Encouragement as Confrontation

I was talking to a friend this morning who was admitting that perhaps he isn’t very good at confrontation. He’d prefer to avoid conflict, and admitted that it may come from a certain theological background (he grew up Mennonite).

In the course of the conversation, I said to him something like “You know, encouragement IS a form of confrontation.” I surprised myself with this statement, because I’ve never thought about it this way before. But I’m convinced that I’m on to something!

When we’re having a tough time, we need to be encouraged because without some outside help, we’re going to get stuck in negative self-talk. Encouragement tells us we can go another mile in the marathon. It tells us we can get back up, dust ourselves off, and get back on a horse. Someone who encourages us confronts the self-defeating negativity and says “NO” to it.

We may not see it as a confrontation because it may be preemptive. Ideally, we’re getting encouraged even before our brain says “I want to quit, I want to give up, I want to be comfortable.”

When was the last time you told someone they are pretty? (And really meant it.)

“Oh, I’m not — I’m not as pretty as so-and-so.”

You know you’re getting enough encouragement when you can just say “thank you” after being confronted with some truth about yourself. Encouragement is just an exercise in confrontation that says “I believe in you. You can do it.”

Get lots of mini-interventions, it’s like health food for your brain… and your soul. And give them out, too.

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Questioning Authority

Here’s a question my brother Aaron asked via social media today.

“I’d suggest that rather than questioning authority we might do better to think about authority. Where does it come from? What is it for? Do you know anyone who wields it productively? What are the limits of obedience to authority? Why? What is the difference between authority and power? But don’t take my word for it…ask a question of your own!”

Aaron, great job starting a discussion on a very interesting topic.

I called him and we talked about it together particularly in light of my March 15 blog titled Family Values in which, as I told Aaron, “I excommunicated roughly half of the North American church.”

“Really? You did?” He said. “Under what authority?”

“Are you questioning my authority?” I said.

“No, I’m just asking a question,” he said. Ha ha, we laughed.

I explained the core concept of the blog to Aaron in a little more depth and then posed the question back to him, “where do you think I got the authority?” To which he replied, “your authority came from a revelation from God.”

Well, that means it is prophecy. As I begin now to exercise a prophetic voice more often, I was asking myself these questions, too.

I’d like to start out the discussion by saying I’m not an expert on authority, but my basic observation is that authority, in general (I’m not talking about spiritual authority) comes in one of two basic ways: via a vetting process or via a personality cult. In the above conversation with Aaron, there’s a particular vetting happening when someone else verifies “your revelation came from God.” Vetting is a HUGE part of the process of becoming an authority on something.

Aaron said, “Well, all those vying for president right now haven’t been vetted,” and I said, “No, they don’t have any authority yet. Authority goes in stages, from one stage to the next you’re vetted. For example, Kasich has the authority of the Governor of Ohio, so hes asking us as a nation to vet him to the next level.”

For another example, my authority in the field of life coaching was vetted from a third-party perspective at CCNI and they decided that the quality of my work deserves the credential (authority) at the CPCC level. This was a more stringent vetting process than simply earning a certificate from a training school. It took me seven years to get from the certificate to the credential. The next credential (Master Coach) might take another 10 years.

The flip side of vetting is the WRONG way to get authority. These guys are the political demagogues and personality-driven church leaders. Typically (if they attain any amount of authority that puts them in the public eye) they have a certain and very rare personal charisma. They can stay small and out of the public eye, leading a group of just a few hundred people, and yet even then when their downfall comes about often times the leader of even a group of only a dozen will end up in the public eye as their abuses come to light. When the authority comes from personal charisma, nobody’s holding you accountable to integrity.

Think about how Donald Trump got where he is today, asking the country to vet him in the election process. What political authority has he had before? None. His vetting process up to this point has been based on a personality cult he’s carefully constructed with a great deal of personal charisma and it has no particular basis in terms of integrity; based on all that, he’s very close now to getting a nomination (which still isn’t the authority of the Presidency). Kasich is pretty disgusted with this whole thing; he’s the governor of Ohio, he’s the candidate on the GOP side who’s held the most authority in a position similar to President. Why isn’t he the obvious next candidate for authority on the GOP side? An entertainment-driven society has deceived people into thinking that personal charisma is a reasonable way to become authoritative.

