Over the last 35 years, I’ve had an interest in understanding why some people rise to the top in an organization and why others struggle to get selected to move ahead.  At times, I thought it was mostly based on skills, competence, charisma, or chemistry.  At other times, I would have contended it was about one or more of the following: determination, initiative, self-confidence, decision-making skills, self-management, strategic thinking, definitive goals, clear vision, team building, innovation and relationship building.  But in the last year or two, I’m more and more convinced of another key essential for success in pretty much every vocation.  It isn’t often talked about or written about.

However, I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that reveals research indicating an essential for success is self-awareness.  In fact, this HBR article, written by Organizational Psychologist, Tasha Eurich writes, “when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative.   We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more-effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies.”  In fact, Eurich footnoted nearly a dozen research studies that confirmed her statements.  I find this research fascinating.

In my life experience as a pastor, chaplain, boss, supervisor, entrepreneur and coach, I’ve noticed that those who excel in leadership roles, are more self-aware than those who don’t rise to the top.  Unfortunately, many of us think we are more self-aware than we are. And to be clear, there are two types of self-awareness. There is internal self-awareness, where we have the ability to accurately monitor our inner world of emotions, motives, passions, stresses, strengths, weaknesses, behaviors and mental well-being.  Those who have this inner self-awareness, are happier, less stressed and more fulfilled than those who lack it.  And then there is external self-awareness, where we understand how others view us.  Research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy, and better at relating to those around them.

My whole point is this.  Our likelihood of being our best self with whatever gift-set God has given us and functioning to our highest capacity in the environment we work in, serve in and live in, will improve as we become more self-aware.  So, I’ve been intent on developing more self-awareness in my life.  You can to.  Here are some things that have helped me.

  • Be intentional.  We will never grow in any area of life without intentionality.  Learn to gut-check yourself when you are in difficult situations.  Slow down, reflect, and evaluate what is happening inside of you.  Fast-paced busyness works against becoming self-aware.  Our ability to grow in self-awareness is in direct proportion to our willingness to slow the pace of our lives to include self-introspection, tuning in to what God wants to say to us and becoming curious about what others would like to be able to say to us.
  • Invite Fearless Feedback.  Ask people close to you to help you become more self-aware.  The higher you are in power and influence in an organization, the less feedback you will naturally receive.  When you invite loving critique, and you don’t overreact or get defensive when it is given, you will create an environment for even more feedback in the future.  For example, I know that I can tell too many details in a story and overload people with things they aren’t interested in or don’t need to know.  So, I’ve invited my spouse to give me subtle clues that only she and I recognize if she senses that is happening.  That practice has also helped me become more self-aware when she isn’t present to give that feedback.
  • Keep on Learning.  No matter how much progress we make in self-awareness, there is always more to learn.  It’s a life-long adventure of discovery. 

All of this brings me to conclude: Leaders and anyone who will focus on building both internal and external self-awareness, who invite fearless feedback from loving critics, take time to reflect and be introspective — will reap the many rewards that increased self-knowledge delivers.  It is the key to success at work and at home.  Blessings on the journey!

QUESTION: What have you found to be most helpful for you in your growth toward self-awareness? Share in the comments below.

One thing I have observed recently, we are short on some things needed for a happy life.  I’m not referring to toilet paper, disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer.  I’m talking about leadership.  Leadership is in short supply.

Here’s the story. Thanksgiving had little similarity to what usually happens in our family.  Instead of a large family gathering and an amazing home-cooked meal together, my wife ordered two takeout Thanksgiving platters from a nearby local chain restaurant known for their country-style comfort foods.  She ordered.  I went to pick it up at the appointed time.  An hour later, I arrived home. It wasn’t the five-minute ride each way.  It wasn’t the quality of the food.  In fact, it was delicious.  But the fifty minutes standing in line watching what happens when no one leads was my main Thanksgiving memory.  In fact, it consumed a disproportionate amount of our dinner conversation.

