What are you living for?

Kathy was browsing in a gift shop near our home last week and struck up a conversation with the lady clerk. This is not an uncommon thing for Kathy. She has a gift of being able to connect quickly with people. This lady was originally from Columbia (South America not South Carolina) and she has been in the United States long enough to really “get” our culture.

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We are so arrogant here. We are convinced that this is where everyone in the world wants to live. We have such great opportunities to make money and it is a safe place to raise a family. These things are important and special, but they are not everything. I believe we have sacrificed some really critical things along the way. We have made choices that have warped our culture. Unconsciously, in our pursuit to be the best, we have changed the way we live, our goals, and our priorities. And I am also guilty.

The lady began to share about her family and her life back in Columbia. She aligned with Kathy’s experiences from Costa Rica. Emphasis on family, friends, relaxation, community.

She shared, “In the U.S., you live to work and back home we work to live.”

Whether intentional or not, we have placed WAY too much emphasis on work and making money. Our lives are wrapped around our work and our careers. Not the other way around. This may not be your choice. You may feel like you want to work less and live more, but can you really do it?  Can you really shift your focus away from making money?

Will you be able to pay your current bills?
Buy the things you want?
Can you really live with less?
Can you really do it?

Our culture has raised the bar on expectations so high that we run crazy hard just to try to keep up. Building bigger barns. In the meantime we have lost community. Lost our connection. Our ability to really LIVE together and enjoy life. We’ve lost our focus on taking care of each other.

Where are you?
Are you living to work or working to live?
Can we go back?  Do you know how we can get back to where we came from?
What needs to change?  What is messing us up?

Click on “Leave a Comment” and lets share ideas!

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Community Doesn’t Just Happen

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Photo Credit- Josh Jackson- CC Public Domain

One-on-one communication is on life support…

We have reached to age where we will e-mail or text someone who is just a few feet away.  We avoid the phone call because it takes longer than a quick text.  Skip the pleasantries.  Get to the point.  Get your answer.  Move on the next issue.  Right?

This is certainly great for efficiency.  You can get more done if you can quickly get the information that you need and move on.

Yes, I am guilty.  My phone message suggests you e-mail me as I am often on the road or in meetings and can’t take calls.  The phone conversation takes a commitment to set aside some time to chat.  Some time to catch up.  Some time to see how someone is doing.

We are so programmed for efficiency and our workloads have increased to a point that the conversation comes at a cost.  You will loose some time connecting with others.  You may not get as much accomplished if you take the personal route.  You may have to work harder to accomplish things if you choose to be personal instead of impersonal.  Communicating personally is a choice.  You can choose to pick up the phone or walk to their office and get your answers along with an update of how they are doing or what’s going on in their lives.

Building Community Takes Work

In order to build community you have to communicate one-on-one.  You have to engage others.  You have to share and be vulnerable.  You have to be real.  This doesn’t just happen.  It takes work.  You have to be intentional.  Here are some ways to help develop stronger community:

Be Available.  In order to connect with someone you must be available.  Leave your door open.  Make it easy to find you.  Answer your phone.  Be available for meetings or questions.  This seems simple yet our fast paced work can make this simple thing quite difficult.

Ask Questions.  Show interest in others.  Find out interests, hobbies, passions, and gifts.  At the appropriate time, ask deep questions.  Find out their story and the issues that they are struggling with.  Share things that you have in common or your struggles.  Forget what you need.  Get to what they need.

Be authentic.  Let them see who you really are.  Don’t try to impress or be cool or be the know it all.  Don’t spend your life as an actor.  You can’t connect with a phony.  You’ll be connecting with air.

Take the time.  You won’t connect with the folks around you until you commit to putting down the work and make the effort to make the connection.  Don’t make excuses.  If you are introverted, it will take effort to do this.  Yet, you must make the effort and spend your valuable time connecting with others.  You have no excuse.

Building community takes effort and a commitment.  If you are in a leadership role, you must model this for others to see.  You must schedule opportunities to connect.  You must make it mandatory to do things in a personal way.  It won’t happen unless you make it happen.  We are social beings.  We need community.  Make the effort.  You will be glad you did!

