Broken Relationships?

This week I wondered why we live with broken things and, then, why we live with things that don’t work the way they are intended to. Those are easy fixes if we’re talking about pencils or cabinet doors or cars. But what about important things? What to do when you begin to think that your faith doesn’t work? What does it even mean to have a relationship that doesn’t work the way it’s intended? I’m not sure but know that many people walk around feeling that something is amiss with their friends, family, or loved ones. Maybe it’s you? Maybe you have expectations that are unrealistic? Maybe you are mean? Maybe you aren’t ready to be in a relationship?

These are weeds that you must traipse through yourself. Others can help but be aware that your good intentioned friend might have nary a clue about what they are talking about. That goes for me, too. You have to figure this one out for yourself.

Here are a few thoughts to help:

Forgive much. And don’t confuse forgiveness with acceptance or forgetting. When we forgive we loose another person’s control over us. But it doesn’t mean that we have to trust that person or like what they have done.

Be careful with your self-talk. We invent much of our reality with the on-going story that we tell ourselves over and over in our minds. If your focus is on the negative then you should expect more negative. If you look for more of the positive your outlook will improve. There is no magic here. A sage said “You find what you are looking for” and it’s rarely more true with relationships.

I’m bad at this. Learn to listen. Learn to close the yapper until the other person is done talking. Learn to not think about how you will respond to them until they are done talking. Then take a minute to think before you talk.

We probably can’t hear it enough. Trying to change another person is almost always a fool’s errand.

Work on yourself. When you are secure and settled you might not need people around you to change and you can start enjoying them for who they are.


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The Genius Next Door

The Genius Next Door

Wayne Dyer, whom I disagreed with on almost everything important, talked about engaging with even the boring and boorish people around you. He found that when he took a real interest in people that they would unfold to him as fascinating and interesting. There’s no magic here and no special tools are needed. People just like to be heard. To feel a little bit special. To get a word in edgewise. This has always been interesting to me.

I thought about this today when I was talking with someone about getting their car worked on. I knew a guy once, he’s long passed away now, who rebuilt my car’s engine in a weekend as a neighborly gesture. He was just a guy down the street – I don’t even know what he did for a living – but most nights you could see his garage lit up where he would putter until bedtime. One Friday my car started to act up. “Act up” is pretty much the sum total of my mechanical expertise. So I walked down the road and found this guy in his garage and told him about the sinister gurgle emanating from my car’s engine. He guessed that my problem was more mechanical than demonic and was sure he could help. “Let’s go have a look,” he said.

We wandered down to my place and I started the car. He laughed and shook his head. “Turn it off,” he yelled. “It’s your cam bearing.” Or something of the sort – I never really knew. “Ugh.” I was smart enough to know that this was bad. “So I have to take it to the garage? Sounds bad.” “Nah,” he said. “You need to drive it down to my place. We’ll take the engine out tonight and then tear it down and replace the bearing tomorrow. We can put it back together on Sunday.” I’m sure that I looked like I was talking to a crazy person. “Really,” he said. “Nothing to it.”

And that’s exactly what we did. He was completely nonplussed about it as if it was what any neighbor would do. I was amazed through most of the weekend. What I saw as confusing and complex was simple to him. He just worked methodically step by step to pull the engine and make the repair and then did the same thing in reverse to put it all back together. I supplied an extra pair of hands and a few rounds of the Champagne of Beers.  It really did look easy when he did it. The car was up and running by the time Sunday football came on. He refused to take any money and said that I could help him with something one day but I truly doubted that I had any skill he would be interested in.

So. Talk to the people around you. Ask them about their story. More times than not you’ll find that you are surrounded with interesting people.


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Choose Words Wisely – The Best New Year’s resolution?

I watched an informative Meet the Press this morning that focused on tweets, the press, and the power of words. Are all words and all stories equally important? No. Do all words carry some weight and convey meaning? Yes. It’s a good message applicable to all areas of life and relationships.

Few New Year’s resolutions are as far-reaching for you and for those around you as the reminder that words have meaning. Be mindful of what you say to others and to yourself. Don’t say mean things to those closest to you that you would never dream of saying to a stranger just ‘because they are family’. Don’t say mean things to yourself. What we tell ourself becomes part of our inner story about ourselves – be kind to yourself even in your thoughts. And when you have something serious to say, you can choose words that move a conversation forward rather than stop it in its tracks. With your words, you can choose to ramp up the drama or to move toward reconciliation and understanding.

Tony Robbins illustrates how this works when he talks about being ‘really pissed off!’ How much emotion is wrapped up in the statement? What if, instead of being pissed off, you are ‘really irritated?’ Or ‘really peeved?’  You see how this works?

The flip side of this coin is to remember that your friends and your family and your co-workers aren’t always considering their words, either. If you don’t understand what they are saying or why they are saying it then stop and ask. “I don’t understand” just might be the most powerful words you can say.


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When You Have To Explain That You Aren’t An SOB…You Probably Are.

No offense but…

I’ve been working on a project about real-life philosophy so I’m sensitive to snippets I hear of how people justify their behaviors as they navigate through their day. I was speaking to a friend and caught them – twice – saying, “I don’t mean to be rude, but…”.  On the second go-round, I laughed and said, “Hey. Let me clue you in. If you have to explain that you’re not being rude then everyone knows you’re being rude.”

