Doing Life Together

My heart is troubled as I read a negative news story about a Minneapolis woman who called police because she thought a neighbor was being sexually assaulted.  Somehow, when the police arrived on the scene, the caller was shot to death. At this point in time, there are no explanations as to why a police officer shot her when she approached their squad car. We know the officers’ body cameras were not on and that the woman, Justine Damond, is dead. The question is, “Why?” There is so much in the case we do not know.  We are left to react to another negative news story.

Negative news events like this place a city on edge. Emotions run high and often trigger more aggression and violence. The lawlessness we see in the streets of Chicago, the trouble of city gang violence, racial tension, the lack of civility, etc. We view this violence and unrest on screens every day. One has to wonder what all these negative images and stories do to a person.

Basically, the impact can be depressing. When we see negative events, our brain goes into action. We are wired towards survival. Our danger detector (the amygdala) calls our attention to negative stories and events. So, we attend to bad news, in part, because of the threat of danger.

Furthermore, the brain is biased to go negative. We all have a built-in hunger to hear and remember bad news in order to confirm our negative experiences. We are much more sensitive to bad versus good news. Our attitudes are even our dreams are more influenced by bad news.

News organizations know that people are more attuned to bad news which is why one estimate is that 90% of the news is negative. All these negative stories create multiple events for the brain to react to and filter threats. And negative events are especially contagious and shared. There is also some evidence that we respond quicker to negative words and that bad news heightens our need to change and prevent more problems.

But all this attention to bad news can lead to feeling down and depressed. Disturbing images stay with us longer. So how do we protect our minds and hearts, not grow bitter or cynical, and not lose our empathy for others?

Begin by understanding that the more stressed, sick and tired you are, the more likely you are to be reactive to bad news. At those times, it wise to not pile on negative news stories. We may need to do what we teach children–limit our exposure. And when you do see a negative story, tell yourself that media prefers reporting bad news and disaster over slow and steady improvements in our society. You are not seeing the balance. Balance the news with encouraging and uplifting stories of triumph and overcoming.

Keep a spiritual perspective. According to 2 Timothy 3: 1-5, we will see the ramping up of bad news. So while we don’t want to stick our heads in the sand, replace fear with prayer: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—  having a form of godliness but denying its power.” This is not going away. But God has not given us a spirit of fear, so remind yourself of His truth, His power and His protection. Direct your worry or concern to prayer.  God is telling us what is coming, but doesn’t want us reacting in fear, rather in the hope we find in Him and the promise of a new day. This reality and hope must be balanced. 

Focus more of your attention on good reports. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. ” Philippians 4:8-9. This is one way you balance the negative bias-renew the mind with the promises of God. The power of God is more than positive psychology. It is a belief that God holds all things in His hand and will accomplish His purposes. He has given us a book and His presence to help us on the journey.

i-741519_1920It’s summer and more of our bodies are exposed. If you are self-conscious about the way you look, you are probably thinking, “Bring on the cooler temps so I can cover up!” But maybe the better way to deal with summer is to work on body acceptance. Recently, I was asked this question by an interviewer:

How can a woman work to see her body realistically and find beauty in how her body is made? What is a healthy way to approach outward appearance and wanting to look good without developing an obsession or eating disorder? My answer…

“Work” is a good way to put it. It takes a conscious and daily effort to renew the mind with the truth of God’s word. Start by searching the scriptures to learn what God says about you, how He determine your worth and what He values. You are going to find that there is little reference to physical appearance toed to our worth. What we consider important is not that important to God.

Resist the myths that continue to be reinforced in our culture. For example, one of the myths is that big breasts make you successful. This is  a crazy belief and yet it often remains unchallenged. Ask why would I believe this, and what is the intent of such a message? One teen thought having breast implants would raise her confidence. Her parents were going to allow her to have the procedure because they agreed. Breast implants are not a means to more confidence. Being made in the image of God to reflect His glory is a conversation that has nothing to do with the proportions of your body or sculpting it towards perfection.

Don’t confuse body acceptance with making physical changes. For example, changing a hair style is much easier than working through a difficult parent relationship. Dieting can give you a false sense of control in your life when your marriage is falling apart. And this is often what I see. People who are stuck in problems and use their physical bodies as the screen for internal anxieties and difficulties. I worked with a very successful woman in her mid thirties who was single and wanted to be married. She was unable to sustain an intimate relationship with a man because of all the unresolved baggage she carried from her original family. Every time she broke up with a man, she scheduled herself for a plastic surgery procedure. She became obsessed with her appearance, feeling she had to perfect the physical in order to hold on to a man. After six major procedures, she finally agreed to tackle the hurt and disappointment in her life and resolve past family issues. Then, she was able to approach her relationships differently.

Finally, stop comparing yourself  to others and accept your uniqueness as a reflection of a very creative God. Our bodies are His temple, the place His Spirit dwells. Therefore we are to care for our bodies and treat them with respect. Our focus should be on self-care versus self-obsession and on healthy living versus dieting.

