Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Recently on the Sunday morning news shows they did what they do best—provoke opposing sides to debate and argue the latest political crises and accompanying drama.  On one particular show, Side A pointed to a recent report that described outcomes of an event with which supporters of Side B disagreed.  The selected spokesperson of Side B immediately branded the report a “load of crap” and later, “a pile of garbage.”  Such eloquent and stirring articulation from a national leader but that’s a topic for another day!  Later the same day I read an editorial regarding the young woman who traveled to Oregon where she legally received, from a physician, a lethal amount of medication which would end her struggle with terminal cancer.  The author of the editorial denounced this young woman’s action as doing God’s work and missing out on the lessons to be learned while enduring an extended and painful death.

While doing extensive work the past few years in the area of social norms marketing, we witnessed a number of cerebral gymnastics in which individuals and institutions engaged to maintain a certain opinion or position, regardless of what data may actually show.  One of the most challenging and frustrating processes utilized to hang on to a particular view, in lieu of contradicting evidence, is referred to as inferred justification.  This sociological phenomenon is described by scholars as a backward chain of reasoning whereby one assumes a stanch position, and then looks for evidence—accurate or inaccurate may not matter—to justify the position (Prasad  Other scholars refer to this practice as motivated reasoning, i.e. an individual is motivated to support a pre-existing belief rather than first view the evidence, then form an opinion.  It’s the “Don’t confuse me with the facts” stance we’ve all encountered.  We often confronted this in schools where the evidence showed that the actual behavior of students was healthier than conventional wisdom might suggest.  This applied to a variety of behaviors such as alcohol and drug consumption, distracted driving habits, commitment to graduation and academic success and the rejection of bullying behavior, just to mention a few.  Community members, some teachers and staff, among others, disbelieved the data in an effort to hang onto and justify pre-conceived beliefs about young people.  As Paul Simon sang, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

What’s the intended or unintended consequence of inferred justification?  Certainly it squelches healthy debates and dialogue about any number of crucial topics facing us as families, churches, schools, businesses and governmental agencies.  One Congressional leader stated on national television that he was so opposed to the concept of C that he couldn’t/wouldn’t even say the word.  Compromise was the word he fiercely refused to say.  Remember Henry Clay?  He was highlighted as the Great Compromiser in my junior high school history book!  The ability and willingness to seek out areas of agreement rather than proclaim differences was an attribute at one time.  In our particular work in schools, relinquishing an inferred justification opinion about the habits and behaviors of young people would require the individual to rethink already established beliefs and look at youth with a clear eye. 

The stifling of openness and our collective unwillingness to reconsider positions certainly contributes to governmental inefficiencies.  It discourages people from walking into a church because the emphasis is often on condemnation rather than grace.  It prevents educational systems from being courageous enough to elevate students’ participation to a level of shared governance. 

Sociological scholars often cite a quote made by former President Ronald Regan as an example of inferred justification:  “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much of what isn’t true.”   Try opening a meaningful conversation with that perspective!


Excerpts of this article taken from my book, Untapped Power:  How to Harness the Unbridled Power of Our Youth. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

When the “Worst Case Scenario” becomes the “Best Case Scenario”

Have you ever found yourself in a situation, seeking a solution, and you say to no one in particular, “That’s the last thing I would ever do!”  But, lo and behold, further on down the road it becomes a viable option to consider, perhaps the best one.  I suspect this happens to all of us sooner or later.

Our family finds itself in this place right now as my in-laws struggle, argue, debate, advocate, negotiate and assign various duties to each other, all with the hope and intention of making the best decision for a loved one who is rapidly requiring a greater level of care; greater than can be provided by loving and well-meaning family members.

Eighteen months ago the thought of placement in a memory-care facility evoked denial, tears, massive sadness and even anger.  “How could you ever think of doing that?”  Today the very same consideration results in emotions of peace, comfort, responsibility and reconciliation.  What changed?

I think several factors change as we reposition from worst case to best case.  The obvious one is the passage of time and the progression of the problem.  Time does not just make difficult things more difficult, it can also make things stronger.  Love grows stronger, children and flowers grow more beautiful and inventive ideas morph into realities.  But time also can see sickness overtake health and memories, once vivid with acute clarity, fade to vague generalizations.

Greater information, dispensed with accuracy, is also part of the change that must be experienced.  Better decisions can be made when true and precise knowledge is gained.  Perhaps the most helpful knowledge is the honesty of the situation which can be harsh but does not let us shy away from the inevitable.  From the cradle to the grave we make one trip up Maslow’s ladder and the return trip back down.  We begin with a need for basic biological and physiological care like security and safety and the provision of our most primitive needs to give us life.  After a journey up the ladder to experience belonging and love, a healthy self-esteem and status and, ultimately, personal growth and fulfillment, we begin our descent.  If one is fortunate enough to maintain all of one’s faculties, the achievements of loving relationships, personal satisfaction and security do not fade.  However, if that is not the case, basic safety and care-giving of the essential life needs must be the priority.

Reconciling oneself to the reality of a situation is a requirement to be able to move forward.  In the world of grief counseling, Acceptance is viewed as the final stage of successfully, albeit painfully, navigating through the grief process.  I never could “accept” Acceptance which is defined as both a favorable reception and the taking of something offered.  Emotionally this doesn’t square with me.  Instead, I’ve always found the word Reconciliation abundantly more suiting.  To reconcile means to make compatible and to re-establish.  This task seems achievable to me as it allows us to readjust to the certainty of something we cannot control, permitting the healing to re-establish our new reality.

The tears will still fall but honesty and courage can sometimes transform the worst to best.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Hi.  It's Jan and Jim has agreed to let me be a "guest blogger" this week!  Here it is and I hope someone finds it of value
"Teachers can do anything” was the reason given to me by a former Governor of Louisiana when she wanted to hire me as part of her staff.  I have often reflected on this belief which has been confirmed many times as I sat through trainings, classes and presentations.  Just because someone is an expert in his or her field or has extensive knowledge about a product or service, does NOT mean that they can present material to others effectively.  Think back to the times you sat in class conducted by a Ph.D. and it was so boring that you fell asleep or got nothing of value out of that lecture!  Remember the trainings that you were required to sit through and got very little that could be of use.  I remember the time someone told me at the beginning of a day-long presentation that if I got one strategy that I could use, it would be worth it.  That is unconscionable! 

