Monday, December 22, 2008

Strengths & Weaknesses

The last day of school I got home early enough to catch a few minutes of Oprah. I think I may be glad I missed most of the show, but just caught the first few minutes. It has given me several days to have some original thoughts about the topic, and possibly saved me from being disappointed at the direction actually taken on the show. Regardless, it served as a thought provoking trigger.

As I remember it, the show first featured several women who seem overcome with their lives as they are - largely due to family, jobs, and the combination thereof. The guest was going to guide them to some place of sanity, I think, but here is the part that got me before I left to go to the store . . . He said that most people misinterpret their strengths and weaknesses because they are defining "strength" and "weakness" incorrectly. We tend to think that our strengths are those things we do well, and weaknesses are those things at which we basically suck. Wrong! says our guest. A strength is something that actually strengthens you, and a weakness is something that - you guessed it - weakens you. You may be good at it, but doing it weakens you. It reminds me of the Myers-Briggs introvert vs. extrovert. Introverts aren't necessarily shy, and can appear to others to be very extroverted (I'm one of those introverts incognito), but it is in being alone that an introvert is able to "recharge" and become energized. Whereas the extrovert needs to be in a crowd of people to regain their energy.

So . . . back to our Oprah guest (and I'm sorry I didn't watch it long enough to catch his name or his book that I'm sure he has written, but check out her webiste, and I'm sure we can discover that easily enough). His recommendation was that people track their activities for a period of time, carrying green cards and red cards with them. Anytime you completed an activity that left you feeling weaker, you were to write it on the red card; stronger, and you wrote it on the green card. Theoretically, at the end of this period of time, you would be able to identify more clearly those things which strengthened and weakened you (and make appropriate changes if possible).

It has prompted a lot of thought for me. A year or so ago I determined that "just because I can, doesn't mean that I should." And that has proven to be a wise avenue. I think it ties in with this new concept. So often we take on (or are asked to take on) things because folks know we can do it - and do it well. And we feel we should because it must be a strength if we can do it so well, right? Then why do these things tap our energy and deprive us of the real joy and energy we feel in completing something that truly strengthens us?

The Frau and I usually have breakfast out on Saturday mornings, and it is often a good time for philosophical discussion. This was our focus this week and I think we are both trying to dig deeper to identify what really strengthens us at this point in our lives. She even suggested taking it a step further and identifying what you would do if you only had a year left to live. Clearly, we would want to choose those things that would strengthen us most in that year. We both really like our jobs. We're both good at our jobs. Neither of us would continue in our jobs if we had a year left to live. Interesting . . .

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Getting Away . . .

Just a few pictures of how I enjoyed my birthday back in November - escaping to a cabin in Branson. The fall colors and turtles were my favorite gifts.

Talk About Diversity

The politicos are all in an uproar today over Obama's selection of Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Community Church) to lead the invocation at his inauguration. It would appear that folks think Warren shouldn't receive this "honor" because his socially conservative views on abortion, same-sex marriage, are DIFFERENT than those of the President-Elect. Apparently, I and other gays & lesbians are supposed to feel "spritually assualted" by this selection. If you've read this blog at all, you know how I feel about same-sex marriage, and I think abortion is a very difficult and complex issue. But I've also read some of Rick Warren's book, and he does have some good things to say - our differences on some issues notwithstanding.

Paint me red and call me a barn (I don't know that this quirky saying fits, but I think it's cute and wish to use it anyway), but in my younger days it was OK to be friends and have discussions with folks and agree to disagree. In fact, when I look back on any growth I have experienced in my life - intellectually or spiritually - it was from an outgrowth of wrestling with conflicting/DIFFERENT ideas. Rarely did I experience any growth or gain any sort of empathy with an opposing viewpoint by sitting around and listening only to those folks who agree with me.

Perhaps the selection of Warren is a political move on Obama's part to garner some support from the conservative right, but looking at his cabinet picks thus far, I don't think so. I think he understands that in order to make the best decisions for this country, he needs to surround himself with competent, experienced people, many of whom will not be afraid to disagree with him. I'm glad he isn't surrounding himself with "yes" men and women, but with those who are capable of standing up to the leader of the free world and saying "no, here's another perspective." And I think he plans to listen to them. At the end of the day, he may not agree with them, but he will hear them out.

I have some dear friends and family who don't agree with me on every subject, and they won't be surprised to learn that I don't always agree with them. That doesn't stop debate, and intellectual/spiritual discourse. Our failure to agree does not lessen my respect and/or love for them. Our discussions keep me grounded, my perspectives balanced, and my sensitivity to other perspectives open and thoughtful.

I don't agree with Rick Warren on a lot of issues. In fact, there are some that we downright would never come to agreement on. But I respect his convictions, I think he offers much good in what he says, and backs that up with a great deal of integrity (my understanding is he takes no profits from the sale of his book). I think God is big enough to love us both in spite of our differences. And I don't feel "spiritually assaulted" by his offering a prayer on behalf of our country at this momentous occasion. And maybe, just maybe, that is why the President-Elect selected him - as a lesson to us all that part of the "Change" he hopes to bring us is a renewed commitment to allow everyone in this country to be different without being damned.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Power of One

My alma mater has nicknamed their annual fundraising drive The Power of One. It's catchy, and has stuck with me, though not so much for the reason they intended.

