Dangerous Tea Party — Positive, Intuitive, Creative Musings from Brilliant Minds

Though there's a bit of a pejorative nature to the term, I am, at heart, an information junkie. One of my biggest assets, however, is my ability to extrapolate and integrate information from the myriad sources that serve as my teachers, and in turn, teach others. As it is in the collective, rather than in isolation, that we grow, I invite others to communicate their ideas and experiences here, as well, so we can each grow and improve our thoughts – and beings.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Funny...the things you learn in Toastmasters

You've heard it said before many people are more afraid of public speaking than of dying. Toastmasters is a well-known antidote for the fear of public speaking. Even so, it has sort of an odd reputation...a bunch of geeky guys and gals who are hypercritical, just waiting to pounce on your every mistake. OK, the truth is, there are a LOT of clubs like that out there.

The Scottsdale club I belong to happens to be different. A LOT different.

For one thing, we laugh more than any single group of people I've ever known. No matter how bad a day I'm having before I get there, once there, it's a sure thing I'll lighten up, loosen up, laugh my ass off, and come out feeling a lot better.

The second thing is that we're inclusive. Even though many strong friendships have been forged within the club, new people are always welcome and embraced right into the fold.

But even bigger than either of those great aspects are the amazing things we teach each other. One member is a spiritual teacher who has taught us all a great deal about the effect of our beliefs on our personal growth. Another is a financial advisor who manages to make that traditionally dry topic interesting. Another member is an Australian-born business coach who recently shared her story about her process of becoming an American citizen.

One of the most profound speeches we heard recently, though, was from a mortgage broker who broke mold to talk about something very different...plastic bags. Now, I've known they're prolific and dangerous to the environment for quite some time...but I had NO idea! Whoa, Nellie!!

Here are just a few plastic bag facts...
  • Well over a billion single-use plastic bags are given out for free each day, worldwide.

  • The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both non-renewable resources that increase our dependency on foreign suppliers.

  • The toxic chemical ingredients needed to make plastic produces pollution during the manufacturing process.

  • The energy needed to manufacture and transport disposable bags eats up more resources and creates global warming emissions.

  • Annual cost to US retailers alone for the production of these bags is estimated at $4 billion.

  • Thousands of sea turtles die every year from eating discarded plastic bags they mistake for jellyfish, their primary food source. Once swallowed, plastic bags choke the animals or block their intestines, leading to an agonizing death.

  • On land, many cows, goats and other animals suffer a similar fate to marine life when they accidentally ingest plastic bags while foraging for food.

  • Plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade as they sit in landfills. As litter, they breakdown into tiny bits, contaminating our soil and water.
The good news is that we can make a difference!!!

For one thing, if you buy just one or two items, skip the bag!

Reduce the number of bags you use for your produce. Do those bananas and single kiwi really need their own bags? Yeah...I didn't think so.

Many stores are starting to carry reusable canvas, mesh, or plastic bags. They cost anywhere from 50 cents to $1.49. Buy a few, and start using them! By replacing the plastic bags with reusable bags, we can each reduce our consumption an average of 6 bags per week. That's an average of 24 bags a month, 288 bags a year, and 22,176 bags in a lifetime!

Of course, there's always the issue of remembering to take the reusable bags with you. Two quick ways to remember:
  1. Put them in the front seat of your car as soon as you put your groceries away.

  2. Write "reusable bags" at the top of your grocery list.
You can also encourage your grocer to follow the lead of Karns Quality Foods [Pennsylvania] and put a little more in each bag, where possible.

Or we can get REALLY involved and exhort our cities to follow the lead of San Francisco and LA in banning plastic bags.

Of course, as with any issue, there are always dissenters.

So...what will your next steps be? If one in five people in the U.S. gave up their plastic bags, we'd reduce our usage by more than a TRILLION bags in our lifetime. You can do it...even one less bag per week will help.

Oh and if you're one of those folks who has a tough time speaking in front of people, check out your local Toastmasters club. Who knows...it might be good for your health and good for the environment!

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Say it isn't so!

I just received an e-mail from a business acquaintance titled, "Here she is!!!"