Now, the positive aspect of this reflection is that a gifted teacher and trainer can learn anything and then present it.  Maybe it’s time that Corporate America streamlines their approach to training staff and employees by first making teachers proficient and knowledgeable about their desired processes, product presentation and service providing and then enlisting them to do trainings.  These trained professionals will surely use research-based methods and proven best practices while bonding and attaching participants to desired outcomes.  Consider this an investment that will most assuredly pay dividends!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hey—where’d this glass come from?

There are many examples in nature that we upright mammals ought to pay attention too.  The other day Jan shared the story she called The Eaglets and the Broken Glass.  It seems that, like most animal parents, mother eagles do an awesome job hatching their young, seeking out food for them, keeping them warm and protecting them in the nest.  However, the day soon arrives when it is literally time for the eaglets to leave the nest.  Eaglet-nature, being what it is, can resist this critical developmental stage and attempt to remain in the comforts of the nest.  Mother eagle nature, also being what it is, has a plan for this resistance.  When the nest becomes too comfortable and life too easy, mother eagle finds sharp sticks, pine needles, perhaps shards of glass or metal and other items in the environment that she adds to the nest, making it undeniably more uncomfortable.  Mother eagle knows this is tough love but that it is best for all.  This discomfort serves as a stimulus for the young eaglet to do what it needs to do; leave the safety and security of the nest and step off the edge that first time.    

Recently I had two confluences of life visit me that were significant.  Six weeks ago today I had open-heart surgery to repair a hole in my heart that, unknown to me, had existed since birth.  Two weeks ago I was fired, the first time that has happened since I was fourteen years old and an aspiring bus-boy at a local hotel coffee shop!  Both incidents, occurring so closely together gave me pause.

The open-heart surgery caught me completely by surprise.  As with many men my age with whom I have spoken, I was dealing with an atrial fibrillation issue that I had ignored for several years until I agreed to see a cardiologist.  I figured my A-Fib could be treated with medication and I was not particularly worried because I have been blessed with excellent health and had always enjoyed an active lifestyle.  When I was told they had discovered the nickel-sized hole and it would require surgery, I immediately scoffed but instantly realized that the doctor didn’t know me well enough to tease me.  I went from scoff to shock in record time!  Shocked yes, but almost immediately grateful that it could be repaired. Because of skillful medical personnel and praying friends and family, everything was successful and I am doing well.

The firing also caught me completely by surprise.  Ok, firing is probably too strong a word but it makes for a better story.  I was working as a mentor/tutor at our local university for student-athletes who needed a little extra moral support, encouragement and academic assistance.  For a dozen or so, I was surrogate grandpa!  I received minimal pay for the past two years but found it the most meaningful and awe-inspiring opportunity ever!  This fall, due to my surgically-impacted schedule, I was serving as a volunteer.  So when Jan, who was being compensated for her time, and I were called to the director’s office—reliving that I was 12 years old again going to see the principal—we were stunned to hear the director’s unimaginative explanation that they were “moving in a different direction.”

Here’s an interesting thing to do; count all the jobs you have held and were either paid for or expected to do because it was part of your family chores.  I can document a few more than thirty; starting at age seven driving the tractor during hay baling season, to paper routes to driving a lumber truck to janitor to selling men’s suits to school administrator and consultant.  I washed more than my share of pots and pans in college, painted houses and sold Christmas cards door-to-door.  I imagine you can click off just as many if not more.  The point is that I was accustomed to always having a job, sometimes two or three at a time, and I was accustomed to having good health.

 I believe that all work is honorable.  I agree whole-heartedly with my wise father-in-law who frequently expresses his belief that “the best self-esteem comes from a job well done!”    I’m not saying that I took good health and gainful employment for granted but when both suffered a significant blow, it caught my attention! I’m not convinced that one ever gets to an age when factors so much a part of our identity are dramatically altered, doesn’t motivate us to truly exercise our faith and beliefs or cower, complain and play ain’t-it-awful!

So I guess it’s either try and get comfortable with broken glass or stand on the edge again and take another step!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Myth that…”Change has to be hard”

Change may be difficult but it doesn’t have to be destructive if key staff understands change management principles and strategies.

This fall I’m watching several friends and colleagues endure changes within their department that unfortunately and unnecessarily are being handled poorly.  It’s beyond me that in institutions today, administrators and managers, who may or may not be leaders, embark on implementing significant changes without a basic understanding of the science of change!

In this case, the department director, (I am purposefully not using the term leader) is taking over for the previous director/leader who had elevated the services of the office to a level which was emulated and modeled- after by large numbers of peers across the country.  The effectiveness of this office brought upon it numerous awards and the director deservedly was recognized nationally. Unfortunately, this new management is undoing much of the department’s success and credibility, seemingly driven by ill-conceived and poorly constructed motivations.

A simple review of the literature illustrates proven techniques and strategies that seem basic during the process of implementing change.  Some of these include the following:

* Successful change management equals thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation;

*Consultation and education are needed at all levels of the change process;

*Employees, stakeholders and constituents should be encouraged and given the opportunity to educate management regarding what works or doesn’t work;

*Stakeholders are less likely to resist change if they feel they have an authentic voice that is valued throughout the process—change must involve people, not be imposed upon people;

*Change will represent a loss for some and an opportunity for others, effective leadership needs to recognize and be sensitive to both.

Unfortunately, traditional change management tactics rely more on animal training than understanding human psychology.  The carrot and stick are less effective than what truly motivates people—personal interest in their work, a supportive environment and fulfilling relationships with co-workers.  Bonuses, promotions and reprimands are real but yield temporary results and motivation.  Even Freud argued that all we really need is to love and be loved, and to feel productive and engaged in meaningful work!

People will support what they help create!  During times of change, the new culture that will result cannot be minimized.  Staff, constituents and customers will feel marginalized and disrespected if they do not believe they are valued.  When this is lost, it is extremely difficult, and impossible in some cases, to regain.  A true leader needs to be viewed as a “settling influence” during the uneasiness change can bring about. 

The significant difference between someone elevated to a higher position through a hierarchical process and a true influencer is the willingness and ability to listen first, show respect, build trust and then lead with proven knowledge of the task at hand.  A smart and effective leader knows how to build alliances so as to move the institution toward its mission rather than create unwieldy tasks, processes and policies simply to announce, “I’m in charge!”

