Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You’ll Get no Sympathy from Me!

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When you hear or read that word, thoughts of consoling a grieving friend or loved one might come to mind.  Perhaps you picture yourself assuring a wronged coworker that their boss really is a jerk.

Actually, the latter of these two scenarios is far closer to sympathy than the former, which naturally leans towards empathy.  The difference between sympathy and empathy is as simple as passive versus active.  The sympathetic listener resonates with the sufferer and then reflects the sufferer’s own feelings and reactions.

What is sympathy?

The term sympathetic vibration is used in both physics and music to describe the phenomenon of objects or instruments passively resonating at frequencies similar to other nearby objects or instruments.  Because the passive resonator is not intended to (or was not built to) resonate in that way, what results is either cacophony (in the case of musical instruments) or chaos (a collapsing building or bridge).  Interestingly, you will never see a sympathetically vibrating object in any way benefitting the first object.

Now consider the sympathetic friend described above.  His buddy is grumbling about how unfair the boss is.  Instead of really trying to understand what his buddy is going through, he passively resonates and grumbles with him.  Does this help his buddy work through suffering or solve any problems?  Of course not!  At most, it provides a temporary steam-release for the sufferer, but because they are now resonating at the same frequency, it builds that same anger and frustration in the sympathetic friend.

How about empathy?

In contrast, empathy seeks to actively understand the sufferer’s emotions and the situation as a whole, and then helps to reach in and pull their friend through and out.  This is done even if it means that the suffering temporarily intensifies while working them through.

Since sympathy is not the answer, what would an empathetic friend do?  If everything about sympathy is wrong, the right answer would be the opposite: Don’t resonate with the sufferer and then offer purely objective advice and solutions.  Of course, any man who has ever tried this with his wife knows this is a one-way ticket to a long fight and a long night spent sleeping on the couch.

Surprisingly, the first steps to empathy are similar to, but not the same as, sympathy.  Listen to the sufferer, and listen to them actively.  Resonate with and understand their pain, but don’t resonate with their anger (their pain is a response to external factors, but their anger is a response to their own pain).  Really work to understand what they are experiencing.  You cannot safely navigate someone through danger until you know where he or she is and what the terrain is like on the path to safety.

My experience with empathy.

About a year ago, I lived through a great example of empathy.  I had just been raked over the coals at work and I was ready to scream bloody murder at anyone who would listen.  It happened that I ran into a great friend, also named James, who took me away from work and out to a park.  There, he listened to me as I poured out my anger and enumerated the many flaws I perceived in our senior leadership.

He knew exactly what I was going through… he had been raked over the coals many times before.  He could have said, “Yeah, I know what you mean… they’re horrible!”  Instead, he offered a hand to help me up, dust me off, and move me onward.  Not once did he tell me I was justified or right in my anger, and what he said sounds almost cliché in retrospect, but it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time: “This is probably going to get worse before it gets better, but you will make it through this and you will be even stronger.  I’m sorry and I’m here if you ever need to talk.”

He was right and I knew he was right.  All I needed was someone who understood me to remind me of it and to bolster my hope.  James, if you’re reading this… thanks!

Question: What is one thing you have done, or can do, to move yourself from a position of sympathy to one of empathy?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to be Faithful: The Tale of the Prince and His Jewels

My blog entry this week will be a little different.  Upon waking this morning, I had an idea for a fable, like those written by Aesop.  While this reads like a children’s story, I believe the moral applies to people of all ages and both sexes.

With that, I humbly offer you The Tale of the Prince and His Jewels.

Photo credit: honorinejewels.com
Not so long ago, be that yesterday or two millennia gone by, there lived a handsome prince in a wealthy, wealthy land.  The prince was coming quickly upon his twentieth birthday, at which point he was required to choose a wife.

Being that this was a wealthy land, and being that the prince was royalty, you would imagine that the prince had servants… and you would be right!  Now, do you remember when I said that the prince was handsome?  Well, his servants were equally handsome, and the prince knew it.

