Silent Moral Courage-Olympic Flashbacks

When thinking about leading it’s not uncommon to think about moral courage. Moral courage is the ability to do the “right” or “moral” thing even when that can cost you significantly. You may need to push back on policies or movements that are popular, supported by authority figures, or encoded in law. It will most likely require you to be a lonely voice that makes those engaged in the immoral and wrong-headed action uncomfortable and sometimes angry. Exhibiting moral courage requires humility. A leader that exercises moral courage isn’t simply pushing their opinions around about what they believe is right, they’re speaking the truth even when doing so might make them uncomfortable. Think of the white leaders during the time of the Jim Crowe south who benefitted from the system yet spoke out against it because, in the end, they knew that to do so was what mattered for justice to prevail.

An example of moral courage that has stayed with me for some time has to do with an Australian man named Peter Norman. Peter Norman isn’t a name most people recognize. In fact, when someone thinks of moral courage they most often think of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and numerous others who suffered for justice. Their fame emerges from the fact they stood up against injustice at great personal cost. Yet, so did Peter Norman. In fact, he not only lost a great deal because of his willingness to stand up against injustice, but he also did so without the recognition and fame his fellow protestors got from protesting the same acts at the very same time. He died without ever being publically acknowledged for his courage or his great accomplishments as an athlete.

At the Olympics in 1968 three men emerged as winners of the 200-meter race. Two of them were black and one of them white. Two of them were from the United States, and one from Australia. Tommy Smith, the first US Athlete won the Gold, and John Carlos the second US athlete took the bronze in the 200-meter race. They knew that they had this small space in time to use their brief fame to make a statement against the rampant racism in the United States and around the world. The third athlete who was not a citizen of the United States nor a black man was told by these two athletes that they intended to make a political statement during the medal ceremony, one of which was to raise their black-gloved hands in the air as a way to protest racism. Peter saw the importance of this moment and knew he could not just stand silent at this important moment and asked how he could show solidarity with his fellow sprinters. All of this occurred only months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr so the whole world was aware of the racial struggles occurring in the United States. Peter also was acutely aware of the racial struggles and discriminating policies of his own country and wanted to give voice to the marginalized people there as well. He was strongly influenced by his religious beliefs (He was a member of the salvation army that believed deeply in the equality and dignity of all people) and felt compelled to be a part of this moment at this time.

While Carlos and Smith are known for the fact they raised their hands in protest that elicited boos, sneers, and angry insults from the crowd, Norman also was looked down on because he chose to wear the badge for the Olympic Project for Human Rights during the ceremony. After the protest, Smith, and Carlos were rushed from the stadium and removed from the US Olympic team. They went home to the United States, experienced a great backlash for what many believed was a sign of complete disrespect, and received death threats. This indeed is an example of moral courage. Later, both men were re-accepted into the Olympic fold and had significant athletic careers. However, Peter Norman was not so lucky.

Peter Norman was severely punished by the Australian sports establishment. He remained one of Australias greatest runners qualifying over and over again for the Olympics but the establishment would not let him run. Norman suffered from depression, alcoholism, and an addiction to pain medication and died as a forgotten figure in Australian athletics. He never was able to re-establish his career as a sprinter and never participated in sports on any significant level after that one act of protest for justice. It wasn’t until 2012 that the Australian government apologized for how Peter Norman was treated. Peter Norman certainly suffered for standing up for what is right and just. Moral courage cost him a great deal.

I look around today and I see so many public figures beating their chests and saying whatever they need in order to appeal to and be accepted by those in power. Standing for moral principles seems to be less and less popular in a world that finds morality and principles relative to whatever the mood of the nation is. Yet, I take comfort and inspiration knowing that there are always people like Peter Norman who will silently suffer and be ostracised for a cause not directly related to them. People who have the moral courage to stand for what is right and just even if they’re not those suffering from the injustice simply because their principles dictate that they must be a witness to what is just. These are the people that will continue to be the conscious of an organization and a nation. Thank God we have them.

If You Want a Better World, Learn to Love and Be Loved

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More and more I am convinced the heart of all human misery is the result of a fracture in a very important psychological mechanism built into the human heart. We are intended to be creatures that love others and receive love. When we cannot love others in a healthy way or have not been loved in a healthy way we create a world that is fractured, broken, and hurtful. Psychologists have numerous theories that talk about the minutiae of how this mechanism works, but in the end, we struggle to love others and are negatively impacted by those that love us in a broken way. Here are just a few ways that happens.

