Respond, Don't React--Live in tension. What a dumpster taught me about good decision making

Tuesdays are long days for me. I usually leave the house around 7:30 and I don't typically leave my office until about 9:15 that night.

Usually, the trip home is punctuated with a stop at the dumpster to throw trash out. For a couple of months, I would transport the trash from our Grand Rapids office to our Lowell office. Why? Well, let's look at the dumpster. Do you see the lock not actually locking anything? Screen Shot 2020-08-06 at 10.01.26 AM

This dumpster didn't always have a lock on it. What prompted it? One weekend, someone put their personal trash in the dumpster. No idea if it was someone who rents an office space or someone from the surrounding area.

As a reaction (that's an important word for this post), either the landlord or the management company decided that the best response (another important word for this post) was to put a lock on the dumpster to keep trash out that isn't supposed to be there.

That sounds reasonable.

That sounds like it makes a good response.

But does it.

You'll notice the lock isn't locking anything. It hasn't been for weeks. Which brings me back to why I was transporting the trash from one office to another.

The lock is almost impossible to use.  At first, I thought it was just me or the general way that counselors' minds work. I think one of our interns was taking trash home with her rather than deal with the lock.

I called the management company.

I emailed them.

They said, "It works, must be you. Happy to send someone to train you on how to use it."

I've driven by and watched almost all of the other tenants wrestle with the lock. One time, a woman in a nice business suit was down on her knees trying to work the lock while a man in his own business suit was banging on the top of the lock. I've watched other tenants in the building walk the trash to a different dumpster in our complex only to get yelled at from a physically distanced space by that building's tenants. I've watched in rapt fascination as the environmental waste people wrastled (that's like wrestling but more intense) with the lock.

Finally, I drove past about a month ago and the lock was as you see it in the picture. I've never seen it locked since that day. Including, after the trash truck's pick up.

Why are we talking about this? Because this lock is a great example of poor leadership. It's a great example of short-sited decision making.

I know a lot of corporations and people that navigate their own lives in a similar fashion.

We've been at this location for almost eight years. In those eight years, the trash dump has happened exactly one time.

Once.

A single event.

Does that really warrant an email about how unfair it is to the landlord and a lock that apparently very few people can open?

or

Is this evidence of a reaction as opposed to a response?

Responses are thought out. Their outcomes are pondered. They are actions where possibilities have been examined.

Reactions are doing something simply because we must do something. It's about feeling better because something is happening with little concern for the efficacy of what is happening.

I sometimes worry that reactive living is a pandemic in our society.

Think about this lock. It was originally implemented because someone in management had a concern that the Landlord would be paying for trash that is not covered in the rents he is collecting.  So they put on a lock that now, it seems, everyone is refusing to use.

They failed to achieve what they set out to accomplish.

They didn't ask questions like "How often has this happened? How likely is it to happen again? How happy or unhappy will our tenants be with a lock? What happens if the trash removal company wants a lock that is difficult to use?"

Really simply, they failed to ask two broad scope questions. Both questions sit on a foundation of how likely are we to accomplish what we are trying to do?

  1. What is the return or reward of that action?
  2. What's the cost of that action?

As it currently stands, they have spent money to get the dumpster fitted with a collar and bought two locks, it's commonly believed that the first one was accidentally thrown in the dumpster, and they still have not accomplished what they set out to do.

I doubt that they will any time soon.

Truthfully, I see a lot of people who lead their own lives in this manner. 

They encounter something in their life that they don't like. Their mind extrapolates what it would feel like if they have to experience this something for a long period of time and decides that would be bad. They decide that they have to do something!

The problem is that they rarely seem to consider the reward for that action and measure it against the cost.

They react instead of respond. 

This seems to be a problem for our individuals, organizations, and even our government. 

We need to move to a society that does better at learning to live in the tension of things.  Very few things are all or nothing. Throughout life, we will face many situations that require us to sit in the tension of not liking something and the reality that we will have to just stay in those circumstances until we can utilize a measured response. 

A measured response asks some hard questions. It allows time for change to take root and grow.

May you grow your ability to sit in the tension of difficult situations.  May you move when necessary and be able to tolerate distress so that you can determine when you need to move and when you need to sit still.

Respond, my friends. Think through the possible outcomes, consider the possible costs. Learn to sit in discomfort and pursue wise choices in that discomfort.

 


Live in Wisdom: How do we respond well in difficult situations?

Why haven't you been _______? A common picture for 2020

I was recently asked, "Hey, why haven't I seen you at ________?" I left the place blank on purpose because it doesn't necessarily matter what you put in that blank, you probably haven't seen me in a lot of places.

Some people have asked from, what I believe, is a sincere place if I haven't been going places that we had gone regularly pre COVID because of fear.

You're afraid you're going to get the Virus?

The answer is no.

My wife and I are limiting our out of the house experiences because we feel it is wise to do so. But not for any of the reasons that have been suggested to me at this point.  Before I explain the reasons that we have chosen this approach, I'd like to share another version of it.

We have policies for all of our offices regarding the COVID-19 and our state and federal government mandates. Invariably, someone will come in and complain about some part of the policy or they will ask my opinion on the virus or our collective government's response.

