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Friday, October 28, 2016

Spiritual Wisdom

 My good friend, Bill Hendricks, MD, and I were discussing the blog on emotional intelligence. Bill said, “That was good stuff when it came out twenty years ago, but have you thought about spiritual intelligence? What characterizes spiritual intelligence?”

I immediately suggested the key to spiritual wisdom began with humility. One has to humble oneself to God. Bill suggested that before humility came surrendering oneself to God. I suggested that in this case humility and surrender were synonyms. He didn’t agree.

I proposed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as essential. Bill agreed.

Bill then suggested listening to God was the third criteria for spiritual wisdom.

He then provocatively suggested three types of grace. Classical grace is the unmerited favor of God. According to Bill another grace that God grants is awareness that we have made a spiritual error. He gave this example:

This morning when I was shaving I began thinking about my retirement party in eighteen months. Everybody would come and patients would discuss their experiences and I would discuss my thoughts about them. Suddenly God’s grace intervened and told me I was selfishly patting myself on the back. Instead I should be focusing on being in the present, my tasks for the day, and how I could grow closer to God today. This experience could be called a revealing grace.

According to Bill spiritual grace occurs after God exposes our selfishness and invites us to have a closer relationship with Him.

I felt that Bill’s evocative words were well worth sharing. Now, of course, Bill and I are no more theologians than the Pope is a hall of fame baseball player, but perhaps these ideas will stimulate your thoughts about spiritual wisdom.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, a former brain sciences editor of The New York Times, has written a follow-up book to his enormously popular, Emotional Intelligence. The sequel, Working with Emotional Intelligence, is based on studies done by dozens of experts in 500 corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. An examination of these studies asserts that emotional intelligence is twice as important as either IQ or technical expertise in predicting career success.

Here’s good news for all of us with average IQ scores:  Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence continues to grow with life experiences. Since emotional intelligence is essential to career success and leadership potential, let’s look at those areas that define emotional intelligence:

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand our moods, emotions, and motivations and their effect on others.

Knowing our emotional strengths and weaknesses can help us develop our talents while minimizing our defects. We can fully use our talents while working on improving our weakness. 
Here are some suggestions: 
  • Make a list of five strengths and develop them; make a list of five weaknesses and change them. Don't use the excuse, "Well, that's just the way I am."
  • Because we don't know what we don't know, we would do well to ask our best and most trusted friend to analyze our strengths and weaknesses.

Those with high emotional intelligence have the ability to control or redirect disturbing impulses and unproductive moods and to suspend judgment by thinking before acting. Self-regulation is marked by the following characteristics:
  • Trustworthiness and integrity. Trustworthy individuals follow the Golden Rule---they do unto others as they would have others do unto them.
  • Doing the right thing the right way.
  • Emotional flexibility and open mindedness.
  • Being comfortable with ambiguity. We must be able to make decisions based on the best evidence and understand that the only constant if life is change. 
  • Life-long learning.
  • The ability to manage disruptive emotions. We can  improve our frustration tolerance and control our impulses.

We have control over one factor—our minds. We are unable to control other people or events, but we can change our belief about people and events.

Events in our lives are not as important as our beliefs about events.
When storms flood our homes we can believe that we will never recover or we can choose to believe that we can overcome. 

Motivation is a passion to work and to pursue goals with energy and persistence for reasons that go beyond money or status. Motivation comes from the following traits:
  • A strong drive to achieve that comes from the desire to do our best with the talents and skills we have been given.
  • Optimism comes from the ability to view failure as a learning experience. Viewing failure as an opportunity to learn what doesn't work enables optimists to persist despite adversity.
  • The most successful individuals are able to subordinate their ego to the overall good of the entire team.

Many talented people waste their abilities because they remain inactive. If we keep the bat on our shoulders we will never hit a home run. 

Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions. Those with empathy possess the following skills:
  • The ability to help others feel important by listening carefully to what they say and by praising desired behavior. 
  • The ability to relate to all races and nationalities and to understand cultural differences.
  • Giving respect and affection to others.  

Rapport comes from proficiency in building relationships by finding common ground marked by the following:
  • Inspiring others to do what they don't want to do so they will become what they always wanted to be.
  • Encouraging others by catching people doing something right.
  • Finding what others want and then helping them achieve their goals.
  • Believing that just about everyone has something to teach each of us.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie first published in 1936 remains the absolute best book for developing social skills. 
Some people can jump higher and run faster than others. Some have better minds than others. Some have more musical talent than others. Not everyone will win. We will not receive equal prizes. Doing our best with our emotional intelligence is the best we can expect of ourselves. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Living Smart

We all know someone who scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT and flunked out of college by the second semester. That’s because success in college, and in life, has little to do with raw intelligence. 

