Let’s Not Lose Sight of Reality

I was listening to a podcast yesterday about Augmented Reality (AR) and the role it will play in our lives in the future.  Similar to Virtual Reality (VR) AR involves wearing a set of goggles that allows you to see things that aren’t really there.  The difference between AR and VR is that while VR shows you a view of an environment that doesn’t exist, AR allows you to see your actual environment, but also shows you things or people that aren’t physically present.

For example, I could be wearing AR goggles and look down at my wrist and see a wrist watch, even though I’m not actually wearing a watch, or I could see a flat screen TV or computer screen on the wall that isn’t really present.  In addition to objects, you would also be able to see people, who were also wearing AR goggles, as if they were in the same spaces as you, even if they are miles, countries, or even continents away.  It sounded pretty amazing!

The host of the podcast went on to talk about the application of such technology and how it could transform everything from how people attend conferences, train for skills, and even attend Thanksgiving dinners with family.  In his opinion, this technology was about 3 years away.  He made that comment that when this technology becomes available, it will very shortly begin impacting all of our lives.  One comment he made was that once this technology is mainstream, we will likely feel naked if we leave the house without our AR goggles.

That last part struck me, and has haunted me to some degree since hearing it.  I think AR and VR technology will be amazing and will have significant application and promise to improve many aspects of our lives.  However, I also see how it can further isolate us from one another as humans, much like our smartphones have the capacity to do today.  If we as users of this technology are not wise enough to put healthy boundaries around its use, I can see how we could easily become a society that is more focused and interested in the things in our lives that are NOT real, while neglecting the things (and people) that are.

Let’s take a lesson from the adoption and impact the smartphone has had on cultures today.  As new technologies become mainstream, let’s be aware to set boundaries around their use; boundaries that are designed to maintain, and hopefully strengthen, the relationships we already have with those around us.   It would be a shame to think that we would rather gravitate toward a piece of technology over interacting with people that are present in our lives.  But as history has shown us, if left unchecked, that is exactly how we would lean.

Being Real

So much of our days are spent looking like we have everything put together.  We often don’t let people around us know what we’re struggling with, what we’re being challenged by, or where we need help.  Certainly in America there is the thought that we should be “pulling ourselves up by our boot straps” without requiring assistance from others.

I don’t think this is always the case.  While there are times when we need to make an individual effort to drive change, I think we often overlook the benefit of sharing parts of our life with other individuals or a small group of like-minded people.

I am fortunate to be involved in 3 different groups of people ranging in size from 2 to 7 people.  These are informal groups that get together on a regular basis to discuss a topic that has significance in each person’s life.  One thing that has amazed me about each of these groups is how once people learn that the group is a safe place, how quickly they are to get real about their struggles and challenges.  In addition, people are also willing to offer encouragement to others, often borne out of their own experience with the same challenge or struggle another group member is facing.   These groups are also a great place for people to share their success with others who are genuinely excited to see others in the group succeed.

I don’t know if most people have a group, or an individual, they can be real with and with whom they can encourage and be encouraged by.  My guess is that they don’t.

Regardless, I think we each have the capacity as individuals to provide opportunities for others to be real around us.  It can be as simple as:

  • Actually listening to someone when they are telling us about what’s going on in their life instead of quickly jumping in and telling them what we’re up to.
  • Asking probing questions about what/how they’re doing, if you feel like there’s more to what someone is telling you, and it seems like they’d like to share
  • Sharing a similar struggle you’ve had that they are currently experiencing, and how you either have or are overcoming it. This lets them know that they’re not the only one who has struggled in this area.

We all have struggles and challenges.  We also have the capacity to lighten these burdens others carry by listening to them, encouraging them and celebrating the victories that often follow.

Be aware of the conversations you’re having with those closest to you and look for opportunities to get real with them.  It’s likely to result in a deeper relationship as well as the sense that you had a positive impact in the life of someone else.

How To Be A Great Conversationalist

On Monday I had the great pleasure of meeting my sister for lunch.  It’s not something we do as often as we’d like, but when it works out, I always enjoy the experience.  The reason lunches, or other outings with her are so much fun is because my sister is one of the best conversationalists I know.  During our recent outing, my sister’s example reminded me again what makes someone a great conversationalist.

Some of the attributes of a great conversationalist include:

  • They are attentive. Great conversationalists are present in the conversation. They are not looking at their smart phones or staring off over your shoulder to see what else is going on.  They are looking at you and giving you their full attention.  In our technology tethered world, I think that our attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give another person.
  • They are great listeners. Great conversationalists are willing to wait during a silent pause so the other person can finish a thought or think about what they want to say.  They don’t interrupt in mid-sentence to change the topic, nor do they feel the need to dominate the conversation with their own monologue.  Instead, they actively listen to what the other person is saying.
  • They bring something to the conversation. Great conversationalists don’t just sit there silently through the whole conversation, but rather they bring their own positive thoughts and insights into the discussion.  They ask clarifying questions, share ideas, and even challenge assumptions, all with the intent of gaining a deeper understanding of the topic and the other person’s perspectives.
  • They care. Great conversationalists care about the person(s) they are talking with and demonstrate that by not judging them, and by creating a safe and trusted environment where people can talk freely and feel they are actually being heard and understood.

What a gift it is to be in the presence of a great conversationalist!