A very early and significant way we are negatively (or positively) impacted by how we are loved is related to something known in psychology as attachment theory. The manner in which your primary care giver shows you love, meets your needs, provides a sense of safety for you, etc. can impact how you engage the world later in life. The theory was formulated by John Bowlby but explored extensively by Mary Ainsworth. Without going through all the details of the theory and the subsequent research it developed, attachment theory finds that those children who were provided with a caring, loving, responsive environment were more able to adjust to the world around them than those who were not. When this care and love is not provided properly, insecure and anxious attachments develop in people and they exhibit such behaviors and emotions as anxiety, the inability to regulate emotions, difficulty with developing relationships with peers, etc. Later research even demonstrates insecure attachments impact romantic relationships and marriage satisfaction. Taking all this into consideration you can see that when someone is not loved properly they struggle to give and receive love in a healthy way. Then, that gets propagated to others and the world continues to spiral into a broken dysfunctional pit that seems impossible to overcome. When we cannot love or are loved in an unhealthy way we in turn love others in ways that are broken. The cycle is difficult to break.

Taking things further, excessive abuse has been found to certainly have a negative impact on people raised in such a toxic environment. While certainly high levels of abuse create people who deal with physical injury and developmental issues, it also creates psychological damage. First, it can create an internal experience of self-hatred. Many people dealing with this self-hatred and abusive history consider suicide, become addicted to drugs, and deal with depression and anxiety. Post traumatic stress disorder and other trauma related mental health concerns are commonly found in children and later adults who experienced extreme abuse. However, even more disturbing, some research indicates excessive abuse of children during formative developmental ages causes the empathy pathways of the brain to be stunted and underdeveloped causing anti-social behaviors and at its worst, antisocial personality disorder. The most extreme lack or inability to love children being raised in our very homes creates people who’s neurological structures make it exceptionally difficult for them to empathize and love others.

Over the course of the next few posts I want to explore how we can change this trend and learn to love others and receive love in a healthy way. This innate characteristic of being human is essential for living life well and flourishing in the world. Imagine if we could transform the world to be a place where people can learn to love others and be loved in a healthy way. What might it be like if we could help people learn to mitigate against the broken and distorted love they received in order to break the cycle of distorted love? The world could at least be a little better because of the things I want to discuss. Augustine of Hippo, a Christian philosopher and minister in the 5th century often spoke of sin as nothing other than disordered love. Perhaps we need to reconsider that again in our day and age? How is our love disordered and how does it perpetuate a disordered world today? I look forward to sharing thoughts on this with you over the next few posts!

The Spiritual Nature of Sin – Signature Sins

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As many of my readers know I’m a professor of psychology for Regent University as well as a priest in the Continuing Evangelical Episcopal Church. One of the courses I sometimes teach is Abnormal Psychology. Abnormal Psychology focuses on behaviors, cognitions, and emotions considered disordered. One area psychologists explore in regards to abnormal behavior is why particular abnormalities emerge in the first place. In other words, psychologists ask the question, “Why are some people clinically depressed, suffering from clinical anxiety, have schizophrenia, etc., while others seem to go through life without any problem?” A popular model used today to describe the source of abnormal behavior is called the “diathesis stress model.” While the name sounds very technical, it really isn’t that difficult to understand.

The diathesis stress model simply states everyone has within them the potential to experience a psychological disorder of some sort. We’re all vulnerable to particular disorders. We may not know what they are, but given our genetic make-up, life choices, and the circumstances in which we live any one of us could have a psychological disorder just waiting to emerge. This risk factor is called a “diathesis.” What causes the disorder to emerge is the fact environmental stressors impress themselves on the individual and trigger the start of the problem. This model is no different than how we explain certain physical disorders. We may have the genetic predisposition for diabetes, but because we exercise, eat right, and maintain a healthy lifestyle our body never experiences the stress of unhealthy living which causes diabetes to emerge. The key is to mitigate the disposition toward the disorder by keeping our environmental stressors low and practice healthy living. We may have a disposition for depression but if we make sure we have down time, coping mechanisms in place, and a support system available we may never experience depression at a clinical level. The key to maintaining physical as well as mental health is to be sure we understand our vulnerabilities and maintain a healthy set of coping mechanisms to keep us from experiencing problems at a high level

This model is very helpful for understanding how we develop physical ailments and psychological ailments. It also translates nicely for understanding our spiritual ailments. First, we must all recognize because we’re born into a fallen world we have a fallen nature. This fallen nature creates in us a proclivity toward sin. All of us have a sin nature, not a nature of virtue and holiness. While I recognize there are a number of theological positions regarding the state of the soul, I think most Christian can agree the natural state of the human spirit when born into this world is broken and fallen. Additionally, each of us carries within us a proclivity toward a certain sin, or pattern of sins, something called “Signature sins.” Michael Mangis wrote a book called, “Signature Sins, Taming Our Wayward Hearts” in which he explains what these particular proclivities toward abnormal spiritual behaviors are. He writes the following:

“My life, like my home, carries unique markers of my own experiences, relationships, likes, dislikes, gifts and vices. My life displays patterns, consistencies and habits. Even spontaneity occurs within boundaries. My sin is similarly patterned. I can predict my temptations by the choices that have enticed me before. Other temptations may afflict my neighbor but cause me no struggle at all. My patterns of sin are unique to me.”

