You are Not Who You Think You Are

You are so much more

 

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

Upon a Google search, Wikipedia stated “One’s self-concept (also called self-construction, self-identity, self-perspective or self-structure) is a collection of beliefs about oneself. Generally, self-concept embodies the answer to ‘Who am I?’.”

In my self-concept, I look at a self-painted self-portrait of my own ideas of what makes me the person I am, my likes and prejudices, the type of person I have been and who I will be as the days wear on.

It is not a mirror because a mirror reflects what is really there. As a child, they said to me, “you’re too sensitive.” Childhood statements often become internalized and we can find them our self-talk, the words we hear in our thoughts and personal judgments.

I may have been accused of laziness as a child. If I have only washed the laundry, vacuumed the floors, schooled the children for three hours, fed them three meals, and provided for their unique-to-them daily needs, I think, perhaps, I  have not accomplished enough because I sat and read a book (about grammar!) for an hour (or two).

Self-concept paints the portrait of whether I was generous or a good friend and whether I am likely to be so when the opportunities arise again.

It can be less important, as well. As a child, my family listened to country music, so I did as well. In junior high, I hit the rebellious road to listen to B93.1 in all its alternative glory (“alternative to what?” my mother asked).

I thought I was a tomboy after being a girly girl wearing dresses all day. Then I found I really liked doing the feminine thing again. Adolescence was the season to answer to that question: who am I?

Ideally, we settle the question.

Or thus we think.

The question is only settled when we stop living. I was a stay-at-home-mother. Then I was a working mother. I liked designed. I was a life coach.

The world of our little family rocked a bit and I became a medical mom, began to love San Francisco, to feel passionate about art, branding, and business. Goodness, I became a journalist.

And now folks, I ride horses.

That is, twice I rode a horse.

It does not seem to fit. It is the love of a childhood passion in which I read the Saddle Club books, the breed encyclopedia, watched Black Beauty, and rode horses. This great love persisted for two years.

Well, for health and happiness, I took a lesson. It felt strange and childlike to “take a lesson” in anything. A workshop sounds much more grown-up. My 8-year-old is perplexed. Isn’t the lesson for her?

And then I love it. Where in my life does this fit? Where in my concept of who I am now am does running my hand down the neck of this large animal fit? I, who hardly pet our outdoor cats and do not generally hold our chickens, held daily by our little kids, who would rather not be snuggled by your dog.

Are there rules in your self-concept that seem impossible to break because they are the rules?

I don’t like animals.

I love farmhouse style.

I don’t wear sandals or shorts or sleeveless blouses.

I’m not good at drawing.

I’m the serious one.

I’m the silly one.

I’m the faithful friend no matter what.

 

Our society loves to scratch away the rules.

Wear skirts without pantyhose.

Where black and blue together.

Let your wood furniture be different finishes.

Your reality is what you make it.

 

There is a natural law and a moral law, and there are some things that, friends and I were apt to say, “are not a salvation issue.”

Yet we make them into rules and laws that govern who we are and what we will try.

Parenting blogs will say not to box our children into stereotypes, but what do we do for ourselves? Rather than dictate the paint, can you look at the self-portrait and think, “what can I discover here?” Like little children, there may yet be untapped potential or unexplored hobbies or atypical interests left to discover.

What will you uncover this week?

You might just find yourself riding horses.

 

 

 

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Photo by Muye Ma on Unsplash

 

Patience is a Virtue…we have to learn again and again

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

 

“Did it take you a long time to learn to be patient?” My 8-year-old asked. She admitted it was hard to stay patient while we waited for the jousting to begin during the Sonora Celtic Fair.

“Patience is a virtue,” the adults in my life told us when we were kids.

A virtue is a habit.

A habit is developed by repetition.

I explained to my daughter that I learned patience when the big things in my life required it. After that, the small things, like jousting, seemed less important. I may be eager for it to start (to get off the metal bleachers and stretch my legs, that is) but ultimately it does not really matter when the jousting starts.

