Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Mayors

Burrrr!  The East Coast has been blasted with a winter storm that has paralyzed many communities, large and small.  Flight activity at airports is on hold.  And other methods of public transportation have ceased to function.  Many residents find themselves isolated in their homes, out somewhere stranded in their cars or needing medical attention or supplies and not able to access them.

Now two mayors of large cities, New York City's, Michael Bloomberg and Newark's, Cory Booker, are addressing the situation and keeping their followers posted via their "tweets." The Washington Post has done a comparison of their activities and responses over the course of a couple days.  Twitter gives us a glimpse of two mayors in the throws of chaos.  I like Booker's attitude at the end.  He had an opportunity to toot his own horn, but passed it up and defended his peer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

We all communicate, but do we really connect?

I'm reading a book on the power of language.  Although it's not necessarily reflective of my faith-based worldview, (I find pursuing happiness to be futile.  I'd rather pursue contentment with my circumstances.) the book has some intriguing insights.

Language is creative in many ways such as using it to create a commitment.

A restaurant owner was seeking ways to lower his rate of "no shows" on his reservation list.  He had about a 30% dropout rate (with no prior notice) for his reservations.  His staff would say "Please call us if you should need to cancel your reservation."  He instructed his staff to change the wording.  They began to say "Would you call us if you need to cancel your reservation?"  His "no show" rate immediately went down to 10%.*  Most people probably responded with "okay" or "yes,"  With those words they'd made a commitment to call if they needed to cancel.  Something was asked of them and if they responded with an affirmative answer, they realized they were making a public commitment...a promise to do something. 

What a difference this would make if implemented in our families, work relationships and businesses.

*Cialdini, Robert B., Influence: Science and Practice, Allyn & Bacon, 2001, page 74.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Changing Face of Friendships

Do you remember your first friends as a child?  I have vivid memories of some of the things we playing pranks to scare our little siblings!  What kind of a child would do that!

Then there are the school chums.  That's where we learn about true friends and traitors.

I've been thinking about adult friendships lately though.  Why is it that some friends are with you throughout your whole life and others seem to drop off along the way?  Nothing really negative happened to create a rift. But at some point you realize you don't have contact with them anymore.  I used to feel that if I thought of them I should make an effort to contact them and somehow try to rekindle what we once shared.  That would consume so much of my time if I actually did that.

The past several years as I've thought about people I used to spend time with and don't see anymore, I've come to realize that some friendships are just for a season.  They don't end badly.  They are just there for a certain period of time and then we move on. I've decided I'm okay with that. The time that our lives were linked through a job, neighborhood, school or church was a good thing.  But the chapter ends and new ones begin.  I can feel good about what once was and enjoy the memories.  Now we have Facebook which allows us to reconnect, but within the boundary of technology, which takes some of the guilt off those of us who feel we need to do our part to try to keep a friendship alive.

Long term, healthy friendships require a mutual commitment to invest in one another.  We have just so many hours in a day and once we've lived through more than a few decades we've rubbed elbows with a significant number of people.  Only a small number of them will become lifelong friends.  Those become precious to us!

"Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget." G. Randolf

Friday, July 2, 2010

Don't lose the wonder.

Upon opening up my twitter feed this morning, I saw a tweet posted by a follower that said a fellow liberal neighbor expressed surprise seeing him outside today putting his flag out to fly in honor of July 4th.  The follower said in his mind, it was "kinda sad."  Kinda???

He said that he flies the flag because it represents America striving to reach its ideal.  I'm not exactly sure what his ideal for America is.  But I know that that piece of cloth...those stars and stripes, signify a way of life for me that was brought about by untold sacrifice and service.  The fact that I can live wherever I want in this country, attend church each week without fear, am free to speak my mind on various issues, and an array of other daily freedoms is enough that I could celebrate every morning upon opening my eyes, and not just on July 4th.

Betsy Ross, creator of the first American flag, was an upholsterer and seamstress.  Freeing our nation from the British was no easy task and she knew it having lost two husbands to the bloodshed of the Revolutionary War.   She attended church with George and Martha Washington and so it was not surprising he asked her, knowing her skill with fabric, to create the flag.  Along with Washington and two others, design ideas were exchanged which resulted in Betsy sewing our first American flag.

