Sunday, May 31, 2015

Update On My Granddaughter

“Paw Paw, you need to get current with modern times”.
-from a recent conversation with my granddaughter
“Paw Paw, you listen to old music”.
-My granddaughter’s response when I asked her if she liked the Grateful Dead
Earlier this week I saw a friend from work that I had not seen in quite a while.  About ten years ago we worked on a project together for almost two years that ended up having the plug pulled on it.  Somewhere in our conversation my daily thoughts came up and my friend told me that what she liked best were stories about my granddaughter.  Some of the people who read my daily thoughts and blogs have been reading about my granddaughter almost as long as she has been alive.  I haven’t written too much about her lately but let me tell you that she is growing up quickly.  As I write these notes she is on a school field trip at Holiday World.  She inherited her father’s love of excitement so I am sure this day will not pass without her going on some scary rides that her Paw Paw would not get near.  In little over a month Chloe will be 11 years ago.  It almost makes me sad.  Although I have enjoyed every moment of her life, sometimes I miss when she was a little girl.  Smartphones and the Internet have given her way more information than I wish she had.  Last weekend my wife and I took her and a friend to see “Pitch Perfect II”.  I mistakenly thought it was a children’s movie but later realized it was rated PG-13.  A few scenes seemed totally inappropriate for a pre-teen girl but I was more embarrassed than she was.  When a similar thing happened in the past and I said something to Chloe, she responded that it was OK because she knew “stuff”.  It is both a joy and a challenge to be an intimate part of her life.  I see her frequently and more often than not she is a weekend visitor at my home.  This is part of the reason I am usually dragging at work on Monday mornings.  In October we are going to Disney World.  I may need to take an additional week off when I return home to recover. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Well-Being In The Workplace

“You may say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”.
-John Lennon in the song Imagine.   
An increased sense of personal well-being at work, in real and practical ways, contributes to a positive and enjoyable work environment.  A pleasant environment filled with happy associates, coupled with feelings of team accomplishment and personal fulfillment, can contribute as much as anything to increased productivity, greater efficiency, and decreased absenteeism.  All of these things working together will affect the bottom line by contributing in positive ways to overall cost savings.  It is not enough to only look at process improvements and best practices.  The impact of environment cannot be underestimated.  I believe creating such an environment begins with the leaders.  How do you do it?  It begins with honesty, truth, caring, and transparency.  This is stuff you can’t fake.  If you try to do so your associates will see right through it.  We’ve got to do it and be real about it.  In order to be real we must be authentic.  Lance Secretan in his book One…The Art and Practice of Conscious Leadership actually suggests that leaders should love their people.  It probably would be helpful if they also loved one another.  In addition, it’s not enough for the leaders to care about their people.  The “people” need to care about their leaders.  We can’t treat one another like we are enemies.  The people who do the work and the people who manage the work are in a partnership.  It should not be an adversarial relationship.  This is where I would add trust to the mix.  I know that some of you probably think any talk about love and feelings is inappropriate in the workplace.  Some think we are here to get a job done, not love one another.  I’m not suggesting a phony and shallow pretending to care about one another.  I am suggesting the real deal.  Work is part of life and the caring that many people show for family, friends, and causes dear to their hearts should be expanded to include the work place.  What would the workplace be like if most people actually liked, or even loved, coming to work?  What would the workplace look like if we tried to outdo one another in kindness?  What would the workplace look like if there was more cooperation and less competition?  What would the workplace look like if there was less finger pointing or looking for someone to blame for mistakes?  What would it be like to ride the elevators and hear more laughter and less complaining?  What I am suggesting, and what Lance Secretan writes about, is a oneness and unity that will heal the separateness that too often exists. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Responding Versus Reacting

Someone once said to me, “Michael, I don’t think you have a sense of urgency about anything”.  I was a little offended when this was said to me but I responded in a calm manner.  I replied that I did have a sense of urgency for situations that required it.  Many people equate a sense of urgency with the image of a person running around like their hair is on fire.  I am generally a calm person and I usually respond to life in a calm manner.  What some people consider a sense of urgency is often a knee jerk reaction.  When something happens that needs my attention I try to respond rather than react.  Since I am a flawed human being I have freaked out on a rare occasion.  When I do this it is almost never the appropriate way to respond.  Overreacting is rarely appropriate.  If I am guilty of anything it is probably underreacting.  In my mind responding rather than reacting is a more thoughtful and considered approach.  Of course, this only applies to the kind of daily, routine challenges we all face.  If the building is on fire, there’s an accident, or someone is having a medical emergency, our instincts tend to kick in and we respond in a more immediate way often without consciously thinking about our actions.  I guess the challenge is to separate life’s true emergencies from situations that are merely inconveniences.  What is a real emergency and what is a perceived emergency is often a perception in the eye of the beholder.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Are You Feeling The Love?