When no one leads, everyone is frustrated.  Employees were stressed.  Customers nearly came to physical blows.  Yes. On Thanksgiving Day.  Customers raising their voices at each other and at restaurant staff.  And one guy even challenged another guy to a fight because he perceived the other one didn’t care about where the line started and ended.  I heard mostly mumbles and grumbles.  Some just finally walked out with threats being uttered just loud enough.  You could cut the tension with a knife.  It was all a result of a drought in leadership.

In a nutshell, no one had organized the distribution of the orders. First it was 15-20. Finally, it was 30-35 meals; bags with names on them, lined up on the over-crowded countertops, the checkout areas, on mobile carts.  All of them coming hot out of an efficient kitchen.  But chaos was everywhere among those whose job was to connect the right bag with the people standing in line to pick up their call-in and online orders.  On top of it, there was only one line—those who had preordered and those placing orders.  So, the finished meals waited while new meals for new orders were being prepared.  When people demanded to see a manager, they were told, “they are busy right now.”  Where?  In the kitchen?  In the office?  No one was visibly solving the obvious distribution problem.  As happens too often, someone had a leadership title but didn’t know how to lead.

As is often the case, there wasn’t a short supply of excuses.  One employee said, “it’s my first week at work so I don’t know how to fix this chaos.”  Another said, “we are going as fast as we can go.”  One said, “it’s not my job, I’m only supposed to seat those who are here for dine-in.” Another said, “I will have to go ask for permission to change the distribution process” but kept right on doing what he was doing.  

Finally, a young 20-something employee decided to lead.  She did what leaders do.  Problem-solve.  Her first attempt at a solution was to go down the growing line to write down the name of every customer.  Then she walked around looking at the expanding supply of orders and tried to match the names on the bags with her list.  When that didn’t work, she started calling out each name on the bags to see if they matched the customers standing in line.  Bingo.  Progress started.  Aggravated customers began to have hope for returning home with Thanksgiving dinner.  The line started to shorten.  I couldn’t read her name tag, but she deserves a shoutout.  A true leader emerged from the crowd of excuse-makers.  

When I headed home with our Thanksgiving meals, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  Grateful that I’ve had 40 plus years of leadership opportunity and success.  Grateful that I have matured enough in my own emotional health to withstand such chaos without being angry and anxious.  Grateful to have the finances to purchase our meals.  And, especially grateful that I had a beautiful wife of nearly 46 years waiting at home to share our delectable meal together.  You see, I drove by a cemetery on my way home and noticed more than one adult, kneeling at a gravesite, spending time with their loved one on the holiday.

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Where do you expect God to show up? In a church? In a synagogue? In nature? Out on a boat? On a golf course? In a quiet moment of self-reflection? I listened to a podcast while out walking the other morning and it was titled,“Seeing God in the Eyes of Your Enemy.” That caught my attention. How could I see God there, of all places? Really? God in the eyes of my enemy?

The topic is timely. In an extremely acrimonious political climate that is filled with non-stop 30-second barrages of demonizing the opposing candidate, why would we even think of seeing God in the eyes of the enemy? After all, we should fear that the whole world will come crashing down if the other candidate wins the election. We should panic. We should get our fighting gloves on. We should worry and be alarmed. This the most important election in all of history.  This is the most important decision you will ever make in your whole life. So we are told.

I admit it. I deeply resist any fear-based sales pitch. I haven’t spent my life making decisions while being driven by fear. And, I’m not about to start now. Simply put, that’s not what got me to where I am now. But that’s another long story.

Martin Buber, an early 20thcentury Jewish theologian, has contributed a huge amount of insight on the topic of seeing God in the eyes of our enemy. I don’t believe he actually used that specific term. But, some of Buber’s most famous writings discuss the contrast between using an “I-It” or an “I-Thou” approach to our relationships. The I-It view of our relationships is similar to the “cancel culture” I wrote about recently. We label others. And, we “cancel” them out of our lives if we disagree with their view-points. They just are dispensable and disposable “its” in our life. They are less than human. Undeserving of our time or attention.