The she in question? The brand spanking-new USS New York, the battleship built from scrap metal from the destroyed World Trade Center.

I have a knot in the pit of my stomach. What the hell is wrong with us??? Is this how we show the world we're not afraid of terrorists build another battleship with which to conquer? Our precious people and buildings were destroyed, so from their scraps we've built another tool with which to destroy others?? Is it just me, or is there something seriously flawed about this kind of thinking?

As I looked at the pictures, my first thoughts (hopes?) were that it was one of those hoax e-mails that goes around, like the ones about the 21-foot-long crocodile swimming around the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Turns out, though, that it's true, as per both Snopes and About.com's Urban Legends.

Here's the text from the e-mail:
USS New York

It was built with 24 tons of scrap steel from the World Trade Center.

It is the fifth in a new class of warship - designed for missions that include special operations against terrorists. It will carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 combat-ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft.

Steel from the World Trade Center was melted down in a foundry in Amite, LA to cast the ship's bow section. When it was poured into the molds on Sept 9, 2003, "those bi
g rough steelworkers treated it with total reverence," recalled Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing, who was there. "It was a spiritual moment for everybody there."

Junior Chavers, foundry operations manager, said that when the trade center steel first arrived, he touched it with his hand and the "hair on my neck stood up. It had a big meaning to it for all of us," he said. "They knocked us down. They can't keep us down. We're going to be back."

The ship's motto? "Never Forget"

Please keep this going so everyone can see what we are made of in this country!
What we're made of??!!

This is not a victory it's an embarrassment.

I don't get it. How can we ever hope to claim the moral high ground if this is what we do in the aftermath of such heinous events as occurred on 9/11/2001? Yes, we're human and as such, we are a warring people. Violence is pretty much a foregone conclusion at some time and place on the globe. Its nature need not be indiscriminate, though. And it should always be the last solution, not the first.

As Chris Meredith states in his article about the only evolutionary stable strategy when it comes to game theory, tit for tat:

Long before humans started playing games, natural selection discovered the fundamentals of game theory and shaped animal societies according to its rules. Within species, individuals adopt alternative competing strategies with frequencies that reflect the success of each strategy. Evolutionary Stable Strategies occur when alternative competing strategies are at equilibrium. ... However, co-operation within and between species has generated only one Evolutionary Stable Strategy, TIT FOR TAT.

The importance of TIT FOR TAT to the evolution of co-operative behaviour was discovered in a very unusual way, through a worldwide computer competition to find the winning strategy for the well known paradox 'The Prisoner's Dilemma'. In 1981 TIT FOR TAT won that competition, and ever since then it has grown in stature to where it now dominates our thinking about the evolution of co-operative behaviour in animal and human societies.
The United States seems intent on skipping this lesson.

I've never been a pessimist, always finding the bright side of an issue or circumstance. But I am also a realist. We cannot celebrate this repurposing of the buildings that housed our center of commerce as war tools and expect to win anything. You've likely heard the old analogy: It's like taking a hammer to the fire alarm instead of putting out the fire. Or this one: When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Albert Einstein had it right when he said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Are you willing to at least consider thinking differently about this new battleship called the USS New York? And then will you tell someone?

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Indecisive or deliberate...that is the question

“The only people who don’t change their minds are either incompetent or dead.” Everett Dirksin

I just read this quote on my Weirdquotes widget on my Google homepage. Of course, the first thing I thought of was the current Presidential contest.

No doubt, both candidates have had their share of changes of mind. I think the question that's not getting asked in all this talk of "flip-flopping" is WHY the candidate is altering his position. There's a distinct difference between going out, researching, seeking new information, and coming to a new position on an important issue, and simply revising one's position out of political expediency, or what can really only correctly be called pandering.

I'll make no bones here. Barack Obama is my candidate. That doesn't mean I like or agree with everything he says or does. Nor would I expect to. He's not me - so there's little to no chance that he and I will see eye to eye on every issue. Taken all the issues, though, and there's no question that he gets my vote.