So what do you think?  Have we reached a tipping point in communication?  Do you see the connection in personal communication and community?  Click on “Leave and Comment” and tell me what you think!

 

Teach, Love, and Peace Will Follow!

This is a guest post from my friend Cristie Powers.  She has been serving the homeless, needy, and many others in her neighborhood and her circle of friends for as long as I have known her.  Cristie gets it.  She knows how important it is to serve others.  She is selfless.  She is a beautiful person.  I wish you all could spend some time with her.  I know you would agree!   

This blog is in reference to our current word of the year…. “Community”.

A word that seems to be tossed around and thrown from one ball field to the next. Which isn’t a bad thing of course because it’s a sign that people actually care about each other and about the relationships we share. However, we’ve come to a point we’re not sure if we are playing baseball or soccer. Seriously. We talk a lot of game but who is really winning here?

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The first important thing to understand is that today’s communities have become what we call cliques. Ok, now that is awesome for those who are in the cliques, but what about the rest of the world?

The word “community” derives from the Latin word “communitas” or “communis” which means all things in common.

Rather than looking at this as a small, communal, geographical area, I believe that if we are truly community driven individuals, then we need to learn how to be teachers instead of leaders. The world needs more teachers and less leaders. Instead of forming a community “clique” and stopping there, we should be encouraging everyone in those community “cliques” to spread the love and start new “community gatherings” all over the place. That is what we seek, right? We want to see a change in our world, not just our neighborhoods.

This means that instead of simply leading a community group in our own area, we should be encouraging everyone within that group to lead some other type of community group throughout the week in their own area of the world. This way the love and communal relationships are able to be spread and built stronger than ever before.

It’s extremely important to everyone around us that we lead by example. We must not get caught up in the glory of all the credit that we receive for being a community leader, but rather rejoice in knowing that we have made a greater difference around us by spreading more relationships than we can count. Even if no one else close to us knows what we have done.

Community is a great word but we need to change our way of thinking and realize that it is not defined by a small demographic area, like we once thought. If we define it this way, then our goal is not truly to change the world, but only the areas in which we live.

Now naturally things must start small, however our goal as community lovers should never stop at small. Again, this is not our ticket to fame and it doesn’t mean that we need to be this well-liked leader who people look up to (although that is important too). The first problem with this is that when there is only one man or woman carrying the weight of leadership without distributing the load the leader will become completely exhausted, which does not help anyone. The second issue is that dedicating all of this effort will begin to take time away from your own unit, which inevitably is quite contrary to the whole “community idea” that you’re trying to accomplish. It becomes vital then, to remember to teach instead of solely lead.

What would happen if every Saturday when we led that community event that we hold so dear, we reminded the whole group of the reason behind the gathering, the joy that it brings, and that each person has it in them to start something of their own wherever they go? At that point community may begin to spread its wings and begin to cover the whole world verses only hovering over our itty bitty neighborhoods. Which is what they are in the grand scheme of life.

If we can better understand the word, then I believe that we can better understand the world. It’s this “world” that is our real community and it’s the world that needs this change.

In my world there is a little homeless Asian lady who walks the neighborhood (who should never be hungry again, or be without adequate clothing, shoes or blankets because everyone in our area knows that she’s there), there’s the black man who walks up and down McDuff St. speaking gibberish, so everyone thinks that he’s lost his marbles (and who knows, maybe he has), there’s the white man who lives in a tent in Lackawanna (who turns to drugs every chance he gets because relationships have failed him), there’s the old man who rides his bike all over the city yelling as if he is pissed off at the world because he suffers from PTSD, then there’s the young man standing outside of CVS in Boulder Colorado for hours in the snowy weather probably just needing a real friend (not just a temporary conversation but a life long connection), there are the men and women sleeping in the streets of Asheville, NC in front of almost every shop downtown (every time you go for a visit to the mountains they are there), then there is the neighbor “Bobby” that walks up and hands me these flowers as I sit on the side of the road writing this blog.

What does this mean? How is this our problem? Can we fix people? Is it our fault why they are the way they are? The answer is no, probably not. But the point is we have the power in us to bring change. We have been given the authority as humans to help and to heal.