Invariably, I tell them that my opinion doesn't matter.

Hear me out. As a citizen, my opinion matters, and my vote can reflect those opinions this November. My opinion matters as someone who lives here in this state and country.

But, as someone on a mission, my opinion does not matter.

What is wise?

We start with a basic question. What is wise? As a family, our basic answer to that question is whatever is right in the short term, the long term, and for legacy.  When we consider things like our current situation we ask some more basic questions to get us going.

  1. What is the likely outcome of __________ decision?
  2. What is the likely outcome if it goes badly?
  3. What happens if something happens that I'm not accounting for?
  4. How does this help me with what I am trying to accomplish?

When we run our responses and eventual actions through these lenses, we usually end up with more questions that help us navigate our decisions.

So when we run out our response to the current situation, we have policies that reflect the best opportunity for us to remain open and serve people.  That's the only opinion that matters to us as a couple and a family.

So, we don't go to a lot of big people type things. We take precautions that we believe give us the best chance to stay open and serve people.

We try to filter things through what happens if we're exposed to someone who is positive? How do we best manage that possibility and the negative outcomes that would follow that situation?

We view this as an opportunity to teach our children what it means to examine the impact of our decisions on other people. How will our client's mental health be impacted by the consequences of our decisions?

I still have opinions about this whole mess. I've had conversations with close friends whom I trust about those opinions. There is a lot of fear and anger out there to go around. My wife and I have chosen to do our best to spread kindness and grace. We've chosen to do what we can to help as many people as possible. That's our mission.

One of the core values we teach our children is that if life is going to be meaningful, it has to be about more than us.

That's true in almost every situation we find ourselves in. This situation has taken a lot from people and it is certainly happening in an extremely divisive time in our society, but wisdom is still the best course of action.

May you find wisdom in your response to these events. May you spread grace and kindness.

 

 

 


What about school? Dealing with the Unknown for Our Children and Ourselves

The following is a post I wrote for a local publication regarding the upcoming school year and dealing with the unknown.

I’m not a big fan of July. I especially dislike the middle of July. Not because of the heat. It means school is right around the corner. I hate that because I love having my kids home. 

This year has more significant implications for me personally, as my oldest will be a Senior. Of course, this year seems to have more significant implications for everyone as the chatter about going back to school starts to ratchet up.

There are more questions than answers. 

Are we going to be virtual?
Are we going to be in person?
Every day?
Every other day?
Masks?
Plastic screens?
Temperature screenings?
How are politics impacting these discussions if they are impacting them at all?
What is the best way to educate our children and keep them safe?
How do we fund things?
How do we handle the fear and anxiety of our children?
How do we handle our own fear and anxiety?

These questions and hundreds more seem to cascade like a rushing swollen spring stream through most of the conversations I’m involved in lately. In the middle of these turbulent times, we must recognize and accept our own anxiety and fears. At the same time, we want to live our lives. How do we stretch that balance?

Admit our own fears

We start by admitting our fears. This will help both your children and you. Acknowledging your fear allows you to accept everything that comes with fear, including that we can’t control many things in life. There are too many days when I drop my children off at school that I have to work through my own fears about the possibilities of my children experiencing a trauma that I cannot help them avoid. Working in the field that I am in, I sit with too many people who have been sexually assaulted by friends in High School or sadly, even in Middle School. As I try to protect my children, I have to admit my own fears. I have to accept that I cannot control that reality.

Recognizing my fears empowers me to focus on what I can do about the concern. As your discussions with your children about the upcoming school year commence, don’t be afraid to share that you too have fears with them. The details may not be age-appropriate, but the concept will almost always benefit your child.

Limit your discussions when necessary.

While it is important to acknowledge fear, it is also essential to not let it control us. Often, when people are anxious about something, they may start to engage in multiple conversations about it. You have probably seen an uptick in discussions about returning to school on social media. This naturally happens as we move closer to the start of the school year every summer. For many people, this year has been more pronounced because there are so many unknowns. Let’s be clear, it is perfectly acceptable and healthy to limit the discussions you have regarding the start of the school year. Don’t be afraid to just step out of the debate. If you need to say, “Hey, let’s talk about something else,” or “I don’t really want to talk about this anymore.” If the arguments/discussions are happening on social media, you can scroll on. You can unfollow someone, or even snooze a person for a set amount of time. It’s OK to be friends with someone and not be able to talk with them about something. Another factor in limiting your interaction with topics that create anxiety is the news cycle via other mediums. You can be informed and not watch the news every day. You can just turn all the outlets off for a few days and be OK. My assumption is that if something happens, such as all of my questions about the upcoming school year being answered, I’ll probably find out in a relatively short time.

Maybe you can consume all the different discussions, news articles, blog posts, and opinion pieces and not feel elevated. If so, that’s great; if not, have a disciplined plan to disconnect.

Choose Grace and Kindness

Whenever possible, choose grace and kindness. Our school systems have leadership above them fighting like elementary school children. I have had multiple people tell me that they are frustrated because they don’t know what is happening for the next school year. I get that. I also know that the teachers, administrators, and even the bus drivers are also frustrated. They’ve been given some almost impossible tasks and directions to accomplish.

