Tag Archives: family

Effects of Empathy

Note: This post was originally published on my other blog, Rachel Discovers Happiness, but I feel so strongly about it that I feel the need to publish it here as well.

Empathy is a wonderful quality. It allows you to really connect with others. It allows you to feel their emotions, understand where they are coming from, and really take relationships to the next step.

Of the qualities I value in myself, empathy is at the top of the list. I think I’m a good friend. I listen to people and genuinely understand where they are coming from. I am able to comfort people because I can honestly say that I know how they feel.

On the other hand, empathy is an awful emotion. It allows you to feel other people’s emotions.

Although I value my ability to empathize with others, sometimes it makes my life really difficult. Especially with negative emotions. When somebody is happy, it makes me happy too, but only to a certain extent. When somebody is sad, however, I feel those emotions much more intensely. If somebody is crying or upset about something, it physically makes my heart tighten. I feel like my chest is closing in, and often times I am able to hold myself together just as long as it takes for me to get out of their proximity before I break down in tears myself.

Yup, that’s right, I feel other people’s emotions so extremely that their tears bring me to tears.

The reason I am writing about this right now is because yesterday, a family friend of mine passed away. I got an email from my step mom earlier in the day telling me that his mother found his body yesterday morning. Although I have heard his name, I didn’t know him personally. He went to church with my step mom and my step sisters and he graduated from high school with my older sister. My step mom has nothing but nice things to say about his family. When she told me about his passing, I instantly replied, telling her that she had a huge hug waiting for her when she got home.

When she walked in the door at 7:45pm, that’s exactly what she got. A huge hug. My step mom is a big hugger so I’m used to her comforting arms, but this was different. This time, I was the one supporting her. It felt like she was holding on to me and didn’t want to let go. She had tears streaming down her face. She was sobbing. And through the sobs she gasped “his mom found him with the needle still in her arm.”

My stomach dropped. My heart constricted. I didn’t know what to say.

I gave her one more squeeze and when she went over to my dad, I went to my room and broke down. I sat on the floor up against my bed, with tears streaming down my face, and cried. I cried for the lost life of somebody so young, for his family and friends, and for my step mom who I rarely see that upset.

She doesn’t know I cried. Most people don’t. (And shhhh, don’t tell her. Although being empathetic is difficult at times, like I said, it’s one of my favorite qualities in myself.)

As I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face, although my mind never went off of the young man and his family, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am that my family doesn’t struggle with things like hard drug addiction, drunk driving, or teen pregnancy (knock on wood… Pookie still has 8 months until she is officially out of the teen years).

Although we do have our struggles, we are pretty tight knit and support each other. We take care of each other, and make sure that we stay on the right track. This young man’s family did everything that mine would do in their situation, everything they could think of to try to help him through his addiction – rehab, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, praying, etc.

Through all of this, my mind has jumped from person to person who has passed away since my high school years. All of the young people I know who have died have been from one sort of substance abuse or another. I had a friend who died at 17 from drinking and driving. A boy a year or two older than me OD’d on Oxycotton. A young man I graduated with was shot in a dispute over drugs. This makes me extremely sad.

What will it take for people to realize that doing those things doesn’t make you cool?  Calling your parents for a ride home won’t make them as mad at you as drinking, driving and killing somebody would. Shooting heroin won’t make people like you more – and if they do, you probably don’t really want to be hanging out with them in the first place. Selling drugs may be a good source of income, but it’s dangerous and you are contributing to issues in so many other people’s lives.

My step mom, kind of regretfully, told me that she kind of went off on her students yesterday. She was crying and lectured them to never try drugs. Never get into those types things because they are dangerous. She told them that she didn’t want to go another funeral – that it was so painful to watch young people pass away when they had so much more life to live. That not only would they be hurting themselves when they tried things like drugs or drinking and driving, but they hurt their families and friends too. She was kind of sad that she lectured them like that – I think it is extremely important that she did. If even one kid chooses to say “no” because of that lecture, she has made a positive difference (as she does every day in the lives of her students).

Although empathy sometimes makes things difficult for me, I wouldn’t trade it for any other qualities (except, maybe, confidence…) My breakdown after that hug was painful, but it allowed me to look at my family and realized how blessed (or lucky, depending on your religious views) I am and how amazing my family and friends are.

My heart goes out to those who are affected by drugs and alcohol. What my step mom said to her students is spot on – don’t even start with things like cocaine, heroin, etc. You aren’t just hurting yourself, you are hurting all those whose lives you have touched, and a bunch of people you didn’t even know you had an effect on.

As my step mom just said to me:

It really puts it into perspective that we get ourselves all worked up and nervous about things that really aren’t important.


