Atticus Finch is dead…

Human rights activist Desmond Tutu once said, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”

Atticus Finch is a fictional character from the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” brought to life by Gregory Peck in the movie of the same name. Atticus was a single (widowed) father to two young children in rural Alabama in the 1930’s. Based upon the author’s father, Finch was a man of unshakeable character who did the right thing, even when the right thing was unpopular and potentially life-threatening.

Where have men like Finch gone? The malady of generational poverty and future criminal activity can be directly attributed to fathers who abandon their children. According to a study authorized by the U.S. Department of Justice, children from fatherless homes account for 63 percent of youth suicides, 90 percent of all homeless and runaways, 71 percent of high school dropouts, and…75 percent of rapists driven by displaced anger. Another study funded by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation found that children in low-income, two-parent homes outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes! Fathers matter!

But what about those of us whose fathers didn’t leave our families, but we wished they would? My father was an emotionally unavailable, angry, physically abusive cruel person. My mother played the  victim to his incapacity to be kind and decent. Where was God’s gift in my family? Every day I felt hopeless as I put on a façade everything was fine in my life, hoping no one saw through to the truth. It is nothing short of a miracle I didn’t remain angry and bitter, considering the hate, rage and pain I felt in my youth.

Before I had children, I consciously decided the generational malady of abuse would not continue. When I became a father, I was like a carpenter without tools. The only examples of good parenting I had observed were from television, and I knew life wasn’t scripted like that. I sought advice from people I believed were solid parents, read books and articles, and I took what made sense from those sources and developed my own style of parenting.

My life experiences have given me a heart for people, especially kids. We hear the term “at-risk” youth which in schools is associated with children from lower income families, yet every child is at risk. We don’t know what type of life kids go home to. Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical and emotional abuse are alive and prevalent in society. Children in dysfunctional homes feel alone, helpless and hopeless. When you feel hopeless you are at risk of losing it all.

Atticus Finch was my first, true role model. I find it odd that I look up to a fictional character, yet I am grateful I found Atticus when I did. Only through thoughtful reflection have I been able to see God’s gift to me in the family I was born into. I certainly didn’t see it when I was in the middle of the storm. Without having the background I did, I would not have developed into the person I am today, and for that I am forever grateful.

Never quit, never lose hope. Find an Atticus…

 

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Divide…And Be Conquered

In November 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the (then) Soviet Union, said of the United States, “We will take you over without ever firing a shot; we will bury you.” Was Khrushchev right? Our divisiveness is destroying us from within, and the only weapons used are Words of Mass Destruction. It does not have to be this way.

Entropy is the state of going from order to disorder. There are some things we cannot stop, such as aging, but we can stop polluting our minds with wrongful thoughts about people. I believe we can prevent the destruction of our society and show kindness and compassion to each other. It begins with willingness: We must be willing to connect with each other.

We have a heart problem in our country. We see it manifested through unthinkable acts of violence and hateful prejudice. People cry out for unity and diversity. Novel, nice ideas, but unity and diversity do not resolve the underlying problem. Here is why: unity makes us cautious to be ourselves and stand out from the unified group, while diversity just divides us further. We should strive for connectedness. Connection means we see through to the heart of others, see their true selves and not a prejudiced belief we have or the façade they want us to believe about them. Truly connecting with others resolves societal divisions political correctness feebly tries to address. Issues like racism, bigotry, hatred, persecution of others, even bullying dissolves when we connect.

My circle of friends covers the spectrum of race, religion and beliefs. I even have a friend who is a pagan worshipper (seriously, although I don’t believe she has performed a sacrificial offering. Yet)! I learn so much from my friends. We recognize and embrace our divergent backgrounds and opinions, have healthy, spirited conversations about our beliefs, yet our friendship withstands the test of conflict. Our values haven’t been attacked, nor have we compromised them for the sake of peaceful reconciliation. And we receive a gift in this: we see the world through different eyes which can only make us better and more open-minded. We connect!

Can we stop the entropy of humanity and decency? Yes, we can! And we must! Admittedly, I am eternally optimistic. Optimism is in my DNA, so this is the prism I view the world through. Being an optimist, I hold no one in judgment, so others feel free to be themselves and open up to me. My challenge to you is this: rid yourself of prejudgment of others, open your mind and your heart to alternative ways of thinking and see our beautiful world through different eyes. Who knows? You might make a connection!

 

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A Servant’s Heart…

In December, I was having a conversation with my friend Nina. I was finishing a piece I had written on leadership and was sharing the “Top Ten Characteristics of Leaders” with her. Nina said something that stuck with me. In fact, I still think about her words every day. She said, “Leaders have a servant’s heart.”

As I have thought on this since our conversation, recently it hit me that these wise words were describing the life of Jesus. Jesus came to earth in human form to show us the character of God. And, in his own words…he came to serve.

In our world today where “it’s all about me,” we have to look far and wide to find a person with the heart of a servant. We have become pathologically self-absorbed and obsessed with wealth, fame and power. People are bored with themselves and, rather than stretching and growing they focus on “The Bachelor/Bachelorette”and celebrities lives. Please don’t misunderstand me here. There is nothing wrong with accumulating wealth and influence. It’s only a problem when we deify them.

