Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Can You Ask For Help?

A former schoolmate of mine was buried yesterday.

As we get older, we know that death is part of life and we come to accept it as a natural part of living that we will face someday.

However, what made her end-of-days so tragic in my mind was that she died by her own hand at an early age (under 50 years of age).

She was significant to me in junior high and high school.  While I am 6’3” now, back then I was much smaller and was a regular target of bullies.  My friend would step in often and would chase the bullies off, telling them to leave me alone.  She was my hero when I needed help.

But many of us didn’t know that she was crying for help and by the time we discovered it, it was too late.

Many people, businesses, governments and the world-at-large are crying for help.

Sometimes the cry for help is not loud enough.

Sometimes the cry is deafening but we are so preoccupied with something else that we don’t notice.

However, the worst cry for help of all is the one that goes unsaid.

When a cry for help goes unheard, bad things happen.

Families suffer - businesses go bankrupt - governments make significant mistakes - ecologies languish - economies collapse.

People die.

We as inhabitants of this beautiful planet carry a two-fold responsibility as part of the “rent” we pay for occupying space here.

The first responsibility is that when we see opportunities to help others personally, professionally, ecologically or in any other way, I think it is ok to stick our nose in to offer help.  If our help is turned down, we should assess how important the situation is before saying “ok” and walking away.

The second responsibility and the one that is far more difficult to live up to is for each of us to not be afraid to ask for help.

If we are the one who needs help, the greatest impediment to asking for it is our ego (which in turn feeds things like fear, insecurity, embarrassment, etc.).  In many of these situations, ego stands between the individual or organization and the unlimited potential that that person or organization has.

Many of the small businesses (under $15 million in annual revenue) that I have seen collapse over the last 5 years have cited shifting markets, the economy, wavering consumer confidence, etc).

When I do post-mortems on these companies to understand why they collapsed, I often discover that many of them couldn’t get past their own ego – to be forced to admit that they don’t know it all and they may have made a few mistakes.

With that, they saw failure as a more effective option than admitting they didn’t know everything.

This demonstrates how powerful the ego is.

We aren’t afraid of failure. 

We are afraid of how failure will be perceived.

Is our ego that important?

I hope not.

Let’s be more aggressive in offering help to others.

More importantly, let’s not be afraid of asking for help.

A person or organization’s life may depend on it.

It may be yours or someone close to you.

Can you ask for help? 

Do you have the courage to ask for it when you need it?

Do you have the sense of obligation to answer the call when it comes on behalf of others?

As for my friend, my prayers are with her family.  We didn’t hear her cry for help. 

Let’s not let the cries for help go unnoticed, unheeded and unanswered, including our own.

That is, after all, an important part of our responsibility while we are here.  Our responsibility to others also includes the fact that asking for help is much more difficult than offering it, so let’s be more cognizant of the needs of others.

We can’t save everybody and everything. 

But I think we can do much better.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood.


For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Can You Ask For Help?”, please click here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Traveling Medicine Shows in the 21st Century

Many of us have seen movies, read books or are aware of other references to what years ago was referred to as the traveling medicine show.

In the late 1800’s in the US, people hawking magical elixirs and powders would do so using a fast-paced, pressure-filled sales pitch that was accompanied by performing artists.

This blend of entertainment and product promotion was used to sell medicines that did very little of any use (and some were actually harmful).  This presentation style later became the original models for early Madison Avenue advertising agencies once radio and later on, television, arrived.

Years ago, people were often delighted when such traveling shows infrequently came to town.

The Shows Are Still Here

In the 21st century, such shows still exist.  The only difference is that now they are on-demand, appearing within your own home whenever you feel like watching them.

We have all seen advertising that is slightly over the top.  Things like mini food choppers that make you excited to eat again, rags that can soak up small lakes and other things are humorous to watch, sometimes functional and not expensive to buy.  If you are not happy with them, it hasn’t set you back too much.

However, there is a more insidious form of medicine show out there.  I’m referring to the people promoting products or concepts that allegedly contain miraculous powers and if you get on their band wagon, you will get to participate in a miracle-in-the-making. 

We have all seen these in various forms.  For example, there are people promoting chocolate that people claim cures cancer, diabetes and anything else that ails you.

