Category: Don’s Blog

Tips for Fishing and Living # 96

Tip # 96:

“Gone fishin’, be back at dark-thirty!”

Author Unknown

When one engages in something one truly loves, time has a way of standing still. We enter a timeless realm and lose all perspective of so-called real time. We say things like: “Where did all the time go?” or, “I can’t believe it is this late already!” This is why practically any activities that have to do with being around the ocean, a lakeside, in the mountains, or almost anything to do with nature, we are cued-up for the possibility of being in the moment and where our spirit dances.

So, yes “we do lose all track of time,” even doing such ordinary things, such as, gardening, or doing a crossword puzzle, or painting a picture. Some call it living in the moment. Some call it being in the here and now. Whatever it is, it’s exactly what life is meant to be.

This brings me to ageism; that discrimination against individuals or groups founded on the sole basis of their age. We do it to ourselves. I’m no fan of people who say things like, “I can’t do such and such at my age.” Or “I’m getting too old for …”Or “it’s too late for me to…”  This is utter nonsense.

Someone is either able to do or not do certain things almost totally based upon a particular strength and bodily condition. And this has a lot to do with how one takes care of his/her body, and how one thinks about his/her physicality in general. Our mind plays a key factor in what we get from our bodies. There are thirty year old people that cannot walk a mile, while there are eighty year olds that run marathons. This is largely due to training and conditioning, and, to a great extent, attitude. Of course one’s DNA and genetics play a part, but often much less of a part than we give to them.

Clinton Eastwood, who is now in his nineties and still actively acting and producing films, says each morning when he first wakes up, “I don’t let the old man in.” I like that. Part of feeling vibrant is having something to get up for and go about doing. Retirement is sometimes the kiss of death – at least for some. That’s because some retirees have never cultivated any other activities, hobbies, or interests outside of their careers (usually this is mostly about men). They’ve defined themselves exclusively by their jobs – what they do. These are people that believe who I am is what I do. So when their doing ends, they no longer know who they are. Tragic!

After being president Jimmy Carter got busy making furniture in his garage workshop. He also volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, as well as, volunteering at his local church Sunday school teaching children. He is 97.  

George W. Bush took up portrait painting after he left the Whitehouse. His paintings are quite impressive. He also took on other new interests and volunteer activities. He is now a mere 74 years old. 

We are more than our job or career. Typically mothers have to reorganize their role as mothers – their job – and figure out what they are to do when children leave home. If they were stay at home moms, some start some new venture, or go back to a former occupation. Some launch right into grand parenting, or some combination of both grandparenthood and another fulfilling activity. It could be they go back to school, get training, or take up a new career or interest, or something they tabled while raising children.

Getting back at dark-thirty reminds me of my childhood. Although we had organized sports back then, it was nowhere as developed as today. Mostly we had the freedom to occupy ourselves as we saw fit. We played street ball and neighborhood pickup games of every sport, including some we invented. We did all sorts of things that taught us risk assessment – things today would likely be illicit and/or dangerous, or both. Some of it was not smart on our parts. Looking back I wonder how we survived all of it. We called it learning experiences. This means that since we often came pretty close to injury or death, and we survived, most of us learned not to do those particular things ever again! I’d call that a silver-lining. As the credit card commercial says, “Priceless.”

The point is our parents told us, especially in the summertime, to “go outside and play and come home by dark.” That was it. No periodical phone messaging or texting or checking in; no wrist watches; no “did you have lunch?” even. Just us using the sun and the street lights to guide us about when to go home.

These were not bad parents. They were just from another age. They certainly were not helicopter parents. I am all for safety and making things better for children, but I also think we’ve tended to go over-board. Over-parenting our children has impaired them with an inability to think through what is smart or dumb, and has deprived them of valuable learning experiences. It is a new form of child abuse.

We’ve also deprived them of opportunities to discover truly timeless experiences, and where they can be found in everyday life. Here are just a few simple, and even silly, ones that I’d classify as possible timeless experiences:

The joy of popping bubble wrap; hand written letters; the smell of old books; playing old music albums; reading a great novel; spending quality time with a loved one; playing a board or card game with family or friends; watching the sunset and/or sunrise; hearing a great poem or gazing at an inspiring piece of art; hanging out with certain friendships; moments of intimacy with our beloved; and, of course, fishing.

There are also the most profound timeless moments any of us can ever experience: drinking in God’s infinite love. These are the pinnacle experiences. This, above all others, requires us to slow down and be quiet. This quiet is both a bodily and mental quiet.

There are so many potential flashes of timeless moments. Most are, at best, fleeting ones. Part of the difficulty is that we are NOT often slowed down, or slowed down enough. With many demands and huge expectations in our very full, busy schedules we are constantly in motion. Even on weekends and non-working days we have an assortment of tasks and obligations to attend. Actual down-time or what we traditionally call time off is often not all that off. Our off times are infiltrated with other things that scream at us to be addressed as important or urgent or both. We get side-tracked; derailed.