How do you just make the size of your classroom smaller by practically half?
How do you facilitate twenty-five first graders to keep their masks on all day?
How do you educate teenagers in this environment?

They are struggling with all of these questions and more.

Grace and kindness go a long way to alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with these questions.

Grace and kindness also help you and me when we are faced with difficult questions and the unknown. We don’t all have to agree, and the world would be an immensely better place if we all chose grace and kindness when we disagreed.

For the person who disagrees with you on XYZ topic, choose grace and kindness. For the person whom you think is disingenuous, choose grace and kindness.

Do an intentional act of kindness for someone else
We can lower our anxiety and stress by doing something intentionally for someone else. Our brain will often fixate and begin spinning around a topic almost like a washer caught on a spin cycle. Doing something for someone else can disrupt that preoccupation. It can be something small or big, that is up to you. When we do things for other people, our brains will flood us with chemicals that help us feel better.

There are many unknowns about the upcoming school year. There are many unknowns about this virus and the impact it will continue to have on us and those we love.

In these uncertain times, engage your anxieties and fears. If you’d like to read more strategies on handling anxiety, feel free to go to my website, www.joemartino.com, and search for anxiety.


Let's make the world a better place by listening and learning.

I'd like to think that we all want to listen to each other. I would like to believe that almost everyone I meet wants to be an excellent listener.

And yet the chaos of our world often feels overwhelming. It can often seem like everywhere I turn, I see people who are not listening

Even in our quaint little town here in Lowell, you do not have to travel far to find people who are vehemently opposed to each other's viewpoints. Often, they are not afraid to express that disagreement loudly with very little listening happening. Don't believe me, spend a short time on some of the social media sites dedicated to our town's darker side or chatter. People raise to lyrical heights when

I teach listening for a living, and there are days that I struggle to be a good listener. So this month's article is dedicated to the idea that we want to be good listeners. I want to offer some simple steps that we can all adopt and utilized to be better listeners.

Step one: listen to understand not to respond.

 So often, when we listen, we listen to respond; That may actually be a little charitable. We often listen so that we can react as opposed to actually hearing. We listen just long enough to find the points that we disagree on and preparing to pounce on those disagreements. Good listening involves looking for points of agreement. It necessitates listening to understand what the other person is saying and the emotions and feelings they have around those words. We experience events as facts and have feelings around those facts. Good listening seeks to understand the other person's facts and feelings.

Step two: seek to find points of agreement before addressing points of disagreement.

This point is crucial because it is the easiest one for people to overlook and avoid. Often, our world seems to be so divided that it appears that two people who disagree on anything must be enemies.

Banished to the remotest of possibilities is the idea that friends can disagree on important issues. It's as if we can't agree on some things and disagree on others without drawing lines to determine who is for us who is against us.

An excellent communicator seeks to find points of agreement. There will be plenty of time to address disagreements later. But we first must find the points upon which we agree.

When we seek to find common points of agreement, we recognize and honor our shared humanity. All humans bring some level of brokenness to every relationship that we are in. We acknowledge that brokenness by seeking points of agreement.

We have all experienced traumatic events. We have all wept bitter tears of pain and regret. We have all changed our position on different issues. Rare is the person who at 30 believes everything precisely the same way that they did when they were 20. By seeking the points of agreement first, we admit that we don't know everything. We acknowledge that we could be wrong on many things. By pursuing points of agreement first, we infuse humility into the conversation. We find strength in our collective human experience. 

Step three: address points of disagreement with kindness and generosity.

We must attempt to address the points of disagreement with respect and graciousness. This will lead to us being kinder. 

In today's cancel culture, it seems that people believe they can attack the person with whom they disagree with impunity as long as the attacker has the "moral high ground." But this actually makes us less. It takes away from our shared human experience. Often, it weakens our arguments. The ability to address points of disagreement with kindness and generosity and graciousness mark a mature person. Rarely, is it a great logical argument or a zinger of a put down that changes someone's mind. Instead, it is almost always a relationship and love that brings someone to a different point of view. 

Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said, "In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." 

His approach literally changed his world. And there is much work yet to be done in our efforts for unity. I believe that unity will come when we can actually hear each other. When we can listen and learn, we will move the human race forward. We will develop the ability to listen and learn by becoming good communicators.

We must realize the people who disagree with us are not our enemies. And even if they are our enemies, someone famous once said that we should love our enemies. 

I was once told that when we love our enemies, we engage the possibility of changing their hearts. How much better would our world be if when we encountered those we disagreed with on moral issues, we still treated them kindly.

We can speak forcefully about things that matter to our hearts and always be kind to those we disagree with.

Recently my company ran an ad that talked about how everyone expects to be judged and encouraged the reader to surprise someone today by not being judgmental. It was one of our most liked ads in the last 12 months. I think that is because most people expect to be judged, and that idea resonated with the readers. we all stand forcefully for what we believe and yet communicate with kindness, respect, and generosity

 


Are you an effective infector? Standing up and being passionate.

I want to tell you a story. But before I do I want to introduce you to some people. This is my oldest daughter, Kendra. 

Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 9.45.32 AMThese are the two children that she supports from another country. Alonso is from the Dominican Republic and Erika is from El Salvador. She is four years old, and he is three years old. 

