It is not uncommon to feel a bit stressed. I frequently hear of students who suffer from stress, or anxiety – heck throw a math exam my way – never mind that it’s a grade 6 math test and watch the bullets of sweat bead up on my increasingly balding head. This belies the fact that I did receive 100% in Math 30 back in the 70’s as I finished my high school math career. (That 48% the first year required a second effort and 52% in the second round to attain that 100% but still….who says traditional math instruction didn’t work).
Back to embracing stress…I have 3 daughters and 3 sons – the youngest is now 21 (I think) and all of them have their own unique ways of dealing with stress and anxiety. Recently I had the opportunity to watch Kelly McGonigal (@kellymcgonigal and Kelly’s website with tips,videos, articles etc) present at TED (not live I haven’t been that fortunate but on youtube). Check it out below.
Kelly McGonigal referred to a couple of studies in support of her work, here is a summary of the Keller, Litzelman study from the University of Wisconsin.
Jamieson, Mendes and Nock’s work on our choice to redirect our response to stress can be read here. And a brief report of the study can be found here. Jamieson, Mendes and Nock quote William James writing, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” This aligns with my belief that we must never forget that our agency, our ability to choose is foundational in all that we do – that and the faith based notion that we will never be tested beyond what we are capable to endure.
Like any other skill or attribute our capacity to redirect or refocus stress and anxiety from debilitating to empowering or at least sustaining our work takes time, but like every other lesson it begins with a commitment to listen, read, and ponder the alternative responses and then giving it a try.
I particularly like the idea that service rendered to others, even when we feel caught up in our own tsunami of events and “stress” can provide us with a valuable stress buster and the capacity to get through the moment and increase our own capacity. I find myself challenged to be more mindful and keep my eyes open for opportunities to serve and support.
As the commissioner of football for the Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA) I had the opportunity during the weekend of November 21-22, 2014 in Lethbridge, with winds sustained for much of the weekend in the 20mph/40km range with gusts exceeding 50km, I watched as 10 teams competed for provincial championships in 6-man, and the four tiers basically aligned with school size with Tier I being schools over 1250 and Tier IV schools under 450.
As the weekend progressed I observed all manner of teammates, as I always do when I watch football, some of them on the team and others; parents and friends in the stands. I find myself musing upon what type of teammate we are in our various endeavors as I consider the actions of those theoretically supporting their team in each of those games.
Are we the kind of teammate that gets a bit too focused on ourselves and forgets about the team? I observed a parent who seemed to think that it was his job to stand over away from his own school’s parents behind the opposition parents and make comments designed to taunt, tease, even mock…why? I had spoken with the captains of the 10 teams competing for 5 championships on Friday morning and stressed that when they spoke with their parents Friday and Saturday don’t be afraid to remind your parents to be good sports in the stands. Clearly not all parents got the message – it did nothing – absolutely nothing to help the team, it did embarrass his school, other parents, and hurt the feelings of little brothers and sisters, and parents of the opposition. Really quite a selfish act when you think about it.
For the vast majority of parents and players the weekend was excellent, a lot of great plays and a lot of great support. If we keep it at the front of our minds to be the best teammates, everyone can enjoy the game…any game life presents to us, win or lose.
There are days we might question what we have to offer, or perhaps it is just that we do not realize that the capacity within us is far greater than we believe and as a result we question the extent to which we might control our own lives and influence those around us.
In a recent conversation around motivation the word fear was introduced to the conversation as both a motivator and demotivator. I can withdraw in fear or I can face the fears that are before me and determine that I can push through the challenges and move to the other side.
Marianne Williamson wrote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” from her book, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the principles of a course in miracles”
In the movie, Coach Carter, this passage was used first by the coach and then his player in challenging each other to confront self doubts, questions of ability, willfulness to push forward, and accept that we do impact others and we are blessed with potential, a potential in our very core to be better each day and to positively impact our lives and the lives of those with whom we have the opportunity to interact.
Several years ago at a Colour Night celebration at the Composite High School I shared the extended quote, often titled as “Dare Greatly” from Teddy Roosevelt I include it below:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.”
It is difficult to get banged about at the best of times, the slightly cynical “no good deed goes unpunished” speaks to those occasions when we think we are doing something “good” for others but the reaction or response is not what is anticipated or along the journey we encounter a little challenge. Think of the time you got a speeding ticket hurrying to help a single mother move for example….;-)
There is a need to develop resilience, an ability to remember who we are and what we are and remember that what we do adds to who we are but is not “all” that we are.
