What is wrong with you?

Published in Star News, a publication for Law Enforcement personnel.

How many times have we asked that question of someone? How many times have we asked ourselves; “Why did I behave that way?” When we begin to look into the specifics of how we handle these questions in our personal relationships, something very interesting happens. Those two questions come from two very different perspectives and once you realize where they are coming from you are more able to understand and correct unhealthy perceptions about yourself and others. Allow me to explain. It starts with the difference between human behavior and human nature.

When we see less than admirable traits in ourselves, we tend to attribute those to external causes and explain behavior away because of the influence of that cause. For example, “I blew my top because that guy would not listen to what I was trying to say!” In other words, I behaved badly because of an external influence acting upon me… He caused my reaction.

Funny thing is…

We rarely explain other people’s behavior in that same way. Call it an excuse, a reason, a justification, call it what you will, but we fail to extend that same reasoning to another’s behavior when they act contrary to our expectations of them toward us. We sometimes fail to see the external causes and wrongly attribute the reaction to their very nature. We superimpose their action on what we perceive to be the way that person truly is. This is most unfair.

Put simply: When I am mean to another I am really a nice person who’s behavior is mean because of something they did to me, but when someone is mean to me it is because they are a mean person.” Get it? Our actions are simply bad behavior, but their actions stem from their bad nature. We do it all the time. We do it to our spouse, our co-workers, our superiors and we do it on the street. “It’s their nature.” They are not behaving in an evil way; they are evil. They are not behaving aggressively; they are animals. The shift is subtle but destructive. What we explain away in our own lives through grace given to self, we should learn to extend to others in grace given to them.

We have all come to learn that when you give respect on the street you get respect on the street. The same should apply to our view of people’s nature. Much of life is cause, effect, and reaction. I would hate for others to view me at my worst and attribute what they witness to who I really, deeply am as a person.

Self Leadership

(Reposted from August 14, 2016)

I woke this morning to two things. First, a notification on my phone of motion on my home security system. It turned out to be a moth buzzing the cameras. Second, news coming out of Milwaukee that riots are taking place because of the escalated national violence and sensitivities that mark the day.

It strikes me that the polarization we are undergoing as a nation is nearing the point of no return. It seems everyone is looking in the wrong place for leadership. Leadership starts with self.

When leadership is looked for through dependence it is never healthy. When we entrust others to define and implement our futures we subjugate ourselves. We must each define the future that we want to see for ourselves and it does not start with blowing up the system, but becoming part of the system.

I am privileged to work with many different associations to help them define their future paths and roles among their members. One thing remains constant, the newer members of the organization see the old guard and define the gap. The elder members see the gap as well, and their approaches to change rarely find common ground. The older members must seek to include the younger and benefit from their input and participation. The younger members must seek to engage and allow their voices to be heard. What typically happens is that the older exclude the younger, and the younger want to blow up the system. This leads to a passive-aggressive—or sometimes aggressive—struggle for change. This season of “Storming’” can be detrimental to the organization if not handled well. Each individual in such a situation needs to refrain from being part of a group voice and seek their role as a diplomat in that situation. The harmony in an organization is more important than individual need or agenda. But most people are sheep. They seek another’s leadership to get behind. I contend we all need to be leaders starting as leaders of one… self.

Back to our current reality…

While the nation struggles, I wonder how things would change if everyone would take a leadership role in their own life and not subjugate themselves to a group.

Are you waiting for a political party to solve your issues? A movement? A business? A house of faith? Another person? None of those people care for you like you do. They don’t wake up in the morning and think “I need to make sure Rick is well provided for today and feels a deep sense of security!” No, that’s Rick’s job. The world is cruel and doesn’t give a lick about Rick.

Until we are happy with ourselves and refuse to be dependent on a system or another, we will not be free to pursue self-fulfillment. Take stock, who do you depend on for your sense of purpose and wellbeing? If it is other than God and family you are not free and you cannot blame that on anyone but yourself. Lead yourself.

