New Voices

dealing with change

This is a personal post. Turn back now if you don’t want to go there. However, I’m talking with many people — at all stages of life — who share my experience. Perhaps this will strike a chord. You see, I once had a plan for my life. Or should I say, my life has been a notebook full of plans. At each turn in my existence, I had a clear idea of what I would be and where I would go and when I would reach certain milestones. Now I’m hearing new voices.

new voices

(photo credit: Kalen Emsley/unsplash.com)

My latest life plan, the one that is now stuffed in a back pocket of that notebook, was to finish out my career in place and continue to serve in those comfortable spots I had already found. By that I mean, I would just do what I’ve been doing for the past 16 years, slowing slightly, and then quietly exiting. But then I heard new voices in vocation.

Those new voices have planted a challenge to do exciting things with a renewed purpose, as well as the elements needed to make those things happen. The new voices I’m hearing about my vocation are strong, encouraging, and clear.

My life plan is missing, though.

There is a chilling quietness from the voices that speak to the rest of my life. I’m not lost. I’m not without direction. I just haven’t begun to listen for or hear the new voices — the voices about personal things and spiritual things. Because of the emerging plans at work, personal and spiritual life has been disrupted. Not shattered, but disrupted.

How about you? Do you long for new voices? Do you feel you’ve become mired in what has been and do you long for what will be? Are you drifting just a bit?

From some good mentors, I believe I am beginning to hear the whispers of what will be strong new voices. Let me share what they’re saying — just in case you’re straining to hear as I am.

  1. Spend most of your energy listening.
    Although I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to be quiet over the past six decades, I’m confident that I have rarely taken that advice to heart. Be quiet. Experience the peace that comes when you watch the river calmly flow past.
  2. Dwell on good things . . . about people, about your position in life, about your future.
    There’s more than enough of these to keep you occupied and thankful.
  3. Fill your time with meaningful and valuable activities.
    Whenever possible, be with family and friends — listening and sharing. (For my fellow introverts, spend a little time scheduling your alone-times. There’s time enough for everything. We often use the excuse of our introversion to avoid what we may need the most.) Read good books. Watch worthwhile media. Sing along with uplifting songs. Take walks. Pray . . . a lot.
  4. Don’t despair over what you don’t know.
    Anxiety is simply the fear of what hasn’t happened yet. Let go. Find the next best step for you to take and joy in knowing it’s there.
  5. Be hesitant to give advice.
    (I hope you smile a bit as you think about the irony here.) Instead, ask questions. Not as cross-examination, but as a curious friend. What will you do next? How are feeling? Why do you think that (whatever “that” is) happened?
  6. Wait.
    Let time, let God, do what time and God do.

I am confident that a new life plan is emerging — both for me and for you. And I’m blessed that your life plan will make mine better.

What can I do?

unrecognized answers to prayer

With each news story of a black person losing life in a police-related incident, I have become increasingly anxious. Despite my friends and acquaintances of color telling me stories of such occurrences for many years, only in recent years have I begun to fathom the problem and the tragedy. I stand convicted of chosen ignorance and inaction. As I left the office yesterday, I was praying, “Lord, what can I do?”

never-happened

[photo credit: Patrick Tomasso]

Traffic was heavy and I decided to explore a new route home. The slower pace through a neighborhood of large, expensive homes had a calming effect on me. This wasn’t the most efficient route — there was a 4-way stop at almost every corner. Still, it was a break from the congestion.

As I approached one of those intersections, I saw a vehicle waiting. At first I thought that the driver was intending to turn. Then I noticed that it was his emergency flashers that were blinking. Even though he was there first and to my right, he waved me on. I understood. He was having car trouble. Moving ahead, I saw for the first time that he was black.

Fifteen minutes later, still on my commute, the reality of his situation suddenly occurred to me. He was a solitary black man in a disabled vehicle in a predominantly white neighborhood. For all I knew, he lived nearby. But even if he did, was he sitting and waiting for help in fear for his life?

I wouldn’t be. I’m white.

I couldn’t keep from thinking how that would be different for someone with a different skin color.

Lord, what can I do?

I always feel pretty shallow when God gives me an answer and I miss it. I could have pulled over, offered my phone if he needed it, been a friendly stranger offering company, and stood close by until he was safely on his way. Yes, I know the arguments against that stemming from personal safety concerns.

But at some point, we have to do something. Particularly if it’s an answer to prayer. Don’t we? What’s God telling you?

Political Uncertainty

polling the masses

On social media several months back, I made a post that was, by all counts, neutral. (By the way, “by all counts” is code for “in my opinion.”) Some of my readers understood my message to be one of uncertainty and proceeded to try to persuade me to line up behind her or his candidate. So, in a comment, I stated that I would not vote for either.  There was no political uncertainty in my mind because I was aware of what I did not want as a leader.

Photo on 7-13-14 at 7.39 AM

I still don’t want those things in a leader. Yet, I will vote and, after looking at the third and fourth candidates and their platforms, I will vote for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. But my political uncertainty is back.

The subject of politics comes up in almost any context I find myself. Three times yesterday. Two times the day before. I even had a discussion with a kind Swiss anthropologist somewhere in the air between Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Zurich, Switzerland last month.

It  has surprised me that I have learned something new in almost every conversation.

First, I’ve learned that a good number of those participating in my unscientific and stealth poll have not spent a lot of time studying the major issues. Among this group are those people who support Mr. Trump and base that support on how funny it is when he says something . . . Trumpish. Also in this group are those who have ignored Mrs. Clinton’s platform with the lofty belief that all-things-Republican are stupid. I wouldn’t classify these people — on either side of the aisle — as deplorable. But they do seem to be woefully uninformed. And, I’m not making a statistical study here, but there appear to be a lot of them.

