Seeing Things Differently

We started up the trail, meeting other couples along the way with looks of dread and needfulness cast on their faces, exchanging glances with us as they passed that echoed a shared sense of knowing,  a reordering of priorities.

–Frank Beck, The Parallax

Searching For Things
“My dad said, the way I saw the world was a gift.”  The words of Oskar Schell, the child who captivated us in the best-selling book and Academy Award nominated “Best Picture of 2011,” Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, resonate with all of us.   We are all searching for something and like Oskar we begin to understand that having the key doesn’t immediately help us know what can be unlocked.  Oskar’s quest “pushes our emotional buttons.”  We recognize ourselves in his need to find things.  We understand his yearning.  We share his emotion.

Shared Emotions
Clarence, a character in The Parallax, recognizes this fact when he says, “You could have been anywhere and affected by 9/11.” That day was a watershed moment for everyone, regardless of their location.  Think about it.  Most of us can describe in vivid detail what we were doing when we learned of the terrorist attack and how we reacted to it.  I, personally, was waiting for a commuter train at the Memorial Hospital Metrolink station in Belleville, Illinois. I remember the emotions of the people riding the train, interacting with one another as they had never done before.  It was as if we were a family and had just learned that other members of our family had been hurt. I don’t think I’d ever experienced the sharing of emotions that occurred that day.  I suspect that nearly everyone has a story of what they were doing on September 11th, 2001, because that day will forever be part of our social consciousness.

Finding Things
Brad Paisley tells us in his hit song, Find Yourself, that although we may go through life thinking we know who we are, it is when we are lost that it is most possible to find yourself. Frank and Sarah, characters in The Parallax, were married for twenty-five years.  Did they really know one another?  Do you really know who you are? Frank and Sarah found themselves in a distant place, the Colorado Rockies, when their world was shaken. I thought about the many ways that 9/11 might have impacted people on that day, and used the tragic event as a backdrop for my story, The Parallax.  I sensed that although everyone was impacted differently, readers could connect with the shared experience of that horrific day.  You don’t need the events of 9/11 to “find yourself.”Use the gift of seeing things differently. Discover what’s important to you. Embark on the journey, identifying those things you value, the places you enjoy, the things you treasure, and, most importantly, the people you care about; and envision your life in a new way.

Discarded Time

Feeling Lost
Everyone knows the feeling but as adults, we have learned to hide our emotional scars, leaving jagged timelines in our lives, discarding moments we choose not to confront, leaving relationships that we’ve allowed to be damaged. The writers of ABC’s hit series, Lost, recognized the universality of this feeling as they layered metaphor upon metaphor, week after week. The series captured viewers’ shared emotions, defying the possibility of anyone being able to verbalize the show’s meaning. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to deconstruct a feeling. Can anyone really find words to describe fear, longing, regret, or remorse?

Making Connections
Dr. Katherine Stein, a character in The Parallax, recognizes this fact when she asks everyone in her workshop to think with the story, instead of about it. The real question, when examining our stories is not, “What’s this story about?” The real question is more difficult to put into words and can only be answered with an affective analysis, connecting feelings of chaos, confusion, and fear that characterize our lives as we search for restitution and forgiveness.

Yearning Forgiveness
Singer Bryan Adams touches on this need in his hit song, Please Forgive Me. We spend our lives trying to get things right, but often, as a result of our imperfections, we fail. We make mistakes. We hurt and we are hurt. We yearn for restitution, wanting to reconnect but fear failure. We are left with inaction and ineffectiveness. We live in a world that has taught us to discard those things that are broken. Sadly we have forgotten how to fix things. But it’s possible to reclaim those discarded moments.  Real forgiveness requires sincere reflection which can be achieved through self-awareness, self-direction, and self-control. Take your life back. Determine what’s important to you and make choices based on those values—you’ll be glad you did.


