Said No One

“I wish I had spent more time on my smart phone.”   ~no one on their deathbed…EVER!

Every day I observe people who spend significant time on their smart phones while ignoring those around them, even when those around them are family or friends.  That always makes we  wonder, “What on your smart phone is so exciting that it causes you to willingly ignore those right in front of you?”

The thought of our last days on earth tend to bring into focus what’s really important to us.  Usually, what we say is most important are those closest to us.  It is often these people that we would like to spend our last days on Earth with.   I say, “Why wait until our last days?  Why don’t we put down our devices and start connecting with those people NOW, before it’s too late.”

This may cause you to miss a few social media posts or spend less time playing your favorite game on your smart phone, but isn’t that worth it?

Hopefully, it is.

Things Look Different Close Up

I prefer the window seat whenever I fly, because the view is spectacular!  Everything appears so peaceful.  Mountain ranges are picturesque.  Cities appear slow, calm and quite.  Everything seems to be in order.  From 30,000 feet above, things look pretty good.

View From a Distance

This peaceful view, however, hides the reality the conditions below.  Frigid winter temperatures, scorching summer heat, or a congested, noisy city aren’t really noticeable when viewed at in climate controlled comfort at 30,000 feet.

It’s not until we get up close to the environment that we realize things are markedly different thank they first appeared.

I think it’s like that with people as well.  From a distance, people often appear to be free of difficulty or challenges in their life.  Yet it’s not until we get close up and connect with someone that we realize they are facing challenges, concerns or difficulties that aren’t easily seen from a distance.

This thought reminds me that most people are likely struggling with, worried about, or concerned with something that’s not visible to us.  It also reminds me that I would do well to approach others with grace and, when appropriate, the willingness to be close up.

More Similar Than Not

My wife and I spend a long weekend in New York City a couple of weeks ago.  It was our second time in the city and we got to see several sights we didn’t get to on our first visit, like Ellis Island, the 9/11 museum, and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a beautiful sunny day.  We had a great time!

One of my favorite things about being in New York City is hearing all the different languages being spoken and interacting with people from all over the world.  It again reminds me that regardless of where we’re from or our cultural background, we’re all more similar than we realize.

For example, we were outside Federal Hall Saturday morning the same time as a large group from China.  I was intrigued by this group as I noticed how they all wanted their picture taking under the large statue of George Washington.  I especially enjoyed watching all of the different poses they were making.  There was everything from the classic family vacation photo, to the “thumbs up” sign, as well as both arms stretched skyward, all the while, with faces displaying big genuine grins.

Federal Hall

We witnessed this type of scene being played out throughout the city with people from all over the globe.  Regardless of their culture or homeland, they looked like tourists having a good time.  In that respect, we all looked the same.

It was refreshing to see, in light of current global political climate.  There seems to be a lot of focus, and likely fear, on how we’re different from one another.  It was nice to see just how similar we are all as fellow human beings.

Just Like Snowflakes

Many years ago, I spent a fall and winter at Ft. Leonard Wood Missouri while attending Army basic training.  Those were some frigid months that gave me a new found appreciation for how frozen vegetables must feel.  During those below-freezing temperatures however, I was blessed to have also seen some of nature’s most beautiful work.

One night after dinner we were lined up in formation to march back to the barracks.  (The Army loves to march!)  As we were standing in the dry frigid air of night, waiting for the drill sergeant to bark out commands to being marching, it began to snow.  I noticed a couple of flakes fall on the soldier’s coat in front of me, and as they did, I couldn’t believe what I saw.  Each individual flake was so perfectly and uniquely shaped, just like you see in Christmas cartoons or beautiful Christmas ornaments.  Never before had I seen an individual snow flake.  Sure, I knew that snow is made of up individual flakes, but this was the first time I had actually seen how detailed, elegant, fragile, and beautiful a snowflake really is.  It was a scene I have never forgotten.

It’s hard to believe that something like a ski slope, a snow covered meadow, a snowy mountaintop, or even an avalanche is made up of millions of unique, individual, beautiful snowflakes.  I think it’s a lot like that with people as well.  It’s easy to just see people as communities, nations, families, organizations, or other large collections.  But what’s interesting to me is that every one of the aforementioned groups is made up of unique, individual, beautiful people.

