(Personal) Independence :: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly!

American Flag: Independence

There are positives and negatives to the pursuit of personal independence. We would do well to learn to strive for the positives and beware the negatives if becoming an “independent” person is our goal.  

There has been a growing trend to desire personal liberty or “autonomy” in American society. See the graph for how Google search trends show a steady increase in searches for the term “autonomy.” People want to “cast off the shackles” of societal or family expectations and be free to do or become whatever they want. We should ask ourselves if this is a band-wagon we should hitch up to.  

  • Will personal independence help us in the strong work we are created to do?  
  • Should becoming independent be my personal goal in life? 
  • And How do I lead in a lead in a culture that is driving toward independence and autonomy? 

American Independence as a Case Study

The residents of the British colonies in America felt oppressed, misrepresented, and disrespected by King George and the British Parliament. Representatives from each colony came together and became resolved to declare independence from England on July 4, 1776. Thus, began the new nation of the United States of America. As a case study, what were (some of) the positives and negatives of the American Independence? 

(Granted – these are very short lists, but it is enough to get the point across.) 

The Good of American Independence

  • American people were no longer oppressed or misrepresented. They had the freedom to represent themselves. 
  • They were able to create their own government and laws according to their values.  
  • The people felt the pride of being their own independent nation the peace that they were not under the control of another country.

The Bad and Ugly of American Independence

  • The signers of the Declaration of Independence put their lives on the line – and many of them died for their cause.  
  • The nation had to figure out their core values and how govern and establish an economy. 
  • The people were now separated from their founding nation and the strength and protection England provided.  
  • America was started through an act of separation and a declaration of war. It was not a peaceful beginning and a lot of people lost their lives for the sake of their independence. 

We can transition from the case study of American independence and relate it to the positives and negatives of personal independence.  

Personal Independence

In his classic work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discussed the fact that the pathway of maturity leads you from dependence to independence. A dependent person requires other people to do things for them or even think for them. A baby is a simple example of dependence since they are fully reliant on their parents for their survival. But many adults never fully mature past this maturity stage, so they continue to be dependent on others – financially, physically, or emotionally.  

Covey says that “Independence is the paradigm of II can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose.” (49) 

True independence of character empowers us to act rather be acted upon. It frees us from our dependence on circumstances and other people and is a worthy, liberating goal. (50)

Jordan Peterson is a psychology professor who challenges people to take personal responsibility and focus on fixing yourself first – before you try to fix the world. (Video / Helpful article.) The message is similar. You mature past dependence in order to choose how you live and how you respond to life circumstances.  

The Good of Personal Independence

  • Independent people have the freedom to choose their values, interests, friends, career, etc. 
  • They are not controlled by society and circumstances. Their identity and emotions are not dependent on other people or what happens around them.  
  • There is the opportunity to have personal pride and to grow toward excellence in life. 

The Bad and Ugly of Personal Independence

  • Independence can produce pride, division and isolation from others.  
    • It ends with Simon and Garfunkel’s song I am a Rock where you can say that you don’t need other people and they don’t affect you. (“a rock feels no pain and an island never cries”)
  • Someone whose life objective is to be independent does not really care to add value to others.  
  • An independent person might see others as objects who are there simply to add value to you.

Interdependence is the Goal

After Covey’s quote above, he said that independence “is not the ultimate goal in effective living.” The goal is interdependence – since reality is interdependent. We live in a society, a community, and a family. Our economy is interdependent (I didn’t raise the chicken who laid the eggs I ate this morning). We are stronger and accomplish more as a community which has risen above independence to proactively add value to others.

As a leader – I develop myself so I can be the best version of myself so I can better serve and add value to others.  

As a country – the independent United States would do best if we became the interdependent United States. If individuals focused on improving themselves so we can add value to our society – with the ultimate goal of adding value to the world. We started with a conflict. My prayer is that we grow to be a force of reconciliation and peace in the world.  

(Disclaimer: I believe that many people, organizations, companies, and even politicians have embraced this idea currently and in our nation’s checkered history.) 