Once you make change, move on and make change somewhere new. We cannot allow ourselves to get stagnant.

Personal example: Feeding homeless in Jacksonville verses where ever we are during that time of year.

I have been serving Jacksonville’s homeless community on Christmas morning for over 12 years. Until last year that is. For some reason I no longer felt that burning passion inside to get downtown and to serve. I later realized that it was because the need had been met. I served because I knew there was a need and once I saw that other groups were beginning to serve, I realized that I was no longer needed in that area. And that is ok.

Now it’s time for me to move on to a new place where there is another need to be met. Whether I move to a different park down the road or to a different city makes no difference. The move is what’s necessary. People learned how to do what I did by watching and by wanting to make a difference. Many different people came with me throughout the years and it stirred up passion. I taught by example, but we can also teach by reminding people of what community really is (ideally these two are the same thing).

Don’t stop where you are. Keep going, keep giving, wherever you are, and see community as something that can be created by everyone and not limited to a few outgoing leaders. Keep serving and teaching others and the rest will happen…naturally!

Cristie Powers

So what do you think?  Have we have lost our desire to teach things that are important and needed?  Is our sense of community dying?  Click on “leave a comment” and tell me what you think!

Rich or Poor?

I just returned from a mission trip to Costa Rica.  This was my fifth trip to Costa Rica.  The country is full of breathtaking natural beauty.  Most folks visit Costa Rica to enjoy this beauty.  Many head to the Pacific coast to a resort, maybe surf, or enjoy the excellent offshore fishing.

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On our trip, we went to the very poor barrios surrounding San Jose in the central valley.  These areas are filled with tin covered shacks packed together on the hillside.  VERY, VERY, tough living conditions.  Most of these neighborhoods are squatter communities.  Very little in sanitation and services that we have come to expect here in the States.  It is a bit of a sensory overload visiting these barrios- lots or colors, sounds, smells and movement.  Children and dogs everywhere.  Sounds of life.  Colors cobbled together in scraps of tin and salvaged doors and building materials.

The thing that has always amazed me about Costa Rica is that the Costa Rican’s are generally very happy people.  Yes, there is strife and hardship in the poor barrios, yet even there, you will see smiles, laughter and life.  If we subjected the average American to the conditions in Costa Rica they would be miserable.

Complaining, heads down, depression.

So who is really poor?  We seem to equate the word “poor” to money.  We think that money will solve our problems.  Money can make us happy.  Right?

Well, I got news for you.  I have seen the Costa Rican’s lifestyle first hand and I believe they may actually be the rich ones.  In the US, we are slaves to our lifestyle.  We struggle to gather and save.  We strive to buy the best things.  We work ourselves to death- really– in order to sustain our wealthy lifestyle.

Results: pain, suffering, disease- AND- complaining, heads down, depression.

So how are the Costa Rican’s rich?  What makes them rich without the money. Here are a few observations:

They value their families!  We talk about having close family relationships but the Costa Rican’s do it on steroids.  Most live in the same areas their whole life.  In the US, we are transient.  We move away from our families, often, again to make more money.  Costa Rican’s care for each other when times are tough.  In the US, we often let the government take care of our families.  In Costa Rica it is common to have extended families living in the same household.  They understand what it means to be a family and to take care of our own.

They live slower!  In Costa Rica things get done when they get done.  If it takes longer they are OK with it.  This has been frustrating for me in the past working on construction project in Costa.  They don’t fret over the time.  We struggle so hard to pack it all in.  In Costa Rica, there is alway mañana (tomorrow).

They have strong community!  In even the poorest areas, the Costa Rican’s know their neighbors and understand the power of living in community together.  They take the time to stop and greet their neighbors.  They watch out for their neighbors children.  They help each other when they are sick.  In the US, most folks don’t even know their neighbors!

They let you in!  We are so guarded.  We are cautious to let anyone into our lives.  Costa Rican’s invite you into their house.  They want you to sit down and they will often bring you a drink or some food.  They are not worried about whether their house is messy or if they have something really impressive to share.  They share what they have.  They welcome in strangers.  They want you to sit down and relax.

