Sunday, November 29, 2009

Forever Grateful

I love how life expands and contracts over time. I meet new people. I get myself into new situations. I continually expose myself to new experiences. I like some of the new experiences so much that I want to keep them alive forever, recreating them over and over. Other experiences fall into the first-and-last-time category. Once is more than enough. Never again is perfect.

But let me tell you: I do not believe in the concepts of "forever" and "never" (or "one time only"). I only use these words to express my enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm for an experience in the moment. In the end they say nothing about what I will actually do in the future.

Enthusiasm Passing By
The other day we were talking about the first records that we bought. I remember vividly that I was twelve years old and bought an LP of the Dolly Dots after being introduced to them by a new friend named Tanja. She and her older sister had been to a live concert and were true fans. They had all the records and their rooms were covered with posters of these women dressed in bright neon colors.

Inspired by their excitement, my love of dancing and my love of good music to dance to, I dove headlong into the music. With my very limited English skills, I tried to learn all the songs by heart, listening to the record over and over and over. This also made a deep impression on my brother who still can (perhaps not so fondly) remember the persistence with which I replayed the songs. I knew that I would love this music forever!

But over time my taste in music changed and the Dolly Dots were replaced in my teenage years by music like 10cc, Spandau Ballet, the Doors, Neil Young and Joe Cocker. I changed, my environment changed, my choices changed, and I moved on to other things in life. Goodbye Dolly Dots!

Grateful or Not
When I was eleven years old, the school system started to teach me English, French and German. At that age, I did not even understand Dutch at an advanced level; mixing it with with other languages was very confusing. I would use French words in English, German words in French etc. I hated these classes. And I especially wasn’t fond of my English teacher who was a hothead and seemed not to understand that kids like me were not following the class. I got low grades for my language classes, and I never learned to like my English teacher.

When I moved to the USA, I started to be really grateful for my education in English. Even though I still had a lot to learn, the basics given to me by this teacher were enough to make myself understandable. It was also a great basis from which to expand my skills. In Cambridge, I took English classes designed for foreigners and I am still improving my skills today.

At this point in my life, I am grateful to be able to express myself in this blog. From that perspective, you could say that I am grateful for the teachers I have had. But if you were to ask me for which teacher in English I am most grateful, my answer would not be the grade school teacher or my first teacher here in the US. The teachers for whom I am most grateful are people whose use of the English language has deeply inspired me, writers and musicians. In fact, right now, the single person for whom I am most grateful is my husband who is an inspired force in inspiring me to consistently develop my skills to a higher level.

Grateful Forever
I make up that most of us have experiences comparable to mine above. You have been really excited about something and then it passed, or things you didn’t appreciate became more appreciated over time as you gained perspective. You might even start to do gratitude for things you never even considered to be gratifying.

I think this makes us humans very interesting. We change our minds, our thoughts and our feelings regularly over time, and in some instances can go completely from one side of the scale to the other.

This is why I do not believe in 'forever' and 'never'. Too often my 'never' becomes 'sometimes' which in turn can become 'forever'. And of course, my 'forever' can slide right into 'never!' without much effort at all.

In the end, they both say nothing about what I will be doing in the future! They only say how I am feeling in the moment.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Obtuse by Design

Have you ever read the book, Surely, You're Joking Mr. Feynman?, Adventures of a Curious Character? It's a wonderful book written by Richard P. Feynman, a Nobel prize winning physicist who, among other things, worked on the Manhattan project (the world war two project that gave us the atomic bomb.)

I love the book because Feynman is so clear and unabashed in looking at how he and others operate. In one instance, he talks about participating as a pallbearer in the funeral of a "friend" he couldn't remember having known only to find out that he hadn't known him. Feynman had been mistaken for someone else and asked to participate in the "friend's" funeral. Not wanting to admit that he couldn't place the person who had died, he simply traveled to the funeral and participated.

No Physics in Brazil
At one point, Feynman traveled to Brazil as part of a US State Department sponsored exchange program in which American scientists spent a year abroad teaching in foreign universities. Feynman had wanted to learn Samba, so he thought it was a great idea.

As he read the physics textbook and interacted with the students, it became clear that the students were learning physics by memorizing it. When he asked questions as they had been phrased in the text book, the students would answer quickly and correctly. For example, were he to ask, "What is Brewster's Angle?", the students could respond correctly with something like "Brewster's Angle is the angle at which light reflected from a medium with an index of refraction is completely polarized."

However, if he were to ask the same question in terms of it's application or generically, they would be completely stumped. As the class that Feynman was teaching was the university's most advanced course in electricity and magnetism, and as the students had already taken many other classes, and as most of the students would themselves become teachers, Feynman became quite concerned about the future of physics in Brazil. What happens when the physics teachers themselves don't understand physics?

As Feynman pursued his concerns, he discovered that he was too late. At the end of the academic year, he was asked by the students to give a talk about his experiences teaching in Brazil. To a crowded lecture hall that included students, professors, government officials and even the author of the physics text, Feynman announced, "The main purpose of my talk is to demonstrate to you that no science is being taught in Brazil!"

I'll let you read the book to get the details, but quickly paraphrased, Feynman determined that the root cause for this phenomenon could be traced to the motivation for learning physics. The government and academic institutions had invested heavily in physics education because "civilized countries" have strong programs in physics and because they wanted to be second to none in education. The students were motivated by getting degrees and prestigious positions. No one was motivated by the utility of science, or its contribution to the improvement of the human condition, etc.

Two of a Kind
Yesterday morning, I was talking to Mark K and my dad, Lee, both of whom had come to our place for Thanksgiving. As we talked, I began noticing remarkable similarities between Mark and Lee.

Both Mark and Lee are quite intelligent by traditional standards, Mark with a degree from University of Michigan and Lee, MIT. Both Mark and Lee struggle with "addictions", Mark with food, and Lee with alcohol. Both associate their lapses in sobriety with episodes of depression. Both, attribute their depression to boredom (yes, boredom). Both, look outside themselves for solutions. Both answer question about themselves with references to what others have said or written. Both, thankfully, seem not to tire (or at least not quickly tire) of my questions and my "annoying" ability to structure concepts in real time and then argue them.

At one point, Lee stopped me to triumphantly explain that the American Medical Association (AMA) considers alcoholism to be a disease. I had been talking about our ability to address challenges like addiction, etc. through changes to our belief systems and how changing our beliefs changes our minds (physically and figuratively). Lee decided that I was full of crap and that he could prove it by his AMA reference.

For me, Lee's statement felt like a stack of unexpected Christmas presents. It was so wrong in so many ways and so telling about how Lee thinks that I simply didn't know where to start. I thought about how doctors nowadays are actually starting to recognize how artificial the mind/body distinction is and how any AMA reference to something other than that must be outdated. I thought about asking, "What do you mean by 'disease'?"... or, "Why do you believe it simply because it showed up in an AMA article?"... or, "OK, let's say it's a disease, so what?"

And then it occurred to me. Lee is an electrical engineer and a mathematician. He's a scientist who learned empirical methods. He likes to solve problems and spent his career doing so. I can remember him telling me as a kid that doctors have terrible diagnostic skills because they are taught through memorization. They learn names for things, they read articles on things and studies have shown that they tend to be able to diagnose only those maladies that they've either seen before or read about. If it's something truly new or something that is presented in a really different way, they're usually stumped.

With his AMA reference, Lee had switched sides! He was now in the learn-by-memorizing camp! So, with so many potential questions, I asked him about when he'd changed his opinion on the analytic and diagnostic skills of doctors. He replied, "We're done! I don't want to talk about this any more!"

