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Dr. Cara Barker Headshot

What If Help Were Closer Than You Think?

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We are going to get through this, together. As President Obama put it: "We will rebuild." Despite the downward spiraling charts depicting this global economy, it is vital to remember that the pendulum always swings back the other way. Out of destruction, comes reconstruction, if we so choose. Not just on a national, or international level, but on the most individual. In fact, it just might be a worthy mantra to repeat as needed with every business closure, and repossession of homes: we are going to get through this, together. Some years ago, a book was written entitled What to Say When You Talk to Yourself. Today, we might take a listen. Where fear is running the show, we put ourselves at risk. Just ask the researchers and clinicians at Harvard's Mind Body program.

Believing we are alone is as unproductive, as thinking it is impossible to rebuild through collaboration. Just yesterday, in a local restaurant, I saw a man in a dark gray business suit lean across the table and say to his lunch partner: "There are just some things you've got to do all by yourself, right?" Well, maybe. Not according to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. And, not according to Sunday night.

Take the Oscars, for instance. It's all about whom reigns supreme, who's the winner, correct? At least this is what awards like these have been touted to signify. Isn't that what we've been taught? And, yet...

From where I sit, the truly magical moments, this year at the Oscars, transcended all others. Three, in particular, stirred the heart, revolving around one simple Truth: we are not in it alone, but rather, deeply connected. This was an evening for Awakening Hearts. Moment #1 came when the Fabulous Five Female actresses, including Halle Berry, Shirley MacClaine, Whoppi Goldberg and crew, assembled on stage to deliver heartfelt messages of appreciation, and encouragement to the aspiring candidates, before them, front row, center. In their eye contact, and warmth, I felt that sort of precious intimacy that comes when the Elders of a tribe anoint, and bless its novitiates. The rapture on faces like Anne Hathaway's stole the show. Her gratitude glowed. But, then, again, who amongst us would not be moved by such a gift bestowed by our own mentors? How can we do better at letting those we care for know that they are being seen as extraordinary human beings?

Roll the credits.

Something infinitely more important than movies is being shown us. There is the little story of our single lives, and then, the Big Story, of which you and I play our part. The Web of Life would not be the same without you.

The second magical moment, spoke to our hearts when Sean Penn used his platform for a purpose larger than self-aggrandizement. His focus championed inclusion. Speaking from his own breathtaking Voice, Penn reminded us of those we've kept marginalized; as well as those, like Mickey Rourke, who've had the guts to begin anew. His Lazarus-like comeback from the professional graveyard was nothing less than generously exquisite. As this exchange unfolded, an imaginary soundtrack played in my head: "He ain't heavy, he's my brother..." The memory of three time Olympic champion, Wilma Rudolph words came back: "Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday."

The third magical moment for humanity was that dance of grief celebrating life between Keith Ledger's mother, father, sister, and we, the audience. Each of us was reminded that we are each members of the cast in this Theater of Life for as long as our role is played, the Spirit, of which, lives on after the curtain has come down. Recognition of how brief one's candle may burn came home. What matters is today, rebuilding our lives together from what we have.

The evening was one that sang the song of connection, community. We are reminded that no matter what happens, the beautiful, the bountiful, the sorrowful, or the spectacular, we are in this thing together. While the pedestrian subject is movie making, the greater text is co-creation. Like any theatrical troupe threatened with shrinking budget, we can fold our tents and quit. Or, we can challenge ourselves to give our best possible performance with the attitude 'on with the show,' trusting that we are going to get through this, together. The future before us can be beautiful to the degree we are willing to hold this as our vision, edit the game plan as necessary, call forth the best cast of players, and do as many takes as this invention requires. We've got to be willing to say what we've never said before, do what we've never done before, and dream beyond what we've allowed ourselves to dream before.

How Do We Do This?

We remember that no matter what, we have choice. A few days ago, a program aired comments made by fellow Americans regarding how they felt about the recently approved stimulus package? One man replied: "It's not fair! Why should people like me, who've worked hard and paid the bills, be penalized, getting nothing, while slackers get help?" Sidebar: get 'nothing?' How about the self-confidence, sense of direction, and trust we build when we keep our word? Is this 'nothing?' But, I digress. The interviewer acknowledged the man's frustration, and dug deeper. "Think about it this way. Suppose your neighbor's house was on fire. Would you do nothing?" "No," said the interviewee. "It's not my problem, or fault!" To the same questions, a woman replied: "Sure, if his house was on fire, I'd call 911. But, I'm not going to help him rebuild it. I didn't cause the fire." What, again, ever happened to the notion 'I am my brother's keeper'? As a practical matter, if my neighbor, Lou's, house goes up in flames, the sparks are a very short distance from my own. What befalls my neighbor befalls me. Again, I ask 'when does our attitude of 'me' become one of 'we'?

We are in a metaphorical fire fanned by indifference, fear, and mistrust of our own guidance system. The antidote can come only with rekindling a passion in our hearts for community. A word, whose Latin roots come from partnership, or 'friends in deed." So, what does it mean to partner?

Just Consider.

Consider your own best friend. When I'm with mine, I feel free to be my most natural self, to grow, to risk, and, yes, to seek forgiveness when, as Obama put it, "I screwed up." My best friend values who I've been, grieves with me what's ending, and welcomes the yet-to-be-discovered onto center stage, without a trace of hurtful competition. A true partner supports our equal value, reflects back to us that anything desired in our heart is possible. When assassins say: "That will never work," a deep down friend says 'never say never,' and 'why not?' Partners champion hope. When we give up on ourselves, they remind us who we are. When necessary, they confront our nerdiness. Healthy, partnering communities, remind us that help is closer than we think for our vision, and we will get through whatever we must get through, together. A community of partners reminds us that we are here to champion one another, to create meaningful solutions, to walk alongside one another, and, dare I say it? To have a good time, in the bargain. Partners play with an attitude of optimistic purpose, under girded by strong social ties, which, by the way, are two of the main characteristics researched in Blue Zones of those who age joyously, in amazing health, and live beyond the rest of us. Dr. Oz is right. We live our best lives when we connect with one another, and what brings well-being.

A Gift to You

Check out the following, if you want to give yourself a gift of play through film. It comes from one of improveverywhere's projects. I promise you'll end up with an endorphin jumpstart for a feel-good day. Here's a tip for the 'gift that keeps on giving': Play with the idea of getting a gang of willing co-creators together to see what you could dream up that would bring a sense of joy and teamwork to unspecting fellow travelors? Let us know yours! Awakening our Hearts is where its at!

As always, it's a joy to hear from you, to be part of your community. I hold you in my heart as partner and co-creator of this column, welcoming, always, your comments, feelings and experiences. Feel free to forward whatever inspires you, makes you chuckle, and reminds us that we are in this puppy together. I'll do my best to respond to you and your circle, and welcome you spreading the word, if you are so inclined. Come back to share a cup of tea!