The InterLearn Blog

All posts in the Reflection category

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Learning from the Negative

I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve had this conversation as a parent with my children.  Sometimes it has been about examples that are in front of my children as teachers or leaders. . .sometimes it’s about me.  I tell them as we’re reflecting on the situation and can find very little positive that happened:  “I’m sorry but you’re going to have to learn from the negative on this one.  You’re going to have to see what not to do and learn to do the right thing.”

I’m sure we’ve all had to do that in our lives.  We see a bad example of something and run the other way. . .or at least decide to do something different.  (If you’re struggling for some negative examples, talk to me…I’ll share some of mine.)  We never want to be the negative example for those around us (ahem, our children…or students or team members).  Yet, given our fallen nature, it does happen.  As we grow in wisdom, hopefully, we have fewer of those times where we are the negative example. 

However, as leaders, we must recognize and embrace those opportunities to teach and develop even in the negative.  For faculty, they need to train students to learn from the negative.  They will likely have leaders “in the real world” that don’t have a positive message or lesson at times.  Yet, they still need to move forward in their own development despite those negatives.  The same is true for team members.  We would not want our team to fail just because we mess up.  We want them to learn and grow even when we miss it.

Learning from the negative requires several things on the part of learner:

  • Humility.  Recognition that we are fallen and make mistakes is vital. 
  • Grace.  Fortunately, we have forgiveness through Christ for this.  However, it’s Christ’s work of forgiveness in our lives that must be remembered when viewing these failures in others. We, too, are fallen, been forgiven (and will need forgiveness again in the future very likely), and need to extend the Grace that Christ extends to us.
  • Reflection.  While it may be easy to get upset at the negative example in front of us, we must logically reflect on that example to really learn from it.  See the situation from the perspective of the person providing the negative example.  What made them act the way they did?  What would have been the better way to act?  What will keep you from acting the same way in other situations? 

There are certainly times where the body of negative work in an individual requires us to pull away from an individual.  However, recognizing that they are in need of growth, just like you, is equally important. 

You may be the one to help them learn from their own negative example by gracefully helping them see their example.  

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Race to the Finish

In our household, the end of the year can be an extremely busy time (I’m sure we’re the only ones, right?!?). Not only do we have the normal holiday rush, my wife’s company often has rush work at the end of the year. As a result, there is always the likelihood that she will be racing to get everything done and reports written for clients. The question for us becomes, “what is really important that has to get done and what can wait?”

But what if we were to start the year with this attitude instead of just ending it with the idea in our heads? What if we decided that we were going to focus on what was really important and prioritize our year that way instead of just letting the year come at us and responding? How could we change our focus? What would it take?

Probably the first part would be to say, “What IS important. . .for the whole year (or 5 years or 10)?” When we really take the time to think about what is important, some of the focus will shift away from things that in a month we won’t even care about. It will let us throw aside the unimportant and reach for the important (perhaps eternal) things. . .

As we start this new year, let’s take the time to find the important, in our relationship with the Father, in our family, friends, and colleagues, in our work, and then get rid of the stuff that isn’t important. . .

. . .Then let’s race to the finish, with lightened load, and accomplish what needs to get done.

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The Pessimist’s Dilemma

For most of my life, I’ve been an optimist.  In high school, I was even given a character award for it.  As an entrepreneur, I’m a rugged optimist…I think my ideas are good enough and better than what I see out in the field. . .and will succeed.  And if those ideas don’t work, I’m sure we’ll figure out another way to get the job done.  As I’ve aged, I’ve probably moved a bit left to realism as a measure of what can affect my ideas (particularly when I haven’t done the hard work of developing a plan around them).  However, I still maintain that positive outlook about what can be and what is coming.  

For the pessimist, though, there is an entirely different outlook on things.  They see the world in the ways that it can’t be done, not in the way it can.  They have obstructionist’s tendencies to shoot holes in the ideas of those moving forward with a plan.  The “new ideas” that they bring to the table are why it won’t or can’t work.  All too often, they hold this pessimism as a righteous calling.  

I’ve seen this all too often in my client base.  The pessimist enters the room claiming they are just being the realist or holding the arbitrary standard they feel applies. . .and their “righteous work” is, seemingly, to kill accomplishment…to kill growth.  I’m thinking of one individual in particular as I write this but there are many others I’ve seen over the years.  

The experienced optimist knows that there is a way to deal with the pessimist.  A good idea backed up with a solid plan can defeat the negative perspective of the pessimist.  The pessimist will out themselves as a “Negative Nancy” given the time and opportunity and the crowd around them will grow weary. 

