Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Start A Fire In Your Life: Read Inspiring Poetry

Here's an article I wrote for the upcoming December issue of Springfield Connection magazine. It speaks to the impact that poetry has had on my life over the past 20 years. I've published my first book of haiku poems (using and have another one in process that contains haiku from my men's group weekends at Heceta House in the early 1990's.

"Poetry at its best calls forth our deep Being, bids us live by its promptings; it dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind; it calls to us, like wild geese, from an open sky." -- Roger Housden

Change is in the air. The election campaign called for "change we can believe in." The new season brings a change in the weather. And a change of year will soon be upon us.

About 20 years ago, I changed my attitude about the value of reading poetry. I began reading poems aloud to myself, to my life partner, and to groups. I began writing haiku poems and teaching men in weekend gatherings to write their own haiku (and read them aloud, sometimes reluctantly!).

Seven years ago I read Roger Housden's ten poems to change your life. Housden chose ten poems that he believes have the "power to change a reader's view of the world, and thereby, their life." With the works of ten inspiring poets -- Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Rumi and others -- and his own personal commentary, the author explores universal themes for living an authentic life.

A year later, ten poems to open you heart came into being. It is devoted to love: to personal love, to love for others, and love for this world and the next. Housden shares his own experiences of love along with the voices of Denise Levertov, Robert Bly, Sharon Olds and seven other poets. This collection includes one of my favorite poems by Robert Bly -- "The Third Body" -- about a man and woman who do not long for anything other than what they already have:

They are content to be where they are, talking or
not talking.
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do
not know.

The depth of their love brings them to a place of spiritual unity:

They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have promised to love that body.

Bly's poem ends in the mystery and paradox of the being we know of but have never seen.

In 2003, ten poems to set you free was published. The poems in this book offer inspiration for claiming one's true life, urging us to stand up for the heart of the life that is ours alone -- once and for all, before it's too late. "It is the truth that sets you free, and these poems are its messengers," says Housden. Among the ten poets featured in this book are Naomi Shihab Nye, David Whyte, Stanley Kunitz, and Jane Hirshfield.

The last of Housden's poetry series appeared four years ago -- ten poems to last a lifetime -- including poems by Billy Collins, Dorianne Laux, and Rainer Maria Rilke and others. While the poems in this collection do not have a particular theme, they represent the enduring qualities of great poetry -- poetry "that allows joy and delight to bubble up from the soul and tears flow from somewhere deep down inside. Ultimately, whatever engages you for a lifetime is an expression of love."

I can vouch for the truth of Roger Housden's claim that "Good poetry has the power to start a fire in your life." It did for me. I encourage you to live dangerously in the New Year. Begin reading poetry. Start a fire in your life. Make a change you can believe in.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Growing Older Gracefully

Here's a book review I wrote for the upcoming November issue of Springfield Connection magazine. I highly recommend the book, especially for people over the age of sixty looking for inspiration for living the last stage of their lives.

The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully
by Joan Chittister

"Life is not about age, about the length of years we manage to eke out of it. It is about aging, about living into the values offered in every stage of life." -- Joan Chittister

In my classes and workshops on life legacies and positive aging, most all of the participants are in their sixties, seventies, and eighties (the oldest being 98 years of age). And the vast majority of them are women. As a man in his 60's, I've felt blessed to be in the presence of so much collective wisdom and life experience.

I've also been inspired about the possibilities for "growing older gracefully" by reading books such as Joan Chittister's new book, The Gift of Years. The author offers thought-provoking insights about many dimensions of aging in brief chapters on the topics of fulfillment, meaning, solitude, agelessness, limitations, legacy, and thirty-four other central issues of growing older.

Each chapter begins with a memorable quotation, followed by Ms. Chittister's reflections on the issue, and ending with statements on the burdens and blessings of growing older. Her chapter on "Outreach" begins with the quote:

"Few persons," La Rochefoucauld wrote, "know how to be old."

The author goes on to describe how our youth-oriented culture isolates the older population and she calls on elders to reach out to the world. Instead of bemoaning the isolation, older people need to stretch beyond themselves to meet the world.

Social engagement -- not family, not education, not money -- is the key factor in successful aging. Chittister notes that the single most important function of old age is "generativity -- the act of giving ourselves to the needs of the rest of the world." She concludes her reflections on outreach by stating that:

"A burden of these years is the danger of considering ourselves useless simply because we are no longer fulfilling the roles and positions of youth.

A blessing of these years is the freedom to reach out to others, to do everything we can with everything in life that we have managed to develop all these years in both soul and mind for the sake of the rest of the human race."

After reading the book, I felt even more energized and excited about living the last stage of my life. So far, my 60's have been filled with new learnings, outbursts of creativity, and many meaningful life experiences.

I certainly agree with Joan Chittister that this is a "time in which a whole new life is in the making again. But the gift of these years is not merely being alive -- it is the gift of being more fully alive than ever."
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Presidential Elections and The Power of Kindness

With all the election "news" these days (and generally disgusting commercials on the airwaves), I found myself thinking about what I'm most looking for in a President and Senator from Oregon. What will be the next administration's mode of governing and what legacy will the people I vote for leave for future generations?

I wrote the following book review on the subject for the October issue of Springfield Connection:

The Power of Kindness

By Todd Peterson

I’ve had the privilege of voting in ten Presidential elections during my lifetime. Some of the candidates I voted for have won; some have lost. Over the years, the tone and style of campaigns has changed dramatically as candidates have taken advantage of new media and poured millions of dollars into winning votes.

Since the political party conventions this year, I’ve seen the campaign rhetoric and public discourse take a sharp turn toward disrespect, half-truths, and blatant lies. Candidates mock one another, “approve messages” attacking the character of their opponents, and pander to voters with promises of “change” that have no reasonable chance of ever happening.

In the face of this outpouring of disingenuous words, I turned to Piero Ferrucci’s The Power of Kindness for a different view of how to make a positive contribution to the world. In 2006 Ferrucci wrote that our culture was in the midst of a “global cooling.” He noted that “human relations are becoming colder. Communications are becoming more hurried and impersonal. Values such as profit and efficiency are taking on greater importance at the expense of human warmth and genuine presence.”

