Many of my clients are looking for ways to assist their teams in learning to work from home successfully. Here is a short list:
Schedule regular office hours and keep them.
Plan and structure your day as usual. Routine and structure will help you feel accomplished and productive.
Set aside a work area. Make sure you have the right light and ergonomic set up. It is also good to negotiate and coordinate ground-rules with family and housemates about hours, interruptions, noise etc.
Keep your normal dress and “get ready for work” habits. You will feel better!
Avoid distractions: turn off social media notifications while working and TV or other media.
Schedule breaks. Get out of the house for some air. Set reminders on your phone to take breaks if you need to.
Make sure you have the right equipment and accounts for tools that enable productivity and communication (Zoom, Slack, WEBX etc.)
Socialize with colleagues e.g. Have lunch together in a zoom room, or share breakfast, breaks or drinks over Zoom or whatever video media you are using.
Over communicate. Tell everyone your schedule and availability for meetings, when you are taking breaks or lunch etc.
End the day with a routine just like starting the day. Let everyone know when you are signing off for the day … and DO sign off. Don’t let work creep into every other aspect of your life. Especially now when there are gaps that you would normally fill in with social activity.
TED is doing a “TED Connects” series of conversations with some key leaders offering wisdom for navigating through the coronavirus.
TED CEO, Chris Anderson, opened the series pointing out that we are not only battling the pandemic externally, but we are all, in a way, battling it internally.
With that in mind the first guest was Psychologist Susan David talking about Emotional Agility and Courage, which is the ability to be with our emotions in healthy ways. The insights she shared are particularly important for what we are facing now, but are equally true for life in “normal times”. In fact, as she said, this time is giving us the opportunity to really practice ways to build and sustain emotional courage and to move into a place of wisdom within us.
So, with that in mind, here is my summary of her 5 Key Take-a-ways
1. Don’t move away from the hard emotions you are feeling. Life’s beauty is not separated from life’s fragility. For example, we cannot experience deep enduring love without also experiencing grief and loss when that love as we know it ends either by death or circumstance. We have a social narrative around “Don’t worry, be happy”. The messages we always get are around seeking happiness as the prized emotion rather than accepting the whole of life, which includes pain, grief, fear, anxiety, anger etc. Learn to accept the full spectrum of emotions, which more accurately represents the experience of life.
2. Watch your language! Emotions are data, they aren’t who we are. We might say something like, “I am scared”, that implies that 100% of us is scared. But we are not the emotion of fear instead we are experiencing the feeling of fear. It doesn’t define who we are, rather, something we are going through. The shift in language to “I notice that I’m feeling scared” allows us to label the emotion which is the essential first step. Now we have created a space to begin to problem solve: What is that emotion telling me about what is important to me? How can I get the help I may need? What can I do to help myself and move forward and through this?
3. We own our emotions; they do not own us. It is important to not let the negative emotions take control of our lives. Instead, approach emotions with curiosity: “What is my frustration telling me about what is important to me? With the answer to that question you can move to problem solving: What can I do to address that core issue? How can I, in the midst of fear, anger or anxiety or whatever the emotion is, develop a way to find courage? We typically either bottle negative emotions up or get stuck in them. Either strategy will cause more pain, so approach with compassion and curiosity because this leads us to the next step of problem solving. Getting this frontal cortex of the brain working gets us out of of the fight or flight syndrome.
4. Decide if you are going to own your narrative or if you are going to give your power up and let the media own it. Often when people are anxious or fearful, they keep consuming information. STOP! Pick the data sources that give you what you need and manage the frequency and time you spend taking information in. If it is making you more anxious and more fearful, cut back or stop altogether for a while.
5. Find focus with the things you can control. Remember the amazing wisdom of Viktor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust: There is a space between stimulus and response. That is the space in which we have the chance to choose how we want to respond. We always have control over how we respond. We control how much information we take in. We control if we turn the phone or computer off for media breaks. We control filling ourselves with what we love; gardening, nature, music, comedy. Whatever you can control, do it.
I hope you find these points helpful. I know I did. I send them to you with love and blessings to all and with the vision of us all being connected, heart to heart, in courage, kindness and determination. Be well!
Being a leader isn’t as simple as being the one who knows what to do and who deploys people to do it. People are the most complex technology in the world and unless we come to leadership with a healthy respect for that complexity and what it takes to have people follow us, things can go awry pretty quickly. In reality, leadership is a form of service and devotion that requires a ton of work to drive truly extraordinary results.
