Empathizing vs. Commiserating

Empathizing vs. Commiserating

The loss was hard, his team was never really in the game. His friends were cringing as they watched the action, the errors in their friend’s offense and defense skills were evident. After the game, they smiled and said good job anyway.

“Thank you guys. Appreciate your support. I can’t believe how biased the refs were. We could have had a chance if they called fouls on the other team. They wouldn’t let us get away with anything, but they let the other team beat us up!”

His friends were surprised that he blamed the refs when it was so obvious that he was outplayed and the game was called fairly. They didn’t want to upset him even more so they decided to agree with him.

“Yeah, you’re right. I’ve had those refs before and they were biased against my team too. They suck! Hopefully you will have better refs next game.”

The friends were being empathetic, they were being good friends. Right?

Wrong. They were commiserating–pitying their friend and diving right into his misery.

They were supporting the illogical claim that the loss was to be blamed on the refs. In doing so, they were robbing their friend of the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and make improvements. It gets even worse. Blaming the loss on the refs makes the problem unsolveable. The friend actually has a lot of power and the solution to the problem could be well within his control. The problem was not the refs and in blaming it on them, the friend lost all of his power to fix the problem.

What if the friends had responded like this instead:

“Man, that game was tough. I think the refs were pretty fair and you guys did a great job working hard even after it was clear it would be a blow-out. There are a few things to work on with offense and defense. Once you fix those things, with the way you guys hustle, you’ll be unstoppable.”

The second response was empathetic, positive, honest, and empowering. It put the solution to the problem much more within the friend’s control. That is being a good friend.

Have you ever responded to someone in a similar way? In your attempt to be empathetic, were you actually dishonest and added to the problem rather than helping with solutions?

What about the time a colleague told you that she has the worst class ever and you agreed with her? Even gave more evidence to support the claim? Did your colleague feel better about her class after talking with you?

What about the time a colleague complained about another colleague or your principal and you threw more fuel into their fire? Were you being a good friend and helping them move in a more positive direction?

Empathizing vs Commiserating. Which team are you on?

Trouble deciding? Listen to each team’s theme song to see which one you most relate to:

Team Commiserating:  It Ain’t My Fault by Brothers Osborne

Team Empathizing: Stronger by Kelly Clarkson

It’s true that heroes are inspiring, but mustn’t they also do some rescuing if they are to be worthy of their name? Would Wonder Woman matter if she only sent commiserating telegrams to the distressed?      -Jeanette Winterson


Note to Self.

Note to Self.

One of the greatest joys in the world is a deep, shake-your-bones belly laugh. Or doing something unexpected and extraordinarily kind for someone else. Or pausing and being amazed by something simple and wondrous that it is typically taken for granted. Or stepping aside so someone can experience success and recognition instead of you.

One of the greatest sources of regret is wishing failure on someone because of jealousy. Or getting into a power struggle over something that is ultimately meaningless. Or backhanded insults that stem from a lack of confidence in yourself.

We are all imperfect.

In our imperfection lies beautiful opportunities to get just a little better every day. To smile more. To let go of caring so much about what others think and play and be silly. To give freely, not monetary things, but gifts of the heart that make someone else’s life just a little better. To pause and breath and wonder.

Remember, life is hard. For everyone. We don’t need to make it harder.

Embrace your inner child;

Be childlike,

Not childish.

-Brad Montague


Wag Your Tail Right Into Our Hearts

Wag Your Tail Right Into Our Hearts

No Dogs Allowed

I never wanted a dog. First of all, I am allergic to dogs. Second, they smell and make nasty landmines in the yard. Third, they are a lot of work. Somehow my husband finally convinced me that we should get a dog. Somehow my husband always convinces me that we need anything he wants.

I laid some ground rules. Due to my allergies, we needed a breed of dog that did not have lots of dander and did not shed. Due to my compulsive need to have a clean house, we needed a small to medium-sized dog. Due to the fact that we still had a toddler in the house, we needed a dog big enough to survive wrestling and tight squeezes. Oh yeah, also, none of those yelpy dogs. One more thing, it needed to be a rescue dog already potty-trained. 

I am usually not that demanding. 

Okay, all of you who know me, stop laughing now. I realize that I am pretty demanding most of the time. I like to think that I just know what I want.

Back to the dog story.

We started searching websites for rescue dogs that met all my demands. We made a list of dogs to check out one Saturday afternoon. We all piled into the car–my husband Jim; Laine, our 9-year-old son; and Tyson, our 4-year-old son. We were all giddy with excitement.

I wanted every dog we met and so did the boys. My husband was more of a savvy dog shopper and he could tell which dogs probably wouldn’t work for our family and why. One dog would not interact with us at all. Another was super timid. Finally we made our last stop to check out the dog that caught my eye from the beginning of our 300-mile journey. 

