This I believe…

By Caitlin Kelly

I believe that beauty - wherever we find it -- nurtures us deeply
I believe that beauty – wherever we find it — nurtures us deeply

Did you ever hear the NPR radio series of this name?

Here’s a book that collected 80 essays from it.

It’s either (choose one!): pompous, boring, predictable, self-serving, self-promotional, fatally candid to publicly state your principles. Maybe.

Maybe not.

I think action speaks louder than words. (There’s one thing I believe in.)

Having recently been hounded several times on-line, once by a very annoyed reader of this blog who emailed me privately three times to keep making his point — accompanied by personal insults — and within a women’s online group, it might be time to clear things up.

After all, more than 15,600 (!) people are now following this blog, and some may wonder — who is this woman and why should I listen to a thing she says?

Life is short. Use it well
Life is short. Use it well

I believe:

Generosity beats tight-fistedness. Almost every time. Some people will rush to take advantage of your altruism, kindness and goodwill. But if you’re paying attention, you’ll suss them out quick enough.

Generosity is not defined by opening your wallet; some of the wealthiest people, writing enormous checks, are not behaving in a way I’d personally define as generous. You can offer your time, your skills, your wisdom, your advice, your hugs, your careful and undivided attention.

Legendary celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley and I at a recent books festival in Bethesda, Maryland, where we were both speakers. She was so much fun!
Legendary celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley and I at a recent books festival in Bethesda, Maryland, where we were both speakers. She’s the best-selling author!

Success is not a zero-sum game. It sure looks like it, and especially if you live in a society with very limited access to the top rungs of professional or financial accomplishment. Yes, only one author will win the Booker Prize and only a limited few will win Guggenheims and Fulbrights or hit the best-seller list. Helping others achieve their goals, whenever possible, is a decent choice.

Envy will kill you. Stay in your lane. Be(come) the best version of yourself.

Work at it! Those who are truly excellent at their craft have spent years, even decades, perfecting their skills. A blessed few have it all out of the gate. Most of us don’t. Take classes, get coached, find a mentor.

In being strategic about when and how you use your energies. Even the most high-energy among us still need to sleep, rest, exercise, spend time with loved ones, think. If you insist on spreading yourself thin, 24/7, for months, years or decades….what is your strategy? Does everyone love or respect you? Should they?

Like Joan of Arc, you need a vision of your life and your goals
Like Joan of Arc, you need a vision of your life and your goals

Kindness is not to be mistaken for weakness. Some of the toughest and most resilient people I know are also some of the kindest and gentlest.

Persistence beats (lazy, entitled) talent. Every time. One of my favorite indulgences is watching the 14-year-old Lifetime show Project Runway, which chooses 14 fashion designers of varying ages and backgrounds and, each week, dismisses one, finally choosing a winner. In reading the biographies of this season’s designers, I was struck by the fact that one of them had auditioned for every single season and another had auditioned four previous times before being chosen. Giving up is an easy out. Staying in the game, sometimes much longer than you wanted or hoped or can really afford to, can be the way to win it. Eventually.

Keep your promises. Don’t make them if you know you will not honor them. Others are counting on you.

We're not robots. We all need a hand, a hug and some help!
We’re not robots. We all need a hand, a hug and some help!

Intellectual debate is smart and necessary. But do it civilly. I come from a family of finger-pointing, table-pounding arguers. To us, a rousing debate is sport. But for too many people, now it quickly descends into ugly ad hominem attacks substituting for thoughtful comment. Nope. I won’t engage, here or elsewhere.

— We live in a diverse culture and listening to “the other” matters more than ever.

The CBC's logo -- one of the many news sources I follow
The CBC’s logo — one of the many news sources I follow

Women’s bodies are ours, and ours alone. Yes, I believe we have the absolute right to decide if, when and how often we will agree to (or abstain from) sexual activity. We deserve legally-protected access to reproductive care and information. We deserve to be safe on the streets and in public spaces.

Women’s value to the world lies not only, exclusively — ever — in the shape and size of our bodies, but in the width, depth and breadth of our generosity, intelligence and commitment to action.

Being informed is a basic civic duty. It’s naive and disingenuous to say “the news is toooooo depressing!” There are hundreds of news sources, and if you find one (or dozens) of them disappointing, keep looking. Read, watch and listen to a range of opinions and reporting, including some from beyond your political perspective and national/domestic agenda.

Beauty is everywhere -- like this Paris cafe
Beauty is everywhere — like this Paris cafe

Beauty nurtures our souls and spirits. We neglect this at our peril. It might be nature or a painting or your baby’s smile. Savor it daily.

— Silence heals. In a noisy, crowded, distracted world, sitting in silence is essential.

Elegance, in dress, demeanor, grooming and in your home, is a gift to yourself and to others. Style and wit are timeless and can offer great pleasure: a delicious meal beautifully served, a well-cut suit, a silk pocket square, a terrific haircut. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money, nor snobby brand-name-warfare, but it does require some time and attention.

— Friendship is one of life’s greatest blessings.

A Babar hot water bottle cover!
A Babar hot water bottle cover!

