Surrounded By Ninnies And The Ninnies Are Winning (May 30, 2018 Quick Hit)

Rosanne Barr got stupid. Again. And the people lost their minds over it. ABC canceled her TV show, which was drawing millions of viewers each week.

A Philly Starbucks called cops on two men. And people lost their minds. Yesterday Starbucks closed for company-wide training, losing $12 million.

The NFL and the national anthem continue to be in the news. And people are still losing their minds about it.

A video shows a cop being rough with a teenager. And people go ballistic.

A sportscaster doesn’t pander to his college alma mater on the air. People go nuts and he’s forced to move his family. To another town.

Just today, there’s this. A story from The Telegraph about people who wear reading glasses.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh analysed the genetic data of more than 44,480 people.
They found that, overall, those who were more intelligent were nearly 30 per cent more likely to have genes indicating they require reading glasses than those who scored poorly.

This is sure to cause riots among non-reading glass wearers who will likely feel bullied, assaulted, victimized by the researchers.

Chris Long, the Philadelphia Eagles player, posted a tweet a few days ago that got some hockey folks riled up.

I’m a serious hockey fan. I’m also a serious unfan of the NBA. But I’m also fond of Chris Long.

I wasn’t offended. Suppose the guy hates hockey and loves basketball. And that affects me how? And I would want to care because…?

The Internet was filled with people who took offense to Long’s tweet, not knowing one thing about what was really happening. Namely, that Chris Long was provoking people knowing full well that hockey players and the NHL is a tough game. It was a joke. And the joke was on the overly sensitive nimrods who reacted. You can read more about it all here. Or just do what many people do. Jump to a conclusion that suits you.

It just goes on. And on. And on. And on.

Right is right. Always.

Wrong is wrong. Always.

The problem is we’ve lost our way. We’d rather jump to conclusions with our knee-jerk reactions so we can harshly judge somebody. Empathy? Who’s got time for it? We’re too busy shouting ugly names at people. Calling people out.

Just about every network seems to have some late night funny person who drones on and on about the government, the White House, the President, or some celebrity who made a foolish move. The sheer number of these shows and the fact they remain on the air proves to me that somebody is watching. Networks are willing to pay these folks for doing what they do because it’s profitable. Which means people tune in. I may be the odd man out because I don’t find very many of them entertaining at all. For me, they’re the canaries in the coal mine of our culture’s lust for crushing people so we can feel better about ourselves.

When I was a kid playing football piling on was a penalty. Later it became known as a late hit. But we’d raze the guy who piled on. The person who wasn’t in the play, but wanted to get in on it anyway. That’s what all this behavior reminds me of. Folks who aren’t involved, but want to be involved. I wonder how much of that is happening. How many people are barking and howling at the moon of foolishness from the behavior of others just so they can get in on the action? And for what reason? So they’ll appear as more righteous? More morally upright?

If a harsh judgment of foolish or poor behavior was the only thing needed for wisdom, then we’d all be as wise as Solomon. Even Solomon veered away from God and in the end, he realized what was important. Reviling in his own bad choices, or the bad choices of others wasn’t the conclusion he reached. You can read his conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14.

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I’m One Fat Lip From A Championship 5010

“I’m one fat lip from the championship,
So don’t give up the fight,
And whatever it takes,
I’m going to make everything alright…”

– from “Whatever It Takes” by James Hunter

Back in February a new James Hunter Six record came out, “Whatever It Takes.” The title track had a lyric in the fourth verse that immediately grabbed me. It’s an old-school R&B sound. Magical.

Right away, under the old format of this show, I began crafting a draft for this show. Over the past months, I’ve come at this thing from more angles than a junior high math class protractor.

So many ideas were prompted by that first line – “I’m one fat lip from the championship.” Adversity. Perseverance. Victory.

Adversity. Perseverance. Victory.

Those 3 continued to play on the endless loop in my head. And in that order. I focused on that first one because it’s the only universal one – adversity. We all face it.

But we don’t all exhibit perseverance. Which means we don’t all experience victory.

Whatever it takes. It’s a line we may have said often. Maybe we said it to ourselves, about ourselves. Or maybe we said it to somebody else. It’s one of those great sounding lines we deploy when we’re looking for inspiration. Of course, like so many wise sounding themes, if you dig too deeply you realize how untrue these kinds of things can be. Whatever it takes? Really? What if it means sacrificing your marriage? Your kids? Your convictions? Will you really do WHATEVER it takes? I hope not.

Victory does have a price tag. Part of the problem is it never tells you how much it’ll cost. You have to find out for yourself.

Along the way, you may discover the cost is too high. And you may jettison the fight. Or…

You may figure out as the cost goes up, that you’ll call or even double down. Or fold.

It’s up to you. We each have the power and ability to decide if the price is too high. But that decision doesn’t always appear so rational. Many of us pay prices that are too high given the reward. Others of us don’t pay enough of a price because we may not see the truly high value of the payoff.

It’s Free Form Friday here inside The Yellow Studio. I’ve been noodling this idea since I first heard that song. And that lyric.

Happy Friday!

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Passing It On - 5009 - LEANING TOWARD WISDOM

Passing It On – 5009

Passing It On - 5009 - LEANING TOWARD WISDOMI admit it. Young adults are among my very favorite people. These two young ladies in this picture are among my favorite people. They know it, too. Because I’ve told them. And I continue to tell them. This was the final year of undergraduate studies for one of them (yeah, you guessed it — the one in the cap and gown who graduated on Friday). This was the freshman year for the other one. Both of them attend the church where I serve. Sure, that makes them important to me, but that doesn’t have anything to do with how likable they are to me.

