Saturday, January 30, 2016

Americanah

I recently read Americanah, a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014).  



The book details the lives of two young Nigerian lovers, both intent on escaping the political and economic uncertainties of their native country.  One (Ifemelu, a female) views the prospect of American life as an intriguing possibility, and interestingly, is able to obtain a visa and live in the U.S. for a number of years.  The other (Obinze, a male) views the U.S. idealistically, (Val Halla? Nirvana?), infatuated by the possibilities that exist for those who can obtain legal residency in the U.S. 

I expected a book about the struggle of modern black immigrants trying to assimilate and live in the United States, with subplots about race relations.  Instead, it seemed to me the book was about race relations, with subplots about the struggle of modern black immigrants trying to assimilate and live in the United States. 

The book triggered within me much reflection on our realities as imagined (what we call fiction) versus our realities as perceived (what we call non-fiction).  In the book, Ifemelu experienced the full spectrum of possibilities of existence in the U.S.:  from poverty which drove her to prostitution with a tennis coach (white, if that matters) to cohabitation with a millionaire jet-setter (white, if that matters) to a long-term romantic relationship with a Yale professor (black, if that matters).  I continually found my assumptions about race relations in the U.S. being challenged.

The book forced me to (re)consider my view of those who choose to continually point out, postulate upon, and perseverate about our differences as humans (and also seem to deem humanity as some sort of privileged species on this planet) versus those who choose to continually point out, postulate upon, and perseverate about the possibilities that exist in our world if love, community, reconciliation and tolerance could pervade (these folks seem to view humanity as simply co-inhabitants with other life-forms on this planet).  As a fall-of-life-American white male, if that matters, I'm praying that the God of my understanding will judge the latter to be the nobler of those dispositions.

My biggest takeaway:  Race matters, a lot. Even when it shouldn't.

This book is masterfully written prose, and cognitively-emotionally provocative.  Very glad I read it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hope'sMirage

Any vision we have of a better future is built on hope.   Hope, however, is only a mirage, a figment of our imagination.

While hope is arguably a necessary motivator for us, it is an abstraction that in and of itself has no power.  What really moves us toward our vision is a concrete plan of action, deliberate steps to be taken, firm commitments of time, resources, and effort.

While hope is a beautiful thing, it is really nothing more than wishful thinking.  Realizing those aspirations can only occur when we've intentionally committed ourselves to achieving those dreams.

So, absolutely, let's place our hope in a better future.  

Then let's craft a plan of action that will move us in that direction, making the mirage a reality.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

SystemsServitude

Both in our personal and professional lives, systems play an incessant role.  Ideally, the systems we use "grease the skids," make our life easier, allow us to accomplish our goals/tasks with fluidity and efficiency.

What systems, you ask?  Either consciously or unconsciously, we use systems (i.e., habitual processes) to:

  • Brush our teeth
  • Report in for work 
  • Cook breakfast
  • Enroll new students
  • Put on our clothes
  • Greet our friends
  • Take phone orders
  • Apply our cosmetics
  • Close the deal
Ideally (as noted above), those systems make the navigation of life and work easier, simpler, more seamless.  They allow us to do mundane/frequent tasks consistently, without burning up too much physical or mental energy. 

When, however, we put systems in place that "get in the way," become cumbersome, choke efficiency, add unnecessary layers of work, foster customer dissatisfaction rather than endearment, limit rather than enhance employee performance, then we have erred.  Time to tap the brakes, to reconsider. 

Deploying ineffective or inefficient systems is no sin; usually, it's just an inattentive oversight.  The sin lies in hanging on to those systems (or insisting that we hang on to them) once we realize their futile nature.  That is when we step across the threshold from simple mistake into the realm of conscious self-limitation.

Our systems should serve us, not the other way around.  Stop the madness! (when it needs stopping)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Stimulus

Those of us who work with other people get to see both the best and the worst from them.  Interestingly, we can actually have an impact on their behaviors and performance.  

