February 22, 2021

Facing conflict?

by Rod Smith

Facing Necessary Conflict and considering timing, tone, intentions, and love 

If you are facing a challenging circumstance with someone, preparation time is invaluable. Barging ahead is seldom helpful. Bulldozering creates immediate resistance. Then you must face the initial circumstance and the resistance created by your lack of planning. 

Before you engage please consider:

Intentions: What do you hope to achieve? Can you express your hopes in 20 words or fewer? You may be very good at flying by the seat of your pants but preparation for necessary conflict is usually a very good idea. 

Tone: Are you on a warpath or do you come in peace? Are you sure you are barking up the right tree? When we are angry it is common to generalize all our issues into one perceived enemy. This will not be helpful.

Timing: Has enough time passed so your responses will be more objective? Are you trying to humiliate your opponent? Letting things rest for a few days usually helps shape perspectives. 

Love: No matter who your opponent is, spouse, business partner, complete stranger, you will be better off if your overriding desire is to learn more about yourself and about love. If your goal is to get even or win or defeat you are probably not ready and may need to go back to the drawing board.

February 15, 2021

To the millions of South African high school students returning to school over the next few days

by Rod Smith

It is highly likely everyone who works at your school is there because they like people and they want to assist you to be very successful. They find empowering others to be fulfilling. While teachers and coaches may really like rugby, the sciences, mathematics, or languages, these legitimate and deeply held passions probably did not draw them to  the profession. You did. Yes, you. Get to know your teachers. Let them get to know you. You are a person in a school, not a gadget on an assembly line. Teachers love to teach. When you demonstrate you want to learn, you will have life-long advocates in all who teach you and people who will readily applaud your every success.      

Your success will be built from the ground up. It’s a lesson-by-lesson, day-by-day, assignment-by-assignment journey. There will be days when you can offer more; days when you feel you have less motivation and have less to offer. Your teachers will understand this. They have similar experiences. On days you are less motivated your challenge is to remain up to date. Falling behind is dangerous. Before you can say Pythagoras, the wave of unfinished work will hit you and you’ll be drowning in unfinished work and diminishing grades or marks. Use the days you feel highly motivated to get ahead and so create a cushion for the not-so-good days.

February 10, 2021

While it is not guaranteed, you get returns on your investments

by Rod Smith

There is so much turmoil and uncertainty all around you and all around me and the causes and reasons for the turmoil and the uncertainties are many. 

Nonetheless, of these things I am convinced: 

You will find what you are looking for. You will (usually) get a return on what you invest.

Look for beauty and you will find it. Look for friendliness, it will meet you time and time again, even to the point of overwhelming you. Look for opportunities to love and to serve and you will never be short of possibilities. Be generous and others will be generous to you. Forgive, and you, yourself will find greater freedom. 

Look for rejection and it will be yours before you know it. If you want to complain and be negative you will never be short of company, it just may not be the kind of company you want to keep. Resent others for whatever reason and you will be resented. 

These are not tricks or formulas. It is the way the world usually works. 

While I do not believe for a moment that we can control all that happens to us or that somehow we are responsible when all undesirable things occur, I do believe that we are capable of projecting goodness and kindness and when we do we increase the possibility of reaping desired benefits.  

January 31, 2021

Please, don’t underestimate yourself

by Rod Smith

You are capable of amazing things. You can make miracles happen.

You are a powerhouse. You can light up a room, you can inspire your friends, enrich your family, and encourage all with whom you come in contact. You can write to those who are far away and encourage those who are down, all from the confines of your home. You are a living generator of life and health and goodness. Refuse to be anything less.

You are a booster rocket. You can provide the context others may need so that they are able to fly to higher heights and achieve greater goals than has been your joy. This is what parents and friends do for each other. We empower and provide a boost so that people may exceed our own successes and we rejoice when they do.

You are a listening ear. You can listen without speaking or developing your reply. You can hear without judgement. You can listen without making whatever you hear about you. You can place your own needs on “airplane mode” and offer your full attention to another. You know that as you do this you are offering powerful love and you are happy to do it.    

January 20, 2021

Go opposite, for you own sake

by Rod Smith

There are no formulas for successful and peaceful living. But, there are usually great benefits from operating in the “opposite” spirit.

