Friday, 23 March 2012


ambivalence, [æmˈbɪvələns], ambivalency;
n.  the simultaneous existence of two opposed and conflicting attitudes, emotions, etc.

I don't buy a lot of the personality theories.  So, when I say that I'm a youngest kid, therefore I don't like conflict, I'm talking out of my butt.  But I am the youngest of my siblings, and I do hate conflict (so they must be related).

Ever since I heard the phrase, "Give me ambivalence or give me something else!" (which prompted me to google the word), I've had an idea what ambivalence meant; but it was my co-worker Andrew, the manager of operations, who introduced it to my vocabulary.  His theory is that, while it is good to have a balanced perspective, it is sometimes too much to ask of every employee of your company.  Therefore, our dispatchers job is to get our installations done on schedule at all costs - hire installers, push installers to their limits, and so on.  But our Warranty manager offers a counterbalance to him - pushing everyone to slow down and keep their quality up, and pressuring the dispatcher not to hire anyone whose quality is not up to snuff (which he doesn't).  These two contrasting interests create balance, even though each worker is able to focus and excel at their specific task.

This is on my mind because I did a radio interview today (yes I'm humble-bragging - it was exciting and made me feel very important).  A Red Deer City Councillor introduced a notice of motion to require all new homes in Red Deer to be built solar ready (with the guts behind the wall in place so they don't need to be renovated to run solar panel wiring to the electrical panel, should the homeowner wish to install solar panels later in the life of the home).  As president of the Central Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Home Builders' Association, I had to represent the inhibitions of our members to the media.  I won't get into the nitty gritty details, but here's the interesting part: It's started a heck of a conversation!

This isn't about that event.  I'm not writing an editorial.  What it's about is this: society works because we DON'T agree on everything.  We would have less strife if we all agreed on everything, but we'd never. move. anywhere.  When you get passionate people having animated conversation, we're airing all the dirty laundry.  We're hashing it out - laying it all on the table.  And neither of us will get our whole way, but (if we were smart to begin with), we'll all leave smarter, and with horizons that are a little broader than we had before we came together.

If I'm trying to be both sides of the argument at the same time, I end up being mediocre. And I can't learn nearly as much from just myself.  But when we create the forum and engage in the conversation, we get society's wheels turning, and we can really get somewhere.

So, does conflict make you uncomfortable?  Well, it should.  And there are some kinds of conflict that are not productive. But is there such thing as growth without discomfort? Only when you're backsliding on your diet.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

What I Think... I... Should Think About

Read a few sales or self-improvement books.  You don't need to read far before someone refers to Napoleon Hill's book, "Think And Grow Rich", one of the very first self-help, success how-to books.  I went and got the audio book from the library and listened to it for a couple weeks in my truck as I drove around. It kind of sat wrong with me.  Maybe I missed the point, but it seemed to me like his principle is, "if you think about money every minute of every day, you will find ways to make lots of money."

Okay.  Thanks for the stellar advice, Napoleon.

Although, if you zoom out to 5,000 feet, it makes a lot of sense.  I like the way the Bible puts it in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." That makes sense to me.  Because my life's purpose is not to get rich, it's to live a rich life.

So, with that said, I've been thinking about what makes my life feel rich.  More than that, I've been thinking about what I should be thinking about.  A lot of my posts have been about self-improvement - learning, growth, assimilating ideas, and so on.  But here's something we should all consider thinking about.

I've heard it said by a few self-help gurus, that it doesn't matter how close you come to saving the world if the people who mean the most to you think the least of you.  If you help everyone BUT your family, guess what?  You're still a jerk!  You are your spouse's only spouse.  You are your child's only mother or father.  Everyone else can find a replacement if you disappear.

So when I sit and blog and neglect my wife, am I becoming a better person, or a worse one?

A bunch of my co-workers are involved in a program called "Engaged Encounters".  It's pre-marriage counselling in a crash course session.  They're away this weekend hosting the course, and it makes me think - what a good thing to spend time thinking about!  Why not be downright nerdy about ways to keep your marriage interesting?  Why not be a marriage wonk?  Why not bore people by talking to them for too long about what you do to continually surprise your spouse and make him/her feel loved?  What better thing to be obsessed with?

My wife is amazing.  A-mazing.  She is smart, hilarious, and incredibly high capacity.  She has had to deal with some extremely difficult, ongoing challenges in her life that are out of her control. And yet she goes through them, restoring the smile on her face as quickly as possible, and choosing to see the funny side of life, rather than being the victim.  Truly, she is the embodiment of grace.  Not because she floats through life untouched by the strife around her, but because she occasionally gets flattened.  Flattened.  And yet she scrapes herself off the pavement time and again, choosing to embrace the joy in life instead of the injustice.  Not because its easy - in fact, it's the opposite.  But because love is better than loneliness, and she has love to give, and it would go to waste if she gave up.

So, lucky as I am to be married to such a strong and admirable woman, how is it that I take her for granted?  Why don't I wake up every day and shower her with gifts, praise, and love?  Beats me.

Maybe I'm out of practice.  But I think that needs to change.  And this is my challenge to all of you:  Get obsessed - get downright geeky about loving the people who are closest to you.  I promise you it will turn the relationships for the best.

Sadly, I can't speak from experience.  But that's why I'm writing this.  Ask me again in 6 months, and I'll do the same to you.  And lets see what its done for our lives.  Because again, the people that MEAN the most TO us, should THINK the most OF us.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Slacktivism, Moral Imperative, and Why Amanda Lindhout makes me feel guilty.

So, I'd imagine by now most of you have at least heard of the Stop Kony 2012 viral campaign that took over social media over the last couple days.  I haven't watched the 30 minute video, but I read the Wikipedia site on Kony.  He is truly evil, and it's important that people find out what is going on in the world, because someone who finds out about it will take it to heart and be instrumental in finally stopping him.

But let's make no mistake about it.  That is the extent of what we are doing when we share the video, or when we retweet a tweet.  We haven't changed anything.  We. Haven't. Done. Anything. My brother likes to call this Slacktivism.  It's like real activism, but with WAY less effort.   The most insidious danger of this is that people think that they have done their part just by retweeting or sharing, and their guilt is sated for another day.  It could actually stop someone from doing something meaningful if they're already feeling all self-righteous for getting behind the whole #stopkony thing.

Here's my question - the one that keeps me awake at night.  How do you watch a video like that, and then respond by 'sharing' it and forgetting about it?

Anyone heard of the Moral Imperative?  If you saw An Inconvenient Truth, you might remember it.  The principle is that, once you've been made aware of a problem so urgent, so important, it behooves you to do something about it.  You are actually morally obligated to act - you are being immoral by doing nothing.

Imagine being handed a note by a stranger that says, "My child is in danger! Please go to this location and you can save my child!"  Imagine that you respond by reading the note, feeling guilty, then passing the note to another stranger and forgetting about it to go on with your day.  That's deplorable!

Do you remember the story of Amanda Lindhout?  I have a story about her.  Ms Lindhout is from this area, and I've had a couple opportunities to hear her share a bit about her experiences being held in captivity in Somalia.  The wonderful thing about hearing her story is that she doesn't make it about herself.  She uses her compelling (and beautifully told) story to highlight what she is doing to help people from the same dangerous areas where she was abducted.  She showed a video at CrossRoads Church on a Sunday morning about the famine that was happening in Sudan, which showed children that SHE MET who were starving - families that had been cut in half on the pilgrimage out of the desert in hopes of finding food.  2000 people were in that room.  We were bawling.  I was moved to tears.  Those kids are the same age as mine.  The only difference is where they were born.

Full disclosure: I was one of the ones who was moved deeply, but did nothing.  This was probably 6-8 months ago. Ask me how I feel about that.

So here's the thing.  Our hearts are supposed to break when we hear stories like this.  But this isn't freaking Grey's Anatomy, people! We don't get to change the channel!  When you heart breaks (in real life), it ALWAYS leads to change!  Why?  Duh, cause it hurts!  We don't want it to break.  It doesn't feel good. So we change things to avoid having those things break our hearts again.  We make it better.

And everytime your heart breaks and you DON'T do anything about it, and it just scabs over again, you get a little more cynical.  A little more callous.  And you don't grow.

So, here's the next side of it, then.  Ms Lindhout is a beautiful example of someone who has taken her circumstances and grown from them.  She found herself in a unique position where she could make a difference that no one else could.  Even government sponsored charities couldn't do the aid work she was doing, because they couldn't be caught going into 'terrorist' zones to feed families.  When we see a tragic video about Africa, it doesn't mean we ALL have to sell everything and go to Africa.  It DOES mean SOME of us have to though.  You'll know if that person is you.  Because from the minute you find out about the struggle, you'll be dying inside till you go do what you're meant to do.

I heard a great speaker named Bill Hybels say once that if you want to stay passionate, you have to stay close to the thing that outrages you.  That you Just. Can't. Tolerate.  That will keep your fire alive.  We aren't all Amanda Lindhout.  We weren't all 'called' to Africa.  But we are all called somewhere.  What outrages you?  What are you uniquely positioned to do?  Do it!  Do something!  Do ANYTHING!

And about your unique position - where only you could make a difference?  I bet it doesn't have to do with the number of followers and friends you can retweet and share to.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


Okay.  First of all...

I know my wife is a fantastic writer who has spent the last few years really honing her voice and speaking her mind on her blog, but I didn't know that a little plug from the wifey on her blog would SKYROCKET my last post in readership, leaving all previous posts in the dust.  So, hi honey, and thanks!  However, I told the rest of you in my first post that if I'm doing this for affirmation, I'm going to stop.  So onward and upward we go.  Hope you're enjoying so far.

So, in my last post I talked about those people you may recognize who seem kind of... stunted.  I want to consider this a little further, because I don't think it only has to do with learning.  I know some very simple (read, un-learned) people who are very soft-hearted and easy to be around.  Conversely, I think that those dogmatic, impossible people are more than just bad learners.  Learning is a little too cerebral - I suspect there's more to it than that.

Let's call it growth.

Think about the people you know who have lived the most beautiful lives. The kind of people who you just want to watch.  Who you wish had written an interactive smartphone app that you could consult when going through life.  What sort of things do they have in common?  Likely something along the lines of humility?  Authenticity?  Wisdom?

Here's my theory:  They never stop growing.

Every time I go through a hard time in my life, and there have been a few, I get this pesky realization.  In my mind, as I'm going through something really challenging or difficult, this thought pops into my head that says, "you know, you can avoid this, and stay the same, or you can choose to Man Up, go straight through it, and grow."

I've really come to hate that voice.

I think growth is the sum of a few different parts. Let me hash them out:

1. Pain.  Anyone ever woken up as a kid/teen with a wicked charlie horse in the middle of the night and had your parents call it a growing pain?  During that particular incident it may have been your parents' bullshit excuse so they could make you stop crying and go back to sleep at 3am, but the principle remains.  If you are NEVER UNCOMFORTABLE, you NEVER GROW.  That's why exercise hurts. That's why relationships are either hard work or they fail.  If you never go through anything painful, you will never grow.  Now, some of you may be imagining people you know who you imagine must never have gone through any pain.  That brings me to the next ingredient of growth:

2. Learning.  Know what?  Point number one's the crappy one.  We never get to pick when something lousy happens.  But now we're getting to the make-it-or-break-it point.  I've met some people who have been through turmoil after turmoil.  I think, 'man, that person should have some really deep character, considering the life they've gone through...' And yet, there's no substance.  Point number two is the first step we have control over.  You can choose to take a lesson from your pain.  What could you have done differently?  Did a work situation fail?  Did a relationship end with regrets?  You can choose to externalize all the blame, or you can take ownership of the part of it that is yours to own.  Guess which option creates growth?  Fact is, you're going to go through lousy crap throughout your life one way or the other.  You may as well take some tools from the experience along the way.

3. Vulnerability.  Are you an analytical person?  Buckle up, cause here's where it starts getting tricky.  Pain (ingredient 1) is out of our control.  Learning (ingredient 2) is a conscious, cerebral decision.  Now we start getting to the heeby jeeby feeling part.  The most amazing people out there, in my opinion, are the ones who, despite deep pains in their life, are still willing to take a risk and share themselves with others.  They still love, they still trust.  Even after a lifetime of hurt.  How do they do this?  It's not because they're stupid, even though a look at the numbers on paper might suggest so.  Here's why: they've done a cost benefit analysis of being alone and never being hurt, or being connected and being hurt again.  And they've decided that, despite previous pains, it's STILL worth the risk.  It takes a lot of courage to expose a soft heart to a hard world.

4. Belief in yourself.  Here's the other side of vulnerability.  And I daresay it might be the hardest part.  Not only do the most exemplary people believe that other people are still worth loving and trusting; somehow, despite a life full of pains and regrets, they are still able to ACCEPT love and trust as well.  They believe that they're WORTHY.  You cannot truly give love if you can't accept love.  Have you ever paid someone a compliment and known they didn't believe it?

In close relationships, a big part of loving the other person is being able to accept the love that they give you.  Otherwise that person feels like they're just dropping $20 bills into a bottomless pit.  Or paying a mechanic to repair a derelict car that is just going to break down again shortly.  And guess what?  When you've been through the ringer in front of the people closest to you it's really hard to face them again.  It's really hard to accept their love again.  Imagine making eye contact with your next door neighbour through your living room window while you're stark naked streaking for the laundry on the dining room table.  Gonna be a little awkward next time you see them?  You betcha.  Now times that by a LOT.  Continuing to believe that you're lovable is a very difficult task.  We build up a lot of scar tissue over the years.

How do you go through the first two while keeping the second two intact?  I don't friggin know, I'm not even 30!  Ask this guy:

Maybe he knows.

I guess really, all I'm saying is, I don't really give a crap how much you paid for your vehicle.  Or what your salary is (regardless of how obvious you make it).  Or your status, or your... whatever.  THIS is the scorecard I'm holding in my hand.  I hope that, at the end of my days, people will see a man who fought hard to take the lesson away from the hardship, but also fought just as hard to keep his heart soft, despite it all.

Take a look at the scorecard in your hand.  What are you keeping points on?  I hope you win, but more importantly, I hope you're playing the right game.

I'd love to hear what you have to say.  Please feel free to leave me a comment below.

Saturday, 3 March 2012


Okay, first of all, have any of you ever tried to write a thoughtful blog post while watching children's shows with your kids?  There is a ceiling to how profound you can be when you're watching the Backyardigans sing pirate songs.  But the boy loves it, and it's not Wonderpets, so I'll take it.

I've been thinking about learning lately.  I enjoy absorbing new information and incorporating it into and letting it adjust my paradigms, as I described in a previous blog.  (By the way, are you allowed to link to yourself, or is that self-indulgent?)

I bet you've met people before who just seem... stuck.  Who aren't as wise as their years might suggest they should be.  Whose minds aren't very pliable.  Or maybe they're just an ignorant bastard (cough cough cough).  I wonder if the reason is that they've stopped learning at some point in their life.  Maybe they hit a point where they thought, "Okay, I know enough.  I've arrived."  From that point on, they don't feel the need to challenge their worldview.  They've got it figured out.

I've been reading a book called "Up, Down, or Sideways: How to succeed when times are good, bad, or in between" by Mark Sanborn.  He talks about 'the learner's edge'.  And he gives a great metaphor for it.  He says, if I know four chess moves, and you know eight moves, you're likely to beat me every time.  When we keep learning and incorporating new information, we happen to be picking up more techniques for solving problems, dealing with people, and making decisions.  The more information we have access to in our mind, the more creatively we can approach whatever it is we happen to be dealing with.  In the business world, this means if you're the fastest learner in your market, you will be able to out-think, out-deal, and out-solve your competitors.  If you have the techniques to overcome four of your client's objections, and your competitor can only overcome two of them, then you are the one who gets the sale.

And, in your personal life, if you can learn more techniques to treat your spouse or others well, to listen better, to make healthy choices, wouldn't you be crazy not to do that?  Aren't you going to feel so much better equipped to encounter... whatever... in life, if you have taken time to learn how to talk to people, treat people, how to deal with stress, grief, conflict, anything?

So, how do you learn?  I think it's twofold.  One, you have to receive information - read a book or article, listen to a podcast or the radio, watch a movie or tv show.  Two, you have to absorb it - incorporate it into your worldview.  You can do that actively or passively.  Actively means you are trying to get something out of what you're doing - you're chewing on the info, applying it to your life, and trying to evaluate it's worth.  Passively means you're not paying attention, and it seeps in.

We all absorb information all the time, so here are my two questions:

Are you seeking out things to learn?
What sort of things are you passively absorbing?  (I mean, I didn't choose Backyardigans to be a thought provoking background for this post, but I'm still going to be talking like a pirate for three days!)

Hey, it's your brain... you only get one.  Why pollute it?