Those Who Grow

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to this season of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about personal growth. 

When we talk about babies, we talk a lot about growth and development stages. When should they sit up? Are they crawling and walking as they should by a certain age? Are they making sounds and forming words? Once kids start school, we focus even more on intellectual growth and meeting academic expectations. Can they read on schedule? Have they developed math skills? Are they understanding basic grammar skills? We also talk about their social skills. Are they getting along with their peers? This trend continues until we complete our education. It’s then that our discussions of personal growth tend to lessen and sometimes even go away. We may still talk about professional development, and if we are religious, we will use growth language when we talk about our faith. But even then we are rarely assessing ourselves to see if we are maturing in any real way. We have formed our life habits by then, and unless we are forced by circumstances to change any of those habits, most people are content to just get through life without much additional work toward growing. 

Through developmental and psychological research, we know that adults have the ability to continue to grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. We can break habits, learn new skills, and change our behaviors. We come into adulthood with our life perspectives developed through our experiences and influences beginning in infancy and continuing through young adulthood. We are affected by our family and societal relations, by our educational and religious experiences, and by the technological access and cultural influences from our surroundings. But growth and change are still possible.

Psychologists tell us that the ages between 18 and 29 can be referred to as emerging adulthood. This is a time for individuals to focus on their goals and explore their unique identities and the possibilities that are before them in life. This is also a key time in life to explore our relationships and all of our societal connections to others. In this time, new relationships help individuals realize that they may need to break away from old habits, unhealthy ways of thinking, and prejudices that were handed down from family and friends. 

But what about those of us over 30…over 40…over 50? Are we will still exploring our own identities and thinking about our habits and the thoughts we carry each day? I can answer for me. For a long time, I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I was in all-out survival mode—keeping my head above water physically and financially. I went to Sunday school classes, but I didn’t really assess any of my religious beliefs. The places I went just affirmed what I already believed. I didn’t think much about my larger community. I didn’t spend a lot of energy wondering about what I needed to change in my life. When things were going well, I enjoyed the good times as they were. When things weren’t going well, I just tried to hang on and survive. 

How many of us get stuck in this pattern and never think about the world around us, how we can use our gifts and talents to bring positive changes to our communities, or how we can join in with other community members to improve the quality of life for others while we also increase our own strengths and find happiness in pursuits we had never imagined? 

Changing is so hard. It’s not something we just naturally feel good about as adults. We like many of our routines, or we at least feel comfortable in them. We are reassured by predictability in our lives. So, a first step for many of us involves a recognition that we have not actually grown in quite a while and we haven’t even assessed ourselves lately. Let me clarify here…self-assessment does not mean we get stuck in our patterns of self-criticism. Self-criticism is allowing negative beliefs about ourselves to take over our internal conversations. This actually slows our personal growth because we don’t see ourselves as strong or worthy or possessing qualities or talents that we can share. 

I’m talking about taking time to asks ourselves questions about why we believe what we believe, how can we open ourselves up to new people and new opportunities, and how can we be a person who helps bring positive changes to a hurting world. 

Brené Brown—a research professor, author and public speaker—talks about our next step: a willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is letting go of our need for absolute control. It’s stepping out of our comfort zones and doing something new that forces us into new conversations and exposes us to new perspectives. It brings us uncertainty and emotional exposure. In a 2013 interview with Forbes magazine, Brown says: “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. I was raised in a ‘get ‘er done’ and ‘suck it up’ family and culture (very Texan, German-American). The tenacity and grit part of that upbringing has served me, but I wasn’t taught how to deal with uncertainty or how to manage emotional risk. I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few. Learning how to be vulnerable has been a street fight for me, but it’s been worth it.”

Brown reminds me that vulnerability is worth it because, even though we feel uncertain and exposed at first, we soon discover new joys that new relationships bring. We move from surviving to thriving. We become members of our larger community, and we find ways to strengthen these local, national, and international communities. We also find ways to let them strengthen us. They bring beauty into our lives, and we realize that we bring beauty into the lives of others. 

With vulnerability, we redefine success and stop tying our legacy solely to what we earn or what job we show up to every day. We stop trying to be perfect and try instead to be good and to be kind and to be open to life. We aren’t scared to admit that we need to improve and grow. 