The prince wanted to be sure the maiden he married would not be seduced by one of his servants.  After consulting with his advisors, he came up with a plan.  That day, a royal invitation was sent out to all the young maidens in the land.

On the day all the maidens arrived, the prince made an announcement.

“Greetings, lovely maidens of our great land!  On this day, I offer each of you a challenge.  All who choose to participate will receive a reward of precious jewels.  However, one will become my bride, the princess, and eventually the queen of this land!”

A loud murmur arose from the maidens.  “Jewels!”  “Become the princess!”  “What could the challenge be?”

Once the noise had died down, the prince said, “Over the next thirty days, each maiden who participates will spend the night with a different one of my servants.  During those nights, my servants will use all of their cunning to seduce you.  For each successive night you remain pure, my servants will give you a jewel of greater and greater value!  After the thirty days are over, I will choose my bride from those who have remained pure.”

Thirty days passed.  On the thirty-first day, the prince once more called together all the maidens of the land.  They were all giggling, whispering and comparing their newly acquired jewels.  The prince had his servants count the jewels of each maiden.  Among the crowd, they found two maidens who had thirty jewels each!  They even found one lovely maiden who had no jewels at all.

The prince called forward the two maidens with the thirty jewels.  At the same time, a cruel servant brought forward the maiden with no jewels in order to mock her.  The prince, being a kind man, did not wish to humiliate the young maiden.  He dismissed the cruel servant and called the maiden over to speak with him quietly.

“My dear girl, how is it that you have not even a single jewel?”

The maiden, tears brimming in her eyes, said, “The jewels were not what I wanted, your highness.  I only wanted to be your wife, so I did what I would have done if I were your wife!  I kept myself from being where my purity could be challenged.  I did not participate at all.”

The next day, they were wed.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday: Something for the Musician - Foggy Mountain Breakdown

This week's "Something for the Musician" entry features Ben Clark.  I remember playing gigs with him in little Texas honky-tonk bars, where he was in the band opening up for us.  He was an amazing player back then... one day, I think I remember hearing this faint whoosh sound as he zipped right past me musically.

Since then, he has gone on to perform with artists such as Craig Morgan and Taylor Swift.  Most would consider that a solid success story... Ben resigned from Taylor's band to focus on a major publishing deal with his sisters and make his instructional videos & website.

Aside from being a friend and a great guy, I'm featuring Ben this week because he is an expert with the heart of a teacher.  Someday, in my own way, I aspire to be the same.

I've been watching "Banjo Ben's" instructional videos since he started making them.  Rather than trying to describe the indescribable, here is a classic video of his: Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

If you are interested in studying with Ben, he has quite a few free instructional videos on YouTube.  You can combine those with the TAB files and backing tracks on banjobenclark.com to get a full lesson.  He even does lessons over Skype!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cherish Your Wife (Leadership Lessons from the Bible)

Photo credit: goodwp.com
Before I start, I know what you’re thinking: “What does cherishing your wife have to do with leadership?”

Boy, I’m glad you asked!

As a Christian man, your job is to be the head of your family.  This means that your first job as a leader, if you are married, is to lead at home.  The way a man treats his wife tells you more about his character than anything else.  Personally, I refuse to have any dealings, other than unavoidable business dealings, with any man who is maritally unfaithful, who doesn’t have the spine to lead his family, or who is just a generally piss-poor husband. (e.g. a bully, an ignorer)

People often quote Ephesians 5:22-24 as an example of how a wife should act, and ignore the fact that Ephesians 5:25-33 (which tells a man how to treat his wife) is roughly three times longer!  With this in mind, I offer 5 ways to cherish your wife.

1)   Praise her publicly, both when she is with you and when she isn't.  If you have ever read the Song of Solomon, you know that King Solomon was tops when it came to heaping praise on his beloved.  While I am not suggesting that you tell all your friends how your wife’s breasts are like two fawns, or that you compare her teeth to a flock of sheep, you can certainly offer honest praise about her cooking, her housekeeping, her sense of humor, her work ethic, her ability to control the household budget, etc.  Don’t just reserve these compliments for when she is with you, or they will seem contrived.  By the way, if you can’t think of anything about which to praise her, you likely aren’t paying anywhere near enough attention to her!

