Category Archives: Staff

Why Did You Do That?

I’m more likely to think about the meaning of Memorial Day, as opposed to Labor Day, but mostly those holidays exist as bookends to June, July and August. A three day introduction to the summer and a three day wrap up, usually with a sale on school supplies and computers. Even though my adult schedule doesn’t look much different in the summer, I still hear James Taylor in the background singing “Summers Here” when the neighborhood kids get out of school. Who doesn’t love to kick back a little?

The truth is we spend most of our year on the move, conjugating the verbs: to do, to want and to have. But what about to be? Is that relegated to a week’s vacation in the summer? (I’m not even sure, frankly, that one week is enough time to be… it takes a few days to slow down, sleep in and linger over morning coffee. You know, talk to the person in the rocking chair beside you).

But it’s September now, summer is over, and I want to talk about to do.

I know we are all busy, but if someone asked you “Why are you doing this?” what would you say? The “this” can be anything; in fact sometimes it is simply a situation that emerged in which “this” had to be done and somehow you ended up doing it. But if our actions are perpetually dictated by factors external to ourselves, we end up living reactive lives. Action is simply reaction when it does not come from a sense of who we are and what we want to do, but instead is an anxious reading of how others define us and of what the world demands.

When you get a moment, see if you can define yourself apart from what you do. Then do a little math and figure out what percent of your actions are intentional and authentic, and what percent are what you need to do to hold a job, make a living, satisfy the expectations of others, fill your time, or to evade the fact that you don’t know what else to do.

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What about Us?

If you think about it, the mission of our organization is pretty huge. Amazing, but huge. We want to build girls of courage, confidence and character, and that is no small thing. And then, we want them to go out there and make the world a better place. That isn’t a task they finish by the time they age out of the Ambassador program. It’s more like a philosophy to live by, a way of being in the world that shapes their whole life.

What about the women who work and volunteer with our organization? You realize we have to ask ourselves; Are we living courageously? Are we confident? Are we known for our character?

In what ways am I making the world a better place?

We ask girls to learn by making their own decisions, acting on those decisions, and engaging others in the task. Isn’t that what we mean by girl led, learning by doing and cooperative learning? When that process applies to us grown-up girls it’s not uncommon to hear all the reasons why we don’t have the time, money, energy, or support to learn the things we’d like to learn. Or the things we need to learn. Sometimes those stories are shared with others, and sometimes they remain quietly unexamined.

I think there is a link between our commitment to learning and our capacity for risk-taking. If I don’t value the process of learning, and fixate instead on effectiveness or measurable results, I’m less likely to step out with courage or confidence. I’m less likely to risk the necessary failure which happens along a lifetime of developing character. When outcomes are the measure of my being in this world, I will want to control them, and that will limit me to predictable arenas where I know I can succeed. I will only “learn” by doing what I am reasonably sure I can successfully do- the things that yield instantly visible results. But I’m afraid that if we don’t pay attention, we will wake up one morning and realize that we’ve missed the larger, long term character building in our own lives that is needed to make the world a better place.

And the truth is, it’s a much more authentic process to facilitate a girl’s journey when I’m aware of my own journey. We want to model the process of learning, so that our leadership experience validates the program model we use. So that it inspires young women. So that our support is real. So that we’re truly doing our part to make this world a better place.

¡ Poco a Poco !

I just spent ten days in Guatemala working with a small school in a squatter community. There are many adventures on this annual trip, as American volunteers step with me into a new culture and the experience of shanty town living. There is a particular adjustment that is hard for us to make, and I see the struggle every summer with every group. The struggle stems from our cultural preference for efficiency and task completion when we set out to work. We have a plan. So we go to Guatemala to serve, and by golly, we are going to serve according to our plan. The intentionality is certainly good, but that American worldview doesn’t fit neatly into the Guatemalan context. Let me give you an example.

Tourism folks market Guatemala as the Land of Eternal Spring, with warm days and cool nights all year long. May through November is the rainy season, which doesn’t affect the temperature, but makes for a wet afternoon almost every day of our visit. So the construction plan needs to yield to the rainfall. Did I mention the arrival of materials? There isn’t a Home Depot down the street and only one person at the little school has a car. Concrete, paint and drywall comes on a truck. Eventually. So the clash between expectation and reality is often difficult when volunteers plan to work for four days, and really want to work eight hours on all of those four days. At dusk we often have a conversation with the locals that ends a smile and the phrase poco a poco.

“Little by little,” they say, which is as much a philosophy of life as an expression used to ease frustration. In a country with little infrastructure, corrupt government and extreme poverty, poco a poco invites an appreciation for each day’s effort, because any progress is good progress. That is a different perspective from our fast-paced, results oriented view of a good day. But I have come to learn than recognizing progress, at any level, helps to cultivate a sense of gratitude and relieve the tension of struggling with reality. Stress, after all, is mostly a perspective that whatever is happening is not good, or should be different. And in a different culture, or context, it is easier to see how little control we really have over reality.

I can’t help but wonder if the practice of a poco a poco mentality might be the best souvenir that anyone brings back from a visit to our little squatter community.

