Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire!

Wasn't life easier when we played by playground rules and when someone told a big, fat lie we just screamed, "Liar, liar! Pants on fire!"?

Life has become so much more complex.

This is an area of growing discussion around the Womack house. It seems that the youngest of my offspring has discovered one of life's universal truths: If you are trustworthy, it is easy to lie and get away with it. She has also realized another important fact: When you are caught telling a lie, no one trusts you to tell the truth in the future. Imagine a peaceful Saturday morning. The sun has just come up and a sweet little voice is inches from my face as I sleep in my bed. I hear, "Mom, can I watch TV?" I am instantly awake. Not so much from the noise, but from the overwhelming scent of chocolate that has invaded my personal space. "Little one, why are you eating chocolate so early and without permission?" The response, "I'm not." We recently had the two small boys of our dear friends over for an afternoon. One came racing around the corner following a visit to the bathroom. "Did you wash your hands?" The response, "Yup, Ms. Mandy." When I asked to see his hands, he hightailed it right back into the sink. In both of these relationships, I now look twice. I know that Z sneaks candy and I know that A doesn't like to wash his hands. I am sure both had previously done both things... probably many times.

It is a problem that plagues the best (and most innocent) among us. And, well, those that are not quite so young and innocent.

I encountered several moments this week around this topic and, trust me, it is complex. It is a complex, tangled mess. I share with you this fact about me, but in a non self-righteous way: I very rarely lie. I have MANY bad habits, but lying is not one of them. Early on I learned that if you don't want to say the answer to something, you just tell the person, "I am not comfortable/ready/wanting to talk about that." I find that it is so much easier than creating a habit that requires me to remember who I told what to when. The moments of this week involved some of those direct choices to tell the truth or lie, but also several were more subtle. They were the lies that involve the omission of facts. You know the scenario I mean, right? Answers to questions that are not false, but also not the entire story. Some days I feel like conversations are a treasure map and that if I find enough clues I can get to what I am seeking.

We are organizations built on values like truth, honor, and integrity. How do we hold the reality of our world with the reality of what we pledged to uphold at initiation? As we grow as a community, can we challenge ourselves to grow individually? Perhaps it is around big issues, or perhaps it is around smaller things. Either way, challenge yourself to not lie the next time someone asks a question you don't want to answer. Don't allow yourself to be sucked into the world of pretending things are bigger and better than what you are. You were selected to join your organization because they liked YOU for who YOU ARE.

And, I may just try to bring back the "Pants on fire!" taunt if I catch you. ;)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bumper Sticker Living

This is a glorious picture that I found with a quick Google search. There is a car that parks on one of the main streets in my neighborhood that has a similar look. I wish I was bold enough to pull over and take a high quality picture. Each time I see it, I have the same reaction to the image below, "Wow - this person has a lot to express." As I take in this image, there are messages of being fiscally conservative, images of women in the American flag, an outline of our country filled with a rainbow flag, a message to keep abortion legal, a commitment to music, a few shout outs to spirituality and science... Whoa. That is a lot as you are driving your truck around town. 

I believe it was during my partner's tenure as a Seminary student that we pulled up to the light at Garnet in PB behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, "Libraries Change Lives". He started laughing and asked if I thought that he should change his graduate work to being a librarian. Cheeky. What a powerful statement that fit on such a little sticker. Really - this person had a strong opinion. They were passionate enough to find/receive a bumper sticker and then take the time to actually apply it to their car. All I know about them is this statement. The whole thing got me thinking... Are we more than Bumper Sticker Living? Or, is our entire world view opinion summed up in a clever statement that we put out to others? Two main concepts trouble me about this phenomenon.

Bumper Sticker Living does not invite explanation or rationale. Do we interact in a world where our total sentiment is expressed in a sentence and possibly a graphic? Where cliches are the go-to for explaining complex and deep issues? When we wear a shirt, make a Facebook post, tweet at someone - these allow others to make leaps and decisions based on how they interpret us. If I follow that train of logic, I end up not really being able to full share my thoughts or opinions. Bumper sticker living keeps us from sharing, but also from hearing others.

Which brings me to #2 - Bumper Sticker Living limits our action. As we talk about leadership, we often/always talk about change. If I am communicating with others via sound bytes, how can we ever collaborate and develop a sense of commonality that brings change. I was talking with a student today about the difference between sympathy (I feel bad for you), empathy (I feel bad with you), and compassion (I feel called to action). I know that we, as a Fraternity and Sorority Community, can embrace the approach of compassion - it just requires more than Bumper Sticker Living.

As I close out today, I am mindful of all that has changed in our world since September 11, 2001. I know that you all have a lot to say - just like my neighbor and their car. As we remember those that sacrificed and were killed 12 years ago, I hope that we embrace our freedom to create a world that stops at what fits on a bumper sticker. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Foil

Yesterday was the first day of classes here at USD for the Fall semester. (Hence my delay in posting for this week.) I spent much of the day greeting students who were excited to be back in this element. Pleased to see their friends after a summer away. Eager for what this next term holds. I, too, was filled with a sense of energy and excitement as we officially "opened" another year at USD. Just before 11am, I was reminded of a concept I had considered the week before - the concept of a foil.

Definition of Foil: A foil is generally a character whose traits emphasize the strengths of another character, usually the protagonist. For example, the often short-sighted opinions of Dr. Watson emphasize the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes. Less usual is a plot foil, a subplot that contrasts with the main plot and brings it into sharper focus. The light-hearted romance between Nerissa and Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice highlights the more serious courtship of Portia and Bassanio. The term "foil" comes from the practice of placing a piece of metallic foil under a gemstone to make it appear to shine more. (
Just as I was walking into my 11am meeting, my partner called my cell phone. Since this is not a typical thing, I paused outside the door of my meeting to answer. He had just finished a pastoral visit with our friends. He was letting me know that within 24 hours, our friend would be going into surgery to remove a baseball size brain tumor that was unknown to anyone just 36 hours earlier. Sadness, fear, grief all gripped me in that moment. A foil to all of the excitement and light around me.

Last week, I received a call from a friend who is volunteering with a suicide crisis hotline. There had been a particularly difficult call. A variety of emotions were competing for attention - sadness, empathy, compassion, pride and happiness. The outcome was a foil to the knowledge that my friend had done good work, said the right things, and was resting in the reality that there was not more that a person could do.

This concept is where I rest this week. Where does the bad sharpen the image of the good? Does it make it sweeter, sharper, more real? Does all that is around you draw out your strengths as a leader? As we seek to bring change to the world, does our passion and intensity contrast the complacency of others? 

As we engage the world around us, I wholeheartedly believe - YES! As we celebrate together, we also prepare for discourse. As we work to grow and learn, we may argue and grow frustrated. That is our foil as organizations. As individuals, you may be elected to the position you have dreamed of while your parents announce a divorce. You achieve a 4.0 only to discover betrayal from a loved one. This is the foil of individuals. But, we are here together to reflect that greater light... The "practice of placing a piece of metallic foil under a gemstone to make it appear to shine more."

Blessings to you all, my friends, as we begin a semester together.