For many years I have worked with and coached successful leaders. They are all different, yet over time, patterns of behaviors that lead to consistent success have emerged. Here are 10 habits that I have observed great leaders embody and that will help you be a memorable and effective leader:
1. Be crystal clear on your vision and use your unique gifts to catalyze beneficial results for all stakeholders.
2. “People are everything.” (Indra Nooyi) Never forget that all success comes through your team. Pay close attention to others. Know what they care about, what they dream of being/doing, what scares them, what makes them come alive. Use this information to support their success and the achievement of mutual goals.
3. Know what triggers you and have strategies to mitigate those triggers so that they don’t negatively impact your decisions, actions or those around you.
4. Be courageous. The most painful failure is one where you stand down instead of standing up.
5. Become a masterful coach to unlock the potential of those around you.
6. Never forget that the world is a system and everything is connected, so think through the ramifications of your decisions.
7. Relentlessly do the right thing and say “No” when something lacks integrity or doesn’t serve the cause for which you are working.
8. Be intentional and disciplined in your thoughts, words and actions. Leadership is explicit not improvisational.
9. Never stop learning and growing. That example will inspire others to do the same.
10. Keep your sense of humor and if you don’t have one, develop one because if you can’t laugh at the chaos and craziness of leadership, it will eat you alive.
Copyright 2019, Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.
We lost a great American legend this week. Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning Poet died Thursday at age 83.
Mary Oliver made poetry accessible. She opened up the world of poetry to many of us by writing with exquisitely descriptive language about nature and life. She wrote in ways that make sense, touch hearts and ignite the imagination. Her work was both simple and mystical. Reading her poems you feel that you are right there with her on her walks through the woods and you experience, as she did so profoundly, the sanctity of this earth. And as she muses about life in her writing, as the reader it is as if you are having an intimate conversation with a very wise friend.
One of her very famous lines: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” is from her poem, A Summer Day. It is a study in mindfulness and a challenge to every reader to awaken to the preciousness of life and the need for intentionality in our endeavor to achieve a fully lived life.
A Summer Day “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Her Instructions for living:
1. Pay attention.
2. Be astonished.
3. Tell about it.
In our busy lives we can often get caught up in the roles we play, be it leader, parent, sister et al and forget the person who we are. We can take people and life for granted and forget to appreciate the richness of every moment in which we are alive. Great poetry, certainly that of Mary Oliver, gives us the opportunity to slow down and transcend our human foibles in order to touch the very best in ourselves and in others.
To live a life with this type of presence, gratitude and wonder was exactly what Mary Oliver did and she blessed the world with fifty years of poetry to help us do the same.
“When Death Comes”: “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
She most certainly did not simply visit this world. She has profoundly changed if for the better.
Thank you, blessed one. RIP .
Is there anyone reading this who would not like to be calmer, more composed, influential and level headed, especially in difficult situations? Mindfulness can get you there.
Mindfulness is your ticket to sustained equanimity, happiness and success as a leader and a person.
What is it exactly?
At its most basic level, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight. Insight is critical for success because it is where transformative ideas, products and services get created. This is the bedrock of your organization’s success.
But mindfulness leads to more than these material results. It opens the pathway to wisdom, compassion and, dare I use the 4 letter “L” word, love. And hey, couldn’t we use more of this right now?
Why Does It Matter Now More Than Ever?
Here are just two reasons:
1. There are unlimited benefits of technology and social media but there are also staggering unintended outcomes that we are now beginning to understand more fully: Huge increases in narcissism, rapid declines in empathy and compassion, isolation, challenges in creating meaningful relationships, increased ADD and ADHD to name a few. Mindfulness practice is a powerful and fast acting antidote for these consequences and one that is available to us all for free. Leaders everywhere (formal and informal) are in a position to expand people’s awareness of this solution and of encouraging and facilitating the practice of mindfulness in the workplace where we spend so much of our time and lives.
2. We are in a time of domestic and world- wide turbulence of various kinds (political, social, economic, environmental) and this has many people emotionally triggered. When we’re triggered we are out of balance and reactive. Reactivity perpetuates animosity, fear and anxiety. If we don’t have a way of regaining and maintaining balance from the inside out, we can’t be part of the solutions for these challenges. In fact, we perpetuate them. Leaders don’t just lead strategy and execution. We set the tone emotionally for our organizations. Our teams will do as we do, act as we act and show up as we show up. Doing it mindfully is critical for setting the standards of leading with respect and integrity and compassion. This, as we have seen in countless research projects, will lead to better financial and organization performance. Subsequently, it also leads to levels of cooperation that allow for problem solving of the most profound kind for the world.