However, the pessimist has a dilemma in any forward-thinking, growth-minded organization.  Will they choose to change their perspective on the ideas placed before them with a positive attitude? Or, will they succumb to their bent?  Their bent is comfortable for them.  They can play the role of “just looking out for what’s best” or “quality.”  In the end, they will settle for less and hold back those looking for increase.  When they stay with their normal, it will lead to misery for themselves and for those around them until someone makes the executive decision to move them out or they self-select out.  Either way, it will be a breath of fresh air for the group when they do.  

Alternatively, they can CHOOSE a new perspective.  It won’t be natural.  It likely won’t be easy.  They will have to change their attitude and thinking patterns.  They will have to gain a new understanding of how quality works.  They will also have to gain a new level of trust from their compatriots who know them as a pessimist (because likely by now their compatriots have learned to expect the negative from them).  It won’t be easy to change.  It will be a daily, perhaps hour-by-hour challenge to make the adjustments. 

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Taking Back the Power

I recently had an interesting experience with my son.  He’d been participating in a club at school where the leader (a staff member) was generally demanding (and somewhat oppressive in my humble opinion) of those involved.  Meetings had been scheduled for every morning before school and a strict regimen was required of those involved.  For those wanting to be part of this club, strict adherence to the mentality of the leader was a requirement and questioning the authority was severely dealt with.  Schools (particularly private, Christian K-12 schools) are known for their totalitarian structure, of course.  

At the beginning of this term, my son made the decision on his own that he would rather do something else with his time even though he had enjoyed his time in the club.  However, for several weeks, the leader was unaware that my son was not going to continue in the club.  Various “threats” of penalties for not attending meetings floated back to my son through the grapevine from the leader.  Finally, my son spoke to the leader of the program and let him know that he would not be participating in the club any longer.  There was an element of shock on the part of the leader.

As my wife and I processed the situation with my son, we recognized what had happened:  my son had taken back the power of the relationship.  Instead of a situation where this leader had methods of controlling my son in his school career and levying penalties if he did not comply as requested, my son chose to remove himself from the situation.  In doing so, this leader no longer had power over him in the same way.  He gained freedom as a result.  

Before we get too far in revolutionary discussions though, think about the positive side where you choose to give up your power.  There are times, of course, where you choose to be involved in a situation for the positives inherent in the system.  As a citizen of the United States, I subject myself to the authority of the governing bodies within the U.S.  In doing so, I gain the rights of a U.S. citizen.  As a member of the local golf club, I agree to pay the membership fees and follow the club rules and gain access to unlimited golf, unlimited use of the workout facilities, and use of their pool during the summer.  As an employee, I submit myself to my leaders in order to accomplish the mission of the organization and, hopefully, receive a paycheck.  As a student, you submit yourself to the rules of the school and studies of the courses in order to gain an education.  

However, there are times when you need to take back the power.  Taking back the power is not just a revolutionary idea.  It must be a management idea.  It comes down to what you choose to give your attention and efforts.

It might not be a person from whom you need to take the power back.  It might be a process, a hobby, a practice, a group, a habit, really anything that holds undue sway over you and your actions and keeps you from accomplishing what you’re supposed to accomplish.  Here are several personal examples of how I have taken back power:

Personal Relationships:  There a number of individuals who have simply become a negative in my personal and professional life.  In some cases, I have limited my opportunities to be around them by just finding other relationships to develop.    

Television:  I’m fairly selective in what I watch on television not only for content (read that, I don’t watch smut) but also for the time investment.  I am a science fiction nerd and would love to watch through the entire Doctor Who series.  I’ve watched a few but, frankly, I don’t have the time to invest in watching that entire body of work.  

Accreditation Teams and Boards:  As a more professional example, I’ve chosen not to continue serving as an accreditation team member.  In so doing, I have freed myself from the time commitment and the obligation to not serve schools with my professional services as a consultant.  I also rarely serve on boards for similar reasons.  

The result of taking back the power, as I noted for my son, is freedom…freedom from the negatives of the situation and freedom to be about what you need to be about.  Recognize what has power and control in your circumstances and decide on the value of those circumstances. 

Is the submission to the circumstance and loss of power worth the benefits gained?  If not, make a change in the power structure.  Take back the power in your life to refocus and accomplish what God wants you to be about.  

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Of Water Tension and Other Universal Laws

In fourth grade, my teacher had us do experiments to demonstrate water tension.  One experiment was to get a very nearly full cup of water and start adding BBs until the water overflowed.  Nearly all the other students in the class did that experiment.  The other experiment that we were able to choose (and that I chose) was to float a paper clip on the top of the water surface.  Since then, water tension has been a very clear concept in my mind and I reflect on it often as I did as I was measuring out a cup of water for my breakfast porridge this morning.  

