Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category
Posted March 24th, 2015 by The Steve Alexander Group
No more than 10 years old, the boy runs out of the surf with his new boogie board tucked firmly under his arm.
With a beaming smile, he shouts, “Dad, did you see me?”
And, during my daily barefoot run on the beach, as I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, I realize how much I yearn to ask my dad, long-since-passed from this life, that very same thing.
It’s amazing how young we are when we develop that hunger for affirmation from outside ourselves; how critical it is to developing our self-esteem. Yet, it can be our undoing if we don’t learn to affirm ourselves and gain assurance and re-assurance from the inside out.
I can still remember my dad teaching us the importance of inner-affirmation at a very young age.
I can hear his loving words, “Son, open your hand and spread your fingers wide and count ‘em.
If, when you die, you can count your close friends on one hand, consider yourself fortunate.”
Surrounded by his lifelong friends at the services for his final good-bye, it brought home the reality of that lesson. And in my own life, I count my friends (many of whom have grown from clients to friends over the years) among my greatest blessings.
And so I used that counsel when I eulogized my dad’s passing in October 1997.
Knowing his in-person counsel, and love, would be gone forever.
That, and many words of wisdom, coaching and encouragement, prevailed over the years of our lives together as father and son.
Another ‘Dad-ism’ – Grinning when I’d done something well, scored a goal in soccer, celebrated closing night in a school play or figured out how to get my car engine running again, he would sit in his chair and say, “Stand up and put your arms and hands straight out in front of you.
Now, wrap your right hand around in front and reach back over your left shoulder and grab your ‘angel bone’ (as we called our shoulder blades back then). Now, do the same with your left arm, and squeeze as tightly as you can.
Someday, when I’m not around, and no one else is there to pat you on the back, and you’ve done something you’re pleased about, you’ll always be able to hug yourself and pat yourself on the back, and know that you always have it within you to appreciate who you are and what you’ve done.”
How did he know his ‘arm-chair’ philosophy (pun intended – my dad would have liked that!) would shape my life’s work, my career, my relationship with the people I coach, train and team-build?
Along with a team of professional colleagues, I just produced a movie about how folks today can deal with our changing world in light of changes happening on our planet. [More on this new movie in my next blog, or, for an early look, check it out on YouTube, titled, “Answering the Call.”]
We brought together community, business and government leaders, along with world-renowned scientists, to talk about the impacts and opportunities that come from a region, a nation and a world facing drought, extreme weather, changing seas and other realities of our changing climate.
Whether you ‘believe’ (a term I’m told is like ‘believing’ whether or not the earth revolves around the sun – a concept still disputed by 24% of folks surveyed annually who still ‘believe’ the sun revolves around the earth) in a changing climate doesn’t matter; what does is that our world is changing. What matters is what we do about it, and how we work together, for future generations.
What’s this got to do with my dad? And a 10-year old boy on the beach?
Well, we just released the movie. And I was proud to be a part of a group of people – liberal, conservative, practical, theoretical, and all very smart – who came together to work on this production.
As I breathed in during my daily beachfront run, and saw this boy with that big (and hopeful) smile on his face, anticipating his dad’s acknowledgement – the proverbial ‘pat-on-the-back’ – I thought about my dad, and wondered if he’d be proud of me, too.
What would he say?
Would he give me that hug and pat on the back?
And remind me I could reach out my arms and do that when he was gone?
And in that little boy’s face, a stranger whom I will never know, I saw my own.
So many years ago, looking for my loving father, and then again, today.
Saying, “Dad, did you see me?”
Posted February 28th, 2015 by The Steve Alexander Group
An adorable Vietnamese ‘granny’ and I were comparing Cymbidiums.
We stood peering into the racks to see which we liked the most. And at various specimens that presented their blooms.
How to decide? Which to choose? No discussion. Just communicating non-verbally.
She must have seen my eyes drift to the one she was holding. I’ll never know.
“Okay, good-bye,” she says, as her opening comment.
I step away, surprised that she spoke, her having reached out with her arms with the most beautiful specimen in the store; the one she likes and has been holding the entire time.
“You take this one!” She sort of proclaims, almost commands it. And her proclamation touches my heart somewhere deep and unsettled.
She doesn’t see the tears well-up in my eyes.
