Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Open Letter To Governor Haslam

Dear Governor Haslam,

First I want to thank you for your service to the state of Tennessee in your role as governor. You have done great things in your term as governor including making education accessible to so many more Tennesseans who thought it was out of reach. You have been a model for the nation on how to make meaningful and significant changes in areas of great concern. I am proud of your work and proud to live in the great state of Tennessee.

As a loyal Tennessean, I have the privilege of praising your good work, but also the obligation to share my concerns for decisions that I see as running counter to the best interest of the state and running counter to the very core of who we are as a nation.

I recently learned that you have asked the Obama Administration to stop taking in Syrian refugees until a better vetting process can be established and consequently have decided not to take any of the 200-500 Syrian refugees who were slated to be resettled in Tennessee. With my greatest respect, this is a mistake.

It is a political mistake. 
This is a political mistake because we are in a real and sustained war and, whether we like it or not, this is a war of ideas as much or more than it is a war of bullets and bombs. Governor Haslam, although we have better bullets and better bombs, our much better weapons are our better ideas. This nation is nothing without its refugees and immigrants, as the vast majority of people whose feet are on US soil can trace their lineage back to a people whose feet once stood on other soil, whether that be a year ago or five generations ago.

We must decide whether these words remain true:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Governor Haslam, we have better ideas. Our founding documents are guiding collection of ideas for the best government that has ever existed since the beginning of civilization. We are a nation of freedom and justice and we are ruled by the people, not a dictator or warlord. We have an opportunity to live out these ideas with people who have never had such an opportunity to do the same. We have the powerful weapons of better ideas embedded into the DNA of this nation and there is no better way to demonstrate to a people that our ideas are better than showing them through our actions of welcome and hospitality. Let’s participate in giving these people a taste of our better ideas.

It is a strategic mistake.  
The fear is that some terrorists posing as refugees will get through the refugee resettlement process. Although it is impossible to guarantee 100% that this will not happen, the refugee resettlement process is not the gaping hole that some people fear that it is.

  • There is no evidence that resettling refugees in the US has ever brought a flood or even a trickle of terrorists into the country.
  • Refugees who resettle in the United States are at a lower risk for becoming radicalized than if they settle elsewhere. We have to think with a broad vision. We are not simply resettling people, we are engaging in a cultural intervention for a people who are having to decide who they will be from here on out. The worse the refugee resettlement situation is for the refugees, the higher the chance of people turning against us – especially if they thought they were going to be welcomed here and then were not.
  • Waiting until a better vetting process can be established will function as a way permanently block Syrian refugees from entering the US. It may not be intended that way, but it will function that way. While they wait, they will resettle elsewhere in much worse and more dangerous situations. Waiting is tantamount to rejecting regardless of intention.
  • The way we respond to the Syrian refugees is a communication to the world about the kind of people we are. Will the wealthiest nation in the history of the world be stingy? Will we respond out of fear that is more contained in a propaganda-like fear narrative than it is legitimate threat? The world is watching and everything we do defines who we are. Let’s show the world that we are a shining city on a hill and that the light we shine shines for all.

It is a cultural mistake. 
One of the greatest parts of Tennessee culture is its special brand of Southern Hospitality. Tennessee specializes in delicious and diverse food, the best and most diverse music in the world, and a particular set of manners and kindness that is unique. Being a native Minnesotan, but in my 6th year living here in Middle Tennessee, I have been a non-stop beneficiary of the great Southern Hospitality of Tennessee. It would be hard to find another place that does hospitality better than Tennessee.

Therefore, the move to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee sounds like a dark and dissonant chord, out of tune with the prevailing cultural norms.

What I love best about the culture of hospitality is that is assumes risk. Having someone in your home assumes risk, always – even if you know them well. When I was new here in Tennessee, lots of people assumed the risk of getting to know the new family in town. What I have learned living here for over half a decade is that people are willing to assume the risk as well as the cost of hospitality in order to enjoy the sharing of their food, time, and stories – the sharing of lives is worth the risk.

Furthermore, Tennessee hospitality is contagious. Once you have been on the receiving end of it, it is natural to want to be on the giving end of it. You open your house, kitchen, and life to me and I want to do the same for you and for others who are new and uncertain about their place here.

And though it is out of place to address a politician with religion (my apologies in advance), it is also a theological mistake.  

The driving theme in the Jewish and Christian scriptures is to welcome the refugee and treat them with kindness as opposed to reject or delay them until we have 100% eliminated all risk.

Governor Haslam, I understand that it would come at a political cost for you to reverse your request to President Obama to halt the flow of Syrian refugees into the US. To express the immediate welcome of Syrian refugees would not be a politically popular move right now with many of your constituents. At the same time, you have time and time again demonstrated your willingness to take political risks to do the right thing. Your persistence with health care coverage is obvious evidence for your political courage. You have a track record of doing good things over defaulting to that which only earns political gain. You are a wise and strong politician precisely because you do not simply make decisions based on making political gains, but rather on making good choices no matter the cost.