A Memorization Pandemic
This morning, as I thought about Mark and Lee and their seemingly endless struggles with food and alcohol, it occurred to me that it might all go back to what Feynman wrote about physics in Brazil. Mark and Lee have each participated in three to four times as many personal growth programs as either Iris or I have. Mark and Lee have both benefited significantly from those programs. Yet, in many instances, Mark and Lee don't seem to understand the underlying concepts and principles.

When I say, "Don't understand", I'm not saying that I disagree with their interpretation of the concepts; I'm saying that Mark and Lee can't explain what they themselves interpret the concepts to mean or how they apply.

Then it occurred to me that Mark and Lee may represent a pervasive challenge, not just in regard to the philosophy of happiness, but generally. Could it be that any number of institutions have become completely bereft of understanding? Consider the US Congress or any number of failed financial institutions or the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or the AMA or the NEA (National Educational Association). When I read or hear different things said by representatives of these and other organizations, I often think to myself, "Hmmm... they don't seem to understand what they're talking about! What they're saying feels like a cut-and-paste job based on articles and reports written by others. There are gaps in their logic."

Feynman eventually concluded that no one in Brazil actually understood physics writing, "I knew the system was bad, but 100 percent--it was terrible!"

Could it be that we're experiencing this elsewhere?

Do You Understand?
I believe that there is a pervasive trend towards cut-and-paste thinking. Wikis. Sound bytes. Platitudes. Mottoes. Bumper stickers. Pop songs. So and so says... You name it.

I also believe that simply accepting cut-and-paste opinions, or adopting them as our own, dramatically limits us and how we address challenges.

Have you found yourself "stuck" in a particular challenge despite all that you've learned about the philosophy of happiness? It could be that you simply don't have an understanding of it.

The easiest way to tell is to find someone who is real stickler for clarity and specificity and explain the concepts to them. If you both walk away feeling satisfied, then you probably have an understanding of what you believe. If not, well...

Have you been making decisions in your life simply because of what you've read or heard the "experts" say? When provided an expert opinion on a challenge (financial, medical, automotive, educational), do you simply go with what you've been told assuming that it's above your head, or do you go for understanding?

What about your kids? Do the people who are teaching them understand what they're teaching, or did they read a book about it last summer? Are your kids learning through memorization?

If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend Mr. Feynman's book. It's a quick read. It's entertaining. It can really change how you think!

Friday, November 27, 2009

In control (part 2)

My first boyfriend grew up in what I would call a happy household. The parents were very happy together, and loved and supported their three children were possible. At the same time they also embraced other children like me and welcomed us into their family and lives. They were supportive of me when challenges arose, giving me a listening ear and support or questions when needed. They enjoyed the little things, and even though they had their own challenges, they shared their lives of love and laughter with me.

I grew up in what I would call an unhappy household. My parents had struggles in their relationship long before my brother or I were conceived.

In early memories I recall myself hiding on the stairs in the hallway after bedtime, because I heard my parents fighting. From experience I knew that when alcohol was involved, these fights would grow louder and louder and could grow into problem situations. I would listen to the flood of intense frustration, irritation and anger, knowing that there could be a moment that this would escalate into physical violence. I was the soldier at his post ready to run to my brother and call him out of bed to help me separate our parents.

I must have been five or six years old when I heard that the parents of my neighbor friend were divorcing. This was far from a regular happening those days and I remember that there were lots of discussions about it. Someone (I think it was the father of my friend) explained to me that in a divorce two parents decide to no longer live together because they are no longer happy together. This made so much sense to me that I went to my mom and asked her why she and daddy didn't divorce also!

My parents stayed together "for the children" until I was fourteen years old. Then my mom moved out and my brother and I stayed with my dad. This was a strange time. None of us could cook, my dad still came home drunk most of the time, and I remember our first Christmas together filled with emotions, lots of alcohol and lots of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Nina Simone. The music was played so loudly that the neighbors called the police.

I don't know exactly when it started, but while drunk my dad started to project his anger towards my mom onto me. I would get really scared and once had to lock myself up in my bedroom, while he was yelling from the other side. I told myself that this was unacceptable and that the next time this would happen, I would leave. The next time came long before I was fifteen years old. My dad chased me around the living room couch and up into my bedroom and then chased my brother with a piece of wood into his room, and I'm not sure but I seem to remember that he climbed out of his window over the roof to the neighbors house to protect himself.

Hidden behind the closed bedroom door, I made plans about what to do next. I waited until my dad left the house the next morning. Then I walked to the supermarket and walked back with an empty shopping cart. I filled this cart with my clothes, my music installation and other things I held dear and walked out of that door, deciding that this was the last time this would ever happen to me. I remember crying from relief and sadness while putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of my mom’s house. I did not know if she would be home and I did not know if her door would be open for me. She was there and she opened her door graciously and lovingly...

I turned fifteen. My mom had gone to school and graduated with great results. Then she found a job in a furniture store that she seemed to enjoy a lot. But slowly something started to change. She got more frustrated and started to have problems at work. I would come home after school to a seemingly normal home situation, but there would be little things that seemed "off".

For the longest time I could not put my finger on it. What was happening? For example: my mom take the pictures off the wall and placed them on the floor facing the wall. When I asked about it, she would laugh and say she was cleaning and that she had put them there. Another time I would come home and all my clothes would be pulled out of my drawers and be lying on the floor. She would explain that she had been looking for something special. My mom would start walking backwards though the living room and would stop and laugh when I would ask her why she was doing that. A little weird and I didn't understand...

Then my mom slid into full-blown psychosis and would sit with a knife on her bed at night too afraid to sleep. The next day, I decided to go to the doctor for my mom. He listened to me and then told me he could not help. I had to make an appointment and go to a special psychiatric department in another side of town. Say hello to healthcare and the child support system!

From the doctor I walked straight to this government-run department and asked to talk with someone. The people were very friendly and told me that they could come by and visit my mom, but that they could not come into the house uninvited. I told them that I would let them in. Say hello to adult responsibilities!

They came by; I let them in; my mom sent them away refusing help. I will skip my mom's response to me...

I lived with my mom until I was eighteen years old. I finished high school, and went to college while my mom went though different periods of psychoses and better times where she tried to put her life back on track. While I never got support from any of the healthcare related organizations, different families supported me by offering a bed, a meal and love when needed. They invited me into happy households and gave me the opportunity to experience the things I would otherwise never have experienced.

Why do I tell you all this? Lee, Teflon's dad, asked me at different occasions during the past few days: "Do you believe that we are in control at all times? Are you in control when you get raped? Are you in control while we are fighting in Afghanistan? Are you in control while Obama is doing nothing in the While House?"

I told him: listen, I do not believe we are in control over situations. Things happen. We do our part, and others do their part and together we create the situation. I could not control my dad's drinking habit; I could not control my mom's psychoses; I could not force the healthcare system to help my mother. However, I could take care of myself by opening myself to other possibilities and taking steps to change the situation and embracing what would come my way. I believe you can choose your happiness and actions during a challenge; over these you are always in control.

Only tonight I realized that while the philosophy of happiness has taught me that I can choose happiness in any situation, I figured out myself at a way younger age that every challenge includes valuable wonderful opportunities. Life for me is not about keeping out challenges or even fixing the challenges; it's about going with the flow. Letting go of control, I can grasp new opportunities that might otherwise have eluded me.