Aesop captured this truism in his fable, “The North Wind and the Sun.”  The north wind and the sun decided to have a contest to determine who could make the traveler remove his cloak.  The harder the north wind blew, the more the traveler clutched his coat about him.  The sun shone brightly upon the man, gradually increasing the temperature, until he unbuttoned the coat and eventually removed it, enjoying the warmth the sun provided.  Moral:  Persuasion is more effective than Force.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BAH! Hamburger

The subject of this post is hamburgers—sort of.

Our students at the university scheduled into certain sociology classes, read a book entitled The McDonaldization of Society*.  The theme of the book deals with topics related to the standardization of production, distribution, inventory, menu and environment of many different types of goods, not just those found in the fast food industry.  However, the fast food industry is a great example because the business practices of these companies are built on the promise that, whether your Big Mac is purchased in Fort Collins, Overland Park, KS, Patterson, LA or Beijing, China, it will taste exactly the same.  Same pre-weighed piece of frozen hamburger, same spices and special sauce, same white flour bun, potatoes fried exactly the same amount of time in exactly the same oil temperature—everything exactly the same.  This business practice, like most, is driven by what the company believes its buying public wants and expects.  The same can be said of a Whopper, a cup of Starbucks coffee or a Dunkin donut.  I’m not saying this is necessarily bad because I hate to pay for a bad cup of coffee.   I’m just saying that it’s been this way in a large portion of our culture for a long time.

But I sense that things are changing.  Fortunately it appears that restaurants, charter schools, customized websites and business cards as well as the health industry and many other service providers, are all vying to gain our business by coming closer to delivering what we want and what we believe is important to fit our unique lifestyle as well as our values.   Think 5 Guys Burgers v McDonalds: at one you have to request which condiments are removed while at the other, you get to choose which to add.  There is a huge upswing in the number of food trucks available in most cities, all ready to give you more options for lunch.  Tiny houses have become so popular—another option to be considered for changing lifestyles—that there is even a TV show entitled Tiny House Nation. Competition is the driving force behind this new-found thoughtfulness toward a consumer-centric approach so enjoy the extra attention.  Last week I even received a thank-you card in the mail from my primary health provider thanking me for choosing to bring my health needs to him!  Who would’ve thunk it!  Business and customer services seem to have taken our self-absorption seriously so next time you see someone taking a ‘selfie’, thank them!  

*The McDonaldization of Society, written by George Ritzer, published by Pine Forge Press, 2008.    

Monday, August 25, 2014

Intentional Purpose

My last post on Purpose and Intentionality yielded some interesting reactions and comments from friends and readers.  One friend, roughly my age, became very animated at the topic and said, “That’s really what it’s all about—it’s why we’re here in the first place, to find our purpose!”  Another cited his recent reading of Viktor Frankl, Austrian-born neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, indicating that it was Dr. Frankl’s purpose each day to maintain his goal of surviving the horrors of the concentration camp.  A third responder interpreted the issue of purpose into a service-to-others action plan, stating that he had all he needed and believed his best offering would be in giving to and doing for others.  Some felt that living with a purpose was akin to a calling, as in a mission, while others described it as similar to a positive character trait, utilized whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

These reactions are interesting and likely quite typical of what many of us would say. However, are they representative of what others would say?  What would a Yazidi mother say her purpose in life is after a week in the Sinjar Mountains in 120 degree temperature?  What about a veteran with a TBI, a pending divorce and no prospects of a job?  Extreme but nonetheless real situations.  So it makes me wonder if what we comfortably discuss about purpose over a Starbucks coffee has other variables that must be factored in.  My friend who is grateful that he is now in a position in life to be able to dedicate time, treasure and talent to others, is certainly operating from a different purposeometer than Dr. Frankl.

Could it be that what each of us identifies as opportunities for intentional purposefulness is largely defined by factors related to our station in life?  Said another way, is our purpose determined not only by the assets we have  to give but by what we need as well?  When we dip the bucket into our well of resources, what do we pull out?  Is the bucket overflowing with cool, fresh water or is it half-full of a warm, fetid liquid?  Worse yet, does it come up empty with only dusty residue?  Our purpose, depending on our situation, may be to serve others through a service club, volunteer at church or the hospital or read to children after school.  Or our purpose may be to secure safe drinking water, find shelter and protection or try and find a second part-time job.  I think Maslow may agree that our needs impact our purpose.
However, the irony in this may be what these quests have in common; to fill some basic condition that exists within ourselves.  The major difference may be where one finds oneself on the hierarchy of need.  The need for basic security is on a different level as the need for self-actualization but both remain needs seeking fulfillment, nevertheless.  Therefore, when we awaken each morning and renew our pledge to live today with a purpose, it is related to what our needs are and our quest to satisfy them.  There is nothing perverse in quenching a personal need and committing to a purpose that may make a difference in someone else’s life at the same time, in fact, the two may be inseparably and intimately connected.  That’s why we believe it’s better to give than receive!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gonna Sell "em!

I slammed the door from the garage, still fuming, even after the 20 minute drive from the course.  I walked in and announced to no one in particular that I was going to sell my golf clubs, if fact, I might even put a ‘ FREE-TAKE ME’! sign on them and not even bother with the sale.  In her 100% Cajun style Jan said, “You know your life is good when the biggest thing you have to be upset about is your golf game!”  Now how am I going to respond to that? 

She said it in a nonjudgmental, matter-of-fact way as if she was reporting that it might rain later today or that she had filled the car with gas.  So consequentially, I couldn’t even get a good argument out of the deal, much less empathy.  As usual, it took less than five minutes of viewing the evening news to jolt me out of my self-imposed pity party and regain a perspective on what really is important.  I learned we still have politicians making stupid and mean-spirited comments, children are still suffering and in crisis in the Middle East and on our own borders and we haven’t figured out how to live up to our obligations to our returning veterans nor keep our middle class solvent.  How do a couple double (triple) bogies stack up against that? 

