Sunday, December 29, 2013

Epiphany: A bright thought & the real end of Christmas

This is an article I wrote for an online service (now defunct) circa 2006.

Epiphany: A bright thought and the real end of Christmas

Every year as Christmas approaches, it’s anticipated by many with excitement, yet fills some with anxiety. Potential stressors can include being thrown together with relatives that grate, dealing with the drudge of shopping, or just enduring non-stop Christmas music.

But whether you love or loathe Christmas, nearly everyone wants to know when it’s over.

Oh, you thought December 26th was it? Nope. The official last day of Christmas is traditionally January 6th, which is called Epiphany.

However, the word and the day, Epiphany, hold a variety of nuanced meanings. Here are a few abbreviated tidbits that may just be enlightening on the topic.

Eureka XXL

One of the meanings of the word of epiphany is "a shining forth."  The word initially referred to divine manifestations. However, over time, it also came to mean "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something."

Frank Maier, a journalist, wrote that he, "experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself." Usually the term as used in this sense is tied most closely to Irish novelist James Joyce.

Joyce is credited with first using the term in his novel, Stephen Hero, which was a precursor to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He also used the term in Ulysses where Stephen Dedalus muses, "Remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria?"

For Joyce and others who use the word in this sense, it points to those often unanticipated and startling moments when something suddenly crashes into our consciousness with intense clarity. These moments often have a sense of spirituality about them which leads us to additional meanings of the word epiphany.

On the thirteenth day of Christmas

I had a tiny epiphany one year when it dawned on me that I had managed to get through the entire Christmas season without once hearing "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...." Amazing, eh!

Epiphany, January 6th, actually marks the true end of Christmas. The 12th day of Christmas is the day before Epiphany.

Some people leave their Christmas tree up until Epiphany, when, traditionally, it is supposed to be taken down and burned, or at least recycled.

All those other gifts accumulated from your "true love?" They can now be returned, put to work, shooed away, auctioned on eBay, or eaten.

Wee Three Kings a caroling

Epiphany is also known as Three Kings Day (or Festival of the Three Kings, or Adoration of the Magi), especially among Hispanic faithful. It is viewed as the traditional day when the three Wisemen visited the baby Jesus and also celebrates the Christmas star that guided them.

For some, Three Kings Day is as big or bigger than Christmas and involves even more gift-giving and great holiday food.

In Bavaria, there is said to be a custom called "Star Singers," where, from New Year's through January 6th, children dress as the three kings, go door to door caroling while holding up a large star. They are greeted at each home with money or treats, the money usually being given to charities.

Emmanuel means God with us

According to The Christian Sourcebook (Ballantine, 1986), "Epiphany began in the Eastern Orthodox Church -- perhaps as early as the third century -- and originally was a celebration of Christ's birth. In the fourth century, however, December 25 was declared Christmas, and Epiphany took on its current significance. Although Epiphany falls on January 6th, it is often observed on the first Sunday after the New Year."

The word epiphany derives from the Greek word for "appearance" or "manifestation," as means as well "a shining forth."

So, when it comes to the word epiphany, the day marks the end of Christmas, while the exclamation marks the dawning of a bright thought or realization.

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What are some of the lesser known Christmas or Epiphany traditions you are aware of? When do you take down your tree?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Winter Assault (#PoetryMonday*)

The uncleaned vehicles ahead
Throw off soft white grenades
That   pom! *   pom! *
In frosty silent explosions
Pummeling our windshield.




















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 It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo, click here and then scroll down. 
A short, new poem for the season, offered on this Christmas Day 2013, even though it's not Monday. 

This poem is included in this collection:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Heaven

 I wrote this devotional a few years ago. It's included in Words for Winter.

When I was a boy, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas was go to my grandmother's house. It was a tiny, barely put together farm house next to a train track just at the edge of town. In the house later as an adult, I had a hard time imagining how we all fit at Christmas. It really was tiny. But we all did fit! Aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, the new spouses, and a few strays. The place was packed front to back.

The men mostly sat in the living room with Papaw. He would “chaw” his “tobacky” and they would chaw with each other and glance at the game or Christmas program on the little black and white TV in the corner, warmed by the giant coal furnace that took up half the room! Mamaw and the women held their annual Christmas confab in the kitchen, warmed by the never-off oven and stove.

What a treasure room the kitchen was! We'd never see as much or as wide a variety of food the whole rest of the year. The smells of freshly baked pies and bread, and turkey and ham roasting in the oven were heavenly! Everyone brought something, but Mamaw by far prepared the bulk of it. Everything tasted as delicious as it smelled.

While waiting for the latecomers to arrive and the turkey to get just right brown, we, the kids, played. Indoors and outdoors, no matter the weather. We chased through the tiny house, hootin' and a hollerin' and a carryin' on. At least that's how Mamaw would describe it when she'd tell us, with a mischievous grin, to “hesh up and settle down a bit.”

Of course, we didn't get too rowdy. We didn’t want to make Mamaw really upset for fear we'd miss the special gift. Every year, she always gave us kids the special gift. It was one thing we looked forward to as much as anything else at Christmas.

Until there were too many of us for her budget, Mamaw always gave every grandkid a silver dollar! You'd have thought she'd handed us bars of pure gold the way we held those coins. Once in our hands, you’d practically have to pry them loose with a crowbar. They were magical, special, and ours.

It wouldn’t have made any difference how loud we might have whooped it up, she would have still given us the silver dollars. She loved us unconditionally. In a very real sense, we belonged to her and she would not have forsaken any of us.

Every year as we move steadily closer to the 25th of December, there is a question we hear over and over: “What would you like to get this year?” In fact, in many families, written lists of Christmas wishes are mandatory. Once produced, they are put on the refrigerator door so all can refer to them.

All of us wants something at Christmas, even if we say otherwise. There's something soul affirming in receiving a gift given in love, even if it's not deserved or wasn't expected.

There's no greater gift we can receive than the gift of Jesus Christ and his salvation: “… the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).

What's more, once you accept this gift, it's yours forever. The Lord said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). You are His child.

My silver dollars? Sadly, they're gone. Lost after several house moves. But what has never been lost is the love I felt when I received those coins. My grandmother's love was genuine and true. She lives in heaven, but her love lives in my heart even today. Her love is a forever gift worth more than all the silver and gold in the world.

So is the love and mercy of Christ. As long as you walk with Him and grow in grace, you will one day spend Christmas in heaven with my grandmother. And she might just give you a silver dollar!

“‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:11-14).





