PRIMARY SPIRITUAL SKILLS
100 PRACTICAL SKILLS FOR BOLSTERING THE HUMAN SPIRIT
Personal relationships touch our core every day. Like a dozen kids wriggling on both sides of a teeter totter, our relationships with our children, friends and lovers continually contend to pull our human spirit either up or down. They are some of the primary spiritual arenas of life. Human interactions deeply feed and shape the soul, from crib to casket. Of course, spiritual skills, like music or athletic skills, can never control the outcome of our issues and concerns. But they do powerfully influence our human spirit. Our facility with specific behaviors with which to initiate, develop and repair relationships, make the difference between a mostly joyful life on the one hand, and the dead ends of entrenchment in resentment, regret and bitterness on the other.
27 Interpersonal Spiritual Skills – for partnering with people (1-27): The twenty-seven skills described below help us fashion and enrich the relationships that are the most significant to us. They are taken from experiences with addiction recovery, counseling psychology, classic religious teachings, and hospice dying. Look at these 27, not as mere personal characteristics, but as actual skills that can be learned or improved by most anyone.
25 Personal Skills (28-52): The human spirit develops from a childhood place of being little when most other people are big. Virtually all people then strive uphill much of their lives towards eventually treasuring themselves. On the way we all incorporate some spiritual skills that assist us in this project. Many of us never arrive at that grand self-appreciation, at least in part because we never develop sufficient skills. The 26 described here promote remedial progress in augmenting our own human spirits.
22 Transcendence Skills (53-74): Profound events that immediately inspire awe into us force us to do “something” to cope and enjoy our own powerlessness against virtually everything. We simply cannot stand long in that radical realization of our smallness. Spiritual geniuses like Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Gautama Buddha lead people in establishing practices and beliefs to help in that relating to the magnificence of transcendence. Some of those are summarized in the 22 described here.
26 Communal Skills (75-100): We humans are essentially communal. We are born into a family, play in groups, learn in classes, compete on teams, join clubs, attend churches, participate in professional and work associations, pay taxes for the common good, and often initiate our own families. The following 26 specific skills help us enjoy, benefit from, contribute to and sometimes lead communal involvement.
The27 skills described below help us fashion and enrich the relationships that are the most significant to us. They are taken from experiences with addiction recovery, counseling psychology, classic religious teachings, and hospice dying. Look at these twenty-seven, not as mere personal characteristics, but as actual skills that can be learned or improved by most anyone.
1. PERSONAL LISTENING
Carefully attending to the meaning of what people are trying to communicate, using insight, intuition, and recognition of specific emotions. How well a person listens personally to other people, especially those with whom he wants to maintain close relationships, almost single-handedly determines the quality of those relationships. Not that all one needs to do is listen, but rather that if one doesn’t listen care-fully, whatever else one does matters little in terms of intimate interaction. It is like water to life. Alone it is not enough, but without it life will be limited. Quality clinicians listen well, diagnostically but often limp with the skill of personal listening. While diagnostic listening considers emotions minor clues in the assessment process, personal listening focuses on them first. What feelings are motivating this other person right now is the first question, whether patient, family member, or your own wife or daughter. Watching facial expressions, tuning in to voice tones, recognizing communication patterns and changes in them, requires skill and practice at gaining it.
2. CONVEYING EMPATHY
Clearly showing that you feel some of what another person is feeling A primary key to all careful listening, this skill particularly involves catching a person feelings something and then finding words to communicate that you understand at least some of those feelings, in words that are not pedantic, stilted, artificial, or patterned. Helping a person feel understood is far more complex than telling them bare facts about their medical situation or anything else. What used to be a skill of counselors and psychotherapists has become a common expectation of all health care professionals. Satisfaction probably depends on this skill more than anything else.
Supporting another by noticing strengths and validating them with authentic words, while avoiding innocuous flattery Beyond adolescent cynicism is the capacity to notice what you like about a colleague, friend, or family member, and find focused words to name it. Flattery stands on one excessive side of affirming people, and tight lipped, stubborn negativism on the other. You can generate good feelings almost anywhere with genuine positive words commenting on what you notice about them.
Making useful, magnanimous decisions about what to ignore in other peopleThe ability to take most of the limitations of people lightly and allow the extreme differences that pervade humanity to “be”, is precursor to other skills. Knowing what to ignore, what to excuse, and what to validate in these differences and what to ponder and perhaps confront, comes from personal reflection and experience. At times, finding words to demonstrate to a person with timing and clarity, that you are “ok” with their limitations, deepens that skill. It stands on the pathway towards acceptance, appreciation, and treasuring the richness of people and human characteristics that are far different from your own.
Verbally acknowledging your part in causing hurt to another person, group or society itself. Mistakes are the way of humanity in all walks of life. Apologizing well, even once,brings a sense of relief, peace, and sometimes even a brief taste of bliss. Most would-be apologies are not aplogies at all. True apologies contain only a few esential elements mixed artfully and baked in spoken words like an exquisite cookie. Authentic regret, eye contact if possible, and an emotionally open admission of some kind of feeling bad about what one has done, neglected or avoided that unnecessarily caused displeasure to someone. sometimes a single word, if well expressed, is enough—“sorry”
6. ASKING FOR HELP
Requesting assistance you actually need, but not what you don’t Many of us self-sufficient humans avoid acknowledging need, loneliness, or failure, and the desire for help to assuage the pain as long as we can. The key persisting skill of addiction recovery is acquiring the capacity to ask for help whenever the drive to drink or use occurs, rather than going it alone into the powerlessness of resisting a first drink. Asking for serious help for your own person, in counseling, spiritual advice or therapy constitutes the same basic skill.exponential dimensions. Isn’t it common to observe that a given patient needs a form of personal assistance they don’t understand, have the courage to seek, or simply don’t know how to get that help they so desperately need. Dealing with people who so easily rely on others in dependent malaise constitutes the other end of this spectrum.
7. EYE CONTACT
Respecting personal differences of looking people in the eye, and avoiding it when it might be oppressive, intimidating or culturally insulting Intentionally holding your eyes on those of another person and knowing when it is better to look away remains a subtle skill powerful for parenting, intimate loving, and person oriented patient care. The fact that none of us does this perfectly only says that, like other things spiritual, it remains beyond us while continuing to invite us to engage it. We embrace a solid identity with eye contact, in the hospital hall, at home, and when being reviewed by an authority, as well as with specific patients whose ethnic culture or abusive past does not forbid it.
Slowing your natural pace for the sake of collaborating, communicating or partnering Perhaps the most important five seconds in any person oriented care giving is those while lingering in silence during a significant conversation. A vital aspect of any kind of listening, the allowing of time for the inner processes of another person to take their own pace remains an elemental component of respect, genuine care, and inviting depth of response. Without such emotional connection there will be little if any satisfaction felt by the one in need. What one loses in minutes of a patient care day by taking time to connect, one gains in hours of clarifying later, as well as healing misunderstandings, facing staff conflicts and even law suits.
Accelerating your natural pace for the sake of partnering and efficiency Professionals beleaguered by feeling pushed by any authorityto do more and more, can develop a resistance to anything that adds to that load. Medical education and crisis care have taught a hurry-up style that may not when accelerating the pace of one case over another is advisable. Hurrying at times to join another person’s pace is, however, a sign of care and actually essential to any human partnering.