In 1814, another woman, Mary Pickersgill, was commissioned to make a giant flag to fly above Ft. McHenry, a signal to the British that America was not about to lie down and play dead.  It measured 30 X 42 feet and was cut & pieced by Mary and her 13 year old daughter.  That flag survived and although very tattered from the 24 hour fiery bombardment in Baltimore's harbor, it's been preserved and is on display at the Museum of American History in Washington DC.  I remember the first time I saw it in 1985.  I stood there in silence, almost unable to take in the sight of this two story sized flag. Now threadbare and void of the brilliant red and blue colors on our flags today, it was utterly majestic as it hung in this giant hall serenaded by the Star Spangled Banner.  For me it was something almost beyond comprehension.

On the evening of the 4th, I'll be in a park with hundreds of people, overshadowed by a lighted American flag while the strains of John Philip Sousa music sails through the night air.  Fireworks will light up the sky reminding me of the thousands of individuals in my country who made and continue to make this life of freedom possible for me. 

Flying my flag on July 4th helps me remember the wonder of liberty and I don't ever want to lose it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Value of Roots

Have you ever seen a tree that's been windblown for years?  The branches can be flattened on one side and the primary growth of the tree extends out the other side of the tree leaving it with a lopsided look.  We get a fair amount of wind here on the Central Coast of California. Over a few months, its relentless buffeting has killed a few of our newly planted shrubs in the front yard.  It has the power to carve the shape and determine the direction of growth of all kinds of vegetation.  At times, the wind takes down Monterey Pines whose roots are very shallow and give way when the soil around it becomes rain-soaked. 

Strong roots are essential to the life of a tree.  Even though it gets pounded repeatedly, it can emerge with new growth and resilience thanks to its root system.  So it is with us as people navigating the changes in life.  Those who have strong roots are better able to hang on in tough times when unexpected challenges, adversity or setbacks come our way. 

In a recent conversation with a young woman, I learned about her childhood and adolescence with parents who abused drugs and whose lifestyle provided no roots or guidance for the young girl.  Now in her 30's she is finally learning to put down roots.  She is aware of life's pitfalls after observing her family's sad choices and the consequences they've faced.  Those lessons now give her wisdom about her own choices and a root begins to grow when she makes healthy decisions.  Her life may be windblown at times like a bad hair day that lasts for months! But as long as she has a healthy root system, she has a better chance of survival.  The winds don't diminish her in any way, but they do test her and her root system. 

My guess is that those lopsided trees in my part of the world must have some strong root systems which have grown in the direction needed to keep the tree stable.

Life Coaches come alongside people in windy times and help them as they strengthen their root system.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Compassionate Comrades & Hot Cocoa

The setting:  The Dining Hall at Camp Bighorn in Western Montana. Rich and I were there for a week last month doing coaching and consulting with the staff.  About twenty of us were sitting in a circle one morning having a devotional on the topic of compassion.

In the midst of the discussion I leaned over to pick up the mug of hot chocolate sitting to the right of my feet and as I raised up with the mug in hand (held by the top of the mug, not the handle...big mistake!) I accidentally hit the silver rim of my chair.  The impact made me drop the mug to the floor. In the hundredths of a second that followed, I watched sugary hot cocoa spill out into the middle of the circle all over the hardwood floor. UGGGG.  That 8 or so ounces of liquid seemed to expand endlessly before the twenty sets of eyes that were on me and the mess.

What followed was a demonstration of compassion.  My husband, Rich, immediately got up to help me clean up followed by two others, Josh and Trina, who went to the nearby kitchen to get rags, and promptly began to wipe up the mess by hand.  Josh did most of the work and as I humbly worked alongside him watching his wide sweeps with a rag through the liquid chocolate puddle, I was so grateful for their compassion on me.  They didn't just feel compassion, but demonstrated it. 

I had been thinking, just prior to that incident, that it can be hard for us to be compassionate towards someone unless we've been in a place of needing it ourselves. 

Showing compassion toward another may not come easily for you if you haven't ever been in a place of want.  In Matthew 9 Jesus looked at the crowd of people and felt compassion for their current state in life. This was the focus of our devotional and I got to be the recipient of a living example of compassion that morning.  Sometimes good lessons are learned in the unsuspecting moments of life.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Someone's watching....