So where do we start to deal with our “global cooling?” With kindness. Yes, by being kind to one another. Too simple? Absurd in our world of violence, terrorism, war, and hate speech? While not always easy, kindness has “surprising power to transform us, perhaps even more than any other attitude or technique.”

In Ferrucci’s view, “true kindness is a strong, genuine, warm way of being.” It is the starting point for the flow of several positive qualities – honesty, trust, empathy, patience, gratitude, joy and many others. The author describes the interplay of kindness and eighteen human qualities in separate chapters, each containing engaging life stories along with his views on the subject.

In his concluding chapter on “How Kindness Happens”, Ferrucci demonstrates that all we have to do to find opportunities for kindness is to pay attention and see what’s before our eyes. “The opportunity to put things right or to help someone presents itself every moment, and if we respond accordingly, we affirm the truest feelings and highest values life can give.”

Solving the problems of humanity is going to take large numbers of people participating in initiatives to bring about profound cultural changes. No doubt, kindness will be a meaningful factor in changing the world. “Not only is kindness capable of saving humanity” says Ferrucci, “it is already saving it. Have you ever asked yourself how come the world, with all its complex structures hasn’t collapsed?”

As for my concerns about the election campaign, Ferrucci says that “in the political arena, kindness is the giving up of domination and vendetta, and the recognition of others’ points of view, their needs, and their history.” My hope is that our next President and members of Congress will recognize that kindness is a necessity for governing, for living at peace with one another, and for the survival of the planet.
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Monday, August 11, 2008

Why Good People Do Bad Things: Book Review

One of my favorite author/teachers of Jungian psychology is James Hollis. I've written about his work in a previous post and just finished a review of his most recent book. Here's the full text of the review to be published in the September issue of Springfield Connection:

Why Good People Do Bad Things by James Hollis

By Todd Peterson

“We will never experience healing until we come to love our unlovable places, for they, too, ask love of us.” – James Hollis

Jungian analyst and author James Hollis has been a regular visitor to our area, presenting lectures and workshops on the human psyche. I attended his lecture last year which focused on the content of his book, Why Good People Do Bad Things.

My interest in Hollis’ subject began year’s ago when I worked as a counselor in private practice. One of the concepts of analytical psychology that I found most useful was Jung’s idea of the “Shadow.” In my experience, accepting and understanding one’s personal shadow is crucial to gaining the self-knowledge needed to change behavior and live a conscious life.

Hollis defines the Shadow as “composed of all those aspects of ourselves that have a tendency to make us uncomfortable with ourselves. The Shadow is not just what is unconscious, it is what discomforts the sense of self we wish to have.”

Learning about our personal shadow is important because “what is not made conscious will continue to haunt our lives – and the world. In our short transit on this earth, there is more within each of us than we can ever make conscious and assimilate. And yet our quality of life is a direct function of the level of awareness we bring to our daily choices.”

Hollis offers seven questions for doing shadow work in one’s personal life. Among my favorites are: What annoys you most about your partner, or others in general? And, what are the key patterns in your relationships? That is to say, where do Shadow issues manifest in patterns of avoidance, aggression, or repetition? Both of these questions quickly reveal aspects of your personal shadow which, when made conscious, allow you to make different choices in your life.

Along with the personal shadow and how it affects our intimate relationships, Hollis explores the larger Shadow present in our culture – in organizations, corporations, religion, and history. His analysis offers insights into why human history has been so bloody with wars, so repetitive, so self-defeating, and so full of suffering and injustice.

For anyone who wants to better understand human behavior, Why Good People Do Bad Things offers wisdom for bringing greater awareness to the conduct of one’s life and for making a contribution to the healing of the world. ______________________________________________________________________________________

James Hollis will present an evening lecture on Friday, October 3 at 7:00 pm in Room 175 of the U Of O Knight Law School at 15th & Agate. His topic is "Spectral Visitors: The Mystery of Dreams and their Role in the Conduct of Life". General admission is $10, payable at the door. He will conduct an all-day workshop on the same topic the next day at the Sacred Heart Hospital auditorium. The workshop starts at 9:00 AM (registration at 8:30 am). General admission is $75.

Why Good People Do Bad Things: Book ReviewSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Life Legacy of Randy Pausch (Died July 25, 2008)

Last Friday morning, Randy Pausch died at the age of 47 after outliving his prognosis by several months. Jeffrey Zaslow who collaborated with Randy on The Last Lecture book and wrote the first article about him in the Wall St. Journal last September offered a heartwarming obituary.

I watched Diane Sawyer's Celebration of Life for Randy on Tuesday night. It was a worthy tribute to the man, his family, and all that he shared with the world during the last months of his life.

My hope is that Randy Pausch's message -- to live your dreams and share what really matters in your life with your loved ones -- will inspire millions of people to take action. To create their own ethical will -- to present their own "last lecture" -- without having to receive a terminal diagnosis from their doctor!

May the blessing Randy Pausch gave his children, his wife, his students and colleagues live on with them and all who were touched by his presence in the last month's of his life.
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Life's Unforgettable Moments: Driving Bucky Fuller

I've enjoyed seeing the resurgence of writing about R. Buckminster Fuller in the media recently. Newsweek ran a story titled, "Bucky's Very Large Dome", and a new exhibition opened this month at the Whitney Museum in New York called "Buckminster Fuller: Starting With the Universe." Other stories have appeared in the New Yorker and the International Herald Tribune and PBS previously ran an American Masters program about Fuller.

I had an unforgettable life experience with Bucky Fuller over 35 years ago. He gave a lecture at my church in Akron, Ohio and I volunteered to take him to the airport for his return home after the event.

Bucky's lecture was a totally mesmerizing experience for the overflow audience. He spoke extemporaneously about his ideas and inventions on "Spaceship Earth" for about five hours non-stop! He was 76 or 77 years of age at the time (which forever changed my views about elders!).

