Sunday, March 3, 2013

Improving your conversation skills by cultivating curiosity

People love to tell their story-if only we would listen.

Huell Howser, who passed away recently, hosted a public television program called "California Gold, " he had a wonderful skill of getting people to tell their story.

He would travel around California and discover some of the states unique places and people, like Emu farmers and artisans who made things out of recycled goods.

Howser was a master conversationalist who cultivated the conversational skill of 'curiosity.' This genuine 'curiosity' was displayed in all his interactions.

Curiosity is taking an active interest in another person in a non possessive way. Being genuinely curious, Huell would ask a question and then get out of the way.

In an L.A. Times expose after his death, his assistant Ryan Smith said this about his boss, Huell "always wanted to be seen as a storyteller, and never wanted the story to be about him.

The above statement reminds me of a G.K. Chesterton quote: "how much larger your life would be if your 'self' were smaller in it."  

I will know that curiosity and empathy has produced fruit, if after a conversation, the other person walks away knowing more about themselves rather than me.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lighten up Francis

I was ‘mad-dogged’ by a 65 year old lady yesterday.

I pulled up a little too far in the road trying to make a left hand turn. There was plenty of room for an oncoming car to go around. But the lady drove by real slow and gave me the ‘stare down.’

Now, how can I put this tactfully, the part of Long Beach where I come from, ‘mad dogging’ doesn’t go over very well. But then really, what was I going to do anyway?  

So I smiled, gave the obligatory ‘my-bad’ hand wave, and drove off.

While driving home, I started wondering why people are so ticked off with one another these days. It seems like we’re running a little hot. More like a slow burn just below the collective conscious.

I notice it in our public discourse, where a lot verbal  mad-dogging is going on because, God forbid, someone states a different point of view.

All this recent posturing and political mad-dogging one another, you’d get the feeling we don’t like each other very much. Were at each others throats, and in my opinion, that’s just where the politicians want us.

We need to take a collective breath; get a hold of ourselves and lighten up.  

In the 1981 Bill Murray movie Stripes, there’s a character named Francis, who threatens his Army unit, telling them “if you call me Francis I’ll Kill ya”  Then without blinking the Sergeant say’s “Lighten up Francis.”

We all have a point of view, let’s give one another the common courtesy of voicing it without verbally mad-dogging them.

Disagreement is not hatred; it’s just a different way of looking at the situation or issue-period.

After all, there are more important things in life for me than getting upset at a 65 year old lady or a political demagogue who can’t keep it together.  

Lighten up Francis…peace.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dreams expose our hidden concerns

Dreams tell us things our conscious life won’t.

And if we listen to what they’re telling us, we can learn about the hidden side of ourselves, and in time, be comfortable in our own skin.

Sigmund Freud breaks down a dream as “data taken in from the day’s residue and if images are important enough to be incorporated in it they must be reinforced by older, meaningful, affect-laden concerns.” (Yalom)

I have a recurring dream where I am lost in a house that’s falling apart. The house is from my past. In the dream, I morph into myself as a boy. In the dream I wander through the house, lost in a vaguely familiar world of long ago.

I wake up with this sense of sadness and loss. My dad past away a few months ago and it hit me; “I’m next.”  
The dilapidated house in my dream represents a past that is long gone.  It represents the aging process. I’m not as vigorous as I once was. I’m falling apart.

Dreams peel away the masks we wear in public and come very close to our true self. They reveal the hidden and ultimate concerns we grapple with daily.

An ultimate concern that lurks just below the surface is ‘ones impending death,’ which I believe my dream reflects. One day I will die. And in 100 years I may be a footnote in some family member’s

Life, like time goes on; with or without me. Like the house that is falling apart in my dream, all things fade. I can no longer hang on to a past that is no more.

My dream is helping me move on. And live out the remaining days accepting myself as I am now; being comfortable in my own skin.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Freedom from a tyranical King; a true story

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription
I know it's long, but read it, especially this 4th of July, and place yourself there that day when the agony of choosing liberty was born. Happy 4th! 

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sign of the times

When Borders Books closed it's doors, Crown Books moved in. But by the looks of their sign, everything is in small print.

Must be the Sign of the Times!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The man of straw

I know a man who’s perpetually ‘ticked off.’ He finds enemies everywhere.

He’s rigid in his beliefs. He creates these straw-men and then feels like he did something ‘important’ when he tears them down; a life of empty victories.  

I often wonder about such ideologues who can never take time off from their ‘self righteous cause’ long enough to see the humanity of others; much less their own humanity.

It seems to me, people who hold on rigidly to their religious or political dogmas, become cold, legalistic moralizers who make declarations on how others should live.

They have this incredible insight into the lives of others but blind to their own depravity.

Then one day death comes knocking.  

And what contribution have they made in life? Not much.

In a hundred years, no one will be around to recall their empty and vapid life. A life made of straw; much like the 'straw-men' they waste their lives on.   

I wonder if their tombstone would read:” Here lies so and so he died for nothing.”

He died for nothing because he lived for nothing; such is the life of a 'man of straw.'

Sunday, May 27, 2012

You don’t listen to me!

In an age of tweets and twitter, the ability to listen; I mean to really listen, has taken a hit. There are a thousand and one ways to get our message out, and yet we long for that simple person to person connection. 

On any given Sunday, in churches all across the Inland Empire, the pews are filled with lonely people, longing for community.

Influential psychologist and author Rollo May that “communication leads to community which then leads to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”

We cannot, nor should we, put the technological genie back in the bottle. However, our challenge today, especially as believers, is to nurture community; making connections and re-learning the basic skills of communicating with one another.

Communication involves a lot more than the spoken word. In our world of talking points and diatribes, we are not deficient in getting our point across. It’s the ‘listening’ part we need to prop up.  

And a good place to start is with the 5th habit of Stephen Coveys ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ which is "Seek first to understand then be understood."

Listening involves understanding what the other person is saying. Our natural inclination is to be understood first-then, if there is time, to understand the other person.

By switching it around and Understanding first, we open up a deeper and more meaningful conversation. At first this approach feels unnatural, but through practice, you cultivate a skill called ‘empathic listening’ or as Carl Rogers would say "to listen unconditionally with empathy.”

It's not just the words you listen to, but the meaning behind the words. When a person listens with empathy, they begin to understand life as the other person sees it; to walk in the others shoes.

We all desire connections with others and to be understood, so give someone the gift of "understanding" in your next conversation. And begin the path of building community.
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