Archive for ‘Listening’

September 24, 2019

Have you noticed?

by Rod Smith

• You can “know” some people for years and never have a sense you have really met. They are guarded. There seems to be no gateway, no pass code, to get beyond common pleasantries.

• You can “know” some people for hours and have a sense you have known them forever. They appear open, transparent; common pleasantries are merely a welcome mat to intimate conversations.

• You meet some people and you have the impression that if you give an inch they will take a mile. There appears to be such a hunger for acceptance, for connection, that the slightest indications of welcome will lead to more than you want to handle.

• You meet some people and they have a well-developed shtick, a practiced, often aged routine that everybody gets when they meet someone for the first time. You get the sense that you are just another audience and it’s “here we go again.”

I’d suggest that in the absence of other symptoms you have met “normal.” You have met a cross section of people who can teach you to love and to accept and to understand yourself in new ways.

Listen, learn, take charge of yourself, choose to disclose, choose to remain silent.

You are always in charge of you, no matter how others relate to you.

This is part of what it means to have secure and healthy boundaries.

September 12, 2019

Is it love?

by Rod Smith

When asked to officiate a marriage I ask couples to assess their shared experience and to use these points for discussion:

  • You find it easy, or it seems natural, to include many of your long-lasting friendships in your shared activities and find no feelings of control, jealously, or possessiveness within you.
  • You are each more yourself than ever; there are no eggshells to tiptoe around, no topics to avoid, no lies to continually conceal, no facades to perpetuate.
  • You maintain a distinct life of your own while simultaneously becoming closer to each other.
  • You enjoy working through issues that arise, even if the journey is painful, because the process brings you closer to each other and you have the sense of accomplishing something that is important for the future.
  • You enjoy sharing hard earned resources with each other without the thought that you are giving up something or wasting anything.
  • You have talks about faith, finances, career options, and have discussed the hurdles and complexities that accompany such matters.
  • You have fun together and are not preoccupied with the state of your relationship.
  • You speak highly and respectfully about each other always and to all – no exceptions; and you readily affirm each other both privately and in public.
  • You have met each other’s immediate and extended family and are both doing what.you can to embrace and understand how they view life and live life.
  • You’re getting used to each other and life feels better as you think about a future together.
  • You can hardly wait for each new day so that you may embrace the possibilities each new day offers.
  • You are committed to seeking each other’s highest good, no matter what.
August 26, 2018

To Educators, everywhere

by Rod Smith

Etched in the Heart

To the Teachers I Know And Those I Don’t

Thousands of lives are enhanced because you demanded your students do their homework, tell truth, stand up straight, and look you in the eye.

You showed them how, and when, to use commas, solve x, and how to exercise and care for their bodies and run on and on and on, but not with their sentences. You helped little hands measure, cut, paste, and draw, and, then, when they got a little older and their hands were a little bigger, you taught them how to march and blow a bugle or beat a drum and pass a baton in relay races and score touchdowns and dance and sing on a stage to crowds of proud and adoring parents.

You showed them why bullying is not a good idea, and why it is wise to share, and unwise to dig in your nose, but wise to cover your mouth when you cough, and to turn away from others and say “excuse me” when you sneeze.

And to wash your hands. Always, wash your hands.

You taught them the power of “please” and “thank you,” and calculus, algebra, and pi, and that “i comes before e, except after c” and how to apologize and to play fair and how to make a paper doll and a paper airplane.

You told them about the planets and volcanoes and why Rome fell and about the International Date Line and salmon in Washington and Oil in Texas and corn in the Midwest and why the Big Apple is called the Big Apple.

You told them about the painful history of our nation and of its victories.

When they told you something was unfair you told them, as if for the very first time it has ever been said: life is not fair.

They cried on your shoulder when a crush crushed them, or a friend betrayed them, or a parent walked out never to return. They cried on your shoulder when you stood with them at a graveside as a body was lowered into the waiting ground; the body of a friend, or a dad, mom, brother, sister. They cried on your shoulder, yes, your shoulder, because they trusted you.

Why? Why did and do they trust you?

They trusted you because, because you trusted them. They trusted you because you had an ocean of patience when you taught them and you demonstrated the necessity of humility, generosity, kindness, and grit, and why we need verbs and adverbs and conjunctions and why we learn things we will never need once we leave school.