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What are some of the Christmas memories you treasure? Share them in the comments! Read more like this in Words For Winter: A small collections of writings for the season, available for Kindle or in Paperback.
http://www.amazon.com/Words-Winter-collection-writings-season-ebook/dp/B006O1GEE0/ref=la_B001HQ1DDE_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387914688&sr=1-11

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rounds (#PoetryMonday*)

The sun fails suddenly
Beyond the standard horizon
Springing dark upon us
Like a trap.
The moon comes out
And pokes around among the stars,
Glowering and full,
As haggard streaks of clouds race
Insanely across the foreboding apparition.
Quietly, we put on the masks,
Bringing our fears to the surface
In these horrific plastic expressions.
Bravely we clench our paper bags
And go out into this crazy
Halloween night.
Miniature spirits, imps, wildlings
Of questionable nature.
Friend or foe? Fearsome or funny?
Solemnly we collect
Our various booty with some risk,
Making the rounds of the neighborhood,
And tracing our small anger on the windows
Dark and empty against us
With crayons of pure soap.
Then race home through the whirling leaves
Scared silly and laughing, anxious to
Eat the treats and tell the tales
Of our treacherous tricks
And the stalking goblins
Sifting through the shadows, at our heels.



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 It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo, click here and then scroll down. 
This one is from my only collection of poetry, "The Godtouch."

This is a not so scary poem about Halloween in a more innocent, less bloody time, when scared silly was just that; more silly than scared. Frankly, I abhor the boundless horror that has attached itself to what once was a much more fun experience. There were no worries about razor blades in apples. Kids roamed the neighborhoods safely searching out treats. No one would have thought to try to scare any of us "to death" in the now much too literal sense. Wouldn't mind returning those kinds of Halloweens with more fun and far less terror.


You can get "The Godtouch" using these links:

• Kindle version.

Paperback.

Hardcover.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bwahaha! See the funny crazy lady go wacky! What a hoot!


Crazy people are so darn funny, aren’t they?

On September 26, 2013, CNN reported that Navy Yard shooter “Aaron Alexis was under ‘the delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves’ before he embarked on a bloody shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, an FBI official said Wednesday.”

Everyone wonders why Alexis, who reported his mental issues to various agencies, was not helped.

Why didn’t anyone take him seriously before he snapped and killed 12 people?

I wonder how many of those he reached out to had a good laugh when he told them how he heard voices.

Not you, of course.

See, I knew they were all nut-jobs!

Just recently, as the House was wrapping up its vote to reopen the government, there was an unfortunate incident.

House stenographer Dianne Reidy, reportedly a nice, normal woman who has worked there for several years, snapped.

She calmly walked to a microphone and began ranting. Her rant referenced God, Jesus, Free Masons, the Constitution, and Bible passages.

Those present who know her reasonably well seem to uniformly agree that this was unusual for Reidy, completely out of character; they expressed concern for her mental well being.

Reidy clearly had a mental break of some sort.

Just a few days ago, another woman experienced a similar meltdown while on an American Airlines flight. Details are sketchy, but the woman apparently had just lost her mother and was grieving.

Both Reidy and the woman on the plane were victims of stress and other issues of which we are unaware. And, frankly, are none of our business.

Today, both are the butt of many jokes, particularly Reidy.

Instead of expressing concern for Reidy's well-being, public comments on the various news reports (links below), as well as in social media, are not kind. Many are vicious and cruel.

And, of course, there’s the Christian-bashing, which is apparently PC-approved these days. For these commenters Reidy is nothing more than proof-positive that all Christians are moronic, anti-intellectual, conspiracy-fabricating nut-jobs.

And she was just so stinking funny! Am I right?

Helplessly crying out for help

Several years ago, while I was on the West Coast working on a book project with a client, I got a phone call from a friend back home, several states away. Let’s call him John, which is not his real name.

He was incoherent, rambling, and raging. He would rant wildly then pray for the blood of Jesus to cover him.

That’s nuts, right?

My friend was a Christian and a very intelligent man. He had a good life and a wonderful family. He was as solid as they come. What I was hearing was not in character for him.

Being so far away there was little I could do. I listened. Prayed with him. Did my best to calm him a little.

He finally handed the phone to his wife at one point; she was terrified for her husband, their kids, and herself.

Over and over she said, “Stephen, this isn’t the John I know! This is not like John at all!”

Thankfully she had called 911 and medics arrived quickly, subduing and medicating John.

He was held in the hospital for a few days, given some medications, and put in touch with a good therapist.

He experienced what was diagnosed at the time as a chemical imbalance in his brain. It might be called something else today. But it was a mental health issue.

Talking to him later, he expressed that it was as frustrating for him as for his wife. He knew he wasn’t acting sanely but couldn’t seem to stop himself.

During the episode, he was terrified, too.

As I talked with him, it was clear that he was still a little embarrassed by it. He knew what some people thought.

I assured him that I didn’t think it was funny or that he was crazy.

It’s not funny

Every time I hear about someone experiencing a brief break with reality as my friend John did, and as Dianne Reidy and the woman on the plane did, I’m grateful that all that happened was a little crazy talk.

They did not attack or try to seriously harm anyone.

They did not get a weapon, walk into a busy workplace or theater, opening fire.

They did not plant bombs or send ricin through the mail.

They didn’t drive their car into a crowd.

They didn't attempt suicide.

They screamed a little. Maybe swore a little. And, sensing in the midst of their delirium that they needed help, they cried out to God.

To me, this kind of behavior does not deserve ridicule. It is not the fodder for opinionated, vacuous,  anti-religion rants. It’s not appropriate for office jokes or social media cleverness.

It deserves our respect, compassion, and understanding.

It could happen to you

I think some of the humor around these events grows out of nervousness; a weak attempt to ward off the thought that any of us could go bonkers the same way at any minute.

It could happen. To me. To you.

Stress-addled brain chemistry does not play favorites. It’s an equal-opportunity messer-upper.

Any one of us, given the just-right juxtaposition of factors – environment, diet, and what-not – could go over the brink just like my friend John, the woman on the plane, or Reidy did.

In public. For all the world to see and mock.

I know John was a Christian. I suspect the two women were also given how they gave expression to their episodes.

When you crack, I wonder what will come out?

Will you call on the name of Jesus?

Or will something truly ugly come out of your unhinged mouth?

Or perhaps you'll react beyond words into some aberrant behavior? Maybe pick up a gun and start shooting?

Think about that for a minute.

The right response

The bottom line is that these people deserve compassion and help. They don’t deserve to be made the butt of our jokes, fuel for our cute and clever quips, or fodder for late night comics.

