True Friends…Rarer Than You Think

14 07 2014

True FriendsThere is a proverb in the Bible that goes like this: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

We all survive and thrive on the comfort of those who know us best, who get us back on our feet and help us to carry on when the going gets tough.

I am continually challenged to take my ability to be a friend to another level.  My wife and I have made some strategic decisions for the next year and are laying out goals for our personal and professional development.  Often, in my desire to offer comfort I sabotage her by offering a way out of difficulty rather than challenge in the pursuit of her goals and dreams.  She’s told me, “I really need you to be a friend to me and not let me out of these goals when things are not easy.”

I have to admit, it’s far easier for me to soothe when I should be urging her on to hit the marks she has set, with affection and encouragement.

How about you?

As a friend, you are able to speak in love to those closest to you and help them become the best they can be.  In fact, it’s your love and commitment that makes such direct challenges palatable.

Here’s some starters to help be a better friend:

  • “You’re overextending yourself.  Why don’t you get to bed a little earlier? You need sleep—not more movies.”
  • “Come on.  You’re better than that!”
  • “Do you really need that second bowl of ice cream or can of beer?”
  • “There’s a trend I’m seeing in your attitudes.  Let’s talk about it.  I’ll walk with you through this and stick with you.”
  • “You need to take better care of yourself.  Why don’t you make an appointment to see a doctor?”
  • “Be a class act.  Don’t descend to the level of petty gossip and malice over what [insert name] has disappointed you with.”

Being a friend surely means offering solace and empathy.  But it also has the character of a good coach—you help those you love to win.  Be that friend.

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Choose Your Circle…With Care

10 11 2013

Choose Friends CarefullyI have been thinking recently, after a time away from The Upside, of how vital and terribly important it is to choose carefully those with whom you are surrounded.

They are affecting you.  Fact.

It is true that there are certain environments where our companions are, in effect, chosen for us.  In other words, out of our control.  Family. Workplace.  Subway and carpool regulars.  Church and synagogue gatherings.

But this does not define the totality of our lives.  In so much of what we call our discretionary time–and, by extension, discretionary surroundings–we are free to choose those we hang with.  Indeed, we are responsible for these environments.

When I spend too much time with pessimists, who mistakenly view themselves as realists, I become infected.  Sorry, but I am not a Titan and tend to get pulled under by the undertow of fear, defeatism, and basic laziness that tends to undergird most “it-can’t-be-done,-so-why-try?” thinking.

There is a better way.

Simply this:  In those situations which you do control, choose wisely.  Friends who regularly tell you “it can’t be done so why bother?” are not friends.  They have capitulated.  They’ve taken the easy way, the path of least resistance.  And they have plenty of like-minded people to validate their view of life.

Don’t you dare.

Life is worth living.  As our Jewish friends remind us, “Any day above ground is a good day.”  So be thankful.

In practice:

  • Read things that tell you that you, indeed, can.  Don’t spend your precious time giving thought, angst, and emotion to those who decry your efforts at something better.
  • Choose your orbit with care.  Life is far too short to wreck it with toxic affiliations that keep you from, rather than push towards, the fulfillment of your goals and purpose.
  • Live in expectation of good, success, productivity, and the betterment of the world in which you now live.  Much, if not most, pessimism is simply an excuse not to try–an acceptance of the status quo.

You can do this.  Surround your self with people and stimuli that reinforce it.

You won’t regret it.  And you can take that to the bank.

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Up For Inspection?

22 10 2013

InspectionOkay, confession time.  I don’t like being criticized or critiqued.  I am not fond of being vetted and graded.  I get nervy and irritated when someone says, “I’m sorry but your work is not acceptable.”  I resist accountability.  Have your address yet?

At work today, a number of my colleagues and I had a discussion about review, critique, inspection, modification, correction, editing and the like.  We applied this to a number of areas: writing, self and home education, our IT work and our values and stated beliefs.

While critique and inspection is not pleasant–and not meant to be–it is, however, invaluable.  We are all imperfect.  We have blind spots.  We miss stuff we should have noticed and caught.  It takes a person with a love of truth and reality and not a little courage to actively seek out feedback on what they’re doing and becoming in order to improve and avoid hurting on the one hand and seeking to help on the other.

How about you?  Do you resent criticism of your work (and by that, I don’t mean ad hominem jabs designed to hurt rather than correct)?  The most foolish people I’ve ever met are those who actively avoid and stifle any kind of evaluation of their actions and character.  I’ve done it myself.  After all, my business is my business, right?

Well, not exactly.  Your business, your doings, and your character affect those in your orbit.  And others.  Challenge for today:  See critique and evaluation not as monsters set on a mission of destruction but friends who will help you get where you REALLY want to go.

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Henry Nouwen on Friendship

12 10 2013

Henry Nouwen

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”  (Henry Nouwen)

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Marry Well! (You Won’t Regret It)

10 09 2013

Photo1The title for this post is not original.  It’s from Bill Hybels’ outstanding book Making Life Work.  Were someone to ask of me advice about what it takes to have a happy life, one of the first things I’d tell them is this: Marry well.  You’ve no idea the wonder and joy that follows on such a decision.  Nor the incredible sorrow that follows when you marry poorly.

(Sweetheart, if he’s a bum now, he’ll probably be a bum long after you marry him.  Dude, if she’s a diva now, chances are diva will grow into a monster.  Avoid.  Like the plague.)