It’s graduation season. And I’m reminded of all the young adults who are somewhere on the journey toward creating the life they want. For some, like these two…that means higher education. For others, it means entering the workplace to figure out what they may want to do. For others, it may mean taking time to travel and venture out into the world to experience different countries and cultures.

Two words loom large for me (and have for the past 20 years or so): Legacy. Significance.

It was the genesis of this podcast. Nothing has changed. If anything, it’s just intensified.

Passing it on has been a preoccupation. I don’t feel any responsibility to tell anybody how to live necessarily. But I do feel confident to help show younger adults the pitfalls they may face. In the last few years, most of the focus has really been helping them navigate their own self-awareness. I find myself steadily offering insights on things they can do…things I wish somebody would have shared with me.

How We Got Here

Wherever you’re at in life. Age-wise. Financially. Relationship-wise. Any other way you’d like to gauge it. Consider where you are right now. And when I ask how you got here I don’t mean in all the little details. Mostly, I mean in the bigger issues. Important factors like influence. Viewpoints. Philosophies. Standards. How did you develop those? Who influenced the development of those?

Me? I got here because of people who had a big impact on me as a little boy. I got here because of some old men in my life. And a few old ladies, too. I got here because of parents. The short answer is, I got here because of the people who influenced me. The things they taught me. The warnings they gave me. The fear they instilled in me. It all mattered.

Something happens when you get old. Define old any way you’d like, but for me…old is when you’ve got more past than future. I know we can’t know our exact lifespan, but we’ve got some expectation. Hopefully, a reasonable expectation. Do I have 10 years, 20 years, 30 years? I don’t know. But I know how many decades are behind me and it’s impossible that I’ll have that many years ahead of me. So there. I’m old. And I’m good with it. 😉

What I’m not good with is neglecting to pass on what I’ve learned. It doesn’t mean I’m telling these young ladies, or anybody else in my life, how to live. Or what to do. It means I’m sharing experiences and insights. They can do with them what they will. Kick them to the curb. Take them in and apply them. Be bored by them. Or be entertained by them. Or all of the above. I respect whatever they choose to do with them. And that’s not hard because they give me the one thing that triggers me – TRUST.

Because our trust is mutual, we listen to each other. Because I’m old, but vividly remember being young – and because I’m completely empathetic to young people and their challenges. I don’t hold them accountable to how life was when I was young. These two young ladies have never lived in a pre-Internet world. Or pre-cell phone world. Their viewpoint is very different and I understand that. They know I understand it.

Nor am I romantic about the past. While I’m grateful to have been born in a time where I could see all the changes that have happened, I don’t suffer “good ‘ol days syndrome.” Honestly, today is the best time ever to be alive. Mostly, because this is the time when we are alive. But also because the digital age offers all of us, young or old, more opportunities than ever before. The possibilities for these two young ladies – and the millions like them – is extraordinary! Exciting. I’m very optimistic for them. Especially for these two because I know them. They’re smart. They’re wise. They’re responsible. They’re driven. They’re high achievers. It’s the stuff of success no matter a person’s age.

Now that I’m old I’m certain of a few things. Among them, the idea that if the older people in my life – when I was younger – would have taken more time to get to know me, and to allow me to get to know them…I would have learned so much more, so much faster! Fortunately, I sat around and listened carefully. I picked up bits of wisdom here and there from older folks. I befriended a few along the way and today I enjoy a solid relationship with a handful of men older than me (by 15 to 25 years). It’s important to me. So I’ve made the investment necessary.

But part of this is generational. I’m a baby boomer. The people of our grandparents and parents generation didn’t roll the way I roll. It was a different time. Each generation is. I grew up hearing about the “generation gap.” And I saw it up close and personal. But I was also a child of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The hippie movement was just before my time really. It all factors into how older and younger people relate, communicate and learn from each other (if they’re able to learn anything at all).

A lot has changed.

When my grandparents were 50, or 60 – boy, were they old. Today, folks are just hitting their prime at 50. By the time people are “old” they’re often at their very best today. They’ve got tons of life experience. Big time responsibility. Mental sharpness and energy, too. A 50-year-old in 1975 had little resemblance to a 50-year-old in 2018.

Meeting Them Where They Are

When you let the game come to you – as far as influencing young adults – it changes things for the better. But for me, it starts with meeting them where they are and communicating with them on their terms. That’s easy for me. On just about all fronts.

That doesn’t mean you’re their peer. Or you’re like them. Give me a break. I was once young. I do not want to be young again. No amount of money would suffice to get me to go back and do it all over again.

And I don’t want to live vicariously through my young adult friends. They have their lives. They have their talents and passions. I want them to be them. Not me.

When my now grown kids were living at home my wife and I told them that while they were under our direction, living at home, we established the rules for our relationship. “There’ll come a time,” I’d tell them, “when you’re going to leave home and establish your own. When that happens, you’re going to be in charge of our relationship. And we’re going to be perfectly good with that.”

For quite a few years now, that’s exactly how it’s been. Our kids are in charge of our relationship with them. That’s how it should be. They can come over any time. Unannounced. We’ll never do that to them, though. That’s now their right. Not ours. These are choices we made because it’s how we view things. You may not agree. And that’s fine.

