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July 2018

Not Everyone Wants Help

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I was out on a date recently and asked a really lovely first-date question: “So, what are you best at?”

I answered how I wanted to hear myself answer: “Helping people.”

That is what I want to be the best at. I want to help. I open doors for people, smile at someone

“Here to help!” I pick up trash pretty much everywhere I go.

who is having a bad day, pick up a piece of litter so someone else won’t be distracted from the beauty of a park, lead yoga sessions so my students can relax, work with people to create a life plan that allows them to fulfill their dreams, write articles that provide useful advice, balance chakras, tell funny stories that make people laugh, inspire people to learn something about themselves or the world or simply pet someone’s kitty while they’re out of town.

I like to say, “Here to help!” And I really mean it.

Ever since I was a kid, I remember my parents instilling service into my life. I was required to clear the dishes and clean my room. I made a little extra cash pulling weeds and painting the garage door. I babysat. I fed the neighbor’s fish. I helped my mom set up her classroom before the school year began. I cleaned my grandmother’s house. I even spent a middle school-era Spring Break at a community service camp, where a few good-doers like myself mixed with juvenile delinquents busting out court-ordered community service orders to paint the houses and mend the front porches of low-income folks in my town. (My parents were super-stoked when I came home with a boyfriend from the other side of the tracks! This is called foreshadowing, for the literary types.)

I’m a solutions-based person, interesting in finding solutions so people can get past their problems and on to the next amazing thing that will happen in their lives. I love it when I can facilitate others as they overcome their obstacles and find success. There’s nothing better than others reaching their own potentials and giving back to the world. It’s almost like I’m just paying it forward: By helping others, I am creating a friendlier, more loving and fun world that I get to live in. The more happy people there are, the more happy people around me. I never said I was best as selfless service!

But alas, I recently learned a lesson that not everyone wants help. I’m in a Facebook group

A truth bomb from the OG peace warrior

about women who are living in Korea. I’ve been in the country for about six weeks, long enough to know that I must quell my American instinct of crossing the street when the “walk” sign isn’t lit, even though there are no cars approaching. I am supposed to just stand and wait for the green light, just like everyone else. No, my skin isn’t a glossy white, and I’m not listening to K-Pop, but I am understanding the cultural values of assimilation and subservience. This is a work-hard, play-hard country – but the fact that often workers go out drinking with the boss and must continue to drink (even until passing out) and laugh as long as the boss wants them too is really saying something.

In the Facebook group, a woman posted a concern she was having: She kept going out with guys, sleeping with them and then they would disappear. She was fearing that she wasn’t “girlfriend material,” and wanted to know if anyone felt the same way. This wasn’t a Korean problem, of course. It was more of a problem for people who had low self-esteem, did not understand themselves enough to understand what they wanted in a partner and thus constantly attracted the kind of people that caused them misery. From the outsider perspective, it was fairly obvious that she needed to take a break from dating and certainly casual sex and take a long, good look in the mirror. So, here comes Ms. Fix-It: I suggested in the comments section that she talk to a licensed therapist.

My Spirit Animal: Richard Scarry’s classic repairman extraordinaire

Outrage ensued! Not only was the original poster horribly offended that I should suggest such a thing, numerous others chimed in at how rude I was. One woman even told me that I was a “terrible human” for suggesting such a thing. The moderator blocked me from commenting on the page for 24 hours. It was amazing. Retrospectively, I guess I was too straightforward in my recommendation and should have couched it in more niceties, but I didn’t say anything remotely unkind. I honestly thought I was helping her.

In this post-Trump era, I’m certainly gotten used to people lashing out at my opinions on Facebook. Two years ago, when a friend – a real friend, someone who I went out for drinks with and laughed about silly stuff together – told me in no uncertain terms that he thought I was stupid, ignorant and uneducated because I had the audacity to support Hillary Clinton over the monster holding office now. When I received the barrage of angry, condemning messages from him, I cried. A month later, when a Republican, conservative friend of a friend told me to “go to the toilet and find a snack,” I was really taken aback. Now, well, I see this is the evolution of social media and American society in general.