Application Questions

  1. Is your goal to become independent or interdependent?
  2. Are you taking responsibility for yourself so that you can grow and then add value to others?

Reference: Covey, Stephen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Fireside. New York, New York, 1989.

Read this post to learn more about living in community as interdependent people!

Strength through Encouragement

Encouragement

Many may think that they don’t need encouragement in order to perform at their best. “I got this! I can buckle down and get it done without encouragement!” But then we always appreciate when people recognize and affirm our hard work, personal growth, or other achievements. It does not show weakness to give or receive encouragement – but it does take some courage! 

It takes a strong leader to be a good encourager. We receive strength through encouragement to excel in our journey in work and personal life and perform at our best.  

Motivating through Affirmation

Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The 5 Love Languages in which he explains that each of us give and receive love in different ways. I find that my primary love language is affirmation – as it is for many others – so I thrive off hearing encouraging words from my wife, family, colleagues and friends.  

Dr. Chapman (with Paul White) also wrote a book called The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace in which he takes the Love Languages concept and applies it to the workplace. As I read that book, I found that I am motivated by the cause/mission of the organization and through affirmation for my work.  

“We believe that people in the workplace need to feel appreciated in order for them to enjoy their job, do their best work, and continue working over the long haul.” (27)

“Appreciation, when expressed in the primary appreciation language of the individual, tends to motivate each team member to reach his or her potential. When we feel appreciated, we are motivated to “climb higher.” Conversely, without appreciation, we often settle into mediocre performance, often far below our level of capability.” (117-118)

Many of us could learn a lesson from these wise words and consider how we can motivate others around us through encouraging words of affirmation. Figure out what somebody does well or how they are growing as a person and affirm them through a specific word of encouragement. Look for the positive in others and build them up so they can reach their potential and become stronger versions of themselves. 

Barnabas :: A Classic Example of Encouragement

There is a story in the Bible where a man named Saul was the primary antagonist against the early Christian movement. He was committed to bringing them down through intimidation, persecution, and imprisonment. Then, he had an encounter with Jesus and made a drastic 180-degree switch to becoming a committed Christian and promoter of their message.

As you can imagine, some of the leaders in the Christian movement were skeptical of his heart change and resisted his involvement in their community and ministry. However, a brave, generous man nicknamed Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”) was willing to put his reputation on the line to trust Saul (renamed as Paul), vouch for him, and encourage the other leaders to accept him as a genuine follower.  

Building up a "Failure"

Later in the story, Barnabas gave another Christian (named Mark) a second chance after he had abandoned them on a journey. Barnabas obviously encouraged Mark and helped him mature because some years later he became the author of the Gospel According to Mark. The unique encouragement of Barnabus to build up a young man who had made a major blunder led to the writing of (arguably) one of the more important pieces of literature ever written.  

Barnabas was not a leading, central character – but he built a great legacy by giving strength through encouragement.

Application Questions:

  • When you get encouragement, does it help you perform at a higher level?
  • If you are a leader (and we all are), are you looking for ways to encourage and build up those whom you lead?
  • Think of ways that you can be brave (like Barnabas) to encourage someone who is recovering from something wrong they have done or from a failure in life?

Reference:

Chapman, Gary and Paul White. The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Northfield Publishing, IL. 2011.

About the Photo

My wife and I went to New Zealand in 2013. It was a phenomenal trip! This photo was taken on the South Island near Mount Cook at the south end of Lake Tekapo at the Church of the Good Shepherd

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy this one about recognizing other individuals for who they truly are: Shift to See the Other.

Finding Community During COVID

Community

.Virtually every American (and nearly every human on the planet!) has been forced to adjust to find community during COVID in different ways. Whether you are introvert or extrovert – we all have an internal craving for relationships and shared experiences with others within a community.  

It may provoke you to ask the questions of:  

  • Why do we crave community and feel that something is missing in our lives without it? 
  • What are the different ways that we find community? 
  • How do we find community when all our normal, traditional places of community are closed or empty?

Why Do We Crave Community?

