What Motivates You Defines You…or is it Who?

Hidden Motives.  We all have them.  We all experience them, yet often, it is far easier to see them in others, rather than in ourselves.  I recently listened to the following podcast about the so-called “Elephant in the Brain” , that we all carry around with us, but try to ignore.  If you have the time to listen, the podcast embedded below will take you deep sea diving into the depths of brain science, selfishness, hypocrisy, norms/meta-norms, cheating, deception/self-deception, education, the evolutionary logic of conversation, social status, signaling/counter-signaling and common knowledge.  As with all learning, like you, I try to discern how to best apply these things to my everyday life and to my relationships.  After listening to this, I came away with a strong conviction to be more aware of my hidden motives and to be conscious of not just what motivates me, but Who. Here is how I got there…

At this point, where I have alluded to God with the capital W in Who, you might find it odd that I am a Jesus Follower who listens to a podcast hosted by a devout atheist, Sam Harris.  If you get to know me or read my blog, you’ll probably learn that I firmly believe that true knowledge and dare I say, true faith, is found only when we are open to listening to all the viewpoints and the vast diversity God has created.  I go out of my way not to live and learn “in a bubble” and I believe we are Better Together. That means interacting, and even loving the people, outside our respective “bubbles.”

Note this is an audio recording on YouTube.  In this episode of the Waking Up Podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robin Hanson about our hidden motives in everyday life. They discuss selfishness, hypocrisy, norms and meta-norms, cheating, deception, self-deception, education, the evolutionary logic of conversation, social status, signaling and counter-signaling, common knowledge, AI, and many other topics.

For any of you who either don’t love science or don’t have the time to listen to a podcast, just hang in there with me for a second while I attempt to set the stage. I promise we will get to the “fun stuff” soon.  In this podcast, Sam Harris and Robin Hanson discuss how our brains are wired for self-deception and the deception of others.  They share how our brain’s wiring creates the unconscious motives that “infect our venerated social institutions such as Art, School, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion.” They allege that these institutions are in many ways designed to accommodate our hidden motives, to serve covert agendas alongside their “official” ones. By extension, they describe the same for our personal relationships.

Harris and Hanson share examples of how our behavior as individuals and our expectations of society are often in conlflict, such as our wanting speed limits and wanting those to apply to everyone, in contrast to our unabashed individual want to/need for speed.  Harris asks us this very pointed question: “Why do we, who say we want speed limits, because we know it keeps us all safer, also fail to want our society to make or buy cars that cannot exceed the speed limit?” This is the elephant in our brain: the contradiction between the norms and rules we want society to have and enforce, while we simultaneously look for any opportunity and/or excuse to break them.

I’d ask anyone, reading this from a faith-based point of view, to consider just how similar this is to the concept that, while we know what God wants for us, we “all find ourselves broken and living in a broken world.” In some ways, it is truly similar and other very fundamental ways, quite different; as from their point of view, there is no God to save us from our broken selves.  In their view, only through the awareness of our “tricky biological dispositions” can we make good moral and societal decisions. You may agree with them, either way,  I think we all have something to learn from this.

Hanson and his co-author, Kevin Simler, describe our brains as having two halves.  The half that acts and the half that justifies those actions. They use the analogy of the conscious self as a sort of press secretary, continually making up good excuses for our behavior.  In this way, our press secretary creates and tells the story of our lives, trying to portray us in the best possible light for success in society.

As a further illustration of this dynamic at work, Sam Harris describes a long standing neurological finding best exemplified in patients with a split-brain procedure.  In this procedure, some of those who experience severe gran mal seizures have their corpus collasum cut.  According to scientists, in most people, the left (linguistic) side of our brain confabulates reasons for doing things, while our right brain does them, in an otherwise mindless, autonomic fashion.  In a famous experiment, they tell these patients’ right brains to get up and walk to the door, only to observe the left brain confabulate a reason for it, such as: “I wanted a Coke.”  In these experiments, the left brain keeps completing the picture based on nothing or next to no information.  The press secretary covers our actions with a made-up story. Usually, that story is one that casts us as having a reasonable motive for the action, or at least a neutral one, like any good press secratary would do.