You can learn patience in the small things. Then, when the big things happen, you are ready. You have the muscle grown, the habit habituated, I told her.

I thought I was patient once. With each child, my patience grew. Then, as I stayed in San Francisco at the Children’s Hospital with my son, I saw where the virtue really stands. My patience was tried.

Returning home, the habit seemed weaker than ever, unaccustomed as I had grown to the habits of four small, irrational children, so my self-talk said.

Self-talk is often wrong.

It is a matter of the small things versus the big things. Can we handle the little things calmly, even if we wish they would get on with the jousting? Does traffic send you into a rage? Do you swear or call people idiots under your breath when they make a mistake? Do you expect others to be more patient with you than you are willing to be with them?

I wonder how often we look patient on the outside, but seethe a bit under our skin when things go the wrong way. Apparently, I look this way: cool exterior, stormy interior. Now I warn my kids, “you are trying my patience” to help them understand, my temper does not come out of the abyss. It swells until I lose it.

We pay a hefty price for the irritations, the peccadillos throughout the day that irk us like burrs on our socks. Emotion costs something. Too many of us are willing to waste it on the small things. I fear doing so means we have little left in reserve for the big things.

Emotions are fierce things that happen to us. We do not make them happen. That is why the emotion itself is neutral, neither good nor bad. Anger is not a bad emotion, neither is worry or fear. It is the response we give to the emotion that deserves the valuation. I responded well or I responded badly.

When we are waiting, my husband and I use humor to pass the time. People typically offer great entertainment, especially for a cultural commentator such as myself. There is introspection, too, for the naval-gazers among us. My husband gets lost in the maze of his mind where composing happens. We call my daughter “head in the clouds” most days.

Cell phones help us little with growing in patience, as the effort to get the greatest number of advertisements in front of the greatest number of eyeballs encourages skimming, clicking and swiping in rapid succession. If practicing the habit helps it grow, avoiding the practice weakens the human mind and spirit immensely.

Alcohol also helps pass the time, but wait long enough and the one who imbibes may engage in disorderly conduct, trying the patience of those not fortunate enough to hold the fun flask.

Like most things, once patience is tried, the answer lies first in awareness of the opportunity, second in the call to action of the mind in response to the emotion and third in taking steps to actively engage one’s mind on something rather than mere waiting.

I hate waiting.

All of this is guided and determined but some overarching moral belief that it is good to be patient. If we do not believe, I doubt we shall ever be. A person’s strong sense of entitlement does not play well with a belief in the good of patience. It rather emphasizes patience in others than ourselves.

Opportunities will come, but will we see them? American culture is oriented towards comfort, thus the typical American likely struggles with discomfort, except those already trained in patience by life circumstances or those who watch jousting.

 

 

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Together on Christmas Day

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

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I steal away for a few moments to write these words between the flickering of the tree lights, the sound of a four-year-old yelling “puddles!”, and the slam of the door as she escapes. The toddler slams his favorite step stool around the office, determined to involve himself in my activities. As soon as I begin a new activity, the sick six-year-old pleads for his ear drops. In the midst of it all, I pause in the excitement of a husband home from work on vacation, the promise of days, parties and devotions yet to come.

“Breakfast is almost ready; don’t get too wet!” he yells through the window to the children I do not dare see in this state. I want to write. I want to pursue the passion and dream that feeds my soul.

I like to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It is not a show I recommend to everyone due to some content and a lot of bad language, but it explores themes we rarely see considered in modern media surrounding women, their art, and their personal lives. The second season circled around the question, to fully give yourself to your art, must you lose everything else? Ultimately the creators of the program decide, yes, you cannot have it all, you must give up your commitment to others in your life, the last semblance of normalcy you possessed to move within the circles of civilians. It is artfully done, and I look forward to the following season to see the fallout of such a decision because, in the end, I disagree.

