Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Diffusing Family Tension

I've spent over twenty years working with families as a spiritual life coach. Many of my clients divulge painful or embarrassing situations that their families are struggling with, believing there must be something wrong with them since other families they know appear so well adjusted. I assure them that even in the most seemingly normal families there are often veiled matters of concern. Dealing with tension and strife in our family units can present unique challenges. In our social environments we can more easily disengage or remove ourselves from problematic circumstances. But when your sister marries someone who defines the very essence of drama, exiting may not be a logical option. Is there a way families can reduce the amount to tension between them? While we may not be able to completely eliminate it, we most certainly can take measures to make family interactions more enjoyable.

1. Always be polite and cordial to every family member, even those you may not be particularly fond of. Avoid ignoring or showing favoritism as it can easily lead to hurt feelings, jealousy, and resentment. 

2. In disagreements, refrain from using the terms right and wrong. Leave your ego out of all discussions and respect each person's position.

3. Don't second guess other people's motives for what they are saying or doing. If you are uncertain, either give them the benefit of the doubt or ask questions to gain further clarity.

4. Avoid engaging in hot topics. If someone initiates a discussion known to evoke intense emotions, redirect the conversation to a more neutral issue. Likewise in regard to fuel-injected statements, those comments that are designed to anger the other person: "You Always...", "I Never...", "You have a problem!"  "ANY" Words: Always, Never, and You can be toxic in conversations. Ban them from your vocabulary. 

5. If you have an issue with a particular family member discuss it with them in private. Do not invite others into the conversation. Respect their privacy. Remember: too many cooks spoil the soup. Be respectful by refusing to gossip or speak unkindly about the individual with others as well.

6. Never interfere with the relationship between one family member and another. If you do not care for someone, at the very least be tolerant of others who still do.

7. Leave the past where it belongs. Do not dredge up old issues or reopen past wounds. Address current issues only.

8. If you find yourself becoming upset with someone, stop and discern what is really troubling you. Very often it has nothing to do with the other party. They may be triggering an unresolved issue within you that needs healing.

9. Whenever possible and appropriate, use humor as a way of diffusing tension. -appropriate being the optimum word. 

10. In any situation, we have the option of being an instigator, participant, or healer of family tension. Always choose the latter. Be the voice of reason, the peacemaker, the example for others to follow. 

And if for some reason you cannot contribute to the well-being of your family then at the very least do not contaminate it further.
Family members may not always cooperate with your efforts. But remember: you are not here for their approval, you are here to please God. In the words of St. Francis: "Lord make me an instrument of your peace."

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016


We all seek to be powerful. I'm not speaking necessarily about having authority over others but we certainly want to have control over our own lives. Yet even the most well-intentioned, enlightened person wants to control a particular situation or individual at times. Certainly, parents impose their authority over their children which is not necessarily a bad thing. Children, especially those who are young and immature or who may be developmentally slow, are not fully capable of making responsible decisions for themselves and rely on the judgment and guidance of the parents to do so for them.  For those in the military, or other organizations responsible for the lives and safety of others, a leader must be in charge in order to keep all those under their command safe and to create the favored outcome for all. And we're all familiar with the person who is a control freak, the one who needs to feel powerful at all times, never letting their guard down or relinquishing dominance over others. 

But is there a connection between anger and power? The very definition of anger is that it is a feeling of discomfort or displeasure brought about by feelings of helplessness or powerlessness. Feeling powerless makes us feel vulnerable, susceptible to the whims of others. It takes an enormous amount of trust to permit others to have dominion over one's life in any capacity. Very few are willing to relinquish such authority. Humans instinctively protect themselves from any perceived harm or unpleasantness and anger is an appropriate tool to get the job done.

Think about what occurs when someone gets really angry: people pay attention. If my boss is screaming at the entire office, you can rest assured that most everyone is affording him their undivided attention. Anger makes us feel powerful in the moment because we generally get the attention we're seeking and very often the cooperation of others as well. 

