Archive for January, 2014

As you might recall, gentle reader, the garden metaphor is one of my favorites.  One of the reasons I embrace this metaphor is because it is a paradox: I am BOTH the garden and the gardener.  Another reason is because gardens require seeds.  And as the gardener of my own garden (my self) I sow seeds.  Some of these I find and choose and some of these are given to me by others and I then sow these for any number of reasons: I might choose a seed because it appeals to me; I might choose a seed because some ‘authority’ in my life tells me that it will be ‘good’ for me to sow this seed; I might choose a seed because I am coerced or manipulated into choosing it; I might choose a seed because of a character strength (i.e. virtue) or a character weakness (i.e. vice); there are other reasons that I might choose a particular seed but these few examples should suffice for now [by the by, gentle reader, why do you choose to sow certain seeds in the garden that is you?].

Consider that some seeds come in pairs and that in choosing to sow one the other tags along.  Once we have chosen to sow a particular seed we then must choose whether to allow them to lie dormant or whether to nurture them into life.  The time it takes for a seed to be ready for harvesting varies greatly; if we nurture the seed in certain ways it will, at some time, be ready for harvesting.  We then share the abundance of our harvest with ourselves and with others; in sharing we also pass along more seeds to be sown and the cycle continues [we also receive the harvest and the seeds from others].

Consider, gentle reader, some seed-pairs that are common to us humans – these are listed in no particular order.  You might pause and reflect upon each pair and think of the ways that you nurture each into life; which you harvest and give to others.  You might also think about your favorite ways of nurturing and/or of sharing your harvest with others.

Apathy – Engagement
Resignation – Surrender
Dogma – Critical Thinking
Surety – Doubt
Indifference – Compassion
Resistance – Experimenting
Compliance – Commitment
Adaptation – Co-Creation
Buy In – Emotional Ownership
Pessimist – Optimist
Despair – Hope
Dishonesty – Integrity
Unprincipled – Scrupulous
Shunning – Welcoming
Intolerance – Forbearance
Patient – Restless/Agitated

It seems to me that one definition of ‘maturity’ involves our accepting that as ‘mature humans’ we can – and do – accept the responsibility and response-ability for choosing which seeds to nurture, harvest and share and which seeds to accept from others and which of these to sow, nurture, harvest and share.  So, I ask myself: ‘Which seeds are you going to nurture today?’

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The only thing we have to fear is fear itself [FDR].

The fairway looms ahead, open and inviting.  To the left lie a multitude of cavernous bunkers.  To the right meanders a five foot wide rivulet outlined by red stakes.  The golfer looks and notices the fairway but clearly sees the cavernous bunkers and the little rivulet.  The golfer’s self-talk goes something like this.  ‘I must avoid the bunkers and the creek.’  Driven by this dual motivational-fear the golfer swings and soon after the golf ball leaves the clubface the golfer knows. . . it will be the bunker or the creek, never the fairway.  And so it is.  When we act rooted in fear, fear wins and our fear comes to be true. 

For more than 45 years now, I have been privileged to be of service to a wide variety of professionals [and some amateurs, like parents and volunteers].  As I think about them and the fears they carry it seems to me that ‘fears’ fall into two categories: fears about self and fears about how one and one’s efforts are perceived and received by others.  Consider, gentle reader, that fears about yourself prevent you from doing your ‘best’ work; fears about how others perceive and receive your efforts hinder you from doing your ‘own’ work.

These two fears feed a judgment: ‘I am the great pretender!’  I cannot begin to count the number of times someone has told me, with a voice laden with great sorrow, ‘I am a fake’ [or phony, or pretender, etc.]  It seems to me that the fear that ‘I am pretending’ is a direct result of doubt.  One doubts one’s gifts, talents, abilities, experience, judgments, perceptions, interpretations, and motivations [to name a few].  [NOTE: By the by, gentle reader, I cannot remember how many times I have uttered these words to myself]

We all seem to know [during the times we choose to be awake and aware] – better than anyone else – all of the elements that originated with others and that we borrowed from them.  This ‘knowing’ can actually feed our fear of being a pretender.  Fear that we are not ‘real’ causes us to question or undervalue what we have to offer. 

The indictment increases when things are not going well [in our profession, or as parents, or as a volunteer] and ‘we know’ that for the true professional [parent or volunteer] there is ‘no doubt’ – our doubts during tough times confirms that we are great pretenders.  We see the ‘other,’ the ‘true’ professional [or parent or volunteer] as extraordinary; as being what we can never be – authentic [they certainly don’t have to pretend as we do].  The upside of this is that we now have some built-in excuses that we can call forth when the going gets rough or when others don’t honor or appreciate or understand or accept or even tolerate our efforts. 

