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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Are you Overpaying for Power?

A recent run-in with my utility company raised an interesting metaphorical question.

The utility company has a basic “Customer Charge” everyone pays. That charge is $14/month. I did not know this, because the statement simply said

“Customer Charge — $70.”

I had to call in and simply ask what that was for. That’s $14 x 5, for the five residential units in your building, I was told. But. There are not, nor have there ever been, five residential units in the building. Before we purchased it, there were three apartments. In 2008 we reconverted it to a single-family dwelling. And we never noticed the over-charge, because it wasn’t detailed on the bill. Until this month.

For nine years, I’ve been overpaying for my power. Now I come to a decision: will I be able to make an acceptable bargain? What do I want? Can I negotiate (with a huge company) for a repayment (they are currently resisting pretty hard) or will I need to request intervention? If so, the possibilities are 1) File a Consumer Complaint with the State Attorney General’s office and request mediation 2) Small Claims Court 3) Let it go. That perfect girl is gone… Uh. No. Number 3 is out.

Now to extrapolate principles for the metaphorical/philosophical question… how do you know if you are overpaying for power?

We all wield some sort of power. Related words include “influence” and “authority” and “control”. Even self-control is a certain sort of power. The lack of it subjects us to being ruled by other things: our own fleshly desires in the form of addiction, for example. I think it’s fair to say that the weakest human being still possesses some sort of power, as long as they are breathing. Even people we might consider dispossessed of power have a little. You can throw yourself in front of a line of tanks. You can willingly and peacefully resist oppression. You can take violence to the street (not recommended.) Your power in that case lies simply in your own willingness to die rather than to accept another day of relative powerlessness. You’re saying “I won’t overpay anymore. Give me liberty or give me death!” Over-payment — that’s when we’re giving more than we’re getting.

Some questions have to be addressed before we can get to over-payment, though. First, how much power do we need? Are we managing a building with five residential units, or one? Second, is what we’re giving up equal to what we’re getting? It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis that we may not be doing. For example, I have a certain amount of power over my children. As they grow towards adulthood, I begin to lend them some of my own power, so they can get a feel for using it. The longer I attempt to hold all the power in my hands over their lives, the closer I’m going to get to having them throw their bodies in front of the line of tanks I’m driving. The longer they over-pay, the closer they’ll come to revolt.

Some politicians still want to use Machiavellian power tactics: Sly and cunning, two-faced, deceitful tactics to get what they want and give nothing in return: an example would be getting a wall built and getting Mexico to pay for it. This is an old-school approach to power. I heard someone on the radio comment the other day that the new broadly held assumption in the field economics is that the best principle is to seek a win-win. Seeking a win-win means everyone’s paying a fair rate for the power they get in a relationship. Nobody’s tricking anyone. Everybody is empowered, and therefore happy.

Look at where you have power, and where you don’t. We need to ask ourselves, am I paying too much? (Or too little, not taking responsibility?)  Am I getting tricked? Am I tricking someone else, no matter how subtly? Healthy life balance includes getting the power equation to equal up like a proper algebraic statement. Where Pw = power and Pm = Payment, we want to come up with Pw=Pm.

If you are over-paying, it’s time to respect yourself enough to ask for some restitution and equalization.

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.

Fusions in the Void, Number 10. Hot and Cold: The Eye of a Storm

Tornadoes suck. (Why not start with a bad pun?)

Cyclones, eddies, hurricanes, tempests, tornadoes, twisters, typhoons, vortices, and whirlwinds: In the middle there’s a void. A vacuum.

When they begin in the air, it’s with a clash of hot and cold systems. The cold shoves itself under the hot; the hot leapfrogs over the cold. Their push-of-war creates a rush, a cycle, a spin like a washing machine, spinning to the point that centrivical force takes over. High winds. Destruction in its wake.

And yet, in the center that void. That calm in the eye. In this case the void is a place where calm reigns in the midst of hot and cold. Hot and cold fuse not in the void but around it. It is said that one of the most frightening moments in a hurricane is the eye. Everything gets calm– too calm. Eerily calm.

