Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - When You're Here, Be Here


"If you're always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you're in?"
-- Unknown


Many of us have probably had this experience:  You're talking to someone during a reception, at a party, or after a meeting.  As you watch their eyes and body language, it becomes obvious they're looking past you and scanning the crowd for someone else they'd rather be talking to. 

From that moment forward, what worth does your conversation with them have for you?  Most likely very little.  You know their priorities aren't with you.  You feel devalued, minimized, maybe even a bit insulted.

Here's another situation for you to picture:  You're playing with your child or grandchild, or listening to your spouse, or chatting with a co-worker, but you're mostly thinking about how soon the big game will start, or how much you still have on your to-do list that day, or who that text is from that just pinged into your cell phone.

As they watch your eyes and body language, it becomes obvious to them that you'd rather be somewhere else or be doing something else.  From that moment forward, what value does your time with your child, your grandchild, your spouse, or your co-worker actually have for them?  Is it possible they might feel devalued, minimized, even a bit insulted?  When we're with another person and we are not present with them in that moment, it can cost us dearly in the quality of our relationships.

The heavy toll of trying to be in too many places at once isn't limited to interpersonal interactions.  Even when we're not with another person, the cost of not being in the moment may be substantial.   That's because not being present robs us twice. 

1.      Not being here when we're here means there's no way we can find joy or satisfaction or fulfillment in the present because we're not even there.  We're somewhere in the past or the future, either reliving bygone moments or imagining future days.  The present, with all its possibilities, is lost to us.

2.      In addition, we can't do justice to the past or the future or the present when we try to straddle now and then.   We're like the English soldier who "jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions."  The result of our multitasking is that everything gets short shrift.  When we try to do too many things at once we are ineffective and inefficient in all we do.

Every part of our lives has an important role to play.  As Thomas S. Monson said, "The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it."  But the key is to focus on one piece at a time. 

Reflecting on our past is valuable, especially as we glean important lessons from our triumphs and tragedies.  Planning for the future is critical to our ongoing success.  Set aside time for both; just don't do either when the here and now needs your attention. 

We do ourselves and those around us a huge disservice when we rush off to somewhere else when we should be here.  We fool ourselves when we think we can keep too many plates spinning at the same time.  We sacrifice a brilliant future and sully a golden past when we fail to live in the present.  When you're here, be here!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Too Much Junk in Your Life?


"When you live surrounded by clutter, it is impossible to have clarity about what you are doing in your life."
Karen Kingston  


I have found that Karen Kingston's comment above is true, not just as it applies to physical clutter, but also to what I read or listen to. Case in point:
Up until yesterday, I had two "friends" on Facebook who are polar opposites on the political spectrum. They are completely tuned in to the cable news outlets, and their dramatic reactions to each new headline are highly entertaining and perfectly predictable.
Each is absolutely certain of the correctness of his or her position, and each is quick to respond to the slings and arrows from across the aisle. Each is highly offended at the absurdity of the other side's viewpoints. Each argues that everything that is wrong with the world is the fault of the other camp.
I had determined many times in the past to block them, wanting to reduce the "noise" in my life. But then I would weaken and not do it, telling myself, "they help me keep my finger on the pulse of today's political climate."
But yesterday I woke up with a new resolve to get rid of more clutter in my life. It started with my bookshelves, where I threw out a dozen travel guides to places I have been and will never go back to. It continued in my closet, where I donated "extra" shirts and slacks that I never seem to get around to wearing. It went further as my digitization/scanning project continues to eliminate paper files.
Then I really got serious. I unfriended my aforementioned "friends." I came to the conclusion that constant venom like theirs is unhealthy, even if amusing and even if I might agree with some of it some of the time.
From now on, I want to spend my Facebook time with thoughtful, caring people, rather than angry people. I want to catch up on family news, meaningful milestones, and well-reasoned analysis. I want to be uplifted and in turn, I want to be uplifting.
To do that, I've established new guidelines for myself, whenever I'm thinking about speaking my mind on social media. If you're inclined to opine on current events and don't want to get black-listed, you too may want to consider these ideas:
  • Try taking a walk before telling your foes to take a hike.
  • Try giving them the benefit of the doubt before giving them a piece of your mind.
  • Try sleeping on it before pouncing on it.
  • Try toning it down rather than ratcheting it up.
  • Try building others up rather than tearing them down.

You may discover, as I have, that your persuasiveness increases when you lower your voice and think through your ideas before lashing out. You may catch others off-guard with a positive, common-sensical message rather than an angry one.