I remember reading of a guy hired by a company to spend his work days in a quiet, isolated office. His job was to sit there alone and to think. He was hired to be creative, to take company problems, and think out of the box. It was a hopeful expectation that from this seclusion he’d come up with interesting and novel solutions – ways to improve and even transform the organization he “worked” for.

Image this: getting paid to actually think, to be creative, or think expansively.

If you want to wreck any business all one needs to do is ONLY what you are told to do; and do nothing else. This will guarantee undermining any business. In other words, don’t think. Yet so many jobs people quickly discover disincentives for taking initiative and doing more than required. They are not rewarded, but rather punished, for doing over and above their job. They learn to never go beyond their job description. Such businesses are plagued with a controlling leadership problem, with no incentives other than for being safe and unassertive.

Such company cultures do not foster any shared sense of ownership. When one works at such an enterprise the work day feels anything but timeless. Instead it is long and dreary where time drags on … and on and on.  

I offer an antidote to having time drag on, and instead having a life that is timeless; one where we do experience joy and on-going aliveness.

This is the action plan:

Take on the Jewish belief (it is also a foundational Christian and Muslim belief) that all people are created in the image of God. This belief means that our rights do not come from the state, but rather, originate from God. Such belief requires that we hold that there is a force bigger than the state assuring each and every one of us dignity and respect.

One cannot hold these truths without humility and without fostering equality because we all stand before the God of our lives with equal standing. This foundational belief is what enables us to recognize each other as full brothers and sisters, and that we are all in this together.

Rabbi Marc Gellman tells this transformational story that I am compelled to retell:

Rabbi Nachman of Berdichev was once with his disciples when he stopped short and pointed to a man walking across the street. “Who is that?” he asked.

His disciplines looked up and replied, “Oh that is nobody, Reb Nachman. That is just Moshele, the water drawer. That is nobody.”

Reb Nachman scolded them, and said, “None of you can be my students until you say about any person you see, ‘There goes the image of God walking down the street.’”

Our politics and our personal lives depend upon our ability to see others not just as a worthless mob of Mosheles. We will only get to live into that awesome timelessness that is ours to have and fully enjoy when we first are able to see the divine within one another and within ourselves.

I invite you to reflect and consider if when you have a timeless moment are you aware you are seeing yourself and other people as the image of God?

Tips for Fishing and Living # 95

Tip # 95:

“Fishing is boring, unless you catch an actual fish, and then it is disgusting.” 

Dave Barry

Point well taken. Dave Barry is a very funny writer who often writes humorous, yet poignant pieces. I take his quote to indicate, besides not being a fan of fishing, he thinks life’s events are often not always what they are cracked up to be.

A great teacher of mine loved to say it this way: “Reality never rises to meet expectations.” I never cared for it when she would say this. But over the years I’ve found on certain occasions it fits all too well. I’d also say it this way; whenever we get something good we give up something else perhaps also good. Meaning: No decision we ever make is totally acceptable. There are always trade-offs.

Along this vein we tend to think of ourselves and others as either being negativists or optimists. Perhaps there is actually a third possibility: That of being a Realist. Fishing is very much about being out in the midst of glorious nature, which can be wonderful and breathtaking. It also means being out in the mists of mosquitos, and black flies, and getting sun burned, and also those times the big one gets away.

There’s the old adage about the cup being either half full, or half empty. What if the cup is just bigger than it needs to be?

Suzuki, the philosopher, said this: “Expect nothing and all it yours.” What he was promoting is that our expectations can foil our happiness and be the seed of disappointment. It is great, for instance, to pursue our goals with great efforts and commitment. The best approach is to also have zero attachment to the results. I call this being two-headed: to go after our goals with zest and at the same time not be attached to the outcome.

Whatever way you might take these various thoughts we’d be best to recognize we are always telling ourselves stories. We make up versions – our own perspectives – about everything that is going on. We usually make things up to suit our particular purposes/needs. So depending on what stories we invent we can end up feeling anything from being totally bummed out to being incredibly awed and delighted.

Spoiler Alert: The important thing is to remember we are the one making up the meaning. Whatever the story – concept – we make up, we need to realize that we are the ones making up these stories or concepts!

Fishing, like anything else, is what one makes it. So, here’s another quote. This one is from Henry Ford, the famous car maker, who made automobiles affordable through the invention of the assembly line production:   “If you think you can or you think you cannot, you’re right.”    

 We often predetermine outcomes of whatever we are up to by the belief we have going into the efforts to do any particular thing. I have people tell me all the time they don’t think their relationship can work. So when they finish telling this I tell them, “You’re probably right; it won’t work, not until you at least give up your negative belief.”

I’m also convinced that my stand with and for any couple does a lot for them arriving at a positive outcome. After a couple tells me their sad and/or tragic tale with the terrible things that they have been doing and of all the awful heartache they are experiencing, I am inclined to tell them that: Nothing you have told me would make me think that you cannot have a great relationship.”