Love is a complicated thing when you are an adult.  While many people show unconditional love on a daily basis, especially if they are parents, others struggle with how to show love and how to make those they love feel loved.  Many of us receive more love than we realize while often feeling unloved.  In a book I once read called The Noticer, the author stated that many people feel unloved, not because they are, but because they are not receiving the love they need.  For example, some men show love for their wives by fixing things or making improvements to their home.  However, if what the wife really needs is more time and conversation with her husband in order to feel loved all the home improvements in the world may not make her happy.  Many men need more attention than they are willing to admit and often want more emotional closeness than most women would believe.  People show love in different ways and people need love in different ways.  You may think you are the most loving person in the world but if the way you show love does not meet the needs of the ones you love, then someone is probably not very happy.  Too  often the way we show love and the way love is needed are not on the same page and people can be frustrated and unhappy.  There is no one way to love that works for everyone and it cannot be assumed that the ones you love feels loved.  Some people love easily and for others it is a struggle.  If you grew up feeling unloved it may be difficult for you to love others.  If you grew up in an unemotional family that rarely showed affection, you probably struggle to express your own emotions or to show affection for others.  If you grew up in a family that always expressed love and affection, you probably do the same with your created family and others in your life.  Let’s be honest.  We all want and need to be loved.  More importantly, we want to feel loved.  I am confident most people also want to love and they have a desire for the important people in their lives to feel loved.  I guess we all need to sometimes ask ourselves, “Do the people I love feel loved”?  I’m sure we’ve all heard the old saying “I’m just not feeling it”.  If you love someone make sure they are feeling the love.     

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Leading From The Heart

Here’s a thought I once read on Twitter.
People are sick and tired of managers and business analysts taking about efficiency, waste, and compliance.  They want to be engaged from the heart.
-Jeremy Scrivens
It is virtually impossible to work for a large corporation and not hear about efficiency, waste, and compliance.  Inefficiency, waste, and being out of compliance can translate into millions of dollars of lost profit.  This is not pocket change.  How can we care about these necessities of modern business and still be “engaged from the heart”.  Many people, especially in the workplace, are driven by their intellect.  Others, less conspicuous, are driven by their hearts.  Generally the intellect driven people are focused on the bottom line, profits, compliance, technology, and staying competitive.  The heart driven people are usually more concerned about the needs of the customers and employees.  How can we balance these two needs?  A company that doesn’t care will eventually go out of business.  A company that cares too much, to the point of being impudent about basic business decisions, will also go out of business.  We need a balance of the intellect and the heart.  There is no doubt in my mind that my company has some of the smartest people in the world.  We also have some of the most caring people in the world.  Having said this, I think we place too much emphasis on numbers based performance over heart based caring which is more challenging to measure.  Somehow we need to gauge how much our associates, and especially our leaders, are “engaged from the heart”.  We need to take care of business or we will have no business.  However, we also need to develop some authentic practices that promote the engagement of the heart within our business practices.  We need to place as much value on caring as we do on productivity.  Everyone has been evaluated at one time or another over numbers.  Have any of us ever been evaluated based on our level of caring and how much we are engaged from the heart?  It has been my experience that if you lead from the heart, people will be more accepting of your personal weaknesses.   

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Trivial And The Serious

What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance.
We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash – at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness, and the purity of vision that makes themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.
-Thomas Merton in News Seeds of Contemplation

This is a wonderful thought from one of my favorite writers and spiritual masters.  Are you in the cosmic dance?  What is serious in our lives and what is trivial?  We often get them backwards.  We obsess over the trivial and we completely miss out on the serious.  Most of us are asleep even when we are walking around seemingly awake.  The trivial and the serious are all around us and we must discern which is which.  The serious is not always what seems most important and urgent.  What is trivial in the eyes of many is actually what is most important.  Too many trample a flower in pursuit of an illusion.  To participate in the cosmic dance one must hear the music of life and this is usually found in what the world thinks is trivial and unimportant.     