From the time we come into the world we learn by watching others.  Yes, we put in hours of formal education in a classroom, but think about some of the things you learned by observation.

You learned something about relationships from your family of origin.  You learned how to walk, run, and pass the baton in a relay by observing someone do it. Washing a car, baking a cake, mowing a lawn, shooting hoops or drawing a stick figure were things all learned primarily by observation.

Having just celebrated Mother's Day, it's been interesting to think about what I learned from my mom who died when I was 17.  When I was about 13, her physical mobility began to decrease from the crippling impact of Rheumatoid Arthritis.  So many of the homemaking skills I routinely use were learned before my adolescence. I realize how many things she taught simply through demonstrating them in everyday situations. As I got older she encouraged me to have hands on involvement.  Even after she had to give up some activities for health reasons, I continued to learn about life from her.

This gives me the desire to look for opportunities to learn more through observation.   And I want to be more aware of what I teach through my actions.

Photo: (Monique Rodriguez)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cruel is never cool even if you're a grownup

I've been thinking about bullying lately, especially child and adolescent bullying.  It seems to be in the news frequently and at the forefront of school problems.

Bullying has been around for generations.  We've probably all been the victim of some name-calling, maybe some pushing and shoving and even painful alienation by a family member or a group of peers.  It leaves life-long scars.  Severe bullying can have major consequences, physically, emotionally and financially on the victim and their family. 

Bullying in the workplace is now a serious issue.  There are company anti-bully laws.  There are serial bullies.  There are bully survivor support groups.  Bullying has found its way to the court system with frequent lawsuits alleging harassment and bullying.

I keep wondering if children learn bullying by watching adults.  I think they do.  Think about it.  As adults do we often in the presence of others, see individuals make degrading, rude or negative comments about another person?  Sometimes the victim is present. Other times they are not.  It is still bullying.

And the second part of that, and maybe the most impacting, is the response or should I say, lack of response by those who witness the comment or behavior.  There are few who are willing to step out from the group and say something or do something contrary to the bullying.  This is the role that kids seem to observe and adopt....silence, inaction.  There is no demonstration to stand up for the person being victimized.  This gives the bully full-reign and empowers them to continue the harassment.

Unfortunately, kids get to watch this at home, on the playground and as they grow older, in the workplace, on television and in the political arena.  Late night talk show hosts, in the name of humor, shred family members or make light of serious personal matters of very public figures. Audiences laugh. It's very easy to get caught up in the cycle.  Our leaders bully one another and others remain silent afraid that a defense of someone in the other party or opposing group may bring on criticism or cost them their comrades or followers. 

People who bully send out a message about themselves.  They fear the exposure of their insecurities and inadequacies or a drop in their popularity.  In their desperation, they become predators upon a variety of people....those who are well-liked, respected, high achievers, hot tempered, kind, handicapped, ill and those who are quiet and passive.

How can we as individuals live daily in a way to lessen someone's power to bully, even if it's on a small scale?  How can we respond to bullying in a way that will demonstrate that we don't buy the argument that putting someone down somehow increases our standing in society?

What should move us to action is human dignity, not just toward victims, but also the dignity of each of us.  We ourselves lose dignity by remaining passive and silent.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The times...they are a-changing!

"The future has a way of arriving unannounced. " George Will

"Baby Boomers" were the subject of Tom Brokaw's latest TV documentary which aired on March 4th.  While the program focused more on the "notorious" of the Boomer generation (Woodstock, etc.) while skimming over what life was like for those of us in the background, it did bring up some precarious predicaments for boomers today and in the future.  The projections for Boomers are quite thought-provoking.

The statistics show that a great percentage of Baby Boomers have spent most of what we earned.  Saving from our paychecks and making deposits into 401K plans were a low priority so nest eggs tend to be less than adequate for the costs that lie ahead of us.   We have an appetite for excess.  The Boomer middle class tended to live like the upper class....upscale homes, luxury cars, and multiple credit cards.  This lifestyle seems to have caught up with us.  Today more than 4 million Baby Boomers are currently unemployed.  The reality of a more than dismal economy is here.  In the workplace we now compete for jobs with "techno kids" 35 years younger than we are.

