Character Creates Opportunity® – The Gift of Connection Part II: Thursday, December 21, 2017

In part I of this message last week, we highlighted that beyond the basics for survival, we all have a strong need to belong and be accepted.  In addition, we all face the reality that today’s “connected world” can foster isolation instead of genuine connection in the home, the workplace, and the community.

As we continue on this journey to build and strengthen our character, in Part II of this message, we will touch on two essential steps we can take to further strengthen the gift of connection and be more effective in trying to meet the need of others to feel they belong and are accepted into something bigger than themselves.

In most relationships there is usually some healthy tension (at least we all hope it remains healthy) in discussions about important decisions that need to be made.  It is quite rare for complex, important decisions to be so clear cut that we can stand firmly in the “yes” or “no” camp.  The real important decisions are usually complex and have a number of factors that need to be addressed.

Below are just a few examples of important decisions that need to be made:

  • Money decisions: How much to spend now versus saving for later. Buy cheap now and replace or buy quality now and keep for longer.
  • Career decisions: Deciding to take a risk on a new job versus the risk of staying with something you know well that provides for your needs today, but may become obsolete in a few years.
  • Parenting decisions: Deciding when to transition from protection to preparation and then preparation into freedom and full release into the world.  Deciding if that timeline changes based on the uniqueness of each child.
  • Lifestyle: Decisions to move away for new experiences and opportunities or remain close to the familiar community of friends and family.

Complex decisions are not easy to make.

The Power of Trust

There are few more effective ways we can cement an individual’s sense of belonging and feeling accepted than when we trust him/her to make a decision.  After all the debate and discussion has been conducted and the decision is still daunting, we say, “I trust you to make the decision.” As a spouse, when we come to appreciate each other’s strengths and we communicate (with words, tone, and body language) that we trust him/her with a decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.  As a parent, when we communicate to a child that we trust him/her with a decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.  As a leader, when we communicate to an individual that we trust him/her with making the decision on a new product line, a change in strategy, or a hiring decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.

Communicating trust to an individual through empowering him/her to make a decision is an essential step toward meeting the critical need to feel belonging and acceptance.

We have probably all had the experience of trusting and then disaster struck.  We trusted our spouse and he/she made a mess of things.  I wish the “mess” was just some spilled paint on the carpet, but the reality is that the “mess” many times is much worse and much more painful.  We trusted an adult child for the weekend and then came home to find Animal House – Part II just became a reality show at our home while we were gone.  We trusted a business associate and they destroyed the reputation and finances of the business we poured our heart and soul into.

The reality is that trust can sometimes bring about a great deal of pain.  We can remain bitter.  Unfortunately, bitterness has been proven to result in greater pain and problems for all involved.  In addition, the one who holds onto bitterness usually suffers the most compared to the one who first stumbled and fell short.

The Power of Redemption

On the back side of that painful experience, there is one of the most effective ways that we can rise above and many times, permanently solidify someone’s sense of belonging and acceptance.   We can take an action they may never forget.  The additional way to ensure an individual feels a sense of belonging and acceptance is to show redemption towards the individual who squandered our trust.  We build and strengthen our character in a major way when we demonstrate grace through communicating redemption towards the individual and open the door to trust him/her again.

The act of “clearing” one’s debt or “saving” someone from the continual pain of a poor choice and communicating our willingness to trust again is probably the greatest challenge we will face in terms of building strong and healthy relationships over the long-term.

How do we respond when those closest to us fall short and break the bond of trust?

Providing redemption from past mistakes, as opposed to remaining bitter, has been shown time and again to build a sense of belonging, connection, and community with those around us.

As we become more intentional on providing the gift of connection during this holiday season, today’s blog was meant as a reminder of the two essential steps we can take through trust and redemption to ensure we meet a clear need of those closest to us.

As we make the effort to build stronger connections with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity to support the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.

One additional note:  Given the pressures and challenges in our world, we all struggle with extending trust and redemption from time to time.  When I have found myself in that spot, it has been helpful to reflect back on the experiences and individuals who have extended trust to me and demonstrated a redemptive spirit when I certainly did not deserve it.  This reflection often helps motivate me to move towards trust and redemption to others.  I am pretty confident that if each of us inventoried our lives, we would find others who trusted us and then redeemed us after we fell short.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Gift of Connection Part I: Thursday, December 14, 2017

Psychologists would tell us that our greatest need beyond the basics for survival is our need to belong and be accepted.

