Friday, August 30, 2013

Self-worth and value are based upon your bank account?

I know that self-esteem and the topic of what gives a person value and purpose are hot topics especially in marginalized communities. There has been a lot of research and thought that has gone into understanding the essence of what helps a person ‘feel’ better about themselves so they are more likely to setup and own their life circumstances. So often motivation is the key difference between a person who stays on target and another who is a casualty low self-worth and value. What determines whether a person rises above their surroundings or becomes a statistic?

We live in a society where too often a person’s self-worth and value are tied to their position in life and their possessions. So if you have succeeded in school, business or family you feel great about yourself regardless of whether you have done anything with your life that has real character, substance and value. It is too easy to equate paycheck with self-worth. I believe that ultimately there are more important areas to base your view of yourself and others.

I had a close friend share her story and passion with my teen life group. This friend grew up in what initially appeared to be a great family with a mom, dad and older brother. Yet, at a young age she watched her dad leave her mom for someone else. My friend shared her struggles of understanding why her dad would do this and then the impact this had on her, her mom and brother. Ultimately she would share that this caused her to struggle a lot with her sense of self-worth and value. It is difficult to comprehend how someone at a preschool level would have much if any memory of this at all. Yet, this caused my friend to struggle with her sense of worth and value till her college days.

The point of the discussion in this life group was to better understand how to face the internal angst that many face when dealing with circumstances you didn’t cause but have to live around and work through. My friend unfolded her story so that her struggle with self-identity and direction in life were tied to her dad’s unfortunate choice to walk away. It took my friend probably 20 years after the fact to work through her feelings and discover that her self-worth and value in life weren’t tied to her dad’s actions.

It was through my friend’s pursuit of the arts and drama that she discovered that she could be herself, whether she had a good relationship with her dad, boyfriends or even best friends. (Don’t misunderstand my friend is very capable of making close relationships.) The key to unlocking the door that allows you to release the anger and resentment of the past is learning how to forgive and let go. My friend’s journey centered on her faith walk with Christ and how He helped her understand forgiveness and grace. It was through her being forgiven that she discovered God’s grace and mercy that empowered her to see her calling to show the same type of love.

Don’t get me wrong it isn’t easy to do this and face the demons from anyone’s past that have constrained you for a lifetime. It’s not that this undoes the actions of the past but it puts them in perspective where you can stop the person who hurt you from controlling you any longer. It is this life gripping inner anger and resentment that can control you whether the person who caused this is even around you. The power of discovering that self-worth and value are based not on a person’s monetary wealth but on their character and choice of values is life changing.  My friend shared how she had come to a point where she broke down totally about her dad’s situation in her life and finally let go and discovered a freedom that was totally a gift of God’s grace and mercy in her life.

Everyone has stories of how we try to cheer ourselves up by doing something special or buying something only to discover that this doesn’t really help much if at all. My friend’s story finished with her sharing how giving back through the theater to help others had situated her to deal in a positive fashion from the hurt in her past. It is possible to feel like a million dollars whether you are broke or financially well off. The focus isn’t on the dollars and cents of your account but on the values that define your understanding of life and the importance of being someone who is learning to forgive forget and help others in similar circumstances. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How do you handle the blahs?

I at times will put on this venire that I am doing great when in reality I’m in the blahs. It is so easy to allow the circumstances around us to stop us from being honest about how we are feeling, which I know is subjective but I end up having to go on automatic pilot at times. I know most have had the experience when driving where we will zone out or day dream and end up going in the opposite direction from your intended destination. So how do you deal with the bad days or the proverbial ‘black cloud’ that is following you all over?

I can be too quick to say just focus, do the obvious and get moving. Don’t stop and allow yourself to be in neutral. The problem is that too often we don’t allow ourselves real downtime where we don’t have to do much of anything. It is difficult to put down my iPhone and ignore texts or e-mails. It is too easy for me to fill my ical with busy instead of being more strategic. I know that just being still and not being productive is considered wasting time. Yet, what is refreshing for me often is just reading and being unattached.

I know that we live in an age of self-medication where this can be prescription drugs or doing things just for the sake of doing something. I have a friend who had just texted and admitted that at times he will take his kids out for fun and it costs money he doesn’t have. It doesn’t matter to him that a real bill hasn’t been paid because he is unable to think clear because of the blahs. I know that it was easy for me to text back a simple 1,2,3 type of quick fix but I know deep down inside it doesn’t work.

I’m fortunate in that I control most of my schedule or life choices at present. If I had to deal with a real boss, co-workers and pressure to perform it would be really different. So I know that the pressure I feel most of the time is self-inflicted yet I have standards and goals that I want to pursue and that causes pressure and tension. So what has to happen to for me to avoid the blahs or feeling like s-----?

