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.