I've never met a more brilliant man. Funny. Lots of wacky and wonderful ideas. A poet, architect (unlicensed), philosopher, visionary, futurist, genius, and oftentimes a "crackpot."

My volunteer driving assignment for Bucky was definitely unforgettable. Soon after he got into the car (after his ever-so-long lecture), he went right to sleep. Of course, I had been hoping to be able to ask him questions about things he said in his lecture .... but that did not happen.

I drove to the Akron airport in silence and when we got there, I got out of the car with him and carried his luggage to the check-in counter. We quickly learned there was no flight to check-in for! Bucky's ticket was for a flight leaving in a half-hour from the airport in Cleveland -- too far away to get him there on time.

Bucky was unfazed by the experience. No explanation or apologies needed. So, back in the car we went, heading my aging Toyota Corolla north for the Cleveland Hopkins Airport. And Bucky went back to sleep, getting in another hour of snooze time.

When we got to the airport, I woke Bucky and told him I'd come in to help make alternative flight arrangements for him but he said "that would not be necessary" (in his memorable New England accent). So I got his one bag of luggage out of my car and handed it to him. He thanked me for the ride and walked through the doors into the airport.

Somehow, in my mind's eye, I can still see the small, balding man (with very thick-lensed glasses) dressed in a dark suit and tie carrying is bag through those doors.

I never saw Bucky Fuller in person again. I read more about him. Enjoyed seeing what he was proposing for inhabitants of Spaceship Earth. And I grieved our world's loss when I heard that he had died in 1983 at the age of 87.

I liked what the Newsweek writer, Cathleen McGuigan, said in the conclusion to her story:

"... his central message, if you can boil it all down still hits home. 'We are on a spaceship, a beautiful one,' he wrote. 'It took billions of years to develop. We're not going to get another. Now, how do we make this spaceship work?' Earth to Bucky: we're still trying to figure that out."

Life's Unforgettable Moments: Driving Bucky FullerSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, June 23, 2008

Listen to Yourself: Start Writing Your Story

Came across a copy of the July/August issue of AARP Magazine which contained a superbly written article by Abigail Thomas titled, Everyone Has a Story to Tell.

Ms. Thomas begins by telling the story of her husband's loss of memory when he suffered a traumatic brain injury and how he described the loss. And poses the question, "Who are we without our stories?"

She encourages us to write a memoir -- "a way to figure out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are." And offers dozens of questions to get started.

In Ms. Thomas' classes on memoir writing, she offers this interesting exercise:

Take any ten years of your life and reduce them to two pages. Every sentence has to be three words long -- not two, not four, but three words long.

"You discover there's nowhere to hide in three word sentences. ("Walk by river. Stare at emptiness. Demons still around.")"

Read the article and see what it provokes for you. I loved her many provocative questions -- "write two pages about the moment you knew something was over -- write two pages about something you regret revealing."

Abigail Thomas is the author of three books, Thinking About Memoir, A Three Dog Life, and Safekeeping. (I was pleased to learn that the author's father is Lewis Thomas, whose books I remember fondly from my 30' s -- Lives of a Cell, and The Medusa and the Snail, among others).

I'm going to give her "three word sentences" exercise a whirl. How about you? Which ten years will you start with? Which will I? Should be fun (if not mildly disturbing, depending on which decade is chosen) and may add more information for my ethical will. Let me know your experience with the exercise.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Do You Have A Life Motto?

Grandma says she has a new "life motto" (in Pickles). Made me wonder what mine would be at this stage of my life? In previous decades? Will give it some thought and see if mine resembles that dear Grandma.

Have you ever written a life motto? If not, what would it be? Include it in your ethical will for your family to remember.
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The "Zen Commandments": Wisdom for Living

I just finished reading a new book by one of my favorite Buddhist writers, Lama Surya Das. Titled, The Big Questions, the author writes on the "sacred art of questioning" and offers his views on 14 questions that address life's essential mysteries.

I especially enjoyed what Surya Das says he jokingly calls his "Zen Commandments":

~ Take care, stay aware. Watch your step. Pay attention---it pays off.

~ Awaken your mind, open your heart and energize yourself. Learn to see clearly and love generously.

~ Find a way to live your own spiritual practice. Develop an ongoing spiritual life, not just a few spiritual experiences.

~ Don't see others' light. Exploit your own innate natural resources for a change. Mine the mind.

~ Freedom is a process, not just an idea or ideal outcome. Progress is more important than perfection.

~ Learn to accept, to let go, and let be. Allow.

~ Lighten up while enlightening up. Cultivate joy. Don't take yourself too seriously, or it won't be much fun.

~ Don't cling to anything. Recognize everything is impermanent and like a dream, a movie, a sitcom. Remember the daily mantra: This Too Shall Pass.

~ Not too tight, and not too loose. Stay attuned to the big picture.

~ Be mindful. Pay attention. Keep your eyes peeled. Be vigilant and intelligent about your experiments with reality.

~ Be here while getting there, every single step of the way.

~ Don't rely on mere words and concepts. Just say maybe.

~ Don't be deceived by ideas and opinions, either others' or your own. You just can't believe whatever you think.

Life is precious; handle with prayer.
Be good and do good.
It's now or never, as always.
Meditate as fast as you can.

Amazing life lessons! The guy packs a lot of wisdom for living in just a few words.

What "zen" (or "non-zen") commandments" would you write for your ethical-spiritual will? That's a question I need to answer for myself ... and I encourage you to give it a whirl. Write them down as fast as you can!

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Volunteering: Where Does It "Fit" In Your Life Legacy?

Heard a great story on NPR this morning about older volunteers, including people with Alzheimer's and other dementias, helping kids in an intergenerational school with reading. Heart-warming and worth a listen:

The story notes that "Research has already shown that volunteering conveys benefits for older people who do not have dementia. One study of older individuals who did regular volunteer work in schools through a program called Experience Corps suggested that the volunteers increased their physical strength and were less likely to use a cane or fall down. The study also found that volunteering increased social activity, which may ward off depression and isolation. Volunteers also reported increases in cognitive activity, saying they read more books and watched less television."