10. DROPPING RESENTMENTS
Dealing directly with hurt feelings without clinging to costly persisting negatives Since religious organizations have drained the word “forgiving” of its richer juices, addiction recovery communities substituted the words “letting go of resentments” to emphasize the benefit for the forgiver not the rightness of the action or the good of the offended. Health care settings are characteristicly rife with bad feelings among staff members that are never, ever processed. Learning how to let go of the resentments that result is a major component of staying clean and sober in recovery, and to maintaining satisfaction about one’s health care work.
Expressing warmth bodily when you mean it and when it is asked for; asking for supporive embrace when you need it; and refraining from violating personal boundaries by impulsive, insensitive hugging. Holding a body affectionately close to yours, while maintaining a relationship that allows that warmth at least once daily, may be the peak of human success. While we all could use more hugs, there looms the ubiquitous societal suspicion of sexual impropriety. Discerning when to hug a patient, a family member, or even a sibling or child, ought to be a clinical decision that includes and assesses the feelings involved, not one overarching decision to meet all situations by the same internal rules, such as “never”.
Persistently and consistently investing energy in people, groups and causes that are important to you Even the “renaissance man” cannot do everything. One eventually has to choose where her or his energy will be invested, including the infamous conflict of necessary juggling of work and home to vigorously honor both. A best definition of a value is “that for which you are willing to spend time or money”. Recovery circles tend to cal promises “mostly manipulation”. But intentionally confirming your firm intention to a specific value, without empty promises, and then holding to that plan as carefully as possible, is the skill of committing.
13. SHARING “STUFF”
Overcoming human selfishness effectively enough to truly hold and use material things in common How we learn to hold sandbox toys in common with siblings and friends becomes a consistent pattern, until we change it in response to the unspoken demands of friendship, co-workers and intimate loving. Two people with one bank account either learn to talk or eventually wade through conflict that threatens continuance of their relationship. The primitive “more for me” preoccuation has pestered humanity all the way to war and beyond, and continues to do so in the current “one percent verses the 99”. Sharing resources in a health care practice, facility, or treatment unit, and the priority hierarchy of the privilege to use them, can spur the learning of how to communicate for justice and peace in that small corner of the world.
14. SHARING RESPONSIBILITY
Combining efforts in mutual accountability for success or failure Nobody ever recovers from serious wounding, addiction, or mental illness fully alone. A bunch of factors must unite in order for that to happen, including the patient’s will to health, the body’s resilience, practitioners’ expertise, and always an unpredictable power beyond us all. When a nephrologist, a cardiologist, a surgeon, a family practice physician and a palliative care practitioner all committ care to a patient, each one needs a well developed capacity to see that patient as a human being who deserves coordinated care. They need to share the responsiiblity for her overall health. One indispensible skill for person oriented care is for all practitioners involved to hold enough of the shared responsibility for that patinet and family to get what they need and deserve.
15. SHARING POWER
Blending your power with that of someone else in making significant decisions Sharing material things and personal/professional responsibility both hang on the capacity to share power. Many levels of power flow among the various members and desciplines of an interdisciplinary team in an array that far exceeds the policies and procedures defined by an organizational structure. Honoring the respect that all people deserve from one another regardless of differences in ethnicity, culture, education or personal history hinges on the capacity to perceive human equality as real, and learn how to contribute to the movement towards global community. A clinician who needs to insist, against the emotional onslought of uninformed staff members, is also called to honor the self worth of everyone invollved in conflicts. That makes a team of differently prepared caregivers possible.
16. SPEAKING THE TRUTH
Accurately representing reality as you perceive it vs. hiding behind distortions That infamous question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” illustrates the quagmire that persists among humanity about “the truth’. In personal matters, “The Truth” almost always nestles between three dodges: 1) creative exaggeration, 2) self-protective image management, and 3) hiding in silence. Gestalt theorist Fritz Perls once described three kinds of shit in avoidance of the authentic: chicken shit (saying nothing); horse shit (confabulating to look good); and elephant shit (theorizing, philosophizing, and theologizing). In difficult professional conversations with patients, families and colleagues, the skill of telling the truth, while always a complex function, carries with it immense consequences, in the form of building a reputation as a practitioner, and being fair to everyone involved. How much to tell whom looms as the central question. Skillful navigation of that hazardous white water is as beautiful a conversation as you will ever observe. It can be learned.
The developed ability to talk reasonably clearly about the primary aspects of your life Creative psychoanalyst Erik Erikson’s second stage of human development, when negotiated well in toddler time, bestows a few fortunate individuals with a life view summarized as “What I do everyone can see”. Most of us come only partially to a time in which we can open up virtually all arenas of our lives with courage and detail. Splatting your opinions and personal stories on all who are present is excessive. But people who can share aspects of their lives in some depth when it seems to fit the present situation, infect others with the inclination to share more as well. Generally feelings of wellbeing, connectedness, and self-treasuring follow.
Changing your point of view without stubbornness or mere compliance Tightness, rigidity, and stridency tend to repel closeness. They non-vebally communicate anxiety and an accompanying excessive need to control things and people around. Flexing when a bit of class is called for, especially when others are not so accommodating, reaps the benefits of magnanimity, the good feelings of granting a sister human being a needed soothing break from the rather intense demands of hectic days.
Accurately perceiving what happens, verbally and non-verbally, in relationship interaction Intentional focus on details of people’s words and behavior virtually always garners a plethora of clues into the thinking and emotions behind the talk. Fear, shame and resentments hide until the interpersonal context is fertile for unearthing them. Noticing even a hint of any of those nasty emotions can prompt a key question and eventual greater understanding in difficult conversations. Develope this skill of watching closely.
Letting yourself be influenced by “the new” and by someone who can introduce you to it Learning is facing the world from the perspective that everything is always changing and challenging old ways of seeing things. If one hasn’t grasped the skil of learning, this kind of world becomes intensely annoying. Learning is willingness to question your previously held assumptions about something for the sake of how, this time, it might be different and somehow better. Learning something means that you can go away from the situation more prepared for tomorrow by letting the scenario affect you and incorporating from it some new aspect of your professional discipline or your practice— or people in general.
Subtly and courageously communicating your romantic interest in someone Intimate loving remains one of the crowning glory jewels of any life and it frequently begins with a little fun engagement that results from being at least physically attracted to a particular person. Not allowed ethically in professional practice, flirting nonetheless seems to flow at unpredictable times all through the workplace. The third or so of people with a history of being abused sexually or emotionally may be short of this skill by intentional decision. They’ve learned not to hazard being misunderstood that they are available when they are not. When a therapeutic process has rendered such a person from being a victim to being a survivor, to being a “thriver”, there still may be this skill to learn for a reasonably satisfying love life.
Offering a place with you in enjoyable or productive endeavor A classically bad date is the one in which neither person can express any enthusiasm for what they should do, where they should eat, or how they might enjoy and get to know each other. Neither seems capable of that simple term, “Let’s”. A tiny bit of courage is required to simply state what you’d like to do and suggest it as a common venture. Doing that with suavity of appeal and a tad of genuine excitement, without oppressive or manipulative inducement, is the skill of inviting.
