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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Remembering Who You Are

14 08 2017

This world has always needed leaders.  Men and women aware of both the time and need into which they were born and live.  The grace to lead well is given to some more than others.  Today, in ways like no other time that has preceded it, the world is looking for leaders.  Individuals who will show the way, who will stand up, even while feeling afraid, and give direction, security, competence and solace.

As I have grown older, I find that I am given strength and grace to lead.  What I don’t have is grace or good reason to cower, shrink away, idle away the hours and live for me.  My agenda.  My plans for a content life without taking those who know me into account.  “My World and Welcome to It” is a fine motto for a ‘60’s TV sitcom.  But it ill becomes a leader, who is supposed to embody–to one degree or another–selflessness.  Sacrifice.  It’s not about me.  Nor about you.

I’ve been struck over and over again by the children’s movie “The Lion King”, one scene in particular.  Simba, heir to Mufasa as king of the Pride Lands, has run away from his home and sphere of influence after the death of his father.  Afraid.  He takes up a worry-less, footloose-and-fancy-free existence.  Hakuna Matata.  No worries.

But the call of leadership will not let him rest.  His father appears to him in a dream and says, “Simba, remember who you are!”  Simba is afraid.  His dad is dead.  His uncle Scar, who killed Mufasa and is now ruling the deteriorating Pride Lands, intimidates him.

With the help of Rafiki, the sage mandrill, Simba gets his courage, his call, his appointed place, back.  He is a leader and has royal blood in him.  He cannot escape the role of destiny except at the peril of those counting on him.

So, he returns to the Pride Lands.  There he overthrows the illegitimate ruler, corrupt Uncle Scar.  And assumes his rightful throne upon Pride Rock.

People are counting on you.  You have what it takes to bring order, peace, direction and security to those who are watching and looking to you.  Remember who you are….

 

Suggested Resources:

Lead . . . for God’s Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership (Todd Gongwer)

Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times (Donald T. Phillips)

 

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Think It Through!

11 08 2017

IBM founder Thomas Watson became famous, in part, because of a slogan he’d picked up as a young sales manager for National Cash Register Company.  He made it the defining motif for Big Blue from the 1920’s to the present.

Think.

“Think” signs were plastered all over IBM so that every employee, from the janitor to the senior vice president, would capture the vision that strategic thinking would help the company to grow and flourish.  He made a forceful case that the phrase “I didn’t think” was one of the main reasons why companies lost millions of dollars.  Many IBM employees—engineers and others—would carve out big chunks of time every day simply to think.

One of the reasons why things tend to stress us out us is the bad habit of not thinking a thing through and solving the problem by thoroughly understanding it.  We tend to be impatient and want everything now, especially solutions.  This applies to any area of life, not just mechanical headaches like a malfunctioning smartphone.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck points out that simplistic thinking, which he labels simplism, is the plague of our times.  And the reason for not thinking challenges through is that real thought is hard work!

I know a dad who regularly counseled his adult sons when first entering the real world of work to “think it through” when considering possible courses of action.  My wife likes to call this process “playing the tape to the end.”

Here are some tips to improve your own strategic, solution-based thinking:

  • Create an undistracted atmosphere.  Turn off your smartphone for a while and give yourself to the task at hand.
  • Think with pencil and paper in hand.  Or pen and Moleskine. Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for his Journals, filled with math, drawings, aphorisms and sundry jottings.  Writing things out clarifies your own muddy thinking.
  • Look at your challenge from multiple angles.  Da Vinci again.  He used to sketch things from three different angles, including upside-down, so that he would not miss details and had a better picture of the whole.  Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Summa Theologica, used to state a thesis. Then he’d come up with every possible argument against  Then he’d finish with even more powerful arguments in favor of his position.
  • Try seeing your riddle through the eyes of a child.  Albert Einstein was famous for this.  His child-like approach to physics gave us his theories of special and general relativity.  A true “outside-the-box” thinker.

Remember that thinking is hard work, but well worth the effort.  You will be surprised how many more solutions will emerge as you give patience and focus to thinking things through.

 

Suggested Resources:

Good Thinking: What You Need to Know to be Smarter, Safer, Wealthier, and Wiser (Guy P. Harrison)

Leonardo’s Notebooks: Writing and Art of the Great Master (Leonardo da Vinci & H. Anna Suh)

 

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“And In My Hour of Darkness”

9 08 2017

“When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.

And in my hour of darkness

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.”

 

If you’re a Beatles fan, you recognize this classic.  What you may not know is the story behind the song.

In the late Sixties, Paul McCartney was going through a difficult season.  He had a dream.  In the dream he saw his deceased mother.  She said to him, “Let it be.”

His mother’s name is Mary.  Mary McCartney.

