Bridging the divide


This political season has underscored the significant and emotionally-charged differences in values and perspectives that divide Americans.

Too many people from all political persuasions follow some variation of this thought process, perhaps unconsciously:

• You and I have different political views.

• Therefore, you are wrong.

• And, because you are wrong, you are evil.

I have learned that it is much harder to travel down the road of such harsh judgments once we have listened carefully and with empathy to the life stories of others to more deeply understand the people and events that shaped their views.

Such listening does not mean that we will necessarily agree with their reasoning nor that we will be able to influence their points of view.

But it will make it possible for us to see them as human beings worthy of respect, a quality that seems to be in short supply these days.

While I am not naive enough to believe that listening with empathy is the bridge across those differences, I do think it is the onramp to that bridge and an essential step in addressing the profound differences that divide us as a nation.

Do you agree?

“Your children are watching”


“Your children are watching” is a parental truism worthy of frequent repetition.

Of course children are always observing and learning from adults, including those who are not their parents.

Perhaps that’s why there has been so much discussion in recent weeks about how parents can educate their children about the value of civil conversations regarding important civic matters in an environment made toxic by Donald Trump.

One problem, among many, of such destructive public figures is that their attitudes, language, and behavior can infect a society.

Children are particularly vulnerable because the vast majority of their learning is through observation, imitation, and experimentation.

All of that means that it is essential that parents, teachers, and other significant adults engage children in just-in-time conversations about what they are observing and learning and offer corrective perspectives and information.

The challenge is to turn the events they see on TV and hear discussed around them into meaningful teachable moments about democracy, the rule of law, and the practice of respectful civic conversations.

The only other option is a generation of young people coming to view recent political events as the new normal.

If that came to be it would be one of Donald Trump’s most destructive and lasting legacies.

Bullies …


If not now, when? If not you, who?” ―Hillel the Elder

Bullies come in all sizes and exist in all occupations. There are playground bullies, cyber bullies, bullies in the workplace, and even bullies who run for president.

Bullies may be famous and powerful, or they may be virtually unknown except to those they bully.

When I was young an adult told me that the best way to deal with bullies was to stand up to them.

Such a stand against bullying, of course, requires courage.

One or more people standing up to him or her—one-to-one or in group settings—is often all that’s required to end the bullying or at least blunt its effects.

Given that courage doesn’t mean acting in the absence of fear, but rather acting in spite of it, the presence of fear is not a sufficient reason to allow bullies to destroy what others have created or want to create.


Sometimes standing up to bullies is no more complicated than that – it literally involves standing and looking the bully in the eye because deep down many bullies are very afraid.

One of my favorite moments in the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was when moderator Lester Holt asked Trump to explain to Clinton why she didn’t have “a presidential look,” given his public statements on that subject. Trump, not surprisingly, tried to change the subject.

At other times standing up to bullies may require clarifying one’s principles and perhaps even rehearsing a confrontation with a trusted colleague or friend.

In 1954 Joseph Welch’s, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” was a turning point in the history of McCarthyism.

Many of us have one or more bullies in our lives.

Sometimes it is no more complicated than thinking deeply about your response to this question: If not now, when? If not you, who?

Being old is like that…


“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?


[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…


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


[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?

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