deception pass Washington

In This House, We Believe

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. It was a bold statement and yet an aspirational one, since slavery was very common, women could not vote, and the vast indigenous tribes of North America were not granted citizenship, let alone the freedom to enjoy their happiness on their own land.

We have struggled with inequality all through our history, even as we have tried to make progress and bring Jefferson’s words to reality. So when repeating the words how accurate our they and how sincere is their belief in them. We need to be reminded of the continuing need to fight for the rights of all and to advocate for recognition of those who are often forgotten.

I was reminded of this by a sign that I saw posted in a neighborhood yard not far from my home. It is one that I have seen many times and I give a thumbs-up whenever I see it. The statements are strong and valid, yet many in our country today would, unfortunately, take issue with them. I have posted it above as a reminder and this week I would like to talk about some of the points this week so that we can both advocate for continued progress and celebrate the gains that have been made.

Love is love and kindness is everything. We see many forms of love today, many relationships of caring people. There are many forms of family and all are valid. This has changed over time and some are threatened by it. They are stuck in tradition and can’t fathom that children would be okay raised by two fathers or two mothers. These same people in the past scorned and condemned kids being raised by single parents due to divorce, yet the kids grew up to be responsible adults anyway. Where love is kids will grow, even if their household doesn’t meet your view. These people would rather the kids be shipped around from one foster household to another. Shame on them.

Love is love and that is what we need to recognize and applaud. Love involves recognizing each individual as human, seeking to accept their journey and coming to terms with who they are, and endeavoring to be a help and not a hindrance to their growth. It also means not judging them and trying to fit them into our mold of expected behavior and relationships.

And as some wise person said, “in a world where you can be anything, be kind”. It is never wrong to be kind. It never hurts anyone, shortchanges anyone, doesn’t cost anything, and it is how you would want to be treated. Let’s not be so caught up in debate or discussion over petty things that we forget to be kind.

Ask yourself, if you had a sign outside your house declaring what you believe, what would it say and why? Your feedback as always is very much appreciated.

Expect the Best, Be the Best

Communication is complex and can be complicated. It can also be comforting, enlightening, strengthening, and restorative. It depends on how you handle it. It involves give and take, a partnership of words. One way to make it better is to use stories and humor to get points across. Debate is tiring and arguments are fruitless, but stories can transcend our daily existence and build bridges. It is a recognition that we are all equally human, equally flawed, and equally capable of love and acceptance.

Humor, when handled right, can lighten the often heavy times we live in and give us space to breathe. Not everything is humorous – at least not in the present, for sure. Someone has wisely said, “pain plus time equals humor”. We need to be serious where serious is warranted, but we can’t also remain there. Just like a house needs a good foundation, it also needs to incorporate nature to make it a home. Even in the desert blooms sometimes appear, with the arrival of spring rains.

Stories involve sharing your story and listening to others’ stories. They are a sharing of our hearts and minds. Stories can be a window to the soul, if only we listen. They lets us communicate to others what we have in common, instead of arguments that highlight what puts us apart.

It is true that we cannot always communicate with everyone. Some people are so set in their ways and committed to opposition that we are only wasting our breath trying. And there is a time when we must stand for truth and speak up and out against injustice. But we also would do well to ‘assume positive intent” and be ready to welcome others in, until and unless such time comes that the other proves unworthy of that respect.

My dear mom, now gone over 40 years raised me to accept anyone, no matter what they looked like, or where they were from, or what customs and traditions they kept. She valued each as equally human. She expected the best of everyone and did the best for everyone. In this lead-up to mother’s day, it is a pledge I wholeheartedly renew and urge everyone to follow.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

When you are in conversation with others are you just hearing the sound or listening for the words? And when you listen are you listening to respond or to understand? You might say what is the difference. It makes a great difference in the conversation and the relationship. Communication is a two-way street and listening well is as important as speaking well.

Listening just to respond is not really listening. It is a sign that we are either in a debate or a therapy session, or perhaps just a gabfest. We may be waiting for an opening to counter the other person’s arguments. We may be eager to share our own stories. Or, to be charitable, we may sincerely want to help but are in fix-it mode. But anyway it happens we are not letting ourselves absorb what the other person is saying and running roughshod over them.