We can all relate to the positive emotional sense we feel when we know we are part of a team on the athletic field, the workplace, the community, and certainly the home.  When we join efforts with others to support a cause bigger than ourselves, we feel most alive.  Whether that cause is building a strong family, a winning basketball team, a competitive business, a community project, or the defense of a nation, the sense of belonging meets a real personal need. Knowing we are an accepted part of something bigger than ourselves is critical to our emotional health and stability.

When we become disconnected or feel rejected from a group, we struggle.  In the absence of a sense of connection to others and a cause greater than our own, we all can become susceptible to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. 

As our world gets more connected with technology like the internet, smart phones, and social media, research would show that we are at risk for minimizing the benefits of genuine connection. In addition, today’s technology enables the instant personalization of getting what we want, when we want it, and many times that fosters isolation instead of connection during our “free time” beyond school, work, and the essentials of running a home.  We don’t need a PhD in psychology to see the reality around us.  All we need to do is look around a lunchroom at work, an evening at home, or the ‘waiting period’ for a practice to end, a bus to arrive, or even a “date night” out on the town.

Social scientists would say that our technology dependent connections impact the depth of our relationships mostly because we lose empathy.  Sure, emojis help with emotional connection, but it is not optimal.  I am sure we have all seen a picture of a beautiful sandy beach and I hope most of us have felt the warm touch of beach sand between our toes.  There is a difference in the connection.

As important as feeling a sense of belonging and being connected are to our health, I would recommend that we add a few last minute gifts to our list this holiday season.  We should all add the gift of connection to those closest to us.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, an important challenge for all of us would be to not just think about the seemingly peaceful relationships in our lives, but we should act with courage and add those to the list where perhaps the stress and strain of this year has put the relationship in a difficult spot.

Here are a few thoughts to help make the gift of connection this holiday season be more meaningful and engaging:

  1. Acknowledge the reality that there is pain, discomfort, and challenge in any relationship. The ups and downs in relationships are a sign of LIFE, not death.  Flat-lining by way of not caring is a sign of death in relationships.
  2. Admit that “I am not perfect.” Hopefully, they will acknowledge their own imperfect reality, but don’t sweat it if they don’t.
  3. Act with the desire to grow and reach the full potential of the relationship versus being anchored to past mistakes.
  4. Accept them. When possible, tell them face to face that they belong to the family, the team, or the project.  Tell them that they are a needed part of the group and the group would not be the same without their contribution.

It takes an intentional effort to give the gift of connection to those around us.  Especially those where we know there is tension in the relationship.  The gift of connection will take more than the swipe of a credit card.  However, as we make the effort to build stronger connections with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity to contribute to the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Take Action: Thursday, December 7, 2017

“someday never comes” – John Fogerty, lead singer for Creedence Clearwater Revival

For many reading this blog, the rhythm from that song and the music of CCR brings back a few memories (others maybe saying, “Who in the world is John Fogerty and CCR?”).  As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, an important topic to address is the need to take action today, rather than putting things off.

Let’s face it, we all know the basics of things we should do to strengthen important relationships, improve our health, expand our thinking, or be better positioned to grow in our career.  Many times, our excuse for not doing these things is that it is just not the “right time” to take action.

“I will go back to school once the kids get a little older”

“I will forgive once the sting of the betrayal subsides a little more”

“I will reach out to that family member once I get through this busy time at work”

”I will get back to exercising in the springtime”

As we have all experienced, many times that “right time” never comes about or when it does, we have a host of other obstacles and “someday never comes.” In the worst of scenarios, that individual or opportunity is gone forever and we missed the opportunity completely.

An important aspect of building and strengthening our character is the simple act of taking action to continue moving forward in what we know in our heart is the right direction.  This message is not about dropping everything and pursuing that big bold idea that has been weighing on your soul (if that fits you, great-go for it, but that is not the intent of this message).  Today’s message is more about taking a few small steps forward on what we know is needed.

I know I should reach out to a friend who is on my mind…just start with a quick text or email.

