As communities (both online and in real life) continue to polarize and become more insular, I think it’s important to be aware of HOW to access people and groups that don’t share your particular background. Forget about getting to know a diversity of people if you don’t even know WHERE you can realistically connect. And I say “realistically” because everyone knows where “the other side of the tracks” are in their cities. Everyone knows which schools/churches/neighborhoods are unlike their own. But very few people will ever go to those other spaces and get to know them and the people in them. It doesn’t really work that way. In my city, the downtown YMCA is diversity central. The cars in the parking lot range from beat up to brand new. The bumper stickers on those cars promote Dems and the GOP alike. The people inside are black, white, brown… Some people are ripped as they walk out of the weight room. Some people are out of shape as they walk onto the pool deck. And routines are such that you end up crossing paths and conversing with the same handful of people every week. This provides real opportunity to encounter someone vastly unlike yourself and strike up a friendship. Not everywhere is like this. What comes to mind for your life and your city? And how could you spend more time there? Continue reading In your life and in your city, where would you realistically go to meet people unlike yourself?
Emily and I have been together now for almost 11 years. Over that time we’ve developed a motley assortment of “relationship tools.” That’s how I like to think of them, anyway. These tools help us communicate, resolve things, and stay organized. It sounds super campy and cheeseball but we’ve made up different tools like “Truth Serum” and “Lo Lists” and “Tug Boat/Cruise Ship” to name a handful. And they honestly are extremely useful. I’ll explain “Truth Serum” so that you get the idea.
So in the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic “True Lies,” at one point in the movie secret agent Arnold and his wife are captured and Arnold gets injected with a truth serum drug. The truth serum renders Arnold incapable of lying. The bad guys plan to interrogate him in this altered state. (But surprise! Arnold escapes and kills all the terrorists!)
The point is… In the movie, truth serum is potent, fast-acting, and irresistible (not even the Governator can fight off the effects.) So as a real-life relationship tool, truth serum works like this: “Em, would you mind if I didn’t come with you to that work thing next week? Truth serum!” Boom. Em’s been injected with truth serum and can ONLY tell the 100% truth. The response might be, “Truth serum? I kinda did want you to be there.” Or it could be, “Truth serum? It’s fine if you’d rather not come.”
The power of truth serum comes from two main places. 1) If you use it, it means that you actually do want the 100% truth. And there’s an unstated guarantee that you won’t be angry or go after the other person, no matter what the answer is. It’s a tool, not a weapon. You use it to get on the same page with your partner. You can’t truth serum someone and then be all “Ah! I knew it! You’re terrible!” Do that and it will never work again. 2) If you’re injected, you HAVE TO tell the full truth. If I’m asking about that work thing and Em says it’s fine for me not to come, I need to be able to trust that it really is fine. Em isn’t telling me it’s fine so that she can hold it against me later that I didn’t show. Getting “truth serum-ed” actually feels good because it’s an opportunity for you to make yourself fully heard. This is powerful even if your answer is “Truth serum? I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.” It’s powerful even if you don’t get “your way” in the end, too. Somehow just being heard makes a big difference.
That’s our quirky tool. But I know that other people have tools and tricks and strategies (even if they don’t name them) for making relationships work. I’m curious to know what’s helped you! Continue reading What tools/tricks help make your relationship work?
This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Krista Tippett and her phenomenal podcast, On Being. You should really listen to it if you don’t already. Here’s the description for one of her recent podcast episodes:
“It’s hard to imagine honest, revelatory, even enjoyable conversation between people on distant points of American life right now. But in this public conversation at the Citizen University annual conference, Matt Kibbe and Heather McGhee show us how. He’s a libertarian who helped activate the Tea Party. She’s a millennial progressive leader. They are ‘bridge people’ for this moment — holding passion and conviction together with an enthusiasm for engaging difference, and carrying questions as vigorously as they carry answers.”
About 2/3’s of the way into the show, Krista Tippett springs this pair of questions on both interviewees. This duo is one part empathy and one part humility. She acknowledges that you have to build up enough trust and mutual respect in order for these questions to have any impact. But do it right, and boy is the result worth it for your relationships with people who see things differently than you do. Continue reading What do you see that is good in the position of the other? And what troubles you about your own position?