My wish for you is to let go of controlling your situation and to take control of your happiness and your actions. By doing this, I believe that you'll open yourself up to new possibilities that can't be found otherwise.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I am my grandmother's granddaughter

On November 12, 2009, I experienced something I had never walked through before: the death of my grandmother, Ann Dixon.  She was 93 years old.  Of late, she constantly told us she was ready to move on in her eternal journey.  We would joking tell her that clearly it wasn't time, since she was still with us.  My uncle had a standing comment when he visited, "Mama, if you don't get you wish, I will see you next time."

Momsie (everyone's nickname for my grandmother) was a giant of a woman. She charted the course of her family from a poor, inner city community in Kingston, Jamaica, to the suburban residential area of Hope Pastures, Jamaica.  A woman who had not completed 8th grade, motivated children and grandchildren to have high school, college and graduate level education (my uncle Patrick even had 2 graduate degrees!)   She was a housekeeper, then a home-maker after having her children, yet she always found a way to have more than enough.  She was a dressmaker, a clothing designer, a culinary expert (the best black fruit cake ever), the ultimate entrepreneur.  Among her children and grandchildren are several business owners, culinary experts and artistic expressionists.  The very best black fruit cake is now done by my Aunty Joy, her daughter.

I have lived with Momsie (and in the latter years, she with me) for more than half of my life. Some days, I saw caring for her as an act of joyful service, not dependent on what she did or said.   Somedays, I took 'an eye for an eye'.  I was impatient and unkind with her, judging her for not being more patient and kind (go figure!). I'm glad that I have been pretty aware of these choices and took many other opportunities to be loving to her, even in the face of what I deemed to be her 'failings'.  After her passing, a very strange thing happened in my thinking!  Her 'failings' became transformed into strengths!  Her nagging became persistence and love, her sometimes 'insensitive' speech became a sign of her love and straight forwardness.

If, in a moment, I could do that mental switch, powered perhaps by hindsight, I can also have those thoughts in the present moment, in the face of the 'failings'.  Her passing reminded me that I could choose the most helpful beliefs in any moment, no matter what was happening.  The beliefs I chose in her passing supported other nurturing beliefs that I have and that help me really appreciate her gift to my life.

I experienced an increasing awareness of the persistent love she showed me and the rest of her family.  This helped me to see more clearly my own persistent love as something I modeled (perhaps unknowingly) from her.  In fact, much of what I like about how I engage my life and the world,  I credit to my grandmother.  She was an energetic, passionate, mover and shaker and so am I.  I am my grandmother's granddaughter.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Today, tell some people how (get specific) they have been a gift to your life.  Actually, do it everyday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Swine Flu of Happiness

As I sat on the couch tonight talking with my dad about his newly acquired hatred of African-American presidents who lie all the time (a hatred that is apparently shared by everyone at his assisted living center in Kentucky), and the seeming contradiction with his ostensible adherence to Christianity, I started thinking to myself, "Wow, I wonder what a good shot of gratitude would do for my dad and his cronies?"

That got me thinking about Thanksgiving.

I think that Thanksgiving is my favorite of holidays. Although potentially religious in nature (depending on whether or not the object of gratitude is some type of deity), the holiday is not deity dependent; we can direct our thanks towards God, or the "Universe", or towards other people, or we can simply feel grateful. Regardless of towards whom or what we direct our gratitude, I find that doing gratitude is always a happiness building experience.

Feeling Lucky?
When a teacher of the philosophy and I were working closely together on a daily basis, we would often discuss and playfully debate the object of our gratitude. Whenever he would tell me that I was 'blessed', I would reply with, "You mean, 'lucky'."

He would quickly correct me by explaining 'blessed' and the implications of the universe being benevolent and not random. I would respond with, "I know what you mean by blessed and its implications; I really meant to use lucky', as in disproportionately benefiting from random events or beating the odds."

It was always fun.

Of course, neither of us is correct when it comes to gratitude. Although many of us might consider gratitude to be a direct response or reaction to some event or person, gratitude is actually something that we do independently of cause or attribution. We can be grateful for anything and in any situation; it's something that we can choose or not choose.

If we take our ability to control our gratitude to "extremes", our gratitude may appear irrational to those around us, or even to ourselves. "How can you be grateful for this or that?" (Joy, this would be one of those non-questions you referred to in What Kind of Question is That?)

Rather than simply saying, "because I decided to feel grateful" or "because it feels good to be grateful", we often seek to justify or rationalize our gratitude by attributing it to either a higher power or beating the odds. But typically, the rationalization comes after the fact. In the end, gratitude is just something we do.

So then the question is, "Why Thanksgiving?"

Isn't that a curious question? I mean, when you get together with people for Thanksgiving, what's the point? I don't mean this flippantly; I simply mean, why are you doing it? Is it just vacuous tradition? What's your intention? Are you getting together to enhance your sense of gratitude? Are you doing it to express gratitude to those who are there? Are you fulfilling familial obligations? Looking for a meal? What are you doing?

As I think about it, for me (being an existentialist who doesn't carry out traditions for their own sake), there are three basic functions of Thanksgiving (doesn't 'function' sound cold and clinical):
  1. to make my experience of gratitude bigger by outwardly sharing it with others, and
  2. to allow others to bask in the glow of my gratefulness, and
  3. to bask in the glow of the gratitude of others.
Being grateful generally feels good; it's a short-cut to being happy. When I express my gratitude to others, I amplify it thereby making my happiness bigger.

Being grateful specifically is edifying to the object of my gratitude (assuming that the object is a living human that can experience my expression of gratitude).

Receiving gratitude feels great (when I allow myself graciously accept it.)

All of these great feelings are choices, but choices that come quite easily to most of us humans.

The Happiest Day of the Year
If you believe that gratitude is a shortcut to happiness (perhaps the best shortcut), then Thanksgiving should by definition be the happiest day of the year!

So, do you buy any of this? Is gratitude a shortcut to feeling happier? Does being grateful feel good? Is receiving gratitude edifying and uplifting?

Perhaps I'm preaching to the choir, but if you do buy into any or all of this, how will keeping these ideas at the forefront of your awareness affect your Thanksgiving?

I know that many of you don't live in the US, but since we're talking about what ought to be the happiest day of the year you might want to join in. In fact, I've come to a decision. Sitting here at my official desk at the International Headquarters of Belief Makers blog in South Egremont, MA, USA, I've decided to formally declare Thursday, November 26, 2009 International Gratitude Expression Day.

iGed Terms and Conditions
To participate in International Gratitude Expression Day (aka, iGed), all you need to do is:
  1. Set a clear intention to actively, warmly and meaningfully express your gratitude to everyone you encounter (especially those for you whom you often feel less than grateful)
  2. Set a clear intention to graciously receive and indulge in the gratitude of others
  3. Warm up for the event by actively keeping these intentions at the forefront of your awareness all day today
  4. Invite others to join you in celebrating International Gratitude Expression Day
  5. Express and receive gratitude!
  6. Whenever you find yourself or someone doing something other than gratitude, remind yourself of your intentions or share them with the other person
Note on on item #1: backhanded expressions of gratitude such as, "I want to thank you for showing me what bastards men can be!" don't count.

The Swine-Flu of Happiness
Imagine what might happen if we all decided to do this. What if gratitude is more contagious than the H1N1 virus! What if everyone on the planet were just 1% happier on average? It could be the happiness equivalent of global warming; all the unhappiness icebergs might melt and we'd be drowned in a sea of happiness! Watch out North Holland!

So, won't you join me for International Gratitude Expression day? You can start right now by expressing gratitude to the first person you see! All you people in Kentucky, start expressing how grateful you are for Obama! All you people in Great Barrington, start expressing your gratitude for Bush!

