The Age of Deception

Have you noticed that trust is disappearing? As I sat on my back porch watching Una the yellow lab guide dog puppy and Daisy, our Brittany frolic in an effort to corner one of the squirrels, it struck me how far we've fallen as a society. There was a time when honesty was an unimpeachable virtue to be celebrated and developed. Today, it seems, there is far more interest in dishonesty that leaves the listener placated and believing what makes them most comfortable.

Truth seems unwelcome.

"I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the reasons I find science so comforting has historically been my belief in its objectivity:

  1. make an educated guess (hypothesis),
  2. design an experiment to test the guess,
  3. verify the guess, disprove it, or alter it and retry.

Unfortunately, as has become more and more obvious to me recently, this idealistic perspective of science is rarely reflected in reality. Instead, the process goes more like this:

  1. make a claim of something desired to be true
  2. design an experiment to prove its truth to others
  3. modify, falsify, ignore, or destroy data that doesn't support the claim

This happens across the board and for people as diverse as religious leaders and hardened earth scientists. The interest in truth seems to be effectively nonexistent, while the drive to claim and prove has expanded exponentially.

"There are three types of lies -- lies, damn lies, and statistics." -- Benjamin Disraeli

This leads the honest to answer two foundational questions:

  1. Does it matter to me whether or not I am truthful? And
  2. How will I behave in the face of this deception?

As a person long committed to truth, honesty, and integrity -- perhaps partially the result of a youth often spent deceiving others in an effort to improve my standing with them -- I had to decide how I would respond. It took an adjustment to my traditional approach to relationships, which had been, "Trust until evidence of deceit is clear." Given recent experiences, living that way is no longer supportable. Now, it's closer to Ronald Reagan's famous line, "Trust, but verify." Which is to say, "Recognize that others will try to deceive for their own benefit."

I am mourning the passing of my naive outlook.

"Those who have failed to work toward the truth have missed the purpose of living" -- Buddha

"You shall not speak falsely to others" -- the 9th Commandment

"And, do not cloak (and confuse) the truth with falsehood. Do not suppress the truth knowingly." -- Quran, 2:42

The second decision is about my own words and behavior: do I want to compromise my strict commitment to honesty and integrity in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is often not the path to the outcome I might want.

"Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is." -- Barbara Bush

For this decision, I was aided by Earl Nightingale as I listened once again to his wonderful album, "Lead the Field":

"It’s possible to get rich without enriching others, but for most of us, it’s not the way we want to go. It’s nothing to take pride in. Why bother when there are so many positive, excellent, and productive ways to serve others?" -- Earl Nightingale

Yes. It's worth it to me. I want to be honest. I want to know I have done my best and done so with good intentions, honestly, and with complete integrity.

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

What about you? How will you speak and behave? How will you respond to those who lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, even if their intentions might be good?

My encouragement to you is to take on the discipline of doing what you say, of honestly seeking truth, and of altering your perspective to match that truth to the very best of your ability.

"If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed." -- Adolf Hitler

Be a person of character. Sleep is so much sweeter when we are!

The Presence of God

As I sat across the table from a good friend who has shared his walk in Christ with me for many years, he said those words that cause me to wince on the inside: "The presence of God is what really matters to me..." To many, this idea sounds wonderful: let's do whatever we can to have the presence of God be in greater abundance in our times of meeting together. Let's be sure to do those things that bring God's presence to a greater degree and avoid those things that would cause His presence to wane.

There's only one problem with it: it isn't true. Let me explain.

The assumption behind this is that God's presence waxes and wanes; that it is strong in one place at one time, but weak in another. Furthermore, that what we do or do not do somehow effects the supply available. None of these are true.

In fact, God's Holy Spirit has been poured out on everyone. The prophet Joel foretold this outpouring and recorded it in what we now know as Joel 2:28: "Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people." God made sure that we would understand that this had happened the moment Jesus breathed His last:

Matthew 27:51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Why? And why is Matthew so careful to give us the details? Remember that Matthew's primary audience was those of Jewish faith who would understand the depth and power of this statement. First, that curtain could have been a foot thick, making tearing of it impossible. It was also 15 feet high, making the human tearing of it impossible from the top to the bottom. God did it. Before He did, it separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Afterward, the separation was obliterated as God communicated once for all time that He cannot be confined to a time or a place. He poured Himself out on all people.

