Listen. Read. Communicate.

“It is only when we go outside that comfort zone, and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don’t agree with, that we can make an informed judgment on any matter.” – Steve Anderson, Chief of Police, Nashville, TN

A friend of mine, knowing my generally liberal stance on most issues, tagged me in a Facebook post about Al Sharpton yesterday. The week prior, we had a discussion about Rev. Sharpton where we disagreed about his efficacy. As such, when he came across an article that articulated his point on the subject, he tagged me. This set off a lengthy and, initially, a heated conversation about police and community relations.

Right out of the gate, I was pissed, if I’m being honest. I felt attacked. How could he not see my point of view? How does what I feel not make sense to him? Chalk it up to the narrow minded conservative right, right?

At a certain point, though, we each relaxed. For whatever reason, we calmed down and stopped firing off texts without reading what the other had written. We asked questions. That bled over into today. We discussed more topics, and what we found is that we actually shared similar beliefs on a whole lot of issues. Sure, we didn’t agree 100% on everything, but it felt much easier to discuss things when there was no fear of offense.

My interest in politics and social issues may stem from getting older…I don’t know. I find myself getting more and more worked up over social and political issues than I ever have. What I’ve noticed (and it’s hardly a revelatory observation) is that we are beyond divided. We’re fractured, and this fractured division is largely due to poor communication. Mostly, it’s because of an inability or utter unwillingness to listen to an opposing viewpoint and seriously consider it. Instead, we seek out only the information that suits our agendas. We repeat blatant falsehoods that we read online and don’t bother to fact-check it. We shut off any possibilities of being exposed to differing opinions as if it is somehow going to infect us.

We are not helping to close the rift that we have created. In order to do this, we have to start listening. We have to start being open to the possibility that what we believe may or may not be actually true. We have to allow for the possibility that, though it may be painful, sometimes personal change is the only way to truly advance.

Let’s, like Chief Anderson says, “subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don’t agree with” for the possibility that middle ground can be reached and progress can be made.

Listen. Read. Communicate. It’s the best possible way to start to close an ever widening gap.

Have an awesome Tuesday,
-A.

P.S. – To read an outstanding example of this, read Chief Anderson’s response to a letter he received from a concerned citizen.

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The Real Value of Giving

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank

This past week, one of my co-workers brought in some gifts for the office. Now, most office exchanges will range from a Secret Santa arrangement to a white elephant get together to buying gift cards for everyone. Truthfully, we participate in none of that.

As several of us sat in the office, he told us the story that led to his purchase of our special gifts. He was in the dollar store with his girlfriend when she asked if he had gotten anything for people at work. He said that he had not, and she then mentioned that he should get us something. He then proceeded to tell her a little bit about each person, which led to what must have amounted to a scavenger hunt around the dollar store to find our “perfect” gifts.

All told, he had purchased an individualized and unique gift for everyone in the office for what he said was a grand total of eight dollars. A magic towel in the shape of a baseball for me, a clock necklace for a time conscientious colleague, a candle for another, a rock star door hang for the music lover, a jumping frog desk game for another, a pair of pink slippers for one who loves to kick off her heels, and a film strip picture frame with pictures of the deer he finally tagged for another.

I’m certain that these gifts were not the most extravagant that any of us received throughout the holiday season. But, they were no doubt among the most special. It became such a fun moment for each of us to talk about, and the looks of excitement and anticipation on everyone’s faces as we watched others receive their gifts truly embodied the spirit of the season.

This thoughtful gesture reminded me that giving did not need to be about buying gifts for the sake of buying them. It was about giving from the heart whether you spend a single dollar or a hundred dollars. Prior to Thursday, I found myself a few times saying that I spent too much money on Christmas presents.

However, as I watched my family, Lauren, and her family open their gifts and be truly appreciative, I thought a lot about my co-worker’s small gesture. It was not about the money, and it really was not about the gift. It was the act of giving something from the heart that made me feel rich beyond belief.

As we move forward from the Christmas season, the spirit tends to drift away, and people tend to move back towards thoughts of themselves over others. I challenge you to remember that we can and should always be in the giving spirit. It does not cost much or anything really. We can give our time, our energy, or our money.

What matters is that we think from the heart to lift people up and put their needs before our own. While we may have to sacrifice a little bit of our precious time, energy, or money, the riches you gain from the gratitude and appreciation of others will far outweigh any perceived costs, even those as little as eight dollars.

Bring your best today!

Love, Noah

 

Windows on the World

“Begin challenging your assumptions. Your assumptions are the windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.” – Alan Alda

I saw one of those “funny” e-cards on the Internet today.

