Listening is expensive

listenIf talk is cheap, listening is expensive.  I love to listen to heartfelt stories especially from people I love.  There’s one whose heart I love hearing above all and that is my sweetie.  Tonight, she needed to vent about some things and she gently let me know was what was coming.  Her setup helped me to listen the way she wanted to be heard.

When we want help, we want the listener to listen for understanding.  We want solutions.  However, when we want to vent, solutions is exactly what we do not want.  We want to be listened to just for understanding.  It’s a subtle difference, but it is the difference between the speaker getting what they want or not.  If the speaker owns the topic and doesn’t get what they want, the whole experience is frustrating and irritating.  When it works though, it is magical.  There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when someone focuses on you and truly listens for understanding.

Listening is expensive because it is hard work (hard emotional work) and because it is rare. One last thought.  If you want me to listen for understanding, do what Jeanie did.  Tell me what you want and, who knows, you might just get it.

Thanks Sweetie.  It is an honor to hear your heart.

Loud Voices

shoutNegative, critical voices from the past can be so loud!  They send hurtful messages.  They drown out rational thought and cause us to misunderstand what others mean.  They cause us to believe things that are not true.  Why do they stick so much more tenaciously than positive messages?

An Experiment

scientistAfter attending my friend, Chia-Li Chien’s book signing this evening, I was mowing my lawn and thinking.  Chia-Li joined our Toastmasters club just a couple of years ago and she has already finished her Advanced Communicator award.  Most never get there.  A year or so ago, she told me that she was thinking of writing a book and she did it!  Tonight was her book signing party.  In Linchpin, Seth Godin says, “Real artists ship!”  Chia-Li is a real artist.

I have had a dream of writing a book myself for some time now.  I have so many other activities in my life that it is hard to take the time to just focus on the writing.  I want to say, “yes” to writing, but I don’t want to say, “No” to other interests.  Chia-Li’s party renewed that desire.

Stirred to write again and yet having been down this road I was ready to give up before even trying again.  As my friend John likes to remind me, it may feel like a familiar place, but it is not the same.  With that thought in mind (and before I hit the off switch), I am going to make a commitment.  I commit to doing an experiment.  For the next 30 days, I will write on this blog once a day.  I will “ship” something daily.  It may not be polished.  It may not even be coherent, but it will be published.

I’m kind of excited to see what I have to say.  See you tomorrow, if I don’t blow up the laboratory.

Trappic Stop

stop_signYou know what’s worse than getting a ticket for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign… When there’s a cop sitting around the corner watching and waiting… like a TRAP. Where there’s no other traffic and no danger. Where the driver (that would be me) slowed down almost to a stop, but didn’t “officially” stop.  Where the intersection isn’t even an intersection at all, just a 90 degree turn.  You know what’s worse than that?  Plenty!  There’s a lot worse than that.  I’m thankful that this all I have to be irritated about… but it’s all I’ve got and I am irritated.

I feel irritated and bothered because I believe the time, energy and money expended on my interaction with this officer and the time and energy yet to be spent in dealing with the paperwork and whatever comes of it is a complete and utter waste.   Not to mention the actual cost of the ticket and the likelihood of my insurance rates going up.

I feel angry because I believe I was disrespected by the officer in a couple of ways:  His placement on that street looking for a violation of the letter of the law was a trap.  If I have violated a law, I am ok with dealing with the consequences of that.  Being trapped for making a mistake is not the same thing as being caught.  I do not treat people that way and I do not appreciate being treated that way.  It’s disrespectful.

The officer asked if I saw the stop sign.  I said I did not.  I was looking for an address and on the wrong street altogether and this stop sign was in a very odd place.  I didn’t see it… but I did come almost to a stop because I was about to turn around.  He said in a loud, mocking tone, “You didn’t see that big red stop sign!?”  What was I going to say, “Yes, officer.  I saw it, but I chose to ignore it”?  It was a disrespectful question in a disrespectful voice.  You put a trap where you know you will catch people… where they are going to trip up.  Clearly the sign is not communicating well if there are enough people missing it to suggest a trap.  If I was the only one who didn’t see it, it would have been a really dumb place to put a trap.  So why be insulting?

