February 24, 2010

Kindness always counts…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Spirituality at 7:22 pm by dinaheng

I love watching the Olympics. SInce I’m not a great athlete, I’m always inspired by watching people who excel at sports.

It’s easy to laud those who have the skill to win competitions that show tangible results. There’s little arguing with the stopwatch in a downhill ski run. As long as the Olympian is still standing when crossing the finish line, you usually know who won right away.

There are competitions for almost anything you can imagine — sports, cooking, singing, dancing, chess, mathematics, spelling. Think of any category of human achievement, and someone will invent a contest to measure accomplishments in the field.

Competitions are important because they give us benchmarks to aspire to. They bring people together who have common interests, and they remind us of what’s valuable in life.

Wouldn’t it be something if we ever held a contest to name the world’s kindest people?

Do you ever wonder why random acts of kindness tend to stand out so much in our society? We’re so conditioned to think of ourselves first that any act that benefits another first is seen as a sacrifice, rather than a joy.

If people were rewarded as much for showing kindness as they were for landing triple toe loops or scoring the winning goal in a hockey game, imagine how different life would be. If politicians were elected for their ability to think of others more than themselves, how long would it really take to agree on health care reform?

I believe that kindness is an innate part of being human. We’ve just forgotten to tap into the part of our hearts that automatically open to others in need. We’ve stopped teaching children to be kind, with the same priority we give to excelling in sports or academia, and need to reinforce the lesson with practice and reward.  Until the practice of giving becomes its own reward.

Kindness, after all, is not a hard skill to master. It doesn’t require counting calories, sweating, or grand gestures. It takes just a minute to think of someone else’s needs, along with your own.

I was paying for some craft items recently at a hobby store, using a full page newspaper advertisement that was filled with individual coupons for various items. After the cashier clipped out the two coupons I wanted to use, I turned to the woman in line behind me and offered the rest of the coupons to her.

Surprised, she thanked me, and as I walked away, I heard the cashier say, “That was really kind of her.”

I kind of hope that the cashier kept the rest of the coupons, and gave them away to whoever needed them after us.

I’ve been the recipient of many people’s impromptu gifts, and have come to understand that whenever we give to someone, we’re also giving to ourselves. Because there’s really only One of us.

Athletes train for the Olympics for years, and when the competition ends, they go back to being… themselves. For those who practice kindness, there is no end to the good that can be done… and no greater way to show who we really are.

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February 18, 2010

On the road of life…

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Diversity, Health at 2:55 am by dinaheng

I was driving up to Sedona, Ariz. when I saw a couple standing in the car rental line ahead of me. The man, an African American, was talking with the woman, an Asian American, as they patiently waited their turn.

A few minutes later, after checking out my car, I discovered a problem and went back to ask for another car. The same couple was in line with me again. We smiled at each other, and then took off in different directions.

An hour later, I stopped at an outlet mall to browse and get something to eat. As I sat down at the food court, who should be at the table next to me but… the couple from the car rental counter.

Since there are no accidents in life, I had to introduce myself to find out who they were. Instead of being a married couple on holiday, I discovered that they were a project manager and scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency who travel the region, helping to clean up leaking underground storage tanks on Tribal lands.

“We’ve worked with about two dozen tribes, cleaning up about 153 sites since 2005,” says Carl Warren, project manager for the Leaking Underground Storage Tanks Cleanup initiative. “After World War II, there were a number of trading posts established across the southwest, but many gas stations were later abandoned.”

Now, Warren and his colleague Tess Salire, a physical scientist with the U.S. Army Corps  of Engineers, are charged with identifying problem facilities, determining the responsible parties, and cleaning up the leaks that threaten natural resources, drinking water and the health of Native American communities in California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.

One reason the two have been able to establish good working relationships with the tribes is because they make a point to respect the viewpoints of the Native Americans. Warren’s gregarious personality also helps.