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Hilarious, huh? Yeah…

We tend to make broad assumptions about things that we don’t know about. We base these assumptions on things we couldn’t possibly know about. We’ve all likely heard people talk poorly about those who receive assistance. They write them off as lazy, manipulative, and “ghetto”, apparently. We all know someone who is abusing the system and we bitch about them and their new iPhone, freshly done nails, and Coach bag. Do we all know the actual welfare statistics? Negative. Do we know all the people who receive welfare? No, we do not. But we pass judgment on a whole passel of folks because of what we assume to be true. Do you think it’s statistically possible that every single person is manipulating the system? I’d say that’s doubtful.

Let me get off my soapbox on that.

The point I’m ham-fistedly driving at is this: we don’t know what we don’t know. Passing judgment is not our responsibility, nor is it even necessary. I understand it to a degree: we pay a whole bunch of money in taxes and a portion of that goes into a giant pool that is then used to help others. Some people do take advantage of that situation, and we resent that. But it’s a slippery slope to assume that everyone who falls under a certain umbrella is the worst of what we believe them to be.

If Alan Alda is correct, and our assumptions are the windows on the world, our windows don’t need to be scrubbed: they need to be replaced completely. As we continue to divide ourselves socially and politically, our assumptions grow in scope and depth. All black people are this… All white people are this… All cops are this… It’s an insane way of thinking, but it has been so ingrained in us that it’s hard to break.

It can be broken, though. Admittedly, it would be an extremely difficult exercise, but, with practice, it can be done. I propose that we approach it like this: everyone gets a clean slate and the benefit of the doubt until they give you reason to remove it. Don’t paint people into corners that they can’t get out of. Don’t force people into places where they can’t fit.

I say we start there and see where it gets us. I can only assume it will be a much happier place, but then again, you know what happens when you assume…

Have an awesome Tuesday, and Merry Christmas!

-A.

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(E-card photo pulled from http://philthyheathen.blogspot.com/2013/10/does-anyone-even-know-what-welfare-is.html?m=1)

Talent is not a Gift

“Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

Late one recent evening, I found myself immersed in television watching Sister Act 2.  I recall the scene where Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopi Goldberg) brings her misfit class into what amounted to an attic space after telling them she wanted to make them into a choir.  There, she had them sing, first individually (not so bad), then as a group (not so great).

As most films go, shortly after this point, Sister Act 2 launched into its montage.  Here, clips were shown of the group as it started transforming from a bunch of individual freestyle singers into a choir.  By the time the few minutes long montage ended, the group was standing before the entire student body, administration, and faculty ready to wow them at its first performance.

As far as Hollywood entertainment goes, I understand the rationale behind such a production move.  It advances the plot much quicker, provides context without destroying entertainment value, and keeps the viewers’ interest piqued.

But, from a realistic perspective, I thought about what this montage glossed over in its few minutes of footage and what message it could be sending.  The impression it gave was that this group magically banded together to form an awesome choir simply because someone cared enough to assemble them and make them such.

The reality of the situation is that it takes hard work.  It takes practice.  It takes repeated failure, correction, and repetition to develop the skills necessary to perform at an elite level.

Too often we expect our talent to develop overnight.  It doesn’t.  Too often we try something once and quit because we were not any good at it.  Why would we expect to be great at something we have never done before?  Too often we give up before we ever get started.

Talent is not magic.  We are not born with it.  We are not just naturals.

Michael Jordan is not considered one of the greatest to ever play basketball because of magic ability bestowed on him.  Peyton Manning was not born with the ability to be an elite NFL quarterback.  Even Roy Hobbs of The Natural was not blessed with a gift for baseball.

Michael Jordan worked and practiced hard.  Peyton Manning studies the game better than anyone else.  Roy Hobbs threw pitches at the side of a barn over and over as a kid.

Do you want to be better at math, at piano, at singing, at sports?

Practice.  Don’t quit when it gets hard or you make a mistake.  Figure it out.  Correct the errors.  Work at it again.  Over and over and over again.

Don’t gloss over the work and effort.  Don’t sweep your mistakes under the rug.  Don’t take the easy way out.

The formula for developing skill can be simply stated:  Hours upon hours of repeated deep practice.

Will you put in the work or will you gloss over it and take the easy way out?

Bring your best today!

Love, Noah

 

It Starts at Home

Children are like wet cement; whatever falls on them makes an impression.
– Haim Ginott

It starts at home.

The first time I slipped up and dropped a four letter word and my son repeated it, I knew this to be true. For better or worse, the things that we say and do are reflected in and by our kids. So, why would that not also be true when it comes to things like bias and prejudice?

Regularly I see stories posted on Facebook that look too outrageous or unbelievable to be true. I came across one recently and had to do some personal research to fact-check. Unfortunately, my research found the story to be 100% true. Ronin Shimizu was a 12 year old boy. He enjoyed cheerleading. However, since this isn’t considered the “norm”, he was bullied for it. He was bullied so much, in fact, that he ended up taking his own life. Over what? Cheerleading? Certainly we’re not that dense as a population that we can’t wrap our heads around a boy wanting to be involved in cheerleading. Certainly we’re not so petty as to allow this to be the basis for ridicule.