I only mention this because it transcends into how I choose to relate to young adults. While I foster friendships and do whatever I can to put myself out there to give them opportunities to engage…whether they engage or not is entirely up to them. I’ll only impose if I fear they’re in trouble (spiritually, mostly — but perhaps physically). Some, like these two ladies, easily engage. Others don’t. I don’t judge. I’m just thankful for the ones who decide a relationship is worthwhile.

Perhaps a bigger part of meeting them where they are is the dedication to give value first. “Let me tell you what you ought to do,” are words they won’t hear me say. Not young adults. They deserve a more mature treatment. More consideration by listening and understanding what they’re thinking. And feeling.

Part of giving value first is being vulnerable. I’m willing to open up and share with them. I’m not some flawless old man. I don’t hesitate to share insights on things I learned from my own foolishness. Wisdom has a price. It’s important for them to know that, and see it as closely as possible without it being their foolishness. They’re going to make their own foolish steps. Seems to me there’s value in learning from mine first. So I never lie or pretend. Or hide.

You Get What You Give

When it works as I want – and as I aim it to – it’s always reciprocal. First, I give. Then they reciprocate. And as much as they may feel they’re getting, in their youth they don’t realize I’m benefiting as much (maybe more). I don’t hide it either. I tell them how valuable they are to my life.

The chickens do come home to roost. Always.

You reap what you sow. Always.

I want young people in my life so I put in the work. Too many people want something, including a relationship, but they’re not willing to put in the work. They enjoy getting jealous of those who do. The art of passing it on works just like everything else in life. You won’t reap where you haven’t sown.

Judgment Free Zone

Older folks are challenged by a lack of empathy toward younger people. I get it. It’s impossible for us to not know what we’ve already learned. For some, that erodes empathy. I understand how it happens when there are quite a few decades separating us, but there’s no excuse.

Empathy enables me to remember being young. And knowing what I’d listen to versus what would shut me down from listening. Besides, no matter our age we want to live our own life. I don’t want you living my life for me (not that you can, but you may feel like you can). All the vicarious living we may do through others is absurd. Impossible, too.

Any attempt to pass it on will be ruined the minute you choose to play the role of the expert advice giver. “You should…fill in the blank,” or “you shouldn’t…fill in the blank.” Should all the young people in your life – and I’m speaking of young adults – and you’ll quickly find them leaving. Quickly. Can’t blame them. You’d do the same thing if you were them.

Sadly, there are some older people with things worth passing along but they can’t do it without constant judgment. No sale!

The Priceless Value Of Friendship

Some parents think being friends with their kids is the route to raising successful, high achieving kids while forging the strongest relationship with them. Sadly, their good intentions don’t often pay off because we need what we need when we need it. And if parents try to be friends with their growing children, then that leaves a void nobody else can fill. Your kids can find friends. If you refuse to be their parent, setting standards and enforcing them, then your kids won’t be able to find anybody else who can do that for them.

Passing it on doesn’t look the same at every age. I’ve got a grandson who’ll turn 3 this summer. I nicknamed him Road Rash Roy when he was still one…because he’s fearless and always had a scratch or something on his face. Road rash. By the way, his name isn’t Roy. 😉

Well, Triple R gets into everything. And not just like a normal 2-year-old. He’s extraordinarily resourceful in his quests. Here’s a video my daughter-in-law created showing off his prowess. This was about a year ago, too. So you can imagine how much more accomplished he is today!

This kid clearly needs some high accountability and correction. His parents give him what he needs. They know what I know, his needs will change. And with his changing needs, they’ll change in giving him what he needs. Right now, Roy’s required to meet the standards of his parents. Over time he’s going to decide what his standards of conduct are. As adults in his life, it’s important for us to pass along what we’ve all learned. The foundations for successful living like self-confidence, empathy, respect, politeness, and all those things every child deserves to be taught so they can have a profitable life. We owe Roy our best so he can be his best.

Having raised Roy’s dad – our son – my wife and I know that if we can help him harness his gifts…this kid will be a major force. I happen to think most kids have sufficient gifts to be major forces. He’ll grow up and be his own person. Maybe he’ll resemble his dad in some things and his mom in others. But Roy is like everybody…he’s going to be his own unique self. His growth and advancement will require the adults who surround him (family) to adapt, too. We won’t always treat him like a 2-year-old.

This summer Roy’s dad will turn 38. The kid I once spent hours talking to without giving him a choice now seems to find it enjoyable engaging me in conversation. Today, we’re really close friends. Our relationship has changed through the years as we’ve both adapted to where he’s at in life. He found out I meant what I told him, “Right now, our relationship is on my terms, but when you leave home our relationship will be completely on your terms.” We’re now at a stage where life has been on his terms – as far as a relationship with me and his mom – longer than not. And I don’t think any of us could be happier.

Passing it on successfully means adapting. Serious adapting. As people grow up we have to adjust by honoring the fact that they’re growing up. Growing up means shouldering more responsibilities…and doing it well. It doesn’t just mean growing another year older. It’s earning trust. Both people earning more and more trust in each other.

Friendship happens when we do it well with our own children. It also happens with young adults who aren’t our children when we exhibit trust and work to earn it. I have no kinship with the two young ladies pictured. The relationship began because I serve as an elder for a congregation where we all worship. That instantly put upon me a responsibility to watch out for them. From there, friendships were forged. Not because I made them happen, but because I gave them the opportunity to happen. Each of them decided – I didn’t – that friendship was worthwhile. I’m glad they did.

Friendships don’t just happen. We have to foster them. And they can’t be forced, but they can be nurtured. When these 2 young ladies entered my life (not at the same time), I had no expectation of friendship. I only had expectations of what I was going to do for them – watch out for them. I knew I was going to serve them and their parents. It was non-negotiable for me. But that was on me. Not them.