Memories rush in.
As I turn my head, I’m transported back to 1969.
A country torn apart.
Innocent people dying.
And my friends, brothers… going off to fight. And die.
Protesting in the streets, “Stop this craziness!”
Walking out in the middle of Accounting 101, studying to be a stock broker.
Just having returned from Woodstock, a musical interlude, symbol of the peace movement and a brief moment in time in-between the fighting, protests and confusion.
No more war.
Leaving my scholarship and plans behind. Knowing, somehow, my path needed to be different. Changed forever.
Looking for life’s meaning.
Now, in my coaching and teambuilding, a major emphasis on ensuring, as we engage in dialogue today, we be mindful of our need to be ‘right,’ rather than doing the right thing. The importance of avoiding the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if one side is right, the other must be wrong).
Realizing how much of my work is affected by these memories.
And then, seeing her standing in front of me, again, back in 2015.
And in her weathered face… seeing family members lost. Forever.
And almost 50 years later we stand side-by-side.
Her new home; her adopted country.
One I take for granted.
And sharing love, and maybe even memories, and a kindness, on a moment of crossed paths.
And the tears won’t stop.
Posted January 26th, 2014 by The Steve Alexander Group
We thought we had been completely clear on our dinner order. Then everything quickly tumbled out of control, with tempers flaring and a rush headlong into the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm I teach about in my coaching and teambuilding training. “Okay, here it comes,” I thought to myself, as others around the table seemed to grasp for help.
We started out for our last dinner with the team I was training in Florida. I’ve been working with them for over a dozen years, so lots of history and warm camaraderie around the big round table. We asked, given it was an unusually nice French restaurant in seemingly the middle-of-nowhere, if anyone wanted or had ever tasted escargot. With mixed replies, some willing to try, some salivating and others with a nonverbal cue to keep it far from their plate, we asked the delightful French waiter – a short, squat, grey-haired 70-plus year-old gentleman who spoke his English with a great French accent – right out of central casting, if we might have enough escargot to share among nine of us. He wrote it down and disappeared into the kitchen.
The wine was selected, conversation deepened, time passed and out came the owner of the restaurant with nine separate servings of a half-dozen escargot in each dish!
Eyes widened around the table (no one of the decliners lurched for the restroom, however you could see it in their faces) and the nonverbal responses entered into a din of dialogue that quickly turned to finger-pointing!
“Who ordered all this escargot?” “I didn’t want any.” “We can’t eat all this!” The noise level rapidly shot up. And, of course, the level of ‘listening’ went down right along with the comprehension. After a brief point, everyone turned to me and begged, “Steve, you’re our facilitator, please fix this!”
I turned to the owner and said, “There’s been a misunderstanding. We wanted enough escargot to share among nine of us, not separate servings of nine each.” To which he replied, “No, you did not.”
Our journey begins.
I suggested, due to the miscommunication, how about he leave us with four or five of the servings, to which our delightful French waiter replied something along the lines of “You are wrong! You absolutely ordered nine servings.” (My command of French is slight; my study and reading of human body language allows me to conclude there are certain universal ‘words’ that are clear no matter the spoken word!)
He pointed to his pad and with great emotion told us we CLEARLY ordered nine servings of escargot.
At least the point of this post should be clear by now. How quickly communication can be confused, how miscommunication can arise. And how quickly we jump to that ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if I am right, you must be wrong, and vice versa).
Of course, once the dialogue (shouting, pleading, etc.) settled down, and the Frenchman came over to me and confided how difficult it was to work for the owner, who was often quick to allow his temper to rise, and how much trouble he was in, I assured him we would do all possible to help.
After time passed and temperatures cooled, and the main courses were delivered and deemed with perfection, I called over the waiter and announced that we’d had the best service of any of our experiences while gathered in this little corner of the world, and felt a part of our Frenchman’s family. Our group gave him a loud, heartfelt round of applause, to which everyone in the restaurant turned to see what was happening. We thanked him profusely for his patience with our language, and left him with a warmth and gratitude that was as important to us as it was to him.
I brought him close and whispered to him that I would talk to the owner and explain as well.