I know I should take the first step to mend a troubled family relationship…just pick up the phone and say hello without an agenda. 

I know I should start to exercise…don’t buy expensive equipment or a new gym membership, just start walking around the block and literally take it one step at a time.

Some of our biggest opportunities to build and strengthen our character involve taking action in our relationships with others.  We all have a tendency to avoid the difficult conversations, especially in troubled relationships.  It is never easy and the emotional pain from prior struggles remains with us and makes it even harder to re-engage.  The reality is that relationships with others will always be intertwined with every endeavor of life.  Relationships are worth the effort and it is our character that will create opportunity to improve even the most troubled relationship.

For one relatively straight-forward way to reconnect with a struggling relationship, try writing a letter.  Yes, an old fashioned hand-written letter.  Nobody gets these anymore and I can almost guarantee that an individual in a very troubled relationship will still open a letter and read it in the quiet of his/her own time.  Keep it short with a focus on care and concern versus justifying or blaming.  Let the letter be a first step to softening defenses and perhaps open a door to reconnect and a path to restoration.  If nothing else, you can be at peace knowing you took some action to ensure “someday” finally came.

If we are very honest with ourselves, we could take it one step further and much closer to home.  Many times the letter does not even need a stamp as the relationship we need to restore is within our own home.

Taking action, when we know it is needed, is an important aspect of building and strengthening character and our Character Creates Opportunity to build strong relationships that can have a positive impact in our world.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Need to Connect: Thursday, November 30, 2017

Technology continues to expand our ability to get “connected.” As a result, we have more opportunities to stay connected or get reconnected with friends, family, coworkers, and the larger world beyond our neighborhoods.  Staying connected with others helps to meet a strong human need to feel we “belong” in a relationship with others.

Ironically, as today’s world gets more connected, we are also battling greater levels of isolation which runs in a vicious cycle with addiction.

If you speak with someone who leads a Twelve Step program for addicts or a counselor dealing with similar issues in people who have not yet admitted their addiction, they all will tell you about a common theme in the cycle of addiction, it starts with isolation.  When we experience a period of loneliness or we make certain choices that drive us into isolation, we often reach for a soothing remedy that, if we are not careful, breeds an addiction and the cycle continues.  Our remedy may change, but the cycle continues.

As we continue our journey to build and strengthen our character, having the strength to maintain connection and avoid isolation will be a strong defense against the risk of addiction.

We are all familiar with the addictions that grab the headlines like drugs, alcohol, porn, sex, greed etc.  There are many other addictions that don’t make great headlines, but we will save them for another writing. The process of addiction is pretty much the same; we run into some kind of struggle like a broken or troubled relationship, poor self-esteem, stress when a once sought-after dream becomes a nightmare, and we move into isolation.  With isolation comes our search for a remedy and when we find it, often it becomes an addiction to help us to avoid the root cause of the struggle.

Addictions fill the void of our need for human connection when we become isolated.  Addictions replace the healthy human bonding that results from face to face, authentic connections where tone of voice, body language, the spoken word, and touch bring warmth, caring, and concern.

Below are two points to of caution to help minimize the risk that our “connected” world can give rise to isolation and addiction:

  1. Technology will not replace the human need for the healthy bonding that results from face to face connections. Technology can help bridge the gap that comes with time and distance, but it cannot replace our basic need for the touch and feel of a face to face connection.  We must not let the ease of technology enabled connections lull us into thinking that is all we need.  Ask any grandparent about SKYPE.  It is a great tool to bridge the gap, but it will never replace the hug of a grandchild.  Ask any business traveler or their family at home about FACETIME.  It is a great tool to stay connected from some dark, cold hotel room, but it will never replace the feeling of spending an evening at home.  If we go too long without a face to face connection, the health of our relationships can be at risk.
  2. We need to be careful that the same technology that enables our world to be connected, does not become an enabler of “quick and easy” isolation which then opens the door to addiction. The greatest risk of technology becoming an enabler of “quick and easy” isolation is in the home. The technology and tools present in today’s homes enable isolation more than ever.  With multiple smart phones, tablets, computers, and on-demand TV programing, most family members can easily retreat to their own “corner” in the house.  Despite how busy we all seem to find ourselves, academic research and our own honest assessment of time in our homes would highlight that we still manage to spend a great deal of time with our technology of choice.  It is important to remember during those times we let technology serve our individual desires, we are most likely missing out on improving a connection with a child, a spouse, or a parent.  When times are tough in our homes and relationships are in a real tailspin, the isolation that can come with technology is an easy, comfortable addiction to avoid the hard work of repairing a struggling relationship.