My only expectation for them was to allow me to do that for them. That meant, they had to allow themselves to be accountable to me in the context of being a spiritual leader for them. That’s not necessarily an easy thing, but these two girls are very smart, wise and sober-minded. They didn’t hesitate. And it wasn’t something we hashed out. I started checking on them and they immediately responded. Over time we developed relationships and trust built. Quickly friendships formed as they learned more and more to respect my intentions. They knew – and now they know even more – that I care their welfare. And their life. And their ability to learn, grow, develop and improve. Without imposing on them what I may do in their situation.

I’m not them. They’re not me. We’re worlds apart in many ways. But they know I have a perspective, experience and wisdom that can help them think through whatever choices they face. And that’s the bottom line of our friendship – and all this passing it on. Thinking clearly. Gaining insights.

Sure, there are serious expectations I have for them, and for the other young adults in my life. One, I don’t want them to be ruled by fear. I want to help them think through their fears so they can manage them, or overcome them. Two, I don’t want them to be victims. I want them to face the reality that life is going to determined by their choices and behaviors. Bad things can happen to them. Bad people, too. But in the end, what they choose to think, believe and feel will determine what they choose to do. Roll all that up and it’ll determine what they do, which will give them the outcome. I don’t want them waking up each day feeling as though the universe is going to dictate anything. Three, I want them to be optimistic. I want them to expect the best outcome possible. I know that if I can help them be more optimistic then their lives can be greatly enhanced. Four, I want them to be empathetic. I don’t know how to teach it, or even if it can be taught. But I want them to not judge people harshly by assigning motives and feelings on others. I want them to embrace forgiveness and not let bitterness creep into their lives. Empathy is the answer. Fifth, I want them to be grateful. We’ve all got blessings. Most of us have far more blessings than we realize. It requires concentrated effort to make mental (or even physical) note of them. Gratitude is such an enormous positive power in life, it’s important to me that they embrace it and make it a lifelong habit.

Friendships are built on mutual caring and trust. Passing it on is important because of these two things. And there’s the burden of responsibility, too. I owe it to them. They deserve it. They’re worth it.

The Value of a 2-Way Street

Collective wisdom is only powerful and valuable if it’s shared. Collected. And collective.

It doesn’t flow only from me toward them. It flows back to me, too. It’s not selfish. It’s just highly valuable.

These girls and other young adults in my life teach me a lot. They provoke questions and conversations that help us both. They face issues that prompt deeper thinking on my part.

Their insights enhance my own. Sometimes their insights may alter my own. A 40 year age gap provides different viewpoints that help us gain clarity in life.

To assume that age gives us a lock on wisdom and insight is foolish. I’ve never made any such assumption. “Out of the mouth of babes,” and all that is an absolute truth. Those of us who are older have much to learn from the younger. We come from very different times. It’s not right or wrong. It’s different. And I find it very cool because it helps me navigate the present – always the present – instead of being stuck in the past. Granted, I’m not prone to living in the past. I suspect that’s one reason – very strong reason – why younger adults may be able to better relate to me. The past experiences only provide stories used to illustrate insights that can help them face some present opportunity or challenge.

Every Generation Deserves It

Our children and young people deserve our best effort to share our wisdom. They also deserve the freedom to take our stories, distill from them whatever they will and create their own path. That doesn’t mean they deserve the right to behave poorly. Nobody deserves that. But it’s their life. Our hope as mentors is to help them navigate it to the best of their ability.

Watching their growth is pretty stinking terrific. I love it. I love the work. It’s a great time of life.

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” -George Orwell

A generation may not necessarily be better or worse. Just different. Choices and behavior determine our greatness. Every generation deserves the best opportunity to be great. The opportunity to make thoughtful, sober, conscious choices in their own lives.

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Pain, Suffering & Heartache: The Stuff That Connects Us 5008 - LEANING TOWARD WISDOM

Pain, Suffering & Heartache: The Stuff That Connects Us 5008

Pain, Suffering & Heartache: The Stuff That Connects Us 5008 - LEANING TOWARD WISDOM

Music. Movies. Books.

Songs. Stories.

We love them. Enjoy them. Remember them.

I’m not a fan of the musical, but there are 2 that I love – and have owned on DVD for years. Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum with Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers. Both are funny. Both make me smile. That makes them memorable for me.

Music is a much bigger player in my life. Lyrics and harmonies are the focal points for me. Songwriters have long exclaimed that most songs are about some sort of love. Often about lost love. Heartbreak and heartache. But these are audience consumables. We’re watching a movie. Listening to a song. Reading a book. Reaching a big audience doesn’t always rely on relatability, as evidenced by this past weekend with the release of the movie, Avengers: Infinity War. The film was produced for about $320 million and this past weekend – that’s right WEEKEND – it grossed over $640 million. I’ve not seen it, but I know it’s about superheroes. I don’t know any superheroes so I know it’s not relatable like that, but clearly millions of people love the fictional stories of superheroes.

We’re being entertained. And it’s fine. Better than fine really because I suppose it gives us the break from reality that helps us cope better with ours. All in moderation of course.

But then there are more personal stories shared by others that really impact us. Not like the temporary smiles provided by a movie like Support Your Local Gunfighter with James Garner (another favorite of mine). I even use it as my Twitter and Facebook header image because it makes me smile. I’m talking about something deeper. More impactful. Longer lasting. A real connection.