Or, Buber’s “I-Thou” explanation of what creates healthy human relationships, is based on the fact that you choose to look into the other person’s eyes and realize they are unrepeatable. Totally unique. A sacred creation in God’s own image. Real. Living. And authentic people. Maybe they do show some brokenness, as we all do. But even if they are badly broken, they still are valuable. They hold deep within them–even if it’s buried in a mess–a purpose and the image of God. What might change in our political landscape, our neighbor to neighbor relationships, our family relationships if we could actually see God in the eyes of those we disagree with or those who have wronged us? That’s not an easy assignment but it would change things. It would change us. It might change them.

The podcast speaker, Peter Scazzero, challenged me to ask myself three penetrating questions to help me see God in the eyes of my enemies. Maybe they will help you too.

1. Am I Fully Present or Distracted? I need to hear that. It’s so easy for me to get distracted by everything in my peripheral or by the phone in my hand or pocket. Am I fully present when my wife, my kids, my grandkids, friends or a spiritual seeker talks to me?

2. Am I Loving or Judging? I admit it. I’m a recovering judgaholic. I can quickly look at a person’s age, car, bumper sticker, dress, title, education, political affiliation, social media posts or whatever and make assessments and assumptions about their life. I’ve been in recovery for years. I’m not yet totally judge-free sober. But my God’s grace, I’m making progress.

3. Am I Open or Closed to Being Changed? I think I’m a pretty open-minded kind of guy until I get super honest with my self-evaluation. While I am fairly skilled at listening to the opinions and beliefs of others before I ever start to speak my mind, I don’t easily change my mind. I’m a pretty focused guy. I know what I believe and where I want to go. But that causes me to be quietly formulating my rebuttal instead of carefully listening to the words and the heart of the other person. So, I really need to be asking this question of myself in every conversation.

How are you doing with the above three questions? Start with the people closest to you. Ask them. Invite fearless feedback. They will probably help you to see which of the three you need to work on. Chances are, you will start seeing God in their eyes. Honest conversation will bring you closer to them and Him. And then for those who vote differently than you, usually disagree with you and you have trouble tolerating. Start by asking these questions internally. You will grow. And you just may see God in their eyes… maybe even in the eyes of a new friend.

QUESTION: Which of these three is easiest for you? Which one is hardest? I’d love to hear from you in the Comment section below.

I remember the first time I bought a Dymo.  Remember those?  It made great labels.  I had one of those early ones before the electronic digitized screens and keyboard.  On mine, the dial on the little “squirt-gun” shaped gizmo had to be rotated to the correct letter or number and then you squeezed the trigger and then the next, and the next, and the next.  The backing peeled off and you put the label on the light switch, the cupboard, the toolbox, the storage container or whatever.  It was addictive.  Couldn’t quit labeling.  Wasn’t going to stop until the roll was out!

Then labels moved from being nouns to verbs.  Now we barely remember the organizational benefits of labeling everything.  Labeling, as we know it now, is often hurtful, it’s sometimes dehumanizing and usually polarizing.  We label the positions, philosophies, politics, and personalities of people.  We like to organize people in to their proper “place” in life.  We are more comfortable when we know where people “fit.”  Cataloguing data is not all bad.  It helps us to better understand its relationship to everything else around it.  So we categorize to better understand things.  In the best-case scenario, we label people like we do things.  For the sake of understanding them.  But not always.

Our love of labels has become very detrimental to our well-being as a nation.  We live in a culture where we are hard-wired to fit people in to neat, perfect little boxes.  We have left or right.  Blue states or red states. Conservative or Liberal.  Fit or fat.  Black or white. Religious or non-religious. Smart or slow. Rich or poor. But rarely do any of us really love being squeezed into the pre-made boxes that have been provided for us.  I bristle inside when anyone wants to put any of the above labels on my forehead.  For example. Believe it or not, even as a pastor and chaplain, I hate being called religious.  I would much rather talk about the finer nuances of my faith journey, my spiritual beliefs, and my relationship to God.  I don’t want to be put in a box of being religious. That has plenty of negative connotations to me.