In today’s vernacular, my kids would say, YOLO (You Only Live Once) in addressing the complexities of our connected world.  From some experienced Twelve Step folks, I am sure they would recommend YANA (You Are Not Alone) to help us address the complexities of our connected world.  YANA is a strong reminder to help us minimize our periods of isolation that open the door to addiction.

When we put effort into maintaining healthy and needed connections, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to stay connected with others and we build huge barriers to the risk of isolation and addiction.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Holiday Homecoming: Thursday, November 23, 2017

Many of us are returning home this week.

Whether we are returning to the home where we were raised, having others come back home, or visiting the home of close family or friends, there is something special about coming home.

Home represents a permanent mark on our identity.  In addition, as we grow older and hopefully wiser, home brings about the reminder of one of our most critical responsibilities to society; to build and sustain a strong family. Success in the workplace will come and go, our “15 minutes of fame” will come and go, and for most of us, an enduring impact on the global stage of history will be unattainable, but the effort we put forth in the home will always be a part of our legacy.

Home is also the place where we live through the full spectrum of our emotional experience from our greatest highs to our greatest lows. In between those extremes, we can dwell in that most unfortunate place called apathy, where we just “check-out” as the furnace of conflict and disappointment presents an appealing choice to just quietly endure while we emotionally move on to some other source of comfort and acceptance.

Throughout our lives, there will always be moments in time when we return home in some physical or emotional sense.  As an adult, we remember our childhood experiences in the home of our upbringing. As an empty-nester parent, we remember what the home was like when it was filled with kids.  As a frazzled parent with growing children in the home, we have little time for reflection as we continue to be pounded on the anvil of schedules, to do lists, and the expectations of others. In addition, as a family struggles with the loss of a loved one, we remember the times of togetherness we shared before tragedy struck.

As we continue on our important journey to build and strengthen our character, there are moments like the holiday season where it is helpful to return home with a sense of thankfulness.

Making the choice to be thankful when we return home, physically and/or emotionally, is an important step to build and strengthen our character for a few simple reasons:

  1. Thankfulness consistently returns numerous positive benefits. Volumes of research in academia and real-life experience demonstrate that people who are thankful are healthier, both physically and emotionally, have stronger relationships, and inoculate themselves from the negative effects of thinking about what we don’t have or harboring resentment or envy tied to what others possess.  Thankfulness keeps us grounded.
  2. Thankfulness helps overcome the struggles of life. There is no “perfect” home.  We all have and we all will continue to experience significant family conflict in our homes.  Just like the pain and discomfort associated with a new workout routine will eventually make our bodies stronger, with a sense of thankfulness, we will build our emotional strength to overcome the inevitable next family conflict.  Thankfulness softens the heart and opens a desire to understand instead of judge during conflict in the home.
  3. Thankfulness helps us reach our full potential and helps those around us reach their full potential. Do you enjoy hanging around people who gripe and complain?  Being thankful builds encouragement for ourselves and others.  Thankfulness builds the foundation for all of us to reach our full potential.  Rather than getting sucked into the dark sea of negativity and complaint, being thankful puts our footing on solid ground to build a positive legacy in our home.

We are consistently drawn to come back home not because of where it is, but because of what it represents.  As we remain thankful in our home, not just during the holidays, but throughout the year, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Bright Side of Loneliness: Thursday, November 16, 2017

If we chose to believe the statistics, either ourselves or someone close to us on our left or right struggles with feeling alone.  If we take an honest reflection of our own lives, there are probably times when we felt the sense of being out there all alone facing a particular situation:

  • In the workplace, we can feel alone in dealing with a difficult boss, being a part of a project team that just doesn’t function like a team, or when we lost that “critical” account and everyone is turning their eyes on us.
  • In school, when the “cool” group leaves us behind or we stayed home instead of attending the big party, we can feel a bit lonely.
  • In the home, we can feel alone during times of struggle in a marriage, children whose birth order may align with certain experiences (it is more than just the middle child syndrome), or when adult children start making life choices that conflict with the hopes of parents.

