How to have civil conversations about controversial topics

If you turn on the news, or check social media, it seems that all you see is debating and arguing.

While there is a plethora of disagreement over controversial topics, there seems to be little meaningful discussion.

Which begs the question, whatever happened to civil discourse?

Civil discourse is defined as an engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding.

It also seems to have temporarily disappeared from our society.

We can all, however, get back on the path to civil discourse by following a few simple steps:

First and foremost, we must approach these interactions with emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.  The key is to take the emotion away from the interaction, and not the significance or importance of the issue.

Second, we must look inside and be aware of own assumptions and biases, which form the basis of our current beliefs, and how they differ from the person we’re speaking with.

Third, we have to be willing to listen.  Meaningful dialogue cannot occur without it. Listening gives us a chance to truly understand why a person feels a certain way, or as Stephen Covey would say, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”  Unfortunately, there is a tendency to tune out, disregard, and argue with anyone who has an opinion different than our own.

Fourth, we have to do our homework.  In the new era of fake or false news, there has been an abundance of stories shared on social media that simply aren’t true.  Unfortunately, for some, there is tendency to believe what they read without any fact checking.  Finding reputable unbiased sources for information is required (although this  becoming harder to do with views that go too far left or right).

Fifth, after we have listened to others who have viewpoints different than our own, we must exercise discernment.  Discernment is the ability to judge well, and is based on educating ourselves and forming viewpoints based on facts and understanding, and no on opinions or unverified information.

Sixth, after we have followed all of the above steps, we must learn to present ourselves respectfully, even if we decide to agree to disagree with someone and their viewpoints.

Finally, while we may have the right to free speech, we must understand that our words are not free of consequences.

As a result, we should be judicious and respectful with our words, and do our part to bring civil discourse back to these important discussions.





CHAOS – How to take back control of your life and business

There has been much written this past week about the chaos in the White House.

Chaos provides distraction and noise, which gets people off topic and task.

This is not immune to the White House, however, as chaos is prevalent both in business and at home.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey outlined the time management matrix.  The matrix was made up of quadrants which broke activities down as being important/urgent, not urgent/important, not important/urgent, and not important/not urgent.

The important/urgent quadrant is where the chaos and crisis occurs.  It is marked by pressing problems and deadlines, and is the place where things must get done.  It is marked by immediacy, and while it may be sometimes be inevitable, it is a place that we should avoid whenever possible.

Instead, Mr. Covey said that we should spend the majority of our time in the important/not urgent quadrant.

This is the area where we plan, look to prevent, and build relationships.  It is where we are proactive, and if done right, prevents the chaos from occurring.

Dr. Wayne Dyer said that, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

To help us deal with and take control of the chaos around us, we can begin to look at it in the following context:

Commitment – This is where we make the effort to make things better.  Too often leaders put band-aids on problems because they realize the effort that is needed to fix them.  We must commit to the effort in making long lasting change.

Honesty – Honesty is required for us to admit there’s a problem, and what that problem is.  We must also be honest with ourselves with the role that our leadership (or lack thereof) plays in the chaos that exists around us.

Articulation – As leaders, we must ask ourselves if we have properly articulated our vision, mission, and expectations to those around us.  If so, do they understand them?

Organization – Does your organization have clearly defined roles and responsibilities?  While we may strive for a sense of autonomy to do our job, it is important to know what that job is and how it fits into the overall hierarchy of our organization.  If there’s a problem, do your people know the is proper person to report it to?

Source and Solutions – Once we know what the source of the problems around us are, we must come up with a game plan to address them.  Sometimes the solution may involve the hiring and/or firing of personnel.  Other times, it may involve new policies or procedures.  To make effective change, however, you must clear on the source of the problem and the resulting solutions will be ineffective.

Whether it be at your business, the White House, or your own house, we can eliminate the chaos around us with a few simple steps if we are willing to make an effort to do so.



How to build and restore Trust in any relationship

They key to successful relationships, whether in our personal or professional lives, is the existence of trust.

Legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz said:

The new player has three questions about the coach, which are the same questions the coach has about the player:

  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Are you committed?
  3. Do you care about me?

Trust requires effort to build, but can quickly be lost if not maintained.