The podcasters reassure us that we should not be dismayed, they say many motives are relevant and sometimes truly noble, but that we are easily deceived about which ones are and which ones aren’t.  They conclude better awareness of this tendency can help us make better decisions. Which brings me to my learning about the Who over the What.  Just for fun, let’s start by asking ourselves, How.  Based on all this evidence, how can we be sure the motives we think are good and pure, are truly so?  How can we be sure that, even when we are trying to serve others, what we are doing is in those others’ best interest, or at least, not slavishly always in our own? What if, we can’t discern a difference?

At one point in the podcast, there is an interesting exchange between, Harris, the devout atheist, albeit with the strong contemplative and moralistic bent, and Hanson, the incredibly, indelibly neutral scientist.  Hanson shares during one of Harris’ atheistic assertions, that he finds it interesting that all the scientific evidence suggests those with some sort of faith, which Harris may feel is the ultimate self-deception, tend to live, longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.  He insinuates (or maybe my press secretary just heard it this way?) that these people understand and gain something that those who are straining to rely only on their own understanding of the world, on a purely fact-based level, may not.

For instance, I was brought to tears by a story yesterday.  It seems that someone in our community lost their child abruptly.  That young man was working on a project before he passed with a neighbor of his.  He was nearly done and ready to share it. The day after the tragedy, not only did that neighbor show up to complete the project, he was surprised to find that young man’s friends arrived at the project site with the very same idea in mind.  Together, they will complete his unfinished work and share it with neighborhood children as the young man intended.  What were the hidden motives in that scenario? What were the neighbor and friends respective press secretaries telling them and the world?  Does any of that even matter to a mother who no longer has her child?

Which brings us to the Who.  Whether you are a believer in something or Someone greater than yourself, I submit to you that the more we learn about ourselves, the less we know whether it is all “hardware” or if there is something more. There will be disagreements on this, to be sure. From either point of view, one thing is clear, we have a choice to make.  We can choose to figure this all out on our own, focusing exclusively on the mysterious What and the perplexing How, or we can choose to be in this together with some whos.  True, I have put my faith in the big Who, and I would love for everyone to have what I have found.  Until that day, if you are not there, I implore you to choose to find some whos to work through this crazy life with.  If we are in this together, our hidden motives need not define us, nor will our press secretaries.  If we play this right, in the end, our whos and our relationship to the whos, and for some of us, The Big Who, will be the one to tell our story.


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You don’t know what I’m feeling

I recently listened to this incredible TED Radio Hour titled Decoding Our Emotions.  Like every TED Radio Hour, this one was packed with multiple views of the topic, but one really impacted me deeply.  It was the section entitled: Can we really tell how other people are feeling? and it was based on a TED talk by Lisa Feldman Barrett.  In this segment, the show’s host, Guy Raz, asks Lisa, “do emotions apply to all people universally across the board?” to which she replies, “no, they don’t.”” Here’s just one snippet of their exchange.

BARRETT: Here’s what we know. We know that there is no single objective fingerprint, single objective measure, for any emotion that holds across instances, across people, across cultures. My husband, for example, makes a full-on scowling face when he is thinking very deeply. People often will say to him, are you angry? And he’ll say, no, I’m not angry. I’m thinking. And it’s really tempting, you know, to believe that your confidence that you’re right means that you can read people beautifully. But the fact is when you perceive emotion in someone else, you’re just guessing. Is it ever possible to guess correctly? I would say of course it’s possible to guess correctly. We do it all the time.
RAZ: Except you’re guessing.