I’m learning that feeling down or blue is part of life so I shouldn’t be shocked or overwhelmed when I feel this way. The question is what are some simple day to day ways to face the emotional tides in life? I know for me getting up early and spending time with my wife, walking the dogs and not rushing off to a meeting is key. (Yes, I can be late at times because of putting too much on my plate.) I also know that power napping and reading helps a lot. I know for some going on real vacation helps but many in today’s setting don’t have the privilege of this type of excursion.

I know that it is easy to go back to past platitudes like all grey clouds have silver lining or the popular when life hands you a lemon make lemonade. I know that learning to laugh at my failures or stress points can help me better understand that I’m not superman or any type of super hero but just normal average people living in the midst of sun shine, clouds, rain or even snow on occasion. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What really matters?

I was ten years old when Martin Luther King gave his speech that has brought to the forefront the topic of what makes a person great isn’t the race, religion or position of leadership but the content of their character! I don’t have much of a memory of this day but do remember the national tragedy of the assignation of JFK. I have vivid memories of being with my mom’s side of the family and that everyone was in tears about what had taken place. The nation was in mourning and a cloud of gloom hung over our nation. The reality is that a cloud of racism and supremacy continues to haunt our country.

I do appreciate all of the posts on various sites that talk about leadership, management and relating to a wide variety of circumstances. What I continue to question is the sense that the key influencers of today, whether that is on LinkedIn or another site, is that it is easy to give advice as if you are on top of the ‘heap’ looking down at those that are mere novices when it comes to education, business or family life. My question is what really matters? Is it how many followers you have on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn or hits on a YouTube Clip? Why is it the case that character isn’t at the forefront of all of these leadership discussions?

I do appreciate those who post and are honest about going back to what really matters! There was a picture of two young kids that lived in the 60’s having dinner together with mom and dad. This could have been a Norman Rockwell picture in the New Yorker. It reflected on a past where family, togetherness, being honest and faithful in everything matter. Today we have succumbed to pragmatism so that what ever works regardless of its ethical focus is what drives us. I know that it takes a certain type of presence and communication skills to keep an audience captivated. We live in an age of entertainment where the substance of what is done or said is in the background of how often we laughed and how quick the speaker is to bash or exaggerate someone else’s quirks.

I know that in my neighborhood that it is unlikely to have teens or adults of different racial backgrounds naturally be friends or partners in business. I wish this weren’t so but this is the case. I so much want to scream out that the color; educational background or neighborhood where you live has little to do with the real quality of person you will become. The assumption in the world around me is that education is the panacea of the ills in marginalized neighborhoods. Much as the kid born into an upper middle class family will attend schools that will position them for higher education and better paying jobs until a recession hits and college degrees or now like high school diplomas in the past generation.

I just voted for a local election where my district had a mix of individuals running for a city council seat. There was an older pastor, a young lawyer and a young local activist. I know that the racial background or religious center of these individuals should or shouldn’t matter? It is clear that often people of similar backgrounds or heritages think alike and often vote for the same individuals or issues. Yet, the question that comes out of my childhood with both JFK and MLK is having character that influences others and a heart to give to those not as fortunate the ultimate matter in life? 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Is there a cure for hate crimes & racism?

I know that tomorrow celebrates the 50th anniversary of a famous march in Washington and a speech that has echoed throughout our land. The question that still evades me is whether this dream of racial equality and responsibility will ever become a reality. I live in a diverse community where ‘hate crimes’ happen all of the time between different gangs, in neighborhoods and in schools. I know that it is still relatively easy for those outside of my community to have a negative view of my neighborhood because of its’ diversity.

I struggle with the ongoing issues within different racial communities when it seems as if it is self-perpetuating. I recently had a good friend who is a reporter for the Arizona Republic write an article on the ongoing struggles with African American youth in Phoenix. He had used the last census poll as the means to make the assessment that Phoenix had the highest dropout rate, unemployment rate and teen pregnancy rate in the country for this racial group. He interviewed one of my teens and did an overview of his life story. His mom died when he was young, his dad has never been in the picture, he is a juvenile diabetic and his grandma who is 80 is raising him. He had dropped out of school out of frustration with his inability to do his math and other homework.

The article attempted to give some sense of hope and what had to happen to see life improve. My frustration is that being involved with an at risk youth population can be very rewarding at times when you see someone ‘get it’ and rise to the top. It is also rather frustrating when I continue to see the same teens that are dropouts make excuses about why they don’t have jobs after being out of school for a couple of years and haven’t even gotten their G.E. D.

