Winning Against the Wolf

Winning Against the Wolf

So this wolf comes knocking at my door.  He’s all earnest as he starts his spiel, but I see a sly glint in his eyes.  He says he’s there to warn me that a fellah down the road a piece is up to no good, and he has a big bundle of sticks and a bulging bag of rocks he wants to sell me.  I might need ‘em for protection, or I might want to join with my other neighbors to do the bad guy in before he makes more trouble.

If I buy his wares right now, he says, he’ll even throw in this super-duper sling shot at no extra charge.  He opens his trench coat to show it to me.

I tell him I’m not a fighter.  I have something better up my sleeve.  He selects a heavy stick from the bundle and kind of caresses it with his front paw.  “Better than this?” he asks.

“Yes,” I tell him smiling.  “But thanks anyway for your concern.”

He takes a round, heavy rock from his bag, slides the sling shot from under his coat, loads it up and fires the rock at one of my trees, hitting it.

“Hey!” I protest.  “That’s my tree!”

“Yeah, and look at the patch of bark I knocked off,” he growls.  “Listen, this fellah we’re talking about is a bad dude.  Evil through and through.  And he’s got a tribe of mean cronies, too.  But at least with this, you’d have a chance against ‘em.”

I walk over to my tree and pat it where the rock hit, telling it I’m sorry.  Then I tell the wolf I’m really not interested in his wares.

“Well then, tell me, Missy, just how you plan on dealing with this problem?”  He sneers at me.

“C’mon in,” I say to him.  “I’ll show you.”  I lead him into the kitchen, where the scent of chocolate chip cookies is wafting from the oven, and tell him to have a seat.   I pour him a big glass of cold milk, pull the cookies from the oven and place a few on a pretty plate in front of him.

“Here,” I say.  “Have some cookies and milk.  And tell me how you got into this line of work.”

He’s a little taken aback, but he slurps the milk and starts nibbling cookies and unfolds his story.  I ask about his family and where he’s from, and I tell him a couple stories of my own, and before long, we’re laughing and chatting like old friends.   As he finishes his sixth cookie, he pushes back the plate and says he’d better be getting on his way.  I thank him for stopping by and give him a bag with more cookies to take with him.

He’s two steps from the door when he turns back.  “Wait,” he says.  “You never showed me your secret weapon.”

“You’re holding it in your hand,” I smile, pointing to the bag of cookies.  He gets a sheepish look on his face—which is something for a wolf.  Then he turns, and with his tail between his legs, walks slowly down my driveway.

“I better think about getting into a new line of work,” he mumbles.  And off he goes, scratching his head, then reaching in the bag for a cookie.  And just as he turned the corner, I thought I heard him laugh.

The moral of the story is don’t buy the sticks and stones that the sly old wolves are selling.  We all have something far more powerful than conflict to offer.

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The Wisdom of Restraint

When I was a little kid, my mother taught me a lot about dealing with people whom I didn’t especially like. Basically, there were only two rules. I them both under the heading, “The Wisdom of Restraint.”

The first one was about guarding what came out of my own mouth, and the second one was about unkind things that others said to me. And today, when the divide between differing opinions is so sharp and deep, I’m grateful for Mom’s teachings.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice . . .

The first one–the guide for how to speak to others–was, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” It took me a while to understand that she didn’t mean I should never speak my truth if it was likely to offend. She meant I had to learn to express myself in a way that took others’ sensitivities into consideration and to respect them, no matter how silly or dumb their viewpoints seemed to be.

But until you’re mature enough to articulate your truth clearly and with tact, the “don’t say anything at all” part of Mom’s rule is a good guideline, and one which, it seems to me, a lot of us could well learn to adopt. If we spent less time mindlessly parroting slogans and sound bites and more time listening to reasoned, researched, and fact-based arguments, we might find that we had something worthwhile to contribute.

Otherwise, all we’re doing is adding fuel to already raging fires. And that’s no way to find workable answers to our world’s deep and complex problems. In fact, it makes them worse. It keeps us from even knowing what questions to ask in order to find solutions.

If you’re having trouble understanding how someone on the other side of a political argument could possibly believe what they believe, I highly recommend you take the time to listen to moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s wonderful Ted Talk, “Healing the Divide.” And heed his advice, too, about reading Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. This time-tested guide will show you how to say things tactfully and help you communicate more effectively in all aspects of your life. You can download it for free here.

Mom’s Second Rule

Okay, I know it’s not well-understood in today’s victim-culture, but Mom’s second rule holds wisdom nonetheless. She didn’t make it up. She just recognized it as sage advice that I needed to know: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

That rule taught me that I didn’t need to be offended just because someone was being offensive. If I was secure in myself, I could take their words as an expression of their opinion and nothing more. And they were as entitled to their opinion as I was to mine.

