How To Really Get Along With People

How to really get along with people? Well, I think it starts with seeing the best in people. Starts with finding the good. That is: it all starts with adopting a kind view to the people we encounter in our day-to-day lives. So someone messed up? Look for the plausible reasons why so as to provide a reasonable explanation. Someone offended you? Try to understand why you feel the offense. So someone said something, did something to cause you frustration? Ask them why. But be kind about it. Direct, honest questions do not nullify kindness and understanding.

She wanted to react. It would have been so easy. It was in her right, was it not? She was slighted, offended. Hurt. And did this not happen time and time again? She deserved to feel angry.

Right?

Wrong.

According to Mikey D. of Feel Happiness, there are three basic social skills that can be adopted to make it easier to help us see the best in people. In his own words:

1. Slow Down And Be Curious About Others

Don’t rush into making judgments about other people.
Take your time and gather some information about them first.
You should enter your interactions with an open mind, curious to find the positive attributes that the other person possesses.
Wouldn’t you prefer to be interacting with a person who you actually like?
In order to see the good in other people, you need to look for it.
This takes both patience and a curious mind that is ready to accept the good attributes of others.

2. Look Them In The Eyes

This used to be a huge problem for me, and I wasn’t even aware of it for years.
As soon as I started making stronger eye contact with people, the world opened up to me. It was like I had been blind and could suddenly see.
Eye contact is an important part of your social skills toolkit for countless reasons. It is practically a prerequisite for finding the positives in other people.
When you look someone in the eyes, you stay focused on that person rather than the multitude of distractions in your head and in your environment.
Not only that, but it helps you build a connection with that person. You’d better believe that will help you see them in a more positive light.

3. Smile At Them

Usually, they will smile back.
And when they do, you immediately have good things about them (nice smile, friendly, positive attitude, etc.). That was easy.
Smiling puts you in a good mood, and will make the other person like you more.
When you feel good, it is far easier to see the good in others. And if they like you, they are more inclined to show you the positive aspects of them.
Smiling greases the wheels of this whole process.
By neglecting to smile when you talk to other people, you give up one of the easiest things you can do to help you see the good in others and have a positive interaction with them.

Thanks Mikey D. But, it all sounds so simple. Of course, we all know: it takes practice. Practice making the connection, practice keeping the connection and practice maintaining the connection. But is it worth it? You bet it is. Not only in terms of the ways we interact and connect with others, but also in terms of how we view ourselves.

The more we see the best in ourselves, the more we will see the best in the others with whom we share our lives.

And that’s as good a reason as any to get started.

Right here, right now.

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Radical Care

I remember driving in the old Chevrolet with my Dad behind the wheel, going to pick up some kids for church when I was about 8 or 9 years old. And while my father had a compassion for the family we were connecting with, I remember that I did not. For some reason, I didn’t like the little girl belonging to this particular family. Didn’t think she smelled right, nor did I think she wore the right clothes. Just didn’t like the look of her. And I sure as heck didn’t want to go to her house and pick her up. Something about her just rubbed me the wrong way. And I got my ‘back up’. I decided she wasn’t someone I needed to be kind to.

So I wasn’t kind.

Throughout the years, I have never forgotten that girl. Never forgotten the uncalled for dismissal of her in my mind. And perhaps because of her, I now as an adult have decided to be more deliberate and intentional in my choice to show kindness.

But I have noticed something all the while and throughout this learning process: there are some people to whom it is hard for us to be kind. For whatever the reason- right or wrong. They set something off in us; and those emotions push our buttons. Or maybe it is that they don’t really like us either, and that creates a tension all its own. Perhaps it is something longstanding that has come between two people that has been left unresolved. Or maybe it is just one little hurt after another that has built up a wall of disappointment and fear.

It’s not easy being kind to those we love. How can we ever hope to be kind to those we don’t love- those we don’t care for much at all?

And why should we anyway? Do we really need to love and care for everyone in our life? Surely not our enemies. And what about our ‘frenemies’? Do they deserve our care?

