Monthly Archives: October 2017

Practice Random Acts of Empathy

101917_EmpathyBy Mellicia Marx friend to Simple Intentions

Life is busy. I’m guessing that your to-do list is as long as mine. From home, to work, to finances, time with friends, hobbies — and let us not forget exercise — we have countless tasks that need to be checked off the list. And let’s not even start with the calendar; if you view multiple calendars at one time on your phone, let’s say family and work, that alone has the ingredients for an anxiety attack. So, the mere thought of adding on community service may simply be too much. But, I’m here to tell you that giving back is not only possible, it’s easier than you think.

What’s the secret? Practice random acts of empathy. That’s it.

Years ago, I saw an incredible documentary that explained a theory behind road rage. Because we can’t see the other driver’s facial expressions, we assume the worst. We don’t develop empathy. Compare that to the person who bumps into you on the street. When you exchange a glance or words in the moment, later you barely remember it happened.

Now that so much of our communication takes place online, devoid of the opportunity to observe the reactions of other people, we often forget to practice empathy. And we see that with our kids, too. Online communication means that kids don’t see the hurt expression when another one is the target of online bullying. And we wonder, who taught them to behave this way? Well, we did.

So, while I’m a huge proponent of volunteerism, if you feel you don’t have the time to give back more than you already do, how about committing to a random act of empathy every day as your work for the community? Here’s how:

4 Steps to Practicing Random Acts of Empathy

  1. Recognize your Knowledge, Skills & Abilities

Start with the obvious ways in which you are different from those around you, and recognize that those differences may be beneficial to others. Perhaps there’s a person in your office who would benefit from coffee with you once a week because you can offer valuable career advice, or because you have developed some helpful habits around balancing work and family responsibilities. Maybe you have a solid handle on saving for retirement — I bet there are all sorts of folks around you that could use some helpful tips on that. When my husband and I had our son, he worked in technology with a group of dads of young boys. What are the chances? This crew shared tips with him regularly that made the first year much easier. One even helped us move our crib from one house to another because our car was too small for it. We would have had to rent a truck during tight times, to solve that problem without this generous fella whom we barely knew. (And, I’m still grateful for the tip.)

  1. Acknowledge your Opportunities

Sometimes, practicing empathy isn’t about mentoring as much as looking outside of yourself and seeing opportunities to help someone else, especially strangers or acquaintances. The other day I was in the middle of my session at the nail salon when I heard a woman behind me asking how much longer she’d be there — she was heading to her engagement photo session and thought she’d be late. She was stressed. I offered to give her my spot and finish after she was done. It added an hour to my stay and threw off my calendar. But really, who hasn’t been there, stuck at an appointment that you are desperate to leave, feeling like no one cares? This is where we move from kindness to empathy. Sure, it was nice of me to do that for her. But being nice doesn’t outweigh meeting my own objectives for the day. Putting myself in her shoes and relating to her stress — THAT is empathy. And when I did that, there was no question what action I would take. Sometimes, it’s just about seizing the opportunity.

  1. Pay Attention

One thing I really appreciate about Jae’s teaching is the focus on awareness. It’s going to be challenging, if not impossible, to practice empathy if you aren’t already practicing awareness. Yes, we all have things we are sorting out in our own lives. But take a moment to look outside of yourself and attempt to understand what the people around you are experiencing and how you could help. Does someone look lost downtown? How hard is it to not only offer directions, but walk them five minutes to their destination? You’ve got this.

  1. Remember that Whether or Not You Speak, You’re Making a Statement

We make countless choices every day. When someone cuts us off, will we unleash our anger on them or make another choice? I conducted exit interviews at a giant event offering services to people experiencing homelessness. After the men, women, children and teens received help that included rental assistance, food, help with IDs and much more, I asked each one what was the most valuable part of the event. Every single one of them said, “being treated like a person.” They didn’t mention the services, they spoke about someone looking them in the eye and making conversation. When we walk by someone suffering and don’t even acknowledge that they exist, we’re making a statement. Whether someone is suffering from homelessness or from issues at work, offering compassion means something.

Here’s the thing: every choice we make, every time we decide whether or not to be empathetic, our kids are watching us. They are modeling themselves on our behavior. If we offer empathy to our family and friends, but not our co-workers or the stranger at the store or on the street, we are telling them something, whether we know it or not.