Like having the risk factors that could lead to a psychological disorder, we all have risk factors that can lead us to display spiritual abnormalities. All it takes is the appropriate environmental stressor to have them kick in. A man may be susceptible to lust and all it takes is watching a sexually explicit movie and he finds himself lusting after women and thinking about them as if they are mere objects of his desire. Having a particular proclivity toward a configuration of sins and living in a world that provides a number of opportunities to experience those sins can lead us to be spiritually disordered. In the end, we’re people struggling with the potential breakdown of not just our bodies, minds, emotions, and relationships, but our spirits as well.

If we truly want to grow spiritually we need to make ourselves aware of our signature sins. These risk factors have the potential to lead us down a path of destruction. They need to be identified as well as the environmental factors causing us stress and in the end, activating our sin pattern. Working with a good spiritual director, practicing spiritual disciplines, and being connected to a great community support system is the first step for growing in the life of grace. In the end, our natural proclivity toward sin can only be transformed by the supernatural life of grace coming from a relationship with Christ. Begin your new life in him by finding ways to destroy the old life in you.

How One Human Life Matters

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Some days we wake up, we go through our routines, and are reminded that life is just one repeating event that happens day after day. We think there is little we’ve done that matters and realize we will never be on television or have articles written about us in some well known newspaper. We most likely will never write a great novel and no matter what we’re told by the well meaning people in our lives we cannot be whatever we want because we have to be what we need to be for the people depending on us. Most of us are mothers who care for our families and fathers who provide for those depending on us. We work jobs that make money so we can pay our bills and we have to maintain our homes through tedious tasks such as doing laundry, cutting grass, shoveling snow, and fixing those simple devices meant to make our lives easier. Life goes on like a ship headed out to sea and we simply stand on the shore and watch it move further and further away from us. Certainly there are moments of joy and happiness among these routines, but there are also days of mere repetitive necessary tasks. For many people it leaves them with the impression that their life, while important, really doesn’t matter to that many people. And it is that belief that is woefully wrong.

I’ve often quoted a friend of mine who was a Roman Catholic priest. He was an only child and while close to his cousins, he had little family that he associated with. As a Roman Catholic priest he couldn’t marry so he had no children and no wife to share his life with. He once told me that many men in his situation say “There is nothing more dead than a dead priest” to capture the life they live. He believed no one really remembers them because they have no one to carry on their memory. Yet this man has had a continual impact on my life as well as my whole family, He was so wrong about the impact he had on me and mine; he was a friend and I loved him very much.

My father was also taken from us unexpectedly when he died in his sleep. He had dinner with me and my family, went home with my mom, kissed her goodnight, went to bed, and then died of a major heart attack in his sleep. My dad never thought he was anything special. He was a retired police officer who died believing that he simply did his duty as a father and husband, nothing more. He never believed he did anything more than what a good dad and husband needed to do and took pride in the fact he was a simple officer of the law for a city he loved.

Both these men were very important to me but more than that, I don’t think they ever realized how much their lives mattered, even though they lived these lives in the simplest and most ordinary way. Every life matters because it impacts the lives of others in ways the one who lives it never imagines. The simplest courtesy can unburden a desperate soul looking for one act of kindness. The kindest smile can give someone that one glimpse of what is good in humanity they needed to experience that day. Your life matters and you should live that life as if it does. No matter what you do for a living or how you spend your time throughout the day when you live it being reminded how much it matters you impact people in ways you could never imagine or may never know.

My fear is that most of us living today are living as if what we say, do, or how we live doesn’t matter. Don’t do that. Choose your words wisely, be mindful of what you do and how you treat others, and take care that the work you complete is done in the most excellent way you can do it. By living that way you may inspire the next great leader of the nation, show a person love when they feel most unloved, and keep someone from taking their life because they despaired that no one cares for them. Those men I spoke of earlier died. Their death has left my life emptier than when they were in it. However, my life is also much better and fuller in many ways because they lived the most ordinary lives in the most inspiring ways and shared their lives with me. My friend the priest has helped me understand the importance of faith in human living and that service to my fellow human beings is a noble cause. My father inspired me to care for my family and sacrifice my wants, desires, and needs so that they may flourish. He taught me that happiness in a family isn’t getting everything I want from those in it, but rather seeing those in the family find success and reach their dreams and goals because you are willing to sacrifice some of your own. Neither of these men will ever have a movie made about them and like most, after about three or four generations their name may be nothing more than a carving on a gravestone. But that’s not what matters. They have touched and inspired me to be a better man than I would have ever been if I never knew them, and hopefully I have given that same experience to others, and so on, and so on. One life really does matter, choose to live yours in a way that impacts the world in a positive inspirational way through the most ordinary and mundane tasks. Be that pebble that strikes the still water of human existence and sends ripples through it that make the world a little better than if you were never in it. Your life matters, believe it.

