Letters to yourself

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lettersNew family tradition of writing yourself a letter for the upcoming year. Tonight we read the letters from 2017 – the year of change – and encouraged each other. Soon we will write the letters for 2018 – the year of purpose.

Last year our family decided to make a transition in moving from Eugene, Oregon to Seattle, Washington. We had agreed that professionally and personally that we were ready for new challenges and had found the right opportunity to move forward with. Our process included options related to moving to Bend, Oregon the possibility of something on the East Coast and finally wrapped up with securing a challenging venture near Seattle.

We have come to look at 2017 as the year of change for our family. Big changes. With kids in 3rd, 4th, 6th and 10th grades we knew there would be unique trials related to the transition from what we knew in Oregon and what we would meet in Washington. We had agreed that we were optimistic about the opportunity to meet knew people, experience diversity and carve out the next chapter of our lives together. It was exciting, it was sad. We were hopeful and conflicted.

As best we could we discussed and prepared for the transition. We agreed to complete the school year in our existing surroundings for the kids and had some time to prepare and say our goodbyes to the friendships we had built. We shed tears thinking of those we would leave behind. We laughed to relieve the tension. We dreamed as we looked forward to what we would experience.

One thing we decided to do as a family was to write letters to ourselves as we prepared for the final leg of our journey North. The assignment was to write a letter to yourself regarding what you wanted yourself to look forward to, where you wanted to focus and what you wanted yourself to know once we had made the journey and had a moment to reflect.

Recently we opened and read those letters. We read the words of challenge and encouragement that we penned to ourselves. We spoke words of encouragement as we reflected together on how we had accomplished our goals, lived on vision and continued to venture forward as a family. We survived the year of change and soon we will write our letters as we prepare for the year of purpose.

If you are a parent who found this helpful or inspiring, you may find that this video is beneficial as well:

 

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Power of parenting

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Power of parenting

Clan kidLike many, I discovered this image through social media where it was originally attributed to the recent events in #Charlottesville, Virginia. As many have since reported, the law enforcement uniforms seem to be older than 2017 and the origin of the photo has been tracked down to an incident in Gainesville* from the 90s. While that piece of information as it relates to facts is important the picture holds power in the sense that it captures the tension of our current reality in the United States.

In my view this picture screams to the responsibility and high calling of parenting. The age-old question of nature verses nurture is being challenged in this photo as the child has no concept of what they are wearing or representing and curiosity is driving the young one to cross the line of philosophical division that their parents are raising them under. The photograph stands as a piece of history as well as a moving piece of art with themes of innocence, racism, humanity and the tension that still exists in our society.

That this picture is possible in modern and progressive civilization is disturbing to say the least. And yet, if like me you are disturbed or surprised perhaps we should do a better job of listening. We have come so far and yet we have so much further to go. Rather than become bleak about the implications of this photograph, the power of the image should speak to all parents in relationship to their essential work in shaping the foundation of values for those developing minds in their care. The negative messages in our culture have so much volume and frequency that it is difficult not to lean towards a fatalistic view of humanity. Yet, there is great hope in this same photograph in that first there is a force within this young child that transcends their social programming and secondly, as much as parenting can be a foundation for negative messaging it also has great potential for positive momentum. If you are a parent and you wonder how you can make a difference in the world, your greatest force for good in the world is developing under your umbrella of influence.

A child’s nature includes a proclivity towards being a stinker which all parents are familiar with, but the roots of racism have to be watered (nurtured) by family, friends and social affirmation. Even though parents are tired from the 24/7 duties of parenting and may doubt whether there is much more that can be done with the limited time that they have, there is hope. By being intentional with those essential years that the young humans in our care are within our direct sphere of influence we can have a significant and enduring impact on making the world suck less (#MTWSL). If you are a parent who is doing their best to handle their business and raise humans that will be a force for good in the world – keep doing good things!

*From what we could find, this photo originated from a KKK rally held on September 5, 1992 and is credited to Todd Roberston, read more from Poynter HERE

*Originally posted at izvents.com

The moral high horse often trots into all sorts of trouble

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As humans we have a peculiar aptitude for judging people, often more harshly than we would want ourselves to be judged in similar situations. Through a college course on crime myths I was brought into contact with an article in the Washington Post that points out our heightened awareness of crime and danger related to stories sensationalized in the media has skewed our ability to assess reality. One researcher from Stanford and two from University of California at Irvine peered into perceptions of children left in vehicles as it relates to our ability to assess risk and respond accordingly as individuals as well as a society. In many instances danger is not the motivating factor for my own judgements, even those I might claim are related to public safety, but rather morality or perceived immorality are the fuel for action which often is not an accurate guide.

