Sunday, July 26, 2009

Does Your Job Feel Tedious?

Watch this. You will probably feel fortunate.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I have set a goal of doing at least one post each week. This week the energy went into a guest post on Christine Quigley's blog: Quigley's Cabinet. It is about the word Amen.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Listening, Encouraging, Grieving, Rejoicing

I was about thirty five years old when I first managed a large group. There were more than two hundred production workers. A couple dozen supervisors. Four section managers. I had managed small groups of engineers and technicians before that, but it was a whole new world with all those people and the layers of management.

I was able to lead and to make some difficult decisions. Yet I became more and more aware that I had nowhere near all the answers for the questions that people asked me. I was often uncomfortable when folks came to me and asked for my help. At times I found I was rendered speechless. All I could do was listen. I could offer no easy fix nor even a promise of an eventual solution.

I was astonished to learn that most people were very grateful just to have me listen to them. It was a revelation. As an engineer I had always felt that unless I offered a fix or at least some sage advice, I had failed. Not so. Actually, some of the people who appreciated my listening the most were the ones whom I couldn't offer anything more than my sympathy.

Almost a quarter century has passed. I have come to understand that many people value a listening ear far more than they value my idea for how to make things better. Often, the best thing I can offer is a simple affirmation that the situation being described is a difficult one. "I am sorry to hear that." "You must be hurting" "That would be hard for anyone". There are even times when simply nodding my head and holding someone's gaze as they pour out their tale, seems to be valued the most.

It has taken many years to learn to listen patiently. I am still far to quick to jump in with suggestions, plans of action, and the like. But I am learning.

When I listen well, I can often tell that I have encouraged the one speaking. They say so. Or their countenance lightens at least a little. There are other times when I really don't know what the other person is thinking. I know more and more that it is best for me to have faith that a listening ear offers encouragement, regardless of what I am seeing right then.

I also find that as I listen better, others are more likely to open their hearts and share very deep pain that they are bearing. Consequently, I have become aware that virtually everyone is struggling with some dilemma, some hurt, or some fear. There are times when I am overwhelmed by the knowledge that so many are struggling so much.

Now I believe I must learn to grieve with others. And even as I grieve, I can rejoice. I can rejoice that I have been given the opportunity to listen. I can rejoice in knowing that God cares deeply for the person who is hurting.

Decades pass. Bit by bit, I learn a little more about listening. I gain some confidence that I am encouraging. I accept the fact that I will grieve. I know a little more about rejoicing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bigger, Stronger, Faster: a movie review

Photo by jcoterhals

My first take on Bigger, Stronger, Faster was that it might be an interesting documentary about athletes and the use of steroids. I am convinced that writer/director Christopher Bell would have crafted a fine documentary even if he had simply examined the athlete subculture. Instead, he broadened his inquiry and crafted a superb revelation of our fascination with appearance and performance.

Bell is a stocky young man who enjoys lifting weights. He can bench press more than 500 pounds. He has known for years that he could probably lift an additional hundred pounds if he added anabolic steroids as a part of his training regime, but he doesn't. Bell's two brothers do use steroids, and the benefits seem clear to them.

Bell conducted research, performed interviews, and reviewed media depictions. He is incredibly diligent. His hard work lends a depth to this film that any documentary should aspire too. In addition, Bell investigates with a cool detachment, yet he also has the dogged persistence that is most often seen in zealots. Bell chased the facts and sought the truth. Many myths about anabolic steroids are blown away. He also exposes the strange incongruities and the hypocrisy in our attitude to drugs of many kinds.

As the investigation plays out, the viewer begins to realize that steroids are a bit player in the drama that unfolds when hundreds of millions of people decide that they need to be not just better, but best. Looking good is just not enough. We want stunning physiques. We don't want to compete well and do "our best", we want to be "the best".

We struggle to find simple indicators for success in life: riches, strength, beauty. We know that it is unlikely that we will attain the pinnacle, but oh how we long to rise above the herd.

A quiet, anonymous life blessed with simple pleasures and genuine love should be enough. However, our discontents and secret longings reveal that too often we discount what we have.
And we don't just want more. We want more than others have. We crave reassurance that we are better than others.

Pride has been called the greatest of sins, even "the father of all sins". Pride powers our obsession with being bigger, stronger, and faster. See the movie. It will give you a clearer view of what is worth pursuing and what is not.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why Write?

photo credit: Graffiti near Borough Market by dan taylor

Google is working to scan every book on earth. There are more than 30 million titles available for scanning. If one person in a million publishes a book, we get about 7000 more titles. Add in magazine articles, e-mails, blogs, plays, movie scripts, advertising copy, annual reports, meeting minutes, and a whole lot more. A vast amount of writing has happened and will happen.

Why write?

It appears that body language and vocalisations preceded writing. There are thousands of languages that have no written version. What did writing bring to the game for the languages that have it?

It is pretty easy for me to imagine situations where a record was desirable: A last will and testament. A contract. A warning.

Prior to the twentieth century, humans could not record sounds. Even more recent is the ability to record sights. Before audio and video recordings, writing was the only option for recording our thoughts, our intent, our desires.

Writing also allowed us to communicate across distances before the advent of telegraphs, telephones, radios, and many newer options.

However, as I write this humans have had the ability to record and transmit both sounds and sights for decades. I see evidence that we might drop writing; current alternatives include voice mail, podcasts and video blogs. What purpose does a written record serve when every vocal nuance and change of expression can be recorded for all time and transmitted billions of miles?

The ability to very rapidly search text is a recent innovation. We can only do relatively primitive searches of audio and video, but once we upgrade our ability to search those records, we may find little reason to convert speech to text. We will need means for filing, editing, and summarizing our audiovisual records, but it is not hard to imagine that we can develop those.

Writing may be nearing the end of its useful life, despite having served us well for thousands of years.