Regardless of our title or role, we can serve as a stimulant in the workplace through some very simple and cost-free behaviors:
  • Honor what's important to others, whether it's important to us or not.
  • Know the people we work with, call them by name, exhibit care for their wellbeing.
  • Be transparent and open in our interactions (no secrets, no subterfuge).
  • Notice and celebrate the small victories/successes.
  • Always communicate with courtesy and professionalism.
  • Ask others questions about themselves, then listen (too much and too intently).
  • Express gratitude relentlessly.
  • Have high and well-articulated expectations for all, and even higher ones for ourselves.
The effects are even more powerful when it's the leaders demonstrating those behaviors.

One word kinda captures the whole enchilada - respect.  Treating others respectfully always makes others feel (and usually act) better, and it almost always makes us feel (and usually act) better, too. 

Respectfulness is the stimulant that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Weirdo

I must admit, I might be a weirdo.

If it makes me weird to prefer 
> food that has not been doused with pesticides, I guess I am.
> food that has not been treated with herbicides, I guess I am.
> food that has not been sprayed with fungicides, I guess I am.
> meat that has not been injected with antibiotics, I guess I am.
> meat that has not been implanted with hormones, I guess I am.
> food that has not been tinkered with genetically, I guess I am.
> food that has not been embellished with numerous chemicals, many names of which I can't pronounce (much less know what they are), I guess I am.
> food that does not have to be cooked into oblivion to assure its safety, I guess I am.

Granted, our government assures us that the aforementioned "treated" foods are completely safe.  It endorses, supports, and subsidizes the production and dissemination of those very foods.  Our government even insists the same be fed to the children in our schools, to those serving in our military, and to those who receive government assistance through food stamps.

Thus, that food must be healthy and safe.  Right?  

I don't think so.  If that makes me a weirdo, then I'll plead guilty.  Gladly.
(Never felt like I was in the mainstream of thought anyway.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

StarterDuty

I've spent 36 years of my life as a professional educator, helping youngsters get a good start on life.  A good chunk of that work has also been directed at helping young teachers/coaches/principals/parents learn the skills of "living" gracefully and performing effectively.

I guess my role in this video is simply an extension of that previous work.  :-)



Never retiring...

Monday, January 18, 2016

Tension

Tension rarely pays dividends.  In fact, it usually yields negative outcomes - damaged relationships, compromised health, reduced productivity.  Unlike focus and intensity (both good states), tension puts us in a state of strain, emotionally and/or physically.  

More often than not we experience tension when things get out of control, or better stated, out of our control.  When we let ourselves drift into a state of tension, it has absolutely no effect on the circumstances.  What the tension does do, however, is negatively impact our ability to think, to perform, and to use sound judgment.  

Those of us who work with others experience conflict on a regular basis.  It's just part of the deal when interacting with other humans.  When we allow ourselves to become tense, even in the midst of conflict, we are less effective and more likely to say/do things we'll regret later.

Even when circumstances seem to spin out of (our) control, we can and should remain calm, clear-headed, and focused.  

It's a learnable skill, and anything less makes us less. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Breakthroughs

Breakthroughs are rarely the result of a throw of the dice or a thump of the spinner.  Rather, breakthroughs are most often the province of the disciplined and the diligent.

We prepare the ground for breakthroughs by seeking the guidance of those who have forged the path ahead of us, by voraciously consuming the information documented by those same folks, by steadily honing our craft, by persistently revising our prototypes, and by committing ourselves to learning from as many sources as possible.  

Sometimes, after much trial and error, "breakthroughs" occur.  Sometimes they evade us.  If, however, we've held diligently to the recipe described above, we win.  Breakthrough or not.  

If, on the other hand, we choose to let others do the work, we watch passively as the more unwavering do the research, we cast our hopes on luck and chance, we'll likely go to our grave waiting on the breakthrough.

