Be A Light

One of the things I talk about every December is the topic of light. It’s fascinating that we use light in so many of our celebrations. From candles for birthdays, to fireworks for the Fourth of July, to the lights in a jack-o-lantern, to lights on homes and trees for Christmas, to the lights of the Menorah for Hanukkah, to the Las Posadas celebration, and Kwanzaa’s lights, it’s clear we love to celebrate with light. And of course we can’t forget how we use light to illuminate our worlds and push back the darkness no matter how low the sun is or late the night is.

The other day I was shocked when I read that we’re heading to a new decade in less than two weeks. I have been anticipating and aware of the new year coming up, as it follows Christmas each year and means that the celebrations are over but the winter weather sticks around for a few more months, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me that with this new year was a big change with the calendar, and that’s to a new decade. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to celebrate and move into a new decade after this past one. This decade probably wasn’t the hardest one we’ve ever had, but there’s something about going into a new decade that is even more refreshing and exciting than going into a new year usually is.

This holiday season I’ve been lighting more candles than I often do, there’s something about the light of a candle that’s both soothing and inspiring. I may be a night person but I can’t imagine being without the light, or choosing to not be a person of light. I donate regularly to charity and non-profit organizations, and this year on Giving Tuesday I was thankful to be able to donate to some organizations that are really shining light in some dark places in the world, including one that supports children and their families with cancer (Jesse Rees Foundation), one that works with in-need children and families in Guatemala (Integral Heart Foundation), and several that work with veterans (Warrior Canine Connection, Travis Mills Foundation). With technology today we’re able to see first hand the great work these types of organizations are doing through posted pictures and videos on social media and in newsletters, and you can’t help tearing up watching some of the videos that shows the incredible difference these organizations and others are making in the lives of people who were lost and without hope, and now thanks to connecting with them and supporting them in the unique ways that they do, the lives of many families are greatly improved and they have hope again.

Life rarely changes in one day, often it takes many years to change, halt or improve, especially if you’re dealing with something like trying to change a country’s future, curbing addiction or addressing the world’s climate issues. But lately I’ve been seeing some more lights and more signs of hope than I have in the past. Light is a choice. No, every day won’t be filled with light and happiness, there are some really tough things that we’ll have to face in our life and others will have to face in their lives. But when you can, choose to light a candle, turn on a light, help a neighbor or coworker or stranger, share a positive social post, volunteer with organizations doing great things, or do something that makes you or someone else happy.

Even the smallest light can be seen when it appears in the darkness. When that one small light joins with other lights it has the power to banish all the darkness in the area. This winter solstice, on the day of the year that the darkness arrives the earliest and sticks around the longest, I encourage you to be a light today, this holiday season and in the new decade.

A Little Holiday Community

If there’s one thing that the holidays are all about, it’s community. The holidays bring us together in ways that we’re not during the rest of the year, encouraging us to spend time with those we love and those who matter to us, and taking time out of our daily lives to celebrate together. Community is everywhere this time of year, from the people standing outside stores with their bells asking for donations, to sending of cards and messages that have pictures of families and groups on them, to working together to decorate both inside and out, to gathering in homes and restaurants to eat and enjoy each other’s company.

If community is so very obvious this time of year, does that mean it’s not something that exists during the rest of the year? No, it’s just not as obvious as it is during the holiday season, with the exception of other specific holidays throughout the year (4th of July, Mother’s Day, Halloween etc.). Community is bringing up the neighbor’s trash cans for them, calling for help when something doesn’t look right, holding the door for someone, and most importantly building relationships (however casual) with those you live near and work with.

Community isn’t necessarily about knowing each other’s secrets, having the type of relationship where you exchange gifts or celebrate each other’s birthdays, but about being assured that someone will miss you if you’re not seen for a while, and that others are glad you’re part of this world and part of their lives.

Yes, we’re naturally part of a community by where we work or live, but what we do with that, and if we do anything with that, is up to each of us. Community can be as insubstantial as we want it to be, or be one of the best things about where we live and/or work. This holiday season I encourage you to give community a try and see if contributing to your community improves your life as much as it does those you connect with on a regular basis.

A Season of Good Tidings

Today is one of the last “titled” holiday shopping/spending days of the year, today is Giving Tuesday. The numbers so far are saying that it’s been a great past week for stores and lots of people were shopping both in store and online. I have hopes that the non-profits will get a good fraction of what was spent in stores over the past week, having seen quite a few emails already indicating organizations have match-donations in place, and last year having raised over 1 billion. But I think we all need a reminder from time to time though that this month is about more than finishing another calendar year and taking advantage of great deals, and take time to not just remember but appreciate and apply the sentiments behind Christmas (both secular and religious) and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

For people around the globe this month is supposed to be something special, a reminder that there is still good in the world, that we haven’t forgotten our fellow mankind, that peace can be a reality, that the light can beat the darkness, that maybe we can finally have some victories over the things that hold us back. Over the past week I’ve been a bit surprised and pleased by something, and I wanted to share it with you today, as we begin this holiday season.

On Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday I made a phone call to a government office and spoke with a very pleasant lady who was also very helpful at the end of the day no less. On Thursday I met some extended family for the first time and we had a fantastic time. On Friday while shopping all of the employees I encountered were not only helpful but had a very positive attitude. Also while shopping the majority of people I encountered were not only polite but also relaxed and patient, and even some who had holiday cheer.

Why share all this? Because for the first time in a long time, I have hope that maybe we’re making a difference in the world and people are getting the message that it really doesn’t pay to be a Scrooge or a Grinch, and that it’s much better to live your life with consideration and care for others, working together to make the world a better place. Some of the interactions I had with people this past week were a great reminder that it really doesn’t take much to make life a little easier, just a smile, kind word, willingness to help and/or positive attitude.

So as we head into this holiday season, I would encourage you to be of holiday cheer; to embody the things we’re taught in the Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and both Christmas stories; and to let this be the most wonderful time of the year.

A Season for Community

You’re probably aware that yesterday was Thanksgiving, today was Black Friday, tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, and Tuesday is Giving Tuesday. All of these have to do with one thing: community. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of community, partnership, victory and life. Black Friday many of us go out to stores and stand in line and make small talk with those we share our towns and cities with. Small Business Saturday is all about getting people to spend at their local small retail stores (mom and pop shops) to support them. Giving Tuesday is all about donating to non-profits and the organizations making a difference in our communities and around the world and giving them a portion of the financial support that we just spent in for-profit stores over the past week.

One thing that really stuck out to me this year as I read between sale emails, was the number of emails from organizations that included a picture of their whole crew as part of celebrating the season, thanking their supporters, and thanking their people too. It’s so easy to forget in this digital age that there are people who send these emails, people who pack our many boxes, people who bring the petitions to organizations and governments, people who grow all our food like turkeys and hams, people who pick up our garbage and recycling, people who truck items to big box stores and so many more examples, just like businesses sometimes forget that there are real people buying their stuff. There are people on all ends of the story, and it’s about time we not only recognize that but celebrate it as well.

We have a choice how we treat each other, the people we choose to have in our lives, and the way we living in not just our individual communities but how we share the world as well. Thanksgiving may be over, but I would encourage you as we enter this Christmas (and Hanukkah and shopping) season, to spread good tidings wherever you go and whomever you’re with, and let others know you appreciate them. It will be a better holiday for all if we remember we’re all part of a community and that love, peace, patience and joy goes a lot farther than rudeness and hate does.

Making Room for Holiday Memories

We’re heading into the holiday season, which always brings opportunities to celebrate and end the year right even if the rest of the year hasn’t been so great. But the holidays can be challenging if you’re having family troubles, or if you just moved and are in a new location and don’t know anyone, or if you’ve got a sick family member, or if you’ve lost someone. One of my grandmothers’ birthdays was this month, we lost my grandfather several years ago right after Christmas, and a client lost a family member last month, so I understand that the holidays can be difficult for people. It’s a mixed bag to experience the holidays as time and life changes and share stories about family members you’ve lost and enjoyed celebrating the holidays with, or if you’re alone or not well.

From the earlier years the holidays have always included some downside, from struggling pilgrims, coal in stockings, and long distances to travel while pregnant, so the holidays haven’t ever been just about joy. However, they have been about community and sharing and coming together. Community and coming together happens in the good times and the not so good times, especially if we truly are invested in the people in our lives and that we share this world with. The reality of life is that it’s not all joy, that there will be some awesome years and other years where you’re thankful that you’re just all still there.

I think it’s healthy to have moments of sorrow even years after you’ve lost someone, if they meant something to you, you should never truly and completely get over their loss. But more important than having moments of sorrow, are sharing the moments and memories that you remember with those people, to share their recipes, to share their holiday traditions, to share their and your holiday stories, to read the stories that you all enjoyed together, to laugh over the mistakes and craziness, and make more memories so that will last even if you’re all separated by time or life.

Holidays are to be celebrated, both with the new and trendy celebrations of today and the older memories and traditions of the past. Encourage your kids to have times of reflection this holiday season as well as celebration and be reminded that it’s not just about the gifts or food. It’s often in those moments of sharing and passing on that we create our best and brightest memories.