I recently did a talk at OASIS on "Positive Aging" and will begin a class in the Fall which I call "Don't Forget": Training Your Brain to Remember. In both, I stress the importance of social engagement (volunteering, social activities) to brain health as we age.

How has social engagement been a part of your personal life legacy? Have volunteer activities been a major focus throughout your life (or grown more important the older you get)?
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Thursday, June 05, 2008

"Last Lecture" Book Continues Professor's Conversation About Loving Life

Professor Randy Pausch's now-famous "last lecture" continues in his new book, co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow. He wrote The Last Lecture on the phone with Zaslow while on fifty-three long bike rides to keep up his strength.

In the book’s introduction, Pausch writes “I knew what I was doing that day. Under the ruse of doing an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children.”

He goes on to say that the book was his way of continuing his lecture “about the joy of life, about how I appreciated life, even with so little time left. I talked about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.”

Pausch’s book offers sixty-one short essays which he divides into five sections: The Last Lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, Adventures ... And Lessons Learned, Enabling the Dreams of Others, It’s About How to Live Your Life, and Final Remarks.

He writes about living, not about dying. The book is about love of family, mentoring young people, overcoming obstacles, seizing every moment, and the importance of having life dreams.

The wisdom of Randy Pausch is exemplified best in his words: “As I see it, a parent’s job is to encourage kids to develop joy for life and a great urge to follow their own dreams. The best we can do is to help them develop a personal set of tools for the task.”

“So my dreams for my kids are very exact: I want them to find their path to fulfillment. And given that I won’t be there, I want to make this clear: Kids, don’t try to figure out what I wanted you to become. I want you to become what you want to become.”

I hope The Last Lecture will inspire young people (and older adults) to begin considering their personal life legacies at an earlier age. It may bring about important changes in how they choose to live their lives. And have a positive impact on future generations of people who inhabit this beautiful world.
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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"Just a mom, writing about life"

I walked to our library tonight to listen to my favorite local "mom" writer, Dorcas Smucker. Dorcas writes a monthly "Letter from Harrisburg" for the Register Guard and has two delightful books, Ordinary Days and her new Upstairs the Peasants Are Revolting. She also has a blog filled with stories of her daily life on the farm.

In a room filled mostly with "older" women (and a few husbands), Dorcas read "An 'Irrelevant' Generation" from Ordinary Days, a blog post "Aprons, Aesthetics, and Hip New Things", and "Fearing Fatal Errors" from her new book. Her voice as she read reminded me of Minnesota women from my childhood (Dorcas was born in Iowa and moved to Ohio when she as 5, then moved to Minnesota at age 10 where she lived until coming to Oregon at age 19 to teach in a Mennonite school). Today at mid-life, she has three sons and three daughters ranging in age from 9 to 22 years old.

In writing about her everyday experiences, Dorcas brings to life the sweetness (and hilarity) of living in a family, getting older, family traditions, and the challenges of change. She also informs readers about living as a Mennonite woman in today's culture (yes, she has a cell phone but has never had a television), about life as a farmer's (and minister's) wife, and about mothering of children (in our electronic world).

Asked if she considered herself a humorist, Dorcas said "I'm always surprised when people laugh" when she reads her stories. "I'm just a mom, writing about life."

When I read a "Letter from Harrisburg" in the newspaper on Sunday mornings, I find myself in tears as often as I break into laughter about something Dorcas shares about her life. Her stories touch my heart and remind me to celebrate life and cherish my loved ones each day. And she reminds me that "often the things we don't know we need come into our lives without knocking."

Thank you, Dorcas, for being "just a mom, writing about life" -- sharing your words of wisdom with readers throughout the world.
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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Living in the Light of Death

I was reading one of my old journals a few days ago and came across some writing I did at the Oregon Coast in October 2003 about Larry Rosenberg's book, Living in the Light of Death. Most of what I wrote were quotes that offered wisdom for living life to the fullest:

"Death is not waiting for us at the end of the road. It is walking with us the whole time."

"No one is guaranteed even one more breath."

"Life just keeps being how it is, no matter what we hope or expect. There is a gap between the way things are and the way we want them to be, and that gap is filled with suffering."

"Communing with fear stimulates an understanding that has liberating power." "And, when you learn to practice with ordinary events, you are capable of staying with the extraordinary ones. Like the moment of death."

"We know in our head that we will die. But we have to know it in our hearts. We have to let this fact penetrate our bones. Then we will know how to live."

While I rarely read my old journals, I'm glad I came across these quotes and others that reminded me of the importance of contemplating death as I live in the light of my life.

Do you avoid the subject of death or have you embraced the wisdom of knowing that "it is walking with us the whole time"?
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Monday, April 28, 2008

Life Legacy News: "Wills that convey principles of life"

The Seattle Times ran an article last month titled, "Wills that convey principles of life", that describes ways people are using ethical wills. Looks like at least a couple of people are offering ethical will workshops in the Seattle area as well.

I have an introductory talk, Your Life Legacy: Blessing Future Generations, scheduled on June 3rd at OASIS for people in the Eugene-Springfield area. A four-week Legacy Circle begins June 5th for people interested in getting started on an ethical will.
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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Life Lessons for Men: Finding Our Fathers

In the 1990's, I worked as a counselor focusing on men's issues and men's relationships with women, children, and one another. At the time, a "men's movement" was alive and growing in America and around the world. Men were meeting in support groups and weekend gatherings to explore what it means to be a man and to redefine their masculine identity.

While the media and others made fun of "men drumming in the woods," the reality for men I worked with individually and in groups was a heartfelt experience of emotional healing and personal growth. The single most troubling relationship of these men, who ranged in age from their late 20's to early 70's, was with their father. Fathers who didn't have a clue about being a father and emotionally vulnerable with their loved ones.

Samuel Osherson's book, Finding Our Fathers, was a groundbreaking book on the subject and continues to be as relevant for men today as when it was first published. While many fathers now have closer ties to their children and greater emotional awareness, the demands of their work lives are often even greater than in previous generations of fathers. In our busy, cell phone-internet world, dads are distracted from day-to-day human contact with their children (who are busier than ever before themselves!). Being fully present with one another is a difficult challenge.