Here’s my point.  We are human. We are complex beings with individual ideas, beliefs, preferences, and ideals. The day when society drops the labels and starts seeing people as unique individuals, will be the day when we will no longer be divided. In all reality, this is much easier said than done. But in the time being, the only label you should be given is your name (and maybe your rank or title in some organizations). 

This is not a 21st century problem.  They struggled with this in the 1st century.  A casual reading of the scriptures written for the newly-formed Christian churches in the Middle East and Europe reveal that they had challenges caused by labeling others by their ethnicity, religious heritage, economic status and belief systems.  When prominent Judeo-Christian leader and author, Apostle Paul, wrote to the church in Galatia, he reminded them, “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:28 MSG).  Without getting into a detailed explanation of this scripture, the call was to focus on their one common link—their relationship to Jesus. The broader and practical application in America is to stop the labeling.  Highlight the fact that we are all humans.  We live on the same spinning globe.  And, many of us reading this, happen to be located in the United States of America.  

I mailed in my ballot this week.  But I don’t intend to talk about my political affiliations and preferences on social media.  In the tense culture we have right now, I would surely be categorized or pigeon-holed by someone somewhere as either a “bleeding heart” or a “raging conservative.”  Can we adults try to set an example for our kids and refuse to assign names to others based on their skin tone, political leanings, or whatever?  Just maybe we could reduce the “bullying” that is so common in school and on social media?  That problem starts with labeling.  And our kids learn it from us adults. 

Names and labels have power.  Take a look at the boxes you have ready for people—whether political, religious, lifestyle, skin color, driving style, gender, age, personality or because of their communication approach.  This week, instead of automatically putting people into their box, see if you can deliberately refrain from making a default summary statement and boxing them in.  Open your mind.  See if it doesn’t open the boxes you have for others.  Labels take on an “all-or-nothing” meaning.  That brings more stress and tension in your life and in our world.  Relax.  Let’s enjoy life as God intended it to be.    

QUESTION: What are the most helpful ways you have found to resist labeling others and pigeon-holing them? Please share in the comment section below. Thank you!

Every year there are new words and new phrases added to our vocabulary and dictionary.  Here’s a new one I learned recently: “Cancel Culture.”  We now live in a cancel culture.  Although it was first coined in 2016, Google Trends data indicates there was almost no search interest in the phrase “cancel culture” until the second half of 2018 and early 2019.  The most search interest came in July of 2020. Cancel culture is rampant right now. 

So what is “cancel culture”?  It is the phenomenon of frequent public piles-ons criticizing a person, business, movement or idea.  For example, a cultural boycott of a certain celebrity, brand, company, or concept.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary uses the #MeToo movement as an example where new allegations seemed to come out daily, and attitudes quickly shifted against the accused.  The trend of calling someone out for their bad behavior led to full-on cancellations and even convictions.  It happens at various levels in social media with videos going viral and more.  It’s also the idea behind defunding the police.  A few departments exhibit bad police behavior so let’s cancel all law enforcement.

And, I’ve noticed it is more than a social trend that is impacting celebrities, sport figures, business leaders, politicians or where one shops or eats.  It has infiltrated our culture’s relational fabric.  Friendships are severed or at least severely damaged.  Family members refuse to talk to each other.   People change churches due to the cancel culture.  Workers quit jobs or are fired because of it.  People make statements on social media about unfriending, unfollowing or blocking others if they don’t agree with their posted viewpoint.  The infection of the cancel culture virus sounds like a pandemic.  