The essence of a joyful, abundant life is distinguishing between what truly matters and what doesn't; then getting rid of the junk and filling that space with sweet, kind, beautiful, loving, and eternal things. Sometimes I need to remind myself of this and act accordingly, including on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - A Sister or a Brother is a Built-in Friend



"Children of the same family, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply." Jane Austen 


Last week, business took me to my home state of New Mexico to facilitate a Family Council Meeting and Family Foundation Meeting in Santa Fe with a client family from Oklahoma. Afterwards I spent a few days with five of my own brothers and sisters who still live in the Land of Enchantment. It was deeply nourishing on many levels.
Ours was a large "yours, mine, and ours" family, with 13 siblings altogether. I was the second of my parents' seven children. My older brother Alan was killed on his bike by a drunk hit-and-run driver when he was 8 and I was 6. Two years later, my mother died of throat cancer. About a year after that, my father Marion married Elaine, a widow whose husband had died of leukemia. She brought her five children into the mix.
Marion and Elaine worked long and hard to meld us into a unified family. That idea eventually took root and we came to fully believe it. The birth of our youngest brother, Brent, helped to weld us together. Technically we may be wholes, halfs, and steps, but we don't think of ourselves that way. We're just brothers and sisters.
Before last week, I hadn't seen my brothers and sisters since our most recent siblings-and-spouses' reunion two years ago in Illinois, when we took this picture.

My visits with each of them were deep and rich and soul-satisfying. It's easy to "get down to the lick log," as they say in the South, when you've been through what we've experienced together.
The passing of the years and the extended distance don't change that. We've gotten slower and grayer, but that doesn't diminish our profound and timeless connection. We love being together. There's a unique and unbreakable bond among us.
Clara Ortega's description fits the relationship we now share: "To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we really are. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time."
It's a powerful thing to be with a group who all understand where we came from because we all came from there together. I'm beginning to appreciate the implications of Susan Scarf Merrell's observation that "[o]ur brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk."
We're not completely over the hill and we haven't faded into the sunset just yet, but as we approach our twilight years, it's comforting and reassuring to know we're not traveling that road alone. We're part of a circle of built-in friends. We are brothers and sisters.
I think Marion and Elaine would be proud of what we've become.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Old Glory: Messy and Resilient


"I believe that our Constitution is inspired and that it is based on principles that are timeless and universal. This is the reason why 95% of all written constitutions throughout the world are modeled after our Constitution." Stephen R. Covey


To the casual observer, the political scene these days seems fierce and messy, and indeed it is. There is serious and continuous rancor between and within the political parties; between the President and the Congress; between the House and the Senate; between the President and the courts; between the federal government and the states; and between the elected politicians and the professional bureaucracies. The press and the media have gone far beyond reporting the contention to becoming combatants themselves (although some would argue that they always have been but now have cast aside the guise of neutrality.)  It's almost sickening to watch.
I, for one, however, am not distressed by this unseemly scene. In fact, I believe our federal system of government was intentionally built to work this way and as long as it continues to do so, our nation will survive and thrive. Let me explain.
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and those other geniuses who gathered in Philadelphia in 1777 to revise and ultimately replace the Articles of Confederation, understood first-hand the dangers of an efficient and all-powerful monarch. Their vision was to create a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," unlike anything else on the face of the earth.
These post-revolutionary patriots were no strangers to political conflict. As they met and sketched out the future of their country, they were required to balance and accommodate the competing and entrenched interests of small states and large states; Northern states and Southern states; delegates who wanted a strong central government and delegates who wanted a weak central government; those who trusted the will of the common people and those committed to government by the elites; those who wanted to copy the British model and those who wanted nothing to do with it; and many other contrasting viewpoints.
The wise and inspired structure they fashioned divided and disbursed the various levers of power among different branches of government and between the states and the national government. These competing interests were woven into an intricate tapestry of checks and balances that prevents too much power from accruing to any one official or group by pitting it against the interests of other officials, branches, and levels of government.
Their system also empowered individuals and non-governmental organizations to hold government in check by expressly safeguarding the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the sanctity of jury trials, the right to bear arms, and a long list of additional citizen-based rights and protections. They designed a limited government that would be subservient to the very citizenry it governed, an idea radically novel for its time that has become the gold standard for good governments everywhere.
The result of their magnificent efforts is a gloriously messy and inefficient system. As they intended, our government can't move forward unless a substantial plurality of citizens and officials agree on a given issue. Where a question is hotly debated and not clearly decided, government doesn't act. Is it sloppy and sometimes wasteful? Yes, indeed. But as humorist Will Rogers once insightfully quipped, "Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for." That's the point of what our forefathers created - getting less government rather than more.
As frustrating and exasperating as this can be at times, the alternative would be governmental policies that vacillated wildly with the changing whims of the majority or the dictatorial leader of the moment. The rights of the minority would be under constant threat, and the reassuring political climate that is essential for growth and prosperity would be swept away. Much of what we have come to expect and appreciate as "the American way of life" could not survive in such a climate.
This model has been "stress-tested" in situations far more volatile and far more dangerous than today's tense environment. It has survived and "worked" through the westward expansion of the nation; during the bitter fight over the abolition of slavery and the Civil War; for the duration of the long decades of Reconstruction; as we fought two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the long and tense Cold War; and throughout the terrorist onslaught of the 21st Century. It has stood the test of time.
Notwithstanding all the messiness - or to be more accurate - because of all the messiness, the United States of America is strong and resilient, a beacon to the world. It has provided us fortunate Americans with the highest levels of individual freedoms, the greatest degree of self-determination, and the most extraordinary material abundance the world has ever known. In fact, in the long history of this planet, no country has even come close to delivering to its citizens the measure of blessings we Americans enjoy. On this Fourth of July, I concur with Calvin Coolidge, who said, "To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race."
God Bless America!