I’ve come across a very small number of people in my life who have taken the time to memorize poetry and can recite it. I’m always so impressed by this. Now rote memorization doesn’t have a particularly good reputation these days. But I’ve got to believe that the things we internalize and can recite must have SOME kind of impact on us. Despite loving poetry, I can’t recite a single poem. I can, however, recite several prayers. (I distinctly remember my mom teaching me and my sister to recite the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Apostle’s Creed so that we could pray the rosary.) I can also recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But honestly, that’s it. (I’m not counting song lyrics here since you don’t really “recite” songs.) It’s a bit of a dying practice — memorization. What can you recite entirely by heart? Why? And who taught you? Continue reading What do you have memorized and can recite entirely by heart?
I’ve noticed that introductions to historical figures or public personalities often go something like this: “Jane was born in New York to working class parents. After her first semester of college, Jane did such-and-such etc…” Many biographical summaries follow the same pattern (whether on Wikipedia, a textbook, or news article). On one hand, I completely understand that a person’s lasting impact in the world often doesn’t come until adulthood. But on the other hand, these bios make me wonder if truly nothing of importance happened in those first 2-ish decades of life. What would you point to as the most important thing YOU did between the ages of 1 and 17 (that is to say, before legal adulthood)? You must have made some decision, done something, said something, or even just shown up for a crucial moment in a way that impacted your character. People don’t just materialize overnight into their adult selves and adult potential. We emerge gradually. What big moments (big looking back on them, anyway) can you point to from your own childhood? Continue reading What’s the most important thing you did between the ages of 1 and 17?
I’ve used this question to find out that colleagues had paper routes that taught them to get moving early in the morning. Other coworkers made sandwiches at Subway and gained a lifelong appreciation for anyone working in a service job. Other people mentioned pool lifeguarding and the solemn sense of responsibility that comes with making sure kids don’t drown. Apparently the statistics say we’re all going to have 15 jobs or more in our lifetimes. It’s worth remembering how each of those jobs has shaped us. Continue reading What was one of your first jobs that had a lasting impact on your work ethic?
Google does an April Fools’ joke every year. The first one I remember seeing was maybe ten years ago. It was a service called “Google Paper” that would allow Gmail users to request physical printouts of their emails. Google would produce and snail mail them all to you. The service was purportedly supported by ads that would be printed on the reverse side of each page. It made sense to me! And as an English major, I was so pumped to have this option! I even told people about it that day. I was crushed to discover it was all a hoax… What have you fallen for? Continue reading Have you ever totally been duped? Tricked? Hoodwinked? What did you fall for?
I don’t pull many pranks anymore. The pinnacle of my pranking days was freshman year of college. On April Fools’ Day a bunch of the guys in my dorm hall decided to prank all the girls in the hall. For one unsuspecting hall-mate, we taped a bunch of newspaper across her room’s door frame (almost the whole way up the door). This created a 4-inch wide space between the door itself and the newspaper. We filled the niche we’d just created with scrap paper, wrappers, and aluminum cans and plastic bottles out of the dorm recycle bins. When we were done, junk extended up seven feet or so against her door – held in place by the newspaper. All the doors in the building opened inward, so in the morning when the poor girl opened her door to start the day, an avalanche of stuff fell on top of her. Punked!! Haha! (It was all in good fun. The next day she and some friends stole our mattresses so we had nothing to sleep on at night. Oh college!) Continue reading What’s the most involved prank you’ve been a part of?
My brother, Nico, and I are already as mature as we’re ever going to be. And we are both of the opinion that farts are still the funniest dang things in the world. A few years ago we were hanging out at my parents’ house — our childhood home. And Nico (for whatever reason) punched my stomach at about 10% speed and said “Punches!!” A split second after his fist made contact with my gut, I let out a healthy, hollow fart. We both chuckled. Nico decided to try his luck again and said, quieter this time, “Punches.” To his surprise, he was met with an equally subdued but still very audible fart. Now thoroughly impressed with this pattern, he tried a third time, saying hesitantly, “Punches?” And in response came a third, mousy toot that ended in a higher pitch than it started as if also asking a question. We. Died. Laughing. As in hysterics. Uncontrollable laughter and cramps forming in my sides. We still talk about it to this day. When was the last time you laughed like that? Continue reading When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurt?
