Category Archives: Advice

Best Left Alone

My teenage son is lazy. He doesn’t try hard at school and won’t do any jobs. What should I do?

Humans are silly at the best of times, but possibly the silliest humans, and the ones most avoided by Sparks, are teenagers.

But to be fair, how can you expect a human being to behave rationally when they’re under the influence of a surging cocktail of adrenal stress hormones, sex hormones, and growth hormones? Not to mention at the same time being completely obsessed with their own bodies?

If only humans were able to grow cocoons and go into hibernation for 4 – 8 years. It would be a far more graceful transition. But alas, no, the biological complications of long-term hibernation on the human body would be very complicated, and since new experience is such an important part of human development, teenagers really need to be cognizant throughout the transitory period.

Teenagers remind me a bit of foals galloping for the first time. Cautious, yet thrilled by their own strength. Suddenly their bodies feel awkward and the way they appear to the world becomes a major preoccupation and source of anxiety to them. Unfortunately some humans never really grow out of it this body neurosis, but most humans eventually begin to accept the way they look and make the best of it, particularly when there are other things to interest them like money and food and other substances.

It interests me to see how teenagers react differently to the transition. Some teenagers behave like clumsy fools, drunk on adrenaline, doing their best to draw attention to how idiotic they look, while others withdraw, seeming to do everything they can to hide from the world and avoid all interaction with it.

It sounds like your son is more the reclusive type, which is probably the best type of teenager to live with.  It may not look like it on the surface, but there will be far more activity going on in his mind than you would imagine. The world is becoming a more complex and daunting place to him and his brain has to process and deal with all the new information.

You could be forgiven for assuming that he is completely self-absorbed, lazy and oblivious to others, but he’s actually very busy observing how other people react to him, and believe it or not, the way you react to him does affect him and does matter to him.

My advice is to give him a break. Growing takes a lot of energy and he’s probably just really tired a lot of the time. Your frustration will only add to his anxieties and if you nag him he’ll retreat further and resent you for it. Give him room to grow and time to adjust. Let him know you care about him in non-intrusive ways. Show interest in the things he enjoys doing without interfering. Let him occupy himself. Be less demanding and more encouraging.

Have patience and he’s far more likely to emerge from his cocoon a confident, articulate, well adjusted, motivated individual who will appreciate, respect and surprise you.

The Spark.

The things we do because we care

I’m losing my faith in humanity.  I, like many of the stories I’ve read here, have some form of forward thinking where I see our destructive nature, our denial at our own hand in it, and the outright narcissism and hatred towards those of us who bear the weight of this knowledge and try to educate others, or battle injustice, disease, disaster capitalism, and social injustice daily.

My current dilemma?  I’m taking part in the American cancer society’s annual bike-a-thon in Philadelphia this year.  I participated last year also.  To do this, I “donate” a pretty sizeable fee to ride, and also try to get donations for my team.  The ACS doesn’t just throw money at junk medicine and science as many people seem to take pride in trumpeting about, but provide critical services to those who have cancer and need support, rides, and medical assistance.

I struggled last year with raising donations, and finally succumbed to asking people very directly and being pushy in a salesman-type way, which is not my way. It was an internal struggle, but I felt as if I had to be pushy and hated it.  This year, I’ve only posted on FB and asked people more generally for donations, and with only a 6 weeks before the ride, I’ve gained exactly $0 in donations.  One facebook post asking for donations resulted in someone ridiculing the ACS and discouraging others from donating.  These are supposed to be my friends?

I feel depressed that had any of them asked me for a donation to their cause, with very few exceptions, I would happily have supported their efforts.  I only give pause to the most known corrupt charities and always do my homework on who helps, and most really do help to great degrees.