You see the same thing with Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. Like his message or not, it’s been the same for 30 years and that means he’s speaking with integrity. When Hillary Clinton says “Where was he in 1993?” His campaign retorts “He was literally right behind you.” Clinton doesn’t look good when she tries attacking Sanders on issues of integrity. Let’s leave politics behind. I’m not an authority on politics. Ha ha.

What is the key characteristic that typically motivates those in authority over others to vet them up to the same level? I submit that it’s integrity. Promises fulfilled. When you’re given a certain level of authority and you fulfill your commitments and live a life of quiet integrity, people see there’s authority in that and they elevate you to the next level.

In a sense, it’s not terribly different from power, in the sense that Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell someone that you are, you probably aren’t.” But there are differences, too.

So, where your authority comes from is not how you lead into a discussion. You state what you have to say. Jesus did this. “He spoke as one with authority.” Then, if people ask “where did you get your authority” (and they will) you can tell them. I don’t start a coaching pitch by saying, “I’ve got a CPCC with CCNI” partly because people are going to say “so what” (not because CCNI isn’t an authoritative body, but because they may not have ever heard of it). That won’t work partly because that’s a weak opening statement compared with, say, for example, asking a great coaching question that shows I’m a lady … um, wait, I mean, shows I know what I’m doing as a coach. A powerful use of authority assumes you have it.

The thing about questioning authority, then, is really asking “Does this authority have the integrity needed to maintain their authority?” and sometimes the answer is NO!

Should we question authority? Sure, we should. Aaron did it to me. He said he wasn’t, but really in his question “what authority do you have to excommunicate half the church?” is implied that we need to know where the authority comes from, we want to know if you have the integrity to carry that authority, and we want to keep checking in on that from time to time.

A really good leader doesn’t need to be questioned too often. Follow 90% and question 10% seems to be a rule of thumb that comes to my head. The whole political discussion isn’t to pick sides here, it’s really to illustrate what needs to happen in our churches (that’s the realm I have a lot more authority to speak to) which is this: once we’ve decided to put someone in a position of authority, we need to follow them. We get to expect that they are accountable, and we do not have to be their accountability partner, coach or mentor or overseer. In fact, it is best if we are not functioning in that role if they are also our pastor.

Does that mean we should never question their decisions? Or their integrity? Or their authority? Of course not. But why would we put someone in a position of authority if we didn’t vet them for a measure of integrity in the first place?

 

 

Intentional Community #5

A blog reader asked me to comment on the topic of Slackers in your intentional community.

You’re trying to engage your community with purpose and intent for accountability and growth, and you run into slackers. It doesn’t matter what your format or system is for intentional community. They will be there, sitting at the table, waiting to eat.

Someone asked me recently if I could push a big RED button and something in the world would change, I said that for me, it would be that everyone in the world would have at least one good friend.

Slackers are a bit like the monkeys on Monkey Island in Thailand. A guy named Tim and I kayaked out with half a loaf of bread and fed these wild monkeys. First of all, we figured out quickly who was the Alpha male. (No females even showed up for the handouts. Not sure why.) We had to work to get bread to the others. The Alpha was a little bolder, willing to brave water up to his knees. He was ready to chase anyone off, baring his teeth and screeching. Tim and I made sure to stay far enough out that we couldn’t get bitten. A bite from one of these guys would be bad news. One of the monkeys climbed up on Tim’s kayak and found his water bottle. The little dude punched a hole with his teeth and sucked out the fresh water. The monkeys lost interest in us when we ran out of bread. It seems they could tell the handout session was over. Perhaps they saw that our hands were empty, maybe they just knew by experience, or maybe they could even smell that we didn’t have any left in our pockets or bags, but they left pretty quickly.

It seems kind of mean to compare slackers with monkeys, but remember, my personal vision statement is that everyone would have at least one friend. Even monkeys. Even Slackers. The point isn’t to be mean, it’s to be frank.

Principle number one: You are the only person responsible for the depth of community you experience. You do not get to blame it on others if people don’t show up and you therefore don’t get to have community. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog, you need to build in redundancy to combat the fact that other people are typically not as concerned about building community with you, specifically, than you are concerned about it for yourself, and therefore for others by extension of your involvement.