And So It Begins

I feel as though everything in my life has been leading up to now. I’ve always had dreams for myself: go to college, live in a big city, have good relationships with my family members, get a great job, be proud of myself, be happy.

As of last week, I can finally say that I have accomplished all of those things thus far:

  • I graduated from college in June.
  • I have wonderful relationships with all four of my parents and all of my siblings, not to mention my extended family.
  • I signed the lease for an apartment in San Francisco.
  • I have an internship at a great company and I couldn’t be happier about it.
  • I am proud of myself and all I have accomplished – especially the apartment and internship, two things that happened last week.
  • I might not be as happy as I could be, but I’m working on it and all the things I just listed sure do help.

Of course, I haven’t officially moved in to my apartment (that happens this weekend) and I haven’t actually started my internship (I begin tomorrow), but man, I just feel like my life is really taking off!

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things that I still want to accomplish in my life, but I am just now starting to feel like a real adult. All of my goals until now have been for my younger self. They were for the me that existed before 2012. The me that was focused on my profession, friends, and dreams. The 22-and-younger me only knew a life that consisted of classes, homework, papers, to and from campus, etc. etc. This new me, the 23-and-older me, has moved on from school, is entering the corporate world, and is ready for new challenges and experiences.

Now, even though it is only 8:20pm, I think I am going to go pick out my outfit for tomorrow, crawl in to bed, read a book, and get a good night’s sleep before my big day tomorrow.

San Francisco, I’m ready for you!


In Defense of Toms

I can’t believe I haven’t posted in almost a week. How lame am I?! I couldn’t let this blog go untouched for an entire week and have two Friday Links posts in a row – that would just be pathetic.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but couldn’t really find the words (plus I wanted to take some photos for it). It’s about the shoe (and glasses) movement: Toms*.

If you aren’t familiar with Toms mission statement, it’s simple: One For One. With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.

One of my Christmas presents from my mom was a pair of women’s “ash” Toms. Everybody I know has a pair of Toms. I liked the idea of receiving a pair of Toms for Christmas because not only can I wear them anywhere, but they are comfortable (oh so comfortable!), “cute” (I think the other benefits make them cuter than they would be otherwise) AND they help out kids who don’t have the means to purchase their own shoes.

I was so excited when I opened them, and my mom felt really good about gifting them to me. That is, until the first day I wore them in front of Philo. When I pointed out to my mom that I was wearing them, MJD piped in and mentioned that Toms are just about all his girlfriend wears – she likes how cute and comfortable they are. Then, Philo piped in… like he always does.

He started in on this rant about how Toms isn’t actually as great as everybody thinks it is. That the organization may help children, but actually harms the shoe producers and stores in the area that the shoes are handed out.

This is a habit of Philo’s that annoys us all, but have all learned to ignore. One of us says something and Philo jumps in with how we are wrong, then he informs us of the correct way to think about whatever situation we are talking about, and all of it is based off of some article that he read once. Eating meat? Humans are not built to consume meat, also, it’s not sustainable, also, you are consuming a carcass. (I’m sorry for that mental image, but imagine hearing that every time you eat meat) Donating to a charity? That charity isn’t as good as you think it is, the money doesn’t go where you think it does, plus, here is a list of all the vegan charities that actually make a difference in the lives of millions of people. Blah, blah, blah, blah… he goes on and on. Nobody else’s opinions are valid. He always finds a counter argument for everything we say. I could say that dogs like to be pet and wag their tails, and he would come up with a reason why I’m wrong.

Anyway, so this conversation thoroughly bothered the rest of us. When my mom and I got home, we sat down and did some research on Toms, their mission, and where the shoes go. I downloaded the Toms Giving Report and read it beginning to end, then saved it on my computer. I read blogs, articles, and opinion pieces on not only Toms, but other charities as well.

Page from the Toms Giving Report

My conclusion after all my research? Toms was about the best of the best as far as charities go. Your donation goes where they say it goes, and I can’t find anything to suggest otherwise. They aren’t asking you for money, they are asking you to purchase a pair of shoes for yourself so that you get something as well as the children you are helping. Children. NOT adults. Local shoe stores aren’t going out of business; Toms shoes go to children who wouldn’t be shopping at those shoe stores in the first place.

Shoes have value beyond being critical for physical health. Many schools in developing countries require shoes for attendance. And some soil-based diseases not only cause physical symptoms, but create cognitive impairment too, crippling a child’s long- term potential … Children who are healthy are more likely to be successful students, and access to education is a critical determinant of long-term success.