When the owner came by at the end of the meal to ask how it was, we told him, out of everywhere we’d been (the irony being we had other dinner plans and only selected his because the place we were going didn’t seem suitable), this was truly the best, and what made it so was our delightful, personable, engaging and dedicated waiter, who, in spite of the miscommunication, OUR miscommunication, made our evening the most memorable of all.
Ms. Communication actually turned into a great hostess who gave each of us – team members, waiter and owner – a glimpse into our own ability to unwittingly make communication blunders. It became a positive experience in how, instead of seeking blame, fault or cause, we may instead focus on the desired outcomes and the purpose of our communication. We even perceived the broader context of why and how we were gathered together and the potential to learn from one another and our circumstances.
When we move to cause and blame, we too often lose sight of the bigger picture. And everyone goes away a loser. With a less-than-positive experience and a ‘having-missed-something’ outcome.
Our French waiter became our teacher. We, part of the classroom that now extended from the retreat center to our evening dinner. Each of us was in some way affected, appreciative and better for it.
What’s happened in your life recently where Ms. Communication has visited? Where are the opportunities, in both big and small ways, to take a breath, self-reflect and find your way, with others, to better understanding, patience, insight and growth?
We all have those ‘escargot’ moments in our lives. Keep searching for how you can better approach the moment so the outcome leaves everyone satisfied, even enriched for having been a part of the experience.
P.S. If you’re curious about how we actually resolved the escargot quandary, let us know!
Posted November 10th, 2013 by The Steve Alexander Group
I’m not sure who said that. My brother has reminded me of it in many of our conversations.
The more professional coaching work I do these days, the more I remind others of it as well.
We seem to want to focus on what others need to do. To make us happy. To give us what we want. To change to make our lives more comfortable. Easier. Less complicated or conflicted. And yet it’s these very expectations that leave us feeling like we didn’t get what we wanted.
As the old Zen lesson reminds us, “Have no expectations, get no disappointments.” What if we lived a day without expecting anything from anyone else in our lives? Instead, what if we asked ourselves what we might do to bring pleasure, peace of mind, some small gesture of caring and concern to others in our lives?
With friends last evening I watched the movie “About Time,” a delicate romantic comedy with a science fiction time-travel twist. One touching moment, upon realizing there were limits to his time travel, our protagonist had to learn something from his father (brilliantly performed by the masterful Bill Nighy).
Though he had the ability to travel to anywhere in the past, instead of looking for the big moments, instead live each day twice, once as he lived it and once again, going back and looking for those moments within each day to find and give to others some simple pleasure, some small opportunity for happiness in between the spaces of what we normally live through in the course of a day.
How the day changed. No expectations. No disappointments. Beyond that, giving without expecting to ‘get’ something in return.
Can you live a day like that? At work? Home? In line at the coffee shop while you’re in a hurry to get to where you need to be next? In spite of the problems or challenges you’re facing? Or the ‘important’ work you’re doing? Or the many things on that long list of ‘To Dos” you need to get to?
I know we’re all busy. How many times do I find myself rattling off a list of all the important things I’m doing with clients when others ask how I’m doing.
What if you took a day and made a conscious effort to expect nothing from anyone or anything. And instead focused on how you might fulfill someone else’s needs and desires. For a conversation. An extra bit of comfort. Time. Care. Love.
I’m going to give it a try today. How about you?
Posted August 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
Every now and then a film comes along that, from what you hear about it, promises a morsel of wisdom, insight and perhaps a message that will affect us and endure beyond its hour and 30 minutes. “Searching for Sugar Man” starts out as more than a morsel – soon delivering the whole cake – and ends up a banquet of emotions, messages and motivation that leaves no human heart untouched.
When I received the email from my dear friend and Cinema Society of San Diego Director Andy Friedenberg early Friday morning, I thought, “Hmmm, it’s rare that he’ll drop me a note this clearly telling me to see a flick, so it must be good.” I checked and found the local showings and set aside the afternoon to see what the buzz was about.
A small film about a songwriter musician with the talent of Bob Dylan and the gentle tenderness of a holy man, the story of Rodriguez will leave you in a daze long after the last of the credits roll. In fact, the theatergoers sat silently after the film, and much like the character memorialized in our hearts in that hour and a half, shuffled out in solemn reflection of what they just experienced.
