Have You Flipped the Courage Switch ?

I was not the coolest kid in school, and that’s saying something because it was a pretty low-keyed place. Maybe it was because my overprotective mother worked in the school cafeteria to keep an eye on me. Maybe it was my inability to stop talking in class. The truth is it didn’t bother me because I had my twin brother to play with and my mother thought we walked on water. However there was one thing I couldn’t stand, and that was to be called “Chicken!” No kid wants to be chicken.  We all want to be brave and courageous, like Superman, no fear!

Light Switch OnNow that I’m older, I know sometimes fear is a good thing. Maybe being “chicken” kept me from jumping off the jungle gym and breaking my arm like my youngest daughter once did. I also know the satisfaction of overcoming fear and showing courage! Just like the Cowardly Lion, we are all wired to be at times courageous. We just need to have the….well courage, to flip the switch. It is not a pin or a badge but it is the way we face the everyday fears and obstacles that life throws at us. “Success is not final” wrote Winston Churchill, “[and] failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

This week courage has been on my mind for several reasons. The first was watching Pope Francis face his hundreds of thousands of followers for the first time. Despite his faith, there must have been some fear imbedded in his soul as he contemplated the profound responsibility he assumed.  And he willing shared that fact as he asked the faithful asking in his first appearance to pray for him. Surely an act of courage!

March MadnessAnother reason I’ve been thinking of courage is from watching the prelude to “March Madness”. Countless athletes who put their gifts and shortcomings on public display for everyone to see.  It is much like have a TV camera in your office. How many of us would want our work days turned into a live feed? I suspect for some, shows like Survivor would be mundane by comparison.  By the way, although my beloved St John’s team had a rough patch at the end of the season. the team showed great character and resilience-also courageous traits.

Humanity at WorkIn my book, Humanity at Work: Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace and in speaking to groups around the country, I discuss the need for courageous leaders. I encourage you to pay extra attention to the courage you see around you and focus on individuals whose courage you admire.  Think about those leader that has faced adversity with strength and dignity and how you hope to do the same. The really good news is that every such lessons will shape the way you treat others and inspire positive changes in your leadership philosophy.

Remember the next time you start to feel like a “chicken” just to flip the switch and embrace the courage that makes for great leaders.

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We Can Learn Much from Pope Benedict’s Heroic Decision

Pope Benedict XVI, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, surprised the world on Monday, February 11, 2013, by announcing that he will resign at the end of the month. People announce that they’re resigning all the time, yet he is the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. Benedict, following in the line of St. Peter, Christ’s chief disciple, shared with all mankind that he now lacks the strength of body and mind to carry on in his role as pontiff: “[My] strength . . . in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Pope Benedict XVIIn this humble, straightforward message, the Pope showed himself to be an exemplary leader, sending a powerful lesson to religious and secular leaders alike when they themselves face the inescapable question, “When do I step down from the responsibilities that largely constitute the fabric of my life, my persona, and the way that I am defined by society?” Think about this: when you go to a party and a stranger approaches you, what is the first question he/she asks you as a means of getting to know you better? “What do you do?” Defined by our career, our work accomplished daily, and especially by our position in that workplace, we fear that if we resign or retire, we will be nothing.

I have often said that when confronted with formidable issues like retirement vs. staying on, it is easy to be descriptive about the dicey situation, but far more difficult to be prescriptive—saying aloud what you think is the right thing to do in the situation and when to act on that. But the question of what to do when we feel we can no longer continue at a vocation that we cherish may more accurately flip the analysis around. We know the prescription for “inability to perform our duties”—retire, but we have difficulty in describing–coming to grips with the remedy as it applies to ourselves personally, in detail, even though we know intellectually and in general what the correct course of action is.

As I approach the eighth decade of my life, I am still fully engaged in what I love to do. I practice law at a great law firm, lend my guidance to some terrific companies and non-profits, and speak and write on leadership. But there will come a point when my vitality starts to ebb. I hope I will know when I start running out of good ideas! Some continue to be really valued in that role, but others start to run out of good ideas yet stay around the office, not seeing their situation clearly. Of course, countless positions grant lifelong tenures, barring inappropriate conduct. Tenured professors come to mind, as do federal judges, including those sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States. It is not unusual for the court to include several octogenarians. As has the papacy itself, as well as the College of Cardinals.

el-cid-campaeador-Rodrigo-diaz-de-vivar-Then there are those elected officials who come to view their positions as de facto lifetime appointments, something like Papa Doc, “President for Life.” And we the electorate pretty much acquiesce to their expectations. Clearly, some of our political elders still lead vigorous lives, but others remind me of the immortal Castilian military commander Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. Known as El Cid, he, after his death, is thought to have been secured to his horse to lead his troops into battle. Some folks really do hang on too long, but knowing when to step aside is a complex issue. Our psyche jumps through a lot of hoops as it tries to find an acceptable course of action. Rational and often apparent answers elude us. I don’t know when my moment of reckoning will occur, just as I don’t know when my moment of recognition will occur, telling me in an instant that it’s time to step aside, “to find a new career”! I just hope that at that moment, I have a single grain of the moral, spiritual, and practical wisdom possessed by Pope Benedict. And some self-effacing humor, too! That really helps because the spectre of El Cid, “Dead Man Riding,” is a discouraging role to play, convincingly inspiring the troops, surely, for no more than ONE battle.

In Monday’s talk from the Vatican, Pope Benedict showed himself to be a man of extraordinary courage and one possessed of an even greater measure of humility. Yet, who better than the Vicar of Christ to recognize and demonstrate to us that the Creator does not judge the frailty of His mortal offspring. He leaves that to His children on earth and probably chuckles at our pomposity and lack of restraint in judging others for their natural frailty. You may think that humility is pretty much a given for a Pope and that all must possess that virtue. But our humanity tells us that the need to rise to the pinnacle of any calling can be an intoxicating potion!