The real breakthrough is in realizing our fullest potential, breakthrough not.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hesitation

We are daily confronted with challenges and opportunities.  

When we are sharp, well-prepared, and astute, we tackle the challenges with aplomb and seize the opportunities with fervor.

When we are ill-prepared, distracted, or inattentive, the challenges overwhelm us and the opportunities find more zealous takers.

Hesitation is a symptom of unpreparedness.  If we display that symptom regularly, it's time to do some self assessment. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Filtered

We use filters all the time.  We filter the oil in our cars, we filter water, we filter air via our heating/cooling systems, we filter coffee.

Generally, filters serve a cleansing role for us, catching the "bad stuff" before the bad stuff causes ill health or mechanical failure or bad taste.

We also employ the use of psychological filters, by which we sort, sift, parse, and screen data/experience/people.  Like those physical filters mentioned above, our psychological filters most often serve to protect us from stuff/people/thinking/behaviors that are detrimental, or at least, not what we prefer to embrace.

WARNING!  We should "check" those psychological filters regularly to make sure they're not feeding some unrecognized prejudice, limiting our interactions to only those who look/think/believe like we do, precluding us from learning from someone new (even if their hair is purple or they wear boots or they go to a different church than we do), or inhibiting us from developing fully.  

Filters are good, mostly; but only as long as they don't keep us from being all we can be and knowing all we can know.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

OuterLimits?

We generally operate under the assumption that we have limits, or ceilings, to our abilities and potentialities.

Do those limits really exist, or are they perceptual fabrications of our self-limiting minds?

Can we really get a little stronger than we were yesterday?  Can we really improve our health a little more each day?  Can we really progressively sharpen our skills a little more finely with the passage of time?  Is it really possible to learn something new everyday?  

Perhaps the only limiting factor (i.e., an answer of "no" to any of those questions) to our ability to "get better, every day, somehow, some way" is the time we have remaining to affect that improvement.  Every moment wasted thinking that we've hit our limit is a lost opportunity to push those very limits.

The only limits are in our minds.  We can think, act, and perform a little better each day, but only if we choose to. 

"Onward and upward," to quote Reepicheep in the Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis, 1954).

Monday, January 11, 2016

Doing-Being

What we do defines us.  Our habits make us who we are.  Not the other way around.

Habitually getting angry at people/circumstances/customers/bosses defines us as an angry person.

Habitually expressing gratitude defines us as a grateful person.

Habitually serving others (from acts as small as opening a door for someone to those as consequential as spending our vacation teaching sustainable gardening to those in poverty) defines us as servants.

The good news is that we can change who we are by changing what we do (i.e., our habits).

Two questions:
1)  How do others define us?  
(Or, stated another way - What do others expect from us based on their observations of us?)

2)  Who do we want to be?  
(Or, stated another way - What habits must we abandon and/or adopt in order to become who we want to be?)

Quite doable, really.  We don't have to get permission, and we can begin whenever we're ready.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

LearningOrDying

Age 60 doesn't look so old to me these days.  Neither does 70 or 80 or 90, for that matter.  As I increasingly direct my attention to those who are reaching those milestones ahead of me, I am very aware of the differences in the way folks live the last decades of life.

The ones who remain curious and committed to learning new stuff are the ones I'll be mimicking.  They seem to have more zest, seem more in tune,  seem to maintain richer relationships, seem to be healthier, and seem to be happier.

To be certain, we're all in the process of dying; that march toward death begins with conception.  The outcome is inevitable from that point forward.  However, for those who live long enough to experience the "fall" and "winter" of life, how they approach living seems a critical factor in how those last years play out.

One conclusion seems pretty obvious to me:  When we stop learning, we accelerate the process of dying.  

Saturday, January 9, 2016

TheWorldWithoutUs

I recently read The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007).  


This book was an intriguing examination of what might become of planet Earth if we humans disappeared from the planet. 