Listening to understand takes time and patience. It takes time to absorb what someone else is sharing. By taking the time to really listen we are giving the gift of time to another, honoring their personal experience, validating it as worthwhile and equal to ourselves. We carve out time in our day to be a friend. Even in the midst of grief people don’t need solutions they just need a soul touch, someone to be there as a listening ear.

Only when we listen to understand can we really know another enough to help. Words often fail, but not all conversation consists of words. Presence is communication and eye contact is also.

Be aware of your intent when listening and also when sharing. Do you feel like others are really listening to you or just ready to respond? Be mindful of how you treat others and surround yourself with people you can share yourself with. It is an important part of communication.

Get to the Point

Get to the point! Have you been tempted to say that to someone who is going on and on, talking about everything under the sun, but you just know they want something? Some people can talk for hours it seems and say nothing. I had a coworker do that years ago and I finally said “bottom line up front Chris, what do you want? Our manager had been sharing with us the importance of putting the important things first – especially with emails. He called it BLUF for short – bottom line up front, meaning taking the request that you normally put at the end of the email and having it stated first. We have a bad habit, myself included, of putting all the supported reasoning first and then making the request. I have found this to be more effective.

When you are presenting this makes great sense. You start with something that grabs the audience’s attention and gives them a taste of what is to come. You layout your reasoning and then drive home the point at the end. Otherwise, you will lose them. You need to show that you know where you are going otherwise they won’t follow. But even in casual conversation, you need to know what you are trying to say and then say it.

Part of the problem is that often we may not know what we want or where we want to go. Sometimes we just want to relax in the comfort of friends. We don’t want to feel pressured to perform. We may be shy or reluctant to bring up tough questions or issues and use what I would call “warming up” as a way to approach the subject. We might mention the “landscape” for lack of a better word. Things that surround the topic, like our past history, others’ experiences, or our thinking about it, without stating a clear question, opinion, or request.

It’s kind of like dipping our toes in a cold lake or pool. We are afraid it will be too cold, but we think maybe if we gradually get in it won’t be so bad. I’ve done that and soon you get in. But often it is better just to dive in -get it over quick. What we fear is often not what happens and we put ourselves through more angst going gradual. Maybe we think the longer we take the better the chances that we won’t have to face whatever we fear after all.

I recall many times having this experience with dating in college. I would spend time getting up the courage to call a girl for a date. I was afraid that one of my dorm mates would overhear the conversation. What would happen then I don’t know – I didn’t think that far. I was just embarrassed and worked hard to avoid it. Sometimes it would last a couple of hours and I wouldn’t be able to make the call. Then I would be relieved – the pressure was off. But then the next day it would return full force again. The only time it really went away was when I successfully made the call and got the date. I put myself through such angst those days. If I had only just asked the girl in person I wouldn’t have had to suffer – and they usually said yes.

So, when you are trying to communicate make sure what you want to say, how to say it, and to whom you want to communicate, and then just jump in. Don’t tour the neighborhood, go knock on the door. People will appreciate that.

Do You Need A Translator When You Speak?

Do you need a translator when you speak? That may seem an odd question here is the US where most people speak and understand English. For some among us who are learning English as a second language there can be times when translation or explanation of words is needed. But for the most part, we speak the same language, so why would I ask the question?

There can be several reasons. For one thing, there are generational differences- especially our use of texting. Those who grew up with cell phones and texting tend to be faster in their use and often use a lot of abbreviations – like idk for I don’t know – to save time. It may seem like code but for them, it is very natural and second nature.

For those of us from the Baby Boom Generation, we have a lot of words and references that leave younger generations clueless. We make references to events – like Watergate, Vietnam, the British Invasion – that they have no understanding of or often appreciation for because they didn’t live through it as we did. We must be careful not to assume knowledge and patiently explain the resonance and relevance of those times.

For someone who is learning English as a second language there are things that don’t translate word for word, rather thought for thought. People need time to understand the expressions that we take for granted. Like “dead as a doornail” makes no sense in translating word for word. It is a phrase that has come down through time and we all know what it means but someone learning English and trying to translate it into their own language would not know. This is something we all need to watch out for.

And then there is jargon and acronyms – tech talk. Every industry has them and when we “talk shop” with other coworkers we use them freely. Everybody in the industry knows or learns the “language” that makes it work. The trouble is when we converse with others who aren’t part of our work environment. We tend to forget that they don’t know our “language” until the glazed eye look comes.