Where does this leave Boomers?  We're going to once again, change the world.  We drive the economy, and because we are aging in great numbers, facing a costly medical care crisis and experiencing a downturn in income, our decisions will impact the world.  We are being forced to be creative in how we live.  Boomers are learning to exist on less.  We are downsizing, embracing the minimalism of our parents, (not necessarily by choice, but by necessity,) and grappling with what's really important in life.  For many boomers, the memories of being raised very simply in a small home and sharing one bathroom with parents and siblings, doesn't seem as bad as once thought before the foreclosure sign went up or the pink slip got handed out at work.

We're starting to see Boomer trends change and I for one am rather curious to see how our resourceful generation will handle the certain challenges that lie ahead of us. 

What kinds of Boomer trends do you see emerging?  I'd like to hear from you.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Impact of a Voice

"I don't think most teachers realize how much impact they have." Former Olympic Figure Skater, Scott Hamilton

When we think of teachers, our thoughts probably go to a room with rows of desks and chairs facing a large chalkboard. Then the distinct memory of a former teacher comes to mind. But there are many teachers around us outside a typical physical classroom. If you've made learning a lifelong habit you know this.

We now have virtual classrooms where our teachers can be individuals we've never met in person. Each year I am impacted by teachers because I make it a point to take classes on a continual basis whether they be a one hour webinar or an online course. This past year I took a painting class and right now I'm completing a Mastermind Group Leadership teleclass. You may be currently learning from a fitness instructor, a foreign language teacher or a pastor or rabbi. Whatever the setting, we can all attest to the fact that teachers play a very vital role in shaping us. Teachers are not just dispensers of information. We also learn from who they are and how they share themselves with us.

Yesterday, a former teacher of mine passed away. Her name was Judy Santos. Four years ago Judy was one of two teachers in a 40 hour training teleclass for those of us wanting to be life coaches. Judy and Chris McCluskey of the Institute for Life Coach Training, met with twenty of us twice a week by phone and guided and inspired us as we learned the foundational principles of life coaching.

I never got to meet Judy, face to face. Her phone voice had a raspy quality to it. Perhaps it was a result of the cancer treatments she'd had in the past which so often impact our senses. But, nonetheless, the sound of her voice was something that distinguished her along with her words and teaching style. Although she didn't talk about it much in the coach training setting, Judy had been through some deep valleys in life. In the course of one year she'd gone through several major life transitions. So when she explained coaching skills to her students, she surely knew what we'd need to know to work with people in transition.

Because she was future focused, as life coaching is, Judy's life was an example of someone who'd weathered storms and emerged with resilience and a determination to continue experiencing life to the fullest. It was obvious she had a keen business sense which she readily shared with us in a way that didn't elevate herself, but generously provided us with valuable insight. Her teaching was more than words. It was a way of life. One's voice doesn't mean just the sound of their utterances, but their ability to speak certain characteristics into our lives...things like courage, compassion, empowerment, challenge, and the enlarging of our perspectives. Judy modeled all these things for her students.

She said little about her latest bout with cancer, but we knew it was a struggle. No doubt she coached and taught as long as she could because it was such a passion of hers.
Even facing death, Judy was forward focused. Her Christian faith sustained her through her battle with cancer because she knew ahead of her was the joy of Heaven.

The thing about teachers is that their impact goes on for generations. Thanks for all you taught me, Judy. I am passing it on.

Photo: Joseph Helfenberger/

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where are they now and how did they get there?

He won by 2/100ths of a second! Amazing.

Let's face it, we're pretty much hooked. We love being part of the Olympic rush....the triumph of someone who devotes years to developing their technique in a sport so they can stand on the podium, with the coveted medal around their neck while listening to the impassioned strains of their country's song. We admire their physical agility and envy the determination and discipline that has allowed them to compete in this historic event.

We also get to see past Olympian heroes because the networks bring them back on the air for commentary and interviews. Guess what, they age too. Interestingly enough, I don't see an abundance of plastic surgery enhancement on past Olympians. Maybe they are more focused on other things and don't seek to recapture the past.

Dick Buttons, two time figure skating gold medalist is 80 years old now and is right in there with everyone chatting away about current events on the ice rink.

Peggy Fleming is a grandmother, gardener and wine-maker. Because she is a breast cancer survivor, she's involved in raising awareness of the importance of early detection.