I don’t know whether the officer’s intentions were to be insulting or not.  It sure felt disrespectful.   Maybe he is just doing what he is told and he hates doing it.  I don’t know.  I’ll never know.

When I got home, I looked at the ticket.  I almost laughed out loud when I read the preamble notice (all CAPS as printed on the ticket)…


Somehow I don’t think anyone was in danger of injury or death from a traffic accident at any time in this intersection.  Nor do I believe this was a fair, impartial or reasonable enforcement of traffic laws.  It was a trap.  Nuff said!

This Is It

michael-jackson-this-is-it-rehearsalI just watched movie “This is It“, Michael Jackson’s rehearsals for his intended performance tour.  I feel stirred.  Here are my rather raw thoughts.  (Won’t be much proofreading or editing this time).

I am a music snob.  There, I said it.  I do not care for much pop music and I probably won’t ever buy any MJ music.  It just does not match my musical pallette.  That statement says more about me than it does about MJ.  I could say his music is bad, but the reality is that it is very good.  I just don’t care for it… musically.  My opinion.

I once heard an interview with Quincy Jones in which he was praising MJ for his musicianship when they worked together on The Wiz.  I have a lot of respect (musically) for Quincy Jones, so his praise for Michael made me sit up and take notice.  I also heard a lot of people who saw it in the theater say how much they liked it.  I really noticed for myself what an awesome musician MJ really was.  He knew what he wanted to hear… exactly and pushed back until he got it.

I noticed that at times, he had trouble explaining in plain language what he wanted.  He would describe something in really wacky abstract terms, like the time he said that his ear piece (monitor) felt like someone was putting a fist in his ear.  The producer guy had to ask him patiently if there was anything they could do to make it better.  Was there something missing in the mix?  He replied, “No, just turn it down.”  I thought to myself, “Why didn’t you just say that to begin with?”  However, I can also relate to having trouble communicating something simple.  Sometimes I am so caught up in what I’m doing that I can’t express simple what I want to say until someone patiently asks the right questions to get understanding.

I am reading Pops (a biography of Louis Armstrong) and they called him an entertainer.  The “real” musicians didn’t mean it as a compliment.  They complained that he was an “Uncle Tom” and too self depricating on stage.  What they didn’t understand was that was who he was… an entertainer.  It was part of the act.  Similarly I think Michael was truly an entertainer and “real” musicians don’t get it.  In his own words near the end of the video (to the best of my memory), he told his fellow performers that they (the audience) was coming to escape reality.  they want to be taken places they’ve never been before and experience talent that they’ve never experienced before.  That’s entertainment.  He put on a helluva show!

Michael Jackson was a strange man with some really odd problems.  He was born in 1958, the same year I was born.  He became famous with the Jackson Five when he was only eight.  I can only imagine what that would do to a person.  You can’t live the life of a public star and not have any adverse affects.  My guess (and it is only a guess) is that a lot of the personal issues MJ had were direcly related to his fame.  He wasn’t a normal guy. I also think that his artistry was related to his eccentricity.  In my experience, it seems like when someone has a lot of talent in one particular area, they are missing it in most other areas.

Before I started the movie, I posted on Facebook that I was going to watch it.  I got some interesting comments.  It’s funny how someone like MJ pushes so many buttons even after his death.  I like pushing my own boundaries, experiencing new things and doing the unexpected.  Most of all I love excellence and I love variety!  I’m glad I watched the show.  It was excellent.

Thanks Michael.

Tying My Own Shoes

While boarding my plane on my recent trip to Arizona, I overheard one passenger telling another about a different method for tying shoes.  He was just finishing the explanation and telling her how it was much more secure than the regular method.  My shoes are constantly coming untied, so I was curious, but the line was moving again and it was too late to ask.  I determined to check google for the answer.