My encouragement to you is to do it again.

Please reconsider your position on Syrian refugees and let them have a taste of American ideas of freedom and justice now.  Let them feel the great acceptance of the unique and wonderful brand of Southern hospitality only Tennessee can offer.

You have the power to help the world see who we really are.


Chris Gonzalez, Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mental Health Fitness

How do you take care of your health?  Your body that is.  What do you either do or know to do in order to have a healthy body? We all know how it works, don’t we? Eat lots of vegetables and some fruit and then take it easy on the carbs, meats and dairy – right? Do 30 minutes of exercise daily, even if it is just walking – right? We have systems set up just for this purpose. From Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to Curves and Cross Fit, there are many onramps to helping you with your physical health.

But what about mental health? What are the obvious ways to take care of your mind? Your emotional health? How do you manage your moods?

When people talk about dealing with mental health care, usually the first thought is a remedial mental health approach. You know, going to a therapist, counselor or psychologist. But that is more like going to a medical doctor when you are sick as opposed to the gym to make a healthy body even healthier. That is sick care. That is important and necessary, but what is healthy mental health care? What maintains already good mental health that buffers against a dive into anxiety or depression? What is the mental health equivalent to pushups, Pilates and planks?

Just like there are scores of physical exercises for the body, there are scores of mental health exercises for the mind. The remainder of this article is a small sampling of good mental health fitness practices that can improve and maintain good mental health and even turn around some aching mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. For significant anxiety and depression it is best to see a therapist just like when the body has high blood pressure it is best to see a medical doctor.

Physical Health: To some this may seem ironic or counterintuitive; however, the link between physical health and mental health is firmly established in science. Daily exercise and eating right is a powerful influence on the thoughts and emotions of a person. A daily diet of Swiss Cake Rolls and pizza is going to result in weight gain, but it also increases the chances of anxiety and depressed mood. Plus, what regular exercise and healthy eating also does is provide some order to one’s schedule and some restraint to one’s appetites.

Contemplative Practice: Ok, you lost me. Before you quit reading or just skip this one, humor me. All this means is taking time to be alone and pondering something intentional and meaningful. And it can take less than ten minutes. Some people use mindfulness, some use contemplative prayer, some use breath prayer, some use mediation and some use relaxation exercises - there are so very many ways to do this. All of them are good and backed by science. Some of them have a religious or spiritual bent to them ranging from Christian to Buddhist, but many of them have no spiritual impetus whatsoever. What this is NOT is sitting and ruminating on everything going wrong or a special time devoted to worry. That is the OPPOSITE of contemplative practice. What happens in contemplative practice is the breathing becomes deeper and healthier, providing rich supplies of oxygen to the blood. It also calms tense muscles that you didn’t even know were tense. Those muscles might stay tense all day long and go undetected. That’s tiring. Contemplative practices bring rapid calm to the body and mind.

Highlight Strengths. Knowing what you are good at, what your positive characteristics are and what you have that is valuable to the world is incredibly important. An honest awareness of your own assets is neither boastful nor is it narcissistic. How you communicate with and engage with the rest of the world is what makes for pride when it comes to abilities and assets. Some people downplay their strengths and assume that everyone is as intelligent, strong, attractive, funny etc. as they are or that their asset doesn’t count. Often times they do this because they fear being boastful so much that they overcompensate and by default tear themselves down. They interject a constant dose of negative to inoculate themselves against pride. Ironically, that is another more sinister and stealthier kind of pride – false humility. Here are three ways to highlight your strengths without being boastful:
1.       Write them down in short sentences: I am hilarious. Then in your contemplative time just review them and be glad you are the way you are.
2.       Use your strengths often.
3.       In certain settings, when your strength would help, humbly offer to do that task that no one else knows how to do, wants to do, or is not any good at.

Appreciation. This is one of the healthiest things you can do. There are two major categories of appreciation that can really help with mental health fitness. The first is to tell someone how much you appreciate them. When someone does something that benefitted you or when someone is simply just a wonderful person, tell them. From small things to large things, initiating a genuine expression of gratitude means a lot to that person and usually it turns around and means a lot to you. If you can bring a smile to someone’s face because of what they did that made your life better, then you will likely also smile. Endorphins for all. Also, and this one is hard, telling someone you do not like what good you see in them is good for you. It accesses the empathy that soothes angry and bitter soul sores. The second form of appreciation comes when you are actually tempted to compare yourself to someone else. She’s so pretty and doesn’t even try or I wish I was an all-star dad like he is. When this temptation hits, convert the comparison into appreciation. Be glad for the other person and the assets they have. What this does is gets you outside yourself and allows for people to have the advantages they have without it being a threat to your value, meaning or purpose.