Growth and change take more than just vulnerability. We also have to have courage. The changes I made in my life were terrifying at first. I remember having to walk into a new career at a university in Nashville. I had just moved there as a single Mom and knew no one at all in the city. I had to wake up every day and find the courage to start this new phase of my life. Then I added vulnerability. I sought out new people and new experiences. I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended lectures and even gave some. I learned about the nonprofit groups in the city and the needs of those they served. I took risks and wrote articles while others were unsure about whether or not the stories needed to be told. I learned to walk away from people and places I needed to walk away from, and I learned how to grow again. 

It takes courage to admit that we still have things to learn. It also takes courage to admit that we are responsible for educating ourselves. I admit that I get frustrated when adults just want education on a new topic just handed to them without effort. Kids can’t be responsible for their own education. They need teachers and parents to feed them new information. We have to provide the information and the materials and help them interpret everything new. But as adults, we get lazy at times and still want our own learning to happen that way. 

Well, it’s not anyone’s job but ours to educate us. It’s not a person’s job to educate us about what it’s like to be Black in America or live with deafness or be Native American or flee your homeland or be a woman or face cancer or live with grief or survive abuse. It’s our job to open our eyes and read and research and be vulnerable to this learning. It’s our job to hear new stories and let them soak in. It’s our job to volunteer at the Refugee Empowerment Center or attend their public programs or read their social media posts. It’s our job to read nonfiction pieces by people outside of our own race and gender. It’s our job to use the search tool within a new group and read what answers have already been posted there. It’s our job to read articles written by people trying to overcome homelessness. The information is already there. We don’t need people to feed it to us. We just need to learn to use reliable sources, to stop misinformation, and to use what we find to grow. 

Your challenge this week: be vulnerable and courageous in a new area of your life. Do at least something simple like reading an article written by someone of a different race and one by someone whose life perspectives may be different from yours. Explore recipes from another culture and read the history behind the recipe. Read books written by those working in the nonprofit world such as Becca Stevens who works with Thistle Farms. Read fiction and nonfiction pieces which expose you to new perspectives. Start a Zoom meeting with people you have never met in your community. Be open and vulnerable to learning. Those who grow make a difference…those who grow are changed for the better and bring changes for the better. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of my Look To See Me podcast. I hope you return soon.  Be well and stay safe. And remember: You are loved. 

Stay-at-Home Activities For Adults and Kids

This post will be a little outside of the norm for me. However, I wanted to share some fun websites that we used when I homeschooled my kids. I will also add a couple of podcast links. I hope some of these will help us all stay positive while we are in our homes waiting for the pandemic to pass. Remember what I always say in my podcast: be a lifelong learner. Find some ways to learn something new, read something you may not have normally read, or explore a subject you don’t remember much about from school.

Websites for All Ages

  • The PBS Learning Media site has a lot of pages to explore. They offer something for a variety of ages.  Click here to explore their site.
  • I love the Smithsonian site. Click here to explore their pages. The Smithsonian Learning Lab is also a fun site to explore.
  • STEM Rising, created by the Department of Energy, has sections for students, teachers, and the general public. “STEM Rising is our initiative to inspire, educate, and spark an upwards trajectory to lifelong success in STEM through sharing the Department’s National Labs, National Nuclear Security Administration, and program office’s programs, resources, competitions, events, internship opportunities and more.” Click here to view their site.
  • The US Patent and Trademark Office also has a fun site that contains information for a variety of ages, including adults. Begin here to learn about what they have to offer.
  • Want to take your thoughts even higher? Explore Space.com and skywatch or catch up with NASA through some new videos.
  • National Geographics educational pages bring excitement into a classroom or home.
  • I also enjoy the Biokids website. This site, run by the University of Michigan, lets you explore many species and have fun at the same time.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) also has information and games to help us learn and have fun. This site is geared toward children, but it is fun to explore with them.
  • Indigenous Mexico is a website that shares the research of John P. Schmal. Schmal is a historian and genealogist who specializes in the genealogical research and Indigenous history of many of the Mexican states.
  • The Metropolitan Opera will be streaming productions at no charge while they are closed.
  • NASA offers several online image galleries.
  • Digital History is a fascinating site that contains primary sources on United States, Mexican American, and Native American history, and slavery; and essays on the history of ethnicity and immigration, film, private life, and science and technology. These are just a few of the options for you to explore.
  • Do History is a site that helps you piece together the past by looking at fragments that have survived. The site was created by the Film Study Center at Harvard University.
  • The San Diego Zoo has a really fun website to explore. It’s great for young kids and for older ones.
  • You can take a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park.
  • You can also take a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China.
  • Chrome Music Lab is a website that makes learning music more accessible through fun, hands-on experiments.
  • Cleveland Inner City Ballet is launching a free Virtual Online Ballet Instruction Program.