In his book, Osherson explores how men's early experiences (and ongoing relationship) with their fathers affects their male identity and subsequent relationships with their wives, children, friends, and bosses. In his extensive research and in-depth interviews, the author shows that "if a man is to be a good father to his son, or a good husband to his wife, he needs to know what he got, or wanted and didn't get, from his own father; how he was both strengthened and wounded by that relationship; how it has influenced his own fathering style and his own identity as a man."

In my childhood, my dad was absent much of the time, working as a traveling salesman in Minnesota and the Dakotas. When he came home on weekends, he was stoic and often angry and abusive. Mostly, I feared him and felt angry that he left me, his eldest son, to be the "man of the house" while he was gone. And be his surrogate husband for my mother and surrogate father for my brothers and sister when I was a child.

Both of my grandfathers presented a model of manhood that was the typical Minnesota male stoic (spiced with occasional bursts of anger). I felt some warmth from my dad's father (who always played a skinny Santa Claus at Christmas). But I had little emotional connection with my mother's farmer dad except when he offered us kids a very small glass of chilled Grain Belt beer (from long-neck bottles) on hot summer afternoons sitting around the dining table with the men.

Among my few positive male role models were teachers who encouraged my intellectual growth and rewarded me with good grades. Yet my worst model of manhood was a coach/phys-ed teacher -- a man who once hit me over the head (from behind) with a heavy book, knocking me to the floor for reasons still unknown. That quickly ended my participation in sports he coached (good judgment on my part!) and increased my fear of men.

Thankfully, I had good "buddies" as friends in my childhood. We did all the things boys did in western Minnesota in the 50's and 60's -- playing "peewee" baseball, exploring "snake hill" trails, bike riding all over town, bullhead and crappie fishing, and as teens, pheasant and duck hunting. Then came "girls" (dances, dates, and first kisses), cars!, drive-in movies, smoking, beer-drinking "out in the country," and much more (while being good students in school, of course).

We all went off to college and gradually drifted away from regular contact with one another as we graduated, got our first "real" jobs, moved away from Minnesota, got married, and became fathers. Fathering ... what an experience when you don't have a clue about what to do (and the books about it didn't "compute" with any inner experience from childhood!). I muddled through with lots of help from my wife, the mother of our two sons -- who were born when I was 25 and 29 years old.

As a father, I "showed up" for my sons but ultimately failed at being present and emotionally available to them. I wasn't emotionally intimate with myself in my late 20's and 30's so had a hard time being a father and husband. Like my dad, I did "work" very well, along with my intellectual pursuits, but relationships suffered mightily. I was still so angry with my dad that I didn't allow my sons any contact with him. It took depression and divorce to bring my feelings to life (but, too late for fathering my sons the way I wish I could have). Hard as it was, and with lots of counseling, I "woke up" and did the emotional work to heal (and forgive) my father before he died in 1997. And I had conversations with each of my sons to express my regrets about what kind of father I was to them when they were children.

I agree with Sam Osherson that "If things are imperfect with our children or our childhood (as they are bound to be) there are second, third, and fourth changes as we age and grow. It's never over between parents and children, no matter how old we are. Merely the effort to understand each other can be healing between the generations."

I suspect that as my sons reach mid-life, they may find even more "unfinished business" with me come to the surface as they deal with their own fathering (or not fathering). Not to mention their relationships with their wives or woman-friends, their male friendships (or lack of), men they deal with in their work lives, and their own masculine identity. I've let them know I'm always available to listen, to hear whatever they have to say to me, and to go to counseling together if they so desire.

My hope is that all the wounds from generations of fathers in my family will be healed before my death and not be passed on to my grandchildren and their children.

With hindsight, I can now see how my relationship with my father and my struggles with fathering led me into the men's movement, to building long-term relationships with male friends, and to working with other men as a counselor and men's group "mid-wife" for many years. And to being emotionally available in an intimate relationship with a dearly loved woman.

As I reflect on my personal experience and work with hundreds of men, the most important outcome of completing "unfinished business" with our fathers is an opening of our hearts -- allowing us to be emotionally vulnerable in relationships with women, children, and our fellow men.

Over the years, the best measure I found of a man's trustworthy masculinity is his valuing of relationships with other men, demonstrated by his willingness to devote time and energy to male friendships throughout his life. Trusted friendships with men who he feels safe and secure enough with to speak his feelings -- his sadness, his fears, his anger, and his joys. And to listen with caring and compassion to the emotions of other men (without advice-giving).

When a man can be a trusted friend, he is able to be a fully-engaged father, an intimate relationship partner, and ultimately, his own man.
Life Lessons for Men: Finding Our FathersSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life

I've had the pleasure and privilege to hear James Hollis' lectures at the U. of Oregon during his visits to Eugene over the past several years. Hollis, a Jungian analyst and executive director of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Houston, is an engaging speaker who always offers insights that are thought-provoking (and often, disturbing to one's habitual patterns of behavior!).

In my reading of his book, "Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up," I found his views affirmed my experience during my years as a counselor (and my own life experience). His clarity is startling:

"The chief disorders of our time are the fear of loneliness and the fear of growing up. The flight from loneliness drives people to mill amid malls, to stay in bad relationships, to abuse substances and worst of all, to avoid a relationship with the self. How can we ever have a good relationship with another when we cannot have a good relationship with ourselves? The flight from ourselves will always mean that we will be uncomfortable with another. What we fear in ourselves we will fear in the other; what we avoid addressing in ourselves we will avoid in the other; where we are stuck with ourselves we will be stuck with the other."

Hollis goes on to say that "Growing up means taking psychological responsibility for ourselves, and not just economic and social responsibility -- that is the easy part. Growing up means taking spiritual responsibility for ourselves. No other can define our values, become our authority, or protect us from necessary choices. Until we accept this responsibility for ourselves, we are asking others to be a shelter for our homeless soul. As understandable, and universal, as that desire may be, remember that others will then be asking the same of us as well. How ingrown, and stagnant, such a relationship will prove to be. The immense soul that dwells within each of us will in time, chafe and fret, and produce symptomatic messages of dismay. And in time, whether or not we stay outwardly bound together with a partner, we will psychologically leave the relationship by the diversion of Eros's energy to work, to another, to other projective possibilities, or invert it as depression or somatic illness."