A choral colleague shared with me over the weekend her great consternation that one of her students in her top choir was quitting on Friday. He told her he thought she was too tough, her expectations were too high, and she didn't encourage them enough. She tried to talk with him about it, acknowledged that she had no plans to lower her expectations, but that perhaps she could be a bit more positive in affirming the group. She attempted a genuine dialogue, and he cut her off saying that his mind was made up. This normally strong, assertive friend spent most of Friday evening crying about it - wondering what she could have said or done differently to change his mind. I reminded her that she has over 200 students in her program who are staying in the program, and to not neglect appreciating them because of one disgruntled young man who probably just doesn't "get it" - or want it. Then I commented, "Isn't it ironic that most of our students have no idea that we will spend hours investing our emotional energies worrying about the one kid who thinks we are too heartless and callous to care whether they are there or not? Often to the neglect of all our other students who value our efforts?"

Ah, yes. The Power of One.
Greeting Cards You Wish You Could Find

Ever have those occasions when you need/have to buy a card for someone, but the real sentiment you want to express just doesn't exist? Take mothers for instance. The Frau was out to buy a birthday card for her mom, knew she would appreciate one of the more "mushy" variety, yet didn't want to express a sentiment she didn't feel. She was sharing her quandary ("I don't want to buy one that says You've always been there for me . . .), and I commented that what she needed was one that said:

Mom . . .
You've always been there . . .
For my sister,
For the grandkids,
For the dog,
For the Soroptomists,
For your church,
For the neighbors,
And I'm sure you love me, too.
Happy Birthday.

Then we found ourselves chuckling that she always "bonds" with my 90 year old grandmother as they discuss the types of "protection" they use for their occasional bladder instability. I said, "There's another card we need":

I love those special times we share . . .
We can count on incontinence to bring us together.

Feel free to add your own.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Here I sit, preparing to go to the annual city tree lighting ceremony where the choir kids will sing their cold little hearts out for 15 minutes or so in the requisite parade of city choirs. As often happens, there is a new custodian cleaning the choir room today. She's a nice older lady of Hispanic descent. She just came back to my office to ask me what the word "involvement" meant and how to pronounce it correctly. She showed me that she had seen the word on a poster in the classroom that connects different words to the various letters in the word "CHOIR". I explained what involvement meant as best I could - equating it to participation in the classroom activities. She seemed happy to understand, then asked me to make sure she was pronouncing the other words correctly - Cooperation, Harmony, Opportunity, Involvement, Responsibility. She even wrote the word - "involvement" - on a piece of paper that was destined for the trash. I wanted to say to her, "Lady, you 'get it.' You aren't just mechanically doing your job. You are truly involved in your environment and in taking responsible advantage of the opportunity to broaden the knowledge of your surroundings." That poster has been hanging in the choir room for two or three years now. She's the first person to acknowledge she has really seen it. We never know who we are teaching - or who is teaching us. I think that's kind of neat.
Glass Castle - the Lecture

In some far earlier blog, I raved about my "find" of Jeannette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle. Last month I discovered, somewhat by accident, that she would be giving a free lecture as a part of the Humanities Lecture Series at KU. As luck would have it, my evening was free and I got a prime seat - middle center. I was as enamored by Walls in person, as I was by her book, and managed to scratch out a few of the more quotable quotes. I can't guarantee that I recall her words exactly, but I think they are close. I pass them on for anyone who needs an extra "pearl" for the day.

"In protecting children from obstacles, we may deprive them of the gift of learning to navigate those obstacles."

In reaction to her observation of a friend she envied for his food and heat, whose father hit him on the head for drawing, she commented:
"We might not have had food, and we might not have had heat, but my parents would never have made fun of my dreams."

Regarding her shame growing up and her need to write the memoir . . .
"Secrets are like vampires. They can suck the life out of you, but they only exist in the dark."

"Don't be ashamed of your scars. Scars are a sign that you survived."

Her mom's comment when Jeannette questioned how she could have had a "good day" because she fell off a horse. . .
"Anyone can ride a horse. It's knowing how to fall off that's the real talent."

Throughout, she reaffirmed that she learned how to dream from her dad, and learned to be optimistic from her mom.

My favorite - After she got her first big journalism job, she was constantly afraid people would find out about her past and did her best to hide it. One of her co-workers, who had grown up quite privileged and went to private schools, asked if she would like to join her on an Outward Bound experience. She said she didn't know what it was, and asked the girl about it. The girl replied, well you spend several weeks roughing it in the wild, no plumbing, no electricity, foraging for your own food . . . She looked at her and thought, "The first 17 years of my life were an Outward Bound experience." She could hardly wait to call her brother and tell him, "You won't believe this, but rich people actually PAY to suffer!"