Validating your customer

I was taught early in my career – and my evolution as a person – that to think something nice about a person and to not share this with them is usually a wasted opportunity. Not always – there are certain considerations that will say “Leave it out” and I always honor that voice in the workplace, even if I don’t know why it is speaking to me.

More recently I have been influenced by a customer service video called Validation – the Parking Attendant, a charming fantasy in which people bring their parking tickets to a guy in a little kiosk who, along with validating their parking ticket, validates them.  One after the next after the next, in such minimal encounters that he has no chance to pick on something “meaningful” about them. (Watch the first five minutes, even if you don’t do customer service for a living!  It’s about how to be a better person.  You may get hooked and watch the whole 16 minutes, which is well worth it.)

When I stand in front of a customer, I much of the time am asking myself “What shall I affirm about this person?”  If they are buying a lot of groceries and we get some chance to talk with each other – and especially if there is no long line with its pressure to push people through – there is more chance to come up with something meaty.  I especially love to affirm:

  • Their kids and/or their parenting.
    • “What smart (or interesting) kids!”
    • “What a wonderful parent you are!  I so much admired the patient way you handled your little one’s meltdown.”3ba7ce57f083e1cbccb3ed5c60ca1966--children-painting-mother-and-child-painting
    • This mother had a maybe six-year old who was being very restless and she was obviously very irritated with him.  I just followed my intuition when I said
      • “This little one is very special, very smart, very thoughtful.”
      • “Yeah, well right now he is being very disobedient and I’ve had about enough of it.”
      • (Totally surrendering to Spirit here, as I described something on her part I had not really seen), “I’m sure he can be very difficult at times, but you are doing some really great things with him.”
      • This stopped her in her tracks, her eyes got really big and she asked “You think so?” There were tears in her eyes.
      • “Yes, I’m sure of it.” I didn’t know why I said it, but I trusted it.

I also really like to validate people’s sense of humor – it is more and more clear to me how linked this is to their intelligence, and I think on some level they know that I am also telling them they are smart.  I especially love doing this with couples: when I tell them they are funny together, it’s like I am telling them they are good together.  In our brief encounter together, I may actually have been the one to first begin the merriment – and they then joined in – but there’s no need to focus on me.

What shall I affirm about this person?  Maybe they’re being funny!

Why include this topic of affirming the customer in this blog, rather than just the grocery store blog, where it is obviously relevant?

  • Because this blog is about making the world a more peaceful place.
  • Because it is about relating to each other non-violently.
  • Because it is about love – especially about learning to be a more loving person.

Is this project “political”?

In my last two pathetically depressed weeks, I made no attempts to promote this project and blog.  Friday, with my spirits finally floating back to the surface, I started to talk about all this – at the right time, with the right person…maybe 6-7 people in an 8-hour shift.  Some of them already knew the grocery store blog I had been writing, on and off, for two years.  I tried to contrast the two blogs.  A couple of times I put the two business cards in front of them.  “This is the blog you know – ‘Real Life in the Checkout Line‘.  It’s about the interactions I have here with you all.  This new blog ‘Releasing the Force’ is more political.”dont-give-up-amanda

This characterization of the two blogs felt wrong.  Some of my new blog posts clearly come out of my experiences in the grocery store.  Is it fair to say that my new blog posts are “political”?  They don’t all deal with politics – maybe most of them don’t. Some of them are very personal.  Out of fumbling over all this with a few people came some more clarity.

Some of this new clarity came from turning over my “Releasing the Force: Activism with Heart” card to show the tagline – “Making our country a better place by doing that which is meant to be done by me.”  I started saying things to these select customers (somehow they felt like a good person with whom to be talking about all this) like, “It’s not about what you think you should be doing – or what anybody else, including me, is trying to get you to do.  You – what’s coming out of you? If you were to do one new thing – and maybe the genuine answer to that is no, that you don’t need one more thing on your plate – what might it be?  What would fit in your life, with your skills and interests, with your family situation?  What if you had more support – maybe from a group of people, maybe from one confidante, maybe from this blog?”

The last guy of the afternoon with whom I had this conversation – not with all the words above, but some shorter approximation – was a very engaging 35ish guy.  When I parted with him with my classic Friday question “What are you looking forward to this weekend?” he didn’t hesitate with his answer.  “No question – making Valentines with my four-year old daughter.  She’s been all about this for two weeks now.  We have all her art supplies out in one area.  She’s amazing.”valentines-day-comment-009

I gave a genuinely delighted laugh and wished him well. Then, before he had taken two more steps, I got it and called out to him: “That’s it! That’s your contribution!  That’s what you’re meant to do this weekend to make the world a more peaceful place!  You making Valentines with your daughter is growing her up to be a more loving person – and it’s bringing out peaceful, benevolent, loving feelings in you.  And in some mysterious but real way it’s radiating peace in all directions.”  OK, I didn’t have the presence of mind to say all this yesterday, but I do believe it.