“Guessing.”  “Tempting to believe your confidence that you’re right means you can read people beautifully.”  That section left an impact on me.  I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I tend to have a pretty high opinion of my ability to read people and relate to their situations.  Those who know me would likely tell you that I am an incredibly empathetic person by nature, often too a fault.  However, it is sobering to recognize that I am merely guessing when I read and relate to people and, moreover, I am likely to be wrong much of the time!  This is incredibly humbling.  It builds awareness to learn this about myself and I would encourage you to listen, watch or read the material I have linked in this post to see if this applies to you in some way.  I would encourage you to practice being mindful of your overconfidence, as I plan to be.

After reading this or learning more, the temptation and reaction you might have could be to pull back from other people or at least shy away from trying to meet them where they are, with your newfound fear of guessing wrong.  I know that is what I thought about immediately after listening to this.  I thought about all the times I misread or misunderstood or couldn’t relate to someone, even though I thought I “nailed it.”  I thought about all the fails versus the wins and good (or close) guesses. If you are thinking of pulling back, I say that is the exact opposite of what you should do.

Please don’t forget that in the same way that we are all wired differently and have this beautiful diversity among us, we have a shared humanity as well.  We are all part of the same creation and we are intended to do life together.  We have been given these incredible brains, complicated emotions and an individual makeup that expresses all of that for a reason.  That reason is to take part and participate in the greater whole of creation.  We are not called to be a bystander, not asked to be a mere observer, we are challenged to play our part as as full and engaged partner with the other flawed, complex people we find in our community and our environment.

So, please, listen to Guy and listen to Lisa and the other incredibly brilliant people on this podcast, but do me a favor…  Don’t shy away from interacting with people and trying to relate to them.  Make your guesses, reach out in a loving, unselfish way toward those around you, knowing that you may not always get the guess right, or share the same experience, or even ever be able to share the same experience. It is worth some wrong guesses to grow together and be better together with others.  We need each other.  One last thing, when people reach out to you, and I am guilty of this all the time, try to avoid pointing out just how bad their guesses are.  Try your best to accept that they are making a bid for connection with you and find a way to share your unique experience without pushing them away.  You’ll be glad you did. (At least I’m guessing you’ll be glad.)

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I have this friend…

I have this friend.  For the sake of this blog post let’s call him “Jon Bobson.”  Jon is a pretty cool dude. People think he is smart, they say he is wise and they remark all the time about how kind he is.  Jon has even been called funny a few times!? Jon has a bunch of these folks called “followers,” not only the kind you get on social media but some of the kind we are blessed to earn in real life.  This is all very true of my friend Jon.

What is also true about Jon is that he can do some pretty dumb things, make some pretty unwise remarks and, yes you guessed it, he can be unkind at times. Jon hates when he forgets just how precious a gift it is to have people that care about him and look up to him, both around him and interacting with him on virtual venues.  He dreads most, when unwise and unkind things come out of his mouth and hurt those people.  The ironic thing is, the recipients of these things are usually the people who know Jon the best.  They are those of us that are closest to him, like me, his wife, his kids, his parents, sisters, fellow leaders and closest friends.

Does this make Jon a bad person? Of course not! It makes him human.  You see Jon has this other friend. One we have in common, lets just call him, for the sake of this blog, “Jesus.”

Our mutual friend Jesus is pretty cool.  When Jon and I screw up, he is there to help us remove our head from our butt.  He reminds us that we are fallible.  He’s this kind of father/friend hybrid that Jon and I can turn to when we mess up.  He helps us recognize that our true value and worth is neither found in those mistakes nor in the idealized, Instagram version of ourselves. He helps us remember who we were created to be.

Jon wants me to tell you about our mutual friend and they want me to tell you that it’s OK.  They want you to know that no matter how different the Instagram looks from the real life kitchen calamity, we all mess up.  We are all broken and none of us is going to get it right 100% of the time, no matter what the perfectionistic slogans say on Pinterest or Facebook.

I am thankful for both of my friends and for all of you.  The simplest way I’ve heard this said is that we need each other and we need God. In fact, my friend Jesus said that. If you see my buddy “Jon,” even if you see him in your mirror tomorrow am, let him know your rooting for him.