Granted, they need to be willing to do the hard work. I also enroll them in a new possibility for their future. Where I am coming from is that our past does not need to predict our future. The past happened; but it is in the past. It may offer insight for arriving at better future.

Q: What can be the take away from that past?

What are you willing to do to make a better future?

Are you coachable?

In a recent article about relationships the author suggested that we use things that make us happy and successful in our work world, and apply the same things to our relationships. Similar positive results can and do follow. In other words, we usually know more than we think we know. We can apply successful practices from one or more area of our lives to an area where we are floundering.

With St. Valentine’s Day arriving this can be a great opportunity to check in on your relationship(s): be it your spouse, lover, child, parent, friends, neighbors, etc.

Here’s one example of applying successful work strategies to our personal relationships:

Treat your relationship like a new up-start business.

Bring that original excitement and energy into the relationship as though it is a new and fledging one. This would mean cutting each other some slack, dwelling on those things we love about the other, providing room to make improvements, and instituting changes that may bring about better results than what you were previously attempting.

It is a known fact that once we are in a relationship for a bit, much like at a steady job, we’re tempted to stop thinking about why we do what we do. We go into automatic pilot and start taking things and people for granted.

Psychologist Esther Perel, says that “the kinds of modern company structures which make work a knife-edge of possible gain or loss, held together by belief, effort, and creative thinking, are a better model for our love lives than the staid careers of an earlier moment in history.”

So instead of treating your relationship dully or with a same old same old attitude, why not treat it like a startup company? Even if you’ve been together for a long time take on a sense of newness and novelty. Look with fresh eyes. Look for possibilities yet to be explored and put to the side our jaded or cynical attitude.

My definition if a cynic is this: A cynic is a passionate person who has been hurt in the past and therefore no longer wishes to get hurt again.

Cynics shut down and become resigned. The approach to take is to speak to the cynic’s original passion. It may now be buried and repressed, but not gone. Perhaps you are the cynic that needs to be spoken to from your original passion. Time for some self-talk. Yes, you might get hurt again. But you might not. Life is a risk. The difference between living and merely existing has all to do with the difference between taking risks in life vs. always playing it safe. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that could happen? Is this so terrible? Plus the worst isn’t likely. In either case if you can handle this worst case scenario, then go for it!

You’ve probably learned some things from those previous times where you got hurt; things that may have even made you smarter and wiser. You can utilize these lessons learned to this time improve your odds. You are smarter now. You survived and are still alive!

How sad it is to have died without ever having lived at all. So go out there and make some new mistakes!

You can also do a cost vs. payoff analysis with what you are considering. I am a great proponent of asking for what we want. Ask, ask, ask, ask, and ask. You increase your chances of getting what you want so much more by asking than when you remain silent and expect others to guess what it is you want. We are not mind readers.

Some people have this terrible rule: If I have to ask then it doesn’t count (or count as much). This is such a crazy way of thinking. You’ll be amazed at how often others want to do what it is you are looking for, and all you have to do is ask them.

Some couples have little or no sexual relationship to speak of simply because neither one knows how to ask. Each party makes up a story and then goes off to his/her corner feeling disappointed and hurt. Each stays on their side of the bed feeling lonely and rejected. What would it take if one started things up by moving his or her toes over to the other’s toes? What if a non-verbal message was delivered that communicated, “Hello, I am over here, available and yearning for your physical touch.”

I once told an older married couple to arrange for them to go separately and meet at a local hotel bar, have a drink or two with each other while pretending that they’d never met before. Have fun flirting and hitting on each other as if they were just meeting. Then end this encounter in the hotel room they already booked for the night. In other words, have an affair with your spouse!

Married couples make a huge mistake when they stop dating once they are married. Keep the love life alive by breathing life into it. I know couples that take a quarterly overnight getaway during the year. Remember when you first met; when you started dating? Recall your original goals when you first got married. Dust these off, renew them, and if need be, create newer ones. Brainstorm with your partner creative strategies for overcoming whatever are the difficulties in your current life. Many are a result of the pandemic. They are challenges, may have little to do with dislikes for one another, and call for some flexibility and imagination.

Most couples marry six or seven times over the life of their relationship; ideally with the same persons. That’s because you are not who you were when you were first dating, or got engaged, or even when you were initially married. Each stage has different tasks. Renew and recommit to grow into your present stage. Figure out which one you are in and decide how you can have a more vibrant union along the on-going marital journey. Making time for more fun is a biggie and will go a long way in whatever stage.

Here’s another idea:

Use more positive statements than negative ones in response to each other. Popular author and couple’s researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found that there needs to be a 5:1 ratio: meaning that for a healthy relationship there has to be five positive interactions for every negative one. That magic number can be hard to achieve when you and/or your significant other grate on each other.

In order to increase the positive interactions, recall why you first got together. Find things you have always liked about one another. Then, instead of dwelling on the annoyances and upsetting issues, highlight these admirable features.