Watching the news, one doesn’t have to search far to find dislike and tension between groups. Currently, around the world there are four ongoing armed conflicts that have resulted in 10,000 or more deaths in the current or past year, there are eleven armed conflicts that have resulted in 1000- 9,999 deaths in the current or past year and there are twenty armed conflicts that have resulted in 100- 999 deaths in the same time frame; seventeen with fewer than 100 deaths (Wikipedia). These stats do not take into account ongoing civil unrest or violence against protestors not resulting in armed conflict. These stats do not take into account tensions that are mounting between cultural groups in North America as well as around the world. These stats do not take into account personal conflicts or private conflicts that fall below the radar that are still disruptive and disturbing- even here in Canada. These stats don’t take into account familial and interpersonal strife.

What these stats do tell us is this: it’s hard to get along. And they give us a hint at what this world needs so as to even begin hoping for a transformation. What we need in this world is radical, transformative love.

Radical kindness. Radical love. Radical compassion. It is what we need in this world to make a change.

I write a great deal about care, kindness, love and compassion. And when I send my writing out into the larger media ring (the national news circuit) for consideration, I have found that kindness is a topic that doesn’t interest many. The response of the public readership is rather blasé. They’d rather read about something controversial, something that ignites a strong reaction. Kindness is just too sweet.

But what the world doesn’t seem to know about kindness yet is this:
“Within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That’s the thing about kindness: it seems basic. Yet its impact is astronomical. And the ways in which our interactions are affected by its absence are profound. In this life, amongst all our human relationships both intimate and otherwise, what matters beyond all else is that we are authentically kind to one another. Kind, in each and every encounter we undertake” (Gard, 2015)

It takes courage and guts and stamina and backbone and grit to be kind. Each and every day that we are given breath in our lungs. Kindness isn’t always natural like breathing. It’s far harder. It’s like grasping out to hold onto a small twig as you slide down a cliff on some days. It’s like planting your feet securely in the waters as wave after wave of salt-water impact tries to knock you over. It’s like holding up the corner of a crumbling building with your bare hands when all that is in you is telling you to let go. It’s like a storm raging overhead while you crouch beneath it, determined to ride out the rains.

No, kindness is not always easy. Sometimes it is the hardest choice you will have to make.

I still have people in my life that I am willing to admit- they are hard to be kind towards. I can also attest to the fact that I am a person in other peoples’ lives that they feel exactly the same way.

What helps me is this: I cannot control what others do/say/think about me, but I can be aware and intentional in my response to them. Because at the end of my life, when I lie on my own deathbed and time slips quickly from my hand, what matters is how I have lived my life. That’s it. And if I have lived life compassionately — with caring and kindness EVEN TO MY ENEMIES — I have done life well.

What this world needs now is love- radical love. And that loves starts right here.

Starts with me.

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Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

What People Remember Most

We are standing together, even as the long line stretches out the door, snaking around one corner and then further back into the spacious funeral home chapel. Our feet ache from our high-heeled shoes, but we are both so intent on seeing each and every person that places their warm hand into ours so as to offer comfort that we hardly notice this minor inconvenience. These traditions are a beautiful way to honor a life, and we are both so touched by the heartfelt words we have just been privy to hearing. We are so moved by the many, many words: words of comfort, words of concern and words of joy at the ways in which lives have been touched by our own dear Loved One.

Words of hope.

He was a dear husband. A beloved father and grandfather. A brother, uncle, friend; Boss and co-worker, neighbor- among many other more diverse roles. But for today, he is just Loved. Our Loved One. Each person that comes through the processional line shares a different memory with the theme woven throughout each and every sentiment of the kindness he displayed as he lived out his life. Even the funny stories bring about a torrent of tears- we are bound together by our humanity, even in our baser moments. These words- they heal us. Words mean so much.

Harold Hazen Gard.

He was a humble man. A man of the land. A hard-working man. A family man. A man of faith in the God he served. Just an ordinary man. And yet, his story reveals a life lived out of a reserve of extraordinary love, patience, kindness and caring. This is no ordinary feat.

As I stand there absorbing the impact of all these heart-warming words, she leans toward my ear and whispers these additional profoundly moving words proffered about her father: “It doesn’t matter what you did for work, what line of employment you were in; it matters how you lived your life.”

It matters. It does indeed. And within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That’s the thing about kindness: it seems basic. Yet its impact is astronomical. And the ways in which our interactions are affected by its absence are profound. In this life, amongst all our human relationships both intimate and otherwise, what matters beyond all else is that we are authentically kind to one another. Kind, in each and every encounter we undertake.

