The questions we ask ourselves shape our lives. Questions are how we understand the world around us and the people in it. They are how we communicate, style ideas and build relationships. It can be intimidating asking tough questions when you don’t know the answer. It can be alarming knowing the answer to the question you do not want to ask. I avoided asking myself questions in high school. I lived in fear of what other people thought of me. The difference between leaders and followers are the questions they ask themselves.
Questions are good reminders of what the individual believes in. Rather than how outside triggers cause us to feel. It is important to respect yourself enough to ask tough questions that distinguishes your beliefs from what other people believe of you. The power of perspective lies in the ability to identify the difference between the thinker and the thoughts. The thinker drives the thoughts, not the other way around. When attention is not focused in the right direction, it usually means an outside force is influencing our thoughts and emotions, then actions follow based on our feelings. It is a simple idea to understand but difficult to manage. So, when the times change, all we can do is prepare, adapt and change with them. Failure can be a good teacher if utilized correctly. Most of the time in life the test comes before the lesson. Understanding yourself is a never-ending process of trial and error, progress and failure.
In high school I was a ripe target for bullies. Due to a birth defect that left the bones and tendons rearranged. I was born without a Tibia in my right leg, and a knee that would not straighten. I walked with a deep limp that could be seen from a mile away. This presented a tough challenge of acceptance. Other people having to accept me, and me being comfortable in accepting myself.
One day during school, the bell rang, and the hallway flooded with students. What followed was the shockingly quick and overwhelming cold sweat that coated my back as I walked to class. No matter what path I took, I never managed to avoid conflict. Adversity always presented itself. I was about ten steps away from my classroom when I felt a violent shove to my back which sent me flying forward and airborne for a split second. Laughs quickly followed. Halfway through the fall I knew what had happened. Judging by the laughs I also knew who had pushed me. I would never call them out or ask why they did it. I had trouble understanding how they could treat another person with such little respect.
After these harsh encounters I would feel devastated. People would ask if I was okay. I would lie and say “I’m fine, no big deal!”. I began to lie to myself too, perfecting the skill of hiding my emotions from others because I was fearful of what I may learn from asking a question. I would hide these feelings from my Mom, Dad and brothers thinking I would be viewed as weak for not sticking up for myself. I would lie to other people so much, without knowing, that I eventually began lying to myself.
All throughout the day I would have powerful overwhelming spells of self-doubt that took over and left me confused, scared and alone. Confused, because I thought the guys who pushed me were my friends. Scared, for not being able to defend myself. And alone, for thinking no one wanted to help. I collected my goods and continued my day like nothing was wrong.
People who suffer highly stressful situations never fully recover. Even a small hardship can change a person’s life forever. One influence that allowed me to grow in a productive way was how realistically I viewed my surroundings and the questions I asked myself.
Questions were not the cure all solution, but they offered a great starting point for simplifying my view of the world. When I had to make a tough decision, my thoughts would run faster than my mind could understand. Anxiety began to set in, my heart would race, and my body temperature surged. My emotions would take over and left me feeling out of control. I forfeited all efforts to take action. After a while I began to notice all of these were emotional reactions of a situation. I believe the most efficient way to solve a problem is to properly identify it by knowing which questions to ask and when to ask them.
Think proactively, not reactively.
I began to think of ways on how to steer my attention toward something that boosted my positive vibes. I made sure not to block out, but briefly acknowledged, the harsh surroundings and then pivoted to more realistic ideas.
I would use positive self-affirmations to boost my confidence and get me through some tough times. Questions like: ‘What am I grateful for?’ ‘What am I good at?’ ‘Who has helped me learn and grow?’ Having this self-dialogue drew my attention away from the heavily negative situation and temporarily provided me with a strong sense of accomplishment for my efforts which led to a positive self-image.
I realized the benefits that came from asking important questions, because it shifted my train of thought to a big picture idea. In pursuit of progress, I wanted to take it another step further, so I became more specific by asking ‘How?’
The ‘what’ questions are good, but the ‘how’ questions are great.
If the ‘what’ questions provide a big picture perspective, then the ‘how’ questions serve as an analytical breakdown, or the path taken to achieving those goals. All the time and preparation invested was well spent. Those feelings of accomplishment immediately boosted my confidence. Then I was able to steer my attention in a different direction. I understood why I was feeling more confident because I, not someone else, was in control of my thoughts. I was back to being the creator of my world. Even though I was making progress, there were still improvements to be made.
It felt strange to stand up and speak out in high school whenever I or someone else was being bullied. When most people witness an unjust act, they will not stand up in fear of having to speak out. After a few of these encounters, I realized that I too was a victim of silence. When a student walked down the hall and fell. Papers showered the floor. The person who fell would have to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and collect their belongings while everyone else would walk by casually staring, and then just go about their day like it wasn’t their job to help.