Finding Meaning and Purpose In Life

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In the last BLOG, I indicated that the key to maintaining good habits has to do with connecting those habits and goals to your meaning and purpose in life. While that’s a great way to stay focused and committed to things that are difficult, a number of my readers and workshop attendees often say, “How do I know what my purpose in life is?” Let’s explore that a little and see if I can give you some insight into how to discover what that might be. Please be patient with yourself as you go through this process, it can take time and requires some real reflection on your part. However, If you take the time to understand what this is, you’ll be greatly rewarded!

One of the first things to consider when trying to discover your life’s meaning and purpose is to think about the things and activities you’re passionate about. A good place to start is often with your hobbies. Too often we think of our hobbies as simple diversions that allow us to escape from the world. More often than not, your hobby is a reflection of your deepest passion. For example, you may really enjoy spending time buying old furniture and using it to create a modified version of its original look. An old mirror might be transformed into a more modern and exotic piece of furniture that captures everyone’s attention. You like being creative and taking something that someone gave away and turn it into something new, inspirational, and valuable. While you may not make this type of work your job, there is something about it that touches the very center of who you are. What you need to do is spend time thinking about what exactly it is that draws you in and motivates you to spend time refabricating old furniture and turning it into a valuable product. It may not be what you’re “actually” doing, it may be the process or some aspect and characteristic of the work that draws you in totally unrelated to the actual furniture.

I grew up performing magic shows and I became quite a proficient ventriloquist. I would put on shows in my garage, invite the whole neighborhood, and was a frequent guest at numerous birthday parties. I went from performing magic tricks to playing the guitar and learning every Beatles’ song I could get my hands on. I found I loved being in front of people and performing even though I was a very shy kid. From magic to music I later found myself employed as an IT consultant, then a therapist, minister, and now a college professor. How are any of these things related to one another? It took me a long time to see the thread that tied them together, but I believe it is something obvious once you think about it. First, I like the mystery involved in knowing something that others are straining to understand. The magic tricks and ventriloquism were a mystery to my friends and family and when I could make that mystery interesting to them I loved it. Also, all these activities involve engaging people and helping them find something more from life. Sure, ventriloquism isn’t some profound art that assists people to find greater meaning and purpose but it did give them some joy and entertainment so their life was a little better. Being an IT consultant allowed me to take something that was mysterious to many business owners and show them how it could empower them to be more profitable and help their customers. Being a therapist allowed me to help people with the mysteries of everyday life through the power of psychology and being a minister allowed me to walk with people in the ultimate mystery of life found in the divine experience. Lastly, as a college professor, I help young people engage in the mysteries of their educational pursuits so they are empowered to do great things in the world after they leave our university. My hobbies and interest led me to see a common meaning and purpose in my life (By the way, I still love magic but my wife won’t let me pick up the ventriloquist dummy again).

Let’s get back to the individual who loves working with old furniture. It may not be that their meaning and purpose in life is to create new and interesting pieces of furniture (Of course it may be that, but it doesn’t have to be). They may be the type of person who finds meaning and purpose by taking what many people believe to be a “throwaway” item, experience, idea, or God forbid, person and work with them to be something interesting, better, and polished. Maybe this person can find meaning and purpose working with school kids that no one else wants to work with. They can take these souls the school system has thrown away and turned them into empowered, accomplished, educated people. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is why you do it. That why is the most powerful motivating force in your life.

Let me close this post with this final homework assignment that I want you to work on. Look at the things you’re passionate about and ask yourself what the root of that activity or idea is that motivates you? What is the unconscious experience in your hobby that speaks to the meaning and purpose in your life? If you can do that, in the next post I will show you how to discern that passion in a holistic healthy way.

Why You Can’t Maintain Good Habits!