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Recipe for a Hallmark movie

1 part 80’s or 90’s TV star – preferably B or C list (sometimes they double this)

1 part lovely single woman who has experienced tragedy, loss and/or heartbreak (or is just profoundly misunderstood by her current boyfriend who is either completely milk toast (or just mean to waiters)

1 part dreamy or dashing single dude who works as a carpenter, farm hand or country doctor (often he is a widower or has had his heart broken)

Mix briskly with sugary sweet dialog and a healthy dash of shameless product placement (Apple I’m talking to you)

Let it rise with a chance meeting, initially they never like each other much (but you can feel the romantic tension in the air)

After it rises, swirl in some extremely minor conflict, not so thrilling story twist and/or an old curmudgeon or sweet Aunt or Uncle character from a rival 80″s or 90s TV show meddling in the couple’s affairs

Bake it into a formulaic, completely predictably plot

After cooling, ice it with some flashbacks or clips of the torn and / or perplexed would be lovers anguishing over the temporary breakup/fight/contrived conflict

Serve with a happy and equally syrupy ending where they kiss/get married/ride off into the sunset while the uncle / aunt character cheers them on

This dish is best served with a compliment of Hallmark commercials that make you ball your eyes out even though you are a grown man and are only watching because you got sucked in by committing the crime of walking by the TV/laying in bed trying to go to sleep and/or wanting to spend time with your wife
Bon Apetit!!!

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The MACRO impact of micro (?)

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

We live in a world where there are stark examples in the news of people hurting others both physically and emotionally.  This happens in our day to day lives as well, where people hurt each other both overtly, through violence or emotional abuse, or in other, less obvious ways.  Have you ever taken time to think that, perhaps, the cumulative effect of the small hurts may be just as impactful as the ones that make the news or that fill our personal stories of pain? If that is the case, what if there was an antidote for these micro-hurts, an ointment for these tiny little cuts? What if it did not involve merely raising awareness or becoming more politically correct, but instead prescribed that the answer to our cumulative “micro-pain” is as simple as micro-healing though tiny acts of love?  Is it possible that the solution to our cumulative “micro-hurts” is “micro-love”? More boldly, what if the answer to the more obvious and blatant hurt and pain we see in the news and in our personal lives, does not require some grand governmental intervention or super savvy technocratic plan, but that same “micro-love” solution applied in a macro way?  Continue reading “The MACRO impact of micro (?)”

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Stuck? Lift the needle on the broken record in your head!

I feel like I received a gift when my sons took an interest in my music. You can imagine that I was even more thrilled when, for Christmas, my youngest son wanted vinyl and a record player! I recall an interesting moment, just before he received said record player when I was trying to describe the notion of what scratched and worn records do.  I told him: “They skip son, they repeat son, they make awful, mind-shattering noises son, especially when you don’t treat the record right.”  This is true with our minds as much as it is with a wax disc.  Our memories, thought patterns and habits are not unlike the tracks on a record.  Pain, heartache, and disappointment are like the scars and scratches across the grooves on an old record  If we don’t take care to treat our minds right…if we don’t wipe the dust off of them…if we don’t gingerly place the needle down, we get worn, marred and torn valleys we can’t easily escape from. Perhaps more importantly than avoiding the creation of those scratches, we too often forget to pick the needle up when it gets stuck and starts repeating. A stuck needle makes an awful noise, and if we are not careful, we can find ourselves listening to the same lyric on repeat, just like a broken record.   Continue reading “Stuck? Lift the needle on the broken record in your head!”

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We get to…

I’ve been reflecting on the words of one of my CEOs a great deal in recent weeks: “We get to change.” I’d credit him by name, but I do my best not to call out the details of my “day job” in this blog. That job and my other paid and unpaid occupations, like this blog, are, sadly, required to be distinctly separate endeavors. That said, let me just share that the man is incredibly inspiring and engaging. In fact, he is ushering us through a monumental period of change with an admirable cocktail of guts and skill.