As with any fundamental “why” question, there are various views on this topic. I believe that each of us were created with this internal craving for belonging and friendship because our Creator knows that is best for humanity. We become better versions of ourselves while we are in community but become unhappy, apathetic, and (usually) unproductive without it.  

Each of us is born with different personalities, gifts, and talents – so we naturally have strengths and limitations. If it was just me (or everyone was just like me), then there would be nobody to compliment my limitations and, therefore, provide a complete picture of humanity. We are a beautiful harmony of unified diversity when we are in community – not a single staccato note or a clanging cymbal.  

We can all agree on this: We desire to love and be loved in return. This can only happen through relationships found within a community. 

The Third Place

Most of us have a first place (the home/family) and a second place (the workplace) but tend to desire a place where we can relax with familiar people in a familiar place and laugh while engaging in interesting conversations. We are envious as we watch shows like Cheers and Friends as they find unique community in a bar or coffee shop. These local places of community have become known as “the third place.”  

In 1989, a German sociologist named Ray Oldenburg wrote a book called The Great Good Place where he coined the term “third place.” We find community in these third places because we feel accepted and they encourage and inspire us to become better versions of ourselves.  

Coffee Shop Community
Coffee Shop in Ethiopia

Personally, I am fortunate to have several third places. I find this community through my church, a men’s small group, a weekly soccer game, and the co-working space where I work (Work Hub).  

This Psychology Today article and this Wikipedia page help provide more context on Oldenburg’s concepts and more explanation of third places. 

The COVID Pandemic Challenges Community

But what do you do when your typical third place is closed due to a global pandemic!?  

I went through several phases during this pandemic – and I get the feeling others had a similar experience. At first, it welcoming to stay home and spend more time with my family and get more projects done around the house. But then I began to really miss my friendships and started calling them and encouraging Zoom meetings. But then… I just needed to get out(!!) and be with people and get back to my third places.  

Community in a Solitaire App Game

I did, however, find a unique community in a most unexpected place. I had gotten a new phone and, of course, it came loaded with the promotional apps that you didn’t ask for. One of those apps was a game called “Solitaire” by GSN. I got in there and played a few games and thought it would be an entertaining and slightly challenging leisure game. But then I got invited into a club (which I didn’t know was a thing) called “Texas Four” and introduced to this special group of people from all over the United States and Canada.

They love each other. It is a special thing to experience. On the simple chat-board, they check in every day with encouragement, personal stories, prayer requests, you name it. They play for each other and encourage the team every day. I am usually in the bottom with points within the game – but I’m still encouraged along by the club.  

To the Texas Four club members – Thank you for providing a unique community during this pandemic season. I wish the best for each of you (app names) – Wanderer, Squig, Shuffles, Gran/Wa, JayRay, Jim, Mrs. Bullit, Cara, Kristine, Suemac, Cards, Sun, Turtle, Rawr, KrAzY d, Supercool, Donkey mom – and the rest. Play on!

Solitaire App - Texas Four Club
Solitaire Tripeaks by GSN

Questions to Consider:

  • Why is community meaningful and necessary for you? 
  • How did you find community during the COVID Pandemic? 
  • What do you think we can learn from my story of the Texas Four solitaire club?  

Photos in the post: 

Featured photo: This was taken of me, my wife, and a group of friends in a coffee shop in Sarajevo, Bosnia in 2015. 

Inset photo: I took this photo in 2011 when I went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A local took me to an old coffee shop which explained how coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia. 

Shift to See the Other

Shift to see the other

Each of us has a world-view or “paradigm” through which we see the world and make value judgments. In order to genuinely love other people who are not “like us,” we need to acknowledge and try to understand their world-view. It requires a “shift to see the other” for us to value them and their perspective so we can a mutually beneficial relationship and add value to each other. Then we can be STRONG for our work with others.  

A Small Paradigm Shift 

Notice the lady in the featured picture above. What are your initial thoughts about her – as she proudly stands in front of this water buffalo? (as for another paradigm shift… these are buffaloes. The animals in the US are Bison – in case your teachers and books have steered you wrong!)  