There’s a guy I follow named Bryan Elliott. He produces a web series, Behind The Brand. I don’t know Bryan personally, but I like him. He’s earned my attention. Back in February, he posted a little segment of a longer interview he did with Seth Godin. It’s about 9 minutes and it perfectly illustrates the title of today’s episode. You need to watch it.

Bryan tells Seth that during their first interview back in 2009 Seth gave him the best advice. Seth didn’t remember giving it to him, but it was pretty good stuff.

Bryan shared the story of his pain as an adopted boy. Grateful and thankful for the family who adopted him and loved him, Bryan grew up with the urge to find his real mother. He had questions and was desperate for answers. It’s a very touching story best heard directly from Bryan. So go watch the video of him telling it. I promise you’ll be moved. It just might make you a fan, even if you’ve never heard of him before.


Because you can’t hear him, or watch him and avoid thinking, “He’s real. I can relate.”

I’m not adopted. I know my parents. I knew my grandparents. But back in February when I first watched the interview Bryan did with Seth, I was moved by his story. Yes, I was already following him, but the connection grew deeper for me. Bryan showed me something I hadn’t seen before. He opened himself up and became vulnerable.

It’s all this hard stuff – our pain, our suffering, our heartache – that forges strong connections. I say hard stuff because it’s hard for people to share all that. We’re prone to hide. To make sure we look good. And sound good. Proving to the world, and fooling ourselves, that we’ve got it all together. But we don’t. Deep down we all know it, but there’s just enough doubt to make us think, “I’m such a failure. Look at them!”

What we care about. That’s the deal. Self-preservation. Putting on the front so others think well of us. It’s inside most of us. Society has conditioned us. We’ve spent years looking at people who seem better, smarter, better looking, more talented, more successful than we are. We have to do what we have to do to show we’re at least trying to keep up. That we belong

Question: To what are we trying to belong?

The fraternity of other frauds? A group of people who are behaving just like us, pretenders?

Question: Who are we trying to fool? And why?

Everybody. I get it. We want to fool everybody. Maybe most of all, we want to fool ourselves. And there’s the danger. Self-delusion.

The irony of it all is that the thing we most seek – connection with others – is foiled by our behavior. Hiding ruins it. Courage fosters it.

The paradox is that showing our underwear (my metaphor for letting others see our pain) promotes easy connection with others. And that takes courage because it feels like weakness. Fear takes over, forcing us to rationalize that if we let anybody see us sweat, then they’ll know we’re not as great as we want them to think we are. We’re afraid people will think less of us.

You know the truth? People aren’t thinking about us anyway. They’re busying thinking about their own lives. They’re wrapped up in their pain, suffering, and heartache. Sure, they’re also wrapped up in their success, accomplishment, and happiness (or their ongoing quest for it all). You don’t think so? Take a moment and think about yourself. In the last hour, have you thought about anybody more than you’ve thought about yourself – your own life? The stuff going on in your life?

Well, there you go!

We’ve conned ourselves into thinking that hiding is better. That it serves us well. But it never does. And it ruins our ability to connect because we’re just another lemming in the sea working hard to make sure the other lemmings see no difference. Meanwhile, we’re all living secret lives of desperation. Here’s my copy if a classic book I’ve had since 1988, “Quiet Desperation: The Truth About Successful Men” by Jan Halper, Ph.D. That quote on the cover is by leadership expert Jim Kouzes, who at the time was the President of The Tom Peters Group. Here’s what he wrote about this book, “Explodes the myth of business as a totally rational process…a compelling and ultimately uplifting book about how men feel.”

The title of the book is taken from a Thoreau quote,

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

The book began in the late 1970’s as a study to develop a management training program that could deliver a better leadership style. Over the course of conducting many conversations with successful men, the author discovered men talking about things they didn’t reveal to anybody else. They talked about their relationships, marriages, careers, fears, and dreams. They opened up, revealing themselves. Along the way, they shared why it was so hard to show up that way with their peers, spouses, and friends. They were reluctant to share, but each proved desperate to change but didn’t know how. They weren’t just executives. They were men. Humans. People dreaming, even desiring, to change. But stuck in their fear to operate any differently than they had in the past.

For the first time in my life, I feel like my professional life, my personal life and my spiritual life are falling into alignment better than they ever have before. I don’t mean to say that up to now my life has been all these multiple, incongruent buckets of activity and philosophy. But never before has all my energy, thought and actions been more perfectly aligned where it feels like one path is pretty parallel to the other lanes of my life. It’s a good feeling. To be living more open, authentic to who and what I really am – and more importantly, to be a better version of myself. The goal hasn’t changed…to become better every day.

When I first read the book, I had no idea that 30 years later I’d be embarking on a new professional journey to help business owners – not just men – overcome this very thing. That’s what The Peer Advantage by Bula Network is all about – a professional peer advisory group designed to serve small business owners operating businesses in the $10-50 million range. If you’re a small business owner or know somebody who is – and you care about your growth as a business leader and a person, then I’m going to invite you to check it out (and at least have a free conversation with me to see if it’s something suitable for us to work together).

It’s fascinating when the desperation that has been quiet for so long comes out. Like Bryan Elliott’s. For some reason, at that moment sitting with Seth Godin, he was compelled to open up about it. He decided to go with his heart instead of his head. To lean into his emotional space instead of his fears. My guess – and it’s strictly a guess based on how we all behave as humans – is that he just up and decided. If he’d thought too much about it, he probably would have talked himself out of it. Fear would have ruled the moment instead of brutal honesty.