Here are three phrases that I seek to live by as a human and spiritual leader in our community:

  • Mature people can disagree without being disagreeable.  (see recent post)
  • Mature people can learn to have unity without uniformity.
  • Mature people can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  Social pressure can be a valid way to influence change and bring justice to wrongful situations.  A lot of good things have happened in our world because a large group of people stood up to wrong, called leaders to accountability, educated the public and held people, companies or governments to a higher standard.  But why are the above three concepts so difficult these days? 

Bottom line.  Most people place a higher value on being right than they do on being in right relationship with others.  Humility doesn’t come natural for any of us.  I must fight fiercely for humility in my life.  And humility is the only thing that keeps me from choosing a right relationship over being right.  Humility is the only thing that allows me to be agreeable when I disagree.  Humility is the only thing that allows me to learn to have unity when I am very different than another person.  Humility is the only way I can walk hand in hand with someone I don’t see eye to eye with.  

As a long-time follower of One who has impacted the world for over 2,000 years, I love this story that one of his followers, Dr. Luke, tells:

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests.11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14 (NLT)

When I intentionally choose the seat of humility at the relationship table, it changes everything. I don’t cancel out the person who has a different political persuasion. I don’t cancel out the person who has an opposite opinion about the best approach to parenting.  I don’t cancel out the person with a different skin tone who offers an alternative option for correcting injustice.  I don’t cancel out the person who doesn’t understand or believe in God the way I do.  Instead, I listen.  I try to walk in their shoes.  I try to look at life from their angle.  I try to learn more about their story.  The relationship is much more important than being right.  And it’s really not a conundrum at all.  It’s not confusing.  It actually feels right, and good.  Like, that’s the way it was intended from the start. 

QUESTION: What is the best way you have found to fight for humility in your life? (share it in the comment section below)

The four hardest words for me to speak as a man are, “You hurt my feelings.”   In the first place, it’s not even manly to talk about my feelings.  Who wants to hear a man whine about wounded feelings?  It’s much more manly to pout. That’s what I do.

But here’s the real truth.  It’s our ego that’s been hurt, not our feelings. “Feelings” are emotions. They come upon us unannounced, unfiltered, real and sometimes very raw.  We feel what we feel. We don’t control what comes up in our ‘feeler’; we only control how we interpret and respond to what we feel.

I love Regi Campbell’s definition of ego.  Campbell says, ego is “the combination of the person I think I am, the person I want to be, and the person I want others to think I am”.  The borders between those three are blurry. I don’t know which one is running the show in my life at any given moment until I run into someone and get hurt.  Retrospectively, I can probably figure it out.

When my ego gets hurt and I find myself frustrated, feeling angry, hurt, and having my personal pity party, it’s usually because one of 3 things happened…

  • someone didn’t respond the way I wanted them to respond
  • someone didn’t do what I wanted them to do
  • someone didn’t say what I wanted them to say

Get the picture? I’ve set myself up as god, deciding what other people should think, do and say. When they let me down, I’m upset. I’m hurt…by whomever failed to meet my expectations.  Plain and simple. Pure pride.

The reality is, the word ‘ego’ isn’t even in the Bible, but the word ‘pride’ is. 49 times. Pride is jacked up ego. Pride is what caused Satan to end up in hell. Pride has a role in every single misstep or sin. And pride is at the root of my “hurt feelings”.

It’s hard to see pride. Regi Campbell says “It’s like something dark hidden in the dark.”  What’s the best way to find something dark hidden in the dark?  Turn on a light.  In this case, the light of humility. The contrast is stunning…the humble heart vs. the prideful one. When I’m courageous enough to ask myself these honest questions, “If I truly humbled myself, what would this situation look like?” “Would I feel the same way about what she said?” “Would I take what he said personally, or would I let it go?” “Do I really have the right to expect her to react the way I want her to in every situation?” “So, maybe her feelings come rushing out before she could control them. Should that make me mad?”