Searching for Sugar Man is about the human spirit, humility and a brand of self-deprecation reserved for saints. You have to see the picture to understand it. And you have to experience it to receive the gift of the personal lessons it may hold for you.
You’ll probably never see Rodriguez, and the film that portrays his life, at the Academy Awards. Unless they include a new category for the Most Creative and Inspirational Film of the Year.
In today’s world, filled with so many recent senseless shootings, unpredictable violence, worldwide turmoil, economic uncertainty, name-calling and blaming, we find Rodriguez, and the many other real-life characters who fill the screen, to be refreshingly honest, open, and heroes in small, special and powerful ways.
The backdrop is the early 70s, an era in South Africa when apartheid was at its peak. Juxtaposed in a way that makes sense when you see the movie, the Detroit music scene, this talented, gifted musician and the songs he writes take on a meaning extending far beyond his failed commercial journey. It heralds the beginning of white South African anti-establishment awareness, since the National Party government heavily censored all media.
We ask ourselves, “Why we didn’t know about this?” And it helps us to remember that, even today, we get so caught up in the business of our own small worlds that we forget we are part of something bigger than ourselves. That there is a connectedness to things beyond our immediate sphere.
A common theme to my posts has been the encouragement, the urging, to take the time to look around, to see and appreciate the experiences of others, to touch deeply those around us, to hear their hearts and share their struggles… and their successes.
The irony of what happens in Rodriguez’s life, and how he and his family handle it, is a lesson for us all. The lesson is timeless, and it crosses generations, cultures, economies and countries. Each of us, in some way, big or small, affects the lives of others. Each of us has an opportunity to pause, take a moment and be present for those we love, those with whom we live, work and socialize.
Sometimes it doesn’t even require much more than a few simple words. A touch. A notion that someone matters. And that’s worth acknowledging. Who knows? You may leave a lasting impression, affecting someone in ways you can’t imagine. You can even change their world.
Just like Rodriguez.
Posted February 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
In the communications world, we’re constantly looking for those anecdotes and stories that help others learn about the importance and challenges of communicating to our audiences. One recently occurred with a little friend of mine (‘little’ meaning 10 years old!) in trying to help her solve a problem. It helped underscore the importance of using language that has meaning to the receiver, and of making sure our communications are audience-focused.
She called me, as a family friend, from her mom’s mobile phone to tell me they were having trouble with their new television and video-streaming reception (not that I’m an expert by any stretch, however, I’m a practiced tinkerer and have some talent in unexpected areas beyond my day job!). It seemed like nothing was working. Because they had one of those full-service, one-provider arrangements, I asked if the house phone worked. She didn’t know (and rarely uses it), so I asked her to pick up the phone and listen for the dial-tone. Her response was startling!
“What’s a dial-tone?”
At first I thought she was teasing me (something she learned from me and at which she is now well-practiced). I repeated my question, and asked if she could hear the dial-tone on the house phone. For context, this is someone with an iPad, iPod and notebook computer, and who uses her mom’s mobile phone for voice communication. Once she knows your eddress, you’re a regular in her ‘Contacts’ list, and are sure to be updated on her life activities via email, texts, etc.
I was a bit taken aback and started to describe what a dial-tone was when I realized she was of a generation that had no real experience with the concept, and that I’d lost my ‘audience’ because I was unable to speak in a language and with words, symbols and substance that she understood. In my inability to explain and attempt to grasp for comparisons, this thought came to me: How often do we communicate in a language, at a time, with an emotion or intent that makes complete sense to us, but leaves our audiences, our listeners, totally disconnected (pardon the pun!)?
We act based on what WE think WE know, rather than taking the time to understand what our audiences/listeners know and need. It’s a focal point of a lot of the professional coaching I do as well. Often my counsel (when clients present a challenge in communicating with someone) is to slow down, think about the person they are communicating to, and ask them to apply the old ‘put yourself in their chair’ exercise. For example, what is that person thinking? What experiences do they bring to the conversation? What are their needs, wants, desires; fears, apprehensions, anxieties? Apply the “Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood” lesson. In other words, focus on your audience.
When we train speakers, it’s the same advice. Ask, why are folks sitting in their chairs listening to me? Why are they there? What do they want? (Rather than the classic speaker’s mistake of asking: What do I want to tell them?)