The brevity of that mantra and the substitution of the words “get to” for “have to” or “must” evokes anticipation, engagement and action. That is what he intends and that, coincidentally(?), is also what we are called to do with our own lives. We “get to” engage. We “get to” be excited. We “get to” be who we were born to be. If you are a believer, like me, you believe you “get to” be who you were created to be.

I had a great weekend of reminders about this. I attended the celebration of life of a 91 year old veteran who understood what it was like to “get to” be alive and to “get to” be him. I laughed and cried as I heard stories of how he fully lived out his life, relishing it, caring for those around him and squeezing the juice out of every spontaneous moment. My, more than equally inspirational and engaging, pastor reminded us of this as well, this past Sunday, when she spoke of how we are each just as much a miraculous and unique creation as the heavenly and natural objects that we stand in awe of each and every day.

So yes we “get to” change AND we “get to” be who we were created to be. Those two things are not mutually exclusive by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if you or your organization are going to embrace change or even ride the waves of change – you must bring your entire self to the table to do it. That means you need to step back, in the midst of change, and take stock of yourself. Are you being true to your calling? Are you fully realizing all your gifts and talents? Are you bringing your whole self to every endeavor, every project, every conversation and every relationship? Are you languishing in who you “have to” be or are you truly maximizing who you are? I challenge you, today, to stop wasting time being who you have to be and instead realize who you were created to be…get out there and be who you “get to” be.

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Surviving change without going ape

How many times have we left for work, fully intending to play the part of the ever-composed, quietly observant, always benevolent Jane Goodhall, only to find ourselves at the end of the day, flinging feces at our teammates in a primitive display of dominance and one-upmanship?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”― Jane Goodall

Continue reading “Surviving change without going ape”

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Out of the loop and in the loop – a leader’s conundrum.

I’m out of the loop! No one ever tells me anything!  Why do they keep everything so close to the vest?  How come they don’t share with us?  I want to help make a decision about my destiny, why can’t I be included?

These are all words I hear myself saying about leaders.  These are also words I hear people saying about me as a leader and various leadership teams I am a part of.  I am on both sides (all sides?) of this leadership conundrum around engagement and communication.

Where is the sweet spot? The truth is, I am not sure there is one? I can tell you this.  I know how I feel when I am out of the loop.  When I discover that leaders have information that they chose not to share with me, that could have helped me do my  job better or helped me, my team or organization gain credibility in front of a client, community or family member: I am hurt.  I feel disconnected.  I feel betrayed.  Continue reading “Out of the loop and in the loop – a leader’s conundrum.”

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Do we become the bully after the bullies are all gone?

I remember the dread of waking up in the morning before school, knowing I was going to have to get myself ready and face my tormentors at the bus stop.  I also remember not being so thrilled that, after I got to school, I’d probably face some additional bullies at the school itself.  Then when I got home, the neighborhood might have a couple I would need to deal with as I went out to play with my friends.  For that matter, home might be kind of interesting too, depending on the day, the mood and whether or not my family was going to take our frustrations out on each other or not. This is not a story about those bullies, they are all since long vanquished. This is a story about the bullies we become after all those bullies are gone.

I have this habit of waking up at 3am.  I try my best not to get out of bed and disturb my incredible wife or picture perfect house or (my now adult) children.  Instead, I mostly lie in bed reviewing.  Sometimes these reviews are good ones, a highlight reel of sorts, but all too often, my brain has this tendency to wake up in full-on bully mode.  It’s waiting for me on the corner of 2:55am and 3am, just like those middle school bus stop bullies in the days when I wore hand me down, Salvation Army purchased by-the-bag, girl’s jeans to school instead of the cool Levi’s I was “supposed” to wear. My self-imposed bully is just as critical, just as bad about calling me names and pushing me around.  I might even call myself Dorky, just like they used to, as I dwell on some dumb or awkward thing I said to someone.  In the wee hours of the morning, before I ever get in my nice car and drive to my awesome job or my phenomenal church, where I have incredible co-workers and a community that loves and respects me, I can still push myself around pretty hard.  It seems I learned my childhood lessons well.  I can pick myself apart and attack all my weaknesses just as well as anyone in my neighborhood, bus stop or household used to.  It turns out I’m pretty good at this bullying stuff!