23. PASSIONATE LOVEMAKING
Losing control in energetic sex with a treasured and willing partner Three young men, all popular New York publishing professionals, formed a panel on a popular TV talk show to respond with their “take” on the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy with the author present. Their humor and perspective was delightful. On a bit more serious note however, one of them quipped, “Well I certainly found out what a poor lover I’ve been.!” There is savvy, learning, and lore to love making that cannot be captured in writing, or even on film. As a celibate priest in my younger years I once asked a married parishioner with 9 children whether sex is as good after ten years of marriage as during the younger years. “Better” he said. “And it’s even better after 20.” Mixing enduring affection with sensitive and passionate sexual engagement must be one of the most difficult and satisfying aspects of human living.
Verbally inviting honesty and willing to be open yourself, in issues important to you From the French “standing face to face willing to be honest”, the word confronting refers to placing something clearly in front of a person with powerfully implied expectations of a response that is similarly candid. It is an art without which addiction treatment programs and counselors could not function, leaving addicts to die slowly as they say, “on the installment plan”. An art is only practiced exceptionally with a solid skill basis, gained by 10,000 efforts. The skill of confronting begins with pointing out significant incongruence among a person’s behavior, emotions, and thinking, that have negatively affected, puzzled or hurt you. Then you begin to learn how to do it better.
Finding fortitude to actively intervene when the safety of those you love is challenged A primary function of a parent is the human instinct to protect the young. In the unique combination of lover, king, magician and warrior that are said to make up every male, it is essential that the warrior always be available to protect what is dear. The “mother bear” archetype parallels that function in the female. Whether in the workplace or at home, the skill of noticing when a “strong-person-on-my-side” is needed by somebody vulnerable, and then skillfully providing whatever is required, lies among the best of one’s capabilities.
Using words to ask for a person’s cooperation in filling your wants and needs In the opening scene of the theater production of Oliver, one of the near-starving boys in an orphanage run by a greedy, overly stern head master, somehow finds the courage to ask for “more” of the gruel that serves as their only food. That scene reflects what is felt in lesser proportions by many, probably most young children when they want to ask for what they really want or need. Met by a “problem” implied by a busy parent, many of us fail almost completely to ask for what we really desire. Even on Christmas lists many children don’t typically ask for what they really want, contenting themselves with what they hope is acceptable. Thus directly asking for love, support, specific instruction, or a loan remains a skill not well incorporated by many—until we learn it.
27. PARTNER DANCING
Joining another in tandem bodily flow At the Broken Spoke bar on South Lamar in Austin, Texas, works a veteran, sixty-ish woman dance instructor who is pushy, stern, crisply critiquing and terminally energetic. She teaches only the traditional two-step without embellishments. As one city tour guide quipped, “If you can’t enjoy learning the two step there, you probably need to find another city!” Partner dancing from junior high to Dancing with the Stars forces you to cooperate in the moment, leading and following, continually paying close attention to your partner. It is a great symbol of the partnering that satisfies and flourishes only with skill. Dancing together serves as a rich metaphor for close collaboration in any walk of life, including health care teaming.
The human spirit develops first in us as infants and toddlers, little when most everyone else is big. We instintively think, “Other people seem to walk, talk, and handle themselves far better than me.” That natural reality injects some sense of “not good enough”, or “inadequate” into most people. Virtually all of us then strive uphill towards eventually treasuring themselves. On the way we develop some spiritual skills that assist us in this project. Many of us never arrive at that grand self-appreciation, sometimes because of major harm inflicted on us, but also in part because we never develop the skills. The 25 skills described below consist of a ladder that promotes remedial progress in maintaining and augmenting our own human spirits. Many of them also contribute beautifully to the human spirits around us.
Some of the concepts of traditional religion have lasted for centuries precisely because they were effective in enhancing the human spirit. Over time some of them evolved to a place where they can be highly beneficial for building self-appreciation. For example, belief that a highest transcendent being is personal and takes delight in me specifically (the basic meaning of the Christian term “gospel”). The human potential movement, self-help psychology and the rise of feminists augmented that list of personal skills during the twentieth century. A cluster of such personal spiritual skills that foster good feelings about ourselves contribute to each human spirit’s path towards self-treasuring. Gradually transforming ourselves from self-doubt, self-deception, and self-sabotage, these skills bring forth good feelings about our own person and expand them. They help move us towards actually befriending, rather than merely contending with ourselves.
28. AFFIRMING YOURSELF
Positive self-talking about your body and personality Affirming yourself verbally is not bragging unless it is exaggerated. If it is accurate, it constitutes humility. It is a skill to acknowledge your strengths as a person or as a professional, when done in a timely and authentic manner. When done well, it solidifies both your self- worth and the respect with which astute people see you. Conversely, negative comments about yourself quickly become tedious to others (The self-deprecatory humor of Jack Benny and Rodney Dangerfield not withstanding). Owning your gifts and talents realistically assumes you have become reasonably clear about what your best personal assets are. The classic virtue of humility is accurate self-knowledge, neither putting yourself far above your essential goodness, nor far below it. A cryptic AA recovery phrase asserts that “Nobody is more important than me, nor any less.”
29. APPRAISING YOURSELF
Accurately perceiving yourself without either exaggerating or minimizing Great personality theorists surmise about their observations of humans’ complex methods of self-deception, various ways of seeing ourselves that substitute for the self-appreciation to which we aspire. The Greek adage, attributed to several sages, “know thyself” cannot be carried out alone. We discover our primary assets and defects through various forms of feedback in interaction with others. Using that crucible of growing self-understanding well, is itself a major skill.
30. ASSERTING YOURSELF
Raising issues in interactions when it serves your self-care The assertiveness movement of the 1960s was intertwined with the feminist movement origins of the 1970s. Standing up for yourself verbally and emotionally was a set of specific skills of communication that required courage and learning new phrases and voice tones so as not to be taken lightly. Assertiveness remains a vital skill today in many areas of life, for both men and women to fuel efforts to be seen, heard, and considered seriously.
31. FORGIVING YOURSELF
Acknowledging your wrongdoing and letting go of guilt about it In Christian theologies, being forgiven by the Divine can sometimes be far easier than forgiving oneself. Remorse, from its Latin roots (re-mordere, to “bite back”) refers to the experience of deeply regretting one’s own previous behavior, usually from which there is now no remedy. Remorse, rumination and perseverating, waste energy that could be used for loving and creating. Preoccupation with the rotten benefits nobody. In fast paced athletics and music performance, getting stuck on mistakes, even huge ones, is self-defeating. Learning how to acknowledge guilt and then let it go is this major spiritual skill.
Losing the sense of time in childlike affective enjoyment I don’t think my mother ever learned how to play. She was so serious, so talented, so dedicated to work and goodness, and then trapped by three children in three years during World War II. She died at 54 when I was twenty. I wish I could have played with her. I would have played better with my children if I had. It should be recommended that all mothers learn how to play before having children. Second best would be learning how from a child, or even a grandchild, soon after. Like all spiritual skills, playing elusively looks easier to learn than it is.
Exerting energy persistently and vigorously enough to get the job done As a foreman of a small Iowa dairy my father hired young employees from time to time. He told me once that he could tell rather quickly the ones who grew up on a farm. He said, “They already know how to work.” Investing energy into a job is indeed a skill in itself that is often observable. My mother once confronted me while sweeping the kitchen floor, grabbed the broom from me in disgust and began showing me how to do it with vigor. She also showed me with the same disdain how to use elbow grease when scrubbing something. Motivating yourself to get a job done remains a skill that feeds one’s spirit for a lifetime.