This little 10-year old is pretty sharp, and eventually I was able to help her with her problem. It made me aware that a mobile-phone generation may NEVER hear a dial-tone, and that word, like so many others, illustrates the need for changing language, symbols and substance as we communicate to others who may have a different perspective, background, culture, history, etc. than we do. We need to understand what others need and want from the communication, presentation, meeting, or other interaction they’re having with us, and help understand their ‘language,’ and where they are coming from in the midst of their challenge, or solution-seeking.
And remember, we may be speaking ‘dial-tone,’ and they may be speaking ‘mobile phone,’ and we both may lose out on making an important connection!
Posted November 18th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
I recently attended another Cinema Society of San Diego event run by my friend Andy Friedenberg. I’m not sure how he does it; his timing is impeccable when it comes to delivering movies just right for our times. Thanks, Andy!
After posting my recent blog about dysfunctional group dynamics, and receiving so many responses about how useful it was to folks, personally and professionally, Andy delivered with a touching, tender, poignant and timely movie called “Being Elmo” that was right on point!
So, why Elmo? The movie (releasing late December 2011, and you won’t want to miss it) is about an eight-year-old boy’s dream; a dream to become a puppeteer. More than that, it’s about the soul of this boy and how his character, whom we later learn is Elmo, reaches full expression in his life. Through Elmo, he touches a world of children and adults with love, compassion and care. His message is one of acceptance without judgment. No labels, criticism, put-downs or name-calling. How refreshing. And how timely.
The heart and soul of Kevin Clash, the tender, compassionate, caring boy whose dream actually becomes Elmo, is the heart and soul of this character we see develop on screen. We learn how congruent this is for Kevin and Elmo’s lives, if you will. By the way, Kevin is not a ventriloquist, putting a voice into a lifeless puppet, he’s a real, live human being putting his own heart and soul into Elmo. Touching lives. Caring. Carrying a message that says, “We’re basically all alike, regardless of who we are and where we come from; take the time to see that in others, see their dreams and hopes, and encourage and care for them.”
I never watched Sesame Street, Elmo’s home, only because I was from a different era. Learning about Kevin Clash, and his “Elmo,” gave me an appreciation for how much we could use his message in our tension-filled world, and in our distracted lives. How much we could all use a little compassion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard.
And maybe a re-visit to Sesame Street.
One of the many benefits of Cinema Society is we often meet the writers, directors, actors, producers and others connected with a film. We did that night. And also met 51-year-old Kevin Clash, who fulfilled his dream, and still carries that heart and soul on his sleeve, and, of course, in Elmo.
Listening to him talk, watching him connect with the audience, both in and out of character, was an inspiration. I’d like to take him to a few meetings with me; the tough ones I facilitate, where opinions and egos get in the way of sharing, caring and collaborative, mutual gains problem-solving. Kevin (in the character of Elmo) has a lot to say, and do, to help us in these challenging times, when communication has become so tragically dysfunctional.
I walked away that night with a refreshing sense of hope. I was touched by Kevin, even more, his Elmo. And it made me wonder if he couldn’t inspire in all of us a little more, to find that place in our hearts and souls, for reaching out to someone, friend or foe, and practicing in our own lives a little more… of Being Elmo!
Posted October 30th, 2011 by The Steve Alexander Group
It’s a shame that phrase has become so trivialized and impugned because of the circumstances under which it became part of our modern-day vernacular. Otherwise, it could truly serve as a plea for sanity at a time when dialogue between reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people has veered off into a world of unbelievable disrespect. I’m not the first to comment about the condition of today’s public discourse, and I won’t be the last. Hopefully, however, with some easy-to-apply tips, we all might challenge ourselves to a higher standard.
I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on a situation involving a community planning group and the level of apparent dysfunction they’ve reached, including personal insults, name-calling, nasty emails and the like. The article, “Political infighting plagues Alpine panel,” appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune and explains the kinds of behaviors that often occur in today’s public arena, whether it’s an advisory group, governmental body, in blog posts in response to news stories, etc.
