Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When Silence Isn't Golden

We're all familiar with the phrase "Silence is golden". This proverb dates as far back as ancient Egypt, making reference to the importance of keeping quiet under certain circumstances. The first example of it being used in English is credited to the poet Thomas Carlyle in 1831. Certainly there are times when silence is the better option than speaking up:

  • If a matter being discussed or the situation occurring does not involve me, then it may be in my best interest not to comment on it.
  • How often do we debate issues that have little if any importance? To do so may lead to an argument, fighting, or a breakdown in the relationship. 
  • There are also times when one has discussed an issue ad infinitum to which there is nothing new to add. To rehash old news is time-consuming, exhausting, and counterproductive. 
  • "If you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all." This adage has served me well over the years. Why say something unkind when silence will suffice and prevent hurt feelings from occurring? Sarcasm, gossip, or so-called constructive criticism can all be avoided in order to preserve the other person's feelings and the integrity of the relationship.

However, there are times when it is completely appropriate and absolutely necessary to say what is on your mind. Silence is never golden under the following circumstances:

  • When one witnesses an injustice occurring. It is essential to stand up to right a wrong or to protect the innocent party.
  • When one is being mistreated, abused, unjustly accused of a wrongdoing, overlooked, ignored, or otherwise treated in a way that is unsafe, hurtful or disrespectful.
  • When doing so brings an important issue to the forefront so it may be discussed and remedied.
  • When an issue must be discussed to gain clarity into the matter so that one may better understand what has taken place and/or why and in doing so be better equipped to handle it.

In addition to the above mentioned scenarios, there are other avenues when remaining silent is never advisable. They are: 

  • When presented with the opportunity to pay someone a compliment, either directly or indirectly (i.e.: relaying it from another source) or to show one's appreciation to another.
  • Saying "thank you", "I love you", or "I'm sorry - please forgive me."
  • To offer encouragement or hope to one who would benefit from hearing it.
  • Sharing one's wisdom and knowledge so that others may benefit
  • When professing one's faith and love of God.

Saying what's on you mind can have major benefits if you remember the following guidelines: it is important to speak to the correct person, at the appropriate time, in a respectable manner, and with the right intent. Keep these simple points in mind and both silence and your voice can be golden when used judiciously. Lord, let every word I speak be a reflection of your love.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Adversity, Anger, and Awareness

I've never met anyone who didn't have to face adversity at some point in their lifetime. Whether in our personal relationships, professional lives, in regards to a health issue, academically or financially, hardships seem to be a standard component of life.

Of late, many people have adopted the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" philosophy, realizing that certain situations appear in our lives as a way of strengthening us. Some circumstances provide valuable lessons that are necessary for our personal growth. Still other hardships redirect the course of our lives. Yet even in the presence of this understanding, many become angry and frustrated that such events showed up at all. "Life would be so much easier if things just went according to my plans." Easier, yes; better? Well, that's questionable. An easy life does not guarantee a happier or better life.

Very often, anger follows adversity: an unexpected situation throws a monkey wrench in our plans and the frustration is overwhelming. We momentarily feel lost and confused, unable to find a satisfactory solution. Frustration can lead to anxiety and fear as time passes without significant change. With no proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness translate to anger and may easily progress to bitterness and resentment. Without the ability to influence change, one may soon find them self consumed with rage. 

Yet adversity is one of life's greatest teachers. We learn to persevere under duress, to appreciate the gifts we have in our lives even and especially when things don't go according to our plans; we learn to prepare ourselves for the unexpected and not take life or the people in it for granted. We are challenged to dig deep within ourselves and uncover the hidden abilities we have yet to acknowledge. In some instances, difficulties have actually altered the course of a person's life. One young woman, who was brutally raped as a young child, became an advocate for rape victims and has helped thousands of women in her long rewarding career. Knowing and applying this belief allows one to avert anger and experience a sense of gratitude as well. This leads us now to the subject of awareness:
There is a much deeper understanding to life's challenges that many individuals are unaware of. Intellectual understanding exists in the mind and consists of rational information and facts. Awareness is a deeper knowing that goes beyond the intellect. It is the ability to connect with a Higher Intelligence to access reasoning beyond human comprehension. Awareness enables us to see beyond our circumstances and recognize the intrinsic purpose to every adversity that enters our life: and that is to bring us into a deeper understand of the nature of the Divine, and to draw us ever closer to Him. 