Be intentional. Make choices. Choose empathy. Add these to your to-do list or your calendar, even though I know those are already jam-packed. But don’t just add it to your family calendar — add it to your work calendar and your life calendar. After all, we’re all in it together. And there will be a day when you are stuck at the nail salon or have a new baby or just need a break and you’ll feel especially grateful that someone else around you has this task on her to-do list.


Values Are The Key to Making Tough Choices

101217_ValuesBy John Rex, former CFO of Microsoft North America, executive coach, and friend to Simple Intentions  

My dad wore his values like a badge of honor. Raised as the son of U.S. diplomats stationed throughout Latin America and North Africa in the 1940s and 50s, he especially cherished the value of adventure. When I was a kid, he would often say, “Just call me Bwana” – a nod to Bob Hope’s 1963 farce film by the same title – then lead our family off on some daredevil backcountry excursion across the wild deserts of the American West. His impish grin would make us kids roll our eyes, but in the end, we always loved exploring the wondrous natural playgrounds he showed us, particularly the deserts of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. 

Fast forward twenty-five years. February 2003 found my siblings and me embarking on an off-road expedition from Mesquite, Nevada to the Grand Canyon’s north rim, with Dad leading the way. Just like the old days. A couple of hours into our journey, a freak desert storm dumped about six inches of snow on us as we followed Lime Kiln Canyon into the rugged hills east of Mesquite. The dirt road we were climbing soon became treacherously slick, so we stopped to take stock of the situation. The sun was fast heading to the horizon, and snow was still falling hard.  

The great Bwana consulted the map, presumably to chart a detour around the snow-laden hills. It turned out that our navigator was not exactly sure which road we were now on (we don’t call this “getting lost” in our family), so the map was not too helpful. To make matters trickier, at this point it was revealed that planning our route had not been done with precision. I’m not naming names, but some adventurous spirit had figured that we would “make our way” across the upper left corner of Arizona by generally following dirt roads in a northeasterly direction. As a result, it wasn’t clear when or if we would arrive at the first day’s waypoint, Colorado City. 

Faced with unknown hours of snow travel and the real possibility of spending a frigid night in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, our little band turned back toward Mesquite’s lower elevation, where there was no snow, only cold rain. We followed our tracks in reverse and a few hours later, none the worse for the experience, we rolled into Mesquite, where we quickly warmed up with some hot chocolate. 

It doesn’t take an expert navigator to know that plotting and following a course is key to reaching a given destination. By the same token, if you don’t know where you want to go, it’s certain you won’t get there. As Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote two millennia ago, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” 

In my work as an executive coach, I find that many of my clients figuratively navigate dangerous terrain all the time. In these situations, it’s good to remember that in the journey of life, our values serve as our compass. They are the criteria by which we make numerous decisions every day, both large and small. Our values inform everything from whether we return incorrect change to a sales clerk, to how to vote in elections, to how to treat loved ones and strangers, to how to behave in business dealings. Without clear and honored values, we are like the person who cannot read a map or who does not know where they want to go. 

When we hit the snow on our journey to the Grand Canyon, my dad could have stuck with the original plan and insisted we keep going. If his highest values had been persistence and achievement, we could have ended up struggling through the snow in the dark. But the values my dad honored the most were adventure and connection. We’d already had the adventure to come as far as we did. The best way for us to experience more connection now would be to turn back, sit in front of a warm fire drinking hot chocolate together, and talk about what fun we’d had. 

Somewhat surprisingly, a good number of my clients have never carefully identified, recorded, or internalized a personal set of values. When I run into this, one of the first pieces of work I do is help them gain clarity in this important part of their lives. Armed with their unique values, my clients can then make choices aligned with their most cherished beliefs, principles, and passions. This approach results in greater peace of mind, satisfaction, and confidence when they face both straightforward and complex decisions. 

If you haven’t already, I challenge you to define and memorialize your personal values. Here are three tips for how to do it: 

1) Think about a time in your life when you were “in the flow,” a time when the place, your actions, and your mindset harmonized almost effortlessly, producing a pinnacle experience. Try to remember the ingredients that were at play, including the people you were with. The elements that converged to create that magical moment can be vital clues to your values. 