This question needs some setup. But I swear it could change your life. I’ve categorized this in the “Ask Your Significant Other” category but this is more a question to ask yourself ABOUT your significant other. In the normal ups and downs of a relationship, you’ll inevitably think something like, “I hate how impatient he is,” or “I wish she wasn’t so scatterbrained!” Every time you think something like that, immediately try to match the negative quality with a corresponding positive quality that you appreciate about your partner. “I hate how impatient he is… But it’s pretty awesome that he gets so much of our to-do list done every weekend.” Or, “I wish she wasn’t so scatterbrained… But I do love the random adventures we seem to get into every time we’re together.” What if the quality you dislike and the quality you appreciate are actually related? What if “impatient” and “get ish done” are just the two sides of the larger coin called, “Momentum-maintaining”? What if “scatterbrained” and “fun rando adventures” are just two sides of the larger coin called, “Go-with-the-flowiness”? And what if you’re not allowed to hate the “negative” side without praising the “positive” side because the two are inseparable? The two are the same. Getting rid of one side would mean losing the entire coin. And then everyone’s poorer for it. Instead, train yourself in this matching game – negatives with corresponding positives. Get quick at it. Make it automatic. And start to love the larger coins in their fullness. You’ll be rich! Rich, I tell ya! Continue reading What if every “negative” quality were just one side of the coin?
What choices have been irreversible? What decisions have continued to ripple through your life ever since you made them? This question resulted from the cross-pollination of two books that I’m reading right now. The first book is “Tattoos On The Heart,” which I’m actually re-reading because it’s phenomenal. That book is about Fr. Greg Boyle who works with gang members in LA. One chapter mentions that Fr. Greg and his team help these young people remove the gang tattoos that they’ve often put on their faces, necks, arms, and hands. Tattoos used to be permanent. Laser treatments have changed that… The other book I’m reading is “The Meaning of Marriage” by Timothy Keller. In it, Mr. Keller asserts that marriage is a covenant — a forever covenant, by design. So he laments today’s high rates of divorce. These two books got me wondering: What IS actually permanent in people’s lives? The decisions to get married or get a tattoo aren’t as permanent as they once were. What decisions have proven to be permanent for you? (For me, I can say that the decision to go to Haiti and live there as a volunteer in ’07 and ’08 has had an irreversible impact on my life. I can’t un-see the things I saw there. I can’t un-know the things I know now because of those experiences. I’ve not been able to un-commit my life to justice work ever since getting back from Haiti…) Continue reading What’s one of the most permanent decisions you’ve made in your life?
I’m at home writing this. At this very moment I am wearing: 1) socks that are probably 6 years old, 2) a pair of snow pants (because I grew up in CA and I’m a total baby about the cold) that’s at least 12 years old, 3) a shirt that’s a bit less than 1 year old, and 4) a jacket that’s just over 1 year old. So the combined age of my whole outfit is right around 20. How old is your getup? I started thinking about this question after hearing an interview with the founder of the outdoor lifestyle brand Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. For the founder of a massive retailer, Yvon says some pretty radical things. (For example: “Think twice before you buy a product from us. Do you really need it or are you just bored and want to buy something?”) In the interview, Yvon mentions that most of his clothes are 10 years old or more. He’s deeply concerned about consumer culture and the future of the planet. What if in an alternate universe, a big number floated above each of our heads signaling the age of our outfits? I wonder how that would change things… Continue reading What’s the combined age of the outfit you’re wearing right now?
Hrmph… In my closet right now sits a backpack specifically designed for surfing. There’s a separate compartment for a wetsuit. There’s a small pocket for surf fins. There’s a plastic-lined pocket for surf wax. The metal adjustments for the backpack straps are padded with neoprene so that when you’re carrying a surfboard under your arm, the metal won’t scratch or ding the board. It’s an awesome backpack for surfers. I’m told. I’ve never used it. I bought it on one of those daily flash deal websites a while back. I’ve been meaning to list it on Craigslist for a long time now. Yup. I regret purchasing that. This is a good question to ask yourself. And the follow-up questions I found with it are equally important: “Why do you regret purchasing it? What was your mood when you purchased it? Can you implement strategies to avoid making the same mistake again?” Continue reading What was the last item you regretted purchasing?
