Friday, July 31, 2009

I'm getting passed!

I am almost done reading a great book called Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt. It is fun reading because all of the aggravations and behaviors that people exhibit while driving heavy machinery is discussed. Is it better to take the first available parking spot, or wait for the one right in front of the door? Where do those phantom traffic jams come from? Why is it weird catching someone's eye in the car next to you?

I'll pull out some of the observations that are interesting to me, and we'll have a great time learning why we both think we're above average drivers. Here is one that seems relevant to most of my life at the moment (42):

Drivers spend most of their time - anywhere from 80 percent to over 90 percent, studies have found - looking at the forward roadway. This includes, of course, the adjacent lane; estimates are that for every two glances we make at our own lane, we make one glance at the next lane - simply so we can actually stay in our lane. This means we are highly aware of vehicles passing us. We spend only about 6 percent of our driving time looking in the rearview mirror. In other words, we're much more aware of what is passing us than what we have passed.
You know you've thought the same thing as you sit in a lane of traffic, apparently the slow one. So you change lanes, and of course this always happens to you - now you are getting passed again! Well, you really are feeling more pain by cars passing you than the joy of passing others (admit it, there is a little ego boost as you wave "So long Sucker!" to the cars you are passing).

Frankly, I don't think this is just a car phenomenon. It is easy to feel like people are passing me by in life as well.

"Oh look, another person got that job in front of me." "There is someone else who has hit it big." "I wonder who is building that gargantuan house in our neighborhood?" "Why does it seem like everyone has a bigger dog than us?" (Ok, everyone does have a larger dog than us, but I'm actually pretty happy about that.)

There is something to counting your blessings. I've got it pretty good. Comparing myself to others is a losing proposition, no matter where I end up. What is the best that I can do, in my circumstances? And stop counting those passing cars, turn up the radio and sing (some of you should probably roll up the windows).


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Thursday, July 30, 2009


My daughter Autumn was two and in a naked stage of life. Clothing was not her thing. As soon as we would leave the room, she would shed the clothes and be one with nature.

One day, we were upstairs when we heard the doorbell ring. We heard Autumn, who was downstairs, scamper to the door. We were coming down the stairs when we heard the four-year-old boy next door say, in a tremulous voice, "Mommy, Autumn is naked!"

Welcome to America, Joel!

I am quite happy that my daughter is now a little older and a little wiser, and has learned the value of clothing (although she may haven taken it to an extreme with shoes).

I was having a discussion with a friend not too long ago about people who have openly confessed to having some issue or struggle in their life that they are trying to overcome, and the resulting reaction from people around them. Of course, there will be some who are graceful and compassionate, there will be those who would rather just not hear it, and those who will shun the confessor.

Why is this such a tough thing for people to handle? I think of our little neighbor boy who was unfortunately exposed to my daughter in an unexpected moment, and it worried him. Does bad news set us up on a path of negative thinking, now expecting the worst and wanting to hide from it? Does it remind us of our own frailty and hidden struggles, and we'd rather not think about our own exposure?

Our conversation covered the wistful freedom of being able to be completely honest and exposed to our closest friends, and the fear of being completely honest and exposed to our neighbors and the possibility of hearing footsteps running in the other direction.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Expectations and tutoring

I had several tutoring sessions with a bright young fellow that was having a little bit of math trouble. It was interesting talking to his grandmother about their own efforts to tutor him. I guessed right on some of their trouble - being able to sit down and help with patience. I know, because my emotions sometimes get in the way when I try to help my own kids.

It was easier for me to help the young man with some of his work than his relatives, not because they didn't know the material, but because they knew it and struggled with the learning curve. The difficult part of that curve is not necessarily getting from point A to point B, from staring at squiggles on a page to comprehension, but the gap in between them which is measured in time and in struggle.

When you are on the other side of point B it is sometimes hard to remember what that gap was like - you just see the two points and think that Scotty can beam you from one point to the next.

It is difficult watching people we have a strong relationship with labor in that no-person's-land between the points, fighting off doubt, trudging through misconceptions, sweating to build connections, swatting away distractions. We see it, and it is so easy to just say: "Here it is! Here is the treasure, here is Point B. No worries. No hassle." Yet the hassle may mean more ultimately than the treasure.

But frankly it wasn't really that hard for me to say, "How do you think it should be done," and then watch him struggle. And wait. All the while Grandmother is fidgeting.

I'm in my own struggle right now between points. I would love for someone to hand me Point B. Conceptually I know that the struggle will make me a better person, but I really like this quote:

Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They're about to announce the lottery numbers. - Homer Simpson


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Monday, July 27, 2009

Let there be stoning!

Do you hate boring lectures? Not as much as Lehr! In this article he says that we must punish boring speakers so that they stop punishing us. I've done my best to learn to speak well, but hopefully if I get a little boring the audience will only have access to old fruit...


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Friday, July 24, 2009

Another post on Perspective

Check out this blog from Seth Godin on perspective.


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Perspective is an amazing thing. My wife was having a conversation with our 7 year old son and 10 year old daughter as they were asking about the word "generations" and "centuries." She said that she and I were of one generation and the kids were another generation. But my daughter, Autumn, was born right before the century mark and Hunter was born in the next century. Hunter asked when she was born and she said 1969. He goes: "Wow. Did they have cars back then?" Nothing like kids to make you change your perspective on how old you feel...