Before I learned how to accept the forgiveness and Grace that is available to us all, if we just ask for it, this 3am ritual was a sort of a decades-long, sadomasochistic torture session of sorts. I would lay there and review the day or the week’s mistakes or failings, sometimes audibly gasping or wincing as they flew through my mind.  This was not incredibly productive as you might imagine, but I was cornered by the bully in my head. I felt I had to fight my way through each scenario, punching myself in the proverbial face for each mistake I made at work, or at home, taking on the full weight of every hurtful word, every missed chance to spend time with someone, every career misstep, every poorly-worded email and every word I uttered to those I loved in frustration or exhaustion.  There was no one coming to save me, there was no one to turn to.  I had to beat myself up, I had no choice.  Over time, this took a toll.  It wore me out and tore me down emotionally.  Then one day, I decided to take a different approach.  This approach was shared with me by some really incredible people I started hanging around. They actually helped me open my ears to the same message many of those closest to me had been trying to share with me for years.  I was simply too stubborn and fearful to hear it.  They taught me, no rather they showed me, what was available, at absolutely no cost.  I decided to accept that incredible gift and finally give myself the permission to be imperfect, recognizing the work had already been done for me, realizing that the bully I had become was just that- a paper tiger – a false witness.

I still wake up at 3 am often, just like I did this am.  I’m sorry to tell you, the bully is still there.  He still tries to punch and taunt and cajole me into making myself small and weak and insignificant. He likes to tell me I am not a unique and valued masterwork.  I am not a child who is loved unconditionally.  Nowadays, most of the time, even if he lands a right hook or two, I don’t fall into the trap for long.  As he came for me this morning, I turned to the One who defeats all bullies. I let Him take it all on for me. I observed the fight more like a spectator than a participant.  I took away the lessons learned, but not the bruises, not the pain and none of the scars.

Historical bus stop bullies or not, we all have this tendency to be our own bully.  The question you have to ask yourself is.  How long are you going to take it, before you say you’ve had enough?

Featured photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash


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Be a Leader of Leaders

One of the most profound things I have learned in recent years is that the most effective leadership posture I can assume is to strive to be a relentless servant leader who spends his time building into other leaders. This may seem intuitive, but many of us drive so hard to achieve and make a personal, distinctive mark that we fail to focus on this most important aspect of leadership (especially as we are “coming up” in our chosen field or business.)

Admittedly, I still consider myself a novice who struggles daily with the tensions this new posture creates. For instance, as you serve others, and try to put them ahead of yourself, you may find you have to act more humbly. You may even find your ego bruised. You may find that others get credit for ideas you have shared with them. One of the greatest tensions is seeing others promoted or move on to a position you were interested in or thought you should have been considered for. These are the tensions and the risks that you take if you truly embrace this posture and practice this competency. This is especially challenging as you begin to practice leadership this way. Stick with it, over time, you will begin to see other results as well. You will notice a peace that you can’t quite describe that comes from serving others. You will notice that the level of respect you gain from those you lead, coach and respect increases. You will experience the relief that comes from seeing the world through the lens of people lifting each other up versus competing and tearing each other down. I love what Nelson Mendela said about this:

“It is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. ” Mendela

I can share, unequivocally, that when you watch a leader you are serving, grow and achieve, and you have had the opportunity to be a small part of that success, the rewards are indescribable. Astonishingly, they are greater than the awards, at-a-boys and accolades you earn for yourself. Beyond mere personal gratification, your profession, calling or business gains the ability to improve exponentially. This is where this practice is not counterintuitive at all. Alone you can only achieve so much, but building up and supporting others, so they can also build into the people around them, creates a symphony of productivity and engagement that you could never acheive as a solo artist.