This past week a friend shared the work she’s doing as an outstanding young principal in our school district and pointed me in the direction of a Tedx talk by Brene Brown
subsequently bought and over the weekend read/listened to most of her most recent book: Daring Greatly. I think educators, parents, dads, moms, husbands, wives, employees, employers..sons, daughters, can read this just as you can watch the video, several times and come away with different keys or ponderables for the different channels of your life.
Today a visitor to Washington, DC will easily walk down what is called the Mall, heading away from the Congress buildings past the Washington monument, the Whitehouse just off a block or two to your right, past the relatively new World War II monument, and down the length of the reflecting pond toward the Lincoln Memorial. The walk takes you past close to a dozen buildings which combine to form the Smithsonian Museums, the Holocaust museum is just a couple blocks off the mall almost directly opposite the Whitehouse. To the left of Lincoln, the Korean War Memorial, to the right Vietnam. Just past the Lincoln memorial off to the left toward the Jefferson memorial the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and if you walk around back of the Lincoln memorial you can see across the bridge the elevated land of Arlington National Cemetery. General Lee, leader of the confederate army, owned the land and his house today is just above the John F. Kennedy memorial both of which look directly out over everything I’ve just described looking back toward the Congress buildings.
It is pretty easy today, particularly for those of us in the world who are not American, to forget the price that people have paid all over the world for a measure of what might be recognized as freedom or even basic human rights. The Civil war in the United States, revolutions in England, France, Russia, to name just a few highlight the courage of people to stand up and be counted for as individuals worthy of consideration.
Lincoln did not start this movement, and it certainly did not end with the American civil war but it serves as a somber reminder that even a nation identified as a bastion of democracy struggles to hold to its own Declaration of Independence as it struggles to bring to actualize the statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
There are over 11 000 books that is some way involve Abraham Lincoln at Amazon. There are only 52 million results on a google search for “Abraham Lincoln”.
When I consider Lincoln, I ponder what I believe about the ability to control my destiny, what I believe about the value of each individual, and what is required of me to ensure that the people I come in contact with are valued, respected and supported as they seek to be the best they can be.
Finally I consider that the struggle for personal human rights and dignity did not end with the civil war in the United States, just as the war didn’t end with the proclamation.
Lincoln said, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right”. Sound advice, no easy path to follow.
The setting or circumstance doesn’t really matter. When the time comes for us to venture out into the world be it that first day of kindergarten, as a teenager, a university student, an adult to work, as I said the circumstance or timing is not the key what we do while we are out wherever we are, therein rests the focus.
In the Shakespearean play Hamlet a father gives counsel to his son ranging from finances, “neither a borrower nor a lender be”, to friendship, “those friends thou hast, …grapple (hold) them to they soul with hoops of steel” to the art of conversation “give every man thy ear, but few thy voice”. These are Polonius’ words to his son Laertes as he prepares to leave for France.
Polonius closes with “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
He shares this counsel confident, and hopeful at the same time, that he has provided Laertes with the upbringing and support that would enable him to make good choices in whatever situation he finds himself. That if he is constant to his values and upbringing he will succeed and be someone that others can count upon. In our own lives, our own self-development we would do well to reflect upon what it is we believe, really value as being at the core of who we are and then ensuring as the day follows the night that our actions align with those beliefs.
I suspect it takes an element of bravery to stand for something and follow through in a constant manner. There will be times where we slip, stumble and fall in our efforts to be true to ourselves but the key rests in recognizing that the power lies within us to succeed. To get up each time we fall and carry on. The Japanese word for bravery is Yuki. It is literally the feeling of being brave.
As with all Kanji it is the combination of elements, strokes, and images, that creates the meaning. In the character for brave (yu) seen to the left you have at the base the two stroke character that by itself is the Japanese word for power, chikara (seen to the right).
This is not by accident, we might consider which proceeds the other, do you draw power through being brave or does it require power to be brave? I am comfortable believing it is both.
To thine own self be true is not an invitation to be selfish, it’s not to go get what you feel you deserve, it’s an admonition to reflect upon your beliefs, establish what you will stand for and not fall to the everyday breezes we occasionally mistake for the gale force winds of change. I hope people who know me, know what I stand for and can count on me being true. Even the children’s cartoon Mulan get’s this with the line, “though the winds may blow yet the mountain will not bow”.