What’s your light saber?  How are you meant to make our country a better place?  It could be a little thing, mundane, unexpected. Give yourself time for this to come.  Let yourself be surprised by the answer to that question.

Making the world a sweeter place.

McKenzie got off to a rough start in my grocery store checkout line. She had come in as the third person in my line, but when she got in front of me she realized she was missing a couple of items.  She sheepishly apologized as she gathered up her groceries in her very-full arms.  When I said “Hey, leave them with me – I’ll take care of them for you until you get back”, she was obviously touched and said, “Oh, you’re so nice.”

girl in grocery line
Have you ever gotten to the cashier and realized you forgot something?

Grocery store lines run in waves.  By the time McKenzie returned with her two new items, all our lines – even with the store manager out running a cash register – had reached their peak of the day.  McKenzie dutifully took her spot at the end of my line – she was #6.  Her sweetness had made an impression on me and I had been watching for her.  When I finished with the guy in front of me, I loudly called out, “Where’s the girl who already came through the line?  Right, you – you don’t have to wait again.  Folks, she’s already been through the line once. She forgot some things and had to go back.”

McKenzie was, I think, pleased and honored and embarrassed.  I think that, even in her  embarrassment, she got it that nobody seemed at all miffed by her skipping to the head of the line.  I think she just radiated niceness and they liked playing a part in being nice to her.  While we finished her transaction, McKenzie in several ways said how happy this had made her – that it made her day.  The lingering smile we shared at the end of her transaction also made my day.

I’m somewhat over my aversion to the word “nice”.  This word and concept can be a trap – something that keeps you from being assertive.  Women especially are oppressed by the expectation to be nice.  All this can be especially smothering in the South, where I now live (though Asheville is a little cultural bubble of its own energy).  I grew up being way too nice.  In the little college where I taught for two years, I was voted the most popular prof in the school the same year that the student newspaper aimed a very trenchant spoof on me in their April Fool’s Onion-style issue.  It had me at the dinner table, being asked to pass the mashed potatoes.  I erupt with, “Fuck you – just fuck you.  I’m sick of being Mr. Nice Guy.”  They were on to me – there was something too much in it.

no more mr. nice guy2
This image is so good that I’m willing to give Bob Glover, whoever he is, a free ad :).

I have changed tremendously – through a lot of therapy and personal growth, many risks taken, some feelings hurt and lots of people surprised when they got to see my not-nice side.  I was not terribly skilled with it when I started and occasionally was excessive, but I’ve gotten pretty skilled over the years.  There was a period when I really resisted the “nice” word: “If you brought in a panel of people who really know me well, they would not call me nice.  They have seen me being other ways than nice.”

These days I am less triggered by “nice”, but I prefer a couple of other words.  Some people think the word “sweet” is as oppressive as “nice”, but I had a spiritual teacher – Sri Chinmoy – who really gave “sweet” a lovely meaning for me.

Sri Chinmoy had a killer smile.

To him, being sweet was very spiritual – radiating a lovely spiritual essence.  When he had met my genuinely very lovely two-year old boy in my arms after a large public meditation, afterwards he said to the meditation students around him, “Did you see that baby?  So sweet – so sweet.” So when I think or say that someone is sweet, I’m saying something really nice :).

About ten years ago, Frank Marshall gave me one of the best compliments I have ever received – something that has totally stuck with me.  He already knew me – but not intimately – from church.  After I had facilitated a three-hour Saturday morning workshop, he said to me “You are the kindest man I’ve ever met.”  It was easy for me to think of examples where I had not been kind, but it still got under my skin.  There’s no question that this was also projection on Frank’s part, because he is an exceptionally kind man.  When yesterday Frank was breezing through the grocery store and yelled “Hi” to me, I yelled “You have got the greatest smile”, and he, inevitably – but honestly, I really do believe – yelled back “You too.”

So Frank and McKenzie go through the world making it a kinder, sweeter, nicer, more peaceful place.  People around them have their own sweetness pulled to the surface. And, if you catch me at a good moment, I guess I can be nice too.