Truthful Living

The Quaker tradition offers time-tested suggestions for fostering truthful living. They include these four: (1) Listen “for the truth in the words of others,” (2) Speak the truth as you understand it with “cordiality, kindness, and love,” (3) Avoid “gossip, tale bearing, breaking confidences, or the disparagement of others,” and (4) Resist “temptations to falsehood, coercion, and abuse.” I’m not a Quaker, but I believe that adopting these suggestions would transform the communication patterns of our families and work places.

The idea of truthful living is more than truth in relation to speech; it includes good listening skills. Listening is noticing and appreciating the truth being spoken by others. It’s hard to hear the truth, sometimes, when we’re caught up in the behavior of the speaker, or the emotion attached to the message.  But listening is at the heart of wisdom and discernment.

Another detail that struck me in these suggestions is the awareness that I speak the truth as I understand it. Which means my perception, my interpretation, my analysis of the subject. When I know I’m simply speaking from my view of things, there is room for various forms of feedback, which in turn expands my understanding.

I looked up “disparagement” for you: it means speaking of another in a way that belittles or discredits them. We might just call that sarcasm or making a little fun. But is that truthful living?

Telling the truth doesn’t mean saying everything we think, of course. There is ample room in a truthful life for the silence of discretion, keeping of confidences, and the little pleasantries that keep social interactions flowing along. And words ring more true, and are heard more easily, when they are congruent with the life of the person who is speaking. You know that’s true.

Families or organizations that are concerned about truthfulness will be attentive to patterns of life together that influence truthful living. How do you model truthfulness as a parent? As a supervisor? As a CEO? What structures are in place to help us keep short accounts among ourselves? Where do we allow ourselves freedom to ask one another hard questions about important dimensions of our lives? What do we do that helps us learn to tell “tactful truths instead of reassuring lies?” Lots to think about.

Human Resources

I wonder if we might be experiencing a resource crisis. We hear on the news about the depletion of natural resources, but I’m thinking more in terms of human resources, and the crisis is the under-use of our talents and gifts.

Not that we don’t work hard or do a good job. Often people are proficient- really good- at something they are doing, but they don’t care much about it. We just do the work that needs to be done and wait for the weekend.

Other folks so enjoy what they are doing that they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. An hour of work feels like 5 minutes, because they have managed to connect who they are with what they are doing. The work resonates with them and is a source of energy, not an activity that steadily drains away energy like a dripping water faucet.

So, how do you connect who you are with what you do? I think human resources are similar to natural resources, in that they are often buried. So first, you must uncover them since they aren’t generally lying around on the surface. Or, maybe you already know your talents, but you don’t maximize them.  It’s hard to know when you take something for granted. The reason it’s hard to know is that you are taking it for granted.

But perhaps you haven’t done much inner mining, and you aren’t clear on the gifts you have to give. You default to familiar routine while those resources, those jewels, stay hidden below the surface.

John Gardner was an American author and social reformer who once said thattrue happiness involves the full use of one’s power and talents.”  I’m all for true happiness! It seems to me the first step is to uncover your talents and then begin looking for conditions or opportunities in which to use them powerfully. Or at least use them. The world is waiting for you to be you.

It’s All Love

Have you ever had that dream, the one where you come home and someone else has dinner ready?

Or the version where someone pops their head in your office and says, “I’m getting some coffee, would you like a second cup?” Or even better, they say, “I just came from Starbucks and I picked up a half-caff, low foam, skinny grande latte, since I know it’s about that time of day for ya…” and they plunk down that nectar of the gods right there on your desk. Now that’s my love language! Acts of service, Gary Chapman called it, in the book he wrote back in the 1970s called The Five Love Languages. Acts of Service is one of my love languages, followed closely, or in conjunction, with Quality Time. I’ve apparently spent quality time with that person in my dream, since they knew my Starbucks order! The other languages are Receiving Gifts, Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. Gifts are fine, and you can’t really argue with a good hug, but when I hear “You did a good job,” I think to myself, “Well, that’s nice.” As in, “Whatever.”

Affirmation though, goes a long way with my friend Lynn. She knows she likes it. It’s more than encouragement; it’s a statement of truth, a confirmation. It makes her feel good. I know that’s true because I recently thanked her for being a friend and I could see her absorb what I was saying. Literally, I could see it in her eyes and the way her shoulders relaxed. She took it in and tucked it away for a time when that memory would provide needed energy and acknowledgment.

So, I am thinking about these love languages, and how everyone has different preferences. It occurred to me that I tend to engage with other people in the ways that make the most sense to me, according to my preferences. I serve a lot. I spend time with people. I do like to give little gifts, and I think I’m pretty affectionate, but I don’t think about speaking words of affirmation to other folks. It’s been a long time since I read that book, so it was a good reminder to find out how to connect in ways that are meaningful to the other person.

And then I had this “ah-ha” moment. It goes both ways. If I’m paying attention, I can also recognize that when someone speaks to me with words of affirmation, they are doing that because it makes sense to them, and even though it isn’t my favorite I can appreciate their effort. Connecting is about both of us. Sometimes I get my love language, and sometimes I get yours. But it’s all love.