The more we mock mental illness and those afflicted by it, the further underground we drive these hurting people. There, they will stew in isolation, feed their frustrations and rage, and finally come out shooting.

You won’t be laughing then.

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Links to articles about Dianne Reidy:
Link to video of woman on plane

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Do you think it’s okay to make fun of people who have public meltdowns such as Reidy did? Why? Why not? Sound off in the comments.
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UPDATE: A report in Politico indicates that Reidy claims she spoke because she believed she was being prompted by the Holy Spirit. This is only my personal opinion, but while she was well-intentioned, when the Holy Spirit speaks through someone, the message is usually far more coherent. I have no doubt that her convictions are very real. At the same time, I believe Reidy needs to seek counseling with her pastor and a capable therapist.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Longing for the asterisk free life

I grew up being told, “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up.”

I’m sure you heard it, too. It’s still being inflicted on new children.

It’s a noble-ish thought and the intentions of the tellers are good.

Still, I always had a nagging suspicion this really wasn’t the whole truth. Particularly when it came to me and my life.

Add to this that my growing up was very centered on church.

Okay, some of you are already quick-drawing with your criticisms and slams. And I’m going to add one of my own. But, let’s be nice and intelligent here: Churches have their issues, but not everything about Christianity is bad. In fact, when the peripheral baggage that isn’t really central to faith is unloaded, most of what’s left that is truly Christian is good. But, let’s set that whole discussion aside for now.

Moving on.

Back to my life and church.

There, I was often confronted with the well-known Pauline bumper-sticker exhortation found in Philippians 4:13, as stated in the King James, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

I was always annoyed by this verse. First, “which” should be “who” as Christ is a person not a thing. And second, well…

Really? ALL things? As in everything all things?

Connect this high holy concept to society’s version of becoming WHATEVER you want to be really piles on the pressure and squeezes out more than a skosh of skepticism.

Especially for an introvert.

Not quite everything

The truth about Paul’s quote is that he does not mean “everything as in all things” the way so many try to apply it. Within the context of the surrounding verses, it’s clear he’s really saying that, as a Christian living in crisis, being imprisoned, facing torture, not always having a warm meal or a soft bed – basically, while enduring all manner of hardships for his faith – he can endure it all, but only “in the strength of the Lord.”

This verse gets mis-preached a lot.

As any sane student of Scripture knows, context is king. And here, the context unmasks any misapplication that might lead one to believe they have access to some superhero formula that can magically transform them into something they are not, that God did not design them to be, or that He did not intend.

For example, this passage doesn’t mean that an introvert can be transformed into an extrovert. Well, not permanently anyway.

Because my own experience did not align with how this verse was often preached, and it seemed that things I thought I might like to do weren’t within my reach for some obscure reason, I felt there must be something wrong with me. More on this later.

Discovering personality type

A little older and on my own in jobs set in the exciting world of business, work teams, discontinuous change, and the like, I began encountering workshops on temperament and personality.

At first, I wasn’t too keen on what seemed like mumbo-jumbo. In college, I was somewhat abused by a misuse of the MMPI, a test I loathe to this day. So my shields were up, so to speak.

But these at-work experiences were far different from that. The tools and profiles presented actually made some sense and were helpful. For the most part.

It was through encountering DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and the like, that I discovered I was an introvert. But that I also had “A-type” leanings and could more or less adapt my personality style to fit situations. And I was gifted in several areas.

But I was an introvert.

I was assured by the facilitators that there was nothing wrong with being an introvert. That this could be “overcome.”

Sigh.

In other words, I could do “all” things as an introvert, only with some exceptions. It was like having an asterisk attached to my life: “ You can do anything! *See footnote for exclusions to your expectations.”

The universe might positively love you!

I’m not a fan of all those cutesy quotes about being positive and “true to yourself” and “trust the universe so all your dreams will come true.”

You know the ones I mean, I’m sure.

They’re all over Facebook and Tumblr and still sneak into our email inboxes from time to time.

Sometimes they’re attributed to someone famous. Often they’ve been generated by motivational gurus or scraped out of books on how to be successful in sales and life. They're frequently marred by poor logic,  flawed thinking, and bad philosophy.

They’re often very Rah! Rah!, upbeat, and dripping with “positivity.”

Why don’t I warm to these lovely, sappy, syrupy sentiments?

Because of the asterisk.

I am what I am

Let’s go back to that old chestnut I opened with and how I, an introvert, tend to see it:
“You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up!” *

* As long as you’re more outgoing, personable, articulate, quick to speak up in meetings, love to go out and network…and act more like a bubbly extrovert.

In other words, to succeed in anything, I have to be pretty much everything I’m not, personality-wise.

This is the same as saying, “Be true to who you are (*) unless you’re an introvert and then you need to be more like you’re not and then when you’re more outgoing just maybe the universe will let some of your dreams come true! Yay!”

In fact, being introverted is viewed by many as being stand-offish, critical, closed, shy, slow-witted, suspicious, anti-social, and the list of negatives goes on and on.

Even within the faith community this can come across as being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), but, as an introvert, not made exactly right. You know, one handful of mud short of being a complete person.

As I’ve written before, growing up in a Pentecostal environment had distinct challenges (click here to read). Some of these challenges occur even in non-Pentecostal settings as we’re supposed to be “bold” in the Lord, and bold is usually defined as “extroverted.”

Can you see me now?

I’m reading The Introvert Advantage by Marti Laney, and I came across this line: “The introverted person feels unseen.”

Yep. That ‘bout sums it up.

On the next page, she writes, “Growing up being compared to extroverts can be very damaging.”

Duh!

The damage doesn’t end with the end of childhood, either.

Extrovert adults can be hard on their introvert colleagues, usually without knowing it, and sometimes willfully not caring.

Why? Because in the thinking of our culture extroverts rule and introverts need to “grow a pair.” And you, dear extrovert reader, don’t tell me you’ve never thought this. In fact you’re probably thinking it right now.

My colleague, my naysayer

Most of my business career has been lived out being a “communications professional.” Let’s use CP for short.

We CPers are supposed to be sensitive to personality style differences because introverts and extroverts don’t hear the same way; they each respond to different kinds of communication. In fact, most CPers, in my experience, are themselves introverts. But not all.

Just a couple of years ago, as I was discussing the fact that I was an introvert with a CP colleague, explaining that while I can get up in front of people, it’s tough for me, she stunned me.

Her “sensitive” response? She said bluntly, with a look and tone of dismissive admonishment, “It’s okay to be an introvert, but you shouldn’t be telling people you are. Just act like you aren’t.”

