All That Jazz

April is jazz appreciation month, which the Smithsonian (a U.S. National Museum) calls both a historic and living American art form. Since jazz is the most free and flexible of all musical genres, this seems like a good time to examine those characteristics in our lives. Acclaimed trumpet musician, Herbie Hancock said, “The spirit of jazz is the spirit of openness.” I think that’s what many people find so fascinating about the musical form. It is by nature, open. It’s open to ideas, changes, improvisation, expression, collaboration, and creativity. I find it interesting that in playing jazz, a musician can be both part of something, yet unique at the same time. There is the whole, but there is the distinctiveness of individuals. But some people don’t like freethinking, creative expression, or new ideas. No wonder jazz was outlawed in various times and places like Nazi Germany. The Soviets didn’t outlaw it, but they openly criticized it. Even in the U.S., at least 60 communities banned jazz from being played in public dance halls in the 1920s. One has to ask what people were afraid of! Which begs the question, what you YOU afraid of? Like much great art, jazz came out of tremendous suffering. It is the product of slavery, oppression, and struggle. Sounds like the great themes of life, doesn’t it? Sometimes we are tempted to let the hard knocks of life close us down and make us hard. But if we let tough times change us, we can actually become more open, honest and trusting, and graduate to a new level of personal maturity. If musicians had been satisfied to maintain the status quo, we would never have experienced jazz. Rather, many transformed their pain and struggle into life, beauty, and openness; they continue...

Know Thyself

How well do you know yourself? We tend to have a view of ourselves we think is accurate and complete. However, it’s just not true.

How do you start your day?...

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”  So said author, pastor and leadership guru, John C. Maxwell. We all have a morning routine. Of course it includes things like brushing your teeth, getting dressed and enjoying your favorite beverage. For some it also includes getting the kids ready, making lunches and ensuring everyone has what they need for the day. No matter who you are or what roles you rill, you need time to quiet your soul. And how you start your day can determine not only how your day goes, but how your life goes too. I used to get up and turn on the television to hear the morning news. But what I found over time that it was a terrible way to start my day. The chatter and stress of world events set me up to carry noise in my head throughout the day. What I discovered was key to changing my behavior. I realized that how I start my day influences the rest of the day…and my life. We all have to find our own path—our own routine and practices that work for us. I want to share what has worked well for me. Reflect. Read. Resolve. Reflect – A mark of our fast-paced “always on” lives is that we forget to take time to be silent and reflect. My morning routine involves making a lovely espresso drink and sitting in my favorite chair. I reflect on recent events, issues I’m dealing with, and the status of my relationships and goals. It means being silent and giving myself space to just be, think, process and feel. I give myself permission to just reflect. Read...

Escaping Pleasantville...

“Unless there is some pressure, social or parental, pushing [an] infant the beyond pleasure principle, human nature tends to largely take the path of least resistance. We really do need prods, goads, ideals to help us think outside of the little boxes we all create for ourselves.” So said Franciscan and spiritual leader, Richard Rohr. We only know what we know. Unfortunately, we don’t know what we don’t know. If someone grows up in a house where daddy beats mommy everyday, the kids just thinks is normal. We naturally think that what we experience is what is real; it just is, and until we are exposed to an alternative, we think it’s normal. So unless we are exposed to different ways of thinking and living, we are destined to repeat the realities we previously experienced. Too often we prefer to live in the certainty (but very small town) of Pleasantville than face the uncertainty of a really big world full of wonderfulness. Pleasantville is a film released in 1998 about two modern-day kids who escape into the idealist 1950’s, black and white town of Pleasantville. If you haven’t read my post about the film, please click here. Unfortunately, we are often destined to do the same things over and over, expecting a different outcome, or maybe even happy with the same ole same ole. We get stuck, really stuck. A car stuck in the mud is useless. Muscles that are unused atrophy; they become dead weight. And a world that never changes succumbs to chaos and death. Do you really want a piece of you to die everyday? Do you want to grow increasingly irrelevant? Do you want to be the person you are today to be the you in ten years? Change can...

