Not So Fast! –
Today, on my way to a meeting in Shelbyville, Tennessee I was cruising along at a crisp 60MPH when I spied a flashing construction sign which read; “New Signal Light Ahead. Be Prepared to Stop!” I was confused because I’ve never known this road to be extra busy but began to slow down as I rounded a curve and sure enough a new traffic light had been installed. It was red when I first saw it and stayed red…for a long time! I thought maybe the light was broken and we should begin proceeding carefully but none of the other vehicles moved. Finally, it turned green and as I reached the new light there were two signs which read; “Stop Here On Red.” “Maximum Time for Red Light: Three Minutes.” When you’re traveling three minutes can feel like an eternity and certainly did as I waited for the green. For the record, the light was red on my way out-of-town as well. Grrrr!
Practicing stillness is important. I do it every day when I meditate, pray and at various other times, especially when it’s been hectic. Stillness is a central discipline to gaining wisdom and experiencing life. However, I’d prefer to dictate when I will and won’t be still. I’d like it to be my decision. I surely didn’t want it on my way to a meeting, driving down a country road. Yet, here was a time of stillness forced upon me but instead impatience, confusion was the result.
To truly know stillness is to carry it with you. It shouldn’t need to be conjured up on a timetable. Being still is more than a way of life it’s a way of being. It’s also a lesson and a discipline I’m still working on.
I heard a business investor say today that; “Right choices bring the wrong results and wrong choices bring the right results all the time when it comes to investing your money.” Luckily, I don’t have enough money to worry about whether or not this is true but it did cause me to think about the consequences of our decisions.
One of the core principles I try to give to the men I work with is that; “Choice is destiny. What we do today determines who we will be tomorrow.” I believe this to be true but I am also old enough to know life is never predictable and the unexpected could be around the corner ready to smack you!
As I thought about this gentleman’s words today I realized they were indeed factual. Making bad decisions could lead to something unexpectedly joyful but the odds are long. Also, we make good decisions, not just because they will lead us to something better, but because of who we are in the deepest part. We certainly hope our lives will be blessed by choosing fidelity to ourselves and those we love but no matter our destiny. We choose to be good because we know it is the better way.
The last couple of weeks there has been roof work being done at one of the churches down the street from us. The roof was damaged by strong winds a month or so ago and the roofers arrived to replace the damaged one. The church is an old building, tall with a serious incline to the top. To ensure they don’t fall off the workers have been using ropes and an anchoring system. Once the rope is securely attached to the bolted down anchor they tie it around themselves so if a mishap occurs it doesn’t become a tragedy.
As I watched these guys work hard and quick even with the ropes tied around them I wondered; “Who attached the anchor? Who tied the rope to the anchor? Who tied the rope around the guys?” I wonder because if I were using them I’d check everything multiple times to make sure everything was secure before I trusted it with my life.
Wisdom also teaches us to make sure we know what we’re anchored to and how to test it to make sure it will hold. Everything depends on being anchored to what/who can hold us when mishaps and dangers occur. If we choose poorly; a tragedy. If we choose wisely; a life preserved and productive.
I attended a webinar today discussing the topic of conflict. The main emphasis was conflict in the workplace but it could be applicable to many other situations.
The presenter shared the following story…a boss and an employee needed to talk about the amount of pay the employee was making and the amount of work the employee was putting in. In the boss’ opinion, the employee was overpaid. The conversation needed to happen but neither one wanted to have it. There was tension and suspicion from both parties. They went out to lunch and the way back to the office, walking on a street in a busy downtown city, the boss brought up the topic. “Boom!” The employee lost it as soon as the boss mentioned the subject and they both ended up yelling at each other while countless passerby’s watched in stunned silence.
The presenter, a conflict specilaist, was called in to try to get the two parties to resolve the conflict. She spent time with both the employee and the boss individually trying to understand their point of view. When she felt she had a grasp of who they were as people, what motivated them, why the argument happened, and how far both were willing to go for a fair settlement, she brought them together and they resolved their conflict.
Conflict with other people is going to happen. Each of us as individuals come from a unique natural and nurtured environment. We have different life experiences, preferences, sets of morals and values, fears, goals, strengths, weaknesses, ideas about life and what is and isn’t a part of it.