Here’s my final thought. What I am watching in Milwaukee today represents the moth in my home. I know that for the rest of the day that moth is going to fly around and activate my alarm system. So today, my alarm system is worthless. I will need to fight the tendency to ignore it because by ignoring it I am vulnerable. But I will, unfortunately, ignore the moth.

Anger Management

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverb 15:1

The trickiest of all human emotions, anger can be normal and healthy. Sometimes! It depends on its use. It can help us respond in threatening situations, fuel our motivation for achievement or dealing with injustice, or it can bankrupt us in a moment, leaving us empty and devastated.

So how do we manage such a tricky emotion? How do we use it for good and avoid the pitfalls?

In our realm as leaders, our environment demands an atmosphere of trust and collaboration. Anger management is crucial to longevity, productivity as well as for general health and happiness. It is highly appropriate that we learn to manage it well. Consider the following: A positive anger response helps us to react quickly and decisively to solve problems, achieve goals, and intensely focus on objectives. A negative anger response can ruin our career, damage relationships, harm our reputation and alienate us from our peers. During a negative anger response we must learn to recognize the signs that indicate a loss of control. Diffusing negative anger is never easy, but there are some concrete steps that help make it possible.

Duke University’s Redford Williams, MD, along with his wife Virginia, authored the best-selling book Anger Kills. They recommend creating a “Hostility Log” as we begin to responsibly handle our anger. The idea is that when we understand what triggers us and causes us to get angry, we are more capable of developing strategies to avoid the triggers.

Let’s look at some other positive steps.

Acknowledge That You Have a Problem – If you do have a problem, those around you see it clearly. Remember, that you will never be able to fix that which you refuse to see. A leader positively acknowledges his or her deficiencies so that they may be dealt with.

Use Your Support Network – Notice I said to use your support network and not find one. You have one already, those who love you are your best possible support. Furthermore, there are many professional avenues you can take, including your pastor or mentor. All of these services are eager to help, especially your family.

Interrupt the Anger Cycle – Pause, think, breath (deeply), tell yourself you can handle this situation, and stop the negative thoughts… Relax! This may seem ridiculous but it is not. Verbalizing your ability to handle the situation transfers what may otherwise be only a thought to a tangible, actionable affirmation.

Be Objective – Use empathy to put yourself in the shoes of the other party. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one is perfect, including you. Also remember that those mistakes serve to teach us how to be better people.

Find Humor in the Situation – Laugh at yourself. Think about how ridiculously you were about to act. Be proud of your ability to avoid looking foolish. Not everything in life should be taken seriously. Think about that YouTube video, the guy in the office who goes ballistic and trashes the place. It made you laugh, but at the same time you thought to yourself; “How pathetic!”

Build Trust – When we trust another we do not assume they have malicious intent in their actions toward us. By being trustworthy we release others to trust us in like manner. Angry people tend to be cynical so work on trust. If you think they are all out to get you, you will not be equipped to deal with integrity toward them.

Listen – In angry confrontations, or when someone has annoyed us, we tend to speak and not listen. We prepare our verbal comeback to their offensive statement. This often leads to a failure to actually hear what is being said, and to jump to destructive conclusions. Then, we lash out based on our faulty conclusions and escalate the situation. A wise individual listens!

Be Assertive – Assertiveness is not aggression. Assertiveness is preemptive. An assertive person will clearly define their expectations and boundaries. This empowers others to know where they may or may not go with you in their conversation or actions. The defining of personal boundaries does wonders in the realm of interpersonal success.

Forgive – Forgiveness is an amazing way to release hostility. One who forgives others shortcomings is one who brings peace, not only to others, but also to self.

Even if your anger is not to the point of being a problem, these steps are vital practices in relieving stress and avoiding the path that leads to anger issues. Know them, understand them, and if you do not need them, perhaps you can help another who does.