Understand, I don’t view setting lofty goals to be an unconfessed sin. In fact, in most ways working toward high achievement is a worthwhile and constructive endeavor. The problem comes when we see our attaining certain titles and responsibilities as being akin to a coronation–much like a royal, we are difficult to dethrone. When the rational brain proposes a discussion of our continued competency at any chosen endeavor, the emotional brain floods the intellect with a turgid sea of defensive rationalizations. Just realize that when the floods come, we need to wall them back with a healthy dose of humility.

deathofsocrates1Historians have long speculated on why the philosopher Socrates did not flee Athens after being wrongly charged with acts against the state and sentenced to take his life. Instead he dutifully drank the penitential hemlock. The noted biographer Paul Johnson writes that Socrates so believed in Athenian democracy that to flee would have gone against his love of that Athenian democracy. Any other response, such as exile, would not, “uphold the dignity and sovereignty of Athenian law,” so he “[was] willing to die as an affirmation of the principles by which he had striven to live.” Socrates subordinated his own life to what he perceived as a greater good. Is it not the same with Benedict?

In acting upon his decision to resign, Benedict also shows himself to completely understand the obligations of his ministry and the essence of the job. On this point my friend Howard Rockett provides an insightful observation: by his resignation Benedict shows he understands that the Pope is most of all the representation of Christ on Earth. While not a biblical scholar, I am unaware of any mention in the gospel of Christ having ever written a letter or authoring any other document.

woman%20healedRather, as the Good Shepherd, he was physically present to his followers as he taught through word and deed. I have often marveled at the effect the Pope has on those fortunate to have stood in his presence. I have spoken to Catholics and non-Catholics alike who consider an audience with the Pope to be one of the most meaningful events in their lives. Like many of you, I watched much of Benedict’s visit to New York City. As he walked through a crowd of the faithful, a woman touched his robe. I can still recall the look of joy on the woman’s face. By traveling to New York, the elderly Pope had, in his physical representation, brought the love and mercy of Christ to individuals in a real, even tactile way, thus inspiring and strengthening that one woman’s faith, just as Christ himself worked and walked among the people as he traveled the Holy Land.

Thus, in an act of astonishing wisdom, Benedict recognized his inability to act as Christ the evangelist did. He recognized that the Pope is not of the people, but must be with the people! And so he resigned, like Socrates, for the greater good of those whom he serves. By doing so, he does not shun his responsibilities but illuminates his fidelity to the papal ministry. The declaration of his limitations is not a defeatist manifesto, but a verbal recognition that by dispassionately assessing our abilities and limitations we show, in humility, the greatest possible strength of character, strength of understanding, and reverence for our responsibilities.

Yes, it is strong and fine to recognize one’s true, undeluded physical and mental abilities and then to act upon the recognition. Remember that Christ, Himself, understanding that “Peter” means “rock,” renamed the man then known as Simon Barjona as the disciples walked on the coast of Caesarea Philippi: “I say also unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18). Pope Benedict, then, is an able and insightful—and humble—descendant of St. Peter, the Rock of the faith, and he gives us a living representation of how to be faithful, strong, and authentic as he announces his retirement.

One final point. In lauding Benedict’s decision, I am not by implication claiming that one or more prior pontiffs should have also done so. We all vividly recall the infirmities that gripped Benedict’s predecessor John Paul II, in his final years. Some may have thought that he should have resigned. If so, they miss the point of John Paul’s public exposition of his illness. At that moment John Paul choose as his ministry to display another facet of Christ-like humility. He gave us to realize that even the direct descendant of Peter may be called upon to suffer. His teachings in that respect are both profound and lasting.

As Andrew Nagorski, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says of Benedict’s decision, “There can be no greater tribute to the institution a leader serves than recognizing when the moment has come to step down. That is exactly what Benedict will be remembered for.” The deep and precise wisdom in Benedict’s decision is one all responsible leaders can well consider.

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Finding Compassion, Predictability, and Commitment in the Heat of Battle—An Enlisted Man’s Account from Across the Years

Eugene_sledgeMobile, Alabama, native Eugene Bondurant “Sledgehammer” Sledge (1923-2001) fought with the elite 7th Marine Division. An enlisted man, he was called upon to take part in some of the most vicious fighting in World War II, that in the Pacific. While Civil War General William T. Sherman got to the heart of it with his pithy comment that “War is hell,” from Sledge’s detailed account of the war in the Pacific, that experience was far more hellish than anything Sherman saw.

An enlisted man, Sledge chronicled his experiences in the acclaimed memoir With the Old Breed (Oxford University Press, 1990). My interest in leadership caused me to gravitate to Sledge’s observations of what constitutes a great leader. Some of his most powerful lessons concern his first combat commander, a man revered by his men. Sledge said of Capt. “Ack Ack” Haldane:

Capt Haldane“Although he insisted on strict discipline, the captain was a quiet man who gave orders without shouting. He had a rare combination of intelligence, courage, self-confidence, and compassion that commanded our respect and admiration. We were thankful that Ack Ack was our skipper, felt more secure in it, and felt sorry for other companies not so fortunate. While some officers on Pavuvu thought it necessary to strut or order us around to impress us with their status, Haldane quietly told us what to do. We loved him for it and did the best job we knew how.”

Intelligence, courage, self-confidence, and compassion. Imagine just how that compassion shown by a commander in WWII combat appeared to his men. Some of us think that compassion equates to weakness. No, indeed. The really great leaders understand that compassion is a foundational trait. It must be learned, practiced, and taught to others. For compassion in a leader is an announcement to all in his/her sphere of influence that he/she is human.

A leader’s compassion practiced and demonstrated over days and months becomes a key role-modeling vehicle for co-workers to imitate, acting out humanely when daily operational tasks are set aside in the face of critical situations, those demanding urgent decisions—on any battlefield of their lives.

That almost everyone, all leaders included, come equipped with many of the same behavioral weaknesses that those in their charge have is proof that mistakes should be avoided but are not avoidable. That’s predictable, but with practice and awareness of the need to practice, leaders and “soldiers” alike, are able to act with deathless understanding—compassion—when it is needed in everyday and urgent situations in the field and on the job.

ww2Sledge goes on to say that, “Our company commander represented stability and direction in a world of violence, death and destruction.” Few of us will be called upon to lead others in a war zone with the threat of death on every hand. But much happens daily in any organization that becomes our version of a mortal combat with great human, financial, and material consequences if the conflict is not prosecuted successfully. That’s where a leader’s stability becomes as critical to communicate and to use as compassion.