For some reason, the above incidents brought me back to two words; purpose and intentionality.  (Danny Webster defines purpose as an important objective to be reached while he defines intention as an act done by design.)  I’ve had an interest in writing about these two cousin words and concepts but not knowing how to do it or what to say.  I’m evidently not alone in my quandary over this concept, as evidenced by Rick Warren’s wildly popular book—still selling well a decade later—about designing our lives with an intentional purpose.  Add to that countless other publications, all lying out various recipes to attain this illusive commitment of single-mindedness.  Many people must be asking similar questions.  It seems to me that Warren’s resolve is to offer us a way to find that purpose—first and foremost in our spiritual lives, but also in our relationships with others and our obligations to the earth—and then to intentionally set out to accomplish said subject.  What’s my purpose and intention in playing golf?  To get better?  To get down on myself when I’m on the green in two, then three putt?  To be grateful that I can spend time outdoors, using all my limbs and senses and enjoying friendships?  I need to keep trying to figure that out, but more importantly, countless other topics vastly more significant.

When Miss Jan and I talk in the evening and reflect on the day that we have just been privileged to experience and share, we frequently comment on good and affirming things that happened, seemingly serendipitously. We remark about what a coincidence something was or how an occurrence was icing on the cake, but that is the crux of my issue with purpose and intention.   Accidental or unintended positive consequence may result in a “feel good” emotion for us to relish short term, but is it the best we can do?   Or do we have the insight and capacity to not entrust these phenomena to chance but instead to resolve in our hearts and minds to set out to intentionally accomplish deeds of purpose?

This is by no means an original thought.  We talk about living purposefully, paying it forward and other expressions which make the same point.  However, the difference-maker for me is to discipline myself each day to consciously remain aware of living with a purpose rather than just be stupidly grateful when I get frosting.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fear v. Belonging

Sunday morning as I watched one of the news shows, I heard an interesting discussion about the phenomenon of nationalism, not just in our country, but world-wide.  It seems that the rise in nationalism is occurring in Japan, China, France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Great Britain and Turkey, and other countries as well.  In fact, with the heightened sense of hysteria we witness, some countries’ nationalism seems to border on jingoism.

It made me think that the current immigration dilemma facing us is tied to our own reemergence of nationalism and my speculation about what is motivating the two opposing sides. I am not going to take a position about what is the right or wrong course of action but instead I find it interesting to consider what may be influencing both sides to behave the way they are.

 I recently assisted a student with research on Abraham Maslow so his hierarchy of human needs and motivation came to mind.  According to Maslow, after we satisfy our basic physiological survival needs of food, water and warmth, our second and third strongest drives are for Safety—personal, financial, health and security—and Belonging—acceptance, relationships and friends.  At the risk of oversimplifying the current situation, these two instinctive and primal forces seem to be present but are not aligned; rather they are in opposition to each other.  What happens then? Is this the proverbial irresistible force meeting the immovable object?  Maslow doesn’t offer a solution.  It’s uncomplicated to appreciate that that which is desired to be preserved will resist a loss and equally comprehendible that that which is to be attained will strive until achieved.  The common denominator for me is fear; fear of what I may lose and fear of what I may never have.

Later that morning, the pastor made a comment during his sermon that we should, “Stop assigning blame and instead be about the business of repair.  I’m not gonna wait for another program.”  This remark resonated with me.  In a world culture where the quick, cheap and easy is desired, the reality is that none of these fixes apply to the conditions confronting us.  There are political, legal and moral/humanitarian implications and decisions to be made.  Unfortunately our polarized state of affairs seems to be preventing clearer minds from forming a thoughtful consideration of options, followed by the marshalling of constructive efforts.  Is fear contributing to our myopic tolerance and understanding of each other’s motivations?    

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Leaf It To Us!

What does a grove of trees and a small mid-west community have in common?

Last week Jan and I decided to check off an item on our bucket list and see a baseball game at the College World Series in Omaha.  It was a great experience that we’ll likely do again.  What was an even greater experience, however, was something that happened incidentally.  We spent a couple days in a small community, population a little more than 1,000 inhabitants, who were enjoying their annual Swedish Festival.  Though Swedish by name, it was small-town Americana personified.  Carnival rides, funnel cakes, traditional food and music, a run/walk, street dance, the Swedish Festival had it all.  I have college friends who live and farm there and we had made arrangements to spend some time together during the Festival.

I know this community well as I spent the first nine years of my life nearby, growing up on a farm.  I also know another small rural town, just seven miles to the northeast, even more intimately as it was closer to our small country home.  I will refer to these two communities as Town 1 and Town 2.  Town 1, where the Festival was being held, is where I was born.  The hospital now serves as a Bed and Breakfast where we always stay when visiting.  Town 1 was home to our family doctor, the church we attended—including Wednesday night prayer meeting—and the bank where my family transacted business.  Town 2 was home to the school my siblings and I attended, the grocery and dry goods stores where my mother shopped, the Co-Op, creamery and car dealer and serves as the county seat.  Both towns were immensely important to the seven of us as we went about our rural lifestyle.

These two communities have many things in common: both are home to 1000+ inhabitants, surrounded by dozens of family farms that have been in operation for generations; both claim agriculture as the heart of their culture and economy; both feel loyal to their schools and teams and have enjoyed a rivalry for decades; both are experiencing similar changes and opportunities in America’s agribusiness and the migration of young people away from the farms.  One would think that there wouldn’t be a nickel’s difference between them, however, clear and vast distinctions were evident and it makes me wonder why.

Walking around the town square in Town 2, we observed easily one-third of the businesses empty, in disrepair and boarded up.  Many homes adjacent to the square were neat and tidy but far too many showed evidence of neglect with overgrown and uncared for lawns filled with weeds.  Some yards had broken-down cars sitting on blocks and rusted and forgotten bikes and wagons.  We located two taverns in Town 2, a closed pharmacy and dry goods store.  The drive-in and a gas station appeared to be the only places to eat.

 Town 1 was also laid out in a square and each store front was open for business, not just traditional businesses but trendy coffee shops and a wine bar that displayed multiple pieces of art work.  Several older buildings had lovingly been restored to their original beauty and the idea of lofts on the town square was being bandied about, though the idea of $300-400 monthly rents was thought outrageous by town folks! 