MIA for two weeks

I have bipolar disorder.  Much of the time, that will not be relevant to this blog – but sometimes it will be relevant.  My grocery store blog, Real Life in the Checkout Line

Real Life in the Checkout Line – my work as a grocery store cashier.

– which has been active until the creation of this blog – sometimes referred to this condition.  My bipolar blog, Bipolar Integrity, 

Bipolar Integrity dealt with the intense ups and downs – the clash of dark and light – that makes up so much of my life.

focused on this disorder very intensively. I don’t have a wish to get into this stuff in this blog except where to leave it out damages the story.  It seems like a necessary dimension to this particular story.

I have been MIA from this blog for the last two weeks.  After two weeks depressed through the holidays (often a hard time of year to lots of people who deal with depression, including me), I surfaced on New Year’s Eve day (when a lovely young woman flirted with me at church).  Then on January 2, this project got birthed (have I told that story here?  gotta check.)  For the next 25 days (way longer than I usually am up), I was absolutely on fire for this blog.  I can’t remember the last time I cranked out so much creativity in one concerted stretch – stuff that (so far, at least) has held up over time, that really seems to be grounded.

On Saturday night the 27th, I came out of a meeting at my friend Joanie’s house around 9 p.m.  It’s a dark neighborhood

dark neighborhood
Joanie’s very old Montford neighborhood is darker than this at night.

and I have only a couple of time previously been at her house.  I missed a large curb between her house and the street and took a bad fall, which I broke with my forehead.  I got two big scrapes, some blood and a big bump.  To this somewhat-male-conditioned man’s credit, I laid in the quiet street for some moments to assess what was going on, then didn’t immediately get in the car and drive home (which at some points in my life I definitely would have done), but went back in the house – where people looked up to see why I had returned – and said, “I took a fall. I’m injured, I don’t know how bad.”  My friends nurtured me physically and emotionally, including Joanie walking me around the block before I tried to drive. Caroline had offered to drive me home, which I couldn’t accept – 20 minutes, too far :). But I knew I still wasn’t ready to drive.  I suggested that I would walk around the block, and when Joanie offered to do this with me I jumped at the idea.

The next morning I upchucked a lot – which I never do – and I think I had a concussion, though this thought did not occur to me then and I never sought medical attention.  Whatever, all this trauma sure did break my positive momentum – even though the meeting the night before had been a huge shot in the arm.  And then I stayed emotionally down until the last couple of days.  (I’m surfacing much more gradually than usual, which seems positive to me.)  And I didn’t write.

Not only did I not write, but I felt totally disconnected from all the ferment of creativity and productivity of the previous three weeks.  None of it made any sense or seemed of any value.  (A non-depressed friend told me a couple of days ago that she went through almost identical symptoms after a concussion.) Whereas for those three weeks I felt like I truly had discovered how, in this moment at least, I was meant to respond to the chaos and carnage going on in our country, now I felt like I had – maybe permanently, that’s how it looks in this state – lost that thread.  Even what I had produced in those three weeks seemed of dubious value. I kept reading the New York Times and Washington Post online, kept taking in these daily doses of presidential lying, Congressional pandering to the presidential lying, sexual harassment and spousal abuse, discrimination towards minorities and more that are around us all the time – and had no effective response.  I was rolled over by it.

That’s what it’s like to be a conscious person in this country who does not know how to respond to all this – who doesn’t have an outlet, doesn’t have a support group for dealing with this, doesn’t have some direction for making a difference.

This is why I am writing this blog, offering the conversation series on “Activism with Heart“, offering “Activism Coaching“.  This is why I’m giving out my spiffy new little business card and having little conversations with my grocery store checkout customers at work – today at least.  For the last two weeks, those cards sat in their little box on my dresser.

This is why I say to you, my reader, “Let’s work on this together.  Together we can find ways to make a difference.  You will find your way, I will continue to find mine.  I think this blog can help.  For you to make comments after the posts may help.  Journaling about all this may help – or talking to your family or friends.  Or any of the ideas on the For Starters page here.  But let’s keep going – together, not alone. We can do this.”





Lord make me an instrument

In the last week or so, I have received three compliments that have knocked my socks off.  Two of them were very touching and one kind of hilarious – but  so synchronistic that it also really got my attention.

On the Martin Luther King march on January 15, my friend Joelle introduced me to a young woman friend of hers who she thought I must know but who I didn’t recognize.  The new woman said, “I know you from your poetry at Jubilee.  I’m the one who nominated you as one of the heroes of Asheville.”  It came back to me: I had received an email about this, wanting some kind of input from me, that totally slid under the radar until after the deadline.  I remember being touched by the thought, sad that I had missed it – and confused about what it could possibly mean.  Why would someone I didn’t know hold me this way.  My poetry can be insightful, self-disclosing, sometimes very funny – but hero?  What in all that would add up to hero?