We can achieve, and restore, TRUST in our relationships, however, by focusing on the following:

Truth – First and foremost, the truth must be present for trust to occur.  It is the foundation for any relationship, and requires each party to be honest with one another.

Respect – Each party must also have a mutual respect for the other.  Without it, we may take take the other person for granted and be dismissive of their ideas or feelings.  A feeling of lack of respect is the one of the biggest killers in any relationship.

Understanding – As Stephen Covey stated in the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”  We may not always agree with someone, but trying to understand why they feel or think a certain way shows that we care and are willing to listen.

Support – A spirit of togetherness and teamwork is required to foster a relationship.  Each party should know they have the support of the other, and know that each is willing to offer a helping hand, or ear, when necessary.

Transparency – While similar to the truth, transparency is providing all of the information with no hidden agendas.  Here’s an example of how one can be truthful or honest, without being transparent:

A wine glass is halfway filled with wine.  You can say the glass is half empty (or half full), and you are telling the truth.  You are being transparent, however, if you say that the 8 oz glass has 4 oz of wine in it.

Trust takes time to build, and can quickly erode, but focusing on the tenets of TRUST can help us to keep our relationships on track.



To deal with PAIN, you have to LAUGH

Pain is an inevitable part of our lives.

Sometimes it is the result of factors outside of control, but often its causes are self-inflicted.

Acknowledging the sources of our pain is the first step we can take to make positive changes in our lives.

This list may not contain all the sources of your PAIN, but it may open your mind to other causes:

Perfectionism – While it is good to set high standards and goals, establishing unrealistic ones that aren’t in line with our values is setting ourselves up for failure.  Two important questions to ask ourselves in a quest for perfection are Whose standard are you trying to live up to, and Why?

Anxiety – When we have regrets about the past, or worry about events in the future that have yet to occur, we let anxiety take over our lives.  As a result, we never live in the present moment.

Insecurity – When we don’t believe in our abilities, we become prisoners of our thinking.  These limited beliefs prevent us from opening our minds and living to our fullest potential.

Narcissism – When we put ourselves first, we let our ego take over.  While we may not think of ourselves as being narcissistic, a chase for happiness without a spiritual foundation is a never ending race.

To help us deal with some of the sources of our PAIN, we can LAUGH:

Let go – Letting go is about us having faith that things will work out, and a belief that we don’t have, and don’t need, all the answers.

Acceptance – Acceptance allows us to embrace our imperfections.  It is about us being honest with ourselves to establish a starting point to make positive changes in our lives.  We should also accept that we have the power to change if we are willing to do so.

Uniqueness – When we accept that we are unique, comparison to others is no longer necessary.  While we can’t be someone else, we can work on being the best version of ourselves.

Gratitude – Tony Robbins says that when we practice and experience gratitude we can’t be worried or angry.  What a perfect antidote to PAIN!

Humility – Being humble allows us to keep our ego in check.  It is a quiet confidence in our abilities, but also an understanding of the importance of service to others.

If we can learn to embrace our ability to LAUGH, we can learn how to handle, and begin to eliminate, the PAIN in our lives.

Leadership – commit to CHANGE

There has been much written on leadership but in its most simple definition, leadership is the ability to influence others.

In my 10+ years of leadership experience, I have made many mistakes and have learned much through trial and error.

As a result of my experiences, I believe that there are 6 characteristics of a great leader.

To become one, it comes down to a commitment to CHANGE

Competence – If you don’t have an understanding of the area, unit, or section you are responsible for overseeing, a “rah-rah” approach will only get you so far.  Take time to understand what your people do.  You don’t have to get too far into all of the nuts and bolts, but having an understanding of what they do, and how it fits into the organization, is necessary.

Humility – No one wants to work for someone who is arrogant, or has a “know it all” mentality.  Your ability to lead is dependent on your ability to relate to people, and their ability to relate to you.

Attitude – Attitude is everything!  People are looking for direction, and will feed off the energy of the leader.  The type of attitude you bring into your workplace will spark inspiration, fear, or indifference in those around you.

Navigation – In addition to influencing, a leader must have vision and the ability to navigate a team or organization in the right direction.  This involves having the foresight to see what is in front of you and making the necessary adjustments along the way to keep everyone on the right path.