The unknown author of Hebrews makes clear the significance of this event by writing in chapter 10 starting in verse 20: "By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water."

There is something very important to notice in this passage in Hebrews: there is nothing for us to do in order to enjoy the presence of God. We can go right in. We don't have to be somewhere that He is, do certain things to please Him, avoid those things which displease Him, or anything else. We cannot effect His presence!

It's always there in full power. God is omnipresent and omnipotent.

So, you may ask, why do some God loving, God fearing people believe that God's presence is greater in some places and some times than it is in others?

The answer is actually quite straight-forward, but its incredibly important to understand. The reason is that they experience Him more in some places and times than they do in others. In fact, most of us do. For me, I have felt that I can almost touch God as I've stood on a mountain top, gazed at the ocean, and held my newborn child. There are also times when it's hard to believe He's close. Those are the times that I've learned that He is and that all I have to do is tap into the truth, step into my faith, and recognize His presence. He is there. He always is.

Given that truth, you may next wonder why it matters. If someone believes that God is more present with certain activities going on than with others, what's wrong with that?

The answer is uncomfortable, but important: it places the emphasis wrongly.

The core truth of the Gospel is grace. The reality that God loves us independently of anything we do or don't do, think or don't think. There is nothing we can do to cause Him to favor us more... or less. That is the good news; the Gospel of Jesus.

Believing that there are certain things we can do or think that will cause God's presence to show up--or disappear--belies the truth of the Gospel. In doing so, it also reduces us to rule followers trying to please God so He will show up for us. That, to put it bluntly, is endeavoring to seek God's approval (His presence) by our actions, which is the opposite of the wonder and truth of grace.

Given this, why is it that it sometimes seems that God is farther away than other times? What is the cause and how do we get back to that connection with God?

What do you think the answer is?

Faith. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1) By faith you know that God is there and His presence never wavers. By faith you know that He loves you infinitely and nothing you do or do not do can ever or will ever change that.

When you're missing that connection, step into the truth that He hasn't changed. He is for you. He is fully present.

..and if singing certain songs helps you, sing them. If being in a certain place makes a difference, go there. If standing, sitting, dancing, or crying connects you, do those things, too. In spite of all that, though, recognize that these are tools that help you to step into the truth that God is fully present with you in that place and time, not that you must do anything so He will be more present.

Our Father wants to be with you all the time. Step into the awareness that He's always there in full power.

Enjoy His presence.

The Amazing Good News

The truth about God and the Gospel is foolish to men. Unfortunately, many of those men are in churches. The church for decades--and perhaps centuries--has just flat missed the point. In the always-tempting pursuit of right and wrong, good and evil, and believing that they are wise, those governing the church have lost the Gospel. The Gospel is both too simple and too extraordinary to make any sense at all to the human mind.

The Gospel is this:

You are capable of being more than you can imagine and living a life beyond your dreams. God knows this and believes in you far more than you believe in yourself.

It doesn't change God's opinion of you when you fail to be perfect, when you fail to avoid what's not best for you, or even when you choose to speak poorly of Him, ignore Him, or otherwise mistreat Him or His reputation.

He loves you anyway.

...this drives the religious people mad!

...and it demonstrates just how different they are from God.

...it also explains why the Church is so far out of favor in the world and has become increasingly irrelevant.

Who are the most judgmental people you know? Probably the religious people you know. And this is a sad commentary on the perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the years. For the most part, the Gospel is lost, overwhelmed by the drive to sign up people to agree with those in the church. The Gospel is very simple:

"God loves you and there's nothing you can do to change that."

...the corollary to that is: You can't change anything you do or say or think to make God love you more. You can't change anything you do or say or think to make Him love you any less, either. He loves you as much as He possibly can right this instant. He always has and He always will. Simple as that.

...although what He means by "love" will probably surprise you!

He loves you. You can be sure of that!

