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.


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Enough for Everyone




“A man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses."  St. Luke 12:15



The question of “enough” permeates our culture. My generation came of age with Mick Jagger’s raspy voice telling us (wink, wink) that you can’t get no satisfaction from “how white your shirts can be,” by smoking “the same cigarettes as me,” or by getting plenty of “girlie action.”

Sadly, that message encouraged lots of Baby Boomers to seek fulfillment the Rolling Stones’ way. Eventually, though, they discovered that even if you catch it, you won’t find satisfaction if you’re chasing the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. It just won’t be “enough.” They learned too late that there is never “enough” in the accumulation of transitory pleasures or material possessions. The truth is that “you can never get enough of what you don’t need, because what you don’t need won’t satisfy you.” Dallin Oaks.

It’s never been about how much we own. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus summed it up eloquently: “Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” A few years ago, Sheryl Crow translated this centuries-old wisdom into clever rock and roll lyrics.

I don't have digital;

I don't have diddly squat.

It's not having what you want;

It's wanting what you've got.

In a similar way, many of my generation have found by sad experience that we don’t find “enough” by competing with and comparing ourselves to others. Comparing another’s possessions, another’s relationships, even another’s life, with ours invariably gets in the way of enjoying and appreciating our own.

As long as the focus is comparative and the answer is relative, we will never have enough. There will always be another with more. There will always be someone with a bigger, a faster, a newer, a more expensive, a more glamorous, a more exotic . . . whatever.

When it comes to what’s most important, life is not a zero-sum game. There are no quotas or limits to the things that matter most. My joy and happiness do not take away from yours, and your joy and happiness do not take away from mine. Whatever wisdom and understanding I may have does not limit yours.  My peace and contentment do not diminish yours, nor do yours diminish mine.

No people on the face of the planet or in the history of the world have ever come close to having as much as do we 21st Century Americans.  One of the dangers of our unprecedented technology and material wealth is that it can blind us to the real abundance in our lives. Too much “stuff” gets in the way of recognizing and enjoying greater treasures.

I have learned that when we are able to see further than physical possessions and earthly advantages, we can comprehend that our abundance is truly beyond measure and potentially infinite. We have enough, and to spare.

Michael Beckwith once spoke of a virus even more insidious than Covid-19:

"There is a lie that acts like a virus within the mind of humanity. And that lie is, ‘There’s not enough good to go around. There’s lack and there’s limitation and there’s just not enough.’ The truth is that there’s more than enough good to go around. There are more than enough creative ideas.  . . . There is more than enough love. There’s more than enough joy. There is enough for everyone."

May we be inoculated against this virus, and thus recognize the abundance that surrounds us. May we see that, indeed, we have “enough.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Too Much on Your To-Do List?



“Checking items off a to-do list doesn't determine progress; focusing on your priorities is what counts.” Frank Sonnenberg


Sometimes simpler is better. Here’s a case in point:

I have a friend who you would think has a to-do list a mile long. Her life could be very complicated, if she allowed it to be.

She’s a wife; the mother of three young children; a loving daughter who looks out for her older parents; a full-time high school special-ed teacher with responsibilities for many extra-curricular activities at her school; a part-time instructor for an online university program; the leader of her church’s youth program for teenage girls; a thoughtful and attentive neighbor; and an active community volunteer. If anyone would have a million things to get done every day, it would be her.

But her attitude regarding to-do lists is wise, effective, and refreshing. And seemingly counterintuitive.

Her to-do-list mantra is simple and blunt:  NO MORE THAN FOUR.

She believes a too-long list is counterproductive. In her view, when you have dozens of things on your list, the natural tendency is to work on the easiest things first, because it feels good to scratch them off. Unfortunately, however, the easiest things are usually not the most important things. If your focus is on “scratching items off your list,” you end up giving your attention to the “stuff” and leaving unattended the things that matter most.