Get out there on Facebook and invite others to join you! Send email to all you Linked-In contacts. Let's make this thing big! Or, if you like, I'd love for you to share an expression of gratitude to anyone you like in the comments below!

Happy iGed!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Miss Management Pageant

One of the guys I used to work with would annually conduct what he called the Miss Management Pageant, an annual ceremony in which employees honored the company's worst managers and their accomplishments. I don't recall all the award titles, but one example is the Forgotten, But Not Gone award.

One day, while talking with my dad about the Miss Management Pageant, he mentioned that he'd always found bad managers to be really great teachers. For some reason, when someone is an excellent manager and leader, it can be quite difficult to see what exactly they're doing that is making them great. On the other hand, bad managers are easy to spot and their dubious methods easy to articulate. My dad would also add, "Only fools learn from their own mistakes."

So, in honor of the Miss Management Pageant and in recognition that we can often learn more from what doesn't work than from what does work, I decided to write down a top-ten list of bad management techniques.
  1. Micro-manage
    The most common way to let people know you're in the running for the Miss Management crown is to micro manage. Micromanagement is easy, fun and a great way to distract yourself from all those nasty, difficult challenges that you never had to deal with before you were a manager.

    If broader management responsibilities start to interfere with your micromanagement activities, hire an assistant! If he's any good at all, he'll start to make "important" decisions for you. If they work out, you can take all the credit; if not, you can blame him.

  2. Aspire to nano-management
    Nowadays, micromanagement skills are just table stakes in the highly competitive Miss Management Pageant. To be a real contender, you'll need to expertly hone those micromanagement skills and become a nano-manager.

    Unlike micro-managers who merely obsess on irrelevant and meaningless details, nano-managers develop such strong commitment to form over function that they often completely discard the function part.

    For example, if an employee walks into your office really hot-under-the-collar and begins telling you about a pressing problem, make sure that you focus exclusively on the her inappropriate attitude and manner. A great nano-manager will segue from these to other topics such as her attire or her manner in other meetings. With any luck, she'll never get to her point. If it turns out that there had been actual substance to her complaint, you can always say that no one ever told you about it.

  3. Never hire people whose skills and capacity exceed your own
    The easiest way to create an organization that is completely out of control is to hire people who are smarter and more talented than you are. If you really want to put a cap on your organization and keep things in check, make sure that you're always the smartest person in the room.

  4. Let poor performers make hiring decisions
    If you sometimes find it difficult to pass on really smart and talented people, then let your worst performers start to do the interviewing and hiring. Surely their personal insecurities and biases will cause them to completely overlook the strongest candidates. And even if they don't, what powerful, talented dynamo would accept a job working with such weak people.

    An additional benefit of having your worst people do the hiring is that it keeps them from screwing up other more important tasks.

  5. Offer strong performers raises, promotions and better assignment only when they threaten to quit
    Strong contenders for Miss Management awards know that paying people at different rates based solely on their skills, talents and contributions is a slippery slope. If you start paying your really good people more money or giving them special treatment, before you know it, everyone will want the same.

    Only resort to these extreme measures when your best people finally get fed-up and threaten to quit. If you find someone whose disparity between compensation and contribution is so great that you feel compelled to give them a bump in salary, control yourself and hold out until they've at least asked for it.

  6. Don't fire anyone, ever
    When you have an employee who simply isn't delivering, don't fire him. Firing people can be traumatic and can lead to all sorts of HR issues. Instead, transfer him to another organization. If no other organization will take him, give him a meaningless and irrelevant job where he can't hurt anything. If he refuses the meaningless and unimportant job, promote him.

    If you must fire him, put him on a "performance improvement plan" with benchmarks that you know he'll never make. To the best of your ability, never indicate your intentions.

  7. Blame your employees for things that go wrong
    If you're in a situation where you're called on the carpet for something that went wrong, blame someone on your team. Explain to your boss how the employee in question has really been a problem and how she has made this kind of mistake before. Nothing highlights mismanagement better than refusing to take responsibility for your own organization.

  8. Dismiss employees who criticize management decisions as being antagonists and not team players
    Nothing can ruin your morning coffee break quicker than an employee walking into the break room with an issue over a management decision. If you find it impossible to avoid one of these naysayers, then join him in his lament and blame "the company" or the "big wigs" at the top.

  9. Go with the advice of people you like
    When you think about it, who really wants to work with a bunch of smart, articulate, strongly opinionated people who seem to always win arguments. Before you know it, it becomes nearly impossible to defend or support your own ideas and plans. In some godawful instances, you might actually find yourself implementing a business plan that you don't agree with simply because these people are "good arguers!"

    The easiest way to avoid this kind of debacle is to hire, listen to and promote people like you, people with the same ideas and thought processes, people you enjoy being around.

  10. Rely on management reports to run your business
    The greats know that their most important tool is the management report. With management reports, you don't need to waste time talking to your employees in order to see what's going on.

    To make it into the big leagues, you'll need to isolate yourself and other managers from your employees (the troops). If you're a second or third level manager, consider creating a management wing or management floor far removed from the day-to-day activities of your staff. Insist that all your other managers move their offices to the management wing.
Ahh... I could go on and on an on... I hate to leave out such wonderful techniques such as:
- confusing personal aesthetics with quality
- assigning staff people to line jobs
- dismissing strong people because they're difficult to deal with
- avoiding conflict by never stepping in to resolve employee disputes
- demanding that employees respect the corporate hierarchy when communicating
- taking criticism and feedback personally
- allowing meetings to go wherever they will
- prioritizing internal meetings over customer meetings

The wonderful thing is that you don't even need to have a job to be in the running for Miss Management! You can apply these techniques or some variant in numerous situations from working with volunteer organizations to leading the church choir to dealing with your kids.

If you really, really want to win the Miss Management Pageant, start with just one or two of these techniques and you'll find that the rest come easily.

Don't be dismayed! If you consider what I've outlined above, you may find that you're already skilled in any number of these methods of mismanagement.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Go Fish

My seven year old daughter Aly loves to play the card game "go fish". It's a game where the players try to get the most matches by asking each other if they have a particular card and if they don't, they respond "go fish" and a card is chosen from the deck. Playing with Aly is extra fun because she likes to change the rules throughout the game. She is quite creative with her ever changing rules but one thing is always consistent, her rules ensure she wins. Aly and I played "go fish" a lot this weekend and I began to realize that Aly didn't particularly care about winning even though it was a clear intention of hers throughout the games. When I asked her about this she simply stated that "you are supposed to win, that's why you play".

Interesting belief.... As with most beliefs my children express, I began to think about how I was teaching this in our lives. I immediately thought of a recent comment I made about how I am not good at puzzles so I didn't want to play with them. This one recollection opened the flood gates and hundreds of examples of not doing things because I wasn't sure I would "win" came to mind. I realized that I am so focused on outcomes that I almost never enjoy things for the simple pleasure of enjoying them. This awareness is incredibly profound for me as I continue my journey of living a happy life. Before writing this blog, Aly, David and I had a blast making all the puzzles that David got for his birthday. I am still not very good at puzzles but we certainly laughed a lot!

Love to all,

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Self-absorbed Bastards Destroying Our Futures

Them's Gettin' Fired Words
One night, while out to dinner with our friend Paul from the Netherlands, Paul, in describing having attempted to connect with some people said, "But they never got back to me!"

When I asked him what he meant by that, he explained that he had called them and that they'd never returned his calls. When I asked him about how many times he'd called them, he said, "Once."