Principle number two: we are called to share our bread, even with monkeys. Bread is of course analogous to money, but it can also easily mean time, emotional energy, or whatever else you give to relationships.

Principle number three: Your bread isn’t limitless. If people aren’t reciprocating in your relationships, you’re going to run out. When that happens the monkeys will leave or you will get in your kayak and paddle away. No harm, no foul, monkeys are used to this pattern. They may act offended, but they’re really just pushing to see if you don’t have a few crumbs left.

My hope and belief is that everyone has the ability to grow and mature, to become a leader (not analogous to the Alpha male, who is more like a bully) and steward the gifts God has given them, but the stark reality of the world is that while everyone shares that potential, some do and some don’t. That takes us back to the first question, will you be one who does? Who shows up? Who makes community a priority?

The second thing is that because you’ve made this a priority, you’ll make sacrifices. You’ll give sometimes and get nothing in return. This WILL deplete you. You’ll have to retreat, gather new resources, rest your aching heart, and try again, make another investment. I suspect a combined approach is healthiest:

Reach out to some of the monkeys who took your bread. Maybe next time around they’ll get it. Also, reach out to new people, because this helps build redundancy. You may find some new monkeys, but you may also find some people who will stick with you. Somebody else is looking for this. I am, and I have plenty of friends who do. Intentional community is a real possibility for your life.

Finally, keep investing. It’s a bit like the stock market. Sometimes you buy stocks and they fall for a while, but if you keep them, they can come roaring back. Sometimes you buy in with a high-flying stock and it crashes. But any financial adviser will tell you this: keep investing, even when the market is down. Especially then.

You’ve got to find someone who needs one good friend. Then go be it. They may be a long-term monkey, or they may just be a stock that’s down at the moment. Either way, you’ve done something good for humanity.

Remember this: if you stop investing, you may not realize it, but you just became the monkey.

 

 

Intentional Community: Deep, Authentic Relationships

While talking to my friend Joe yesterday he asked me if I could help his organization out in helping people make intentional plans for growth in their organization. Joe’s firm helps nonprofits develop their own leadership from within. One executive he knew had recently been let go by the board, after six or seven years with the company. This executive had asked Joe on four separate occasions to come talk about helping them make a plan, but they never bought in. Now that Executive X is being let go, too late he realizes that an intentional plan would have been much better. The transition will be a lot more painful.

Intentional seems like a redundant word to me, and maybe it should be, but it’s not. Nothing really gets done without intentionality, unless you’re talking about haphazard accidents, and any of those that are good happen because you were intentionally working on something else! You don’t stumble upon the idea for Post-It Notes unless you’re working on new developments in glue.

The same thing goes with community. The first thing you have to recognize if you want to build a community with and for any purpose whatsoever, you’ll have to be intentional.

The law of entropy — I am not a thermodynamic physicist, so this is perhaps inaccurately summarized as the idea that things fall apart — creates the challenge that things in a closed system (like the universe in terms of thermodynamics or like your town or organization in terms of meaningful relationships) will require an influx energy on a consistent basis to make any relationship or group a cohesive one.

In other words, your intentionality is required to counter-act entropy in any community you care about.

The first thing Joe and I had to agree on was the fact that without intentionality, no organization can implement any plan, much less a plan that will develop future leadership potential.

Writers: Dig Deep for Longer Impact

90,000 words deep in my next novel, which looks like it might be a 180,000-word + trilogy by the time it’s done, I’ve been re-reading the Postscript to The name of The Rose by Umberto Eco. If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s On Writingyou ought to read Eco’s Postscript, too. Even if you don’t want to invest in the time to read the actual novel Eco wrote, (deep, heavy, erudite, over your head half the time, even the translation into English often leaves bits in Latin, German, French, Italian, maybe Greek) his words about the process in the Postscript are helpful for all writers and you can buy the Postscript by itself! (see link above). Consider this quote:

Eco was asked which of the characters he identified with in his novel, and he replied, “For God’s sake, with whom does the author identify? With the adverbs, obviously!”