What’s good in this? Where is the hope I’ve talked about so many times? First of all, in the eye, you’re midway through. If you’ve identified yourself in a Void Season (dark night of the soul or valley experience) then you’re already half done.

Jesus said that we should either be hot or cold, that if we’re lukewarm he’d spit us out. It’s true whether we’re talking about a cold  drink of water or hot tea, either way we sort of want our beverages to refresh us by either cooling us off or warming us up. The void arises when hot and cold attempt to mix. You can’t slam them together and have lukewarm air without a fight, without something getting knocked about. Eventually the environment in a single place is going to get a shift. You will have a change as the storm moves through. If it was humid and hot, now it will be drier and cooler, or vice versa. Things won’t stay the same. Whatever life was like, when the storm passes, it will be different. There’s no avoiding it. In the Void experiences in life, we have this moment were everything is still. We don’t face choices — not yet. We will come out the other side of the storm with decisions to make, and those decisions will be made well if we embrace who we’re becoming while we’re in the middle. Or, at least, embrace that we’re becoming something new.

If you don’t embrace the idea that you’re changing after the store is over, that a shift is coming, you’re liable to pick up your folding chair and try to take it along with you wherever the eye of the storm moves. In other words, you stay in the place of limbo longer, rather than accepting the idea that you’ve got to get through another half of this storm before you can proceed. Once the storm passes, you’ll take stock of your surroundings. Perhaps some things will be left untouched. Other things will be knocked down, some of them unrecognizable. It’s a chance to start fresh. I’m not saying it’s not scary. I know it’s terrifying! But the only way to find out what the landscape looks like and how that’s going to change your life is to move through the second half.

The Void can last a long time. Sometimes people prolong it by trying to stay in the middle of the Eye. Counter-intuitive as it may sound, it’s really quite comfortable in spite of its emptiness and eeriness. At least, in the Eye, we don’t have to face the future too much.

What’s God doing in the Void, in the Eye? He’s fusing hot and cold. Because eventually they will mix together. Not so that you can be lukewarm, but the storm doesn’t last. Storms play out. The hot and cold mixed, things settle down. God’s fusing things we can’t see while we sit in the middle of a crazy wind and listen.

In fact, God is in the Void with us, as Elijah discovered:

“Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12)

Elijah then catalogs his feats. And God ignores them. All the instructions Elijah gets from God at this point involve sweeping reform. He’s instructed to crown two new kings and his successor is selected. What was God doing in the middle of all that storm? He was shuffling the deck. And He didn’t particularly care what Elijah’s track record was. It was time for something new.

We expect that in the Void God is out there throwing earthquakes around, when really he’s sitting right inside it watching to see whom we’re becoming. And He’s shuffling the deck. Be ready to have your track record ignored. It’s not because we serve an unloving God, it’s just that change is inevitable after the Void. Embrace that. A new day is coming.

Putulu Payer: Thursday in Congo

Last night in a meeting of the team that is assembled for deciding how to disseminate coaching in Congo, (which is about half of the trainees), the trainees decided that it would be best to proceed slowly with the idea. I was relieved. They’re starting to catch on, but translation issues and cultural alike have put us in a position to move quite slowly.

This morning I put on my new Congolese shirt, a “wax” or a shirt made with colorful material used for making ladies’ pagnes and men’s shirts. So as Leonard went by our room after brushing his teeth, he said “Putulu” a Lingala word which which means something akin to “lookin good man!” and when Charles laughed, Leonard said “payer!” (The French verb ‘to pay’) which means “lookin’ good … now gimme a buck for saying so!” At breakfast I went over to Leonard and said “Brother Leonard, because you said Putulu to me now I must pay you!” And so I slapped down a 500 franc note (fifty cents). That got me a huge laugh from the entire table that was worth the money I spent to make people laugh.

During a discussion on the difference between authentic encouragement vs. flattery this morning, the Putulu Payer concept came up again. I said, “Isn’t Putulu Payer basically a flattery?” And they said NO NO! You can say Putulu and really mean it! But if you add Payer, then it’s flattery!

There’s a fine line between an authentic compliment for encouragement and a flattery, and yet flattery is easy to spot: what do you stand to gain? If you stand to gain something, there’s a good chance you’re saying PAYER to your friend.