You’ve heard many people say, “We have a problem.” But what they are really pointing to is a “symptom.” If you continue to do that, you’ll never understand “the problem,” and you’ll deploy “solutions” that are a waste, and actually make the problem worse.

To understand the difference between “problems” and “symptoms” requires leveraging wisdom in a set of different disciplines, including, but not limited to, personal humility, philosophical openness to contrarian ideas, scientific methodology, and mathematics.

Next time someone says, “We have a problem,” ask the following questions:

  • How certain are you that you understand the problem? If they’re “completely confident,” then they don’t understand the problem (lack of personal humility).
  • What other solutions or explanations have you considered? If there are no other options, they don’t understand the problem (lack of philosophical openness to contrarian ideas).
  • What analysis, studies, and/or tests do you refer to that has informed your understanding? And, What adjustments to your thesis have you made in light of that research? If they point to merely anecdotal evidence, circular reasoning, demonstrably false and biases studies, or no change in their thesis, they don’t understand the problem (lack of scientific methodology).
  • What assumptions are you working with? Bad question. Rather, When did you first realize this problem? This gets at the “data” set the person is working with. If they’re operating on their “first understanding,” they don’t understand the problem (lack of mathematical inquiry).

offended |əˈfendəd| : “resentful or annoyed, typically as a result of a perceived insult.”

mature |məˈCHo͝or| : something has “fully developed” or has “reached an advanced stage of mental or emotional development.”

Therefore, someone who is easily offended means that they have not reached a level of mental or emotional development capable of understanding that which offends. Maturity would empower an individual to rise above a threatening situation or circumstance, deconstruct the factors that have led to the perceived threat/insult, and respond in a way that de-escalates an other’s attack, focusing on the “thing” rather than the “person.”

May we all become more mature, less insulted, more proficient at de-escalation, and more skillful at focusing our attention on understanding rather than threat.

Throughout history, humanity has dealt with one big daunting question, What do I do with the “other?” Given that the fear center of our brain (the limbic system) is designed to protect us and keep us safe, and that it is the most primitive of our faculties, humans’ first — and seemingly reasonable — impulse, is to fear. Differences are primarily perceived as threats. Those differences could be as simple as skin color, or as complex as language. The general thought is that by fearing (and the cascading journey towards demonizing) the “other,” we are more safe.

However, our spiritual and evolutionary biology has brilliantly developed another impulse, a more refined and nuanced understanding of the other, one that wires the brain differently, and that is to love; to embrace, accept, inquire about, learn more from, and welcome. And this development is huge. Why?

Because love activates the social and thinking parts of one’s brain, and, can actually suppress the amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for “fight or flight.” That’s amazing. Read that! Love. Suppresses. Fear.

In other words, fear begets more fear (the activation of the fear center in everyone’s brains). This causes everyone to begin fighting one another (less safe). If you perceive the other as a threat, they begin to perceive you in the same way. It’s reciprocal. But, in the same way, love begets more love (the suppression of the fear center in everyone’s brains). This causes everyone to begin welcoming one another (more safe). It is also just reciprocal.

So, if you want to consider the question of, What do I do with the other? in regards to the question, What is more safe? The answer is simple. Love.

Or, put another way, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Facts are not beliefs. Facts are merely objective data points that reflect reality. It is a common misconception that people in positions of power have a responsibility to report the facts. In reality, everyone has a responsibility to report the facts, and submit to them, regardless of your “title” or “position.” That’s just the nature of facts.

Leadership, then, is the responsibility, not to state the facts to their constituents — as if people are just waiting for their leaders to give them data — but to shape the culture of conversations that people have around those facts. People in power, be they political, business, or even familial, easily fall into the trap of believing that their primary (if not sole) responsibility is to berate their constituents with data. Then, tell them what to do with the data. This is more about power than about leadership. Some leaders are incompetent and insecure, so they pivot, or worse, defend their “facts,” even when inconsistencies or inaccuracies are pointed out to them.

Leadership, good leadership, submits to the facts. Good leadership promotes common understanding of facts. Good leadership does not merely dismiss or explain away other meaning sets. Good leadership acknowledges and honors those meaning sets, and then considers and implements them into a better understanding of the truth. This “empathetic epistemology” shapes the conversations and culture of an organization towards productive dialogue.

It is important to recognize and then realize this truth when deciding who you are, and what work you should be doing; your personal vision, and your core commitments. It is human nature to be insecure and ultimately fearful of the many things of which we are incapable. We then instinctively admire (envy?) others who exhibit those competencies and characteristics. We fall into the abyss of comparing our deficiencies with others’ strengths.

Then we despair.

But recognizing that “most of us are incompetent at most things” helps us recognize that those we admire are also deficient in most areas, even though they have strengths in some areas. And that is a reality to which we all can relate and within which we can live.

Narrow your focus. Pay attention to your strengths. Lean into your competencies. Then do not be dissuaded by others. They’re not dissuaded by you!