It is so easy to blame circumstances, which I know the youth didn’t create such as their deadbeat dad or welfare mom. Yet, the opportunity is there today for anyone regardless of race or background to choose to get involved in life and make a difference in their community. Yet, what seems to happen isn’t much different from these teens that randomly killed this Australian Baseball Player. The teens made the comment that they were bored and didn’t have anything to do so they decided to kill someone that day. I’m shocked that there hasn’t been outrage from the racial communities that these youth represent to take responsibility for these teen’s choices.

I know that my button gets pushed when I’m with anyone that makes the comment that they are bored and must be entertained. I know that one of the common threads of today’s youth is the need to be entertained. Few are able to sit still for more than a few minutes unless there is an X-Box or PS-3 to play in the house. What happened to the day when youth and adults choose to be responsible for themselves? I know that reading and using your imagination isn’t very popular but why not do something different? Why allow the crowd mentality to pull you down? How could someone ever think that harming someone was a way to ‘kill the time’?

The story that talked about my teen unfortunately failed to mention what had helped him turn the corner and get back into school, playing football and life. It was the choice of someone outside his life to get involved. I have two close friends who have become his mentors. They are both from different racial groups and have made significant commitments to help him stay in life and succeed. My one friend takes this teen out often; he takes him camping and hunting. My other friend has chosen to get him involved in playing football. This requires driving everyday to pick him up and drop him off.

I know that the concept of being committed to a higher calling that requires your time and resources is alien to many. What helped my teen turn the corner could have saved the life of an innocent 20 something that was jogging by a group of teens that hadn’t been taught much by their own communities about the value of life. Don’t be surprised at the impact you can make when you walk away from the T.V. or your ipad or smartphone and do something that matters! 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Racial Slurs - Why?

I was having coffee with a young college grad now working on his Masters. He made a rather interesting statement that he didn’t get how people could be racist and yell out a variety of terms that demeaned others different from him. He couldn’t fathom why there were both race and religious wars happening throughout most of our world. I looked rather aghast at his naive way of looking at the world. I asked hadn’t you ever had a run in with someone that was different from you and end up believing that they are either not as smart as you or as good of a worker as you?

I had sent out an online newsletter update of New City – Barrio and got back a terse e-mail from an older gentleman who was bent out of shape because I had called myself a ‘White guy’? I reacted to myself by saying go figure! I understand that it would be inappropriate for someone from the outside looking in at me to say, ‘Hey you old white man or grandpa!’ Yet, I was the one calling myself this name. I have worked around different racial groups most of my life. I know that everyone has slang expressions they choose to call one another. It is perfectly ok for someone who is like them or me to do this but not someone on the outside looking into the situation.

Last night we had a life group where we ended talking about racial slurs and why it was ok for someone that is the same race to slur another but someone from outside it was considered worthy of being shot. I admit that the use of different terms today mean different things than when I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. My Spanish isn’t too great but I can remember hearing certain phrases when I was working with mostly Hispanics that one day I just happened to repeat. I was shocked to see the reaction even though everyone else was quick to spew out these terms.

We had just watched the movie, The Butler and were reminded of the Civil Rights Movement and the issues with giving African Americans, Negros or Blacks equality. This is clearly an ongoing discussion for Blacks, also women in the workplace and teens that are viewed as being sub-adults. So our discussion for a time focused last night on the N word. I always laugh when my Black teens will yell the N word back and forth at each other as if it is the same as saying hi, how are you doing or what’s up.

I had some friends who are Black and Hispanic share their life stories and how racism impacted them. It surprised me to hear my Hispanic friend honestly say he didn’t see people as colors but as individual people whose character and choices defined them not their skin color. This shocked one of the teens that then proceeded to talk about the N word and brought a rise out of the rest of the group. It is clear that we still live in a racial world where we can slam someone without even knowing it or intentionally use a word that is clearly going to start a fight.

I know that my young college grad friend didn’t understand that the way different cultures communicate at times causes racial wards. I grew up with parents that were raised in the midst of real racial wars that saw people get seriously hurt because of being at the wrong place at the wrong time or attempting to go into the wrong section for eating, using a water fountain or even a bathroom.  I know that it is easy for any race or culture to believe that it is the super race or ultimate culture. The journey we all must purse is seeing that we are all here and have to choose to relate to one another and learn each other’s language and perceptions.

I know that the ongoing racial battles in my neighborhoods won’t cease until everyone chooses to come together and listen to each other’s story and discover that everyone is really alike. I agree with my new Hispanic friend that character and integrity are what truly matters? So how are we going to get people that are really, really different to come together?