Because, Friend: here’s the thing.  Someday someone will recall back to the time you offered them a caring shoulder to lean on; will recall that you saw the best in them when no one else could find the strength. They will recall that instead of acting in anger, you acted in love; will recall that you were tender, were compassionate and merciful. They will remember you for your genuine concern about their welfare. They will remember you for your caring.

Someday, someone will recall back to your connection with them. And they will recall that you reached out to them in their time of need. They will remember that you offered them hope when they were desolate. That you extended them a warm welcome when they felt estranged. They will remember that you placed them first above their own needs. Because someday: someone will recall you. And they will either remember you for your kindness- your caring, your love, your understanding, your compassion, your mercy. Or they will not.

It’s as simple as that.

I have come to the startling realization at forty-one years of age- with two degrees and a third nearly gained; with a full-time job and many professional recommendations. With a beautiful house and acreage- and the toys and trinkets to boot. I have come to realize: none of this really matters. Because it doesn’t matter a hill of beans how high you have climbed the ladder in the corporate world- how much you have acquired. Nor does it matter how simple your expectations might be in this life. It doesn’t matter what successes your have seen to or what failures you have been prone to. At the end of your life, when you lie on your own deathbed and your loved ones are gathered round, what matters is how you have lived your life. That’s it. And if you have lived life compassionately- with caring and kindness, you have done life well.

Everyone can be kind. It’s something we all can choose to do as we live this life. We all have that available option at our disposal: the choice to show kindness. To be kind with every part of our being. Radiating love to the people we meet.

At the end of the day, it’s what people will remember most about us when we’re gone.

It’s our kindness and caring that people remember more than anything.

Kindness

Kindness halts me. Silences me. Takes away all the words that come easy. Not that kindness is a robber, a thief- but that it is just so stunning and brilliant and overwhelming that I don’t always know quite what to do when I encounter it. Kindness shines and brightens. It is light radiating in dark places, revealing beauty in brokenness. Kindness has that kind of impact.

It makes the mundane sparkle.

Are we living in an era bereft of kindness?  A time in history exhibiting a deficit of kindness- so that when it does appear, it affects us deeply; so much so that we are impacted- forever changed? Is it that we hardly recognize it anymore? Or is kindness everywhere- we just need the capacity of heart to understand it? But why, when we do encounter it, does it leave us stunned- quite breathless? Overcome? Kindness puts us in sensory overload. For when kindness illuminates the dark corners of our lives, shining its penetrating light: we are temporarily blinded. Bound. Touched. Healed. Moved. Freed. It has that kind of transforming power.

And sometimes we just cannot know even the extent that kindnesses we have offered have touched another life. Sometimes it is impossible to follow the path of kindness. For one random act can lead to another to another to another, leading to kindnesses being carried out in far-flung places, the likes of which, you never imagined your one small act would ever begin to have a connection.

One act done in kindness is all it takes.

The story does not reveal to us who he is- he is just a guy that decided to act on the kindness that was already inside his heart. He saw her there by the subway entrance and he asked her how much her roses were. She replied that they were a dollar each and that she would sell a dozen for eleven dollars. He asked her how many she had and she answered there were one hundred and forty. So he handed her that same amount in cash and told her to give the roses away. To give them for free that day.

He bought an entire collection of roses from one woman with the single purpose of showing kindness. And that one woman was then able to give kindness to one hundred and forty different people in the form of beautiful roses. Who knows where the ripples of goodness ended up from there. All because of a single act of kindness shown to her.

All because of kindness.

When Love Walks Among Us

I am walking tonight- solo, as the Two Youngest have a friend over and Husband is on duty back on the home front. I miss my walking partner on nights like this. Nights when it feels I am the Lonesome Isolated- walking when the rest of the world is doing more important things, living out more exciting plans than I.  When the rest of the world is organizing and doing things and gathering in places and spaces- making plans that I have not been privy to. Having fun being connected and together.  All but me: I walk alone.  And so tonight, feet slap pavement sounding loudly while hearts are feeling a tad bit blue and rather lonely.

It must be awful to feel lonely day in and day out.