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

A team with a plan is less effective than a team that has gone through the rigorous and involved process of putting that plan together. The process of planning is what builds knowledge, understanding, insight, and inspiration to execute. For this reason, outsourcing the “planning” to a third-party is detrimental to an organization’s success. The people of the organization must be fully involved, and set aside time to wade through the planning process with discipline, and diligence. Also, by involving the people who will eventually execute the plan, the process of planning allows them to “own” the plan which makes implementation far more effective.

Everybody loves and hates change. Instinctively, people know that change is good. Change means growth, development, innovation, and adventure. Change means improvement, and challenge. Emotionally, however, change is threatening. Change also means the loss of familiarity and the uncertainty of what is to come. Change can be subtly insulting to the way we’ve done things before.

Therefore, to be effective at deploying change in your organization, you must spend more time introducing the change than implementing the change. Introduction helps people understand. Introduction connects the organization to the reasons and purposes–the “why”–behind the change. Introduction acknowledges and honors the history of people’s work, a necessary liturgy to bring closure to the past. Introduction also allows buy-in. Introduction permits organizational collaboration, and mitigates all of the negatives and positives of the change.

Failure to introduce the change well means that leaders will fight against their people to make the change happen. Introducing a change effectively results in leaders who fight with their people to make sure the change happens well.

Many managers take issue with employees/constituents who argue. They feel it is threatening, or disrespectful. In addition, many leaders really wish they could move on from the arguments to “the real work” of making deals, or completing projects as they have an aversion to friction. What they miss is that conflict is evidence of people’s engagement and argument is evidence of some measure of commitment. The converse is apathy, and apathy is deadly to an organization.

Why?

Good leaders know that healthy, productive conflict, and passionate arguments dig up essential ideas and perspectives that are necessary for the success of an organization. Blind leaders value complacent compliance.

Leaders are most effective when they recognize that conflict is the work, not a hindrance to it. And if managers and leaders can leverage that work to get to the best possible ideas, now you’re on the road toward being an effective leader.

Embrace messy conversations. Abhor silent apathy. Don’t be afraid to dig in the conflict quarry. In it are precious materials that will greatly contribute to the success of your organization.

Tactical victories are particular battles you fight and win. Strategic successes, however, are the end results of all the battles you fight and whether or not they realize the ultimate aims, goals, and objectives of an organization. It is possible to win the tactical fight, and lose the strategic goal. It is just as possible to conflate a tactical victory with a strategic success, even though they are not always the same thing.

Kodak won the tactical victory of owning 90% of the camera film market share, but they lost the photography industry, failing to understand or foresee the prevalence of the digital age; a strategic failure.

The United States won several tactical victories in the Middle East military campaigns, but failed to strategically succeed in bringing security, safety, and stability to that region and to US soil.

Tactical victories are winning the fight with your spouse. Strategic successes are behaviors that cause your marriage to grow more loving, and more intimate.

Tactical victories are about getting your way. Strategic successes are about achieving the right way.

Tactical decisions are about problems that need to be solved. Strategic decisions are about fulfilling the vision of the organization.

Tactical decisions do not necessarily influence other tactical dilemmas. Strategic decisions, on the other hand, manifestly influence every other decision in an organization.

There is a direct relationship between how much you prioritize the care of the people in your organization with how much they prioritize the organization over their own selfish desires and ambitions. The more willing you are to prioritize your people, the more willing your people are to prioritize the organization over themselves. Consequently, if you do not prioritize caring for your people, then your people will then prioritize their own selfish desires and ambitions almost always at the cost of the organization’s goals and objectives.

Caring for your people is directly related to caring about the success of your organization.

Too many people in this world avoid personal or professional development because the unstated implication of growth and maturation is that there is some level of incompetency or immaturity that exists in your current state of understanding. This is known as being “insecure,” “feeling threatened,” or “being vulnerable.” This dynamic frequently sabotages and thwarts human progress.

Teachers don’t want to learn about new pedagogical approaches because it may imply they’re “bad teachers.” Parents don’t want advice from other parents for fear of and the stigma of being labeled a “bad parent.” Technical professionals don’t want to be corrected because it threatens the power of their knowledge.

et. al.

Completely against the natural impulse, the solution is to embrace a posture that says, “I am not an expert. I don’t know everything. I’m insufficient in an area of which I may be unaware. Teach me. Show me. Help me be better.”

This does not mean you do not have expertise (skills, or knowledge). To “not be an expert” does not mean idiocy, incompetence, or ignorance. In fact, it may mean the opposite; that you are not an idiot as you exemplify the wisdom of inquiry, that you are highly competent as you draw on the skill of learning, and that you know enough to be aware of blind spots and the damage of ignorance. To “not be an expert” means that your attitude is one of humility, prompting yourself to continually ask the question, “What else can I learn about my job / work / profession? What else is there to discover? How can I improve?”

Remain a rookie. Continually play the novice. Never be an expert.

Inspection, done well, communicates care, that you’re invested, and value, that the work is important. Inspection can also allow someone to “brag” and “show off” their work, instilling a sense of accomplishment or pride — a positive sense dignity and worth.

Inspection also provides accountability, and can spurn inspiration when lulls of motivation sets in.

A leader who understand the proper forms of inspection will also approach inspection as a detective, someone who investigates strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, breakdowns in communication, and blind spots. This heightens the leader’s ability to listen, and understand reality, the first step of a leader.