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In the last post, I indicated that we really need to take a hard look at ourselves in a holistic way and start setting goals that make us healthier. I proposed we set goals that help us take better care of our bodies, our minds, emotions, relationships, and spiritual lives. This is the best approach to healthy living because each of these five spheres of human life encompasses much of who we are and are completely integrated with each other. If you take care of your mind, your body becomes more healthy and if you take care of your emotions you can think more clearly, etc., you get the idea. That means you should set at least five goals, or at least be mindful of five important practices related to your physical health, your emotional life, your mental life, your relationships, and your spiritual life. That might mean you set the proverbial weight loss goal but you should also attempt to spend quality time with each of your family members throughout the week. Perhaps you can enjoy dinner out with your spouse, playing cards with your children, or taking time to call a friend you haven’t talked with for some time. When you focus on all five of these areas you’re looking at your life holistically and each goal and habit you start for each area will help you in the others.

One of the toughest things about setting goals and developing habits is we seldom follow through with them. We feel inspired to lose that 10 pounds but after about five days we start ignoring the diet, the exercise, and the new gym equipment we got for Christmas. Other goals and habits are just as easily ignored. I know a number of my friends who got tablets for Christmas because they were going to start reading more ebooks this year… Mostly they are binging Netflix shows on them and haven’t even purchased their first ebook. Why is it so hard to get started on building new healthy habits? Being healthy is important to me so why can’t I do it!

The main reason you can’t maintain (or start) good habits and complete your goals is that they have no connection to what you believe your meaning and purpose in life is. Even worse, you may not know what your purpose in life might be! You may be one of those kind souls drifting from one thing to another, functioning well enough, enjoying parts of your life, but not living life with purpose. When you either have no purpose or can’t connect your goals and habits to that purpose, you fail. What we do has to matter and I mean “really” matter. If it doesn’t connect to what you believe is your purpose, it just won’t matter. In fact, you may simply be adopting a goal or habit because it just seems like something people ought to do. Remember, something you ought to do is not something you will pursue with any real energy and is almost as bad as something you should do or need to do from a motivational perspective. You want your habits and goals to be something you do because it allows you to fulfill your life’s purpose. For example, I hate to eat right and I hate to exercise. I would love it if I could maintain a decent looking midsection while eating cake and reading my favorite book. Sugar and reading are two of my greatest addictions! The problem is when I do that I look fat and can’t keep up with my family who likes to travel, hike, and do so many physically exerting activities. Yet, even though I hate these things, I eat fairly well, limiting my sugar and I exercise at least three to five times a week. How is it I can consistently participate in something I hate? First, it’s important to me to be a father who can participate in all my family’s activities. I want to make memories with my family and to do that I have to be able to travel with them and participate in all the activities they enjoy. Secondly, I’m a college professor and speaker. I’m frequently in front of groups of people which means my physical appearance is part of my message. Nothing will distract more from my teaching than a physical appearance that doesn’t reflect healthy living and temperance that I speak about as an essential part of living well. I can’t let my addiction to sugar and sedentary activity keep me from fulfilling my purpose which is to help empower people to be the best they can be. Because of that, I exercise and watch my food intake so that I can fulfill my life purpose.

What I want all of you to do as you start thinking about your next set of goals and habits is to ask yourself, “Does this really help me accomplish my life mission? Will this help me fulfill my purpose?” If it doesn’t, don’t pretend you’re going to continue pursuing that activity, it will fall short. If you really think it’s important, you need to connect it to that life mission if it’s going to be something you do consistently. If you don’t know what your life mission or purpose is, stay tuned, next week we will look at how to develop that. See you then!

Starting A New Healthy Life – A Holistic Approach

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We walk around life in a haze. We have ignored what matters most in life in order to walk around in our own world of illusions. We like to think we’re okay, but we’re not. We think we’re in good physical shape but most of us are overweight, taking more medication than we should, and eat like teenagers at a county fair. Our bodies are screaming for us to stop abusing them, but we just keep hurting ourselves and mask that abuse with medications, treatments, and a multitude of other distractions. Most of us are embracing death more than life by killing ourselves slowly through food and immobility. Sigmund Freud believed human beings have a “thanatos drive” which in layman’s terms is a type of death wish. There are many times I think he was on to something. It’s not just our bodies we’re killing, most of us have become lazy thinkers as well. We tell ourselves that we’re thoughtful and deep thinkers, but we can barely spend more than three minutes looking at a social media post. We like to think we spend time learning new and important things and we’re staying informed but most of our time is consumed with irrelevant junk food for the mind. If we’re honest with ourselves we might actually find we’re more likely succumbing to the psychological traps of group think, confirmation bias, and feeding our minds with news stories that support what we already believe. We’re comfortable with what we know and we seldom challenge our beliefs in order to grow.