Again, sigh.

So, even now, as an adult, a “seasoned" professional, someone who’s been around the block a time or two, I still long for that asterisk free life.

A lament is not a whine

If you’re an extrovert, you probably stopped reading about a thousand or so words back.

But I hope you’re still with me. Even if you may be thinking something along the lines of, “What a whiny cry baby!”

Which, if that’s the case, you are affirming my sense that extroverts, unless they really try, don’t get introverts at all. And possibly don't really want to.

But, let me clue you in to something: We do get you. And that gives us a quiet advantage.

Here are a three other things to keep in mind when it comes to introverts.
  • We are the 50%+. Roughly half of the population consists of introverts. By some accountings, it’s closer to 51%. We’re here and you should want to get along with us just as we want to get along with you. It’ll go better for all of us if you recognize that we’re simply different and neither personality style is better than the other. You have your weaknesses and strengths just as we do.
     
  • You need us. Introverts are differently visioned than extroverts. By that I mean we see things extroverts often miss. You will run full speed ahead making everything around you seem a blur. We sit still and zoom in on the details you’re ignoring and can point out pitfalls and opportunities you are blind to. Listen to us and perhaps you’ll not crash into that wall you're headed for.
      
  • Discrimination is always bad. You already know better than being prejudiced against an ethnic group, preferring a man over a woman for a position, or slighting someone because of their religion or race. Well, putting down or pushing aside introverts is just as wrong.
     
When you think of your introvert colleagues, employees, relatives, and friends, drop the asterisks!:
“Bill’s a great guy (*) but he’s just too quiet; it’s just a little weird.”

“Jill’s got real potential (*) but she doesn’t speak up in meetings.”

“We like Sam’s resume (*) but he’s just not that upbeat.”

“Sally does great work (*) but she always declines speaking in front of groups.”

“Allen seems friendly one-on-one (*) but he stands off in larger groups.”

“Mary is a sweet girl (*) but she’s always got her nose in a book.”

“Jack would make a great leader (*) but he needs to be more outgoing.”

In all the descriptions above, everything that comes after the (*) should not negate what’s stated before the (*). Letting the asterisk stand devalues people who just happen to be talented introverts.

There’s gold in them thar introverts! Finding the gold requires digging, not dismissing.

Besides, one day, the introvert you set aside may become the introvert you end up working for. After all, CEOs of some of the most successful organizations are introverts.

So, yes, while we all may have the potential to become whatever we want, our choices will be guided by who we are, which will also shape how we do what we become. Introverts will lead, but will do so more quietly.

And how God created each of us is equally okay, neither personality style is more complete than the other.

Extroverts, please note, we introverts are many and we have you surrounded! But we’ll be far more gentle with and accepting of you than you tend to be with us. That’s just our nature.

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As an extrovert, does any of this make sense to you? As an introvert, can you relate? As either, do you agree, disagree, don'tcare? Sound off below in the comments section! (Note: If you don't see a comment box, click in the "Comments" or "No comments" link.)
Here are two excellent resources to help you understand introverts (and extroverts) better:

Monday, September 30, 2013

Because I am a stupid man (#PoetryMonday*)

Because I am a stupid man
And when I write I use my hand,
The meanings of the words seem bland
To those intent on finding more than

What is gleaned from just a scan.

Their loss. Your gain. Please feel free
To read it all again.


Or rise and go do the things you must
Before you – and I – become mere dust.














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 It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo, click here and then scroll down.
It's been awhile since we've had a PoMo post! What triggered this one, you ask? Good question, dear reader. 

I'm working through a free online course (aka MOOC) on Modern Poetry (aka ModPo); just getting into week four. While I dearly love poetry and believe all could benefit from reading the genre, after listening to the endless discussions of relatively short poems by the ModPo teaching crew, digging into all those alleged layers of meaning seems a tad tedious. While each person on the panel is very bright and articulate, and there are those periodic nuggets that surface, I often wonder if a lot of it is just going too far. 

Yes, there can be value in reading deeply. But there is also value and enjoyment to be gained from reading at the surface, or just a bit deeper. It is possible to read the life out of a poem while wasting your own. 

And so, the little big of doggerel above popped out of my head while watching one of the discussion videos.

The bottom-line is this: Read poetry. Take it shallow or dive deep as you wish. But most importantly, enjoy it. Don't pooh-pooh those who read shallow if you read deep, and don't be intimidated if you merely read once and move on by those who tend to dissect each word. Just read it and enjoy it as you choose.

This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wheel of Fortune contestant tangles tongue and loses … *nothing*

**THIS IS A RANT ABOUT SLOPPY REPORTING
IN THE NEWS MEDIA.***

A few nights ago (9/17/13), Paul Atkinson, a firefighter from Oregon, experienced an epic fail gone viral while a contestant on "Wheel of Fortune."

He badly fumbled the pronunciation of the puzzle, “Corner curio cabinet.” What came out of his mouth was barely intelligible, even to him after the fact.


Anything he had gained during the round was lost when the next contestant did a better job announcing the puzzle's solution.

What did Paul lose? He lost an opportunity to potentially win one million dollars. He had landed on the coveted space during his spin.

Now, here is the heart of my rant.

All day, as I scanned the various news channels, and then later in the evening on the local news, this is what was being reported when this story came up: "Player loses a million dollars."

No, he did not lose a million dollars. He merely lost the opportunity to potentially win a million dollars. He still had several hoops to navigate to actually win a million dollars.

In fact, it's not at all unusual for players to land on the million dollar slot and then just a couple of spins later, go bankrupt or simply not win the round, and so have to yield the million dollar chance.

Sadly, Paul's flub was his mispronunciation rather than a bad spin and that’s what’s drawn the unusual attention. It’s only barely newsworthy, if at all.

But he still did *not* lose a million dollars, because he could not lose what he had not yet won.

Why does this bother me so?

Simple.

If those in the news media cannot accurately report such a simple, straightforward, easily verifiable story as this, how can we trust them to get the bigger, truly important stories right?

There is no excuse for not getting this one right. If those reporters assigned the story weren’t familiar with how “Wheel of Fortune” works, they only needed to turn to their colleague in the neighboring cubicle, nab a random stranger on the street, or simply phone a friend. This was a story for which there exists a sea of sources.

To say, “Oh, it’s no big deal because it was just a puff piece,” is nothing short of excusing sloppiness and laziness. Every botched story, whether fluff or substance, erodes credibility.

