totally different set of beliefs and experienceswhich helps you understand that there are other ways of viewing the world. Books with an omniscient narrator are even better, as they show how different characters view the same event differently, or act based on different information.

If you were able to meet dozens of people, and not only meet them, but come to know them deeply and comprehend their motivations and thought-processes, you would become a very mature and understanding person. But this is unlikely. Most people know only a few others very well, and the people that they do know tend to be similar to them. Through fiction, however, we come to know not only the minds of fictional characters, we also find a window into the mind of the authors. This knowledge can be especially useful in maintaining relationships. For instance, if men and women think differently, reading books written by men or about men may help you better understand your brother, your boyfriend, or your husband.

Sense of Community

Reading fiction, especially the great books like Homer and Shakespeare, can help you feel connected to a larger community of humans, both living and dead. Reading classic literature puts you in contact, not only with others in today’s world who have read those books, but also to the millenia of others who have written and read them. You will begin to share the ideas and ideals of generations of men and women—ideals of goodness, truth, beauty, and honor. This sense of connectedness can bring a joy unlike any other.

It is encouraging, too, to know that there were people who shared these ideals, who valued these things and expected them of their fellow humans. The courage of Antigone, willing to defy the whole world in order to show her brother’s body the honor it deserved; the constancy and resourcefulness of Penelope, who waits for her husband and is not afraid to impose standards on the many suitors who seek her hand, thinking her husband dead; the humor and daring of Portia, willing to argue a case in the court of law to assure that both justice and mercy are served—all these and thousands of others can be members of your circle of friends. And who wouldn’t want friends like that? Knowing that others have valued and honored these actions, and thought that it was possible that humans would act in these ways, may make you more willing to apply standards in your own life, and expect more of the people you choose as friends.

The greatest literature of any culture will embody certain ideals which humans naturally desire—loyalty in love and friendship, courage in defending the innocent, the desire for greatness and honor—ideas which are all but eradicated from public life today. If you wish more from your life and from your relationships than what is depicted in the media today, if you wish to rise above the material condition of life, read good books. The more of these books you read, the more you will realize that there is a community of minds, a culture of which you can be a part.

Stress Relief and Enjoyment

Sitting down to read a book is also enjoyable. And incidentally, one of the finest methods of relieving stress. Reading demands your attention and dispels the patterns of stressful thought that were clouding your mind. So, even if reading a book takes time away from whatever important things you were doing, it’s possible that it will actually increase your productivity, as well as improving your life.