Several years ago I was asked to give one key attribute of a great leader. I answered “predictability.” The interviewer, somewhat taken aback, said “Well, I’ve never considered that value. . . .” Yet haven’t we all worked for unpredictable individuals? Around such individuals in the midst of turmoil your unconscious is fearful and unsure, feeling “What in the world will he say and do next?” Not much of a security “guard” in difficult times, is a leader like that—an unpredictable one. As I have often said, a great leader must be the calm eye of the hurricane, not the leading edge, packing remorseless winds and a devastating storm surge in his/her destructive and unpredictable path. As you know, since 1979, North Atlantic hurricanes are named alternately for men and women! What does that suggest?

With the Old BreedIn With the Old Breed, readers learn that Sledge’s commander, Captain Haldane, was killed in heavy combat on the island of Peleliu in September of 1944. In the midst of his grief, Sledge wrote that “[Losing Haldane] was like losing a parent we depended upon for security – not our physical security, because we knew that was a commodity beyond our reach in combat, but our mental security.”

Leading others (and ourselves) is really hard work. The reason for this difficulty is that we are the most complex of all the Lord’s creations. But what we need is often quite simple for continuing well in what we do: respect in the eyes of others. That respect Capt. Haldane was given is ensured leaders, however, only by their demonstrating predictably three key behaviors: compassion for co-workers every day and in the most severe circumstances alike; predictable understanding that co-workers need to feel emotionally secure at work as strongly as they know they are physically secure at their desks; and the leader’s prime commitment to the hard work of being a leader, just as Capt. Haldane showed E.B. Sledge and the others in their unit that he was committed to the battle till the end.

If those three pledges to employees are met to the letter and the spirit, the rewards can be majestic in the degree of respect and devotion great leaders discover in the heat of battle.

Thanks to my editor Linda W Hobson Ph.D. for her contribution to this essay.

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A True Hero – Stan “The Man” Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals

Stan Musial died today.  Certainly one of the most beloved and iconic players in the history of major league baseball. In June 2011 we published the following essay about the great man.

Stan the man2I have never bought into Leo Durocher’s dictum that “nice guys finish last.”  As a major league manager Leo should have known better, as his teams played against Stan “The Man” Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals.

It is great news that George Vecsey recently published a biography on the great man (Stan Musial An American Life, ESPN/Ballentine Books 2011)

Unfortunately, even with his Hall of Fame statistics-a lifetime batting average of .331 and nearly 2000 RBIs, Musial did not receive the approbation reserved for the stars who played on east or west coast teams.  While St. Louis is a great baseball town, it simply isn’t a mega media hub.  Moreover, Stan Musial was not a controversial guy.  He didn’t have an incendiary personality that attracts press coverage or an over the top life style. He was simply a gifted athlete who is also a kind and decent man.  When I speak on the attributes of heroes, my audience nods in agreement when I observe that we always feel better just being in the presence of great women and men.  One  Musial team-mate said that you could “feel” his presence in a room; that when he was near, you knew everything would be alright.

Blue_Super_Nova_Wallpaper_2mr1rWhen I was growing up there were no so-called “Super Stars.”  Surely there were “stars” but to us kids all major leaguers were already special, different from the rest of us in ways exceptional.  Perhaps we really do suffer from some sort of cultural excess that spawned additional gradients of stardom.  Could it be we’ll soon coin the term “Nova.” for super, super stars?  Better still, how about “Super Nova” as they radiate an even more intense light.  Put another way, the notion of celebrity has in many ways been turned on its ear.  Celebrity is an affectation of the press.  Most often it has no relationship to competency, work ethic, integrity or faith-the values that make some of us truly great. That’s why reflections on people such as Stan Musial are meaningful. They serve as instruments to maintain and sometimes repair our societal fabric.

I actually have a Stan Musial story.  In 1986 Jean and I were visiting friends at Cooperstown, New York over the weekend when several inductees would enter The Baseball Hall of Fame. Of course Stan Musial had long before been so honored. Naturally, many baseball notables would be in attendance.

Stan in CartOn the day before the ceremony, I was playing golf at the local golf course.  At about 8:00 a.m. I was walking down a fairway that ran parallel to a small dirt road.  Standing on the road were about 20 people; men, women and several small children.  Many had donned the baseball caps and the jackets of their favorite teams. Most held pads and pens.  Curious, I asked a nearest man to me why they were standing there?  He smiled and said, “We heard that Stan Musial might be playing golf here today and we didn’t want to miss the chance to see him and get an autograph”!  I often thought about that scene and one day realized that imbedded in that encounter was an important teaching.  Those early morning fans knew that if Stan Musial walked by their vigil would be rewarded.  They accepted as an article of faith that he would most certainly stop.

As you probably know the current St. Louis star is Albert Pujols. Possibly the best player in the game, he is also known as a kind and compassionate man.  As his fame grew, some Cardinal fans began to call him “El Hombre”.  While surely grateful, Pujols reminded his fans that in St. Louis there is only one man –  and that man is Stan.

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Integrity Is Compatible with Winning—Even on the Moon

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy challenged the country to land a man on the moon and safely return him to earth by the end of that decade. Several years ago, Ron Howard released a wonderful movie that recounts the quest, In the Shadow of the Moon.

In_the_shadow_of_the_moon_posterOne scene in the film particularly captured my attention. As you may recall, the Apollo 11 mission of July 1969 was the first attempt at a successful moon landing. While Michael Collins circled the moon in the Apollo capsule, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the moon’s surface in a landing craft. When the landing craft separated from the Apollo capsule, Michael Collins said, “You guys are upside down,” to which Armstrong responded, “Well, someone is upside down!”

As I thought about it, I realized both men were right–and both were wrong. In space there is no gravity to provide a visceral frame of reference: the human body cannot tell by internal signals whether it is upside down or not. As there is no upside down in space, then, the term for a physical reality, gravity, that affects everything we do on earth doesn’t fit either man’s situation on the moon.

That brief dialogue in space provides a powerful metaphor to illustrate why companies need to be hotbeds of morality. If you find yourself in a corporate culture without a strong moral underpinning, where the concept of acting ethically is not as basic and unspoken as air or water or gravity, then how do co-workers judge what is right and what is wrong?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWho is or can be right side up in a too-flexible working situation? Surely we arrive in the workplace with a sense of integrity. But if we find ourselves in an organization that doesn’t champion principled conduct, it will take its toll on us because no action is simple and predictable—we can find ourselves out of bounds, “written up,” or worse and not even know the cryptic definition of what we did wrong. In a culture that lacks the gravitational pull of forthright behavior, people can lose their moral bearings.