Brilliantly said. I can certainly attest (or is the better word, "confess") to what happens when the soul begins to "chafe and fret". My experience in my late 30's was to "invert it" to become depressed. And later in life, to somatic illness. In myself and people I've counseled, I've seen excessive busyness, workaholism, work avoidance, romantic dalliances, multiple addictions, and projections of every imaginable variety ("it's all your fault!").

If any of James Hollis' words ring true for you (or sufficiently disturb or annoy you!), I suggest you read his book. Sooner or later, your soul will summon you to "live a larger life."

NOTE: James Hollis is scheduled to return to Eugene-Springfield on October 3-4, 2008. His most recent book is titled, "Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves."
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More Life Lessons from Randy Pausch

A few months ago I wrote about Professor Randy Pausch and his "Last Lecture." I was pleased to see him on the cover of Parade magazine on April 6th with his story "The Lessons I'm Leaving Behind" and to learn that he had book on "The Last Lecture" on its way to bookstores.

Then a couple days later, Diane Sawyer interviewed Randy and his wife, Jai, on ABC. She called the story, "The Last Lecture: A Love Story for Your Life." I highly recommend it for viewing and passing along to your loved ones.

The essential question Randy's lecture asks everyone to answer (as he did) is:

"What wisdom would you impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?"

His question is one of the many that we pose to people who are writing an ethical will. While it may be a tough question to answer at any age (since we humans seem pretty resistant to the idea that death will someday visit us and we don't want to face the prospect of our "last chance"), I think it's important for every person and for future generations of humanity that each of us take time to share the wisdom of our unique journey through life.

As Randy Pausch said, "Make Time for What Matters." "Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think."
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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Positive Changes in Older Minds: The Aging Brain

With all the concern today about Alzheimer's and other diseases causing memory loss, it's easy to forget the positive changes that take place in our human brain as we age. Truth is, contrary to long accepted beliefs that our brain power inevitably declines, our minds continue to grow and flourish with age.

In his book, The Mature Mind, Gene Cohen documents findings of aging research that shows "not only does the brain retain its capacity to form new memories, which entails making new connections between brain cells, but it can grow entirely new brain cells -- a stunning finding filled with potential."

Dr. Cohen goes on to say that "We've also learned that older brains can process information in a dramatically different way that younger brains. Older people can use both sides of their brains for tasks that younger people use only one side to accomplish."

"A great deal of scientific work has also confirmed the 'use it or lose it' adage: the mind grows stronger from use and from being challenged in the same way that muscles grow stronger with exercise," says Cohen, who is director of the Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities at George Washington University.

The Mature Mind presents authoritative research and real-life examples to show the positive power of older minds. In a highly readable style, Dr. Cohen describes scientific studies on what happens to the brain as it ages and offers inspiring life stories of ordinary people who demonstrate our creative potential as we live into elderhood.

The author contends that previous definitions of the final stage of life have been too limited. He extends the common "old age" stage to include four distinct developmental phases which often overlap one another:

1. Midlife reevaluation: Not the same as a "midlife crisis", it is a time of exploration and transition -- a quest for the true and meaningful in one's life (ages 40 through 65).

2. Liberation: A time to experiment, innovate, and let go of inhibitions from earlier in life (late 50's to late 60's).

3. Summing up: A time for life review, recapitulation, resolution, and giving back to society (late 60's through the 70's to early 80's).

4. Encore: A final phase of returning to themes from one's life, often expressed in wonderful and surprising ways (80's until the end of life).

Cohen says we have inner drives or desires which he calls the "Inner Push" that motivate us to move through the life phases -- drives that work in concert with changes in the aging brain.

The "inner push" and four phases ring true from my own life experience and from people I've known over the years. At my age of 63, I'm early to the the "summing up" stage. Most all of my work with people on ethical-spiritual wills has been with individuals at that stage and a few who've reached the "encore" phase of their lives.

In his book, Dr. Cohen introduces the concept of "developmental intelligence" which he sees as the "greatest benefit of the aging brain/mind." He defines it as "the degree to which a person has manifested his or her unique neurological, emotional, intellectual, and psychological capabilities." Cohen shows how to cultivate developmental intelligence to take advantage of its rewards as we age.

The most practical and usable information in The Mature Mind covers activities for "brain fitness" -- all of which work to boost clarity, power, and subtlety of the brain/mind significantly:

1. Exercise physically: Numerous studies have shown that regular, aerobic exercise sharply lowers the risk of Alzheimer's and other dementias and increases the number of connections between brain cells.

2. Exercise mentally: Engaging in mentally challenging activities stimulates the mind and new experiences boost brain development -- generating new synapses and other neural structures.

3. Pick challenging leisure activities: Reduction in risk of dementia is related to the frequency of engaging in activities such as dancing, doing crossword puzzles, playing board games or musical instruments, and reading.

4. Achieve mastery: Having a sense of control and mastery is vital for mental and physical health of older people. The feelings of empowerment and sense of accomplishment from mastering activities boosts the immune system and stimulates brain health.

5. Establish strong social networks: Maintaining social relationships reduces stress and lowers blood pressure, reducing the risks of stroke and brain damage. Social activity combats loneliness which causes many adverse health effects while strong social networks have a profound positive impact on health of the brain, mind, and body.

In his book, Dr. Cohen also deals with the subjects of cognition, memory, and wisdom as well as cultivating social intelligence and "reinventing" retirement. He discusses creativity and aging in the last chapter, expanding upon his previous book, The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life. Especially interesting to me were his findings that creativity among older people follow three basic patterns which Cohen describes as commencing creativity, continuing or changing creativity, and creativity connected with loss.