So, we continue to fool ourselves by believing we’re physically okay and that we’re much more thoughtful than we really are. We’re lazy thinkers and afraid to challenge our opinions and knowledge by engaging different opinions and new ideas. It doesn’t stop there, however, because we’re also emotionally lazy. We choose to be emotionally numb instead of engage our emotions and the emotional lives of others. We’re afraid to let others see us cry, be saddened by the tragedies we see on television, and we keep ourselves from becoming angry at the daily injustice we see people experience. We aren’t comfortable feeling our emotions and we’re unable to talk about them with even the closest people in our lives. We ignore the emotions of other people we meet every day and avoid celebrating with them or being a comforting voice they need while they suffer. We have indeed become emotionally lazy and numb.


When we don’t take care of our emotional lives and ignore our physical well-being, we also negatively impact our relationships with other people. Too often we take our relationships for granted or only see them in utilitarian ways. We ask what the relationship does for us instead of how we can help and be of service to the people in our lives. We need to ask ourselves, “How can I love this person in the way they need me to love them instead of the way I want to love them?” We’re lazy with our relationships and when that happens, we isolate ourselves which isn’t good for our mental or physical well-being.


A final part of our lives we’ve grown lazy in is our spiritual life. We’re so caught up in the material aspects of life that we forget we’re a transcendent creature who is not merely a body or merely a spirit in a body, but a human being with a body and spirit meant to live within the physical world with a transcendent sense of reality. For most of us spirituality is that convenient experience we have when we want to pray to get something from the divine or to ease our anxiety about death, tragedy, and daily inconveniences. Your spiritual life must be bigger than that. It has to embrace a larger meaning and purpose that guides your everyday life.


If you have a better understanding of who you are, you can begin to see the many places where you’re functioning in a way that keeps you from living a fully human life. People ignore the different dimensions of human life, overemphasize some, or have a completely skewed understanding of how they interact with one another. They might be really into physical fitness but then find themselves completely ignoring their spiritual life. They may be hyper-spiritual people but end up ignoring their physical well-being. They may think that the things they believe have little to no impact on how they develop relationships with other people. I have encountered some people who see relationships in purely utilitarian terms and so they live for what others can do for them. The opposite is true as well, some people have no boundaries and expend themselves in service to others to the point of exhaustion. We must understand, to be truly healthy and live well is to live well holistically. We need to live with bodies in the best physical condition our situation allows, minds as sharp as we can make them, a level of emotional intelligence that allows us to know how we and others feel, in balanced relationships that have healthy boundaries, and with a spiritual sense that allows us to infuse life with meaning and purpose. It’s my hope I can help you achieve these results so please, check back with us and let me know your thoughts and how I can serve you.

Building Communities of Forgiveness

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It was a warm June night and like most Wednesday nights at numerous churches across the country people were gathering for prayer and bible study. For years, this gathering was uneventful but, on this night, a white man named Dylann Roof entered the church and sat quietly pondering his next move. He was welcomed by those in attendance and even claimed because of their kindness he was reconsidering his violent intentions. Unfortunately, the evening didn’t end in peace, Dylann pulled out his gun and killed nine people including the pastor Clementa Pinckney. Dylann killed without discrimination in regard to gender or age, he was only interested in killing people because they were black. His disdain for African Americans and feelings of hatred motivated him to pull the trigger on his weapon again and again. Among the dead were Sharonda Coleman-Singleton a 45-year-old mother of three and a high school track coach. Cynthia Hurd age 54, a librarian at the public library for 31 years. Tywanza Sanders, a young 26-year-old graduate of Allen University in Columbia. Tywanza died trying to save his 87-year-old aunt Susie Jackson who was also killed that evening. He told Dylann to shoot him and leave his aunt alone but reports say Dylann said it didn’t matter he was going to kill everyone anyway. After he killed Tywanza he eventually shot Susie Jackson. Tywanza was the youngest victim to die that night and his aunt the oldest. This story is beyond tragic and unfortunately not the only of its kind.

The question is if any of these events happened to you or someone you love could you forgive the perpetrator? The answer has to be yes. Why does it have to be yes? Because if it’s no, then we’re trapped in a cycle of hatred and self-defeat giving the demons in hell something to celebrate. They rejoice with every act of vengeance and self-loathing that terror and violence inflict on the survivors of trauma. If we can’t forgive people, we’re forever held captive by the traumatic experiences they’ve inflicted upon us.

The most moving words of forgiveness I’ve ever read came from the families of the victims killed that night at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Washington Post published an article on June 19th by Elahe Izadi called “The Powerful Words of Forgiveness Delivered to Dylann Roof by Victims’ Relatives” which captured the exemplary Christian spirit of forgiveness this community incarnationally represented to Charleston and the world. Here are some of the things these hurting wounded people had to say to the man who killed those they loved simply because of the color of their skin:

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll, I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. … May God have mercy on you.” – Felicia Sanders, mother of Tywanza Sanders.

“I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you”. – Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance.