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in life.  Most of the unhappiness I’ve ever experienced was a product of my own skill at doing stupid things.  But one thing I did, with God’s help and goodness, was marry well.

When writing about home and marriage years ago, Michael Card penned the memorable line “that half of your heart that somebody else treasures, the one who’s your forever friend.”  The song aptly titled “Home.”

Boy, that sums it up nicely.

When choosing someone to spend your life with, there are few things more comforting than knowing the one who cares about you at your best  and worst.  Who picks you up and puts you back together again when life crushes you.  Who is there in the dark with words of encouragement and sunshine.  And forgiveness.

In today’s sexually-charged culture, it seems that the friendship factor in choosing one’s spouse is given short shrift.  Those who’ve been married for years will tell you that feelings and romance can ebb and flow.  Eros is capricious if nothing else.  But being married to your soul mate, your best friend can carry you through things nothing else can.

Here’s to the one I love and will grow old with.  The one I dream and pal around with.  The one I’d rather be with more than any other person on Earth.


Do The Math

8 09 2013

You-Do-the-Math-560x374There’s a common saying in self-development that goes like this: “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

Axiomatic.  But it doesn’t always register.

My wife and I are currently laying out our long-term goals—as individuals, as a couple, as two people created by God with certain bents, acuities, desires, and abilities.

Oh, and destinies.

After a year of unsuccessfully trying to sell our home, we’ve chosen to settle in the region we’ve occupied for most of our marriage (over twenty-five years).  We have business plans, educational paths to chart, places we want to visit, new experiences we want to enjoy, new relationships we wish to cultivate and proven friendships we want to nurture and enjoy.

One of the phrases we’ve used in recent years is “do the math.”  We’ve used this on ourselves.  We’ve employed it when guiding our children.  We’ve shared it with friends.

If you are passive; if you don’t have goals; if you don’t expend the effort to find out what your purpose in life is, you will then spend your life working for those who do.  They have plans of their own.  And they are working to see them realized.  If you don’t chart your own course, you will spend your life fulfilling the plans of people who’ve charted theirs.  They will even let you!  And what do they have planned for you?  Not much (as Jim Rohn has said). Passivity exacts a terrible price.

Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Doing the math means taking an honest appraisal of things—what you’re currently doing with your God-given skills, who you work for, the relationships you have, and then summoning the courage to see that, without being proactive, things will stay as they’ve always been, the status quo blissfully undisturbed.


  • Girls, if a guy’s a bum now when you’re dating him—lazy, abusive, possessive—he’s not going to change if you marry him.  You’re better than that.  Move on.
  • If your company keeps you at low pay even after repeated promises of wage increase, you’re probably not going to get the raise.  Or if you do, it will be modest.  Update your resumé, pound the pavement and find something better.  Or go into business for yourself.
  • If the people you run with are pessimistic, complacent, and perennial comfort zone inhabitants or whiners, they are affecting you.  If you spend a lot of time with them, you will become like them.  That is a law as certain as gravity. Modify your circle.

We’re excited to say the least.  There’s so much more ahead of us.  We are doing our dead-level best to own up to this reality: If we’re in the same spot in our growth in 5 years, we have only ourselves to blame.  Not God.  Not friends.  Not the economy.  Not the President.  Not our employers.

Challenge:  Write down at least 10 very specific goals for the next year as well as 5 years down the line.  I double-dare you.  Include a definite process for attaining them.

Then go!

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Why Servant Leadership Carries the Day

7 09 2013


“Servant-leadership is more than a concept; it is a fact. Any great leader, by which I also mean an ethical leader of any group, will see herself or himself as a servant of that group and will act accordingly.” (M. Scott Peck)

Today, let’s look at the concept of servant leadership.  This particular approach to leading people has become popular and valued in recent years.  Our discussion will highlight why servant leaders are most effective.  In short, a servant leader rules—in the healthiest sense of that verb.   There are sound reasons why.

To properly care for those with whom we’ve been entrusted is a sacred responsibility.  Lives are either ennobled or disgusted, even scandalized, by the exercise and example of leaders both good and bad.

At the core, a real leader must come to understand this value if he’s to succeed at all:  It’s not about you; it’s about them. Former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch–voted Manager of the [20th] Century in 1999 by Fortune–said this:

“The day you become a leader is the day it becomes about them, not you. It is your responsibility to develop your team.”

What are some qualities that set apart the servant leader and make him or her more effective than all others?

  • Servant leaders recognize the full dignity of the human person.  Those under our leadership are human beings, made in the image of God.  They are not chattel, a commodity to serve our self-interest.  They have feelings and aspirations.  Dreams.  They have a story.  They are not tin soldiers to be moved by our whims.
  • Servant leaders recognize that leadership is first modeled, rather than mandated.  We must first exemplify excellence in the way we conduct our lives.  There is nothing more contemptible for a soldier than having someone issue directives without climbing into the trenches.  Posers are quickly found out.
  • Servant leaders, though ultimately responsible to steer the ship, take into account the consequences of their decisions.  In the home, a wise husband listens to the input of his wife and his children.  And he does so with the kind of humility that is aware that he doesn’t have all knowledge and all perspective.  We all have blind spots.  Servant leaders understand that and weigh all immediately possible courses.  “First do no harm” is the chief maxim for the medical profession.  It is the same for servant leaders.

Are you a servant to those for whom you’ve been given responsibility?  Can you take steps away from your own ego and insecurity to put their interests ahead of your own?

Go ahead and do it.  You’ll be amazed at the results.

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