Take the self out of self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem and you have a very different picture. Our identity is not found in appearance or accomplishments but in Christ. If you try to love yourself apart from God, you will fail. Esteem does not come from inside you, other people, your family, your appearance or what you do. You are highly esteemed simply because God created and chose you. You are so valued by God that He sent his son to die for you. God isn’t saying, “If only she would lose five more pounds, I could love her more.” God-esteem is radical and countercultural. Martin Luther once said, “A proud mind is high in conceit, self-esteem, and carnal aspiring; a humble mind is high indeed in God esteem, and in holy aspiring.” When God is in the center of our lives, we can’t help but be humble and feel valued.

You don’t have to ignore your physical appearance to develop inner beauty. It isn’t wrong to want to look as nice as you can with what you have been given. We are body, soul and spirit. To ignore the physical part of who we are is ridiculous and not a holistic approach to life. However, when dealing with the body, we have to keep perspective. We are more than our appearance.

divorce-908743_1920John and  Jill were not getting along. In talking to both individuals, it was clear that they suffered from 5 relationship mistakes. Here is what I noticed.

  1. Little to no alone time. Yes, this sounds counterintuitive to a couple’s relationship, but most people need a little down time to reboot and refresh. It doesn’t mean they don’t love being with their partner, rather they are a better partner when they take time to think and process the relationship and develop their own hobbies and interest. A caution: Too much alone time can lead to problems, so it is a balance of attending to the relationship and allowing yourself time to regroup. For example, John felt that any time he wanted to do something with his guy friends like play racquetball, Jill was upset. She didn’t play, yet racquetball was a hobby and stress relief for John.
  2. Lack of curiosity about your partner. Getting comfortable with the person and not exploring how they think and feel about issues and life experiences can lead to emotional distance and loss of friendship. You may think you know your partner and yet will constantly discover new things about them. And the conversation keeps you intimately involved and being better known by the other. For example, when Jill talked about her feelings and reactions to recent events, John was stunned and had no idea she felt the way she did.
  3. Avoiding discussing the small stuff. You know the saying –don’t sweat the small stuff-well, in relationships that is not good advice. The small stuff builds to the big stiff and causes problems Talk through minor issues and problems. Don’t ignore or allow things to build. Practice good conflict management so you can address issues as they occur. For example, it bothered John how Jill did not clean up after herself. And Jill didn’t like how often John checked in with his family. She felt it interfered with building their relationship. Once they discussed these type of small things, their relationship began to improve.
  4. Allowing negativity to color the view of your partner. This is dangerous. Once you focus more on the negatives than the positives, you will move from criticism to contempt. An overall negative feeling is the road to emotional distance and often divorce. Stay positive;. Offer grace and talk through problems to resolve and reconcile. Focus on the positives. Rehearse the positives and say them often to your partner. For example, when John did something Jill didn’t like, she thought about it for days–never talked to him, but allowed the bad feelings to build. And John began to characterize his wife as someone who didn’t care about him or his family. This negativity grew to the point of resentment.
  5. No shared or individual spiritual life. Couples who lose sight of their spiritual bond or who don’t share a spiritual connection, struggle more because they don’t have spiritual resources or a spiritual plan  to guide their lives together. Biblical principles work in relationships and provide a foundation on how you treat each other and how to address self-centeredness and a host of other temptations. Without God in the picture, couples tend to become more “me” focused and discontented. A shared spiritual faith that is practiced is essential to creating a strong relationship. John and Jill had wandered from their faith, were not attended a church and falling into a pattern of self-centeredness Once they renewed their faith and began to study the Bible and pray together, things improved.

board-2433982_1920Trust is foundational to any relationship. This is true whether we are talking about an intimate other or your boss at work. Working in an organization in which trust is absent affects productivity, creativity, your work and autonomy. Something just doesn’t feel right. Feelings of safety, satisfaction and confidence take a hit when trust is low.

Leaders should focus on building trust in order have greater productivity and organizational collaboration. There is research to support that in high trust organizations profits are higher, employees stay and feel satisfied, and the company gains a good reputation.

Organizational trust is built on three things:

  1. Past behavior. Does a leader behavior in a consistent manner? If not, it is difficult to trust the present. People who are unpredictable in any relationship are difficult to trust.
  2. Capability: Is the leader perceived as competent? Noticed I said, “perceived” because it is difficult to trust someone you feel doesn’t know what he or she is doing. Trust is based on your perception. And that perception is usually based on the way the leader behaves.
  3. Alignment: Do you align with the goals and direction of the leader? Working towards a common goal is part of trust. If you can’t buy in the vision or direction of a leader, trust is usually at the root.

Leaders can build trust in a few important ways: 

  1. Involve people in decisions. This helps people know how the leader thinks and how decisions are made. It also helps with buy-in. In any relationship, when decisions are discussed and you are included, you tend to trust more.
  2. Just like parenting, leaders who are consistent with their decisions build trust. And it helps to add transparency along the way.  Listen first to what people have to say, but be consistent in your responses and actions.
  3. Attend to relationships. The more leaders can help people get along, work together and co-exist, the better the atmosphere of a company. Right wrongs when they occur. Don’t allow tension to build without addressing it. Nothing breaks trust more than being treated in negative ways.

Since trust includes your integrity, motive and intent with people, it is foundational to the way people are inspired and work together. When trust is missing, people lose their loyalty and motivation to work for a company. Trust me!