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.

When progress is not progress

I was reading through some reflections by an old friend on his day. He was watching old TV shows and thinking of past good times. At times I do this too and it reminds me that not all progress is a good thing. Our culture would have us believe that if you don’t embrace progress and change that you’re restrictive, “old fashioned”, inflexible, or unwilling to listen. But look around us today and how much of the “progressive” social policies of the past 50 years have actually achieved something positive? People demand their “rights” but at what cost to others around them; that’s not positive to me. Rights exercised over the interests of others is nothing more than self obsession to satisfy myself.

My resistance to some changes and “progress” is simply because I know better. It reminds me of a statement made by God to a people that had “progressed” over decades to the point they no longer even resembled what they should have been in standing for right:

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” — Jeremiah 16:6

A number that matters

I’m a math guy. This first drew me to engineering and then into the business world of finance. Math is basically an exercise in using and creating numbers. Numbers can provide answers or key insights but they are not limited in scope to just engineering or science or finance. You can be bad at math and still find usefulness in numbers such as:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

There are 3 numbers related to our days, my days or your days to be specific. Two numbers are unique to me and the third is shared by us all:

  • The number of my days until today; my past
  • The number of my days from now until I pass from life; my future
  • One day; today
I summarize these points with the basic truth that God made us to be people of the present. I cannot change the past nor can I control the future; I live in today, this day. The wisdom of numbering my days teaches me that I can be too enamored or depressed about the past, neither of which is productive for I can do nothing to recapture it. This wisdom also teaches me that control of the future is an illusion that I cannot master nor guarantee. Therefore, live the day for all that it may bring. This principle is broadly intuitive; we even have the adage, “Stop and smell the roses.” The irony of life is that I easily fall in the trap of living in the past or the future and miss today completely.

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.

Decisions

Over the time of completing my MBA I learned a lot of basic truths about business but more than anything about people. One of the things I recall my Operations Management  instructor telling us one day about the subject of decisions, “Making a decision is the easy part. Getting people to act on the decision; that’s hard!” That doesn’t mean making decisions is easy, but that comparatively it’s easier than follow through and execution. And I’ve found that applies to me as much as it applies to other people.

These are the basic truths that I have found about decisions:

  • Learn as much as you can
  • Get good advice to provide a variety of perspectives
  • Know your personal values and stay true to them
  • Decide as quickly as possible
  • Work out ahead of time how you will know you made a good decision. Count the costs
  • Avoid “sunk cost” thinking. In other words, I can’t decide because I’ve invested so much already in current _______.
Execution and follow through of a decision is hard for a multitude of reasons. Some of them could be related to how I communicate it, a flaw in the decision, or a problem in the person executing it:
  • Decision is not focused
  • It is not clearly understood
  • I lack commitment to the decision
  • Looking too deeply into the past
  • Looking too far into the future
I recall a quote from George S. Patton, US General 4th Armored Division in WWII. This does not make a complete philosophy but it does embody many of the qualities of decision making and execution:
“A good plan executed violently today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

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.