are you in the mix?

You don't have to be "deep" or constantly talking about profound issues. You just need to be "in the mix" so that you venture outside of your box. People who don’t peek out and over the lids of their cardboard hovels live in very small worlds. They may follow others into change, but they do not own it.

One way to clarify who is in the mix and who is not, is to ask, "Would I go to this person for advice when some significant life issue confronted me?" Not just for encouragement or some sage piece of advice--but because this person is a fellow struggler.

These types of friends and acquaintances are "in the fight" to move beyond white picket fences and 9-to-5 jobs. They whet your appetite for substantive relationships and make you want to become more than what you are. These are friends who are open to paradigm shifts in their own lives. They are not just focused on “straightening you out” so that you will become more like them. They want to grow like you do.

Stephen Goforth

The Willingness to be Misunderstood

Invention requires a long-term willingness to be misunderstood. You do something that you genuinely believe in, that you have conviction about, but for a long period of time, well-meaning people may criticize that effort … if you really have conviction that they’re not right, you need to have that long-term willingness to be misunderstood. It’s a key part of invention.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder

Paradigm Shifts

We have personality tenancies but (as the Myers-Briggs personality inventory suggests) we naturally shift toward the middle as we age. This can mean significant differences (young harsh conservatives become liberal in their old age as they mellow, etc) but there are more profound changes we can undergo. Steven Covey offers this example in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

He was traveling in a subway when a man got on with his two sons. They were loud, rambunctious, throwing things, grabbing people’s papers and disturbing to everyone in the car. The man seemed oblivious. Covey writes:

It was very disturbing and yet the man sitting next to me did nothing. It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let children run wild like that do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?

The man lifted his gaze and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died. I don't know what to think and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either."

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw things differently, I thought differently, I felt differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.

While this change of perspective could be momentary, it doesn't have to be. We are continually faced with decisions as to how we will approach the circumstances life throws at us. If we keep picking a particular familiar pathway, it will eventually become a habit. But glimpses of other trails nudge into our lives from time-to-time, reminding us of different possibilities.

Remember that piece of music you heard that suddenly lifted your spirit and changed your whole outlook in the middle of a drab day? Remember that pleasant smell that made you drift back to fond childhood memories? The times you exited movie theaters ready to change the world for the better because you had just seen someone on film inspired to do just that? What if we wedded action to those sentiments? Are we capable of taking that step in a new direction.. or are we welded inside our boxes, destined only to point at the festival and never join the parade?

"That's who I am and I can never change" is the voice of fear. Admitting that change is possible puts responsibility on our shoulders to make it happen. And that's just downright scary.

Stephen Goforth

the suburb within

You might live in the middle of a big city, but there could still be a white picket fence around your imagination. You can take the subway to work but still park your identity in a two-car garage. This is the inner suburbia, and you probably moved her long ago. You’ve learned to contain your longings and sympathies within a comfortable zone, measures and mediocre. To grow, you must move toward otherness. You must quit the ranch house of your soul and head for the forbidden place—your inner wilderness, inner bohemia, or even your inner inner city. The answer you need lie there, where you are least at home.

Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions

Learn to expect

Learn to expect, not to doubt. In so doing you bring everything into the realm of possibility. This does not mean that by believing you are necessarily going to get everything you want or think you want. Perhaps that would not be good for you. When you put your trust in God, He guides your mind so that you do not want things that are not good for you or that are inharmonious with God’s will. But it does definitely mean that when you learn to believe, then that which has seemingly been impossible moves into the area of the possible. Every great thing at last becomes for you a possibility.

Norman Vincent Peale,  The Power of Positive Thinking

the Nazis hung him

The Nazis arrested Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1943 for his work with the resistance. He had been warned not to speak publicly. He did anyway. They hung him in April of 1945. The book Ethics is a gathering of his notes for a book he intended to write on the subject. The notes were hidden away from the police in a garden. Here is a quote from it:

"Christ did not, like a moralist, love a theory of good, but He loved the real man. He was not, like a philosopher, interested in the 'universally valid,' but rather in that which is of help to the real and concrete human being. What worried him was not, like Kant, whether the 'maxim of an action can become a principle of general legislation', but whether my action is at this moment helping my neighbor become a man before God."

The Less Traveled Road

Briers below and limbs above. Avoiding them slows your walk. There's a log to step across. Here's a hole to avoid. Yet with your every step you come closer to seeing wonders few will know. The question is: Will getting past those obstacles below and above really be worth the surprising revelations you'll encounter? Choosing to walk the less traveled road may mean periods of intense loneliness and nagging doubt. There is the path of comfort and conformity and the path of adventure and self-definition. Your choice. 

Stephen Goforth

real learning

In the early 1980s, two physicists at Arizona State University wanted to know whether a typical introductory physics course, with its traditional emphasis on Newton’s laws of motion, changed the way students thought about motion.

They gave the test to people entering the classes of four different physics professor, all good teachers, according to both colleagues and their students.

Did the course change student thinking? Not really. After the term was over, the two physicists gave their examination once more and discovered that the course had made comparatively small changes in the way students thought. Even many “A” students continued to think like Aristotle rather than like Newton. They had memorized formulae and learned to plug the right numbers into them, but they did not change their basic conceptions. Instead, they had interpreted everything they heard about motion in terms of the intuitive framework they had brought with them to the course.

The conducted individual interviews with some of the people who continued to reject Newton’s perspectives to see if they could dissuade them from their misguided assumptions. The students performed all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid confronting and revising the fundamental underlying principles that guided their understanding of the physical universe.

Those physics students who made A’s yet failed to grasp anything about Newtonian concepts had not rebuilt their mental models about motion. They had merely learned to plug numbers into formulae without experiencing an expectation failure with the universes they imagined in their minds. They took all they heard from their professors and simply wrapped it around some pre-existing model of how motion works.

Perhaps because they were focused on grades rather than on understanding the physical universe, they didn’t care enough to grapple with their own ideas and build new paradigms of reality.

Ken Bain,  What the Best Teachers Do

Ready for a close-up?

This lovely furniture looks like cozy quarters.  But you won't findthe furniture taking up space in someone's living room. The trees in the background offer a hint that something's amiss. These items are tucked away in a Seattle park. They're made of solid cement. And while you can take a seat on the sofa, cozy wouldn't be the best word to describe the experience.

Today you will come across a situation that will look quite different--if you would only take a few small steps toward it. A closer look can change your whole perspective.. when you take the time to go deeper.

Stephen Goforth