However, this kind of power brought about by anger is an illusion. When we lose control and allow anger to dictate what we say or do, then in essence we have given command to the emotion itself. We are no longer operating from an intellectual, rational mind but rather from a place of tumultuous feelings. When one is in a highly emotional state they typically are not making rational judgments, therefore they are not thinking logically by collecting the necessary facts that enable them to make an intelligent decision. In this case, one becomes power-less (a victim) to the rage.

Here's the primary issue in the case of the boss: his anger evokes fear in his workers. When one is engaging in irrational or threatening behavior, others are uncertain as to what to expect. They feel at risk for any unforeseen consequences (such as an impromptu firing of a coworker or a cutback of privileges). They are unable to reason with a boss who is not displaying rational thinking and are hesitant top even try. In that moment, employees may comply with his demands but the long term and far reaching effects of his tirade create a breakdown of trust and respect, thus seriously undermining his effectiveness as a leader.

The authentic power of anger lies in our willingness to channel it in a constructive manner that will bring about positive change not just for the self but for all parties concerned. When the message of anger is deciphered, that is when we are able to identify what we considered wrong, unjust, unfair, corrupt, dangerous, disrespectful, and so forth, then the messenger (anger) has served its purpose. Much like an announcer who proclaims, "Play ball!", once the proclamation is declared his job is complete and the players commence the game. Anger is an announcer, it tells me that something is wrong.  Once I receive the message I can dispose of that specific emotion and put my energy into the solution. 

Here's an example: a young mother is outraged that her father-in-law favors their oldest son. Her younger children have noticed the nepotism and she can see the hurt in their eyes. "How could he be so insensitive and mean to my other children?" she thinks to herself. But rather than verbally lambast him, she sets out a course of action to create a more balanced family dynamic. She puts down the anger and addresses the issue with the grandfather stating that she realizes her son is a very special child and she loves the bond he has with him. She also knows how much her other children would cherish the same kind of relationship with him. She then offers suggestions as to how they can work on creating that as well as the benefits for all of them. In this regard, her anger motivates her to improve a family situation before any serious damage was done. The ability to make thoughtful, intelligent, positive decisions with extenuating benefits for everyone is where our authentic power lies.

Take great care when choosing anger for it can be highly deceptive. Never relinquish your authority to such a powerful emotion for once you do it has the potential to have devastating consequences. Like an announcer, listen to its message, set it free, and set your thoughts on a path to positive actions. And in this way, you will find the true power that is rightfully yours. 

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Recently a 43 year old man and father of seven, Keith Lamont Scott, was killed by police in Charlotte, NC. As is often the case, there are conflicting reports as to what actually happened. Currently, an investigation by a separate state agency is taking place to determine if this shooting was warranted or was an act of racial profiling. In any event, investigations of this nature can take months to complete. In the meantime, people are up in arms about another killing of a black man that, for many, appears racially motivated. Police in riot gear are trying to keep protestors from becoming violent yet their efforts are falling short.  Looting local businesses typically accompanies rioting and Charlotte is no exception. Along with physical injuries, there was an innocent civilian who was murdered by a civilian, all due to the chaos that is germane to violent protests.

I totally understand the anger and outrage at a presumed killing of an innocent individual, and protests, if handled correctly, can be a powerful tool in voicing one's concerns as well as influencing much needed reform. However, here are some of the reasons why protests of this nature do not work.

Flawed From the Get Go

First, upon hearing such news, people are quick to jump to conclusions and make assumptions about the guilt and/or innocence of all parties. This is typically decided by a predetermined mindset or belief that the person subscribes to. Rather than review all of the facts, they pick and choose those details which support their beliefs and discredit those that contradict them. Their actions are a reflection of those beliefs, however accurate or erroneous they may be.