So yeah, every attempt to raise donations has only resulted in my increased sense of loss- loss of people I thought were friends, loss of my feelings towards humanity, and loss of some self.  I often wonder how well I could do in this world had I only sheer ignorance, denial, and a fair amount of narcissism in me.  At times I wish I was a jerk like everyone else, but I’m not.  I can’t change who I am, but I’m terribly discouraged right now.

Caring can sometimes feel like a burden, or a losing battle, especially when the time comes to take action.  Those who feel genuine concern are the ones who are left to shoulder the less glamorous tasks of organizing, corresponding, following up, and raising funds, whilst the “trumpeters” are nowhere to be seen or heard.  I empathize strongly with your feelings of frustration and discouragement, and I would even go so far as to say that if my Spark capabilities allowed it, I would feel frustrated and discouraged myself.  In fact, you may find it a comfort to know that you are by no means alone in the world of despair and frustration when it comes to caring and wanting to make the world a better place. You can be sure that anyone who has ever made an impact on social justice or environmental issues has experienced a healthy dose of discouragement, depression and loss of self-worth through their many fruitless attempts to be heard or taken seriously. It takes a lot of courage, determination and perseverance to break through the seemingly impenetrable wall of complacency that surrounds you, in the form of “friends” and family, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers in the crowd. Knock-backs and indifference hurt, particularly when it’s directed towards a cause that you feel passionate about.

The important thing to remember is that the wall is not impenetrable, it is possible to have an impact, and every attempt to chip away helps. For every hundred people who don’t seem to care, there will be a precious few who will applaud you and value your efforts. This is what makes it feel worthwhile. But even if nobody recognizes or appreciates your commitment, pressing on and doing everything you can do, just to know that you did your best, is still important, because it matters to you and the things you feel strongly about are worth fighting for.

There are two parts to my advice, and depending on how the first part goes you might not need the second.

The first thing is to keep trying to raise donations, which will involve asking for them, but doesn’t mean you have to become a salesman. Use personal appeals to those who you think might be most receptive and spread the net wider to find people who are genuine and willing to support your cause. Maybe there are people and places you haven’t yet thought of approaching? You could ask others who are participating in the ACS ride how they are going with fund raising and see if they can offer you advice, or even just moral support.  It really does help. You could give your “friends” both in and out of Facebook a reminder. There may be some people who did like the idea, but just forgot.

The content of your appeals and reminders is where you can concentrate on not being too pushy, but bear in mind that some people might need you to explain why you think the charity is worthwhile. Others might be compelled if they knew how much it would mean to you if they helped you, or  they might need to know that even a very small donation is appreciated – that they don’t have to give more than they can spare. If you choose your words carefully it should be possible to make a respectable effort to raise donations without feeling you have been too pushy. Don’t feel you have to be someone you aren’t, but remember that you will more likely come across as passionate than pushy.

If your efforts to raise donations still leave you feeling depressed because certain people disappoint you, then the second part of my advice is to use your empathy to help you feel better.

Pick one of the people who disappointed you, assume that deep down they are a decent person and imagine being them. Try to work out why they behaved the way they did. For example, did the person who ridiculed ACS on Facebook think they were helping you by warning you? Or were they feeling envious because they don’t manage to do charity rides (but would like to)? Maybe they aren’t fit enough or can’t afford to make the donation required? Others might be going through some kind of crisis and haven’t got the energy to pay attention to you. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, but if you put yourself in their shoes it will not only make you feel better but help you to work out how to be more successful in future campaigns.

The Spark

Don’t be discouraged by mass ignorance

What can I do? I mean really, is there any point in caring? Does it make any difference? When I see images of starving children, or rainforest destruction, or when I’m confronted with the facts as to the extent of our current ecological and economic crisis, I think ‘This is wrong! We have to do something about this!’ But what can you do when our ‘elected representatives’ appear to be powerless to ‘fix’ the problems, and we live within a social framework that relies on, and encourages unethical, self-destructive behavior.