Some executives or employees may take inappropriate actions which they personally find to be perfectly acceptable. People start practicing situational ethics. Actions are judged in a vacuum, rather than in an oxygen-rich atmosphere of the virtuous certitude of right and wrong. Or perhaps no consideration is given to how the steps take effect on others in the present and future—exercising foresight takes too much time, and time is money. All is allowable if it fits within the dictum of expediency: “If I can obtain my goals, any action I take is OK!” The traditional Golden Rule is sent to Communications for editing: “He with the most gold wins,” and the memo is diligently sent out to each team member in each department.

Accountable OrganizationMy friend John Marchica, in his excellent book The Accountable Organization (Davis-Black Publishing, 2004), writes, “Integrity is not incompatible with competition, with seeking to win and earn a profit. Honest competition brings out the best in us, and profits ensure that an organization endures and is able to impact people’s lives, be they customers, investors, or employees.” He’s right: working in honest competition makes the project a challenge, and challenges are fun; everyone knows and follows the rules and the fun comes from honing one’s skills, preparing deeper and more carefully than the competitor, then going out to perform at the team member’s peak—and perhaps winning. If business is another form of war or sports, that’s how it’s done best to win—fair and square, not by taking shortcuts with rules, manners, and morals, and turning everyone upside down with stress. Profits take a back seat when stress runs rampant.

Leaders, therefore, must create a moral landscape where there is a consistency of ethical decision-making shown through word and deed! Once established, maintenance of that healthful environment for work requires lots of diligence. We all know that normally well intentioned co-workers in an effort to reach their goals will sometimes shrink the boundaries of ethical conduct. They start small, by rationalizing their actions: “It will only be this one time. . . .”

But after they do it, they like the result: more gain for less work and/or time. So, rather than considering the rightness of their actions, they start assessing the risk of detection! Allow this to happen and soon you will have an organization with an “Anything goes!” mentality. Its frame of integrity will be skewed, upside down, overwhelming in its strangeness and alienation from what had always been done in that company.

LeadershipAny company that hopes to be successful for the long term needs to invest in creating a culture built on the granitic foundation of truth and honesty. Few things feel as good as taking actions which align with our highest thoughts and the best of our human nature. Our intellect is far more apt to make mistakes than our conscience–so stock your conscience with right-thinking lessons of ethical conduct. No technology can ensure these traits in people–only those of our kind can do that, smart human leaders.

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In the New Year, Let Us Recalibrate How We Measure Failure and Success

lefkowitzRobert Lefkowitz, a physician and researcher at Duke University Medical Center, recently won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on drug receptors. In reading several articles about this remarkable man and his work, I found that a powerful idea emerged. The road to success–in most any endeavor–is paved with failures. Dr. Lefkowitz summarizes his first year in medical research by telling a reporter that nothing, absolutely nothing worked out. He counted his efforts as a total failure—this, the work product of a highly intelligent and capable person! Imagine how awful he must have felt.

In one article, Dr. Lefkowitz remarks that for a great majority of scientists .5 to 1 percent of their experiments work. “For an absolutely fabulous scientist [success] could be as high as 2 percent.” He came to realize that, “It’s almost all failure, and accepting that didn’t come easy to me.” The Nobel laureate, however, goes on to explain the mysterious incremental gift that failure gives: “…[T]he thing about failure is that each failure teaches you a little something, and you can build upon it.” Something to build upon sounds like a gift to me! Something to build upon is foundational—it’s much more than what one knew before! And that’s very good. In many cases, then, “failure” may be a misnomer built upon a misperception.

I have often thought about the subject of failure and how it is related to the discovery of self. If you think about it, few of us discover anything of significance in a vacuum. In any calling, there are an untold number of souls that may pursue the answer to some similar question worth knowing the answer to. But as with any great discovery, be it in science, exploration, the social sciences, the arts, technology–you pick the field, we find that any success identified with an individual is, in truth, the cumulative work products of unnamed collaborators, sometimes over decades or more. These collaborators, by their hard work, help cancel out or narrow the number of possible paths leading to the Nobel-lauded event—some new and shortly indispensable process, idea, or object.

Luck_is____(explored)So what we view as success is an incredibly complex beast to tame. A beast wild, hidden in the shadows, inscrutable, unmanageable, simple, elegant, and absolutely necessary to life. While Dr. Lefkowitz was the lone possessor of key insights, genuine flashes of brilliance making him most deserving of the high praise and recognition awarded him, can there be any doubt that he would also humbly acknowledge the work of those in his field who came before him? Other hunters of and tamers of the beast? Collaborators doing both the work deemed successful and the efforts judged as wanting? In fact, he goes even farther; he acknowledges the role of luck. “I like people,” he says, “who think they are lucky, because I believe luck is more a state of mind than anything else.” And that fortune-friendly, curiosity-rich state of mind produces good results.

In total, what I take from Dr. Lefkowitz’s life and work is this: Never credit the harsh winds of failure with the strength to extinguish the flame fueling your pursuit of a goal worth achieving. Stay calm and carry on. Even the harshest winds do blow themselves out, encouraging resolute men and women to come out of their brown studies or blue periods to try again. We need to learn the distinction between the realization that an idea, process, or object can’t work this way, and the conclusion that we have failed. Failure gains a foothold in our psyche only when our heart gives up all hope of success. Could there be a more desolate experience?

Is not Dr Lefkowitz telling us in his recounting of how he carried out his discovery that we should have mercy on ourselves at the end of every attempt? Analyze what went wrong, make notes, thank the parties involved, express gratitude for lessons learned and steps we do not have to take again, rest, then regroup and try a different tack—right away.

What better resolution to take into the year of 2013 that is about to unfold! A year that will be the scene of some endeavors that do not meet our expectations now but that pave the path to subsequent successes. Every honest attempt is foundational and puts us that much closer to “Eureka!”

2013-happy-new-year-wallpapers-15Happy New Year!

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Why God Allows Evil?