“I’m a people person, and I don’t ever meet anyone with preconceived ideas,” Warren says. “A lot of times you can get hung up on the differences between cultures.”

Salire, who’s a Filipina, says in many instances, her racial background has been an advantage in working with the various tribes.

“Most of the tribes think I’m one of them because of my color, and the way I look,” Salire says. “The advantage is they welcome you, and talk to you like you’re one of them. The disadvantage is when you’re in a community, they know you’re not from there, so some may have a personal mistrust.”

It’s interesting how we decide whether to trust a stranger or not. Most of us probably have an instinctive trust of people who look like us. Whenever I see non-Asians who have adopted Asian babies, I notice that the babies always look at me with a smile of recognition, as if on some level, they know that we are kin.

Beyond skin color, though, I think we tune into the energy of people we feel safe around, as well as those that threaten us. Some of us are comfortable with trusting people immediately. Some of us prefer to let others into our lives gradually.

Listening to Warren talk about the Tribal communities is a reminder that many live in our midst under conditions that most would find appalling.

“Tribal lands have some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and their graduation rates are among the lowest,” Warren says. “They don’t have full coverage of electricity, and all don’t have clean drinking water. You hear about Tribal casinos, but most of the tribes aren’t benefitting from them, like the big tribes do.”

What has working with the Native Americans taught them?

For Salire, “The Native Americans are very sincere people who are proud of their race and culture. As a Filipina, it’s taught me to be more proud of my race and culture. I’m confident being around anyone now because of that.”

Warren admires the connection that Native Americans have with Earth and Mother Nature, and says he was honored once to receive a blessing for safe travels from a Navajo medicine man.

“I know my great-grandparents on both sides, and there’s 150 years of history as an African American that I know about,” he adds. “With the Native Americans, I feel a brotherly connection, and they remind me that regardless of the obstacles you confront in life, knowing where you come from really makes a difference.”

Knowing where we come from is half of life’s journey. Meeting new people on the road is the other half. If we’re lucky, those encounters will change strangers into friends.

February 11, 2010

May Valentines surround you…

Posted in Between Us column, Movies, Relationships at 5:51 pm by dinaheng

The movie’s title is linked to February 14, but the joy of “Valentine’s Day” is really meant to be shared year-round.

Whether you’re passionately in love, a lukewarm single, or a jaded heart in need of healing, this film offers laughter, solace, and sweet moments that promise no matter where you are in life, love is all around you. All you have to do is breathe deeply, and let it in.

A cast of stars from the life and filmography of director Garry Marshall share the intertwining storylines of a group of Los Angelenos, who find, keep, or end their relationships on this day devoted to celebrating love. The film, out February 12, opens with Reed Bennett, a florist played by Ashton Kutcher, proposing to his girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba).

When Morley says yes, Reed’s closest friends are surprised, especially Alphonso (George Lopez), the florist’s right-hand man at work and sounding board in his personal life. Alphonso senses that Morley’s not the best match for his friend, but wisely keeps his counsel to himself.

“Not too many friends would tell someone if they had an inkling that things weren’t right because they’d be putting the friendship at risk,” says Lopez, sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel suite. “But if the friendship is strong, and built on love, I think you can say something.

“A friend can say, ‘I’m not that crazy about that person for you.’ In doing this film, I learned to be a more supportive person. I went to a place where I wanted to be every day.”

Being in that place where love dictates our actions is a wonderful place indeed. Most of us know what it’s like to visit — when we first fall in love, when we are hugged by our parents, when we hold a newborn baby — but we don’t know how to stay rooted there.

We get angry, we forget how much someone means to us, and we hurt them. We get frightened, we pull away. We get needy, and hold on too tight. Love’s dance becomes an emotional symphony of conflict.

But Alphonso, a fan of the insightful Persian poet Rumi, remains a calming presence in his friend’s life. Lopez says he kept a book of Rumi’s work at home, reading it for inspiration. And as Rumi’s words say, “All we really want is love’s confusing joy.”