A thousand times, when they asked, “Can I use the restroom?” you said, “I don’t know, CAN you?”

Yes, teacher, yes, head of school. Yes, principal, librarian, coach, administrator, referee, custodian, lunchroom lady, superintendent of schools. They trust you because you taught them to play and to win with grace. You taught them that when they lose they could applaud the opposition and lose with courage. You taught them to hold their heads high in defeat or victory.

You taught them to look life in the eye and not back down.

You taught them to forgive when people didn’t deserve it and to love the unlovely, and to respect their elders and to protect children.

You taught them the difference between “lend” and “borrow” and you corrected them when they said “me and my friends” when they really meant, “my friends and I.” You taught them to love books and stories. You showed them they are made of the same stuff as the greatest writers and heroic sports figures world has ever known. You showed them that they too could win a Nobel Prize, the Booker Prize, a Pulitzer or the Superbowl.

You told them they had it in them to be astronauts, artists, acrobats, architects or all of them all at the same time.

You gave them the greatest gift of all: your faith, your trust. You believed in them and, by believing in them, you paved the way for them to believe in themselves. You showed them that if they did none of these things, like write a best seller or score the winning touchdown or get a call from the Oslo and the Nobel committee, their value and worth as humans was unsullied, because they were loved and treasured for who they are and not because they could spin a fine sentence or write a water-tight thesis or slam dunk a ball or run like the wind or play a piano like Beethoven.

When a woman or a man who is not your mom or your dad teaches you to tie a shoelace or how to be nice or helps you read a difficult novel to the very last page and get the thrill that only reading a novel to the very last page can offer – that person gets etched into the heart of a student, forever.

And that’s you, dear Educator.

Thank you.

August 2, 2018

The power of impartial listening

by Rod Smith

If you can find an impartial listener when you are troubled, or when you are embarking on new adventures, facing tough decisions, or find yourself in a relational impasse, you have found gold.

This person will listen attentively and ask probing questions. Questions will serve to drive you deeper to the heart and core of what you are facing. He or she will be unafraid to challenge you, evaluate your logic, and draw your attention to your blind spots.

Such invaluable encounters usually lead to greater objectivity. The very act of preparing and then articulating an issue can expose necessary steps or unearth essential nuggets to finding resolution, with or without the impartial listener’s help. Talking helps. Listening, even to your own voice can lead to new insights that may be unavailable otherwise.

Great comfort can be found in spending time with a person who has no ulterior motives, who can help you to reflect and act as your sounding board.

Perhaps even better than finding such a person is to be such a person.

Offer your mature, impartial ear to those who need it and you will be offering, and discovering, gold.

July 18, 2018

Good with people?

by Rod Smith

Do you want to be an excellent employee especially when working with people?

  • Look people in the eye. Listen with your whole body. Listen to others before you speak. When you do speak, speak up and speak clearly. Avoid thinking you already know what a person is going to tell you or is trying to tell you.
  • Anticipate needs and wants of your clients (customers) while simultaneously being aware that you may anticipate incorrectly. It’s a fine balance. When you near perfection at this you will regard your work as art and not a job.
  • When faced with complaints or problems do not escalate matters, take sides, or assign blame. Focus on understanding and solving, not diagnosing.
  • Don’t chew gum at work, ever. Dress well and be well groomed, always. Shower, often (not at work).
  • Tell the truth efficiently and kindly. A good reputation, which can take years to build, can be permanently ruined with one lie.
  • Don’t date co-workers or anyone with whom you work. You’re at work to earn a living not find a spouse.
  • Turn your phone off at work.

Seeking a fellow teacher: A teacher, whom I know well, wants to have her 40 students (eight and nine-year-olds) correspond with similarly aged students in KwaZulu-Natal. Teachers, please reach out to Stacy directly at SGraber@SRESDragons.org.

May 16, 2018

Finding your voice (1 of 2)

by Rod Smith

Every person has a voice designed for full expression. Some have allowed their voice to be stolen or silenced and might find it necessary to take time to find or re-establish the voice they have chosen to deny or ignore. Thankfully, suppressing a voice seldom kills it. It can usually be found even after years of denial.

Any person who refuses to hear what you have to say or who tries to silence you doesn’t love you even if he or she proclaims otherwise. It is never a loving act, except in extremely unusual circumstances to stop another expressing who he or she is. Likewise, it is not a loving act to withhold your contribution to the world by maintaining your silence.