After a few more questions, I mentioned to Paul that, in past lives, I had fired people for just such a statement, i.e., "I called so-and-so, but he never got back to me!"

In each case, the firee had been assigned an important task that they had agreed to complete quickly and effectively. When asked about having completed the task, effecting a manner of earnestly having taken every possible action to accomplish it, they responded with this lamest of all excuses, or some variant like, "I sent him an email, but he never replied."

Paul seemed a bit dumbfounded that I would actually fire someone for something so trivial, but for me the words symbolize the epitome of victimhood and lack of ownership.

My management style has always involved recruiting strong people, setting the tone for what we want to accomplish, ensuring that they have the resources they need, and then giving them room to work. Doing this creates teams that can run circles around larger, more bureaucratic organizations, but it also puts your team in a position where any one of you can sink the boat. So, with the freedom and empowerment comes a lot of responsibility. Making mistakes is acceptable; not owning mistakes is not.

A keep-your-job response would look something like, "Hey, I called him once, but I didn't really put enough effort into tracking him down and connecting. I'll go right now and figure out a way to get this done!"

Many see firing someone as a terrible act performed by cold-hearted bastards who don't give a damn about people; I see not firing someone who is not owning up to their role on the team as a disservice to the rest of the organization (sorry about the double negative).

Destroying Our Future
Yesterday, I listened to a news report on the radio regarding the California Board of Regents deciding to increase student fees to cover a $1.2 billion state funding gap. The reporter spoke of large student gatherings protesting the 32% increase in fees. He played recordings of angry taunts from students repeatedly shouting at the regents, "Shame on you!"

He played interviews of teary students lamenting their helpless state and expressing righteous indignation at the Board of Regents for "destroying their futures and the future of California."

As I listened, I wondered, "Just how much money per year are we talking about here? Are these kids going to have to pony up another $10 thousand, another $20 thousand?"

Finally, after all the big numbers and large percentage gaps, I heard the actual dollar amount of the tuition increase, $2500 (twenty-five hundred dollars). I thought, "OK, $2500 is a lot of money for someone going to school, but it's not even close to future-destroying. It's like $50 a week. It's like an extra two to four hours waiting tables, or if you're really good, an extra one hour."

Then I thought, "Wow, California is going (or has gone) bankrupt and kids can still go to a University for $10 thousand per year! That's pretty amazing. What's up with these students! Have they become so entitled in their attitudes that everything that disrupts that entitlement is evil and insurmountable? God help us if they're the future!"

Well, I probably wasn't thinking that dramatically, but you get the point.

Now here's the kicker. At the end of the report, the reporter played a interview with one of the Regents who said, "These kids are blaming the wrong people; they should be marching in Sacramento, not Berkeley!"

Sigh... so according to the regent, the kids should all go march on the governor's office or the state senate (or whatever they have in California). You've got a basic situation in which there's not enough money to cover expenses; it makes sense that the primary beneficiaries of the services would help cover the gap, and even this regent is buying into the students' sense of entitlement and victimhood.

Cold-hearted Bastard
A friend of mine who recently divorced has subsequently had a rather rocky relationship with his two kids. Both are in college and both blame him for "ruining" their lives by divorcing their mother and "breaking up" their family.

My friend has been doing his best to connect with his kids, but can't seem to find any common ground. For them, he's an uncaring, self-absorbed, cold-hearted bastard who has totally disappointed them and they'll never forgive him.

Now, we're not talking about kids who've been left high and dry with their future on the rocks (like the poor children of California). We're not talking about someone who's run off with all the money, leaving his ex-wife with nothing. We're not talking about someone who's acted vindictively when working through the divorce. In fact, we're talking about someone who has always provided everything that his kids wanted, who has invested lots of time in helping them and working with them, and who has shown amazing patience in trying to reconcile his wants to those of his children.

And yet, his kids, who themselves exhibit incredible powers of self-absorption, are now victims with no sense of ownership in terms of what comes next.

So What?
Lately, through my work with relate to autism, I've been blessed to meet and converse with parents who exhibit the exact opposite of what I've described above: parents who would never say, "but, he never called me back"; parents who after finding all the doors locked, start checking the windows; parents who despite all the naysayers and doubters, display unrelenting faith; parents whom even I would hire!

As I consider the contrast, I think about the pervasiveness of entitled victimhood and wonder if it's increasing or if I'm just more aware of it or if it's just me. My belief is that people who choose not to be entitled victims also empower themselves to choose happiness and to overcome amazing challenges. The solutions to the energy problem, global warming, and other challenges facing our planet are clearly not going to come from the entitled victims at University of California; they're going to come from self-empowered dynamos that own the problem regardless of who or what caused it.

I guess I feel pretty strongly about this whole thing.

What about you? Are you the embodiment of self-empowerment and ownership, or do you occasionally say, "but they never called me back?"

As a boss or coworker, are you inspiring others to show up and be great, or are you letting things slide when people don't own up? As a parent, who are you helping your children to become?

What do you think?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dropping By

Over the past couple of days, Iris and I have been inviting different friends to join us for Thanksgiving. For many, it wasn't clear that they could commit to a specific arrival time or specific length of time, so they felt obliged to decline. One friend had a bunch of errands to run on Thanksgiving day, another had to work for some portion of the day, and yet another had concerns about their child and whether or not she would be alright with a large group of people.

In each case, Iris and I made it clear that there was no need to commit to showing up. We just wanted them to know that they were welcome. If they could be there five minutes or five hours, that would be fine. In each case, the other person seemed to relax and say something on the order of, "Oh, just drop by? Sure, that sounds great! I'm not sure exactly when, but I'd love to."

Dropping By
As Iris and I talked this afternoon, we recognized that somehow people have lost the concept of "dropping by". Both of us grew up in environments where friends would simply stop by unannounced; they'd finish eating dinner one evening and say, "Hey, it's been a while since we've seen so-and-so. Let's take a ride over there and see how they're doing!"

As we talked, we realized that we're the only people we know who still "drop by". So we asked ourselves, "Why?"

Is it that we don't like the hit-or-miss aspects of spontaneously driving across town to visit friends who might or might not be available? Is it that we don't like surprise guests? Is it that we anticipate others not liking surprise guests? Is it that we are simply too busy?

Deliciously Casual
For all I know, this might be something unique to my experience, something that I completely fabricated for myself, but there's a certain delicious quality of casually dropping by that seem to escape more formally arranged get-togethers.

As a kid, my mom always told people, 'come-on-by, anytime!' (it was more like 'cummonbaaaaah, eeny taahm') and she really meant it. People would stop by when they were in neighborhood, people would stop by when they were feeling lonely, people would stop by just to share a cup of coffee.

Our house was always open, casual and full of people. People'd stop by for a few minutes in the afternoon and then leave after midnight, or sleep over an leave in the morning. My mom would ask if anyone were hungry and then flip into the kitchen and whip up a meal. If all we had in the house were liver and potatoes, before you knew it we were eating blender-made pate and vichyssoise The kitchen was always wide open to the rest of the house so that she could continue sharing in conversation as she cooked.

Also, with my mom, there was no such thing as incompatible groups of people. If we had guests from completely different contexts who had never met each other before, within a few minutes, she'd have planted a stake directly in the center of their common ground and they'd be off and running on a mutually stimulating conversation.

For me, these casual get-togethers and the very nature of the home that they inspired or that inspired them, are warm and rich memories.

Where's this All Going?
Whenever I start writing a blog article, I'm never quite sure where it will take me; I'm often not certain even as I get to the middle. I just write and see where it will go. It's a kind of "drop-by" approach to writing.