Play Inbounds. Life happens and sometimes it is really hard. Frankly, some things about life are impossible. When people are overwhelmed, it can seem like all of life is one ginormous blob of responsibility and knowing where to begin can make a person want to just crawl in bed until the return of Haley’s Comet. Whether life is overwhelming or not, sorting life into two specific categories is a really healthy thing to do. One category is, “Things I have the power to do something about” and the other category is “things I do not have the power to do anything about.” Yes, it is that simple. After doing that, start working on what falls in the category of “things I have the power to do something about.” And to get started, do an easy one first. Take out the trash. Go to the store. Wash the dishes. Just do something you can get done quickly and start the momentum. What to do about the the things that fall into the other category? Some people use that to populate their prayers while other people freely let those things go. Investing energy into something you can't do anything about will wear a person out - fast.

Playing inbounds also applies to what you agree to do. The word, NO, is so hard for some people to say. They like the affirmation they get for being wanted. The problem comes when there is no place to put another responsibility. They have committed to something they may have the ability to do, but not the time. The result is converting some other previous YES into a NO, which inevitably increases stress and anxiety and can even form resentment or regret.

Mental Health Fitness is easily as important as physical fitness. However, we do not live in a culture that values mental health fitness. Mental health is assumed and if it deteriorates, then usually we wait a really long time, until crisis, and then get help - maybe. Many people just suffer in silence. Using mental health fitness practices can create more capacity in your life, help you be better at the things you are already good at and help to maintain and nurture your boundaries. These mental health fitness practices are very introductory, but are a good place to start. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Prayer In A Snap

Having a hard time praying or knowing what to pray for? Maybe you get so busy that there is no time to pray. Maybe you think prayer is so important and sacred that it requires a lot of time to set aside to do it, but you can’t find the time and don’t want to half do it.

If you are the kind of person who feels like you should pray more, but has a hard time doing it, then this may be of some help to you. Prayer doesn’t have to be this long and drawn out process all the time. Sometimes prayers can be super short and simple, like a quick text or snap to a friend – just checking in or sharing a quick little thing that has momentary importance, but nothing of global consequence (or perhaps maybe it is majorly important).

Here are 9 Snap Prayers you might want to try.

9 Snap Prayers

1.       Morning prayer & Evening prayer. Quick morning and evening prayers can be as simple as checking in with God in the morning asking for a good day (help me on my math test) while in the evening being grateful for at least one good thing that happened that day (thanks that my locked wasn’t jammed today).

2.       Prayer of desperation. This sort of prayer comes when there is an immediate need. “God, help!” is enough.

3.       Interceding prayer. When you see someone else who needs something or is in trouble, this quick snap prayer can help you empathize with others and call upon God for help.

4.       Confessing prayer. Sometimes you just blow it. You said something stupid, hurt someone’s feelings, or realize that you just did that thing you promised you would never do again. Tell God what you did and share the burden rather than carry it all.

5.       Listening prayer. This sort of prayer can really have two parts. Part one is like sending a text to God, “Hey, what’s up?” and then awaiting the rest of the day for the return texts.

6.       Gratitude prayer. A quick “thanks” is always nice when something good happens. Plus, it helps you remember to be grateful.

7.       Seeking virtue prayer. Sometimes you realize that the task before you requires something more than what you feel you have (e.g. patience). A quick text asking for growth is good. "Gonna need help with this one - patience please."

8.       Spontaneous prayer. Randomly thinking of God for any reason and just checking in is good. Again, you randomly text your friends and this is really not that much different. "Rainbow this morning. Nice"

9.       Lord’s Prayer. This 71 word prayer is slightly longer than a quick text, message or snap, but it is simply 71 words of awesome that takes less than 20 seconds to say.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.


Saturday, September 26, 2015


Pride. It’s ugly, it’s toxic and it’s part of the human condition. Whether humans are born with it or just pick it up along the way, there is little doubt that pride walks along with us, climbs inside of us and so often just takes the over controls and makes us a walking impersonator of ourselves.

Pride is clever and crafty as it wears many faces and does impressions of other attitudes and even virtues. Pride is so invisible at times that it can be up and running without anyone detecting it for long stretches of time – infection without detection.

If pride were not so much a stealthy, complex, and perpetually reincarnating individual and social process, it might be easy to quickly diagnose and treat. But the reality is that pride has no interest in being diagnoses and treated, it has no interest in compromise, and it has no interest in sharing. It is a relentless force that seeks to fill every single little patch of real estate in your soul it can find. Any little crack where humility has not filled, pride will occupy, take up residence, and defend as its sovereign domain. Pride is nothing to be trifled with.

One of the great ruses of pride is to define itself in obvious terms. Arrogance is a form of pride that is often obvious and overt, but pride would like us all to believe that arrogance and pride are synonymous – that arrogance is the only form of pride. Pride would like us to look at overtly arrogant people and compare ourselves and find ourselves to be something other, better than they are. Pride invites us to separate ourselves from that overtly arrogant person and declare ourselves humble since we are not like that arrogant person. That is a major win for pride. Any occasion that results in some declaration of immunity to pride allows for the undetected processes of pride to continue unfettered.