Leadership, Love and Change


Fall Trees

Photo by Donald R. Rickert, PhD

Change Is a Verb
Aspen trees paint the mountain landscape with a blaze of gold as fall approaches—a welcome change from the hot-dry summer months. We await the metamorphosis with great anticipation. Similarly, we often treat change in our lives as if its’ a manifestation of inevitable consequences. This viewpoint is embedded in our language: Change happens. We’re under the grip of change. Couples in love recognize that an effective relationship requires that we understand that love is a verb, not a noun. It’s not good enough to fall into love. We must constantly work at loving. And so it is with change. Spencer Johnson, MD, in his best-selling book, Who Moved My Cheese, uses cheese as a metaphor for change to teach us this lesson. He tells us that we have to plan for change—“Smell the cheese often.” Effective change requires that we view it not as something that happens to us, but something that we facilitate through the choices we make. We act so we aren’t acted upon and, as we do, we become a model for others.

couple holding handsEffective Change Inspires Others
St. Louis musical artist Erin Bode recently released a song, The Space Between, inspired by ten-year old Katelyn Jackson, who is afflicted with a congenital heart defect. Erin used audio recordings that doctors had made of Katelyn’s heartbeat, during her years of treatment, as the background rhythm for the song. As an artist, Erin understands that her music can tell a story. She created a song that allows us to connect with our deepest emotions, becoming a model for what her lyrics implore—“Maybe, if you hold my hand…” She demonstrates how we can become a positive force for change as her song helps, not only Katelyn, but thousands of others.

Effective Change Makes a Difference
It’s when we understand that we have the power to impact our future through the choices we make that we become truly effective. Accessing our emotions and connecting with our stories move us toward that goal. Our stories allow us to see ourselves with new understanding, providing an impetus for change, marked not by passivity and acceptance, but distinguished by active involvement and inspiration. Kyle, a character in The Parallax, learns this lesson from Nicole, another character in the book, who unsuspectingly through her leadership becomes his role mode, influencing a positive change in his behavior. Everyone has the opportunity for leadership.  Ken Blanchard, author of The One-Minute Manager, reminds us that “leadership is a journey, not a destination.” Leadership, love and change, they are all journeys. As we embark on these journeys, we learn that we each have a role as we interconnect with others, recognizing that the outstretched hand that we clasp may be the giver as well as the recipient of help. We discover a truth—“Maybe, if you hold my hand…”

‘Tis Better To Laugh

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

E.E. Cummings

Why Do We Need To Laugh?
People have long recognized the importance of laughter. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jesters were important members of the King’s Court. Paradoxically, their importance came not from their being funny but from their ability to help the King see things differently. Laughter is a paradigm-changing activity. During the Great Depression, comedy flourished, producing stars like Mickey Rooney, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, the Three Stooges, and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Who can forget Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s On First” routine, broadcast first on radio in 1939? It seems as if the more dire the circumstances, the greater our need to laugh.

What Happens When We Laugh?
Laughter is a whole-brain experience, which explains why laughter enables us to see things differently. Laughter evokes both a cognitive and an affective response. This triangulation of perspectives: event, cognition, and emotion, facilitates our seeing things differently—we get it! And as we “we get it,” we gain perspective. When asked about comedy’s effect on an audience, comedian Bob Newhart replied, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it, and move on.”

Can Laughter Improve Our Effectiveness?
One theory suggests that something becomes funny when we expect one thing but something else happens.  This incongruity of what we expect and what happens is what produces the positive benefits of laughter. Father Ryan, a fictional character in the The Parallax, experiences this phenomena when, according to him, he assumes an Irish persona in response to “feeling merry.” However, he admits that his “Irish brogue ‘tis but a fiction,” which begs the question: Does his Irish persona spring from a need to laugh or does it validate his need to experience his world differently?