A rescue organization had set up shop in front of a Tractor Supply Company. Peering into all the cages, I didn’t see the black and white dog from the website. I saw a black and tan dog, but that couldn’t be him. We asked the volunteer about a dog named Eddie, and she pointed to the black and tan guy. So that was him…just really dirty.

Of course, the boys and I fell in love with him right away. And this time Jim gave him the seal of approval. We went in to Tractor Supply Company to get food, a leash, and a collar for our first family dog…Eddie. What a great dog name!

Eddie lived up to all of our dreams and more. He was a one-year-old shitzu/poodle mix, 20 pounds, and a loving well-behaved dog. Everyone who met him wanted to take him home. He was potty-trained, he hardly ever barked, and he was just so sweet. I think my mom even liked him a little, and she HATED dogs.

Eddie traveled with us to two new homes, even across the state. Having Eddie there made every house a home for us right away. The boys loved playing with him and cuddling with him. Jim took pride in having such a handsome and well-behaved dog. I realized that having a dog means that someone is always happy you are home and is a constant companion. Eddie brought joy to all of our lives.

The day after Christmas 2014 was an unusually warm day so I took Eddie for a long walk to the beach. He loved taking walks. That night ended like all others, with Eddie sleeping in our bedroom. We were awoken in the middle of the night by Eddie making loud coughing noises. We tried to comfort him, give him water, but the coughing continued all night. 

I tend to freak out about health concerns pretty easily, but Jim doesn’t get too ruffled. When he expressed concern about Eddie’s health in the morning, I was really worried. It was our oldest son Laine’s birthday, and it was horrible to send Jim and Eddie off to the vet that morning not knowing if we would ever see Eddie again. 

We were having a birthday party that night, so we stayed busy preparing for our guests while we waited to hear how Eddie fared. Jim came home and we sighed with relief because Eddie was with him. However, Jim warned us that he was very sick and only time would tell if he would pull through. We gave him medication, fed him water and food through a turkey baster, and put him in a small room with a vaporizer. He made it through the party–we knew he couldn’t leave us on Laine’s birthday. Unfortunately, overnight his condition continued to deteriorate.

The next morning we were all in tears watching Eddie suffer. We knew that the vet said they couldn’t do anything more for him, but our hearts were breaking for him as he fought to breathe. We decided to take him to the vet could he could be put to rest. I ran upstairs to get ready while the boys and Jim stayed with Eddie in the living room. As soon as I entered our bathroom, I heard a loud scream from downstairs so I ran back to the living room.

Eddie had jumped off Jim’s lap and was laying on the ground taking his last breath. The four of us sat around him, crying and saying our good-byes. We were so sad to lose Eddie so young–he hadn’t even celebrated his sixth birthday. Yet, we were so grateful to have had such a special dog in our lives, and we were glad that he was not suffering anymore. 

The Next Chapter

Eddie left a big hole in our hearts and we comforted each other by sharing special memories. We all decided that Eddie had convinced us that we love having a dog in our family, so we definitely wanted another dog.

We talked about the kind of dog we wanted and all the dogs we have known through family members and friends. We remembered Jim’s dad’s airedale and how cute he was as a puppy. Years before when we were researching dogs we found the welsh terrier, who looks like an airedale puppy its whole life.

Welsh terriers check all the boxes–small/medium dogs who are pretty hypo-allergenic and not too yelpy. We decided to look for a welsh terrier puppy and within two days after Eddie passing, Charlie came into our lives. 

Well, well, well. 

Those of you who have raised a puppy know that we were in for quite a different experience than bringing home a year-old dog who was already potty-trained. It was indeed. Quite an experience.

Charlie was so cute, but absolutely wild. He ate anything he could get his sharp little teeth into–our shoes, our furniture, carpet, our faces. He was like a gremlin who was fed after midnight. Have you ever wished your dog would run away? We have.

So, off to the pound we went.

Just kidding! This family doesn’t give up that easily.

Between the potty accidents, having to follow him everywhere in the house, and the fact that he constantly tried to sneak out the door and run away, raising Charlie was pretty torturous. Yet, he snuck his way into our hearts despite all that. Patience and persistence were key, as was getting advice from others who have raised puppies.

When Charlie was not yet a year old, he got into mole killer in the garage. We were panicked, we were just beginning to like him! We didn’t want to lose him! We rushed Charlie to the emergency vet and they pumped his stomach and treated him to try to minimize any effects of the mole killer. We weren’t even sure he ate the darn stuff, but we loved him so much that we weren’t willing to take the risk.

Charlie survived the crisis and moved with us to our forever home. Fortunately for him, our forever home is his dream home. Never again does he need to be chained up or leashed. He can run and chase animals and explore to his heart’s content. We moved into five acres in the woods with a long, winding driveway. Charlie is in heaven and is absolutely exhausted every night. No more accidents and he even cuddles sometimes now.