Let’s clarify and differentiate complaining and whining from letting down our fear-based guard to share our pain. One is selfish. The other is genuine. They’re not kin to each other. Not even close. So don’t confuse yourself or try to confuse others, hoping they’ll accept your moaning for being authentically candid.

Too many people embrace being a victim. Because it feels good believing it’s not our fault. Short-term salve doesn’t heal though. It just makes us feel better in the moment. And actually furthers the damage.

People who enter a room with a moan often tickle me. They don’t mean to. They’re hoping I’ll feel bad for them. Instead, I feel bad for myself having to hear them sigh. “Oh, your poor, poor person!” That’s what they’re going for. And they get it. It doesn’t help them though.

Any attention will do. It’s a habit. A sick, bad, destructive habit.

I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about reaching a spot where we allow our heart to let go of the pent-up pain. A place where we’re brave enough to embrace our humanity. Where we feel confident enough and brave enough to let others know about our struggles. Our pain. Our suffering.

At that moment – in that very instance – we’re connected to such people more than to that expert or guru who tells us how together they are. Those folks spewing all the advice, telling us what we should do, and what we shouldn’t do. Inadvertently (or maybe, advertently) robbing us of the experience to figure things out, own our own stuff and live our own lives without feeling like a victim.

But this isn’t about gurus. It’s about YOU. It’s about US. However ordinary or extraordinary we may be. It’s about all of us.

It’s about those of us who are financially wealthy and those of us who are financially strapped. It’s about those of us who are debt-free and those of us who are debt-laden. It’s about those of us who are single and those of us who are married. It’s about those of us who lack any color and those of who have color. Any color. It’s about those of us with lots of letters behind our name indicating high achievement in education and those of us with not so much as G.E.D. behind ours.

Humanity has this in common. Not just pain, suffering, and heartache, but the bigger burden of fear.

False Evidence Appearing Real

Boy, does it appear real? In an upcoming episode of LTW, I plan to share some more insights about how our beliefs drive our lives. I’ve told you I’m reading a book about our minds – the way we think – impacts our life. We’re likely much more capable of controlling our destiny than we realize. And there’s no doubt in my mind that we can accomplish much more if we can simply find a way to believe it. Simple. But not easy to do. Or more people would do it.

Personality traits aren’t lost on me. Some people are shy and bashful. Others are open and loud. Still others are a bit of both. What’s easy for some, is crazy hard for others. I’m empathetic. I’m also open and candid if the circumstances allow it. I tend to let the game come to me. I’m not prone to force the game. I don’t judge folks who roll differently. We’re still all humans. Each of us fully capable of hiding, putting on a mask, hoping and wanting others to think we’re better than we really are. Overcoming those fears is individual to us. But the fears are universal.

Does it motivate you to fully understand that what we endure – the bad stuff – drives us to deeper connections? Is that not a good enough reward to consider finding safe spaces and spots where you can do it? Or do it more?

There’s two parts to this. Well, maybe more than two. There’s US. There’s THEM. The other people to whom we feel a deep connection.

Yesterday here in Dallas Jason Witten, the famed Dallas Cowboys’ tight end retired to join Monday Night Football. Fifteen years in the league, all of them as a Cowboy. Coach Bill Parcells drafted him in the 3rd round in 2003. By all accounts, he’s who we think he is. A genuinely good guy who mostly tries to do the right thing. Oh, and he’s a future Hall of Famer, too.

Like all retiring professional athletes, Witten said he’d mostly remember the moments with teammates. And he’ll miss the locker room, that band-of-brothers feeling going through the same struggles and pain with teammates.

The accolades are great. The winning, too. But the grind is memorable when we share the experience with others. Jason Witten’s life as a Dallas Cowboy likely includes a larger circle than mine, or yours, but we can still relate to the pain. I’ve never experienced the pain, suffering or heartache of a professional athlete, but Witten’s realness was always enhanced because we got to see him as “a guy.” Whenever the team would lose – which happened quite a lot over the last 15 years – Witten would be the guy stepping up to field hard questions by the press. Others would hide. He never did.

Reliable. Dependable. Honest. Durable.

It’s what we aspire to be ourselves. And it demonstrates that it doesn’t matter if you’re a multi-million dollar a year pro athlete or just some working schlub…the deep connections are with family and friends with whom you can safely share your pain. And the THEM matters because the people willing to view you as a safe person with whom to share their pain…they’re the ones drawn more deeply to you.

Laughs are terrific. Smiles, too. Good times. We need them. They add zest to our lives. But the growth and connection mostly occur when we’re grinding our way through or past adversity. And when we encounter somebody brave to enough to step out. Somebody with the courage to not hide their pain, fears, and failures.

What does this mean for you? I don’t know. Do with it as you please.

Do you want to focus on not hiding as much? On being less hypocritical? On being more open and pulling off the mask?

Do you want to shell down the adversity, challenges, and opportunities with somebody?

I hope you find value in the truth of what connects us to help you move away from the fear that may be standing in your way of embracing the shared pain where we can benefit each other. And where we can not make it just about ourselves, but about helping each other knowing that we’re all hurting in some way. Cue the R.E.M. song, “Everybody Hurts.”

Be well. Grow great. Lean toward wisdom.

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The Death Of Empathy – 5007

On April 21, 2018 former first lady Barbara Bush was laid to rest. She was 92, the wife of our 41st President and the mother of our 43rd. Two former Presidents, Barbara’s son, George W. and Obama shook hands with the clear aim being the consolation at the death of a mom. The photo dispells the very title of today’s show – the death of empathy. But not really.