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Be Who You Are And Be Happy About It

I am in charge of how I feel and today I am choosing happiness.
I don’t always know how to be happy but I do know one way to be unhappy.  You will be unhappy if you are always trying to make everyone around you happy.  However, I think one way to be happy is to be who you are.  Almost from the moment of birth other people are trying to mold us into the kind of people that think we should be.  This includes parents, family, teachers, ministers, employers, and the world in general.  I have spent much of my life being resistant to this without totally ostracizing myself from family and society.  I once had a long talk with my granddaughter.  She was upset because she felt like people around her were trying to make her a “prissy” girl and she doesn’t want to be that kind of girl…at least not yet.  I told her to be who she wants to be and that I think she is perfect just the way she is.  Since I had her attention I also told her that girls can be anything they want to be just like boys.  When she was very little I told her a girl can do anything a boy can do.  Her reply was “We can’t pee standing up.”  My wife and I both told her that when she’s at our house she can be whoever she wants to be because there are no rules at our house.  All of you should be who you are assuming you are not a jerk.  I believe it was Shakespeare who said, “To thy own self be true”.  If you are a little weird in a good way, that’s fine.  The world is full of cookie cutter people.  If you have a sensitive nature, great!  If you’re a driven, ambitious person, I will get out of your way.  However, I encourage you to be nice on your way up the ladder because sooner or later you will be descending that ladder.  If you are artistic, I truly value you because the world needs more people who appreciate beauty.  Find yourself and don’t be afraid to let the world see who you are.  As I’ve said many times, we are all here for a reason.    

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How Life Looks Is A Matter Of Perspective

While walking around my office once I saw the following quote on a bulletin board.
“If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, try watering the grass on your side of the fence”.
I heard a similar quote once from my wife.
The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.  It’s brown everywhere.
Sometimes when it comes to life we are all color blind.  Some of us see green grass and others see brown grass.  Oddly enough we are often looking at the same grass.  Everything in life is a matter of perspective and attitude.  I saw a movie once called “Life is Beautiful”.  It was the story of a father and a young son who were prisoners in a German concentration camp during World War II.  The father of course knew the severity of their situation.  However, in order to protect his son he created a scenario where the son thought they were playing a game.  The son had no idea of the actual situation that he and his father were in.  I am not saying that we should all pretend that our actual situations are not what they are.  I just wanted to make a point that different people can see the same situations in very different ways.  Some of us are never happy or content.  Others of us are always or frequently very happy and content.  More stuff usually doesn’t create more happiness.  It probably only creates more distraction from our real state of mind.  Great happiness can be found in simplicity.  If the grass always looks green to you, you are probably a happy and content person.  If the grass always or frequently looks brown to you, you might want to adjust the lens on your vision.    

Teachable Moments

"Paw Paw, why does every conversation have to include a life lesson?'
-My Granddaughter

I think every experience in life is a teachable moment.  These moments are not only an opportunity for me to teach others but also an opportunity for life to teach me.  In the work environment we often use the term “coachable” moment.  I don’t really like this term because it implies to me that the events of a particular moment always need to be corrected.  Some experiences are what they are, and while some mistakes may need to be corrected, mistakes are not the only soil from which a learning opportunity sprouts.  As a teacher of mine once said, “The moment is as perfect as it can be”.  All of life is a never ending learning experience.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or how many degrees you hold, life will continue to teach you.  Sometimes I think I know everything I need to know but life keeps enlightening me with even more knowledge and wisdom.  As I’ve said before, in recent years my granddaughter has been my teacher.  Like most children, she is a natural Zen Master.  When I am with her I try to see life through her eyes.  When I am with her I try to let my inner child appear as her playmate.  Sometimes, when I let go, I can be a ten year old child.  When this happens I can see life with a renewed freshness and not through the eyes of a tired, slightly jaded, sixty four year old man.  Of course, there are some people who think I act like a ten year old way too often. 