I recently read somewhere that much of what has happened is that, due to the growth of electronic communications, we’ve learned to treat ‘people’ represented at the end of those communication venues as if they were themselves machines. Unfeeling, unconscious, unaffected machines. Thus, an email isn’t to a person. It’s the pounding away on a keyboard, with all the anger, frustration, ill-will and worse that gets conjured up inside us at times. Were folks sitting in the same room, face-to-face, it might just temper the words we use and the sometimes strength of emotion we use to convey them.
A few questions to ask yourself next time you communicate:
- How would I treat this person if they were my best friend?
- What can I say or do that would actually help in this situation?
- Is it possible I’m not seeing something that might give me a different perspective on the issue?
- What can I learn from someone who doesn’t think like me, doesn’t share my values, life experiences and world-view?
- If I let go of who’s right and who’s wrong, and instead focus on doing the right thing, how does that change my actions and words?
A few tips, many you’ve heard before, however, worth repeating:
1) Stop, take a deep breath (or three) before saying or doing anything. Just this pause alone will give you time to think, maybe even lower your blood pressure and act more kindly and thoughtfully.
2) Consider the difference between a reaction (quick, thoughtless, emotional, gives control and responsibility to the other person, blames, diminishes the likelihood of a resolution to conflicts, etc.) vs. a response (strategic, thoughtful, unemotional, seeks resolutions, puts you in control of your emotions and actions), and seek always a response to events and conflicts.
3) Take FULL responsibility for your part of the interaction and relationship (more on this in another post) instead of blaming or seeking change in the other person.
4) Remember, you are emailing, talking, blogging, tweeting, etc. a REAL HUMAN BEING, a person with feelings, albeit their world-view may be different than yours, they are of the same species, and like you, they mostly want to be heard, understood and appreciated for who they are.
5) Avoid the right/wrong paradigm (if they’re right, I must be wrong and vice versa), and instead, look for the nexus in your ideas; in the case of this story about Alpine, for example, what do we have in common in our love for our community, our vision for the next generation and what they’ll inherit from our hard work and dedication, etc.?
6) Remember, you can’t always be right. Sometimes you have to ask yourself if being right is more important than being happy and protecting your own serenity. After all, being at peace with what’s happening is within your power and it’s your decision, not someone else’s.
Granted, it’s not easy to be the first one to take the high road. However, with a new way of approaching our discourse, perhaps we’ll have healthier discussions, greater self-respect as well as respect for others. If it even nudges us slightly away from the aggressive tone we’ve adopted in our public discourse, won’t it have been worth it?
Interestingly, guess what the most common response is to my comments in this recent article from friends, colleagues and clients who read it! “Can’t you and those who do what you do descend upon Congress and get them to practice this stuff? They really need your help!” Well, we may not be able to do that. What each of us can do, however, is make an individual commitment, and since, as it’s said, ‘we elect the government we deserve,’ perhaps we can make a change in the discourse there, too. It can’t hurt to try.
Posted March 19th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
A good friend of mine recently arranged girls’ night out for her birthday and kid duty became a challenge, so I got the call. Watching a nine and ten year old. Seemed manageable. My night was supposed to include a quiet, relaxing premier of the latest IMAX release, Tornado Alley, with the Cinema Society of San Diego, run by my dear friend and fellow movie lover (in his case, expert!), Andy Friedenberg. I grabbed a couple of extra tix from another friend who couldn’t make the show, and it seemed like a snap. This would be easy, right?
I figured, what the heck. A couple of kids should get a kick out of the show. And maybe learn something, too. Plus, the theater is close to Bronx Pizza, one of the few good East Coast pizza joints in town, and, I was told, a favorite place of theirs. So, off we went.
What I realized soon into the event is that the one doing all the learning was me! Watching the world through the eyes of a nine and ten year old transported me back to that time in my own life. The relationship between me and my brother, also a year apart. The things we used to do that could keep us fascinated and engaged for hours. The little things that we appreciated. How simple life seemed. And maybe was.
As we got out of the car, one of the kids asked if I liked doing stuff like this, and why I was doing it with them. I replied that it was like there were three of us that were nine and ten, not just two. That this was as much a treat for me as it was for them. They transported me back to that earlier time as if it was yesterday. Good memories of a great little brother (who I picked on too much!) and a mom and dad that loved us and encouraged our learning, intrigue and curiosity with a world that was so full of wonder. The capacity for laughter over even the simplest of things. Boy, is it easy to forget, even worse, lose all that with the years of responsibility, change, loss, sadness and just the pressures of an adult world.
