by Alison LaMantia, Redwood supporter
After having the chance to chat face to face with Rhonda, Director of Housing and Family Support at Redwood Park Communities, I walked away wondering how some people become so full of goodness.  ​I thought how interesting it’d be to study people like Rhonda so we can understand more about what leads to such selfless humanity. ​ I’m curious because I think we need more of that in our world — more whole-hearted, non-judgmental love for all humans.
Like so many, I’m troubled by the divisiveness in our local and global society. And I try to do my part. To have compassion for others and myself. To avoid comparison. To create less waste. But Rhonda, like most of the people I’ve met who are connected with Redwood, is operating at a different level. She’s committed her life to creating supportive community. She doesn’t crave recognition. She isn’t grasping at material wealth. She doesn’t see herself as better than others.  I also left with a sense that she’s happy and fulfilled. I thought likely not despite her selfless giving, but perhaps because of it. It’s not that she doesn’t deal with hardship — we all do, and I imagine she sees a lot of it — but her outlook and her sense of purpose seem to move her forward
What if we measured success in cups of coffee? Rhonda told me that she measures their success at Redwood in cups of coffee. Part of the way Redwood provides hopeful housing is through support  — something as simple as a cup of coffee and non-judgmental conversation, holding space for someone, goes a long way. So when Rhonda’s having a lot of coffee chats, she knows they’re making a difference. Rhonda’s unconventional way of evaluating success got me thinking about other ways we can measure success in our lives that have nothing to do with personal recognition, wealth (beyond what we need to thrive in our society), material possessions, appearance or any other superficial factor.
Here’s my list of ideas. I’m sure you can think of more to add! Seven whole-hearted indicators of success Our ability to enjoy the moment There’s such a sense of striving and busyness in our society that I fear so many of us struggle to appreciate the moments we’re in, when in fact, this moment right now is all there is. The idea that we’ll be happy once we achieve some future thing is misguided because when we get to that thing, we’ll already be looking at what’s next. An indication of success might be our ability to be happy now and accept what is. Our strong relationships Human connection is critical to our well-being. Research has linked strong relationships to our long-term health, yet, so many of us are caught up in distraction, to-do lists or stressors that we don’t give time to nurture relationships we do have or cultivate new ones. How we share our gifts or wealth with others Like relationships, research has shown giving is good for us. But many of us feel like we don’t have enough to give. Not enough time. Not enough money. I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be much. I started visiting a long-term care home with my kids while on mat leave, and we’ve kept at it now that I’m a freelancer. It takes about 8 hours a month for us to do weekly visits, and it’s had a positive impact on me and my kids, as well as the residents. Eight hours per month isn’t much to carve out if you consider some reports show we spend about two hours a day on social media!  We also donate a small amount to Redwood and other charities we believe in. We set up monthly giving for amounts we felt we could manage with our budget. We don’t even notice it anymore — just as we don’t notice the amount of money we spend monthly on things like take-out coffee. How engaged we are with our kids Parenting can be a challenge — there’s no denying that. I’ve noticed a connection between my kids’ behaviour and how distracted I am.  If I’m with my kids and I’m distracted by a work task or a worry about the future (that I have no evidence will happen anyway), I find their behaviour becomes more challenging. I haven’t looked into the science on this, it’s just my observations, but perhaps something to experiment with if you have kids. How we talk to ourselves Have you ever paid attention to the voice in your head? If you have, you may have noticed it’s not always kind. It might critique your appearance, the decisions you make, how you’re doing in comparison to another person, your level of achievement  — there are so many things. What if we talked to ourselves like a dear friend? The smiles we give Smiles are easy to give. Even if you don’t want to chat, making eye contact and smiling at another person sends a signal that I see you. It’s a small way to acknowledge our shared humanity. None of us is better than another person. So, why not try giving smiles equally and see how it feels? How well we know our neighbours I do a fair bit of writing on social isolation for one of my clients, so I’ve developed an appreciation for the value of human connection. Have you ever thought about how well you know your neighbours? Do you talk to them regularly? Would you be willing to have a meal together or help them out? Could you call on them when you’re in need? There’s a beautiful peace of mind that can come from having strong connections with neighbours. It’s nice to know people are there looking out for us. Set your success indicators Sometimes it seems there’s a pre-determined series of steps we’re supposed to follow in life and things like academic achievement, jobs, weight, appearance, likes on social media, income level, size of home, accumulation of material things, etc. are the indicators we look at to evaluate ourselves and others.  ​ We all have the chance to set our success indicators. We can choose not to be swayed by societal norms or pressure and live our lives guided by the things that research has shown do matter to our well-being and the well-being of our human existence. And we can accept that we are all intrinsically worthy, just as we are.  I don’t know about you, but I’m comforted by the idea that something as simple as a cup of coffee and supportive conversation can have a positive impact on our life experience. The key is to make time for it.  Alison LaMantia lives in Oro-Medonte. She’s a mom of two young kids and freelance communicator who is passionate about helping social good organizations. Alison and her husband are monthly supporters of Redwood and she volunteers from time to time.