In other words, leadership demands that we pay attention.

Irving Janis, author of Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, has defined group think as,

the deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures. (p.9)

There are several common characteristics that emerge from groupthink:

  1. The Illusion of Invulnerability. Group members collectively believe they are invincible, thus creating excessive optimism that encourages the taking of extreme risks.
  2. Collective Rationalization. Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  3. The Tendency to Moralize / Stereotyped Views of Out-Groups. Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions. Opposition to the group’s position is viewed as weak, evil, or unintelligent.
  4. Feeling/Illusion of Unanimity. While members may have reservations, rather than appearing weak, they keep dissenting views to themselves. This indicates how the pressure toward group solidarity can distort the judgment of individual members. The majority view and judgments are therefore assumed to be unanimous.
  5. Pressure to Conform / Self-Censorship. Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed because divergent views are discouraged.
  6. Self-Appointed “mindguards.” Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

In other words, “groupthink makes the mind stink.”

Solution:

  1. Encourage the group to state objections and doubts.
  2. Leaders should avoid taking sides or (prematurely) endorsing a particular course of action.
  3. Break the group into subgroups to work on the same problem and then share the proposed solutions with the group.
  4. Invite in outside experts to give feedback on group processes and proposed solutions.
  5. Assign a group member to play “devil’s advocate” sot hat important objections are raised.

When someone passes judgment on another, it is often done to “rank order” the other person against oneself. It is a measurement we make to position ourselves. And we do so, not necessarily because we think so low of the other, but because we are vulnerable to shame in that very area in which we judge.

Consider the delicate dance of commenting on someone’s parenting, and the deep sense of insecurity that all parents face.

Consider the harsh condemnation of sexual indiscretion, and the social ostracizing that occurs of any sexual deviation.

Many who are deeply offended by cursing and coarse language are often people who have left that behavior behind, and feel a sense of dishonor at their past.

When we don’t feel vulnerable to shame, we don’t feel the need to rank order. Put another way, condemnation of others is another way of affirming the self. Thus, to be free from judgmentalism we must first be freed from shame.

“Where are they? Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you.” – Jesus

Also known as “anticipation,” showing up before things blow up is a philosophy of proactive and disciplined leadership which saves time, money, and most of all, heartache.

The posture of anticipation is also not predicated on needing the skill of prediction, the ability to tell the future. The posture of anticipation is the skill of prediction. It assumes that all organizations tend towards entropy. It assumes miscommunication is the default. It assumes human frailty and error. It assumes the law of diminishing returns.

Effective deployment of anticipation is also predicated upon deep trust, deep missional conviction, and deep empathy.

If you can show up before things blow up, you’ll save your organization, and your soul as well.

As a leader, your job is not to be the one who is most creative, most intelligent, or most important. A leader’s job is to create the environments and conditions in which the most creative, most intelligent, and most important ideas and people live and thrive within the organization. And by creating that kind of culture, not only are you permitting great ideas, you are incubating them.

Having to be the smartest person in the room ironically evidences one’s complete ignorance to the brilliance that surrounds you.

The people around a great leader are not just governed, they’re empowered. They’re made to feel larger than themselves, and integral to the organization. A great leader invests power and authority into the people that leader serves, and entrusts that everyone will be as responsible with that power as the leader has been.

One catch. This must be done in a values-based organization. Results-based, or performance-based organizations will corrupt the power distribution.

Leadership: Just because effective leadership practices and principles are often misapplied, taken advantage of, or leveraged for one’s own selfish agenda, does not mean those leadership principles are invalid.

Religion: Just because religious institutions have abused power, misappropriated theological concepts, and ignored rationalism, reason, and proper philosophy, does not mean that religion itself is vapid and evil.

Technology: Just because the latest development is leveraged for illegal or immoral activity, does not mean that technology is to blame.

The question is not whether things can be misused. That is a given. The question is whether or not we will have the courage to deploy proper usage in protest of misuse and abuse.

Principle 1. Everyone on the face of the planet is a leader. Everyone lives in some kind of organization. Everyone influences other human beings in that organization. Everyone causes life to progress or digress in one or more of an infinite number of possibilities. Everyone makes a difference in outcomes. In this sense, everyone leads.

Principle 2. Few lead well. Few understand behavioral psychology, organizational dynamics, human intuition, process development, how to clarify vision, the process of establishing values, the courage of embracing challenge, the wisdom to see reality, the importance of adding value, the necessity of clarity, and the critical task of getting all of those integrated disciplines right. That’s a long and daunting list. Actually, it’s an abbreviated list. Much more could be said.

Thus the desert. I weep for those in a leadership desert. I’ve shed a lot of tears. I pray that my leadership is an oasis in which those around me can drink deeply, and be refreshed. I pray for your leadership too.

If you have experienced the benefits of an “oasis” leader, drink deeply, and say “thank you.” If you are in a leadership desert, read principle 2, and start becoming an oasis.