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These are the boys and girls that my wife and I support they are from all over the world. 032C4901-0D4D-4704-89FD-6EC946408854
Elisio is from Bolivia. He's six.  We've been sponsoring him the longest of this group. Before him, there were two other girls that have moved out of the program  Jhesly is from Ecuador, she's four. Gustavo, he's in the white shirt, is a five-year-old boy from Guatemala. Every time I see that picture and his grin I am moved. Josué is a seven-year-old boy from Guatemala the first picture we got of him he was holding a soccer ball I was giving the thumbs up. I was smitten.  Marcella is an eight-year-old girl from El Salvador. In her last picture, she actually drew a picture of her and me with two hearts behind between us that says hello sponsor. Franklin is a nine-year-old boy from Peru. A country very near and dear to my heart. Chacha, whose name is actually Shainna Chabel Brea is a nine-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic. And Via is a 19-year-old girl from the Philippines. We just started sponsoring her.

Now, here is the thing I'm not sharing this with you so you feel good about us or that you feel bad about you. In fact, I've debated sharing this type of post for a long time. But, I decided to share it over the last few weeks because it is something that I am passionate about. This morning, I went onto compassion's website to look and see how many kids are available for sponsorship. Roughly 140,000 kids do not have their basic needs met and are available for sponsorship. And, I feel like that should be something that moves us.

Now to the story that I wanna share with you. A little over a year ago, our family was at a concert that a friend had gifted us the tickets to attend. At the concert, they shared with us the need for sponsors of children in other countries. They shared with us what sponsorship does for the children that are sponsored and how they benefit. To be clear, this is something that is very important to my heart. It is also something that I've never force my children to participate in, I have talked with them about it numerous times. I have shared with them my passion. I have shown them pictures and letters. I have talked to them about my dreams and hopes for the future.

My daughter has a job, and with that job comes a source of income. She also has friends that she likes to hang out with. And things that she likes to buy. And college bills on the horizon.  And then, at  this concert where they're showing this need, she looks at me and asks, "do you care if I sponsor a kid?" Of course, I said that I did not. I reminded her that sponsorships are about more than just sending money. We talked about writing letters, and how hard that can be especially when the sponsored child is little. She signed up.

EffectiveInfector

Recently, we were traveling and we were talking about all the different things going on in the world. My daughter mentioned that compassion had been sending her pictures of a child needing sponsored. Her sister asked her how she thought she would afford it.  To which my daughter replied, "Well, I can cut something else out if I have to." So she clicked sponsor and added one of my favorite "isms." We'll figure it out.

Now, yes as a dad my heart swells to relate that story. But, that isn't even why I share it with you. I share it with you because I hear so many people talking about so many injustices and needs in our world currently. And I agree that there are many areas where much needs to be done. What I find, is that often when a person is passionate about one injustice or need and they encounter someone who is not equally passionate about that injustice, they become upset and angry.

Too often, in the face of overwhelming odds, (140,000 children waiting) we become overwhelmed. When we become overwhelmed, we often resort to shaming. This is most easily seen on Facebook and other social media platforms where if someone doesn't do whatever the collective agreement is to do this week they are obviously part of the problem. This sort of shaming accomplishes nothing and rarely helps anyone does actually in need. Of course, raising awareness is an important aspect of anything that we are trying to do in order to improve the lives of others.

And, I feel it is important that we create space for people to be passionate about different needs. I'm OK if you're not passionate about helping children in other countries. I'm OK if you don't feel called to sponsor children through compassion or other such services. I'm OK if you're passionate about something else that I can be aware of at the same time not devote the same amount of resources as you devote to it.

I can't save every one of those kids that is on that 140,000 list. And I can do everything in my power to help the ones that I can help. And here's the whole point of the story: when you are truly passionate about something, it will affect the people around you.

I hear so many people talking about kids these days. It sounds a lot like what people who are older than me used to say when I was a kid. And yes, there are frustrating things in this world. Especially, when it comes to how our children behave. But, I also see many kids passionate about things that their parents are passionate about.

So my question to you, is what are you passionate about? What are you chasing? What are you infecting those around you with? We don't all have to be passionate about the same things. We can recognize the need and realize that we have limited resources of time and money.

To note: I am not saying that we should stand idly by while someone's basic humanity is violated.  I have friends who are passionate about helping people in the inner city. I also have friends who are passionate about helping people in rural and country communities. We have to start seeing people who are passionate about doing things as partners, not as enemies.

Even as I type these words, I can sense and feel the responses that I think I'll get. Usually, when I have conversations in real life with people on this topic someone will say, "what about the people who are doing nothing?" To which I usually reply, "I think everyone should be doing something unless doing nothing is doing something.

When my wife and I first moved to this community, we needed time to heal from the wounds received at our last place. So, for a while, we did very little. We struggle to survive in many ways. And then as we healed, we began to engage things that we are passionate about. Even today, I say no to many good things because I need to protect my time. I need to protect the amount of time that I have to get to my family. I need to protect the amount of time and energy that I have to get to my clients. I need to be tactful with the resources I have been given.