Aristotle told us in Politics, “man is by nature a political animal.” Political in this sense means men and women develop their potential and realize their natural end in a social context. That is the good life to which the title of this column refers.

The Catholic Christian Meta hold that human beings are interpersonally related and this is integral to who we are.

“No man is an island entire itself,” said the poet and preacher John Donne, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And even more seasonally, Jacob Marley exclaims in response to Scrooge’s excuse for Marley’s indifference to others’ wellbeing while he lived, “Mankind was my business!”

Why does this season matter so much to others? Not everyone believes in Jesus or God or Christianity. Yet it is so widely celebrated and loved.

I have thought long about the sensory aspects. Nostalgia wisps in the air at the sights and sounds of Christmas: twinkling lights, cinnamon-scented candles, peppermint mochas, and in Hughson, N’Sync and the honk of a fire engine horn.

Ask the average person on the street and most will tell you this is the time of year to look out for the little guy, to be together, to care about each other.

The man collecting donations for charity tells our famous Mr. Scrooge, “At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time…We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”

Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, not merely a man, but God Incarnate. It marks the change in salvation history, the moment when God entered time to save men and women from their sins, opening the gates of Heaven. It is the moment that begins the journey of the All-Powerful telling the lowly, you are worth the time, the sacrifice, the pain.

You matter. You are not alone. You are not forgotten.

Thus the message of togetherness rings through the season, with all its chaos, to-do lists, cooking making, present wrapping, leading up to Christmas day. If you celebrate this time of year, mark the meaning for you, hold onto the moments, allow yourself to miss this who are no longer here, recall their presence, tell their stories. Christmas comes by once a year.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

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Meeting Kathryn

This is Katy.

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Katy became Kathryn.

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And Kathryn became Kathryn Casey.

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A few months later Kathryn Casey became “Mommy”

but she never got to meet her child

because at the emergency department, they learned the little 7-week old sac inside her was empty.

 

I felt those miscarriages all the way to my bones. It broke my view of the world, from a safe place sheltered by the hand of God, I felt exposed to a world of chaos. It opened up a world of fear: what if I cannot have children or carry children? Then I had Miriam and she was perfect. I thought that was the end of miscarriages for me. When it happened again, I just felt that wild grief Adriel Booker writes about in Grace Like Scarlett.

 

Time marched on

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Until Katy and Kathryn and Kathryn Casey

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gave birth to the sweetest cleftie in the world.

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There are only a handful of photos of me from that time period, when I, Kathryn, changed from this …

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to this …

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and finally to this…

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During Peter’s first surgery, I could not bear to stay in the hospital. Two years later, I put on the bunny suit and held Regina’s hand as she fell asleep in the operating room.

 

During the intermission of Madama Butterfly, my husband and I saw a man whom we had not seen in, at least, three years. Seeing me dressed in velvet, with a sleek ponytail and a bright smile framed in brighter lipstick, he said, “wow, motherhood really agrees with you. You look so wonderful.”

I felt the brightness then.

Reaching back, I am still trying to remember who I was before those two prenatal diagnoses and now.

What I began to see is that I lived with less suffering, but also I lived with less joy. In growing my capacity to feel so much grief and so much heartache, my capacity to feel so much happiness and pleasure also increased.

I always imagined that if I lost a child, the world would fade to black-and-white. How could a mother go on?

It was black-and-white for a while.

And I did go on.

I leaned into grief, allowed it to wash over me, allow myself to feel the full depth of my sorrow.

The depth of suffering is the cross, and so, in Christ, the resurrection follows.

There would come a time when God would fill what he emptied” and so he did.

Living Life in Paradox

Previously published at the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Bright red strawberries alongside burnt pizza crust. Using the hospital tray, I meticulously cut strawberries into fourths to be drowned in Yoplait vanilla yogurt. Trash lines the people-flooded street we cross to enter the Orpheum Theater, tickets in hand, for a remarkable musical. The table beside my son’s medical pole holds unlooked for flowers.

