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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Exercises in Bridge Building (or Not)

I was having a conversation recently with someone who will remain unnamed.  I was trying to express or get out a thought and wasn't quite successfully relaying my thoughts. That person was just looking at me in a cool, unhelpful way, not saying anything really and not reaching out trying to help me to where I was headed with my thoughts.   Anyone who has spoke in front a group of people and got stuck on blank, disinterested or even hostile stares knows the feeling.  It is like being stranded or exposed, where the discomfort quickly becomes acute.

So, it occurred to me that I could express this (purposeful?) disconnect in terms bridge building.  That is to say, I was building a bridge to my audience (of one) and ran out of materials--got stuck completing or explaining my thought.  Now, I was left stranded or hanging out there without a way to reach my audience.  Had the person been more friendly to me, they'd have grab some supplies--ideas or thoughts--and started building a bridge back to me.  That is to say, they'd have helped me finish my incomplete thought.  Then we'd have had a connection or been 'bridged' together.  Unfortunately, when what you are trying to communicate is important, something suffers when the other party won't help with building the or connecting to your bridge.

After further reflection, I figured or determined that there are at least four types of bridge-building exercises.  Two involve a misconnection, one involves a one-sided connection and the final one involves a good connection where both sides share in the process and benefits

Scenario 1: Leaving me stranded.
  • Characterized by one party getting stuck when trying to express or communicate a thought or idea (run out of supplies and can't build to the other party).  
  • The other party instead of helping the the first party finish connecting--building a bridge towards where they had to stop--leaves them hanging.
    • A blank, clueless or hostile stare.
    • Impatient words or attitude
    • General unwillingness or inability to help the other connect
  • Compels the first party to make sure they have their thoughts or ideas completely buttoned down when communicating with the other party.
  • Discourages the first party from attempting at communicating or connecting, lest they be left hanging when and if they get stuck.

Scenario 2: Close but never quite meeting.
  • Characterized when two parties communicate past each other.  It is like each is building a parallel bridge to the other.  
  • Both parties want to communicate with each other as characterized by both working on a bridge to the other, but don't know how to reach each other or connect.
  • Instead of listening to what the other is saying or the needs of the other, they build a bridge in the direction of where they think the other SHOULD BE and expect the other party to meet them.
  • Instead of stubbornly continuing to build a bridge past the other (talking past each other) and trying to force the other into building their bridge in their direction (expecting them to fit into their thinking), each party should actually pause and see how they can meet.
  • If they stop in their efforts to build a bridge past each other and they start building a bridge towards each other, the bridge my not look pretty, but it will get them where they need to be--specifically communicating and connecting.  Communication doesn't have to be perfect to be effective.  Just like a bridge doesn't have to be built perfectly to get people to where they need to go.

Scenario 3: Bridges always built completely from one direction
  • Characterized when one party is always doing all the bridge building. i.e., in reaching out or communicating with the other.  The other party is open to what you have to say, but they aren't willing to do reach out or do the work to get their.
  • Eventually the first party will run out of building supplies when they are the one(s) always building the bridge to the to other side.  That is to say, eventually when one party is responsible for reaching out, communicating, or connecting, eventually that side will tire of being the bridge builder and no longer have it in them.
  • This type of bridge building may be effective and communication may be good for a time, but for long term bridge building it will fail miserably.  It doesn't compel or teach the other party to work on a bridge towards you. It may even deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to reach you or even worse it may cover up their disinterest in reaching you--communicating--if it isn't on their teams.

Scenario 4: The two sides shall meet in the middle.
  • Characterized when both parties participate in meeting each other in a bridge building exercise (aka communicate or connect).
  • One party might do a bit more of the bridge building, but it is clear each side is trying to their part in the bridge building.  (Each are reaching out, communicating and engaging in give and take).
  • This is the best long term model.  If each believe the other is an active participant in the bridge building exercise, they will know that if their efforts to build a bridge stall (they struggle with communication/connection for a bit), that the other party will carry the effort for a while.
  • In the situation I originally described, the other party to my thoughts or efforts to communicate saw where I was struggling to express myself.  In this scenario, they could have waited patiently while I processed my thought, they could have suggested to me what they thought I might be driving or they could have asked questions to draw that information out.

I feel that it is best possible when needing good communication/connection when dealing with others that, it is always best to extend a little bit of bridge to the other party to start with.  This will show the other party that you are willing to make some effort to meet them in the middle and don't expect them to do all the heavy lifting.  If it is a party that is not necessarily favorably disposed to you, while you extend a little bridge, you limit what you extend.  If it is a party that is favorably disposed to you, it is safer to extend quite a bit of bridge to the other party.  In either case, at some point it is best to give the other party the opportunity to work on building their own bridge back to you.  To deny them that opportunity, deprives them of the opportunity to work on their own communication/connection skills as well sets up an expectation that they don't have to.  In either case, it is important to remember bridge building with others, especially loved ones is not necessarily a one-time exercise but a life-long process.  Learning how to effectively connect and communicate--and maintain such connection/communication--with others, especially loved ones, is something that will always require some work and never should be taken for granted.