We can all feel lonely from time to time.   

There were two times in my adult life when I have walked down the road with a close friend facing a terminal illness. In both experiences, they commented how wonderful it was to have family and friends around to help them in their most difficult situation.  However, both of them, from very different backgrounds and walks of life, made the same comment to me that even with all these people around, their journey down that final road is an extremely lonely one.

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, embracing the bright side of loneliness will help each of us reach our full potential throughout the ups and downs of life in our home, the workplace and community.

Like most things in life, we can view challenges as a reminder of our own weaknesses or we can use challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. We make that choice every day and dealing with loneliness is no different.  We have a choice.  There was some recent published research on the best ways of coping with loneliness and of all the options like group therapy, community intervention, pharmaceutical treatments, etc., the most effective was some individual support to encourage changing our own thoughts and beliefs about ourselves.

As we view these occasions of loneliness as opportunities to grow, here are a few ways to remind us of the bright side of loneliness.

  1. The first step towards self-improvement. The quiet of loneliness is a helpful place because the first step of any great movement starts with struggles in the present. In the quiet of loneliness, quite often we can see the need for change.  Whether it is in our careers to find something purposeful that excites us, or in our educational pursuits to study something that can help us to have a real positive impact, or in our homes to take steps to be a better spouse or parent.  Our desire to improve our situation starts with some dissatisfaction of the present.  In the cold quiet of loneliness, we often find the spark to ignite positive change in our lives.
  2. We can make a quick turnaround. In the final assessment, making a shift in mindset is all up to us. There is empowerment and energy that comes with standing and facing our situation alone without the challenges of miscommunication, unmet expectations or half-hearted commitments that sometimes comes with large group efforts. We can move quickly in guiding our own thoughts, decisions, and actions.  As we look into the mirror, we need to ask, “What are we waiting for?”
  3. A helping hand to others. Our journey through loneliness can be a helpful source of encouragement to someone who needs it most. We should be genuine and authentic in sharing our journey with someone else. As Plato once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Someone close to us may need to hear our example of overcoming, but they may be too ashamed, embarrassed, or hurt to ask.  Sharing our journey with those we care about most should be thought of as a potential source of encouragement to them, not a needed badge of honor for ourselves.

As we chose to see the bright side of loneliness, we can increase our chances of overcoming.  We will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on others.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Few Steps Towards Redemption: Thursday, November 9, 2017

Let’s face the truth.  All of us have made mistakes, fallen short of goals, and had a few really painful disappointments in life.

There has been a great deal written about a recent trend by many academics to build resumes of their failures to demonstrate to students (and the world) that we all have failed numerous times in the pursuit of goals in order to better prepare students for the real world.

Given that we have all fallen short, the opportunity for redemption, or helping us to become more acceptable, especially in the eyes of those closest to us, is extremely relevant as we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character and reach our full potential.   The opportunity for redemption is very appealing to meet a most important human need beyond the basics, the need to know we matter and are accepted by those around us.

Like most efforts in reaching our full potential, the steps towards redemption are no different, we have some internal work to do on ourselves and we have some external effort we can offer those around us.

Internal Steps:

The inward journey towards redemption begins with a good inventory of those times we have fallen short.  The easy part is the concrete shortfalls in a career journey, academics, financial failures, etc.  The really hard part, but most meaningful inventory, are the times we have fallen short in the relationships closest to us; A lost temper, a hurtful word, or a rejection when we were needed most.  That is the list that hurts the most.

This type of inventory helps in two important ways (1) The list keeps us grounded and humble.  The Scriptures warn us that “pride comes before the fall” so we all should want to avoid that painful reality as much as possible. (2) The list helps us to be less judgmental of those around us.  We have a tendency to not be as critical when we have some self-awareness of our own shortcomings.

External Steps:

The external journey towards redemption begins with a word of encouragement to others.  Offering an encouraging word to others is many times the gateway for developing a deeper relationship with someone close to us.  We live in a world that emphasizes the negative and an encouraging word can be like oxygen to someone suffocating in an environment of negativity and pessimism.  We all carry a few heavy burdens known only to ourselves and an encouraging word is a helpful boost as we journey along.