So my friends, may you be passionate people. May you stand up against injustice when you encounter it. May you stand and fight for the weak. May you give generously to those in need. May you be wise, and tactical with your resources. May we, together, rise up and turn the tide of poverty, inequality, and injustice. May we embrace our humanity.

May we be effective infectors.

If you would like to sponsor a child, you can go to www.compassion.com

 

 

 

 


When we encounter injustice: Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

If you have been on social media for any time in the last few days you've probably seen a video regarding a man being killed while in police custody.

If you haven't watched the video I would encourage you to do so, even though it will be very difficult for many to get through because of the brutality of what has happened.

I have tried to avoid politics on this website as much as possible. In fact, by and large, I try to avoid politics on social media altogether. I want to talk about the things that Unitas, the things that make us human in our collective human experience.

But this issue isn't about politics, it is about the human experience. A man was killed while in handcuffs. He was being arrested for trying to use some sort of forgery at a local store. My guess is that he was trying to use a check that wasn't his. No one should die because they were trying to use a forged check.

In the video, one of the officers says that they tried to put him in the car and he resisted. No one should die because they were trying to resist getting put into a police car. They should go to jail and spend whatever the appropriate amount of time is for such an offense.

It has been, in my opinion, rightly pointed out that we can't say for certain that this injustice was perpetrated because of racism. That is to say, these cops might've killed a white man who is resisted doing what they wanted him to do. Stop Injustice

To be clear, it is my opinion that it probably was racially motivated. But as of this writing, that is just my opinion.

No matter where you stand on the racial motivation of this issue, we should all agree that this is a miscarriage of justice. Which brings me to the point of today's post, how do we respond in the face of injustice?

We can all agree that injustice is a regular occurrence in our society. Sadly, someone dying in handcuffs is not a new event. There are many outstanding police officers in our world. And I think it's safe to say after watching that video that these four gentlemen are not in those ranks, even if they once were.

What scares me about this issue is the people who seem to want to justify the police officer's behaviors simply because they are police officers.

 I'm concerned at a deeper level that we seem to be unable to have difficult conversations about the bad things in our society. Racism still exists.

Sadly, both politicians and media on both sides of the aisle use racism to try to stock their fan base. 

I was going to talk today about a comment that I read on Facebook. Someone was lamenting what Facebook does to their inner being in a friend commented that "Facebook is toxic."  My original intent for this post was to discuss the reality that Facebook is not toxic; we are toxic.

We are a fragile, broken society. Because our world consists of fragile and broken people. So, at some level, I get it.

But we have to do better.  I think part of the problem is we have a lot of fear to drive the narrative, and people who rightly support the blue are afraid if we call these cops out for their horrendous actions are afraid that all officers will get called out for doing their job. But this highlights a cognitive distortion known as all or nothing thinking. Vigilence in countering this distortion is needed.

We have to be able to hold two truths in our minds at once. In this issue, we have to be able to keep the fact that police officers are generally good people trying to serve their communities. In many ways, they are the best of us. And at the same time, we have to accept the reality that there are bad police officers out there. And that when they do things like kill a man, they deserve to go to jail as anyone else would.

We have to engage in uncomfortable conversations. And I think we can do more. 

I think we can intentionally engage difficult conversations about what is happening in our society, whatever the issue. I have too many friends who are people of color that can share too many stories about how they have been discriminated against. Every day, we can choose to ignore the injustices, or we can choose to wade into them. We can choose to ignore those living in poverty, or we can choose to do what we can to help them. I  have another post for that conversation on another day. Find people you know and ask them about their experiences of racism. Ask them about their experiences of injustice.

I am tired of hearing about how the media is just trying to race-bait us. I am tired of hearing how they are trying to divide us, so we shouldn't talk about racism and injustice. That's beyond silly. I know many men that are terrible husbands and abusive fathers, and yet, I'm not going to start advocating that people stop being a husband and a father.

I'm going to advocate that they father and husband well.

And that's what I'm trying to advocate here. We need to have good conversations about injustice and inequity. Refusing to engage the conversation is allowing the conversation to be dictated in a way that isn't helping anyone. I don't think that means you have to talk about it on Facebook, but if you're not known for talking about it at all, I think you might want to take a look in the mirror.

We don't always have to wait for "all of the facts" to have an opinion. What a man beats a woman senseless, we don't need to know what she did before he started beating her. It's always wrong to hit a woman. 

If you think the media is trying to divide this country, then stop allowing it to do so by being silent. Stop using the media as an excuse to call that which is evil, evil.

Someone once wrote, "Woe to those who call evil, good and who call good evil."  When we see injustice and defend it, we are calling evil good. 

It will take courage to defend professions that are noble and simultaneously call out evil actions by those in that profession.

If you want to make a stand against injustice in our society, you'll need to do it wherever you find injustice. This might be something simple like saying something to someone who makes a racist statement. This might be something simple like calling murder what it is.

It might be more complicated. I doubt that we will ever eradicate injustice and inhumanity, and I believe that we must stand up and fight against it. We have to do more than the Facebook calls, I agree.

To fight injustice, live a life of justice. Call those around you to live a life of justice. Show mercy to those around you. Show love to those around you. Walk humbly in the world around you. Life is hard and can be difficult to navigate, but it really shouldn't be that hard to navigate what it means to be kind and to treat people-even people who have committed crimes with dignity.