Empathy, as a widespread, viral-like experience may not be dead, but she’s on life-support. Greater Good Magazine, produced by the University of California at Berkley, defines empathy like this…

The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Contemporary researchers often differentiate between two types of empathy: “Affective empathy” refers to the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; this can include mirroring what that person is feeling, or just feeling stressed when we detect another’s fear or anxiety. “Cognitive empathy,” sometimes called “perspective taking,” refers to our ability to identify and understand other peoples’ emotions. Studies suggest that people with autism spectrum disorders have a hard time empathizing.

Empathy seems to have deep roots in our brains and bodies, and in our evolutionary history. Elementary forms of empathy have been observed in our primate relatives, in dogs, and even in rats. Empathy has been associated with two different pathways in the brain, and scientists have speculated that some aspects of empathy can be traced to mirror neurons, cells in the brain that fire when we observe someone else perform an action in much the same way that they would fire if we performed that action ourselves. Research has also uncovered evidence of a genetic basis to empathy, though studies suggest that people can enhance (or restrict) their natural empathic abilities.

Having empathy doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll want to help someone in need, though it’s often a vital first step toward compassionate action.

Psychology Today tells us 6 things about empathy that may help our conversation.

Empathy and sympathy aren’t synonymous. According to them we feel sympathy for others when we identify with their situation. But that feeling – sympathy – doesn’t necessarily connect us to that person or what they’re feeling. Proven by the fact that we can be sympathetic to somebody’s situation and have no idea about their feelings or thoughts. Sympathy rarely urges us to take action – except for writing checks to make donations. Sympathy, according to Psychology Today, doesn’t build a connection. Empathy does. As they write, “Sympathy is feeling for someone; empathy involves feeling with them.”

Empathy isn’t intuition. Research has shown that it’s both unconscious and it’s also supported by what’s going on in our brain. Neuroscience reveals that when we see others in pain it activates the parts of our brain that register pain. It appears that empathy is feeling, brain chemistry and physiology. Much of it stems from our ability, or lack of ability, to employ systematic thinking to read others.

Empathy engages specific neural circuitry in our brain. Our ability to mimic and mirror others is a capacity that takes place in specific areas of the brain.

Empathy is learned. The capacity for it is in us, but we learn it. All of us who have raised kids know that little kids have a difficult time regulating their emotions. Infants learn from the adults who surround them. Identifying with them helps kids learn to regulate their emotions. Being swept up in somebody else’s emotions isn’t empathy, by the way.

The capacity for empathy varies by individual. Today we hear a phrase that’s reasonably new to our vernacular, emotional intelligence. Sometimes you’ll hear it referred as EQ. It’s our ability to know what we’re feeling, to distinguish it from other emotions and to our emotions to better inform our thinking. Our EQ can make it harder or easier to be empathetic. Clearly, the more connected we are with our own emotions, the greater it seems our capacity to feel for others. But it’s also about our connectivity with others, not just ourselves. People who are isolated and loners may be less likely to display empathy than those who are well connected socially.

Empathy might be about more than just the individual. Some researchers have found that empathy depends on “what others are willing or able to tell about themselves.” In other words, the person for whom we feel empathy is as important as we are, the person feeling empathy.

In a study of Dutch school children, they found that kids were more empathetic when reminded by a teacher to “be a good classmate,” but that empathy declined when it came to choosing sides for a game. Friends who were chosen last and were upset about it were comforted; mere classmates who felt this way were labeled “crybabies.” Social convention and contexts play a role in how empathic a person is in a given situation, regardless of the individual capacity for empathy.

Hopefully, that provides you with a bit of insight and more food for thought about empathy. I confess it’s a deep subject filled with nuances that I don’t claim to fully understand. Truth is, I’m just knowledgeable enough to be dangerous about how it works, but I’m plenty smart enough to know the power of empathy. And I’m a lifelong practitioner.

Just here let me interject a thought or two about something that’s congruent with empathy. Observation. Presence. 

By observation, I mean paying attention. Noticing things. Noticing people. I used to think this was universal. I’ve learned it’s not. And yes, I’m empathetic to people who don’t easily and naturally notice things. I’ve no idea how to help anybody improve it necessarily, but I’m thankful it’s not hard for me.

I grew up hearing about elite athletes who had various physical skills. The one skill I envied most was speed. I was quick, but I was never fast. I’m built more for comfort. 😉

The kids who could run fast fascinated me. How could they do that? I had no idea. My feet and legs just couldn’t do it.

At some point, I heard TV commentators or somebody talk about a professional athletes vision. They didn’t mean the athlete needed no glasses. They mean the player could see things others couldn’t, or could see them more quickly. I grew up hearing it applied mostly to football running backs and quarterbacks. Well, I knew I had that because I knew I was a noticer. I didn’t think about it. It was just some auto-pilot thing that I never thought about really.

Later in life, in business, it became very clear that it was one of the very limited super powers I had. My retailing career started early and ended about a decade ago. Largely, my success in retailing was because I noticed things. Every little thing.

Every day I go to a local gym. It’s a national chain and it’s a large complex. This particular chain seems to enjoy moving managers around frequently. I’ve never known a manager to be in one place for more than months. This is important because I’m always curious to see what changes if any, the new replacement will make. FYI, they rarely do anything different than the last, as least as far as I can tell. But I’m just a customer, so what do I know?