Part of clear communication is what I would call “self-translation” – wiring our brains to edit out the jargon before we start a conversation with friends or family who don’t inhabit our workspaces. It can even happen with non-work organizations we participate in, like school, church, sports, or non-profits – like for me Toastmasters.

There are many things that we can do to make sure when we talk we are really communicating clearly. This week I will be covering a few of those to give you food for thought – to use a common phrase. Your feedback is appreciated – especially your experience with this and examples of good or not-so-good communication experiences.

Expand Your Mind and Others

Have you ever studied a foreign language? Did you feel confused or like you felt you’d never catch up.? Did you have an experience like mine when I took 4 years of Spanish in high school, mostly in Phoenix? I had many classmates as well as neighbors whose native tongue was Spanish. I found that I could understand about only half of what they said because I could interpret it at about half the speed at which they could speak it. It was also easier to translate from Spanish to English than to translate from English to Spanish. Imagine how native Spanish-speaking people feel when learning English.

One thing I learned when taking Spanish classes in high school and German classes in college was that I learned much more about grammar than I ever did in English classes. We take it for granted when learning English because it is our mother tongue and we encounter it when we first learn to talk and we hear almost everyone around us speaking it. There are definite differences in other languages – like German where sentences begin with the verb, not noun or pronoun. And in Spanish, there is basically one sound for each vowel and only one silent letter, wherein in English there are many sounds for each vowel, depending on where it is in the word, and almost any letter can be silent.

That is why it is frustrating to hear people say “just learn the language” or “you’re in America,, learn English”. It’s not that simple – we don’t realize how complex our own language is. And then people are upset with accents – because “of course” nobody has an accent in the US. (right…hah!) We should give people a break and recognize that unlike many of us, they can speak 2 languages – or are trying to.

One place to reach out to connect on this level is in Toastmasters. There are many immigrants who join not only to practice their speaking skills, as do English speakers but also to practice their English. I belong to one such club Confidence Builders. We have members who come from India, Vietnam, Korea, and China. They are practicing their English and doing quite well. The feedback that they get from evaluators helps them improve. And it helps us to appreciate the different perspectives they bring to our often sheltered part of the world.

Perhaps you could kill two birds with one stone. Join a Toastmasters club to improve your own speaking skills, regardless of whether English is your native tongue or not. And at the same time help others improve their English and stretch your awareness of the world around you.

Signs of Progress

Does litter bother you? When you see it in parks, especially when there are plenty of trash cans around? Does it seem like people would rather toss their trash out the window as they drive down the road rather than wait till they find a trash can? Do you shrug it off as – they have road cleanup crews for that, why bother?

I recall as a teenager when my parents and I moved to the Phoenix area and I could see the great difference attitude makes. I grew up in Oregon, which was heavily invested in recycling, especially bottles. When i got to Phoenix I was appalled at the lack of concern. It was personal because when I rode my bike on the streets the stretches of broken glass were a really up close hazard to me and my tires.

Fortunately many people have gotten personally involved in cleanup thorough adopting a street to regularly do trash pickups. Our local John Denver group did a 2-mile stretch up north for a while. One of the local Toastmasters clubs does it near where I live. And there is an Islamic Center that has adopted another stretch of road.

It isn’t hard to pick up. Yes, you should be careful, both about where you are and also use gloves or some kind of pickup tool. You should plan what type of bag or container you will use for collecting and where you will be dumping it. But every little bit helps and it doesn’t cost much in terms of time and effort. That along with recycling, composting, and just buying less stuff will go a long way to reducing the amount of garbage that goes to the landfills eventually. This is another of those ‘little things’ you can do.

Giving Back to the Community

Have you ever seen the chaos and trouble in our world and felt like what do I have to give, what can I do? Have you felt that change only comes from big action and you don’t see yourself capable of that? It reminds me of a story where a man saw a boy tossing stranded starfish into the ocean. He told the boy “why are you doing that? It won’t make a difference to all these starfish – there are too many”. The boy replied as he was carrying another starfish to the water “It does to this one.

Remember that there are plenty of little actions we can do, that if we all do them, will make a huge difference in our world. I want to share with you this week some of those small actions that I have done and encourage you to do as well.

The first one today is donating blood. You don’t like needles? Neither do I. I look away when the needle goes in. You worry that you might faint or be dizzy after donating blood or get sick. I’m not saying that those things might not occasionally happen, though they have never happened to me in all the years I have been a blood donor. But there are several things you can do to mitigate the possibility of this happening.

