Dear Sir or Madam, Would You Read My Book?

The world has changed. It’s too early to tell if that’s for the better or not, but there’s no denying it has changed. So too has the world of work. As with most shifts we experience in the business world, people are speculating, posturing, and predicting in order to give our new working environment definition and structure. Most of it is trying to reflect the obvious with words like “dealing with”, “managing” or “measuring” the remote workforce. You’ll also see pieces on “managing the effort to return to work” and “what policies do we need now?”

You see, work has changed . . . but we haven’t.

At a time when HR stepped forward to lead through all that landed on us throughout 2020, we are quickly falling back into the patterns which have limited us for decades. We were quick to be agile and adaptable, but now that we’ve been in a continuous crisis response mode for over a year, we want to return to limiting and restricting work in order for it to fit into various compartments of control. We need to move forward. We need to step out, and we need to lead !!

Last year, right in the middle of everything hitting the fan, I released my second book; HR Rising !! From Ownership to Leadership. I wrote it as a call for our profession to step out of the shadows we have so willingly stayed in for far too long. Ironically, the book was complete and sent to publishing before the world turned upside down.

It was reassuring to me to see HR step up and lead last year and show organizations that ALL issues in companies are people issues. To be relevant and sustainable in the present, and the future, companies need to become people-centric in order to perform and not only in response to a series of global crises. There were countless examples of how Human Resources pros showed the value of empathy, consistency, equity, social responsibility, and genuine focus for the care of employees.

This should be a springboard for us and not just a moment in time. When I wrote HR Rising it was a call for the profession to embrace change and move forward. It was a challenge to no longer settle for a traditional approach to culture, employee relations, and the overall practice of HR. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be a vital, integrated business function ALL the time. It is not a stretch for us to lead from the positions we currently hold, and I feel we are called to do so.

Just think what our companies will look like and how meaningful work would be if we switched to a focus on development, encouragement, and equipping staff. How exciting would it be for you to drive strategy, organizational change and see an engaged workforce because HR leads the way? Not just now, but all. the. time.

We can’t think that we can continue to practice HR the way we have. It’s outdated, and if we don’t move now, we will be as well. I wrote this book to change the profession that I love. The profession that I intentionally plan to grow with for the rest of my career. I ask you to check it out and see how you can evolve in how you practice HR. I ask you to choose to lead. Let’s reshape the profession and the world of work so people-centric cultures focused on performance, resilience, and vitality become our norm !!

The title of the post came from four lads whom I have always found to be revolutionary. And now, it’s our time !!

I Will Follow

I don’t know if you knew this, but I am a gigantic fan of the band U2 !! I am pretty sure I have their entire catalog of music including some pretty rare bootlegs. I am even fortunate to have a signed copy of their classic album The Joshua Tree hanging in my office at work. They launched as a group during my mid-teens and I couldn’t get enough of them (still can’t). I’d honestly love to meet them in person just to chat and share a pint. It’s on my bucket list. So, if anyone reading this can hook me up . . .

This weekend I was listening to U2-X Radio on Sirius XM when I was reminded of a significant anniversary the band was celebrating. Their first album, Boy, was released 40 years ago !! It’s hard to grasp that so much time has passed. It still stands as an incredible first release. The band members were just entering their 20’s and I was 16. I couldn’t believe that these guys were my peers (in age). The first single from the album was the first track – “I Will Follow.”

When it comes to following, we’re hesitant. We’re taught to lead and/or be independent at all costs. Following is perceived as weak when it comes to organizations or social media. In a time when society values self-promotion almost more than any other facet, it’s easy to see why people stand alone. Put on top of this that following is difficult because we tend to distrust others. That may sound harsh, but there seems to be some invisible gauntlet people need to pass through before they are accepted by others. Some caution may be warranted and no one should put themselves in harm’s way. However, when we assume the worst in someone before interacting with them, we’ll get what we expect.

Another factor that causes us to pause is that we tend to give our attention to those who are more visible and vocal. We tell ourselves we can’t be “like them”, so we hesitate in connecting. Countless lists that promote a select few folks doesn’t help with this comparative lens either. It’s humbling to be recognized for your contribution, but not at the expense of keeping others from participating.