While visiting for a few days, I posed this question of community differences to several people as I was curious why two towns so alike could be so different.  The most frequent responses had to do with a shared vision of optimism, willing leadership, entrepreneurial risk-taking and engaged residents.  These traits resulted in the resources of time, treasure and talent and served as assets for sustainability and growth, leading to a new norm.  In addition, I believe the shared cultural heritage present in this town, evidenced by food, music, dance, faith and pride, counts for a great deal of the prosperous and peaceful lifestyle they appear to be enjoying.

So, back to my original question: what does a grove of trees and a small mid-west community have in common?  If the grove is Aspen trees, they have much in common.  In my home state of Colorado, fall breezes bring beauty to the mountainsides in the form of millions of brilliant quaking gold leaves.  On the surface this visual display is spectacular but below the surface the trees are even more remarkable.  While the Ponderosa and Lodge Pole pines drop their cones to guarantee new life, Aspen live together in groves which share a common root system that connects them.  Aspens live for 50-150 years and a colony in Utah is estimated to be 80,000 years old!  When older trees age and die off, young saplings have already sprung up to take their place, typically just a short distance away where they don’t have to struggle in the shade of others but benefit from direct sunlight and water.  By doing so, they ensure not only the continuation of the colony but the expansion as well.  In fact, many landscapers will discourage home-owners from transplanting Aspen because their life-span is diminished significantly when they are not able to grow within their grove of origin—they seem to do best when connected.  This interdependency expresses itself in a mutual reliance on each other.  All of them (us) are stronger than any of them ( us).  If trouble comes, perhaps in the form of a forest fire, Aspen are among the first to reemerge because they have no need to reseed themselves to begin anew, but rely instead on the common root system that is protected and nurtured underground. 

A common root system, be it among Aspen trees or members of a community, are life-giving and may be the difference- maker why some communities thrive while others whither.        

Friday, June 20, 2014

What? This Old Thing?

This morning in the locker room, I complemented a young man on his shoes.  They were a nice looking pair of grey deck shoes.  He said, “Oh thanks.  They’re Polo’s but they were only $35 at Macy’s.”  As he waved good-bye and walked away, I wondered why did he tell me they were only $35?

It’s not the first time I’ve contemplated this type of reaction because I think I do it all the time.  My wife will say, “That shirt really looks nice on you,” and I’ll respond, “I’ve had this shirt a long time, got it off the sale rack.”  My golf buddies will complement me on a nice drive and I’ll generally say something like, “Yeah, I was due to get lucky sooner or later!”  When I informed my sisters that Jan and I had booked a cruise, I hastily explained that we had free rewards flights to New Orleans, and listed all the financial discounts that made the cruise “a really good deal!”  Why do I do this?  Do you ever catch yourself doing the same thing?

The “what” of this is fairly clear to me—we devalue the complement as if, in a self-depreciating way, we don’t really deserve it and deprive the one making the favorable observation from their opportunity to do or say something positive.  The result is that neither of us benefits from the well-intended statement; I shrug it off by minimizing it (and myself), and the complementer is cheated from the positive feeling of paying a tribute to me.  Now the huge difference between Jan and me is that, when I say, “You look really fit, I can tell you’ve been working out hard,” she’ll say “Thanks!”  I wait for the disclaimer that doesn’t come.  She simply says “Thanks”, or “I appreciate that!” 

So now I’m left unable to answer the “why” of my behavior. Do I need to maintain an image of frugality and make sure everyone knows that really sharp shirt was on the sale rack?  Do I feel I will be judged by being too extravagant and irresponsible with my funds?   Do I/we just feel some vague sense of discomfort hearing something positive about ourselves, like, perhaps, we don’t warrant it? Is it a mindset incubated by depression-era parents who made me clean up every plate set before me, even when it was liver and onions?  Probably. 

I haven’t figured this out yet, but this week when I drill a 250 yard drive straight down the middle of the fairway, I’m going to smile a little and simply say “Thanks!”  I’ll change the behavior first and keep trying to figure out the inclination.  Help me out—what do you think?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

May I Help You?

This morning, in the locker room following my workout, I overheard two older men musing about the state of the world.  As aging baby-boomers tend to do, they opined about any number of things.  I paid little attention as they were discussing the demise of the service industry within our culture until one gentleman said, “Take the concierge at any hotel, for instance.  They are a dying breed because if you want a good restaurant or to find out where the museum is, all you have to do is google it.”  The use of the ‘C’ word immediately caught my attention because, if you glance again at the top of the page, you’ll see that concierge holds a place of distinction on our website and is the cornerstone to our approach to working (read serving) our clientele.

My first reaction was to jump into the conversation and defend the service industry in general and concierges in particular.  I restrained myself because one, I know the futility of arguing with old men, being one myself, and two, I realized I should pay attention to the possibility and implications of his discourse.

Several years ago, our team adopted the model of a concierge because we believed it characterized the manner in which we desired to engage our partners.  If you’ve ever used the services of a concierge, you may have experienced the process they utilize to be of service to you.  Let’s say you are seeking a good restaurant followed by some musical entertainment and you are new in town.  A good concierge will undertake four tasks that will help him/her be of service to you: Data Collection/Needs Assessment, Capacity Building, Strategic Planning and Implementation, and Evaluation and Sustainability.  You’ll get the type of food you are looking for within your price range, the reservation and taxi ride will be established within your specifications, you’ll be grateful that you knew the appropriate attire—and  carried your umbrella—and the concierge will greet at the end of the evening with, “How was your meal?”

One of the 60’s-something was explaining to the other how technology and the internet had “flattened” out the world and, while information may be available through key strokes, knowledge and meaningful experiences reside within interactions with others.  Most of us, I trust, don’t live in the movie world of HER.  Technology cannot replace connectedness.  The internet can lead us to a location but it doesn’t supply us with the richness of a relationship with others.  However, the gentleman poses a good argument as we use the ATM, check-in with our flight on a kiosk, bag our own groceries and we have been pumping our own gas for decades.  Do we need anybody for anything?  The Huffington Post reported in April of 2013 that 18% of Americans polled thought that robots/sexbots would be available by 2030 and almost 10% said they would hook-up if they could.  Lord!

I feel a little better when I look at the Concierge Approach website and reread our tagline—Data doesn’t change behavior, inspiration does!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Don't Send Your Ducks to Eagle School !

Once upon a time, deep in the forest, the animals decided they should do something meaningful to address the problems of the world.  After a couple days of committee meetings, they agreed to establish a school so that they could learn from one another, develop their talents and train to acquire new skills.