2)   NEVER run her down publicly!  It doesn’t matter whether she is with you or not... it doesn’t matter even if you think you are "only joking".  Proverbs 26:18-19 compares a man who excuses his lies and insults with, "I was only joking," to a madman shooting flaming arrows!  There is no way around it... your little barbs hurt, whether she says so or not!  Each one takes a little bit out of her.  Broadcasting your wife’s faults, be they real or perceived, is the same as you making an investment in a bitter, jaded, introverted wife.  Dumb!

3)   Compliment her when you are alone together.  Going back to Ephesians 5, men are commanded to love their wives the same as their own bodies.  If you enjoy receiving a compliment about your body (and who doesn't?), don’t you think your wife enjoys getting kind words from you?  These don’t have to be about anything physical, although if you aren’t complimenting her on her appearance, find something outstanding and start doing it now!  Whatever she does to make your married life better is up for grabs in the world of compliments.  Every sincere compliment is the same as you making an investment in a joyful, secure, outgoing wife.  Smart!

4)   God is first, she is second, everything else comes next.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  Together, you put God first, each other second, kids (if you have them) third, and then triage everything else out accordingly.  Did you get that?  She is more important than your friends, your parents, and even your children!  If your buddies are more important, you’re just an idiot (there really is no way to sugar-coat that one).  Your parents will pass on, your children will grow up and move away, and it will just be God, you and your wife.  If you value anything above God and your wife, you will be living with strangers once everything else moves on.

5)   Do everything you can to become a better man... for God's sake, for your sake, and for her sake.  If you are anything like me, you understand that your wife is a gift from God whom you don’t deserve.  With that in mind, it should be natural to want to fulfill the call to put off your old self and be made new in the attitude of your mind (Ephesians 4:22-24).  Start filtering everything you do, say, and think, to be glorifying to God and beneficial to your wife.  Seek out and read lots of great books on how to be a better, godly husband.  Examine your life, figure out where you need to make changes and then make a plan to start those changes.  Do whatever it takes, but start doing it now!

What are the ways you cherish your wife?

The above is part of a series of blog posts entitled, “Leadership Lessons from the Bible.”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Friday: Something for the Musician - School Days

Anyone who has known me for more than an hour probably knows that I'm a bass player.  While my musical first loves are old school country and bluegrass, I have a soft spot in my heart for the true funkmastas out there.  It is with this in mind that I present, for your enjoyment, one of the greatest upright bass solos I have ever had the pleasure of watching: Stanley Clarke playing School Days.

Friday, July 8, 2011

5 Ways You can be a Better Delegator (Leadership Lessons from the Bible)

The next day Moses took his place to judge the people. People were standing before him all day long, from morning to night. When Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What's going on here? Why are you doing all this, and all by yourself, letting everybody line up before you from morning to night?"

Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me with questions about God. When something comes up, they come to me. I judge between a man and his neighbor and teach them God's laws and instructions."

Moses' father-in-law said, "This is no way to go about it. You'll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you – you can't do this alone. Now listen to me. Let me tell you how to do this so that God will be in this with you. Be there for the people before God, but let the matters of concern be presented to God. Your job is to teach them the rules and instructions, to show them how to live, what to do. And then you need to keep a sharp eye out for competent men – men who fear God, men of integrity, men who are incorruptible – and appoint them as leaders over groups organized by the thousand, by the hundred, by fifty, and by ten. They'll be responsible for the everyday work of judging among the people. They'll bring the hard cases to you, but in the routine cases they'll be the judges. They will share your load and that will make it easier for you. If you handle the work this way, you'll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish also." (Exodus 18:13-23, The Message)

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There are five leadership lessons to take away from the above passage.