Intellectually we know (and we also know that ‘knowing’ doesn’t change anything) that one antidote to ‘fear’ is ‘courage’ (the root of which is ‘to have heart’).  We also know that ‘walking the talk’ is impossible for no one is perfect; we know that we more often than not ‘stumble the mumble.’  Most of us will stumble and many of us will fall down.  We know that it is then important for us to learn from these and then try it again. 

In order to put our ‘knowing’ into action we will need the support of others [the form this support takes differs from person to person and situation to situation].  We will also need to continue developing our innate skills, talents, abilities and we will need to develop other skills, talents and abilities depending upon the context – our profession, for example.  Furthermore, we will need to build our capacity so that certain skills, talents, and abilities can be more effectively utilized.  Consider: whatever you have is exactly what you need.  

These ‘fears’ have been with us since recorded history (and probably existed well before); all major philosophical traditions and all faith traditions have imbedded within them this phrase, with which we might be quite familiar: BE NOT AFRAID!   On the other hand, if I give up my favorite fears, then what?  ‘Then What?. . .indeed!’

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Two mornings ago, I saw a rainbow.  The sun had just fully emerged over the horizon.  I had just come out of a slight right hand turn, a bend in the road.  The road presented me with a slight incline and as I reached the top. . . there it was.  First the bright sun appeared.  I blinked.  Then I saw the rainbow; I caught my breath. It was stunning and incomplete.  I could see the first third and the last third; I could not see the arc of the rainbow for the sun stood in the center.  I was in awe. I pulled to the side of the road.  I watched.  I savored.  I noticed the silence.  No cars drove past me.  No radio on. No music playing. I was aware of noticing and of listening to the silence.   Listening. . .

As humans we are gifted with three senses that enable us to listen.  Three of our five senses provide us an opportunity to develop the skill, the discipline and the art of listening.  Three of the five!  Yet. . .  We do not invest the time, resources, and energy so that we develop and then build a capacity for listening.  Hemingway, among many others, noted that ‘most people never listen.’  Developing the skill of listening and then building our capacity to listen requires, among others things, discipline (for many of us it requires rigorous discipline).  Listening is a skill AND it is also an art.  The artist – the painter, the musician, the potter, the poet, the parent, the physician – does not become an artist without the skill and capacity development and without great discipline.  Without the discipline the artist cannot create his/her art.  Without the discipline the listener cannot become an artful listener.

Researchers have confirmed that we humans spend at least 45% of our time listening and because we are not very good listeners we forget more than 75% of what we hear within two hours (or sooner for some).  For those tested, the attention span for listening to another was about 22 seconds (and these folks knew they were being tested for listening!).  We are easily distracted and we are impatient; quite a combination when it comes to listening intently and receptively. When it comes to listening it seems many of us have an A.D.D.

It is common for the folks who participate in good thinking teams that I guide to quickly experience that they do not listen well.  When asked they can also list the reasons why.  These reasons, I have found, are common to many of us: internal noise, external distractions, internal conversations, internally rehearsing what one is going to say, internally finishing what others are speaking (sometimes even speaking the words out loud), not being fully present (in the moment), and judging the other and/or what the other has to offer (gentle reader, you can expand on this list I am sure).

Add to this our cultural addiction to speed and busyness and it becomes clear why there is so little listening.  Listening intently and receptively requires attention, time, and a certain attitude; it also requires that we have developed the skill, capacity and art of listening.  Add to this the illusion that we can multi-task and our growing impatience (technology continues to seduce us into being addicted to the quick hit – 140 characters, for example) it is little wonder that as a culture we do not listen well.  Even when we send messages, folks don’t always take the time to read them or respond to them for they are over-loaded with emails, tweets, and messages left on facebook, linkedin and blog comments (ah, their name is legion).  I have several folks who don’t even listen to their voice messages – they see that I called and call me (the paradox: they say they don’t have time to listen to their voice mails but they have time to call me).

I have had the same physician for 15 years.  I saw three days ago.  One of the reasons I continue with him is that he listens to me.  He also takes the time to engage me in a conversation – yesterday we explored why physicians are not prepared for ‘leadership roles’.  I have referred others to him and they report similar experiences.  He sees fewer patients than his colleagues mainly because he chooses to listen intently and receptively.

So, gentle reader, what are you doing to develop your skill and your capacity to listen more intently and receptively so you can develop more fully the art of listening?

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This morning, I opened the door, stepped across the threshold and was warmly welcomed by ‘no temperature’ – it was ‘zero’ outside.  I woke with a start.  I was to travel today but, thankfully, my hosts had already rescheduled our time together for mid-March.  So I settled into my ice-mobile and drove off to one of my favorite coffee shops.  It is quiet here this morning; there are a few folks gathered around the fire-place (yup, you got it, a fire-place) speaking softly as if the fire were inviting them into slower, quieter voices.  I sit nearby and can see the fire if I turn my head 90 degrees to my left.