Drink plenty of water, not just on the day of donation, but during the week before. It is something that we all need to do – hydration is beneficial to general health. Eat a good meal before and a good meal after giving blood so that your body is in good condition. Eating a good meal after helps your body build back better. Donors are encouraged to spend 10-15 minutes resting and having some juice and snacks after donation.

You might think you have some condition that would make you ineligible to donate, but you need to read up and make sure. There are some things, like a tattoo or body piercing, where you will have to wait a few months after to donate. There are some health issues that don’t result in waiting. I thought after I started taking medication for high blood pressure that I couldn’t donate, but after reading the guidelines I learned that I was mistaken. The same is true of diabetes.

You might wonder, why should I donate? For one thing, there is a high need for whole blood donations for surgery, auto accidents, and treatment of certain health conditions – like sickle cell anemia. There is a need for platelet donations and plasma, to treat other health conditions and situations. Your body can replace the donated blood over time and certain intervals are given for blood donation – like 8 weeks for whole blood for instance. I donate because there is a great need and I believe it is something I can do. I am in great health, as my dad was, and I am a blood donor like him.

If you try it and it doesn’t work for you- you feel nervous, get sick, etc, then at least you have tried. There may be another small action that is more suited to you. I don’t believe that blood donation is for everyone. I just believe that there are small actions we all can take to give back to our community and all of us together in our small ways can make a big difference in our world.

For more information on blood donation if you are in the Pacific Northwest you can contact Bloodworks Northwest and if you live elsewhere you can google blood donation or contact the American Red Cross. Tune in tomorrow for another small action.

Ignite Connections

Leadership is all about making connections and making connections work. Connecting followers to each other to work in teams and connecting them to the best ideas so that together they can accomplish great things. To make progress they must disconnect from the failed ideas of the past and make new connections that will work for the future. They must always be looking forward, like a chess master thinking several moves ahead.

In order to do that, there are three important types of connections to be made. The first is to make personal connections to new endeavors, constantly challenging themselves, and stretching beyond their perceived boundaries. They need to grow so that they can help their followers grow. It’s the old tradition of the general leading his troops into battle. Never send someone else to do what you are not willing to do yourself.

Secondly, they must be willing to expand their sphere of acquaintances and friends. New people can challenge our thinking and encourage us to expand our range. Traveling to new places, trying new experiences, and meeting new people that may be very different from us.

And thirdly a leader must make new brain connections. It is said that challenging ourselves with new ideas and habits can help our brains develop new synaptic pathways. Here is a recent article that talks about ways to make those new connections: 10 Proven Ways To Grow Your Brain: Neurogenesis And Neuroplasticity | HuffPost Life

Leaders can’t be static or the work will not progress. Exploration and experimentation will lead to better expression and both leaders and followers will grow as a result. Eight years ago I joined Edmonds Toastmasters and it has helped me tremendously Edmonds Toastmaster Facebook

Get Lost, Purposefully

Nobody likes to get lost. Even when we know exactly where we are going we tend to pull out our phones for mapquest or queue up the latest version of GPS before we head out on the road. We tend to take the same route, whether to work, church, grocery store, or family gatherings. We are, after all, creatures of habit.

Getting lost isn’t efficient, we say. Even if we add in extra time to get where we are going – “just in case of accidents or traffic jams” is the way my mother put it. We don’t want to be late and yet we never seem to have the time to try something different – a different route, a different destination. And our days seem packed with activities that won’t give us that latitude.

But I believe that exploration is good for the soul and good for leadership. If people before us had not taken the time to try things differently what great things would not have happened. What inventions would not enrich our lives? Would we really have been content with oil lamps and outdoor plumbing or getting everywhere by horse and buggy? We exist as a country because intrepid adventurers set out to see to explore the world.

Whenever I moved to a new place, which I have done often, I would explore my surroundings and often would get myself purposely lost so that I could find different routes to get back home. I have always been a curious person eager to learn and discover new places, sights, and experiences.

I believe that oftentimes we beat our heads against walls trying to fix problems by using the same old methods. We could save ourselves a whole bunch of grief by trying something radically new just for the heck of it. We could surprise ourselves. Remember, penicillin came about because of moldy cheese left on a windowsill.

So I urge you to block out some time to get lost – purposefully. Embrace the unknown, the uncertain, the unpredictable. Take a chance and see what you may discover.

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