Wouldn’t you know there is a site devoted to tying ones shoes; Ian’s Shoelace Site features 17 ways to tie a shoelace. I experimented with each of them evaluating for ease of tying and security until I came to the ians-balanced-knot“Two Loop Shoelace Knot”; the “normal” knot that I learned when I was a kid.  Thinking that it has never been very secure, I almost moved on and then I caught Ian’s warning:  “It’s often tied incorrectly, resulting in an un-balanced ‘Granny Knot’.” As an experiment, I tied my shoes automatically without thinking about how I was doing it and checked the results.  No wonder my shoelaces always come untied.  I have been tying a “granny knot” my whole life!

So, I didn’t need a fancy new way of tying my shoes, I just needed to tie a square knot instead of a granny knot.  I have to think about what I am doing when I tie them now, but now that I am tying them correctly, my shoes have been quite secure for the last couple of weeks.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

A Perspective on Hierarchies

Two seemingly unrelated stories stirred something deep in me… Warning: movie spoiler ahead.

puzzle-piecesStory 1: I was talking to a friend this morning.  Incidentally this friend is a few years younger than I.  In the near future, we will be spending more time together, and we were discussing how we were each looking forward to that time.  He said he was looking forward to all the things he would learn from me in our time together. I replied that I predicted there would be a lot of mutual learning.  He responded that he wasn’t sure what he could teach me.  Hmmm…

Story 2: Last night, I watched the movie Instinct about a man who lived among apes and then became a murderer.  It is a classic storyline of an old guy teaching a somewhat arrogant, self-assured, young guy stuff about life.  The teacher has the reigns of power.  He is always in control, in charge and invincible.  In the end, they young guy learns lessons about himself that the teacher somehow knew how to pull out of him.  It is only at the very end that we learn (almost as an afterthough) that the teacher has also learned from the student.  In the movies, the older guys always teach the younger guys things and the younger guys either have (or learn to have) total respect and reverence for their teachers.  The teachers always have the upper hand.

When I was a youngster, I learned those rules well.  In the heirarchy of relationships, my teachers are above me.  They are all-knowing and unquestionable.  It is my job to learn what the teacher knows.  Period.  The teachers have already been through what I have been through, so there is nothing I can teach them. One day, I will be the teacher. Until then, I am the student. I looked forward to the day when I could be the older guy teaching the younger ones about life.  Then, I would get the respect that comes from being the sagacious teacher and leader.

I find myself at that point of transition.  Although I don’t see myself as an “old guy” yet, I find that there are more younger people in my life than older people.  I am beginning to see things from the other perspective.  I see that the old guy in the movies is hiding behind the hierarchical relationship.  The old guy still has a lot of stuff to work through and learn.  In fact, the whole hierarchy thing is bullshit (sorry mom, it was the right word this time).  Maybe there is a good purpose behind hierarchies, but they do not promote the honoring of individuals and do not contribute to building strong relationships.

Now that I have “paid my dues” and “earned the right” to be the “sagacious teacher”, rather than enjoying the role, I find myself wanting to destroy the hierarchical nature of the whole shebang. The society that we live in produces and encourages these kinds of hierarchies.  Most are unaware of them, but feel a “need” to have them to be able to function. I think they are dishonoring and that we mostly hide behind them.

In areas where I wield the power, I want to use it to empower others.  Rather than spouting my own “wisdom” all the time, I want to learn from the perspectives of others.  I want to be an encourager and a builder of people… and I want to help normalize those kinds of relationships… relationships that honor and respect others.  Not because we have earned it somehow, but because we are breathing the same air.  I want to listen to stories and dreams; stories that tell how we got here and dreams of where we want to go.

I keep thinking about the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. Each person brings a new perspective and each perspective has value. To my friend, I say, “I hope you will learn from me.  I hope that some of the things I have learned through the years will help you in your journey.  I look forward to sharing my stories and dreams with you.  I also look forward to the stories and dreams you will share with me… and what I will learn from you.

A New Year, A New Collage

The new year has snuck up on me and it is time for the annual news of the Anderson family. You may not know, but this is the very reason I started this web site. It began in 2000 as a way to use the web to begin to communicate Christmas greetings to our family and friends. It has since morphed into a tradition. A couple of years ago, I mentioned that I wasn’t going to do it anymore.  I was informed in no uncertain terms that I had to do it.