Don’t get me wrong, dog ownership has its challenges. For instance, currently Charlie smells like he has been rolling around in something that is dead and rotting in the woods. But…one look in those sweet brown eyes just melts us. Charlie completes this family of five.

Eddie and Charlie Trained Their Humans

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. -Josh Billings

Three Benefits of Dog Ownership

1. There is no better blanket than a dog on your lap.

2. After you have a dog, spilling food is no big deal. No vacuum or clean-up crew needed.

3. Arriving home to the eager excitement of a dog should never be underestimated.

Author’s Notes:

This blog post is the first ever requested by my son, Tyson. 

Tyson:  Mom, have you ever thought about writing a blog about Eddie and Charlie?

Mom:  No, that is an interesting idea.

Tyson:  I got you thinking didn’t I?

Mom:  You did buddy. Thank you!

Tyson’s eyes filled with tears when he read the part about Eddie. He gives this post four out of five stars.

Two Gifts from Dad: Value Others and Be Valued by Others

Two Gifts from Dad: Value Others and Be Valued by Others

…piece by piece, he collected me up
Off the ground, where you abandoned things and
Piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me…

Piece by Piece, Kelly Clarkson

I heard this song the other day and thought of the many times my dad has picked me up, brushed me off, and set me on the right path again. Whether it was a bully in high school, my own insecurities, or grieving through the loss of my mom (his wife), he was there. He is there.

He has blessed us with many lessons. As I reflect on those lessons, two rise to the top:  value others and expect to be valued by others.

Value everyone’s journey. 

Just after my freshman year of college, my dad and I were in the car together when we spotted one of my high school teachers driving down the road. I commented to my dad that I was surprised that she drove such and old car and that my car was much nicer. He reprimanded me for making such a superficial observation. In my memory, it went something like this:

“That’s disappointing, Ally. Who are you to judge someone for the car they drive? You don’t know what they have been through. You don’t know the struggles they have, or what their priorities are. And, not to mention that I am providing you with your car. Grow up.”

My dad taught me to not judge others, to look deeper for their strengths and contributions to the world. He taught me that we need all kinds of people to make the world go round. Everyone’s journey has ups and downs, including our own.

What a gift.

Because of this lesson, I try to appreciate everyone’s role in the world. Rather than judging people for the path or the career they choose, my dad taught me to value their journey.

Don’t be intimidated by anyone. Expect to be valued by others.

I think this one can be at least partially attributed to the fact that a former POTUS was a family friend. My grandpa, my dad’s dad, went to high school with Gerald R. Ford and they were lifelong friends–my grandpa and grandma even spent a Thanksgiving at the White House. I suppose that once you are friends with a POTUS, you feel like you can be friends with anyone.

Even more than that, my dad taught me that deep down, everyone is the same. Just like how he taught me to respect, admire, and value people who might be less fortunate or choosing a different path than us, he taught me to expect to be valued by people who might be more ‘fortunate’.

What a gift.

I am not afraid of people who are smarter than me, richer than me, who are famous, who are better looking, etc. My dad taught me that I can add value to anyone’s life. We all can. If someone fails to see that…well, that is their loss.

dad collage


Thank you dad, for these gifts and for all of the other lessons you taught us throughout the years.

I thought today would be a great day to tell you how amazing you are.

I love you.

He didn’t tell me how to live;

he lived, and let me watch him do it.

~Clarence Budington Kelland

Fueled by positivity, stalled by negativity

Fueled by positivity, stalled by negativity

Running down the road listening to some of my favorite jams, I feel like I can do anything.

Sometimes, however, my mind slips.

I start thinking about an endless to-do list that I face when I get back home, or the money I wanted to save this month but didn’t, or about something frustrating that happened at work.

Before I know it, I am walking instead of running. Feeling weak instead of strong.

Sometimes this happens subconsciously…one minute I am running and the next I am walking. I don’t even know why until I review where my thoughts went. Then I remember. They went to a dark place and my body weakened.

My body is strong enough to run for miles and miles. I have to make sure my spirit and my thoughts are strong enough to keep me going in the right direction.

The power of positive thinking is a gift to ourselves–a gift of strength, courage, and perseverance. And it is not to be underestimated.

Principals, what does this mean for us in our work with teachers?

Teachers, what does this mean for us in our work with students?


YOU are a party! Be your party!

YOU are a party! Be your party!

I am not exactly sure how to put what I experienced yesterday into words. I am going to give it my best effort because I want to remember it forever. 

Listen HERE, or read on my friends.