Choosing to live life means living life in paradox, because life is hard.

If you are really living life, you have relationships and with relationships come the blood, sweat and tears that make life hard. Sure other things make life hard: loneliness and isolation, poor health. Those things are harder to bear without relationships; it all comes back to relationships. We ache for relationships. Relationships keep us in a paradox.

A paradox is a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities. Life is a paradox.

Living life fully means feeling life fully in its wonderfully joyous excitement; calm tender quietude; and draining, nagging suffering. Living life fully means taking events, as they are, not wasting time wishing they were something else. Describe it for it what it is, terrible or exhilarating, but save your wishes.

Plenty of aspects of life requires us to find the middle ground between two extremes. In medio stat viritus, the saying goes, in the middle stands virtue. The best and happiest way will be in the middle ground. This does not apply when it comes to mood. Perhaps we would enjoy never wavering emotion. Some seem disposed to it; others force it upon themselves because the natural swing of life’s rhythm proves too difficult to tolerate. They prefer to know what to expect.

That is where we miss out. Imagine an opera-singer singing half-heartedly, a quarterback playing so-so, a dancer lagging behind the beat; a parent who visits only once in a while. Life is meant to be lived fully, freely, and fruitfully.

Fully means holding nothing back. Whatever one does, doing it sincerely, with one’s energy and resources, prudently applied. I may need to conserve energy today knowing tomorrow will be a hard day. Instead of doing tasks lightly today, I intentionally choose light tasks.

Freely means recognizing oneself as an agent of free will, making a conscious choice about one’s activities (when possible) and reactions. I do this better when I am in a habit of reflecting a little bit each day, starting the morning by running through my mind the plans of the day, thinking ahead of what I want the day to be like and preparing myself for days when I know the unexpected ought to be expected. Thus, I maintain in control, at least of my feelings, when anything could happen.

Fruitfully means doing my best to bring good out of a situation. This may be a lesson learned after observing my behavior and reaction during suffering, something to put in my notebook to better handle the next run around. It may be an immediate good, by choosing to create some art or craft, or a boon to a relationship by letting my six-year-old give me a ballet lesson. Perhaps it is putting the phone, world wide web, and text notifications aside to focus deeply on the production I am about to see, the conversation I am about to have.

Fully, freely, fruitfully. It is the life advice that will apply to any moment, whether the pendulum will swing this way or that.

The paradox of life is not meant to be observed only. The tension that comes from shifting our gears between tragedy and comedy is the motivating force to make us flexible and adept at living life, to grow stronger, to find peace. We do not become stronger by “white-knuckling it” through our trials, by tamping our excitement in great life moments, or by avoiding relationships that require sacrifice on our part (I say sacrifice, not abuse). Whether the moment requires us to push through hard times or actively find a way out, the strength lies in leaning into the workout it does on our heart. I may not know what it looks like on the other side, but I can get through this. It can be worked for good.

The Good Life

What do “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” even mean? Free to live my life and pursue happiness? Carl Rogers thought so. He thought whatever you wanted was justified. So he left his ill wife and pursued happiness.

John Stuart Mill said as long as it does not hurt anyone, we should go for it. Is that what it means?

They said men have been given inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “Inalienable” means unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.

Have you ever thought of how bold this is? If it cannot be taken away or given away, this means, my life exists even if I am killed by another. I believe my soul will exist for eternity, but several of these writers were more Deists than Christians, so the soul belief is not necessarily what was meant here. The power of life. No matter what you do to me, I will be remembered, I will live on, the power of my life still exists.

Liberty? I wrote about freedom at this time last year: the difference between exterior freedom and interior freedom.

“The convict, prisoner of war, kidnapped child can engage in mental activity that takes them beyond their borders. Prayer, meditation, contemplation, thought, imagination, conversation, learning, teaching, exercise—whether with people or without—these are actions a person can take when faced with terrible circumstances. He decides not to be governed by the circumstances, but to make the most of it, to stay mentally and physically active and to let his or her mind be free.”

