Why Do We Wait to Think About These Things?

I had the most amazing conversation during a recent visit to a dear friend who is in the hospital. She is very ill and her prognosis is worse. Fortunately, her pain medications are not affecting her coherency and ability to speak. The words she shared were profound. She knows what the future holds. Her wisdom and advice made think about things I never imagined. I now ask myself, “Why do we wait to think about these things?”

I’ll give you one example from our conversation. I told her I was preparing a speech and was concerned about saying the right things to connect with the audience. She asked, “What do you have so far?” I began to answer and she soon started shaking her head. She said, “No, no, no. Say little and connect eye-to-eye with just one person in the front row. The rest of the audience will then know your amazing heart. They will feel your love.” I was stunned in silence.

During the rest of our time together she shared wisdom about different aspects of life. I was in awe. It’s not that those things she shared were not always in her. It’s just that they came out now…and delivered in a way that really got my attention. Why do we wait to think about these things?

She has for years been a frequent participant on Facebook. To give you a glimpse of my dear friend, the following is a recent post of hers. Enjoy!

“Pushing a “like” button on Facebook means nothing.

Get off Facebook. Go into the world. Hug your mother. Buy food for a homeless person. Water a plant.

Open your heart. Go do a minimum of one good deed per day.

Your liking my pictures is bullshit.

Use your body mind and spirit to make your one little corner of the world better.

Speak truth to power.

Fight for the oppressed.

Teach people to read.

Give a hand up not a handout.
Stop being cowardly.

Either use your life for good or get the hell out of the way.
Your selfishness nauseates me.

Unfriend me if that’s who you are. I won’t miss you. 

If you don’t use this amazing life to do the amazing good for which you were put on this planet, why are you here?

I know my answer.

Go figure yourself out what the truth is for you.

Restore your corner of the world.

I am going on strike until you figure it the fuck out.

And I’m not waiting around to make sure you do.

Thanks for the love.

See you next time.”

Thank you for the life lesson, Debbie. I love you!

P.S. If you want to know more about Debbie and her award-winning books (you should buy all of them!), check her out at  www.sociosights.com and www.winegarten.com.

We Don’t Listen Alone

Listening is something I have been both fascinated with and a student of. It is a skill that most people take for granted, think they are good at, and almost never take the steps to improve. This morning I was introduced to a story about Albert Einstein that is a great example of how, if we open our minds to practicing a different way of listening, a whole new world will reveal itself.

I encourage you to read through the entire story http://tinyurl.com/einsteinlistening. When you are finished, think about what in your life you could learn to appreciate further if you merely changed the way you listened to it. Ask yourself, “Who am I listening with, or am I listening alone?”

What to Say (and Not to Say) to the Bereaved

One of the most uncomfortable situations we will all come across at some time in our lives is interacting with a friend or relative who has had a friend or loved one die. The challenge that most of us face during this time of bereavement is what to say to the bereaved. I just came across a well-written article in the Huffington Post by Carole Brody Fleet: 15 Things You Should Never Say to the Bereaved http://tinyurl.com/9fwm86d. Having experienced bereavement on a personal basis, I think Carole’s advise is solid and worth reading.

She approaches the subject from a point of empathy, giving the reader not only things you should never say, but also including what the bereaved is probably thinking if you say it. Don’t worry, however. At the end of the article, she gives the reader suggestions of what to say. My favorite suggestion in this part is, “You might not be ready to talk about it today, but when you’re ready, I’m here to listen.” I have written much on the topic of listening. Being a good listener and offering a comforting heart is most welcomed in the case of comforting the bereaved.

A time when we most want to be heard is when we are hurting. So offer your heart, your ear and your love…and just listen.