There are people who promote mystical thought processes that, once you are exposed to the secret (no pun intended), will take you to a new level of existence in the universe.  These thought processes, interestingly enough, can also cure cancer, depression and anxiety but can also magically attract money, beautiful women, high-speed cars and whatever else you can conceive.

So Why Do People Buy This Stuff?

All of these products have customer testimonials describing how all of these outrageous claims are true.  When people see these testimonials, they assume “well, the claims must be true – a person named TJ in Arizona can vouch for it”.

What I find intriguing about all of this is that people buy this stuff without questioning it. 

And if you question it, people look at you in shock.  Why would you question it – who would ever make up such a bogus testimonial and who would ever sell a product that doesn’t do what it claims?

Well, just as the snake oil salesman would sell you an elixir with highly toxic mercury in it, people will sell you anything today.

The only thing that such people need are people who will buy anything.

Interestingly enough, if you take the “magic chocolate” and a high-end chocolate bar from your local supermarket, shave them down, put them in unmarked envelopes and send them to a lab for analysis, the reports will indicate that the content in both envelopes is the same.  Someone I know in the food industry did just that for an experiment.

So what makes such a product bogus?  The “magic chocolate” costs 3, 4 or more times as much as the regular chocolate and when was the last time a regular chocolate bar manufacturer listed “cures cancer” on the package?

The Secret

By the same token, people are making a fortune selling things like “The Secret” and other similar things.  I have often asked people who promote this stuff “why do people make more money selling The Secret than living it” and they just look at me blankly or respond with some wild-eyed response that makes me wonder if Jim Jones is sitting across the table from me.

There is also a danger in things like “The Secret” and other similar offerings.  For the kazillions of people who try these and discover they don’t work for them, they are additionally humiliated when they realize how much they paid some expert to help them and they feel like a failure when the concept that “is so simple that any idiot could do it” is actually beyond their ability to master. 

For some, their world collapses around them as they sit and think “positive thoughts”.

Some of these self-proclaimed experts also come up with some pretty unusual concepts as a result of their thinking process.

Take this video by Jeremy Bennett, (note on April 24/ 2010: Mr. Bennett has removed the video) for example, where he claims that by loving your anxiety, you can cure it.  In the video, he claims anxiety actually loves hate and because we allegedly hate anxiety, we fuel it with our hate and so simply by loving anxiety, it will fade away.

Ahhhhhh …..  if it were only that easy.

I have no issue with people promoting unusual thoughts out there – it is a free world where the exchange of knowledge must be allowed to flow freely.

However, when I watched this video by Mr. Bennett today, I challenged him by posting some comments under the video; comments along the lines of how some of his facts are incorrect and some of them are not based on any research or accepted theories.  I also expressed my thought that this video wasn’t very authentic for a number of reasons.

His response was to delete my messages and then to block me from writing any more comments.

Anything Real Can and Should be Defended

I believe that when someone has an interesting theory or idea to share, it should stand up to close scrutiny and questioning.  After all, if the promoter truly believes their material to be true, won’t they be happy to defend their ideas?

When people are afraid to answer questions and they don’t want others to see the questions either, then I question whether they have anything real at all.

Maybe …. just maybe ….. they are just selling another elixir.

When I was a kid, we used to be amazed at the stuff we could buy for 25 cents from a comic book: things like genuine x-ray glasses, wrist bracelets that gave you the strength to “karate-chop” a thick piece of wood and books that promised insight into the ancient wisdom of the universe.

While today’s technology is far more advanced, when it comes to being gullible, sometimes I wonder how much we have progressed.

In service and servanthood.


PS On his website, Mr. Bennett claims to have trained members of the White House.  Perhaps his theories on curing anxiety are part of the new Health Care bill.  I hope not.

April 21/2010 – I noticed that since my blog was published, Mr. Bennett has renamed his video to “Jeremy Bennett's 1st Two Steps To What Helped Him Manage His Anxiety” from the originally named “Unorthodox Cure For Anxiety”.

April 22/2010 - I noticed that Mr. Bennett just added a blue banner to his video citing "ALWAYS seek professional help as soon as possible. There are trained professionals that could change your life."

This is a good banner - I am glad that my blog and the comments and urgings of others are bringing a level of authenticity to his presentation. It's content is still questionable in my opinion but at least people are reminded to seek professional help and this is important.