 I encountered this lady in a small village in India. I saw her pick up a huge pile of fresh buffalo manure with her bare hands – which of course was off-putting and puts judgmental thoughts in your mind. Then, she noticed us standing near her home and quickly brought out three chairs for us to sit in. We were a bit wary of their cleanliness – but then again, we were in India – so we gratefully sat in her chairs. Then, she was so proud of her water buffaloes that she wanted her picture taken in front of them. We reflected on her kindness toward strangers and her pride in her water buffaloes and it helped us “shift to see the other” as we stepped into her world a bit. 

Finding the Right Map

In his world-famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey opens with an explanation that we need to have “inside-out” changes within our character in order to have true, lasting influence on others. He says that “private victories precede public victories” (p. 43) to show that we should not expect change in the external world until we have right map and become the person we want to see in the world.  

He says that we have a paradigm – or “map” (or worldview) – that provides a model or theory of the world. If the map is wrong, then we will always end up at the wrong destination – and probably frustrate yourself and many others in the process.  

Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities, and maps of the way things should be, or values. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps ... and our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions.

He goes on to explain how we need to become aware of our maps and then evaluate and examine them to determine their accuracy. Then we can have awareness of the maps of others and be open to adopting them or adapting ours because of new awareness. This opens the opportunity to “shift to see the other.” 

See the Love (all around you)

One of my favorite bands these days is called The Brilliance. They opened for a concert for one of my other favorites, Josh Garrels, and I just fell in love with their music and friendly personality. They have a song called “See the Love” which hits on this subject of “shifting to see the other.” The challenge in the song is to recognize the reality of love all around you and to be a person who shines that love to others by seeing them for who they are created to be.  

Here is a short excerpt from the song: 

Learn to feel, 
Learn to begin again 
Open our eyes again 
To see our brother’s pain 

You can watch the music video HERE – or another one HERE – and read the lyrics HERE.

I hope that you are encouraged by this song and reflect on how you can be the love that you wish to see in the world.  

Application Questions:

  1. Are you willing to examine your map and the maps of others so you can shift to see the other? 
  2. How will you be the love you wish to see in the world?  

Reference: 

Covey, Shephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (Fireside, New York: 1989). 

For more on this topic, see this post: Is Your Heart at Peace or at War?

Moving from Me to We

Moore, OK Tornado

Success or conflict hang in the balance with every relationship due to perspective and attitude. The concept of “Moving from Me to We” was developed by my friend (and pseudo-mentor) Thomas Bookhamer (more on him below) in order to address our approach to relationships, especially in leadership and the workplace.  

The first step to becoming a truly effective leader and having greater influence is learning to be others-focused; this is what I call moving from me to we.

Thomas Bookhamer – The Leaders Factor

Why We Have Conflict 

I truly believe that a person’s perspective of another person, and the communication that occurs due to that perspective, is the core issue that determines the success or failure of relationships. If we have a preconception or bias against a person or a whole group of people (such as in racism, etc.) then your perspective is set against being favorable toward that person.  

It may be subconscious, but you are going to look for ways to support your bias in your interactions with that person. They cannot win! You are rooting for them to fail to support your bias! You aren’t really trying to help or understand them – and indifference or conflict is bound to happen in the relationship.  

In their books, the Arbinger Institute calls this “being in the box” and having a “heart at war” toward that person or group. I wrote about this topic in a previous post – here.

How to Move from Me to We 

However, if we see the other person as an individual who has value and vast potential – and we earnestly desire good for them – then we have the capability to move from Me to We. A relationship has the potential to flourish IF we approach it with the rich, fertile soil of mutual respect, love for humanity, and optimism for success.  

At first, you may have to be intentional about helping others reach their potential. Effective leadership is not about how far we advance ourselves, but how far we advance others. 

Thomas Bookhamer – The Leaders Factor

In his book, Thomas challenges leaders (and all of us lead to some capacity) to have the mindset of desiring to add value to others. If you are focused on yourself – “What’s in it for me” – then you are using people as objects and you are bound to create conflict. However, if you are others-focused, then you can focus on a “We” centered approach and develop valuable collaboration within a team atmosphere.  