An authentic truthful answer is simply, “No.”  If I can learn to ‘swallow my pride’, I’ll always respond differently. In humility, I can understand rather than bow up and fight back.  There’s a lot of things God seems to be neutral about. But pride isn’t one of them. James 4:6 says God opposes the proud bufavors the humble.”  Out of everyone I’ve met in the world, the top of the list of those I don’t want “opposing” me, is God!  And of all that I’ve met who I desire his favor, it’s God.  Man, do I ever want his favor!  Another translation of this same scripture says He “gives grace to the humble”. Grace. Undeserved blessing. To the humble.  Wow.

Let me share a suggestion.  Next time you get your feelings hurt, recognize it was your ego, not your feelings. Humble yourself. Instead of rehearsing the conversation you’re going to have where you express your hurt feelings, turn to your Heavenly Father and tell Him how much you love Him.  How grateful you are for all He’s done for you. Notice how insignificant your ‘feelings’ become when you let His amazing love wash over you.   And you will see…it wasn’t your feelings at all.  It can be healed in a moment of humility and gratitude.

The issues are many! And it’s going to be even more challenging as we move toward another election cycle in November.  Everywhere we look, there is disagreement.  Require masks, don’t require masks.  Stay out of the public, go back to a more normal life.  Send the kids back to school, keep our kids home for online school.  Vote Democrat, vote Republican.  Repost Black Lives Matter statements, repost Blue Lives Matter messages.  Return to gathering as a church, stay with online church.  Stop sports to make a statement on racism, keep the race issue out of sports.  The issues are too many to list. 

I watch people rant on social media about all of the above and more and then make statements like, “if you disagree with me, unfriend me.”  I have a hard time grasping how we have moved from  the “let’s agree to disagree” mindset I grew up with.  Since when is friendship based on looking, acting and thinking alike?  I didn’t agree with all my elementary, middle, high school or college friends.  I don’t agree with the political leanings of my best friend.  We vote different.  I don’t fully agree with his theological leanings.  But we are never disagreeable. 

People have always disagreed. On many issues.  That is not the problem.  Disagreeableness is the problem.  Our dictionaries define disagreeable as “not pleasant or enjoyable, unfriendly and bad-tempered.”  Similar words to disagreeable are listed with the definition: unpleasant, displeasing, nasty, horrible, dreadful, ill-tempered, ill-natured, horrid or curmudgeonly.  Since when did it become normal to have an unpleasant, nasty, ill-tempered approach to our relationships?  Therein lies the issue.  It’s fine to disagree.  That’s normal.  It’s not okay to be disagreeable. 

Being disagreeable is just plain bad-mannered and rude, according to the definitions.  So, help me to understand, is there ever a time and place where it is okay to be nasty, ill-tempered and horrible? While we are at the grocery store and someone forgets the directional arrows on the aisle floor?  While driving?  On Facebook?  At work?  With my spouse or kids at home?  When is it an appropriate time for us to be dreadful, horrible, and displeasing?  In reality, this kind of behavior is simply an indication of emotional and relational immaturity. 

As a chaplain and pastor for the past four decades, I look at this problem through the lens of the Bible.  Here is a poignant scripture that pictures a self-centered life and the transformation that begins when we choose a God-focused life.   

“You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him… 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”     Colossians 3:7-14 (NLT). 

God will always give us His strength and His power to live out His calling.  But it only happens when we intentionally exhale our self-centered nature and gratefully inhale His new nature, day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute, one circumstance or situation at a time.  It’s the only way that I’ve found to live a life that disagrees with many but rarely is disagreeable with any.  May God also give you such grace for your journey. 

Dennis

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Remember Chinese drywall from about a decade ago?  It was hard to detect for a while.  Air conditioning units that corroded and were replaced a few times, coughing and congestion, smells that were hard to nail down, copper wiring that turned black and other indicators persisted for a while before the dots were connected. The same thing has happened to others with black mold in their walls. 