Using human appetite to enhance body and soul without habitual excess or harmful choices Two kinds of books that occupy several feet of any bookstore or library are cook books and diet books. Eating well obviously remains more complex than we would like. Skills of restraint, thinking, decisiveness, and self-treasuring coalesce and combine with knowledge in the skill of eating wisely. It can be done. Losing weight is one thing, eating well fairly consistently can be much more difficult. But it is a skill that is worth developing.
Bodily exerting energy for health of your body and soul There is a wise moderation in exercising that seems to slide into fanatical over-doing it on the one hand, or lapse into sedentary lifestyles on the other. Some of us vacillate between the two. The skill that needs to be learned seems to be exercising enough, reasonably consistently, through most of a lifetime. We probably do learn how to exercise by the time we’re 11, but grope about on the extremes as adults before we grasp this skill of moderating vigorous bodily movement for our own best efforts at maintaining health.
Relaxing regularly and when your body or mind needs it Spiritually speaking, there are two kinds of rest: night sleep and frequent-enough times of respite during the day. Getting enough sleep, and more importantly, enough restful sleep, removes an important barrier to the human spirit’s resilience during any given day. The scientific study of sleep disorders, which began about 100 years ago, has identified over a dozen sleep problems and a few methods to treat them. During the day there seems to be a special demon that sabotages our ability to take breaks and truly relax during them. Whether at home or in a workplace, all manner of tasks seem to easily absorb all of the time available. If we would get help for our sleep irregularities and take real breaks as often and stubbornly as smokers take smoke breaks, we would be mastering the spiritual skill of resting.
37. ACTING DECISIVELY
Efficiently deciding and acting for your own benefit or a worthy cause Ambivalence can petrify. Clinicians are almost famous for excellence in this skill. For some it may have come with difficulty in formative education, but making quick decisions remains a hallmark of clinical practitioners.
38. RESTRAINING YOURSELF
Controlling your impulses enough to give yourself a chance in relationships While spontaneous fun can inject delight into virtually any relationship, much of the time we simply need to hold ourselves back. Knowing when and how to keep your mouth shut saves many relationships. The warm touch of excitement that is natural upon sight of personal beauty, obviously needs restraint in professional and even most social situations. Regaining self-possession when justified rage burns within, highlight the skill of restraining. Pushed to its extreme, (as often happens during medical training and residency), self-restraint robs us of much of the fun of life with its marked inhibition of healthy human inclinations.
39. TUNING IN
Letting yourself feel what your body is trying to feel, whether you decide to act on it or not Before being able to express and share your feelings you would need to find them, like finding your keys before starting the car. Letting yourself sense what your body wants to do (hide, hit, cry, run, smile, etc.) gives clues, and the sensations around the heart and the stomach do too. Care for your own emotions begins with tuning in to what they are as they change, sometimes drastically and sometimes frequently, due to what you are seeing, hearing, and touching. At least being able to find a current feeling when asked about it constitutes a minimal level of this skill.
40. SHARING FEELINGS
Conveying what you feel well enough for it to be felt mutually or appreciated by somebody else On the floor of the foyer of Harborview Hospital in Seattle lies in stone mosaic a Native American adage, “Sharing doubles your joy and cuts your pain in half.” There are those who, without a doubt, date and marry, never realizing that emotional flow between lovers constitutes the very food of intimacy. If their spouse is similarly clueless about the central place of emotions in close relationships, the bond may survive for a very long time. But when either gets deeply hurt and neither knows how to process repairs, confusion and deeper hurts result, sometimes unsurmountable ones. Being asked, or asking yourself, if you can talk reasonably openly and with expression about your delight, your fears, your hurt, your anger, your guilt/shame and your sadness, may bring insight and prevent the confusing pains of intimate loving breakdown later on. Most and probably all of us grow up with major holes in our ability to do so. One feeling or many have been excluded from out formative youth. This skill is rarely incorporated with excellence.
41. DISCLOSING YOURSELF
Openly and seriously talking about yourself Somewhere in my boyhood I shut down. Nobody knew much about my insides. My big sisters referred to me as “old silent Gordon”. My grad school peers invariably realized that I knew far more about them than they knew about me. A small group educational experience, beginning at age 29 began to change that. I gradually learned, as it is said, “to bend over, reach up inside my asshole and turn myself inside out”. I learned to intentionally disclose myself. The very word “disclose” means “un-close” or “to open”. Perhaps the best example for most of us is in the first moments you spend with an instant friend. How did your best friendships start? It happened when you found yourself telling her much more than you had planned. It just sort of oozed or poured out of you. You were “dis-closing” facts, stories, and relevant events about yourself, and in the process along with them came attitudes, feelings, values, preferences, biases, opinions, and assumptions. You were developing the skill of disclosing yourself.
Forming ideas and opinions in your mind about what you perceive What separates us from our dogs, magnificent as they are, is thinking. Maybe opposable thumbs led to the further development of our brains. But cognition combined with affect is arguably the greatest advance of the evolutionary process so far. Applying an analytic diagnostic framework to a real health care situation may not be very warm, but it obviously must lead the way in addressing medical crisis. Thinking remains a strength of almost all clinicians.
Allowing your inner hunches to speak to you clearly enough to respond to them My chemistry major never fit me well, though it lent me metaphors for human interactions and taught me how to analyze complex issues. At one pint however, in fostering my group leadership abilities, my clinical supervisor quipped, “Sometimes you just need to sit back, stop analyzing, and let yourself know what you know.” Indeed finding my intuitive side then came quite easy. I am naturally more intuitive than analytical, but had learned to rely on thinking abstractly because it was needed for my field, not because it fit me. When intuition gets over-blown it leads to making false assumptions and then tending to rationalize them as correct. Intuition works best when it is confirmed by thinking. But there is some truth to the saying that “the right brain is usually right”.
Holding on to an idea, project, dream, or plan in spite of adverse opinion I don’t remember a certain book I read in seventh grade, but I do remember the theme—the positive value of stubbornness. Once when my young children were assembled around the kitchen table with my oldest sister, they asked her what I was like as a boy. She hesitated, and then said, “Well, he was persistent”. She was being kind. The words “stubborn” and “persistent” are similar, but stubborn carries a nuance of not moving while persistent speaks more of relentless effort. Prodding yourself to keep trying with an idea, project or hope in which you truly believe, is the skill of persisting.
Using your creative impressions to envision a situation or solution anew Imagination, say some neo-Jungians, is the only way to soul. Imagination enriches life, adding color, inspiring new perspectives, and creating laughter. Without “making images” life would be quite colorless and the future drab. In order to write a book, create a quality website, establish a valuable program, or develop a romantic relationship beyond today, one must picture how it could be. While to some degree imagination has a life of its own, some intentionality, even in daydreaming actually helps.
Ridding yourself of guilt through sharing regrets about your failings Christianity includes a long tradition of confessing for relief of guilt, though the practice of confessing to a priest is waning in the present day. The actual process of speaking the specifics of actions and omissions we regret was revived richly for its practical effectiveness during the mid-1930s with evolution of the Twelve Step program. In the fifth of the twelve, (“We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.”) the newly recovering people recognized the need to rid themselves of the enormous guilt of a drinking lifestyle and fashioned a process that worked to thus “clean house”. Remarkably similar to the long catholic tradition of “general confession” a few times in a life, it features simply verbalizing regret openly to another human being. Having heard roughly 1,000 Fifth Steps over twelve years I know the euphoria experienced within two hours after by those who completed them. Confessing once makes it far easier every time after.