So, to you, Mr. and Ms. Reporter, if you can’t be trusted to get the little things right, then why should you be trusted to handle the bigger stories; the really complex, important stories?

Why should I watch your news channel or news program?

Why should I buy your newspaper or news magazine?

Why should I turn to you for any information, particularly information that could have a serious impact on my life?

I shouldn’t, nor should others. We will look around and find those who are doing a better job.

Paul Atkinson did *not* lose a million dollars. But every news outlet that reported he did lost something far more valuable -- a big chunk of credibility. The more epic fail is theirs.

***END OF RANT.***

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Do you think this is a big deal or not? Have you spotted errors in reporting, whether in broadcast or print media? Share your opinion and examples in the comments! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

(Modified Re-Post) Contemplating Grace in the Dentist’s Chair

Unlike many, I'm fine going to the dentist. I find it relaxing, especially when any numbing is involved. From cleanings to root canals, it's all good. Well, until I get the bill!

Going to the dentist can be a great time for quiet thought and mulling.

For example, have you ever been caught off guard with the realization that you are actually hard pressed to define a word that is totally familiar to you? You kind of know the concept evoked by the word, but nailing down the specifics of its meanings is suddenly elusive?

While you may think you’re having what many call a brain fart, you’re actually on the cusp of insight and epiphany! 

Mulling grace

While having a chipped tooth repaired, the word that caught me up short was grace.

Given that this was my mother’s name and that I grew up going to church where grace was a common topic of song and sermon, you’d think I’d know precisely what it means.

I thought I did. But then an angel tapped me on the brain and I started thinking more deeply about what grace is. The Holy Spirit does move in mysterious, and sometimes annoying ways.

Grace is something nearly everyone wants, whether we understand fully what it is or not. The gist of the most common meaning is grasped easily by anyone who has been on the receiving end of grace.

Grace is an elegant concept tied to pardon, mercy, forgiveness. It is unmerited favor; receiving something we don’t deserve instead of what we do deserve. If marriages were more grace-filled there would be far less divorce, which is a very ungracious and selfish choice. 

Encountering grace

When grace comes to us from God, it is entirely unmotivated by anything we do or say or are. All we can do is actively accept it or actively reject it. This is the side of grace that ties in most closely to forgiveness.

But grace also apparently empowers, comforts, and relieves distress. And this is what tripped me up recently as I was lost in thought while being drilled at the dentist.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-12, the Apostle Paul writes about a Satanic-sourced affliction that has gripped him in a terrible, tangible, and nagging way. It is something chronic and persistent and painful; he calls it his “thorn in the flesh.”

There is no way of knowing exactly what this “thorn” was. If Paul meant “flesh” as in his actual physical body, it could have been a chronic illness. Some believe it was a recurring and painful eye affliction. We don’t know. In fact, if Paul meant “flesh” in a spiritual sense, this opens the possibilities even wider. It could have been a particular temptation that he struggled with on a regular basis. The thorn was sent to him, as Paul states, to keep him humble; so maybe his struggle was with pride. We don’t know.

We do know that the thorn was not removed despite Paul’s pleadings. God’s answer to his prayer was a simple statement: “My grace is sufficient.”

Well, actually the full response as recorded by Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Grasping grace

As I lay reclined in the dentist’s chair with my mouth numb and the drill softly singing, all I could think over and over was, “What the heck does ‘my grace is sufficient’ really mean?”

“I should know this!” I thought. But I drew a blank.

Then, later, as I was reading in Mark and came to where Jesus says that we need to become like children (10:14-15), the insight came. A child is utterly dependent upon their parent’s grace, in every sense of the word.

That helps clear things up some. But not completely.

I’m still pondering and trying to get an even clearer understanding, as well as a better experience, of God’s amazing grace. Are you?

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How do you view, understand, think of, or experience grace? Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

(Modified Re-Post) Things

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:28-31 (NIV)
 ^^^

No "things"

In my Expository Writing class in college, the professor, Dr. Elsie Elmendorf (now with the Lord), would admonish us regularly to avoid the use of the word "things" in our writing. Her reason was that it was too general, and when writing persuasively, we should be specific.

Generally I would agree with that assessment, but specifically in this passage, I think even Professor Elmendorf would agree that Paul's use of "things" is entirely appropriate. Why? Because it's so inclusive, especially attached to "all." 

All things

"All things" means exactly that. Everything that comes into our lives as Christians, no matter why or how, can be turned from bad to good through the grace of God.

This isn't always easy to accept when the "thing" touching us is hurtful, disappointing, and damaging. In the midst of a bad thing, disillusion, despair, anger, and more cloud our sense of hope and worth. Especially if the bad thing, the hard circumstance, is a consequence of our own sinfulness, the intentional act of another in whom we trusted, or the seeming senselessness of a random accident. 

Bad things

But whatever the source of the bad thing, the truth of Paul's statement stands. Paul knew pain, disappointment, and frustration. He experienced a lot of very bad things. How did he deal with these?

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he wrote:
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
We don't know what Paul's thorn was, but it's clear that it was an uncomfortable thing. Many commentators believe that what it wasn't was some sort of struggle with sin.

I believe Paul was vague on purpose, leaving open the possibilities to allow us to identify with his experience of grace. It does not diminish Paul's stature or impact to think that he could have been challenged by sin. In fact, in Romans 7:16-20, he offers a wrenching revelation of just such a struggle. 

Good things

Whatever "things" come into our lives, both good and bad, we can "be more than conquerors" through the strength of Christ, the grace of God, and hope fed by the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

When faced with death, disease, disappointment, failure, betrayals, divorce, loss, joblessness, debt, injury, false accusations, and "all things," we can be confident even in the midst of grief or shame, "that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

And that, I think you'll agree, is a very good thing!

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How have you overcome various things in your life? Have you seen bad things become good things in the end?

Friday, July 26, 2013

(Modified Re-Post) PBTAS: Sweet tips for licking sticky interviews

When coaching people who are about to be interviewed by the press, common advice is to tell them not answer questions too quickly, to take their time, to think.
One of my favorite tips comes from an episode of The West Wing where Leo, who’s an expert at this stuff, has to be reminded not to accept the premise of the question. That’s a great tip, too!
Being grilled, even by a friendly griller, can cause you to feel like you’re being cooked while basting in your own sweat!
In any situation where you have to field questions, it’s good to have a tool that can help keep you cool, calm, and collected.
I’ve got just the thing to beat the heat of any Q/A situation: PBTAS. This is an acronym for the mnemonic, Peanut Butter Taffy Apple – Stick.