Pause and let that sink in. Like a proud papa, God favors you. He brags on you. He thinks you're a great kid. He couldn't possibly care for you more, pull for you more, or think more highly of you.

...and that's Good News!

Farewell, Steve

Yesterday, just after hitting "publish" on my iPhone 4S recommendation post, I received the news that Steve Jobs had passed away at the too-young age of 56. I never met Steve, but his uncompromising focus on doing the right thing has influenced me. Today, Ken Segall (I read his blog religiously) shared the impact that Steve had on him, and I must agree, although I never had the experience of working directly with him.

Although I have been accused of being an Apple fan boy, my relationship with Apple is relatively recent and based on only one thing: my use of Apple products has given me a far more productive and pleasant experience than any of the environments I have used in over 25 years of daily technology use.

...and the reason for that is the insistence that Steve had on building products for people, not "users."

Yesterday, I was struck by how sad I felt when I learned of Steve's passing. I was rocked when I first saw the news, and found myself grieving far more than I would have expected.

Why?

I think one of the reasons is the rarity of Steve's insistence on building technology that works for people. Just reading the industry commentaries about Apple products shows this clearly. The complaints are universally about "speeds and feeds," complaining that this phone has a bigger, higher-quality display than the iPhone or that tablet is available in a 7-inch form factor, missing the only thing that matters: how the product works as a whole. This is why the iPhone is the most popular phone in the US and the iPad is really the only tablet that matters.

So, farewell, Steve. You have inspired me and I am grateful. My commitment is to apply what I have learned from your approach.

Thank you.

My Word is My Bond

I grew up in the Midwest, land of wheat and corn, lazy summer days by the pond, sleds and skis in the winter. As I watched men interact with each other, I learned one thing: the handshake of an honest man is worth more than any written contract any day. As I moved into my career, I was blessed to meet a group of brilliant engineers during my work with the InteropNet at the gigantic Interop trade show. These men and women were the best of the best, elite network engineers at the top of their game. We worked at the bleeding edge of technology, expecting -- knowing really -- that things would go wrong and we would fix them. As a result, engineers from competitive companies often worked together to fix interoperability issues (that is, after all, where "Interop" originated). This team was the Interop NOC team (NOC stands for Network Operations Center), and to this day they remain among my best friends and among those I respect the most in the world.

As a team, we operated under the "NOC moral NDA," an unwritten agreement that was stronger than any written word could make it. When we work together even now, years later, a simple, "this is under NOC NDA" is all we need to be assured of confidentiality. It's unquestionable. Take it to the bank, it's trustworthy.

Unfortunately, this is increasingly rare in the world today. It seems that many people are comfortable telling "half-truths" (which is another word for "lies"), breaking promises, breaching confidentiality, and generally playing roughshod with integrity. Regardless of any excuses that perpetrators may offer for this kind of behavior, it's all dishonest. And done once, it means that the perpetrator can no longer be trusted with any commitment, promise, or communication.

I don't think the short-term benefit of such a strategy is worth the long-term loss.

For your part, what does it cost for youth give up your integrity?

When dealing with others, I think Ronald Regan's strategy is the best I've heard:

Trust...

...but verify.

Where are the Jobs?

Last week there was another jobs report. The economists wait around their computers to learn whether or not their estimates were right, and the investors and money people make decisions based on those numbers. There's a real problem with all this that appears to be invisible to virtually everyone: jobs are a myth, those that did exist are disappearing, and there is nothing anyone can do about it! A couple of weeks ago I wrote in Revelation and Transformation that I had been reading Seth Godin's books Linchpin and Poke the Box. In Linchpin, Seth makes a compelling case for the cooperation between industry and government to create a large base of reusable employees for factories by building the educational infrastructure to train people to do what they are told, fit in, follow rules, and be efficient. This was the world of our fathers and grandfathers.

The problem is that their world is no more!

Just as quickly as it arrived, it is fading.

If you're looking for a job, stop. Their time is passing quickly. Instead, find a way to add value to others.

How can you do that?