Stated anecdotally,

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Evelyn Beatrice Hall

It is the difference between what we want to say (impulsively, individually, with self-righteous justification) and what we ought to say (what is necessary and proper in accordance with good judgment, ethics, values, and communal propriety). To abuse the “freedom of speech” as a narcissistic warrant for slander, is to disabuse the principle, and degrade the amendment’s intention.

Don’t love books. Love ideas.

Crave them. Soak in them. Leverage them. Manipulate them. Collect them. Smash them together like a particle accelerator and see what they’re made of. Track them down like Sherlock Holmes. Perform forensic dissections on them. Release them into the wild to see what they devour, and what devours them. Serve them, like a warm meal on snow fallen day to friends and family for their nourishment, and pleasure. Succumb to their gravitational pull. Share them liberally, and let them encircle your relationships with intimacy. Be their servant, not their master. Link arms with them, and together, you can change the world.

There is a choice in every choice. This choice could make a radical difference in life outcomes. That choice is to view your activity as a matter of consequence or as a matter of free will. This is not about the thing itself, but rather how one describes the thing. This is also the difference between seeing yourself as a victim, or as a commander of your own fate.

To see your life as a matter of consequence is to be emasculated. To see your life as a matter of choice is to be empowered. Consequence is fatalistic. Choice is limitlessly creative.

Could one radically change from a “consequential” perspective to a “chosen” perspective? Yes. How? Let us not start with a change in attitude, but rather with a change in vocabulary.

In everyday speak, the language of “I have/had…” is a matter of consequence. Replace that language with the phrase, “I decided…” and see what happens. Rather than, “I have to do the dishes,” say, “I decided to clean, prepare for the next meal, because I’m caring for my family.” Rather than, “I have to be at this appointment,” say, “I decided to make commitments and stick with them because of my integrity, and because of what these appointments will accomplish.” Rather than, “I have too much to do,” say, “I decided to overload myself.” Rather than, “I have no other choice,” say, “I decided to cease creating options.” Once you shift to “I decided,” the world opens up to endless possibilities.

Feel empowered yet?!

Because of the inadequacies of human connection, there are a variety of ways in which communication is missed leaving a gap between you and the other. Because of the insecurities of the human spirit, most often that obscurity leads to worry at what the other was intending to say to us. And because of the efficiency of the human imagination, the fearfulness of the human psyche, and the absence of trust that is so prevalent in all our relationships, we most often fill that communication gap with skepticism, frequently concluding the most nefarious of all intentions.

Do not fill the communication gap with that kind of suspicion.

Fill the communication gap with love. Which is to say, consider the very best of intentions from that person unless and until you have absolute proof to the contrary. Infuse that gap with the highest confidence that they meant well, and mean well. Fill that gap with the most admirable devotion to the most positive of outcomes. Fill that gap with love.

And as you fill that gap, love will heal the connection, secure the spirit, comfort the worry, calm the fear, and the human bond of trust.

It is just about impossible to talk about the really important stuff in politics without using terms that have become such awful clichés they make your eyes glaze over and are hard to even hear. One such term is “leader,” which all the big candidates use all the time — as in e.g. “providing leadership,” “a proven leader,” “a new leader for a new century,” etc. — and have reduced to such a platitude that it’s hard to try to think about what “leader” really means and whether indeed what today’s Young Voters want is a leader. The weird thing is that the word “leader” itself is cliché and boring, but when you come across somebody who actually is a real leader, that person isn’t cliché or boring at all; in fact he’s sort of the opposite of cliché and boring.

Obviously, a real leader isn’t just somebody who has ideas you agree with, nor is it just somebody you happen to believe is a good person. Think about it. A real leader is somebody who, because of their own particular power and charisma and example, is able to inspire people, with “inspire” being used here in a serious and non-cliché way. A real leader can somehow get us to do certain things that deep down we think are good and want to be able to do but usually can’t get ourselves to do on our own. It’s a mysterious quality, hard to define, but we always know it when we see it, even as kids. You can probably remember seeing it in certain really great coaches, or teachers, or some extremely cool older kid you “looked up to” (interesting phrase) and wanted to be just like. Some of us remember seeing the quality as kids in a minister or rabbi, or a scoutmaster, or a parent, or a friend’s parent, or a supervisor in a summer job. And yes, all these are “authority figures,” but it’s a special kind of authority. If you’ve ever spent time in the military, you know how incredibly easy it is to tell which of your superiors are real leaders and which aren’t, and how little rank has to do with it.

A leader’s real “authority” is a power you voluntarily give them, and you grant them this authority not with resentment or resignation but happily; it feels right. Deep down, you almost always like how a real leader makes you feel, the way you find yourself working harder and pushing yourself and thinking in ways you couldn’t ever get to on your own.

In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.

In our celebrity culture, it is almost instinctual to evaluate a leader on their “product,” the thing they offer to the world that is consumed by their patrons, and thus evaluated by the rubrics of “customer satisfaction.” This is great for capitalism, but lethal for leadership. A “customer service” evaluation of leadership is necessarily done at a far distance by a wide audience. Hence, it is easy to see why a charismatic personality drawing large crowds, and is lauded by applause is often mistaken for excellent leadership. It is easy to conflate who they are with what they do. However, ovations and acclamations are not the same as leadership, and in some cases adulation can be the very antithesis of good leadership.

