Month: May 2015

Freedom from Self-Discipline?

In today’s world, many people define freedom as, “You do your thing and I’ll do mine.” This may be fine, as long as at least one of us puts some limits on what we do.

If I leave my neighbor’s property alone, but he comes onto mine and steals my chickens (or, my wife’s chickens) then the arrangment does not work. It works the same way if the violation was reversed, and I was the intruder.

So, freedom really only works with a society that can be trusted to maintain some barriers to our impulses. This is done individually; I can control myself, but I can’t control you. The only other alternative is usually by government at some level, and it involves force.

In a community of souls, then, that community only stays intact if there is a “normal” way to act, and all can be trusted with that normal. This is where some foundational teaching is necessary, so we can exist together. The best we can do is to demonstrate that self-restraint, and teach any who will listen to do the same.

Meanwhile, Make it Work

I frequently am witness to change. Especially in the healthcare field, there is a constant stream of new requirements, regulations and compliance issues.

What do we do with such challenges? One way to handle these is to complain, which most do. If it stops there, however, the rules do not go away, but will stack up and become overwhelming. Even if complaining is the first impulse, then it is best to simply find a way to comply. There may then be a process to communicate why the rule is impossible to impliment.

Spending valuable time procrastinating and complaining is of no use, though we may temporarily feel better. Tomorrow, the requirment is no less required, and we are still spinning our wheels.

My suggestion is to begin immediately to get it done. Carry out the rules as far as possible, and be prepared to explain why we didn’t get it all done. The explanation must be good, or it won’t carrry much weight. Often the regulations are initiated in response to an incident and are not thought through to ascertain the overall effect. Meanwhile, don’t lose trust by whining and protesting. Get on with it!

Trusted in Service

Arlington National  Cemetery.

If you’ve ever seen it, it is both beautiful and startling. Standing as they would in formation, at attention, perhaps in a parade or pass in review, the small white headstones are identical in look. To see a difference you have to look at each one, since each has its individual name and dates. Individuals, yet uniform. Straight, one blending in with the others, as if they are just part of a larger group, they mark lives given. Not taken, but given. There is a difference.

After George Washington chose not to run for a third term as president, and retired to Mount Vernon, he was nominated by John Adams (with Senate confirmation) to be Commander of the Armies of the United States as Lieutenant General. This was because difficulties with France led them to anticipate, war, which thankfully didn’t come. When he had led troops in the revolution, there was no United States officially, only states in rebellion to England. Thus, he was the first in nearly everything he did.

Washington died with the idea that if we were attacked, he would come out of a third retirement to take the field again.

After news of his death in December 1799, part of the announcement in the House of Representatives showed the sense of most of the country.

“The melancholy event which was yesterday announced with doubt, has been rendered but too certain. Our Washington is no more! The hero, the patriot, and the sage of America; — the man on whom, in times of danger, every eye was turned, and all hopes were placed, — lives now only in his own great actions, and in the hearts of an affectionate and afflicted people.” Washington died with the idea that if we were attacked, he would come out of a third retirement to take the field again.

This was an accurate sentiment for a great citizen and soldier. Yet, each family regards their own son or daughter with the same regard within the family, neighborhood, and community. Like the monument that bears Washington’s name, those small markers and graves throughout the country and on foreign soil, draw the same sorrow and honor. It’s what we do. We should always do it.

Build Trust by Recognition

One of the best ways to build trust among those you work with is by recognizing a job well done. Any job can be rewarding when those who do it well are applauded for doing so. Never mind the inflated rhetoric that wants to make everyone great and special! That attitude simply makes everyone mediocre.

When appreciation for good work is given, it motivates that person to contininue and increase the good work. It also tends to let others know they will receive credit where it is due if they join the ranks of those who do their best.

I still believe in the phrase I was taught and shown long ago: reward publicly; discipline (or punish) privately. Look to do the former, but do the latter if necessary.

Handling Loss

I have never enjoyed losing, at anything. Growing up in a small town competitive atmosphere instilled habits and attitudes that made me always prefer winning to losing. Yet, losing teaches us more than winning ever could.

Why is losing overall better than winning? Several reasons, among which is that at times life is not fair, or fun. Another reason is that losing prepares us for the inevitable rejection we will face over a lifetime. While it is certainly good to win sometimes so we can know the sense of accomplishment that comes with it, it also tends to give us the impression we can do everything on our own.

The belief that we are self-sufficient gives us a self-centered position that will not accept advice or learn anything new. When a person applies for a job or is being considered for an appointed position or responsibility, and then is not chosen or hired, we find out what type of person he is. Handling the place of second (or less) tells more about a person than being on top. I have witnessed juvenile attitudes of some who were not selected, which actually proved the point: they were not the right pick. A person of character and trustworthiness will continue to improve and learn despite being overlooked, and may be prepared to actually be the best choice later. Even if we do not win, we should not quit the game.