Life And People Are Imperfect

Life is imperfect.  People are imperfect.  Everyone I know is imperfect.  This includes people I care about and people I simply tolerate.  I am imperfect.  My own flaws are like a bright light shining into my eyes.  I accept my own imperfections and the flaws of others.  I try to see beyond the flaws.  I try to see the total person.  I try to see beyond gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual preference.  I try to see every person’s gift because I think we all have one regardless of how hidden it may be.  Increased tolerance is one of the things I like about getting older.  If you have any age on you my guess is that you have survived a lot.  When you are aware of your own struggles and weaknesses, you are better able to accept the struggles and weaknesses of others.  I am not sure where I first heard the saying “We all have a cross to bear” but I think it is true.  Even though people can make me crazy sometimes, I think most people are doing the best they can to be good people, good spouses, good parents, good employees, good neighbors, and good friends.  I don’t think I know a single person who wakes up in the morning and thinks “I am going to be a terrible person today and I am going to do as much as I can to make other people’s lives miserable”.  I am not saying there aren’t people that do this but those that do represent a very, very small percentage of humanity.  People are imperfect and flawed but they are still good.  Think about this today when you feel judgmental towards others.  Cut other people some slack and hopefully these other people will do the same for you.  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Some Bad Experiences Actually Happened

I am an old man and I’ve had many problems in my life.  Some of them actually happened.
-Mark Twain
Many people worry too much and they worry about things that rarely happen.  Why are we so prone to live in fear?  What do so many of us always expect the worst?  A lot of people believe in what is called “Murphy’s Law”.  Murphy’s Law is the belief that if something bad can happen, it will.  Many other people are pessimists and they live their lives in a negative and fearful way.  I am generally an optimist, I rarely worry, and I’ve learned that any feeling of fear I have is usually a sign that I am stressed.  I am not a psychologist, although I sometimes play one at work, but I do know that fear originates in the mind.  Feelings of fear are not necessarily based on any reality.  Our minds often create our fears and our suffering.  I believe that most feelings are not based in reality and they are not who we are.  I once read a wonderful analogy in a book called “Into The Silent Land” by Martin Laird.  Martin compares our feelings to the weather surrounding a mountain.  We tend to identify with the weather although we are actually the mountain.  The mountain is stable but the weather comes and goes.  More and more I try to ignore many of my feelings or at least try to understand what might have caused them.  Feelings and weather don’t just happen.  Forces of nature and life tend to generate a wide variety of weather and feelings.  Some days I feel pretty happy for no particular reason.  Other days I feel sad for no particular reason.  Maybe it was no more than the sun shining bright one day and the skies being overcast another day.  If it’s a good feeling, I enjoy it.  If it’s a bad feeling, I seek to understand its source and why it makes me feel the way I do.  If nothing else, hang in there because all feelings are transitory and will change, just like the weather.      

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Do What You Do, Be Where You Are

Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are.  It sounds simple but in reality is quite challenging.  Zen is also about balance.  This is also very challenging.  Keeping the different parts of our lives in balance can be like spinning five or six plates on the end of long sticks all at the same time.  Getting enough rest, doing enough but not too much work, being with others and being with self, being active and being still, enjoying life and being present to the sacred, knowing when to go and when to stop, when to speak and when to be silent, is a daily challenge.  If your life feels out of balance, it probably is.  Life moves fast.  Sometimes you must slow down to keep it all from spinning out of control.  You can't be present to the moment if you meeting yourself coming and going.  Stop now, close your eyes and simply breathe for a moment.  Refresh yourself.  Do this throughout your day.  At the end of your work day practice slowing down.  Pay attention to your own breath and remember it is the source of your life.  Be where you are....

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

What Is A Contemplative?