Promises, Promises

As I begin a new day, I am thinking about the power of commitments and agreements... When I make an agreement with myself or another, I create a reality that didn't exist before. The agreement creates a bond between present and future, intent and reality. What happens next? What happens next is a function of whether or not I keep the agreement and whether or not I'm moving towards its keeping. When I am active in the actions of a plan to complete my agreement, there is a sense of accomplishment and awareness of integrity.

When I am not active in moving towards my promise, I tend to hide from my commitment. I "forget" it, avoid it, and most often procrastinate in creating any plan to achieve it. While I may suppress my sense of integrity lost, it is there, gnawing at my self worth, reminding me that I am untrustworthy, and keeping me from moving forward in my life.

There is a false antidote to this struggle: I just avoid making commitments. If I don't commit to you that I will do or be something, I can't fail to deliver. Unfortunately, this means I leave behind in my wake an ambiguous mess of misunderstanding and confusion. "I thought you said..." "No, I never said that! What I said was..." Together with phrases like "I'll try..." "If I can..." and even "Sounds good!"

But underneath the outward assurance, inside you know. You avoided the commitment, created a sense of agreement to avoid conflict, and built a line of defenses based on waffle-words.

The problem is that we pay the price for this lack of agreement and commitment. We live life out of integrity and feel the weight of deception and doubt. We lose clear priorities. We have no clean lines.

So we look for others to tell us what to do. And we repeat the cycle: You will commit to only what you know you can easily accomplish. You hide from any possible failure by not promising more. You create a bastion of reasons. You're so busy. Family commitments call. Work needs you. Bad traffic. And on and on we go, spinning excuses and watching life tick-tock, tick-tock to the end.

And we die before our time.

Want to live? Take a risk! Commit to an accomplishment that means something to you. Commit it to yourself, someone important to you, or to God.

Then take the first step: figure out the first few steps on the path to getting there. Create review milestones when you'll correct your plan, expand it, and clarify it. Get to the end. Pick small promises at first. Take out the garbage. Sort the recyclables. Wash the dishes and put them away. And do what you promise. Create a habit. Then build on it.

Live your commitments. Everything else is noise and smoke.

Revelation and Transformation

Sometimes discovery sneaks up on me. I've been fighting lately. I had one of those "big" birthdays recently (one that ends in a "0") and have been doing a lot of self-examination and thinking about what's next in this random miracle that is my life. I've also been facing really difficult truths. Friends who have betrayed their commitments to me, customers who took advantage of my trust and keep promising payment that hasn't come, and the pain of mysterious gossip and slander that hides in the shadows every time someone is successful... and I am no exception.

Sometimes, it rears its ugly head and demands attention instead of the brush off I usually give it.

That just happened to me.

Two weekends ago I attended a conference in the mountains west of Golden. Called Men at the Cross, it was a time of introspection, reflection, challenging my deeply-rooted beliefs about myself, and examination of why I do what I do and am who I am. It snowed 6" (in May??!), I was challenged and took action I normally would have avoided, and faced authenticity from others that is exceptionally rare.

It was great!

As I reflected on the past few years during my time there, I realized that coaching others has its joys, but when I'm not careful, I miss those learning opportunities that show up for me. Such was the case that weekend. Fortunately, I was forced to slow down enough to examine myself and my life in order to see what I might have lost. It was an interesting process as I both went through it and observed myself going through it... There were times I stood off to the side and just watched, others where I lost myself in the process.

I decided to risk believing that the Father had something to show me. He did.

It is an incredible gift and blessing to see clearly, and I did see it. I guess it was time. I saw the stories I made up to myself in the process of trying to understand what was going on and why. I also got clarity about how to deal with it all.

Here's the deal: if you have something you want to say about someone, say it to them. If you are unwilling or unable to do that, don't say anything to anyone. Own your own stuff. Don't blame it on the person who happens to trigger the response in you. It's yours. Own it.

So, if you've got something to say to me, please say it. I promise to listen, whether I agree or not.

I'm going to own my stuff, too, confront those who have been believing gossip and slander about me, and I am going to move forward.

More on that move forward next time. Have you read Poke the Box and/or Linchpin by Seth Godin? If not, you really should.

That'll be next...!