Pride, though it has its obvious and overt expressions, spends most of its time behind the scenes and under the surface, carefully constructing houses of cards that look and feel real, but in the end result in seemingly irreversible devastation. Pride likes to hide and lurk

One of pride’s favorite ruses is false humility. With enough practice, there are people who can simultaneously be consumed with and controlled by pride and be regarded by friends, co-workers, and family members as the most humble person I know. When pride engages the power of the social system and event he culture to perpetuate itself, it is almost impossible to detect. It is up to the prideful person to do all the work of detection and remedy. And if detection and remedy is initiated by the prideful individual, the social system around them will actually work against the remedy. Why? Social systems do not like to change, especially when the change feels like an indictment. In short, the prideful individual who is seeking to change is essentially telling the social system that you have supported and helped perpetuate my prideful living. No one really wants to hear that, so they’ll usually persist and dismiss that the person was ever prideful in the first place.

Another ruse of pride is internal defiance with external compliance. Sometimes this process isn’t pride because it is a redemptive subversion of oppressive forces, but much of the time it is simply just pride. This process of pride can emerge in work, in family, in school, at church, with God or in just about any situation when there is a power difference or intimate relationship. In short, this manner of pride says you can compel me to change my behavior, but I will not soften my heart.

Another of the many ruses of pride is depressed defiance. There is a particularly clever strain of pride that leverages perceived helplessness to gain, power, control, and even dominion. This manner of pride can emerge when there is legitimate helplessness (this is distinguished from resilience and resourcefulness), but does its best work when conceptual helplessness transcends actual helplessness and it is the conceptual helplessness that is acted on. It preys on the goodness of people to do for the individual what the individual could do for themselves. In its most extreme form, it will lead the individual to perpetrate on oneself and then endure dangerous suffering in order to control others.

If pride is so clever, so stealthy, and so…intelligent, what can a person do?

The first act of humility is to recognize one’s own perpetual vulnerability to and propensity for pride. This is not easy; however, working from the assumption that you are always at least vulnerable to some form of pride is itself a very humble posture.

The second act of humility is to seek an ever increasing sensitivity to pride, to be willing to detect its presence. Depending on comparison to other people as a barometer of one’s own pride is too crude a measure. It is unnecessary, but it may be a fair place to start. However, it is best to go past comparison as quickly as possible as it has a whole set of built in pitfalls. Introspection is important and necessary, but it, too, is likely to be insufficient. Some other ingredients to getting better at detecting one’s own pride includes having a small group of people (1-3 others) who you invite to help you detect it, tell you when they detect it, and have zero judgment in the manner in which they relate to you concerning pride. Another is to have an external code for processing experiences. Some people use the wisdom of the Bible to help them along. Submitting oneself to legitimate sources of wisdom helps to make one sensitive to one’s own pride.

A third act of humility is to submit oneself to an authority of some kind. Many people relate to God in this way. Having someone to whom you consistently seek to show respect and honor allows for you to practice the kind of humility with another that would work well in lots of relationships, even people who are not an authority to you.

Pride is nasty. Pride is ubiquitous. The discipline of humility is the kind of the medicine that remedies and extinguishes the scourge of pride.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How to burn out without really trying

Actually, if you've never experienced burnout, you're just not trying hard enough. But don't be discouraged, there is enough burnout to go around. If you follow my very simple recipe for burnout, I 100% promise that you too can get there. Look, with proper mentoring and some specific changes to your approach to life, you can fully and completely burn out.

Before I reveal the secret to burning out, let's define it. Burnout is the final phase of what I will call the "burn out trajectory." It goes like this: working hard leads to growing tired which leads to exhaustion which leads to work fatigue which, if sustained long enough, develops into burn out. Burn out really needs to be thought of as an injury as opposed to being tired or exhausted. With tiredness or exhaustion, the cure is rest. They are not injuries. Burn out is an injury that needs healing.

Ok, a quick review before I reveal my 10 secrets to guaranteed burnout.

Work hard > Tired > Exhaustion > Fatigue > Burn Out

Here's how to do it:

Desire to Please. Let your desire to please people, especially your boss, drive everything you do. Prioritize everyone else's happiness over your own and take responsibility for them being happy. Neglecting some important things for the sake of pleasing others is paramount. If someone else is not happy, make sure you tell yourself that it's probably your fault.

Fear of Disappointing. In order to get to burn out as fast as possible, use fear as your primary motivation. But to really get the greatest impact out of fear, do it this way: make sure that if people are disappointed, it was because you weren't good enough. In fact, gather up your entire self-esteem into a single bundle and hitch it to the emotional reactions of your boss, partner, children, or any other significant relationship - heck, tie it to an insignificant relationship. Doing so will really help you get through these phases in the burnout trajectory.  

Ambition. It is important to have high goals and do whatever you can do to meet them. Furthermore, make sure the right people know how ambitious you are. Let them know how available you are to do whatever it takes to make it happen - at any time of day. You always have time to succeed, right? Here's a winner's tip: keep your cell phone with you at all times. You never know when an opportunity might need attention right now.  

