Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It's purpose is simple, non-controversial, and has been saved from mass commercialization.  We get together with friends and family - share a great meal - and are reminded to be thankful.  Now that's a great ritual!
I've tried to make thankfulness a part of every day - to have a thankful heart - an attitude of gratitude.  Over the past several years it has gotten easier and easier to the point that it is generally a habit.  Now I am challenging myself to lead with gratitude in conflict and disappointment.  I'm not quite sure what that means or what it will look like but I know in conflict and disappointment, I'm not thankful.
It doesn't mean not acknowledging conflict and disappointment, it just means a different attitude while in it.
There is often another person on the other end of conflict and disappointment.  So, I'm thinking that the place is start is to remain mindful of what you can appreciate about the other person and even appreciate how the conflict or disappointment comes about.
I don't know how this challenge will play out but it seems like a new approach that will be meaningful.  So, while I give thanks this year for all that the past year has brought, I'm thankful for new challenges for the coming year.
I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Makers and Takers

I recently visited a cousin and her family whom I admire very much.  We don't see one another often and it's always a pleasure as we discuss philosophies and issues.  Something she said this last time has really resonated with me.  She and her husband have been very successful yet they live very modestly.  In speaking of their success and choosing a more humble lifestyle she said, "Yes, we have done very well.  We worked hard but we also recognize that we were very lucky."
I would call them context driven.  They are very aware of their place in a much larger world and a longer time span.  They have not grown egocentric with success.
When they consider the struggles of others, they begin with the perspective "There but for the Grace of God, go I,"  rather than, "If they worked hard like I did, they wouldn't be there."
Anyone I know who has been successful can name people who encouraged, mentored and supported them along the way.  People don't succeed in a bubble - all on their own without any outside support.
Being in a country that tries to nurture success through a variety of public efforts is a huge part of the equation.  Those public efforts have evolved over time.
Our public education system is, to me,  the most important and significant of all of our country's public efforts. 
"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the
whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not
 be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded
by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the
people themselves."  John Adams, 1785
John Adam's vision did not become a reality until long after he was gone.  Widespread access to 12 years of public education did not become standard until the early 1900's.  Today we accept the mandate to educate our children - that they must attend some form of education program for a certain period of time.
An educated population is one cornerstone of a healthy society - a healthy economy - and the best hope for spring boarding personal success.  If you want fewer "takers" in our nation - invest in good education and community programs that include mentoring.  People need to understand what it takes to succeed and they need to develop the skills required to succeed.  Most important; they need someone to tell them that they can. 
I refuse to believe that anyone wants to be poor.
Our schools are only one part of the equation.
Young people typically don't understand long term paths.  It's especially difficult for children of poverty to understand a path different from their family.  Their parents will naturally teach them - by example - the methods they have used to survive.  They may have a greater level of expectation for themselves but someone has to show them how.
Some years ago I had taken a young man in as his family thought he needed to get away from the community of friends that were taking him down a wrong road.  And their family was struggling to keep afloat.  At 15, he was certain he knew a lot about life.  While he was living with me, I got a new job that was a great step for me - career wise and financially.  He said, "Wow, you really fell into that one."  His eyes glared over as I explained how the company perceived that I matched their needs because of my military experience, four year degree, and a good work history that related to my career path.  It was all outside of his family experience and he did not know me through those times.  It was as though I was talking a foreign language.
People living in poverty or on the edge of poverty know the language of poverty.  You can call them whatever you like.  You can pull the rug out from under them by slashing "taker" programs.  I believe there will be some very undesirable outcomes to that.  Desperate people do desperate things.  Some untreated diseases spread just as easily between poor and wealthy people.   But if you really want to do something - become a mentor for some young people.  If you see yourself as successful and a shining example of what people should do - then become a shining example and help people understand a path to a better way.  That requires an on-going personal commitment and personal relationships that won't work if you consider the individuals unworthy.
MAKE a better society don't just TAKE for yourself.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Big Apple

On the heels of Hurricane Sandy, it was bitter sweet to be in NYC and attend the Customer Engagement Technology World conference at Javits Convention Center.  For CETW, attendance was understandably down but it was a good show.  At the convention center and while out and about, we heard many stories.  Times Square was buzzing and seemed even more cheerful than I remember from any previous visit.  People were back to work but as we asked how the storm affected them and their families, many reported that power was still out at home.  And then each one said, "but we're doing ok."
I can see each of their faces - the waiter, the street vendors, the guides...  They seemed grateful to have been asked while displaying grace and resilience.  Not one voice was bitter or critical.  Wednesday night the Northeaster hit while a friend drove us all around the city.  The financial district was the most eerie.  Several inches of snow covered cars and made the streets slippery but most striking was seeing building after building completely dark.  Dozens of work crews with trucks and generators attached to work lights lined the blocks.  I'm sure that scene is repeated in larger circles throughout the surrounding areas.
And yet, those that could, were back to work.  They seemed happy to be working even knowing they were going home to a cold, dark place.  Work offered a sense of normalcy.  It represented hope, survival and resilience.  In difficult times, that is often what we need to help us get to the other side.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Life is Good!