I believe my Higher Power (God), made us social creatures, but He also gave us a free will.  Therefore, the desire to communicate and connect with others is always there, but knowledge how to do so effectively and the willingness to do what it takes can be a sticking point.  I believe if we remember these things when considering how we relate to others, we will be at a good starting point for effective bridge building...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Save Yourself Without Drowning Others

Why are there federal, and in most cases, state laws on whom should wear a life-jacket or PFD (personal flotation device) on a moving boat?   I'd venture to guess it's because it is recognized that kids of a certain age are either a) not likely to know how to swim or b) they are likely to weak of a swimmer.  That is they have built up the stamina to swim far or for an extended period should they be required to.  In other words, they are deemed to be a greater drowning risk if the boat takes on water, they fall in the water or they get too far away from the boat.

Absent such a device, our natural instinct is to fight as hard as we can to keep our head high above water (See wikiHow to Prevent Drowning).  Unfortunately, even with the presence of another nearby to help us, the natural instinct is to panic when we feel ourselves going under.  We have to have the presence of mind when an experienced lifeguard is trying to save us from drowning to listen to him or her and not inadvertently pull them down too.  Sounds easy--listen to the experienced pro--but in the heat of the moment when panic starts to set in, we can lose our perspective and flail. 

From what I see, the same can happen in our personal lives.  That is, when we are in the process of 'drowning', fear can take over and we can allow ourselves and others around us to be dragged down by the path we choose.  Instead of taking from our faith, listening to others who are there for us, remembering that we've made it through rough circumstances before and focusing on the things that are going well, we get stuck on path that inevitably is destructive to ourselves and others.

I think most people have a story involving them or someone they know in which someone was stuck on a destructive path and could not get beyond it.  One that hits home for me occurred around at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.  The situation involved my dad.  In hindsight, he'd had symptoms of Parkison's disease for quite a while, but had not been diagnosed with it until earlier in late 2011 or early 2012.  

If I recall correctly, he tried to hide the extent of his health problems until the first time his legs locked up and he fell.  At that point, he couldn't hide that he had a problem and the extent thereof.  As he lived by himself, it quickly become clear that he needed to to have someone available 24/7 to watch over him and/or help him.  My brother and I had been helping him clean around the house, pick up food for him and to take him to places as time permitted us.  But as his fall risk become clearer, it became clear that he'd need someone there all the time or to be somewhere where that would be the case.  As all he'd known for the better part of 40+ years was his house, he wasn't going to move without a fight.  As my brother and I were both single, had full time jobs, I had a child and both of us had other responsibilities, we could do more to help him but we couldn't give him the help he needed and get by.  From what I see, he saw going somewhere that he'd have 24/7 access to help as 'drowning', but he couldn't afford for long the care he needed at home.   So, he came up with a 'solution', he'd give each of us a little stipend in return for staying by his side.  There was no way we could do this and effectively get by.  But in his now more cloudy mind, that was an option.  In short, in his mind, he was drowning.  So, he was doing whatever he could to keep himself afloat, even risking dragging under the ones that were trying to help him.  I realize at the time and even more so now that he wasn't in a good place, but it still was tough saying no to someone who'd be a strong figure in our lives.

This story led me to consider how we affect others around us, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't trying to hurt his kids, but was becoming increasingly confused and afraid.  He had talked for a number of year of getting rid of his house and moving somewhere which he didn't have to do as much.  We were on board with that, but he never took the steps to put that in place.  He never made provisions for anything really.  In short, he'd been swimming in life's waters for a long time and didn't plan for what would happen if he became too tired to swim.   

I believe if we've lived long enough, most people have a story of wittingly or unwittingly putting someone in a bad spot or someone else putting us in a bad spot.  So, how do we save ourselves without drowning others?

How to save yourself without drowning others
  • Plan for the day in which you can't do it by yourself so you don't put the ones you love in an impossible situation.  That doesn't mean don't leave a place for them to help, but don't put them in a situation that is impossible for everyone.
    • Consider the future realistically.
    • Don't leave yourself dependent on needing things to turn out perfectly, because chances are they won't.
  • Listen to your loved ones and don't dismiss their concerns for you  If they've truly been loyal to you, chances are they are looking out for you.  In other words, take their concerns into account.
    • This can involve health and safety concerns.
    • This can involve addiction concerns--to the point of accepting an intervention.
    • This can involve concerns for other negative influences in your life.
  • Learn to lean into your Higher Power (God) and faith.  If you develop a healthy relationship with your Higher Power and/or work on your faith, fear stands less of a chance to totally consume you should disaster or bad circumstances strike.  If we stop to think, we can usually find a time or two in which He was there watching out for us.
  •  When ones you can reasonably trust offer to help and you could really use it, consider taking them up on it.  Better to swallow a little pride and accept the help now than wait until the situation or circumstances have spun out of control--risking the well-being of yourself and possibly others at that point.