Huge Ego (get addicted to affirmation). Burn out is not for the humble. If you are humble, your chances of burn out are low and you might just want to give up on the notion. However, if you have a huge ego and you know it, then turn up the ego volume to 11. Here is a special trick, if you can pass for humble while having a huge ego, you've really got the best of both worlds. No one hates for you being Trumpian in your inflated sense of self, but you get to have it anyway. One way to really increase the capacity of your ego is to get lots and lots of affirmation. Want it. Crave it. Get addicted to it. Stealthfully manipulate it as much as you can. Make sure as much of that affirmation is public as you possibly can without looking like that is what you are doing.
Low Self-Awareness: Capacity. If you are self-aware, accomplishing burn out is going to be a problem. However, if you are not, then there is still hope for  you. Having no idea how much you can do is key to burn out. If you do not know how much you can actually do, then you'll never know when enough is enough, because, let's be honest, it is never enough. Low self-awareness will allow you to say yes when you should be saying no. Ignorance is bliss!

Low Awareness: Task Size. Just say yes without even looking into the size of the yes. This is critical. Actually knowing what you are saying yes to might lead to cold feet and second thoughts. That is the death knell for burnout. If you know the size of the yes, then you might begin to get self-aware about your own capacity and then the whole thing falls apart. Just agree to everything and burn out will come looking for you.

Avoid Communities of Discernment. Other people are a real problem. Your friends have no desire for you to burn out. Be gracious - they just don't get it. They will fight you on this. Just leave them out of the process. It is better to simply make decisions in isolation and then, only when it is too late to back out, share those decisions with your friends. You get their pity without their critique (bonus: that's backhanded affirmation).

Procrastinate the Mundane. When you take on too much, just ignore anything that is boring. You'll get to it later, promise. Focus only on exciting things that get you lots and lots of affirmation. Just tell yourself that since you can't do it all right now (ever), focusing on the important things (read: exciting) is all that matters.

Dismiss Feedback. You may have friends or colleagues who give you feedback even when you don't ask for it. Be polite, of course, but dismiss it as quickly as is socially acceptable. If you have to tell a little white lie for the cause, then do it. Whatever you are doing is more important than your integrity.

Push Through. On your way to burn out, you'll have signs and symptoms that it is coming. Sometimes these are health related or are manifest as disruptions in sleep. This is good. When this happens, push harder. Drink more caffeine if you must. Whatever it takes is worth it.

Like Winston Churchill said when giving a speech on how to burn out, "Never, never, never! Never give up!"

If you really want burn out, you can do it. Don't get discouraged. You can't burn out in a day. It requires persistence. Be patient and trust the process. You'll be in the club before you know it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sisters - By The Scars of My Tongue

You're so very loyal,
By the scars of my tongue,
With all my voices carefully managed,
In the silence of my mind,
Never making it past my teeth,
Those simple and reckless thoughts,
Benign and explosive feelings -
My heart and soul -
Obscured from you -
For you.

I lassoed these tornadoes in my mind,
For you,
And you've never felt the breeze.
I think about my thoughts,
And you just speak yours;
I'm so fluent in our difference,
You think we're the same,

Because you need us to be the same,
You can't be you,
If I am not also you,
And letting you think so,
Was the best love I ever had,
For so long,
For too long,
I've done you wrong.

And you'll sip, just right, your just right coffee,
And I'll have what you're having, again
And we're both smiling,
For different reasons,
In our paper sisterhood,
Oblivious to the silence
You enjoy. Demand. REQUIRE.

So, my confession is due,
We're one, but we're not the same,
And I think I love you more,
But so scared you'll love me less,
Sister, it's just me - this time all of me,
And I hope you still think I'm pretty
Now that you see
The scars of my tongue.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

What Your Anxiousness Is Telling You


What Your Anxiousness is Telling You

Everyone feels anxious sometimes; some more than others, but the reality is that everyone knows what anxiety feels like. Anxiousness is often thought of as a bad thing, something to get rid of. Of course people think anxiety is a bad thing - it feels terrible. However, most people misread their own anxiety and it leads to some misconceptions:

1) Anxiety is bad and needs to be eliminated
2) I am anxious and therefore something is wrong with me
3) I feel anxiety therefore I need therapy or medication.
Rather than uncritically seeking to eliminate the feeling of anxiety, how about looking at it differently in order to learn what it might be saying?
Here are a few things to know about your own anxiousness:
It’s normal. Feeling anxious is normal. In general, feeling anxious is the result of your brain telling your body to prepare for something. Some people feel anxious in the morning as they get ready for work or school. It makes sense. Something is going to be required of you shortly and you need the energy to engage whatever that situation is. In preparation, your brain releases various chemicals to give your body the energy to engage the tasks of the day. It is normal.
It’s helpful. Anxiousness is often energy that has yet to be directed into something meaningful, productive, or constructive. Oftentimes simply engaging in that which the brain has prepared the body  for accesses that anxious energy and the anxious feelings resolve. Do not wait for the anxious feelings to leave before getting productive; instead, get productive to make the anxious feelings go away. And if you have not connected the dots yet, procrastination actually leads to increased levels of anxiety even though it is hoped to decrease them.
It speaks. Sometimes people feel anxious when they do not have some regular thing in front of them like a job or school. When the anxiety is not resolved in work or school or routine of life, then it might be telling you something. Perhaps you have forgotten to do something that is not part of your usual routine – mom’s birthday is coming up, need to return that email, didn’t get all the planning done for vacation, or need to fit that oil change in somehow. Anxiousness speaks and it is good to listen.
It’s manageable. If you take a few minutes each morning, evening, or midday, whenever the anxiousness pays a visit, to take 10 slow deep breaths, you will be surprised at how much of the anxiousness is resolved. If you combine that with allowing all muscles to relax, it is almost restful. It doesn’t always completely eliminate the anxiety, but it does bring calm. Really? How? Deep breathing floods the bloodstream with oxygen, which gives a physiological calming effect to the body.  

When you think different about your anxious feelings, you can actually leverage the anxious energy toward a useful end. Developing a friendship with those anxious feelings and working them to your advantage is a much better use of thought energy and the anxiousness itself. Don’t let yourself get caught in the worrying about worrying trap. It’s a psychological black hole. Instead, engage it, listen to it, and manage it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Wise Use of Failure

One of the greatest fears anyone has in life is the fear of failure. It’s true. Failure for some people is the very worst thing that could ever happen. Some people are simply paralyzed by the fear of failing, imaging what terrible consequences will result in a failure – public humiliation, eternal shame, smokelightningfire – real end of the world stuff.

 It makes sense to be afraid of failure. It feels terrible. It sometimes has undesirable consequences. Sometimes failure means life is no longer going in that direction. Failure might even mean the end of that important relationship or living here anymore. It can get pretty bad.

But if your relationship with failure is all bad, then you’re missing out on the benefits of failure. Benefits? Of failure? Yes, the benefits of failure. We don’t like to fail and we fear failure because we think it is all bad, but we determine it is all bad because it feels so bad.

While failure feels bad, it is not all bad. There is a baby somewhere in that bathwater, so don’t throw it out. When wisdom is applied to failure, some interesting things happen. In the movie Elizabethtown, (one of my all-time favorite movies) Drew tries to explain to Claire why his failure is so huge that it is impossible to get out from under. He is committed to failure being all bad. Claire has a different relationship with failure. Her relationship with failure is that it is linked to true greatness.

Claire: So, you failed.
Drew: No, you don't get it.

Claire: All right, you really failed. You failed, you failed, you failed. You failed, you failed, you... You think I care about that? I do understand. You're an artist, man. Your job is to break through barriers. Not accept blame and bow and say: "Thank you, I'm a loser, I'll go away now."  You want to be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you're still smiling. That’s true greatness to me.

What Claire knows that she tries to help Drew understand is that when wisdom is applied to failure, there is no greater source of learning, growth, and ultimate greatness. There is a greatness known only to those who have failed that cannot be known by those who have never failed.

 But how do I get at that greatness? What is the wise use of failure?

·        Learn: Ask failure what it is so generously trying to teach you. And don’t be simply satisfied with “well, I’ll never do that again.” Go deeper. Find out how to do better knowing that each failure is something to stand on top of in order to get a better look at things. Some people call this “failing forward.”

·         Look within. Search your character. What kind of person did this failure expose you as being? What are your areas of weakness, blind spots, and gaps that need attention? Then strategize how to fill these in.

·         Look within again. Search your character for what you did right, how you maintained yourself in the context of failure, how you succeeded within the failure. Nothing was completely a failure. Then strategize how to highlight these strengths.

 The only thing worse than failure is to fail to find its hidden wisdom. Mine your failures for wisdom, understanding, and insight. You will never regret it.

Discernment in the real world: How am I supposed to decide?

Everyone makes millions of decisions in a life time, probably billions. Each day is lined up with hundreds and hundreds of decisions. Most of those decisions are simple and easy, like brushing your teeth in the morning. Other decisions are huge and life altering like whether to go to college, getting married, or what you might do for a living. Although every decision you make deserves your attention and wisdom, the more substantial the decision the more wisdom is needed. Huge decisions come with huge consequences (for better or for worse), so making the best decision you can make is pretty important. Although some decisions must be made in an instant like I’m getting robbed what do I do? Most decisions, however, provide some lead time before having to be made.

But how does someone go about making a good decision? Do good decisions just come out of thin air?

Well, sometimes people just get lucky and accidentally make great decisions, but most of the time that is not the case. Luck is a poor decision-making strategy. Most of the time people make good decisions not because of luck, but because of discernment. They have learned how to make good decisions because they have cultivated discernment.

 So, what is discernment?

In its simplest form, discernment is using wisdom to make choices. 