Consider how you can spend more time building into other leaders. To put this competency into overdrive seek out coaching to get an assessment of where you are on this skill and how you can improve. Whether you choose to work on this on your own or with help, you won’t regret the investment.

Collage Leadership

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Embrace the Contrarians in Your Midst

Contrarian: Urban dictionary definition

Someone who automatically tends to take the opposite point of view from the person to whom they’re speaking, or to disagree with society at large out of a sort of knee-jerk reflex.

I love these examples the Urban Dictionary gives for one of their definitions of a contrarian.  This definition, and these examples, fittingly, the first one that came up in my search, fit the myriad of contrarians in my life to a tee.

Here are the examples the Urban Dictionary folks give:

Friend: I’ve got some ice cream, you want vanilla or chocolate?
Contrarian: Um, do you have strawberry?
Friend: I love indie rock, you heard of these guys?
Contrarian: Yeah, but they’re not really that indie, though.
Friend: I guess you’re too contrary to vote Democrat or Republican, right? So, what, Libertarian? Green Party? …Socialist Party?
Contrarian: Of course not, I don’t think that any formal political party is a suitable representation of an individual’s views.
Friend: *sigh*

Having contrarians in your daily life, at your dinner table, in your workplace, and in your community organization can be maddening at times.  If you recognize this definition or these examples and you can start rattling off names, you are in good company my friend.  However, have you ever taken a step back from the hair pulling, head shaking and frustration to really appreciate these creatures?  Have you thought what life would be like without them?  I have.

In a world devoid of contrarians, the world would lose a great deal of its color and its contrast.  We would all be so damn agreeable and self-effacing or just plain ambivalent that we might just fade away into the gray nothingness of our own ceaseless accommodation to each other and to society (ever seen the movie Wall-e?).  In a world devoid of contrarians, where we don’t have people who take the opposing viewpoint, seemingly just for the sake of taking it, who would force us to challenge our assumptions and biases?  In this deceptively blissful world, where we all strive to make our children comply, which kid would show our kids what it is like to joyfully and blissfully flout all the playground norms and try daring and brave things?  How exactly, would we be forced to understand and reflect upon how we are being taken advantage of by institutions or people around us? Would everyone simply order only what was described on the menu with no variations? Who would tell us we are being cheated out of our God-given rights and freedoms or our 39.5278 cents? Who would remind us we are living in a bubble of “passionate” agreeability?

I could give you endless examples of the ways that a world without these folks would be less vibrant, less meaningful and just plain boring, but if I’ve done my job, you are already thinking of the ways the contrarians in your life have pushed you out of your comfort zone.  If I’ve made you reflect on what life would be like without the contrarians you know and love, you already see a world where you don’t want to live. A world where you would likely fail to thrive and grow.

My advice to you is the same thing I’ve been coaching myself to do.  Especially when I am ready to lose my mind over something they say or do or I feel somehow injured by these people (this is typically only due to my own frailties, i.e. I can’t always handle the truth, ala A Few Good Men.) I advise you to learn to appreciate these people.  Learn from them.  You are not going to agree with them (much of the time).  I do not think that is the point of their existence anyway.  I think they are there to make us stretch.  They are there to make us see life from another point of view.  They are there, simply, to make us better.

Thank you, contrarians, in my life.  I am sure you will disagree with the way I wrote this article, some or all of my thoughts and opinions, or maybe even say it makes absolutely no sense to you, but that is not the takeaway.  The takeaway is: thank you for being you, keep doing that (as if anyone could stop you) and I love you.


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Thinking of adding things in 2018? Add depth to existing or new relationships.