The authors make an interesting observation from their research, “People don’t just think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral — they also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous (2016, Stanford).” While leaving a child alone in a car (or even at home) has many negative connotations, the study that sets the stage for a discussion digs a bit deeper into whether it is ever safe to do so or at least of negligible potential danger to the child. In judging others I often live in absolutes of black and white, even though when I am engaged in life decisions, especially in parenting, there are many shades of gray that I deal with. How much of what concerns or even enrages me is related to actual danger as opposed to some perceived violation of a moral code that I myself violate?

Many of my judgements are not based in facts but rather the information I receive via the media (sensationalized), or hearsay from those in my social circles (confirmation bias) or imputation of a value without understanding the factors (moral high horsing). In a much broader context, crime myths which feed into my perceptions, fears and biases, have fueled public outcry leading to public policy changes that have created more problems than they have solved – such as our nearly hundred year war on drugs. While moral living is of value, often the lense of morality or the perceived threat to is ripe for manipulation which distorts the truth, leads to fear induced knee-jerk reactions and allows policies based on greed to be enacted on behalf of the “good” people.

Like many of my assessments, I am afforded the privilege of judging others based upon my own experience and perceptions, which limits my ability to understand the situations of those around me. The relationship with the media is a twisted one, as my perceptions, fears and biases create the receptive market, the play by the media fertilizes the soil by sensationalizing those stories that will root as well as sell in to the public. I am a part of the problem because I am the market, I consume and I perpetuate the myths. I believe greed is often the source, someone has something to gain. I believe fear is the fuel, as an individual I embrace the fear, I consume fear related content and they cycle of fear expands the public outcry leading to uninformed policy change. Yet at the source of both, greed and fear, there is a common factor of misguided and/or misapplied morality. What concerns me about myself is that so much has been manipulated into existence in the name of and in relationship to morality. The moral high horse often trots into all sorts of trouble.

 

References:  

Stanford, P. K., Sarnecka, B. W., & Thomas, A. J. (2016, December 16). We’re really bad at judging risk to kids. We’re really good at judging parents. Retrieved October 01, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/12/16/were-really-bad-at-judging-risk-to-kids-were-really-good-at-judging-parents/?utm_term=.34949feeba5f

Noah

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Originally published as Lessons from Noah on Vision and Endurance, February 3, 2017 in The Daily Positive.

By Jon Isaacson

Whether you believe the account of Noah and his giant wooden boat is a historical record or just a nice story, the general narrative is one that most people, including entrepreneurs and business leaders, are familiar. There is a catastrophic flood on the horizon, and Noah is told by God to build an ark.

Noah

Need an ark? I Noah a guy…

Our main character heeds the booming voice of heaven and, in doing so, saves himself, his family, and the representatives of the animal kingdom that will repopulate the land after the flood cleanses the earth. The story told in the Old Testament chapters of Genesis 6-9 continues to receive some public acclaim with the recent opening of the life-sized Ark Encounter in Kentucky as well as many lesser-known attractions such as the Noah’s Ark Biblical History Museum in Winston, Oregon.

The story of Noah and the flood has been retold through several Hollywood iterations both in the comedic form with Steve Carell in the reluctant modern-day version in Evan Almighty as well as in the very dramatic form with Russell Crowe at the helm of the massive floating wood structure in the picture titled “Noah”.

In our modern society fear is not hard to find, whether it’s a new calendar year, the opening of a financial quarter, or even an average day on social media, countless pundits proclaim the next catastrophe that will cripple our global economies.

If there is trouble on the horizon, perhaps we can learn something from the archetype of a man who was calm under pressure and followed through with his convictions to create a positive legacy with a global reach. Individuals and scientific groups continue to search for the physical location and remnants of the wooden structure, perhaps in part searching for confirmation that we can survive the worst of what nature can throw at us.

The Noah narrative may prove helpful to the aspiring entrepreneur as well as the modern leader navigating the troubled waters of managing with vision, maintaining the elusive work-life balance and living a life of purpose.

What lessons might we learn from Noah as a visionary leader and innovator?

1. Your work should be motivated by vision.

Your work should be motivated by a vision so that you can work tirelessly in the face of opposition. If you can see further down the road than most entrepreneurs, people will likely think your efforts are crazy. If people think you are crazy, they are either right, or you may be moving in the right direction!

Most entrepreneurial success stories include accounts of all the detractors who stood on the sidelines mocking the entrepreneur’s efforts. Star athletes are often motivated by someone in their past who didn’t think they were good enough. A chip on the shoulder seems to be a consistent motivator for success in the lives of those who are visionaries and game changers.