IQ predicts success about 20% of the time. Behavioral scientists have discovered that 80% of success depends on emotional factors.

Harvard students from the 1940s—a time when there was a wider range of IQ at that school—were tracked into middle age. The high IQ men were not anymore successful than the lower in intelligence. 

Similarly, 450 boys from Boston slums were followed into middle age. Success in this social group was not dependent on intelligence. Ten years after 81 valedictorians and salutatorians graduated from their high school, only four were at the highest level of young people of comparable age in their chosen profession. 

Academic intelligence fails to predict how one will react to the vicissitudes of life. Psychologists gave col­lege freshmen tests to measure optimism. Four years later, the psychologists found that optimism predicted grades better than SAT scores or high-school grades.

In a Met-Life Insurance Company study, insurance executives hired a special group of applicants who failed the normal screening tests, but scored high on optimism. The first year on the job, the "dumb" optimists sold 21% more insurance than the "smart" pessimists. The second year, the optimists sold 57% more insurance than the pessimists. Dumb" opti­mists sell more insurance than "smart" pessimists.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Unadorned Enchantments

Following a thunderous rain my granddaughter, Lori, and I left the house to play in the neighborhood creek. We put two matchbook boats side by side in the stream. We ran as quickly as we could to the footbridge crossing the creek and watched the progress of the two little boats. 

Although these boats were identical in size and structure, one boat quickly sailed under our footbridge while the other boat bumped along slowly was caught in a hydraulic force and spit into an eddy where it stalled.

“Pop, how come that boat kept going and the other one got stuck?” Lori asked.

Wanting Lori to be the smartest kid in gym class I said, “According to scientists studying chaos theory, it’s due to deterministic non-periodic flow.”

“That’s what I thought,” replied Lori. “I think I’ll go ask Mimi.”

I never discovered Mimi’s answer, but Lori’s dilemma presents some difficult questions: 
  • Do we just spin through life like matchbox boats? 
  • Does the outcome of our life depend on the currents of fate or the structure of our life or something else? 
  • Are our actions determined? 
  • Do we have free will to sail the streams of our choosing? 
  • Why are our lives so unpredictable? 
  • Why does the kid voted most likely to succeed spend his life under a park bench while the class clown wins the Noble Prize?

I strolled home considering these questions. As soon as I stepped over the threshold of our home, the aroma of freshly baked cookies wafted from the kitchen where I found Mimi and Lori taking the first batch from the oven. “Have a cookie.” Lori said.  

Sometimes when we try to explain the unexplainable—nature and nurture, genetics and environment, normal and abnormal, we can thank God for oatmeal cookies.

And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a warm hug, an act of kindness, a word of encouragement, or the gentle touch of a loving hand, not to mention, sailboats, basketballs, violins, butterflies, and reading The Chronicles of Narnia to grandchildren before bedtime prayers. 

These and other simple pleasures, the nuances, the incongruities, the subtleties, are what give life value. They are the unadorned enchantments that frame our lives. 

That’s the best I can do to explain the wonder of human behavior. And so it is that a simple question from a child gives me the hopeful assurance of life’s richness for us all.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Breaking Home

After a friend told me her triumphant story, I asked her to write about her experiences in the hope that she could inspire others. A few weeks later I received nine single-spaced pages. She wrote how the task wearied and pained her. How “difficult it is to bare one’s soul.”  Yet at the same time, a powerful catharsis blessed her. We both pray that her experience will embolden others to walk away from abuse and enter a more peaceful world.
Among the rolling foothills of the Davis Mountains cradles a little-known West Texas treasure, the small town of Alpine, surrounded by ranches flowing with undulating waves of buffalo grass marked by grazing Santa Gertrudis cattle.

Felicity grew up on one of those green-grassed ranches. She rode the range, rounded up cattle, roped ‘em, and branded ‘em with her father by her side. She adored him with his tough yet tender ways and became deeply disappointed in herself when she failed to please him.

She excelled in rodeo barrel racing, but she was plump. Kids called her Fatty Filly, Sow Cow, and worse. In all of us those early childhood scars persist throughout a lifetime.

As ugly ducklings change into regal swans, dumpy little girls turn into beautiful princesses. High school days transformed her. Felicity reached every girl’s dream when she became a high school cheerleader and homecoming queen. She felt comfortable, befriended, and loved in Alpine. Following graduation she left her contained world for new adventures at the University of Texas.

Whoa! Every UT girl was a former cheerleader or a homecoming queen. Blond, blue-eyed, long-limbed girls with Pepsodent smiles and charm school ways populated the campus. Felicity felt smothered by confident beauties that breezed through calculus, composed flawless essays, and gave self-assured classroom speeches without a single stutter or an “and-uhh” hesitation.