A fun exercise is to take turns flooding your spouse with one after another thing you love about your partner. Have the listening partner sit in a chair set out in the middle of a room. Then the speaking partner walks around the chair as he/she states various admired things – qualities, behaviors, characteristics, and appreciations. As the speaker keeps circling the chair they will become more animated and energized. Go several minutes. Then, have the listener now become the speaker, and the speaker now become the listener.

Here’s a final thought:

All people are either, in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or headed for a crisis. This is meant to let you know that things are not as bad as you may seem to think. It is part of being human. And you are no different from a billion other married people or the billions of people in this world. What the fundamental problem really is is that we lack perspective.

When we love someone we do things for them because we love them. And we want them to know we love them. Besides doing things for the other, we tell each other we love them. Regularly. Not just on the day we got married or on an occasional romantic get-away. Mature and responsible married people tell and do these things often – even when we might be in the midst of some upset or hurt or we’re feeling angry (what I call being in a snit). In other words we don’t allow ourselves to withhold our love, rather we love unconditionally.

Our perspective is EVERYTHING. Choose a better one; one that works for you and keep building upon it. It is not always easy, but it is really that simple.


Tips for Fishing and Living # 94

Tip # 94:

Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.”                                    

Herbert Hoover

It seems that present day coffee houses – small, independent ones and large chains alike – have taken over for what neighborhood pubs and local bars used to provide; namely gathering places for community and fellowship. It’s not as readily accessible during this pandemic, but this is temporary and will return. Many people go to them for the free Wi-Fi, bringing computers to do work and communicate with people elsewhere, but, even so there is a community of sorts at these gathering spots.

Cheers, the old, long running TV series, was enjoyed for the fact that those regular, ordinary – and, okay, quirky characters that hung out at Cheers shared their quirky yet ordinary lives with each other. Maybe we could relate. Coffee shops fill that same felt need. I’m getting ahead of myself but this digital age has brought new access and shifting understanding of community. People use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and others social media to connect, perhaps even more so now, in this social distancing world we’re living in. I’ll come back to this later.

I am not very sentimental, nor do I wish we’d get back to so-called “good old days.” But I think life has become way too complicated and impersonal. I do miss the simplicity we once enjoyed. We always lose something valuable whenever we gain something valuable. We often take a new innovation and readily integrate it into our lives without regard for what possible losses or what down-sides it may bring about.

With every choice made, we give up something good when we get something good. Most decisions aren’t about choosing something good over something bad. We select one apparent good over another apparent good; with two different perceived goods we must choose wisely or regret the choice.

We have huge and amazing changes in short spans of time. The Wide World Web (WWW) is now just over 30 years old. What it and the internet offer us is amazing! The ability to Google search anytime we wish is amazing. Right now millions have visual and digital connections with anyone round the world. Millions now use Zoom and many other internet technologies as a regular practice.

It is all truly amazing! But we are not amazed. We simply incorporate each new innovation into our daily lives. It’s become sort of a “ho-hum, this is the way it is; this is what we do now.”

You think I have yet to address the splendor of solitary fishing or “the return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.” I am building a case of what we are up against. Not all fisherpersons fish alone. Some go with buddies, spouses, or show up at well-known fishing holes where others are also. The essential element is that the simplicity which brings them to those fishing places is that they are out in nature – mountain sides, beaches, streams, ponds, rivers, oceans.

These nature settings offer calm and peace that we crave – that we yearn for. Nature offers access to the simplicity of trees and sun and sky and terrain. Some get this from a brisk walk or a regular practice of running. Some find it in their afternoon cup of tea, or a morning first cup of coffee.

Others find an inner peace and calm in a spiritual life and religious practice. Prayer. Prayer is not always frantically asking for things. It’s even about only seeking help for others in need. Good, regular prayer is about listening to the Word – that inner stirring of our Creator – of listening to the voice of God.

All of us crave simplicity and yearn to find it wherever we can. At a deep level we hunger to be free from the constant bombardment of noise and confusion we are subjected to. A large part of our complicated lives has to do with massive misinformation circulating rampantly within our society.

Mindless parroting/amplifying of misinformation ads to the false, unsubstantiated stuff running about as real news. We’re assaulted by vile campaigns to distort and spread lies. We’re subjected to altered photos, skewed statistics, and slanderous statements. We’ve become weary of trying to sort out facts from misinformation and forgeries that are presented so compellingly as the facts.

I do wonder if we have become lazy; stupid; or are just so overwhelmed by the information age. Is it because we want simple answers to complex issues? Have we become dummied down as a nation of uninformed citizens? If so then is it any wonder so many are easily manipulated? Hoodwinked?

Journalists, as well as all citizens, need a healthy skepticism from far-right or far-left activists offering their skewed “information.” When we are repeatedly told some crazy stories, after a while they actually start to make some sort of sense. We’re numbed out by countless schemers, telemarketers, and snake oil con artists that we lose our perspective.  

Why wouldn’t some believe America faked the moon landing, or Hillary Clinton was hiding children in the basement of a NJ Pizza shop, or that our presidential election was rigged? Say untruths long enough and often enough eventually people believe them as the truth – or as some misguided or ill-formed person’s notion of truth.  I don’t like it, but I do think I can understand some it.

