IFX Group 2013 Web Log
- Graceful Aging. (January)
- Memory Boxes. (February)
- Togetherness. (March)
- Creative Value. (April)
- Listen. Weigh. Decide. (May)
- Naked Women! (June)
- Generation Communication. (July)
- Fair Game. (August)
- The Next Hurdle. (September)
- Beyond Adequate. (October)
- Generations of Mistakes. (November)
- For-GIVE-ness. (December)
She lived the very definition of aging gracefully. From the moment she arrived in our house and at each step of her changing physical ability she adjusted her daily life to live the most fulfilling way she could without ever trying to live in the past. There were no regrets and no complaints, even at the end. Asking for and accepting help was not shameful nor embarrassing but figuring out new and different ways to accomplish something was a challenging part of the journey even if nobody else noticed until later. She was a quiet example showing through her actions how to gracefully walk the path of life into old age. She proved even a cat can teach valuable lessons.
Everybody from the moment of birth is racing towards the end of their life, but society is often too focused on the first part of life with relatively little attention given to the living examples of graceful age trying to show us the way ahead. A young body is often full of strength and energy, is resilient, quick to heal and relatively easy to ignore. But what happens when our youthful attributes fade?
Do we live in the past constantly fighting to recapture yesterday? Or do we look forward to find new and creative ways to meet the challenges of each day? One is a losing battle to the death while the other is a graceful adventure full of new things to learn, experience and share with those we love.
Which direction are you facing?
Every new couple just starting out makes up their own set of special occasions and shared celebrations. In extreme cases everything is cause for celebration from big holidays and birthdays to remembering all of the shared firsts. But as their time together grows longer things tend to turn into habits that just repeat what was done last time until it is not special anymore and falls from everyday memory. This may be part of the reason why the spark and luster of some relationships seems to fade over time.
It is possible some of this is caused by a failure to effectively use our long term memory. In the beginning all memories together are fresh and new. Everything is a new opportunity to share, discover and be close. In relationship terms all of this can be considered short term memory for the first few weeks, months and maybe years of the relationship. Eventually these short term memories are packed away into long term memory much like those long forgotten boxes hiding in attics, basements and unused closets away from our daily life.
Try something different this month. Look into your heart for those nearly forgotten boxes of shared memories. Like forgotten greeting cards the emotions they hold can bring old feelings back to life. Unpack some of those special memories with your loved one. Remember where your love started and bring those feelings out into the open again.
Long term relationships are sometimes an illusion spoiled by togetherness. This is visible as an unexpected side effect of the baby boomers starting to retire and suddenly finding the need to divorce after years with the same partner. Why are retirement and divorce being connected like this? The answer is found in the amount of time spent together each day.
Not that many generations ago in our own family history we spent time together. Family members were forced together by a shared need or drawn together through a common goal or event. And the interesting part is that while our hands worked we were also able to speak and listen. With this seemingly tiny benefit of being together we built strong families that both survived hardships together and celebrated the good times together. Then somewhere along the way the importance of being physically together got lost.
Today instead of togetherness we have distant, impersonal communication. We use electronic proxies in place of face to face speaking and listening with our eyes. This self imposed isolation can erode our relationships from the inside out unless we also spend time together.
Don't wait until it is too late to discover something valuable is lost. Invest time into your relationship with togetherness today. What do you have to lose?
Virtually everything we enjoy in our modern world is the result of a creative mind thinking up new ways to make something better. Creativity is the one thing that has proven to be very hard for the academic world to grasp and hold. Creativity is hard to measure using a standardized test or to teach using the current standardized methods, but maybe there is something deeper. Consider all of the notable creative minds of history and how more often than not they were viewed as outcasts or misfits by their more highly educated contemporaries.
The signs of a creative mind are easy to spot. These are children that use toys in ways that are different from the other kids, often not needing the original set of rules to find the fun in a toy. These are students that get poor grades because they see a rainbow of possibilities in a classroom built on black and white test answers. These are employees that see opportunity, potential and promise where management does not. These are business owners that routinely run far (sometimes too far) ahead of everyone else because they see the horizon where everyone else can't see past the next quarterly report. These are leaders with the ability to make their own path instead of following ruts made by others.
Instead of pushing the creative mind out of our way or into a box, why not treat creativity like a rare flower. Careful guidance and encouragement with room to grow to the fullest potential can make the difference between an average flower and a truly special one.
Ultimately it is the creative person that changes the world and leaves it a much better place for all that follow.
Don't let creativity get consumed in the very machinery built on the creative minds of our own history. Seek out new ways to be creative or at the very least seek out ways to help those that are creative and you may end up helping the whole world become a better place.
At some point every child thinks one or both of their parents are clueless about how the world works. While this may sometimes be true about the latest fads and technology, it is rarely true about the important things in life. It is a fact of biology that parents have been around longer than their children and it is very likely they have seen and experienced a few things the kids may not even know enough to ask about. Why is it so common for children to discount parents as out of touch?