I shared this little treat with people at a university enduring a site visit from accreditors. Many had to sit through both one-on-one and group interviews, and they were a tad nervous. 
They later  reported the acronym and mnemonic helped them to stay on point and keep their answers succinct which was exactly the goal.

So, what does Peanut Butter Taffy Apple – Stick stand for? 
  • Pause
  • Breathe
  • Think
  • Answer (or act)
  • Stop.
Peanut = Pause
For some reason, when asked a question we feel like we need to have the answer on the tip of our tongues. Sometimes we feel almost compelled to start answering before they’re finished asking the question. When you are asked a question, you are not required to respond immediately. In fact, it’s usually best if you don’t. Listen carefully to the question. Don’t start focusing on formulating a response until you’ve heard and understood the complete question. Take a moment to pause and reflect.

Butter = Breathe
While you are pausing, breathe! Take a few slow, deep breaths; they’ll help relax you and clear your head. Breathing keeps the oxygen feeding into your blood which in turn feeds your brain.

Taffy = Think
When asked a question, you have the right to remain silent and actually think about how to answer. In fact, feel free to ask to have the question repeated, and then, just before you answer, restate the question. This gains you more time to formulate your best response. Never answer a question off the cuff without forethought!

Apple = Answer
Now it’s time to answer the question. You can’t hold out forever! But don’t sweat it. Tell the truth. Stick to the facts. Don’t spin. Use verbiage from the question in your answer. And if you don’t know something, say so. Don’t ever try to fake an answer when you really don’t know; it’ll come back to bite you sooner or later, especially if you’re dealing with the media.

(Act.) You can also use this little formula when working through a decision. In this case, the “A” would represent “Act” instead of “Answer.” Just as you can’t keep mum forever when in an interview, you don’t want to get locked up in a decision-making loop – you’ve got to step out and take action at some point.
Stick = Stop
Have you ever noticed that when you’re chatting with someone and both of you go quiet at the same time it feels a little awkward? Why? Silence between friends is not a bad thing! And it’s also not a bad thing after you’ve given a complete answer to a question. Just stop.
Click  on the image,.
print it out and
keep these additional
tips with you
.

If you’re dealing with a reporter, or any interviewer, odds are they’re going to be quiet for a few moments even after it’s obvious you have finished answering their question. Why? Because the natural tendency is to fill the silence with more talking, and if you keep rambling on, odds are you’ll say something you wish you hadn’t.

A reporter isn’t as interested in your factually correct, nicely worded answer as much as he or she is hoping you’ll provide a provocative sound bite. You don’t want to go there. It’s much easier to bear the momentary awkward silence than it is to endure the never-ending embarrassing sound bite playing over and over on the news.

Stopping and remaining silent is kind of like “sticking it to" theinterviewer  who is hoping against hope you’re going to ramble and fumble. Just stop it! Shush! Say no more! Maintain control.
That's a wrap!

So, there you have it: Peanut Butter Taffy Apple – Stick.
Sure, feel free to use Pause, Breathe, Think, Answer – Stop if you want, but that’s just not as much fun to say or as easy to remember; the mnemonic has more stickiness!

This tool is handy in a job interview, when fielding questions from a group, when meeting with your boss, or any situation where you are required to answer questions.
It will all be sweet when you remember Peanut Butter Taffy Apple – Stick.
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 Do you have any similar tips and tricks for handling interviews? Share them in the comments!

Monday, July 1, 2013

(Re-post) Mis-Pegged: Don’t call it incompetence

Voids demand to be filled. It’s common, especially in small organizations, for people to step up and fill a void, even if they aren’t necessarily the right or best person for the job.
They see a need that’s not being addressed; they take the risk and the initiative to do the best they can with what they have to offer.

At the time this happens, others in the organization see and understand what’s happening. The expectations are adjusted to meet the skill level of the person taking on the task. What they are doing is appreciated and valued.

Time passes. They struggle valiantly, faithfully, thanklessly. Managers come and go. Executives come and go. The “corporate memory” fades.
New leaders come into the organization and look at this one-time-hero, shake their heads, and mutter, “Incompetent! Dead wood! Gotta go!”

Jack Welch believes that it’s important for companies to hire the best people. In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins agrees, emphasizing how important it is to get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off.

But Welch also states, “Each one of us is good at something, and I just believe we are happiest and the most fulfilled when we’re doing that.”

And Jim Collins asserts, “Instead of firing honest and able people who are not performing well, it is important to try to move them once or even two or three times to other positions where they might blossom.” 
He clarifies that you need the right people in the right positions to become a great company. This doesn't mean pushing them out the door or throwing them under the bus.
NOTE! A round peg in a square hole doesn’t make the peg incompetent. The incompetence lies with the hand holding the mallet trying to “motivate” the peg to fit and perform.
You can have the best-of-the-best, universe class, six sigma-tized, roundest-of-round pegs, but if you try to slam them into a square hole -- or any other non-round shaped hole -- the fault is not the peg's.

The next time you catch yourself passing judgment on someone you view as incompetent, take the time to get the full story. Gather the facts, uncover the history, seek to learn what they love and are really good at, and especially how they got to where they are.

So much great and valuable talent has been shamefully tossed aside only because the peg was one perfect shape and the hole was the wrong fit. That’s the result of arrogant and lazy leadership which is true incompetence.

(first posted Wednesday, June 24, 2009)
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 Have you ever found yourself "mis-pegged" or witnessed others who have? Share your insights in the comments!

Being forced into a position that doesn't fit who you are is not your fault!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hey! You! Why won't you look me in the eye? Are you an introvert or something?


If you ever meet me face-to-face, odds are I’ll not look you in the eyes all the time as we chat.

That may or may not be an issue with you.

For a lot of folks, however, they will immediately consider me with suspicion and assume I have something to hide.

After all, a person who cannot look another person in the eye must be up to no good. Right?

Or an alien.

Or they may just be an introvert. Which, by the way, is not the same thing as being an alien. Or up to no good.

How to influence friends and win people over

Just about any book you pick up that has anything to do with how to successfully connect with people or do well in sales or business or job interviews will have at least a chapter or two on the utter importance of making eye contact.

Not making eye contact, the authors will insist, is the kiss of death! Mmwah!

In fact, according to the website, The Art of Manliness, making eye contact is, naturally, associated with all sorts of good and positive characteristics. A lot of eye contact with everyone all the time is seen as a very good thing.

