Words

Words are the most powerful force known to mankind. A word can either build or destroy in an instant. Entire nations can rise or fall on a few words. And friendships can be lost in a moment with a few choice words. The United States constitution provides protection and freedom for us to say whatever we want. However just because we’re free to say something doesn’t mean it’s free to say it. Yes, free used with two different meanings. To make it clear what I mean would be to say: Just because we have liberty to say something doesn’t mean it’s without a cost to say it.

While we have a great liberty as US citizens I believe it has led to undisciplined behavior and responsibility for the words spoken. If I can understand the cost, and value, of what I say then it will be a good tool to measure what I say. Two thoughts come to mind:

” Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:6

and one that recently caught my attention and really made me think was a statement made about an angel of God:

“But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Jude 9

If Michael has boundaries in what he says to the devil then how much more should I be diligent and wise in talking to ordinary folks? The answer is self evident.

Student Finance 101

Last week I wrote a post about the Presidents pandering to college students and recent graduates with his executive order to change student loan financing. There is no denying that the debt load of student loans is extreme, but where I take exception is by coddling students that make poor choices by avoiding talking reality with them.

I found this article the other day that provides recent data on what professions generally pay:

http://www.fastcompany.com/1755375/what-are-college-majors-really-worth

Find a profession that you enjoy but don’t forget that your CHOICE of profession has direct correlation to how well you can pay for the investment in education to get there.

Mr President, seriously?

I understand politics well enough to see from a mile away the motives for moves like this one, and it makes me want to wretch every time. My beef with the president on his “move” is that it perpetuates a mindset:

  1. That people can be isolated from their choices…even when they don’t understand the choices
  2. Personal responsibility doesn’t exist, the government will protect me and fix it for me
  3. Financial common sense is a virtue that is to be punished instead of rewarded

http://news.yahoo.com/obamas-student-loan-debt-relief-plan-too-good-234242818.html

I don’t want to over-simplify the problem with Student Loans but why can’t people just speak the truth on these subjects instead of pacifying, pandering, and coddling?

I have room to speak authoritatively about this subject because in 2010 I finished my MBA and paid for it myself out of my own pocket. It’s no hidden secret that College is expensive and just this morning I saw the average cost increased by 8.3% last year alone! The problem will have to be attacked on both ends of the curve: the cost of education side AND the student education side!

Here is some basic Student Finance 101:

  1. Target a career post education and understand it’s basic structure of pay and benefits
  2. Estimate the costs of education to qualify you for the career you’d like
  3. Pick a college that fits your estimated costs
What I see far too often now days is this:
  1. I have no idea what I want to do as a career or what it takes to make a living
  2. Since I have no idea, that degree in Basket Weaving looks fun, let’s do that!
  3. I want to tell my friends I went to “CoolSchool U” now and later in life, I don’t care what it costs
And then you wonder why kids drop out of school as the reality of college cost sets in with no career in mind? Or they get out and then can’t find a job? We’re not giving our kids the skills to make intelligent choices based on FORESIGHT, UNDERSTANDING, and WISDOM! Mr President, please speak the truth about this problem and just maybe you can be taken seriously as the leader of the free world. Until then, you make us look like a Banana Republic that tries to change the rules of reality in an attempt to stay in power.

There is a generation….

History repeats itself over and over again. As one generation grows from youth and then dies, the gains or losses they experienced don’t transfer to the next. It’s intuitive to see that people learn most from first hand experience which is unfortunate. I’m a history buff and World War 2 history in particular. There is a term coined for the people in America that fought and won WW II: The Greatest Generation. What made them “great”?

As I have reflected on that question I am of the mind that what made them great was not because they won the war. If it was limited to just winning, then the success of the United States the following 60 years would have been fleeting. Instead I believe that generations greatness was found in personal character built on morals that are immutable. Were they born with that or was it built from the ingredients of the moment, the time period they lived in? Again, fairly intuitive answer is they built it, each of them that were called to serve their country, one at a time through labor, sacrifice, and conviction. Put that together and in the face of world domination from two dictators the nation collectively said “This is not right!” and then were willing to do what was required based on that conviction.

Here we are 70 years from when WW II started and what are the ingredients of our time period, this era? I am gravely concerned what prosperity in the US has taught, or more correctly stated lulled, people of this time into. Character is mocked in favor of “group think”. Labor is marginalized in favor of a handout. Conviction is forgotten as the morals no longer matter.

Proverbs 30:11 begins four sayings from Agur about “there is a generation”:

  • Disrespects parents and authority (v11)
  • Self-righteous with no morals (v12)
  • Arrogant (v13)
  • Prey on the poor (v14)

And how many of these mark our present time and era? I dare say all four of them. A survey of teachers in 1945 asked what were the biggest problems in the classroom with top responses such as speaking out of turn, cutting in line, and running in the halls. Fast forward to 1995 and the same survey has responses of teen pregnancy, guns in school, drug and alcohol abuse. Why so much change in just 50 years? I’ll leave that for you to reflect on and find the answer for yourself.