Everybody lives in his own reality bubble. But we all share things in common, too. If what you say shocks me, I don’t need to react defensively. Instead, I can tell you that I don’t see things the same way. I can be curious about why you see things as you do and, if you’re open to talking about it, share my own viewpoint and reasoning with you. Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up being the best of friends. Maybe we’ll be stimulated to continue talking about the issue over time, and both expand our views in the process. Maybe we’ll cordially agree to disagree, to like all the other things there are to like about each other.

In essence, the “sticks and stones” rule is about learning how to respond rather than to react. It takes practice. It goes against our natural grain. But it’s a pathway to peace, both internally and between opposing parties. And these days, when our weapons are not sticks and stones but implements of total destruction, it’s the only pathway we can take and still survive.

Wishing peace and healing for us all.

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Why Fathers Matter

Father Matter

Sadly, in our throw-away culture, one of the things that’s increasingly being viewed as disposable is fathers.  Take a survey of people between 22 and 37—prime child-bearing ages—and you’ll find that only about half of them think kids need both a mom and dad to grow up happily1.   But the truth is that fathers matter.  A whole bunch.  Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson  says that it’s demoralizing to grow up without a father in your life.  You feel cast aside, as if you don’t matter much.  Without a dad the world can seem a dismal place.  “The good father,” he says, “helps you to become your best self.”

What Fathers Do For Us

Fathers are the encouragers in our lives.  They’re the ones who say, “Go ahead!  You can do it!” even when we’re pretty sure we can’t.  They believe in our potential.  They teach us to take risks, to try, to be daring, even in the face of fear.

They set limits and hold up standards, teaching us self-control and responsibility.2  And as Peterson says, it’s bearing responsibility that gives life its meaning.

Dads hold out expectations for us.  They push us to excel.  Feeling a father’s pride in your accomplishments helps you strive to do and be your best.

When I was growing up, I took piano lessons.  And even when I felt I had mastered a piece of music, my dad would nod and smile and say, “Keep practicing.  You’ll get it yet.”   In time, I became good enough to place highly in competitions.  Then I would get from him the words I longed to hear:  “Good job.”  And that meant more than any trophy or ribbon.

Unlike mothers, who tend to talk to us in our own language levels, Dads help us expand our vocabularies by talking with a broader, more adult range of words.

It’s the rough and tumble side of dads, who tickle and wrestle with us, who teach us sports and games and skills, that teaches us how to deal with the world head-on, to be independent and to assert ourselves.   We learn from their roughhousing how to be resilient in the face of defeat, and how to brush defeat aside.

They tell us stories from their worlds that show us the positive value of competition and take us to new  places that we wouldn’t dare go on our own.  They instill confidence in us, support us, and help us feel secure.

They’re the ones who say, “Enough is enough!” teaching us about rules and about what it means to be moral and fair.  It’s no wonder that kids with fathers do better in school, are more playful, and learn to use humor to cope with setbacks.

Fathers Matter

If you are fortunate enough to have had a father in your world, take time to tell him that he matters to you, that you’re grateful for all he has taught you.  And if you’re a father, a step-father, or a father-figure in someone’s life, know that your role is not only important, but irreplaceable, and take pride in that.  Dads make us better people and the world a better place.

Happy Father’s Day, you Dads out there.  A father’s love is fierce, and sometimes it’s not an easy job, keeping the balance between being strong and being harsh.  But that fierce love gives us our strength and courage.  And as Peterson says, the world would be a much more dismal place without you.

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1 The Importance of Fathers (According to Science)

2 A Father’s Importance for Children: Thoughts for Father’s Day

 

 

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In Celebration of the Nurturers–A Tribute to Mothers

Mom and Son

As I was thinking about what I wanted to share with you today, it dawned on me that it’s Mother’s Day here in the States.  For me, it’s a day filled with happy and meaningful memories of a woman whose character I find myself appreciating more and more deeply with every passing yea.  I genuinely hope that you can say the same, and that, if your Mom is still living, you’ll tell her so.

The thought occurred to me that in today’s climate of speech policing, this day set aside for honoring mothers will probably soon become “Parents’ Day” or “Carer’s Day” or some such thing.  But that’s a topic for another time.

Right now, it’s still “Mother’s Day,” and I asked myself what the essential quality is that all mothers share.  I had to think about it for a while, because mothers, being human after all, span the whole spectrum from “bad” to “good.”  But I think I finally put my finger on it–at least if we set the truly pathological ones aside.

What Mothers Do

The one thing all mothers do, the one quality that behooves us to be grateful for them, is that they nurtured us.  Even the most disadvantaged ones, the most disinterested, the most careless, did what was needed to keep us alive.  Even if that meant, in some cases, giving us away.  Here we are; they did what it took to make that happen.