They decided to adopt a very activity-oriented curriculum that included running, climbing, swimming and flying.  They reached consensus that, to develop to their fullest potential, everyone would sign up for all the classes and not just those that seemed interesting or those they thought they might be good at.

The first course offered was swimming and the ducks, of course, were excellent in class, better, in fact, than the instructors.  They did ok when the flying course was offered, however, they were a little clumsy and could not achieve the speed or display the grace of the hawks.  The ducks made passing grades in flying but did not perform up to standards when they had to take running and climbing class.  Because they ran and climbed so slowly and in an awkward manner, they were required to stay after school and put in extra work.  All this excessive running caused their webbed feet to be so badly worn that, when they got back in the water, they were only average swimmers.  Other animals thought that average was ok but the ducks were now very frustrated about their swimming, climbing and running grades.

The rabbits signed up for running classes first and, in a short amount of time, they proved to be far and away the leaders, scoring the best grades.  However, when they lined up for swimming class, many of them exhibited symptoms of anxiety.  Some of them developed stomachaches and didn’t come back on the second day of classes.  Others complained of leg cramps because it was difficult for them to keep their legs moving correctly with all that wet fur.  It was all they could do at times to keep from sinking.  Needless to say, all the rabbits got Fs in flying class.

The squirrels were very excited on the day that climbing was on the agenda.  But when that ended, they were extremely frustrated with the flying instructor who insisted that they start from the ground up rather than their preference to start from the tree tops down, where they thought they at least had a chance.  In fact, the parents of the young squirrels considered taking them out of classes altogether.  Like the rabbits, they were pretty good at running, though they only ran for short distances and never in a straight line.  They also weren’t crazy about swimming and skipped class whenever they could.

Several of the other animals didn’t participate or perform very well in the classes.  Nobody wanted to be around the snakes so everyone was relieved when they didn’t show up to register for class.  The butterflies were challenging because they couldn’t stay focused and just fluttered around all day in some arbitrary flight pattern.  The raccoons and bats at first didn’t even know about the school and, when they inquired about night classes, they were told they weren’t available.

With all these difficulties, the eagles proved to be the biggest problem because they did not want to conform to any of the curriculum.  Instead, they just wanted to soar above everything and everyone and they did the running, aquatics and climbing their own way, refusing all instruction.  They were actually pretty good at all the activities but lost points because they didn’t work very well as team members.

By now the school was in daily chaos with everyone frustrated.  Some stopped coming to school altogether while others came just to socialize but didn’t try very hard.  The foxes decided to withdraw their kits completely and "den-school" them.  No one felt very successful or useful; what had started out as a great idea had deteriorated into ineffectiveness.

Finally, the owl, who had been observing all of this from his branch high above the school, flew down with a recommendation.  He said he thought the idea of the school was a good one, but in his wisdom, he knew that not all the animals could be good at all the same things.  He encouraged them to keep the school open but to give all the animals the chance to develop the talents they were most adept at and then let them use these talents to make their school the very best school in all the forest.

Adapted from John Maxwell and Charles Swindoll.  Embellished by Jim Campain, 5/14/14.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Making Amends

Last week I was speaking with a mental health provider on our campus and he told me about a conversation he was having with a student and the topic turned to the exercise of making amends to those we have offended.  Most of us will initially associate the making of amends with AA.  Step # 8 of AA says--Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.  We were talking about this in relationship to young people we have worked with and the surprising and disappointingly high number of them who had no awareness of this concept.  It wasn’t as if they were opposed to it, rather our reaction was generated by their bewilderment of what it meant.  Many have simply indicated that it was a notion that was foreign to them.

 I used to work with a child psychiatrist whose mantra was “there are many things that must be learned but often are not taught.”  The making of amends fits this category.  Making amends is the restoration of justice in relationships that our behavior may have broken or damaged.  It is stronger than an apology but that simple act is a good place to begin.  However, it is unlikely that I will apologize if I first haven’t been taught empathy.  And it seems that too many people have grown up subjected to a scolding, punishment, shaming and mistreatment for a behavioral deed but have not been exposed to the redemptive experience of making amends.  They get tough instead of tender-hearted.  Making amends is actually a tremendously freeing experience.  It allows us to be accountable and responsible and then move on.  Guilt is an emotion associated with doing something wrong or making a mistake, but shame makes us feel like we are the mistake.  If we get stuck there, it can taint our interactions with others and stymie development.     

Friday, April 25, 2014

Do Unto Others

The week in April that contains the twentieth day is frequently approached with some apprehension.  Those of us in Colorado are automatically reminded of the tragedy bestowed on the student body, staff and parents of Columbine High School in 1999.  Oklahoma residents recall April 20th as the day of horror following the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.  Perpetrators of both atrocities referenced Adolph Hitler’s birthday, also April 20th.  This particular April 20th was additionally unique because our populace had to make a decision to attend Easter services or a 4/20 celebration.

I would like to counter those dark memories and images with another one that takes place two days later on April 22nd.  This year on that date we were able to recognize the tenth anniversary of the death of U.S. Army Specialist Pat Tillman.  A few years ago, Jan and I had the opportunity to work with a group of students at Leland High School in San Jose, CA, Pat Tillman’s alma mater.  I learned about April 22nd, 2004, when Specialist Tillman was killed by friendly fire while on patrol in Afghanistan.   Readers likely remember his decision to serve our country when he walked away from a seven figure pay check from the NFL Arizona Cardinals and volunteered to serve in the Army.   Tillman’s enlistment was directly related to the Nov. 11th attack on the twin towers in NYC and, while he avoided the limelight for his decision, he did make clear the connection between the attack and his intention to aid his country.

So it is the example of Specialist Tillman that brings me to this realization:  service to others is something we all have the capacity to perform if we look around and make the commitment to offset the too-many examples of disservice we witness all around us.  Many of you know I have one of the most rewarding jobs on earth because I get to work in a supportive role with college students who are also Division 1 athletes.  I have been able to build a special bond with one of my students who confided in me that he feels he has had to struggle every day of his life.  He grew up in a tough inner city neighborhood, one of several children raised by a single mother.  He attended under-funded schools, spent years in foster care and experienced the juvenile justice system.  His desire to belong and fit in led him to run with a gang.  He acknowledges that he caused more than his share of trouble and that there were days that he didn’t think he would live as long as he has.  He never dreamed of attending college on an athletic scholarship.   