We cannot let ourselves be prisoners to any past simply because we have “always done things,” that way, or have a distorted recollection of the past as being nicer now than what we currently are experiencing. A way through these crazy times is to become much more reflective and thoughtful. Let’s bring forward the essence of whatever was an apparent good from our past but not be fooled that the past is what we want. Let’s find innovative ways for incorporating any particular good from our past into our new present and future.

But how? Clearly we need to regulate social media, as well as, so-called news that is not news, but that’s going to take time. Freedom of speech is being distorted. You or I are not free to yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theatre, as well as, a whole bunch of things. We need better education, but that doesn’t help us deal with the domestic terrorists right now who recently stormed the National Capital. It doesn’t help us deal with those that see violence as an acceptable means to solutions.

So here’s an idea:

Drop the argument and change the subject!

This is the counterintuitive advice you will hear from people who have studied Northern Ireland before the 1998 peace deal. This was a country where political opponents saw each other as not just wrong, but evil; and where people were genuinely frightened by the other side. They had arguments that could not all be solved and where all differences could be bridged. They went about this in an innovative way.

In the years before and after the peace settlement in Northern Ireland, for example, many “peacebuilding” projects did not try to make Catholics and Protestants hold civilized debates about politics, or talk about politics at all. Instead, they built community centers, put up Christmas lights, and organized job training for young people. They also worked with the leadership on both sides to believe that actual peace could come about, was possible, and is sustainable.

There aren’t any quick fixes. Not everyone is going to go fishing, but all of us do need to slow it down. We do need to find our common ground.

Allow me to add one more remarkable real life event. This one happened at The 1978 Camp David Accords. Camp David is a retreat center for presidents to have an opportunity for solitude and tranquility, as well as an ideal place to host foreign leaders. It was there that President Jimmy Carter successfully managed to get Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on 17 September 1978, after twelve days of secret negotiations, agree to sign a peace accord.

This became the framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. It led directly to the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty. Due to this agreement, Sadat and Begin received the shared 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Peace Accords came about from intensive and complicated negotiations. It was Jimmy Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, who gave him the idea of bringing these two men together at Camp David. Another lesser known detail was that at one point where the negotiations seemed severely stuck, Jimmy Carter managed to broker through with a treaty between these two nations by first taking a time out. He arranged for an informal convening where he spoke as a grandfather. All three men were grandfathers, and during this informal time each world leader shared what he wanted for his grandchildren – a world of peace. Their shared dream was their common bond. It was what helped foster their working relationship to produce a valuable result.

What is it we want for our grandchildren – whether you have any now or may in the future?

Is it not the very same thing we all want, as well?

What it is we want is what is truly most essential.

How to achieve this is then merely details.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 93

Tip # 93:

“Men and fish are alike. They both get into trouble when they open their mouths.” 

Author Unknown

Sometimes I get overly sensitive and take to heart whatever others say. I try not to offend others, and I’ll will hold back from saying things I think might be hurtful. For the most part choosing to not say whatever I happen to be thinking at an upsetting moment is a good thing. There are those times I should have spoken up. But overall, it’s prudent to discern what one might rashly blurt out before doing so. Too often impulsive petty and/or possibly hurtful thoughts are best restrained. If it wasn’t going to be helpful it serves no purpose. When I take time to think these situations out with a clear mind I am glad. This is why many subscribe to the “count to ten before speaking” rule.

A useful technique to diminish one’s own reactivity is by addressing ourselves in the third person. Before judging ourselves on how we could or should act and thus ratchet up our reactivity, use this third person technique. Thinking in the third person will lower our reactivity, and improves our capacity for making better decisions.

Don thinks this…” or “Don wants to do …” lowers my heart rate and calms me down. Seems corny but it actually works. It’s a great improvement from what happens with, “How could I have done such and such?” By changing to, “How could Don have done such and such?” we allow for some emotional distance, thus construct the greater likelihood of an objective result.

Talk, in general, often proves to be highly over-rated. We are most often committed to being RIGHT. This pursuit for rightness requires we make the other person WRONG. Words are powerful tools that either serve us to do well or to do harm. When it comes to our relationships a better paradigm than being RIGHT is being closeness and intimacy.

Talk is never as effective as our positive action(s) are. We preach much more effectively via our actions. Abusive men will often tell their wives how remorseful and sorry they are. They very likely mean this, and make great promises to not harm again. However, their repeated abusive behaviors speak more loudly than any words.

Bert Hellinger, the famous German psychologist and founder of Systemic Family Constellations, once told a group of couples in a training program what he thought about couples and their long, heated discussions that often end in escalating fights. He said:

“I’ll tell you something about so-called discussions between partners. What are discussions supposed to achieve? Mostly, one person wants a discussion in order to convince the other person to believe something he or she doesn’t believe. That’s always a waste of time. Let him have his opinion. Yours isn’t any better; it’s only different.”

