Wednesday, May 5, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Our Favorite Things



"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things."

Rodgers & Hammerstein




I spent a week on vacation recently with a dozen family members of all ages — children, teenagers, adults, and seniors — and along the way we discovered a fun, easy activity to spark conversation and get to know each other better.

The exercise is simple: Someone thinks of a topic requiring them to identify “one of their favorite things” that fits their chosen category. For example:

“What is one of your favorite movies, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite fast-food restaurants, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite animals, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite types of food, and why?”

They answer first and explain why it’s one of their favorites. Follow-up discussion is encouraged. Then the question moves around the circle to the next person.

Once each person in the circle has shared one of their favorite things of that category and told why they picked that, it’s the next person’s turn to initiate a round. They think up the next “favorite thing” topic, they give the answer first, and then around the circle it goes again.

This turned out to be a delightful way to pass long hours on the road with my wife and three teenage granddaughters. Our granddaughters live far away from us and we seldom get to spend much time with them. This activity allowed all of us to get to know each other better, and made the miles go faster.

We revisited this game on the last evening of our week together. Our entire group gathered in a large circle and we used three “favorite thing” questions to recall and appreciate a wonderful vacation:

“What was one of your favorite activities or places we visited this week, and why?"
“What was one of your favorite foods we ate this week, and why?”
“What was one of your favorite things you learned this week, and why?"

Of course, we all thought of different things during our turns, and there were a lot of “Oh, yeah, that was one of mine too,” or “You’re right, I forgot about that.” Whether young, old, or in between, we had no trouble sharing wonderful memories. We found this closing round of favorite things was a sweet and reassuring way to bring our time together to an uplifting close, a delightful reminder of good times shared.

 * * * * *

How about you and your family or friends? Is there an upcoming occasion when you could use this simple activity to share memories, learn more about each other, or put a capstone on a great time spent together? What about Mother’s Day or Memorial Day or a summer afternoon picnic? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

“What is one of your favorite memories of Mother (or Grandmother), and why?"
“What is something you really appreciate about our country, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite picnic foods, and why?”

 Try it; I’m sure you’ll like it as much as we did.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Being on the Receiving End of Gratitude



"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." William Arthur Ward



I was recently the recipient of an unexpected and generous expression of gratitude, and it felt so wonderful! Here’s what happened:

Fifty years ago, I learned to speak Portuguese while living in Brazil for a couple of years. Upon my return to the United States, I completed my undergraduate degree with a double major in Portuguese and political science. But then I lived for many, many years in places where I had no opportunity to converse in Portuguese. Over time I lost a lot of my vocabulary, my fluency, and especially my confidence in this second language.

A few weeks ago, José and Nara, a recently-immigrated Brazilian couple who speak very little English, retained me to prepare wills and a trust for them. I was forced to dust off my out-of-practice Portuguese in order to understand their wishes for themselves and their sons, and then to draft (in English, thankfully) the appropriate documents. Fortunately, they were very gracious and patient with me and my rusty Portuguese. As we worked together, we developed a genuine friendship and appreciation for each other.

During our last meeting, after I had finished explaining a dozen documents for them to sign, and while Angie, my paralegal, was making copies, the couple excused themselves to go to their car. When they returned to my office, they were carrying an enormous basket (pictured above) for me, and a separate gift bag for Angie. Both were filled with an abundance of Brazilian sweets, treats, and other goodies. Some were delights I remembered from my time years ago in Brazil, while others were new to me. 

This lovely couple’s expression of gratitude caught me totally off guard, and the sheer enormity of the basket completely blew me away. They said what they appreciated most was that I pressed forward in Portuguese as well as I could, notwithstanding my obvious difficulty in speaking in a tongue mostly dormant to me. That, they said, lifted and encouraged them as they struggled to complete their own daunting task of doing their estate planning in English, a language equally difficult for them. 

I took the basket home where my wife and I opened and savored each delicacy, turning our impromptu tasting party into a decadent substitute for supper.

Later, as I reflected on their outrageously wonderful EXPRESSION OF GRATITUDE, I asked myself, how many times have I missed the opportunity to demonstratively express my appreciation to those who have served, sustained, or sacrificed for me? How often have I overlooked occasions when I could have left others with the same level of joy I experienced when I received this huge basket of Brazilian gratitude?

Thank you, José and Nara, for the sweet lesson you taught me. From being the fortunate recipient of your gratitude, I better understand, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, that “silent gratitude isn’t much good to anyone.”

I have resolved that I will more attentively look for ways to demonstrate my appreciation to others who have blessed my life.  I realize that I can best say thank you for kindnesses like José and Nara’s by paying it forward.  “One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay 'in kind' somewhere else in life." Anne Morrow Lindbergh



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Can You Sleep When the Wind Blows?



"To be prepared is half the victory." Miguel de Cervantes




The story is told of a farmer who decided to hire someone to help him care for his prosperous property. The only applicant was an older man with a limp. The farmer, a little disappointed, reluctantly offered the man the job, but expressed his concern to the prospective employee that he couldn’t work as hard as someone younger and without physical limitations. 

“Don’t worry,” said the older man. “You won’t be disappointed. I can work as hard as someone half my age, and besides, I can sleep when the wind blows.” The farmer was puzzled but didn’t say anything.