My wife and I belong to a small Christian community group. In light of last week’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, at our last meeting we discussed a question so many of us are struggling with: Why God allows evil in the world? Therefore, it is probably not a coincidence that I then received the essay presented below from my friend Brian Stiller. Brian is Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance serving some 600 million Christians, and president emeritus of Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto, Canada. He is the author of a dozen books. His most recent book is, Find a Broken Wall, 7 Ancient Principles for 21st Century Leaders (Castle Quay Books).

  Why God Allows Evil?

“The Cry,” Munich’s painting of a young woman’s primeval scream standing on a bridge in a sunlit day came to mind as I witnessed unbelievable horror and tried to feel the unimagined suffering of parents as they raced to the elementary school in Newtown Connecticut to find their children.

Questions about “who” died quickly shifted to “whys.” Why this town? Why this school? Why my child? Syrians in a refugee camp asked me weeks ago what millions through millennia wonder, “Why does God allow evil?”

I know attempts to answer will not bring back a child, erase memories of a shooter blazing away at little children, extract justice for the community or ease the fright of a possible reoccurrence in another school. Even so, a framework for discussion (called theodicy – why God allows evil and suffering) matters for those in Newtown and us on the sidelines, as we grieve and wonder.

There are two paths down this road of a theodicy: first are questions of logic – how is it that God who is sovereign and good doesn’t or can’t eliminate suffering? Secondly, we follow the biblical narrative – the Jewish-Christian scriptures leading us through generations, learning over time what God is doing about evil. The first is humans examining God, questioning him in the courtroom of human reason. The second is a story of human life in its genesis, often devolving, yet given a lifeline from its seeming inevitable slide into chaos.

The first path is logic: Why doesn’t God who is loving and all powerful eliminate evil? Hume (18th century philosopher) asked, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” On neither score God wins. But what if we explore beyond Hume’s two options (if he is willing, but unable he is weak; if able but not willing, he is not good) with another: He wills to allow choice, and thus is both sovereign and good.

Or what if we posed this: Could God create a world in which there is free choice but only one choice and that to do good? The counter argument would be, “But that’s hardly an exercise of free will. It sounds more like angels.” Which in turn begs the question, is there something God cannot do? Can he make a world in which humans have the freedom to choose for themselves, but only allow one choice in their choosing? Logic disagrees. So there is something God cannot do which is to be self-contradictory.

We do know that being made in his image – imago Dei – we are wired with choice. Augustine, 4th Century theologian put it this way:

“Such is the generosity of God’s goodness that He has not refrained from creating even that creature which He foreknew would not only sin, but remain in the will to sin. As a runaway horse is better than a stone which does not run away because it lacks self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which sins by free will than that which does not sin only because it has no free will.”

God, who is both all-powerful and good, gave human will space to choose good or evil. Keep in mind that the biblical story describes our human parents in a state of innocence, not perfection, and it is within their innocence they made their choice to obey either their Creator or evil. Philosopher Alvin Planting sums up the heart of the argument: “God can create a more perfect universe by permitting evil.”

A second path of this theodicy begins with the Hebrew Scriptures as we search for an explanation of God’s dealing with evil. Here a narrative of people, events, choices, interventions and consequences answer to evil. Beginning with creation we learn of the Divine and human, its subsequent unraveling of relationship and generations of disasters interspersed occasionally with flashes of brilliance and goodness.

Here, let me insert a comment on the notion of evil itself. 20th century wisdom tended to discount evil as real and substantive, making it an effect (what happens to someone) rather than its own reality (what causes something to happen). Instead dysfunction and brokenness in life and society, it was reasoned, was due to many factors – social decay, chemical imbalances, genetic malfunctions, hormonal roller coasters, and the explanations go on. Surely much of what we know today as medical and psychological was in the past categorized as evil. Even so, American psychotherapist, Scott Peck, an atheist came to Christian faith in part because he saw a larger force at work in some patients, a factor he called “evil” which he outlines in People of the Lie.

We feel the tension in the Divine’s offering of freedom, sometimes taken and creatively managed, but most often dissipated by greed, anger and lust. Abraham, father of both Jews and Arabs, accepted the promise to beget a nation, yet lied about his wife to an Egyptian Pharaoh and distrusting the promise of a son, bred another and in the end was called on to sacrifice his son, ending with two people forever at loggerheads with each other, as Israel and Gaza demonstrate.

We see in many stories a maneuvering of human will to exercise freedom, at times leading to doing good but often exploring the deep places of moral depravity, all the while wrapped in fig leaves to camouflage the Divine from knowing.

How then does God wrestle with his choice to give humans freedom to be good or bad? The constant double thread woven through the old and new Testaments promise presence – God is with you – and promises of future – the coming Redeemer who will recompose the human heart and destroy cosmic forces of evil.

Jesus of Nazareth fills out that narrative – he enters as king of creation and child in a stable. The fusion of Divine and Human – we call it “incarnation” – brings together the two and in course of his mandate in death asks what parents of Newtown asked last week: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

And his answer? I’ve come so you might have life, with abundance. Evil – the prince of this world (John 16:11) – is defeated and will be no more. While the good of God wrestles yet with evil, the triumphant Easter morning declaration of Jesus rising declares that evil, an earthly constituent, is defeated. The Christian hope puts the finality of that defeat in the future, but in faith, that too is assured.

The arguments of logic are feeble at best. Yet they frame a wider picture of our world in which God gives us the right to choose. For parents in Connecticut, Syria or Afghanistan, that won’t fill the emptiness of a child gone. But it reminds us that each has the right to make choices. The cause(s) of the killing rampage need not go unaddressed. We can rise the next day and make changes for good.

The promise is thus: in the midst of suffering, Jesus of Nazareth lived under the strains and burden of evil. Twenty children in his village of Bethlehem were killed by a ruling mad man, within months of his birth. Violence he understands. Then it was through cruelty of death and breaking out in resurrection that evil was overcome. So in today’s moment, we find comfort knowing that death is not all there is to dying. One only needs to listen to the songs and words of the many funerals in Newtown to know that the promise of life, free from evil, is really, just around the corner.

Bstiller_outsideBrian C Stiller

Global Ambassador

The World Evangelical Alliance

December 2012

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Fill Your Life with Resplendent Goals

December 2012

As the year recedes, may you begin to gather your thoughts of the loving kindnesses that have been given you in 2012. For what more powerful recollections can we focus upon than those of the many times the Lord’s grace has taken form for us through the loving intercession of one of our kind?