There are those times one must speak up; to not do so is wrong and cowardly. To not speak up is to be complicit with the wrong doers. It does take courage to speak. Whistle blowers, as we know, often pay a great price, but there is also a price for not speaking up.   

When speaking say your truth in “short and succinct” ways. Less tends to be better. State your facts while keeping emotion out of it. Listeners get lost with long monologues, or tangential information. This was humorously conveyed in the classic movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Steven Martin’s character, at one point has become thoroughly exasperated, and at which point he brutality blasts John Candy’s character with the following:

“And another thing, when you tell a story, make sure you have a point to it; it makes it more interesting to the listener!”

Psychologists tell us 7% of the words, 38% of our tone of voice, and 45% of our nonverbal cues make up the total communication we transmit. If we take only the words in to account – the content – we’ll miss much of what is being communicated. Ask me if I want to do something, and I reply “yes,” while at the same time I roll my eyes toward the ceiling, or I keep moving my head from left to right, or I say “yes” but do it in a weak or iffy voice, which part of my message are you to trust? At best my response is highly ambivalent or incongruent.

Mirroring is a valuable skill and easily employed. When practice mirroring – stating back to the speaker what we just heard – they get an experience of being listened to. It is important to use a calm voice when mirroring. To do so we must BE calm.

An experiment was conducted with waiters: Half were told to use positive reinforcement, and to lavish praise and encouragement on their patrons by using words like “great,” “no problem,” and “sure,” in response to their patrons. The other group of waiters were instructed to simply mirror back the last three or four words patrons said to them. Mirror back – and then go about their job. “Bring you more bread,” or “You need more water,” or “You’re enjoying your meal.” The results were stunning: the wait staff that mirrored their patrons received 70% more in tips than those who used positive reinforcement.

Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, wrote a book entitled; Never Split The Difference. Hostage negotiators must remain calm throughout any hostage situation as real peoples’ lives are at stake. Hostage takers are also not the nicest people, and are often aggressive and antagonistic.

Voss teaches negotiators is to stay calm and to not treat the conflict as some sort of pissing contest? If we make our conflicts into a battle of wills, we will not calm anyone down. Remaining calm applies to all our everyday relationships: the boss, neighbors, siblings, spouses, or anyone we’re in some disagreement with. The professional negotiator is trained to use mirroring precisely to give the hostage taker a sense of being understood, which enhances the possibility for greater calm, which fosters a better outcome.

I teach mirroring to couples. It gives each one an experience of being listened to and getting them to cool down. They’re able to avert a disastrous result and instead forge a transformative solution. Professional hostage negotiators use mirroring for these very same reasons. The science backs up how mirroring helps calm down highly anxious situations. This goes a long way toward building a rapport necessary for fostering a positive and nonviolent solution.

Trouble starts when we metaphorically take the bait and we become reactive. Right now we are living in a highly reactive society. We are in great need of healing our nation. Healing requires learning to speak and to listen to those we don’t agree with or even like. Professional negotiators, arbitrators and other mediators can teach us much.

When we’re overwhelmed we’re not capable of listening or of listening well. Negotiators are trained to listen to figure out what it is the hostage-taker actually wants. They refrain from making assumptions. Their interest is to make, say, a bank robber, feel safe so they are unlikely to do rash or dangerous things. Effective negotiators start by validating their adversary’s emotions, not as approval for robbery or hostage taking. They do so to acknowledge that this adversary is someone who is perhaps worried, or frightened, and therefore unable to cooperate. Validating takes time; it requires intentionally slowing things down so the hostage taker talks freely within an atmosphere the negotiator provides in order to obtain important information.

Slow…. It…. Down.

Learning to listen is an acquired and valuable skill. Most of us don’t listen very well. If we focus on our intended goals: to get our relationships to work more amicably; to bring about a more united nation; to get the hostages out safely; etc. Through listening we figure out what people are saying, as well as, not saying, what it is they really want, what’s most important to them.

Good professional negotiators go into the hostage situation ready for possible surprises; great ones go in prepared to use their skills to reveal the surprises they are certain to find. If we view our conflict as a battle field we’ll soon find ourselves overwhelmed. All the inner voices in our heads will blur with all the external noise and chaos. Instead of seeing it as a battle; see it as an opportunity to gain information that may bring about a positive outcome.

Trained negotiators put a smile on their face even when they’re only talking on the phone because they know their smile will make for a positive frame of mind. A positive frame of mind facilitates for them a greater capacity to think more quickly, and allows for more of a likelihood of problem-solving in the situation before them. Positivity creates mental agility in both you and your counterpart.