As I settled in with my heated mug full of my favorite coffee I took out my little black book and opened it.  I wanted to savor some quotations and notations.  As I was savoring them I asked, ‘Why not share some of these with your gentle readers?’  Why not, indeed?

So, gentle reader, here are some ideas to consider and perhaps savor; they might even stimulate you to pause, reflect and write.

St. John Chrysostom noted that the words ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ extinguish in our hearts the fire of charity and kindle the fire of greed.

The historian, Will Durant (he and his wife, Ariel, are two of my favorite historians) noted that ‘. . .it was a great moral improvement when men ceased to kill or eat their fellowmen, and merely made them slaves.’  Consider that Aristotle argued for slavery as natural and inevitable (O.K. he was a pagan and a philosopher. . .) AND St. Paul, on numerous occasions gave his blessing to slavery – he even returned a slave to his owner.  Jesus never, not once, condemned slavery.  It did appear to them that slavery if not, natural, was inevitable.

Will Durant noted that: ‘Man is not willingly a political animal.  The human male associates with his fellows less by desire than by habit, imitation, and the compulsion of circumstance; he does not love society as much as he fears solitude.  He combines with other men because isolation endangers him and because there are many things that can be done better together than alone; in his heart he is a solitary individual, pitted heroically against the world.  If the average man had had his way there would probably never have been any state.  Even today he resents it, classes death with taxes, and yearns for that government which governs least.  If he asks for many laws it is only because he is sure that his neighbor needs them; privately he is an unphilosophical anarchist, and thinks laws in his own case superfluous.’

Consider that societies are ruled by two powers: in peace by the word, in crises by the sword. (Will Durant)

One more from Will Durant: ‘Custom gives the same stability to the group that heredity and instinct give to the species, and habit to the individual.  It is the routine that keeps men sane; for if there were no grooves along which thought and action might move with unconscious ease, the mind would be perpetually hesitant, and would soon take refuge in lunacy.’

The wonderful Muslim poet, Hali, wrote in 1879: The rain cloud of adversity is spreading over their heads.  Calamity is showing itself. . . From let and right is coming the cry; “Who were you yesterday, and what have you become today!  Just now you were awake, and now you have gone to sleep!”

C.S. Lewis offers us: ‘The real labour is to remember, to attend.  In fact, to come awake.  Still more, to remain awake.’

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I have not read everything AND I have read a great deal.  I continue to be intrigued by indigenous cultures (e.g. the Iroquois Confederacy experienced more than 300 years of peace among those in this broad and diverse confederacy).  There are a number of commonalities among the indigenous cultures that existed thousands of years ago.  Here are two that continue to give me pause and I find myself reflecting upon ‘modern’ cultures and upon my own attitudes and behavior.

First, indigenous cultures often welcomed the stranger.  Some ‘vetted’ strangers before they allowed them into the village – a few well framed questions usually sufficed.  Some simply opened their doors to the stranger – no questions asked.

Second, the food that was available was shared.  Even if there was meager fare it was divided so that each person received some (reminds me of the loaves and fishes).

A number of years ago I walked out of a store and was greeted by a man I judged to be homeless (a bit of profiling on my part).  He looked down as he approached.  He stopped about 10 feet from me (I interpreted this as a sign to me that he was not a threat).  He did not look up.  He then spoke: ‘My friend and I have not had a thing to eat in more than a day; there is a ____________next door.  If you give me some money we can get something to eat.’  He did not look at me.  He waited.  Many reasons passed through me as to why I should not give this guy money; I was – still am – surprised at how quickly they entered into my consciousness.  I paused.  ‘O.K.’ – I said to myself – ‘This guy is obviously running a scam – just look at him. . .all humble and everything; he has his routine down pat.’  So I decided to reward him for his ‘act’ and I held out a twenty dollar bill.  He stepped forward, took the twenty and then he looked up at me.  His eyes were full of tears.  I found myself tearing up.  No words.  He then turned and ‘yelled out’ – ‘We have money for food!’  An older man appeared from around the corner and together they bounded into the fast food place.  Even as I sit here this morning, once again remembering this incident my eyes are tearing up and I am thankful that I did offer the man some money for food.  I also feel sad because I was not able to welcome the stranger – I was not able to trust him or myself or the ‘universe.’  There have been times since then that I responded with more care, empathy and compassion as I encountered a stranger and there have been times when my harsh judgments motivated me to turn away (or ignore the person or ‘look’ through the person).

I claim to be a follower of Christ.  ‘And when was it that [I] saw you a stranger and welcomed you? . . . ‘Truly I tell you [says Christ], just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Who are the people in my life that I welcome easily and who are those that give me such pause that I have to stop, step-back and reorient my heart in order to welcome them as I would Christ?  How many times a day is my heart challenged in this manner?  What are my deep assumptions, beliefs, prejudices, stereotypes, attitudes and values that lead me to be hesitant and fill me with reluctance when it comes to welcome those I dislike, ‘fear’ or want to avoid?

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