Each director must make choices when bringing a play to the big screen. Watch this version of Polonius and his counsel to his son. It is Act1 Scene 3 (I’ve included the full text below) He drops a couple of key lines from the original. An example “Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment” is absent nevertheless it serves as a reasonable rendition and displays the anxiety at parting that I suspect most of us feel.
Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!
The other night (Dec 10, 2012) I had the chance to spend a few minutes with my wife and son on a skype call to my mother and father on his birthday. It was their first skype at their house, they’d been involved in a few others but still it was just so much better than a phone call. 75 years old and 75 years young.
My dad is special. I’m hopeful that all sons and daughters are able to say the same thing but sadly I know that is not always the case. For me, for my life, my dad has been special even if there were times I failed to recognize just how special, how wise and how instructive he was.
Why share this in a post? Like millions of other sons around the world my dad has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimers and things have become pretty short term in what seems like a flash. I know he’s given much and has more to give, my reflection provides one side of a set of mirrors and his presents that eternal reflection over time.
Perhaps your dad’s have taught you similar lessons.
At the top of the list for me my dad taught me work. I don’t know for sure when the first time was he said it, I’ve always told others it was a time I was weeding the garden but I think most of those times it was my mom cracking the whip…metaphorically of course…but I hated spiders (daddy long legs specifically) crawling on me while I was doing it and I’d beg to be excused. “I wish I didn’t have to do this…” Any wish that avoided work was met with the phrase “Wish in one hand spit in the other and see which one fills up faster” He’d illustrate by spitting on the one hand slapping it against the other, rubbing them together and grabbing the shovel to get to work. It has stuck with me my entire life…sports, coaching, teaching, working on my own degrees, raising a family….I wish…well get to work.
From as early as I can remember my dad was a great story teller, teacher (though not university trained most of his teaching was in Sunday School/Seminary settings) and public speaker, he loved to draw the connections of outside experiences to whatever situation connecting metaphors wherever he might from whatever he could connect. I always wanted to be that teacher who could help students, in whatever setting see the connection and understand the why…that’s from my dad.
I don’t know anyone who was better able to sleep whenever and wherever he needed to sleep. In the early 60’s there was a “trading post” just across the bridge into/out of “downtown” Banff. As kids we’d go into to get stick candy, Dad worked for the morning paper in Calgary at that time, The Calgary Albertan so he worked all night. We came out of the store and there he was lying on the grass sound asleep snoring like a lion and I recall Japanese tourists taking his picture. Not at all uncommon was his falling asleep during a football game or show on tv and then insisting he hadn’t missed a minute. My wife will tell you I do the same. Need the rest, take the rest where you can.
I have coached volleyball, basketball and for most of my life football. My interest in coaching came from my dad though “just” a newspaper man he volunteered and coached volleyball and basketball. As a volleyball coach he took Sir Winston Churchill High School to a city championship in the early 70’s and I believe to the provincial finals. He coached church basketball and volleyball as well. Church basketball in Calgary and Southern Alberta…well it could be pretty competitive, the joke in the church is that it is the only war that starts with an opening prayer. Dad took the volleyball team all the way to “All-Church” when that tournament used to exist. There are hundreds of men today who remember that he introduced them to basketball through the “mini-basketball program” particularly in Edmonton later in his life and finally while he and mom were serving missions in the Ukraine he arranged to have basketballs shipped over and taught the game there while in his 60’s.
Service leadership…not sure I have enough space to write about this, suffice it to say that Dad has always been available to help whoever needs help in whatever way he can help. As seniors he and mom have served to missions spanning 3 years and only the downturn in his health prevented a third mission. They have shown all of us the way. My dad is not a great cook; that’s my mom’s area, but he is a great cook’s helper packing food to catering jobs and working in the kitchen even to this day.
My dad loves my mom. I don’t think too much more is required there and I really don’t think a father can do anything more important than this in raising his boys, love their mom. They’ve been married since May of 1958 through 4 boys and all that 4 boys can bring and a life time of victories and defeats and through it all my dad loves my mom.