The most useful lesson a child can learn is to listen. In this context it means listen to parents, seriously weigh their words with the available facts and even search out more facts if needed before drawing a conclusion. Using this simple tool it is possible to avoid repeating mistakes of the past generations while standing on their shoulders to reach heights not possible before. Alternatively not listening dooms children to face the same problems, likely make the same mistakes and often pay the same price previous generations did.
Improbable as it may sound, your parents may have more of a clue than you know.
Listen. Weigh. Decide for yourself.
For most adolescent boys thoughts of naked women can be almost all encompassing. It sometimes gets extreme to the point nearly every thought and action every day involves wanting to see someone naked or actually working to see someone naked. Researchers quantified it into a frequency saying males with an average libido typically think about sex several times a minute. It all starts with that first burst of hormones driving a desire to see naked women. But what is actually so important that it demands and consumes so much time and energy?
Biologists point at the need for a species to reproduce as the reason behind some of our more base drives and desires, but maybe there is more to it than biology. Maybe it helps to look at the layers. In reality every woman is completely naked all the time under her clothes, but why stop there. Reduced to medical terms every women has the same thickness of skin covering a variable layer of fat, muscle, organs, sinew and bone. Remove all of those layers of
clothing and what remains? Who is naked inside all of that biological wrapping?
This is where the real naked woman is found. Every person has a mind, some strong, some weak. Every person has a heart, some strong, some weak. Every person has a will, some strong, some weak. Every person has spirit, some strong, some weak. These invisible parts make up the true person that only very few get to see naked. It is unfortunate that so many people stop too soon and never get to see the true naked person hidden inside. This is like never opening your best birthday present because the package under the wrapping paper looks good naked.
Put that desire to see someone naked to good use. Don't stop at the skin, keep looking deeper, past the biology. Look for the person inside and you may find the real reason why so much energy goes into trying to see someone naked.
How long does a child remember? Any parent can give countless stories where their child forgot about chores literally seconds after being told. But take a look at the kind of
relationship that child has with their partner decades later and more often than not it will be strikingly like the
relationship their parents had. Children have an uncanny ability to replicate what they see their parents do and surprisingly it does not seem to be limited by time. So what is effective communication and why do some things get lost so quickly while others seem to stick around for a lifetime?
Maybe the effectiveness of the memory has something to do with the method of communication. Another old saying states that actions speak louder than words. Telling children to eat vegetables when the parents don't eat their vegetables is communicating much more than diet. Telling children to be open and honest when the parents live behind little white lies is communicating a lot about truth. Telling children to obey the rules when the parents drive like speed limits are the lower boundary is communicating a lot about law. In simple terms parents that live by one set of rules while speaking another set of rules are communicating a whole lot to their children about the rules of life. Inversely parents that demonstrate through consistent and reliable action lessons that agree with their words are also communicating a whole lot to their children.
What lessons and values are being communicated through our actions to future generations? Are they only words? Are they a mixture of conflicting words and actions? Or are they clearly understandable actions?
A research study released recently found an interesting way to test and demonstrate that primates, specifically chimpanzees, had an inbuilt sense of fairness. In simple terms their study boils down to a question about perceived value for work performed. If all participants think the rewards are the same for the task performed they are perfectly happy accepting a mediocre reward, but the moment a difference in reward is seen the low value reward is no longer acceptable. Other studies show human babies as young as 6 months demonstrate a similar sense of what is fair or not. If this natural sense of fairness is built into all of us, why are so many things in life so blatantly unfair?
The common saying is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is clearly unfair. Over countless years many have attempted to solve unfairness through political, legal or social means and even as a last resort through economic means. While each attempt has merits, they all fall short in some way of achieving something truly fair for everyone. Why is it so hard to find something fair when everyone has a natural ability to detect fairness? Maybe the problem is the way we are looking at it.
For a moment consider that life is basically unfair. If this is a foundational rule then all attempts to make life fair are at some level wasting energy. Instead it might be more useful to look for some value that can be found in this imbalance that turns out to benefit everyone. This could partially explain why philanthropy is so popular among the rich, but this is not just about money. It feels good to give where there is a need so the giver gets something at the same time a need gets met. This works everywhere there is someone with a resource and someone else with a need.
For example the demise of Open Source Software (OSS), like the Linux operating system, has been predicted to be on the verge of failure for decades because it makes no financial or business sense why someone would write software and then give it away. In reality Open Source Software is fueling the fastest growing products and services even in the face of multi-billion Dollar marketing campaigns against it. Why? Because at some level it naturally brings a fundamental fairness by allowing anyone with the ability to fund or write software to be philanthropic while receiving a benefit too. It is like getting to eat the cake you bake for someone else without depriving them of any cake. You feel good for making something better, look good for helping others and on top of all that you get to eat cake.
If life is not fair don't work to make it more unfair. Do something, no matter how small, to help someone in need. Contribute in a way that helps others. Done right we can all become philanthropists and beneficiaries at the same time.
Life is full of hurdles and pitfalls that come in a variety shapes and sizes. Every member of the human race has their own unique path through life with plenty of obstacles. Where we end up in life depends a lot on how we handle these obstacles and what we do with the challenges they present. How can we navigate this path with the least time spent falling flat on our face?