Noah was building the biggest boat known to man during a period of drought, at the time there was nothing more nonsensical than the work of Noah and his family. Pounding nails day after day can become a menial task, but when those nails bring an individual closer to his goal, the mechanics become a work of art, the thud of the hammer a soundtrack, and the small evidence of progress perpetuates the effort forward.

“VISION WITHOUT ACTION IS MERELY A DREAM. ACTION WITHOUT VISION JUST PASSES THE TIME. VISION WITH ACTION CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.” – JOEL A. BARKER

2. Your work should include, or at least not exclude, your family.

While Millennials get a bad rap for “not being motivated,” what many fail to understand is that Generation X and Y grew up with the consequences of a society putting work above all else. What happens when the dust settles on a career, and the family has played second fiddle? The employee who was loyal to his company but no longer serves a purpose has neither company nor family in the end. Good organizations and intelligent employees understand that their personal, family, and professional lives all need investments of time to thrive.

While many claim to work themselves for the good of their family, the one resource that none of us can get back is time. Noah included his family in his work, whether that was willing labor or not, in the end, the work kept them alive and literally brought them together. Time is limited, so it must be spent with purpose.

“THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS WORK-LIFE BALANCE. THERE ARE WORK-LIFE CHOICES, AND YOU MAKE THEM, AND THEY HAVE CONSEQUENCES.” – JACK WELCH

3. Your work should have a global as well as local impact.

Seek to do as much good as possible. Noah had a long term vision with an immediate sense of the work ethic required to reach his providential goal. Noah shared his vision, invited others to join in his game-changing work, and made a public effort to endure through the days, months, and years with no evidence that he was right. You could say Noah was globally minded in his overall vision while maintaining a heart for the local culture.

Noah’s family were the only ones to enter the safety of the Ark, not because Noah excluded them or hid his work but because no one wanted to join him. Like the story, The Little Red Hen, no one wanted to pound the nails to do the work of preparation, but they sure wanted to taste the pie when the work was complete and proved to be necessary. Every decision we make has consequences. Whether our work will make a positive impact is often determined by an intentional use of the time and resources we have available to us.

“IN EVERY DAY, THERE ARE 1,440 MINUTES. THAT MEANS WE HAVE 1,440 DAILY OPPORTUNITIES TO MAKE A POSITIVE IMPACT.” – LES BROWN

If you recall in the modern day depiction of the Noah story, Evan Baxter/Noah (Steve Carrell), has an interaction with God (Morgan Freeman), wherein God shares the anagram of the Ark. God asks Evan, “How do we change the world?” Evan responds, “One single act of random kindness at a time.” To which God starts writing A-R-K on the ground with a stick and remarks, “One Act of Random Kindness.”

Live your life with vision, spend your energy on purpose, and be intentional about the impact you make with the resources you have. Genesis ends the story with God placing a rainbow in the sky to remind himself and Noah that he will never destroy the earth by flood again. Noah has a symbol that reminds him of what he has endured, reminds him of his present opportunity and reminds him that whatever may come, he is a survivor. In a world of chaos with rumors of catastrophe and messages of fear, notice the rainbow breaking through the clouds after a storm.

 

Long war

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I am reading Chasing The Scream by Johann Hari. Sobering (it’s a pun but one that will slap you upside the head) to trace the history and consequences of the war on drugs. You get a small glimpse of that in this TED Talk.

Our morals have been hijacked by fear and non-sense to create a an approach that is neither working nor does it reflect the values it claims to protect. What is alarming is that in reading I have the benefit of hind sight to judge this one hundred plus year battle. Many well intention-ed people were (still are) deceived, manipulated and became proponents of these means on the principle that it was a moral duty. How much of what I believe, follow and defend is based on a bad train of thought that was swept up in social confirmation rather than faithful application of mind, body and soul?

Dehumanizing, fear based on conjecture, systems built on greed, the cloak of the moral high ground, criminalization rather than treatment, the void of love and hope – again, all defended as morally correct and even scripturally supported. These are not reflected in doctrinal beliefs or statements of faith and yet this is the roll out that is still defended as the morally correct approach to many of the ills of humanity in the blur between what we say we believe and what we do.

If I can read the Bible and say that I am listening to Jesus but my mind and my actions can affirm me in operating in ways that destroy lives rather than restore them…what the hell was I reading?

Spoiled

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Kids don’t come out of the package spoiled, they’re bent towards selfishness for sure but spoiled results from enabling. Kids that misbehave are normative, kids that are spoiled do not happen by accident neither do kids that are well behaved.