As the weeks and months pass on Alzheimers is doing what it does and Dad’s memory is going, he knows it and we know it but our feelings – all those feelings they don’t go away. It is the one thing the desease cannot touch. We may lose the ability to express what we’ve felt, what we’ve experienced, even who we are or what are relationships are…but the feelings stay.
A week or two ago sitting in a James Bond movie of all places I found myself listening to the words of Tennyson from the poem Ulysses. It hit me that even in the sunset of life there is always so much we can learn from each other and that I can and will continue to learn from and share with my dad. I share the last stanza with you below:
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Thanks Dad, I continue to learn from you and the feelings and memories are eternal.
Sir John Gielgud shares a few words from the poem Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson
In the summers of 2002 and 2003 I had the opportunity to travel with Team Alberta’s football team for the National Championships in Ottawa. On each occasion I found myself on tour and on my free time making my way to the Parliament buildings and grounds. On each occasion I particularly sought out the west side of the Peace Tower where over the window you can read, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.
I took pictures of the tower but my impeccable filing system has failed me…at least for now though other pictures exist, check out Marcel Mason’s picture here.
The words have been available a very long time, they are found in Proverbs 29:18 and invite us to ponder for a second about our obligation to determine a vision for ourselves and work toward a shared vision for those whom we either choose to associate with or find ourselves in association as a result of our interests, our work, or our common existence.
The musical group Coldplay in the song entitled “Lost” wrote:
Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop…I just got lost.
I believe we can, in the process of developing our personal vision, occasionally get lost. Episodes in our life introduce a new set of variables, the unanticipated consequences of our own actions and those of others serve to create a new reality and in that process occasionally we may find ourselves stumbling a little to regain that balance.
At the core of our recovery it is critical that we have a vision of core values to which we might maintain at least one hand of hold as we right ourselves and re-establish the course of our life.
Excellence is attainable, there just isn’t any shortcuts.
What is it about the concept of good enough that has become so acceptable when excellence or being exceptional is just over the horizon of average? It isn’t as though we don’t know what it takes to excel, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers wrote of the people put in 10,000 hours to achieve excellence. Now we certainly cannot put 10,000 hours into everything that we do but where do we settle and in what areas do we settle?
In an interview with Anderson Cooper Gladwell provides a few thoughts to ponder, we don’t succeed alone, really no one does, and it doesn’t happen overnight it takes time and effort and a willingness to push past the point when most quit or perhaps even worse yet…settle.
Vernon Heperi shared this story, “When James A. Garfield, once president of the United States, was the president of Hiram College, a father brought his son for admittance as a student. The father wanted the boy to take a course [of study] shorter than the one offered and exclaimed: “He can never take all that in! He wants to get through quicker. Can you arrange it for him?”
“Oh, yes,” replied President Garfield. “He can take a shorter course. It all depends on what you want to make of him. When God wants to make an oak, he takes one hundred years, but he only takes two months to make a squash.”1
There are no short cuts, wishing doesn’t get you too much past the dreaming stage. If you want to amount to something we have to do something and if we want to do something well, attain excellence, then put in the time and make it happen. Not to disparage the squash, but there is a little more majesty in an oak…it’s in us to succeed, we did not come into this life to fail.
Nelson Mandela…an example of courage and grace under pressure
“There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson Mandela
What is it that can make a man so sure of his convictions that he is able to endure years in jail, decades in fact, and upon his release live a life that seemingly forgives his jailers and the people who commanded them? Nelson Mandela was a victim of apartheid in South Africa sentenced to life in prison for fighting against a government that had minimized the majority of its population simply because it was black. After 27 years in prison on Robben Island Mandela was released and four short years later elected president of South Africa. A shocking turn of events. Mandela worked to build a united nation when so many who had been brutally oppressed for so long really wanted revenge he insisted upon a process of reconciliation that in large part brought Mandela the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
I would suggest that hating your enemies is pretty easy, loving your friends often easier but truly forgiving your enemies – working to draw them in as friends is truly an ideal to shoot for. Mandela provides us with much to consider as we explore our relationships with those who may even want to kill us.
While Hollywood is certainly capable of stretching the truth – the 2009 movie “Invictus” starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela presents the early efforts of Mandela to bring a broken country together through sport.
A few thoughts from Nelson Mandela to ponder in our interactions with others and efforts to lead, first our own lives and then perhaps as we strive to provide leadership with others.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Reconciliation and forgiveness starts here…a scene from Invictus