I called my friend later and checked in about an activity our children are both involved in tomorrow. And after I tell her how happy I am that her daughter Zoe* has taken my own daughter under her wing, now that she has arrived a full-fledged member of intermediate school, my friend happens to mention something to me off the cuff. Something I find interesting in light of my feelings tonight.  Here’s how the conversation went down.

She asks me first if I have heard the name Charissa* come up in conversation when talking with Daughter. No, I say. Oh?  Well Charissa has been hanging out with the girls too, she says (proceeding to tell me that Charissa is new to the school this year and that the girls had noticed her alone over lunch time). She continues to tell me that her daughter Zoe*- the same one that has taken care of my own dear one- took the initiative to go over to this young adult sitting by herself in the cafeteria and invite her to sit with her and her friends, one of which is Daughter. My friend mentions the fact that Charissa has a shaved head on one side and a couple different colors of neon framing her head on the other- not someone easy to mix in a group of unfamiliar faces. Maybe some of the other kids didn’t see her as potential. But Zoe* did.  And because she did, Charissa isn’t lonely anymore.

All it takes is one rock to start an avalanche.

That’s all it takes. And in like manner, all it takes is one person to begin a cascade of love. That love and care and compassion and concern- it’s a free fall after that one encounter. Because other people notice and become caught up in the action. It’s hard not to when you realize the possibilities. In choosing to love, we lose fear. In choosing care and concern, we lose disinterest. In choosing compassion, we eliminate indifference. By choosing grace we say no to cruelty. What’s not to choose?

We all feel alone sometimes. But it makes my heart sing to know that there are human beings like Zoe out there in the world noticing the faces of people who need love. We all need love, but some of us need an infusion of love in the in-between moments of life even more than others. For me, knowing that there are Zoes in this world makes me want to join the effort, get in on the love cascade. So that love can fall like rain and the lonely can feel they are with their people.

We all are their people.

And in thinking about Zoe and Charissa and all the other lonely, isolated solitary people in this world- myself included by times: it helps to know. We are not alone. We never are.  Not when Love walks among us.  And because we know this, we can then reach out in love to others- turning their isolation into connectedness.  Turning their feelings of separation into togetherness.

Creating a love cascade from a single act of kindness.

Kindness is a Muscle

I am in Charlottetown-area for a five night camping expedition with the fam-jam. One of the highlights of camping here in Cornwall is the bakery just around the corner from the campground. I’m serious. You have never tasted anything until you’ve had their bread. Or their cinnamon rolls. Or their scones.

Don’t get me started.

So the other day, I went into the bakery to pick up a coconut cream pie for dessert when I remembered that my daughter had specifically requested raspberry scones. These scones that she asked for are to die for- my children would fight to the death for the last one. Actually, they would fight to the death anyway, but a scone never hurt as incentive.

Anyways.

I asked about the scones, and they were all out but suggested I place an order for the next day. I never place an order for much these days because I am so unpredictable with my commitments. Especially when camping. But the cashier was so sweet and my daughter’s crestfallen face imprinted in my memory made me do the unthinkable. Place an order and commit to a time frame wherein to pick them up.

The next day, and hour and a half late for the designated pickup, I roll into the bakery. I had almost decided I was going to forgo, because who knew if they were even there anymore, right? I walk up to the counter and request the scones I had placed an order for, and the cashier goes over to a shelf and brings back to me a bag with the most beautiful, plump, delicious-looking scones I have ever laid eyes on. The raspberries were practically falling out of them. I had near heart-failure wondering how they would ever survive the two-minute drive home without being devoured, bringing new meaning to the words child-abuse (a very specific form of such which involves one’s children discovering their mother has eaten all their highly preferred treats and as a result of which, emotionally fall apart on the spot).

I made a remark to the cashier that these scones looked really good, and she replied back, “The baker knew you had placed an order for these and she wanted to make them look really pretty for you.”

Say what?

I was stunned. I have never seen the baker. I just eat her stuff. I have never thought to thank her, never thought to ask of her and her well-being. And yet. She thought of me- the faceless, nameless customer and tried to make these scones pretty and tasteful for me and my family.

Absolute, pure kindness.