When Twitter first started years ago, an activity called “Follow Friday,” which is denoted by the hashtag #FF, was very popular. It got people to connect, and since the platform was new, people regularly sent out tweets with recommendations of others to connect with. It was fun and gave the forum energy. It also opened your eyes to others in your profession that you most likely would not meet in person. It expanded your network, your reach, and your perspective.

As with most things, time erodes our interest. Those that were active when Twitter launched are less active now. Not all, but many. I was bummed about that because I’ve been active on Twitter for 12+ years now. I continue to find new folks in HR around the globe. I learn new things, hear new voices and see a desire for a profession that wants to collaborate and come together to improve the workplace for employees.

I haven’t given up on #FF and still send out a barrage of tweets every few weeks to keep the HR community connected, vibrant, and interested. The point of this effort is not so people focus on me or a select few. In fact, I type out each tweet every time and don’t program or automate them. Each of these accounts is a person, a peer, and someone I am grateful to be connected to. The recommendations include those who have different outlooks and opinions because I feel it’s important to surround yourself with diverse thoughts, cultures, and backgrounds. A dear friend of mine, Perry Timms, recently wrote about “fellowship not followership” which encourages folks to join together as a fellowship that isn’t focused on a single person or a few people. I dig this very much and am fully into seeing this happen in HR and business across the planet.

I’d encourage all of us to look at connecting. I know it’s a common theme you hear from me, but I believe in continuing to push forward. There are so many amazing people in our field !! Each time I do a #FF I get tweets back from people who are talented, passionate and eager to follow each other as well. I still get geeked to see a new professional join social media, a new podcast which elevates thought and causes us to stretch, or a new blog that gives a platform for someone to share their thoughts and ideas. I hope you connect. I hope you follow. I hope you build fellowship.

And, of course, I need to celebrate that anniversary I mentioned earlier !!

Lost in Transition

Have you ever been between jobs and unemployed? It sucks. There’s no greater truth. Throughout my 30+ years of my career, I’ve been in transition twice when I wasn’t working in HR. I wanted to spend some time on this topic because I’m seeing a very unsettling trend. Even though there are millions of people who are unemployed, little is being done to help them.

I’m not talking about social assistance or making a political statement. We need to step back, be reflective, and evaluate this situation because we can make a difference in the lives of others if we choose to. The reality in our lives is that we may genuinely feel bad for those who are unemployed, but we expect them to buck up and shoulder the work (and it IS work) to find a new job. If we were honest with ourselves, we’re concerned if we’re personally employed first and foremost. I understand that and it is important because you want to be able to provide for yourself and those you support. Don’t you think that the same sentiment is important for those in transition as well?

Being in transition is draining, frustrating, and stressful. Like it or not, much of how we define ourselves is through our occupation. If you don’t think that’s true, take note of the first question most of us ask, and receive, when we meet someone for the first time. It’s, “So, what do you do?” We ask about their work and employment. It shouldn’t be the first things we ask, but that’s for a different post.

After time, people in transition lack the confidence, energy, and initiative to keep plodding on. They feel isolated and may even feel like a failure. It isn’t true, but no words of encouragement can breakthrough. The emotional toll that hits people in transition is significant. They may not share it with you, but it’s present and makes any job search of any length even more challenging.

Now, this is the point in most HR blogs where there are tips and tricks for jobseekers including effective networking, resume construction, how to use social media, etc. There are several people who have solid insights and suggestions which can be referenced and used. I want to offer a different suggestion that falls outside giving people more work in order to find work.

Ask those in transition one question – How can I help you?

That’s it. It sounds simple but it will call for you to make a commitment that requires consistency, follow-through, and being willing to put others ahead of yourself.

We don’t do this as often as we could. As HR professionals, we should have more natural connections with our peers and other employers than any other profession. Since that is the case, how can we be more intentional in making connections for people? I’m not talking about filling openings in your own organization. I’m talking about helping people in transition just because you can !!