Generosity – Do you give to others without expecting them to help you in return?  Are you generous towards your people with your time or your help?  Do you take the time to mentor and explain?  It is important for us to give to our people and organization with no strings attached.

Ethics – Ethics form the base of a great leader.  There are many examples of leaders who have influenced others, but who have done so in a negative or destructive way.  Our ethics are the guiding force for us to lead with excellence.

Great leaders are made, not born, and we can all become one if we commit to CHANGE.


Mindfulness – the answer to better living?

In this video by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, he discusses the 9 attitudes of Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the idea of living moment to moment, with non-judgemental awareness.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn says that while this seems like a simple concept, it can be hard to practice as we often get caught up in our states of mind, and our use of personal pronouns such as “I”,  “me”, and “my.”

Mindfulness is about differentiating between who we think we are, and who we actually are, and about cultivating the following attitudes in our everyday life.

  1. Beginners Mind – Orientation to present moment where everything is fresh and new.  We bring ideas and attitudes to every moment based on our previous experiences.  Beginners mind is about being disciplined, and not being stuck in our current ideas or opinions.  It is about challenging ourselves to see things as if we are looking at them for the first time, and not the way they were a half hour ago or two years ago.
  2. Non-judging – Part of working definition of Mindfulness.  We form ideas and opinions on everything, and there is a steady stream of inner dialogue about what is good or bad, or what we want or don’t want.  We should evaluate and be aware of how judgemental we are, and recognize how we can get imprisoned by it.  We should instead cultivate discernment, so we can seek clarity, wisdom, understanding, and interconnection of things, as judging creates a veil or filter over eyes.  Awareness of this judging will allow us to live authentically in present moment and not through unhealthy habits of the mind.
  3. Acceptance – This is an active process.  It is not resignation, but rather recognition that things are the way they are, and not the way we want them to be.  This doesn’t mean we that can’t work on changing the world or our circumstances, but we shouldn’t force things to be a way they are not.  It is understanding where you stand, so you can take the first step forward.
  4. Letting go – This is the opposite of grasping.  It is letting things be as they are, and is the doorway to freedom.  Every time you catch yourself clinging to something, let it be.  Just as we take breath in, we have to let it go.  Letting go is about receiving and releasing and not holding on to things.
  5. Trust – This is an area that we are sometimes strangers to.  We need to trust that everything will take care of itself.  Embracing trust will not only benefit ourselves, but our relationships, dealings with other people, and life’s challenges.  We must reside in our abilities to meet whatever comes towards us.  While we do not want to trust naively, we can trust other wisdom factors to help guide us.
  6. Patience – We are often impatient as to get to the next important thing.  As we rush to get somewhere else, we are never in the present moment.  We need to recognize that some things can’t be hurried, and that they will unfold when they are ready.  Practicing patience involves Acceptance.
  7. Non-Striving – This is an act of non-doing.  It is going along with the unfolding of life without an agenda, or looking for a better moment or escape.  The more items we place on our to do list, the more we should focus on non-striving.  What we will get will come out of being and appropriateness to the situation.
  8. Gratitude – We’re alive!  We often take for this granted.
  9. Generosity – How powerful it is to give yourself over to life?  Not for selfish gain, but to give joy to others.  To devote your time and attention to someone else.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn ends by saying that the mind and heart are the same word in Asian languages.  Therefore, these attitudes are part of heart-fullness.  He says the profound thing is the way these attitudes interconnect, and how they can help us see people as they are and to find common ground.

This video is a great reminder of how our ego can get in the way of us living to our fullest potential, as the ego causes us to see things through the filter of our beliefs and experiences.

Practicing Mindfulness can help us to rid ourselves of preconceived notions or biases, so we can look at everything around us with an open mind.  As a result, we can learn to not make everything about ourselves.  To not take things personally, worry about being right or wrong, and being slighted or insulted.  To not dwell on the past or future, but to be in the present moment with a clear mind.

Mindfulness reminds me of this quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  Notice he didn’t say the way you “think” about things.  “Looking”, to me, implies the soul, or the mind. “Thinking” brings the ego into play.

If executed properly, Mindfulness is the antithesis of anxiety, fear, or worry – the key to better living.

All we have to do is open our minds.