In articulating the possibilities, AW takes us on a journey of prehistoric likelihoods to cosmic eventualities, of pristine ecologies past to plasticized eventualities, of organic beginnings to radioactive legacies, of worldly wonders to decompositional fate, of human depredations committed to the restorative ironies of mutual destruction. 

Though I've been marching steadily toward a more deliberate "greenness," this book has caused me to think even more deeply about appropriate, respectful stewardship of this magical planet and the resources with which we've been blessed.  

However the days/years/millennia ahead unfold, destiny will most assuredly hold to this unrelenting trend:  Mother Nature inevitably bats last. 

Thanks, MH, for the recommendation.  Well worth the time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Press

Press (a verb) generally means to apply additional pressure.

Press (a verb and a noun), in athletic terms, is the act of intensifying a defensive configuration in attempt to change momentum or to disrupt the opponent.

Press (a verb), in terms of fabric, is to apply heat and pressure to cloth in order to iron out wrinkles.

Press (a verb), in gambling terms, is to up the ante in an all-or-none sort of way that creates tension in the opponent.

Press (a noun), in publishing terms, is the tool used to bring a composition to its intended audience, the process of completion.

In all respects, press implies an intensifying of effort in order to achieve success, fruition, or advantage.  Yet, also in all respects, press is not perpetually sustainable.  Because it requires a burst of energy/effort or a recalibration between events, it is most effective when used intermittently.

In order to be our best selves, we must know how to press, with strategic intensity.  We should remember, however, that attempts at perpetual press will result in burnout (and has countless times).  




Tuesday, January 5, 2016

ToleranceLimits

Not everyone agrees with my belief that folks work best when they have autonomy over their work patterns and environment.  Some wonder if there is a limit to my tolerance in that regard.  Indeed, there is.

When we share a common vision of a better future and when we have clear goals that we're pursuing with that future in mind, it is similar to climbing a mountain to reach its peak.  There are many paths that can be taken, and many rates of progress that can be utilized while climbing those paths (dependent on contextual factors).  I believe people work best and are most productive when given significant latitude in their choice of paths and tempo that best moves them/us toward the goal(s).  

Our tolerance levels should hit their limit when team members take a path headed down the mountain instead of up (i.e., quit pursuing the team goals or start chasing erroneous ones) and/or are moving at a pace that is unacceptably slow (or come to a complete stop).  In either of those cases, intervention is required, usually in the form of redirection or separation.

A recipe that works:
Clarity of purpose + Focused effort + Constant progress = Achievement


Monday, January 4, 2016

Isaac'sStorm

I recently read Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson (1999).


This is a non-fiction work in which EL details the events surrounding the deadly hurricane that all but wiped out Galveston, Texas, in 1900.  Isaac Cline (the namesake of the title) was the Galveston station chief of the fledgling U.S. Weather Bureau.  EL crafts a marvelous tale via innumerable primary sources, giving us a magnificent 360 degree view of the storm, in its context.

Galveston, primed to become the premier deep water port for the state of Texas (and at one point the most populated city in Texas), was virtually wiped off the map by the 1900 storm.  Though its citizens valiantly rebuilt, it never regained its esteemed status. 

EL masterfully writes non-fiction in a way that reads like fiction.  He skillfully captures the emotions, the political contexts, the rivalries and jealousies, the devastation, the courage displayed, and the heartbreak experienced.  

Larson is a simply magnificent.  I'll read anything he writes.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

HighestGood

Our lives are greatly enriched if we are daily about the business of advancing the highest good for others.

How?

  • Share freely with them the life-lessons we've learned.
  • Listen to them fully and empathetically.
  • Empower them, don't enable them.
  • Model for them right living and right thinking.
  • Trust them, until they've proven themselves unworthy of it.
  • Forgive, forgive, forgive them.  Then, forgive them some more.
  • Aid them in seeing and crafting a vision of a better future.
  • Love them more, judge them less. 
An interesting irony is that the more time, energy, and effort we invest in helping others achieve their highest good, the closer we come to realizing our own.