Websites for Younger Children

  • Scholastic has set up a learn-from-home website.
  • PBS Kids has a variety of games and learning activities.
  • Starfall has a variety of activities for kindergarten through third grade.
  • Squiggle Park has a section for 3 to eight-year-olds and a section for ages nine to 15.
  • Prodigy motivates 1st to 8th grade students to learn and practice math.

Museums with Online Galleries

(not a complete list)

Fun Podcasts for Lifelong Learners

(And All Who Like a Good Story)

Look to See Me

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Wow in the World

Stuff You Should Know

Brains On

Storynory (Stories for kids, but fun for anyone)

Some Interesting Book Lists to Consider

Have fun, lifelong learners! Stay calm and stay positive.

Today’s Historians

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about the role historians play in whose stories we are hearing and which people we are seeing.

I love to study history. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school. As I look back now, though, on the things about history I was taught in school, I see that my education was missing quite a bit of information. Now, I know it’s true that teachers only have a certain amount of time each year to teach each subject. There’s no way to cover any era in history with much depth at all. History teachers are wonderful, and they do a great job writing out lesson plans and bringing those lessons to life for their students.

There’s so much the rest of us can do outside of the classroom, though, to make sure that we are still being life-long learners and reading about our past…uncovering truths that may have been buried for generations. Gerda Lerner, the historian who pioneered the field of women’s history, had a valid point when she said, “In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist.”  It’s time to look to see the people from the past that still have something to teach us about the present.

I am thankful that we are in a time of reclaiming more stories from the past and correcting some of that stories that were based more on myth than on truth. I know that there are so many more stories I need to hear. This podcast talks about hearing the stories of those around us. The past two seasons have discussed leaders and organizations that are telling the stories of people whose voices aren’t always heard. We need community leaders and nonprofit groups to walk with people who are journeying on a path that others of us may not have walked along. We need to take a closer look at the work being done to bring hope and healing and love to all people in our communities.

Today I’m focusing on historians, however, because they are working to help us remember the people who walked these paths before we did. They are uncovering stories of people that have brought hope and healing and innovative ideas to our communities in the past and paved the way for us to do so today. Historians are reminding us that people can make a difference and bring about so much good in the world. These stories being brought to light by today’s historians help me better understand the stories of the people around me…the diverse people who make up my community—my local community and my global community. They weave all of us together through a foundation of hope and courage and perseverance that we may have never known we shared.

So, who are some of today’s historians that are teaching us so much through the stories they are unearthing and reviving for us? First, I want to talk about two of my favorite podcasters: Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. Some of you may recognize these names; they are the cohosts of the popular podcast titled Stuff You Missed in History Class. This is a twice-weekly podcast that takes a look at historical figures with new perspectives. The co-hosts don’t just give us a quick glance at the life of a politician, inventor, writer, or other known personality. They dig much deeper to let us know what happened behind the scenes and often out of the public eye. They share old family letters and memoirs written by known friends. They dig deep into the works of other historians and researchers. They do a good job of telling us what information is probably just a gossipy rumor and what might be a fact. We get past the myths and find out what motivated people and what hurts they overcame to achieve their goals. We also find out who really should get credit for work that we attributed to another person. Their podcasts make history fun for me. They cover every topic from fashion design to medicine to shipwrecks. Listen and find out what you missed in history class.

I’ve also recently found a website that has been fun to explore. Indigenous Mexico is a website that shares the research of John P. Schmal. Schmal is a historian and genealogist who specializes in the genealogical research and Indigenous history of many of the Mexican states. He has written several books on the topic and has served on the board of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research. Through Schmal’s research, we come to understand the stories that form the foundation for each Mexican state. When we understand the past, we can see the present with new eyes.