Taking a Risk

I saw Brad Montague’s Instagram post about The Wonder Workshop months ago. Like so many, I find joy and inspiration in pretty much everything Brad does, so the opportunity to spend a day in his presence had great appeal. What’s even more appealing to me about Brad, more appealing than even the Kid President ‘Pep Talk”, is that Brad is the definition of real. He has shared many things about his insecurities and anxiety that are genuine and make him even more relatable. I get caught up in the ‘popularity’ race of social media too, and to hear that someone like Brad experiences that same self-doubt helps me feel better.

So, I signed up. On my own. Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even though I am very wimpy about driving and I knew I would have to drive myself to Chicago. I wanted to do this for me, to spark creativity and to feed my soul. I told everyone I could think of about the workshop, and it turned out that two people I have gotten to know through Twitter and Voxer registered too. What a bonus!

I made plans to spend the night at my cousin’s house in Chicago the night before the workshop. It was such a treat to be able to spend time with her. We had a delicious dinner, yummy wine, and a great conversation. It was one of those beautiful times where years melt away and you catch up right where you left off.

The Wonder Workshop

The morning of the workshop, the first thing I wrote in the cute little notebook they gave us was a message from Harris III, who hosted the event and kicked us off with some inspiration and illusion.

Don’t crush wonder with how.

His message was that all too often we dismiss our own wonderings or the wonders of others by trying to figure out the ‘how’ too quickly. Allow the wondering, simmer in the wonder, let all the wonder happen first, then figure out the how.

Before Brad went to the center of the room to speak, I went up to him and said hello. I am guessing that he recognized me from one of the countless posts I tagged him on about the workshop because he thanked me for coming and said, “So you’re on Spring Break?” Another tally in the positive column for Brad–he really does pay attention. (BTW, there is no “negative” column for Brad).

The workshop was in a really cool industrial space, and there were about 100 participants, so it was very intimate. As you can imagine, Brad surpassed any expectations I had for the day, and I left with tears in my eyes. I was so grateful for the opportunity to learn from Brad, to be inspired by him and to have a spark lit within me. As I looked over my notes from the day, I synthesized Brad’s messages into a list of six.

“There is an entire world out there who desperately needs what you bring. This is your time. Rise up! Join the joyful rebellion.”

Smiling, I am thinking about what Brad said about ‘likes’. Don’t worry about likes, share what you like. Share what fuels your soul, what brings you joy. Create an oasis for people, a place they can go to fuel their own soul. Celebrate not only your own success, but the successes of others.

“Connect to your inner child. The world is plenty childish, be childlike.”

I have the fortune of working with children every day. I see their excitement and awe, I see the sparkle in their eyes. I turn and look at what they are looking at, and sometimes I just see an ordinary stray cat on the playground, or a simple piece of paper. They see our school mascot who loves us so much he keeps coming back to visit. They see a magical creation that they made with their own two hands. Brad encourages us to remember the awe we experienced as children and connect back to that. Get your sparkle on!

“Make your own party and invite everyone to it.”

I especially love this about Brad, everyone is welcome to join his party. He not only invites you, he thanks you for coming. Be a party, be a joyful rebellion, and welcome everyone to join you.

“Live in daily awe. Bring out the magic all around you. Celebrate the ordinary, make it extraordinary.”

When Brad shared this, I thought about cleaning the kitchen after dinner every day. It can be a boring, mundane task that I need to survive to get to the fun stuff…or it can be a dance party that just happens to be productive. We get to choose how we move through life, every step of it. There is not a moment to waste because this life is fleeting. Take that walk in the woods and stop in awe to watch the squirrels. Lift your face to the sun and feel the magical warmth of the rays.

“Work with imagination and intention. Define your own compass unbreakable by setting your purpose, define your success, figure out where you are now, and what is it that you need. Then, set sail!”

I spent time throughout the day thinking about what defines success for me. Here is my working definition: Be a model of joy for everyone I meet, help them feel strong and positive as we all move toward becoming better every day with an open heart and an open mind. That is where I will set my compass.

“Be here. No, really here. Notice the sparkle in someone’s eye. Ask them about it. Really listen and share their awe.”

This is great advice for me as a mother and as a school principal. Sometimes we get busy and do the half-listening (well…half might be an exaggeration) head nod and say, “Oh yeah honey, that’s great.” They deserve better, both children and adults. Listen to them, notice when they have a sparkle in their eyes. Ask them about it. Share their joy.

To Be Continued

If you ever need further proof that Brad is the real deal, you just need to meet his wife Kristi, who absolutely glows with positivity and joy in such a peaceful way. If she loves him, he must be something very special.

The day was extraordinary–from meeting Brad and Kristi, to seeing their children enjoy the day with us, to my tweet-ups with Karen and Megan, to meeting many other incredible story-tellers. There were only a few educators in the room, and it was lovely to connect and collaborate with such a diverse group of people. It was one of the best days of my life.

That’s it, for now. My story of The Wonder Workshop is to be continued as I reflect on the experience and integrate Brad’s messages into my life.

Let’s get this party started!