Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Your Car Horn Says About You!

We've all experienced this. We accidentally get in people's way or make a mistake on the road and all too often the drivers we inconvenience, let us know how they feel about it. We hear a long drawn out honking of the horn that says, "You've got in my way and I'm going to show you how I feel about it."

Don't get me wrong. There is a time and a place for a well-placed horn but does it happen routinely when you are out on the road? Does it happen routinely when there is the least bit of an inconvenience? We might want to think about how we act and react on the road.

We take driving so personally and when people get in our way or inconvenience us we sometimes feel that they woke up that morning looking for trouble. We may conclude that they possibly have diminished mental capabilities by the way they drive or that their driving skills were developed in a bi-gone era of no stoplights or motorized vehicles. Whatever the case, how we use our automobile horn probably says more about us than it does about the driver for whom it is intended.

In the mid 80's, I traveled to Thailand for a conference and spent a lot of time in Bangkok. It was unbelievable how many vehicles were on the road. All the drivers were using their horn as well. It didn't matter if it was a car, motocycle, tuk tuk or a bicycle, the owners constantly used the horn. It was a different type of usage, though. It was more of a "I'm coming through and I hope that you see me." It wasn't annoying and it didn't seem to make the other drivers angry. It made them more aware.

To get a better perspective we must realize that most of the vehicles there were half the size of most American car models. In fact, the sound of the horns really fit the size of the vehicle. Instead of having a "train-like" horn, all you heard was the beep beep of a little car or the bell of a bicycle.  It was hard to get up tight about that feeble-sounding horn when it was bleating at you.  Maybe that's the secret! Take the annoying sounding horns away from the offenders. "I'm sorry, sir, but you can't responsibly use your automobile horn any longer -- here take this bell!"

Of course I'm jesting because would that really solve the problem? Would taking away instruments of disruption (in many cases) really help that person or other people involved in the exchange? I don't think so. We must learn to control our emotions on the road and become helpful drivers not drivers with an attitude. Setting up excessive rules and guidelines doesn't change our personalities. We change when we control our emotions and put a rational thought in our minds instead of jumping to irrational thoughts or actions.

Assigning motives to drivers we don't know and may never see again is a bit juvenile when we stop and think about it. Put yourself in the same situation. Do you want to be insulted every time that you make a mistake while you are driving? I don't think so. We all make mistakes while driving and it is how we react to our mistakes and other's mistakes that is important. Lingering anger and resentment can only lead to other mistakes as our minds are not on the task at hand - driving our car responsibly.

The next time you are about to lay on the horn because someone has inconvenienced you, stop for just a moment and think about what you car horn really says about you. Does it describe an angry and impatient attitude or someone that is trying to help?

How you respond goes a long ways in identifying the attitude that is behind the action.

Until next time,

Jerry de Gier

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Please Pass the Manners

The other day I was working out of my home office and my wife called me and said that someone was breaking in to the next door neighbor’s lot.  He has the lot for sale but he doesn’t live in the area so he has asked me to look after it.

It appeared that someone had simply kicked in the front gate in order to look at the property and when I confronted the individual inside the property he became very angry.

He intimated that he had lots of money and could do what he wanted.  I told him that he needed to call the broker and set up an appointment so that he didn’t have to destroy my neighbor’s property just to look at it.

His response was to go back to doing what I do on Sundays such as watching television or something!

What has happened to civility and manners?

We have heard so much about this recently but it doesn’t seem as though anyone wants to practice it anytime soon. We have heard it from all levels of society without any apparent adherence to the advice – from the givers or the receivers.

What makes our societies and us – because we make up our societies – so ready to be rude?  What has happened to us that we feel we can break rules and etiquette and be angry at the person that is trying to set us straight?

I read in “Anger, The Misunderstood Emotion” by Carol Tavris that anger often comes from selfishness. We don’t get our way so we become angry. We are bothered by something or someone and we become incensed at whatever is that is in our way. I see it in myself sometimes when I am on the road.

When someone catches us doing something that we know is wrong but we have done it anyway, we probably resort to just about anything to cover up our embarrassment or uneasiness at getting caught.  But it doesn’t give anyone the right to become rude or obnoxious.

Another area where we can forget our manners is at people’s homes. Unless we know the family well we can be rude by inviting ourselves over and assuming that is okay. We need to be mindful of other people’s time, privacy and belongings. It can be offensive to have unwanted guests especially when they come without gratitude.