Turns out. Quite a lot. For example, I’m a clean freak when it comes to a retail experience. That includes shops, restaurants, and my gym. This gym has an outside cleaning crew that comes frequently. They move the dirt around pretty well. They don’t clean much, but they approach their work with all the vigor of 15-year-old hound dog on a hot Texas summer day. At least weekly (likely much more often), I think of about what I’d do in the first hour if I were to run the place! I’d pull an all-hands-on-deck cleaning jamboree. I’m daily amazed at how little attention is paid to things that I don’t deem “details,” but things that are just basic, good business. Lately, my pet peeve is the hand sanitizer dispensers being empty. Or the paper towel dispensers being empty. Inexcusable. But that’s the noticer and the business guy in me. I can’t help it. Well, maybe I could, but I don’t want to.

Presence isn’t just being in a particular place. You may prefer words like focus or concentration. Or the phrase, paying attention. Once again, my lifelong profession of being an operator, a retailer, proves the point. Constantly I would preach and train employees to be present with each shopper. Have you ever gone up to a counter of a store, or walked into a store and been ignored? The person behind the counter isn’t helping another customer. They’re just indifferent to the fact that you’re standing there. They’re not present. That lack of presence hacks you off (it should). Again, inexcusable.

Let me pick on my gym again. You walk in, go up to the counter and type your phone number into a keypad, then put your finger on a little reader that identifies you are who you say you are. Some days – in fact, most days – there’s a friendly person who greets me. But the funny thing is when the manager and her apparent right-hand person are behind the counter, they’re engaged in conversation and they never look up at me. It’s fine. But I think about that leadership – or lack of – and wonder how long it may be before I have to find another location to visit. Of course, I’ve only been a customer for 15 years or so, so what do I matter, right?

Hopefully, you can see how these two things are congruent with empathy – observation and presence. If I’m like the manager of my gym, busy with whatever I’m busy with and immune to notice a client 3 feet away, then how empathetic am I liable to be? Not very! And if I can’t or won’t notice the client 3 feet away then how can I possibly be present with and for them? In my mind, I’ve fired this manager more times than I can count. She may be spectacular at filling out reports back to corporate. I suspect she’s really good at the stuff corporate cares about. She just sucks at observation and presence. I’m betting she lacks empathy, too. 😀

Okay, let me pull back the curtain in case you didn’t fully understand my snarkiness there. Truth is, I’m empathetic toward the manager of my gym. This woman is a mature 40-ish lady who I’m sure has competencies important to her role. But my business acumen and my empathy make me aware that she’s following leadership at the corporate level who likely measure and care about some things, while thinking other things – the stuff I’ve pointed out – aren’t quite so urgent. That’s fine, of course. They can be wrong. Because I know I’m right! 😉

I see her in her office on her computer. Quite often. Sometimes the door is closed and it’s evident she’s on her phone. I’ve been a customer for long enough to have seen this movie before. She’s on the phone with management. She’s completing reports. She’s doing what corporate wants. And in a few months, when her replacement arrives, they’ll do exactly what she’s doing. They always do. Nothing will change so far as my experience as a customer. The machine will just keep on rolling until something drastic causes leadership to implement a change. I’m always (and easily) empathetic with folks who are carrying the water of leadership, even if leadership can’t find their way out of a wet paper bag.

It’s illustrative of why empathy may be dying. Lack of understanding. Lack of tolerance for others. And I’m not talking about tolerating bad behavior or foolishness. I’m talking tolerating a gym manager who has to please a boss who may have skewed priorities. It’d be easy for me to hacked. Given my business background, I likely am more frustrated by this than the average gym member. Mostly, I feel badly for the company because I know things – their performance – could be so much better! Nothing is stopping them from being better except their own willingness to commit to it. But it’s their company and they can run it as they see fit. And that introduces another part of this that I think about…judgment.

Now before you go off thinking judgment is a bad thing consider driving your car to work. How do you determine the route you’ll take? How do you approach an intersection where the light turns yellow? What about your approach at a 4-way stop? When do you decide to get gas in your car? Do you wait until the light comes on? These are all judgments you make. You assess what’s going on and figure out how you’ll react. That’s necessary judgment.

I notice, or judge that my gym has some issues that could be easily fixed, but they’re unimportant to management. What I don’t do – again, this comes naturally easy to me – is infer that this is being done simply to make my life miserable. I don’t harshly judge the gym manager as inept. I rather doubt she is. She could easily satisfy corporate AND be a great noticer who creates a remarkable facility. And she’d likely stand out from her peers. But she’d have to deploy greater effort and concentration. She’d have to notice things she’s not necessarily rewarded by corporate to notice. She’d have to do things they clearly don’t reward. That means she’d have to be fully cooperative with corporate while being a contrarian at the same time. I realize that’s not easy. Doable, but not easy. I wish for her sake she’d find a way because I know it would make her top notch and remarkable.

I’m talking about the kind of judgment that disrupts empathy – the judging people do when others don’t do what they want them to do, or what they think they should do. That’s what happens we “should” people. “You should (fill in the blank with whatever we’d like people to do).”

Selfishness is the culprit. Roll it all up and that’s the enemy. Selfishness. We’re entirely too focused on ourselves. And what we want. Or what we think we need. As long you fit into that by giving me what I want, then I’m good. But the second you start to roll in a way not in keeping with what’s best for me, as I see it, then I’m hacked. And you’re a bad person! Me? Well, I’m a victim of your bad behavior, poor choices and unwillingness to do what I ask. So long, Empathy. It was good considering you briefly, but you’re in my way now!

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