His recent restatement of his position on offshore drilling is one topic, though, that has me scratching my head. Because he is a consummate politician, he deftly worded his reconsideration of offshore drilling, couching it as one in a litany of considerations that must be taken into account with regard to any comprehensive energy plan.

The thing so few people seem to be talking enough about, though, the Obama campaign included, is the fact that according to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Mineral Management Service, nearly 68 million acres of federal lands (onshore and off) are part of non-producing oil leases as of fiscal year 2007. This is in contrast to 25.7 million acres of leased lands that are currently producing oil. This means we already have 68 million domestic acres of leased land on which companies aren't extracting oil where they could be.

Obama has mentioned this - if not as precisely as some would like, and certainly not often enough. But if he understands the fundamental premise that "Drill Here; Drill Now!" is not a solution, that we cannot possibly drill our way out of this situation, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

People keep describing Obama as arrogant. My answer to that is that any human being who would believe him or herself fit to take on this job had better be damned arrogant - or they will be eaten alive. There's a difference, though, between arrogance and hubris. We've had nearly 8 years of hubris. I'm willing to put my vote and energy behind the new guy, even as he changes positions from time to time. A change of a position done with sincerity, introspection, and deliberation can only be the sign of a competent leader, and we have never been more in need of one of those than we are at this moment in time.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Talking Through Our Money Worries

As an entrepreneur/small business owner, is the economy starting to concern you?

That was the subject line of a recent e-mail I sent to many members of my list. As an entrepreneur, I realize I'm in a luxury business. And while I truly live a blessed life and am quite reliably a Law of Attraction advocate, it's hard to ignore the sting of $4/gallon fuel. And even as I believe the media is squarely responsible for much of the hype and fear-mongering surrounding our current economic climate, I also know the reality is that things are changing.

To that end, I thought it might be a good idea to get people together for a conversation around their feelings about the economy. Because here's what I know: what we resist persists. This means that even if we’re making a noble effort to resist our fears or concerns, we may actually be exacerbating them. So my goal was to bring together people for a chance to discuss our fears or concerns in a safe, non-threatening environment of like-minded, prosperity-conscious people, with a goal of releasing them entirely.

I invited two friends,
financial coach Todd Smith and spiritual teacher Sunil Ahuja, to join me, a self-proclaimed iconoclast, in hosting an honest, open conversation about that thing we’ve probably been hesitant to admit out loud: our fears, worries, or concerns about the current financial climate. As I envisioned, it turned out to be part roundtable discussion, part group therapy session, and part prosperity groupthink.

We talked about gratitude as a way to shift and release the anxiety. One gal mentioned that she'd always thought this conversation affected "other people" - but now it's starting to affect the decisions she and her family are making, with regard to vacations and other spending habits. Another has a real concern about the viability of her business.
"The Universe showers me
with abundance."
So did we arrive at any solutions or conclusions? Not really. But we did discuss the need to feel through the fear, as opposed to pretending the fear simply doesn't exist. We talked about meditation as a possible release. And we all set some pretty powerful intentions...affirmations and success statements to have on hand, ready to counter the negative thoughts when they do, inevitably, flood in.

We're thinking we will continue our meetings and discussions...perhaps moving on to other topics, as the conversations unfold.

I've invited all the participants to post here...so you may be seeing writings from many others than myself, going forward.

Whatever happens, if you've got comments on ways to stay positive in spite of the current financial climate, we'd love to hear them!

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spiritual Training Wheels: On Oprah, Tolle, and Beliefs

I have recently been immersed in personal growth work with a spiritual teacher I met, of all places, in my Toastmasters club.

Last night, one of the gals from the club hosted a dinner party, with several of the members as guests. At one point, I mentioned that I had been taking these courses with this man from our club. One of the guests, a fellow member, said he’d been curious about the courses this man is offering, but was concerned about whether the nature of this self-growth work would conflict with his religious beliefs, as he was “very Christian.” I read “very” as fundamentalist. I perhaps fibbed just a little to say there was no conflict . . . the truth is, the goal of the work is to explore the beliefs that hold us hostage and prevent us from being all that our souls are meant to be. I went on to explain that this teacher holds no judgments about anyone’s religion, but that the work does necessarily cause its participants to explore the beliefs held by their families of origin, including religious beliefs, because certain limiting beliefs can and do come out of the teachings of many mainstream and organized religions . . . for example beliefs about gender roles and rightness and wrongness as absolutes. In the end, I recommended that he have a direct conversation with the teacher about his concerns.