In the wonderful movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there’s the scene where the lead character, Toula Portokalos, played by actress Nia Vardalos, wants to use her new computer training to work outside the family restaurant. Her mother and her Aunt Voula are on board, but they know Cosmos, Tula’s over protective father won’t be keen having his daughter out in the work world. So Toula’s mother and her aunt devise a plan to have Cosmos not only come up with their plan, but to have him think it is his own. Mother and aunt tell Cosmos the aunt’s businesses are suffering and that she needs more help, but doesn’t know where to find it. Then both mother and aunt pause and remain quiet in a contrived helplessness. And sure enough Cosmos comes up with the solution. Excitedly he tells them:

“I have the solution for you! We send Tulia to the Voula’s business to help her! There.” Mother and aunt exclaim how brilliant Cosmos is by his solution, when in actuality it is they who are the brilliant ones getting Cosmos to think the solution is his own.

Hostage negotiators, and intelligent adults who are capable of not needing to take credit for a positive outcome. Therefore they have a much greater chance of gaining workable solutions. Professional negotiators also use the open-ended question. They call it Calibrated Questions. The questions are useful to get the other person engaged in solving your problem without you needing to become conflictual. Tulia’s mother and her aunt did this very technique with Cosmos.

Success comes to those willing to change their minds or adapt. Albert Einstein said it this way: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

We’ll need to cool down the intensely polarizing conversation permeating our nation. We’ll also need to cool down planet Earth. There is much more than just metaphor in this. I, therefore, return to a perspective I have lobbied for many previous times. In order for humankind to evolve we’ll need a great capacity for living contemplative lives.

Socrates put it this way, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” By slowing down, surrendering, and listening to our Creator, can we purge ourselves and open ourselves up to new ideas, perceptions, beliefs, understanding and values?

We’ll have a greater chance for success when we can see beyond our faulty thinking that salvation is merely an individual escape plan for the next world. Contemplative prayer allows God to transform us through great love and great suffering. It also fosters new understanding as to our inherent connectedness. It liberates us from thinking that somehow we are separate from everyone and everything else, including God. We are, indeed, all in this together.  

It turns out this is actually very Good News.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 92. What a week it has been! Hope you find this useful.

Tip # 92:

“You must lose a fly to catch a trout.” 

George Herbert

There is a great paradox here: It’s worth sacrificing a little or even a lot in order to gain more. We see the fly as the bait, and as what the angler sacrifices in order to catch the fish. We can apply this in real life with our need to expend effort that might even be risky or costly in the service of obtaining something greater. So the question is: do we really believe it is worth sacrificing in order to gain a great deal more?

When Jesus spoke to Peter and told him to “come follow me” and that he, Jesus, would make Peter a fisher of people, Peter did not yet know he was to become the bait in order to do this. There are consequences in whatever we do or don’t do. Sometimes we need to trust that our persistence will overcome any and all obstacles. And we must be steadfast by believing we have a lot more say and power in the matter of our lives.

We need to be alert when we attempt to enroll others into our vision, or we’ll possibly become deflated or discouraged by naysayers or critical people. Nevertheless, we ultimately need to carry on with our persistent efforts if we are to gain the desired result.

We tend, as a people, to want symptom relief or a quick fix without doing the required work. As an illustration of this we sometimes look to medications to solve many of our problems. Sometimes medications are necessary and quite useful, but sometimes we jump to them for symptom relief rather than make appropriate “lifestyle” changes that would eliminate these symptoms.

Let’s take indigestion as one small example. Indigestion typically comes from either eating too much or eating things that play havoc with our body’s digestive system. How about refraining from eating those things? Is that too crazy a thought? There’s a medication ad on TV that boasts how we can eat anything and everything that is so delicious but then makes us feel terrible if we only then to take this little pill afterwards!

If I drank too much coffee or drank it late at night and cannot sleep that night it isn’t rocket science. Sure, we’re all guilty of occasionally doing some similar dumb stuff, but we know it and maybe we even eventually learn from our foolishness. But to keep doing the same things and expecting a different result is the sure sign of craziness. But, as you know, there’s a pill for that too.

If ever we were unsure, we now know it. Our democracy is fragile and cannot exist if we aren’t participating in it. It requires all of us to take care of it, much like we need to take care of our bodies. We need to have some skin in the game. There are no quick fixes here, either. After the recent assault on our Capital we have heard commentators state that “this is not who we are.” I, for one, take exception to this. It is, sadly, a very real part of who we are, and who we have been. By not owning our denial and our sometimes passivity, we have cooperated and allowed a malignancy to continue and to become more emboldened.

Systemic racism has had a long history within our country. The recent assault on the Capital, as well as, other civil violence have come about, largely, by the many repeated lies and distortions leading up to it and escalated with the presidential election results. These continuous lies and distortions rest upon, and are embedded within, racism, and therefore a belief that only certain people have a right to be here, and not others. It is time we fully acknowledge this; and then begin the consistent work to rout out such distortions.

These sentiments that flow from racism are much like a cancer. True democracy is a threat to racism and any supremacy. We have a distinct part of our population that wants to kill off another part of our population, while another part of the population has, for the most part, remained silent and/or in denial.