Secondly, once an individual has made a judgment call, they are eager to disseminate that information in order to attract followers and thus gain momentum. When they condemn the supposed guilty party before an accurate determination can be made, their agenda incites hatred towards the alleged perpetrator typically followed by outrage and violence. Fear (that justice will not be served) fuels this behavior in an effort to gain power and control over their (perceived) oppressors.

Unintended Consequences

However, rather than achieve the positive changes they are seeking, the opposite actually occurs. Rioters lose the respect of the community and nation; they are seen as hate-mongers who are unable and unwilling to negotiate an issue rationally. Whatever trust and cooperation could have occurred between both sides is dashed as their actions support the belief that (based on their violent behaviors) they are untrustworthy.

While their concerns may be valid, their actions elude to another agenda. The deliberate destruction of another person's personal property, i.e. the looting of local businesses, damage to vehicles, assaults on innocent individuals, etc., suggests that their protest is actually an excuse to cause mayhem and destruction. Additionally, those in the black communities who accuse whites of racial profiling are only further hurting their cause for justice by reinforcing the violent image many people have of them as they engage in unjustifiable destruction and harm to their communities and fellow citizens.

The Path to Righteous Change

Violence is never the way to change. From a Karmic perspective one cannot engage in negative, hateful actions and expect to reap a positive end. In Biblical terms, (Galatians) God tells us that "You shall reap what you sow." Therefore, the only way to create justice is through fairness and rational, respectable actions. Ghandi stated it so eloquently, "I must first be the change I want to see in the world." It cannot be any clearer than that.

Relevant Questions

Here are the questions all agitators need to consider before engaging in destructive acts: will this help or hurt my cause? Will this make the situation better or worse, now and in the future? Clearly there is nothing constructive that has emerged from any of these riots. On the contrary: blacks have further damaged their image and race relations are more strained now than in prior years.

Authentic Power

While violent protestors are dangerously misguided in their way of thinking, that violence is power, the truth is that responsibility is power. Only when we take personal ownership for the sad state of our lives rather than blame others do we have the power to change it. Peace is power. "I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life" says God. God's way of love and kindness and concern for one another is the path to a more just and safer world. It is our Divine right to be free from harm and to be treated with dignity and respect. But that will not happen through the use of force. It will only occur when each individual chooses to be respectful towards all of humanity, even towards those who may be acting out; to rise above, to be the example of what is means to be fully human.

In Summary

When both sides are willing to come together in a meaningful dialogue to share their concerns and grievances, to listen not only with their ears but more importantly with their hearts, when they are willing to forgive the transgressions of the other party and put the past behind them, only then do they stand a chance at ending the hatred and coming together as one.

You cannot beat a child and expect him or her to trust and love you. Likewise, you cannot riot and loot and injure and destroy and expect others to respect you. "What you reap you sow." Positive change can only occur through positive actions. Let go of the fear and anger and hatred. Let God's way be your way. And in doing so, the world will finally find the peace and justice it is so desperately seeking.

Matthew 5:44 "But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you."


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Wednesday, September 21, 2016


We all have challenging people in our lives yet unfortunately few of us have been properly trained in how to effectively deal with them. Well, that's going to change today. In no particular order, using the an acronym "C~U~R~B  Appeal", you will learn tips that will better enable you to get along with difficult people.

C: Consequences  Very often when we are dealing with challenging individuals we fail to set limits and boundaries. We may be comfortable speaking up and addressing their inappropriate behaviors or attitudes. Additionally we might also comment on how we expect them to behave. However, that's typically as far as we get. Without motivation to change (which can either be a reward or a penalty) people are often inclined to continue doing what they're doing without regard for the feelings or impact it has on others. Much like our speed limits, if police officers only expressed a desire that we obey them rather than exceed those limits, few would comply. Imposing a ticket or points on the offender's license gives one ample reason to make the necessary changes. The key to effective consequences is following through with them.

