Cast Your Gaze Beyond Today

With COIVD-related restrictions and choices an omnipresent reality of the 2020 holiday season, it’s easy to become frustrated by how abnormal everything is this year.  While it’s true that things look different this year, I want to encourage you that this is not how Christmas, or any other holiday, will look forever more.  Remember that this current state is indeed temporary.  Before we know it, we will be celebrating holidays with family and friends again.

My pastor signs all his emails with a phrase that I think is especially fitting for this year, “Believing the best is yet to come”.    I think that true.  We only have to be willing to cast our gaze beyond what’s happening today.

Looking Beyond Today

I like Thanksgiving.  It’s a fun time of year, the sights and smells of the holiday are great, plus it’s a fun time to get together with people we’re thankful for.  This year’s holidays will likely be very different than holidays past for many people. 

While that may be frustrating, I think it’s important not to spend too much time lamenting what we don’t have this year, but rather focus on what we still do have.  In addition, it would help us to begin to eager look ahead to the holidays yet to come that won’t be impacted by a global pandemic. 

Those days are coming.  We just need to look past today to see them.

Taking Inventory Our Habits

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” Warren Buffett

Habits are fascinating, because despite the fact that they are small, they can be extremely powerful.  Their power comes from the compounding effect they have when done over long periods of time.

Some habits taken conscious effort to do, like deciding to get up every morning and go to the gym.  Yet other habits are so easy to fall into, that they almost become an automatic part of our daily life.  Things like drinking several sodas or going out for fast food on a daily basis.  (There are a zillion others, but those are the first 2 that came to mind.) These habits are rewarding in the moment, and thus easy to form.  And while an occasional soda or trip to McDonald’s isn’t terrible, the impact of these habits done continuously over years, if not decades, can have severe negative consequences.

For this reason, I think it’s important to regularly determine whether we’ve developed any habits that have the potential to plant land mines for our future selves.  We should ask ourselves:

  • Are the habits we’re engaged in healthy or destructive? 
  • Are they leading to a good outcome or a potentially dangerous one? 
  • Are there habits we should stop doing?
  • Are there habits we need to cultivate?

We all want good outcomes in our lives, but as we know, they don’t just happen.  They require action from us, as well as reflection, to determine if our habits will take us where we want to go.

With 2021 approaching, now would be a good time to take an inventory of the habits we’ve acquired.  It might be time to say, “Good-bye” to some potentially destructive ones we’ve been heretofore traveling with.  It may also be time to say, “Hello” to some new productive habits and invite them to join us on our journey forward.

It Makes Sense To Them

Brace yourself, because I’m about to drop a news flash!  Ready?  Not everyone shares the same viewpoints as me.  Whoa, that’s huge!  Here’s an even bigger news flash… not everyone shares the same viewpoints as you either.  BOOM!!

You’re probably sarcastically thinking, “Thanks for dropping the obvious on me, Scott.  I had no idea!”  If that’s your thought, then you’d be right; we all obviously know that not everyone agrees with our viewpoints and opinions.  Yet while we know this to be true, I think we sometimes forget that a person’s viewpoint or opinion, which may seem strange, or even wrong to us, makes perfect sense to them.

There is a reason why a person thinks the way they do, or believes what they believe.  Their viewpoints are likely shaped by their own unique life experiences, which are probably not the exact same life experiences that we’ve had. 

Ok, that seems pretty obvious too.  So why do I bring it up?

There’s so much divisiveness now.  It seems when we encounter someone with a differing viewpoint, we feel we a need to defend our position.  We’re eager enter into a debate and convince the other person that their viewpoint is wrong, and if they had even a slight modicum of intelligence, they would adopt our position.  We already know where that usually leads: more discord, animosity, hurt feelings, and possibly fractured relationships.  I propose another response to differing viewpoints.

What if, the next time we’re confronted with an opposing viewpoint, instead of immediately entering into a debate, we try to genuinely find out why the person holds that viewpoint?  Not with toxic accusations or labeling, but with a genuine curiously and non-inflammatory questions.  What if we cared enough to see beyond the differences, and to see the person and their experience that lead them to the viewpoints they hold?  

My guess is, that once we’ve taken the time to understand someone, we’ll have a better comprehension of why they think the way they do.  Who knows?  We might even change our own viewpoint in the process.

A Thought On Unity

There’s a lot of talk currently about how divided we are in the US.  While I think that’s true, I also think there is a lot that still unites us. 

Consider the following things that still unite us with other people:

  • Family
  • Friendships
  • Church and religious beliefs
  • Hobbies
  • Places we work
  • Clubs and affinity groups
  • Colleges and universities we’ve attended
  • Civic groups
  • Volunteer organizations
  • Common goals
  • Neighborhoods
  • Common experiences
  • Countries or states of origin

That’s a good, yet incomplete list!  We don’t realize all the things that bring unity until we pause long enough to consider them.  I’m encouraged by such list. 

Unity doesn’t mean “in total agreement with”.  In fact, we can have unity with someone, even when we don’t agree with them.  For example, you can disagree with a relative, yet still have unity with them as a member of your family. 

Disagreeing, or having differing viewpoints, with someone doesn’t mean we can’t have unity with them.  We’re not required to hate someone and treat them poorly, simply because we don’t agree with them on a specific topc. Why would we sacrifice unity on the altar of disagreement?  Why would we throw out a relationship simply because of differing viewpoint or opinion?  That seems wasteful to me.