Some of the Permanent Things

We visited a small country church on Sunday. Two miles off the pavement on a gravel road stood the building, kept in good shape over the years. Inside was what we used to call “a goodly number” (probably 40 or so people). The only technology was a microphone attached to the speaker’s lapel. Most of the men and young men wore suits or shirts with ties. Things were simple and friendly. The sermon was done by one of about nine who take turns preaching each week. The singing was good, and loud. The leader seemed shy; certainly not performing. During “announcements” several were mentioned who were sick or traveling. One gentleman was at an orientation for the Honor Flight to Washington D.C., which meant he was a veteran going to view the monument to his service and fallen brethren.

Something else about this setting took me back a few years. The hardwood floor echoed each step taken; there was no carpet on the floor. Wooden pews with no padding kept me alert. The two of us being visitors, we attracted a line of greeters afterward, with “we’re glad you’re here” repeated over and over by each. Names were exchanged and a welcome to return came freely.

The thing worth remembering about this visit was not only gathering for worship, but that these houses of worship are scattered over the hills and valleys, and will continue to do so, as evidenced by the number of young people present. They have been taught the things that matter, and will likely keep teaching those things to their children. Though a lot of things change, some change very slowly, not forgetting to keep what is good, beautiful and virtuous.

Leadership and Followship

Too many people want to be leaders, immediately. Even after getting an advanced degree, the understanding about leadership is only theoretical. Elections are often won by people who have shown little or no leadership ability. They simply want to lead.If we do not elect leaders, we have only ourselves to blame.

I  believe a prerequisite to leading is following. If one cannot follow, how can he know what it takes to lead? A leader must know what motivates followers before she is in any position to be a leader. In addition, if she has earned trust in following the lead of others,s he can then earn trust as a leader.

The best illustration I can think of is by comparing it to the concept of patience. We can talk all day about the meaning of patience, why we need it, and why too many people are impatient, but we still do not learn it by discussing it. The only way to learn it is by waiting. Likewise the only way to truly understand leadership is by following first. After a period of following successfully, then it may be time to move into a leadership position.

Building Trust by Going Direct

Several years ago when I was preaching in Texas, one particular gentleman asked me tough questions in a class I was teaching. I didn’t mind, since it kept me on my toes, and caused me to be better prepared for the class.

This was fine, until a couple of others in the church told me that he had applied for my job, but didn’t get it. They then questioned his motives regarding the class. I also began to view his questions with a certain amount of distrust.

After the tension became noticeable, he suggested we have lunch. We did so. I didn’t know what to expect but since we were in a public place, I didn’t think things would get too bad. After some small talk while we ate, he then pushed his plate away from him, looked at me and said, “First of all, I don’t want your job.” Immediately I relaxed, since that was the main source of tension in my mind. We then had a conversation that was constructive and after that, we had no problems.

I realized where I had failed. I had let the talk of others influence my thinking and had not simply talked to him in the first place. Once we talked to each other, without input form anyone else, we worked things out. Trust can even be depleted by indirect means. We should be credible enough not to let that happen.

Trusting Mothers

I know there are sad exceptions, but most of us would say our mothers are the most trustworthy people we have ever known. Not only did they bring us into the world, they did their best to keep us from messing it up too much. Whether they are still alive or not, we can still hear their words, and know exactly what they meant. If you heard all your names, you were in trouble. Even if it wasn’t fun, it was something you could count on.

Why did they love us and spank us? Because their mothers did those things to and for them. They knew it made them who they were, and they wanted us to be at least as good as they were. When I hit my sister (even if she started it, which she did much of the time), I could count on answering to mom. I pled my case, but he judge was buying none of it. I was bigger and I was a boy, so I was guilty. Come to think of it, I believe my sister is the only female I ever hit. Perhaps that’s why I put men who hit women among the worst of the worst.

When we look for someone to trust, we can talk with, or remember, our mothers. They knew us first, even before anyone else did. They gave us their best, and we can’t ask for anything better than that.

Overextension

The title of this sounds like something you do to a muscle or a tendon. This has a different meaning, that of stretching ourselves in too many directions and in too many ways. Frankly, I would love to be in three places at once, but so far I have not been able to accomplish it.

That brings me to a reality I really didn’t want: even if I could be in several places at once, none of them would be all of me. I would only have at best half of me (or less) and would be of no value to either person. This dilemma comes from the false feeling that I’m needed by so many people, and that no one else is available or capable of providing support.

In order to maintain trust, we must follow through with what we say we will do, and trust that others can handle the rest. Otherwise we will schedule ourselves to be in more than one place at a given time and fail someone as a result. Then trust is strained, and we are tired and feel like we have failed. If we can focus on the priorities, we will offer much more help and have reserves for the long haul.