The pursuit of happiness? This seems the most elusive when it is 100 outside (or more as we have experienced), bills must be paid, children fed, errands run. They put the pursuit of happiness as something that cannot be taken from the possessor. That means, in any circumstance be it during a heat wave or endless rain, during the birth of a new baby or the loss of a child, during a wedding or at the end of a divorce, we can still seek happiness.

This is not the sort of happiness that comes and goes. That happiness is more accurately called pleasure. It feels good. Life does not feel good. So pleasure cannot be that happiness the pursuit of which no one can take from us. Money can be taken all too easily. In times of sickness or a really bad recession, we can not always pursue it. A good name? To be well-liked? People are fickle, particularly towards those well known and particularly online.

No, the sort of happiness is the one in which we find fulfillment, as a gravedigger in the cemetery, an x-ray technician, a massage therapist or a teacher. We can live a life with interior freedom, free from addictions and self-implemented rigid expectations about the rules of how one ought to live. It is when we are free to choose the best path, the moral path, the one that not only “does no harm,” but benefits the people around us. It is the sort of pursuit of happiness that turns terrible experiences into pearls of wisdom for the next generation. It is the sort of pursuit that creates a country that becomes an international model for religious liberty and human rights. It is a powerful achievement, full of mistakes, rarely done perfectly, but possible. It is the good life.

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Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Better than Netflix

This article to appear in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

I started and put down In this House of Brede, Brideshed Revisited, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Shakespeare’s Complete Works (do not make the mistake of starting with “Titus Andronicus”). I read Flannery O’Conner’s Manners and Mystery, a quick read about writing. Still, I wanted something I could sink my teeth into. As an adolescent, I read for hours. Those worlds of Austin and Bronte were my worlds. I relished the characters and the stories, though many things I did not understand. Dissatisfied in my quest for another novel, I decided to turn to an old standby, Charles Dickens. This is how I met David Copperfield.

750 pages. And I finished it, 750 pages later. At first, I attempted to read during the day. I found little progress or pleasure amid the interruptions. So I took my reading to bed, without the phone or computer or children nearby. For one to two hours I read, ten, twenty, fifty pages. At times, it dragged on in the labor of Mr. Macawber’s monologues. Other times it flew, and I felt drawn into the love of Agnes, the heroism of Mr. Peggoty and life lessons of Mr. Copperfield himself.

To leave these characters is more than leaving a habit. When one engages in deep reading of great literature, the characters come to life. You know them. You love them. You are as sorry to leave them as it seems they may be to leave you, at the end of such a long novel. I rush to the finish, and relish the satisfaction of a Dicksonian ending, but I am sorry to have no more.

This is the way in which deep reading can teach empathy. We are brought along someone’s journey, asked to walk in their shoes, as Ms. Hepburn defines the term in the movie Funny Face. Reading occupies the mind in a way watching a movie cannot. The time it takes to know these characters, and in classic literature, to see them grow works in our minds as relationships in real life. You not only feel what they feel, you strive to anticipate what may happen, based on the events and personalities you observe as you read.

Watching movies and even very good television is a passive effort. After enough seasons, you may know and feel attached to those characters. Discussions of the particular Netflix show will drive that connection even deeper. Nevertheless, the encounter itself does not settle as deep in the mind as it does with reading.

It is a priceless effort. But how can one find the time or space in which to engage it? Consider the time you spend online or watching television. There may be some space there. I am too tired, we say, I just want to relax. What truly relaxes us? A drink in the evening may seem to relax us, but it can negatively impact sleep. Social media and television helps us vegetate. Passively feels like it should relax us. Yet it does not. The screen lights, the noise of electronics, cannot calm us interiorly.