U: Understanding  It's essential to realize that behavior is an outward expression of our internal issues. Those who are arrogant, vengeful, rude, combative, uncooperative, etc. are verbally or physically expressing what is bothering them inside, those issues that they have not yet resolved or healed. Individuals are not always aware of why they act as they do and are therefore powerless to some extent to change. Even though I may be understanding that one who is yelling and threatening me is operating from a place of fear (aggression is a need to self-protect from a perceived threat), I may not necessarily know the source of that fear and neither is it necessary. I only need to be understanding of their suffering and therefore compassionate that they are struggling with an unresolved issue.

R: Respect  Regardless of how difficult the individual may be, it is imperative to always treat them with dignity and respect. This can be extremely challenging as it is our natural inclination to want to put others in their place when they are acting out or to get even with those who have offended us. We also tend to assign value to people based, in part, on how they treat others. Those who are disrespectful or offensive have lower worth to us than those who treat one another with dignity. However, it is not our place to judge; neither do people have to earn our esteem. Respect is defined as "to value" and the one who assigns importance to all humanity is the One who created it. All human life has equal value. Respect is a God-given birthright. To offer it is a Divine responsibility. Additionally being courteous shows the other party how to be polite as well and hopefully they will follow your example.

B: Boundaries  Robert Frost said, "Good fences make good neighbors." In every relationship it is important to establish rules and regulations defining what is acceptable treatment and what is not. Too often, we are fearful of speaking up when someone mistreats us or treats us in a way that we find offensive or uncomfortable. "People should know how to treat one another," we proclaim. However, respectable treatment is different for each person. What one is fine with another may find appalling. Each person must be crystal clear in their own minds how they want to be treated - what is and is not permissible - and then clearly convey that to the other party. Without verbally expressing our desires, we cannot expect that every person will treat us in a way that we find acceptable.  Ideally, having boundaries in place precedes consequences. Once they are made known, one can follow up by also expressing the consequences they are prepared to enforce should the other person disregard their request. 

A: Appeal  Appealing to what matters to the other person , to what is important to them, is a powerful tool in gaining their cooperation. What strikes a chord within is more likely to result in an affirmative response than that which they cannot relate to. For example, one can appeal to their sense of moral values making a statement such as, "I know that it matters to you to always do what is right and fair." Pointing to issues of right and wrong, or to what is in their best interest can also enable them to adjust their attitudes or behaviors. "Do you think that your choice is ultimately going to be good for you? I'm concerned that it may not be and you certainly deserve to be safe/happy/healthy, etc." "How is this behavior/attitude going to benefit you?" is another powerful question that challenges the other person to reconsider their actions. "What is the more responsible thing to do? Is this a fair decision for everyone? Are you being a good role model for your children?" are all thought-provoking questions. Reach out and touch their "heart interests", what matters most to them. Share your concern for their well-being and in doing so you may very well gain their trust and cooperation. 

In dealing with those who require greater effort on our parts, it is imperative that we remove our own ego and operate from a place of spirit - kindness, concern, and equality. Remind yourself that everyone is struggling with their own unique pain and fear. It is not your place to put them in their place but rather to uplift them and assist them in creating the best scenario possible at that moment. With a little concern, a reasonable amount of patience, and the C~U~R~B Appeal Method, you'll increase your ability to better interact with those who are typically uncooperative with others. 

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016


We're all influenced by those around us and by what is occurring in our lives. Something as simple as the  weather can affect how we feel. A cloudy, rainy day can take an otherwise cheerful person and transform them into a gloomy Gus of sorts. Being stuck in traffic can alter one's mood from that of excitement for what begins as a day filled with great anticipation to one of frustration and agitation. Moods can be uplifted or crushed by outside circumstances and once that occurs it can be very difficult to regain the positive mind frame we originally had.