But how does this process work? When life moves along smoothly many people are remiss in communicating with God. They tend to put Him on the back burners of their minds with their daily responsibilities taking priority. However, when life throws us a curve ball of significant magnitude, inevitably we turn to God for help. We may be seeking comfort, assistance in preventing or reversing the unbearable situation, strength to endure the impending difficulty, wisdom to know how to best handle our current circumstances or guidance as to what to do next. In doing so, we learn that God is a God of His Word. "Come to me and I will give you rest." "Cast your worries upon the Lord." "Never will I abandon you.""Trust in the Lord God with your whole heart, and mind, and body." "I have great plans for you." In our darkest moments, we learn to trust the One who has created us, who loves us beyond measure, who ultimately provides all of our needs. And in every instant, God affords us exactly what He knows we need for our higher purpose, which is ultimately to form a deep and intimate bond with Him, to experience His Love in a way never revealed to us before, to depend on Him more than our own limited understanding - to trust Him implicitly. Once we have created intimacy with the Divine, we can never return to what we had before. And it is in this awareness that all possibilities for anger to manifest are eliminated for only gratitude and peace can reign in the knowing

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why People Don't Get Along

Why is it so difficult for us to get along with one another? After all, we all have the same basic needs in life. We all want to be valued, to be acknowledged for the good that we do, to be treated fairly and given sufficient opportunities in life; we all want to be accepted as we are and to be loved in the same way. Aside from the packaging and our individual talents and goals, we are all basically the same. Yet it seems the majority of people fail to recognize our similarities and focus instead on our differences. Keep in mind that while our disparities are intended to be advantageous, they are for the most part a source of stress and division among us. And along with those dissimilarities comes uncertainty, not knowing what to expect or how we will be affected. Our concerns grow from benign curiosity to being uncomfortable, concerned, anxious, and fearful. Fear, one of the underlying causes of anger, can easily lead to defensiveness which in turn gets expressed as aggression, sarcasm, control, retaliation, and more. 

Consider the following: your company hires a new manager for your department. They are from a culture foreign to your beliefs and lifestyle. In the fifteen years you've worked for this company everyone has become used to doing things in a certain way that has proven effective. However, that's about to change. With the new manager comes a new way of doing business. You become defensive when asked to change the way in which you have been completing your tasks and follow the new guidelines. The uneasiness growing inside you creates feelings of resistance and hostility. This isn't going to work for me! you say to yourself. Why should I have to change when everything's been fine until now? Your hesitancy to comply with the new rules causes friction between you and the manager that eventually leads to an angry confrontation.

Or perhaps your child reveals to you that they no longer subscribe to the religious beliefs upon which you raised them: a Jew finds Jesus and converts to Christianity; a Christian, disheartened by the immoral condition of the world, cannot fathom an all-loving Divine Being and chooses atheism as a way of life. Your daughter finds Buddhism a more relatable belief system. Whatever the case, your beliefs are being challenged by your child to which you take personal offense as it is interpreted as an attack on your intelligence. Fear of what may happen to your child as a result of their outlandish beliefs becomes a very real concern. You become defensive and lash back, accusing your child of being seduced by the devil. Or you may try intimidating them with such statements as "Your father and I will disown you if you don't follow the faith you were raised in" or "You're going to hell if you don't believe in Jesus." Family relationships can disintegrate when one chooses to live life on their own terms. 