Such an idea is not new, but it is uncommon. 

Here’s what I mean:

Forgive people who do not deserve it, before they request it, because it is good for you. Don’t do it to teach a lesson, to get the upper hand, to show them who is stronger.

Do it to care for your own soul. Do it to protect your peace of mind. 

Revenge won’t. Bitterness won’t offer you anything worth having. 

You might even say you are forgiving for selfish reasons.

Well, go ahead.

If forgiving others is selfish it’s the brand we really need in a hurting world. 

Everyone sends complex signals all the time. You may be amazed at how good you are at reading others.

There will be times you are wrong but mostly you will be accurate.

Angry is obvious. Don’t fight back. Afraid, too, easy to detect. Try to provide comfort. Fight, flee, freeze are all easy to spot. Try not to “catch” and return the same behavior. It won’t help you.

Relaxed, friendly, engaging: you read these in an instant. Enjoy.  

Nothing defuses as effectively as operating in the “opposite spirit” when you are faced with people sending signals of rejection, negativity and invitations for conflict.  

January 19, 2021

Questions and discussion points for leadership development

by Rod Smith

A brave leader – elected, unelected, volunteer, paid, official or unofficial – who wants to grow and wants his or her organization to succeed will allow his or her leadership to be challenged and assessed by a random cross section of the people whom he or she leads. Here are a few sample questions and points for discussion that can be used as starters:

  • What am I doing well and should do more? I am not seeking affirmation. I want to know what is and is not working for us as a group/school/church/business.
  • What am I doing poorly, or not at all, that I should improve upon or include? People get used to poor leadership. It becomes normal. I don’t want that. I want us to be exceptional. I need your help and your valued assessments. 
  • What do I do that may drive you and others in our organization crazy? Don’t hold back. I am an adult.
  • Offer me realistic suggestions about how we can improve our workplace. With your experience you will know what is and is not possible.
  • Integrity is important. Where may I need help with mine? What don’t I seem to see about myself? 
  • Do you know you are a valued employee? How do you know? What indications are there that point to your value?  
January 11, 2021

Name it, write about it

by Rod Smith

You can do some things to relieve your loneliness.

Find the loneliness within yourself.

Name it.

“Tag” it.

Describe it.

It’s impossible to deal with something you resist exploring. “Reduce” your emotions to a few sentences – or more if necessary. 

“I am lonely – afraid, vulnerable – because my life has changed so much.” 

“I am sad because my adult children seldom contact me.” 

“I feel cut off because I have not seen trusted friends for a long time.” 

“My divorce has hit me hard even though I wanted it.” 

Write it down, whatever it is, so you know what you are working with.

Writing it will help you get your “head around it.”  

Use your pen – pencil, computer –  to understand what you are feeling by expanding on what you have written. 

“This makes sense. My loneliness is understandable,” one may write. 

“I have faced substantial loss. It would be unusual to not feel confusion and loneliness.” 

This is one of many reasons writing in a journal is so valuable. 

It helps name and deal with strong and uncomfortable emotions. It offers an opportunity for larger perspectives. It leads to understanding and self-acceptance and often provides a series stepping stones to a brighter future.     

January 7, 2021

Beautiful moment

by Rod Smith

I had a beautiful moment in rural Poland.

The boys and I were at an annual “art” conference, a gathering of 5 or 6 thousand people. Many of the people attended year in and year out. They camped in tent villages on open lands near a long-abandoned monastery.  

My only responsibility was to teach a late afternoon class and so I found the time to be most relaxing. I especially enjoyed breakfast at a little outdoor restaurant near the monastery gates. Since everyone was attending the conference it was easy to strike up a conversation. The difficulty was finding someone who could speak English. 

One day I met a young man who told me he’d been attending for years. 

“Do you have one outstanding beautiful memory from all your visits?” I asked.

He thought for a few minutes. 

“One night,” his English, stilted but perfect, in the manner of one who had studied the language without speaking it. 

“I came to my tent very late. Middle of the night. I had been practicing my violin. I was being very quiet. I banged my strings by accident and woke up people. From inside a tent someone called out, asked me to play my violin.

“People from other tents joined in. I couldn’t see anyone. I could only hear them asking me to play.

“I played. All around people began to sing. In English,” he chuckled. 