I believe most people felt strange offering help when there was nothing being gained in return. If there is no reward, then why risk the effort? I believe it is important to practice gratuity and maintain a selfless mind-set even when there is no one around because how people treat one another in public is a reflection of how they treat themselves in private. Character is a measurement of one’s moral code, or the qualities and values a person follows in order to live a good life.
Practicing gratuity = greater opportunity
The ability to practice gratuity reminds me that every day I have the opportunity to improve. I am the master of my fate and captain of my ship. I have the ability to dream new ideas, write my own story, and be the best version of myself on any given day. A well-practiced act creates a prepared individual. Abraham Lincoln was quoted saying. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 4 sharpening my axe.”
When I say, ‘practice gratuity’, it doesn’t mean I am faking it. I visualize the practice being no different than how LeBron James or Tom Brady prepares for their games. The time spent preparing off the field is just as important as game time on the field.
So, Whether I am stopping traffic in a crowded intersection to help granny cross the street or simply picking up trash when no one else is around, the time spent improving is never wasted. Taking action and getting accustomed to healthy habits adds value to my stock. These rituals set the tone for how my subconscious mind operates. It holds me accountable for what I say and the actions I take. It is the driving force behind all the decisions I make.
So now, when I am in the right place at the right time and opportunity presents itself, I won’t have to be reminded how to act. It will just happen because I have been there many times before. The simplest way I remember this is by telling myself, you must give to live. If you practice gratuity and dish it out, it is only a matter of time until someone notices it and passes it back your way, or on to the next person in need.
Silver linings can be found in all situations.
This next question to me is probably the most important: ‘What good do I see in other people?’ and ‘How do I bring out the best in others?’
During my senior year of college, I was working out in the gym and noticed someone staring at my leg. Right away I felt like I was being examined and criticized for my physical disability. The result was me judging people before I got the chance to know them. I had to take a step back and realize that I was becoming the prejudice type of person that I once tried to prevent. Yes, I was being watched, but no, I was not being criticized. The criticism was only my own interpretation of the situation. Observing was his way of asking a question. He was just a little unsure about how to transfer his thoughts into words, then the next step was to work up the courage to ask a question.
I noticed the benefits of situations like this and I began to think of improvements that could be made. I quickly identified someone’s interest, and regardless of whether or not their intentions were positive or negative, I chose to not judge them and allow the situation to simply play out. The next step was to take action!
I would go up to people and start up a conversation by asking ordinary questions such as: ‘Are these machines new?’ Or, ‘Did the school get new equipment over break?’
Once the conversation progressed, I transitioned into something related to my physical disability. I would say something like. ‘The new pads on these machines are great because it takes the pressure off my leg’. I would divert all the attention to my physical difference. At first it would catch people off guard, but after hearing my offering, it gave them confidence and made them feel more comfortable so they could ask questions of their own. Soon enough, the conversation would grow, and before I knew it, I had a new friend.
The situation I described above is related to how I met a good friend of mine years ago, and we remain friends to this day. These encounters taught me that if I can observe and process what is going on around me, then I can work on my responses. In return, I began to see others as contributors rather than competitors. I noticed there was more strength in the transparency of thoughts, rather than blocking them out.
Questions can create barriers or build bridges. It is up to the creator on how they choose to use them.
I started from a low place in life. I struggled with my self-image and confidence based on my physical appearance. Questions served as a flashlight when I was confused and left in the dark. Questions brought perspective and understanding into my life. Questions encouraged me to confront obstacles and to take action! They forced me out of my comfort zone where I was able to learn and grow. Questions held me accountable for my actions and gave me the ability to identify and improve.
I believe people everywhere must realize that there are always choices to be made and actions to be taken. There is so much valuable information out there that shouldn’t be ignored just because of appearances. Some people will remain silent for a lifetime, not leaving their comfort zones in fear of what a question may bring. It is your obligation as a free-thinking individual to challenge a person or an idea by asking questions.
No matter what you have been through in life or how you feel today, there is another person out there going through a similar situation and they can truly benefit from hearing your story.
Don’t ever give up!
James HEALEY, Monthly Mentor, is an enthusiastic Motivational Speaker that specializes in self-development, personal growth, identity crisis and confidence building. He is a licensed facilitator in the Alternative to Violence Project which makes him an ideal candidate for speaking engagements. James has given talks to students at DeSales University and Lafayette College on how determination and grit helped him overcome adversity and built him into the stronger and smarter person he is today. His speeches are focused around the idea that each individual is the creator of their own world. His personal experience of being born without a tibia and a current amputee provide the audience with an authentic perspective that leaves them with a lasting impression that any challenge can be overcome and any dream can be achieved. Read More…