So how can people get along with each other? It's not difficult but requires two key elements: 

1. Self-esteem: each party needs to feel comfortable enough with themselves that the other party's opposition does not pose a threat to their level of intelligence, their beliefs, or lifestyles. Refusing to take personal offense when others reject your beliefs or behaviors prevents one from being hurt or feeling threatened. And in doing so, there is no need for anger. One can simply accept that each person is unique and entitled to do what works best for them. 

2. Self-confidence: any change in the status quo creates feelings of uncertainty and anxiety (mild fear). One who maintains a strong belief in their ability to adapt to or benefit from change can more easily make the necessary adjustments, knowing they can take whatever life hands them and make it work for them as opposed to against. This positive attitude enables the person to go with the flow, so-to-speak, while seeking to learn and grow from their new circumstances. The hopeful approach averts anger and replaces it with excitement, gratitude, eagerness, and such.

If there is someone in your life who you do not get along with, consider examining your issues of self-esteem and self-confidence. Work on strengthening that which is weak and both of  you will be able enjoy the increase of compatibility in your relationship. Fear less; understand, appreciate, and accept more: a simple formula for getting along effortlessly with others.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"S~T~A" Away From Anger

I love creating simple strategies individuals can use to experience less anger or stress in their lives, to improve their communications skills, resolve conflicts easier or create inner peace. From the SWaT Strategy* to TECO Magic*, The Great Duck and Dishtowel Debate* or the Seven C's of Conflict Resolution, I find that the simpler it is, the easier it is to remember and apply. My latest, S~T~A, provides a pragmatic way to prevent any situation from becoming inflammatory and destructive. It enables both parties to discuss even the most highly sensitive topic and gain a deeper understanding of what the real issues are as well as whether their potential actions will be beneficial or not. 

Imagine the following: your neighbor says something offensive or thoughtless; a coworker makes an unflattering assumption about you or accuses you of untoward behavior; your spouse breaks an important promise that leads to a breakdown of trust; your sister refuses to grant a much needed request you've made which causes great disappointment. In each of these scenarios, it's easy to become hurt and lash back with a derogatory comment. In the case of the broken promise, one can become fearful that a betrayal may occur again and possibly be of a more serious nature. We can easily become frustrated with a sister who chooses to ignore our request. Hurt, fear, and frustration are all root causes of anger. And while the anger may indeed surface, what we do with it next is absolutely critical. Here's where it's essential to apply the  S~T~A process. S~T~A stands for STOP, THINK, ASK. 

STOP : first and foremost, when you find yourself becoming upset, STOP and do nothing. In this way, one protects both parties from the consequences of a reactionary response. You need to allow yourself time to think about several issues. Which brings me to step number two.

THINK - ask yourself the following questions:  "How serious is this issue really? Does it warrant a response or not? Is it worthy of my time and attention? If so, how much and in what capacity? What is this person's history? Is this behavior typical of them or could it be an isolated incident? What are their current circumstances? What could be their motive or rationale for what they said/did?" The possible answers to each of these questions provides a deeper understanding of the issue and the other party. And understanding determines future action. Our response becomes more dependent on our level of understanding.

ASK: this third and final step is critical. There are three variations to one crucial question that is essential to ask before engaging in the next course of action. Ask yourself, "Will my subsequent actions (words or behaviors) help or hurt me?" If I lash back at the other party or sever our relationship, will that help or hurt me? Then apply this query to the all those involved and to the situation. "Will my words/action help or hurt the other person(s)?" "Will they help or hurt the situation, improve it or make it worse?" If the answer to any part of any of these questions is "hurt" then you must find an alternative solution. The only (and I repeat - ONLY) valid solution is the one that helps all parties and improves the situation for everyone involved.  Failure to do so will result in an escalation of hurt, fear, frustration, and ultimately anger.

Makin wise choices when dealing with any emotional issue is not difficult. It means having the awareness of what is transpiring and why, and making thoughtful, considerate decisions that benefit all those involved now and in the future. Smart solutions require us to simply S~T~A for a moment before responding.

*The Secret Side of Anger

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