Dunbar’s number is on my mind these days.  Some of you may have heard about it, it is the maximum number of relationships our minds are said to be designed to manage: 150.  Robin Dunbar proposed the following well-studied, tested and scientifically validated principle many years ago, that postulates that our social capital and mental capacity limit the number of friendships we can hold at any given time. His theory expands to talk about the number of very intimate relationships we can hold: 3-7 and the number of close relationships we can maintain: in the 12-16 range.  Here is a great visual I found on the web at soulcafeblog.com.

friends_dunbarI’ve been reading a book called Scale by Geoffrey West and in that book, he devotes a good deal of time and space to this concept because his book is all about how there are underlying theories to how groups, cities, companies, organisms and the universe scale.  It is fascinating stuff, and as a man of both faith and science, I am awed by the beauty of these patterns.

As someone who is trying to grow closer to others and sprinkle as much salt and light into the world as possible before I go, I am humbled.  These numbers tell me a story.  They tell me that, although I may have 500+ friends on Facebook and I might go to work with 150,000 people and post my blog posts to the limitless expanses of the internet; my very best chance to be salt and light is in community with these 150 people.

So that brings us to New Year’s resolutions and as we each try to add new habits and new dimensions to grow ourselves, I want to offer another way to add.  Add depth. Look at these circles.  Think about who is in them.  Consider ways you can add depth and greater meaning to each of these 150 relationships.  You know you’ll have to spend more capital on those closest to you.  A bit more time, a few more deliberate attempts each week or each day to avoid taking them for granted.  Maybe, like me, you need to add more acceptance and patience into a couple of them?  Maybe it is an extra text or phone call to let them know you’re thinking about them?  Perhaps it is throwing a ball or watching a movie with someone?

Whatever it is, at whichever level of the circles you add – add depth.  Add love.  Add kindness and consideration.  Add laughter.  Add you.  Whether you are a person of faith or not, you probably know it will make the world a better place.  You probably know the people around you are craving time and attention from you.  You probably know you will be better in 2018, and beyond, for the effort.


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I Was You

Video Testimonial : Ashley Ridge Church Testimonial

My Pastor Jenn Williams first posted this on her Word Press Blog some years ago:

“I was you”

I was you

You wouldn’t know it now

My brand has changed

What you see now is “The Church guy”

The “Christian guy”

It is hilarious to me, that when I meet you…

You think I am “one of them”

I used to sit in the back

Hoping no one would notice

Hoping no one would talk to me

It was safe back there

Before I ever prayed in a circle

I prayed my wife wouldn’t make me go

Make me go to church

Make me sit through “their stuff”

I was the “Agnostic guy”

I shined my adamantium, agnostic, armor with pride

I looked down upon people I now love so deeply

Felt sorry for their need for “magic solutions”

My old brand was just fine

Only it wasn’t fine at all

I was carrying way too much of “my stuff”

Like a poison that “stuff” leaked out

It was slowly killing me

It was hurting those around me

I thought I could do it all

I thought I needed no God

Slowly, they started to chip away at the armor

Nothing spectacular

They showed me their brand

Like a relentless jingle

Their openness, love and gentle prodding

Got stuck in my head

And before I knew it I wanted “it”

At first, I turned down many invitations

I fake smiled and shook hands with many folks

Mysteriously, at some point, I started to say yes

I said yes I will go try this, I will go do that

Yes, I will go learn something there

As I started to say yes, the brand only shined clearer

I started to see glimpses of a different way to be

Glimpses of a different me

All my stuff came crashing in on the old me

I asked that He take my stuff

I was so tired of carrying it

So tired of hurting and hurting others

I wanted to Love, unconditionally

The way I was loved

The way their brand taught me to love

The brand they were showing me was Jesus

It is now my brand and people see it

I still feel like an imposter some days

Some days maybe I am?

Most days, I am just grateful

Grateful that the jingle got stuck in my head

And Jesus changed my heart

(click the link below to see the full post as it originally appeared in my Pastor Jenn William’s blog- She is an inspiring leader, a talented writer, an even more amazing person. She, along with my family, helped inspire me to begin writing again)

Continue reading “I Was You”

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