When you have a disagreement with a friend, family member, or someone you currently have unity with, remember that you can still be united, even amidst differing opinions or viewpoints.

Unity and disagreement are not mutually exclusive.

It’s Not Always Someone Else

When you see a natural disaster on TV or hear about people dealing with life challenges, it’s easy to think that those kinds of things only happen to other people.  Until they happen to you.

In the past 2 years I’ve had some life events happen that, in the past, I would have seen as things that happen to other people, but not to me.  One was some health news and another is the current wildfires burning in Oregon that is directly impacting friends and family.

Its’ quite different when these things are happening to you versus happening to others.  When it happens to others we think, “That’s too bad” and then go about our business.  It’s different when it’s happening to us, because we can’t just turn it off or change the channel like we do when we’re watching a disaster on the TV.  When it’s happening to us, we’re living it, and there is no off switch.

I’m reminded of the importance of empathy toward others in the struggles they face.  While that doesn’t mean I have to take on, and be responsible for, everyone’s burdens, it does remind me that others don’t have an off switch in the troubles they face either.  With that in mind, I should offer what I can to help others in their struggles, because I know I appreciate it when others do that for me.

Enjoying What We Have When We Have It

I’ve really been enjoying summer this year, which seems odd due to this being the Summer of COVID.  Like many people, I’ve been working from home since late March, so my morning commute has morphed from a 20-minute drive into a walk through the neighborhood with my wife.  It’s been great!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I love early sunny mornings in the summer.  The bright, calm, cool skies, coupled with the quiet, slow pace that exists before the world starts to wake up and get busy, is one of my favorite parts of summer.

As September has arrived, I am keenly aware that these beautiful mornings will soon give way to the gray, cold, rainy events that describe many late fall and winter mornings in the Pacific Northwest.  This certainty fills me with a sense of urgency to take advantage of these sunny mornings as much as I can before they’re gone for the season.  I don’t want to waste a single remaining morning, because as soon as rainy mornings are the norm, I’ll wish I had taken advantage of any sunny mornings I might have squandered in the summer.

Therefore, my plan is to enjoy them as much as I can while I still have them.  I want to look back on them this fall and winter with the satisfied feeling that comes from knowing I appreciated what I had when I had it. 

Is there anything currently in your life that will soon be gone, either for a season or for good?  If so, enjoy it while you have it.

Causing Something To Happen

For about 2.5 decades I’ve had this recurring interest in Bonsai trees.  I’m intrigued by their shape and diminutive size and how you can shape them and train them to get the look you’re after.  I’ve always thought, “that would be fun to get into”, but I never have… until now.

A few weeks ago, I began thinking about Bonsais again, only this time I caused something to happen.  I watched a video of Bonsai expert Peter Chang pruning an Alberta Spruce from a nursery.  That caused me to go to the library and checkout (and read!) some books on Bonsai.  That caused me to run down to a local nursery and pick up a small juniper that I will shape and train into a beautiful Bonsai tree.  I’m finally getting into Bonsai!

This week I was reminded that, if we are interested in a desired result, how important it is to cause something to happen toward that end.  The video lead to the books, which lead to purchasing a small plant I will shape and pot.  It isn’t until we take action that will cause something to happen that things actually start happening.

So, what do you need to cause to happen?

Building Valuable Experience

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

We often think that learning takes place in a controlled environment like a classroom or an online course.  Here, lessons are orderly, information is dispersed, and an opportunity to apply the knowledge we’ve gained is provided.  While this is certainly one way to gain knowledge, the best learning and experience is usually gained when the wheels are coming off.

Don’t get me wrong, the base knowledge we gain on a topic from classroom instruction, or in other ideal conditions, is crucial in helping us develop an understanding of our topic of choice.  However, when we find ourselves having to apply this knowledge to solve a problem in an uncontrolled setting where conditions are far from ideal, that’s where experience is forged.  And that experience is valuable!

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Parenting a child through a challenging time or situation
  • Restoring a computer network outage that is keeping scores of people from working
  • Leading a family or team through an unexpected tragedy
  • Running a business during a global pandemic

Problems like these can easily cause us to feel like we’re in over our heads, which may be accurate. What we can do, is take the skills and knowledge we’ve gained to this point and focus it toward solving the problem we’re facing.  No, it’s never fun to be in “rough seas”, but if we can see past the storm and be confident in our abilities to apply what we have, we’ll likely come through with a greater depth of experience, and even wisdom, than we possessed before.

Be confident and apply what you’ve learned.

Do You Need To Make A Point

Earlier this week I was having a conversation with someone about recent events. At several times during the conversation, I felt like there was a point I could make about what they were saying.  Fortunately, I decided not to, and just listened to where they were coming from.  In that circumstance, I think I made the right choice.

Speaking from my own observations and experienced, it seems like people are all over the spectrum with regard to what they think, how they’re dealing with the current myriad issues and how they’re being impacted by those issues.  There are so many opinions, world-views and stressors on people, and so many different ways people are handling them, that it’s unlikely you’ll find someone on the exact same place on the spectrum as you are.  I certainly haven’t.  As such, in our effort to make a point, we could easy turn a conversation into a divisive exchange without even meaning to.

I think it would serve us well to know when the time to make a point is, and when it would be more appropriate to compassionately listen to someone in order to better understand where they are coming from.

May we continually be able to discern which response is appropriate for the conversations we find ourselves in.