Obviously (heh, heh, that’s an adverb). I’d always heard it said that you should work to eliminate adverbs (Stephen King says so, so it must be right) but now I understand why. Don’t tip your hand: good writing allows the readers to decide how they feel about the characters. Lovingly, you must compassionately and thoroughly eliminate your adverbs kindly, so your readers can happily do their job engagedly.

A well-placed adverb can quickly set the tone, but a poorly placed one will even more speedily ruin it. Forcefully err on the side of cutting this garbage out!

Eco set his mystery, The Name of the Rose, in a monastery in the 1300s. He did so much research on the monastery that the conversations his characters have are timed to last just as long as it would take to walk from one building to the other, or whatever. That means he had to know how many steps there was, say, from the kitchen to the library, in this heady Clue!-style whodunit.

I realized my next novel, which starts in 1977, feels pretty real, but I have some back story that’s going to need some deeper understanding of events in England between 1602 (around when the King James Bible was translated)  and 1662 (when the Puritans finally got kicked out of the Anglican church) so I went and bought five books. A book of Puritan sermons, from 1662 on Bartholomew’s Day (the last day all these Puritans preached in the Anglican church). One in particular on a study one Puritan preacher did on the book of Hosea. And more. I might end up needing another five books after I read these. I’m inventing my own sect of Puritans which is a complete fabrication, but if I want it to feel real, I have a lot of pre-work to do to set it authentically. It’s an offshoot branch of Puritanism which needs to break off from real historical events. So, if you want your work to have long lasting impact, you may have to pull back from cranking out the word count and consider how well-constructed your world is. Remember, the reader may not need to know any of it. A rookie mistake is to think that everyone who’s reading it wants to know it all. (This is why some people hate Moby Dick: it’s full of detail about whaling that you probably don’t want if you’re just in for some adventure.) But you, the writer, you need to know all of it.

Writer’s Group: I can do it on my own. Really?

Writing is a solitary existence. The best advice-givers, like Steven King in his book “On Writing” suggest that for a certain amount of time in the course of your manuscript you need to work alone, without allowing other people to see, read or influence what you’re doing.

That’s true, which is part of the reason our writer’s group doesn’t do critiquing. We don’t want to interrupt the flow.

On the other hand, you have to be highly motivated to keep plowing ahead. It’s so easy to just surf the net or go for a long walk rather than write. That’s why we get together for accountability. You set your goal for the month, and you’ve got to deliver.

My goal this past month was 15,000 words. My total was closer to 20,000. If I didn’t have a group I was committing to for that kind of production, it wouldn’t happen.

How many words are you writing this month? What’s your goal? Who’s holding you to it?

Writer’s Group: Setting a really great goal

What sort of goal pushes you but is attainable? That’s what Justin and I have decided to push ourselves and our group toward, so that each one is making headway in writing their book.

I’m setting this blog up a few days in advance. I committed to 15,000 words this month and I have just over a thousand left, two days to go. I’ll attain my goal. I’ll push for that last amount partly because I’m leading and it would be poor leadership if I don’t lead by example, and partly because I’m serious about meeting my goals anyway. And partly because I’m committing to it once again, with 51 hours to go.

We fully expect that the writers in our group will publish their books sooner, more frequently, and with more quality than if they were not in the group.

Yesterday I sent my editor my final comments on the first round of corrections for the full draft. In less than two weeks, my goal is to finalize all the copy and send it to press. I’m ambitiously shooting for publication, for books in my hands, by December 1.

Set your goals just low enough that you can attain them every month, and just high enough that it will take effort. Both of these are important. You MUST attain your goal each month, otherwise you become discouraged. You must also set it high enough that you have to work for it. Otherwise it’s not a goal. Think of it this way: if you say “my goal is to eat three square meals a day” but you already do that anyway, as sort of a natural course of events, it’s not really a “Goal,” is it? But if you change the goal to something like this: “I will eat small portions including hard boiled eggs and carrot sticks six times a day, making sure to chew my food completely, and cut out sweets for the next eight weeks” there is a pretty good chance you can do it, and a pretty good chance it will take some conscious effort. Just like health and fitness goals, writing goals must be attainable to keep up your enthusiasm and courage, and hard enough to let you know there’s effort involved. Best of luck in November, when many people write short novels … but you could be writing novels every month with just a little more regular discipline and accountability!