Brilliant Skiing

My good friend Weems Westfeldt wrote a most excellent book on skiing called "Brilliant Skiing. Every Day." Over the summer he revised it and now it's even better. Get a copy if you're a skier or know one. In his book, he introduced me to the idea that every day can be brilliant, even when you're not skiing your best. It's a brilliant idea, and one that has carried me through challenging days.

Last week, I had three days that didn't need that reminder.

As a certified ski instructor, I am required to maintain my certification by taking continuing education of at least two credit every two years. I was a bit behind. So, I had signed up for two days of clinics to catch up. The curriculum guide described the Alpine Extreme Mountain Performance clinic as an opportunity to "explore the technical and tactical aspects of skiing steep to steep off-piste terrain and all types of snow conditions," and I was looking forward to learning how to overcome some of the challenges that I faced when the terrain and conditions became especially challenging for me.

But, I never would have expected what happened...

Monday, Loveland reported 14" of new snow for our first day. It snowed all day, never stopping. By Tuesday, they reported an additional foot of snow. We were skiing steep, deep, and challenging terrain and conditions constantly for two of the greatest days of skiing in my life. Trees, bumps, powder, steeps, rocks, flat light, brilliant blue skies, wind, above timberline, climbing, exploring... we had it all.

More on this in the next post, but in the meantime, what's a favorite memory for you?

Define Your Terms

In a scene from "The Princess Bride" that keeps running through my head these days, Inigo Montoya turns to Vizzini and says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2y8Sx4B2Sk

It seems to me that much of communication suffers from the same issue: in a rush to reduce conflict, words have been watered down and their meanings changed to the point that one person says or writes a word intending one meaning while the hearer or reader interprets another. Then, communication doesn't happen.

So, it's time we review one of the first rules of good communications:

Before you say something important, define your terms.

It's easy to assume that your listener understands your words as you intend them, but we've discovered that more often than not, they don't. Often, it is very difficult to precisely define some terms, and it is those that it is best to address in your communications.

For example, I've lately been struck by the use of the word "love" in contexts as varied as Sunday sermons and teenage gigglefests. While I'm working on a series of articles about it that I'll post here in the future, right now I'll make the observation that many people would not agree on what it means. Is it a good feeling? A commitment? Physical intimacy? Or something else? How is it different from "like" or "devotion"?

Furthermore, it's not that any of these uses is wrong. It is simply that you, by using a word without clarifying what you mean by it, may deliver a very different message than you intend.

What words do you think are particularly troublesome in this way? How do you define your terms?

Creating a System

It's easy to wing it. It doesn't even matter what subject we're discussing; winging it makes it all seem easier. It really doesn't, though.

In the back of your mind you deal with the niggling sense that you might be forgetting something. Did you pack your socks? Turn off the oven?

And that's true of everything you do, from something as simple as packing for a trip to something as complex as building a new business.

For the more basic tasks of our lives, we typically have or make a list. When we go to the grocery store, we take a list of the items we need to buy. When we plan a trip, we have a checklist of what we need to pack... don't forget the swim suit!

But in business, leaders often put off building the list. In many cases, there is a lot of activity and the appearance of forward movement even though there are much more effective ways to do what you are doing. At least you're moving. It seems to be progress.

But, it's not. It's confusing activity with productivity, and it's lethal.

Build your plan first. Make a list. Then (and only then) go to it.

How Do You Judge Your Worth?

First, by the gift the Creator gave me in breath this morning. I am worthy of His care and His love. That is enough. But there is more...

Second, by the knowledge that I am unique in all history. There never has been nor will there ever be another just like me. As a result of the rule of rarity, that makes me priceless. Finding the path to the exercise of that value is a lifelong journey, but that does not diminish the truth that I am of exceptional worth.

Third, by those who have chosen to love me, starting with my amazing bride who has put up with my vagaries for more than 26 years. My kids, who love me even in their teen years. And the friends and mentors who have been so generous with me.

Lastly, by the value I am able to bring to others through who I am and what I know and do. Being valuable and generous in the eyes of others is a reminder of my worth. When I am not there, there are things that won't (or can't!) happen.

What about you?