Today we Americans celebrate the anniversary of our declared freedom from the rule of the king of England to rule ourselves.
We often think of freedom as being free TO do what we want, when we want, where we want and with whom. That is valid, but there are deeper levels of freedom to be gained than from the rule of another, from taxes, from oppression.
Deeper freedom--true freedom--is freedom FROM.
Think of it this way: You have been held in a prison cell. Someone got the key, unlocked the door, swung it open, and said you were free to go. As you step out of the prison, the entirety of the world is before you. You are free to go and be and do whatever you desire.
But what got you into prison in the first place? Has anything changed inside you while you were there? What you take with you from the cell is much more important than the cell itself. It doesn’t matter where you are—in the cell, outside the prison, or a thousand miles away—what you need is freedom FROM.
Let’s say you went to prison for stealing. Maybe it was shoplifting from a convenience store. Maybe embezzling from your employer. You went to prison, served your time, and are free to leave. However, the beliefs that led to you shoplifting or embezzling in the first place are still inside you.
What beliefs could have caused the stealing? It could be a scarcity mentality, a passive aggressive expression of insecurity or resentment, or entitlement. Those beliefs aren’t changed when a cell door swings open and you cross the threshold.
Freedom From only comes by examining your beliefs, separating the lies from the truth, and admitting you’re imprisoned by the lies. The next steps include learning the truth, then implanting it in your mind and heart so many times that the lies are crowded out and finally disintegrate.
Lies keep you in prison, but the truth sets you free.
What lies do you believe that are keeping you from Freedom From? Could it be scarcity, resentment, entitlement as already mentioned? Could it be unforgiveness, people pleasing, fear, or shame?
What lies are keeping your relationships imprisoned? Your workplace? Your community?
We have the world we have today because we as individuals, groups, communities, and nations are free To, but not free From. It’s time to begin to heal that with Truth.
We are not the first nation torn apart by economic, racial, and governmental division. Fortunately, we have an example of one that has worked toward reconciliation.
One way South Africa moved forward after apartheid was through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Through a combination of input from all sides, pursuing and recording an impartial history of human rights violations over the 34 years of apartheid, granting amnesty within certain contexts, and creating a policy for reparations, South Africa created a model for justice, peace, and healing.
Of course, South Africa didn’t have social media algorithms, major media bias, and the innumerable other factors to contend with as we do today.
Fortunately, we the people do not have to rely on government commissions, social or other media, or anyone else to begin and maintain the process of healing division. In fact, it’s probably better if we don’t. Drop the divisive devices. The way forward is to truly engage person to person and face to face, COVID or not.
I propose three guiding principles for each and every interaction we have with “them, “us,” and everyone else, from here on out.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book Talking to Strangers simply and succinctly offers this excellent approach: “What is required of us is restraint and humility.” This applies to all human interactions, not just strangers.
Restraint includes practicing the pause. Listen to understand, not reply. Seek all sides of the truth, not just the parts you want to be true, then be truly open to receiving and processing the new information. Ask, listen, stay silent, ask again, listen again, restrain yourself more. Separate from emotion and wrestle with the information, not with “them,” until you understand. This is a skill I’m learning as well.
Humility lives right alongside restraint. It honors the human being in front of you as AT LEAST equal in value in every way. You don’t get to diminish their experience and they don’t get to diminish yours. You can learn from every single person on this planet. We are all students. Remember and embrace it.
Forgiveness is the third guiding principle. The saying goes that unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies. Forgiveness isn’t saying what they did was right. It means you don’t allow their actions to control your heart, mind, or soul. It frees you from allowing their choices to impact your future, your destiny. It gives you control of yourself. It’s not a feeling but a choice, and if you’re like me, one you sometimes have to make minute by minute.
Restraint, humility, and forgiveness are the way forward.
More on self-care in my conversation with LouAnn Clark.
Fellow speaker and writer LouAnn Clark asked me to be a guest on her podcast and I was happy to oblige. We talked about self-care in the context of Covid, along with practical ways to retool and rejuvenate your life.
There’s only one reason you are going to read the next line:
See? You did it! I piqued your natural curiosity to motivate you to read further, you trusted me to deliver, and here we are. Way to go, us!
But what truly motivates you?
I’m internally (sometimes eternally) motivated by a sense of accomplishment. I love crossing off TO DO list tasks. I use paper because it’s so much more satisfying to kill those things with a pen rather than deleting off a device. In fact, I have been known to get most of the way through a day, notice I’ve marked nothing off, then write down a few things I did do so that I can scratch them out of existence.
I don’t get paid for this, but let’s say I did. That would be an external motivator. You’d think that having internal and external motivators would make me doubly productive, right?
Nope. The external motivation has the opposite effect.
Science has been telling us for 50 years that people aren’t primarily motivated by external factors but by internal factors, including trust. Unfortunately, the business world has largely ignored this truth.
Daniel Pink, in his bestselling book DRiVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explains it.
The external motivation many businesses have and still use is what he calls Carrots and Sticks. It’s your basic reward and punishment scenario. Do well, get a bonus. Do poorly, get fired. Little if any thought is paid to true motivation. It’s same old same old.
Pink says the driving force for self-motivation is internal satisfaction. There are three components to this – Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Autonomy is the freedom to decide what you work on, when you work on it, with whom, and how.
Mastery is getting better at something that matters to you. The key is it matters, to you. No one wants to get better at pushing paper. The power of small wins fits this category.
Purpose is contributing to and belonging to a cause greater and longer lasting than yourself. Fill those three elements and you’ve got some motivation going.
But why this is true for human beings? I discovered that those three principles are foundational to the systems of nature. Since humans are part of nature, what works for nature works for us.
An example is photosynthesis.
As a quick refresher to your grade school science class, all of life on earth requires oxygen. Animals and bacteria take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, and plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. The cycle has worked really well since life began on this planet. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be here.
How does photosynthesis relate to Pink’s findings? Each part of the cycle has a purpose. It’s necessary. If we lose either plants, bacteria, or animals, the entire system falls apart. And we won’t be here.
For autonomy, each part is free to live and thrive in its own way, own place, own time.
As for mastery? This one absolutely flabbergasts me. With no overarching structure or control, the various parts manage to keep the oxygen level in the world-wide atmosphere consistently at just under 21%. How that is possible with each part simply doing its thing, living its life, inhaling and exhaling, and it just works…I can’t even. Truly astonishing.
That’s a lot of information. Are you on left brain overload? Let’s engage our right brains with a story.
In the beginning, God created the heavens, the earth, the universe, and all we see. He thought it was all great but something was missing. He needed someone to take care of things. Thus the idea to create humans was born, and so they were (I wish creating things was that easy for me).
He set those two humans in a beautiful garden, then told them to work well, make babies, move everyone around the planet, and keep going. And eat whatever they wanted in the garden but not from that one tree. He said he’d be back to check on them and help out where they wanted.
How does this illustrate what Pink says? According to the story, people were made for a purpose. Everything in nature has a place and purpose, so it only makes sense that people do, too.
As far as mastery, with an entire planet of firsts, experiences, and challenges, they could do nothing but tackle them and improve.
Autonomy? God gave them four Do’s and one Don’t. That’s it. Not ten commandments, not a bunch of laws. They had complete freedom over what to do, when to do it, and how. They did have a limitation on who they could do it with since there were only two of them, but I don’t imagine they minded.
Of course, there was that one Don’t, and you know how that turned out.
Which brings us to the foundational principle that underlies all motivations, systems, and stories: Trust.
Trust is the foundation for any kind of workable relationship, whether it’s Creator and Created trusting each other in figuring out how to take care of the earth, animals trusting plants to make oxygen and plants trusting animals to make carbon dioxide, or bosses and employees trusting each other to work hard without external motivators like carrots and sticks.
If I know you trust me with something, I’m going to work a lot harder to be sure I do it well. That’s just the way people work.
Trust is built over time, with experience, and must be earned. To build it, tell the truth. Do what you say you’ll do. Follow up. Be kind. Admit when you’re wrong or don’t know something. Explain gently.
The more we build trust, trust ourselves, and find our own motivation, the more efficient, effective, and fulfilled we will be in work and life. And when you have those three things, you will change, your world will change, and the world will change, for the better.
An American businessman was walking along the pier of a small, coastal, Mexican village. The heat of the day was still a ways off, and the smell of fish was strong. He noticed a small fishing boat docked, with one fisherman and several large, yellow fin tuna.
“Bet that took a bit to make that haul,” said the businessman.
“Only a little while,” the fisherman replied.
“Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?”
“This is all I need for my family today.”
“What do you do when you’re not fishing?”
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and in the evenings I stroll to the village where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos.”
The businessman smiled and said, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you. What you need to do is stay out a little longer and catch a few more fish each day. Then, with your profits, you can buy a bigger boat. Bigger boat, even more money, and you can buy a whole fleet of boats. You could open your own cannery, control distribution, and eliminate the middle man. Of course you’d have to move to Mexico City, then eventually on to LA and New York City, but your empire would continue to grow.”
The fisherman was curious. “And how long would that take?”
“Maybe fifteen to twenty years.”
“Then you can sell your empire and make millions of dollars.”
The fisherman raised his eyebrows. “Millions. Then what?”
“That’s the best part! You can retire, and move to a small coastal village where you can sleep late, play with your children, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to town where you can sip wine and play guitar with your amigos.”
I first read the Mexican Fisherman story in Courtney Carver’s blog, Be More With Less. She tells how this story changed her life, causing her to rethink her possessions and priorities and make choices that have given her a life she loves. I love the way she summed up her take away, “Live small so you can live big.” I’ve benefited from this story, and this lesson as well, in my own pursuit of a life of simplicity and significance.
But it’s not the only lesson I learned. I decided to go into the motivations of these men, and what I believe is going on in that deeper level has to do with fear, trust, and different beliefs in the way life works.
Let’s climb into their heads.
“You could retire,” the businessman explained.
“I already have a life I don’t need to retire from,” said the fisherman.
“Yes, but, what if? What if you go out to fish one day and there’s no more tuna? What if your boat gets damaged? What if your wife or children get sick and you can’t afford their care and they die? If you have cash, you have choices, control, and security.”
Security, or the lack of it, that’s the key.
It’s human nature. When I think about not having what I need, even as simple a thing as toilet paper during a pandemic, I can start to feel panicky, anxious, and even fearful. Fear is the motivation of the businessman here, specifically fear of never enough.
This fear is based on the belief that there’s only one pie and it’s only so big, so there can’t be enough for everyone. It’s called a scarcity, or lack mindset.
There tend to be two reactions to a scarcity mindset. The first is a poverty mentality. That says there will never be enough, and I can’t do anything about it, so why try. The second is a greed mentality. There will never be enough, so I’m going to get all I can. In this instance, the greed mentality is driving this businessman.
But the fisherman has an abundance mentality. Listen to his answers to the “What If” questions.
“If there’s no more tuna, I’ll fish for something else, or I’ll find a different job. If my boat is damaged, my amigos will help me. They always do, just as I help them. And if my wife or kids get sick and die, I will grieve deeply, but I will have no regrets, because I poured my heart and soul into them. You can keep your cash. I already have choices, control, and security.”
An abundance mindset believes there’s always more available. It doesn’t matter how big the pie is because there are always more pies coming. The fisherman is motivated by trust in his people, his own creativity and capability, in the process of growth, and that there will always be enough.
Where does that leave us?
First, are all businessmen motivated by fear and greed and all fishermen trusting in abundance? Not a chance. Is the businessman the bad guy and the fisherman the good? Nope. Is the businessman foolish and the fisherman wise? Not necessarily.
Human beings and our belief systems are not an either/or, better or worse, proposition. There’s a spectrum, and our place in the spectrum can change with new information.
The fisherman considered the businessman’s advice and came to his own conclusion. “I have all I need, but I see your point. If I take a little more time and effort, catch an extra tuna or two, I could save that money and be prepared when trouble does come. And if it doesn’t, I can buy guitars for my amigos.”
The businessman was equally influenced by the fisherman’s choices. “I see your point. What good are my riches if I don’t have anyone to share them with? I’ll place less value on my finances and more on my family and friends.”
Both men engaged with each other, listened without judgment, considered the other’s information, and grew wiser.
Did they live happily ever after? No. But they did live their lives with more wisdom, fulfillment, and abundance.
I was on my way to a wedding when I first pressed Play on my new Audible book. By the time I got to the venue an hour and a half later my mind was exploding. I vividly recall sliding into the pew next to my friend and saying, “If everyone would read this book and actually do what it said, it would change the world.”
That book was Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. Audible had been featuring it in my recommended list for weeks and I finally was able to dig in. Brene’s wisdom and how to’s on building trust, belonging, and connection are more than sorely needed in this season. I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so as it’s a New York Times Bestseller.
As soon as I finished it, I wanted to dive back in. I also knew I needed some time to process and let my little gray cells connect all the dots. I was out of Audible credits so I pulled up a book I’d already read, Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, another NYT Bestseller.
I love listening to his wonderful British accent, but I especially love his message: How to find your Point of Highest Contribution and structure your life to do it and nothing else. I learn something new each time I dig in.
I was about two-thirds of the way through when lightning struck the cranium, dots began to connect, and a rabbit hole emerged.
What if we took Brene Brown’s message and married it to Greg McKeown’s methodology?
What if we made belonging and connection our relational points of highest contribution, and structured our lives to make them all but automatic?
That would change the world.
I didn’t just follow the rabbit down this hole, I dove, and the world I discovered is far more amazing than Alice’s Wonderland could ever dream of being.
One of my discoveries is that the reason Braving the Wilderness and Essentialism are best sellers is because belonging, connection, and contribution are deep human needs. And the reason these needs resonate so deeply in us is because they are echoes of the fundamental principles, the essential truths, of way things work in Nature.
You see, everything in Nature belongs. There is nothing extra, no holes, no waste. Everything has a purpose and a place.
Everything in Nature is connected. From the smallest, simplest of systems to large and complex ecosystems to the whole of life on earth, every part influences some other part. It all works together.
Everything in Nature has a contribution to make. Every part receives from the system and contributes back to it, each in its own unique way.
If you’ve ever seen Disney’s The Lion King (either the original 1994 animated version or the 2019 live action) you’ve seen the scene where King Mufasa is showing his son, Simba, the kingdom that will one day be his. He gives this guidance:
Mufasa: Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect the creatures, from the crawling ant, to the leaping antelope.
Simba: But Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?
Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass, and so we are all connected in the great circle of life.
“All connected in the great circle of life.” Let’s ponder that a moment.
Human beings are part of the circle of life, although we focus more on being the top of the food chain than part of the circle. Both aspects are true, but our emphasis on one over the other has skewed our sense of self-importance.
If we would stop looking from above it all to within it all, from focusing on our narrow pedestal to paying attention to the whole system, we would be able to see the fundamental truths of ourselves in relation to all of Nature, and we would rediscover some amazing things we’ve forgotten.
We are connected.
We have unique contributions to make.
It doesn’t matter if we feel like we do or not, if we see it or not. The fact is we do, we are, and we do, because that’s the way things work on planet Earth. Belonging, connection, and contribution are the default. Any other option is impossible.
That’s the Truth.
But wait, there’s more.
Human beings have something no other part of Nature has: the ability to choose. No other life form has that dignity, or responsibility. The way it looks to me, humans have been choosing our own nature versus all of nature for a long time.
Embrace these truths. Pursue belonging, connection, and contribution, not only with your fellow humans, but in the context of all of Nature, all of Life.
Then find out where, how, and when.
Where are all the places I belong?
How can I best be connected?
What is my unique contribution, or contributions?
Perhaps most importantly, when can I get started finding out?
It can be right now. It can be a year from now. It can be never. It’s your choice.
Pursuing these truths of Nature will challenge and grow you in more ways than you can know right now. It’s a journey. Simple, but not easy. Process, not quick fix.
Why not start now? Pay attention. Ponder. Pursue.
Then let me know how it’s going and how I can help.
It’s not only Brene Brown and Greg McKeown who can make unique contributions that are changing the world.
You can, too.
Infertility triggered the worst depression I’ve been through.
After four years, several procedures and surgeries, many drugs and the mental insanity that comes from some of them, we were no closer to having a baby than before we started. My husband was not interested in adopting and I had given up hope of ever being a mom.
To add insult to injury, I felt abandoned and betrayed by the God who supposedly was my friend. My husband and I loved and served God and knew we would be great parents but God was not helping me get the one thing I wanted more than anything else. If he was going to ignore me, I would ignore him. I turned my back on God, to the point where I wasn’t sure any God even existed, much less one loved me and had a good plan for my life.
People grieve mightily when they can’t have children, but I didn’t know of anyone who took it harder than I did.
I began to consciously take stock of where I was and how I got there. I realized there were several factors at play.
The first was a narrow focus. I was so focused only on the baby I did not have to the point I couldn’t even see, much less enjoy, what I did have. Things like my great husband, good job, nice house, reliable car, awesome family and friends. They weren’t even on the periphery.
I decided to refocus. I wrote down everything I was grateful for, and I was shocked at how long the list grew to be. I also told people how I loved and appreciated them. This practice retrained my brain to not only look for the good in every situation, but to find it.
Science confirms that gratitude is foundational to mental health, and a daily gratitude practice will rewire your brain to become increasingly grateful and happy.
I found myself slowly becoming happier, but I knew I needed more. I needed something to look forward to that was not a baby, to not only look at my past and present, but ahead to the future. I remembered a forgotten creative outlet and started work on a new project.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but each time I made a creative decision I was increasing my happiness.
Solving problems releases dopamine. That’s why games and puzzles make us feel good. Every correct answer or connected piece is a small problem solved. For a five hundred piece puzzle, you’ve solved five hundred small problems, releasing five hundred hits of dopamine. Each creative decision sparked dopamine.
With the tools of gratitude and creativity I learned to create my own happiness.
If I can create my own happiness, then it’s not about what I receive, or what I do or don’t deserve.
Therefore no one else is responsible for my happiness.
I began to examine how I had arrived at my beliefs about God, particularly friendship.
What is friendship? Isn’t the definition to do whatever you can to make each other happy?
The short answer is yes, your friend’s happiness is a big priority. You do things for your friend’s happiness that you wouldn’t for the general public, or even acquaintances.
But there’s far more to friendship than happiness. It’s a mutually supportive relationship built on trust, on truth and experience, between peers, equals.
But God is not my peer, and—huge reality check--our relationship is in no way an equal partnership.
It’s also far beyond a friendship. God is my thoughtful creator, wise shepherd, gentle master, strong defender, abundant provider, heart healer, dutiful and loving parent, and a truly trustworthy friend in all aspects of true friendship.
I had focused on the hole to the exclusion of the whole.
And he knew I would never be truly happy simply by getting what I want.
He knew I needed a new and better perspective, and an expanded heart, in order to be all I’m designed to be, to all those I’m called to love. I made it all about me, when it’s all about us, and everyone.
He was withholding something good from my entitled self until I grew into someone much better. Someone with a much larger, and truer, perspective, focused on relationships rather than happiness alone.
Someone who wrestled, fought, ignored, and left, but who came back a stronger, deeper, fuller person than before.
But he stayed. And always will.
When I finally gave birth to two miracle sons, the more that I became made me a better mom that I ever could have been before.
Paul passed away. I didn’t go to his funeral.
It would have been awkward.
You see, I never met Paul, never spoke to him. I only know him because he was a dear friend of my friend, Lisa. We had been praying for his healing for months. He had been doing well, and we didn’t see this coming. We were both devastated.
After he died, she told me, “We were part of this. This is what God let us see. We were witnesses.”
Witnesses. That word resonated with me.
To witness is to look upon, look into. It’s active, not passive, not a glance or a gaze, but really seeing. It’s focusing, paying attention.
A witness has a level of intimacy that a bystander or observer do not. A witness is an insider, privy to births and deaths, birthdays and anniversaries, to milestones great and small, public and private, mundane and quiet.
A witness in a trial testifies, under oath, that their part of the larger story is the truth as best they know it, as honestly as they can tell it. They express what they experienced--what they saw, what they heard. Nothing more. Nothing less. They don’t guess at anyone else’s part. If they do, it’s considered conjecture and dismissed. They can only relate the parts of the story they know to be true.
It takes courage to bear witness, to expose part of yourself to people who may not believe you belong in the story, or who wish you didn’t. They may not believe your part of the story. They may reject it, and possibly you. But no one can take away what you see, hear, or feel. They can’t tell you what you experienced. Your witness is your own, TO own.
Right here, right now, you are reading my words, and are therefore privy to my thoughts, beliefs, and life. We are connected.
You can choose to be a bystander in my story, an observer, or you can choose to bear witness. You can express what you experience, what you see and hear, in this small connection point in both of our lives.
Let’s not wait until a funeral to embrace it.
My family moved from Chicago to Washington DC when I was fifteen.
At the time I mostly mourned the loss of friendships. I missed my grandparents and extended family as well, but the friendships were more immediate. We made annual trips back but, of course, it wasn’t the same.
Eight years later my grandfather died. At his funeral I realized how much closer my cousins, who had always lived nearby, still were to Nana and Pa. I was suddenly acutely aware of the loss the physical distance had created. Even if we moved back I couldn’t make up those years. I felt a double loss, both the past and future ripped away from me.
It used to be that families stayed with the farm, in the town, at least close proximity. Kids grew up with cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighborhood friends and families. Lifelong connections were the norm. In our mobile society, though, we are missing those. To fill that void we’ve come to rely more and more on peer friendships for those close, core connections.
The problem is that those connections are horizontal. Our friends tend to be mostly people in our own age group or life stage (career, young kids, retired), or who share our personal beliefs in areas such as religion and politics.
We need to be sure we have both horizontal and vertical connections.
A vertical connection would be anyone who is younger or older, in a different life stage, different religious/political/socioeconomic status, significantly different from you in some way.
There are three types of core connections you need—people behind you, beside you, and before you.
1. Peers and those with similar ideologies would be people beside you.
2. People behind you include children, mentees, students, anyone you have more experience than or can help.
3. People before you would be parents and grandparents, mentors, coaches, bosses, people with age and experience (they do tend to go together). They can be people who are where we want to be five or ten years from now in wisdom, career, relationship, etc. They can be people of differing religious, political, socioeconomic backgrounds.
Here’s a hint: the more uncomfortable the thought of a conversation with them makes you feel, the better a connection they can be.
So schedule a time and get together. Buy them coffee or lunch. Plan an activity. Do it face to face if you can at all, and ear to ear if you have to.
If you’re not sure where to find those people, keep your eyes, ears, and heart open. Pay attention.
Here are a few out of the box ideas to get you thinking not only of who to connect with, but some of the benefits:
Millennials in a Retirement Home
Preschool in a Nursing Home
Brothers and Sisters of the Big Variety
All it takes is some effort to stay connected. In this day and age, even a cross-country move doesn’t have to feel like it.
Applying nature's principles and systems to personal and cultural development.
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