Don't let fear run your life. Let courage run your life. Let kindness run your life. Let mercy run your life. Let love run your life.

In the end, Love will change the world.

 

 

 


Dealing with the loss of loved ones. Grief hope and our mired mess of emotions

It was a Sunday. I was sweeping the living room floor. Our phone rang, and it was a landline. Eighteen years ago was the last time that I talked to my mom.

Thirty-seven days after that phone conversation, my mom passed away. Grief and Loss2

A few days after that we would bury her in the ground.

And now, every year I have that same very short time. To be reminded of my grief. Then, of course, there is the grief that comes around the holidays or when I'm cooking, or when I'm driving down the road.

I think there's a lie that we tell ourselves about grief. I think that lie is that somehow it's supposed to go away. That over time, which is supposed to heal all wounds-whatever the heck that means, will somehow make the pain go away.

I heard a song the other day that had lyrics that with something to the effect of "we tell ourselves that what we found is what we wanted." I found these lyrics to be somewhat profound. Our capacity to lie to ourselves in order to avoid pain knows very few limits.

Because there's an inherent problem with grief that surrounds death; it never goes away. I wish you could've met my mom. It doesn't matter who you are, your life would've been better for having known her.

My mom's life story was a hard one. She experienced trauma in almost every stage of life. Looking back now, with a professional degree in counseling and a decade's worth of experience, I realize that she had a lot of anxiety-driven behaviors and probably struggled with clinical depression.

I have so many good memories of things that she did. She and my dad were married for almost 33 years when she passed away

And yet, I also have regrets. Things that I did that limited my time with her. If I'm really honest with you, I have no idea when the grief will come. I rarely know what will bring tears. I only know grief and tears will come.

And what happens, as many people often feel such pain and decide that they are done loving. They decide that they are done taking a risk.

Or, they decide that they can't admit the pain. They pretend that it isn't there. They feel it, but they try to cover it up with toughness or anger or work or pot or depression. The list of the things that we try to cover the pain up with is long.

But the problem with that approach is that it diminishes our humanity. It reduces our human experience. I believe that death was never supposed to be a part of our story, but it is. And when we try to avoid the pain of death we have to limit our opportunity for love.

Mom and Dad
An undated picture of my parents

When we try to avoid grief we are actually the ones that lose. I can't lie to you, there is a profound sense of grief that runs through late May and almost all of June for me. And yet I truly believe that that profound sense of grief helps me to love my wife and children better.

It helps me to love my friend Joe, who lost his 24-year-old son last summer in a deeper and fuller way. Because our emotions or a mired mess of complicatedness  (is that even a word?).

Life is a risk. I sometimes think that half of my job and helping couples who are in a bad place is to convince them to risk again with their partner that hurt them. Love is a risk. Someday, everyone I love will die, or I will die.  As uplifting of a thought as that is, it is reality.

But here's what I'm hoping for. I'm hoping that that reality will spur us to love more deeply. I'm desperately optimistic that reality will motivate us to want to work at reconciling more.

Because we are always going to struggle with pain. And we will always be at our best when we are loving others and being loved by others. My mom loved to do things for other people. She loved to help people. She gave herself in service to others.

That's probably a pretty good model for us. That is probably a recipe for a successful life.

There was an ancient writer who once wrote that it is better to go to a funeral than to a party. Because when we go to a funeral we are more likely to take account of our lives. At a funeral we are more likely to measure the number of days that we have which of the same writer wrote is a great way to get wisdom.

If you'd like to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, I made a podcast about it. Click on the word podcast in the banner above. It's episode 103.

May you, my friend reconcile with those from whom you are distant.

May you find love and suck every morsel of opportunity out of it.

May you give love with reckless abandon.

May you accept the pain that comes with the joy.

May you take great risks.

May you experience a love that opens you up to the opportunity of great pain.

Because without the opportunity of great pain, there is probably no great love.

May you live well, my friends.

 

 

 

 

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Wring every ounce out of your talent and opportunity. Thoughts on the Last Dance Documentary

Recently, my dad and I have been having a phone conversation about the documentary on ESPN regarding Michael Jordan. If you haven't seen it, it's called the last dance. This was the name Phil Jackson gave his plan for the final season together. A little hug, the general manager of the team at the time.

My dad asked what did it matter that Michael Jordan was perhaps the greatest basketball player ever to play.  He wasn't trying to deny Michael's greatness; he was just asking what it meant in the light of the world around us. Winning Blog Post

I do have a warning if you decide to watch the documentary. There are two versions. A TV -14 version and a TV-MA version. As you might imagine, the TV-MA version has quite a bit more colorful language than the TV -14 version.

The show does an excellent job of showing just how hard Jordan worked and how hard he pushed his teammates. One of the questions raised in the show is was Jordan too hard on his teammates. Was he too mean? And then, my dad asked why I thought Jordan didn't see the same success as an owner that he saw as a player.

I'll leave that last question for another day. But, I do want to address the value that I think Jordan and athletes like him can bring to our lives.