The experience of stress and trauma comes disguised in so many packages, all of which can be accompanied by a pervading sense of helplessness and being powerless to change it. While the term “post traumatic stress” is often synonymous with military combat, police work, fire or paramedic work, it can also come into our lives through a car accident, a relational betrayal, abuse, a hurricane or even a pandemic. The symptoms can start gradually or they can hit all of a sudden like a ton of bricks.

Captured this photo of a window/wall in Katmandu, Nepal. When I returned home, I noticed the man behind the lattice who was watching me. I never saw him when I took the image. ~ Dennis

So what do we do?  Often our natural tendency and reaction is to avoid. As people, we spend a lot of time, energy and money avoiding pain. And sometimes the things we avoid will eventually stop bothering us. But, more often than not, the things we do our best to avoid just grow. When Chinese drywall was actually determined to be present, most of the homes had to be taken down to the studs. The insidious toxin hiding inside the walls was too great. Wiring, duct work and more were torn out and replaced.  In my neighborhood, sometimes the only clue on the outside was the dumpster in the driveway or the debris sitting at the curb.

Our emotional house is not all that different. We call post-traumatic stress an invisible illness because from the outside, the house may look in-tact but inside may be a very different story. I wonder what kind of pandemic trauma we will see soon, or a year or two from now.  As with any injury or illness, we are all in different phases of trauma and recovery. Some things have started to feel a bit more normal.  But there are tons of challenges yet. Most everything in our lives have been in survival mode for months now.  COVID 19 has brought our whole world experiences of shared trauma.  So my question is, how’s your house?

No matter the stage of your recovery there is hope. Maybe you’ve adjusted enough to the new normal that you feel mostly safe again on the outside.  But do not neglect to turn your attention to the emotional house. The repair and remodeling of the emotional house is just as important as the repair of the physical house touched by Chinese drywall. Left unattended the neglect of the emotional house after a trauma is akin to letting mold and toxins grow inside the walls. It might be invisible but the effects can be deadly.

The truth is that it’s OK not to be OK…but it’s not OK to stay that way. Coming to acceptance that trauma-whatever the source-has changed us is both sobering and hopeful. The good news is that there’s more to all of this than just a label of post traumatic stress and the debilitating symptoms that go with it. We have the hope of post traumatic growth. The idea that even in the midst of destruction and devastation the human spirit can arise stronger, more connected and forever better gives us the motivation to rebuild our emotional houses too. It’s hard work but worth every bead of sweat it takes.

Are we the same after trauma? No and we never will be but maybe that’s OK.  Friends of mine used the opportunity of renovation after Chinese drywall to change the colors and flooring in their home. They loved the new look! We can use times of stress and difficulty to lean in to the new and making changes in our lives.  Get counseling.  Talk to clergy for spiritual guidance.  Explore your relationship with God and allow Him to work in you in areas where you may have been previously resistant. Remember this, any experience, any event, or any difficulty is not a dead end if the road took you somewhere you needed to go.

We are born with a desire to want more power than we have.  Every healthy child fights for more power and control from little on.  So, loving power less just isn’t a part of our nature.  All of us have seen the abuse of power.  It spans a wide spectrum from CEO’s, celebrities, pastors, political leaders, police officers, coaches, university presidents to convenience store managers.  We all lean toward gaining more power in situations.  Pride and ego are more common than we admit.  

One of my most favorite leadership books is by Jim Collins, Good to Great.  The book reveals commonalities of companies that have moved from good to great.  Collin’s research revealed five ingredients.  One of those five is having a Level 5 leader who has a strong blend of humility with intense professional will. In contrast, Collins followed up with a sequel, How the Mighty Fall.  His book revealed that decline always started from “Hubris born of success.”  Arrogant neglect.  Nothing more to learn.  Entitlement.  Pride. 

Pride is jacked up ego.  But pride is hard to see.  It is like something dark, hidden in the dark.  The best way to see pride is to turn on the light of humility.  The contrast is stunning…the humble heart vs. the prideful heart.  Dr. Tim Irwin echoes Jim Collins when he wrote the book, Derailed.  Extreme arrogance moves one toward derailment.  Humility keeps us on the tracks toward long-term success.  