End of Life Lesson Learned Today

Just two days ago at around noon I received an email from my friend, Kristi Curry, who has a wonderful business called Survivorship Now http://survivorshipnow.com/. A friend of hers in Katy, Texas named Ben wrote to her saying that his church buddy, Dan (age 49), was just given bad news about his cancer and was advised to call in hospice care immediately. Ben called Kristi to ask for her professional advice to help Dan’s wife organize her life for what was to come. He also said he wanted to videotape Dan’s stories so his two kids would know him better when they grew older. Ben asked Kristi for advise on what questions to ask and how to ask them. That’s when Kristi referred me.

I connected with Ben yesterday via email, then by phone. Ben explained that Dan didn’t have any funds to afford a professional LifeStory and that he was going to do it pro-bono. I don’t know why it happened, but something inside me said I have to do it. I told Ben that I could be there (two and a half hours away) the following morning by 10:30 to conduct the interview, as long as Ben filmed it.

When we arrived at Dan’s home this morning, we were greeted by Dan’s beautiful and gracious wife, Marcina. We set up the camera in Dan’s bedroom and tried to get as much as we could of an interview, but unfortunately, due to the medications he was on, could not record much. What we did record, however, showed what a loving, caring father and husband he was. Rather than coming home without much of anything for Dan’s family, I asked Marcina if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed…to capture Dan’s LifeStories through the stories of his loving wife. She agreed and we filmed about two hours of her smiles, tears and love for her husband. She showed unbelievable bravery and unselfish caring for her husband who was too ill to express his story himself.

By 1:00 PM, we left her home with hugs and well wishes to her for strength during the tough journey ahead that she faced. I arrive back home at around 4:00 PM, exhausted, but glad I had accomplished what I had that day. An hour later Ben called. He said he called to thank me, to be sure I got home okay, and…after a long pause…to tell me someone from his church called an hour ago to say that Dan had just died.

At first I was in a bit of shock. Yesterday, Dan was a total stranger to me. And now, after only knowing he and his wife for a few hours, I feel like an integral part of their lives. The lesson I’ve believe I learned from today’s experience is to share your stories with the ones you love often, to celebrate life at every opportunity you get, and to give unselfishly whenever you can. Had I thought, “It’s been a long week, I’m too tired to drive all the way to Katy early on a Saturday morning, conduct this unpaid interview, then drive all the way back,” I would not have met Dan and his wife. And I am a better man now…because of them.

Thank you Kristi, Ben, Marcina, and especially Dan. May you rest in eternal peace.

Letter From a Mother to Her Daughter

I wish I could give original credit where credit is due on this, but I found it on my Facebook page. I was touched by its heartfelt meaning. Enjoy!

“My dear girl, the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don’t interrupt to say: “You said the same thing a minute ago”… Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep. When I don’t want to take a bath, don’t be mad and don’t embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl? When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don’t look at me that way… remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life’s issues every day… the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If I occasionally lose track of what we’re talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can’t, don’t be nervous, impatient or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you. And when my old, tired legs don’t let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don’t feel sad… just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I’ll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I’ve always had for you, I just want to say, I love you… my darling daughter. ”

Happy Mother’s Day!

“Rescuing a Single Life” – Tom, Judy, and The Homeless Coach

“Whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” This is a quote from the Talmud, also mentioned in the movie Schindler’s List http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108052/. I have had the honor to have met two people who have done such an act of selfless compassion. The first is Tom Baum, founder of The Homeless Coach, a live, interactive social networking approach to reverse homelessness http://www.homelesscoach.org/. Tom has combined his experience and success in the high-tech industry with his huge heart for the plight of the homeless population in Austin and the world. The Homeless Coach’s mission is to reverse homelessness “a single life” at a time.

The second person is Judy Knotts. Judy has developed a mentoring relationship with Kim, the first graduate of the Homeless Coach program. While Judy’s background and experience in private education gives her enough knowledge to help Kim, her involvement goes way beyond logical giving and enters into heartfelt compassion for another people.

Tom mentioned to me that he was scheduled to interview Kim when the StoryCorps http://storycorps.org/ mobile recording booth came to Austin last month. I asked if I could volunteer to interview her instead. I knew a bit about Kim’s story before, but this interview opened my eyes regarding how a life can be transformed from familial abuse, to 22 years on the streets, to coming clean and sober, to earning her associates degree in Medical Billing and Coding from an accredited university, to now studying for a full Bachelor’s degree in Health Care.