A few weeks later, the farmer woke in the middle of the night to the sound of a huge approaching storm. He roused his son and told him to run and get the hired man from the bunkhouse so they could tend to the animals, equipment, and buildings before the storm hit with all its fury. 

He rushed to the barns to see what he could do to protect his farm from the dangerous gale. His son caught up to him shortly and reported he couldn’t wake the old timer. This angered the farmer, and he swore he’d take care of that unreliable hireling as soon as his farm was safe.

But as he and his son went from barn to barn and shed to shed, they found that all the animals were safely within their stalls and corrals.  All the tools and equipment were put away and locked up. All the doors and gates were closed tight. Everything was battened down; nothing was amiss. There wasn’t a single thing they needed to do, except go back to bed. The farm was safely sheltered from the storm.

Then it came to him in a flash. He remembered — and finally understood — what the older man with the limp had said in the job interview: “I can sleep when the wind blows.” He shook his head in amazement and appreciation, then went back to the house with his son. He climbed back into bed, but he didn’t sleep. All he could think about was a hired man, wise with years, who could sleep when the wind blows.

Can you sleep when the wind blows? 

Trouble will surely come to all of us sooner or later, but we need not be paralyzed in its path. Preparation is the antidote to fear. Anticipating and addressing future dangers will give us peace of mind. Living lives of integrity and service will give us fortitude and resilience in the storms of life. As my boyhood scoutmasters admonished us, “Be Prepared.”


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: I'm All Ears - The Expert Listener



"Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand." Karl A. Menniger

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Will Rogers


We all know what an expert is, don’t we? That’s a person who knows a lot and gets paid to deliver brilliant answers. The essence of what they do is talk, right?


The so-called expert who can’t or won’t listen well — regardless of how smart they are — is, more often than not, useless:

 ·    They give the wrong answer because they miss important information.

·     They give the right answer to the wrong question.

·     They give the right answer but their answer is incomprehensible to the client, patient, or customer.

·     They answer the obvious question but miss the real question.

·    They give the right answer but miss the human implications of both the question and the answer.

·    They give the right answer but their advice isn’t followed because clients, patients, or customers don’t trust them.

A real expert is an expert listener. 

A real expert realizes that the quality of their answer is only as good as the quality of the information they hear. A real expert knows that if they don’t hear the correct question or the real question, their answer — even though correct — will be largely worthless. A real expert recognizes that until clients, patients, customers, or friends or colleagues who need guidance feel listened to and understood, their answers will be suspect and their recommendations will not be implemented. 

Great listeners are far more likely to be successful, whatever their profession. As Bernard Baruch said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

A real expert understands that when they’re in the presence of a client, a patient, or a customer, there are two experts in the room, not one. A real expert knows that to find the best answers in today’s complex world, they must bring everyone’s best thinking to bear on the issue at hand, not just their own. A real expert has the temperament and the tools to do that.

A real expert practices what I call “transformational listening.”

Transformational listening goes beyond listening for data, information, or knowledge; it is listening for wisdom and insight. It goes beyond listening with the physical ears; it is listening with ears of discernment.

Transformational listening is not a set of techniques; it is a way of being with another person. It is not based on some clever approach or device; it is based on the deep-down way we see others and ourselves.

An outstanding example of a true expert who practiced transformational listening in his work with clients was Paul Laughlin. Paul was the bank trust officer in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who turned a conversation with Osceola McCarty, an 87-year-old uneducated but generous washer woman, into a magnificent scholarship gift to the University of Southern Mississippi. 




Looking beyond her age, her profession, her lack of education, the size of her bank account, and the color of her skin, Paul listened to Osceola and saw a vision for her future happiness and heard an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the world. Only after applying his expertise as a listener did he deploy his expertise in estate planning and charitable giving. 

As a result, Paul not only transformed Osceola’s life but he also dramatically changed the lives of an entire university community, of dozens of future Mississippi school teachers, and of untold numbers of philanthropists and their advisors who have been inspired by this story. Generations yet unborn will be blessed by Paul’s transformational listening.

Paul and I were once colleagues working in the trust department of the same bank. If you were to talk with Paul, you would discover a man of great humility, respect, and curiosity. These attributes are essential for a transformational listener.  

The transformational listener is HUMBLE. They see themselves as constantly open to new understanding. They know that, as much as they already know, they still have much to learn about the customer’s world. They understand that careful, attentive, and appreciative listening both with their ears and with their heart is the only way they will learn enough about their customer’s world to become an expert in it. 

The transformational listener is RESPECTFUL. Regardless of the apparent disparity in age, education, wealth, achievement, rank, status, or power, they see clients, patients, customers, or friends or colleagues who need guidance, as fellow human travelers, each with unique experiences and exceptional brilliance. They acknowledge their clients’ strengths and talents, and honor their life journey. They know that every person they meet has something important to teach them.

The transformational listener is CURIOUS. They can’t wait to discover what lies within the clients’ every phrase or paragraph or silent pause. They are fascinated by where their customers’ minds will go next, by what stories or insights will spring forth from their thinking if they are listened to generously and without interruption.

As Paul Laughlin showed, being a real expert is first about listening and only then about speaking. It is more about what we are presently learning than what we previously knew. It is more about harnessing shared brilliance than showing off as a solitary shooting star. It is more about a way of seeing others and being with people than the mastery of a set of techniques. 

Great listening is TRANSFORMATIONAL. It changes both the one who’s speaking and the one who’s listening. And over time, it changes the world.