2) Consider the causes that matter most to you. The organizations, activities, philosophies, books, places, and ideas that you are genuinely passionate about can be shiny signposts signaling your personal values. 

3) Reflect on your upbringing, your faith tradition, your formal and informal education, your heroes, role models, and mentors. Look for teachings and characteristics that you admire to this day. These too will uncover clues about the values you hold or want to hold.  

Once you have thoughtfully identified your values, record them. Something about writing them down in a notebook or typing them into a document makes them real, makes them a part of you. Share them with your loved ones and others you care about. Giving your values a voice is a powerful way of making them truly yours.  

It may sound simple, but when you are clear about your values, and you strive to honor them, you lay a solid foundation for quickly making choices that others around you, wide-eyed with fear or confusion, may consider too difficult, too fraught with the opinions of others, or too personally risky. You will confidently proceed in the knowledge that your choices are congruent with your dearest principles and beliefs – your unique values. They will give you the courage you need to make the most crucial decisions, some much more pivotal than whether to spend a cold night in a snowy desert with the great Bwana. 


Finding Neutral  

d-holmes-132627By Lara Gates, Managing Editor, Simple Intentions 

Working in a newsroom can be a rush. You spend all afternoon stacking and writing your show with one eye on the clock. And then, without warning something happens. And usually that “something” is not good news. It starts with accelerated chatter on the scanners, followed by phone calls to gather information while “launching” crews toward the activity. It could be a wrong way driver, or 19 “hotshot” firefighters gone missing or an active shooter. The team in the newsroom shifts gears and as the energy rises, every member moves into a place of efficiency and high alert. Each one has an important job to do, whether it be coordinating, reporting, shooting and editing video, writing and rewriting, fact-checking or graphics-building. In scenarios like this, we always work quickly to deliver as much information as we have confirmed to be true, in a way that is fair and informative to the audience. To do this job you need to move instantly into a place of “neutral.” 

Whether it is a devastating act of nature or hideous atrocities that human beings do to one another, witnessing news at arm’s length can be tough. After the terrible 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, designer and tsunami survivor Nate Berkus said that when he was trying to find a way out of the aftermath of the storm he called a TV producer. You see, problem-solving under pressure is what we do.  

Professionals like ER doctors and nurses, surgeons, hospice workers and first responders live with this need for neutral daily as well. In today’s climate sometimes even watching the news brings on feelings of anger or disbelief or even numbness. Finding neutral is a skill that can serve us all, no matter what our background or workplace or role. (It’s also a great parenting tool.) 

When we are in a place of neutral it’s like taking a step back. We are watching and comprehending but breathing through the knee-jerk feelings. Perhaps most importantly, not finding neutral is an astronomical risk. People who struggle to find neutral fall mainly into two camps: Reactionary (angry) or Numb.  

Reacting without pausing can bring about regret very quickly. When we say something in reaction sometimes we don’t actually mean what we say. And perhaps more often, what we say in reaction is laden with emotions and sometimes a hurtful tone or destructive language. We’ve all be there. And there is a simple fix. (Simple yes, but not easy.) Just pause. That’s it. Pause to process and let the emotions settle before responding. 

The biggest danger to not navigating your way to neutral is the risk of going numb. Standing outside a home where a baby was pulled unresponsive from the pool happens in Phoenix all the time. And every time it breaks my heart. But for the first responders and news crews who have to report on the tragedy, it is sometimes a survival mechanism to “flip a switch” and report without emotion the facts of the story. But the most authentic and well-adjusted officers, firefighters and journalists I know remember to grieve the story afterward so that they don’t go numb. 

“Feel the exhaustion, pain, and sadness later in private,” an anchor friend whom I admire said. “And you must make yourself feel it and process it or you will stop “feeling” going forward. You’ll become jaded professionally and emotionless, distant and walled off personally. In other words, it’s good to cry it out sometimes.” 

I encourage you to practice awareness the next time you have your feet swept out from under you. Whether it be a deadline missed or a contract broken or a call from your child’s school. Step one is to take one beat, be aware and shift into neutral. And then wrap it up at the end of the day (or sometimes hourly) with allowing yourself to process the feelings. The more times I practice this shift, the more quickly I can make it. And best of all, I find my “neutral” self is my most productive and helpful contributor in all my relationships.