In a recent email, Judy writes (to both Tom and I), “Mike you are great on the tape, terrific voice, amazing articulation, and inspired questions. I have heard the CD 3 times since getting it on Saturday. Kim was with me in my car when we began to listen. When I got to the part where she described being beaten, I had to turn it off for a time. It was just too painful. Kim said, “Do you now know why I call  you Mama?”  I get it now. She has never called me anything else. Funny to hear her call me Judy on the CD. There were other things I didn’t know about her. There is value in having someone a bit removed and also experienced conduct the interviews. Kim astounded me with her insights and I told her. She said, ”My speaking is still not good.” We are working on this, hard to change a life time of grammar errors! Amazing men, you two! Proud to know you!”

I am flattered by Judy’s kind words, but more honored to be associated with two people as incredible as Tom and Judy. I hope all of you can some day know a Tom and Judy of your own, so you can personally witness, as I have, how someone can “…rescue a single life.”

“You Don’t Understand”

One would think that if you just heard someone tell you, “You don’t understand”, it would be a negative thing. But when a client of mine told me just that and explained why he said that, I knew it was a much-needed compliment. Let me explain.

I interviewed this client’s parents in Dallas back in May, 2007. His father died about a year later. I called him recently to thank him for referring yet another of his friends to me to have a LifeStory done for their parent(s). I said, “I don’t quite know how to thank you for the numerous referrals you’ve given me.” He said, “You don’t understand. I keep your LifeStory DVDs on my desk at my office. Whenever I am missing Dad, all I have to do is pop in the DVD into my computer and there he is.” He went on to explain that giving me referrals is his gift to his friends so they can experience those memories for themselves.

I was speechless. Little did I know how much those LifeStory DVDs meant to him. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to remind each of you the importance of recording the memories of your loved ones…whether you do it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.  If you want to do it yourself but don’t know where to begin, please call me. I’d be glad to help you get started. It’s too important to ignore.

I hope you can now say, as I did that day, “Now I understand.”

How to Ask the Difficult Questions

One of the many rewards I receive from interviewing people for their LifeStories is the gratitude from the children and grandchildren of the interviewees. One of the things they typically say is, “I’ve known them all my life but have never heard that story before.” One of the reasons why they’ve never heard the story is because they never asked the question. The most common reason for not asking the question is because it is a difficult one to ask. Here are my thoughts on asking those difficult questions you’ve waited a lifetime to ask:

Thought #1 – Ask the Question Anyway – “How do I word the question?”, “When is the best time to ask it?”, Where should I ask them that question?” are all real fears that get in the way. I say, “As the question anyway.” The fact that you are concerned with those points should let you know that you are sensitive to the subject. If you let fear, however, get in the way of your asking the question, it will never be asked. All too often, I’ll hear at a funeral, “I never knew _____ about them.” If you don’t ask, you’ll never know! Ask anyway.

Thought #2 – Use Empathy – Think to yourself, “If someone were to ask me the same question, how would I want it to be asked of me?” Whatever the answer to that is, use it to ask the question. This is how I formulate many of the questions I use in the LifeStory interviews I conduct. If you follow this advice, your caring and concern for the other person will shine through and make their answer as genuine as it can be.

Thought #3 – They’ve Been Waiting for You to Ask the Question for a Long Time – While this idea might seem foreign to you, you’ll be surprised when they tell you, “I knew you were going to ask me that. I just didn’t know when you were going to get around to it.” The amazing thing about this is that the’ve had an answer for you in their mind for a long time. Think about it in your own life experiences…some things you are just not going to volunteer to tell people unless and until they ask. But when they ask, you will gladly answer. It’s true!