Envisioning practical steps to organize and energize hopes for the future An imaginative vision is one thing but a set of strategies for addressing it is quite another. Without a plan a vision is only a dream. Careful thi9ng about how to proceed on everything from building a hospital to finding a new babysitter, is a plan and fashioning one is planning. Since most goals worth pursuing require collaboration from at least several people, planning is most effectively a shared pursuit.
Exerting yourself to succeed and excel When the Seattle Seahawks brought the 2014 Super Bowl trophy back home, an estimated 700,000 fans lined the streets of a city of 500,000. There is a remarkable energy injected into the human spirit by a bit of good natured competition, even when it is vicarious. Witness school children jumping for joy in a gym class team foot race, millions cheering the World Series, and parents screaming at high school sports events, and you can’t deny the spiritual value of contesting with fellow human beings.
Expressively finding your soul in the midst of significant events Most of us cannot make ourselves cry at times when we suspect it would make us feel better. Nor can we stop from crying when a great sadness or hurt overwhelms us. But allowing ourselves to cry profusely when it wells up, rather than toughing it out and soldiering on, is the skill of crying. Some crying is of course, manipulation. But soulful crying scours the soul, refreshes the spirit, and expresses (presses out) deepest, sometimes wordless hurts and joys to enormous personal benefit to the human spirit.
50. SAYING GOODBYE
Summing up what a person has meant to you as you part permanently It does take courage to look somebody in the eye and tell him what he has meant to you as you part, especially when the circumstances indicate that you may never see him again. How to say goodbye during times of impending major loss can mean the difference between relative serenity on one side or a life of regrets, resentments, and remorse on the other. Completing a quality goodbye even once can be instructive for all of the major losses that life inevitably brings.
Investing energy in an enjoyable activity that persistently fascinates you Not everybody has a hobby, and even fewer of us maintains an avocation, or enhanced hobby that becomes a major thrust of our lives, often having little to do with our primary employment. Hobbies are not necessary but the skills gained in maintaining them do feed the soul of many people, lending them confidence in their ability to learn and develop specific complex aspects of life. They are fun, and thus do enhance the human spirit, sometimes magnificently.
52. DANCING ALONE
Physically and publicly strutting your self-appreciation Using enthusiastic bodily movement to show that you like yourself just as you are consolidates something in the soul. It matters little how beautifully the prance is performed. Good enough if performed in private in from of a mirror, it works better if done boldly in public. Observers who harbor even a smidgen of care for your worth most always notice, appreciate, and smile. Perhaps embarrassing at first to your children, strutting your stuff even feeds the spirit on into aging. A little dancing skill enhances the experience a hundred-fold.
From a very practical point of view, the evolution of religion has produced a rich array of skills for relating with the transcendent aspect of human experience. In spite of the many atrocities religious leaders have committed against vulnerable followers and outsiders alike, as in all aspects of evolution, there has been incredible progress along the way. Profound events of facing “the Beyond”– from the days of the struggling caveman to the now of a hospitalized engineer– tend to yank human beings into stark realization that powers far beyond the human impinge, on our sense of control, sometimes uncomfortably and sometimes unconsciously. What our ancestors have found to do in order to cope with transcendence-made-obvious, with the help of the spiritual geniuses who led them, (Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Leo Tzu, and others) has resulted in a number of spiritual skills that work. They help the human spirit rise, survive and even thrive amidst the profound vulnerabilities that come from experiencing our abilities pale against the forces of nature, the magnitude of the cosmos, unstoppable aging decline, chronic illness, medical tragedies, the miracle of birth, our inhumanity to one another, and even this morning’s weather. The following 22 skills stand as some of the primary best efforts that have arisen from religious history as eventually made relevant by tragic failures in addiction defeat and hospice dying.
53. BASKING IN NATURE
Bringing yourself face to face with the splendid miracles of the natural world – and quietly staying there Naturalist and author Sigurd Olson used the phrase “Listening Point” referring to a place immersed in the natural world – a forest clearing, a bubbling brook, or even a large tree for example—in which one could go frequently to simply be, relax, receive from the transcendent by simply taking in the magnificence around. Taking a few minutes or a few hours to simply bask, adds depth to any hiking, backpacking, camping, hunting or exploring excursion, and even in a walk around the block during an awful day. You can do those things with little cognizance of the awesome beauty, but an actual decision to bask for a while brings a spiritual gravity with it that changes you.
Letting go when holding on no longer fits the situation The very term “Islam” means submission, the heart of any faith tradition. Evolutionary biologists have suggested that all religious behavior is derived from the animal world phenomenon of a smaller or weaker one rolling over at the approach of a larger or stronger one. Both then go their way, reducing conflict, maintaining peace and moving the evolutionary process forward. Eventually most all of us surrender to the powers that be in our dying, whether slowly from illness or quickly from disaster. Learning how to give in to life’s major losses, failures, disappointments and tragedies frees us from piling up resentments at not getting our way and looking for someone or something to blame.
Making peace with what you don’t like but cannot change Accepting goes beyond surrender in that it adds elements of greater willingness and receptiveness. Surrender to the Beyond at the death of somebody you love can sometimes be followed much later by accepting the loss. Realizing the gift that person was to you only comes sometime after the necessary giving in to the tragic fact of having her no more. The origin of the word “accept”, is “to take what is offered”, or “to receive willingly”. Whatever we accept that we don’t really want to happen but cannot stop, no doubt prepares us for further engagement with the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.
Authentically and openly appreciating Power(s) far superior to the human, in word, action or thought The word worship has been largely ruined by the shaming manipulation of people who cannot stop referring to it as obligation to gather together, to comply, and to pay, in church organizations. The genius of worship, probably created by several or many astute ancient people, is that it turns the awful into active appreciation of the awesome. When religions personified transcendence by naming it and conversing with it, by that very fact they came closer to it and could gradually see it as actually understanding and even caring for us. When a person accustoms herself to actually lifting her mind and heart to such a benevolent understanding of a transcendent being, whether alone or communally, she is placing a persistent buffer against the difficulties that pervade human existence.
57. SILENCE AND SOLITUDE
Being happy alone in silence for a few minutes or a few hours at a time Churches were traditionally quiet places when we Catholic school students in the 1950s were taught to make “visits to the Blessed Sacrament”. Those were brief times when we would take ourselves into a church for a tete-a-tete with God present in the Eucharist communion always reserved in the Tabernacle. Regardless of your theology or your spiritual beliefs, that time of silence was probably good for our souls, at least mine. We would quiet ourselves in reverence and just sit or kneel there, sometimes creating dialogue with a good and personal God, sometimes not. Solitude differs from loneliness. It is positive, enriching, and soul-restful. Whether imbibed in a beautiful natural landscape or the privacy of a bedroom, solitude without noise or even soft music, pushes you to find the depth of your soul.
Expressing your soul with words put to music Singing differs from reading poetry in its greater potential for heart felt expression. Of course one can sing without expressing oneself in the words, mindlessly, or for image management. But singing as you feel it adds energy and soulful benefit. Singing has a history longer than knives because it works so simply to buoy up the soul. Any level of singing, shower blaring, quiet humming, or canting opera arias, naturally raises the human spirit almost immediately. Even singing the blues does that. As Neil Diamond crooned in Song Sung Blue, “Me and you are subject to the blues now and then. But when you take the blues and make a song, you sing ’em out again.”