I’ve been facilitating an in person HR Roundtable for 20+ years. It pains me that we haven’t been able to meet in person for several months due to the pandemic. Several years ago, a peer of mine came up to me after one of our meetings and asked if I’d consider putting people’s resumes out on a table at the back of the room. I was a bit confused. I explained to him that this was an “HR” Roundtable, and he countered without hesitation, “Then why wouldn’t the people who work with people help others? It seems natural to me. By the way, I’d like to put my resume out too.” I was floored and embarrassed by the oversight.

The next month we set up a resume table and have had one ever since. We also allow anyone in transition to attend regardless of their background. I opened up the forum for two reasons. First, HR professionals need to realize we are businesspeople first. We should embrace that and own it. Secondly, people in transition needed a way to show they are talented, smart, and willing professionals who just happen to be between gigs. It’s not uncommon to announce at the end of roundtable gatherings that several people have found jobs.

You see, people need to get healthy emotionally before they land again. YOU can be the person who helps them along that path !! This week, reach out and talk to those who are looking for work that are in your sphere. It may be a neighbor, a friend’s spouse or partner, or a stranger. (Yes, a stranger.)

We can be the solution to helping others find themselves and stop them from being lost in transition. I hope you take this to heart and reach out a helping hand. It only takes one question . . . How can I help you?

Lessons from Lava Lamps !!

If you’ve read this blog for any time, or if you know me personally, I’m pretty much a hippie. Now, I don’t have the “look” much anymore, but I do have the vibe. I’ve always related to the general positive approach to life that embraces people for who they are and where they are in life. I dig tie-dye as a personal fashion statement even though it went out of style decades ago. It’s a natural choice for me.

One of the iconic items from this approach to life is the lava lamp. I remember seeing them in a neighbor’s house when I was a teenager. I was fascinated by the warm glow and the globs of liquid moving up and down the colored water. He was a stereotypical kid of the 70’s with his room filled with blacklight posters, incense, and a bead curtain that hung at the entrance to his room. I felt at home and have held onto this fascination with this simple, decorative item.

As a confession, I have four lava lamps in my office and three more at home. I was even given one this past Christmas as part of a secret Santa exchange. It has a Bluetooth speaker in it which you can stream through as it’s glowing and moving !! It’s epic. I love having the lamps on, and they are the first switches I throw on when I hit my office door.

Now, this may sound a bit “out there,” but I think we can take lessons from lava lamps which apply both to practicing HR and in interacting with people. You see, by themselves, lava lamps are fairly non-descript. There’s a metallic base and cap at the top of a tapered cylindrical piece of glass. The liquid inside may be clear or colored, but it is nothing more than a filled tube that is basically inanimate.

Sitting motionless at the bottom of the liquid is a chunk of some colored waxy goo which could honestly be a candle. The lamp will be another piece of furniture unless you take a simple action. You need to click the switch to turn on the lightbulb which is hidden in the base of the lamp !! That simple motion will give this throwback novelty the energy it needs to bring it to life.

The waxy substance will start to liquefy due to the heat and, over a few hours, it will start to separate and move to form ovals of various sizes which float to the top of the lamp and slowly glide back down. Once it’s fully heated, the lava lamp sets the mood of movement, peace, and calm. It’s fulfilling its purpose.

What does this obsession with lava lamps have to do with HR and interacting with people? Everything !!

Too often we sit inanimate in our offices just waiting for some tragedy to unfold. Too many HR pros feel their only reason for existence is to be called upon when some uncomfortable employee relations issue arises. We begrudgingly jump into action well after we could have been involved. This becomes our general approach to work and HR is seen in a negative light throughout the organization. We shrug and take on the burden of what we feel is our calling and we’re miserable. Makes you want to go into HR, doesn’t it ??

It never has to be this way. If you took a new approach and saw the amazing people around you like lava lamps, you could take the simple action of flipping their switch to turn on the lights that are hidden inside each of them. It may take hours, or much longer, for them to warm up to you. But, take heart, they will because each of us is looking for the intentional move by someone to acknowledge and value that we exist and want to contribute. At times, we make HR far too complicated and hard. Each person in your organization wants this uncomplicated act to occur every day.

What would your company look like if every person knew they had value, were cared for, and were believed in? Trust me, it would transform the world of work as we know it !!

