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.