I will admit that I am a Jordan fanboy. I remember watching him do things that just seemed impossible. My high school basketball coach and history teacher would come over to our house, and we would all sit in the living room and watch him play. Often, in the playoffs, this was painful for me as a Knicks fan, and yet, I loved to watch him play

I think one of the most amazing things that Jordan teaches us is the importance of wringing every ounce of possibility out of our talents and opportunities. One of the things that he seems to have done was to elevate himself and those around him to put everything into winning. To leave the entirety of their talents in the game. To risk loss by giving everything to win.

So often today, we seem to want the glory without the work. That is probably not a new affliction for humanity.

Jordan did something that we may never see again. Like most successful people, his detractors, and those who hate him. In the documentary, since I heard it. He states, "Winning has a price. Leadership has a price."  He always seemed willing to pay that price.

Jordan, the player, is an example of someone who took every opportunity to get better at his craft. He worked tirelessly to improve his game. One of the controversial things that he did was leave basketball to play baseball.  Because of media constraints, he ended up playing at a level higher than new players would normally begin playing. He started the season with a 15 game hitting streak. Then, he had a long hitless streak. Like many minor-league players, he couldn't hit the breaking ball.

So what did Jordan do? Well, he came to the stadium before anyone else and did batting practice. Then he did normal practice with his teammates. Then he stayed and did more personal batting practice off of a machine that only threw breaking balls. Then he would go to normal practice with his teammates for the game. Then he would do another 90 minutes of personal batting practice.  That was his work ethic.

If watching an athlete perform at the highest level inspires us to have a work ethic like that, then I believe sports are improving society. I think inspiration like that is worthy and noble of our attention.

And, like all heroes, Jordan can be a cautionary tale. His life directly contradicts our desire for all or nothing thinking. He's not all good or all bad. He's human. He has flaws. Some of his greatest strengths throughout his life have also caused some of his most significant heartaches. And that is probably true for many of us.

I, for one, am glad that I lived within the time he played. I loved to watch him play, and I've enjoyed this documentary. I may even re-watch some episodes. Like most older men, I believe that the era of my youth was purer and more enjoyable than today's era. But that is probably for another day.

I do want to ask you a question that I have been pondering regarding my own life since watching this documentary. How much of your talent are you using? How much of your opportunities are you engaging in? What are you doing to develop your mental toughness and your physical ability? Perhaps the greatest gift that Jordan gives us: he allows us to look in the mirror and measure ourselves. To realize that our actual competition is not the other people in our industry. Our actual competition is to be better today than we were yesterday.

Our greatest opportunities will often come with the greatest possibility of failure. May we engage those opportunities with courage. May we welcome all who come as competition and simultaneously want to beat them.

May we elevate ourselves and those around us to greatness. And may we define greatness as the ability to put everything we have into whatever endeavor it is that we're doing.

May we have the self-awareness to know the things that we are good at and the things that we are not good at doing.

May we have the awareness to recognize opportunity when it comes knocking, and in those times when Opportunity finds itself stuck behind a door that does not want to budge may we lower our shoulder and open that door.

May we have the integrity to know that success without hard work is fraudulent.

May we have the audacity to believe that we can always work harder even after we've given our best.

May you, my friend, find success this day.

May you find inspiration.

May you find the courage to do the dreams that scare you.

May you find peace.

 

 

 


Do these ten things to have better conversations

We all have arguments and disagreements. It seems to me in the past, we have decided to stop having uncomfortable conversations because they typically go wrong. Here are ten skills that you can start incorporating into difficult conversations right away. I believe they will help us all have better difficult conversations.

  1. Seek to understand the other person's emotions (and your own). For as much as emotions infiltrate our actions and conversations, it amazes me how little attention we give them. When you can begin to understand your emotions and the other person's emotions, you can respond to them. This allows your response to be more complete. It gives you a better opportunity to answer them holistically.
  2. Talk about what you believe. So often, we want to talk about why the other person is wrong, rather than talk about what we believe. Focus on what you believe in the conversation. Talk about why you believe it. Don't get stuck in a battle nit-picking points of disagreement. If you are talking about what you believe and striving to understand what the other person believes your conversations will improve. In this situation, you can search for areas of agreement rather than focusing on disagreements.
  3. Measure the cost; Do you value relationships or being right more? What is more important to you? Being right or the relationship. Most of the time, I believe we should seek to solve whatever the problem(s) are and protect the relationship. There are times, where we have to be willing to risk the relationship and there are relationships that we probably should end, but the majority of our disagreements will be with people who we want to stay in relationship with.  Therefore we have to measure the cost and the potential cost of what we are doing. Sometimes, it is good to walk away. Sometimes, it is good to dig in. Wisdom is needed in such situations.
  4. Seek points of agreement. As mentioned in skill number 2, we should seek points of agreement.  So often we agree with a person on a majority of issues, but we focus on the minority of disagreements we have with a person. To have intimacy we must fight against our cultural propensity for all or nothing thinking.  If everyone agrees on everything, someone isn't needed. Perhaps, it is in our disagreements, that we can find true intimacy. TelemedicineCover3
  5. Avoid using inflammatory words. I would think this would be obvious, but it isn't. There is never a reason to be unkind. There is never a reason to be mean. We don't have to use words that are attacking to discuss and debate our ideas. So many times, we use words that we know are designed to hurt or fan the flames of anger. To be good communicators we must resist this temptation.
  6. Understand there is a difference between hurtful and harmful words. Sometimes, we need to hear words that are hurtful but we should always attempt to avoid harmful words. Telling someone that they are engaging in an activity that needs to change can be hurtful. Attacking who someone's being is harmful. I once was talking with a woman who had been dating a man for about eight years. Her complaint was his lack of ambition and maturity. When I asked her if she ever told him about her concerns, she emphatically said no. She didn't want to hurt his feelings. But without risking hurting his feelings, how would he ever become aware of her frustrations? Most likely, in unhealthy ways.
  7. Be willing to be wrong. Again, this one seems fairly obvious to me.  Be willing, no be ok with being wrong. How else will we ever grow in our understanding of things if we are not willing and comfortable with being wrong? How do you make changes without first admitting you were wrong?
  8. Look at the bigger picture. So many people are willing to fight over things that they don't even remember a short time after the fight. We need to be people that see the bigger picture. Who do you want to be? If you're standing over the other person's grave or facing your own does the argument you're having matter? If not, why does it matter now?
  9. Expect all emotions in the conversation to run amok. Just plan on it. Emotions are like plastic bags caught in the wind, they often float to and fro throughout numerous conversations.
  10. Verify your information. Please make sure the information your sharing is accurate. I know this is both frustrating and hard in today's world. So much conflicting information out there and figuring out who we can trust is incredibly hard but it must be done. 