So, this week instead of falling into the mindless pattern of task and compliance which you think defines you and how HR is accomplished, flip the switch on the lives waiting for attention all around you. Go out and get a lava lamp !! Put it on your desk wherever you’re working now and turn it on every day as a reminder that you can be the spark which brings life to others. Click !!

Choose If/Then

One of my favorite activities around the house is to mow my lawn. I mean it. I enjoy it because it takes between 2 to 3 hours to do it. I’m a bit old fashioned in that I walk to mow. It’s incredible excercise which allows me to let my thoughts wander and have a good think.

As I was dripping with sweat this weekend taking my weekly lawn mowing jaunt, I was pieceing together something that has been troubling me lately with how people are choosing to interact in person, on line and through the media. More and more it seems that we are becoming an “either/or” society. Every situation and every issue tries to be dissected into two sides. The sentiment that is prevailing is that I either need to believe in what you believe, or I am adamantly against you.

It doesn’t help that we get snippets of information, or opinion, and we call that “news.” News that infuriates most and raises the temperature with every story that is shared. In looking at this, it shocks me how we take these tidbits of information and form full fledged approaches to our daily living. We have become so self-consumed and self-focused that anything happening around is also is either for us or against us.

I have never been comfortable with being presented with only two choices in life. To think that the amazing, complex, intricate and ever-changing world we live in can be simplified into such concrete black and white terms seems constricting and narrow. Truth be told, I think people want an “either/or” pattern in life because we don’t like variability. Each day we think our existence is to trod to work to fix everything because it’s ALL broken. (That’s not true, but we like to think it is because that’s how we find purpose in our work. That’s for another post some day.)

People also want to be “right” and have some sense of control. Uncertainity gives us the shakes and we want things defined. Change is our enemy even though change occurs whether we want it to or not. I’d like to offer a different approach to implement when it comes to facing each day.

Choose an “if/then” approach.

If you remember geometry, you had to figure out mathematical proofs using if/then statements. What this did was take the situation/circumstance/fact you start with and say, “If this . . . then that.” The then statement would give you options to consider. This method gives you the opportunity to take an objective look at things as they come forward.

A few weeks ago, my wife Debbie and I went on an Art Walk in Elk Rapids, Michigan. It was a meandering trail through a local park where artists had created and displayed their work. You had a flyer which led you from piece to piece and it was very cool and relaxing to see. The canopy of the trees provided a break from the heat and you could hear the rustling of leaves, the chatter of squirrels and the various calls of birds. It was a true escape. One of the sculptures we saw was called “Peace Signs” by Scott Froschauer and it captured my attention both because of the message as well as the if/then thinking. I was grateful to have a break from my normal overly full life to take this hike and discover a message that rang true with me. Normally, I would be consumed with the day-to-day pull for my energy and attention and may have missed this literal signpost which caused me to pause.

This coming week what would happen if you adopted some if/then approaches to all you do both at work and at home? Here are some I’ve been trying:

✦ If I take time to talk to my neighbors more intentionally, then we may have a true neighborhood.

✦ If I make sure to interact with my peers at work all the time, then we would communicate better and not just meet because of “issues.”

✦ If I choose to listen to those who disagree with me, then I may learn a new perspective to consider.

✦ If I encourage others on purpose, then they may have a better day then they were expecting.

The opportunities are endless. The key to an if/then approach is that it focuses on action and movement. I choose to do this so I can be positive regardless of the constant push of darkness, gloom and cynicism which keeps trying to swallow us all.

If you’ll take this new approach, then think of how each day you have will be better for you and those around you !! Peace.

We All Have Stories To Tell

This past week my wife and I ventured out and went on vacation. We toured the north and west coast of Michigan and it was fantastic !! Yes, things have changed, but we felt safe and were safe ourselves. We liked seeing people adapt and still be able to enjoy the small towns, the sprawling sand dunes off Lake Michigan and countless lighthouses. (Quick aside – I’m a HUGE fan of lighthouses, but that’s for a different post.)

On the drive back, we were able to stop by and visit my parents. Any time I get to spend with them is something I cherish. They hadn’t seen Debbie since the beginning of March so this visit was even more special. I’ve written often about my hometown of Ada, Ohio where my parents still reside. This is because it offers a break from the maniacal pace of life that seems to swallow us in our “regular” daily routine.