I never cease to be blown away by the impact of kindness. While complicated at times, yet ancient in scope and influence- it’s everywhere. Kindness is what makes the world go round. And without it, we are left feeling lost and aimless.

This morning, I am again driving- this time with my mom- when she relays to me a story. A story that she has no idea will completely sync with my line of thinking about kindness as soon as she tells it. For all I can think of lately is kindness. It consumes me. How to show kindness, who is showing kindness, whether or not I am showing kindness, how kindness impacts the lives of others.

I can’t get it out of my head.

So as I drive she tells me a story about being at the drug store in the line up and while there, she is using a points card to obtain incentives to shop at this particular store again in the near future. She then tells me that after having finished her purchase, the woman behind her in line, who has a sizeable pile of items to put through, tells my Mom that she can use her points card to include the purchases she is about to make, as she has no points card of her own. My mom then strikes up a conversation with this woman, all around that fact that this woman has no point card of her own and thus this is why she is offering my mother the opportunity to obtain more points at her expense.

My mom remarks, “That is so kind of you!” to which the woman replies, “No, I am not a kind person ordinarily.”

Mom is a little dumbfounded at this revelation. Who tells a complete stranger in a store line-up that they are not a kind person under ordinary circumstances? My mom says to the woman, “Well you were kind today” so as to affirm to the woman that she does indeed see the good in her as an individual, but the woman asserts again the fact of her nature to not be kind. Twice she makes this statement. My mom in the telling adds the detail that, by now, the cashier’s eyes are like tea-cup saucers. She can hardly believe the conversation going down.

As Mom and I talk, I start to remember an article I just read the day before about kindness in marriage. And how kindness is like a muscle we exercise- the more we exercise it, the stronger that muscle becomes. And it confirms in my mind that kindness is indeed the very balm that soothed a thousand wounds. Because who knows what this woman will do now. Now that she has made the choice to act in kindness to a total stranger. Maybe it will be the catalyst for a lifetime of kindness. Maybe it will not. But this I now for sure- even those who say they are incapable of kindness do not give themselves enough credit. We are all capable. It’s just a matter of using that muscle more often and exercising it more deeply.

It’s a matter of working it. And choosing to do so often.
For we all have the potential for kindness. Even the ones who think they don’t. Even the ones whose muscle for kindness is a little neglected and shriveled up. Even for them. They have the goods- they just have to use them.

So don’t we all.

And when we are unkind…it hurts.

I was shopping a few weeks ago with the girls and happened upon a trendy pair of distressed American Eagle jeans and a white Dri-Fit Nike shirt I thought my son would like. I bought them then kept the purchases tucked away until I thought they might be of use.

Last night, Son announced that his jeans were too small and wondered when the wash would be done (because apparently the only ones that FIT, happened to be in there right then. And I am Chief Washer, for some reason). I thought to myself, “Perfect timing. I’ll go get the new ones I bought and save myself a job.”  And in the process, I thought I would surprise him with a little gift.  And so that’s just what I did. I got the items and laid them down on the floor in front of him in our living room, as he packed up his trombone and back-pack for an overnight band trip the following day.

“Here’s a new pair of jeans for you- and a new shirt too,” I said, trying to sound as non-chalant and uneager as is humanly possible for an uncertain mother of a thirteen year-old boy. Not that I am one of those- but IF I WAS, that’s how I’d appear. I waited edgily for the response, knowing that there might not be a welcome reply.  I had a funny feeling about what was coming next.

“I don’t need them” he tells me. “I already have too many clothes.”

“Okay,” I countered. “I’ll give them to one of your cousins then, for their birthday.” I looked down at the jeans- willing him to just accept them. I waited for another moment, still hoping that this threat of giving them away would make him change his mind. They were an especially nice outfit together, if I did say so myself. And really- I had no immediate plans to give those jeans away. I just was looking for him to accept them. But son wouldn’t budge on his decision: he didn’t want the outfit even when Husband came out to see what the rigamarole (i.e. whole conversation we two were having) was all about.

After a moment or two, Husband decided to enter the fray.

“What’s going on? What’s with the jeans?” he asks us both.

“We’re giving them to someone for their birthday,” says my son. Pointedly rejecting my gift to him on not-so-subtle terms. “I already have too many clothes.”