As I'm writing now, I'm realizing that dropping by can be a wonderful metaphor for life. If I want people in my life to drop by, I create a home that is casual, easy and welcoming, one that need not be prepared for guests, but is always in a state of relaxed readiness. I don't feel obliged to do anything or be anyone when friends pop in. It's just a easy, relaxed way to be.

If I want to enjoy dropping by to see others, then I go with my inspiration and see where it takes me not knowing whether or not friends will be home, not knowing if they'll have time, not knowing if I'll be away for one hour or ten; I just go. If one friend isn't home, I just go to the next, and next...

I know for myself, this simply feels good. When I contrast it to the stress that we often feel when preparing for formal (or perhaps simply planned) engagements, it feels really good.

Not only that, but for me, a really cool side-effect of the dropping by approach is the that quality of the experience can be much better than the well-planned, formal experience where we've tried to get everything "perfect".

As a metaphor, I can apply an easy, casual and open drop-by-preparedness to anything that comes into my life. No need to anticipate or fret. No obligation to do anything in particular when something new shows up unannounced. Just a nice way to be.

I can also apply dropping by metaphor to anything in my life I want to try or do: signing up for a course in painting or accounting, heading to the ski mountain, jumping on the train to the city.

What's Your Drop-By Quotient?
So, what about you? Are you someone who drops by to see friends or do you arrange everything ahead of time? Have you created a drop-by-friendly home or do you need time to prepare before people show up?

What about life in general? Have you created a drop-by-friendly existence? Would you prefer one?

What's dropped in lately?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Kind of Question is That?

A question that has been on my mind lately is, "How can I become more effective at getting answers to my questions and providing relevant answers to other people's questions?"

Statements or Questions?
We are often met by questions that I would call pseudo questions. A pseudo question sounds like a question, but in reality is a statement. We often voice statements as questions, when we think that there might be a disagreement and we want to avoid conflict.

An example of this might be a mother asking her teenage son, "Don't you really think that you need a haircut?"

It sounds like a question, but it's not! The parent believes that her son needs a haircut, but the son likely doesn't believe the same thing.

Pseudo questions are also asked when people want to illustrate a point. When Teflon asked Paul "How many people do you know who mostly play low notes?" (see Generally Speaking ), it's my guess that Teflon was attempting to show Paul that he'd been speaking using generalizations and had no specifics. He wasn't actually interested in hearing Paul's detailed response. He probably didn't even anticipate a response.

Of course, I cannot know what Telfon’s intentions were, but that's my guess.

Yesterday, I asked the twelve-year-old Antonia, "When will you be done with the computer?"

Her answer was (referring to her brother), "He was at the computer for an hour!"

In this case, I finally got an answer to my original question by clarifying that it was OK for her to also be on the computer for an hour and then finding out how long she had been on the computer thus far. I have the feeling that Teflon would call her original answer a not-even-wrong answer.

Now, I didn't know the house rules specifying that each child was allowed thirty minutes on their preferred computer, but Antonia did. When she heard my question, she replied from within her context of knowing the thirty-minute limit. Knowing that her brother had violated the limit, she immediately launched a "not-fair" defense, rather than simply saying, "I'll be done in forty minutes."

In my training to become a mentor/ counselor they would say, "You are never more than two questions away from an "on" question: that is, a non-directive, non-judgmental and helpful question."

So we can usually get back on the road quickly, when we pose a question that doesn't turn out to be particularly useful.

Answering Pseudo Questions
How many times have you heard questions such as:
"Why are your clothes lying on the floor?"
"Didn't you say you would do the groceries on your way home?"
"I thought we were supposed to meet at 4:00?"
I don't think it's fair to call these questions! Think of the potential answers:

"My cloths are lying on the floor because I was too lazy to pick them up!"
"Yes I did say I would do the groceries, so I lied to you. I'm the kind of person who doesn't always keep my word!"
"Wow, you thought I would be on time?"
When we were trained with these kind of questions, we were also trained to look for hidden reasons behind them. Antonia suspected that my hidden agenda was to stop her from playing in ten minutes, so she provided an answer to address my supposed agenda, creating a non-answer to the question that I had posed.

Creating Context
In Winnie the Pooh, each chapter has a title that tells what is going to happen, such as, In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump. This way we know beforehand where the focus is going to be.

The same can be done with questions!

One way to ask a question that will be answered in a useful way is by stating our wants or intentions clearly before asking the actual question. For example, I might have said to Antonia, "I want to know which game I can play with your brother before he goes on the computer, so when can I expect you to be done?"

Creating a context for my question might have saved a lot of time with Antonia and would have given me a more relevant response.

Trusting Answers
Once we've established a context for our questions, we also need to establish a context for the answer. We want to understand where the other person is coming from and we must plan to trust the answer we get.

With my ex-husband, I gradually learned to clarify my questions and become clearer on what I wanted to know, but he would still respond with "not-even-wrong" answers!

My ex-husband was raised in a family where it was important to tell the women what they wanted to hear! So, when I would ask, "when will you be home tonight", he would assume I that didn't want him working overtime and he would tell me that he'd be home early.

I soon learned that the answer to my question bore no resemblance to the actual time he would show up. So I would start asking questions like, "I would like to plan what to do after work. My preference is to have an early dinner, but it all depends on when you'll be home. I can start cooking as soon as I come home or I might first go for a run. What time do you expect to come home?"

It worked, sometimes!

Sometimes I would call him after my run and he would say, "I'll be home in twenty minutes".

My experience was that this could mean a lot of things. His drive from work took around twenty minutes. So, I would ask, "Where are you?"

When the answer was "in the office", I would know he likely would be answering a few more emails, and making a few phone calls before heading home. I would only trust the twenty minutes when he was actually walking to the car when I called. If he were already on the road, I would clarify where he was and make my own time estimation.

Long term, this was not the way to go; I gradually trained him that I did not trust him.

So, in some cases, creating context can be useful, but not if you plan on not trusting the answer before you pose the question.

Marshall Rosenberg suggests in his book on non-violent communication that it is very useful to rephrase a statement in your own words, e.g., "What I hear you saying is... Is that what you are saying?"

We could do the same with questions, "What I hear you asking me is... Is that correct?"

Rule of thumb: Make sure that you understand the question before answering!

My sister, usually very clear in her communication, posed me some questions today.

Question 1: "Joy, will you help me?"

I am usually pretty helpful, but I do like to know what I am getting myself into. So my answer was a clarifying question, "What do you want me to help you with?"

Question 2: "Could you check if the link works?"

This required a few questions and qualifiers of my own to answer her meaningfully. I responded, "Do you mean the link that you posted on Facebook? It takes me to a site with a list of candidates. It takes me to the top of the site, but not to the specific candidate you want me to vote for. If this is the link you are referring to and that is the place you want to link to, then yes, it does work. If not..."

With all this clarification, I see myself as helpful when I answer a question, but I know that some people see me as someone who likes to make things complicated!

So What?
In the end, I think we can all become better askers and better answerers by following a few rules of thumb.
  1. If you want an actual answer, don't mask statements as questions
  2. If someone asks you a pseudo question, say, "Hey, that sounds more like a statement than a question. Is there something you'd like to say?"
  3. Before asking a question, make sure that you've established a context for it
  4. If you're not going to trust the answer anyway, then don't ask the question
  5. Before answering, make sure you actually understand the question
What do you do to get good answers to your questions? How do you make sure that you yourself are providing good answers?

Break Off Your Relationship...

...keep your partner.