We've all witnessed, or even experienced, how others influence who we are and the way in which we behave. A rather timid individual can be persuaded to participate in a risky endeavor at the encouragement of another. Bungee jumping, riding a motorcycle, or traveling to a foreign country can prove advantageous as it enables the other party to become more adventurous and therefore expand their life experiences. Trying new foods, undergoing a fashion makeover, or studying a new culture can all help to bring a shy person out of their shell and into a more diverse world.

We've also witnessed how others personalities have been affected by those around them. My friend, Joe, was very self-conscious. Unhappy with the fact that he was missing many of life's joys by isolating, Joe made the decision to befriend people who were the exact opposite of him - outgoing and gregarious. In doing so, their confidence rubbed off on him and he found himself becoming more of the person he had always hoped he would be. And while these examples all seem to be beneficial to those involved, there are instances when the opposite can be true. 

I'd venture to say that we've all be subjected to people who are poor role models and even poorer examples of the kind of person we aspire to be. After Sharon's divorce in 2012, she began dating a younger man who was heavily into partying and the bar scene. Only an occasional social drinker, Sharon soon found herself drinking excessively in order to keep up with her new-found cohorts. Eventually, she lost her driving privileges due to a DUI as well as the respect of her family and former friends. Her life went into a downward spiral: she lost everything she had worked so hard to achieve. But most of all, she lost herself.

People often succumb to the bad behaviors of others. Your brother-in-law makes a nasty remark about you and you counter with one equally as offensive. Your boss hires her daughter as the new office manager. Resentment is high as the employees all ban together to make her work experience an unpleasant one. Pressure to participate in a behavior you find repugnant is intense. Do you concede or maintain your principles of treating everyone with dignity and respect?

Our world is filled with those who are poor role models. It's easy to get swept up in the drama and feel pressured to relinquish our values. One who has high levels of moral integrity must never allow themselves to behave in an corrupt manner. One who is trustworthy can never lie or cheat or steal due to the coercion of those who engage in such unsavory acts simply because everyone does it.

Never ever allow anyone to bring you down to their level. One must always maintain their standards of integrity in order to be happy with who they are. If you do not approve of or like a behavior in another, such as arrogance, selfishness or rudeness, why would you want to embrace that as a part of your lifestyle? In doing so, you become exactly what you dislike in others and thereby lose all respect for yourself. When I was about ten years old, the group of girls I played with would all get together after school and go over to Nancy's house. We'd sit at the dining room table and choose one person to make fun of. One by one, we'd all say unkind things about her. This was not how I was raised, I thought. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But in an effort to fit in, I went along with the others. I allowed them to change who I was: a kind and thoughtful child. I hated myself and thankfully this activity was short-lived. But I learned an important lesson that has served me well for my entire life: and that is to always be true to myself and never allow anyone to change who I am.

I now refuse to allow anyone or anything to change me in any way. I carefully weigh all that enters my life from people to experiences and make individual determinations as to how I will allow them to influence me. 

Before being swayed by another person's attitudes or actions, ask  yourself the following questions:
1. Is this in alignment with my basic values and moral principles?
2. What possible consequences would I or others face should I engage in this behavior?
3. How will I feel about myself during and after the event?
4. How will I be viewed by others?*

Never engage in any activity that causes you to:
a. violate your personal principles and values, creating inner turmoil and conflict.
b. feel embarrassed or ashamed during or afterwards, regardless of whether or not anyone else is aware of what's transpired.
c. become unhappy and angry with yourself.
d. lose self-respect.

Never ever allow another person to change who you are. Always maintain your principles and values. You are the one who will ultimately pay the price or reap the rewards. Be smart; be self-loving.

* It is a common belief today that one must not concern themselves with what others think about them. I am not one who subscribes to this modern-day  philosophy. I do believe other people's opinions of us can be useful as they help us to understand how others see us. Perhaps they recognize something in us that we are not aware of, either unintentionally or because we're in denial. Once realized, we can have a better understanding of ourselves and an opportunity to correct an inappropriate behavior.

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