Encouragement, especially to those closest to us, can help in a few important ways (1) Helps others feel better about themselves and begin to feel they matter (2) Creates an environment where others may become more open to share struggles without the fear of judgment and shame (3) Enables others to move forward in their own journey even if it is silently alone.

These internal and external steps are necessary on the continual journey towards redemption.  The journey towards redemption is ongoing in the real world as life is not stagnant.  We encounter new people, new experiences, new challenges, and ultimately a few more of our own failures along the way.  Similar to the phrase “life is a journey not a destination” so can be said of the process towards redemption with those closest to us in our homes and families.

As we continue to move forward with these steps towards redemption, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to build strong and healthy relationships with those that matter most.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Gentleness: Thursday, November 2, 2017

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, today’s theme is about a principle that gets little mention in today’s “loud and proud” environment.  When we call roll for those who have delivered lasting, positive impact in our world, in our communities, and most certainly in our homes, there is a common virtue among them that is tough to find in the intensity of our world today.

The quality of gentleness, or “strength under control” as the more practical, relevant definition, continues to be an effective behavioral anchor in dealing with relationships in the complexity of life today.

I am confident that if I polled the readers of this blog, we could all give a few solid testimonies about when we “lost it” in a relatively intense or even seemingly routine interaction with a family member, coworker, or friend.  We occasionally blame our response on the hectic commute across town, a stressful day at work, the loss of the big game, our finances, the weather etc.   However, we all know we fell short in demonstrating strength under control.  We most likely took a big withdrawal out of the proverbial “relationship bank account” and needed to work extra hard making deposits into the future if we wanted to repair the relationship.

Maintaining gentleness in today’s world is not easy.  The real-life situations of dealing with an unruly child while hustling to get ready for work, an irate customer call just as “normal business hours” have passed and your daycare is closing, the spouse that just seems oblivious to the situation you are struggling to get through, or the aging parent who does not realize her limitations are all situations that put our gentleness to the test.  It is not easy to maintain strength under control, but it is well worth the effort.

There are several positive outcomes that we can all expect by demonstrating a greater degree of gentleness or strength under control in our interactions with others:

  1. Gentleness has been shown over time, either through time-tested philosophers or academic research, to be the more effective method in strengthening relationships and sustaining positive behavioral change compared to the typical “loud, proud, and loss of control” technique we all so quickly adapt.
  2. We will quickly replace the regretful thought of “oh, I should not have acted that way” with the cherished memory that we did the harder right, rather than the easier wrong, and more times than not, maintained a productive connection to continue the relationship another day.
  3. Our example will be “watched” by those around us and whether we ever see it or not, others will be positively impacted by our actions.

One final note of truth from the late Leo Buscaglia, PhD.  I am not sure if you remember Leo, but he was “Dr. Love” in the 70s & 80s who was famous for his sold-out “Love 1A” class at the University of Southern California.  His PBS Specials (which are on YouTube for those interested) were an earlier and less rehearsed version of modern day TED Talks for healthy relationships.  Leo Buscaglia, in describing a relevant truth of those exhibiting the virtue of gentleness said, “Only the weak are cruel.  Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”

We should all strive to be strong and model the principle of gentleness.  As a result, we will continue to make steady progress on building and strengthening our character and Character Creates Opportunity for us to have a positive, lasting impact in our relationships.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Secret Nobody Talks About: Thursday, October 26, 2017

There seems to be no shortage of talkers in our world.  Traditional media, our school systems and our workplaces are all wired to recognize and reward the talkers.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character in a world that highlights the loud and proud, we don’t want to miss the power of being quiet and listening to build healthy relationships, open dialogue with those who are hurting and establish the foundation to reach our hopes and dreams.

We all cherish the moment when we are truly being listened to and understood.

Just recently, some exciting new research has been released that demonstrates the power of our brains to relate to one another when we truly listen.  Research out of Princeton being led by neuroscientist Uri Hasson used complex mathematical analyses to map patterns of activity in the brain.  The research added the dimension of measuring the relationship between the pattern in one person’s brain and the pattern in another’s.