For the Birds

Birds of a feather flock together. The saying came to mind when I recently drove by a park where a couple of hundred Canada geese were resting comfortably in the cold. Research shows that it’s not only birds that hang out with their own kind. People do too. It’s a myth that opposites attract; in fact, similar do. Multiple studies and simple observations show this. I even found this when I studied audience reactions to an African film. Even though the film was made in a completely different culture and region, audience members were drawn to the characters and story because of the cultural proximity. One person said, “They’re African like me!” In a time and place lacking locally made films, seeing people like them on a screen was significant. If you give cameras to budding photography students, and they go and shoot people who look like them. Whites photograph whites. Polynesians photograph Polynesians, etc. Ask people with whom they socialize and they will likely tell you about friends from their church, neighborhood, work or kid’s school. They tend to be of the same ethnicity, economic strata and education level. They also tend to be the same religion. We are quite naturally drawn to those who are similar us. But we don’t have to limit ourselves. We are not birds! We have the sophistication to be driven by factors other than instinct! We have free will, live in complex social networks, and have the ability to create new realities. We can actually rise above the narrow limitations of our social groups and actively seek out new ones. But it takes intentionality. I used to work with a very close-knit group. Even though group members were spread around the world, we had a pretty narrow...

resolutions #2

In my last article I opined that setting SMART goals is much more systematic and effective than making resolutions.

rezəˈlo͞oSHəns #1...

The dictionary defines a resolution as a firm decision to do or not to do something. It’s a word that is mostly used this time of year. It’s an abused word.

The Power Of Habit

My whole life I drove manual transmission cars. Shifting was almost as natural as breathing. I hardly had to think about pushing the clutch with my left foot and changing the gears with my right hand. It was a habit…that is, until two years ago, when I bought my first automatic. The funny thing is, I still sometimes reach for the shifter and insist on putting on the emergency brake when I park. Though driving an automatic car is easier, I still find myself occasionally resorting to old habits. Habits are like police characters in TV shows. Just like there are good cops and bad cops, there are good habits and bad habits. Some we want to break; others we want to develop. By understanding how habits work and what triggers them, we can make conscious changes and get control of our life! That’s the theory behind, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. I listened to the book over the holidays, which seemed like a timely addition to my toolkit for the new year. The book is a fascinating study into why we do what we do, with real steps on how to change. The book isn’t a pipedream; Duhigg read hundreds of studies on habit formation from social science, neuroscience and psychology, to come up with his theory. What he offers is both insight and practical. His basic premise is that habits involve 3 key steps: cue, routine and reward. Learning to recognize and manage these 3 steps can empower us to make lasting changes. Check out this short video review that reviews the concept. I encourage you to pick up the book (available in hardcover, paperback, Nook, audio CD, Kindle and downloadable...

Fear of Failing

I have a saying that people who never fail, never do anything. That’s because failing is inevitable. When I heard a student give a brilliant speech on the topic, I asked him to turn it into an article for you. Here you go. Here is Elijah Petty: We all have places we’re going, and dreams of who and what we want to grow to be, but most of us will fail before we get there – at least at first. The fear of this failure can cripple us by keeping us inside our comfort zone, when usually our dreams lie outside of it. Unfortunately, failure is unavoidable. Nobody gets everything right on the first try, but the way we treat our failures is crucial if we want to succeed in the end. We’re afraid of failure. It’s discouraging, and the higher the stakes are, the worse the letdown is. I speak from experience when I say nothing’s more demoralizing than spending months of hard work to make the most of an upcoming opportunity, and then showing up and doing my best only to find out that my best isn’t good enough. The fear of that demoralizing failure can sometimes stop us from trying – and also stop us from succeeding, because trying is the first step toward any goal. On the other hand, failure is one of the best opportunities to learn. When working on one of his inventions, Thomas Edison said, “Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.” If you get something right, that’s great, but where do you go from there? It isn’t always obvious how...

Selective Empathy

Every time I think I have a healthy view of others, something reminds me of the darkness of my own heart and my need to adjust my thinking. Just when I think I’ve reached maturity, I get a glimpse of how much my character still needs developing. While I usually write on timeless issues, I must present this topic in light of recent events—terrorist attacks. All humanity is facing the reality of an energized movement committed to world domination. To them, it’s a holy war not only sanctioned, but commanded by God. How members of ISIS can excuse their actions is likely a topic for another day; it does show the propensity of humankind to justify belief systems—no matter how diabolical—and to control. The same predisposition exists in us all. But the topic at hand is how we parse out empathy and compassion willy-nilly. After the Paris bombings, Facebook, the press and the Western world in general were awash in chatter, prayers, moments of silence and monuments lit up in the colors of the French flag. There was a huge outpouring of love and support. But where was any sense of Western compassion when 14-year-old Ali Awad and more than 40 others lost their lives in double suicide attacks in Beirut the day before? It hardly made the American news. A Lebanese doctor wrote in a blog article titled, A World That Doesn’t Care About Arab Lives, “When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag…There was no global outrage…Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”* Another group dismissed was the Russian tourists. Where was the international outcry when it was...