1)   Delegation is not an option.  If you don’t do it, you will burn out completely and you will take your followers with you.  Here’s what happens: The better you are at your job, the more you will be asked to do by more and more people.  Everyone has only 24 hours in each day, along with their own personal threshold of how much they can handle at one time.  I assure you, no matter how good of a time manager you are and no matter how smart and strong you may be, there are more problems than you can handle on your own!

2)   Be a teacher and a leader to those you appoint as delegates.  A common problem for those who finally decide to delegate is that they swing to the opposite extreme and take their hands completely off the reins.  If you delegate authority without training, mentoring, and communicating with your delegates, you will have five or six separate missions under you, all being accomplished poorly.  Train, mentor, and communicate with your delegates, and you'll have five or six leaders focusing on a common goal.

3)   Always be on the lookout for people who are competent, both as technical specialists and as leaders.  Look into the crowd and find the folks with the strongest personalities.  Find the ones who don’t join in with bitter, needless complaining.  Seek out the example-setters… those who are experts at their job and do their best work, regardless of having a watchful eye over them.  These are the folks who need to be grown into leaders, and it is your job to get them there!

4)   Delegate to a few people under you, and then to a few people under each of them.  If you trust in their leadership and their insight, you should allow them to choose their own delegates.  If they are young and you see great potential, but they lack leadership skills, choose their delegates for them and make leadership-training part of your mentoring time with them.  Either way, if you don’t let them have delegates of their own, they will be less effective and limited on what and how much they can accomplish.

5)   Delegating does NOT mean that you get to sit back and do no work.  You have to supervise, but you also have to keep your own technical and leadership skills sharp.  While you needn’t know how to do everything (this is part of why you delegate), letting your own technical expertise slide will cause you to lose respect in the eyes of both your followers and your peers.  Your followers need to know that they can come to you when they have really tough, technical questions, and that you will either have the answer, or that you know how and where to find it.

The above is part of a series of blog posts entitled, “Leadership Lessons from the Bible.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How to be a Follower who Leads (Leadership Lessons from the Bible)

Picture credit: ngururaj.blogspot.com

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:22-24, New International Version)

To begin, we need to do some basic verbiage updating: Slaves becomes followers and masters becomes leaders.  Good, now we are up to the modern day.

One characteristic of a true leader is that he or she stands out from the group.  No one ever became a leader by going along with the crowd… in fact, when young workers who have no leadership experience are assigned as leaders, one of the mistakes they often make is to try and fall in with the group they are leading.  When this happens, no one leads and everyone suffers!

The crowd, without leadership, is known for two time-honored, dishonorable work traditions: complaining and gossiping.  For this article, we will use Dave Ramsey’s definition of gossip: “Delivering negative information – any negative information about anyone or anything – to someone who cannot do something about it.

Since the crowd is known for complaining and gossiping, a follower who leads is known for giving honest & public praise for their leadership, and for addressing concerns & complaints directly to their leaders.

The crowd, without leadership, is known for doing their best work only when under the watchful eye of a supervisor… individual crowd members work their hardest only if there is something in it for them. 

The follower who leads does their best work regardless of supervision and without touting their own accomplishments.  Over time, their work ethic naturally encourages others to do the same.  He or she knows that, in due time, their work will be rewarded.  They do not strive for rewards, but instead realize that rewards are the natural byproduct of being a follower who leads.

The crowd, without leadership, is known for legalizing* everything they can… this gives them more things about which to complain and gossip!

The follower who leads follows lawful orders when given, and later offers suggestions for change and improvement to their superiors at a later time.
                  *Legalizing, in this context, refers to the practice of claiming that a decision or policy is in violation of a certain rule or rules, often twisting the context of the situation in such a way as to validate the argument.

The individual crowd member is neither an effective leader, nor a good follower.  They serve primarily to work with one leg while dragging the other as an anchor.

The follower who leads can be better described with one word: Leader.  Leadership requires no title, no authority, and no official accountability… it only requires you to step outside the crowd so you can inspire them and lead them!

The above is part of a series of blog posts entitled, “Leadership Lessons from the Bible.”