As much as I chafe over doing something because I “have to”, I must admit that I do like it… especially creating the collage.  The process of going through photos and remembering all that we have done over the last 12 months is cathartic.  It is easy for someone like me to forget and begin to think that my life does not matter.  Remembering and reflecting becomes more important to me all the time… or maybe it is just my awareness of its importance.

I hope you will take a few moments to read the 2009 Anderson Family News and take a look at the 2009 Collage.  You can always view collages and news pages from previous years by clicking the Family News menu on the web site

One Year Ago

Molly Pops LoveJust a year ago today my life changed forever when Molly Nicole Ogren entered and made me a grandpa.  Now all my relations are referred to by their relationship to Molly; Jeanie is “Gran”, Danae is “Molly’s Mom” etc.

I knew I was going to love being a grandpa, but I didn’t know why.  It’s hard to explain, but kinda like this…

  • First I grew up.  I wasn’t really aware of what was going on because it was the first time I’d ever grown up.
  • Next, I had kids of my own and I got to grow up again.  While I observed the things they were going through, I remembered similar experiences I had.  I wasn’t really trying to live my life through them, but it sorta happened that way when their stuff reminded me of my stuff.
  • Now as the grandpa, I get to do it again.  Only this time I am not primarily responsible for this one.  When I am with her I can just love up on her and study her.  I love watching  her learn.

The interesting thing is that I change each time I go through this process.  I think it is interesting how as parents we tended to worry about how our actions would affect our children.  What we missed in the process is how they were changing us.  I’m not the same person I was when any of my children were a year old.  Molly is already working her magic on me.  Giving me a whole new outlook on life.

Last time I was with her was Thanksgiving weekend.  Over and over, I went through the routine of placing my hand on my chest and saying, “Pops”.  Then I put my hand on her chest and said, “Molly”.  After a few times, she put her hand on my chest and a couple of times she actually said, “Pops!”  Danae said that she had to mop me up off the floor when I melted.

Here are some recent photos for fans:

2009-11-30 Thanksgiving


Jesus from GodspellPlease don’t tell my Sunday School teacher, but I watched Godspell, a musical from 1972 based on the life of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Matthew.  I was 14ish when it came out in movie form and being Southern Baptists, my peers and I were forbidden to see it.  I (being an obedient young fellow) didn’t see it.  By the time I was old enough to decide for myself, I had forgotten about it and it was not readily available (VCRs hadn’t even been invented yet).  I never saw it until tonight.

I can understand why they didn’t allow us to see it.  This modern, artful depiction of Jesus and his followers was way too “out there” for most of the folks in my parents’ generation.  In this musical, Jesus is a hippie and is dressed clownishly.  The whole “hippie” thing of free love and irresponsibility, chafed against their values  for hard work and conformity.  To make matters worse, his disciples are both black and white, male and female and the songs are rowdy rock and roll (for the time).

While I understand and even respect the stance of those church leaders (oddly, I don’t remember ever discussing this with my parents), I was not part of their generation and I feel like I missed something good.  The movie I watched tonight was quite dated.  The video quality and the style of music were typical of the 70’s… but there was something about it that moved me.  I think I would have been moved as a teenager too.  I saw a creative, artistic expression of the life of Jesus that I think would have inspired me.  Clearly, it was never intended to be taken as a literal interpretation of the Bible, but that fact was likely missed by the folks who ran things in my church.  Their position was that dancing, joking, references to drinking wine, etc were sacrilegious and disrespectful.  To them, acceptable depictions of Christian themes in art would be limited to “normal” church music and art.

I remember some of the songs from the musical like “Day by Day” that came into their own as pop tunes.   I could never understand what they found offensive (apart from the association with the musical itself).  According to the wisdom of Wikipedia, “Most of the score’s lyrics were from the Episcopal Hymnal, set to music by the cast members.”  I think it was a good desire to protect the young people from something, but in retrospect, their control kept me from an experience that would have been enriching to me.

Day by day
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day

A jimazing view of life