What is the next objection? I cannot find anything I want to read. This is a difficulty. The hot right-now novel may read easily, and may engage you, but to truly gain the great benefits of reading, one must read a great work. In a classic literature, characters are more deeply and thoroughly formed. Thus they can come alive and stand on their own feet. In lesser novels, a screenwriter can flesh out these people. In well-written books, no movie can satisfy the conception our mind has made.

Find recommendations where you gain. Love good period TV? I recommend Dickens. Love female driven romantic comedies? Try Austen. Love Sci-Fi? H.G. Wells has goodies for you. Pick up those high school novels you vaguely remember reading half of. See what you think now. They are an excellent place to start. The American cultural cannon possesses many great books.

In the way of novels, I do not know what I will read next. But having broken the habit of a nightly binge watch I am excited to find what other places my mind can go, and the characters on the journey.

Sophia Kramskaya Reading

The Good Life: What is Self-Esteem?

Girl Looking in the MirrorPerhaps you’ve heard the term self-esteem. It gets thrown around here. Can you define it? Before opening The Good Life – Life Coaching, I worked with high school students through the Center for Human Services. Schools care a lot about students’ self-esteem. When I asked clients what self-esteem is many couldn’t quite put it in to words.

A simple definition for self-esteem is “how you feel about yourself.” Strictly speaking, this stays in the realm of feelings and can change day-to-day, morning-by-morning. Research finds self-esteem is roughly equal in boys and girls and then plummets for girls at the onset of adolescence. Women generally have lower self-esteem than men.

As a feeling, why does it matter? Feelings can act as indicator lights, letting us know when there is a problem. If my child is generally confident, but then suddenly shows a change in how he talks about himself, indicating low self-esteem, that is a warning to me to sit down and try to understand what’s going on his life and how its affecting him.

If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, I’d invite you to do two things.

To read more, click here.

To see other articles by Kathryn Casey (domesticphilosophy/owner of The Good Life – Life Coaching) from the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” published in the Hughson Chronicle, republished online at Coachingthegoodlife.org/resources

The Good Life: You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours

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Friendships seemed so simple when we were little. Growing from friendships of proximity (if she plays with me at the park, she’s my friend) to clubhouses, to rule-governed friendships, to she who can braid my hair is my best friend or whoever has the X-box, and eventually the emotional closeness, support, conversation and dedicated time of adolescence. In a short span of time we see a wide range of friendships come and go.

Teens hunger for time with friends, even after full days at school with them. What was once hours on the phone is now hours texting or using social media with friends. Friendship requires more than proximity to make it work. There is a bit of the utilitarian aspect, perhaps this person invited me to sit so I won’t be alone.

Those friendships of utility are common, but one’s usefulness changes. The friends are pleased to work with each other, but may not choose to see each other outside of the useful environment. The friendships dissolve quickly when the usefulness of the relationship goes away. It may seem shallow and not a friendship, but when they last a long time, a bond develops. That bond is one of comrades, having been associated for so long, having been through so much together, the relationship evolves.

To read more, click here.

To see other articles by Kathryn Casey (domesticphilosophy/owner of The Good Life – Life Coaching) from the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” published in the Hughson Chronicle, republished online at Coachingthegoodlife.org/resources

The Good Life: Manners 101

Perhaps cultural practices require some evolution, like children, to reach maturity. In the middle ages, etiquette was a way to prevent violence among warriors. In the Victorian period, it distinguished between classes. Thus the ornate rules among the diners at Downton Abbey. Now, according to Diane Gottsman, manners have become about treating people with respect.

Just as we evolved from cave paintings to Rembrandt’s, so manners are a way to elevate our everyday, rather animal behaviors, to something human. It infuses rationality and regard in our actions.

You can still find the rulebooks out there. Post decedents are alive and well. Q&A yields many a conundrum for the average host or guest. For those pragmatic persons here are some concepts behind the many details.

To read more, go to coachingthegoodlife.org/resources and check out the articles under Relationships or for a pdf of this article click here.