Ok, so how do I get me some of that wisdom?

·         Self knowledge. Knowing yourself, your experiences and having a clear understanding of what happens when I do that. Learning from experience is a great pathway to wisdom.

·         Other people’s experience. Look, you can’t just experience everything. You’ll never live that long. So, learning from other people’s experience is good. If Jimmy throws his Axe spray can into the fire and it blows up, maybe I don’t need to throw my Axe spray can into the fire to know what is going to happen.

·         Scripture – relationship with the Bible. The Bible has the richest deposits of wisdom in the world. No other book even comes close. Read the Bible with the question, “What wisdom is trying to find me here?”

·         Relationship with Jesus. Most people know Jesus is loving, good and kind, but what a lot of people don’t really get is that Jesus is the smartest and wisest person to ever walk the Earth. The Bible does not report his IQ, but it was most certainly higher than Einstein, Plato, and Edison combined. Learning the ways of Jesus and what he was thinking and how that motivated his actions will result in wisdom.

·         Prayer to God. Prayer is, for some people, an unexpected location of wisdom. Seeking God is always a good idea. Sometimes just sitting and asking God for wisdom results in getting more of it.

·         Relationship with older people. People older than you have had more time in their lives to learn from their own mistakes and the mistakes of others as well as their good choices and the good choices of others. They can really give you some great advice on some things and help you avoid the mistakes (and the consequences) they made and model the good choices (and positive consequences as well) they made.

 What are the individual conditions under which wisdom could thrive? There are some conditions under which wisdom can thrive. Each person must create within herself or himself conditions in which wisdom can take root and really grow.

·         Humility. Wisdom and pride (arrogance) cannot co-exist. They are oil and water. In the ears of a person filled with pride, anything wise sounds stupid. Seriously, the wisest counsel will sound like foolishness, judgment or oppressiveness. Pride sours wisdom, but humility makes it grow rapidly. Humbling oneself results in space for wisdom to dwell.

·         Desire. You have to want wisdom to get wisdom. It is not hard to find if you actually go looking for it. Hunger for wisdom. Thirst for wisdom. Go looking for it and you will most certainly find it.

·         Space. It takes some intentionality to carve out space in one’s life for wisdom. There is so much in our lives that will take our time and space from us. If we do not devote time and space to the search for wisdom, something else will take that time and space from us. Right now a lot of people are experiencing “The techno-timesuck” in the form a smartphones. When we are bored, lonely, or whatever, our “go-to” is our phone. What boredom and loneliness are telling is that there is something lacking in our lives. One of those things is wisdom. Rarely is wisdom found in getting sucked into “10 things your doctor doesn’t want you to know” or “These mind-blowing pictures will change your life forever - #3 just about did me in.”

·         Preparation. Gaining wisdom before you need it is essential. When a decision comes upon you, that is not the time to consider getting some wisdom any more than when you need to run away from a wild animal is the time to start the discipline of running.

 How do I make wise choices? Getting the wisdom-generating processes into place will result in making much better decisions. Some decisions you know are coming up and some you do not. Either way, setting into motion the time, the self-reflection, the relationships, and the relationship with Jesus through scripture and prayer are going to set you up to be a wisdom accumulating person.

 How do I make unwise choices? People make unwise choices for lots of reasons. They are unique to each person. I will share some of the ways in which I make unwise choices. Feel free to learn from my shortcomings.

·         Anxiety. When I make decisions motivated by anxiety or by fear, it puts me at risk for making poor decisions. When I make decisions in this way, I am usually doing it for the sole purpose of relieving the anxiety or resolving the fear. In short, these decisions are usually self-centered or simply self-absorbed. When I am fully and completely focused on myself, I am helpless to make a wise decision.

·         Insecurity.  Sometimes I get insecure, especially when someone is going to evaluate the work I do. When I start making decisions to appease my insecurity, I make poorer decisions. Again, this is selfish.

·         Affirmation lust.  I admit it, I want everyone in the universe to like, me, a lot. Too much. This is not good. When I make decisions with goal of getting more and more affirmation, even if the thing I am doing is the right thing, it is for the wrong reason. I can get sucked into a weird “Christian” looking narcissism that is real trouble in the end.

·         Anger. Decisions made in anger almost always s result in revenge. In short, I become a worse person and other people get hurt.

·         Regret. When I make decisions out of regret, it never goes well. I cannot change the past, and that is all regret really wishes could happen. When I make decisions based on regret, I am the one who ends up getting hurt. 

 Discernment is the use of wisdom to make decisions. Get wisdom, whatever you do. Begin a wisdom-generating way of living and a wisdom-accumulation way of being and you will make much better decisions than you do now.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Objectification of Adolescents: Monster-making, Trophy-making, and Colonization

I have spent a lot of time in my life with adolescents. In fact, most of my life has been spent in this is stage with these people. I have spent time with so many individuals in their second decade of life as well as with the social systems in which they are embedded – families, churches and schools.