Now you and I know that these template coeds don’t exist, but if you are from Alpine, or Dalhart, or Alto or any of the other small Texas towns all you see in Austin are the bold and the beautiful. You don’t see the flaws and the blemishes or the girls just like you, desperate to fit in.

You also see freedom. Her Zeta big sister introduced her to Tequila Sunsets and Sunrises. She liked them, but convenience soon made vodka tonic her favorite. A drink or two turned her life into a party, but once she had a drink she couldn’t stop.

Felicity’s first semester grades ended her sorority quest; her second semester earned her an academic pink slip. How could she return to Alpine? How could she face her beloved father? Her answer: a man. A man she had met in a 6th Street bar.

She was 18. Lester, handsome, fun, and romantic, had celebrated his 30th birthday. Felicity, grievously disappointed in herself, feeling inferior to her peers, surging hormones unrelieved, failed to see the warning signs. Lester was self-centered, controlling, and one bale of hay short of intelligent. After a two-month courtship Felicity married him.

She soon learned what Lester wanted: A pretty girl, a virgin, a Baptist, and most important someone who he could mold into a servant who cleaned his home, made his bed, cooked his meals, slept with him, gave him babies, and supported every decision he made. He ridiculed her in front of friends, blacked her eye, spit on her, and bullied anyone who inconvenienced or disagreed with him. Wine that she drank copiously and surreptitiously helped her endure.

In a few months her unexpected pregnancy interrupted her job search or thoughts of college re-enrollment. Her expanding girth and swollen legs escalated the verbal and emotional abuse.

Seven months pregnant, she packed a small bag, walked down the road to motel to call her parents. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t admit she had made another mistake by marrying Lester or tell them about the abuse. She was afraid Lester would kill her…or her parents. Her Baptist belief discouraged divorce. She couldn’t be the first in her family to end a marriage. Felicity had no money for the motel, no car, no way to escape. She returned home. 

Two years later another child was born. The children became her life. Lester’s frequent business trips brought temporary peace, but when he returned the abuse continued. School activities, PTA, and community service helped her suppress the foul verbal abuse. She wore long sleeved shirts and pantsuits in the blazing Texas sun to hide the bruises.

Finally, supported by her prayers and the Holy Spirit's presence, Felicity ignored Lester’s taunts about her ignorance and began to take courses at Austin College. Her good grades surprised her. Lester enraged by her success threw her across the room with such violence that she broke her left arm and three ribs. 

As she lay on the floor with their two 8 and 10-year old boys crying and screaming, “No, Daddy, no,” Lester sobbed for forgiveness. She refused. He left and slammed the door with such ferocity that one hinge detached, plants, china, and books flew off cabinets. Yet she stayed for two more years.

Why? Thousands upon thousands of women ask the same question each day. Why: Fear for their lives or those of their children, perhaps. No support. No money. No job. The continuous verbal and emotional abuses making them believe they deserve the beatings. Wretched self-esteem. Childhood sexual or physical abuse. The numbing effects of alcohol or drugs. A strange pitying love when their men whimper and plead for forgiveness. The yearning for resolution. The adventurous and fun-filled times.

Marriage counseling and encounters confirmed the marriage lie. She saw others living happily. Her children desired peace. She began to feel, with increasing fervor, the presence of God. Her department store work provided confidence…and some money. Finally after her manager screamed about her ignorance when she made a sale mistake, Felicity drove home enraged. The next day she filed for divorce.

After the divorce Felicity felt a strange, all consuming guilt. For an entire year Lester would call begging, pleading, sobbing for her to return. She felt pity for him, but remained resolute even though she continued to drink. She wrote:

“I wanted to teach from the time I was small. When my husband and I divorced, I knew I had to finish my degree and teach. My friends, supporters, and mentors helped raise my self-esteem and confirmed my conviction that I could be successful. While working, and raising two boys, I got my degree from Austin College with a double major in History and French. I was asked to teach French in several Austin high schools. My choice of West Lake was a great move.”

Felicity began dating man after man, looking for someone who would love her for who she was, not for what she gave. Her drinking escalated. At first she had wine at night. Soon she was putting liquor in her morning coffee.  She began watering down jugs of wine to hide her excessive drinking. She put bottles under her bed, stayed home from school more and more, and lied to protect her addiction. One day driving home from school she couldn’t find her house. Blackouts followed. Spiders appeared on her bedroom wall. Felicity continued to drink.