This circles back to a truth that we all know: words are meaningless when it comes to revealing character. Behavior reveals character. When you preface anything by saying that you’re not really being an SOB then you might as well wave a flag that says “Ass Hat Alert!” This doesn’t mean that you should never set someone straight or talk straight to a point. But that’s the key: talk straight to the point. Do it kindly. You don’t have to be condescending or mean spirited and most people will respect the straight talk.


Read here about the power of words.
Here for the story of my teacher Ms. Haft and the ‘F’ word.

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She Didn’t Even Know She Lived With The Master

In the same vein as other posts this week comes this one about the little old lady from New York. I was living in Gig Harbor, WA, and was building furniture. A woman called the shop and asked if I could fix a chair. She explained that it was the first piece of furniture she bought with her husband and that a back slat was broken. I didn’t normally do repairs but told her that I would come by a take a look. I sensed from her tone that the furniture had sentimental value for her.

I drove to her house and, once inside, my jaw dropped. “Where did you buy this furniture?” I knew exactly what it was and wondered if she did. “This stuff?,” she asked. “We bought it from a guy in New York. My husband was a professor in the Upstate when we first got married. We needed furniture and someone said that there was a guy in town who made furniture in his garage. We went to meet him and liked him. We went every year for twenty years and had him make us something.”

I probably looked like I’d been hit with a stick. “Was his name George?” Now she looked surprised. “George Nakashima?” I asked.  She nodded a yes. “Do you know him?” she asked. “I sure as heck know who he is.”

Nakashima is one of the most famous furniture designers and makers of the twentieth century. She explained that she and her husband had stumbled upon him when he was just getting started. Her collection of a couple dozen pieces showed clearly the progression of his designs that I had only seen in books.  I stroked the vertical slats of the chairs and could feel the ridges made by his hand planes, left sharp without sanding. The family had collected a whole house of Nakashima. They had chairs. There were a table and sideboard. Each bedroom had a desk. She asked if I had any idea of their worth? I guessed that her furniture was worth more than her house.  In the end, I told her that I wouldn’t do the work – her chair was just too valuable and important  – and recommended a very high-end shop in Seattle. She was appreciative and we became friends. I did some odd furniture work for her on and off but mostly I just took any excuse to go see her collection.

Go here to see the Nakashima shop.

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Mr. Margaret Mead

Here’s another story about interesting people who cloak themselves as your neighbors. Be on the watch and you just might find that the man or woman living next door to you is actually a fascinating human being.

I worked in construction when I was young and was good at it. I loved craft and had a good sense of detail. And I actually finished things that I started, a rare skill among carpenters. This made me popular with a local insurance company who provided me with a good bit of clean up work after storms. One day I was asked to go talk to an old fella who lived out in the woods. A tree had fallen on his garage and the insurance company needed a bid for the repair.

I drove out to his house and the setting was gorgeous. It was one of the older seaside bungalows in an area not yet leveled for a gaudy faux-Craftsman with a view. The house had clear twelve-inch cedar lap siding – so rare that it wasn’t even available – and wooden window frames. His garage was practically demolished. A stout fir had fallen right through the roof, snapping the ridge and collapsing three walls. I bid on the job and got it and then suffered through three weeks of breathing ocean air and watching waves roll up on the shore while rebuilding the garage. Once we started, the owner, probably as old as that twelve-inch siding, would invite me in for coffee each morning. I noticed that he read the Wall Street from cover to cover, circling articles and investments with a red pencil. I’m a fan of money and am especially fond of giving it away in the stock market so we talked about investing a lot.

One day he asked me to get something from the sideboard near the table. Right next to the papers he needed was a picture of him and a woman, arm-in-arm, beaming with broad grins. “Hey!” I said. “Is that you and Margaret Mead? How do you know Margaret Mead?” He laughed a little and said that he ran the anthropology department at Columbia for twenty years. “I knew everybody!”

With apologies to any family or friends of Ms. Mead, he continued. “We used to go out a bit when she was around. She was one of the best gals I ever knew. Smart as a whip and ready to jump in the sack with any warm body who was up for it!” He thought that was damned funny and let out a huge laugh. I didn’t press him on whether he was up for it or not. I’m guessing that he was. So he taught me a bit about anthropology and lots about investing. And I would have bet a thousand dollars that nary a soul living next to him in their new tract-style home had a clue about what a fascinating man lived right next door.

So you never know who might be dealing with. Stay awake and keep your eyes open.

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Here’s a crazy story unrelated to anything. I can’t confirm or deny it but have no reason to believe that it’s not true.

I started talking to a guy at work about sending my girls to college.  I joked (kind of) and said that they can go anywhere as long it’s Cal Poly or MIT or Johns Hopkins. He perked up and said “Oh! I went to Cal Poly  and so did my dad.”

He went on:

“Here’s a story about my dad. I always knew that he worked at Los Alamos on the atomic bomb project. He knew lots of the famous guys there and said it was a great time. Science was everything. Here’s something crazy. I knew he had secrets. He worked on high-level kind of stuff his whole life. But when he died – and he made me swear never to say anything about this until it was okay to do so – he told me that he made the detonators for the first bomb dropped in Japan. ”

Wow. The people you meet.