Where does the ingratitude and rudeness begin?

A recent AP annual “rudeness poll” found that almost 70 percent of people polled thought that America, as a society, was more rude than 20 or 30 years ago. What was the cause? Parents aren’t teaching their children manners at home.

Marybeth Hicks in her blog, Family Matters, states the obvious about the AP poll!

Let's assume that a majority of the people polled are parents. That mean parents are able to see and admit a problem and realize that they are at least partly to blame for it (in this case, mostly to blame), yet they aren't changing their parenting styles or their expectations of their kids. 

She goes on to say that “every mom routinely coaches her pre-schooler to use the ‘magic’ words, ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ But unfortunately, because the standards for social behavior and manners have sunk so low, we might decide it's no longer necessary to teach the rest of the rule book.”

We have to teach the rest of the rule book in order to maintain the level of civility that affords manners that are sensitive to the needs of others.

Ms. Hicks quotes Emily Post to drive home the point. "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use." 

Please pass the good manners! Thank you!

Until next time,

Jerry de Gier

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Haircuts, Humility and Hindsight!

About a week ago my wife decided that she was going to try our brand new, shiny hair clippers on my thinning hair. She has cut my hair for the entire 21 years that we have been married and I think has done a great job with just a comb and scissors.

Well, she decided that an electric clippers would be even better to cut my graying hair.

Before we started the ordeal, I muttered to her that I hoped that God wasn't using this as an opportunity to teach me humility.  She asked me if she made a mistake if I would still love her and I said that I would.  That kind of sounds like a setup, doesn't it?

We carefully chose the clipping attachment that gave me the chance for the longest hair after the cut.  This attachment just wasn't doing the job very well for my wife so she went to the next shorter attachment.  It, too, wasn't clipping the hair to my wife's approval and so she went even shorter.

Not much was said over the next 10 minutes until my wife said that I needed to be prepared for what I was about to look at in the mirror! What happened between the clippers weren't cutting enough off to being buzz cut without any input? So God was using this event as an opportunity to teach me humility!

My immediate reaction was what am I going to say to my co-workers and friends? Perhaps a preemptive strike on Facebook or Twitter might be appropriate. My mind was kind of racing at the moment. Does it really look as short as I think it does? Yes, it does!

Since this happened last week I surprise myself every time that I look in the mirror. Oh yeah, that's right.  I don't have any hair left!  I have started to get used to it by now though and it doesn't appear to be the earth-shattering event that I first perceived it to be.

For instance, there are a lot of advantages to having ultra short hair:

It dries instantly when I get out of the shower.
I have no need for a hair brush thus saving money.
I can drive on the freeway with the windows down and my hair never gets messed up.
Women run their fingers through my 1/4" hair (okay, so it's my wife and daughters making fun).
I can be mistaken for my better looking older brother quite easily now.

In hindsight the big deal that I thought this was going to be turned out to be an opportunity to evaluate all the positives that came out of an event that I thought was going to humiliate me. It was exactly the opposite of what I thought would happen.

How about you?  What has happened in your life that you thought was humiliating only to learn later that it was a useful learning opportunity for you? When we take stock of what happens to us and what is the ultimate outcome of that event, many times we forget the useful lessons that pop up before our eyes if we are only willing to see and use them.

What I learned is that it is easy to go right to the negative side of things before ever considering the positive, helpful outcome of an event we perceive to be humbling. We need to stop and take time to evaluate the event for its true value in our lives.

Michael McKinney reviews a book entitled, "Opportunity Screams", that can be quite helpful in building relationships and businesses. The author states, “It’s all connected. Transparent, honest, caring relationships bring meaning, happiness and growth to your business and to your life.” This will help you evaluate relationships and events for their true value in your life.

Marybeth Hicks writes a thoughtful article on the need to stay committed in our marriages.  She claims that we are short on commitment and long on excuses. In a study released by the Pew Research Center, it shows that Americans are not concerned for the most part about the disintegrating family.  In fact, many people state that the variety of families (single parent, cohabiting partners, step families) in America are good for America.

Hicks claims that the decline of traditional families is taking an economic, social and spiritual toll on our nation.  She feels that marriage is hard but definitely worth the effort.