Over the last couple of days I've had the most delightful experience with a multifaceted, multi-threaded mishmash of discussions that began with Sree's comment on my article Drowning the Lifeguard. I'm not sure if the discussion threads better resemble bouillabaisse or dim-Sum, but we've certainly created a Stone Soup of thoughts, beliefs and experiences.

In a response to Benevolent Warrior's thoughts on relationships, Joy wrote:
"I see stating your own wants, expressing your feelings and asking others about their reasons for their behaviors as the only way I can create - or maintain - a relationship with someone.

Without this I can merely create a relationship with an impostor, the image I have created of a given person."
As I considered this, it occurred to me that, whether or not we're clear on someone's intentions, whether or not we ask them questions about their motivations, behaviors or beliefs, all we ever have is a relationship with the impostor, the person we've created based on our beliefs and perceptions.

Given that each relationship is with the person we perceive, not with the person per se, then sometimes the most useful course of action might be to end the relationship by completely discarding one impostor and creating another. It's kind of like the grass-is-always-greener phenomenon, except with one field and two fences. Rather than trying to get to the other side of the fence, we simply change the fence to get a different perspective.

Thank you, Joy! That one has a lot of potential for me.

A Rose by Any Other Name
Another thread that I've really enjoyed exploring with Sree has centered on the words we use to contrast actions, beliefs, thoughts and situations, e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, constructive/destructive, useful/not useful, evil/good, and so on. The words that we choose to contrast a thing can have a pronounced effect on how we perceive the thing. In theory, when we use "loaded" words, words that have judgments associated with them, we engender drama and emotion; when we use "judgment free" words, we engender objectivity and clarity.

In this particular discussion, we focused on the characterization of activities that seem contrary to our goals and desires, activities that might be called "self-destructive" or "counter-productive". Sree points out:
"Actions or behaviors that we may call negative are being done by somebody for a reason. They are getting something out of it; the real question to ask them is whether it's also what they want long-term, or whether they realize they are also getting something they don't want."
Indeed, even when we act in a manner that seems counter-productive or self-destructive, we're doing it for "good" reasons in order to take care of ourselves. When our actions and wants are not aligned, then we have one of three situations: our stated wants are not are actual wants; our stated wants are in conflict with other, unstated wants; or, we're inept at getting what we want. The biggest winner here might be the conflict between the near-term, feels-good want (eating the last piece of cake), and the longterm want (losing weight).

Backing Your Way through Life
Pointing out that the more useful discussion might focus on process rather than terminology, Sree wrote:
"How about 'positive' as moving towards something that I want, and 'negative' as pushing away from something that I don't want?"
I think Sree's proposed model is wonderfully practical; whenever we find ourselves feeling "conflicted", we can look at our actions and motivations and characterize each as either moving away from what we don't want, or, moving towards what we do want. Since moving away from what we don't want is somewhat like walking backwards through life, we might take each moving-away-from action and recast it in terms of what we're moving towards.

For example, losing weight is a moving-away-from activity that we might recast as being in great shape, or, wearing that slinky new black t-shirt.

Playing Not to Lose
In another thread (same blog), Benevolent Warrior (BW) wrote:
"What I sense is none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, so dive in with today's relationships....rather than possibly have regrets?"

"Personally, in my past marriage of over 30 years, if I hadn't persevered and [if I] gave up earlier, because it was difficult, out of laziness, or fear... I know down the road I might have felt, 'Gosh if only I hadn't given up.'"
Isn't it amazing how differently we all see things! From one perspective, I see the practical aspects of BW's line of reasoning; nothing in life is guaranteed, so better to stay with what you know than to venture into the unknown. Whether or not we chose to admit it, I believe that this is the primary MO for many of us (and not just in relationships).

One the other hand, as I read BW's comment, I thought to myself, "Geez, the last thing I would ever want is for someone to be with me because they're persevering to keep the relationship or they're uncertain about what not having the relationship might mean!"

For me the logic is based on fear (fear of loss, fear of regret, fear of not being able to do any better) or judgment (you should persevere and work hard to keep your relationship). Although many us daily ride this train of thought, for me it feels like a terrible way to approach relationships.

Isn't it cool how differently we see things!

So What?
First of all, thank you Sree, Joy and BW for offering such diverse and thought-provoking perspective. It's amazing how many places we can visit in such a short time.

Second, my take-aways so far are:
  1. Relationship is in the eye of the beholder.
  2. Ask myself, do I want to back my way through life, or run headlong into it?
  3. Playing to win is no more risky than playing not to lose!
Have an amazing Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's all how you look at it!

This is the subtitle of our Adventures in Happiness book and it is so appropriate. Anything you experience can be explained in a thousand different ways. And it is up to you to decide which explanation you choose. Some people do not believe they choose the way they look at things, they think certain things are ingrained in our species and cannot be changed. Others believe they have some control over how they think about things, but not everything is up for questioning. Then there are also people like me, people who believe that everything is make-up, and so can be looked at and questioned at any time.

Daily, there are millions of instances that I do things a certain way, because I have been doing them that way forever! Sometimes, it suddenly doesn't give me the results that I expect or want. In these moments I like to experiment by questioning my beliefs and trying something else. These experiences seem to help me make big leaps in my development towards happiness. Here an example:

One of my little playroom friends has found a new way of interacting with others. He found out what babies find out early in live: when you cry things happen! So he cries... Sometimes he cries from the beginning of the playroom session to the end of the session, other moments he is crying from the moment he wants something he doesn’t get, and there are times he even seems to cry to get things done from people not in the room. The challenge with this is that he does not explain to us why he is crying in that instant. We do not know if it has to do with any of the reasons above or that it is because of something totally unrelated.

Yesterday morning halfway the session, this little man started to cry after his dad had come into the room to bring him some breathing medication. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He ignored me and started walking through the room while the tears ran freely over his face and his crying sounds came in rhythmic spurts. As I have done in earlier sessions before, I told him in a soft voice that I would go sit in the corner and that when he was ready to talk or interact with me I would be there for him.

I settled myself comfortable in the corner and watched my friend pace through the room. I felt totally comfortable and loving of him. I believed he was taking care of himself and that he knew how to get to me when needed. Every time he walked by his big teary brown eyes would look at me for an instant, and every time he looked a little longer. When he noticed that I didn't change my demeanor and was just enjoying being there with him he started to give me crying hugs and he ended up crying in my lap.

This is when something very interesting happened. He told me with words; "I will stop crying", "I will stop crying". As a mentor I immediately asked myself? Why is it that you tell yourself to stop crying? And so, I asked him: “how come?” He didn't answer. While we were rocking slowly back and forth I told my friend: "you don't have to stop crying for me. I want you to do what feels good for you." He answered me with a long crying "whawhawhawha wha" while looking in my eyes. I told him that I didn't understand what he had said, but that I felt honored that he wanted to share this with me. I also told him: "I love you. We all love you. Your daddy, your mommy, your sister, your playroom friends, we all love you no matter if you are crying or not."

David stayed in my lap and cried for maybe another ten minutes. Then he stopped, climbed out of my lap and started to play a very connected game with me in the playroom. We talked about Ratatouille (I brought in two little toy rats) and the cat that was catching the rats by their tails. The cat (moved by David) would get closer and closer to the rat and I would jell "run, run, the cat is coming"... His shining eyes and his words living proof of how we connected in that instant.