I’ve been campaigning and fighting political battles for decades. It’s tedious, exhausting and disheartening. I feel like I’ve been repeating myself for years, and still, most people just don’t want to listen and don’t seem to care. Why is it so hard to get people to act? I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle and even though, in my heart, I know that not caring or acting is wrong, I only have so much strength and will to keep believing that it’s worth it. Am I wasting my time? Would I be happier if I ignored my self-righteous urges and just made the most of what I have today? Should I just forget about future generations and injustice like everyone else seems perfectly happy to do?

Don’t give up. Your courage and perseverance are admirable, and the causes you’re fighting for are crucial. Never doubt what your heart tells you, and always say what’s in your heart. You are one of the few humans who‘s brave enough to look reality square in the eye without cringing or looking away. Not only are you unafraid to acknowledge what you see, you are also moved enough by what you see to want it to stop and you feel the need to do something about it.   It’s true, most people are unwilling to acknowledge or respond to the things they see, because they are humans, and humans have a very limited capacity to deal with future problems, particularly when their immediate needs are as relentless and demanding as most people’s obligations tend to be. Denial is a powerful tool that allows people to feel safe and comfortable in the face of crisis, and to continue on, business as usual, doing the things they do to make their problems worse. Don’t be discouraged by this mass ignorance. There are still plenty of other humans with resident sparks, who need you and appreciate you.  Some of them will be outspoken like you are, others may be quiet and disillusioned, but the more you continue to communicate your message by speaking up in public, writing letters, asking questions, submitting articles to publications and joining with other groups and individuals who share your concerns, the more you will be contributing to the solutions.  You can’t fight this battle alone, but you don’t need to.  Your team is out there waiting for you, you just need to find them and co-operate with them.  You will never be happier or more fulfilled than you are when you’re fighting for the things that are important to you. Exhaustion, tedium, disillusionment and despair are all part of this struggle, and without them your life would be bland and meaningless. Most people are not truly happy anyway. They are blinded by fear and insecurity and the loneliness that their pretention has created for them. They do act. Their actions consist of going through the motions of pretending to be alive. As long as your actions are honest and fair, and true to what you believe in, no matter what you do, it will always be worth it.

The Spark

Stop wasting your energy on worry and put it into action

I wish life was simpler and I didn’t have so many things to worry about.  A friend of mine told me recently about a book she’d read called The Secret. It says that if you want things to go well, you have to picture them going well, and that if you see them going wrong, they are more likely to go wrong. She says that I worry unnecessarily and that I “catastrophize”.

I admit that I do worry a lot, but I do it because when I picture things going badly, I feel more prepared to deal with them, and then when they don’t turn out as bad as I expected, it’s a relief and a happy ending. It’s always the things that I DON’T worry about that go wrong, which is why I think it’s safer to worry, and then things will always turn out better than I expected.

My friend thinks this is silly and says it doesn’t work that way. I would like to be more relaxed, and I wonder if maybe my friend could be right.  What do you think?

I can see how this preparation strategy might appear to work for you, but quite frankly, you’re deluded if you believe that what you picture in your mind has any control whatsoever over “the way things turn out”.  That’s ridiculous and impossible. Nobody can control their external environment with the power of thought alone.

If you look at the immense scheme of things, of all the occurences and events that are unfolding at any given time, your concerns are a mere ripple in an ocean… if that. The possibilities that will influence the outcomes of your worries are infinite, interconnected and variable. What you picture in your mind is pure fantasy, and I can assure you that imagining possible outcomes won’t make the slightest difference on real outcomes.

The only way you can make a difference to a situation, is by contributing your real action.  Imaginary brain activity alone is useless. Visualization is necessary to map out the steps of your action plan, and obviously if you can visualize these steps clearly and see them working, it will make things much easier for you when the time comes to carry them out.  So in this sense, yes, your friend could be right.