But they brought it all back in a heartbeat. As we crossed the parking lot, the younger one grabbed my hand. I’m not sure if it was to keep her safe. Or if she was making sure I was okay. In any case, it was like we were three little kids about to be treated to a great adventure. And that it was.
After the movie we played the scientific games at the Science Center. For a couple hours I was transported to another time, playing, laughing and becoming a ten year old all over again. Until we got kicked out of the place for being the last to leave!
So, what I learned, as has been written so well by George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
For those of you who have kids, and have the privilege of playing with them as a regular part of your life experiences, take a moment and thank your kids for that gift. For those who don’t have children or the opportunity to spend time around them, figure out a way to do so. Borrow a friend’s kids. Do volunteer work. Rent some. Whatever it takes. Just don’t let the chance slip away as an important part of your life. You won’t regret it.
And for a memorable, transporting night that brought laughter (and an invisible tear to my eye), a big thanks to my two little friends for letting me be part of your own joy and fascination. I hope you’ll let me do it again soon!
Posted November 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
For those of you looking for a strictly business-oriented post today, you’ll have to decide if you can find some kernels in this one. Perhaps some of the thoughts, issues and characteristics about my relationship in this post will touch you, push a button or turn on a light that’s been off for awhile. Taking the journey is up to you. Nonetheless, I invite you into a part of my life that has endured and influenced who I am and what I do every day.
Paul T. Kamide, my best friend for the last 40 years, passed away in October. I just returned from memorializing his life on a quick trip to the Boston area this weekend. Paul and I shared the kind of relationship that significantly influenced my life and my work; I believe he would have said the same. It was an unusual relationship for us both. We met in 1971 at Merrimack College, where he was the head of Campus Ministry. Paul was an ordained Augustinian priest and I was a rebellious college student; imagine the contrast: me, fresh off of hitchhiking up and down the coast, patched jeans, long hair, Woodstock ‘graduate’ concerned about a country at war, idealistic, in search of my own spirituality and the meaning of life; Paul, from a conservative upstate small NY town; preaching God’s word in a traditionally Catholic college; well-formed views about theology, spirituality and his life’s direction dedicated to God. In so many ways different, and yet underlying, we found a common bond, a thread that wove between us across four decades: a quest for true spiritual meaning in our lives, the love of family and good friends, the unwillingness to accept injustices and the mistreatment of others, a desire to give back more than we take from this journey and a thirst for doing what’s right and what we believed in even the face of criticism, doubt and sometimes fear.
Over the past decades I’ve stayed with or visited him in all the various places and parishes he’s been and lived. Though he wore a collar, to me he was a plainclothesman, just a man, a fellow traveler with all the same issues each of us count as part of our make-up. And that’s what made our relationship different, and special.
Early in our relationship, Paul’s mom died, and a few of us loaded in a car and made a trek across the snow-filled Berkshires to head up to some of the coldest country I’ve known in my life, Carthage, NY, on the Canadian border. That was a defining moment between Paul and me. Since that time, I’ve always made a point to value that time in others’ lives when they’ve lost a parent. Paul later shared with me how profoundly the loss of his mom, and the visit from those of us who were there to support him, affected him. I learned that none of us is immune from what that life transition means, and when it happens to our friends, it’s important to be there for them.
Paul was a risk-taker when it came to people. He was willing to trust his instincts when he saw good in someone, in spite of outward appearances and public perceptions. Bear in mind, this was an era of turmoil in our country. My long-haired, outspoken style was a challenge to the administration at this small, private, liberal arts college run by the Augustinian Order. Nonetheless, Paul gave me a job in Campus Ministry to help me pay my way through college. We designed programs that would connect the community surrounding the school to the students attending. We called it People, Plus… and it was a way of building a thread between students and local families. Today it’s among the roots of my work with others, helping to build connections and communication where it’s challenging and unexpected.
I only had enough money to pay my way through my first year of school, so Paul introduced me to the then-president, Reverend John Ahearn, who helped underwrite my college journey, based on his confidence in Paul’s judgment of and faith in people. I learned the importance of faith, confidence and the importance of acceptance of differences in others, no matter their views, values, cultural, societal or other differences. Those who were willing to take a chance on me taught me to be open to others as well, and that judgment only clouds our ability to love, to give and be generous of spirit and thought.