(For no apparent reason, except that I like this song).

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

When Being Strong is Weak and Being Weak is Strong and Somewheres in Between.

I grew up with an 'old school' dad who passed on or expressed 'old school' ways and ways to his kids.  Now I will only speak as a guy, but from what I 'learned' boys were expected to 'deal' with adversity and utilizing what we call behavioral health--counseling or psychiatry--was showing or admitting weakness.  Now I don't fault him as he grew up in a society or world that blessed that view.  With time and distance from my childhood and his immediate influence, I have a more nuanced view.  For example, I don't think counselors or psychiatrists by definition are quacks--his words--but instead that some are generally effective, some are generally ineffective and some are helpful for some clients, but not others.  But, I digress.  I moved from my dad's old school contempt for behavioral health into a perspective in which utilizing behavioral health can be a sign of strength.  That is to say, not being too proud to admit you or your child have a problem which a behavior/medical professional can help you with.  To me that's strength.  

The goal of this blog post is recognize when purported strengths are actually weaknesses and vice versa.  In many cases a purported strength is actually a strength and purported weakness is actually a weakness, so I will address that too.  

Strength is weakness (examples)
  • Doing something on your own, when help is both offered, available and even desirable.
    • Initially, it may be desirable to do something on your own just to show you can do it or get past a block--such as writing a paper or story.  This can give you and others confidence in your ability.
    • It can become a weakness if you continue to reject help because you can do it yourself.  For example, when you have willing and available help for moving and refuse it in order to show you don't need help.
  • Someone does you wrong and you treat them badly and/or reject them completely.
    • Obviously you don't hand them out a friendship award for mistreating you.
    • Often it is necessary to display consequences for the mistreatment to indicate its not acceptable.
    • Excessive payback can make you look small, not strong.
    • Excessive frigidness or hostility, instead of displaying strength, can actually show a weakness.
      • Inability to respond properly due to unchecked emotions.
      • Too much of a focus on making sure to show how strong you are--such as how you don't NEED the other person--can actually be an attempt to hide or compensate for a wounded pride.
  • Virtue signaling - that is publicly and blatantly everyone know that you ARE on the right side of an issue.
    • Can be portrayed as strength--that is you are willing to take a public stand on an issue.
    • Often times it shows a blatant 'need' or desire to be accepted.  That is hoping to be praised for virtuousness.  In other words, it is a weakness that you are relying on or craving public approval.
Weakness is strength (examples)
  • Breaking down and seeking help, when circumstances dictate.
    • Going to the doctor rather than stubbornly hoping to wait out being sick.
    • Going to a grief counselor/group when you've had a profound death in the family.
    • It shows that you are stronger than your pride or discomfort at asking or accepting help.
  • Turning the other cheek, when you easily could punish someone else.
    • It shows that you will not let someone else's mistreatment of you get the best of or rule you.
    • It shows that you a the bigger person.  That is you put what is best over getting back at another.  Aka you are stronger than your pride or emotions.
    • Often times there will be another time or circumstance to 'respond' to the mistreatment.
  • Not saying anything in response to a situation, circumstance or story.
    • You don't need the approval you believe you can generate by getting on the 'right side' of the issue.  Your esteem is more deeply rooted.
    • You are wise or strong enough to see that sometimes outwardly responding serves no useful purpose and potentially can inflame a situation.
    • Holding your tongue rather than caving to pressure to respond (and 'show you care').  You are smart and strong enough to realize that your actions will be a better portrayal of your character than throwaway or forced responses.
    • There will usually be another opportunity and way to respond at a later point.
Strength is strength (examples)
  • Risking your health and safety to help another out in a life and death situation.  That is overcoming the fear of consequences to you.
  • A projection of military might to discourage other nations from threatening yourself or your allies.
Weakness is weakness (examples)
  • Continually let someone bully you without saying anything or otherwise standing up for yourself.  It's one thing to turn the other cheek, but it's another to just make yourself out to be a huge and continued target.
  • Going to the other extreme and getting 'hurt' over every little perceived injustice or offense.


Life will provide you ample opportunities to show your strength of will, judgment and/or character.  Not every circumstance is meant to be an opportunity to display your 'strength' (or weakness).  The most important thing is to seek wisdom and guidance (including from your Higher Power) on how to handle each circumstances.  In the meantime, it is important to be grounded and base your responses more on what is appropriate and less on how they will help you.  I believe in life if your actions or behavior are based on what is right vs. what is convenient, in the long run, you will keep your own respect and more often then not win that of others.