I am speaking to this largest one-third of America – the one most of us privileged whites are a part of, and who have for too long clung to denial and/or silence. We used to be called the Silent Majority. As the old cartoon character, Pogo, once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The FBI now tells us the greatest threat to America is not foreign terrorism; it is domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States (or its territories) without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Extremist groups are on the far right and on the far left have always existed. Militant hate groups, white supremacy groups and other volatile people have had a four year green light by those that intentionally incited them for power and profit.   

Our US Capital these last two weeks has looked like a Military War Zone. I pray we have, as a nation, finally reached a tipping point. America has hopefully ended this dangerous experiment with the Trump presidency, and now we say “enough!” The national election seems to indicate the majority of America is no longer able or willing to remain silent or in denial.  

The pandemic has facilitated an unveiling – an awakening to what has been dysfunctional. It has required us to slow down, and to reflect in a soulful way. The terrible costs and unspeakable toll this dreadful pandemic has caused, may also have provided us a silver lining. It has possibly awakened us to a moment where we are able to recognize ourselves in what Martin Luther King, Jr. was telling us when he said:

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

At another time MLK, Jr. offered his conviction about passivity:

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Dr. King was also human, as well as, prophetic. As a human being he became drained and at times felt discouraged, and so he offered us this reflection:

“I don’t mind telling you this morning that sometimes I feel discouraged. I felt discouraged in Chicago. As I move through Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama, I feel discouraged. Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged sometimes. Living every day under extensive criticisms, even from Negroes, I feel discouraged sometimes. Yes, sometimes I feel discouraged and feel my work is in vain. But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”

Joe Biden is challenging us to find hope in the midst of our distress, discouragement and real sorrow. He also reminds us of who we are when we unite and when we together forge a government that works for everyone.

How did we get here? I believe we allowed too many injustices to go unaddressed for too long, causing too many to feel they do not count. There is much evidence as we see the haves and have nots growing ever further apart. There are many in our American family that need to be brought back into the national conversation. To begin to do so we first must believe that they do count and they do have a contribution to make.

The easiest people in the world to manipulate are those who are focused on a single issue. All it takes is to be forcefully against whatever they’re against and you can lead them around like a tame calf on a rope. The antidote for this malignancy is to love our neighbor as neighbor. It’s time to listen to the alienated, disenfranchised, and those who don’t think they matter.

We are all children born of the same father. Those who have the same father are brothers and sisters. White Supremacy groups, neo-Nazis, and other extremists operate from a scarcity model – one that judges some people as different and therefore having no right to exist or be here. If any group might have a right to think this way it is Native Americans, and yet they are more evolved and not prone to hold onto hate or vengeance. 

The U.S. just executed a women prisoner – one with a severe depravity from a childhood filled with horrific deficiency and cruelty. This doesn’t justify her crimes but could have easily been cause for a commuted execution. But this murderous action done during the last two weeks of presidential power is beyond the pale.

And it is but one more outrageous hypocrisy endured these last four years. Our silence should have instead been a loud, furious outrage. She was the 11th person on federal death row executed since the U.S. government resumed capital punishment last year under President Donald Trump administration. Such hypocrisy of a so-called pro-life president.

Then there are the 628 children still not reunited with their parents after being separated from them at our US – Mexico border. This was done to “send a message”, and what a message it has sent! “America is beyond cruel and vile!” Outrageous. The cost of our silence and our denial is that our national soul has become a little bit more deadened.

How we hold the universe really matters. We either see the universe as primarily material and with no discernable purpose. If so, the inevitable outcomes are a nation that operates out of scarcity, competition, greed, and violence. With such a position we pit one group over another; one side needing to win by another side having to lose; one side welcoming only those like them.

Joe Biden has reminded us of not some newer perspective. Rather he calls us as Americans to our original core belief system. It is a transformative perspective that sees the universe has primarily consciousness, and where each and every human being is seen as a body, mind, and spirit. It is in this system where we are able to find our life’s purpose in meaningful ways within a benevolent universe.

This week we also celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., so let’s return to his very moving remarks about his own discouragements, and how he turned to God at such moments. He gave a speech shortly before he was assassinated and said it this way:

“In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and have known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into buoyancy of hope.”

This past Wednesday at the inauguration a young 24 year old poet, Amanda Gorman, offered her prophetic voice and powerful words to both challenge and some comfort us in her poem:

(Here are a few portions of this magnificent poem and I encourage you to read it in it’s entirely – and do so often.)

The Hill we Climb

“When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry,

a sea we must wade

We’ve braved the belly of the beast

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace

And the norms and notions

of what just is

Isn’t always just-ice

And yet the dawn is ours

before we knew it

Somehow we do it

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed

a nation that isn’t broken

but simply unfinished…

Amanda Gorman goes on and then continues:

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

It is easy to be against something. Let us be brave enough to step forward, brave enough to reflect upon what these powerful words mean to us, and brave enough to get clarity about what we are and what we stand for, instead of who or what we are against.

I propose we choose to be brave enough to be intolerant of anything less than a democracy that works for everyone and serves all of its people.

If we do this, then we can join in singing along with John Legend that indeed, “It’s a new dawn; it’s a new day; it’s a new life!”