“Rumi’s poetry is all about waiting for love, accepting love, being able to see, but being blinded by love,” Lopez says. “We don’t really own anything in life. All that remains when we leave is love.”

“Valentine’s Day” is a multi-generational tale that shares everything from the angst of childhood crushes to the joy of growing old with someone. Its message is simple… All that really matters — in the beginning, middle, and end of life — is love.

Lopez, married for 16 years to Ann Serrano, says his character Alphonso is the grounded one in the film, a man who has found the secret to a happy marriage.

“People go for shiny, but what always shines the brightest, may not be the best,” Lopez says. “You have to want to be with the person, if it’s going to last. It’s not all about the physical. You have to invest time to get to know people.

“I came from a fractured home life, and not many relationships worked. My wife taught me that somebody can care about you unconditionally. Alphonso said it best.  He said, ‘I married my best friend.’ “

You know what they say… if you want a friend, all you have to do be is be one. The same goes for Valentines.

February 4, 2010

How The Wiggles Became An Empire

Posted in Entertainment at 1:01 am by dinaheng

(CNNMoney.com) — Throw two former preschool teachers, a rock band keyboardist and a singer together and you get the world’s most famous pop band for the toddler set: The Wiggles.

Now in their 18th year, the Australian band has become a global powerhouse in children’s entertainment, earning $45 million annually from live concert tours, albums, TV shows, merchandise and licensing agreements. The bandmates — Anthony Field, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt and Sam Moran — talked with CNNMoney.com about how they created a kid-friendly empire.

To read the rest of Dinah Eng’s article, click here.

Financial planning for life…

Posted in Between Us column, Business at 12:54 am by dinaheng

Justin Krane doesn’t just believe in saving money for the future, he believes in spending to achieve the life you want today.

A Los Angeles financial life planner, Krane’s values were clarified in the wake of 9-11, putting him on a personal path to living life to the fullest.

“I had worked in the World Trade Center at Morgan-Stanley in 1994, and had moved to Los Angeles to do financial advising and investment management,” Krane says. “When 9-11 happened, I thought, ‘I could have been killed if I’d stayed in New York.’ I wasn’t happy with where I was in my life at the time.

“So I took responsibility and got my CFP (Certified Financial Planner) certification. My goal is to get into a client’s mind to help them figure out their financial life. Good financial planning is about meaning, purpose and values, centered around money and life.”

Krane says a lot of financial plans focus on investing for the long term, so that clients can do what they want after retirement. But what about today, or next year? How do you balance your financial needs in the present, with investing for age 65 and beyond?

The answer lies in asking yourself what you value.

“I helped a woman adopt a child, because that’s what she most wanted in her life,” Krane says. “We looked at what she needed to earn to adopt and care for a child, and talked about what she would need to do to position herself better with her boss at work. Then we took the money that was going into her 401(k) and used it for the adoption process.”

Most of us give a lot of power to money, thinking that the amount we earn and spend dictates the quality of our lives. We forget that we are the ones in charge of our lives, and that the amount of money that comes to us is influenced by our beliefs about money.

If you grew up poor, you’re likely to fear losing money more than someone who never had to worry about finances. If you felt abandoned as a child, you probably see financial security differently than someone who grew up in a warm, loving family.

Krane says the key to finding the right financial life planner lies not in the questions you ask them, but in the questions a planner asks you.  For Krane, the important questions to examine include:

* Who are you when you’re at your best?

* What would you do if you had all the money in the world?

* If you had five to 10 years to live, and you didn’t know when you were going to die, what would you want to do with your life?

* If you had one day to live, who did you not get to be, or what did you not get to do?

“The answers tell me what’s important to the client, and what they value,” Krane says. “Until you know where you want to go, I can’t help you get there. Financial life planning is all about how to make your life better with your money.”

After all, what else is money for?