Every time I visit, there’s always some task or chore that needs attending to. I’m glad to pitch in because I’m fortunate to have two of the best parents on the planet !! Yes, I’m biased. However, I see them show grace, support, encouragement, humor and hospitality to everyone they encounter. They continue to be great role models to learn from.

One special surprise for them was that I brought them a signed copy of my new book, HR Rising !!, for them. It’s funny that I still get butterflies in my stomach when I get to share accomplishments and moments from my life and the lives of my wife and kids with them. It’s like still beaming when they’d put a school paper up on the refrigerator. I was nervous because I dedicated the book to them and they didn’t know that. My mom read the dedication and started to tear up which made me tear up as well. We’re a very openly emotional family which is another thing I cherish.

She shared with my dad that the book was dedicated to them and he smiled. You see, my dad is almost blind now in his old age. He has been a diabetic for almost 60 years. I’m fortunate that he’s still with us, but each year another aspect of the disease limits another area of his daily existence. He’s not saddened by this. He is grateful he’s lived as long as he has because he’s been fighting the disease long before the great advances that are currently available.

As we continued to share the details of our vacation, I mentioned that in the book, the introduction was about an encounter, or “life lesson” as my dad called them, between my father and I some decades ago. My mom and wife said, “Why don’t you read it to us?” I got shaky. Now, you need to know that I am an avowed extrovert who rarely shies away from any chance to express myself. But, reading a story to my dad just hit me.

The story is about a time when he was still fit, hard working and able to figure out any situation which involved work with your hands. He had grown up on a farm and had been able to do literally any type of home repair. As I sat on the couch to read, he scooted his wheelchair up closer and said, “I want to be close to hear you. Now, don’t mumble.” This was typical of dad – always coaching.

I told him that this is how I remember the story, so hang in there. As I opened my mouth to start, the tears poured down my face. Here I was sitting in front of the father I love and admire and reading him a story I wrote. I’m sharing something that we experienced together and it’s captured on a written page forever. It really impacted me that I, his child, was reading to his parent.

I struggled to read the story and the pages because the whole time I was wondering how he would take it. I didn’t want him to feel misrepresented or seen in a bad light. That’s not how the story goes by the way. When I finished, he beamed and laughed about how everything had happened. It was a moment I will always hold dear and it was the perfect end to our vacation.

Whose story can you tell? Do you see the people around you as part of your life story? Could you take time to invest and pour into others for simply a few moments of your day? How do you think it would go if you showed kindness by intentionally spending your time with others this next week?

You need to remember that every person is part of your story. Therefore, pay attention to everyone and let them help write the fabric of life around you. Tell them your story and that they are a part of it. Let them know they are a meaningful part of your life. It matters.

To Dream . . .

If you took a poll right now in workplaces, the title of this post might be “to survive” or “just exist.” It’s tough right now. The work environment is being tested and challenged in ways it hasn’t in our lifetime. You have those who have been working remotely for months that have altered their living space, their schedules and their approach to work. There are also people who have been working ever since the pandemic began and haven’t missed a beat. Even though that has been the case for them, “work” doesn’t look like it used to. Unfortunately, there is also a very large number of people who are in transition and are not working. Any time that occurs you face personal, professional and economic obstacles while you’re trying to successfully land once again.

Each day is consumed with extenuating circumstances that have very little to do with the role we are expected to perform. The stress levels are higher and people are more emotional than I can remember. Throw on top of all this the constant level of uncertainty that seems to hang over everyone like a constant shadow. What can we effectively do in these challening times ??

We can dream.

“What?” you may think. Is it possible to break out of the mire and darkness that is trying to swallow us? Yes, it is. And, I’d also throw out there that we all need to gather ourselves to see how we can once again be creative in who we are and what we do.

Please note I’m not suggesting that you dream just to be aspirational. I feel it’s a great time to expand our approach to HR, people practices, workplace culture and how we conduct business. It would be a shame for us to just try to wait things out in the hope that things would return to “normal.” We all need to come to terms with the reality that the world of work has changed. It won’t, and shouldn’t, be the same any more.