– Toms Giving Report

The shoes go to kids whose families don’t have the means to purchase shoes on their own. If the kids don’t have shoes, they aren’t able to go to school. If they aren’t able to go to school, they aren’t able to get an education. If they can’t get an education, they are less capable to pull their families and their countries above the poverty line. Toms makes sure that the shoes given to children follow their school’s dress code/uniform in order to ensure that the shoes accomplish what Toms wants them to. Toms also only makes shoes in sizes that are required by the children in need.

School children in Nairobi, Kenya wearing their Toms. (via: http://www.facebook.com/Toms)

Toms is not only giving these children shoes, Toms is giving them a future.

That might sound cheesy, but I firmly believe that it is true.

Toms gives shoes in places such as Argentina, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Zambia, to name a few. These locations aren’t picked at random. Toms and its affiliates do lots of research to make sure that the the children receiving the shoes are deserving and that the shoes will make a difference. Toms doesn’t use any child labor in the production of its shoes and the organization works with its partners around the world as well as businesses where the shoes are delivered whenever possible.

Recently, Toms has expanded from shoes to glasses. I guarantee there will be further expansion in the future. I’d keep my eyes open if I were you.

Anyway, I apologize for this rant. It just really frustrated me and I thought that I would share my thoughts with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

Have you done any research on Toms or other charities? Where are your favorite places to donate? Do you have any opinions that parallel Philo’s mentality?

*FYI: TOMS stands for “Shoes For a Better Tomorrow”

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Toms or any of its affiliates. The opinions stated in this post are 100% my own.  


Twas the Season

I am a firm believer that one of the best weeks of the year is the one between Christmas and New Year’s.

It is that week when there are no more presents to be purchased, no more stress about how Christmas day will go, no more worrying about whether or not someone will like your gifts. There is just family. Oh, and maybe one or two returns.

holiday decorated bird house in my mom's neighborhood

Yesterday morning, as I walked into the bagel store, I was struck by how much I love this week. I love that children are out of school and that parents take the time out of their day to sit and have a jelly smeared bagel and hot chocolate/coffee with their kids. I love that it is still cold enough to cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie. I love that it is still appropriate for said movie to be a holiday movie. I love that I’m still able to order Pete’s peppermint soy hot chocolates and not feel dumb. I love that the house still smells like pine needles. I love that there is no more pressure to ge a bunch of things done, but that my family is still home and I still get to spend time with them (minus Caitlin who just had to go back home. Whatever Caitlin.)

MJ and her daddy

Of course, this holiday season had its downs too. I was stressed about work. I couldn’t quite figure out what that perfect present would be for my step dad so I was disappointed with my gift to him. I wasn’t feeling well. I was exhausted. My mom and step dad had to put down our dog, Toby.

Toby, we will miss you

This holiday season I learned a lot about myself though. I guess it means you’re growing up when you realize that you are more interested in seeing other people’s reactions when they open your present to them, rather than unwrapping your own presents. I had four Christmases (having divorced parents is sometimes really exhausting), but it was wonderful to see (almost) all of my family. I really treasure our holiday traditions and was so happy when each of them came along (including eating minestrone soup with my mom’s family, eating Mexican food with my dad’s family, cuddling up with my family on the couch to watch It’s A Wonderful Life and watching my dad cry without failure, etc.)

Anyway, just in case you were wondering, here are a few more holiday photos from this season. Enjoy.

Merry Christmas Eve – family tradition: home made enchiladas
brown paper packages tied up with strings (how I wrapped my Christmas presents this year)
Doogie, my handsome nephew
Christmas dinner table
me and my older cousin
cousins 🙂
I love her hair like that
MJ and Grand-Piffy
Oh, Christmas Tree
MJ and Toby
Auntie Rachel and MJ – denim shirts, leggings, and over the knee socks
me and MJ in our matching outfits 🙂
MJ in her “ugly” dress (I thought it was cute… she didn’t)

Prey, MJ, Pookie, and Toby

me, MJ, and Toby

Wondering how four christmases works? I’ll tell you:

  1. Wake up at one parent’s house – this year it was my dad’s (luckily, Gramma and Grampa spent the night on Christmas Eve so we got to see them)
  2. Open presents, eat a delicious breakfast, then get on the road to go to the next Christmas
  3. Show up at Christmas #2 – mom’s house
  4. Drink delicious cappuccinos, rush through presents, head to the next Christmas
  5. Show up at Christmas #3 – aunt’s house
  6. Help make Christmas dinner, hang out with cousins, open presents, rush out to get to the next christmas
  7. Show up for Christmas #4 – mom’s house again, with step brothers and niece
  8. Open presents (letting your niece open all of hers before anybody else opens anything)
  9. Get worn out and head back to dad’s to sleep.