59. SIMPLY SEEING
Letting yourself simply sense and enjoy what is around you Jolting life experiences, such as being clean and sober for a while, new realization that your dying is fast approaching, falling in love, release from imprisonment, and major loss, tend to enhance our noticing more richly whatever is around us. One can then learn to look more closely. The skill of simply seeing the beauty and pain that is right in front of us then deepens. The relevance of George Orwell’s comment emerges: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
Quieting your person long enough to find oneness with yourself and with the universe The diversity of methods that are called meditation by various traditions, practitioners and spiritual leaders render it difficult to define by favoring any of them. The word’s roots mean to think over, to reflect, and to consider, rolling something over in your mind for whatever new might be generated in your soul. The popular collections of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies have shown that meditation does improve memory, relaxation and imagination. That study also shows that those who meditate well, i.e., skillfully, show even greater benefit.
61. PETITION PRAYING
Requesting your own will in Deity conversation Perhaps the first thing we humans want to do when we get convinced that transcendence can be seen as a person (since persons are the most advanced beings we know about) is to ask for things. That is most prevalent when we are in some kind of intense felt need. Our natural self-centeredness nestles closely with our natural altruism. We may want to ask for some observed need of other people we care about. And when there is trouble that suddenly seems insurmountable, a great majority of us will quip something like, “God help us”, “Oh my God”, or simply “Oh God”. That doesn’t mean we buy into the God taught variously by religions, but that we may be apprehending transcendence as personal and entreating her for help. Asking for virtue for oneself may be the most noble form of this petitioning behavior. And asking for the wellbeing of other people from our very guts does seem to change things for us and sometimes them as well, regardless of belief.
62. EXPRESSING GRATEFULNESS
Uttering the appropriate response to our recognizing beauty in awe or somebody’s kindness to you The experience of awe has baffled and energized people since they first developed the ability to reflect on themselves and their surroundings. The sun, the storm, the ocean, the fog, the mastodon—any face of the magnificence and dreadfulness of the natural world must have stirred the hearts of cave folks even before they found language to express it. The recognition of the mixture of feelings that arise in the face of awe prods many people to express gratefulness to either named or nameless transcendent powers. Those expressions no doubt eventually build into the virtue of gratefulness.
63. CONVERSATION PRAYER
Persistently expressing yourself to a chosen Ultimate Power The character of Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof epitomizes the best use of conversational prayer, a skill that most of us never achieve, nor care to try. The playwright Joseph Stein depicts Tevia as passionately sharing his convictions, hopes and especially his complaints to the transcendent power he has come to know as person. There are a few dedicated spiritual people who approach that kind of conversation frequently. Most of us do so mostly when things go bad, casting us into the place of boldly recognizing our natural vulnerability.
64. PRAYING FOR FORGIVENESS
Requesting pardon for failing, in some major way, yourself, some person, a specific group or the entire universe Guilt is natural. It is sometimes neurotic, but not typically. Like pain is to the body, guilt is to the soul, a gnawing of regret for something wrong in our behavior or for our neglect. It signals to our depths that something we did or spinelessly or cluelessly avoided, was reprehensible. When confessing to a person or a community seems truly impossible, entreating transcendence, either named or un-named, with passion and specificity, for forgiveness will more than suffice. It likely won’t be needed more than a few times in a lifetime, but this skill treats guilt with soothing balm.
65. PIOUS PRACTICE
Devoted performance or observance of rituals or postures that feed your soul When I was ordained I agreed to read several pages of what is known as the breviary, a special book for the regular spiritual nourishment of priests. For me it quickly became tedious. I complained about that to one of my former professors, and he said, “Perhaps it is simply not your kind of prayer.” The various major faith groups all recommend repetitive practice of specific actions to gradually deepen insight and to inspire and sooth the soul. For some people, and especially in specific eras of life, these nourish their human spirit like nothing else. Devising your own regular practices that fit you, perhaps including some of the traditional practices and texts, is also likely to do so.
Assisting others to encounter, enjoy, appreciate, and master the new Various cultures revere the teacher or “sense” above all others. An exceptional teacher may use dozens of various established methods, such as instruction, Socratic query, group encounter, assigned exercise, critiqued writing, and public presentation to bring what is new and pertinent into the souls of her students. Whether you are a university doctoral professor or simply assigned to orient a new employee to the culture of a specific hospital workplace, you know that teaching benefits both teacher and student. It simply feels good to help somebody learn, even if you don’t think you do it well.
Creating ritual space and using it to bring meaning or healing to yourself or a group Artifacts that appeal to the senses, such as candles, music, aromas, and natural world vistas, can be configured and combined with words to generate boosts to the human spirit. Rituals can be designed almost on-the-spot for particular groups highlighting specific events, such as the death of a hospital staff member or the arrival of a new unit leader. They are characteristic of virtually all faith groups that perpetuate for decades and centuries. While the word ritualizing can be used referring to over patterning of spiritual practices so that there is little spiritual feeling left in them, still some rituals feed individuals all their lives. Using those rituals well, and even designing such practices for unique situations, remains a skill developed by only a few.
Formally or informally bringing reverence to the splendorous aspects of life Common responses to awe—such as cynical humor, hyperactivity, theorizing, philosophizing, stunned silence, crying, and distancing oneself—can sometimes minimize the meaning inherent in most experiences of magnificence. Any of these can burgeon into avoidances, unconsciously designed to shield oneself from the unsettling feelings associated with awe. Solemnizing is the intricate skill of catching that avoidance happening, assessing that it may be excessive, and inviting an individual or group to re-connect with the awesome. As your teenager stands on the edge of the Grand Canyon chatting about the latest x-box game for example, a quiet but pointed comment that is not shaming, may interrupt the silliness, giving the kid a chance to not miss once in a lifetime grandeur.
Bringing meaning through reading inspirational material aloud Writing that has lived for centuries because it inspires people is often read by religious groups gathered in community. How it affects people in that context depends to a great extent on who reads it. Those who can do so as if it is really being spoken by the ancient author to them in present time can be called treasures for their skill at doing so.
70. CREATING BEAUTY
Artistically shaping something that is beautiful to you, and maybe to others too When Orvid was five years old his older brother brought home a toy harmonica. Within fifteen minutes after getting ahold of it, Orvid began to delight his entire family by tooting familiar tunes. As children we are all introduced is some fashion to the arts—drawing, painting, paper cutting, vocal and instrumental music, theater etc. A few go on to enrich the spirit of their days by further developing one or more of the skills involved. A few of those become professional artists who can support their lives financially with their art. And a few of those become great artists enjoyed by millions over centuries.
71. ENJOYING THE ARTS
Deeply appreciating forms of human-made beauty, as in music, literature, theater, dance, film and other performing artWhile the small bands and motion pictures are enjoying a run as the most popular media of appreciating art and story in this century, classic presentations of opera, theater, painting, and graphic art, continue to feed the spirits of others who dedicate themselves to appreciating them. Anyone can join them. Skills for deepening understanding of a given opera for example, can be developed merely by attending one and participating in the discussions often arranged after the performance, led by experts or the artist themselves.
