Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Whatever happened to saying Thank You?

Yesterday was an incredible day taking a group of ‘Black’ teens ice-skating at a seasonal rink in the city center of downtown Phoenix. We arrived early, which was actually a blessing, because we were almost the first to get to skate not understanding that the rink would be packed in about 30 minutes. While we were standing in line my intern did the typical group selfie that turned out great. (It became my LinkedIn profile pic.) I had a great conversation with a young mom with a daughter and son. Little did I know that the following hour would turn into a lesson on manners and saying thank yous. I should have titled this how can a ‘White Soccer Mom’ be so rude to one of my helpful polite ‘Black Teens’.

I know that there was an initial fear of ice-skating by most of the group, which were all girls except for Jalil and me. I hadn’t iced skated for probably 20 years but it wasn’t too long before I was zooming around the rink with the gals that were slowly getting it. One of the teens clearly had skated before or was that annoying type of person that could do anything almost perfect the first time. This teen became the helper of a group of little girls that spent most of their time on the ice rather than skating.

The story unfolds as we spend our time between taking pics of everyone slipping all over the place and sitting in the center show case of the rink, which was a Christmas Tree. What happened next was in slow motion and caught me off guard. I know that our group of ‘Black Teens’ did stick out a little with a primarily soccer mom group skating with their little kids. Out of one corner of my eye I saw my helper teen pick up a wad of what looked liked one dollar bills and then in a matter of seconds I saw this soccer mom type quickly come by and snatch the money out of her hand.

The reaction of my teen was what the ….. this soccer mom gave the impression that this gal was stealing her money. The reality is that the teen picked up money from the rink, which could have belonged to anyone, yet, this mom made an assumption that was clearly wrong that the teen was going to pocket the cash. So instead of having a happy skating ending the mom was actually rude. I struggled as I skated the rest of the time with telling her to go back to my teen helper and say thanks instead of giving her the eye.

This mom’s actions didn’t help the perception with my teen helper that most soccer moms are racists. I know that as a kid growing up the law of the land was finder’s keepers and loser's weepers. This mom I’m sure had this experience where she found something that her mom ultimately told her to return to the school office or not make the assumption that the 5 second rule meant the $5 was hers. I woundered what she said to her kids later that day about that ‘Black Teen’ that almost stole her money or maybe, just maybe, she changed her attitude and bragged on this ‘Black Teen’ that spent most of her day helping little ‘White’ girls get back up to skate?

I just texted my teen to thank her for being a great help for all of the younger ‘White’ little kids that were falling all over the place. She was their shadow that quickly came to their rescue and helped them have less ice or what looked like snow on their bottoms. The challenge was that this one mom exuded an attitude that offended me as I thought about my mom telling me both as a kid and as a grown up that THANK YOU goes a long way in building relationships. My hope is that this mom that was too quick to judge another will make a New Year’s resolution to think about thank you and manners in the coming year. My conversation with the other soccer mom went well during the rest of our rink time. She clearly accepted my group and thanked them for helping the little kids that were at their wits end with impatient moms like her.

So what has happened to saying thank you in today’s world? Where were you Ms. Manners when I needed you the most?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Character - does it really matter in 2015?

As we approach a new year I believe that one of the better resolutions to consider isn’t about eating, drinking, smoking or saving but about your moral character. How often in the last year did you catch yourself stretching the truth, cheating a little or actually stealing? I’m not accusing anyone of major theft or murder in the typical context but of considering how your words could harm someone’s character or potentially get them fired or demoted because of your choice not to speak the truth. Yes, it’s possible to murder someone’s character because of your choice to ignore a situation or pretend that you don’t see or hear something!

The generation that will soon take over the reigns of the government and local politics has been raised around an amoral society where everything goes unless you get caught or someone is actually hurt from your actions. Is your motivation for your actions based solely upon what you get out of it or is it more a genuine concern to see those that have been forgotten or left behind receive a fair ‘shake’ in life? It’s always incredible to see the extremes that someone will go to rescue a pet but when it comes to someone who continues to make poor choices it’s too easy to look the other way and just walk off and think it’s not my problem!

Too often we live in a very utilitarian fashion where the end result is all that matters and the journey that brings us to this destination doesn’t matter much if at all. The person who believes that everything matters sees the importance of starting off all things in life doing their best, continuing to give their all until they finish with a sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done. My mother use to always feed into me that any job worth doing was a job worth doing well.

The reality today is that most youth truly believe that there are short cuts in life that avoid hard work and heartache. The results too often are jobs that are done in a half ‘ass’ fashion that everyone would be ashamed to claim as their work. We would be quick to point the finger at someone else or make excuses to explain the poor quality of work we just did. Anyone who does an excellent job often is viewed as an overachiever type that needs to cool it and not make the rest of us look bad.