Did you get a weekly allowance? Were you paid for doing regular chores around the house? Did you borrow from an older sibling? Did you just ask and receive money whenever you wanted? Did you start hustling from an early age – shoveling driveways for neighbors in the wintertime? Early experiences of getting money have a way of permeating into later life. (Side story: When I was in 4th grade, a very crafty 5th-grader named Alex photocopied a Nintendo magazine that listed ALL of the Mortal Kombat II finishing moves. He peddled these black and white photocopied packets on the playground for $10 bucks a piece. I bought one and didn’t regret for a single second. (Why would I? It was Mortal Kombat II!) Looking back at it now, Alex must have made over $200 that quarter! At least. And he was 10 years old! I should look him up. Dude’s probably a billionaire. Or in jail…) Continue reading How did you get money as a kid?
And how did your parents spend and save money? In many ways, the attitudes we have about money come directly from our upbringings. Reflecting on these questions helps you make sense of yourself and your own finances. Asking these questions of others helps you, in turn, understand them better. Just this weekend, Emily and I got into a really interesting conversation with three other friends. All of us were fortunate enough to go to college. And all of us were doubly fortunate to have significant financial help from family in order to make college possible. But our respective families had very different attitudes and approaches to money. Some expected their kids to work during college. Others did not. Some made sure that their kids knew the exact monthly costs of financing higher education. Other parents adopted the view that excelling in school was the child’s job while paying for it was the parents’ responsibility. It was fascinating to see the differences. Continue reading Was money discussed openly in your family growing up?
I’m in the midst right now of re-reading “Tattoos On the Heart” by Gregory Boyle. It’s one of the most life-affirming books I’ve ever come across. Given how many books are out there, and given the sobering fact that I’ll never be able to read everything I want to before I kick the bucket, a book has got to be truly extraordinary for me to read it a second time through. What would be at the very top of your to-read-again list? Continue reading If you had to re-read a book right now, what would you choose?
Have you seen this awe inspiring video of Mr. Rogers testifying before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications in 1969? Mr. Rogers is there to defend Public Broadcasting from significant budget cuts. The senator he addresses is initially gruff and almost hostile. (He has no idea who Mr. Rogers even is.) But in the course of just a few minutes, the senator’s demeanor changes entirely. By the end of Rogers’ testimony, the federal money is all but guaranteed. This is a master class in getting someone to do a 180 — a total about-face. Have you been able to pull that off? What was the issue? Continue reading When was the last time that you convinced someone to see things your way?
I’m not talking about help with carrying the groceries into the house. When was the last time that you put down your rugged, American individualism and asked for someone’s help with something of consequence? And what was it about? And whom did you ask? My family immigrated to the U.S. and in many ways saw America as the proverbial “land of opportunity.” Absolutely, there’s great strength in the part of our national DNA that tells us to be self-made. But I’m also interested in the moments when bootstraps give way to helping hands. We need each other! Continue reading When was the last time you asked someone for help?
Everyone wants to look good. We all hate looking silly, inexperienced, and unskilled at things. The only problem is that “needing” to look good is directly opposed to lifelong learning and healthy risk-taking. I hate looking like a newbie at things but if I’m serious about self-improvement, then there’s also just no way around it. To help myself out, I’ve made it a “goal” to regularly look like an idiot while doing something I’m not good at. (Currently it’s basketball. I joined our local church league for the second season in a row. I scored 2 points the entire season last year. This year is going better but it would be hard for it not to!) When I’m achieving this “goal” consistently, I can be sure that I’m continuing to step outside my comfort zone. Continue reading What new thing have I looked like an idiot doing recently?
So you know how people will often ask “What’s your favorite [blank]?” Movie? Novel? Football team? Could be any number of things. And (if you’re like me) for many of these categories you think “Erggh. I don’t know, man. I don’t really have one.” So you just choose one recent movie or you mention the book that you’ve been using to answer this question for the last 10 years. You know what I’m talking about? Well, what I’m curious about is this:
What “fill-in-the-blank” categories do you have an enthusiastic, genuine response for? For example, my sister (who came up with this question) said that “What’s your favorite movie?” makes her think, “Merp,” but “What’s your favorite color?” makes her think “Ooh purple! I have an answer for that one and it’s definitely purple!”
For me, “What’s your favorite blog?” has a strong response. (Seth Godin’s.) “What’s your favorite bible verse?” has a definitive answer. (Isaiah 58) “What’s your favorite kind of rice?” comes with some seriously strong opinions. (Don’t get me started on the premium medium grain Korean brand – Han Kuk Mi – we’ve got going in our house currently.)
So what “favorites” question do you actually enjoy answering?
Continue reading What do you have strong favorites of?