There were other things I explained David during this session at moments he was not crying. I explained him again about him having choices in any situation. The choice to cry or not to cry. The choice to use words or no words. The choice to want to connect with someone or not. The choice to want to explain what is going on for him or not. I told him that I would be in the room for two hours and would love an adore him and I told him who would be in the room after me to love and adore him. I gave his as much information as possible so could make informed decisions about how long he wanted to cry, how long he wanted to skip the bathroom, how long he wanted to play, etcetera.

On my way home I still was enjoying the connection I felt with this wonderful child. And I thought about general beliefs around crying. How would we be different if we would believe at all times that tearing and crying is not bad and has nothing to do with happy or unhappy? What if it is nothing more than a physical response deeply related to beliefs, and so this is the place to embrace the person with an open mind and ask question to help the person become aware of their beliefs?

I also was celebrating the things my friend is learning at this point. To learn that we have choices at all times and that we have the power to decide when we do what, is something that lots of people learn only later in life.

For me, I learned that my happiness does help other people to relate with me. It changes me in an open door through which music happily dances into the outside air. It is enchanting and wonderful for people who are open to hear and see it...

Adventures in Happiness


Some of you have known for a little while, but this is a surprise for most of you: over the last six weeks we (Mark Kaufman, Teflon and I) have been working quietly and persistently on publishing the first blog book called Adventures in Happiness. This week I sent the book to the printer for publishing, and we will receive the copies in the next two weeks. We are so exited about this book. It has kept us up working at night; it has given us lots of extra phone calls and discussions; it has given us many new ideas. We hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as we have enjoyed creating it for you.

See below the first glimpse of the cover and the read text we printed at the back of the cover.

About Adventures in Happiness
Adventures in Happiness is a collection of inspirational and educational articles written for our blog during 2009.

The articles represent the thoughts, ideas and questions of twelve diverse authors (Barbara Balla, Jeannene Christie, Faith Clarke, Kathy DeCastro, Brian Ellis, Rita Gendelman, Mark Kaufman, Chris Kisling, Julie Sando, Iris Tuomenoksa, Mark Tuomenoksa and Joy Vigh Strand) who were drawn together by a common interest in a philosophy that had touched each of their lives. The authors each believe that they are in control of their happiness and that what has been doesn't necessarily dictate what will be.

Grateful for the life-changing, happiness-fueling effect of this philosophy, the authors wanted to share their experiences in the hope that their experiences might inspire others to create greater joy and happiness in their lives. This eclectic mix of parents of special needs children, business entrepreneurs, life coaches and autism professionals has created a special blend of real-life stores, easy wisdom and loving inspiration that can be useful to anyone who wants a happier, healthier and more empowered life.

Sale starts today
The sale for this book starts today. Isn't this exciting! This book is the perfect gift to help spread happiness through the world!

Have you been enjoying the articles on this blog? Have you shared and discussed the articles with others? What about sharing this book with more than 300 pages of inspirational writings with your loved ones, colleagues, or neighbors?

Almost half of the printed books are already reserved, so if you want to get your hands on a copy, I recommend you to act quickly! At the time of this post, we only had 80 copies left.

If you're Interested, please click here... to reserve your copy right now!

Have a great, great Thursday!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Same Foot, Different River

As Iris and I talked over the weekend, we were both taken with how much each of us has managed to change over the years. Not just over the years that we've been together, but over our lifetimes. I'm clearly not the person I was at twenty, nor at fifty. In other ways, I'm more the person I was at twenty than at forty. There's a kind of ebb and flow to my development.

As we talked, it occurred to me that this is probably the case with many people I've known over the years. Although they may be captured in my mind as a snapshot of who they were when I knew them, they've probably changed quite significantly. Yet, I carry around this picture that may in no way reflect who they are today.

Then it occurred to me that this may be the case for people whom I see every day! Over time, I've formed a picture in my mind of who they are. At some point, my picture starts displacing the actual person; it becomes a filtered lens through which I see him.

For example, let's say you first get to know someone when she's going through a breakup with her boyfriend. She may be frequently sad or angry or depressed. She may talk incessantly or not at all. She may may be constantly seeking advice or not listening to anyone. Whatever the combination, you would form a picture of who she was based on the combination of moods, words and deeds. And, to some degree, the picture would stick forming a filter through which you would continue to see her, even after the breakup became an distant memory.

If you were the only person with whom your friend had shared her woes, then each time she walked into a room, you would see a completely different person than everyone else. Years could pass and she could altogether reinvent herself, and still you might continue to see the crying, depressed person who didn't know what to do, or the angry, vengeful person who wouldn't listen to any one.

Different Foot, Different River
Over the years, I've often wondered if people ever really change; I've written about people who, despite stated intentions, never seem to be any different. As I reconnect on Facebook with people I knew growing up (as an evangelical Christian in a staunchly conservative mid-western town), I see plenty of evidence for this (from my existentialist perspective living in the bastion of liberal thought) as my old friends talk about praying for George Bush.

Even if I do my best to remove my filters, it sure looks like not a lot has changed. And yet, I wonder.

You've probably heard the phrase, "You can't put your foot in the same river twice."

The phrase serves to remind us that, even when everything seems the same, everything has in fact changed. The river into which we placed our foot the last time is long gone.

The thought that came to me this morning is that it's not just the river that changes. The phrase might become even more useful as a reminder if we were to say, "You can't put the same foot in the same river twice."

Not only is the river long gone, but so is the foot. In fact, everything is constantly changing.

So, if everything is constantly changing, why does it so often seem that some people never change? Clearly we have our filters (our snapshots) that serve to keep people the same (from our perspective) no matter what they do. However, we also tend to conform to what people expect us to be; we comply with the filter.

Have you ever reunited with friends from years past? Did you notice that there was a tendency to take on the roles that each of you had when you were last together? Were you called by nicknames that you hadn't heard in years. Did you reminisce over stories that you'd long forgotten? Did you talk about topics that no longer interested you? Did you find yourself in one way or another reliving who you were at that time, becoming the person people expected you to be?

Filters are much more powerful than I first thought. Not only do they shape what we see, they shape us.

Lens Cleaners
As we prepare for the holiday season, pulling winter clothing, storm windows and holiday decorations out of storage, one of the boxes that each of us opens contains a bunch of dusty old filters for the people we anticipate seeing at family gatherings and other reunions. Indeed, others are opening boxes of filters for each of us.

Even though all the rivers and all the feet have completely changed, we choreograph the dance of reconstructing foot and river alike, all without really thinking much about the process.

So, I was thinking that this might be a great year in which to clean our lenses along with the holiday crystal. A couple of things that come to mind are:
  1. Immediately start practicing seeing the people around you without filters. You can do this at work or at home or at school. Take a moment with each person and actually look at their faces. Notice things about them that you haven't noticed. Listen to the texture and character of their voice. See them as though you know nothing about them.
  2. Try on some happy filters when looking at people with whom you often use unhappy filters. Actively look for the things you really like in the people around you. Make those things bigger.
  3. Set an intention each morning to be clear on who you are and what you think with the people around you. If there's something you really want to eat for dinner or want to watch on TV, don't say, "Whatever you want is fine with me." If there's something on your mind, say it. If there's something that no longer interests you, don't simply endure the conversation; let the other person know. They may also no longer be interested.
  4. When getting together with people whom you haven't seen in a while, start your time together by saying, "Hey, I've been thinking about it and I don't have a clue as to who you are nowadays. Every time we get together, it's as though we've stepped into a time machine. I want to know who you are now and I'd love for you to know who I am now."
I'm intrigued by how doing things like this might completely transform our holiday experiences, especially at family gatherings. Imagine sitting at Thanksgiving and finding out that everyone (including your mom) hates eating turkey and would prefer fondue or barbecued ribs.