Thought #4 – Approach the Question with the Benefit of Others in Mind – Here’s an example of what I mean by that: “I know you went through a divorce in 1968. Please share with me what experiences you went through and what lessons you learned from those experiences so others (substitute here “your grandchildren”, “your children”, “I”, etc. instead of “others” if it fits) will not go through the same difficult times as you did.” Remember, everyone goes through difficult times in life. Most people would be happy to share those experiences if it means being able to help others avoid making the same mistakes they made.

Thought #5 – Sincere Interest and Genuine Curiosity – I’ve mentioned this before and cannot emphasize it enough. Questions about someone’s life should always be asked with sincere interest and genuine curiosity…and you cannot fake either! This is especially important when you ask difficult questions. The person you are asking will see this and will more likely respond favorably.

Be sure to give yourself a pat on the back when you ask those difficult questions. It’s a brave thing you are doing and you should reward yourself for doing so.

 

Teach Your Children Well

The lyrics of Graham Nash come to mind as I ask my LifeStories Alive interviewees about the valuable lessons they’d like to teach their children. I disagree with Nash’s last stanza, “Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry, So just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.” http://tinyurl.com/878l4bl. Yes, tears will sometimes flow as we ask our children (or our parents), “Why?”, but with great risk comes great reward. The answers to what we want to teach our children are so valuable, the questions should, and must, be asked. I have seen the rewards of asking…and they are priceless.

The challenge, however, is not knowing how to ask those questions…questions of lessons learned that should be passed down to future generations. My best advice is to first realize the risk of not asking the questions, and , thus, not allowing the lessons to be learned. When we think of mistakes that we’ve made because we were never taught to avoid them, we begin to realize our multi-generational responsibility. Thinking of this puts us in the frame of mind to ask those questions.

As mentioned in previous blog posts, setting the right environment, or a safe place, for stories to be shared is very important. If possible, ask the questions where you will have minimal chances of interruption. It is horrible to have someone sharing thoughts from their hearts only to have them stopped mid-stream by an interruption. Once someone is “in the zone” of sharing words of wisdom, make it easy to stay in “the zone”.

It is also essential to practice great listening skills while asking these questions. A good, long pause after you think the interviewee has finished with their thought will prevent you from missing a pearl of wisdom that usually follows a long pause of thought. Practice this in your regular, day-to-day conversation to fine-tune this skill. In every LifeStory interview I conduct, I find moments when I am glad I waited that extra second before I said something. This video clip is a perfect example http://tinyurl.com/8xhbzce . Had I interrupted his emotion by saying something, I never would have heard, “I miss my Dad”. While this might not seem like a direct lesson taught to a child, his son sure learned a lot about his father from this clip!

As to what questions to ask so great lessons can be passed along, I suggest using empathy while formulating your questions to ask. For instance, if you are formulating a question regarding parenting skills, ask yourself, “What question should someone ask me if I wanted to pass along what I think a good parent should do?” This is usually a good place to start when thinking about what to ask your interviewee. It will also aid the interviewee in feeling that you posses two of the most important attributes in conversation: sincere interest and genuine curiosity.

So, with all due respect, Graham Nash, I think the lyrics should read, “Go ahead and ask them why, if they told you, all will cry, So just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.”

 

An Inspiring 9/11 Story You Haven’t Heard

I just found a link to an inspiring 9/11 story I hadn’t heard in the ten years since that memorable day. Please watch this and then come back and read the rest of this blog post: http://tinyurl.com/6cmfuwm .

“I believe (every)body has a little hero in ’em. You gotta look in. And if it’s in there, it’ll come out.” These are the words of one of the unsung heroes in New York City ten years ago. A hero captured in this Tom Hanks video. The question I ask myself today is, “What can I do to discover and act upon the hero within me?”

We can all do something. One of the valuable lessons pointed out in this video is how, at a time of intense tragedy, we helped one another. We set aside any differences, any prejudices, any ways that we, all too often these days, look to divide one another. We came together to become one. May one of the lessons of September 11, 2001 be that we should look at one another with those eyes on a daily basis, view one another as fellow citizens, and, thus, find the hero within us all.