I try to make him change his mind, recounting to myself that my threat to give the clothes away was obviously a fail. When that didn’t work, I tried another method- matching his reasons for why he doesn’t need this new outfit with my own equally compelling reasons for why he does need them. I even capitalized on the too-small-jeans in the wash thing.  Thinking that might work.

Didn’t matter. He wasn’t moving on this one. And he wasn’t taking the jeans.

I later find the clothes on the floor in the same spot I left them, a signifier that my paltry offering would go unaccepted this night.

And I have to say- it hurt a little.

Sometimes we hurt the ones we love the most. That’s why any discussion on kindness and why it matters must be accompanied by discussions on why sometimes we are not kind. Why sometimes we choose to be abrasive. Hurtful. Rude, even.

Sometimes in our best efforts to be kind to most people we encounter, we forget that the one or two we let off the hook are the very ones that it matters most to. For they are the very ones who need it more. And then, when one is unkind- we on the receiving end must also consider: Why? Why has this one or that one been so unfeeling? So uncaring? Trodden so heavily on our emotions and goodwill?

Why must we be mean to one another? What good does it accomplish?

As a teacher, I am fully aware that even as I preach kindness and love and caring, there are moments that I am none of the above. And those moments when I lose sight of the three- kindness, love and caring- those moments are the very ones that the person on the receiving end of my impatience will use to define me. And they will ask the same questions I have asked above.

Why are you so cruel at times?

And the answer is simply: we are human. We all have our moments of weakness. Moments when we slip into the person we’ve tried to grow out of. The person we see as our less-mature self. All it takes is a moment, and we are back where we’ve begun. Unfortunately, a moment of our day can sometimes break us in two. Taking an otherwise pleasant, enjoyable day and turning it upside down. Both for us and for another.

I had one of those moments today. In fact, I often have those moments. But today, I was cranky at someone for a mistake they made. It was a mistake that ‘put me out’, made more work for me because of it. And I was cranky. Annoyed. And I felt my anger and aggravation rise too quickly to the surface. I felt emotions come to my defense too hastily. And in doing so, I wondered later- what was that like for the One on the receiving end of my quick- temper? And how did they view me- ME? Someone who prides herself on being loving and caring- someone who writes about love every chance she gets. How could I let it all unravel in a moment? What did the person think whom I hurt with my quick temper and sharp words?

One can only hope that the person of whom I speak had some genuine compassion for me. I hope and believe that they would. And I also hope and believe that I would do the same as well- for them. Would do the same for them in the moments that I am slighted.   In the moments when I am offended or put off in both small and large ways by the ones I care about. One would only hope that I too could bring myself to quickly forgive and move on. So that the One who has hurt my rather fragile emotions would not have to suffer at the expense of my ego. At the expense of my pride. My sense of my own self and its importance.

We are all in this together.

And there are moments like I described at the beginning of this post in which I am the one who suffers hurt at the hand of Another’s uncaring moment. But there will be many more moments in this life when it will be I inflicting hurt on another. May it always be said of me that I was quick to forgive- as that is what I certainly desire from others.

But I still ask this one question: why do we hurt one another? Why are we unkind? Why must we say and do things that are unloving? Why must we be so often, uncaring?

My son loves me. This I know. And I love him too. This I believe he understands as well. I tell him so every day. But I also know this: I am his comfort zone. And there are times when that line of intimacy allows for less formality, less expectation. As we all know, our guards are often down with those in our immediate family. We don’t try as hard.  And we often don’t worry about the people closest to us quite so much- their emotions and feelings are not as closely considered as much as might be those of someone outside our comfort zone. Our immediate circle of influence often have to take the brunt of our emotions.

It’s something to think about.  And something to work on.  For sure.

And I feel it is also important to be aware of such each and every day. Important that we be aware of why kindness is important- every moment of every day for everyone. And important to be aware of who kindness affects.  Prudent to keep in mind the effects of missing kindness on our psyche. Our self-esteem and well-being.

For kindness matters. It does.

And when kindness is gone, we all know it. We all feel it. And when it is there, while we sometimes take it for granted, we really do appreciate it. The key is to truly appreciate and value it.  Hold it up as a standard to live by. And then to impress on each other why it matters so much.

Because it does.  It really does.