If you’re like me you hear these words and say to yourself, “I’m not sure I could be that forgiving.” I understand. Forgiving someone appears to be a monumental task when someone killed a person you love through a senseless act of violence. But believe me, you can forgive people who do these terrible things. The surviving relatives of these victims aren’t superhuman, they’re superheroes of forgiveness. These are men and women just like you and me. That’s comforting and scary at the same time. It’s comforting because it means you and I can choose to be forgiving people. It’s scary because it means just like these ordinary people we might find ourselves needing to forgive someone who acted in the same way as Dylann Roof. The important lesson to learn from these brave families is we can be forgiving because forgiveness is a choice. Like love, forgiveness is more about choices than feelings. When we choose to forgive someone, we must learn to behave and think in a particular way that impacts how we feel about the situation. Thinking, feeling, and behaving are intimately connected. I know many of you reading this are saying, “Just choosing to forgive someone doesn’t make me feel like I forgave them. Because I don’t feel like I’ve forgiven them I must not be a forgiving person.” Yet, this first choice to forgive is indeed an important step in the process. The choice to forgive and then acting in a forgiving way leads to feelings that come with being a forgiving person.

If we are to develop communities of peace, we must first discover how to be communities of forgiveness. Leaders of communities set that tone and example. My challenge to you as a community leader is to do that very thing. Lead your community into the experience of forgiveness and watch it grow and flourish.

(The above is taken from Dr. Hankle’s book “The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness” that can be purchased here.)

What kind of community leader are you? – part 4, by Dr. Dominick Hankle

A top reason people cannot come together and find middle ground is the fact doing so means both groups have to compromise. Each group in the community has to say, “Okay, we’re willing to give up on trying to get everything we want in order to get something that benefits all of us.” Compromise is a trade-off in which no one gets everything they want however everyone gets something that works.

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Compromise is the very thing our nation was founded on. Thirteen individual colonies came together and through compromise, they formed themselves into a nation. They become thirteen states united in their existence. Compromise is in the American DNA and it is actually one of the great strengths of our nation. Without compromise, we fail. This has happened to us numerous times in our nation’s history. When we can no longer compromise, no one wins. Everyone loses and the nation struggles and limps along until a compromise can be reached.

Are there times when a group should refuse to make compromises? Yes, there certainly are times when compromise is unacceptable. When we’re asked to do something that is morally wrong we shouldn’t compromise. When we’re asked to stray from our values and guiding principles, we shouldn’t compromise. The problem is if you ask most people in your community or organization what their guiding principles are, they have no idea. If the people in your community or organization have no idea what their guiding principles are, then you have no leadership. One of the most important functions of leadership is to advocate on behalf of a uniting vision. The uniting vision is the rallying point from which everything the group does flows. Once there is a common uniting vision, the groundwork for compromise is made possible because what is essential to the organization’s existence is clearly outlined, and second-level priorities can be negotiated.

I’ve spent many years as a marriage therapist. In order to get a couple to understand the importance of marriage, I usually provide them with a concrete example, otherwise, their current pain and negative attitude toward one another inhibits them from seeing how their behaviors are killing their relationship. To get their attention I tell them they’re both gardeners in a garden. I remind them they’re responsible for a garden, and in particular, a special tree in the corner of that garden. One of them has the soil and fertilizer to bring to the tree and the other has the water and tools to till the soil appropriately. Each has to give up some portion of what they have in order for the tree to thrive. The tree requires them to find ways to compromise in order for it to begin to sprout leaves and eventually give them tasty wonderful fruit. Marriage works in the same way. Each partner brings with them important characteristics, dispositions, and talents that make the relationship thrive. You can’t just do what you want with your own assets, you need to share them so that the marriage, something bigger than yourself, can thrive. That’s how a marriage works. That’s also how the community works.

Each subgroup in a community has talents, gifts, ideas, concerns, assets, and a multitude of positive experiences that make them who they are and allow them to do what they do in a way that’s uniquely their own. These talents, gifts, ideas, etc can be considered their strengths and can be very useful to the larger community if shared appropriately. However, they can’t simply bring these into the community and exercise every aspect of what they like to do just because it’s something they like, are good at, or makes them feel special and unique. The husband in a marriage who has a new shovel can’t just go digging in the garden and ignore what needs to be done to the tree. He needs to use that shovel to help with the common task and quit being selfish. If two groups within a community simply try and exercise their gifts in ways they want without regard to the other group, the two never merge and become one community. Each group has to find ways to compromise if they are going to be united in something bigger than themselves. They can’t ask each other to compromise on those things that are a core aspect of who they are or something that’s morally important, but they can ask one another to compromise on secondary things.

