Being old is like that…

Dennis

“If you continue to work and to absorb the beauty of the world around you, you will find that age does not necessarily mean getting old…. The man who works and is never bored is never old. Work and interest in worthwhile things are the best remedy for age…. —Pablo Casals

A few years ago I was teaching a leadership course in an Asian country to educators with administrative responsibilities.

At the end of our 3-day program two 20-something year-old participants approached me to ask if they could have their picture taken with me.

“We want to show this photo to our students to demonstrate to them that old people can still be useful,” they explained.

I had two immediate thoughts:

“Old person!”

Followed quickly by: I thought this was a part of the world where older people were revered.

Here’s a question: What if you woke up one day to discover that you were old?

Being “old” is sort of like that. You are young and then you’re not. Middle-age seems to be something that occurred between college and this moment and of which you have only a vague recollection.

To some degree that feeling exists throughout life, but it certainly is more pronounced as the decades pile upon one another.

But years aren’t exact equivalents of age, as Pablo Casals reminds us,

So, if on occasion, you fear growing old, which is a common and understandable fear, I encourage you to find work in its broadest sense that interests you and engages both your mind and your heart and to do such work for a lifetime.

Do smart phones decrease empathy?

Dennis

[C]onversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do. It’s where empathy is born, where intimacy is born because of eye contact, because we can hear the tones of another person’s voice, sense their body movements, sense their presence. It’s where we learn about other people. —Sherry Turkle

One of the greatest gifts we can give others is our full attention.

Sherry Turkle underscores that point by reminding us that relationships are formed from and strengthened by careful attention to the nuances of communication, particularly during the earliest years of life. Such interactions are the substance of strong relationships for young and old alike.

Smart phones challenge our ability to offer our full attention to others.

Turkle agrees. “Eighty-nine percent of Americans,” she notes, “say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in. Basically, we’re doing something that we know is hurting our interactions.”

Turtle adds: ”If you put a cell phone into a social interaction, it does two things: First, it decreases the quality of what you talk about, because you talk about things where you wouldn’t mind being interrupted, which makes sense, and, secondly, it decreases the empathic connection that people feel toward each other.”

Do you agree: Does the mere presence of a smart phone (or other screens) interfere with the quality of attention and conversation?

Don’t feed shame…

Dennis

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. —Bene Brown

In a comment on last week’s post on self-care Jim Knight made an important distinction between guilt and shame which caused me to think more deeply about the importance of that distinction and how it can have a profound effect on both our personal and professional lives.

Sometimes people confuse what they do with who they are. 

For instance, more than once I’ve heard someone say: “When I get angry I just say whatever comes to mind [other problematic behavior can be substituted here]. That’s just who I am.”

The distinction between guilt and shame is reflected in that confusion.

Guilt, as I understand it, occurs when we have done something to violate a moral code. We have done something we regard as wrong.

Shame is when we are what is wrong. We are the mistake, not our behavior.

Children are shamed, for example, when in response to a misdeed they are asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

Once shame has become well established within a child or adult’s neural networks it can be very challenging to help that person separate their behavior from who they think they are as a person.

As a result, even a request for a conversation about “improvement” or change can activate shame and make it very difficult for the person to attend to the conversation.

Once we become aware of this distinction we are more likely to notice the presence of shame within and around us.

But what can we do about it?

First, be very careful with the language you use when speaking to others and in your self talk. When we are concerned about someone’s actions, focus on observable behavior. Don’t contribute to anyone’s shame by digging deeper for their “issues,” a task far better suited for professionals.

Second, when shame has been triggered anticipate the possibility of a defensive response: “Why do you think there’s something wrong with me?”

Third, to minimize defensiveness ensure that the conversation remains focused on behavior. Because people who are accustomed to being shamed may find it very difficult to separate their behavior from who they are as a person, it may be necessary to repeatedly remind them of that distinction.

I encourage you to think deeply about how shame and guilt affect your life, both at home and at work, and how you might counter it.

Being more compassionate with ourselves

Dennis

[S]elf-directed compassion triggers the same physiological systems as receiving care from other people. Treating ourselves in a kind and caring way has many of the same effects as being supported by others…. Just as importantly, self-compassion eliminates the additional distress that people often heap on themselves through criticism and self-blame. —Mark Leary

While we cannot always control the things that happen to us, we do have a great deal of influence over how we respond to those things.

One of the best examples of that influence is the self-care we can give to ourselves during difficult times.

While many of us find it difficult to practice self-care, it is often as simple as extending to ourselves the same kindness and compassion we extend to others.

The fundamental question is: What kindness would I offer to others right now if they were experiencing my challenge, and how might I offer that caring to myself?

How do you or could you extend to yourself the kindness and caring you offer others?

Being our best selves

Dennis

We have a choice about where to aim the lens of our attention. We can relive past injustices, settle old grudges and nurse festering sores. We can imagine failure, build up its potential for destruction, calculate its odds. Or, we can imagine the generous outcomes we’re working on, feel gratitude for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what’s next. – Seth Godin

Feelings and attitudes are contagious and can quickly spread throughout a group or community.

Leaders’ feelings and attitudes are particularly infectious and are determined, in large part, by where they focus their attention.

For instance, school and classroom leaders who spread positive emotions and attitudes focus on:

• problem solving and growth instead of complaints,

• talking with people (integrity) instead of about them (gossip),

• efficacy instead of resignation to the status quo,

• gratitude and appreciation instead of negativity,

• strengths instead of deficits, and

• creating a desired future instead of lamenting and acquiescing to a future being created by others.

The list could go on…

To put it simply, leaders who spread positive energy consistently focus on being their best selves, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of those with whom they interact in their personal and professional lives.

What is missing from my list?

I will be taking a sabbatical over the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under)!

Growth is optional

Dennis

A simple but profound truth: Change is mandatory.

Buddhists would say the cause is “impermanence,” and they would add that human suffering is caused by resisting it.

Scientists might say the reason is entropy, which my dictionary defines as “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe.”

While change is inevitable, learning and growth are optional.

I am thinking about the kind of learning and growth that takes us to the edge of our comfort zone and a step or two beyond.

Some people seem to lean into such learning as if it is a part of their DNA.

Others may grow because a significant change in their personal or professional lives pushes them into it, even late in their careers or lives.

But for every person who steps up to the challenge of significant change there are others whose default settings seem to be denial and resistance.

Which begs the question: What are the internal or external conditions under which people stay the same or grow?

Commonly-cited reasons are “grit” or “resilience” or a “sense of efficacy” or a “growth orientation.”

But that doesn’t explain why some people have those qualities and others don’t.

What is your experience—what nudges you toward meaningful growth rather than entropy?

Promote inquiry by asking “why”

Dennis

“I talk a lot less than I used to. I still talk too much, and I work on this every single day. A mentor of mine once told me, “You stop at the first question. Keep asking ‘why,’ and then ask again, and then ask again, because you’re not going to get remotely close to the truth unless you keep asking questions.” He would literally say, “Ask ‘why’ six times.”” —Dottie Mattison: Talk Less, but Ask ‘Why’ More

A consistent theme in these essays over the past several years has been the importance of deep versus superficial understanding.

Pairing “exquisite listening” with the kind of inquiry suggested by Dottie Mattison is a powerful means of developing understanding of important problems and issues and of strengthening relationships.

Asking “why” five times (sometimes called “the 5 whys”) or six times, as Mattison’s mentor suggested, is a means of helping individuals and groups explore in deeper and richer ways their own beliefs, values, and understandings.

It is also a way to better understand the root causes of problems that may be only superficially understood.

When have you used the “5 whys” or other methods of deep inquiry and with what results?


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