The interesting thing to me was the nature of the question in the first place. I hear under it the expression that he is wanting more . . . but only as long as he doesn't have to give up those beliefs he’s been working so hard to cling to. (Cling to...hmmm...shades of Barack Obama? Not intentionally.) What occurs to me, though, is what a challenge that must be for so many people . . . this longing and wondering if there might be more, something deeper, a bigger understanding of ourselves and our purpose within the cosmos . . . which cannot help but bang into the shallow and/or fixed understanding that so many organized religions perpetuate as the answers to these seemingly unanswerable questions. This man also expressed that he'd had a somewhat negative reaction to The Secret and some of the other “new thought” messages that have been permeating our culture of late, but he wasn't really able to articulate the specifics of his opposition to their message.

Additionally, he mentioned a significant recent cultural conversation I had somehow managed to miss. It seems Oprah Winfrey has been reading Eckhart Tolle’s new book as part of her book club – and her enthusiastic embracing of Tolle’s message and beliefs are causing an intense furor among the middle-America Christian women who, apparently, have been the core of her fan base for all these years. This is GREAT news for me – because I’ve long believed that Oprah has had this enormous platform and wasn’t really doing much of anything with it. Well, I now stand corrected.

There’s a video running around YouTube right now (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW4LLwkgmqA) that has received 5.5 MILLION hits since it was posted 3 weeks ago – that is opposing (denigrating?) Oprah’s (and Tolle’s) beliefs and is whipping up the conservative religious folks into such a furor that they are ready for revolt. I think I might find the whole thing humorous . . . if they weren’t so blindly committed to their beliefs and completely unable to understand Oprah's comments at the level she means them. I don’t think she went so far as to call these believers “small-minded or short-sighted,” but she’s asking them to explore the limitations of Christianity as it’s been handed down to all of us who grew up in organized religions. What it comes down to is that these people are scared – scared to their cores that if she’s wrong about this, she might have been wrong about a lot of other things she has said and they believed because she said them . . . and simultaneously scared that if she’s been right about so many of those other things, she might be right about this. Wow – to have your faith so blatantly challenged by your hero. No wonder they're feeling polarized and frightened.

I told this man at dinner last night that the coursework I'm doing does not espouse the belief that we are self-powered. That’s something called Humanism – and not what these teachings embrace. This work speaks of a connection to Source – some call it God, others refer to it as the Universe, but it’s the acknowledgement that we are all connected via some entity that’s much, much bigger than us. This is where the Oprah backlash is originating . . . they’re perceiving her questioning of Christianity as a disbelief in God – while she says explicitly in the very video that's attacking her that she simply took God out of the box.

Comfort zones have that name for a reason. Moving beyond them is never easy . . . particularly if doing so means embracing new ideas you have spent your whole lifetime opposing because you learned, believed, or accepted that they were somehow wrong. The thing is, we don't growin any capacityby holding on to old thoughts. Every single thing we learn requires us to expand our beliefs in some way. Even in learning to ride a bike, we had to release the idea that it was unsafe to ride on two tires without the training wheels beneath us for support. I don't know about you, but I can still remember the terror, some 35 years ago, of letting go of those training wheels.

Spiritual training wheels . . . we can only grow so far until we're willing to release them.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hope: It's not just for the college-educated

David Brooks is at it again. This time, in his op-ed piece, "Questions for Dr. Retail," he challenges Barack Obama's message of hope. God forbid we should actually aspire to be educated, change, and grow. What a dismal outlook those options offer.

In his essay, Brooks notes the distinct contrast between the educational backgrounds of Obama supporters, versus those who would like to see Hillary Clinton win this historic election. "Hillary Clinton is a classic commodity provider. She caters to the less-educated, less-pretentious consumer," Brooks writes. "Barack Obama is an experience provider. He attracts the educated consumer," he continues.