Life Lessons from Dogs

I’m a dog person. I love all creatures, and make a point of supporting and help share about organizations that work for and with any type of animal, especially the endangered kind, but without question dogs top my list. I don’t know if you watch much TV but there are quite a few companies that use animals in their commercials, including quite a few that use dogs. Subaru is at the top of that list as well as Chewy and Petco. I also read an article this week sharing about a pro football team that has adopted a dog for emotional support. You may wonder why pro football players need an emotional support dog, but what it says to me is that everyone and anyone can benefit from having a dog, for emotional support or otherwise.

Yes, there are benefits to having other animals too like cows that provide milk or chickens that lay eggs, and other animals like bunnies and cats can be used as emotional support animals, as well as make good pets. But dogs are most like humans even though they’re fully animal, which helps us identify and connect with them easier than we do other animals, and there are quite a few dog breeds that are larger in size which makes them great as mobility support dogs and seeing eye dogs, enabling them to do things for us that cats, chickens, cows and bunnies just can’t do.

The idea or concept that I want to share about today though goes back to the belief that anyone can benefit from a dog and everyone should have a dog (except those who are deathly allergic of course). But a dog is about more than having an amazing bundle of snuggles in your life that looks like a dog, it’s about what else the dog brings to the table. Dogs are loyal, loving, protective, caring, sensitive, non-judgmental, forgiving and attentive. I don’t know many humans who fit that whole list, and most only fit one or two of those qualities. We talk about the (human) role models we have, whether they’re emergency service workers, made up superheros, or family members, and those are great people to learn from. But there’s obviously a lot we can learn from man’s best friend that despite having a relationship with them for hundreds if not thousands of years.

In many ways I’m humbled by the fact that a creature that has less intelligence than humans are said to, is often better able to navigate the world and relationships than we “wise” humans do. In talking with a friend this past week who lost their father in law, they commented how the best support they got was from their dog. So this week I encourage you to take a lesson from our canine friends and try a little harder to listen, love and care about the people that we share this world with.

Standing Together

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know that I watch many of those TV murder/crime investigation shows. In them the cops always have to deliver bad news to someone. Many will tell you it’s always the hardest and worst part of their job. I can believe this because as horrible as it is to see what we humans do to each other, a murder victim is dead and you can usually put some separation between them and you. But when you deal with humans who are alive, the situation and the tragedy is just that much more real. Many times on the TV shows you’ll hear a cop say that they don’t know what a family is going through, but they recognize their suffering and are sorry the family is going through this.

One of the stories in the news is that Duchess Meghan visited the location where a female college student was murdered during the Royal’s tour in Africa. I find it fascinating that with all that she has on her plate, the news of one young lady’s murder captured her attention enough to feel the need to pay her respects to this young lady’s life. This young lady is one of many who are murdered each month, and with each individual who is killed are dozens or hundreds still living who are affected by their untimely death. Thankfully I can’t say I’ve personally experienced the pain those families and friends are going through, and I don’t know that Duchess Meghan can either. But her visit wasn’t about saying to the world I know their pain, but rather about respect and standing with them through this difficult time.

What it all comes back to is the importance of and value in just being there for someone and standing with them through their difficult time. It’s just like when you go to the funeral of someone who passed recently not because you knew them but because you want to support someone who you have a strong connection with who loved them. If someone from a royal family can make time out of their very busy schedule to not only know about a tragedy but to show up in honor, I’d say we all could do a better job of showing up for each other. You don’t have to have personal experiences that you can relate to if you’re going to stand up with someone, you just have to show up and be there for them in whatever ways they need support.

Who will you stand up and support today?

9/11 Reflections, 18 Years Later

This week we’re switching things around and the regular business post will be published on Friday this week, to give me the opportunity to share some more family and relationship focused reflections today. Today is 9/11. 18 years ago 4 planes were used in a terror attack that devastated the lives of all Americans and countless others around the world were also affected by the actions of people who had a hatred towards what the US represents or has done.

If I’m honest it’s not something I can really understand. I don’t have a hatred so deep of something or someone that I can understand the willingness to make a plan to kill thousands of people, let alone little children.  I can’t imagine putting into action a plan that will definitely cause destruction, especially unknown destruction.  I understand the concepts of controlled burns when it comes to fire prevention, or about sacrificing one structure to make sure the others around them, and the people in them, are safe.  But I can’t understand the reasoning behind taking over planes and flying them into buildings where people live and work intentionally.

Each year we see footage and hear stories of the men and women who were there, of the fear they experienced, of their willingness to head into the zone even though they didn’t really know what they were heading into or what really happened.  I can remember all those years ago seeing it on TV for the first time and not really believing it.  But with report after report of loss of life and the many pictures and videos that were shown, I quickly knew that this was a reality and that not only had lives been lost but more men and women were putting their lives on the line for those who might be trapped.  It hurts to know that even today not all of the families have gotten to give their lost loved ones a proper burial, that some never really got to say goodbye.  It still hurts to know that people wanted to hurt people in this way.