Finally, renowned British historian, Paul Johnson, has a new book out. "Humorists" is given a positive review in the New York Times.  The Times say that it will give us a good laugh.  I think it is time to visit Amazon!

I think that it's important to evaluate every event in our lives for the value it can bring to our lives in a positive way.  Perhaps it helps us to not take ourselves so seriously in matters that don't really weigh in as important -- especially the length of hair!  Oh, that's right, it grows back!

Until next time,

Jerry de Gier

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I'll Be Okay!

It was tough getting on the plane in Minneapolis yesterday.  I had just said goodbye to my father who is in the final stages of congestive heart failure and he wasn’t doing very well.

We have seen quite a bit of each other over the last years and many times we have looked each other in the eyes and said, “I love you” and knew that we both meant it but today was different.  I was looking to comfort him but it was he who was doing the comforting.

I asked him if he was all right and he responded that he was going to be okay.  What? He’s dying of heart failure and he’s the one that is okay? I have had to wipe back tears several times just thinking about the courage that he has knowing that he is probably not going to be on this earth much longer.

As I was riding on the plane, I just kept staring at the pen that I was holding and nervously picking at the design on it hoping that no one would notice that I was trying not to talk to anyone or look anywhere because I didn’t want to have to say anything to anyone for fear of losing it.  I probably looked pretty sour.

That got me thinking that I probably need to steer clear of judging people when they don’t act the way I want them to act or answer in an “up” way when I am in an “up” mood.  It is easy to place a negative label on people when they aren’t responding the way we think they should respond.  I didn’t feel like talking to anyone.  Sorry!

I remember a story in one of Stephen Covey’s books where a father was on the subway with his children and the children were completely out of control.  The kids were very annoying and the father wasn’t doing anything to curb their behavior.  Finally, someone (I think Mr. Covey) said something to the fact that his children were out of control and he looked up and said, “oh, my wife died today”. 

That wasn’t the complete quote but you get the idea.  His mind was on other things and now your feelings toward this man changed from annoyance to empathy.  Now we understand why he wasn’t so sharp in the guidance of his children.

Have we ever stopped to think about the other person’s actions or behavior first?  Could there be a reason behind it? It’s hard to do, isn’t it?  Well, I’ve just received a big jolt of “think of the other person before opening mouth or pronouncing judgment.”  It’s kind of humbling but necessary when we get too full of ourselves.

All of the accomplishments, accolades and awards come crashing down around me when I think of my father lying in that hospital bed fighting to take his next breath.  Some things just don’t have the same importance as they had yesterday.

I’m thinking about the last conversation that I had with him.  He was still in relatively good shape and we were at a family reunion sitting in his room.  Dad always had a way of summing things up pretty concisely and he didn’t run off at the mouth too much.  But this time he was pretty excited about the topic!

He felt that computers were at the crux of everything evil in the world.  He said that they were relationship stealers and purveyors of unhealthy information.  I’m not sure that I can disagree with him right now but that night we had a very animated talk about it.

I would love to have another sweet conversation with him and listen to his point of view and cherish his humor and wit.

If any of the people sitting around me were thinking that I’m a sour person and not responding in the right way, I hope that they will visit with me another time when I’m flying from Minneapolis to Burbank.  After I get the vision of someone I love struggling to breathe out of my mind, I’ll be okay, too…just like my Dad said.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Close up: Are We Maximizing Our Efforts?

My wife and I have been married for over 20 years and after that many years we both know each other pretty well. I have habits and interests that amuse my beautiful spouse and I know a few things that are characteristic of her.

For instance, whenever she has the camera on any of our many trips, she will take at least one close up photo of a seagull, dove, flower or if we are at the tidal pools, a starfish. Our photo albums are filled with these close up pictures! As you look through our photo albums you will see wonderful human interest photos and beautiful landscapes and bam, you are staring down the nostril of a seagull! When we sit down and reminisce, we always chuckle at these pictures. It has become a little joke between us. As you can imagine, I feel I have a personal relationship with all sorts of these birds!

So when I was eating breakfast on my balcony the other morning I was visited by a whole bunch of my friends!  It always amazes me that you can be completely by yourself on the balcony without food but as soon as you bring a tiny bit of food out there you are assaulted by 20 of these flying garbage disposals.

As I always do, I warned them that they wouldn't get a bit of food. I know, insert funny mental image here! I went so far as to chase them all off but to no avail. As my wife can attest, I am not the most tidy eater in the world and just one little tidbit of food attracts a hosts of breakfast guests.

