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The Value of Engagement

A gorgeous, confident women told her story with urgency today at lunch.  It started with a stressful childhood that gave way to a sick teenager which unfolded in 10 years of hospital stays, medication, surgeries to fix the joints that the medication (which was keeping her alive) was ruining.  All of this before the diagnosis and the surgery that could “fix” the problem.  As she spoke a common thread kept showing up.  When she didn’t feel good, she didn’t tell anyone.  When things weren’t quite right, she didn’t mention it.  It was understood that in most cases, there was no one to tell.  Or when she did speak up, no one genuinely listened or truly cared.  

In contrast, yesterday, I sat down with a group of women who had come together to encourage, empower, uplift and support each other.  There was a new women already half way through her life sitting at the table.  When she shared what she needed, we pulled from our experience, resources, knowledge, connections and started giving her ideas, thoughts, possibilities.  The table was full of women who cared and listened intently.  Their only focus was to bring something of value to her.   Their gain was simply to have given generously of themselves.  She walked away in shock.  She didn’t expect to get anything from that group of people — certainly not genuine care.  

In what ways are you caring well for the person next to you?


The Measure of a Man

As we reflect this week on the life and impact of Martin Luther King, Jr.,  I wanted to look at a handful of his quotes.  

          Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

When we hear Martin Luther King, Jr saying this we think of big huge moments, like organizing marches or protests.  Consider practicing it in the small places, like family dinners and staff meetings and community groups.  There is never a good time for silence about things that matter.

          True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.

Taking the easy way out is void of compassion, not to mention dehumanizing to the receiver.  What makes us feel better, may not be what makes someone else better.  Finding solutions, not things that appease us, usually involves significant engagement.  That can be applied to all areas of life.

          We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

In the daily moments of defeat, disappointment, failure, we can be completely derailed by focusing on what didn’t happen.  Accepting that things will not be perfect or go exactly as planned, prevents us from getting stuck.  Keeping our focus on what’s still to come, the hope of what can still happen is what keeps us moving forward.  

I’ll leave you with this final word from Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who changed the course of history against all odds.  

           The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience,

           but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.


Filling our Need for Connection

Legos are the best!  When my boys were young, we had legos everywhere.  My favorite thing to do was build houses, airplanes, tractors, people, castles, dinosaurs, star wars fighters. It’s so fascinating to connect little tiny unadorned shapes into something significant.  I experienced a big loss the day we stopped playing with legos.  Humans have a built-in need for connection.  We’re like nondescript rectangles that come together in fascinating and impressive ways when we make connections.  

Disengagement is the Problem

Brene Brown, a researcher from the University of Houston, says that disengagement is the chief issue underlying the majority of problems in families, teams, and organizations. We disengage to protect ourselves and we also disengage because we are disappointed in others.  This desire we have to protect ourselves from others' judgement typically pushes us to pretend we are near perfect.  Authenticity sounds dangerous, so we cover up who we really are.  Even though most of us would love to wave a white flag and cry, “I need help” or “This isn’t working;” instead, we smile and say, “I’ve got this.”  

Two fairly unpleasant examples of this disengagement due to disappointment are politics and religion.  Politicians are making laws that they are not obligated to follow. They speak of values that are seldom on display in their behavior.  Likewise, when religious leaders prey on our fear and need for certainty by creating a system that requires us to conform or face repercussion, the entire concept of faith is undermined.  Faith minus connection equates to extremism.  “Connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it’s the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability,” Brene Brown in Daring Greatly.  

We are not purposely creating cultures of disengagement.  However, we might not be intentionally building connection either.  How do we shape a culture of connection? Brene Brown says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”  

Two Giants Steps toward Connecting

Living in genuine community, a place where there is real connection, has been my privilege for a couple of decades.  In the beginning, I was skeptical.  I didn't trust anyone.  I doubted the wisdom of being as authentic as the people around me.  Then I began to take risk, show a piece of myself, become transparent and vulnerable.  As I began to live like that, I gained a sense of belonging that is unexplained, a new kind of peace with who I am and a desire to be real with everyone.  This kind of connection and community is contagious. 

What if people came together with their masks off and shared their struggles?  What if we could create a culture where we show up and aren’t afraid to be seen — just us, the real deal, not the fake, pretending, perfect, show-to-the-world us.  If you don’t have that kind of community, maybe it’s time for you to create it.  Start by choosing to show up and be real, be honest, let your true self be seen.  Then create connections with others by seeing, hearing, and valuing them, just as they are.  The problem most of us face is that we want others to be vulnerable with us but vulnerability is the last thing we plan on showing them.  Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, no wonder it makes us uncomfortable.  Humans are designed for connection.  That means cultivating connection is a necessary part of our very health.  

What can you do to start creating this kind of connection in your family and beyond?