After church at Jubilee this last Sunday, I was handing out information about my Activism with Heart coaching.  One 40ish guy – good looking, with a big black beard and a fresh, funny, friendly way about him – took my handout with a lot of enthusiasm.  He gave me a couple of affirmations that I get frequently enough that I unfortunately don’t pay attention to them and don’t remember what they were.  Then he said one that was so fresh that it stopped me in my tracks.  “You’re the voice.”  Now what does that mean?  I wish I had had the presence of mind to ask, but he was all the time moving past me  – just outside of church – and towards his car, and he was basically gone.  The best I can figure is that he meant “You are the voice for me….You are saying things that I would want to say or that I feel or believe.”

The third affirmation, just a little earlier that morning, was silly but also stopped me in my tracks.  I had that morning pulled out of my sock drawer the Superman socks that my friend Kate had sent me for Christmas.  That she really does in some ways regard me as a kind of Superman – or at least a super man – really means a lot to me, even as we tease about it, and these socks were a kind of extension of that teasing. This morning, on my way to make a presentation on Releasing the Force at Jubilee, I wanted the extra oomph I might get from wearing Superman socks.

As far as I can remember, never in my life has anyone but Kate called me Superman.  When I arrived at church, the first person who greeted me was my good friend Timbo, who piped up “Superman!”  I was totally floored.  My pants weren’t so short that Tim could see my socks.  I don”t think that he is actually Superman, with x-ray vision.  As far as I know, he’s never seen me do anything that would position me as any kind of Superman.  When I showed him my socks, he was totally knocked out too.  “I don’t know why I said that – it just popped out.”

So what does all this mean? Am I a hero?  The Voice? Superman?

I think that, at my best, I surrender to the Force, to the Voice of God within me, to Life.  I don’t actually even do the surrendering – it wells up from some deep place that sometimes I somehow connect with. I am being well-used.  I am an instrument.

And never more than now.  I am on to something in this Releasing the Force work.  It has been given to me.  Unbidden, it came to me.  And it has given me tremendous energy, motivation and enthusiasm.  In the throes of birthing this work, I am plugged into Source and am way bigger than the usual Majo is.

None of it is about me.  I am absolutely not up to this task, yet for some reason I have been chosen to do it.  I’m attempting to get out of the way so it can pour through me.  I am doing that which is mine to do.St. Francis

St. Francis – if indeed he wrote this – said it better than anything I have said above.  And whoever created the music – which my 8th grade class sang at our graduation from a Catholic elementary school and which touched me even then – was also plugged into something bigger than themselves.

And the Superman business was life teasing me about the whole thing, in much the same way as Kate does.  Neither of them wants me to take myself too seriously.


Lord Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace


Creation Spirituality Conference at Jubilee 4/26-29


Join Creation Spirituality Communities for a weekend of inspiration, growth, and celebration of  our sacred work on our sacred earth. Whether you are an activist, a poet, a practitioner, a mystic, or a scientist….. If you are seeking to connect your purpose and pursuits to the spirituality of creation, this gathering is for you.


April 28:  Dr. Mathew Fox
April 27: Dr. Marcia McFee

April 26: Abraham Jam  A Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian walk into a concert hall…a trio of internationally-renowned musicians who have teamed up to create art strengthened by diversity. 

A total immersion celebration to connect your heart, mind, and spirit with your sacred work.

A host of offerings led by community leaders and practitioners to inspire and inform your daily connection to the sacredness of creation. 

A gallery of creative works exploring our sacred tasks through the arts.

A variety of activities to involve your whole self –  through body prayer, 
interactive presentations, conversation, the arts, ritual,  workshops, and much more.


Early registration discount until February 4.

Creation Spirituality is all about love of the earth and the body – the Original Blessing of Matt Fox. Last time the Cosmic Mass was a blast. I’m offering a workshop on “Customer Service as Sacred Work”.  Should be a great conference with cool, interesting attendees.

Releasing the Force story at Jubilee 1/21

Last Sunday  I used one of the four-minute gift slots at the two Jubilee services to tell the evolving story of Releasing the Force: Activism with Heart.  People responded really well to the talk and took lots of fliers for Activism with Heart coaching (the flier is identical with the Coaching page above).

Here’s the video. (For some reason, for me, the video started with the volume off.  If that happens for you, you will need to go to the bottom right of the picture and click on the volume icon.)