But, alas, we are. At least in this case.

Sure, kids can be cruel. We’ve all seen how that works. Hell, a lot of us have been on the wrong end of that cruelty (I found out early on that I was not at an acceptable height for a lot of folks). Here’s the bothersome part, though: kids don’t come equipped with knowledge like this. It’s learned. My 3 year old son has no idea what it means to be short or why it even matters. He doesn’t understand the rationale of some that “only girls should be involved in cheerleading”. Further, if my wife and I are doing our jobs, these things won’t ever occur to him by virtue of any lesson we do teach.

“It starts at home.” This comment was attached the original posting I saw on Facebook, and it struck me as patently true and poignant. We’ve got to do a better job of showing our kids how to love and how to show compassion and empathy. Without those values, the cycle of judgment and hate will continue to repeat itself.

It starts at home.

Have an awesome Wednesday,
-A.

Hi! Thank you for reading. Check out the rest of the blog @ shorthoptimism.wordpress.com. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Have an outstanding day. Goodbye now.

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One Piece at a Time

Let me start with a story:

Two friends were walking on the beach and came across a bunch of starfish stranded on the shore.  One person starts picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean.  The other friend asks, “Why are you doing that?  There are so many starfish stranded on the beach, you can’t possibly help them all.”  The first friend then picks up another starfish and throws it back into the ocean, then says, “I made a difference for that one.”

Too often in life, we fell as though we have to make a big splash.  We want what we are doing to have an impact on many.  We believe our actions have to help everyone.  We feel that if what we do does not make enough of an impression on everyone, why bother doing it at all?

So, we don’t.  We choose not to make a difference for anyone because we do not believe one is enough.  We think why bother if no one will notice.

What if we all adopted the mentality of “the first friend”?  What if we set out today to make a difference in the life of that one person in front of us at that very moment?  What if, instead of looking at the bigger picture with a negative outlook, we looked at the smaller present with a positive one?

When we set out to complete a jigsaw puzzle, we are not able to make a huge difference in one move or with one piece.  Instead, we have to take it one piece at a time, and slowly as we being to connect a series of individual pieces, our masterpiece begins to emerge.

Suppose that every day we were given just one piece of the puzzle.  Would we play it and choose to make a difference for one individual as we begin to build our masterpiece?  Or would we choose to ignore it thinking that our one piece is not enough to do anything?

Perhaps, we should all think of adopting the mindset of “the first friend”.  Start making a difference one piece, one conversation, one kind gesture, one interaction, one person, or one starfish at a time.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Take that step today.

Bring your best today!

Love, Noah

Isn’t It Kind Of Silly?

“Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?” – Sean Covey

I heard a story recently about a woman who decided to make some changes in her life. She decided to start eating better and working out regularly. The results of her hard work and willpower were noticeable. She felt better physically and mentally. She also lost weight and toned up. All good things, right? For some unfathomable reason, some people around her felt the need to tell her that she had gotten too skinny and needed to “eat a pork chop”.

A few years ago when I decided (again) to go back to school, I told a friend about my plans. He just laughed at me. He made a sarcastic comment to the effect of, “yeah, I’m sure you’ll finish this time,” and laughed. He knew that college was something I had tried a few times before and hadn’t gotten through.

Why do we choose to tear people down when they’ve accomplished things? When people make the effort to better themselves, why do some of us have an immediate need to poke holes in those efforts? Initially, I’d point to low self-esteem and general insecurity. We see others making positive changes and feel that we’re stagnant, so we decide to minimize what they have done. Or, we feel insecure about our appearances or perceived lack of accomplishments, so, to make ourselves feel better, we take whatever steps necessary to diminish others. Put more succinctly, per psychologist Jeffrey Sherman,

“When we feel bad about ourselves, we can denigrate other people, and that makes us feel better about ourselves.”

The flip side of that is that we are far less likely to put others down when we feel better about ourselves. Instead of wasting time bringing others down for their positive steps, take some of your own. Not happy with your weight, for example? Exercise. Eat better. Set goals and work to achieve them. Encourage others and let them encourage you. Stop wasting precious time and energy on tearing other people down who have made decisions to better themselves. That is a poor substitute for making yourself better or solving your own issues.

If it is true that our general outlook can frame how we view others, there are solutions to that as well. Learn how to feel better about yourself. Determine where your weaknesses are and address them. Calling someone “too skinny” won’t make you skinnier. An exercise routine and a healthier diet will, though. Laughing at someone for wanting to further their education won’t advance your career any quicker, but setting goals for advancement for yourself sure
couldn’t hurt.

Start making yourself feel better. Get you figured out before you start casting aspersions on those around you. You will make exactly zero progress by tearing down someone else’s. Hop to it.

Have an awesome Tuesday,
-A.

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