His very use of the word pretentious to describe college-educated voters provides a clear understanding of Brooks' perspective on education. What I would like to know is, since when has it been pretentious to value knowledge and to encourage self-growth through education? What sane person anywhere would declare that the less educated you are, the better off? And yet, that seems to be Brooks' view.

Seemingly without realizing it, Brooks makes this point himself when he later writes:

DR. RETAIL: The consumer marketplace has been bifurcating for years! It’s happening because the educated and uneducated lead different sorts of lives. Educated people are not only growing richer than less-educated people, but their lifestyles are diverging as well. A generation ago, educated families and less-educated families looked the same, but now high school graduates divorce at twice the rate of college graduates. High school grads are much more likely to have kids out of wedlock. High school grads are much more likely to be obese. They’re much more likely to smoke and to die younger.

Their attitudes are different. High school grads are much less optimistic than college grads. They express less social trust. They feel less safe in public. They report having fewer friends and lower aspirations. The less educated speak the dialect of struggle; the more educated, the dialect of self-fulfillment.

Did you hear the message of Clinton’s speech Tuesday night? It’s a rotten world out there. Regular folks are getting the shaft. They need someone who’ll fight tougher, work harder and put loyalty over independence.

Then did you see the Hopemeister’s speech? His schtick makes sense if you’ve got a basic level of security in your life, if you’re looking up, not down. Meanwhile, Obama’s people are so taken with their messiah that soon they’ll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings. There’s a “Yes We Can” video floating around YouTube in which a bunch of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and the guy from the Black Eyed Peas are singing the words to an Obama speech in escalating states of righteousness and ecstasy. If that video doesn’t creep out normal working-class voters, then nothing will.

Hopemeister. Good God. You'd think Obama was advocating for sending every American child to work in a sweat shop...when in fact, it's his very message of hope that appeals to these so-called "educated voters."

Brooks would have served the conversation much better if he had examined why it is that so much of middle American has lost hope. Why is it mostly the college-educated who have grand visions of possibility and promise? And, most importantly, why aren't we doing MORE to encourage Hillary's struggling masses those who feel they are being shafted to take ownership, take control, and know they need not settle for lives of mediocrity?

I keep reading that Obama is all smoke and mirrors, a great orator with no real message. Those who espouse such comments clearly are not listening. One just one piece of Obama's message is the goal of making a college education available to anyone who wants it. Because he actually understands the divide of which Brooks writes and he wants to build a bridge across the chasm. Thing is, those who want it will use this opportunity and those who would rather sit and point their fingers at someone else for their problems and their lousy luck will continue to do so. What then, David Brooks?

Maybe we need to revision this contrast between the candidates and call Barack Obama's one of solution and Hillary Clinton's one of victimhood. Strangely enough for one assumes a significant degree of education on Brooks' part he seems to embrace the latter.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Getting Out of Judgment

I was having a conversation with my sister recently about the idea of trying to stay out of judgment, regarding others’ decisions and behaviors. We mused together that every human alive has “stuff” – life experiences, points of view, emotions, education levels, past and present relationships – that cause us to relate to the world the way we do. Because we are relational creatures, human nature is to react when someone behaves in any particular way toward us. Of course, the more like us they are, or the more positive, pleasant, or funny, the more we tend to have a positive, pleasant, or humorous response to them.

But what happens when we encounter someone who behaves in a way that is counter to our nature? What if we’re one way, and we meet someone whose demeanor is generally belligerent, funny, extroverted, serious, thoughtful, melancholy, giddy, scattered, withdrawn, or in some other way different from our natural state? Is one of us right and the other wrong? Of course not. And that was the gist of our conversation . . . how we often forget that different does not equal wrong. Their way is not the right way, but neither is ours. We all just are.
That having been said, what if Mr. Belligerent regularly cuts people off in traffic, offers the one-finger salute when you slide into a parking space before him, takes the last of the coffee in the breakroom without ever refilling the pot, screams at his wife in public for forgetting to pick up the dry-cleaning, and kicks the dog as he comes in the door from work? Are those acceptable behaviors?
I would venture that taken singularly, one episode at a time, while they may not be acceptable, they are probably forgivable. As a pattern, though, and particularly if you had to live with this guy, who wouldn’t be inclined to want to sign him up for an anger management class? So where’s the compromise? Recognizing that we are all individuals and there really is no right way to be, yet understanding that someone who is set off by any little thing could be the next episode of road rage waiting to explode on an unsuspecting innocent bystander?