Why am I interested in all of this history? Well, can you imagine if a person who knew nothing about you or your past tried to understand your life and make decisions that affected you without knowing anything at all? A doctor needs your medical history to treat you. A counselor needs your history to help find a healing path for you if you are struggling with grief or stress. A psychologist or psychiatrist needs to know in-depth details about your life to properly diagnosis you. A spiritual mentor understands you better once you have talked about your past spiritual journey. Our past has helped shape us and has brought us to our present place on our journey. Our past doesn’t define us or limit our possibilities. We can all overcome quite a lot from our past once we acknowledge it and learn from it. That’s no different from a nation or a cultural group. Past challenges have altered the journey for some people. If we understand that, we can come to see the strengths that people have leaned on to face those challenges. We can see the courage and determination in people. We can see the gifts that all people bring to the table.

Here’s another historian’s name that I’m going to toss out: Clara Sue Kidwell. Kidwell is an academic scholar, historian, and Native American author who is of White Earth Chippewa and Choctaw descent. Kidwell has been instrumental in developing American Indian historical studies programs. She has taught at Haskell Indian Nations University, University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and University of Oklahoma. In 2007, she started the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina. She is credited with increasing the visibility of Native American history on college campuses and across our nation. Historians like Kidwell fill in the gaps of our understanding and dispel myths that we often taught as truths.

I could toss out many other names in this podcast. Elizabeth Fenn researches the early American West, focusing on epidemic disease, Native American, and environmental history. Allan Berube, an American activist and historian, is best remembered for his groundbreaking work of gay history. He published an award-winning book in 1990 titled Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II. Marie-Josèphe Bonnet is a French specialist in the history of women, history of art, and history of lesbians. Bonnet has written several books and articles about the theme of art, women artists, and the representation of women in art. Vincent Gordon Harding, who passed away in 2014, was a social activist, historian, and a scholar of various topics with a focus on American religion and society. He was one of the chroniclers of the civil rights movement and was perhaps best known for his work with and writings about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Harding knew personally.

These historians, and many others who work in their field, know that we all still have so much to learn from the people who lived before us…people who dreamed and toiled and hoped and loved and fought. Historians bring the hopes and the visions of all who walked this earth before us back into the light so we can learn from their work and build on their dreams.

Your challenge for the week: learn about two people who are no longer living. Choose these two people from sources that you have never used before and choose from a group of people that are outside of your own identity. Be a life-long learner and expand who you have been learning about.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Cultivating…respect instead of fear

Greetings! I guess we are all busy following the news about coronavirus. Students are having to change their foreign travel plans. Nations around the world are quarantining entire regions. Cruise ships are being stopped offshore so passengers can be tested. I still remember the H1N1 scare from 2009. We all wondered if we should send our kids to school.

I’m not a person who panics. I do follow the news and am heeding the advice of our Center for Disease Control and other medical professionals. I have always washed my hands well, so I don’t have to change any habits there. I do find it odd that people across the United States (and maybe elsewhere) are buying things like toilet paper and face masks and bottled water in bulk. Stores are selling out of many common items. People are giving in to fear rather than following the simple steps being advised by professionals.

Here’s what I do know: I hope I don’t get the flu, coronavirus, strep throat, or the stomach bug. None of us like being sick and very few of us have the luxury of being able to afford to be sick. Every year, I make an online post asking people to respect others and stay home when they are sick.

Here’s what else I know: Goodness and justice and love are never present when you make choices based only on your own fears and never also consider the fears of others.

Fear Quote

When we fear, we make decisions that we hope will protect us in some way. We walk faster or pull out our cell phones if we fear the sound of footsteps behind us at night when we are walking to our car. We buy hand sanitizer because we worry about coronavirus. We build a storm shelter when our area has been hit by tornadoes.

But do we consider the fear that others live with? When we don’t feel great, but we also don’t want to lose a paycheck, do we realize that some people with weakened immune systems could be killed by the viruses we are carrying? When we go into a restaurant knowing we are contagious, do we understand that some of the workers fear losing a home or a car if they get sick and lose a paycheck?

People carry legitimate fears for many reasons. If we respect others, we will find ways to understand their fears and help ease those worries. I am around the elderly quite often. I assure them that I will never visit if I am ill or still recovering. I will not compromise their health.