“It was very beautiful. They sang all the verses. We finished. They all clapped and cheered. I went into my tent to sleep.” 

“Wait, wait,” I said, “What did you play? What did the people sing?”

“Ah,” he said, “Elvis, of course, ‘Love me tender, love me true’.” 

Tent city — in the early morning:

January 6, 2021

Box 3 / the place – in your brain – to hang out

by Rod Smith

Move on to the Think Tank (Box 3) where you can get some useful work done.

Box 3 is your Neo-Cortex and it is larger than the stem and the limbic put together. This is the creative, distinctly human dimension of your brain. It governs  – or tries to govern –  the stem and the limbic. It is your “Think Tank.” It’s the Art Studio, the Creative Center. Here you’ll find Einstein posters, wild lists, Far Side cartoons, and drawings reminding you of all the possibilities you have seen for your life plastering the walls. It is from here you engage in creative discussions (“I think therefore I am”) about marvelous possibilities.

This is communication central, the clearinghouse of ideas large and small, this is the funny farm, the place you get your funniest thoughts and ideas. This is where humor, spirituality, appreciation of the finer things in life, and prayer, begin and thrive.

No matter how much you love your pet mammal he just cannot share your spiritual space with you. Like you pet snake, he doesn’t have the brains for it. The developed neo-cortex is reserved for humans only. Visit this, your “seize the day” room as much as possible and try to have all your “thoughts” about your reactions, feelings, and actions walk around this room for examination before you make a move.

Time spent in Box 3 is  – usually –  good for you. It’s your humor center, your envisioning center – it’s a platform of endless possibilities and the place from which you greatness will really emerge.

All three “brain boxes” can be “visited” in an instant. 

Let me illustrate: I enter a shop and search for an item. I cannot find what I need or anyone to help me and I am in a hurry. 

My Stem (the fuse box) wants me to “blow a fuse” and walk out never to return! 

Limbic, which feels abandoned, kicks in. I tell myself, “After all my loyalty. After shopping here for 20 years, you’d think someone would recognize me, and care.” 

Then Cortex pipes up and says: “Ah! You are a bright, resourceful person. As you can see, everyone is busy. You can find anything you need on your own. Seize this great opportunity!”

[I am deeply influenced by Rabbi Friedman, Peter Steinke, and Murray Bowen. All have written profoundly on these matters. Peter’s book “How Your Church Family Works” was my primary influence in revolutionizing how I see and understand my own thinking. I give Peter full credit for any resemblance you may see to his work. While it is neither copied nor “lifted”, one cannot read something and love something so much without it reverberating in one’s work.]

January 5, 2021

Metaphor about your brain – Part 2*

by Rod Smith

Box 2 is the Limbic Box and it is much larger than the stem (BOX 1) and feels, yes, feels, it is much more important.

It is not.

It is different.

This is the “feelings” or “emotion center.” 

Linger in your limbic and you will hear country music blaring from all sides. You’ll see “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books everywhere. You will be in tears in no time. Linger in the limbic too long and you will feel overwhelmed. Sit around here and you will be paging through memories with joy (on a good day) and singing “Nobody loves me everybody hates me,” on a bad day.

It is an essential place to visit but you don’t want to live here. 

This is a place reserved for mammals and humans. No matter how much you love your pet alligator and how much fun you have with it, it simply doesn’t have fun. It doesn’t have the brains for fun. Your dog does. That is why fun with your dog is really a mutual (but not equal) experience. Throwing a ball in the yard might be fun for you but it is the pinnacle of joy – every time – for your dog.

Have you ever felt really sorry for yourself? Like absolutely no one cares, especially after ALL you’ve done? Do you find yourself singing “I’m-so-lonesome” songs and “I-feel-so left out” songs? You have been spending far too much time in your feeling or I-Need-Empathy Box. 

This is a warm and welcoming place but it is not built for thinking. 

*I remain influenced by Rabbi Friedman, Peter Steinke, and Murray Bowen. All have written profoundly on these matters. Peter’s book “How Your Church Family Works” was my primary influence in revolutionizing how I see and understand my own thinking. I give Peter full credit for any resemblance you may see to his work. While it is neither copied nor “lifted”, one cannot read something and love something so much without it reverberating in one’s work.