Whew. And that doesn’t include the  fifth Christmas that we normally have. The one where we go back to our dad’s house and say hi to our family who always comes over for Christmas dinner there. There just wasn’t enough time this year. I think it might have worn me out beyond return if I’d had any more “Christmas cheer.” It was pretty exhausting, but I’m so glad that I saw the family that I did. Maybe next year I will have Christmas over two days instead of wearing myself out all in one day. We shall see.

I hope your holiday season, no matter what holiday you celebrate, was full of love, family, and compassion.

What are our favorite holiday traditions?

Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings – Zuzu, It’s a Wonderful Life


Friday Links

My favorite Tweets from the past week:

On another note, I finally got my Christmas shopping done (and my dad’s… and my step-mom’s…) Tonight I am spending time watching Christmas movies with my mom – The Holiday and Love Actually – and tomorrow I will spend with my dad’s family and  my step mom’s parents. I will finish wrapping presents, and then spend wonderful time with family to celebrate Christmas.

Oh yeah, and KB comes home tonight!!!! We are all so excited.

P.S. Find me on Goodreads.com and recommend books to me. I’d love to hear from you!


The List Master

Hello, my name is Rachel and I’m a list-aholic… well, I prefer List Master (it’s nicer).

I make lists for just about everything. I keep a notepad by the side of my bed, in my purse, and by the computer just in case a list inspires me. I know what you’re thinking, why do you have to write down your lists if you have electronics that will help you organize lists?

Well, I will tell you (using a list, of course):

  • I like drawing the little box next to each item on my list
  • I like checking off said little box next to each item on my list
  • I like flipping through my lists and seeing everything I’ve accomplished
  • I like organizing all of my papers, documents, online resources, etc. and lists are a wonderful way to do that
  • There is something satisfying about being able to physically write things down – sometimes technology just gets exhausting!

Because of my obsession with lists, I figured I’d put some of my favorite lists on this blog. I have created a page of (mostly) fun lists and I hope you enjoy them. They are things like places I want to travel to, places I have traveled to, things I enjoy doing, things I want to accomplish (to be explained later), and anything else I deem worth of making into a list.

Now, I know Big Sister Caitlin will laugh at me when she reads this post because I guarantee the first thought that will come to her mind is “Woah, Pookie (or Shashona as Caitlin calls her) is the real List Master. No way can you steal that qualifications from her!” and my response to her will be “Well, tough cookies Big Sister Caitlin. I make lists too. When Pookie/Shashona starts a blog of lists, then we can talk. Come to think of it, I think that would be a very funny thing for Pookie to do. I will recommend it to her. Thanks for the idea Big Sister Caitlin!”

And with that thought, on to list making! Have a wonderful day.


Denmark

My family has a wonderful “little” tradition that started in 2008 when my big sister, Caitlin, studied abroad in a little town in Hungry called Kecskemet. Our parents flew us all out to Hungary for the week of Thanksgiving so that we could visit her. Since then, every time one of the sisters studies abroad, we take the week of Thanksgiving to go visit them. In 2008 it was Hungary for Caitlin, 2009 was Spain for me, and this year was Denmark for KB*.

One of my hobbies is photography. Actually, I think photography is my only hobby. Oh, photography and crafts. But anyway, instead of writing a big long post about our trip, I figured I would show you in pictures. That’s the best way for you to see Denmark through my eyes anyway. I hope you enjoy them 🙂

Hamlet's Castle

Haribo gummies at the Christmas Market

Very interesting photo/butterfly exhibit at the Arkin - a modern art museum.

Super cute houses, boats, and Christmas Market 🙂

Our good friend, Hans Christian Anderson.

Tivoli, the inspiration for Disneyland!

I didn't go on any rides, but I loved this picture. I was messing with shutter speed.

Hand made Christmas ornaments at Tivoli (don't worry, we bought a few).

The Brady Bunch at Tivoli

The sisters ... aren't you jealous of my super cool hat?

Pookie and I at one of KB's favorite cafés

The cheese in Denmark was aaaaaamazing!

Pretty display of flowers - there are displays like this all over Copenhagen

Those are some of my favorites. I know there aren’t very many of people, but I generally like taking pictures of scenery and objects and flowers than of people (I always get the lighting all wrong on people).

*Note: KB is the name that Caitlin puts on her blog for one of our younger sisters. She and I discussed using the same pseudonyms for our blogs, with the exception of a few family members, so that we can maintain consistency. I will eventually do a post to introduce you to my family. It can get a little confusing. 
 
All the photos in this post are my own. Please let me know if you would like to use them. I love hearing comments (positive, or constructively critical) about my artwork.

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