The Mature Mind is a mind-changing book which will awaken you to the positive power of the aging brain and increase your sense of control over its health and well-being. Read it to learn how to realize the amazing potential for your life as you grow older.
Positive Changes in Older Minds: The Aging BrainSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Memoir Books and Memory Quilts by Linda Smith

Yesterday, I met with Linda Smith (whose business is also named "Lasting Legacies") to discuss how we can work together to mutually support people creating personal legacies to pass on to future generations. And we talked about ways to avoid confusion in the marketplace about the work we do.

Linda has focused her work on helping people create memoir books and memory quilts. As regular readers of this blog know, my focus has been on ethical and spiritual wills over the past two years. Linda will also help people with ethical wills and provides an excellent article about them on her website.

I'm pleased to have another person locally who is in the business of helping people create their life legacies. I look forward to collaborating with Linda Smith and will refer people to her who want to tell their life story in a personal memoir or create a memory quilt. I love what she says on her business card, "You tell your story. I'll do the work."

You can reach Linda at (541) 505-7376 or email her from her website.
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Friday, March 14, 2008

More Wisdom from Rogue River Journal

Another passage in John Daniel's Rogue River Journal that I connected with (and wanted to post here to share as well as "stay awake" to myself as a journey through the rest of my life):

"Arguing the existence of God has always seemed oddly benighted to me, beside the point, like speculating about the weather while standing in a warm summer rain. The point is here and now. I look out on these trees, this landscape ridged and furrowed by time, and I see not intent but accomplishment, not disarray but order, not insensate matter but spirited meaning. I see such a fullness of being that my heart aches with it. This is the gift, the given world. To accept it, to bear the privilege of being, is to belong to a majesty we can't comprehend. In the end, we can only be grateful."

These seven sentences from John Daniel's "winter alone," his five months of living in a remote cabin on the Rogue River, are a blessing to remember each day of our lives. Thank you, John, for sharing your wisdom from your experience of solitude.
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Feelings of Melancholy (Rogue River Journal)

My bedtime reading over the past month has been John Daniel's Rogue River Journal. "An extraordinary book" says Mary Oliver on the cover. I wholeheartedly agree.

One of the passages in the book has helped me understand a feeling I've had more and more often in recent times -- a feeling that I didn't have a "word" to clearly describe the experience. Here's what John Daniel wrote:

"I wouldn't be surprised if all night writers were melancholics, but not all melancholics are night writers. Thoreau, that quintessential morning person, wrote of melancholy as an indispensable condition: 'There is a certain fertile sadness which I would not avoid, but rather earnestly seek. It is positively joyful to me. It saves my life from being trivial. My life flows with a deeper current, no longer as a shallow and brawling stream ...' I don't have to seek my own sadness, earnestly or otherwise -- it finds me regularly enough, and I bet the same was true of Henry David It goes, it comes, and it is indeed fertile. Depression is barren, denying as it does all feelings other than hopelessness. Joy is unitary, a single intense pitch with small modulations, and unsustainable in any case. Melancholy is a mix of feelings, a melange shaded strongly with sadness but containing happiness too, even glints of joy. It accepts and reflects the wholeness of living even as it laments one's errors and limitations."

Thank you, John, for the gifts your writing has given me and so many others in the world.
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Expressions of Love in Your Ethical Will

I came across a love letter (with a postmark of March 8, 1987) that I wrote 21 years ago to my sweetheart. It concluded with a poem I've decided to include in my ethical will, along with some of my other favorites. The poem by James Haba was titled "The Greeting":

You have been traveling.
I can see it in your eyes -
the unknown roads demanding new belief.
The light of your will in submission
to the pattern bringing us together.

I have been busy waiting,
putting fresh flowers on the table,
filling the lamps with kerosene,
arranging (as well as I could)
everything, so that you might feel
that you had arrived
at the right place
at the right time.

I am so glad that you could come.
And in honor of our being here together
Let us make a scratch on the wall
of the cave.
We could talk.
We could begin with idle chatter.
I'll start.
I'll say, "I love you."

I was touched by "The Greeting" when I first read it and it touches me at an even deeper level today. I wonder how many times we have said "I love you" to each other since I wrote that letter so long ago. But the "number" of times we've said it doesn't really matter. Just that we continue to say "I love you" each day ... and until our last breaths.
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Friday, March 07, 2008

The Legacy Guide: Recommended Book

In their book, The Legacy Guide: Capturing the Facts, Memories, and Meaning of Your Life, co-authors Carol Franco and Kent Lineback offer an excellent process for organizing your life story and gathering information to use in your ethical will.

The essence of their process involves looking at your life's natural stages with an approach they call "facts to memories to meaning". The seven life stages used to look at your past are childhood, adolescence, young adult, adult, middle adult, late adult, and elder. Within each stage, the book offers questions to help you identify the facts of that time of your life; your memories of important places, people, interests, and events; the meanings you ascribe to that time period (defining moments, values -what mattered, loves, learnings and wisdom); and lastly, a "summing up" about that time of your life. The meanings questions, in particular, are superb for gathering information to use for creating your ethical will.

Along with the book, The Legacy Guide website provides helpful tools for using the approach offered by the co-authors. I especially liked the forms they provide for information gathering at each stage. You can download MS Word documents for one or more of the seven life stages and begin writing today! Even though the book contains many, many more questions and suggestions about what to write about, the downloads offer an great way to get started. You may also want to look at my Life Legacy Wiki (and contribute to it) for ideas for your writing process.

Of all the books I've read about creating life legacies, this one can only be described as extraordinary in both its innovative approach and its depth for capturing the facts, memories, and meanings of your life. I highly recommend it (and their website) for writing about your unique life journey (or that of a loved one) to leave for future generations of your family.
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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pema Chodron's Commentary on The Four Reminders

The latest mailing I received from Shambhala Sun included an insert with a Commentary by Pema Chodron that offers wisdom for "present moment" living:

"The traditional four reminders are basic reminders of why one might make a continual effort to return to the present moment. In your daily life, try to:

1. Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life. Beginning to realize how precious life is becomes one of your most powerful tools. It's like gratitude ... once you have this feeling of gratitude for your own life and the preciousness of human birth, then it takes you into any realm.

2. Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone. Life is very brief. If you realize that you don't have that many more years to live and if you live your life as if you actually had only a day left, then the sense of impermanence heightens that feeling of preciousness and gratitude.

3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what comes around, goes around. The law of karma is that we sow the seeds and we reap the fruit. So when you find yourself in a dark place ... you can think, "Maybe it's time to get a little golden spade and dig myself out of this place."

4. Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don't want does not result in happiness."

From The Compassion Box and Awakening Loving-Kindness by Pema Chodron.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Executive Coach's Advice for Your Career Legacy

In the February 2008 issue of Money magazine, executive coach Marshall Goldsmith offers some legacy-creating advice for one's worklife:

Q. If you had to choose one piece of advice that would help people achieve more happiness on the job, what would it be?

A. Imagine that you're 95 years old, on your deathbed. But before you take that last breath, you get a wonderful gift: the ability to go back in time and talk to the younger you who's reading this story right now and help that younger you have a better career and, more important, a better life. What would that wise 95-year-old tell you to do? Now listen closely because this is the best bit of career coaching you're ever going to get: Whatever you think that 95-year-old would urge you to do, do it. Starting now. When the time comes, you want that 95-year-old to be proud of you. If he says you were a success, you were. Trust me, of all the performance appraisals you'll ever have, that's the only one that really matters.

You can watch the Marshall Goldsmith interview at
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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Leadership Legacies: Built to Serve

Inspiring The Spirit of People at Work

Over the past 40 years, I've had the good fortune to work with hundreds of organizations ranging from multi-billion dollar global corporations and mid-sized companies to new start-ups, non-profits, and governments. I've experienced organizational life as an employee, client, supplier, and service provider in companies with as few as one employee and as many as hundreds of thousands of people.

While most all of the organizations I've been involved with have espoused that people are their most important asset, a rare few have actually put "people-first" into practice. Those with stated missions and values focused on people and service more often have practiced "numbers-first" in their day-to-day operations.

Such is the personal backdrop for my reading of Dan J. Sanders new book "Built-to-Serve: How to Drive the Bottom Line with People-First Practices." The author is the CEO of United Supermarkets, a privately-held company with stores in 26 cities.

Sanders is an engaging storyteller who begins each chapter of his book with a short story that demonstrates the lessons of his content. The stories come from his work experience which included being a U-2 reconnaissance pilot while serving in the Air Force as well as from meaningful events in the author’s life.

Calling for a paradigm shift in business, Sanders provides a hands-on guide for creating "sustainable, culture-driven, people-centered organizations." His view of leadership in organizations involves "more a choice than a position" and focuses primarily on service to others. From my perspective, Sanders offers guidance that complements the servant leadership model which Robert Greenleaf and others have written about.

An organization's culture consists of its values and the common vision held by its people as well as their behavior with one another and the customers they serve.

A people-centered organization engages people in a higher purpose and does not compromise its values. It remains faithful to the vision and mission of the organization 100% of the time. Leaders place the "highest level of importance on human beings." At United Supermarkets, they have reframed the Golden Rule to say:

"Do unto others as you would have your children done unto.”

In Sanders view, this guiding principle “fulfills the human spirit and allows for connecting people on a deeper level."

To be sustainable, organizations must engage people in service and focus on their long-term purpose while balancing the short-term needs of their people. Sanders maintains that "organizations that make people and service the cornerstone of their corporate identity enjoy sustainability."

The heart of the book centers on ways leaders can empower people to make decisions based on the organization's vision, mission, and commitment to sustainability. Sanders says a "clearly communicated and understood vision statement empowers team members to make decisions that support the organization's higher purpose." In his view, the best vision statements incorporate the higher purpose of the organization—that which is most significant to sustain it over time.

A good mission statement is critical as well because it eliminates confusion and reminds everyone of the organization's expectations. It inspires people on their journey toward realizing the organization's vision. Sanders encourages everyone to commit the words of their mission statement to memory and bring them to life in daily decisions. At United Supermarkets, their mission statement consists of just six words: Ultimate Service. Superior Performance. Positive Impact.

I was surprised (and pleased) to read that Sanders believes "the single biggest threat to an organization's success is pride." In my experience, pride has been a destructive element in many of the corporations I've worked with over the years (and has gotten in the way personally in small businesses I’ve started).

The kind of pride the author speaks of is “a high or overbearing opinion of one's worth or importance." To minimize its destructive affects, he suggests a three-step process that keeps people focused on the future, not the past; on the pursuit of excellence; and on the right kind of role models. By fostering humility and asking the right questions, leaders can put destructive pride in its place and maximize positive pride -- "the feeling of elation and satisfaction derived from achievement."

Sanders concludes each chapter with a summary of key points aptly titled "From the Express Lane" (great for speed readers and PowerPoint enthusiasts!). In the final chapter, he provides a "Carryout for Leaders" – a 10-point list which includes such guidance as "Surrender your ego", "No job is unimportant", and "Do not compromise integrity."

In the Afterword, Ken Blanchard, co-author of Leading at a Higher Level and The One Minute Manager, encourages readers to learn from Dan Sanders leadership and take action in their organizations. He calls on leaders to focus on three simple questions to guide their organizations to long-term success:

1. What have we done for our customers?
2. What have we done for our people?
3. What have we done for our community?

By putting the lessons of Built to Serve into practice, business leaders can create a profound shift in the vitality and performance of their organizations. I highly recommend the book to people at all levels in any size organization -- for inspiration, for guidance in leading, and for instilling life-enhancing principles in workplaces throughout our community and the world.

NOTE: Dan Sanders, Steven Covey, and others have started The Center for Corporate Culture to help leaders put the principles of "Built to Serve" into practice.
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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wisdom for 2008: Living in Service

In my reading over the holidays, I came across these powerful words of wisdom from Greek classics scholar Gilbert Murray:

"Live in the service of something higher and more enduring, so that when the tragic transience of life at last breaks upon you, you can feel that the thing for which you have lived does not die."

Quoted in Living Your Unlived Life by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Ph.D.
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