Hurdles and pitfalls are often hidden until we reach them. Recognizing the next hurdle is the hardest part because it requires a mix of listening and looking. The listening part comes from hearing about the hurdles and pitfalls others have faced even if they fell. The looking part takes the descriptions we heard from others and compares that to what is seen just ahead. With this combination we have a better chance of seeing the next hurdle before it smacks us in the face and, if there is enough time, to find a way to avoid or deal with it. Insurance companies can help with the financial part of common hurdles we all must face, but what about the rest of life?
Emotional hurdles also have a form of insurance that can help take some of the sting out of failure to pass one of life's hurdles. It is called love, compassion and empathy. The support of someone that loves us can help us get back up to face those hurdles with a fresh energy even if it takes a couple of tries.
Do you support your loved ones when they fail? Do they support you when you fail?
An engineer may not see much difference between adequate and better than adequate where a creative person may see a world of difference. Steve Jobs left behind a legacy in several industries clearly showing what it looks like to go past adequate. This is how his computers came to be built from sturdy heat dissipating metal and glass in an industry almost completely populated by heat insulating cheap plastic stuff. It is how his Pixar movies were built around well crafted stories with impact that could stand alone independent of the fantastic computer images in an industry populated with special effects strung together with minimal story. It is how the experience of shopping in his uncluttered stores devoid of pressure and cash registers excelled in an industry built on funneling people through the buying process like cattle. In each of these industries others have attempted to mimic the end results and failed in part or in whole. Why?
It may be due to their inability to fully appreciate the subtle difference between adequate and better than adequate or in some cases to even recognize what is adequate. There are many examples. Microsoft Windows 1.0 was released not that long after the 1984 Macintosh. Computer animated movies showed up not that long after Toy Story. The Microsoft store opened not that long after the Apple store. Notice in every case the 1.0 version of Steve's work was much better than adequate while his competitors required extra time and revisions to reach adequate sometimes years after the first version was released if they were able to do it at all.
The hardest part of solving a problem is to first completely understand the problem. Only then can an effective measurement be put in place to say when the problem is adequately solved or not. This is how adequate is measured. Going beyond solving the problem by making the solution easier, smoother and more aesthetically pleasing is where the world changes.
An athlete that can jump over a high bar is adequate. Clearing the bar by a comfortable distance with style and grace is beyond adequate. On the score card athletes that clear the bar are equal, but the fans will pay again and again to see the bar cleared with a little extra show.
Where is your bar? Are you just squeaking by or are you going beyond what is required?
Why is it so common for children to simultaneously view their parents as relatively clueless and confused while grandparents are relatively wise and understanding? Interestingly this same pattern applies to every generation. How can your clueless parents seem wise to your children? Some people think this is just a matter of who holds the responsibility for punishment, but that simplistic view may be missing a key ingredient. Maybe it has something to do with mistakes.
Mistakes are the abrasive grit rubbing away the veneer of what and who we are not, smoothing the sharp edges of our personality and marking things on the path of life to avoid when we see them again. Mistakes are incredibly valuable tools for refining us into our true selves. Unfortunately there is one common mistake most parents make that goes unnoticed and sadly is often encouraged by well meaning outsiders. That is the mistake of trying to prevent children from making their own mistakes.
Instead of trying to prevent children from making mistakes, why not allow the mistakes to happen and put effort into making the pits a little less deep and the cliffs a little less high. Removing the opportunity for mistakes also removes the lessons and refinement they bring.
People make mistakes. It is an unavoidable and important part of life. What we do with those mistakes defines where we end up and what we have when we get there.
Are you learning from your mistakes? Are you allowing your loved ones to learn from their mistakes?
The world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela with a great many people expressing their sense of loss. Even well known leaders from countries large and small are showing their respect. How did a child born in a small poor village rise to such recognition? What allowed him to go from prison to president? Maybe it is because he used the power of forgiveness.
The human species is unique in that every interaction we have with another human makes a connection of some kind. This includes things humans do to other humans on purpose or by accident. Some connections pull us forwards, sideways or backwards while others lift us up or tie us down. Most of these connections when viewed alone are like threads but some are bigger with seemingly more power to tug at our hearts and minds. The expression
heart strings points directly to this kind of connection. All those connections combine together to influence our path through life. How do we survive all of those conflicting connections pulling us in different directions? And more importantly how do we cut the connections tying us down, pulling us sideways or backwards?
The only way is with forgiveness.
Forgiveness releases the connections that pull us in a negative direction freeing us to use the remaining positive connections to motivate and encourage us forward and upward. Even if we have no positive or encouraging connections releasing the negative ones gives us freedom to move in almost any direction we desire. Relatively tiny lines hold every boat in port and every balloon to the ground. Only by releasing these lines can boats and balloons be free to do what they were built to do.
This holiday season give the gift that gives you freedom. Forgive. Maybe one of the connections you release through forgiveness is the one holding you back from your own greatness.