We forget too easily the other person is coming from a distinct place separate from us. It’s only when we take the time to get to know each other, build relationships, be willing to accept what we understand and don’t understand regarding the other that true intimacy and understanding can take place.
Space in Between –
It is such difficult discipline; pausing before you react. A man I had worked with in jail has popped up at twice at a rehabilitation center where I lecture. It’s common to see the men I work with in one place again in another. Many who have addictions have a difficult road staying clean and multiple jail sentences and rehab stays are not out of the ordinary.
He spotted me before I saw him and made a beeline to where I was to say he was there. I asked him the question’ “What are you doing here?” and before he could answer I said; “Have you been making good choices?” He shook his head no and we chatted a little about what he’s been up to. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to talk with him following the lecture due to the tight schedule they keep at the rehab center.
In all my classes and one on one sessions, I talk about the discipline of; “the space in between.” It is the wisdom lesson that when something happens, an action, we have space between and before we give a reaction. The smaller the space between action and reaction the greater chance our reaction will be negative. The larger the space in between the greater the chance our reaction produces a positive result.
In a world where people too often speak and act without thinking, we are reaping a local, national and global community torn apart. We don’t stop and reflect on how what we say, what we do, has positive and too often negative consequences.
I teach three groups of men who are housed in an intensive rehabilitation facility for drugs and alcohol. The time I spend with them isn’t nearly long enough but I make the best of the time I have given to me. My focus is on two subjects; the first is their choice to stay clean or relapse will determine their destiny and the second is their choice to be sober determines their family’s destiny.
This morning, in a session, we were discussing these issues when it dawned on a man in the group that his kids were at a highly significant risk of doing drugs because of his own history of drug use. Before I could get the words out of my mouth, he said rather loudly; “Don’t say it!” I paused for a moment and then relayed the statistics of kids whose parents use drugs and their likelihood to follow the same path.
I then told the men; “This doesn’t mean your children will become alcoholic or drug addicts. You can make the right choice, lead your family away from this toxic lifestyle. Let them be your motivation to get clean and stay clean. Do it for you and do it for them.”
Too often we see our decisions in a bubble. We forget, like a stone thrown in a still pond, our choices ripple in all directions impacting all who are near and dear to us. If we took in to consideration the power of our actions and inaction perhaps we’d choose more wisely.
“When you pick up one end of the stick you also pick up the other end.” Choices. Consequences.
Several months ago a young man shared with me how his story of addiction began. A simple question; “Could he jump over one of the cement posts that stand outside of almost every Walmart store?” He couldn’t. A bad choice and a misjudging of how tall these posts actually are resulted in a shattered forearm and an addiction to pain pills a couple of years later. “If only I’d ignored the impulse to try to hurdle that post, impress my friends, make someone laugh, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Choices. Consequences.
Our choices determine our destiny. What we choose today is who we are tomorrow. May we never forget the power of a decision.
“They’re doing what?!?!” This question was asked of me today during a discussion regarding the plight of a family our organization is trying to help. A co-worker shook her head and then made the statement; “Sometimes I wonder if their lives are a result of bad luck or bad decision-making.”
This comment gave me pause and I’ve been reflecting upon it and people’s level of self-awareness and culpability. There are many negative occurrences which happen to us all. There are times when unnecessary, unwanted, and unexpected events are encountered on our journey. We weather the storms and wonder why we’re the recipients of bad luck, karma, insidious plots or sordid conspiracies designed to ruin us. We don’t have to look too far or too deep to find someone or something to blame for our misfortune. Oftentimes, once we’ve found the target(s) of our incrimination, we lay at their feet the responsibility of a life gone wrong.
While “into every life a little rain must fall” is a quaint idiom it’s also true. Life does have its ups and downs, joys and heartaches, triumphs and tragedies. The blessing of being alive carries with it the curse of suffering. There’s no denying that “life isn’t fair” (another quaint saying wrapped in truthfulness). However, we must be careful not to lay all culpability at every doorstep except our own. Our thoughts, words and actions have consequences. Who we are today often dictates, at least in part, what we face tomorrow.
Wisdom reminds us to always choose wisely.