It’s important to recognize which are the things that ARE in your control, and which things you can’t control. Whatever you can do to improve the situation, do it.  Then accept that everything else is “out of your hands”. No amount of worrying or hoping that the weather will be good, or that people will react the way you want them to react, or that the plane won’t crash, will make any difference.

And anyway, who’s to judge if a situation turns out well, or if it turns out badly? The outcome you hope for is probably not the best one. Just because the outcome is different to the one you were hoping for, that doesn’t make it a bad one. It just is what it is, and if you can accept it, you’re more likely to see the benefits of it.  So if you can let go of any pre-concieved hopes or expectations of how a situation “should” unfold, take things as they come, and play your part in taking these circumstances (whatever they may be) and turning them to your advantage, then you can do no wrong.

Or to put it more simply, just do yourself a favour and stop worrying. If you haven’t already done everything you can to contribute to a positive outcome, then stop wasting your energy on worry and put it into action.

The Spark.

Change is what gives our lives spark

My life at the moment is so dull. My relationships (with my spouse, friends and family) are all lacking something. My work is just something I do for money and even my hobbies don’t make me happy. What can I do to get back the spark?

Thank you for such a great question, and I’m sorry to hear that you feel that way about the things in your life right now.  But nothing is lacking.  You don’t need to add any sort of magic ingredient to your life to spark it up from the outside. Your relationships with people, your work and your hobbies are not the problem, and you can’t expect to be able to spark them up. They’re beyond your control. Your spark comes from within, and it’s something you create for yourself.

Before I tell you how, just imagine a city at night viewed from the sky with all the car headlights racing around.  You’ll see the big motorways with lots of well-ordered traffic moving swiftly, and there will also be the smaller streets and lanes where the traffic is more erratic and irregular. There will also be some streets with no traffic at all. Now imagine that those cars travelling around the city are the thoughts in your head, only that in YOUR city nearly all of the traffic is moving along one or two big motorways in the same direction, going round and round in a loop. Imagine how bored the passengers of these cars must be! They see the same thing over and over and over again and even if the things they see change around them, the passengers don’t really notice or care because they’re too concerned with staying on the motorway and keeping on track.

The only way the course of these cars might change is if an obstacle appears in their path and they’re forced to stop or find a detour around it.  The motorway could also gradually change its course, becoming wider, more direct, and the cars will adapt to the extra space and speed.  Or there could be an accident.  Maybe one car  runs off course and causes a crash.  Then the people in the cars will be forced to get out of their cars and assess the damage, decide what to do, and cope with their unfamiliar emotional responses. These changes are not voluntary changes, and are probably changes that the passengers of the cars would like to avoid if possible, but each one of these incidents in an opportunity to create change, and change is what gives us the feeling of excitement – or spark.

There’s another possibility our passengers haven’t considered.   What if they decided to try a different route, just for a change.  Nothing too adventurous or daring, just a quick little detour for the heck of it. When they’ve had enough they can return to the highway and continue on their way without wasting too much time.  Maybe it was fun, and a week later they decide to try it again, but they might go a different way, and other cars around them might notice them turning off the highway and they might be curious, so they also decide one day to go and see what all the fuss is about.  What if gradually all the cars began trying new routes and seeking new destinations and breaking up, exploring the city independently.  They’d discover that there’s so much to see and do, but nothing has really changed except their choices. There might be more accidents, and some cars will get lost, but this will lead to opportunities to do something new and different – something that otherwise they may not have tried.

So anyway, getting back to your question.  What can you do?  It’s simple.  Try new things, break up your routine, don’t do the same things in the same way over and over again. Look for opportunities to make your everyday experiences different, and also do something brave everyday! These things can be small and insignificant at first – change the order you eat the food on your plate, part your hair on the other side, walk on the other side of the street etc.  But try some brave changes too, like smiling and saying hello to a neighbor one day, instead of ignoring them. Or going to a different shop to buy your groceries, or read in the evenings instead of watching TV.  There are infinite ways to create novelty in your life without creating major changes or needing to “add” anything.  You’ll discover how much more exciting all the same old dull things can be when you look for new opportunities to enjoy them differently, and you are bound to discover exciting surprises that you never knew were there.