What is a contemplative?  I am not an expert on contemplation but here's my perspective.  Keep in mind, however, that this is only one approach to the contemplative life.  People who know me well know I am introverted and introspective.  I think you can learn to be contemplative but some personality types seem to be naturally contemplative.  I hesitate to call it a skill but as a behavior and a way of being one can practice it even if it does seem to go against your nature.  In all the major religions there are contemplative traditions but I also think you can be a contemplative person without necessarily being a religious person or one that goes to church every Sunday.  In my mind a contemplative person is one who takes the time to stand back or step away from the fast pace of life to simply breathe.  The contemplative is someone who likes life in the slow lane.  It's about being awake enough and present enough to not only notice the flowers but also be willing to stop and smell them.  It's being present to life in all its details.  Some call this mindfulness.  For those who are spiritually inclined it can also be about awareness of God's presence in life.  Perhaps you have read the story of the prophet Elijah in the Book of Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures.  He had challenged the prophets of the false god Baal to a duel.  To make a long story short, Elijah’s God won so the guys that lost ran Elijah out of town.  He hid in a cave on a mountain.  There was thunder and lightning and earthquakes and all kind of scary stuff but God was not present in these things.  Finally, there was a small whispering sound like a gentle breeze.  Elijah hid his face for God was present in the gentle breeze.  The contemplative person is one who has achieved an interior quiet that allows him to notice the small whispering sounds in life where God is often present.  If you are constantly running through life, busy all the time, stressed out, and meeting yourself coming and going, you will miss such opportunities.  I don't think you can truly be a contemplative person if you are running through your life like your hair is on fire.  

Monday, May 04, 2015

My Childhood

I once read the autobiography of a man who was a teacher at a seminary I attended.  We are not really friends but I have met and talked with him on occasion.  Like many such books it begins with some reflections on his childhood.  This caused me to think about my own childhood in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  It was a different world then and very different from the world of my children and granddaughter.  I am the oldest child in a family of six children.  I was born in the spring of 1951.  We grew up in the suburbs.  At the time the suburbs were relatively new and had more of a country feel than a city feel.  My mother still lives in the same house where I grew up.  She has been there close to 60 years.  In my neighborhood all the dads went to work and all the moms stayed home.  Everyone knew everyone else’s parents.  Single parents were very rare.  We had no air conditioning or video games so children played outside all day in the summertime.  I can’t remember any fat children because we all played sports and rode our bikes a hundred miles a day.  In my childhood there was only one McDonald’s in Louisville and it was considered a real treat to go there.  I only remember one young mother with a job outside the home.  No one had heard of a daycare center.  My mother watched the child of the one woman that had a job.  Her job was as a secretary in a Mad Men kind of office.  I didn’t know what divorce was until high school when my aunt divorced my uncle.  It was a scandal.  My parents had been married 59 years at the time of my dad’s death in 2009.  I attended eight years of grade school with the same 20 or so kids.  Most parents of my classmates knew everyone else’s parent’s because they saw one another at church, scouting activities, and sporting events.  I realize now that my parents probably struggled quite a bit to feed and clothe six children on one blue collar salary.  I also realize now that we were probably poor but I didn’t know it.  I never missed a meal and I always felt safe.  Life wasn’t perfect but looking back it seems like a dream to me now.  In terms of material possessions and money I am now rich compared to the way I grew up.  However, despite these things I think I had a better quality of life as a child.  Today life seems stressful most of the time.  I understand that I was a child then and I am an adult now but life is too busy, too fast, and there are way too many people with way too many expectations.  My old neighborhood from a time long past now seems like Mayberry.  Come to think of it I did spend a lot of summer days fishing with my dad or my friends. 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Value Of Education

Education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom.  Many of the people I have interviewed for jobs and some of the people who work with me now are better educated than I am.   Their education, however, is just a starting point.  It is the foundation on which their life experience will build.  I am a strong advocate of education.  I think education, or lack of it, separates people more than anything, including race or gender.  I wish now that I had given my formal education more attention when I was younger.  The experience of life hopefully makes us wiser but that is not guaranteed.  Older people are not necessarily wise and not all younger people are naive.  Wisdom chooses its home.  In the Rule of St Benedict, a 1500 year old guidebook for monasteries, the old are told to listen to the young for God often speaks through them.  Likewise, the young are told to treat their elders with respect and to listen to them when they speak.  Those of us who are older can learn from the young.  It happens to me almost every day at work.  However, those who are younger should realize that their parents and other older people…including co-workers…are not clueless.  We've been down many roads in our lives and we have experienced many things that might prove helpful for those who have not yet had these experiences.  Most of us have learned a few things along the way.  The bottom line is that you should never should stop learning.  To be a truly educated person, you must be open to everything that books and life teaches you and you must remember that education is also more than just having a skill.  An educated person is a thinking person who can see the connectedness of life and knowledge and be able to apply that knowledge and wisdom to the continuing unfolding of life.