What I admired the most about the doves was their persistence.  They never give up!  You can drive them away but they slowly come back to see if you are really serious about not giving them food.  Time after time they would come back.  One had a stub for a leg and that didn't seem to bother it at all.  It was like it was telling me that having a stub leg had nothing to do with eating at all! As long as it could get to the general area, it had a great chance to get a free meal just as the other "whole" doves had at that time! This dove wasn't making any excuses!

How about us?  Are we limited in what we can accomplish by what we perceive as handicaps? Are we frozen by fear or insecurity that might keep us from really fulfilling our full potential? Perhaps we are complacent in our efforts to learn, grow, help or experience.

I have to say that sometimes I can be complacent, especially in my efforts to maximize an experience.  Not my wife!  When the perfect situation opens up for us to have the perfect experience I tend to stay put but my wife goes forward and asks the right questions at the right time and 98% of the time succeeds in her quest to improve our experience! Note to self: follow my wife's example!

Stub, the dove, as I have affectionately called it, can't use its severed leg as an excuse not to maximize its effort to obtain food. It has much more riding on its actions -- its life! It makes its own opportunities and maximizes its efforts by showing up for an opportunity for food even when the human is explaining that there is no way that is going to happen!

Do we maximize our efforts by showing up for opportunities even when someone tells us that there isn't any chance? Does our attitude dictate that we stay put or do we maximize our effort by showing up for an opportunity to learn, grow, help or experience?

Will Marré tells about his grandson's attitude after a seemingly horrible accident. It is an encouraging read.

I took some photographs of the doves on my balcony and I think I'm going to put one on my desk to remind me of Stub's example of persistence and no excuse attitude.  It's a close up.

Until next time,

Jerry de Gier

Friday, September 3, 2010

Core Values -- Where Do We Get Started?

I am on a business trip in Hawaii -- I know, rough assignment! After checking into my hotel I decided to get a bite to eat and went to one of my favorites restaurants on Waikiki, the Tiki Grill.  It is an open air restaurant that has a nice combination of food, atmosphere and music.

It's fun to sit back and watch the tourists and the locals interact -- you can always tell the tourists because they are the ones that are taking too many pictures or are ridiculously over dressed in their Hawaiian garb that they bought from Walmart or Costco.

I observed a couple sitting next to me and they were taking pictures and having fun. They finally asked me to take a picture of them before they left for the evening. I obliged them and we began a conversation based on "where are you from" and "how long are you going to be on the Islands?"

It wasn't very hard to pinpoint where they were from because of their accent (from an American point of view!).  They were from the Margaret River area which is about an hour or so south of Perth in Western Australia. It is one of the prime wine-growing regions in all of Australia.

We had a wonderful conversation that starting out with wine and soon began (as all conversations do) to encompass politics, healthcare and education.  We began to talk about each other's country from our point of view and asked for clarification from their native point of view.  As always, we learned that not everything that we hear on the news is giving us the complete picture.

The final topic of conversation was education.  The couple from Australia included a teacher and she was concerned about the lack of attention that is given to education in Australia.  I was surprised to hear about it because in my opinion, it described some of the challenges that exist in the American school system as well.

The Aussies described overcrowded classrooms, malnourished children who could not learn, overpaid and overstaffed administrations and the lack of funding for basic programs.  Wow!  That sounds like American classrooms in many areas of the country. She went on to say that she uses her own money to feed the malnourished kids so that they have the strength to learn. She also said that a lot of the problems come from broken families and drug use.

I told them that because of my job as a counselor, I see adults that are still hung up in their teen years and are trying to raise a family based on that juvenile point of view.  In other words, they are still struggling with issues that happened to them years ago and are unable to teach a family properly because of where they are emotionally and mentally.

About this time, a resident Hawaiian couple leaned over and said, "can we make a comment?"  They told us that in their jobs that they see it all the time.  The teenager is using drugs because the parents are using drugs. The teens are disrespectful to teachers because the parents are disrespectful to teachers.  The list went on and on.

What it showed me is that the problems of the family breaking down, education losing focus and politics running amok are universal in nature. It is the trouble with human beings not the system that is operating in that country.  We all have the same problems with different political and governmental systems in place.