Even though these human, grace-filled moments have no doubt been many for each of us in the year passing, most all of the people of the world lie outside the bounds of our lives.  Have you ever looked at a stranger on a crowded street and marveled, “I will never see this person again—what truth am I missing in that loss?” We may have to miss the details of his/her soul’s perspective, then, but we know that that man or woman passing by embodies all manner of dreams and aspirations.

Many people are of means, but want more.  Some do not possess material wealth and seek much more–or seek little.  But each hopes in equal measure to be treated kindly. Remember to pray daily for all souls, living and deceased, as they are strangers in name and necessity only. And so, on to this year’s message,   Fill Your Life with Resplendent Goals.

Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939“With the spirit of her people who would not know defeat, even when it stared them in the face, [Scarlett] raised her chin. . . .”

“I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. . . . After all, tomorrow is another day.”

–Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936)

Scarlett O’Hara may have been the spoiled daughter of a privileged family. But she was also a survivor, an individual of great resilience. For many around the world, being a survivor is all too familiar. Margaret Mitchell, Scarlett’s creator, observed that in every upheaval, “Some people survive, others don’t. What qualities are in those that fight their way through triumphantly that is lacking in those [who] go under?”  When Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind, she first composed the final scene, then wrote the 1,000+ pages of events leading up to it.

Perhaps she realized that to survive in dire times, we need to retain the hope that the future is open and thus can bring better times. In some ways, Scarlett was a seer. And an optimist, a particularly American type!  She understood that our world exists exactly in the ways we manifest it— literally mind over matter! She had the courage to believe that if her tomorrow should unfold, she had the grit to manifest a new and brighter reality—and that the manifestation would take place on her own land, Tara. While she might not be able to control all that had occurred and that would, she had control of how she perceived the state of her life. That landscape of perception then goes on to make a reality we actually live in, day to day.

How we dialogue with life’s tenses is related to how we perceive the future, but even more tricky is how we regard the past and how we think it best to regard the past—that vast “place” bathed in golden, yet sometimes darkened tones.  Some folks attempt to salve their fears of present and future by “living in the past.”  What a contradiction in terms–for who can live in a state that doesn’t exist? A state nowhere on planet Earth, not in the Maine woods, not Inner or Outer Mongolia, not Murmansk or Tierra del Fuego! As one of great wisdom notes: It’s OK to look back, just don’t stare.

People who long to live in the past are cursing the present. It’s akin to thinking that a departed neighbor still lives next door. Gazers backward fail to understand that the essence of suffering means wanting the present to be different from what it is. There may come a time very late in life when present and future radiance is reduced to shadows, but a third party cannot be deputized to illuminate our choice to live in the here and now; we only enhance life’s plights if we jettison our free will, setting it precariously on the edge of the nightstand .

Through God’s infinite mercy we may be granted additional “present moments,” for surely the healthiest place to be is in the present. Yet staying mainly there is not always easy. We can find support for doing so in what we’ve weathered before and what we hope the future holds, but only if we recognize that hope is not a passive state of mind.  Hope requires the will and the way to make the future unfold in the ways we . . . well, ways we hope it will.

Life’s burdens, however, sometimes blot out our seeing much to be thankful for.  At any one time, it is true we see only a small measure, a snapshot of our true bounty–the blessings given in abundance.  The famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson told James Boswell, his biographer, that gratitude needs to be cultivated. For gratitude is, after all, a trait and a way of behaving.  As such, it must be learned and practiced, like putting a napkin in your lap at the table and not singing while you eat.  If you aren’t in some ways grateful for aspects of this moment, why do you think the future will be magically transformed into a more hospitable abode?

Scarlett’s resilience gave her the power to bring a sense of promise to what was to come. Joel Osteen, an author and senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, calls it “staying in the game,” having the faith to know that if we persevere, we can fashion a new beginning every day. Some think such advice is corny, but do this if you will. Think of someone that you really admire–a friend or family member or a global leader such as Nelson Mandela or the Dali Lama or a person that history venerates, such as Abraham Lincoln. What is common to most all of them is that they stayed in the game.

I have a dear friend who is a consultant and speaker. Her business has grown greatly in the last year.  We met for lunch recently and I congratulated her. She chuckled and said “Yep, it only took me ten years to become an overnight success.”  She understands that when it comes to engineering a successful life, we are always at ground zero!  And that the term “engineering” is just a metaphor for what we’d like to be able to apply to the progress of our lives.  Help is needed to succeed, but before you look around for help, you need to turn inward for strength and faith to stay the course, as my friend did. It also helps to be infected with a chronic case of self-confidence and optimism, both of which require a healthy imagination.

The problem is that sometimes the future arrives in ways that don’t favor our aspirations. Our situation sometimes changes in nasty and surprising ways. Nassim Nicholas Taleb - The Black Swan 2 Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about events that are highly consequential but unexpected–occurrences he calls “Black Swans.”  Taleb believes that history demonstrates that no forecasting tool regardless of its sophistication can predict such events. Rather, what is needed is to be prepared to weather—perhaps even flourish in–times of dramatic change. Coming through adversity often results in a far healthier outcome than we expect.  “We all know that the stressors of exercise are necessary for good health,” Taleb writes.  “But people don’t translate this insight into other domains of physical and mental well-being.” In modern times, he adds, “We are obsessed with comfort and cosmetic stability, but by making ourselves too comfortable and eliminating all volatility from our lives,” we make our bodies and souls “fragile.”

We also need to recognize the difference between our dreams and visions. My dear friend Brian Stiller explains it this way, “A dream catches my interest; it is a fantasy fabricated of self-interests but not that which drives my life. A vision is compelling, that which absorbs my thinking and is linked to capacity.”  Brian tells this story: “A fawning fan of the pianist Paderewski gushed after a concert, ‘Sir, I’d give my life to play like that.’ To which Paderewski replied, ‘I did.’”  (Find a Broken Wall, Castle Quay Books, 2012)

Sacred LegacyNative American cultures believed that the way to find oneself and the intended direction of one’s life required a focus on the spirit life and the acquisition of the power of perception. Such a journey often took the form of a “vision quest.” In the magnificent book Sacred Legacy–Edwin S. Curtis and the North American Indians, Joseph Horse Capture, a member of the A’ani (Gros Ventre) people of Central Montana, writes, “On the plains, it has been said that a person starts to gain an understanding of this world as he or she approaches the age of forty, reinforcing the idea that spirituality is a lifelong learning process.” Visions might embrace dreams and songs.  Dreams may include appearances of supernatural helpers. Appearances of such helpers indicate divine or supernatural favor that the believer could call upon in times of distress. In a similarway, when we, too, find ourselves in dire circumstances, angels may intercede for us at precisely the right moment.