But when you limit your list to only four things, she says, you force yourself to identify what are truly your highest priorities, the critical to-dos that absolutely MUST get done. Those four things make your list. Very often, those things are about relationships and not about tasks. Then, as you go through your day, every time you glance at your list, the TOP FOUR are in your face. As a result, they’re the things you do. 


After you complete those four high-priority items, you are then free to tackle other matters, if you wish to. You may have time and energy for other things, or you may not. But even if you don’t accomplish anything else the rest of the day, you’ve conquered YOUR TOP FOUR. The rest is gravy.


Then you repeat this process each day. I can guarantee you that, if each day you get your four most important matters done, in almost no time you can change your life. Think of it: by the end of a week, 28 high-priority objectives are complete! That’s a boatload of accomplishment. Some things will come back up again, but so what? Just put them back on the list again; you already know how to handle them.


I like her system a lot. The best thing about it is its simplicity. You don’t spend tons of time and energy creating the ideal list and then end up being captive to it.  Over the years, I’ve been guilty of spending more effort designing the perfect tool for getting things done than actually doing what’s on the list. It’s kind of like the tail wagging the dog.

Often, simpler is better. Here’s all it takes: Grab a 3x5 card, a notes page on your phone, or any slip of paper, and write on it what you most want to accomplish today. No more than four. From time to time, review your list during the day. Then go get ‘em done. 

It happens, almost magically.

Repeat tomorrow.

Then the next day.

It’s that simple.





Wednesday, January 27, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Where Are You Headed?


“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go.” Dr. Seuss

Nothing is more disheartening on a road trip than getting lost. I can clearly recall the frustration of becoming disoriented or “turned around” in some places, and how vulnerable and stupid I felt in those moments. Nothing seemed to make sense and every move I made appeared to create more confusion.

Being bewildered or flummoxed in the journey of life is like that. On those occasions when I felt I had lost my sense of direction and purpose, the world seemed gray and every turn seemed to take me nowhere. I felt insecure and I worried that others could easily take advantage of me. Until I regained my bearings, life was a blur and all progress stopped.

When it comes to road trips, and to living with joy and fulfillment, an average compass is far more valuable than a superior speedometer. As long as we are moving forward on the right road it is seldom helpful to fret about the pace. I must admit that I have spoiled many a family trip over the years by obsessing over how quickly we were “getting there.” 

  • “No, we can’t stop and see that. If we do, we’ll never get there.”
  • “Yes, I’m sure that would be interesting, but it’s a bit out of the way.”
  • “I know you’re hungry, but we have just a couple of hours before we get to our hotel.”

At this stage of my life, I am trying to remember that worrying over velocity is a happiness-inhibitor. That’s because the joy is in the journey, not in “arriving” and absolutely NOT in arriving sooner

The truth is we never do arrive — at least not in this life. Happiness is in a direction, not a place. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. observed, “The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving.” 

Thus, while speed doesn’t matter, movement does. The essence of life is movement. Nehru said, “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

One of the keys to a successful life is getting clear about where we are and where we should be going. “Sharing a clear and concise vision spawns a sense of purpose and direction.” Farshad Asl. 

Thereafter, we need to check our compass periodically and, if necessary, adjust our path. From time to time, we need to take our bearings and confirm that the way we are going is taking us toward our vision and dreams. Otherwise, as Lao Tzu warned, “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

As we journey through life, we will reach meaningful milestones from time to time. Reaching them and acknowledging them re-energizes us and helps us appreciate our progress. We should celebrate those moments, but we must resist the temptation to abandon the journey there, thinking we’ve reached the end of the road. The minute we throw away our compass and decide that life holds no further adventure for us, we are doomed by our own self-fulfilling prophecy. We condemn ourselves to a dull and lifeless existence. “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.” Paulo Coelho.

As for myself, I intend to enjoy the journey and relish the adventure. I aim to love my fellow travelers and help them along the way. I plan to consult my compass from time to time and move steadily in the direction of my dreams. I am determined to stay alive my entire life, hopefully preparing for the great adventure that lies beyond.