What needs to change is the mind and hearts of human beings so that each generation can pass on a bounty of right thinking and right behavior and not pass on all the negative traits that we hear so much about on the news today.

That starts by each one of us taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions -- easier said than done.  By putting the right information in our minds, we get the right reaction out of them. What's going into your and my mind?

Jennifer Marshall states that we should expect more from our educational system. The author urges us to take accountability for our children's education. The subject  is not without controversy -- take a read!

In Nebraska, the governor has signed anti-bullying legislation last May. This is one school's attempt to integrate core value education into their curriculum.

It is interesting to read that it is hard to control people's perceptions.  Mike McKinney highlights 5 different leaders of industry that have learned specifics lessons in life.  One of the lessons learned is that our behavior over a period of time can truly affect how people perceive us. When we are constant in conduct, people tend to be more ready to follow that right conduct.

We concluded the evening at the Tiki Grill by realizing that most people want to do what it takes to correct these problems but simply do not know how to get started.  We also agreed that we needed to start doing things that would help facilitate these corrections.  How about you?  Are you willing to take the steps to change within your sphere of influence? The change starts when we take responsibility for our thoughts and actions -- we need to educate ourselves in order to display right values.

When we continue to display right attitudes and conduct, those within our sphere of influence can more readily follow that right example.  Are we prepared to make the sacrifices of change?

We have to be prepared to do just that!

Until next time,

Jerry de Gier

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Use It While You Have It!

Over the last two weeks I have been able to visit some friends who are a bit older and are struggling with some health issues.  It has been a real education to listen to them talk to me and themselves about aging and what frustrates them.

One couple is to the point where they can't move around unless they are using walkers.  The husband has to keep his leg elevated in order for it not to throb for most of the day.  He said he is feeling the effects of growing older.  I asked him if he was frustrated by this condition and he responded that "it comes with the territory!"  I hope that I can say that when health challenges start to plague me!

Another elderly friend has suffered a couple of strokes and is in a nursing home.  She is not always able to explain clearly what she wants to convey to her listeners.  One word can mean several different things to her and the listener has to figure out what she is trying to say.  It can be a trying time for both the speaker and the listener.

I asked a speech pathologist if my friend was thinking properly and she stated the indeed she was clear in her thinking but because of the location of the stroke, could not convey with clarity what she was trying to say. How frustrating for her!

This got me thinking about communication and how we can take it for granted.  I'm sure this friend of mine that struggles to convey her thoughts would give almost anything so that she could communicate with ease with those around her.  Most of us, if given the chance, can communicate with ease yet sometimes we choose to be lazy and miscommunicate or under-communicate essential information and emotion.

George Bernard Shaw once said that the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place!

We think that we have talked to someone about something but in reality we haven't communicated anything because we haven't thought about the words we use to describe what we want to say!  Huh?

Like my friend who uses the same word for several different people, places or objects, we don't always use the right words to communicate clearly with those around us.  I see myself doing this because I want to do the shorthand version of speaking clearly.  Short hand writing is clear to the one who is trained in it but to others it doesn't mean anything.

If we take shortcuts when we communicate with others the same principle applies.  What we say may make sense to us but it doesn't mean anything to the person to whom we are talking. The words we use mean something to us but not to the person uneducated in our vocabulary. Our experiences, our emotions and the society in which we live all play a part in how and what we communicate.

When we assume what we say is easily understood especially if we are lazy in how we communicate, we risk being misunderstood or a relationship we treasure can be conflicted or a team with great potential can be mediocre.  Is it worth choosing our words carefully when we think of communication with this end result in mind?  It can be the difference between success and failure.

I'm sure my friend would give anything to back up in her life and be able to explain her intentions clearly any time that she would like to do so. Effective communication is skill that is learned but let's not take it for granted.  There may come a time when the skills we enjoy or could enjoy now won't be at our disposal.  My friend is experiencing this now.

Remember what Anthony Robbins says about communication: "To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others."  Good advice!

Guy Deutscher writes a thoughtful article about how our mother tongue can shape our experience of the world.  It will help us think about how we communicate with others and that we may need to look at communication from their perspective.  You can read it here.

Mike McKinney explains how bees instinctively communicate with one another to achieve success.  He uses it as a model for our success.

I hope that we will always appreciate and strive for effective communication -- don't take something for granted that could suddenly be taken away from us.

Until next time,

Jerry de Gier