April 23/2010 – Mr. Bennett has removed references from his bio regarding being an advisor to the White House and working with the stars of the movie “What The Bleep”. 

April 24/2010 – Mr. Bennett removed the video (the link I have now shows a “Video has been removed by the user” message.  I guess the video did not stand up to public scrutiny.

For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Traveling Medicine Shows in the 21st Century”, please click here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Be the Salt

In Matthew 5:13, Matthew writes:

"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (ESV)

There are many people around us who are “the salt”; those people who bring collaboration, sharing, creativity and a new dimension of “getting things done” to everything they do and they do so with a passion that frightens others.

There are many egos who feel threatened by “the salt” and will do whatever it takes to thwart the efforts of “the salt”.

When the owners of ego see “the salt” arrive, they get nervous.  After all, their ego needs recognition and control above all else and arrival of “the salt” challenges this need.

Ego is a competitive beast that is in one of two modes at all times – either being on the offensive to seize more control and recognition or seeking ways to defend itself against the perceived efforts of other egos that want to wrest control and recognition away from it.

And so, when “the salt” arrives, the egos rally against this new perceived threat, assuming that every person is motivated by ego.  Since ego always believes that others need to attack it, “the salt” represents another enemy to subdue.

With that, the ego will do anything to prevent “the salt’ from making a difference in the world that the person with ego is in.

This manifests in many ways, including but not limited to:

1. Preventing “the salt” from participating.

2. Keeping “the salt” out of the loop.

3. Actively discrediting “the salt” or playing down the strengths of “the salt”.

4. Making errors and blaming it on “the salt” (for something “the salt” did, didn’t do or whatever else is convenient).

5. Trumping up its own ego-centric plans, intentions, and such with the belief that no one else can dream up something as grand (or be as far along the path), thus demonstrating that “the salt” is not necessary.

6. Intentionally avoiding opportunities to share and collaborate with “the salt”.

7. Tactics that include bullying, intimidation and spreading misinformation.

There is a great irony in all of this.

“The salt” is not focused on competition at all.  It sees what it does as its responsibility on the earth – to make a difference and not to win recognition for its effort.  It is passionately compassionate towards those who need help or those who seek to help others.

“The salt” seeks to do whatever it takes to maximize the intended outcome, which includes ego-less actions such as sharing, collaborating and the pooling and promotion of the talents, skills, knowledge and life experience of others. 

It seeks to live by values such as Stephen Covey’s 4 L’s – to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy.

Ego doesn’t understand this, because ego can only attack and take.

Being “The Salt” is Difficult

Being “the salt” is not easy.

It is often a thankless job.

It is often a lonely job.

It is not something one chooses to be.  One is either “the salt” or not.

Salt is necessary - without salt, we die.

Without those who are “the salt” in our culture; political, professional, economic, religious, educational, ecological, societal, etc., our culture dies.

Ego fights for recognition and survival from the ego’s standpoint while “the salt” fights to do the right thing for others.  The fight is a fruitless waste of time but the ego knows no other way.

Ego takes delight in being able to chase off “the salt” when these skirmishes occur.  It puffs up and relishes its victory, triumphant in chasing off that which challenged its superiority.

However, “the salt” always wins over ego.  Ego just doesn’t realize that it is fighting a losing battle.

Sometimes “the salt” will give up the fight and ego thinks it has won.  It hasn’t.  “The salt” realized that it was wasting its time and energy and has moved on to where its time, talent and treasure can play a larger, more impactful role with the gifts that it has.

Ego delights in its “victory”, not realizing that it hasn’t won anything for anyone.  No one benefits when ego carries the day.

The prize that ego fights for is small, private, meaningless and selfish.  The prize that “the salt” fights for is large, impactful and loving.

Are you ego-focused or are you “the salt”?

How do you know?

What would others say?

Be “the salt”.  Associate with others who are “the salt”.  The world needs it.

Without it, we all die.

In service and servanthood.


Addendum: In a conversation I was having with a Facebook friend tonight (thanks, Jeannette), it occurred to me that salt is a fascinating and interesting dichotomy.  It is both a source of nourishment and a source of irritation, depending on the circumstance.  I found this to be very interesting as “the salt” is necessary in society but is often a source of irritation to the egos of others.

For my Musings-in-a-Minute blog “Be the Salt”, please click here.