It’s claimed that when you look another in the eyes you are thought to be …
… more dominant and powerful
… more warm and personable
… more attractive and likeable
… more qualified, skilled, competent, and valuable
… more trustworthy, honest, and sincere
… more confident and emotionally stable.
Sometimes less is more

All those “mores” are pretty desirable and I’m sure Dale Carnegie would approve. But I’m not a huge fan of Dale who appeals most strongly to extroverts.

For introverts, making a lot of eye contact is not comfortable or helpful. The good news is that it’s okay to be this way!

Please understand, a lack of heavy eye contact does not automatically equate to a person being wimpy, powerless, cold, impersonal, unattractive, not likeable, incompetent, worthless, insincere, unstable, or any of those other list-opposite adjectives.

If that’s how you are viewing someone, then you’re merely filtering them through your own biases. You’re not seeing them clearly.

Introverts are wired differently. We’re not sleazy, shiftless liars trying to hide something behind shifty eyes. Making a lot of eye contact can be distracting and exhausting.

There’s more to introverts than meets your eye

So, when an introvert looks down or up or to the side, what’s really going on?

We’re just trying to focus better on the conversation!

The nervous system of an introvert tends to be more sensitive to stimulation. A lot of sound, movement, light, and noise – like what you’d find at a party, in a meeting, or during a discussion – provides a lot of stimulation to sort through and can be overwhelming.

A little distraction that may slightly annoy an extrovert can, at times, be cognitively disabling to an introvert.

Even one on one, trying to maintain eye contact while focusing on the conversation is taxing for introverts.

Looking away during a conversation is a way to reduce distraction, allowing the introvert to concentrate on hearing and participating appropriately in the conversation.

Looking away is not about ignoring you, but rather, is a form of paying better attention.

Cultural sensitivities and genuine rudeness

There are reasons when not making eye contact is the correct behavior:
  • In some cultures, particularly Asian, direct eye contact is considered rude and disrespectful.
  • Maintaining eye contact with the opposite sex can be viewed as unwanted flirtation.
  • Staring intently at someone can be taken as a sign of hostility or aggression.
  • Never breaking eye contact can come across as creepy.
Yet a quick search on the Internet will turn up plenty of articles that insist the only way to go is to make eye contact. This represents the extrovert bias that exists in our culture.

Remember, 50% of the population consists of introverts.

On the flip side, if you're in a meeting, frequently looking at your phone, laptop, or watch is simply rude.

Maybe it’s just because your face is blurry

In addition to mental focus, looking away for any of us could simply be a matter of visual focus.

I’m near-sighted meaning that, without my glasses, things closer are clearer than things far away. But not if those things are too close!

As I’ve aged and moved to progressive lenses getting people in focus can be challenging. If someone approaches me to talk, I’ll step back to try to see then more clearly.

If the person insists on staying close, and probably violating my personal space, I’ll look past them or away simply because it’s uncomfortable trying to focus on their face when it’s not possible.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, or a person by their looking away

The bottom-line is this: Don’t read too much into whether or not someone does or doesn’t look you in the eye.

Even body-language experts will caution that, while a person folding their arms can indicate they are a closed person, it can also indicate nothing other than that’s a more comfortable position for them.

Reading a person’s body language or expressions is not a rigid, precise science. Context is essential.

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George was suspected of being a thief merely because he was sweating following a work out and then after eating spicy food?

And we all know the feeling of seeing a police car in our rear view mirror.

As an introvert, I will look you in the eye from time to time. I understand that this is the socially acceptable way to go. But I won’t always maintain deep eye contact. And that has nothing to do with me being shifty or disinterested. It’s all about the way we introverts are wired.

Or, just maybe, I really am an alien, and when I look away it’s so I can blink my lizard eyes without you seeing. You never know. <blink>

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UPDATE: Recent research says eye contact may not be all it's cracked up to be! Click here to read more.
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Excerpt from “The Jimmy,” episode 19 from season 6 of Seinfeld:


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Have you, as an introvert, had issues related to not making "enough" eye contact with others? Have you experienced any other anti-introvert bias? As an extrovert, do you understand that introverts are wired differently than you and, therefore, behave differently? As an extrovert, are you tolerant or impatient with introverts?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rendering God’s actions invisible: Do you see what *He* sees?


"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
-- Isaiah 55:8-9

***

When God speaks, do you listen? Really, really listen?

Or do you filter His voice through standard operating procedures, acceptable business practices, common sense, how things are supposed to be done, what they taught you in business school, or the like?

Doing so essentially renders us deaf to His voice and blind to His provision.

Sometimes, God brings us the right people and the right solutions to fill our needs and we don’t see them because they don’t come to us according to our own expectations.

Maybe they seem a bit quirky. A little odd. Not what we deem proper. Too good to be true or the total opposite.

Whether people, ideas, or opportunities, we view them as somehow less than worthy of our attention and time. We ignore them, we dismiss them, and we miss God’s will as a result.

Then we wonder why things don’t seem to go as well as we believe they should.

After all, in our own eyes and our own way of thinking, we’ve listened to our heart and gut, followed best practices, and done everything right and by the book.

But, again, are you seeing people as God sees them? Are you discovering solutions as God reveals them?

Or, instead, are you simply leaning on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), filtering people and ideas through your own limited and flawed expectations?

Who or what have you dismissed, tossed aside, pooh-poohed, labeled as weird, deemed unprofessional, or ignored recently?

Perhaps you need to put down that bestselling ministry how-to book, ignore the advice of the current hot management guru, lay aside all you think you know, and take a second look, doing so, this time, with the eyes, mind, and heart of Christ.

You just may be surprised at how well God is answering your prayers and bringing the best people and the better solutions to meet your needs. But not at all the way you expected.

Are you listening? Paying attention? Tuned in to the right frequency? Or is God having trouble getting through all your "proper" static?

***

"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself [your ideas, your way of doing things] more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself [your ideas, your way of doing things] with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."
-- Romans 12:3



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Can you think of a time when you may have missed God's best for your situation because you deemed it not good enough or not the right solution? Or a time when you ignored the "right" way and went the "God" to better than expected results? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cicada creativity: Quiet inspiration that sets ideas buzzing

I love cicadas. Their buzz adds just the right touch to summer.

This year marks the emergence of what’s dubbed Brood II.

Introverts are like cicadas sometimes; we mull out of sight then breakout in a big way!

I’ll explain, but first, let’s look at a few fun cicada facts.

Billions and billions

Various species of cicadas live in every continent in the world except Antarctica. Just like introverts, they are everywhere!

The periodical cicada is one of the world’s longest living insects, staying underground for 13 to 17 years. In the United States, periodical cicadas are classified in groups called Broods. There are 12 broods of 17-year cicadas, and 3 broods of 13-year cicadas.

