Encouragement As a Tipping Point

16 08 2017

How many times have you heard the sentence “it was the straw that broke the camel’s back?”  We use these words when someone has reached an emotional breaking point.  Usually some relatively little thing pushes a person under duress to the brink.  They snap, blow up, break down.  It’s left to others to pick up the wreckage.

Such a moment may be called a tipping point.  Someone holds up against relentless pressure and circumstances until some minor thing causes them to collapse.  A straw.

A tipping point is an event in a defining moment that changes things in a big way.  In a life.  Sometimes in an entire culture.  The end of the Roman gladiatorial games in the Colosseum as a result of Telemachus’s protest comes to mind.   Or the  public 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City in which her neighborhood witnesses did nothing to intervene and protect her.  This tragedy highlighted a culture of indifference and non-involvement.

I’d like to suggest that there are also such tipping points that result from continual encouragement.

There is always room in our world for another voice saying things like “you’re the man”; “you are beautiful”; “you have what it takes”; “you can do this.”  It often takes repeated positive affirmations to reach a tipping point in a life.   The point at which the recipient of the encouragement begins to believe it and act.

There are many broken homes in our land.  Families fractured and alienated.  Usually, the most potent fallout from a disintegrated family lands on the children.  This is not to say that fathers and mothers who’ve divorced one another do not encourage their kids.  Far from it.  But the absence of one of the parents and an intact family certainly has a devastating effect.

Young men need to be told they have what it takes to compete and win in the marketplace and in life.  Young women need to know they are protected, valuable and beautiful.

Continually encouraging human beings, especially the young, will no doubt cause such marvelous tipping points.  The point at which a person begins to see within themselves what God and others have known all along.  But it takes positive affirmation, repeated over time, to crest that watershed.

I challenge you to make it your goal to bring as many people, through your words, to a making point (as opposed to a breaking point).  Use your tongue as the creative instrument God intended it to be.  And watch as the light dawns in someone’s eyes as they realize that they are valuable, loved and eternally matter.

Suggested Resources:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Malcolm Gladwell)

The Unlimited Self: Destroy Limiting Beliefs, Uncover Inner Greatness, and Live the Good Life (Jonathan Heston)

 

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What Is a Friend?

10 08 2017

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”

(Aristotle)

What are the tasks of a friend?  Here are a few:

  • They see you as you are and take you in anyway, warts and all.
  • They’re the ones you’re not nervous about calling or texting at two in the morning.
  • They listen and your body language informs you that you’re safe in their presence. You don’t have to sell or earn anything.
  • They last.

Remember your true friends.  The ones who will throw themselves on a grenade to protect you.  The ones who are there when those who want something from you have trotted away.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Walk (Michael Card)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

 

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The Thirst for Mercy

2 08 2017

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

(J.R.R. Tolkien)

 

Suggested Resources:

A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken)

The Name of God Is Mercy (Pope Francis)

Radical Forgiveness: A Revolutionary Five-Stage Process to:- Heal Relationships – Let Go of Anger and Blame – Find Peace in Any Situation (Colin Tipping)

 

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The Best Friend One Can Be

1 08 2017

BFF.  Bestie.  “People let me tell you ‘bout my best friend….” (“Courtship of Eddie’s Father” for those of us who remember the TV show theme.)

What kind of friend do you want to be?  Answer that with your response to “What kind of person do you consider a friend?”

When I was first dating my wife, I asked her how many true friends she had.  Her answer rattled me.  “Well, not many.  In my mind, a friend is someone who will die for you.”

Well.

We’ve all had “friends” who we are convenient for:

  • The *friend* you haven’t heard from in nine years.  iPhone vibrates.  “Hey, how are you??!! I’ve been thinking about you lately.  How are you?  How’s the family? (long pause) I’d like to tell you about something I’m involved in.  Can I share with you?” (Sales pitch for their new business or multi-level marketing product ensues. It’s a cold call, that’s all.)  “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
  • The *friend* who calls you up, sounds off about their life, drama, and difficulties for an hour then finally says, “So how’s it going with you?” Five minutes later after you’ve started to answer and bleed, “Well, I’ve got to get going.”
  • The *friend* who uses you as a sounding board. (Wannabe ministers are good for this.)  They preach their sermon and you are their congregation.  I had one *friend* literally not respond at all when I told them my stepfather passed away.  No affect.  Nothing.  After he had preached of course.
  • The *friend* who is there while you’re providing them a service or helping them build their business, their brand, or their empire. Then they’re gone and you don’t hear from them again.  Until, of course, they need your help and skill.

This cuts both ways.  Are you the kind of *friend* who finds people convenient rather than valuable?  Don’t lie.

Maybe we use the word friend in the same meaningless way we say “awesome” to everything.  Such friends might better be called associates, acquaintances or colleagues, even peeps.  Don’t ruin something as beautiful as the word “friend” misapplying to people like this or to you if it fits.  Nobody likes to be used.

This is what friends do:

  • They ask you how you are doing and then listen.
  • They really want nothing from you except you.
  • They call out the best in you and call you out when you’re quitting and wrecking your life.
  • They’re the ones who stick around when the train derails. They help put the cars back on the tracks.

“When you win in politics, you hear from everybody.  When you lose, you hear from your friends.” (Richard M. Nixon after he resigned as President of the United States)

Have you friends?