The dreams I’m asking you to consider need to lead to tangible action both within your organization and in the profession of HR as a whole. This will take incredible effort to pull yourself out of all that’s going on. Your mind will tell you that you don’t have the energy or the time to come up with anything new. The pull will be immense and it will be easy to stay where you are, but fight it and dream.

I don’t want to be presumptuous and tell you to incorporate your new ideas in any particular area because each of you has a vast landscape of opportunities. Even if the topic was the same, the factors of each person and workplace would be different. Instead of looking to mimic someone else’s practices, step out and make something that fits you, your people and your company.

Look at every facet of an employee’s experience and see if it can be improved. There’s room for growth all around you. The key is to dream. You can. It’s time. We’ve been brought to the forefront of leadership over the past few months. Don’t let this time pass.

Lift your eyes up, be encouraged and dream. I’m geeked to see what you’ll create !!

Discipline(d)

I’ve been trying to read more and listen to more podcasts because I enjoy hearing the perspectives of others. My hope is to learn from what they are experiencing. In the midst of this when I listen to the HR voices, I see a common thread of reverting to creating and developing mountains of policies in order to address the current work environment and situation.

There are blogs and webinars about Return to Work policies. Now that we’re seeing that uncertainty is becoming more of the norm, there are more calls for discipline and punishment for those we KNOW are falling outside the boundaries we expect them to stay in. We keep striving for control and a lack of variablity in a time when variability is the norm !!

If you lead with “policy” as your first step, then I contend you’re completely missing the people aspect of your work. This is more reflective of how your company, and HR, truly view those who are your “greatest asset” on every mission statement adorning every company lobby. It continues to astonish me that people feel if we punish, address and confine people more tightly, then we’re sure to get the behavior we expect.

This has NEVER worked, and it NEVER will !!

I can already hear the traditionalist espousing that without stringent policies for every aspect of a person’s work life, abject chaos is sure to occur. They’re already listing one hundred HR horror stories of what happened when policies weren’t forcefully enacted. That has been their experience when working with people. This is flat miserable HR in my opinion, and I want to offer a different way to look at how discipline could occur in your organization.

Be disciplined first yourself.

It sounds simple and trite, but it takes incredible effort and energy. People struggle with being personally disciplined. We have no problem citing chapter and verse and then eagerly running to grab the form we spent days creating to make sure it was perfect in every possible way so we can enforce what is truly needed to maintanin order. That is simple.

Being disciplined yourself calls for you to be consistent, approchable, and willing to coach up rather than punish. There are many other ways to be disciplined physically, emotionally and spiritually. What I’d like you to consider is being displined yourself so you have to discipline others less.

Let me ask you this . . . Do you interact with others because you “can” or because you “have” to? Do you only spend more than 30 seconds with someone because of some assumed problem? Do you spend time with people because they’re great humans who come to work every day to do their best?

The number one reason I’m in HR is that I have the joy of being with people every day on purpose. That’s not some idyllic motivational aspiration. It’s a fact. People are amazing, messy, wonderful, challenging, inspirational, curious beings who seek to add value and be acknowledged – just like you are. We forget that everyone is a person.

You see, by being self-disciplined in how I view others, I can see the best in them. By working on being consistent, intentional and approachable, I can enter any interaction between two or more people with confidence. The approach is to have a conversation and assess what’s in front of us. If someone has gone out of bounds, then I coach them back in. Along with that I explain that if they choose to keep going out of bounds, there will be consequences.

I understand the need for parameters and definitions for how to work well, and I believe in them. What I don’t believe in is an archaic system built on punishment. I know people will disappoint me just as I could disappoint others. However, making the time to invest in others to learn who they are, what they’re interested in and how they’d like to perform well leads to a culture where hard core disciplining of others diminishes. It does.

When people know they’re valued by you and the organization, they are more likely to perform.

What would HR look like for you if you followed the expectation of pouring into others because they came to work that day? No other reason. You intentionally interactied with everyone you encountered just because. No agenda. No yearn to get in, get out and get back to your other tasks. Instead, you made the time to converse because you could. If you have to jump into a conversation more around the work at hand, fine, but don’t make that the reason you start the conversation.

I’m telling you if you developed this discipline, you’d start to believe in others and expect they would give their best. HR would then become the profession you’d always hoped it would be !!