Those of us with a Catholic background probably thought he was speaking of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But he wasn’t.  At least not consciously.  Paul was baptized a Roman Catholic so perhaps his upbringing was leaking through.  You’d have to ask him.

If nothing else there is a message in “Let It Be.”  One, especially if you’ve been graced with a good mother, is this: Listen to your mom.  Remember her encouragement and wise words.  Remember her self-sacrificing behavior.

 

Suggested Resources:

Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999 (Paul McCartney)

“Let It Be” (The Beatles)

 

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Pain and Its Message

7 08 2017

We are in crisis here in the land of the free.  I’ve not seen such an attachment to opioids—read heroin and its cousins—since the Seventies.  People are overdosing at an alarming rate.  It’s so bad a mentor told me her septuagenarian mom, dealing with severe knee pain, would score heroin if she knew how.

How does a great nation get to a place like this?

There are lots of reasons and there are no silver bullet answers to the crisis.  Easy access to narcotics is one.  Flip and careless scriptwriting habits of some health care professionals are another.

But here’s one.  We run from pain.  And to be clear, the pain of injuries, say a slipped disk or severe arthritis, are not to be taken lightly.  We do what we can to eliminate unbearable pain.  I know folks who’ve been dealing with these and similar afflictions for many years.  But often we are running from dealing with the difficult realities of life here on this planet.

A mentor of mine, a licensed family therapist, has told me more than once, “I believe pain is trying to tell us something and numbing the pain keeps us from hearing its message.”

The result: Addictions, overdoses, and premature deaths.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “The things that hurt, instruct.”

What to do?

I for one tend to suck at the art of resilience.  It’s easy to run from difficulty into the arms of some substance or pursuit in effort to avoid pain.  Pain of boredom, pain of dashed expectations, pain of meaninglessness in the mundane areas of life.

I do not want to make light of addiction.  It’s real and it’s devastating.  I’ve been there.  But are there things we can do to fight the urge to run and hide?  I believe there are.

Thoughts for reflection:

  • Have you stopped long enough, in sobriety and self-evaluation, to ask yourself What is my pain trying to tell me?
  • How are the Baby Boomers through the Millenials dealing differently with the harshness of life than our forbears from the Depression and World War II, the “Greatest Generation?”
  • Have you considered that pain, some or maybe all of it, is actually a chisel to mold you into a stronger person?

This is not going away, at least not in the near future.  How will you answer the questions pain asks of you?

 

Suggested Resources:

The Gift of Pain (Paul Brand and Philip Yancey)

The Problem of Pain (C.S. Lewis)

 

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Act As If You Already Are

4 08 2017

We’ve all heard these phrases.  “Fake it ‘til you make it.”  “Show love and then feelings of love will follow.”  The big thing in all of this is that action, a result of the choice of one’s will, results in desired emotions.  Sometimes it’s the other way around.  You feel ready to burst with love towards someone and then act this out.  But, time and distance taken as variables, it’s more often the opposite. Feelings follow upon definitive actions.

Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, says this:

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”

Writers learn to write not by reading about how to write but by actually writing.  Musicians learn their instruments with their instruments in their hands, not sitting only behind music theory books and instrument manuals. We learn by doing.

Challenge:  Find some skill—art, music, technology, relationships—and try this.  Act as if you were already the expert you both admire and aspire to be.  Do your homework, to be sure.  Then do the thing you want to be good at.  Then do it some more.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Jack Canfield & Janet Switzer)

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

 

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Walking Civil War

3 08 2017

Cognitive dissonance.  “Your walk doesn’t match your talk.” Integrity vs. hypocrisy.

Part of the daily journey on this planet is learning to be one person.  Not two.  Or three.  Or six.  Integrity is related to “integer.”  A mathematical concept.  A whole number.

To live in integrity means “wholeness.”  It means our actions match our words, our values, our creeds, our codes of conduct.  You have enough to do to simply be one person.  There’s not enough energy, time or sense to construct false selves and alternate lives.

Choosing a path of duplicity and hypocrisy puts you at odds…with yourself.  You become, in effect, a walking civil war.  Fragmented.  Battling with your own heart.  Here are the takeaways of such a lousy choice:

  • Sleepless nights
  • A default tendency to look over your shoulder. “Who’s after me?  Who knows what I’ve done?”
  • The need to invent more lies to cover up your lies.
  • You medicate.  Simple—you can’t live with all these selves.  So you numb pain.  Take your pick: Drugs, booze, sex, shopping, endless busyness.  And a thousand other bypaths.

Live what you believe.  Keep your word.  Be one, not six persons.  Then sleep in peace.

 

Suggested Resources:

Who You Are When No One’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise (Bill Hybels)

Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality (Henry Cloud)

 

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