They walk!  The streets are filled with life with sidewalks filled with people walking.  Walking leads to interaction with others.  In the ten years or so that I have been visiting Costa Rica, car ownership has grown significantly, yet walking remains a way of life.  Walking up and down mountainous steep paths and walking to shopping and visiting friends is the natural order of things.  I am sure that this exercise contributes to the longevity that Costa Rican’s enjoy.  Living a life that extends well into their 90s is not uncommon.

So my question again- are we really rich?  Seems like the things that we gather and our lifestyle may be more of a hindrance than a benefit.

Can we slow down?  

Can we dump the stuff that we end up serving?  

Can we take the time to develop community?

I’m not sure that we can go back-completely.  The genie is out of the bottle.  I can even see Costa Rica changing as we bring them added wealth and raise the expectations.  I pray that they can hold on to riches that they have!

So who is really living the rich life?  Seems like we have a lot to learn from our friends in Costa Rica!

So what do you think?  Are we as rich as we think we are?  Have you noticed the difference when you visit other cultures?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!

 

The Key

When I was a very young man I was convinced that knowledge was the key to success.  I was sure that it was “what you know” that was really important.  So, I worked very hard in school.  I really felt like learning was the key.  If I could just learn as much as possible and gain experience along the way, I would surely be very successful.  I was very driven and serious about school and also soaked in as much practical knowledge as possible.  I was absolutely sure that this was the key.  Learn and gain experience and this will be the pathway to success.

Skelton Key – Wikipedia

Once I finished college and had my initial experiences in the career world, I changed my viewpoint.  I could see the value in networking and knowing the right people.  I was sure that it was “who you know” that was really the key.  In order to excel in this area I worked hard to network and get to know as many people as possible.  I would join associations, meet and greet, and collect and organize business cards.  I watched as some of my friend’s careers skyrocketed because they simply knew the “right” people.  I was convinced that if I could just meet more people that this would be the catalyst for my pursuit of success.  Not “what you know” but “who you know” was the important component to success.

As I have matured, I have once again changed my view on this subject.  I don’t believe that the key is either of my earlier conclusions.  Although knowledge and networking are valuable and necessary at least on some level, I feel like there is one key that is even more important.  Much more important.  I now believe it is “how you know” someone.

Not “what you know” or “who you know” but-  “how you know”.

This may sound strange and certainly deserves explanation.  I truly believe that the key to success in life is the depth of your relationships and your ability to really connect with someone.  Not volume of relationships, but depth.  This is tough for those of us who want big.  We want to make the huge numerical impact.  We want the big following, the big audience, the big appearances.  We are planners and producers.  We need numbers to think that we have made an impact.  We want the stage. 

But really, the important number is ONE.  You must learn to be satisfied to impact and connect with one person at a time, and, one-on-one is the best way.  You must value that one person the same way that God does.  What is the value of one soul?  Infinite value- can’t be measured.  Priceless- just like the credit card commercial.  The same is true when you deal with everyday people.  Take it down to the true reality.  No matter who they are- they are priceless. 

The homeless man, the President, the co-worker, the sibling, the mechanic, the boss, the grocery store clerk, the landscaper- the ungrateful, the arrogant, the depressed, the unlovely. 

So how will this make you successful?  I have watched people that understand the priceless value of a person in every walk and responsibility.  Successful sales people get it.  Great managers get it.  Good parents get it.  Great friends get it.  They give you their 100% attention.  They are not afraid to show their heart.  They will go above and beyond to help you- not to help the situation or themselves- but to help you personally.  They make you feel like you are worth a million bucks (make sense now?).  These folks get it.  And they are generally wildly successful.  They draw a following.  They are always in demand.  They use this skill daily and are masters of connection.  One person at a time!

So what are you going to do about it?  I am sharing this because I struggle in this area- I am a big net guy.  So, this has not been my strength, but I am working on it.  I have personally witnessed the power that is available to anyone willing to open up and take the chance.  Are you ready?  Will you take the time to deepen your relationships in order to unlock this power?  Go ahead, get started- because now you have the key!

Is there someone that you know that has the key?  How can you help those you lead to understand this concept?  Let me know what you think!