You were not created to be silent. You were not created to silence others. The world will benefit for hearing who you are and what you have to say. Part of having a voice, and using it, involves the process of discovering how best to package and express your voice so others can hear what you have to say.

One should not confuse talking with having a voice. Many talk and talk and talk and yet have never found their voice.

March 27, 2018

The Art of Leadership

by Rod Smith

I read, think, observe, leadership a lot. I’ve seen dismal attempts at it and men and women who seem to fully understand its art. Here are a few observations. Please, send me yours. I am always interested in new perspectives and approaches others have found useful:

  • Having your name on the top of the list or possessing the title leader does not make you a leader. You are a leader if your constituents are following you or are doing what you are commissioned to lead your constituents to do or to be.
  • If you are authentically leading your group, church, or business, and you are doing it well, you will sometimes (even often) feel a strong sense of isolation. It comes with the call of authentic leadership. It’s lonely. It is unlikely you are leading well if you are not facing some, if not strong, opposition. Authentic leaders stimulate necessary imbalance and some humans, those who set in their ways, will naturally resist such provocation for growth and change and may even portray you as an enemy.
  • Your own growth as a person within your family (all of your family) will do more for your effectiveness as a leader than anything you implement at work or at your church or wherever it is that you are supposed to be the leader.
March 27, 2018

Prayers for our children

by Rod Smith

Prayers and desires for our children, young and older….

  • That they may find useful, positive passions, and spend their energies on things they really love.
  • That they may make their livings from using their talents.
  • That they may find and enjoy deep and lasting reciprocal friendships.
  • That they may have mutual and equal and respectful relationships with everyone they love and know.
  • That they may neither be intimidated nor intimidate others no matter who they are.
  • That they may know they are deeply loved and respected by their immediate and extended families to whom they owe nothing but the return of healthy love and respect.
  • That they may be enduring students despite their academic achievements and patient teachers when others are trying to learn from them.
  • That they may love powerfully and be loved powerfully in relationships that are free and open and devoid of jealously and pettiness.
  • That they may grow into generous and kind people who are trusted for their integrity and goodness.
  • That they may have each other’s backs while risking the natural urge to rescue each other from self-made difficulties.
  • That they may develop goals and ambitions that far surpass making a good living but that include serving others and enhancing the lives of people whom they don’t know and may never meet.
March 17, 2018

I will call her Mary

by Rod Smith

I’ll call her Mary. She is a woman with a highly specialized career. Her work, traditionally dominated by men, takes her to multiple countries every year for high-level negotiations with government officials. Mary is known as a force to encounter and is widely respected. She is seldom intimidated by the challenges of her career. Mary and her husband run a home. Their high-school aged daughters, like her parents, are high achievers. By all appearances the marriage is solid.

Mary’s parents live within blocks of their daughter and they have not seen each other much at all in years. They wee her husband’s family a lot.

This is a source of great pain for Mary’s family. Cordiality rules, but there is no vulnerability, no free exchange of ideas, no joy. The tenseness is palpable when the generations meet for more than an hour.

“I can talk to boardrooms full of scary people without a problem,” says Mary, “but meeting my parents undoes me! I cannot put my finger on it.”

I am reminded of family therapist Rabbi Ed Friedman who claims it is impossible to have long-term emotional wellness while a person is disconnected from significant people their family of origin.

Deep joy (and some pain) awaits Mary as she determines to remove the blockage she experiences but cannot now name.

March 8, 2018

Is your high-school student a leading executive already?

by Rod Smith

How to know your son or daughter “gets it” when it comes to his or her future:

  • Blame runs for the hills. You no longer hear her blaming teachers or textbooks or peers or parents.
  • She gets down to it, whatever it happens to be. She regards immediate hurdles as opportunities to grow.
  • He assumes personal responsibility – for the people he chooses as friends, how he spends his leisure time, and especially how he uses money.
  • She “sees” her future and plans for it – this means aligning herself with the people and institutions that can help her achieve her goals.
  • He remains connected to his family but it aware that these connections can trip him up and become a problem. He therefore clearly states where he is going without apology and invites those who love him to join him on the journey.
  • Her sense of ambition is neither cold nor callous but it is determined in ways that observers admire.
  • He is quick to learn from errors and is open to hearing about how he could have better handled a problem – especially as it relates to dealing with people.