For the ones who did the bare minimum, let’s use this day to offer them our forgiveness and compassion.  They don’t know what they missed.  And they did the best they could.

And for the ones who took the time and spent the energy  not only to feed, clothe, and house us, but to nurture us with an abundance of love, let’s take the time to reflect that love back to them, whether they’re still with us or not.

Let’s think about what they nurtured in us—what they taught us to value and appreciate, how they instilled manners in us and showed us ways to successfully negotiate in the world, how they passed on traditions so we would feel linked to the past, how they said that the only thing they wanted was for us to be happy in our lives and how they did all they knew to do to make that possible.  Let’s think about the pride they took in our achievements, and their unqualified forgiveness when we fell short of the mark, about the way they comforted our hurts and celebrated with us our moments of joy, about how they instilled in us the meaning of the word “home.”

Let’s think about the sacrifices they made for us, the events they attended they didn’t want to attend, the things they did without in order to serve our wishes and needs, the fulfillment of some of their own dreams so that some of ours had a chance to come true.

That’s an awful lot for one human being to be able to do for another.  And the wonder of it is that most moms–and stepmoms, and foster and adoptive moms–consider it a privilege and wouldn’t trade their roles for anything in the world.

It kind of gives you hope for the world, doesn’t it?

Wishing you a day of happy and grateful reflection about the special nurturers who mothered you.

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The Power of Positive Leadership

power of positive leadershipPicture someone who’s a leader and chances are you’ll think of a corporate president, a military officer or political figure.  But the mom who is managing a household, or a coworker who’s in charge of a team, or the neighbor who shepherds a troop of Cub Scouts is a leader, too.

If leadership is one of your top personal strengths, the VIA Strengths Survey would tell you that you enjoy “encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.”

From time to time, most of us end up in leadership positions of one kind or another.  And all of us can learn to lead well, and to exert the power of positive leadership.

In fact, it’s positivity that gives leadership its real power.   Read through lists of the qualities that good leaders possess and you’ll  find  characteristics such as:

  • Integrity, Honesty
  • Flexibity
  • Respectful
  • Quiet Confidence, Humility
  • Enthusiastic
  • Open-Minded
  • Open to Change
  • Trustworthy
  • Compassionate
  • Empowers Others, Supportive
  • Risk Taking
  • Sense of Humor

Good Leadership is Service

Len Petrancosta, from Pittsburgh’s Sandler Training by Peak Performance Management, Inc., told me that the primary benefit of leadership is “the satisfaction of helping people reach their full potential.”    And  helping people reach their full potential is exactly what a positive leader does.

Petrancosta and his colleagues train sales people, executives and managers to achieve their potential using a beautiful model called The Leadership Challenge® based on the best-selling book by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.  The model teaches the five practices of good leaders, the ones that all of us can use to lead well, regardless of how humble our leadership roles may be.

  • First, good leaders identify the values that will guide their work and do their best to embody them.
  • Second, they hold a clear, high vision of what they want to achieve, of the best possibilities, and they communicate their vision to others.
  • Then comes the challenge of looking for opportunities and means to achieve their vision.  They experiment and take risks; they try new avenues.  They evaluate the outcomes and make adjustments, building on small wins.
  • Fourth, good leaders build relationships within and between their teams.  They promote cooperation, build trust, and encourage self-determination and competence in their people.
  • And finally, they lead from the heart.  They recognize the efforts of others and express their appreciation.  They celebrate achievements and wins; they applaud excellence and adherence to values.  They acknowledge the cooperative efforts of everybody involved.

By following these practices, leaders serve both their purpose and their people.  They keep focused on what they want to achieve and about how they want to achieve it.  They understand the essential ‘Why’ behind all that they are doing.

Knowing Your Why

To be a great leader, knowing your ‘Why’ is essential.    Here’s how author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action explains it:

Knowing your ‘Why’ is working from the inside out.  It starts with your core values, what you care about most deeply.   And it moves right through the five leadership principles, serving as the foundation for them, and ending in celebration as your purpose is advanced and achieved.

That’s the place to begin.   When you’re leading your kids to cleaning their rooms, let them know it’s because you value beauty, cleanliness and order.  When you’re leading your sales force to achieve new records, remind them of the way your product serves its users and contributes to their lives.

That’s where the power of positive leadership resides: in serving your values and in helping others reach more of their own potential by joining in the effort.

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If you enjoyed this article please pass it on.  This is one in a continuing series of articles on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You might also enjoy:

The Excellence of Effort

Perseverance: Power Key to Success

 

Illustration by ilco at stock.xchng
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