The power of a smile

At livingbeyond40, we strive to “become the person you want to be” in order to achieve long term growth and development.

While we are seeking long term results, there are many short term solutions that we can employ in this journey which can enhance the quality of our lives.  For example, in a previous post we discussed the benefits of box breathing.

This video by Ron Gutman is another example of a short term solution, and speaks about the hidden power of smiling.

Mr. Gutman opens the video by speaking about two studies.  In the first, he described a 30 year longitudinal study at UC Berkeley where they examined photos of women from old yearbooks.  The study found that the women who showed the most genuine smiles were most likely to have had a happy life – a long-term marriage and a better sense of well being.

In the second study by Wayne State University, researchers examined the smiles on player’s faces from 1950’s baseball cards.  They found that players that had no smile lived an average of 72.9 years, players with a slight smile lived 75 years, and players that had a beaming smile lived 79.9 years!

Mr. Gutman stated that 3D images show babies smiling in their mother’s womb, and that a smile is a basic biological expression of all humans across the world.

He also said that 1/3 of people smile more than 20 times a day, less than 14% smile less than 5 times a day, and children can smile as many as 400 times a day.

Also, in a study by Uppsala University in Sweden, Mr. Gutman said the researchers found that it was difficult to frown at someone who smiled.

Mr. Gutman stated that Charles Darwin said that the act of smiling actually makes us feel better and stimulates our brain reward system. It can also make us healthier by reducing the level of stress enhancing hormones, increase mood enhancing hormones, and can also help to reduce blood pressure.

Finally, Mr. Gutman cited a Penn State study which showed that people who smiled appeared to be more likeable, courteous, and competent.

The takeaway for this short yet powerful video is that even when we are feeling down, and may not see anything to smile about, this simple act of smiling may help to get us out of a funk, change our mood, and make us healthier.

While this quick fix may not be long term solution, the old adeage of “fake it til you make it” may be just what we need to get us back on track.

Just Breathe!

There is no denying the role that stress and anxiety play in our daily lives, and how both can affect our state of mind.

Not being in a peak state of mind puts us at major disadvantage.

It can cause us lose control of our emotions and externalize our feelings in a negative way, or we can internalize these emotions and create an environment where they build on each other and manifest into negative self talk.

The external responses to the stress and anxiety we feel may cause us to snap at our spouse, kids, or customers at work, and result in a hurtful remark we wouldn’t say if we were in a peak state of mind and felt in control.

The internal responses can create an ongoing negative inner dialogue, creating a sense of noise or distraction that gets in the way of us being able to process what is actually going on around us.

We can, however, achieve a peak state of mind to help us deal with the daily stress and anxiety that we feel in a simple way.

How?  Just breathe.  Really.  It’s as easy as that.

A technique we can use to help accomplish this is called box breathing.

Box breathing is utilized by the Navy Seals in non-combat situations, and is done by inhaling to a count of 5, holding your breath for 5, exhaling for 5, and holding your breath for 5.  You then repeat this sequence until you feel calm and relaxed.  If you find that a 5 count is too much, you can adjust the count as necessary and work your way up.

According to, the benefits of box breathing are:

  • Reduction of performance anxiety
  • Control of the arousal response
  • Increasing brain elasticity – flexibility through enhanced blood flow and reduced mental stimulation
  • Enhancing learning and skill development
  • Increasing capacity for focused attention and long term concentration

You can perform this technique in the morning before the kids get up, in your car on the way to work, at work, or walking through the grocery store.

The key is to do it habitually, so you are performing it prior to encountering a stressful or anxiety inducing situation.

Imagine how much better your decision making can be, or how much your communications will be improved when you can quickly put yourself in a peak state of mind.

The best part is that it doesn’t cost any money, or require any special training, but it is something that can help us have a significant impact on the quality of our lives.

All you have to do is breathe





Living in Obscurity and the Importance of Humility

This video by Dr. Wayne Dyer speaks of the importance of living in obscurity and the importance of humility.

I don’t know what year it is from, but from the pop culture references he makes it is definitely several years old!

The advice, however, could not be more important today given the proliferation of social media and the role it plays in our lives.

This video also summarizes the reason why I dislike Facebook.