As you’re moving around in the different groups of people in the weeks ahead, take notice of the individuals that make up those groups.  Look at how unique each one of them is and how their uniqueness adds to the group they’re in.

And don’t forget to look at yourself as well.  You are also unique and valuable to the larger groups you are a part of, and those groups are fortunate to have you.

Words

Would you ever walk around deliberately throwing pointed darts at people, hitting them with a club, or punching them in the gut? Of course not!  In fact, if we did, we’d likely get arrested!  Yet everyday people are equally, if not more, careless with the words they choose to launch at others.

Words are interesting because they don’t have any preference on how or for what purpose they are used.  They are amoral and only become positive or negative based solely on how we choose to wield them.

Look at the contrast between the attributes of positive and negative words:

Positive Words Negative Words
Encouraging Discouraging
Affirming Tearing down
Loving Hateful
Caring Hurtful
Compassionate Condemning
Healing Crushing
Life saving Hopeless
Enduring Enduring

 

Our words have an impact on people, especially on those closest to us.  And though they can be positive or negative, they are often not soon forgotten.

This underscores the importance of the awareness we should possess regarding the words we use and how we’re treating others with them.  Are we being careless with our words or are we using them to encourage and edify others?  If we could see a visual representation of the words we’re delivering to others would they resemble sticks, darts, clubs, and stones, or would they look more like a smile, a pat on the back, a high-five, and a hug?

We do have a choice regarding the words we use.  They leave our lips wrapped in our intentions.  Let’s intention to deliver positive words that bless others versus cursing them.  When we do, we’ll likely notice that the words we receive from others are kind and positive as well.

Seeing Beauty

My wife and I recently made a visit to Crater Lake National Park.  Although we had been there several times before, (we’re fortunate to live relatively close to this gem) I was once again captivated by the overwhelming beauty of this natural treasure.

Crater Lake

A video playing at the park’s Visitor Center described how the natural beauty of Crater Lake that we see today is the result of a very violent volcanic past.  A severe eruption of Mt. Mazama left the area looking like a “moonscape”, as described by the park video.  However, years of wind and weather have transformed the once barren site to the beautiful lake we see today.

The beauty of the lake is unmistakable.  It got me thinking that there are people who are a lot like Crater Lake.  Not that they have “off-the-charts” physical beauty, but rather they have beauty that comes from a decision to choose a positive response to a significant “eruption” in their own life experience.  For example, they choose to:

  • Be victorious versus defeated.
  • Focus on what they are grateful for versus what they’ve lost.
  • Encourage others facing the same or similar experience.
  • Live their life with purpose regardless of past circumstances.

These, and similar choices, to past “eruptions” in life make for a beautiful person.

Seeing physical beauty in nature, like Crater Lake, is easy.  However, seeing beauty as a result of people’s difficult life experience is not always as obvious.

As we’re interacting with others, let’s remember that we’re often not aware of what they have experienced in life.  And, if you’re ever blessed to have someone share their past “eruption” with you and how they have chosen a positive path forward… stand in awe at the beauty before you.

Shared Experiences

On Wednesday June 15, 2016 I left an organization I was with for almost 19 years to pursue a new and exciting opportunity.  In the days prior, as I was reminiscing about my time there, my thoughts were not primarily centered on accomplishments and successes, but rather on the people I’d worked with and the memories we’d made.

While I was going around saying my good-byes to friends and colleagues I noticed that they too were recounting shared experiences.  I couldn’t help realize that the shared experiences we have with others are what people remember.  Whether the experience was good or bad, the fact that it was shared in pursuit of a common goal seemed binding and provided a sense of team, connection and togetherness.  I like that because it shows that I didn’t go through my 19 years there unnoticed, and that I had an impact on the people I worked with, as they also did on me.

Shared experiences not only bind and connect people in the context of the workplace.  Have you ever sat around with a friends or family members recalling events of the past with laughter, gratitude, frustration, or even disbelief that you all made it through?  Often, it’s these kinds of conversations that we have with friends or family we haven’t seen in a while as a way to reset the relationship and begin reconnecting.

As we bump along with others in our day-to-day existence let’s make sure we’re mindful of the shared experiences we’re creating and when the time comes, remind others of the experiences we’ve shared with them and what they meant to you in that experience.

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.