Make time to play! Being an adult is hard work: paying bills, raising children, pleasing a demanding boss, colleagues, clients. Be sure to include playtime in your life as well.

Underpromise and overdeliver. Too many people get that backwards.

Fresh flowers -- a must!
Fresh flowers — a must!

Send flowers. Yes, it’s expensive. Do it anyway.

Write letters. On paper. By hand. Use a stamp. That sort of personal care and style is rare now, ever more appreciated.

The Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015. Faith in action -- that collective community response still matters
The Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015. Faith in action — that collective community response still matters

Showing up matters: at weddings, christenings/brises, bar/bat mitzvahs, graduations, funerals, memorials. The bedsides of the ill and dying. Do not make excuses. Do not abandon people at their hour of greatest need.

Compassion is our greatest source of power. Not corporate or political or religious titles. Not financial wealth. Not piles of stuff and six houses proving how “successful” you are. Without compassion and empathy for those hurting, doing what you can you help, your “riches” look ragged to me.

We’re all hurting in some way. But don’t sit in it forever! Get help. Don’t spend your life wallowing, let alone brutalizing others with your unrecognized and unhealed traumas. Own them and, if at all possible, move forward. Take responsibility for yourself and relieve others of the unwanted burden of rescuing you repeatedly.

Pleasure matters! A cup of tea at the Ritz in London
Pleasure matters! A cup of tea at the Ritz in London

Being blunt/candid/direct is not per se ugly, declasse or shocking when you realize that women’s voices and opinions matter every bit as much as men’s. Punishing women who speak their mind is a nasty and popular habit.

What are some of your principles?

Do any of these resonate with you as well?

32 thoughts on “This I believe…

  1. Edmund! And he’s in the final 4 or 5 now (I’ve lost track)! I love me some Project Runway. I especially appreciate that that show and Top Chef stay away from the backstabbing, snarky casting/production. There’s always an errant few. Can’t be helped, given the creative temperaments and the pressure cooker they’re in, but mostly they avoid it.
    This is a lovely post; a lovely way to greet the weekend, and a spot-on reminder to be joyful, graceful and grateful at all times. Thanks.

  2. I agree with a lot of these principles, especially the ones about working hard and generosity.
    Some principles I like to go by is: “God delivers only to those who work as well as pray”, and “There is always room to improve.”

    1. It’s too long a list to put it all down in detail…it includes CBC, BBC, Nouvel Obs, Le Monde, Liberation, El Pais in English, CNN in English and Spanish; TV and radio stations and networks…Plus (not news, per se) probably 20+ magazines a month.

  3. This bit is my favortie: In being strategic about when and how you use your energies. Even the most high-energy among us still need to sleep, rest, exercise, spend time with loved ones, think. If you insist on spreading yourself thin, 24/7, for months, years or decades….what is your strategy? Does everyone love or respect you? Should they? A great reminder. There is no reward for the thinnest at the end of the game:).

  4. I particularly liked your point “Being informed is a basic civic duty.” I think it’s sheer laziness to NOT be informed of world events, politics, etc. There’s no excuse! Thanks to the internet, you have the world and information at your fingertips. I also think that North Americans should, as well as reading their own press, read the foreign press, like The Guardian and The Economist, for example. The logo on The Financial Times of Britain is ALWAYS LEARNING. That’s my motto too.

  5. i enjoy that npr feature and read the book as well. our entire faculty read it and each wrote our own piece on what we believe. it was a very telling exercise and when some people chose to share theirs, and it really gave me a deeper insight into those who i work with each day, yet never knew on a deeper level. i agree with many of your guiding principles and i’d say a few of mine are: always be true to your word, kindness and compassion are everything, move slowly and with thoughtfulness, and, go.

    1. What an interesting thing your school did! I think people are often much more interesting and multi-faceted than we see most of the time. It takes years sometimes to see who someone really “is”.

  6. These all resonate with me, well done! I’d add, all we really own is what is in our heart. And, nobody cares if we owned 6 houses when we died if we made everyone around us miserable while we were alive.

  7. Were you hounded by an annoyed reader?! Good lord. I hope that’s over with.

    I keep coming back to your blog exactly because of what you believe. I think your beliefs advocate a stronger sense of self, the kind of grounding which many of us lack, in being able to develop further as humans. Bravo!

  8. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail

  9. This is a wonderful list, Caitlin. Not just for the content—which is fabulous, and resonates all over the place with me, and, I’m sure, with many, many more—but for the idea of setting down your principles. To live a life of integrity, we need to have our values and our beliefs clear, and it seems to me the making of this list is a great way to do just that. Thank you for sharing.
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter

  10. I agree (and follow) the principles you list. The last one (about being candid even if it’s ugly) is quite difficult for me. I know it’s important, but I always try to find a nice way to speak the truth as I see it. I’ve been the recipient of brutal honesty and knew the sting. I think I would have gotten the same message if the delivery hadn’t been quite so, um, unvarnished.

    As for other guiding principles, I treat everyone (and everything) as I wish to be treated. Learning is a lifetime proposition, and everyone/everything is a potential teacher. Don’t expend your energy fighting with whatever you can’t control, and you can only control how you feel about whatever is happening to you.

    Nuff said!

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