Imagine how the world around you would change if everyone started to care about their character and how that impacted their family, workplace and neighborhood? The great need is for everyone from the CEO of the big companies to the cashier at your favorite coffee shop to do their job with excellence and be willing to do a little bit more to help someone begin a journey of discovering the benefit of becoming a person of character. I know it is so easy to be more concerned about the people around me and their actions then to look in the mirror and see my own wrinkles, gray hair and beard.  The revolution and resolution for the 2015 starts in the mirror today as you get ready to celebrate the New Year and remember the old!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Does it really matter if I can read or think?

I was fortunate as a youngster to have a mom who would read to me all of the time. My mom wasn’t necessarily a voracious reader herself but the dusty bookshelves of my father showed his passion that I inherited which was to become someone who thinks.  I know that my dad’s love of books drove my mom crazy as they consumed their various houses over the years. The sad fact today is that most millennials have grown up around a texting, facebooking, snapchating, instagram world where reading in the old school fashion has been lost.

I work and live in a world that has a vast variety of people that range from PhD’s to those that won’t graduate from High School because they can’t read or do math. What is frightening for the American populace is that we are raising a generation that will never touch a book, even as a youngster and most likely be placed next to a tablet or I should say Ipad mini in their crib. The scary factor that must jump up at everyone is that there is a direct correlation between an individual’s reading ability and their ability to think critically. 

I work with at risk youth and college students where the ability to communicate is key to exist, yet, most of these young people fall so short when it comes to writing a complete sentence or articulate their views or biases. The question that must jump out at us is WHY? What has caused the U.S. youth population to lag so far behind educationally from the rest of the world, especially what would be perceived as 3rd world countries like India or China? Reading and thinking becomes the pathway to a better life and the ability to influence those around you!

I had asked a few of my summer interns over the last couple of years to read a book that would help them be better equipped to work with our at risk population. I hate to confess but my efforts to persuade these interns to read failed. The couple of books I give away all of the time are excellent but the amount of effort and discipline required clearly is missing. I confess to the fact that I have read most of my life to gain information and not to necessarily enjoy the act of reading and indulging in growing my imagination.

Recently one of my interns had posted about watching a newer T.V. series on Netflix. I chuckled when I had messaged her about the newer T.V. series that is based on a true story that was based upon a book.  When I initially told my friend about the book she gave the impression really, like I expected her to have red it first before watching the series. I said I had finished the book and believed it to be excellent and was clearly the basis for what made the series a hit. She gave the impression that she didn’t see any reason to read the book.

Most get the maxim that knowledge is power and the ability to gather information is the path to succeeding whether that is in the business world, family, church or non-profit sector. The opportunity is to understand the difference between accumulating knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge as a tool for good that promotes reconciliation and peace. What will be missing when reading and thinking are cast to the wayside is the wisdom that is needed to help in life’s tough circumstances that require critical thinking! So what should you do? Get a book and start reading and then find a kid, young kid and become their special reading friend!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How Do We/You Change the World?

It always excites me to make new friends who have a desire to make a difference in someone else’s life! This last week we have done a couple of special events to bless our friends who are living on the street. I had recently gotten to know a barista at my Starbucks who has teenage children. She wanted to participate in our burrito outreach to our homeless friends. I was truly impressed with her heart of compassion and even more so touched by her husband and kid’s willingness to do something that was definitely a stretch for most.

What especially touched me about my friend was hearing the story of how her husband lost both of his legs over a decade ago to a drunk driver that hit the car he was attempting to move onto his tow truck. It would be so easy to allow this type of tragic accident to cripple you for life physically, emotionally and spiritually. Yet, the moment I met her husband I was overwhelmed with his friendliness and willingness to help. It was exciting to see the look on her kids as they handed out burritos and bags of candy to people who were living at the edge.

Yesterday I finished handing out 70 hams to families in real need. One of my families, a single mom with a young daughter, came over to pick up her ham and gift card. I shared with her how we were going to make burritos on Christmas Eve and take them downtown to our homeless friends. I couldn’t believe how her eyes lit up and asked if it were possible for her to be able to help out with her daughter. I smiled and said of course you and your daughter are welcome to come to my house around 8:30am!

I know with the world seemingly drifting away from what would seem a moral center that simple acts of kindness like smiling at a stranger, paying for the person behind you in the drive through or just doing something totally unexpected at home can impact a person’s day. I applaud Mother Teresa’s heart in helping the poor, one person at a time, to be an inspiration to a world rapped up in the success game where individuals don’t matter. Yet, the reality is that each act of kindness you do today creates a ripple effect that is very difficult to quantify the ongoing result.

I had a call from another friend yesterday who loves to bless many of my friends that have little. She has been blessed to have the means to help in many different ways. What struck me was that her sense of excitement was no different from my single mom who lives on the edge and needs someone like her to help. My prayer in the coming year is that more people can have this sense of excitement that when they give of themselves that the world will change one life at a time.