But what I’ve been struck by today as I’ve watched some of the footage and read some of the stories of men and women who were killed or willingly put their lives on the line is about life.  We don’t often stop to think about the over 20,000 people who were saved because the first responders did their job.  We don’t think about their relief as they returned to their firehouses and found their brothers and sisters of the heart who had returned as well.  We don’t think about the gift of life that was given to people because people fought to bring the plane down over Pennsylvania instead of letting it get to the intended target.  We don’t think about the boys and girls who are alive and now looking at their 18th birthday without a parent that they never knew.

But the fact is they’re alive and so are we.  Yes, we should pause and grieve for the lives lost.  They are people who will never live to grow old or spend time with their families or have (more) kids or make an impact on the world in the way they thought they would.  But they would not want their legacy to be one of hatred, anger or grief.  Many gave their lives so we could be free and live our lives.  Choose to support those who put their lives on the line then and still today.  Choose to have hope for tomorrow.  Choose to make the world we share a better place, a place that tragedies like 9/11 will be fewer and farther between.  Choose to live today.

When A Business Steps Up

Sometimes smart business means stepping up where others aren’t. It’s getting harder to differentiate yourself, especially with the internet really leveling the playing field, because anyone can create a social account, website, blog or email address and start connecting with others. That said it’s more important than ever to do your best to differentiate yourself, clearly state what that difference is, and provide not just awesome customer service, but have a really great culture that supports your team as well. Today I want to share two examples of how a business or organization communicated or stepped up in a way that others don’t or haven’t.

There’s been a ton of talk recently regarding Hurricane Dorian, and already there has been significant damage report in at least one location impacted by the storm. This past week there was an early statement from an airport in Florida that they were planning to close the airport at a certain time giving consideration to the thousands of workers at the airport and their needs to see to their families and homes. As the unpredictable storm has changed they’ve made changes to their plan, but that initial statement stuck with me because you don’t always hear a company phrase it that way. Typically businesses talk about the danger and leave it at that or maybe comment about it being dangerous to travelers, but rarely do you hear a company talk about the importance of closing so that their team (large or small) can do what they need to do.

The other big news story is the CNN hosted town hall with 10 of the 2020 presidential candidates, and MSNBC will be hosting one later this month too. Thousands of people around the US had petitioned and requested that a climate question be added to the next debate or that a separate debate be held, and all requests were denied or ignored. So CNN and MSNBC took it upon themselves to invite these 10 candidates to share their thoughts on climate and what politically/governmentally needs to be done or how the government can step up.  If they both hadn’t stepped up and done the research to find a loophole in the rules that others had missed or ignored, they miss out on a great opportunity for publicity and public good will.

A good business leader is aware of potential issues that impact not just their ability to have sales but to care for the people who make those sales possible and so successful.  Good business leaders also don’t ignore the requests and feedback of thousands of people, all very publicly stated.  Focus on how you can increase your positive publicity, how you can do better for the people you connect with, and how you can step up when there is a need.

Fighting Hate with Good

Every so often people surprise me in a good way. We’ve been having a bit of a difficult time over the past few weeks with shootings and violent attacks, it’s raised the typical questions of what can we do to prevent this in the future i.e. better control over who can have a gun, which is a good conversation to have. The most recent attacks have raised questions not of mental illness but of hate, which is frustrating because it seems like nothing is changing regardless of how many violent attacks have happened in the years since Columbine and Waco.

It’s hard to explain the concept of hate on this level to the next generation, especially if you don’t understand it yourself. It’s hard to give them reassurance that they won’t have this happen at the next event they attend or school they go to, because you can’t tell what will trigger someone to choose that place for their attack. It’s heartbreaking that we still aren’t understanding the pain that is caused as a result and making the changes so that fewer families have to suffer through losing one or more of their loved ones.

And yet an 11 year old boy is doing something. He’s behind a recent going-viral movement called the #ElPasoChallenge in which he challenged his community to do 22 good deeds for others in response to the recent attack on August 3. In response people are doing simple things like handing out 22 bottles of water to the homeless, 22 packs of gum with an invitation to smile, popcorn and movie coupons and more. The response from kids who are participating is to request to be able to do this more often.

If we raise the next generation on doing acts of kindness and giving back, maybe they’ll never be able to understand the hate that some have and won’t increase the number of deadly shootings that happen in the US. Maybe instead they’ll keep their focus on doing the right thing, on building a better world and making the world a better place for others.  What are you doing to help good win in this fight?