Our Shining City on a Hill

While I typically abstain for politics/religious discussions here, I did want to share just one thing related to current events. Our state politicians here in Tennessee are spreading hate and lies on the topic of accepting refugees.

I think Fox’s Shep Smith put it best:

“Our shining city on a hill is vulnerable. We’ve always known that. If we change it to accommodate the savages, have they won? And what then would be left to protect? We profess to stand as an example for all the world. Our unique experiment in freedom, tolerance, openness, and equality is our gift to societies and peoples everywhere. Come, join us. Enjoy a chance at the American dream.”

After World War II, our city on a hill embraced more than 650,000 European refugees. Between 1979 and 1980, we welcomed nearly 320,000 Vietnamese refugees. After passing the Refugee Act in 1980, we took in another 3 million refugees. For most of our history, people fleeing from war, strife, and death have seen our shining city and found a warm embrace in our open arms.

We must not build a wall at the bottom of our hill.

For those folks like myself that have found a home in the Church, I’d only point out this:

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

I can only hope that the racism, fear, xenophobia, and hate that has taken hold in the recent months will be pushed aside in favor of love, compassion, empathy, and humanity. If only our leaders could be more like these mayors:

“We have taken in refugees, and will help make room for thousands more.”

A Month Later

It’s so easy to complain. You do it. I do it. As I mentioned last time, everyone complains about something.

It might be easy to complain but mostly it just breeds negativity and hate. It takes a small slight and feeds pure negativity into it. Complaining causes “I ordered gin and tonic but got vodka and tonic” to grow into “This bartender is horrible and needs to be fired immediately!”

As I saw that gin/vodka situation play out recently, I wondered if I was like that sometimes. I thought of myself as a pretty positive person. That said, I hadn’t really evaluated how much I complain. What would happen if I tried to focus on not complaining for an entire month?

Here’s what I found out.

Complaining can easily become a default reaction.

Up to then, I thought I was a pretty positive person. I knew I complained some but surely it wasn’t much, right?

As I began to pay closer attention, it surprised me how often complaining was my default reaction. It was easy. It was safe. It kept the conversation going without any real effort.

That’s not really the kind of conversations I want to have.

To fix that, I became more intentional with my words. It took some effort but at the end of 30 days, I changed that default.

Conversations go where we let them.

When others start complaining, listen. But focus on the positives in the conversation. Bring the conversation back to those. By doing that, many of the conversations I had with groups stayed positive rather than tailspinning into a gripe-fest.

You play a big part in any conversation you have.

Informing vs Complaining

While on vacation a few weeks ago, my wife and I dined at our favorite little seafood shack. It’s tiny - maybe fifty seats total. This night it was packed out with servers bustling between tables. Our server forgot our drinks for about 20 minutes before I flagged her down. This could’ve easily been a situation with lots of complaining. Instead, I acknowledged she was busy and reminded her about our drinks. That’s informing - not complaining.

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"If you spend five minutes complaining, you have just wasted five minutes."
- Jim Rohn

Jim Rohn has a great quote - "If you spend five minutes complaining, you have just wasted five minutes." I know I spent at least five minutes complaining in the last month. In all honestly, it's probably more like a few hours. But I changed that default reaction so in the future, that time spent complaining will come down even farther.

At the end of 30 days, my "month of no complaints" really became my "month of less complaining". And I'm okay with that.

The Month of No Complaints

It’s so easy to complain. If something doesn’t go our way, we take to Twitter, Facebook, and our blogs to tell everyone about how we were wronged.

ABC Company wouldn’t add a new feature even though we reminded them we’re paying customers.

Customer John Doe left five angry messages all in the span of ten minutes.

Product X didn’t live up to our expectations even though we shelled out $500.

It didn’t go our way and now the world needs to know about it!

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“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

It might be easy to complain but mostly it’s exhausting.

That’s why I love the very first value in the Buffer set of values: Always choose positivity and happiness.

  • You always approach things in a positive and optimistic way.
  • You never criticize or condemn team members or users.
  • You never complain.
  • You let the other person save face, even if they are clearly wrong.
  • You are deliberate about giving genuine appreciation.

It's simple, straightforward, and concise. Anyone can understand what choice to make when it's positivity and happiness versus complaining.

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For the next month, I’m going to put this value into practice. One month of no complaints. It’s my hope that by focusing on positivity and happiness, my life become happier and more positive as well.

I realize that positivity may not always be possible. Some situations contain little to none of that happiness. I’d be hard pressed to abide by the no complaining rule when my grandfather passed a few months ago. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

I’ll let you know in a month how it goes.

Success and Approval

As campaign season kicks into high gear, every political pundit talks about a candidate's approval numbers. It's tracked like a political version of the stock market. One candidate has a good week so their approval goes up. Another candidate bombs a question, which sends their approval rating down.

In political campaigns, approval from others equals success. When I worked on my political science degree way back in college, my professors said it over and over. To run a successful campaign and win, you need to gain a voter's approval in any way you can. Approval equals success, which means disapproval equals failure.

All throughout school, we're taught the same thing. Other people set standards and we're successful if we gain their approval. Pass this standardized test and you're successful. Win the class president race and you're successful.

It's nonsense. Seeking approval from others is not the way to find success.

“A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep.”
- Vernon Howard

Last weekend, I helped build a fence for a new pasture on our farmstead. It wasn't a mult-thousand dollar fence that would win design accolades. People weren't stopping by to give their approval of how well it was built. It didn't need any awards or stamps of approval. The fence had one job - keep the animals inside the pasture. It did that just fine so it's a success in my book.

Don't let approval from others dictate your successes in life. When you start your next project, define success for yourself. What does it look like? What job needs to be accomplished? Lay that out at the start so when you finish, you'll know if you've been successful.

Find success through your work, not other people's approval of your work.

True Silence

I’m standing outside the farmhouse watching fireflies light up the field. The air hangs heavy as the last bit of a storm passes on. Except for the distant thunder, it’s quite and I love it.

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When I first started at Basecamp four years ago, I loved the cacophony of being online all day. Every few seconds, there’d be a new email to reply to, a Twitter notification to view, a Facebook message to answer, and then everything happening in both work and personal chat rooms. Throw an iPhone in to the mix and it was a symphony of noise filling the air around me. At the end of the work day (and hell, even on vacations), I’d want to be online in the midst of it all.

But I’ve noticed a distinct change in myself in the past year. I no longer want to be part of that symphony. I want quietness instead. I seek silence.

“True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”

I remember reading this quote from William Penn. I forget the exact day that was the moment I knew I needed that kind of silence. I turned off all the notifications I could. Phone calls and text messages are the only apps that get to make any kind of noise on my iPhone or my computer. Everything else waits for me to open it before it can show me any new activity that I need to know about.

I’ve also set rules on when I check emails, tweets, etc. When my work day ends at 5pm, I stop opening those apps. On weekends, I allow myself to open those apps once each day. Outside of those times, the Internet can wait.

By doing this, I get the silence my mind and body craves.

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Our farm is nothing fancy. My grandfather’s worked this land since I was a child. As he got older, we all moved away from farming into city jobs - finance, teaching, and managing restaurants.

But lately, I’ve been drawn back to the farm. Back to the place where I can find true silence.