This is life-threateningly dangerous. This causes an organization to be extremely fragile, vulnerable, and subject merely to performance rather than mission.

Good leadership, on the other hand, is fundamentally founded upon a person’s character and integrity, and that can only be evaluated by getting close. So, evaluate a leader’s character and integrity, not by the crowds, but by their closest companions. Listen to those who love the leader, but are not impressed by them. Consider carefully how the inner circle feels, and the kind of people they are becoming as a result of being near that leader. They provide the most accurate and helpful litmus test of excellent leadership.

Too often an apology is seen as an admission of fault or an acceptance of liability. This is a low view of the word “sorry.” Leaders who only see an apology as somehow undermining their position or authority not only completely miss the point, their abdication of this critical skill increases distrust, disillusionment, and disintegration in the organizations they lead.

Why?

Because an apology is ultimately an act of empathy. To say “sorry,” is to connect your leadership and influence with another person’s heart and soul. This relational and emotional connection with the people you lead strengthens trust, humanizes decisions, and favors health and humanity over power and title. Contrary to the low view, and counter-intuitively, saying, “I’m sorry” actually strengthens a leader’s authority with the people they influence.

Now, go apologize, empathize, and energize your leadership and your organization by saying, “I’m sorry.”

While our interconnected world will always need experts, experts by definition are not people of influence but rather people of ownership, people who “possess” what they know. Leadership requires an interpretation and deployment of that expertise in ways that are useful, through avenues that are accessible, and in language that is understandable. Thus, the future of influence belongs, not to the experts, but to the curators, the librarians, and the tour guides.

A curator is someone who cares deeply about collecting expertise, but cares more about sharing that expertise to the people in ways that connect and inform. (TED.com)

A librarian organizes expertise and serves “the finder,” the person looking for helpful information. (Google.com)

A tour guide helps people discover what they did not know was there. (MOOCs)

If elephants=leaders, and grass=people under those leaders, what is most painful about this African proverb is that the elephants neither know nor care about the pain they cause to the grass. The warring elephants are too distracted with winning the battle than tending to the ground underneath. Their concern is in their power and position, defending their ground rather than caring for it. The land upon which they tread is merely the platform for them to blow their trunks. They are often oblivious to the suffering in their wake.

If you’re an elephant, use your trunk to water the lawn.

It is frequently asked of high profile people, “Will you be my mentor?” Why? A mentoring relationship subconsciously offers promises it may not be able to keep; the promise of climbing a corporate ladder, the promise of gaining “secret intelligence,” the promise of being “on the inside” with a person of prominence. Perhaps, the most deceitful is the promise of feeling special in the eyes of the mentor. All of these are promises are, however, quite dubious.

The value of mentoring is derived, not in what it promises, but rather in what it provides; personal development, wisdom, a sense of confidence, higher skill sets, honed intuition, etc. While much of this can come from a mentor, the reality is that all of this can now come from sources that you yourself ferret out and curate. So, mentor yourself.

And that may be the most important gain of self-mentoring — developing the ability to develop yourself.

And what is discouraging is that most Christian apologists are focused and adept at dogma, rhetoric, and dogmatic rhetoric, and not so good at critical thinking skills, objectivity, logic, and reason. Popular audiences do not help with this problem as confirmation bias is pandemic.

In order to have epistemological acumen, and thus debate competency, we must first recognize when and where we conflate our perceptions, ideas, and language about God with God. What we think about God is not God. What language we use to describe God is not God. The concepts to which we adhere to understand the character and attributes about God are not God. And, if we are serious about having a conversation about God, we must begin with the premise that all concepts, ideas, and terms are not only inadequate, but distortions of God.

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

Refuse to conflate what you think you know with what can be known, and what you believe with what is. In other words, don’t be an apologist. Be an epistemologist.

At least, that is how I feel after reading quotes like this:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

– Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic,” (a speech to students at the Sorbonne, Paris, 23 April 1910)

Pessimists and Optimists both can see and understand the conclusion, the goal, or the end result. Both can apprehend its value and importance. Both can even desire it. What makes one a pessimist vs. an optimists is now how one perceives the end, but the space between the self and the end.

Optimists see the stepping stones to achieving the goal.

Pessimists see the barriers and road blocks that keep them from the goal.

Realists believe both are viable options and operate in the world, neither on the promise of hope, nor on the defeat of despair, but rather on the power of volition, the captivation of willpower to achieve accomplishments.

An apology for something beyond anyone’s control, such as the weather, has the effect of making others trust the apologizer. For example, when a young man approached strangers in a train station on a rainy day and said, “I’m so sorry about the rain! Can I borrow your phone?” he was successful 47% of the time, compared with just 9% if he simply asked to borrow a phone. Past studies have shown that when culpability for negative situations is ambiguous, people reward those who take blame more than those who express remorse

Posted at HBR.com by Andrew O’Connell  |   8:30 AM October 28, 2013

[The following is a truncated version of Patrick Lencioni’s POV (point of view) article, June 2013.]