The research team recorded the brain activity of one person’s brain while they told a story and another person’s brain who was listening.  The two brain patterns showed a remarkable degree of correlation. The storyteller had literally gotten in to the listener’s brain and altered it not only on the logic-reasoning parts of the brain, but most importantly, on the emotional part of the brain.  By focusing on listening, the listener was able to match the brain of the storyteller.  The listener felt the emotions of the storyteller.

The research demonstrated over and over that when you listen to and understand another person, you experience the exact same brain pattern as that person.  It is as if you have experienced their experience.  The research demonstrated that our brains know little difference between our own experience and one we shared by listening to another. Our brains are impacted the same way.  Listening to another person can provide real insight into another person’s journey and help us understand.

In addition to these types of research insights and the so-called “experts” in the field, here are just a few thoughts to reinforce the importance of listening to build healthy relationships:

  1. Listening is the most simple and powerful way to demonstrate to someone that they matter. Our decision to listen meets a very important psychological need of all of us – to know we matter. Listening does not take a PhD in psychology, an extremely high IQ, or some position in the corner office.  All it takes is a simple decision to be silent and give someone our attention.
  2. As our world continues to grow more intense and complex, before we instinctively move to shout out our “brilliant opinion,” we should first choose to listen. As the research showed, when we listen, we actually feel the experience of the other person. This is a relevant and practical choice for our home, our workplace, and our community.  As with many other things, the greatest challenge is often listening to those that are closest to us in our home.  We mistakenly think we know them well enough because we have lived with them for so long that we don’t need to listen.  In addition, we may have allowed the obstacles of anger, frustration, and apathy to prevent us from listening the other side of the story…and there is always another side to the story.
  3. For most people, it is our painful experiences that have taught us the most and form the basis for many of the choices we make. However, we typically keep hidden those painful experiences from others. Being a good listener can help build a trusting, non-judgmental, and shame-free atmosphere which can eventually open a door to the sharing of those painful experiences to assist in a greater understanding of one another.  Understanding is the foundation for health in our relationships.

Listening, with the intent to understand, is a well-documented and practical approach to improve relationships.  As we make the decision to listen, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to build healthy and meaningful relationships.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Finish Line? Thursday, October 19, 2017

We all like a good race.  Whether it is the 100 meter dash, the NYC Marathon, the Kentucky Derby, or a NASCAR race.  It is exciting to see the race and how participants cross the finish line.  There is a clear start and a clear finish.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we acknowledge the truth that there is no finish line concerning the important things in life like family, work, finances, and areas of service.  Even in death, our legacy carries on to impact those left behind.  We have to be careful to avoid the illusion of a finish line to our efforts.

There is a risk to reaching our full potential when we allow ourselves to establish some phantom finish lines that will determine our mindset and our effort.  We have probably all found ourselves at one time or another saying something like:

  • When I reach a certain income level, then I can get ahead of the bills and things will be ok
  • When the kids get out of diapers, then we will have some time and energy and things we be ok
  • When I get through this busy season, then I will have some time to re-connect with my spouse and our relationship will be ok
  • When I lose these 10 pounds, then I will feel better and things will be ok
  • When I reach a certain career milestone, then there won’t be as much stress and things will be ok
  • When I get this degree completed, then I can get my life in order and things will be ok

It is healthy to establish goals/milestones along the way to assess our progress, but there is a clear difference between a milestone achievement and a finish line ending the race to reach our full potential.

The reality is our journey through life is a lot like the business model of the software industry.  We launch with the 1.0 version.  We get out there in life, learn some things, see some new opportunities, and realize we didn’t plan for everything.  We then proceed to make a few improvements and then launch the 2.0 version…then 3.0 and we know how the story continues.

The illusion is that the next version will be the lasting version and all we will need.  Life continues to present us with new opportunities to learn and grow.  On the journey to reach our full potential, there is no final version.  We will continue to build skills and grow in wisdom and perspective.

If we don’t learn and grow, we miss our opportunity to maximize our impact on those things we care about most.

As we make the choice to live fully in the moment with the humility to know we are never done learning and growing, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity for us to have a positive impact on those closest to us and in service to causes bigger than ourselves.