When I really reflect on the principle, I can go really deep on it.  What if God chose a different way for a particular principle to work?  What if instead of creating a tension on the surface of the water that let some things through and others sink, what if it was a hard veneer?  What if instead of gravity pulling us towards large objects, it pushed us away?  So, if we wanted to fly, we had to fly low near the ground.  Or what if the principle of lift didn’t work like it does and planes didn’t work?  We’d still be stuck on the ground.  

The point is, God set up universal laws the way He did for a particular purpose that He has.  In Proverbs 25:2, it says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”  Part of that searching is to understand the universal principles and laws that God has set up for us.  

It’s not limited to just natural laws.  The way we do business, the way we interact with people, the way we think, they are all things that can be “searched out” and considered.  In part, God will show us a better way to do things if we will take the time to search Him out on the topic we’re considering. 

Search things out.  Find why and how they work.  In the process, you’ll grow to know your Creator.  

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Severe Peace

Severe Peace: I’d never said it that way before when telling the story but the phrase came out when I was describing a period of clearest direction from God in my life to a colleague. After I said it, it struck both of us as a unique way to express the thought. As I reflected on the phrase later in the day, I realized I had stumbled on the right way to describe God’s leading in the situation.

Flashback to years before.

I had been serving at an institution that had started out positively but seemed to be crumbling at every turn. I had begun to question God’s leading about taking the position and what I thought I was supposed to accomplish in the role. Did God really lead me? Was this a complete miss on my part and that of my wife (it was a joint prayer and decision)? As stress compounded, I questioned God asking what was I supposed to learn from the experience. . .I was ready to move on. Finally, the day came when there was a release. God said it was time to move on. . .and there was peace that was waaaayyyy past my understanding. I felt, almost literally, like I was walking two feet off the ground. It was a severe peace. Regardless of what happened next in our lives, God was in control, and I remained His servant.

That didn’t mean that I had complete understanding of why I was sent to this institution. Sure, I had down some good things for the institution. I had also added to my credentials. I had made some lifelong friends. However, my perceived reason for going was not accomplished. I had seemingly failed. And I would wrestle with the reason for going and the failure for months after leaving. Months later, I had the opportunity to help one of those friends I had gained as they walked out their own departure from the institution. As I did, I had confirmation of how God had used me there: His purpose…not mine.

And we’re back from the past. So I’ve pondered the descriptive I placed in front of peace: severe. Why did that come out of my mouth that way? I’ve used the words “incredible” and “awesome” and even “confirming” peace to describe the experiences of those days long ago. But “severe?” Never once before.

What does severe even mean, especially in this context?

Severe (adj.) of a great degree; maintaining a scrupulously exacting standard of behavior or self-discipline; establishing exacting standards of accuracy and integrity in intellectual processes.
So put Peace in those definitions and you get:

  • Peace of great degree
  • A scrupulously exacting standard of Peaceful behavior or self-disciplined Peace;
  • An exacting standard of accuracy of Peace and integrity in intellectual processes of Peace

God provided such overwhelming peace that was to the magnitude of His character. It was not flippant but exacting. It was aligned to His standard of perfection. Due to His omnipotence, it’s a level we can’t “handle” in and of ourselves.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan asks Mr. Beaver if Aslan, a lion representing Christ, was “quite safe.” Mr. Beaver replied, “Safe?…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

He’s not safe, but He’s good. He’s not just a little of His characteristics. . .He’s all in. The depth of His peace is beyond our level of fully understanding and expressing. He’s peace…severe peace. While we think of measuring things, God is without measure. When you put a God without measure’s characteristics on the line, you get HIS exacting standard of Peace at a level that is overwhelming to you and me.

This Severe Peace reminds me of the contemporary worship song Furious because it is not just a platitude about God. It’s a peace that isn’t restrained by my ability to perceive it. His limitless peace is connected to His limitless love.

Nothing can tear us from
The grip of His mighty love
We’ve only glimpsed, His vast affection
Heard whispers of, His heart and passion
It’s pouring down…

His love is deep, His love is wide
And it covers us
His love is fierce, His love is strong
It is furious
His love is sweet, His love is wild
And it’s waking hearts to life

The Father loves and sends His son
The Son lays down His life for all
He lavishes His love upon us
He calls us now, His sons and daughters
He’s reaching out…

…and its waking hearts to life
He is waking hearts to life
He is waking hearts to life

“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:7

His Severe Peace be with you today. . .