Amazingly, each Brood emerges simultaneously from underground in different years, in different areas, and in massive numbers. How they know when to emerge is still a bit of a mystery.

It is being estimated that the surfacing cicadas in Brood II will reach into the billions or even trillions, outnumbering humans 600 to 1, primarily up and down the east coast.

That’s a lot of cicadas!It's being referred to as swarmageddon and cicadapocalypse.

These cicadas will make a lot of noise as they live out their brief, buzzy, above-ground lives that last mere weeks.

Many people don't like cicadas. Many people dismiss introverts.

Introvert oppression

Introverts don’t tend to be fast-thinking or quick-talking.

We listen. We mull. We consider.

This often doesn’t bode well for us in business situations where fast-talkers are prized.

In business, the chatty extrovert tends to be favored.

Jack and Suzy Welch acknowledged this by writing in a column, “companies are so tilted towards extroverts that introverts within them often experience a dynamic not unlike the one faced by many women and minorities.”

What they mean is introverts in business regularly face bias, bigotry, and oppression.

Sigh.

But the Welch’s then make the mistake in this same column of confusing extroversion with “authenticity.”

So, their final recommendation, and the one introverts are often confronted with, is to essentially deny our introversion and be more like those wonderful, flashy, perky, boisterous extroverts!

Frankly, that’s not particularly good advice.

It’s akin to telling a woman to be more like a man, or someone from a “minority” to be more like those in the “majority” to be liked, accepted, and successful. Get my drift?

Seriously. Think about it.

Not a good idea. Just ask your HR people.

Crazy like a cicada

What to do?

Simple.

Respect the introvert and our ways!

A quiet introvert is a working introvert. All that thinking and mulling is moving toward that “big idea” all the extroverts are grasping and clamoring for.

It may take longer for introverts to get there, but when we do, watch out!

It’s not unlike the emergence of the periodical cicada.

And, thus the comparison.

For years, you don’t see or hear the cicadas from a specific brood. But they are developing and maturing underground, waiting for that mysterious signal that will bring them to the surface in droves.

Once up, they buzz and click like nothing you’ve ever heard. It’s raucous and garners attention from the global media.

They are fascinating, attention-getting, buzz generators. They come on so strong, their natural predators can’t deal with them. This allows them to mate and proliferate.

Isn’t this the kind of overwhelming success you’d like to accomplish in business?

Forget about releasing your “inner extrovert” as the Welch’s advise; instead, you’d do better to cultivate and embrace your inner introvert.

Or at least accommodate the ones who work for you.

Introvert wisdom


For those who know, the best whiskey is the longest aged whiskey. Often, the same is true with ideas.

Sometimes it’s best to set aside the rush and let things simmer, embracing your inner introvert and being crazy like a cicada! Or, taking steps to cultivate and encourage the wisdom of the introverts in your midst.

Here are five tips for managing introverts that will help them perform with excellence in your business:

  •  Set expectations: Unlike the periodical cicadas, you probably don’t have 13-17 years to wait before you need to act. Not to worry! People are different. Simply work out a reasonable schedule and clear plan with appropriate deadlines. Then work the plan and don’t shorten the timelines.
      
  • Let it brew: Once the plan is made, let the introverts go quiet. They’re working even though you won’t see a lot of activity. Remember, activity doesn’t equate to progress. In fact, a lot of activity can actually hide a lack of progress. Extroverts love smoke and mirrors! Introverts don’t.
     
  • Feed the mull: Introverts like to take in a lot of information as we consider ideas and solutions. This includes a lot of reading, some rambling conversation, site visits, and more. Give your introverts free rein to free range their information consumption.
     
  • Keep it quiet: Introverts prize quiet environments. The wrong kind of noise can be exceedingly distracting. Sometimes, we find that going to a Starbucks or the library or for a walk in the woods provides more fertile surroundings for thought development than a noisy, chat-filled office. Let us roam in the quiet.
     
  • Avoid pressure: Yes, it’s tempting to always check-in on progress, but don’t! Include a few places in your plan for check-ins and let this happen via email, or whatever method is most comfortable for the introverts on your team. Anything that smacks of pressure will shut an introvert down. However, don’t hesitate to insist on results within the deadlines and expectations based on the agreed-to plan.
     
Because of the strong bias toward extroverts, it will be hard to ignore them while the introverts mull. But that’s what you’ll need to do.

When, once a day, an excited, over-stimulated extrovert bounds into your office with “the answer” to all your problems, tell him to hold onto that thought until later, even if it kills them. It won’t.

What you’re likely to discover is that the hurried, spontaneous, extrovert-driven ideas will fizzle when put up against the seasoned, unhurried introvert–generated insights and solutions.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, "Trendspotting: Introverts, generalists, and wordsmiths rejoice!":
The value of introverts was clearly documented in 2001 with the publication of the book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't. Jim Collins wrote:
“Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.”
And this is a good thing.

Extrovert noise

Sometimes, the best way to advance is to stop, assess, and regroup. These are not the strengths or even the instincts of extroverts.

In her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain offers several examples and studies that show that in many companies the extroverts considered to be most charismatic may have the corner offices, the longer titles, the higher salaries, yet lack the performance to match!

One person laments that there’s often a “failure to distinguish between good presentation skills and true leadership ability.”

It’s not unusual for an extrovert to push their ideas by the sheer force of their charm. It’s a matter of ego and winning. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! And then it all blows up.

Commenting on students in a notable business school, one professor stated, “The risk with our students is that they’re very good at getting their way. But that doesn’t mean they are going the right way.”

Moving forward by force of will is sometimes useful, but this is the exception and not the rule. It can push a company blindly into one bad mistake after another.

As another person quoted by Cain states, “Aggressive power beats you up; soft power wins you over.”

Can’t we all just get along?

The bottomline is that in every company and organization there exist both introverts and extroverts.

By one accounting, the population divides pretty equally among both personality types. However, because of the influence of our culture of personality, there is a strong bias against introverts that must be intentionally pushed back on.

Both types are good. Both types are needed. Both types must be afforded equal value.

This will mean that the extroverts will need to be held at bay to make room for the quiet strength of the introverts.

But when the introverts emerge with their ideas, they’ll make an impact as big or bigger than the cicadas of Brood II!



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So, do you agree or disagree? Are introverts oppressed while extroverts are blessed? Which are you? What kinds of good or bad experiences have you had at work?
If you want to learn more about cicadas, visit these sites:
A couple of excellent books about introverts: