Monthly Archives: November 2009

Stronger Together

I once watched a truly forgettable movie about two brothers who were part of a mob family.  One brother chose the life of crime, and the other chose to give his life to fighting lawlessness.  Blah, blah, blah…  Save your money.  Here’s the only thing interesting in the whole movie.

In one flashback scene where the brothers were fighting, their father intervened.  He then took out a dollar bill and tore it in half.  Giving one half to each child, he said, “Remember, boys, you are stronger together than you are apart.”

What a great illustration for the importance of unity within the Body of Christ.  Working against each other, we don’t amount to much.  In fact, we pretty much cancel each other out.  But working together, we have the strength to face the Enemy and the worst he can throw at us.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)


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Filed under Body of Christ, christianity, Church, family, Group dynamics, love, parenting, Relationships

Clever Hans

Kluge Hans (better known as “Clever Hans”) was a most amazing horse!  He had the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide by tapping out the answers with his hoof.  He could tell time and name people.  He could spell and solve problems involving musical harmony.

His owner, German mathematician Von Osten, began showing him to the public in 1891, and for years, Clever Hans amazed even the stoutest critics.  The horse could perform his tricks for randomly selected people with or without his master present.  It seemed impossible, but no one could deny the horse’s accuracy.

It wasn’t until 1904 when researcher Oskar Pfungst finally figured out how Clever Hans did it.  By testing the horse with a variety of constraints, he learned that Clever Hans was not so clever if he couldn’t see his questioner.  Also, if the questioner did not know the answer to a question, neither did the horse.

Following a hunch, Pfungst started observing the questioners more than the horse.  Soon, he discovered that Clever Hans was responding to subtle non-verbal cues from the people asking the questions.  They tended to tense their muscles until Clever Hans tapped out the correct answer with his hoof.  When he did, the questioner relaxed, signaling to the horse that it had reached the correct answer.  The horse could detect slight movements of a person’s eyebrows or a change in head position or an approving facial expression.  Clever Hans could even pick out a slight dilation of the questioner’s nostrils.

In the end, Clever Hans was most clever when people expected and wanted him to be clever.  Their anticipation of his correct answer provided him all the non-verbal feedback he needed to reassure their trust in his abilities.

Think about the implications for our human relationships.  If a horse is perceptive enough to read our non-verbals with such accuracy – even non-verbals that we are oblivious to sending – isn’t it possible that other people can pick up on them, too (if not consciously, then subconsciously)?  If you have high expectations for someone, it gets communicated in more than your praise.  If you have low expectations of someone, it leaks into every interaction you have with that person.  What you think about a person often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in your relationship.

When you have negative expectations about someone, you can try to fake your feelings when you are around them, but most people will see through your plastic efforts.  The only real way to make sure that you don’t communicate negative expectations is to change how you feel about that person.  In order to do that, you are going to have to change the story that you tell yourself about them.  You need a positive story to replace the negative one.  This is much easier said than done, but here are some suggestions:

  • Assume positive motive. Maybe the person is the way he is or acts the way he does, because there is a good reason for it.  Maybe he means well and is doing the best he knows how to do.
  • Consider that there may be extenuating circumstances. There may be factors outside of her control – things like the way the person was raised, the limitations on what they know or are able to do, the situation that they are currently in or other people and their behavior toward her.
  • Examine your own accountability. Is there anything that you are doing that is making your interactions with this person worse?
  • Get more information. Don’t make up your mind about someone or about the way someone behaves without first making sure that you have enough information to make an opinion.  Legion are the embarrassing stories where someone reacted to a small amount of information and later learned that they were missing the most important parts of the story.
  • Lower your expectations. If the person can’t or just won’t change, lower your expectations of him.  You will be happier, because he won’t let you down all the time.
  • Tell a bigger story. Maybe your story is too small.  For example, you are distracted by your teenager’s sloppy appearance and can’t help but comment on it each time you see her.  But how important is how neat she looks compared to the health of your relationship with her?  Maybe you could tell a story that says the health of your relationship is bigger and more important than your irritation over her appearance, and you are going to overlook her clothing choices in order to preserve open doors of communication with her.
  • Pray for the person. Nothing is more effective at changing your heart toward another person than prayer.  Even if you struggle to be sincere with your prayers, make a commitment to pray for him or her until God gives you His heart for that person.

Change what you think (your story) about those around you, and you will change the relationship.  You might even find that your negative story has been the whole reason for the problems between you.  Change your story; change your world.

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Filed under acceptance, communication, expectations, Interpersonal, leadership, management, parenting, Pygmalion Effect, Relationships

The Little Red Hen

Once upon a time, there was a little red hen who owned a wheat field.

“Who will help me harvest the wheat?” she asked.

“Not I,” said the dog. “I’ve never done that before.”

“Not I,” said the cow. “I’ve got way too much to do already.”

“Not I,” said the duck. “That’s not on my job description.”

So the little red hen did it herself.

“Who will help me grind the wheat into flour?” she asked.

“Not I,” said the dog. “You’re so much better at that than I am.”

“Not I,” said the cow. “There’s not enough time to show me how.”

“Not I, “ said the duck. “I would probably just mess it up.”

So the little red hen did it herself.
“Who will help me make some bread?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I,” said the dog.  “I’ve got a deadline to meet.”

“Not I,” said the cow. “I’ve got to leave right at 5:00 p.m.”

“Not I,” said the duck.  “You can’t trust me with something that important.”

So the little red hen did it herself.

When all her guests arrived that evening for the farmyard dinner party, the little red hen had nothing ready to serve except the bread.  Now, it was some fine bread – the best anyone had ever tasted – but it was disappointing as a main course nonetheless.  The little red hen had been so caught up doing everything herself that she didn’t have time to get anything else ready.

Moral of the Story:

Leaders learn how to delegate.  They involve others throughout a project for both the project’s and the team members’ good.  Good leaders challenge their performers to do more than the performers think they can, and good leaders never “chicken out” by doing the whole thing themselves.

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Filed under delegation, isolation, leadership, management, parenting

A Tale of Two Brothers

Dr. Hans Selye, a pioneer in helping us understand stress, once told a story about two boys who grew up in the same home with an alcoholic and abusive father.  Adulthood took them down separate paths with differing priorities and life decisions.

Many years later, both men participated in the same psychological study, though each did it separately.  In-depth interviews with each one showed just how different they had become.  One would have nothing to do with alcohol and had become an upstanding and well-respected citizen in his community.  The other had followed his father’s example and become an alcoholic with a path of destruction in his wake.

When asked what factors influenced each brother’s lifestyle, both men returned the same answer, “What else would you expect when you have a father like mine?”

It’s not what happened to you; it’s how you responded to what happened to you that has created the person that you have become.  Have you chosen to become the victim or the victor?

If you chose the victim’s role, the sooner you accept accountability for your choices, the sooner you will begin to heal.  Blame and resentment over what happened to you only gives the other person or thing a never-ending supply of power over your life.  If you chose the victor’s role, then you undoubtedly know the truth behind the maxim, “That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

Life has many things to teach us, but we have to show up ready to learn.

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Filed under acceptance, accountability, blame, character, Denial, growth, learned helplessness, overcoming obstacles, parenting, self-image


During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once came across a poster from his Civil Defense authorities that read,

“Illumination must be extinguished when premises are vacated.”

F.D.R. was incensed. “Why can’t they just say ‘put out the lights when you leave?’”

At diverse times, one endeavors to overawe personages by employing one’s sophisticated nomenclature, but there are sundry rationale for refraining from this compulsion.

  • It’s difficult to understand. When you communicate, your main goal should be getting your message across.  Even if the other person understands the words you are using, she might have to unpack them before she gets your meaning.
  • It often leads to miscommunication. Mainly for the reason above.  Your audience may go away scratching their head or ready to charge up the wrong hill.
  • It makes you sound either silly or full of yourself. Most people are not impressed with your high-sounding vocabulary.  They are irritated by it.
  • It can be interpreted as an attempt to hide your insecurity. If you are feeling insecure, don’t use big words to cover it.  The technique is somewhat overdone.

Speak clearly and concisely.  Your audience will appreciate it.  Simple words can be powerful and influential.  Consider Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  Before he delivered it, a man named Edward Everett spoke for two solid hours using all sorts of important-sounding words.  Does anyone remember them?

Lincoln, on the other hand, spoke only ten sentences, and 74% of the words were only one syllable long.  Yet Lincoln’s words are inscribed on his memorial and in our hearts.  We memorized them as school children  (There’s a reason we didn’t memorize Everett’s speech.  School children cannot memorize words that are five and six syllables long!)  Simple is supreme.  When in doubt, remember the KISS formula: Keep It Simple & Synoptic (uh…  Keep It Simple and Succinct… No, ah… Keep It Short & Saccharine… Hmmm… Keep It Sanguine and Sedulous… Er…)

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Filed under Authenticity, communication, public speaking, speaking

Don’t Be Jealous, Ladies

I’m traveling through the Singapore airport today and noticed in the men’s restroom that the urinals (manufactured by Laufen) all have pictures of a fly painted in them to give the men something to aim at.


After some research, I learned that this seems to have originated in Amsterdam and that the fly in the urinal reduces “spillage” somewhere between 80%-85%.

Don’t know about you, but I’m getting out the paint and putting one in the boys’ bathrooms as soon as I get home.

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Filed under funny, humor, Just for fun, parenting

Taking a Stand

I’m an expat living in Thailand, and I believe that this requires me to change certain behaviors that are normal and comfortable to me in order to be culturally sensitive.  When the Thai national anthem or the king’s song plays, everyone is supposed to stand (including foreigners) out of respect.  If I hear either song, I stand.  It’s a sign of respect to the country that is allowing my family to live on its soil.

In the mornings when I’m in town, I walk the kids to school, and my habit has become that I sit for half an hour or so doing my quiet time in the school’s courtyard.  At 8:00a, the large Thai school across the street from our school plays the national anthem.  I always stand, but many times, I’m the only one.  The other foreigners typically continue their conversations, and even the Thais working at our school only stop what they are doing occasionally.

Standing is a simple gesture, but when you are the only one doing it, it’s easy to feel foolish.  I look around at everyone doing their own thing, and I wonder, “Am I over-doing this respect thing?”  “If no one else is doing it, maybe it’s not really expected.”  “I wonder if they are laughing at me.”  “Maybe they are thinking that I’m being pretentious.” “Does it really even matter if I stand or not?”

After all, there are plenty of excuses for not standing.  The music is a little hard to hear.  It’s not  playing at our school.  We aren’t Thai.  The Thais don’t even stand sometimes.  No one seems to care.  I’m having a conversation.  I’m tired.  My leg hurts…

I had an experience like this today, and I spent some time thinking afterward.  Being a Christian is a little like standing for the Thai national anthem.  When you take a stand for God, you will often look foolish to the world around you.  You are standing for music they may not even be able to hear and for reasons that they don’t particularly understand.  Even some of the Christians around you aren’t taking a stand for God.

It’s easy to second-guess yourself. “Am I being too strict about the movies my kids watch and the music they listen to?”  “Am I naive to think my kids could possibly make it to marriage without having sex?”  “Am I throwing my money away when I tithe to the church?”  “Am I being pretentious by claiming that there is only one Way into heaven, and His name is Jesus Christ?”

These doubts and questions are part of the cost of taking a stand for God.  If it were easy, everyone would do it, right?  Of course, God could strike down anyone who didn’t take a stand, but He doesn’t.  He doesn’t, because then EVERYONE would stand.  They wouldn’t be standing because they loved the Lord; they would be standing out of fear and compliance.  Those aren’t the types of followers God is looking for.  He loves us too much to force us to “love” Him back.

When you take a stand for something, you have to be willing to pay the price.  Without cost, there is no sacrifice.  As King David said when Araunah offered him his threshing floor, oxen, wood and wheat for free in order to make an offering, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” (1 Chronicles 21:24)  The value of the sacrifice is tied to how much it costs you.

The foolishness you sometimes feel when taking a stand for God is part of your sacrifice.  But you can take comfort in this Scripture:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

(1 Corinthians 1:25)

One day, every stand you took for the Lord will be seen for what it was –  wisdom, love, honor, respect, readiness, strength, adoration, devotion, courage, faith…  Insist on paying the full price.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.

(1 Corinthians 16:13-14)


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Filed under Authenticity, christianity, comfort zone, commitment, Compromise, culture, faith, obedience, parenting, priorities, sacrifice