If you'd like to hear the podcast version of this, feel free to search The Joe Martino Show in your favorite podcast player


Those who disagree with us are not our enemies.

"Can I ask you a question?" This question about asking me a question came at the end of my session with Joshua.*

"Sure," was my quick response. Questions at the end of a session can take many forms. They can range from personal to professional sometimes circling back to a moment in the session and sometimes feeling as though they came from nowhere.

Joshua cleared his throat and asked, "Are you a Trump supporter?"

Welcome to the where did that come from category.

"What does that mean? How would that impact your therapy?"
Something of a blank face stared back at me. Well, I mean I think there is a difference between being a Republican and being a Trump supporter. He's been so mean and the things he says..."

"Well, I have a friend that is a surgeon and he's a huge Trump supporter if you needed surgery would you not want him to do it?" I asked.

"No, no I would..."

Our conversation continued.

But I was sad.

I was saddened by this conversation, not because I necessarily think Josh is wrong for asking it. I'm saddened because we've come to the place where we struggle to be friends and interact with people who think differently than we do.

Especially about politics.

We've come to the place where anyone across the aisle is not just wrong, they are evil. Don't believe me? Ask someone who supports more liberal ideology about Trump or ask someone who supports Trump about Nancy Pelosi. Find two people who disagree about the efficacy of cloth face masks or whether or not the nearly nationwide quarantine was necessary. Sooner or later one or both parties will just dismiss the other person as evil. 

Both sides will invoke their own moral superiority.  The other side just wants people to die.  Why can't the other side just be less selfish and see the value in sacrificing for the good of _____________? Depending on who is talking, you'll need to fill in that blank.

I used to think this was just the bane of my friends who were on the right. I believed this because I heard my friends on the left talk about tolerance and I naively thought they meant it.

We have simultaneously positioned ourselves as the moral and intellectual superior person in almost every debate and elevated feelings to the place of logic.

The result is the mess we have in our country when it comes to politics. And if right now, you're more interested in understanding how this post applies to those you disagree with than it does to you, you're failing this very short pop-quiz. IMG_1651

We've simultaneously tried to legislate conflict and disagreement from our society. We've failed.

We have to develop the ability to hold two things in our minds at once.  I pray that we return to being people who value questions. We need to step away from our identity politics and embrace that those who disagree with us are also people just like us.  We have to fight against our normal nature of craving certainty. Certainty is good until it becomes the thing destroying us.  There is no such thing as a life or a relationship without danger and disagreement.

Conflict and disagreement are necessary for healthy living and healthy relationships. May we actually embrace tolerance as a virtue for our living and not just something we demand of others.

By not engaging in conflict and disagreement we haven't actually solved anything, we've just allowed our muscles necessary for those endeavors to atrophy. And that atrophy is killing our society.

We have to slay the dragon of all or nothing thinking. The idea that someone must agree with 100% of the time or they are a traitor to our humanity is devouring our world. We need heroes to stand up to this pandemic. We need warriors to raise swords of truth and be willing to question the narratives being force-fed to us.

Seek out friends that disagree with you. Converse with them. While you're doing with that, look for all of the ways you agree and connect.

Our world will be better when we learn that a Trump supporter can be good friends with an Obama supporter.

So what do I tell my clients when they ask me who I support. I don't. Instead, I tell them that I support the Constitution. I evaluate Presidents from looking at their policies. I have never met a POTUS, so I have no idea what I think of them as a person. I do know what I think about their policies.

I'd like to think that I could have dinner with both Trump and Biden. And perhaps, all three of us would leave that dinner better for the interaction.

Those who disagree with you are not the enemy. That idea is the enemy.

Let us all be better.

 

*Not his real name. Nor is he the only one to ask similar questions.