This video posted below reminds me of many trips out in public with small children, where one of us had to take a child to the car while the rest of the family finished their fun, the task at hand or completed dinner out. As noted by the father in this video, spanking isn’t necessarily the cure all but a commitment to consistency surely is essential to parenting success. Children will test your boundaries, it’s as though this is their mission in life, so presenting a unified and consistent front as a family is key. The goal of parenting, in our opinion, is raising humans that are able to function on their own (adulthood) in a manner that contributes to making the world suck less (#MTWSL).

Take a moment to watch the video, then flow down for our closing comments.

Parenting takes work, lots of it, and when confronted with a situation where discipline is necessary consistency is key. Follow your plan of action through to completion, even if that means you are sitting in a Walmart parking lot with a child throwing a fit. If you were to ask what we have tried, we utilize a few simple questions to assist us in turning events into teachable moments. Questions that we have used include:  1) discussing what we did that was out of character with whom we want to be, 2) discussing what we are going to do to correct these negative behaviors and 3) discussing what the consequences will be if these behaviors continue are.

It is important that we be as consistent as possible, if we start a process of discipline but do not follow through we will set our process backwards. Kids will test you, they are really go at doing so, they are listening and watching how you respond. By being clear and consistent in our process of discipline we facilitate positive momentum towards our family goals. From a professional standpoint, discipline needs to be conducted in relationship to our values in order to create accountability. Our discussion of these principles in the work environment are very similar in principle to their application in the home environment, as in both we are seeking to build a positive culture, you can read more about discipline, conflict and push back HERE.

 

Label makers, label breakers

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CertificateOne of the hardest things thus far in parenting is seeing one of my kids flail about. This happened last year with my then 5th grader as he was in a class with a teacher that didn’t mesh well with personalities, communication or structure. This isn’t weird, this is life, right?! You will always meet and have to interact with people your whole life that you don’t mesh with. You have to give-and-take as well as take-and-give. 

For my son and his teacher the relationship progressively became worse and worse. We worked with our son and with the teacher to attempt to make them both successful but most efforts were not working. An aspect that I very much regret is that I shared with the teacher early on in the year that other teachers had expressed opinions that he can be difficult even that that he is a hard kid to figure out. Thinking we were connecting with the teacher and helping her with some perspective, I shared my thoughts – and this is my biggest regret!!!! ONE OF MY BIGGEST EVER!

I shared my concerns feeling like it was a safe place to do so and that I was helping the relationship.. I shared some of our prior experiences because teachers have the best interest for my kid at heart, right? Rather than help work towards a more positive outcome, I opened up a little more than I feel like I should of. In hindsight I feel like I fueled the fire if you will. By sharing so much and so freely as a parent, I gave them an excuse to become more and more irritated with him. By sharing prior experiences, rather than collaborating they became less willing to work it out and find a solution. In effect, for that year, I had labeled my own son and created an opportunity to corner him into that type.

I haven’t worked in education very long and I’m not “educated” but one of the things that I’ve been racking my brain and trying to figure out is why does everyone have to “fall in line” and if they don’t they become labeled as a behavior kid, annoying student or just “unteachable”? When staff are “discussing” a kid and they say who are you talking about and you say the name and everyone goes “Ohhhh ya…..” it becomes like a prayer meeting when everyone is “praying for the right thing to happen”. This is small minded for a profession and a system that is supposed to reach, teach and inspire. These labels, teacher talk and modes of thinking are negative. Nothing good can come out of them.

There is a lot in this world that we don’t have power over, yet in our local schools and in our families we have opportunities to create small and enduring changes. As a parent, I am disappointed in myself that I feed into a false narrative about my son, that my words became a label for him. As a parent I need to be very careful about what I speak about my family so that I can contribute to solutions for their success rather than feed ideologies to maintain the status quo. In our schools, as volunteers, as para-educators and professional educators, we need to understand that our words have power. “Out of the abundance of the hear the mouth speaks,” and sometime we should listen to ourselves talk about students – do these conversations reflect our personal values, our school motto or the passion that brought us into the profession? Something as simple as changing how we speak about our students both in our “teacher talk” as well as in our various interactions can make an impact in how we view and approach these children – the future of our society.

I’m frustrated with myself and this experience demonstrates that we can all become players in a continuous punitive system instead of a restorative system. We ask our kids to work it out with kindness but if it’s not being modeled from the top, both by parents as well as educators, then how is it going  to trickle down? In both schools I have worked on “respect” it has been a school motto and core value, yet many in the system do not respect the students – and they’re the whole reason any of us have jobs! We preach all these things as adults and expect our children to “fall in line” but we live out the opposite – there is no line if we aren’t living it! What we expect from our kids is what we model. Not what we say and do the opposite. #MTWSL