This week start being discipline(d) yourself and see people for the great contributors they always have been !! You’ll soon be astonished how full and rich your days become.

Untangle the Knots !!

I don’t know what the weather has been like where you are, but it’s been extremely hot and humid where I live. It’s the kind of humidity that feels like you’re constantly swimming through thick steam. Even though it’s so moist and sticky, life continues and chores need to be tended to around the house.

I live in the suburbs and am fortunate to have an 1/2 acre lot with very mature trees. Our house seems to be an animal sanctuary because we have birds of every sort, squirrels, rabbits, and deer. We don’t have a “wooded” lot, but we still regularly get deer who travel through to eat the bird seed and chew on different vegetation. We are trying to grow two types of tomatoes and some green peppers in planters out on our back patio. The tomato plants were full of the first round of tomatoes, and I was set to harvest them the following day when they were all gone !! I’m sure our friendly deer had a nice snack.

We don’t mind having the deer come through because we had babies born each year for the last four years. I saw a new fawn just yesterday and we’re geeked that another new life has joined us. I did want to try to also enjoy our vegetables, so I went out to put a fence up to surround all of the plants. The fencing and the posts went up easy enough and I had some twine to secure the posts to the fencing. When I tried to get enough twine to cut pieces for the many posts, all I found was one giant knot. It took forever to even find an end to work from.

I started finding an end and then decided to take the time to remedy this giant intertwined mess. Did I mention it was hot? I was determined. I stood with the sun beating down on me trying to untangle the knot so the twine could be used for it’s given intention. As I slowly worked loop after loop through each other, my thoughts made me feel that this situation was very similar to everything that is going on around us.

People are all in knots over a variety of large scale, societal issues on top of all of the knots I’m sure they’re facing in their personal life. When we get bound up we don’t like it. We respond in a few ways to try to get things back in order. We fight against each strand which inevitably leads to more and more knots magically forming. Everything seems to constrict into tighter and tighter circumstances. Another response is to stop moving. The entanglement seems too daunting and we don’t have the energy to address anything, so we stay put. The third response is to just cut the knotted section out. Instead of trying to work through things, we hit a point where we feel that just cutting the knotted section out will fix everything. It never does.

I heard Trevor Noah the host of The Daily Show make an astute observation that he feels Americans look at things from only two sides. There’s only one choice or another, and when we only have those options they are automatically pitted against one another. We have lost sight of nuance and the inherent variety we have as people. When we limit our choices in life to either/or then we are doomed to become entangled and knots start forming. Our reactions are then in front of us – try to work it out, stop moving or just cut those that disagree with us out of our lives.

To be specific in today’s climate I agree that racism shouldn’t exist in any form in our communities, our workplaces or our approaches toward each other as humans. Also, we all want to feel safe, healthy and for the pandemic to end. Fear and uncertainty seem to be the prevalent leading emotions to every conversation and interaction. My hope is that we see that even in these difficult times, there is room for nuance, dialogue, opinion, action and diversity. There is no one way to address these items. There are a myriad of approaches and I’m encouraged that people are trying to take steps forward.

I was reminded of an Ernest Hemingway quote from his book, The Old Man and the Sea, which felt like it fit all that’s in front of us these days. Here it is . . .

One of the main causes of the knotted experience I’m seeing between people is that we focus on what we don’t have currently in place. We don’t look at our circumstance and environment and see what we can do with what exists. I think we need to find the end of the twine and work together to see how we can come together to untangle the many knots facing us.

I am willing to stay open minded to hear from others because they’re perspective may get one loop, or many, free and help us make progress. The key is knowing that this isn’t a program only in response to heightened emotions. It’s the first step in both moving forward AND connecting us more intentionally.

This week take a look at where knots are happening for you at home, at work, with your family and with your friends. Reach out and say that you’d like to do what you can to untangle the knots. You’ll be glad you did !!

Hello in There

This on-going pandemic is pressing in on people from all angles. It is causing distrust, angry comments, judgement and assumptions. People run the spectrum from full lockdown to unprotected flaunting. Throw in the middle of this that we have lost the ability to seek context or have discussions anymore. People take a thread of information or an image and make comments based on where they stand on an issue insisting that others absolutely agree with them. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t feel like we can treat each other as people anymore. We have decided to judge people based on taking sides.