Here is the key point to consider. If two groups within the community know what unites them and are able to exercise their individuality while preserving community unity, they will compromise in order to serve and protect the common good. People are always stronger together than apart and most groups within a community know that. However, if leadership is more focused on division rather than communicating a unifying message, no one will share their tools to make the garden beautiful. The garden will become a mess of weeds and overgrown plants. If no one in leadership steps in to advocate for a unifying message the people in the community will not work together to make something beautiful. Instead, they will use their tools to beat the crap out of one another. So ask yourself this if you are in the position of a community leader; do you want people to use their gifts and talents as tools to build something beautiful or do you want them to beat one another over the head with their shovels. What kind of community leader do you want to be?

If you like this post and want to be a part of an organization that works to heal communities check out my friends at A Race To Healing.

Antidote to Division- Building Communities

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In the last post, I discussed how giving other people psychological space and having gratitude for the diversity they bring to the community is a powerful step toward forming healthy organizations and neighborhoods. Making psychological space and appreciating diversity is the first step in forming relationships between diverse groups. If we create a common psychological space where Native Americans, Caucasians, and African Americans can understand one another we have a common psychological place where relationships can develop. However, while this diversity is a strength any community should embrace, it’s going to be difficult to develop relationships with one another if we’re not intentional about doing so regardless of how diverse we are. We don’t naturally draw together with people we perceive as different from ourselves even if we’re more than willing to be friendly towards them. Simply stated, a friendly exchange isn’t enough if we’re truly developing a vibrant interconnected community. A real community finds ways to develop intimate relationships between its members.

This ability to connect with others on an intimate level is exceptionally important for people. One of its key benefits is that it helps us develop a sense of identity. In fact, some psychological research indicates our sense of self is intimately tied to our group memberships. Along with developing an identity is the desire to affirm respect for who we are through seeking respect for the groups in which we belong. We are validated because the groups in which we are members are valued by our community. Because of this dynamic, you can see the subgroups of our community are strong and intimately tied to our very sense of identity. In short, our group memberships define us.

The process of grouping is the result of a number of psychological factors. It allows one to conserve mental energy and infer characteristics of the “things” grouped together. When one applies this benefit to categorizing people, it becomes more complex and becomes more of a liability than an asset. For example, the act of categorizing individuals into social groups often is all one needs to produce intergroup prejudice and discrimination. Human beings are not objects. When people categorize them as such, they infer characteristics that easily lead to discriminatory and prejudicial behaviors. These behaviors are more commonly known as stereotypes; cognitive shortcuts allowing individuals to justify behavior and simplify the world. The problem is that stereotypes are over generalized inferences, inaccurate, and difficult to change because they cause the one who creates them to be resistant to new information countering the stereotypical beliefs. Prejudice is an attitude that becomes difficult to contend with because it includes beliefs, emotions, and inclinations to action; core aspects of human behavior

While it sounds very cliche, the way we build intimate communities is we come to love those who are a part of the community. We find a way to love them so that they become a part of who we are. The “You and I” become the “we.” This is a unique experience of love that comes from an intentional type of interaction with one another. Mortimer Adler, a well-known philosopher writes of this love as a benevolent impulse that causes us to give to the other without concern for a fair exchange. We give without counting the cost. Love is for the benefit of the other and is expressed in goodwill. Yet for Adler, this is only the beginning of the exchange. He indicates this type of love exists for the benefit of the other and fosters a desire for the lover to also be loved. The desire to be loved then leads to the ultimate wish of love which is the “closest union” with the one who is called beloved.

There are profound ramifications this kind of love has on the effects of division and prejudice. If two groups are no longer self-interested and reach beyond themselves to embrace the other as they want to be embraced, the union that intimate communities thrive on can become a reality.

Psychological studies of prejudice and division prove we have a natural tendency to pull away from one another as an attempt to understand our universe and develop an identity. Yet this isn’t what we have to do just because we unconsciously do it.

To overcome this problem psychology provides a few answers. One of the most effective answers is to have diverse groups work toward a common goal. It has been found that prejudiced behaviors toward different groups are reduced when two diverse groups work to achieve a common goal (Watch the movie “Remember the Titans). Personalizing the “other” by having different groups interact more frequently is also helpful. This has been demonstrated in the desegregation of schools and public institutions.

While these are indeed very good approaches to developing intimate relationships within a community, the most effective, however, is to do these with a spirit of love. In a document named “Caritas in Veritate” by Pope Benedict the XVI we read the following: “Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God. Through this unifying process, it makes us a “We” which transcends our divisions and makes us one until, in the end, God is “All in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).”

Do you want to maximize the relationships in your community? Learn to love one another and work together for a common good. You may be surprised at how quickly your community transforms itself.

This post was originally published on “A Race To Healing.” If you like this material and are interested in building better communities feel free to check them out.