Paul left Merrimack to work at the Newman Center in Winter Park, Florida, and I decided to complete my studies early and join him there. We worked together for six months, and through countless hours of discussion, dialogue, interaction with numerous itinerant travelers and visitors, we both learned more about one another, people, the world, our faith and subjects and issues that stimulated and challenged who we were, what we believed and how we lived.
Forward to 1977, Paul was my best man in my wedding (an unusual duty for someone in his position). We continued to visit and stay in touch, always challenging and learning from one another, sharing history and memories as well as exploring and growing as life changed, new people and events occurred in our lives, and opportunities for both of us came, were pursued and achieved or not. My concept of friendship was chiseled out of this intellectual, spiritual, emotional relationship that endured the years, the distance and the life changes. It served as the centerpiece of my work today, where I encourage and train others as a facilitator, motivator, trainer and coach.
When others would hear us on the phone talking and catching up, nurturing and growing our relationship over a 3,000 mile chasm, they’d always comment about the gut-level laughter they heard as we teased, provoked, reflected and challenged one another. The ability to laugh and joke and not take oneself so seriously was the hallmark of this successful, adored, yet humble man. It’s a trait I admired and still emulate.
Paul died last month after struggling (stubbornly, as was his nature) with diabetes. It wasn’t like him to ask for help after spending a lifetime helping others. The cornerstone of his life was learning and teaching how to live a life based on the abundance theory. (Recall from prior posts how important I believe this is; Paul was an inspiration to me for that.) He always sought ways to give, rather than to receive, and to share his heart, his encouragement and his support with others, rather than seek his own glory or credit. The more he gave away, the more abundantly he lived with the love from others.
I’m not sure how many lives he touched given his life’s work, I only know he taught me well that we have to take every moment in our lives to appreciate and enjoy those around us, and to do what we can, when asked or not, to give support, encouragement and nurturing. We never know how we might affect that life in even the simplest of moments, with the slightest of effort.
During Paul’s memorial service, I talked about the importance of these kinds of relationships in our lives. As I reflect on the importance of these life-long relationships, I recall from an old movie the quote, “In life, we don’t get a second chance to make new ‘old friends’ so we better value and honor the ones we have.”
In the legal world, there’s a concept called, “privileged communications.” These are communications and relationships that are sacrosanct, untouchable by others and private to those who share that privilege. My relationship with Paul was like that, and the two of us enjoyed a safety and peace in knowing how unique and nurturing that was. As we shared our stories, challenges and perspectives on people, life, politics, religion and so forth, we knew our conversations were our own and beyond intervention by others. Extraordinary in this world. Joyfully, we recognized this, and we cherished it.
These are rare relationships. If you have them, you, too, are privileged. Don’t wait to remind yourself and those with whom you have them of how meaningful and priceless they are to you. You don’t know how long each of will be around to appreciate them.
In my typically youthful ideological way (of course we knew everything at that age!), I remember telling Paul at Merrimack, “Well, all these folks coming and going from school who promise to stay in touch will eventually lose track of one another. After all, time and distance change all relationships.” He never let me forget that. And each call or visit, when we’d end our time together, he’d always remind me that we might not speak again, because, after all, “Time and distance change all relationships!”
For forty years I heard his voice echo that teasing refrain. And now no more. Our relationship, as we once knew it, has forever changed.
In closing my reflections at the memorial service, I shared this poem by Sally Huss. I’ve had it for almost all the decades I’ve known Paul. It reminded me so of him, and the many others that have come and gone in my life.
“Around me I wear an invisible coat of many colors, fabrics and textures. It is made of friends and family here and no longer here, far and not so far. They are all part of my coat which keeps me warm wherever I go.”
Paul will always be a part of that coat. I’d like to think I was part of his while he was here. His inspiration will continue to be a part of my life, as I hope I was of his.
For those in your life with whom you have a special relationship, I encourage you to share your own story, how you value that relationship and how it affects who you are. Taking the time to do so promises an abundance in return. And Paul would have liked that.
Good-bye, my friend. May you rest in peace, and know forever how much you meant to me.
Return to Top