In the course of my career, I’ve always been amazed at what leaders will do for their organizations. So many founders and CEOs will spend countless late nights in the office, endure long and grueling business trips, even sacrifice their own financial resources, all to increase the likelihood, even slightly, that their enterprises will succeed. Sadly, these efforts often come at the expense of their health, their families and their sanity.

But the one thing that amazes me more than what leaders will do for their enterprises, is what they so often won’t do – endure emotional discomfort at work.

Though this may sound innocuous or obvious, there is nothing trivial about it. In fact, this determination to avoid emotional discomfort is the single most costly and surprising phenomenon I’ve witnessed in business during my career.

…when a political or interpersonal mess occurs in an organization, there is no one more suited to clean it up quickly and efficiently, and eliminate the possibility of collateral damage, than the leader. Few would debate this. And yet, many leaders complain about having to do this part of their job, and in all too many cases they stand back and wait for the problem to go away, or for someone else to deal with it.

Why does this happen? Part of it has to do with the natural fear of conflict and accountability that I cover in some depth in my books The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Advantage. But I think some of it is related to a subtle, perhaps even subconscious, sense of entitlement among leaders.

My sense is that, in addition to simply not enjoying conflict, senior executives often feel that they’ve earned the right to avoid the unpleasant parts of their work, the kind that they had to deal with earlier in their career. They’ve paid their dues on their way up the ladder, and are more than happy to delegate or abdicate parts of their jobs that they don’t enjoy, one of which is almost always having difficult, messy and emotional conversations.

In fact, I’m convinced that if you were to explain to aspiring executives that their job requires them to constantly address messy, uncomfortable interpersonal situations, many would opt out of that career path. Which would actually be a good thing.

The best organizations are the ones where leaders are expected to seek out – yes, seek out! – discomfort at work. They find opportunities to enter the danger whenever they can, realizing that by doing so, they’ll accomplish three productive things. First, they’ll set an example for others to do the same. Second, they’ll improve their own level of “comfort with discomfort.” And most importantly, they’ll reduce the shelf life and impact of problems in their organizations.

Someday, perhaps the majority of leaders will come to realize that embracing discomfort is one of the key indicators of successful organizations. They’ll be too embarrassed to even consider letting a messy situation fester, knowing that it would be a simple matter of negligence to do so. Until then, for those organizations that teach their leaders to embrace discomfort, it remains an opportunity for differentiation and advantage.

What I would call an “epistemological hierarchy,” each level attains not simply more truth, but completely different categories of truth which must be fully embraced to captivate the fullness of “truth.”

Data is the category of facts.
Information adds the category of context.
Knowledge re-contextualizes in relationship.
Understanding adds empathy.
Wisdom binds them all together in one cohesive unit and looks to the future to interpret reality through the lens of full humanity.

Also, in order for the hierarchy to be valid, each foundational level must be substantive and accurate for the consecutive levels to have merit. Thus, you have inadequate understanding if your knowledge (relational context) is inadequate. Your knowledge is invalid if you have the wrong information. And if you have the wrong data, epistemology implodes upon itself.

This may explain why so much commentary leads to more contentiousness. Too quick are we to claim understanding, yet not realizing we lack knowledge. Yet we spout unrefined thoughts as if they have some grand insight or wisdom.

Ah, the foolishness of pride, the banality of vapid rhetoric, and the idiocy of arguing ignoramuses.

When you lead people, through positional or moral authority, it is easy to equate people’s level of compliance with your level of effectiveness. Compliance, however, is not about how inspired people are, or how engaged they happen to be. Compliance illustrates how obedient people are to rules, how fearful they are of consequences, and/or how mindless they are of the system.

Leadership is not about garnering compliance, but growing a relationship, a covenant, an agreement between people that is solidified through values, passion, mission, purpose, and meaning.

In a covenant, rules are not the restrictions on permissions, but the boundaries of play. In a covenant consequences are not imposed from an authority and applied to an individual, but concomitant to the community. In a covenant systems are not rote patterns of guided behavior but rather subjugated to change according to the moral and ethical standards of the group.

Thus, we must think of people who are passionately engaged in their work and the community not in terms of compliance, but rather of covenant.

Forge a covenant. Don’t force compliance.

For social sector servants.

If you’re goal is growth, most likely you’re into products and not into service, you’re in business, not in benevolence, you’re into capital, not in the cause. And you probably think of your services, your preaching, your teaching, as a commodity. Growth, as a primary goal and key marker for “success,” is an indicator that you’re producing something that you want promulgated for the purpose — and here’s the rub — of your welfare, not your constituents. Growth can never be the bottom line for a church, etc.

Growth is a by-product of healthy service, not a metric of effective service. As soon as it becomes the metric, you cease being in the social service industry.

Service on the other hand, is about end results measured by the mission, vision, and values of your endeavor. Growth — numerical and expansive growth — in this perspective, is irrelevant.

To truly be in service in the social sector, you must think and talk about growth as a means and not as an ends. Growth may be necessary for “sustainability,” which is a means for your service, but it cannot be the ends.