Martin Amis, one of England’s greatest living novelists, mused that “Perhaps the world isn’t getting worse, but it is incontrovertibly getting less innocent.” Elsewhere I’ve read that “Innocence gets harder to hold onto as the world gets older, as it accumulates more experience, more mileage, and more blood on the tracks.” True, but don’t most days start with a sense of innocence?  And even its cousin, humor?  I can remember being in an elevator one morning when a colleague asked, “How is your day going?”  “Great!” I responded. “So far they haven’t laid a hand on me.”  Want to improve on your remaining days?  Try to keep innocence and humor with you a little longer each day!

As adults, we make mistakes and hearts are injured, making it difficult to hold onto our innocence and sense of the sacred in all things everywhere and at all times. After that, it’s not always easy to pick the right navigational beacons that life does set out for us. Yet we can hope that the future holds the opportunity to forgive another and to seek redemption. Thankfully love comes in many forms, but there is none more powerful than forgiveness and redemption. Never forget, we are given a choice as to who we like–how we select life’s pals. I believe that we lose our way not when we lose our sense of innocence but when we are not mindful of the significance of human choice. But we are seldom given a choice as to who we love. That feels preordained, one of the soul’s mysteries.

We are wondrous creatures.  In fact, according to Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, we were born to be good to each other. He has learned that when we show compassion to someone, our nervous system files away a remembrance of what we did.  Keltner calls it “common humanity.” In our state of common humanity we are each uncommonly unique.  This summer, while walking in the Wyoming woods, Jean and I came upon a small field of wildflowers.  I marveled at the perfection of each blossom!

But would their nature have been any different if I had not noticed and spoken of the excellence of their creation?  Of course not.  We each grasp onto any words of praise–any indication of a job well done, in order to validate the worth of our existence.  But with or without any such affirmations, are we not like each of the flowers? Perfect in His eyes?  The perfection of The Lord is beyond dispute and were we not created in his image?  That we are creatures of immeasurable worth is beyond question. And that is an article of fact and of faith that we must each take into every day on this sphere and for all eternity.

Have you ever wondered what paradise will look like?  I haven’t a clue but it must be in all ways perfect.  The Kingdom of Heaven—Paradise–is the celestial harbor where Our Father first grants us the faculty to comprehend the magnitude of His love for each of us.  And there is one more thing–I am certain it is a very big place.  The creator of the universe thinks big! And that leads to another lesson for each of us.

The Lord wants us to dream big–so that we don’t live life small.  So that we live lives filled with joyous curiosity.  For those tomorrows that hopefully await us, He prays that we don’t inhabit the outskirts of our existence but rather that we travel through the broadest possible vistas of the opportunities life offers. He hopes we pay homage to the glory of our creation by fervently seeking what lies ahead. For what else is a greater adventure?

bertrand_arthur_william_russell_643534724And yet, as the Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell enjoyed reminding friends, there are some among us who may never appreciate the wonder that the future may provide: “The late F.W.H. Meyers asked a man at dinner what he thought would happen when he died.  The man tried to ignore the question; but on being pressed, replied, ‘Oh well, I suppose I shall inherit eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn’t talk about such an unpleasant subject.’”

As you read this letter, a small measure of the future has materialized!  Yes, and isn’t how that happens a magical process? So my final bit of advice to the dinner guest who did not want to consider what the future might bring, even if it included a ticket to paradise, and to all of you, my friends: Never postpone doing anything that may bring you joy! Not because death awaits all of us, but because the Lord intended joy to be the state of mind and body and soul wherein we live each day.

With love and blessings, your friend,

Sandy

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When You Make the Touchdown, Take One Small Step over to the Ref, Modestly Handing Him the Football

I recently read an article about the “no-celebration” policy of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. In post-millennial professional football, when a player scores, he typically responds as if he’d also just jammed his fingers into an electric socket. His on-field display looks like a cross between a scene from Flashdance and a man trying to relieve his sudden-onset neck spasm. Other players see their touchdown as the perfect opportunity to display their undergarments, appropriately decorated with some less-than-iconic message.

When a player engages in excessive celebration of these sorts, the league may also impose a fine. Imagine having to police the very public conduct of adult professional athletes! But these “sticks” are not the only “motivators” being used to retrain the adults involved; there’s a “carrot” in play, too. To wit: after he makes a goal, if a Jaguar player, an impeccable sportsman, hands the football to the referee without any shenanigans or self-display, the head coach makes a contribution to a charity, and the team matches the gift.

When I talk around the country on the observed attributes of great leaders, I first speak to humility. In fact, I see humility as the sire of all other virtues–the key ingredient that attracts any one of us to follow another and to carry thoughts of that person in our memory with a sense of respect—and sometimes with reverence. But remember, humility is a learned trait, not an inherent quality of man. We aren’t born with a humble gene. Rather humility must be learned, then practiced daily.

As I tell audiences, when I see a player go into end-zone gyrations, my first thought is, “That man must be surprised that he scored!” It looks as though he, presumably a leader and therefore a humble man, thought the chance of his scoring a touchdown was as remote as winning the Powerball lottery—at present up around the vertiginous payout of $500 million. One of those seven-million-to-one opportunities to hit pay dirt! And he did it.

Think also what effect such antics have on the other team. If the offensive player made a great play to score but then hits the silly button in his frontal lobe, the one that turns “offensive” to “offending,” about all the opponent will remember is the anger he felt at witnessing this opponent’s graceless antics. On the other hand, if the player simply hands the ball to the referee, his opponents will have a different take on what occurred–they will likely focus on the opponent’s talent and determination—“Wow! That guy is good,” they’ll think. They will respect the other side or at least offer up begrudged admiration.