I believe the compromise lies in separating the behavior from the person. Now, I’m no shrink – so please don’t mistakenly perceive me to be treading in areas where I am uneducated and underinformed. This is just my common sense speaking. People are entitled to be however and whoever they are without my raining down judgment on them for not doing things the way I would do them. Objectively, though, I can still stand aside and know, intuitively, that a happier demeanor would probably bring someone more peace and greater overall health. I can allow an individual his or her space to be whoever and however they truly are – but if they’re committed to anger, a victim mentality, complaining, or illness, it’s unlikely that I will choose to spend much time with them.

We obviously see everything through our own lens, and judgment is a funny thing because it is a direct product of our own perception of the world. The other night, I was invited to fill in as the fifth girl on a slow-pitch co-ed softball team, so the team could avoid a forfeit. Let me tell you that the last time I played organized softball was back in college . . . many moons ago . . . so I was not surprised to be installed at the position of catcher. The interesting lesson from that night (besides the fact that I need to listen to my trainer and do more sprints to avoid hurting myself running the bases) was about perspective.

In my position as catcher, I was a foot or two from the umpire for most of the game, and able to see most pitches and plays from roughly the same angle as he saw them. Time after time, both teams complained about the calls, insisting he was calling balls that were strikes and vice-versa. They booed and bitched at his decisions regarding fair and foul balls. Guess what. From my point of view, shared with the ump, there was only one instance when he made a call I disagreed with. But we were standing in the same place, looking at things from the same visual perspective. All the others were hurling their reactions at him from other perspectives around the field.

Hmmm. How often, I wondered, is the same true about the rest of our lives? When we see a heavy person walking in the mall, what is our first instinct? Well, what if they are 212 pounds now, but feeling great about themselves because six months ago, they tipped the scales at 255? Who am I to make a critical judgment about their weight? And even if they’re on the way up, not down – it’ may not be healthy, but it is their life . . . their choice . . . and I have little right to make snap judgments.

I recently attended a meeting where the woman sitting across from me described living in an abusive marriage to an alcoholic. In spite of having two children at home who are daily witnesses to this man’s ugly behavior, the mom has determined that staying with him is the best course, for now . . . because he is a high-powered attorney who has so much pull with the judges and police departments that she is fairly certain she would never receive custody if she were to divorce him. Another lady at the same meeting, upon hearing these details, immediately commenced inveighing the mom with all the logic and the reasons why she must leave her husband at once. Thing is, while she may have thought she was being helpful, what she was really doing was pouring out her judgment on a mother who is truly in an unenviable situation and simply doing the best she can, given her circumstances.

It’s so easy to want to correct things for people. To judge their decisions, tell them what they’re doing wrong, and offer our omniscient perspective about how they should fix the situation. God, how arrogant.

A dozen or more years ago, I was introduced to relationship expert, Ellen Kreidman. She was the one to open my eyes to the arrogance of thrusting our opinions on others, unasked. Many people want to talk, to vent, to work through their problems . . . but unless they say words to the effect of, "What would you do?" or “What do you think I should do?” they are not asking for our opinions or seeking our advice. And until they do, the best thing we can do is keep our mouths shut.

I believe that judgment is a part of human nature. And it’s not all bad. Taking stock of the world around us helps us measure our own progress, success, desires, and growth. It helps us know which people, things, and goals we’d like to move toward, and also which behaviors and attitudes we might like to leave behind. It’s what we do with the judgment that matters. Do we simply make observations for our own benefit, or do we observe and then use what we observe to begin labeling, gossiping, and denigrating others? Used for the former, it is a constructive tool; used for the latter, judgment becomes a corrosive influence that stifles our creativity, growth, relationships, and the very development of our souls.

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