Staying home from school one day, drinking early in the morning, she phoned her father, an alcoholic too, who recommended Alcoholics Anonymous. That night, dressed in her finest clothes, she attended her first meeting. Most of the others there were uneducated, malodorous, tattered, and tattooed, making Felicity feel as out of place as Queen of Elizabeth branding cattle. But at the proper time, she stood and said, “Hi, I’m Felicity and I’m an alcoholic.”

Denial, excuse making, blaming are difficult to overcome. Replacing alcohol for AA strains self-belief: “I don’t fit in this group. I’m not like these people; I can stop anytime I want to; I don’t need help.”

AA, however, is more effective than a room full of psychiatrists or psychotherapists. Just going to meetings day after day. Just showing-up. Just listening takes effect.  At meetings one receives the support of those who know the difficulty of remaining sober and the value of sticking with the program. Over and over one hears AA mantras:

  • Attend 90 meetings in 90 days
  • Read the big book
  • Work the 12-steps
  • One day at a time
  • Get your sobriety chip
  • You are only one drink away from becoming a drunk again
  • Get a sponsor
  • Call someone when tempted to drink
  • Find new sober friends
  • Help others stay sober
  • Be pleased with your accomplishments while remaining humble about future challenges
All her life-long friends were, for the most part, alcoholics making it difficult to be around them. On a week hiking trip in Montana her old friend’s campfire drinking made sobriety miserable. Oh, how she wanted to drink with them.

Attending AA almost daily for the first six or so years of sobriety was crucial. As she developed new friends, cultivated her talents, became Christ centered, and had the Holy Spirit’s guidance Felicity began to attend meetings less and less. Now after over three decades of sobriety she no longer goes to meetings. Felicity warns, nevertheless, that almost all alcoholics do better when they stick to a lifelong AA plan.

As a child riding on the ranch, when fishing in the sparkling stream that ran through their land, when walking through the cedar that grew on their mountain hillside, Felicity felt the presence of the Holy Spirit—a warming of the heart, a tingling sensation of being loved. She wrote: “It was only when I drank that I lost any sense of God’s presence, though now, I realize he never left me. 

Soon after I joined AA the agonizing urge to drink occupied my mind and spirit. One night I had a terrifying vision of Satan. His deathly, dreadful, presence loomed over me, petrifying me. As his menacing apparition engulfed me, I screamed, 'In the name of Jesus Christ leave me.'

Satan vanished. I knew that Christ had intervened and saved me from the devil. I knew Christ was with me. He protected me. My urge to drink that night evaporated. 

Another time, I had a vision of a beautiful, radiant Jesus standing amidst feathery, alabaster clouds. I knelt before Him and accepted Him as my savior. There was warmth all around me, a surrounding glow that comforted me for several weeks. Christ gave me courage to continue my painful journey to sobriety."

To make enough money to send her sons to college, Felicity earned her Masters in School Administration from Southwest Texas State (now Texas State). After serving as a high school principle, she had saved enough money to follow a dream of designing and operating home entertainment functions. She knew that Austin’s high society would benefit from her special gift. Planning meals, designing invitations, arranging seating charts, hiring caterers, finding the proper musicians, and all the other details that make home entertaining successful was a difficult but fun and rewarding task. When her back gave way ending her business she wrote three books on entertaining at home.  

After many years she found the man she sought. A childhood rodeo friend she hadn’t seen for thirty years walked into the Big Bend Regional Medical Center hospital room where her mother lay dying. They began dating. Sam’s rugged good looks, his kind consideration for her family, his abiding Christian beliefs and most of all his unconditional love for Felicity erased her lack of trust in men. She calls her husband a renaissance man, a man for all seasons.

The Holy Spirit’s almost inaudible whispers gave her the courage to leave an abusive relationship. Earning two college degrees helped rub out “stupid,” words that Lester shouted year after year. The courage of her God allowed her to find a man who loved her and a man she could love in return.

As Felicity and Sam sat in the rocking swing on the old homestead’s veranda, she watched her 10-year old grandson, Clint, riding a colt in a distant pasture. When they crested a hillside, he turned the gelding and the horse bolted for home, Clint bouncing from side to side to side, almost slipping off the saddle, holding on, then almost falling again before getting his balance, leaning forward in rhythm with the colt as they glided toward the barn. She wrote:

“…. What a metaphor for my life. Now, after all those rocky years, I’m home again gliding along with a man who loves me, and with my Lord and my God cradling me in the saddle. Jesus Christ has brought contentment and joy to my life. Everything I have now, my blessed sons, their children, great grandchildren, dearest friends, home, a loving husband, are a gift from God, and I thank him for leading me to sobriety and opening my eyes to the real treasures of the world, all those positive things not found in a drink of alcohol.”