Never forget: When you admire an opponent, you also fear him. And that type of fear is a far more healthy and appropriate motive for playing good football than feeling ridicule for an opponent’s witless, immature dancing in the end zone. Dancing that jealously and selfishly sucks up all the attention of the 80,000 spectators thereabouts. And then, too, feeling ridicule well up in yourself for someone who may, indeed, deserve it does little but demean the entire contest and certainly all the other people involved. No one feels the cheer of high energy and good spirits at the end of a game marred in that way.

Just think what it would have looked like if, on July 20, 1969, at around 10 p.m. EDT, Neil Armstrong, as he stepped down onto the moon, started dancing like a man possessed , doing back flips (which are pretty easy to do on the moon!), and otherwise attracting Earthlings’ electronic attention from every continent to notice him, Neal, personally? Instead, he became a global hero when as a steely-nerved U.S. pilot he made “one giant leap for mankind” with the first step onto the moon, putting the emphasis where it belonged, making that first lunar step on behalf of mankind, and rightly so. What a guy—modest, humble, and courageous at once!

Probably the greatest hitter in major league history was Ted Williams. When the “Splendid Splinter” hit a home run, he simply lowered his head as he circled the bases. Perhaps he understood that he would be facing that pitcher again! He may have said to himself, “Hitting a homer off a major league pitcher is hard enough without giving him the added reason to despise me for reveling in what I just did. Besides, the fans and the pitcher know it’s a home run, so is there really a need to put an exclamation point on it?”

My friends, remember this: truly humble individuals display a quiet, self-contained certitude in all they do. So when you do something outstanding, look like you have been there before. And, as a leader, surely you have been, right?

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Celebrate Successes Already Yours This Thanksgiving Day

 I just read an article, “Companies Redefine Success.”  The reporter tells us that companies are not only presenting the usual financial information in annual reports, but are including “non-traditional” ways they measure success.  Wow! That’s an idea we could all consider, particularly with Thanksgiving upon us.

Most families have traditions concerning the Thanks giving holiday.  As my wife Jean comes up with most of the good ideas in our clan, for a number of years she has asked each person around our Thanksgiving table to name a few things for which he or she is most thankful.  Declarations of gratitude can be a powerful practice.

And have you ever kept a gratitude journal?  Studies show that people who write down daily several things for which they are grateful are better off than most–both physically and emotionally.  They have fewer ailments and their emotional well-being improves dramatically. Apparently, it really works as a way of defining their success to themselves every day, keeping their blessings right at the top of their consciousness, right where they ought to be.

Unless our wiring is a little tangled, we are thankful for the emotional radiance that accompanies success.  There is no question that we learn from mistakes and failures, but it’s difficult to be thankful for what befalls us – particularly when the dark shroud of failure first consumes our consciousness.  In that sullen state of mind, we may fail to recognize all sorts of non-traditional successes that germinate from apparent missteps.

Understand, I am not suggesting that you should be thankful for the ability to twirl a plate on a stick; unless, of course you’re a circus performer, and then that gratitude is well placed.   Nope, it’s the day-to-day victories we incorrectly catalogue as commonplace, not worthy of celebration, that are escaping our notice and thus are being “wasted” in their power to raise our sense of self worth.  Yet they are on every hand, at all times.  Our job is to notice them.  I believe this misreading of miracles occurs because most of us have been saturated with “Hollywood” notions of success.  In the make-believe world of TV and movies, success looks narrowly apportioned, a golden gift exclusively given to influential power brokers, those men and women rich beyond all measure or exuding a James-Bond-like mystique.  In that venue everyone has a beautiful wife and a handsome husband – no need to explore their hearts and souls – physical beauty equates with real success.

Actually, it’s an irrefutable truth that happiness seldom attaches to those attributes.  OK, physically attractive people can be happy, but that one gift is never enough.  It’s a fact that folks who were depressed before they won the lottery are usually just as depressed six months after the guy delivering the four-foot check turns from their door.  Why?  Because what causes someone to be depressed is seldom caused solely by a lack of material wealth.  Sure, we all need to feel secure – that we can care for ourselves and our families – but Tinsel-Town levels of wealth is never a cure-all.

My life prescription is simple. Recognize that happiness is a continuum of successes not always garbed in ermine and cloth of gold. We need to define, maybe even to unearth or uncover, these successes to ourselves, so that we come to realize that ours is a worthy life, one that’s well lived. And yes, that last phrase was written in the present tense!  For which we give thanks, too.

So here is a drill to recognize non-traditional successes for your own personal “annual report.”  First, think about the people in your life–lots of them, not just those that circle your core existence.   Then uncover some of the neat things that exist in each of those relationships. Do this same drill with other aspects of your life, your work life, your charitable and civic organizations, your church.  In seeking out the positives, cut yourself some slack!  Make a list, but don’t check it twice for the myriad miniscule zingers you’ve emoted in the last year or the minor moments you didn’t show up or follow through perfectly.  Remember, all we need are memories of small victories, of moments the light came on.

To prime the pump, here are a few examples of successes worthy of thanks and gratitude:

  • I am on speaking terms with most all of my relatives. (Sometimes that’s a tough one!)
  • I genuinely look forward to being with my family on Thanksgiving. 
  • I talked ___[ Name ]___ through a difficult personal problem and listened closely to his/her thoughts. (You get a lot of points for listening, as well.)
  • I have chosen and meet regularly with a wise mentor.
  • I find work rewarding and my co-workers genuinely concerned about my success and well-being.
  • My children like me. (You get double points for that one–love is tribal, affection or “like” is huge.)

Here is my final piece of advice – If you want to generate lots of non-traditional yet substantial successes, start writing personal affirmations and forget about New Year’s resolutions.  Thanksgiving is a far more relevant holiday to find ways to care for yourself than New Year’s, as it’s presently constituted, could ever be.  Can you recall making a New Year’s resolution where you pledged to do something that was nurturing for yourself or someone else?  Most resolutions either compel some action we don’t find pleasant or require us to cease doing something we enjoy.

Is that any way to start a new year?  Rather, on November 22, 2012, create affirmations that will bring joy into your life.  One way to get started is to learn from others.  You’ll feel a lot better when you actually do something to help yourself. Here is a great way to start:  Go to my wife Jean’s website, www.creatingpositiveaffirmations.blogspot.com.  You’ll find scores of great affirmations and some wonderful advice as well.   Try it and I’ll bet you’ll find much to be thankful for.

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