The Spark.

Valentine’s Day has very little to do with genuine love

My husband didn’t get me anything for Valentine’s Day. Do you think that means he doesn’t love me enough?

Without knowing exactly what you consider to be “enough” love, it’s difficult for me to give you an answer.  It’s also difficult to know how much weight can be given to Valentine’s Day as a measure of your husband’s love towards you.  Valentine’s Day may be completely irrelevant to your husband. If your relationship is based on respect, friendship and soulful connection, then the idea of making obligatory gestures as part of a commercialized, mass-frenzy of superficial love giving could seem insulting to your husband.  His love for you may be so solid, deep and unquestionable that he doesn’t see the need to show you any extra evidence of this. Maybe he is just not an overtly affectionate person. This doesn’t mean that he is incapable of love, or that he doesn’t love you enough, it could just mean that he is more sensitive with his feelings and he prefers to keep them well guarded.

Having said all that, I can see how his indifference towards Valentine’s Day could be interpreted as indifference towards you, or that by him not making any effort, you could be left feeling that he thinks you are not worth the effort.  These are reasonable conclusions to jump to, but not necessarily the only ones.

Has your husband been more romantic on past Valentine’s Days? It could just be that he expects you to know how he feels now, so he doesn’t see the need to go on reminding you again and again every year. Maybe he considers Valentine’s Day to be a cliché and feels that he shows you his love more frequently, in other ways.

Perhaps more important questions to be asking yourself are: Do you feel loved and appreciated by your husband in other ways?  Does he value your opinion?  Does he like to see you laugh? Do you tell each other your hopes and fears? Do you feel empathy for one another, and enjoy one another’s company?

Valentine’s Day is for people who want to make a show of their affection.  It has very little to do with genuine love.  I wouldn’t take it too seriously.  Did you get your husband anything for Valentine’s Day?

The Spark.

Holy Sheet

I’m so sick of fitted sheets.  I hate them!  I can never fold them properly, so they are always rumpled when I go to put them on my bed and they take up too much room in my linen closet. Does everyone have this problem?  Is there a secret method to folding a fitted sheet neatly?

Rest assured. You are not alone.  Every house-proud adult has undoubtedly struggled with a fitted sheet at some point in their lives.  It’s normal, and the good news is that it needn’t be a struggle.  Here are some suggestions which may help you to overcome your loathing of fitted-sheets:

1. Pay less attention to the disorderly state of your linen closet and enjoy the rumples in your sheets when you put them on your bed.  Why do you rumples upset you?  I think they are expressive and have interesting unique patterns.  Perhaps you have too many things in your linen closet and that is what irritates you when your fitted sheets are a bit bulky.  Do you have anything in there that you don’t use anymore?  Maybe you could clean it out a bit and donate what you don’t need to a charity shop.  Most people cope alright with bulkily folded fitted sheets.  Why not just do your best and not worry about it.

2. Have a look on YouTube for some video demonstrations on how to fold a fitted sheet.  Here are some good ones to try.

3. Don’t use fitted sheets.  Why do you think that hospitals and many hotels and resorts don’t use fitted sheets on their beds? This is because professionals who need to make multiple beds and wash loads of linen know that fitted sheets are a con.  An experienced housekeeper can strip and remake a hotel bed using two flat sheets more quickly and neatly than it is possible to do using a fitted sheet and a flat sheet.  There are techniques, such as the ‘hospital corner’ technique, that use two flat sheets, which (when practiced) are quicker and give a far more professional finish to the bed.  You will also discover that it is sometimes more economical to buy single flat sheets and pillow cases than sets.

Here are some demonstrations of methods for making a bed using two flat sheets.

Have fun!!

The Spark.

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