 

Suggested Resources:

The Chosen (Chaim Potok)

“Brian’s Song” (the original 1971 film)

 

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Feel for the Other…Then Act

27 07 2017

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

(Harper Lee)

 

Suggested Resources:

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Karen Armstrong)

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (Simon Baron-Cohen)

 

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The Necessity of No

25 07 2017

“The most basic boundary-setting word is no.”  So wrote Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their bestselling book, Boundaries.   Some people excel at saying “no.”  My wife is quite proficient at it.  Me?  Not so much.  But I’m learning.

I know a minister who requires those he’s going to marry to read Boundaries.  He said this book is the most important book to him outside the Bible.  And to prove it, he asked a prospective groom—to whom he’d assigned the book quite some time before—if he’d read the book.  This was Wednesday.  The wedding was on Saturday.  “Uh, no.  I haven’t gotten to it.”  “Well, you better get reading or I won’t marry you guys on Saturday.”

He read the book.  It’s a big deal.

One of the go-to sentences we use a lot these days, especially with those close to us when we cannot say yes is “they’ll just have to figure it out.”  We are defaulting to this more and more, with good reason.

If you don’t know how to say no to people, you are like a painted target.  Those who have a poor sense of boundary and propriety hone in on “really nice people” like an F-15 locking on to a target in war.

If you don’t learn how to say no, you will have a life of varied chaos.  You will allow yourself to be taken advantage of.  You will enable irresponsible behavior.  And with such enabling behavior comes burnout and a loss of self-respect.  I know.  I’ve been there more than I’d like to admit.

People say yes to all sorts of requests for lots of reasons, some good, others not.  Sometimes we say yes because we are generous people who want to help.  But if one’s tendency is to always say yes to some appeal, it’s unlikely that the motives are pure and good.

We often say yes because we feel guilty saying no.  We say yes because we want approval.  We say yes because we’re afraid our egos will suffer if we do otherwise.  We say yes because we are anxious.  Most of all, we default to yes because we lack a clear sense of self.  Edwin Friedman calls this self-differentiation.

When we say no.  When we are not quick to step in when someone has gotten into a jam, with all the attendant drama, we not only hurt ourselves, we hurt them.  There is something healthy and ennobling about letting someone “figure it out.”  It is in solving the problems of life, especially the kind we’ve brought on ourselves, that we grow.

So here’s a challenge.  Starting with small steps, begin to know when to say no.  And then say no.  One of our favorite forms of no is “I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me.” If your default setting is to say yes, you probably need to work on changing it to no.  Take a step back and be brutally honest with yourself.  “Will this really help them or is it just sparing me pain in the shortfall?”

 

Suggested Resources:

Friedman’s Fables (Edwin H. Friedman)

The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (M. Scott Peck)

 

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Riding Shotgun

19 07 2017

I had a long chat with an old friend and colleague this morning.  We’d worked together years ago and spent a lot of time together, usually riding around in cars in lots of places in northern New York but also Michigan and Hollywood and New York City, to name other interesting locales.

I told him I missed our drives together.  When you ride shotgun or walk alongside someone, you get to know them.  And yourself.  I have many other friends, besides the one I mentioned—Kirk, with whom I chatted this morning—whom I’ve grown close to over five decades.  “Riding shotgun” takes many forms.  First, sitting in a moving vehicle.  But also walking, talking face-to-face, long chats on smartphones.  You get the idea.

Walking alongside someone is one of the most intimate things one can do, outside of sex and breaking bread together.  It is in these encounters that we deepen our friendships and make new discoveries, often about the other and always about ourselves.

Someone has said that “friendship is a sheltering tree.”  How true. Cultivating friendships, versus merely making someone’s acquaintance, is an art and a science.  The art part is knowing what and when to say something.  The science is actually making the effort to be with another.

Walking with someone, often literally, is an apt metaphor for cultivating and maintaining relationships.  It takes time, commitment beyond comfort, place and vulnerability.  Being a friend is not easy.  Sometimes being a friend means saying what will take you both outside of comfort.  But it is necessary.

Some questions for reflection:

  • Do you have people with whom you’ve walked that you’ve lost touch with? Call them.  Chat them.  Arrange a meal.  Relationships, even difficult ones, are gold.  Make the effort.
  • Are you willing and able to meet your friends on level ground—i.e. understanding the human condition, its complexities, and yet willing to continue to love them and pour into them even though the status of many of your relationships are best described as “it’s complicated” or “it’s past?” Some friendships are low maintenance—you just pick up where you left off.  Others require work and patience.  Do the work and cut them at least as much slack as you cut yourself.

So, here’s to my shotgun partners.  Kath, my wife of twenty-nine years, my children–Anna and Jordan, Emily and Joshua.  And so many others–Larry, Sher, Robert, Don, Keith, Tony B, Jim P, Gunnar, Jim B, Dan G, Bobby P, Lynn A, Tim, Mark K, Peabo, Ron, Tom M, Ken, Jay, Greg, Top, Christian, Gary, Jim L, Tom, Kirk, Mike G, Christopher, Mooney, Doug O, DB, Mom, Mom P, Char, Dad and Paul, and my siblings. (Apologies to any I may have forgotten.)

 

Suggested Resources:

The Walk (Michael Card)

The Chosen (Chaim Potok)

 

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