One night on PBS I heard a psychologist say that if you are struggling to find your passion as an adult, you should look to your childhood years - about age 12.  The things that captivated you then are the things you should be paying attention to now.
Wow.  Most everything interested me then.  About that time I followed Dad as he was building onto the house and loved using every tool he would allow me to try.  I carried a little reel to reel tape recorder and loved creating novelty shows with my siblings as the cast.  I directed a play I had written at school.  I discovered the guitar.  A neighbor and I fixed up the tennis court behind the school so we could play.  I rarely walked in the woods;  I had to run the paths.  It was about then that the fire phone was installed in our house with Dad as the chief of the local volunteer department and we had to know what to do when it rang.  We were encouraged to volunteer to raise money for the heart association and the cancer society.  I loved camping with the family and all the extended family gatherings.
So, it is no wonder today that I love tinkering in my little workshop making cigar box guitars or mending instruments.  I have a job I love where I help people use technology to create and distribute their messages.  I believe in volunteering and giving.  I love getting outdoors - maybe not running the paths any more - but out.  I love sharing life with people who share those passions.
I don't know if age 12 is a magic number but what that psychologist said has stuck with me.  Look to a time when your worries were few and your passions were clear.  Then make your worries few and your passions clear.  Surround yourself with those who support and encourage just that.
And I add a thank you to those who do - you know who you are.   Life is good!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Religious Freedom

I've always thought that religious freedom was an individual thing.  It's a personal choice and that I should have the freedom to make my choices freely but also free of imposing my specific practices on anyone else.
The whole religious freedom issue gets turned all back assward a lot.  It seems to me people want to make it a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be.
For example, Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in blood transfusions.  I actually endured a number of Bible studies with some nice Jehovah Witness women, whom I drove crazy.  As it was described to me, this issue is due to the soul being in the blood.  So, following this logic, your soul would become mixed up with someone elses.  Actually, that is an interesting concept to me because I believe all our cells carry some memory of our ancestors.  So, they may have some actual basis in fact.
But, believing strongly in this, should they be seeking legislation to ban blood transfusions?
Anyone who is not a Jehovah's Witness will say, "of course not."
So, if they try to seek such legislation who's religious freedom is at risk?  Is it yours or theirs?
Most rational people would say no such legislation is needed because, as individuals, they have the right to refuse a blood transfusion if they feel that is right.  A blood transfusion will be offered to them in the hospital if a doctor feels that is medically necessary.  Is the availability of - the offer of - a blood transfusion, interfering with their religious freedom?
I knew a man who was letting his wife die as she lay bleeding after childbirth.  His Jehovah Witness belief would not allow him to sign approval for a blood transfusion to save her life.  She gained consciousness enough to sign herself.  Their relationship never recovered.
Having all medical options available is not interference with religious freedom.  We are each - personally accountable for our choices.  We should be free to make our choices.  That is religious freedom.
Long ago in Sunday School I asked if God knows all things, knows what's going to happen,  and loves us all so much - why doesn't he just tell us what to do?  I heard a lot of talk about free will and God wanting us to make choices because we want to make those choices.  And if we make mistakes, we grow stronger.
There seems to be a lot of pre-1950's thinking about a lot of things with religion and religious freedom as the argument.
We should not be talking about contraception with teens because God doesn't want them having sex.
If a woman gets pregnant under any circumstances, including rape, God wants them to have that baby.
God wants just one man and one woman to be married.
And all of the things above need to be governed by some form of legislation.
Then why is any medical choice acceptable?  If someone gets sick with any disease, why not argue that it's all God's will and there should be no human intervention?
So it's kind of odd to me.  Man needs to legislate what God wants in order to force people to adhere to man's perception of what God wants.  But God doesn't rule with that same heavy handed approach.
I guess some men believe God isn't doing things right so they need to intercede.
Hmmm.  I wonder who has it right - Man or God?