What kind of generation do you want to be part of? A generation that builds character or watches it wither before your eyes? The greatest gift I can give the next generation is this: there are morals and character worth fighting for and that the greatest sense of accomplishment is found in knowing you’re right and willing to stand for it regardless of what “other people” think.

Find truth and build inner character based on conviction. It really does make a difference.

If busy is good, I’m doing great!

Blogging is challenging. At least blogging that is interesting and worth your time and effort. Summer is upon us and vacations ramp up but invariably a bunch of business activity ramps at the same time. All of which goes to the top of the list for time allocation. Last week as I was going through my calendar for July I came to the stark realization that the month was done before I even got started. Customer meetings in California the first week, vacation with the family the next 2 weeks, and then a week in Europe for business….July is over. So, in my effort to look at the brighter side I coined the phrase years ago for periods of time like this, “If busy is good, I’m doing great!”

This reminds me of the words of the preacher in Eccelsiates:

24 There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?    Ecclesiates 2::24-25

Be busy, but also stop and smell the roses and be sure that God is part of the equation. Don’t leave any of the three parts out or it creates an unwise and unhealthy view of life.

Two ears but only one mouth

In my daily study today I came across an interesting quote from an ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus, from the 1st century AD:

“Nature has given us two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”    — Epictetus

This got me thinking about the skill of listening and how I’ve discovered over my years how important it is and how difficult it is to master. I think it is fairly intuitive that listening is important; after all we spend the first 18 years of our life in school listening to facts and knowledge. It is almost tragically ironic that while I’ve been taught and mastered the skill of listening to facts, listening to people is an entirely different experience and skill set that I did not understand until just the last couple of years. Once I recognized its importance and my lack of skill, I felt like a blind man seeing for the first time. Quickly I could see my relationships across the board in a whole new and much more meaningful way.

There is a popular book written by Stephen Covey, an acclaimed businessman and teacher, titled “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the habits in his list is the skill of listening that is summarized in the headline:

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Everyone must learn to master this skill for themselves and the importance of mastering it is an undeniable truth. It is an imperative that requires and demands my attention and effort. It is important enough that Solomon also spoke of it in Proverbs:

He who gives an answer before he hears,
It is folly and shame to him.       Proverbs 18:13

The reasons to master listening to people are broad and reaching. Fundamentally, listening tells the other person that they are worthy and important to be listened to. The quickest way to literally turn off someone’s mental switch is to stop listening to them; trust me I know this from extensive experience. But listening is not just about sitting there nodding your head, although helpful is not a complete application of the skill. Showing someone they have been heard requires feedback that understanding is achieved. One technique that I use to get this across is after listening to someone I ask the question, “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying is…..” and then I provide a brief explanation of what that is. That is just one method of a long list too long to enumerate.

As a guy, one of the things that I had to set aside was a “fix it” mode that was always engaged. Listening and fixing is the right approach in some settings but it is a really, REALLY bad idea to apply it in all circumstances. Setting that mode aside is important for the simple reason that a true sense of self as an adult, a mature person, is that I can solve MY problems in life. One method that is very effective to that goal is talking something through with another person that is a genuine and empathetic listener. I have come to find for myself that a truth I discover is stronger than a truth told and a lot of discovery happens in the course of talking and listening.

What is needed to be an effective listener and help for other people is going to be unique to all of us. The mastery is a life long endeavor but a journey that is well worth the time and effort.

The need for speed

My first thought of a blog writer is Abraham Lincoln standing at the podium in Gettysburg starting to read, “Four score and twenty years ago….” As odd as that sounds it’s just what pops in my head. What does that mean? Some of you may be saying, “Because you’re ______”  And to most people, including myself in times past, I’d have a fairly superficial answer without any real understanding or insight.

Today’s world is a constant, non-stop feed of information from friends, family, associates at work and school, teachers and bosses. It’s no longer limited to physical contact of person-to-person. We have facebook, blogs, internet news, twitter feeds, e-mail, SMS texting, cell phones and the list can go on and on and on with more methods added daily it seems. It is a literal tsunami washing over me every day of my life. Busy has a whole new meaning compared to even 10 years ago let alone 20, 30, or 40.

Speed and accessibility are simultaneously an asset and a liability. Speed of information in some contexts, such as my work as a software development manager, is crucial to decision making by me and others. However, speed of information in another context like my personal relationships can create enormous problems. Take my introductory thought. Speed through that one and you’ll miss some interesting connections in my life if you care to know them. Or worse, you’ll write me off as a whack-o and not pay attention to another word I say. That’s ok, sometimes I don’t want to pay attention to another word I say. 🙂

The simple truth is that not everything is the same. Therefore, I should take care that I don’t generalize and speed through everything. The asset of speed in my job can be a liability at home with my family.