Second, I’ve discovered that there is a substantial group of voters who will make their decision based on a single policy or issue. They truly understand what is at stake for that particular issue and they stand strongly with their candidate on that basis. Their focus on that single issue justifies their choice — and their decision to ignore all else.

Third, I have had the opportunity to talk with a very few individuals who are making a broader analysis of the candidates and basing their decision on a careful weighing of the impact of the election on multiple issues. I specifically selected some of these people because I had hope that I could gain direction from them — and perhaps I wouldn’t have to do the hard work of discerning all those things on my own. The problem is that I have different priorities and, in some cases, beliefs.

Frankly, I’m frightened by the choices we have — and have been in every presidential election in recent years. We have to reboot our political system. The tried and true party system is largely failing us. We have been sitting back and letting others think for us.

As painful as it has been, political uncertainty has been a tremendous blessing for me. For the first time in years, I’ve been forced to think. It’s not always comfortable. But it’s one of the highest plateaus of freedom.

NEAT Communication – Timely

In this series of posts on NEAT Communication, we have looked at essential elements in seeking true understanding and promoting dialog. Necessary – Effective – Accurate – and now Timely.*

cropped-PB-logo.004

As a young boy, I was fascinated with performance. For a good number of years, I regularly prayed that God would bring me talent — singing, playing an instrument, sports. It really didn’t matter what, I simply wanted to be recognized for something. In answer to my prayers, God wiped out my singing voice (I was a remarkable soprano until puberty), provided me with a notable void in musical ability (although I did do a little drumming over the years), and made me short, slow, and generally uncoordinated. Seriously, I couldn’t have had a richer blessing.

As I dealt with the disappointments of non-achievement in those areas I felt certain would bring me fame, I was allowed to stretch and exercise some other gifts. Reading, writing, speaking. I still longed to be a performer, however. And, I believed that my niche would be humor. Back in the day, many of the main-line comedians produced clean acts that were recorded on long-playing (LP) records (that’s vinyl, for those of you who are just now discovering the ways of the past). I would sit and listen to these folks for hours and memorize their routines.

I did realize that I would go nowhere simply by doing their routines. The gift of the comedian was her or his ability to see life and see the humor that naturally bubbles up and to tell their personal stories. It was this experience that propelled me into the world of storytelling.

I never really became a master of storytelling. But, I did discover something important as I made the attempt.

Timing is everything.

memes-009Basically, to be a strong communicator, you have to balance the attributes of patience and assertiveness. You have to know when to say something — not too soon and not too late. In conflict management, we talk about the importance of timeliness in terms of “ripeness.” If a conflict is not ripe — if it’s green, no one wants to deal with it. If it’s over-ripe, there’s not much you can do with it.

Communication is like that. How often have you heard it said that a warning was given, but it went unheeded because it wasn’t timely? And we all know that a warning given after the fact, has no value.

For communication to be valuable, it must be timely. And that timeliness requires us to be vigilant, patient, and assertive.

* Just in case you wondered, yes, I find it ironic — and humorous —  that this post on timeliness is appearing over 5 months after the previous one in the series. Hardly a timely thing, this.

Diplomacy

it's not just about getting your way

This morning, I was able to hear an excerpt from President Obama’s press conference in China. This trip has seen what appears to be purposeful disrespect from the Chinese, the announcement of North Korean missile test firings, a missed opportunity to come to agreement with Russia about the conflict in Syria, and now an open challenge from the Philippines president as to what our President may or may not address in upcoming conversations. President Obama, arguably the most powerful individual in the world, responded with diplomacy.

DI LOGO

No, my right-leaning friends, it wasn’t weakness on his part. And no, my left-leaning friends, it wasn’t genius.

It was diplomacy.

Whether they were well-planned or spontaneous, his answers were appropriate and, well, diplomatic. By addressing the inquiries with calmness, reflection, and a careful choice of words, President Obama assured that he — and thus we, as a nation — continued to have a place at the table. I appreciate diplomacy. It keeps dialog alive.

I am not a fan of all of President Obama’s policies and strategies. Yet, I do respect him and the way that he goes about his work. Among many other good things, he is a diplomat.

Odd, isn’t it, that we have chosen a system of elections that no longer honors diplomacy? Instead, we now seem to appreciate and value violent confrontation. Perhaps it isn’t always physical, yet we have seen rhetorical violence lead to violence. We teach our children that shouting louder, exhibiting anger, and refusing to consider ways to work together is the way to get ahead in life. In polite parenting circles and in our parent-teacher conferences, we decry such behavior. Yet, that’s what we demand of the candidates in our political system. Our children are our witnesses to our choices.

Our current election system is focused on power.

Here’s a short history lesson: When power dominates, over time we push for laws to form boundaries to limit power. When laws abound, bureaucracy grows. When bureaucracy grows, certain groups, empowered by the privilege created by bureaucracy assemble power. You would assume that this would be an endless cycle. But every so often there is a hiccup. Those not empowered become frustrated and desperate. Revolution. Chaos. A new power base is formed — often from an outside force that celebrates this moment of weakness. Rarely is this disruptive force beneficial.

The only remedy for this self-destructive path is dialog, understanding, and collaboration. Yes, my colleagues and my students in conflict resolution, the answer is a focus on the interests of all involved. Diplomacy is an essential part of the picture.

Yet, we, the voters, demand blood.

I left out another important piece of that history lesson. Most often, the voters get what they ask for.

Maybe we should be asking for more diplomacy, longer sessions at the table and fewer knock-out blows.

Remember, most often, you’ll get what you ask for.