Copyright – Gingerich PhotoArt

A first century writer and catalyst leader across the Middle East and Europe was known as Apostle Paul.  He wrote these God-inspired words:   

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name… 
Philippians 2:3-9 (NIV).

This description of what Jesus modeled is why Jesus could authentically challenge his followers to “take up their cross daily.”  He portrayed dying to self-aggrandizement, pride and ego as difficult as a physical death on a cross.  Not a goal for wimps.  But a challenge for the courageous.  The path to your greatest future is paved by service and humility. 

Take some time for self-reflection.  What area of your life do you find it hardest to be humble?  At home?  At work?  What is one thing you could do today to demonstrate more humility?  What most often stands in the way of you showing unpretentiousness?  What is one step you could take today to love power less and align your life closer to what Jesus modeled? 

The definition is simple, “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.”  It shouldn’t be that hard. But somehow, this one seems in short supply.  It’s often missing in the grocery store, neighborhoods, on the road, at work, and even in churches.  I just got a community-wide letter from the board president of our home-owners association asking for this one small thing in our community.  She had to write these words to a bunch of adults, “Road rage, abusive language, disrespect, and discourteous conduct are examples of unacceptable behavior by residents recently reported by both employees and residents.” Sad. Real. Sad. 

Kindness is the missing ingredient.  Sometimes we call it civility.  Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern and care are other words associated with kindness.  I called it simple.  But Dr. Karyn Hall wrote in a Psychology Today article, “Being kind often requires courage and strength.  Kindness is an interpersonal skill.”  She also stated in the same article that researchers have found kindness to be the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. 

At the church I started, our Lead Pastor, Cory Demmel, did a multi-part message series built around the topic of kindness.  We even sell the shirts that he wore when he spoke, “Dude. Be Kind.”  They’ve become popular around Southwest Florida.  You can even order one for yourself or a friend.  The proceeds go back into acts of kindness for our community.

A close up of a sign

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How are you doing on the kindness scale?  Are you more on the end of frequently impatient, grumpy, rude and disrespectful or are you closer to friendly, warm, gentle, generous and considerate?  Just remember, how you measure yourself might be different than what your spouse, your kids or your co-workers say.  Ask them if you are brave enough to seek the truth. 

There are different ways to practice kindness.  One way is simply to open your eyes and notice others who are in need of a kind word, a smile, opening a door, or helping carry a heavy load. Celebrating someone else’s success, giving honest compliments, sending a thank you, telling someone how grateful you are for them, paying for someone else’s coffee, refusing to gossip are all small ways to practice kindness.  Kindness is even about telling the truth in a gentle way so it is helpful to the other person. 

Do you treat yourself kindly?  Do you value you, and take care of yourself?  Do you speak and think kindly of yourself or are you harsh and hard on yourself?  Starting with yourself puts you in a better position and attitude to treat someone else kindly.  

Apostle Paul wrote much of the part of the Bible known as the New Testament.  In a book to Jesus-followers who lived in the town of Galatia, he wrote these contrasting words, “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear…hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division…But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:19-23 NLT).  In other words, what is inside oozes out under pressure.  A God-focused life displays radically different fruit than a self-centered life.  God is always willing to come in and replace the junk with his best stuff if you just invite Him. 

Kindness is so much about being aware and intentional.  Ask God every day to build a speed bump between your brain and mouth.  Ask God to start replacing self-centeredness with other-focused characteristics described as the “Fruit of the Spirit” above.  Ask God daily for His help and His strength to respond to each person and situation with kindness.  Ask Him to fill you with His best.  He loves to answer those kind of prayers.  Your world will start changing.  Dude.  Be kind.

QUESTION: In which setting is kindness easiest for you? Hardest for you? I’d love for you drop a comment below. Thanks!

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