Instead of getting my feathers ruffled and puffing out my chest as I read the angry reaction to my seemingly normal comment (a few people did support the idea, but they too were immediately blocked), I looked within myself. What could I learn from this? What I realized, simply, that not everyone wants help.

This woman did not want a solution to her problem. She wanted other people to say, “Girl! It’s those jerky guys! You do YOU! Wooo!” She wanted people to commiserate. She wanted to vent. She did not want to change. As Marshall McLuhan says, “The medium is the message.” If she really wanted to change, a Korean ladies Facebook group was not the medium for it.

And guess what: That’s OK! I am constantly trying to dig deeper into my pit of compassion (luckily, I have yet to find the bottom), and I realized that by jumping ahead of where this woman was in her life, I was showing not just a lack of compassion but also impatience: Like, come on, lady! *Insert eye roll* Just go to a therapist, figure your stuff out and carry on!

Photographic evidence that I have the ability to STFU and listen to someone, in case you thought otherwise

That attitude is simply not fair. And so, even though I’m not sure my comment warranted such backlash from these women, many of whom are ex-pats having lived in Korea for much longer than I, I understand it. I understand my role in it. And really, isn’t that all we can do? I recently read an article about how when people do things that do not make sense to us, it’s not that they’re doing illogical things. It’s that we just do not understand the totality of their life experience. What they are doing makes sense to them. They may have never had the opportunity to develop skills or critical thinking that would allow them the self-analysis needed to work through their own problems. Because, of course, even therapists don’t know the solution to your problems – only you do. You have to figure yourself out (professional therapists and life coaches help you do that). That’s part of our job here on Earth.

Does this mean that I should stop helping? Of course not. But part of being an effective teacher is meeting people where they are. If Johnny wants to be a better person but can’t read, you’re not helping him by assigning him a book report on Eckhardt Tolle’s “A New Earth: How to Create a Better Life.” As a trained journalist, I spent a decade listening to people and then trying to process their thoughts in an easy-to-understand way for everyone else. I listened a lot. But I want to listen better. I want to know how you want me to help.

New Economy, New Relationships

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I didn’t have much in the way of expectations when I booked an express train to Busan, a Korean beach town about four hours by express train and metro from my flat. I got myself a cheap bed in a hostel near the beach, packed a bag and left.

Besides a sunburn, this weekend offered me a reminder about the different types of relationships we have in our lives, and how the ones that are important may not be the ones you are thinking of.


Big family near medium-sized Buddha, attachment near detachment in Busan, Korea

I’m a bohemian. I travel constantly and have for the last four years. I work online from the comfort of whatever couch or coffee shop I happen to choose. I’m part of the community of people in this new, remote and global economy, and I’ve read lately how this segment of folks calling themselves digital nomads are akin to the employees of the Industrial Revolution or even the techies active in the early 90s online boom. It’s not a stretch to hypothesize that we are creating a new turn on how the economy works for everyone.

Why? Well, for one, I work whenever I choose. When I talk to my mom, she always asks me, in a distressed and worried voice, “So, are you WORKING?” As if my money is drying up … as if, contrary to my reality, I’m not actually saving money while traveling the world. Yes, I’m working! On the 260-km/hr train to Busan, there’s high-speed internet access. I did three hours of work, then spent a few days touring the city and playing my ukulele on the beach. Heading back to Seoul, I finished up another assignment and, combined with my overall low cost of living, have made more in my five hours of work in the past four days than I did back when I worked in an office all week.

This provides me time for creativity and exploration. I choose to fill my free time with life experiences, cultural adventures and learning about the world around me. I was able to learn a new musical instrument. I also wrote a humor book that a friend recently told me made her laugh out loud – the absolute best compliment I could have received! I can


With a group of new friends, exploring the Sticky Waterfall outside Chiang Mai, Thailand

exercise every day, cook plenty of meals and live a low-stress lifestyle. Not every digital nomad has this type of life, but I think this freedom to live as we choose is exactly what we all seek.