In the business world, we are deficient of leadership, too. I often wonder why intelligent, well-meaning people shy away from doing things differently than “how it’s always been done.” We are born with a creative spirit, so create! Perhaps fear and worry get in the way of exercising our creative minds. Fear and worry are learned behaviors. Anything we learned, we can unlearn.

The final act of servitude Jesus performed was washing the disciples feet. For three years his disciples had been witness to countless miracles: healing the sick, controlling the weather, casting out demons, restoring eyesight to the blind and making the lame walk again. Less than a week prior they watched Jesus restore life to a man, Lazarus, who had been dead for four days! Now, he is doing a task usually assigned to a lowly servant. What confusion the disciples must have felt.

Every miracle Jesus performed was to serve and restore others. He never did anything to benefit himself. Truly, Jesus had a servant’s heart.

In our daily lives, our interactions with others present us with opportunities to make it all about us, or to benefit others. Don’t be a Kanye or a Kardashian, lead with a servant’s heart…

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Listen to me!

When you rearrange the letters in the word ‘listen,’ you get silent. There’s a lesson here…

In 1994, I had the privilege to hear Dr. Steven Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” speak. Covey’s book had been published six years prior, and he commanded quite a following. The only habit I recall from that day is “Seek first to understand before trying to be understood.” That hit me like a tidal wave. Covey was describing the lost art of active listening. Fast forward to today and listening isn’t merely lost; listening is practically extinct!

How often do you find yourself in conversation, but instead of actively listening to your counterpart you are already thinking about what you’re going to say next? You heard them, but you didn’t listen to them.

We live in a divided world: Republicans v. Democrats; Christians v. atheists; even Christians v. Christians. People get into theological fist-fights over whose religion is the “true” religion. People waste, I mean spend so much time trying to convince others to see things their way that potential dialogue is lost. We have lost our sense of decency and decorum. Even optimists like me want to throw in the towel sometimes.

Why has it become difficult to be considerate of others with whom we may not agree? Are we so vain we believe our opinions are the only ones that matter? Relationships become fractured over differences of opinions. I don’t think it has to be this way. I believe we can find common ground and understand each other better, but we must be willing. Willing to be silent, willing to listen, and willing not to look for a reason to argue.

In the 1980’s, President Reagan and House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill couldn’t stand each other. It’s been said they hated each other. Yet the two political adversaries found a way to forge a solid working partnership which placed the needs of our country above politics and party. Both men stayed true to their values, but found common ground from which they could work. Each man realized they needed each other to save the country from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and were big enough to put aside personal differences.

When Reagan was shot, O’Neill came to Reagan’s bedside in the hospital and they prayed together. In 1986, O’Neill’s beloved Boston College decided to build a library in honor of O’Neill. A fundraising dinner was held at The Washington Hilton (where Reagan was shot) and the keynote speaker was…Ronald Reagan! Take a moment to think about that-a popular Republican President speaking at a fundraiser for a political foe. Would that, or, could that happen in 2018?

I have a theory, and it goes like this: when we engage in conversation with people with whom we disagree, we are presented with an opportunity to learn from each other; to make each other better. We grow, and our thinking is challenged and stretched. Surrounding ourselves solely with people who think and believe like us is insecurity. You are looking to affirm your beliefs by others. Be willing to let yourself be challenged. And challenge others.

So, give it a try. Be willing to really listen. You may see the world through different eyes…

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Christmas Presents! Or, Christmas Presence?

Welcome to December, the final, yet craziest month of the year! Along with our busy lives, we: methodically shop for the perfect Christmas tree; buy and wrap multitudes of gifts; mail packages across the world and worry about the bows surviving intact; plan a huge Christmas Day celebration with family and friends; and if we think about it, we might make it to church.

Commercializing Christmas is not new. In 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted. During the film, in frustration, Charlie Brown cried out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus eloquently explained the true meaning of Christmas to us and to Charlie Brown. Where has the spirit of Christmas disappeared to? Are we so deficient spiritually we believe giving and getting stuff will fill the void?

What if I suggested there is another way, a more meaningful way to celebrate and experience the Christmas season. Would you consider it?

Let’s start with gratitude. You are happy to be awake and alive. You have two eyes that can see, and your heartbeat is strong. We have fresh food, drinkable water and a safe place to call home. Our friendships are solid, our kids are healthy and we have gratifying careers. What else do we need? I know it sounds simple, and it is. Being grateful produces contentment with our lives. Being content does not mean we are devoid of ambition. Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction.

When we focus on what we have versus what we think we lack, our eyes are opened. We experience the art and beauty in other people and our surroundings. We become solution-conscious rather than focusing in on life’s problems. Our lives take on greater meaning.

Be present for those who can never do anything to repay you. This should be our way of life not only during Christmas, but all year long. The significance of our reach and impact cannot be discounted. When we smile at a stranger or give encouragement to someone who’s down, we offer our presence which is the best present we can give. You never know, you may be someone’s last, and best hope…

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