It also reminded me about how powerful perspectives are in controlling our emotions. Since I mentioned in a recent blog that controlling our emotions is actually not that difficult, maybe we should talk about how:

Reality shaped by Perspective -> Emotions

I am in that camp that says that you cannot separate how you interact with reality without shaping it through your perspective. So you might as well take advantage of it!

Have you noticed that as soon as something changes your perspective on a circumstance, your emotions totally flip like someone turning a switch? I distinctly remember a situation when I was a newlywed and my wife went into the store to get a few things. She said she would be right out. Fifteen minutes later I was annoyed. Twenty minutes later I was working up what I was going to say because it was her fault that I was really worked up. When she finally got back into the car, I just let her have it, about how inconsiderate she was of me and my time. She started crying and pulled out the gift for me that she had spent a few extra minutes looking for. Oh boy. My perspective changed quickly about who was the jerk. I can also tell you that my mood didn't take more than an instant to change along with it.

It is easy to think that we are at the mercy of our emotions and that they are caused by events out of our control, but it's just not true. You are angry because of your perspective of what happened - and you are totally in control of it. Anger doesn't have to settle out slowly - you just want it to. Jealousy doesn't have to sit there squeezing your heart - your view of what is really good in life is letting it linger.

It is why questions such as:

How would this person that I admire handle this situation?


What would it be like if you knew this about the other person?

work so well because they are asking you to change your perspective.

I like the story of David and Goliath because while all the Israelites were focused on how big that spear was and how much it was going to hurt if they stepped out on the field, David was ranting about this Philistine loser who wasn't so big in the larger scheme, then he found the tools and skills that he could use and attacked the problem.

Be the person that focuses on the opportunities when everyone else is looking at the problem.


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Wednesday, July 22, 2009


What do you do when someone disagrees with you?

I know what I want to do - get upset because they don't see it my way. Get indignant because surely they are being hard-headed when it is obvious that I am right.

The problem is, there are an amazing number of times when people disagree with me - like every day with my kids.

Interestingly, one person argues that there really is no such thing as wrong or right in a disagreement:

About seventy years ago, an American political scientist, Mary Parker Follet, said that when you have dissent in an organization, you should never ask who is right. You should not even ask what is right. You must assume that each faction gives the right answer, but to a different question. Each sees a different reality. (Peter Drucker Managing The Nonprofit Organization, 124)

It is as simple as trying to understand that the answer or position of the other person makes sense to them, possibly through a number of reasons: their past, their environment, their education, their views of themselves, and so on.

Rather than winning, our task should be mutual understanding. Why does that person think that way?

It certainly doesn't mean that they will end up agreeing with you. From a 10-year old's perspective, cleaning the room doesn't make a lot of sense and I'm probably not going to convince her that it should. But we can come to a mutual understanding, and decide on action from there. It's not easy (she'll tell you the same!) but maybe we'll learn a more important lesson - the value of listening, because the other person is worth it. And the dissipation of negative energy and time is far more productive than venting anyway.


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Monday, July 20, 2009

Do you really know what is going on?

Oh sure, you have an opinion about how things are going at work/family/religious institute/etc. And it may be going pretty well for you, you are quite happy with it, thank you. But if you are serving in some form of leadership, you desperately need to know how it is going for the people who it is supposed to serve, you being only a small part of it. Check out this quote from Peter Drucker (Managing The Nonprofit Organization, 120):

Force your people, and especially your executives, to be on the outside often enough to know what the institution exists for. There are no results inside an institution. There are only costs. Yet it is easy to become absorbed in the inside and to become insulated from reality. Effective non-profits make sure that their people get out in the field and actually work there again and again.

Who are the real customers for your product or service? Take a look at what bloggers are saying, take a look at customer service records, and actually try to use the service yourself to get a real look. Ask a friend to try it out and see what others think.

You may like it, but how is affecting your family? Are they having to put up with it just for you? Take a look at what they are saying on their social networks. Ask a good friend who isn't afraid to give you the truth, and then don't punish him or her for telling you.

What is the real cost of self assuagement?

We have a tendency to make our surroundings convenient to our own comforts without thinking about the repercussions on the people who also are affected. It is possible to have it work for you and for them. But chances are your real satisfaction will come when you know that customers are satisfied/family members are served/you are making a real difference in the lives of others.

It is so easy to think the world revolves around us. There is only one you, and that is a good thing. But it also means others don't necessarily see what is going on through your eyes.


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Friday, July 17, 2009

You Are In Control

Well, you actually have very little control over most of the things that you want to manipulate. How did you like that word "manipulate"? It has that sort of greasy type of meaning and feeling, especially if we think it is directed at us, yet the vast majority of our frustrations in life are associated with a failed attempt at manipulating someone or some thing. Yet Goethe says we are in control:

"I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather."

I saw this quote in a daily email that I receive from ScreamFree Parenting, a group that espouses the need for parents to grow up if they want to be influential in the lives of their children. The message is difficult to swallow because we all want the easy fix or the easy technique that doesn't really push me around but gets me what I desire.

We all want to be the bulldozer, not the bulldozee.

I know this, yet it is so stinkin difficult, until I realize that it is also easy. The difficult part really isn't controlling your emotions, it's being consistent enough about it that you create a brand new way of being you.


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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back Again

I was out for a while because my vocation was in flux. Well, it still is, but I'm itching to get back and write again. Posts will hopefully come at the pace of 2-4 per week.

It certainly helps me to remember and distill ideas as I think through them on this blog, and hopefully and readers that happen to wander this direction will have something to chew on. Look for something tomorrow!


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