First, I spent quite a bit of time being an adolescent, taking some bonus time in my 20’s really getting to know this stage very well. I spent several years as a public school teacher and youth minister investing lots of time into being near adolescents and their families and working with them. Then I became a marriage and family therapist and worked with families with adolescents in a therapeutic setting. Then my own children entered into adolescence and I am now getting a first-hand education on parenting teens. I am now 45 years old and have been in some level of engaging with adolescents since I become one over three decades ago.

In these three decades, I have explored, experienced, and examined how these humans in the second decade of life live and move individually and how they are treated in their social systems. I have learned a lot in these three decades, but I also know that I have much to learn.

One thing I have learned in these three decades is how much loved these adolescents are by the adults that exist in their families, churches, and schools. I have also learned that sometimes that love is expressed in some ways that are not so healthy. And frankly, sometimes it is not love that motivates the adults in their lives, but something less generous.

One of the processes I have seen frequently between adults and adolescents is adult objectification of adolescents. Adolescents are sometimes objectified by the adults in their world. In short, adults may intend to be protective, engaged, and supportive of the adolescents in their lives, which is a good thing, but what ends up happening sometimes is that the adults treat the adolescents more like a possession than a person.

I have identified three objectification processes that take place between adults and adolescents. For the most part, these emerge from good intentions, but devolve into dehumanizing processes. Here goes:

Monster-making. Sometimes adults and parents of adolescents make all adolescents into monsters. It is generally done as a response to fear as these adults hear horror stories of terrible things done by adolescents and fear that the teen they love is at risk for being the next one to do such a thing. Here are four ways adults engage in this process:

Obsessing negative. Sometimes adults and parents hold mistakes or imperfections against an adolescent. This process happens when an adult highlights only the negatives, the mistakes, and problems of an adolescent while obscuring, ignoring or dismissing anything good about the adolescent.

Overgeneralization. Sometimes adults and parents hold the worst in any adolescent against all adolescents. This process happens when the negatives, the mistakes, and the problems of any adolescent are generalized to apply to all adolescents.

Sympathy magnet. Sometimes adults or parents magnify adolescent’s imperfections as a way to gain attention or sympathy. Sometimes the insecurity or selfishness of the adult or parent becomes central when communicating about adolescents. There can be a sense in which parents or adults compete for who is suffering the most from their adolescent. Parents, teachers, youth ministers, and therapists are all vulnerable to this process.

Scapegoating. Sometimes adults scapegoat adolescents based on the problems of the adolescent in order to obscure their own problems. This process occurs when the adult or parent has significant issues of their own that they want to protect or are ashamed of and use the problem of the adolescent to absorb the attention of others.

Trophy-making. Sometimes adults and parents overemphasize the successes of the adolescent and obscure or dismiss the negatives, problems, or mistakes. In short, they set up the adolescents in their lives to be trophies of their own success rather than celebrating the legitimate success of the adolescent. Here are three ways this process plays out:

  • Self-esteem. Sometimes adults and parent use the success of their adolescent for their own self-esteem. Being associated with the adolescent reflects well on the adult and therefore the adult exploits this process.
  • Self-promotion. This process is the next step building off of exploiting the adolescent’s success for their own ego, it drags that process out into the public to demonstrate their own greatness.
  • Superiority. Stage three in this process is when this trophy-making process is leveraged against other parents or adults to demonstrate who is the better parent, teacher, youth minister, or therapist.
Colonization. In an effort to be or to appear to be (or to relieve guilt), parents and adults may over-engage so much in the projects, activities, or events of adolescents that they edge out the adolescent partially or completely. Here are three ways this process plays out:

  • Take-over. Sometimes adults or parents completely take over the success of the adolescent. They see an opportunity to be supportive, but end up commandeering the whole thing such that the adolescent becomes secondary to the success, project, or event.
  • Projection. Sometimes the adult or parent engages with the adolescent in the event, project, or effort so much that the original effort of the adolescent disappears and is remade in the image of the adult or parent.
  • Overwhelm. Sometimes the adult or parent offers so many ideas and contributions to the adolescent’s initiative that there is no room left for the adolescent to develop their idea, project, or effort. In the worst cases the adolescent just quits the project and the adult or parent continues it to completion.

Becoming aware of these processes is an important developmental component of the adult or parent. Awareness is the first step to stopping these objectifying processes before they become entrenched. If you find yourself engaging in any of these processes, here are a few tips:

·        If you can see a way to stop and it makes sense, then stop. Replace the objectifying process with a more humanizing process.

·        For some it might be more difficult to just stop. Talk it over with other parents or adults. Tell them that you might be inadvertently objectifying the adolescent’s in your life. Just talking with someone else might help highlight ways to make a shift in how to engage with adolescents. Make sure you talk to someone who can listen well and not dismiss your struggle.

·        For some it might take talking to a professional marriage and family therapist. The process might be so entrenched that it requires a family level shift.

It is never too late to make changes in how you engage with the adolescents in your life.