The tough step for a leader is to decide to develop and empower others for success. Hear your team’s input. Truly connect with them as individuals. Develop their strengths. Encourage them through challenges, support their limitations, and celebrate their victories. Then you will have moved from Me to We. 

Application Questions:  

  1. Do you know the personality type and the strengths and limitations of your team (or family, group, etc.)? 

  1. When you communicate with them, do they feel that you truly value them and their input? 

  1. What can you change to ensure that you are rooting for the success of others? 

Thomas Bookhamer information: 

Website: https://journey.leadersfactor.com 

Book: The Leaders Factor

Email: thomas@leadersfactor.com 

Story behind the feature image:

In 2013, a massive tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma and left incredible destruction in it’s wake. Organizations and countless volunteers went in to help them clean up and begin to recover. I included this because it is an example of many people moving from Me to We in the relief effort. We can identify with these relief efforts as large groups become “others-focused” and serve those who were affected. 

Below are more photos from our short volunteer effort. The cars in the below images were picked up by the tornado and dropped in the middle of a guy’s pasture.

The Practice of Meditation

Meditate on Kayak

Last week, I wrote about the importance of solitude – and then I was able to go practice it on Monday, Memorial Day, as I went for a lone kayak on the lake and ended up in a quiet corner for almost an hour. It was peaceful to sit still and be mindful of the sights and sounds of nature. I took the time to reflect, meditate, and pray – and felt so rejuvenated after. The feature image for this post is a photo from my kayak outing.  

A beneficial activity to go with solitude is the practice of meditation. I’m relatively new to meditation, so I will provide you with helpful advice and comments from my experience.  

Release Meditation Technique 

This technique was developed (or probably adapted) by author/speaker Brendon Burchard. I have enjoyed learning from his books and YouTube channel, so I decided to give this technique a try. For the past few weeks, I have been working on developing this practice – but (being honest) I need to improve my consistency and length of meditation. It is a work in progress – but, as he says, the most important thing is to start trying and steadily improve until it is a habit.  

I always benefit from breaking away from work/life for a bit and forcing myself to be quiet and meditate. I know that it can be challenging since we are already so busy – how in the world can I spare 10-20 minutes to just sit and “accomplish nothing.” The secret… is that you accomplish more and you are happier during the rest of your time when you take time out to be in solitude and meditate. 

Brendon Burchard’s Method Explained

Brendon explains the benefits and method of the technique in the below link. There is also a helpful video where he talks through the method and then actually coaches you through a meditation session.  

Link: https://www.success.com/the-easiest-meditation-technique-youll-ever-try/ 

Brendon has you repeat the word “release” – but personally, I sometimes choose other words that are more meaningful to me. Words such as “Jesus” or “alive” bring more spiritual depth to the session. As a Christian, I also always start it with a prayer and invitation for the Spirit to speak or make the time meaningful.  

Music for Meditation

If I’m able to, sometimes I also play ambient music in the background while I meditate. A few of my recent favorites are below. You can probably find them on streaming services. (I use Amazon Prime Music) 

  • Sigur Ros – Liminal Sleep 
  • Future of Forestry – Union 
  • Lambert – Sweet Apocalypse 

Religious/Spiritual Meditation Practices 

Entire books have been written on this topic – but I wanted to mention a couple things on this topic before I close this post. 

Christian meditation is not mindlessness or “emptying of the self.” It is active contemplation that includes Scriptural reflection and prayer. It also can involve active listening for Christians who believe that God can speak with them. We often cloud our mind with so much noise that God’s voice or at least His guiding “nudge” does not break through.  

I have Hindu and Muslim friends who have different meditation practices. If you come from another faith background – please comment and share your insights with this community. 

Application Questions:  

  1. If you have engaged in meditation – reflect on how it has been beneficial for you. Please share! 
  1. If you have not, will you take Brendon’s (and my) challenge to give it a serious attempt for at least 10 days?  

Photo: By Daniel David on his Samsung phone on May 25, 2020 on Lake Athens – in Texas.