I have to laugh when he tells me how and when life started to turn around for him; “There I was, sitting in detention study hall when this teacher came up to me and said she needed to see me in the hall.  Oh Lord, what did I do now?” he recalls.  Turns out this teacher had attended a freshman football game in which he played and had taken several photographs of him in action.  She simply wanted to give the photos to him and let him know she had come to watch him play.  My young friend recalls, with a tear in his eye and a catch in his voice, that he can absolutely point to that day and that measure of acknowledgement shown by that teacher through the simple act of giving a few photos, life changed for him.  She said through her action that I recognize you, I value you enough to do this for you, and others care about you.  Her service to her students did not end at the classroom door.  It was not limited to handing out assignments, reading tests and term papers and recording grades.   She served him, and I’m sure other students as well, by conveying a clear message that you are not invisible, I see you!  Today my student is nearing a degree in social work with plans to return to his neighborhood following graduation and return service to others.  To do unto others……

The apprehension with which we approach the third week in April doesn’t have to continue, not if we replace it with images and examples of service demonstrated by Mr. Tillman, an anonymous high school teacher and countless others who everyday add another layer of positiveness to someone we encounter.
(Details of student’s experiences used with permission.)  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Just Fix It!

We’ve had a lot of interesting conversations and comments as a result of the last post about Jack and his football game in the park.  A few people didn’t like the direction they thought I was heading but the overwhelming majority agreed with the point I was trying to make.  Almost everyone reflected back on a time in their own childhood when they had to rely on themselves to get out of a tight spot.  That was my very point: what if you look in the personal resource cupboard and it’s empty?

This dilemma was made clear to us a while back as we deal daily with college students and together, found ourselves struggling through a cold and prolonged winter season.  Typically in Colorado, once it snows you find ways to enjoy it, and then wait a day or two until it is sunny and melted.  This year, however, reminds me of my ten winters in Chicago when the snow turns black and stays with you until April.  Some of our students from the South struggle with the realities of winter more than the natives.  A few weeks back, when one particular student found that his car did not want to run in -11 degree temperature, he decided to shut it down for the day.  Only problem was, the rest of the city and University continued to function, almost normally, just slightly delayed.  Once that first decision was made to shut it down, a number of other decisions occurred de facto.  Tutoring sessions failed to occur, assignments were delayed, appointments with coaches and trainers went unattended and classes were missed.  All in all, a huge waste of a day.

The following morning when the student was forced to face the decision which triggered so many others, he responded that his car would not start and assumed that all affected would simply shake their heads and immediately understand.  Not the case! His life just became infinitely more complicated.  Unlike Jack, this student either found nothing in his cupboard or chose not to use other resources at his disposal.  Why?  I don’t know.  He struggled to convince others with his explanation but it did not stand up as scores of his fellow students had figured out how to navigate through a particularly nasty day.  Did he stumble on the first obstacle that appeared in his path?  Was he a little short on the resiliency trait?  Had others always problem-solved for him?  Was it difficult for him to identify alternative options that would let him still get from point A to point B?  Is he perhaps a grown-up Jack who wasn’t given the opportunity to figure out how to get his football back?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

David Schools Goliath

Who isn’t familiar with the story of David and Goliath?  In his most recent book, “David and Goliath” (Little, Brown and Company 2013), Malcolm Gladwell does his usual masterful job of shedding fresh new insights into an old tome.  Quick review: Jewish shepherd boy David slays the Philistine giant Goliath by cutting off his head after rendering him helpless with a stone to the forehead.  ESPN Sports Center might use it as their lead story with a tease like this:  Newcomer David KO' World Champion Goliath in First Round!

Gladwell does not detract from the Biblical account of the incident by diminishing the faithfulness of David as he trusted the Israelites’ God and answered the call to face Goliath.  The stakes were huge as the victor would claim ownership over the losing nation.  When no other Israelite stepped forward to do battle, a shepherd boy who was only there because he was delivering food to his brothers, volunteered.  King Saul objected, viewing David’s lack of battle-tested experience as making him an unacceptable opponent.  But David persisted, referring to his resume which included killing a lion and a bear, claiming that he had already defeated tougher adversaries than the giant.  The rest is history.

Gladwell enhances the story by interjecting some ancient military history that I was unaware of.  Historians point out that battles in those times were fought with three tactical approaches: the use of the army’s cavalry, infantry and artillery.  Goliath was in the Philistine infantry.  Had David been in the Israeli army, he would have been in the artillery, which consisted of archers and slingers.  David was an expert slinger, hence he had been able to slay both a lion and bear with his sling and stones.  Archers and slingers were valuable because they could fight from a distance.  When Goliath challenged the Israelites to meet him on the field of combat, he anticipated that another infantryman would be sent out to meet him one-on-one, in which case, the giant was an overwhelming favorite.  David, rejecting King Saul’s offer of his own shield, armor and spear, opted to fight on his terms, utilizing his strength as an accomplished slinger. 

For the past several years, we have been encouraging school administrators and teachers to implement prevention and school improvement strategies which make more effective use of students.  You can visualize this transformation as switching seats in a car; moving the student from the back seat to the driver’s seat while the adult is helpfully nearby in the passenger seat.  To be honest, it has been frustrating at times to get a willingness from the adults in charge to consider a new paradigm when it comes to recognizing and utilizing the organic influence that youth possess.   Consider these facts: students comprise roughly 90% of the individuals that populate a typical campus and represent 1/3 of the stakeholders in a school, the other two-thirds made up of parent groups and school employees.  Yet even with these metrics, they are grossly underrepresented while arguably possessing the greatest amount of influence upon each other.  Ever see a student- influencer raise an eyebrow or offer a smirk or chuckle during the Principal’s intercom explanation of the new cell phone policy?  Other students notice it; who do you think carries the greater influence?  Our experience is that students are in the best position to understand the real issues that impact school climate and culture and are capable of implementing campaigns that truly make a difference, yet they are rarely given an authentic seat at the table.