Honestly, I feel people are doing this because they care. I don’t think its malicious or mean spirited (in most cases). People want to be seen and heard. This isn’t a new sentiment. It just happens to be front and center in almost every interpersonal interaction. I wanted to frame how I’m seeing, and experiencing, communication before sharing a story. It’s a story that has more meaning now to me than it did ever in the past . . .

A few weeks ago, my daughter came home to visit and see her friends. They discussed this beforehand and made sure they were being responsible where and when they met. She felt compelled to come back because one of her dearest friends just got engaged and she wanted to congratulate both of them in person. Since I had her home, I did what I had been taught – use her help with chores around the house. My daughter has always been fit and athletic and I could use her muscles to get some things attended to. We had a ball fixing a split rail fence, visiting the hardware store all masked up multiple times (because you never get everything on the first trip), and catching up on how life is going.

When she got back to her home in Indianapolis, she texted, “Dad, I’m becoming like you because you fix things for your mom and dad when you go visit them.” I beamed through glistening eyes. The next phases of our lives were in process. The following weekend, I went home to Ada, Ohio to visit my elderly parents. I am the trustee of their lives now, and they can’t sign certain things without me present. Again, we checked with each other to make sure everyone was healthy and safe before I trekked north.

I made it up for the day and went to a bank to sign some papers. Here’s where reality hits. I drove my parents over to Kenton, Ohio which is about fifteen minutes away. They felt I was putting them out, but I reassured them I was fine and glad to be their Uber. As we arrived, we masked up and I needed to assist my father who walks with canes and can’t see well at all. My father is now legally blind, and I had to help guide him the one block to the bank. When we were signing papers, I gently guided his hand to the line on the forms to fill in his signature. I had to repeat what the banker was saying because my mom is losing her hearing. My dad is a talker and he likes to connect and spin a yarn with everyone he encounters. He tried to do that with the young banker, but he was disinterested and just wanted to get through the task at hand. I’m sure he wanted to leave the bank as quickly as he could to get back to the family activities he was anticipating for the weekend. I could see my mom was hurt that the banker was impersonal because that just isn’t who she is.

I was the mediator and kept things moving. I chuckled at my dad’s stories and memories because they’re really funny, and I reassured my mom that we were getting everything taken care of. We went back to their house, had an incredible meal of homemade potato soup with sausage links, and then headed to the project list for the day. My mom wanted me do three things: (1) Put a new rope on a flag pole out front so they can fly the American and Ohio flags, (2) Clean out the gutters and fix some seams, and (3) Install a window air conditioner in one of their rental apartments. No big deal – right?

We took each task one by one, visited the local hardware store where my mom has a basket filled with homemade masks, she sewed which are free to the citizens of Ada, and got everything completed by dinner time. We laughed, caught up on life and talked about my remaining aunts and uncles’ health. Dinner was special because we ordered carryout pizza from their favorite local haunt. I was spent after it all but drove home satisfied knowing that a few hours with my parents helped them close out tasks that were on their mind.

This pandemic has kept us away from each other which has allowed us to be safe and evaluate how we can better connect and interact. I feel that for too long the incessant, rapid pace of life made almost every encounter with people trite and trivial. We were too busy to invest our time in others. One of the fallouts of being apart has been that older people are isolated even more than they already were. Now that we’re trying to maneuver our way through how we’re going to be around each other again, we can’t go back to the brush by approach.

I hope we’ve realized that we’ve always had time for others. Now we have a chance to pour into people in a more constructive way. You need to realize you work with, and possibly live with, people who are aching to connect and be recognized. They want to talk, see you and share stories that may have no significant meaning to you but mean the world to them.

This coming week, I want you to stop and assess how you can make time for others on purpose. Are there elderly people who could use a smile and an hour of your time? You need to be safe and follow guidelines so that someone isn’t put at risk, but you don’t have to avoid others. Wouldn’t it be great to know that every person around you had someone check in on them? Wouldn’t it be amazing to know that every person in your life felt connected, not alone and cared for? Take the time to say, “Hello in there” and let people know that you’d love to spend some time with them.