Sharing the feelings of a major loss enough to eventually bring a measure of closure to what was lostMajor loss makes transcendent powers beyond us as obvious as anything else. After a loss, and sometimes a bit before, a natural process activates itself somewhere inside us, to heal the hole resultant in our soul. One cannot stop, avoid, or even significantly accelerate that process. The pain cannot be removed. But specific skills can facilitate the grieving process some, and minimize the stuck-ness in resentment, remorse, regret, and other persistent returning ruminations that can result from necessary major loss. Only experiencing this mysterious process can help us to understand it at all. But doing so will likely teach the value of crying when it unpredictably emerges, reminiscing at key times, sharing specifics of your both positive and negative memories, and performing particular activities of saying goodbye.
Sustaining the long term project of looking for meaning in life’s inexhaustible mysteries Seekers find. They may not discover what they expected, nor what somebody hopes they will uncover. But closing off the curiosity about life’s primary questions is inherently sad. Seeking is the skill of remaining open to the mysteries of the universe, fending off rigidity of thinking, fixed assumptions, frozen biases and overly patterned habits, to allow delight at the inexhaustible depth of both the ordinary and the crisis. Looking for patterns, creatively conceptualizing about complexities, wondering about better ways, all emanate from a seekers attitude. Similar to scientific theories and laws, our views of people and life itself are always temporary and open to change. Even religious conversion remains possible for the stoutest atheist. And the reverse, a new realization that religious constructs are just that, can refreshingly jolt a long standing church leader. The universe is far greater than any human perspective on it.
Finding and expressing humor in the incongruities of lifeDefine humor? I don’t think so. But we know it when we see it. And we quietly yearn for it in those who live mostly without it, entrenched in overly serious pedantic rigidity. A laughter group attended our hospital one day, and invited groups of about 12-15 to spend a half hour laughing. They facilitated various kinds of laughter, from snickering, to tittering, to chortling, to giggling, to guffawing, to raucous laughter at nothing but one another’s efforts to laugh. It was hilarious. It clearly lifted the human spirits of everyone involved, absolutely everyone across all strata of employment status. If your laughing is thin, feed it.
We humans are essentially communal. We are born into a family, play in groups, learn in classes, compete on teams, join clubs, attend churches, participate in professional and work associations, pay taxes, follow laws of governments, and often initiate our own families. If you were to write down all of these different groups that carry some importance to you, you would likely be surprised at their number and diversity. The following specific skills help us enjoy, benefit from, and contribute to communal involvement. We’re less valuable citizens, and less satisfied, without becoming skillful in many of them.
Including yourself in groups that fit you and energetically helping pursue their shared goals and values Adults typically belong in some way to many groups of various sizes. In a newly forming small group of any kind, when one person begins to talk seriously about herself, others in that group typically feel (consciously or unconsciously) an inclination to do the same. One by one, given enough time, most of them will join the deepening group that is forming there. Those who don’t will begin to feel awkward and eventually leave the space. A similar dynamic operates in staff teams and health care practices. Joining a group that is of importance to you generally bolsters your courage and support while providing a vehicle for accomplishing tasks and contributing to humanity.
Offering a place of belonging in a group or community In the Chicago hospital coronary care unit in which I served as a young chaplain, there were two nurses with a particular developed capacity to support men, especially those caught in novice vulnerability. In crucial situations in which a new guy was exposed to group criticism or especially ridicule, they always seemed to have ways of standing with class, solidity and grace, alongside the “newby”, living out the “I got yer back” commitment. The skill of facilitating a new person to authentically join a group in which you are a member, can be called “including“ her, helping her “in”. Initiation rites in tribes and religions exemplify the skill of including some where others do not fit. As brutal as that may sound in a nation built on constantly improving equality, not everyone qualifies as a fireman, a surgeon, and a mid-level administrator. And solid members of groups assist one another’s spirits by helping each other feel the belonging.
Enjoyably lead, arrange, or actively join in appreciative and meaningful fun among people By the time the Seattle Seahawks football team began their winning Super Bowl season in the summer of 2013, the synergy that was created unpredictably between the team and the city was already becoming observable. Gradually through the season, virtually every place of business found a creative way to support and celebrate, all the way through the playoffs and the championship game. They offered memorable merchandise, discounts, and promotions while citizens authored songs, cheers on the street and loud parties everywhere. Celebration, (from the Latin celebrer, “frequented, populous, crowded”) whips up communal spirit by bringing people together to honor and appreciate together some success or accomplishment they all value. In celebration one gets outside one’s normal reserve and acts a little silly with spontaneity and expression out of joy. Briefly leading such celebration on a hospital unit for even small victories, brings color to a day and quiet fulfillment to a life.
Doing something precise with your body for the inspiration and enjoyment of others A little well timed amateur performance will inspirit virtually any team. Those teams that can’t enjoy it may be way too serious. Whoever can hazard a solo song, a humorous story, an uplifting reading, or a bit of play acting, in front of people, carries the potential to give a bolstering shot in the arm to a team, club, study group, and even a professional or board meeting. It is a skill beyond singing in the shower or communally in a church.
79. SPEAKING ELOQUENTLY
Speaking compellingly to the meaning of gatherings of people “We are gathered here together today…”, the famous beginning of a brief speech articulating the meaning of a funeral, a rally, a wedding, or any other gathering of people for a specific purpose, has become almost trite. When the following sentences are well-worded, focused, and astute, they strike to the heart of those gathered, multiplying the energy that has drawn them together. We call such gifted oratory eloquent. Organizations like Toastmasters teach the skill of impromptu eloquence.
Leading operations for organizational accomplishment, the people charged with top leadership of a corporation of any kind need special skills to do so. From the Latin administrare, the word administrate originally meant to aid or help, facilitating cooperation in and direction of a group. We all do some administration however, of our own financial affairs and material possessions. Some people develop these skills exceptionally well, keeping the people in their hearts while negotiating the hyper-complex issues involved in leadership of large communities. Others exploit.
Communicating in authoritative and collaborative leadership for efficiency of production The art of managing includes a cluster of skills focusing on the quality of the work of various people engaged in producing or accomplishing something. Its etiology arose from the Latin manus, meaning “hand”, and was popularized in France referring to the complex relationship between a horseman and his steed, i.e., “handling” a horse. Professional managers easily grasp the similarity between managing people and handling horses–giving direction to, reining in, prodding, and teaching dozens of mammals bigger than themselves, getting them to run the same direction for a similar overall purpose.
Using words and emotions to confront the irresponsibility of people to a group Perhaps the best story that grew among the staff of a small hospital in Northern Wisconsin, was that of an event regarding cleaning the physician’s locker room. Bernie, the slightly developmentally delayed housekeeping worker assigned to clean their locker room, one day got fed up with their lackadaisical messiness. He suddenly broke into a rant with several leading doctors present, scolding them intensely and mercilessly. Embarrassed at first, they eventually burst out laughing so hard it even got Bernie to smile sheepishly. Reprimanding well when in leadership of a community, or even in some peership situations, is being a modern day prophet, speaking truth to power in order to have an influence on a team to hopefully improve its functioning.
Donating time, resources or work that contribute to improving world living conditions Vincent de Paul, the sixteenth century priest dedicated to the poor, once wrote, “It is only by feeling your love that the poor will forgive you for your gifts of bread.” The emphasis must be on “feeling”. Donating to secure a tax benefit, or for managing your image, may benefit you spiritually, but not as much as giving to a person for whom you can generate actual care. Looking into the eyes of the homeless person and speaking genuine words to him as a person is a far more difficult skill than dropping him a five or writing a check.