Giving talks, messages, sermons, etc., is a complicated and daunting task that is made such by the paucity of original ideas and the taunting plainness of a blank page. It is therefore perhaps better to replace the common, “come up with something to say” with “choose which story to tell.”

What does this require?

  • 80% (90%, 95%?) of your “preparation” time is not spent “preparing for a talk.
  • Reading and study is done more for personal discovery and adventure than for the profession of speaking.
  • Curate stories first, principles, axioms, adages, second.
  • Listening first to your audience before deciding what story needs to be told.
  • Resist the subversively apparent and often assumed necessity to be original.

The power and effectiveness of your talk is therefore weighed more in how the story connects with your audience than how you connect, which can be quite liberating for a speaker. Telling stories also gives the audience/congregation permission to live their stories as well.

Craft A Great Story. Very little competes with a great story, especially one with drama, complicated tensions, conflicting ideas and ideals, the greatness and darkness of humanity, victory and tragedy, accomplishments and failures, and most of all, personal transparency.

Pose A Great Problem. One that has no answer, one that has no boundaries, and one that, when solved, only conjures up more questions.

Reward Questions More Than Answers. It has been said that non-Jewish parents ask their child when they come home, “What did you learn.” Jewish parents ask, “What questions did you ask.” When you reward questions, you reward curiosity.

Despise Certainty. Doubt is a not just a stumbling block to the pious. Doubt is a driver of discovery and creativity. Leverage doubt in every aspect of life, from the most simplistic, to the most profound.

Eliminate Fear. The greater the fear, the more one is governed by base instinct rather than thoughtful engagement. cf. Maslow’s Hierarchy. Eliminate the fear of failure, the fear of perception, and the fear of being wrong. Eliminating fear permits possibilities. Possibilities foster curiosity.

Embrace Discomfort. We are not curious about the familiar, though perhaps we should be. It is when we are uncomfortable that we begin to be more aware and ask more questions. Caution: forced discomfort may squelch curiosity. Thus, it is necessary that we willfully embrace it.

Why cultivate curiosity? If we cultivate curiosity we cultivate humanity, the human experience, the human gift, and the human soul. One may call it “being alive.”

This is also the first question for any teacher, minister, and doctor; anyone with a vision or passion to do something great in this world. Perhaps another way to frame the question is “Who do I serve?” Identifying the right client is a key step in providing the right service.

The second question is to discern the difference between three things, 1) what a client asks for, 2) what a client wants, and 3) what a client needs. What they ask for is often not what they want (a result of being shrewd or acquiescent). What they want is often not what they need (a result of being blind or self-serving). And what they need is often not mentioned at all (the reason you’re hired in the first place).

On December 26, 2012, Lawrence Krauss (Arizona State theoretical physicist and author of several books) published an article in CNN’s belief blog on the tragedy in Newton, CT entitled “Why must the nation grieve with God?” His basic premise is that the invocation of God is unnecessary, and even damaging.

While I have great respect for Krauss and his scientific work, I find that his religious philosophy (while occasionally making a few salient points) consistently begs the question, is often quite presumptuous, is many times composed of straw men arguments, and is often nonsensical.

This article is an example of that. There is no “argument,” per se, but this is a bit more of a rant, with conclusions that violate and do an injustice to his ultimate premise, which is to allow the comforting families to grieve. He even states, “No caring person would begrudge them this right to ease their pain.” He then goes on to, what I opine, is begrudge them.

Thus, I’ve done a slight rewrite of his article to illustrate the point. Just by changing a few selections, one could easily ask Why must the nation grieve without God? using his rationale. I’ve clearly marked out the edits in brackets, with a different color, and you can read the original article side-by-side with my mark up to see the point. It is hopefully a helpful way of seeing through the nonsense of the debate, and how rants like these are not helpful in times like these. They completely miss the point.

What is the point? May the families and our nation find comfort and solace, in each other, in human solidarity, and yes, in God. All of those are deeply interrelated to one another, and I would think that atheist philosophers would concede that relationship.

To Dr. Krauss, I am continually thankful for your work in theoretical physics, the books that you publish, and the work that you are doing to illuminate the vastness of this universe and the mysteries of cosmology. You are truly a delight and a gift to the sciences. I offer this critique with due respect.

Why Must The Nation Grieve WithOUT God.pdf

Obama’s acceptance speech ended with…

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggest. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

“United States.” The great oxymoron of the American Experiment. Why? Red and blue are technological classifications and constructs that veil reality. For we are not red or blue people. We are, I propose, purple people.

On virtually every issue, even the most ardent conservative has a shade of blue and even the most libertarian-leaning liberal has a drop of red. It is those that deny this truth that we call “fundamentalist.” Worse, we call them “terrorists.” Thus, primary color designations betray the complex nature of our existence, the dualistic and mysterious pathways of our thinking, the tormented and agonizing measures of our emotions, and the tension that exists within us all that is our humanity. To cease being complex is to cease being human. To designate one color the victor is to not just destroy a piece of our own heart, it is to cease being real. In harmony with the famous quote by Alexander Solzhenitsyn,

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

 

Letting go does not mean to stop caring; it means I cannot do it for someone else.

Letting go is not to cut myself off; it is the realization that I cannot control another.