When I am around refugees in my community, I learn about the fears they lived with all of their lives…fear of abusive leaders, of persecution, of war, of hate, of losing their families because of poverty. I try to show that I am willing to learn about those fears and work to find ways to open doors for them to be safe.

When I am around any member of the LGBTQ+ community, I try to make it known that I am a safe ally. I will stand with them if they are being bullied or disrespected in any way. I will love.

And some forms of respect just involve paying attention to what I am being told. Right now, doctors are urging people to quit buying up the entire supply of face masks. They are useless to most of us, and there are people who legitimately need them. I have to consider their greater need over my current fear.

When we live life reacting only to our own fears, we can cause quite a bit of harm to others. We need to be life-long learners and find out how we can care for ourselves and respect the needs of others.

Do not fear. Do not let fear cause you to make decisions that will harm others. Do not let fear cause you to exclude others. Do not let fear cause you to judge others. Respect and love should be our guiding forces in challenging times (and, actually, in all times).

My Word for 2020

For the last couple of years, I have been in survival mode more than I have been planning ahead. Both of my children and my parents were going through major changes in life. I also still had court dates dealing with an abusive ex-spouse. My health wasn’t wonderful, so I narrowed my thinking and just “got by.” Sometimes we all have to do that. The problem is that I got stuck in that mode. I didn’t take time to see what changes I needed to make to better plan ahead and to practice some self-care that was needed.

I’m changing the way I think for 2020. As part of that change, I’ve decided to follow the example of some of my mentors and choose a word for the year. My word for 2020 is cultivating. Cultivating means to acquire or develop a quality, sentiment, or skill. That’s what I’m going to spend the year doing.

I’m going to cultivate better cooking skills so I can eat healthier than I have this year and learn to enjoy the meals I eat. I’m going to eat with people more often as well. Cultivating new friendships and renewing old ones tie into this goal.

I’m also going to cultivate authenticity and allow those around me to do the same. Who am I? What do I really know about myself outside of the things I have been taught to think about myself by others? I want to take the time to learn new things about my likes and dislikes, my hopes, and my strengths. I also want to learn new things  about those close to me. As part of that goal, I want to cultivate new relationships in my community and allow people to be authentic in those new relationships. I want to learn more about the people I share this planet with…I want to know who they love, what brings them joy, and what their hopes are for the new year.

I also want to continue to cultivate joy and gratitude in my life and find ways to bring joy to others. Joy is not dependent on my circumstances…I can choose joy even when life is hard.

I know I will still face challenges in 2020. I hope that when I do I cultivate new responses. I hope the same for you as well. What’s your word for 2020?

How have I grown today?

Do you ask yourself daily if you have grown emotionally or spiritually in the preceding 24 hours? I didn’t ask myself this question very often in the past. I don’t know if it was because I was subconsciously so egotistical that I thought I didn’t need to grow, or if it was because I had become too complacent over the years, not seeing or being concerned about the deficiencies in my life. Either way, I didn’t check myself to see if I was still growing at all. But I really do want to be a life-long learner.

Growing means more than learning a fact. Memorizing information does not mean I am growing. Neither does watching the news or reading a book. Growing, to me, means I have taken the information and assessed what I am going to do with it.

If I hear new information, what am I going to do with that information? Can apply it to my life? Am I taking new information and becoming more compassionate, more just or more loving? Am I taking new thoughts and seeing the world more through God’s eyes than through my own weak and often unfocused eyesight? Am I taking ideas from a book and letting them teach me to understand life from a perspective other than my own narrow experience?

Have I learned to write better, paint better or teach better? Have I learned a healthier approach to life? Can I cook a new meal to share with family and friends? Only reading the recipe does not help me grow. Learning about new cooking techniques or herbs and then using them does.

Have I prayed a new prayer? Have I gained a new insight? Have I listened more closely to the silent cries of the world? Have I reached out because of a new found courage? Have I moved forward after a stalled period in my life? Have I taken one more step out of my grief or anger? Have I found one more thing to be thankful for? Have I learned how to better express my thanks?

Tough questions can come with a price. We may not like the answers, or we may realize that we haven’t grown in much too long. No matter our age, learning and growing can be a process we claim daily.