Ritually highlighting individuals or members of a group as in some way special Blessing in its ancient origins was using words and gestures to set something or someone apart as extraordinarily valuable. In Hebrew tradition to be blessed referred to a belief that Yahweh, the Divine, considered that person or thing exceptionally useful or beautiful. Receiving the blessing of one’s father can be one of the most powerful events of a young person’s lifetime. Those who never get that blessing can sometimes cobble together the blessing words of coaches, scout leaders, teachers, aunts and sergeants to make up for it. Whoever blesses easily, seriously and in a timely manner, contributes a great gift to the young and even to ones co-workers.
Taking initiative in giving some direction to a group Inspiring leaders to inspire groups is a huge management development industry. In virtually any culture, from tribes to hospital unit staffs, the true leaders are not always the designated ones. Being a leader includes an indescribable charisma that knows how to combine visioning, inspirational words, organizational constructs, eye contact, individual relationship, intuition, and initiative in motivating and validating workers. That combiantion sums up the skill of leading.
Allowing someone else to lead while remaining energetic in pursuing group goals The U.S.A. is made up of people descended from ancestors, many of whom risked virtually everything to come to this continent because they wanted to be free to do what they wanted. Many have now become drunk on autonomy, stumbling along in self-absorbed, entitlements, and cynical criticism of all leadership. Many leaders seem to have likewise splintered the best democratic processes in history by refusing to sometimes follow for the benefit of the people as a whole. Leading that does not also follow, as in dictatorship and monarchy, at best teeters on the edge of tyranny.
Expressing your opposition to the direction of a group Prophets in the most practical sense do not tell the future. They speak what needs to be heard by leaders in order to care for the people. Of course that begs the question in the present day, “which people?”. The skill of protesting combines the foundational virtue of courage with the specific capacity of discerning the best timing, language and action with which to get across a message to a group or leader that members of the community are being neglected.
Stirring up a group towards higher values through words or example Stirring up the human spirit has long been a skill of some military generals who needed to raise an entire army; presidents and kings who need to enlist entire nations to action for the good of the country; and clergy members bent on helping people see specific teachings a certain way. Using song, poetry, quotations, stories, marshal music and gestures have a long tradition as aspects of the skill of inspiring people and communities.
Shaping in your imagination, a rich picture for the best direction of a group Simply describing how things should be may seem like an easy way to function, portraying dreamy, wishful thinking. But creating specific visions of how the future could be is not only the province of futurists, but of any leader who wants to inspire followers to move forward.
Speaking from the heart to a group about yourself in matters of deep significance to you Using your own experience to illustrate and inspire a group is a skill all its own. Alcoholics Anonymous has injected this skill into the recovery process. Every new AA member is urged to tell the story of “how it was, how it changed and how it is now”, in a group fairly soon after an initial period of sobriety. Evangelical religion, and to a lesser extent, other Christian preaching has featured personal witness stories as inspirational. Excessive witnessing, however, becomes tedious and pedantic. Skillful use of witnessing includes discerning moderation as well as relevance.
Orchestrating the various forces in a group, towards advancing their common vision Pulling together the best in a diverse group of people has been a feature of excellent coaches, managers, clergy persons, and military leaders. Recognizing giftedness in a variety of areas, affirming them, inspiring them, and then creating schedules, standards, procedures and guidelines with which to coalesce them into a symbiotic whole, is the skill of organizing.
Imparting knowledge, understandings and wisdom to a group Instructing is a specific method of education which efficiently and effectively tells people what to know and how to do something. It includes describing in concrete terms, using illustrative stories, diagrams, statistics, examples, video, tasks, exercises and whatever else is likely to imprint ideas and competencies into the personalities of students and others who need to learn. Great instructors are worth a great price, contending with student “issues and resistances” and compelling them with interesting material and methods.
Shaping observations and insight into useful terms that provide group meaning When a clinician meets with a family about a patient the common observation is that different members of the group “get” the situation better and quicker than others. They all differ from one another in their abilities to conceptualize, and all are likely to do so with far different concepts than the clinician uses. The word “concept” is derived from the same word as “conceive” that originally referred to getting pregnant, a successful “taking in”. Translating the clinician’s concepts to some that are more familiar to this family constitutes on major challenge of healing mis-communication in vital conversations.
94. MINIMIZING WASTE
Caring for your personal waste in ways that are responsible to earth care To save water for the state of California during the worst draught in over 100 years thousands of residents were asked to cut their water consumption by 20%. Creating habits of attending to the dozens of ways of doing so meant that residents would need to first believe it could make a difference and think about ways they could save a half cup here and a half cup there. The combination of putting together the thinking, the motivational belief, and the actions to actually save the small amounts of water, is a skill all its own. The person dumping trash out a car window has no such skill, likely beginning with incognizance of the community of humanity to which she belongs.
Preparing and combining foods in ways that foster mutual enjoyment Both excellent cooks and mediocre ones willing to do the work, bring spirit to the hearts of those they feed, often unaware of the depth of spiritual value they bring to the people for whom they cook. A youngster who eats a warm meal before school, on the days his mothering-one can manage it, carries a warmer heart to school that day. Anyone who learns cooking skills, even frying an egg, shares in that global net of cooks who feel the inward and often unconscious joy of cooking for somebody else. Going chronically unappreciated steals much of this joy.
Using tools to establish or improve living or working structures Fixing things around your own house, or adding to it with carpentry, plumbing, or electrical features for example, can make you feel like celebrating. Skills used for work that has a bit deeper meaning, such as ministry and building educational programs, add even more to life satisfaction. 97. NESTING – Creating and maintaining comfortable and attractive home space Caring for your own living space begins with a childhood sleeping place. It proceeds in the sharing of a room with a sibling, a college roommate, and a spouse. Making it better, at any stage, inspirits a person. Those who drink in a vista of Puget Sound when they awake are more likely to face the day positively, than those who upon awakening, see bricks and broken glass.
Expressively spurring on the performance of a person or team During high school basketball games I would sometimes hear my older sister among the other voices cheering me on. Cheering makes a difference somehow, inside the soul. Co-workers, friends, and family members can generate confidence and enjoyment in one another through expressed vocal enthusiasm.
Fashioning sentences and paragraphs that compel other people about your ideas Leadership is essentially influencing people through communication. Some of that productive interaction can be done by the written word. E-mail, texting and “apps” have emerged as new forms of the written word, accelerating the pace and brevity with which ideas move. But the art of fashioning sentences and paragraphs that compel people’s hearts and initiative is likely to last yet for quite awhile as human inspirational methods.
Actively assisting the dynamics of a group for its smooth accomplishment Skilled facilitators are often able to minimize resistance to group collaboration. Their objective observations, pointed probing questions, and prescriptive suggestions keep the flow of difficult decisions lively. Any member who intuits that flow and adds to the facilitation, is indeed growing the skill of facilitation.
Actively keeping group interaction within acceptable bounds for dynamic, shared success As facilitation is to energizing a group, moderating is to turning down its temperature when dynamics get too hot. A skilled moderator brings focus to excessive, confusing energy and shows the way to turn near-chaos into productive work.