Letting go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.

Letting go is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.

Letting go is not to try to change or blame another; it is to make the most of myself.

Letting go is not to care for, but to care about.

Letting go is not to fix, but to be supportive.

Letting go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

Letting go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own destinies.

Letting go is not to be protective; it is to permit another to face reality.

Letting go is not to deny, but to accept.

Letting go is not to nag, scold or argue, but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.

Letting go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes and cherish myself in it.

Letting go is not to criticize and regulate, but to try to become what I dream I can be.

Letting go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

Letting go is to fear less, and to love more.

– author unknown

Letting go can mean holding on to trusting, believing, and hoping in God. But perhaps, it is more difficult to grasp letting go, than actually letting go.

In listening to many debates, it appears that the vast majority of them platform conflict and argument. In the most innocuous form, the debate format attempts “fairness” giving equal ground to opposing sides. Ultimately, the goal is to argue these sides whoever is more persuasive (or loudest) “wins.”

This “win” is a “lose” in my book.

The winner of any debate under these terms has only accomplished the buttressing of the beliefs of those who agree, and the alienation and disrespect of those who disagree. It widens the chasm between two opinions and does nothing to help bring light and clarity to the truth. This may help some see their side and/or the “other side” in new perspectives, but it does not help anyone see the truth any more clearly.

A good debate finds common ground, elucidates points of divergence, and leverages reason to discover why a divergence happens. A good debate is not “fair.” A good debate identifies points of agreement upon which a discussion can actually occur. A good debate ought to leave everyone (including the debaters) with a greater understanding of the truth or at least of the facts rather than an inflated head or singed ego.

Don’t review books you haven’t read.

Don’t review books if you’ve only read reviews of books.

Don’t judge people you haven’t met. Don’t confuse good “judgment” with “condemnation.”

Don’t debate theology on Facebook.

Don’t tweet revenge.

Don’t yell.

Don’t demonize.

Don’t use Hitler in an argument.

Don’t claim to know the truth until you’ve declared you’re ignorant.

By the way, these are not “rules” per se. These are just minimal entry requirements for civility.

A dictionary is not the standard for definitions. A dictionary is a compiled catalog of cultural meanings. When someone tells you to “look it up in the dictionary,” it is merely as a reference point so that you can have common ground in which to interact and operate in your cultural context. But it (the dictionary definition) holds no authority.

What holds authority? Cultural reality and communication, holds authority. How a word is used, holds authority. How a people and culture develop, holds authority. Meaning is authoritative.

Why is this important? Meaning is relational, definitions are abstract. What a word means can only be understood through relationship. How a word is defined is irrelevant to relationship. So, stop referring to dictionaries as authoritative, and start referring to our collective humanity in a particular cultural context. Finding out that a word is used differently than the dictionary definition opens one up to a new reality, new relationships, new contexts, and a new human experience. Understanding a dictionary’s proper role and ontology can transform our hermeneutics, and humanize our community. Yeah, I really believe that.

By the way, it’s time to put “integrous” into the dictionary. Definition, adj., “having, or being characterized by integrity.”

If you were saving people out of a river — abuse, abduction, trafficking, poverty, injustice — this necessary work is commendable, laudable, and heaven sent. We call this “compassion.” Sometimes we call it “mercy.”

Justice, however, is a far more difficult and challenging task. Justice has to hike through the jungle on the banks of that river and head upstream, all the while asking the question, “How are these people getting tossed in the river in the first place?”

Two reasons why this question is dangerous. The first is that there are dangerous people there living out the essence of evil. The second, and more profound, is that right next to those evil people we may have discovered our base camp, the place where we sleep and eat and venture. And the road that we have paved to privilege ourselves with this locale has also paved the way for those evil people. And they’re right behind our tent.

Have you ever said something like, “I don’t even remember how we operated without computers?” Or, “What did we ever do before the Internet?” Or, “I’d be a wreck without my smart phone.”

If you have said anything like this, then you have technological amnesia, the forgotten ways in which life use to operate before the development of specific forms of technology.

As with regular amnesia — a debilitating condition — those who forget who they were actually don’t know who they are. Central to understanding one’s current identity is remembering clearly a previous reality. This is why citizens tell stories of revolutions, parents tell their children stories of grandparents, and people of faith hold so dearly to sacred books, the stories of the ancestry of their faith. History is not about past events, it’s about present identities.

So, if you have technological amnesia — and technology is the main avenue of cultural experience — then I submit to you, you don’t know what the technology actually is, you don’t know who you are, you don’t understand what kind of people we have become

…and this is why we are isolated individualistic consumers.

A muse (not amuse)? A meme? A truth? A fact? The beginning? The end? Or is it merely evidence of life, a soul, neurons and synapses properly working? Is it powerful or impotent? Is it fact or fiction? Is it science or art? Is it natural or metaphysical? Is it mundane or sublime?

What is a thought?

Whatever it is, if it’s worthy of being shared, it will find its way here. Does a thought grow? Evolve? Produce? Transform? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. That’s what comments are for ;-). And arguments, debates, discussions, forums, and communities.

What do you think? What is a thought?