Mark Spitz is on the speaking circuit recalling the 1972 Munich games which were marred by the killing of Israeli athletes. Mark, being Jewish, was closely guarded during the Munich competition. Now he speaks about his experiences living courageously with intolerance.

Eric Heiden, golden star of speed skating in the 80's, is a physician who treated one of the current speed skaters following a serious accident and was instrumental in his recovery and return to the ice.

Past Olympians positively engaged in life have some key things in common:

  • 1. They realize their potential for influence on a smaller scale even decades after their time on the podium.
  • 2. They realize they still have skills and talents yet to be discovered and seek new ways to find them and put them to use.
  • 3. They don't let their decreasing physical stamina or athletic skill limit their accomplishment in new endeavors.
They've managed to let go of the past (numerous times depending on their age) and put it in its rightful place realizing it will not be re-lived again in the same way. This allows them to move take new risks, continue learning and work diligently on new projects. I guess this isn't too surprising in light of the fact that they were so disciplined in a daily rigorous athletic routine as teens and young adults.

I find I still admire them as much as I did when I watched them receive their medal. I like their commitment, both then and now.

Photo: Kimmie Meisner, U.S. Figure Skater. AP photo / March 25, 2006

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Life Outside the Bubble

No doubt many of you saw the recent movie, “The Blind Side,” a true story of one family’s courage and generosity in reaching out to a young man in great need. I don't know about you, but this film generated a great deal of emotion and contemplation in me as I left the theater.

You may be one of many in the Western world who, like me, live in a sort of bubble. Except through the media or the occasional citing of a homeless person as I'm walking or driving, I'm not readily exposed to the impoverished and disenfranchised lifestyle of the majority of the world.

Most of us have times when we enter into that difficult world through a donation, or a day of volunteerism. However, I'm always thinking about what we can do with our physical resources, intellectual skills and our desires to make life better for those around us. This story is about someone who spends a few hours each week outside the bubble.

Ben is a retired professional in the Midwest. He shared with me his experiences over the past 18 years serving as an advocate with a national organization called CASA. Volunteers with CASA are court appointed special advocates for children. They are individuals in over 1,000 local chapters across the U.S, who make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children.

Ben, outfitted with several books, picks up the children in his current assignment, 3 siblings, from their foster homes and heads for McDonalds where he engages in general conversation and reads to them ("Froggie Goes To School" is currently the favorite.) Ben doesn’t probe too deeply with questions, but rather tries to make the outing one of relaxed play while trying to create a safe atmosphere conducive to openness if the opportunity presents itself for a child to share their feelings.

The other dynamic of this work is for Ben to dialogue regularly with the others involved in the case: the deputy juvenile officer, teachers, and the foster parent or residential treatment facility supervisor they live with, etc. He takes his personal observations and those of the other professionals and writes reports of his findings and his recommendations for the court prior to the hearings regularly conducted for each minor.

Although judges tend to listen with great interest to Ben’s findings, they don’t always heed his suggestions, especially when it comes to custody matters. Advocates will sometimes see the judge order the child returned to a biological parent against the wishes of the advocate.

The Advocates most successful in their work are those who are able to balance their feelings of hope and loyalty for the children with the ability to avoid being overly attached or invested emotionally in the outcome. Their investment of time is significant....weekly visits with the child as well as followup with others and the writing of the reports. This averages out to about 12-15 hours per month. CASA provides thorough screening and over thirty hours of training for their volunteers.

Currently serving on his 4th case, Ben feels he is adding value to someone’s life, but he doesn’t always get to see the results of his efforts. His first case lasted 10 years and he isn't sure where the young man is now or what has become of his life. But Ben knows his work has an impact of some merit in the life of the children he is assigned to, and is appreciated by the other professionals and the judicial system.

Why does he do it? He has a burden for disadvantaged children lost in the system and wants to do what he can to help them. Thank you, Ben, for your example to all of us and for reaching outside your comfort zone to others in need.

"Whatever time you have to devote to a child, it’s more than that child has ever had. You don’t need any special skills. It’s all about caring and common sense.
"~ Sue and Steve Forestadt,
 CASA Volunteers

More information about the valuable work of CASA can be found at:

Photo: Jozsef Szasz-Fabian/