Can Laughter Have Postive Therapeutic Benefits?
Laughter helps improve our attitude, reduces stress, and improves our general sense of wellness. Furthermore, research suggests that laughter also enhances physiological parameters. Studies have shown positive therapeutic outcomes for the circulatory, respiratory, muscular, and digestive systems. We’re beginning to realize the wisdom in the prescription offered by Lord Byron, two-hundred years ago—“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.“

Reflective Writing: The Catalyst for Improving Emotional Intelligence

Emotional IntelligenceWhat is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions—our own and others’. Everyone knows the importance of emotions. It’s one of those common sense things. But as Samuel, a fictional character in the The Parallax, points out “common sense ain’t necessarily common practice.” Emotional intelligence is the missing element in our understanding of personal effectiveness and a possible explanation for the disparity that often exists between cognitive intelligence (IQ) and success.

How does emotional intelligence impact our effectiveness?
Have you underestimated or neglected the importance of emotions? Or most importantly, do your behaviors reflect recognition of their importance? Baby boomers might remember Data, the android in Star Trek: The Next Generation. His cognitive abilities were super-human; however, Data knew that it was his inability to experience emotions that limited his effectiveness and differentiated him from humans—something he desperately yearned to be.

How can we improve our emotional intelligence?
When you experienced anger and frustration as a child, your mother may have offered this advice: “Count to ten.” …more common sense. But in our 4G world things happen very fast, eliminating the opportunity to pause and reflect which is key to managing and controlling our emotions. Without this critical self-reflection, our emotional intelligence is diminished and our effectiveness is impaired.

What is the relationship between emotional intelligence and writing?
Writing engages our brain differently. Think about it. Try writing something without giving attention to what you’re writing. You can’t do it! Writing demands that we focus our thoughts, and as our first words spill out onto the page, others begin to emerge, as if they’d been hiding, waiting to be discovered. Your mother was right—counting to ten helps. But even better, taking the extra time to write about something that is troubling you can yield one-hundred fold results, improving our emotional intelligence and increasing our personal effectiveness.

Accessing Emotions through Writing

Writing as TherapyIt was a typical spring morning in Emporia, Kansas on May 11th,1921, when Mary White, daughter of noted journalist William Allen White, mounted her horse for a morning ride. Across the country in Atlantic City, Mr. White himself was having a typical morning when he picked up a telegram at his hotel where he was staying while on one of his frequent political trips. As a political journalist, he was accustomed to messages throughout his day; so when an urgent telegram came, he took no pause. However, his world changed as he read what his wife, Sallie, had written: “I need you…”

Mary had been knocked off her horse. Two days later, Mr. White would find solace from that distinction. She had not fallen from the horse. A low-hanging branch had stuck her in the head, knocking her from the horse. She died from the blow to her head. On the day of Mary’s funeral he sat at his typewriter, pounding out an editorial, an epitaph of sorts, which would run not only in the Emporia Gazette, but would be reprinted in hundreds of newspapers across the globe. In his sorrow he confronted his grief, “The Associated Press carrying the news of Mary White’s death declared that it came as the result of a fall from a horse. How she would have hooted at that!” Years later William Allen White would reflect, “If I have any fame beyond my death, it will come from the Mary White editorial.” He continued, recognizing the verisimilitude of what he had written, years before, in his grief, “I shall go as far as I go along the path where Mary’s hand may lead me.”

William Allen White was a journalist. Writing was his profession, but I doubt that his journalistic prowess had much to do with his need to write about his daughter’s death. You don’t have to be a writer to achieve the positive therapeutic results that writing has to offer. Frank Beck, a fictional character in my book, The Parallax, discovers this secret. Participants in my workshops and readers of the book have discovered it as well. They tell me that they had never previously thought of themselves as writers and yet, after being presented with the idea of writing as therapy, have experienced the positive benefits from their writing. I urge you to do the same. Discover the secret. And when you do, I invite you to share this experience with me, becoming an inspiration and a model for others.

How do you handle your moments of despair?

Buy The ParallaxThere have been times in my life that I have struggled with emotions that have threatened my relationships and diminished my personal effectiveness. My guess is that everyone has had similar experiences in their lives. Often, we may not even know what the source is to the anger, fear, confusion, and despair that reside beneath the surface of our consciousness. My new book, The Parallax, provides the secret to handling these difficult situations.