If you want to be a blessing to someone practice the attributes of great conversationalists the next time you are visiting with someone and see how it positively impacts the conversation.  It’s a skill that will yield more gratifying conversations and deeper relationships with others.

Life is Better When We Bring Others Along

My life is much more enjoyable when I am interacting and connecting with others.  I would much rather bring people along as I travel through life than take the journey as a solitary traveler.  But how do we go about bringing others along on our life journey?  Below are 4 suggestions for building connections with the people you’re going through life with:

Include them in what’s going on in your life

Share significant news with those closest to you.  Don’t let them hear it through the grapevine.  Give people some details about what you’re up to when they ask, instead of just saying, “Not much” or “I’m fine”.  You don’t need to give a full account of every detail, or dump a bunch of bad news on folks, but let them know what you’re up to.  How can we be encouraged or comforted by others, or be encouraging or comforting to others,  if we don’t let each other know what’s going on in our lives?

Be interested in what others are doing

Going through life with others is not an exercise in collecting a supporting cast for ourselves.  It is bi-directional.  There is communication, concern, and caring that goes both ways.  The best way we can show interest in others is to listen to them when they are telling us about something going on in their life.  We can ask questions, not just for the sake of asking, but to learn more about them and how they’re feeling, what makes them tick, and what’s important to them.  I think one of the greatest gifts we can give people is our genuine interested attention.

Ask people for help

People want to help those they know and like.  For some reason thought, it is difficult to ask others for help, even when we could really use it.  We need to work at getting better at asking for help.  There’s no benefit to being a Lone Ranger, thinking we can figure a situation out all on our own.  Plus, we rob others of the opportunity to be a potential blessing to us with the assistance they could provide.

Treat people well

Thank others when they assist or bless you.  Tell them something you like or admire about them.   Send an email, write a letter, or make a phone call of encouragement, gratitude, appreciation, or comfort.  Depending on your relationship with them, let them know you love them.

When done genuinely, all of these steps require a degree of vulnerability.  That vulnerability comes from taking a risk to open up and share our real-self with others.  In doing so, we also give others a safe place to do likewise with us.

A Grieving Friend

I have a friend that lost his wife to cancer this summer.  It was very quick from the diagnosis until it was over.  The loss left my friend stunned, scared, and hurting.  He is still struggling with the grief.

As we were texting earlier this week, he was sharing with me how some people were telling him he should be better by now and others are telling him he should be back to normal.  My heart ached for my friend when I read his text that said, “I don’t know.  It just hurts.”

I’m sure these people meant well, but I couldn’t help wonder how many of them have ever experienced the loss of a spouse, and how many of them would be going home to their spouse or loved one after talking with my friend.

It’s so easy to give advice about an experience we’ve never had based on how we think we’d handle the situation if it happened to us.  The truth is we have no idea what someone is dealing with, unless we’ve gone through it ourselves.  Even then, how each person handles a situation can be quite different.

I’ve never lost a spouse, and I’m not a grief counselor, so I don’t know the perfect way to respond to someone who’s grieving like my friend is.  For me, I’m trying to show compassion by doing the following:

  1. Check in regularly via text, email, phone, or whatever the grieving person’s preferred method of communication is. Be sure to do continue doing this after it has become “old news” to everyone else.  Chances are it still hurts for the grieving person.
  2. Acknowledge that the situation sucks, because it does. I’m not saying to wallow there and make it worse.  Just let the grieving person know you’re aware of that fact.
  3. Just be quiet and listen.  Let the conversation go where the other person takes it.  Don’t worry about needing to say something to fill the silent pauses.  Just be there with your ears and heart engaged.

Ultimately, I want to be a blessing to my grieving friend, because I know that’s what I’d want from my friends if I were the one grieving.

Taking Opportunities to Connect (Part 2)

This week I was again reminded of the desire people have to connect with one another.   My church is kicking off small groups for the fall and winter and the group I’m leading had their first meeting on Wednesday evening.  There were 6 of us and we all hit it off really well.  This is going to be a fun group!

As a way to get to know one another, our group opened with 2 short questions that each person responded to.  Those 2 questions were:

  1. What is something you enjoy doing
  2. Why are you in this group?

From the answers to questions 1, it is obvious that our group likes getting out doors and hiking.  I see a potential group hike in our future!

There was a strong theme regarding the 2nd question that had to do with connecting with others.  People in the group, including me, were interested in connecting with a smaller group of people and establishing relationships that went beyond the busy Sunday pleasantries of, “How are you doing?  I’m fine.”  We are all interested in getting to know people and to be known as well.  That is one of the best reasons for joining a small group that I can think of.

I’ve been part of several small group settings including:

  • Groups at church
  • Professional groups and workshops
  • Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace
  • The Dale Carnegie Human Relations course

It’s amazing to me how much people open up when they’re in the company of others with similar interests.  What’s even more amazing is once a safe environment is established:

  1. People are willing to honestly share what’s going on in their lives.
  2. How supportive people are to others in the group.

People are social creatures and were made for interaction with others.  Although it’s easy to shut ourselves off from others and go about our days without connecting with others, I think this is a bad plan.  Long term it leads to potential loneliness and a life lacking the richness that is often provided through connection with others.

How are you doing at connecting with others?  I encourage you to look for opportunities to connect with others in the days, week, and months ahead.  In my opinion, life is more enjoyable when we invest in the lives of others, and they do likewise with us.