But, no. We seek more. We seek connection. We seek love. Besides chatting every week or so with my mother, but my interaction with my family is extremely limited. The last time I talked to my nephew, he had to catch himself calling me “Suzanne” instead of “Aunt Suzanne.” Even before middle school, I was a black sheep of my family. It used to make me sad. But I’ve changed my thinking completely. Now I am beyond grateful for this, as it has created the foundation I needed for the free lifestyle I live in continued travels around the world. If I had great attachments to my family, I could not live the life I do. If my family was constantly pressuring me to come “home” so they could see me, it would be more challenging to explore Asia, Oceania, South and Central Americas and the Caribbean. What I used to see as a lack of caring was actually the gift of freedom to be myself.

It’s not the length of the relationship that matters to me, but the quality. What type of people am I bringing into my life? This weekend, I was at the beach and when I awoke from my nap, I discovered a huge Korean family had set up literally all around me. So, I


Sharing the best Moscow mules of our lives and making memories in a secret bar in Korea

watched them. There were many cousin/siblings around the same age, and they were teasing each other and getting each other wet in the freezing cold ocean. One girl was quite overweight, and I watched as the boys all gathered around her, starting to pick her up to throw her in the ocean. She freaked out and wriggled out of their grasps, and it was clear that it really wasn’t about the water – in minutes she was swimming – but the fact that she was self-conscious about being picked up. She started to sulk away sorely, and then a man – I’ll call him Dad – rushed over to her and put his arms around her. He encouraged her to turn back to the sea, and another older boy came up and walked with them as they clearly were talking her into only “getting in up to her knees.” These men wouldn’t let her stay upset. Before long, she was laughing with everyone else. These are the types of people I want in my life.

I’m so thankful that, even though it’s been a couple years since I’ve had someone whom I would call “boyfriend,” I’m blessed with the kindness and company of men (and women) who make me feel special. In fact, what may seem like ancillary friendships are actually quite meaningful to me. Just this morning, I woke up to a video call from a friend exactly halfway around the world. I’m still smiling at the thought of her face!

Good people are easy to find, and often it’s so much easier to connect with these people when we are alone. When you’re with your mate or your relative, you’re talking to that person and others are less likely to engage with you. But when you’re alone, the world opens up to the possibility of every kind of relationship. For example, after the beach, I decided to try a vegan restaurant I had heard about. I took the subway and figured out through Korean signs and Google maps where it was. I started to walk up the steps when


A new friend, new ideas, new conversation, new connection, new experiences

a man came down.

“Are you looking for the vegan restaurant?” he asked me, as I nodded. “Well, it’s closed from 3 to 5 p.m. I’m hungry too! Hey, follow me!”

And with that, we both made off down the street and he led me to another vegan spot that was somehow tucked behind a corridor of pipe fittings and booths that were clearly for the working locals. We enjoyed lunch together, then returned to the first restaurant to share green tea. He and I talked Buddhism and Thailand, cultural and karmic implications of being a female and a male, and the impending typhoon that was about to hit Busan. And days earlier, I met a Chinese woman in my hostel who just happened to want to check out the exact spots in Busan that I was considering. Without having to do any research at


We’re all exploring and understanding the world together. No, Allison doesn’t speak Korean either.

all, I joined her and had a fun-filled day of connecting and adventuring. Both of these two new friends were looking out for me, making sure I didn’t turn away sadly. They were kind people, so unlike me and yet so very much like me.

Another new friend I met in Busan, an American who recently graduated from university, told me she was working on a study about the importance of meaningful relationships in the health and longevity of senior citizens. My question to her was whether those relationships – the kind with people that you can confide in, call in times of crisis – were vital because those individuals had always needed it, or if my (I guess you could say) more superficial ones were just as important to me.

It’s worth exploring. Perhaps the bohemian lifestyle is not just changing the world economy but also changing the way we interact with other people. What happens when we find equal value in hearts of good people from all over the world, rather than just those “special” people who are in our lives due to geography or biological history? Do we have the same longitudinal health benefits? Can we have the same quality of connections? Can we be even more happy?