Dr. Dyer opens the video by describing the sense of “notice me” in today’s society.  He then spoke of Lao Tzu’s idea of living in obscurity and its relation to our obsession with celebrity culture, and its “look at me” mentality.

Dr. Dyer said the Tao teaches something completely opposite, and states “The sea stays low, and because the sea stays low, all of the rivers and streams empty into it.”  He said that because the sea is humble, it teaches us the importance of letting things come to us.

He then spoke about a personal experience with one of his books.  Dr. Dyer said he called his wife to ask where he was on the the bestseller list for that week, she replied that he was not.  When he responded with shock, she replied that his book was on the bestseller list, not him!

Dr. Dyer admitted that he himself had become a victim of the “notice me” mentality, and at the time his ego was pretty strong.  He said he had since learned that true nobility is not about being better than everyone else but being better than you used to be.

Dr. Dyer said he has learned that his happiest moments have been when he has done things “low and slow”, or anonymously.

He then went on to speak about Alcoholics Anonymous and its sense of purpose, and lack of titles and roles, all in the name of helping people anonymously.  He described the feeling the he got when attending AA meetings, and being in the presence of people who only wanted to help each other.

Dr. Dyer said we can be little more obscure, and practice a little less “notice me” when speaking with others.  He said before interrupting them so that we can speak, we can stop ourselves and say “tell me more.”

He says that everything will come to us at the exact perfect time and place, but we have to trust.  We don’t have to chase after it.  We can then become less obsessed with our ego and self importance, and who we are or what we’ve done.

With the prevalence of social media, how sage is this advice?

Instead of using it to connect, build relationships, and to learn, how often do we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, or see others use it to boast or brag?

You have to look no further than the selfies and constant status updates to see how this applies Facebook.

I believe we would be much happier if we stayed humble, helped others, and used social media to enhance our lives, and the lives of those around us, instead of using it to say “look at me” or “notice me”.

Words of Wisdom from Warren Buffett

This is a 5 minute video of Warren Buffett addressing a group of MBA students in which he talks about integrity and character.

In the video, he said there were 3 qualities a person he knew looked for when hiring people – integrity, intelligence, and energy.

He said that if a person didn’t have the first two qualities, the last two would kill him.  He explained that if that person didn’t have integrity you wanted them dumb and lazy, not smart and energetic.

Mr. Buffett then asked the group if they could buy into 10% of one of their classmates for the rest of their lifetime, who would they pick?

He said that while you may look at the person with the highest IQ, best grades, or who was the most energetic and had the most initiative, you would most likely look at the person you best responded to.  The one who had the best qualitative factors and leadership characteristics, such as generosity and honesty, and the one who gave credit to others.

He also asked the group, which of your classmates would you short 10%?  He said that probably wouldn’t be the person with the lowest grades, but would be the person who turned you off.  The one you didn’t want to be around.  The one with the biggest ego, the one who was greedy, or was dishonest and cut corners.

Mr. Buffett said to write these qualities down.  On the left side of the page, list the good qualities that you wish to possess, and on the right side list those that turn you off.

He went on to say that you can have the qualities on the left hand side.  They are qualities of behavior, temperament, and character which are achievable and not forbidden to anyone.

He also that you don’t have to have the qualities on the right side of the page, the ones that turn you off, as they are habitual and you can rid yourself of them.  Mr. Buffett said, however, that the earlier you can get rid of them, the better, and summed up this up with the quote, “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

Mr. Buffett said he sees too many people with self destructive behavior patterns and they are entrapped by them. These are patterns that turn people off, and as time passes it gets to a point where its hard to change.

Mr. Buffett said that Ben Graham, in his teens, looked at people he admired and wanted to be like, so he behaved like them.  He also did the opposite and got rid of behaviors he didn’t like.

After writing these qualities down, Mr. Buffett said think about them and make them habitual so you will be one you want to buy 10% of.  The beauty, as he said, is you already own 100% of yourself (and you’re stuck with it) so you might as well be the person you want to be.

This is a great video.  As we look to become a better person, we have to take current stock of who we are and identify who we want to be.  To help us, we can look at those people we admire and identify and emulate their qualities. Putting our qualities down on paper forces us to take ownership and be honest with ourselves.

Are you willing to do it?