The case of David exemplifies our claim:

*David was uninterested in trying the tired old solutions of past battles.  He rejected King Saul’s armor and knew that this old ploy would be unsuccessful against Goliath;

* David was not looked upon as a “traditional” leader, due in part to his youthfulness and his station in life.  However, he had skills and talents that had gone unrecognized until he had the opportunity to use them.  Don’t forget, he went on to become one of the Israelites’ greatest kings.

*He was confident that his tactic would secure a victory because he knew the conditions and environment in which the battle would be fought (think lion and bear);

*He realized that something different needed to be tried and that if the same old—same old was employed again, the same (unsuccessful) results would be fretted over.

David possessed what we call the” ultimate renewable energy source” of youth!  He was self-assured, confident and undeterred by the negativism of the adults around him.  He felt “called” to do this work, similar to the testimonials we have heard from countless youth when given the opportunity to be game-changers in the challenges related to school climate and culture.  We can learn a lot from this humble shepherd boy and we can use this Bible story to challenge ourselves to think innovatively and try some new tactics on some old problems.

The next time one sets out to address school climate and culture issues, we encourage all to creatively engage students who are tasked with carrying our old tools of change to listen, hear and recognize the assets that may be hiding in plain sight!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Expecting Outcomes Before Skills are Built

Jim is always reminding us that there are many things that need to be learned but often aren't taught.  We expect our students to be able accomplish tasks like advocating for themselves by talking to teachers and professors, we want them to be wise with their money, we want them to be able to manage their time, etc.  Let's face it!  Many people were never taught the skills and behaviors involved to be able to accomplish these outcomes.  We quickly realized that we can never just assume all students learned to actually accomplish these tasks and we find ourselves, more and more, immediately assessing skills before expecting positive results.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Jack Takin' Care of His Own Business

Generally I’m not a big fan of television commercials.  It frustrates me when they interrupt a favorite show or ball game.  However, some catch my attention because they have a subtle or not so subtle message embedded in them relative to issues in our culture.  Last year I wrote an article entitled “Not Your Father’s Buick”, a take-off on a General Motors commercial attempting to sell Buicks to a new generation of automobile buyers.  In the article, I made their hip and updated sales pitch analogous to what we in the education and prevention fields should be doing to increase the chance that young people will pay attention to healthy messages and approaches and hopefully internalize them.  Today’s generation doesn’t want their father’s Buick and today’s youth find that our old prevention methods and educational strategies often don’t resonate with them.  The more recent commercial that has grabbed my interest is put out by Hyundai and features an 11-12 year old boy figuring out how to get his football back from older and larger boys who challenge him to “come back when you have a team!”

The boy, with his mother driving the family van with purpose and conviction, is shown traveling throughout the neighborhood putting his friends on notice that he is need of their assistance.  They all oblige and are soon gathered in the van en route to the park and the forthcoming football game.  Once there, they all have their game-faces on and we are left to imagine (quite assuredly) that the football will be returned to the rightful owner!

There are several features that intrigue me about this commercial.  First, all of us can relate to a similar situation in life where we faced a challenge and we either were going to be up for it or we would retreat ( and likely endure countless regrets).  The boy, who is deserving of a name so let’s call him Jack, exudes body language that implies that he has been here before but this time is committed to righting a wrong that has been perpetrated upon him.  Observation #1:  Jack does not burst into tears, beg, whine or run away.  Instead he assesses the situation and says with resolve, “Ok.”

In the next scene, Jack and his mother exchange meaningful glances in the van while rounding up his crew.  Mom’s face clearly sends a message that, “This ends here, today!”  One gets the impression that this scenario may have occurred before in Jack’s life and that he and his mom have discussed it.  Observation #2:  Jack’s mom doesn’t rush out to fix Jack’s problem for him.  She does not deprive him of the opportunity to learn a life-long lesson.  Perhaps she has phoned the other boys’ parents after earlier episodes, attempting to interject a parental solution.  Maybe she and Jack had sat on the porch swing and discussed how angry that made him and what his choices were, we just don’t know.  We do know that this time she is a supportive parent doing for Jack what he can’t do for himself—drive the van. I give her credit for doing what she can to facilitate Jack handling his own business.

Observation #3:  Jack organizes, empowers and mobilizes his crew with an action plan designed to not only get his football back but to send a message that this kind of behavior will no longer be tolerated.  This is when we know we are watching television; Jack’s crew includes two weight- lifting brothers, an 11 year old welder and firefighter and another winning a wrestling match with a bear!  Granted, Jack has some powerful middle school buddies who probably aren’t afraid to mix it up a bit.  This is often how preteen boys view their friends; understanding, loyal and there for each other.  In that context, these boys agree to face a fear and solve a problem collectively that they may had previously faced individually.

Observation #4:  When Jack and friends roll out of the van, they are focused and united on the task ahead of them; they are single minded.  They have no guarantee that they will win back the football but they are committed to making every effort possible to change the culture of the park and perhaps set a new trajectory for future interactions between these dozen or so middle school students.  They are empowered by each other’s resolve and believe that they can change things.

Observation #5:  I don’t know if this commercial helped Hyundai sell more cars or not but I think it’s a cool commercial!  Granted, I take a lot of liberties in dissecting this 30 second spot.  Not all children feel strong enough to take on their fears. Not all have learned how to advocate for themselves.  Many lack friends they can turn to or have a supportive adult in their life who will be there for them in times of need.   I am not advocating an old macho model of duking it out on the playground to solve our problems.  I am not suggesting that there are not other non-physical ways for boys (as well as men and nations) to resolve differences.  However, like many aspects of our culture, public thought and conventional wisdom seems to swing from one pole to another, always seeking ways to establish harmony and lessen discourse between people. It is, nevertheless, interesting to note that some of the most active educational blogs and Linked In discussions consistently include topics related to whether or not our children are overly praised, how and why so many of our children feel entitled and if one subscribes to the “everybody gets a ribbon” mentality. 

 My fascination with this commercial, as with the work we do, is that it encourages organic solutions for many of the daily issues that stress us.  Most people, including children, have within them the capacity to cope with life, especially if a little guidance and supportive encouragement is mixed in.  Having previously been an 11 year old boy, I envision the rest of the commercial this way; a spirited game ensues, the winner and loser not as important as a new-found respect gained for each other.   Torn pants are dusted off and skinned knees wiped clean and a huge deposit of positive self-esteem is made into the psyches of each boy.