What can you do NOW?
We each have to find our pathway to mindfulness. Here are some options and resources to consider:
1. Yoga that is spiritually based not exercise based.
2. Mindful Meditation: Meditation is NOT about eliminating your thoughts. It is about catching yourself more and more quickly when you mind becomes a runaway train and returning to the moment. It is a direct retraining of the brain. The push notification tech world we are all living in has fractured our attention to the moment. Mindfulness fixes this.
a. Read or listen on YouTube to some of the great teachers to understand more (Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, Jon Kabat- Zinn)
b. Practice the old-fashioned way: sit and breathe.
c. Use Meditation apps: Insight Timer: my favorite. The largest free library of meditations (Over 10,000) It also has talks and music and a huge base of worldwide teachers Headspace: Good for beginners with lots of guided meditations and classes Calm: Good for experienced meditators and also provides breathing exercises, visualization and guided sleep stories.
4. Gratitude Practice. Gratitude brings us into the moment instantly. I am taking a Grateful Living e-Course with Grateful Living. Org They also have a ton of other resources including e-cards to spread gratitude.
5. Attend a Wisdom 2.0 Conference. This is a fabulous gathering the focus of which is how to live with technology without it swallowing us whole. Check it out. Coming to San Francisco March 2019
To lead means to have followers. Our great responsibility and privilege as leaders is to use our leadership intentionally for the good of our teams, organizations and for the world. Every single one of us can make a difference by leading by example and becoming more mindful, present and dedicated to unlocking the potential good within ourselves and others.
Copyright 2018, Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Do you know what kind of beauty takes your breath away? What beautiful thing or experience completely captures your imagination and makes you smile from the inside out, forget time and experience pure joy?
Leadership is a tough gig and for many it can become all-consuming. In our endeavor to be the best leaders we can be we can forget to take care of ourselves. The irony is that this one act of forgetfulness can lead to a slippery slope of exhaustion, frustration and even burnout and we end up becoming the monster leader we are trying not to be.
I write often about how leadership is other-focused, and it is, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t deliberately and regularly take time for nurturing ourselves. In fact, the more focused we are on others and unlocking their potential and that of our teams and organizations, the more we need to tend to ourselves first so that we are grounded and balanced and, thus, able to successfully tai chi our way through the inevitable leaderships challenges we face.
One fun way to do this is to take yourself on what Julia Cameron in the book The Artist Way calls an artist date. This is a personal field trip in search of beauty that feeds your soul, brings you joy and clears the cobwebs and clutter out of your head. The one rule is that it has to be real, not virtual. You have to leave your phone and computer behind and experience something physically.
It is quite extraordinary when you do. I have a set of Harvard Classics that are from 1917 that were my grandfather’s. He died before I was born so having his books is a way of connecting with him and reminding me that my love of literature has been passed down from generation to generation. I’ve read most of them but sometimes I just take one out of the book shelf to feel the soft leather cover and the delicate gold trimmed pages, to smell the scent of the years it holds and to let myself think about the genius held within each page…Austin, James, Dostoyevsky, Balzac.
So, whether it is nature, music, poetry, art, literature or any number of other things, seek it out at least once a week and experience the magic.
When you do, here are 5 ways the experience will make you a better leader:
It will slow you down and slow down time. When you slow down you will notice people and things that you might miss when you are moving fast and going from task to task.
It will get you out of the virtual world and into the real one where you actually have the possibility of experiencing things that have been around longer than you, the computer or the phone.
It will refresh your mind, body and soul which keeps you in a positive state of mind. Positivity is contagious. Your team will notice and mirror that vibe and work will be more fun for everyone. This refreshment also helps keep you in balance so that your own triggers and issues don’t hijack you, spill all over others and create a hot mess that you have to clean up.
It will return you to a state of wonder and possibility and guess what? This is where innovation and creativity live. Visit often!
It will connect you to the universal muse of inspiration and this will provide perspective and remind you that within the beauty of the world there is so much that is bigger than the day-to-day challenges you face.
Copyright 2018, Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.
We live in a time when the standards of behavior expected in our leaders has been eroding, when our tolerance for human foible is more pronounced than our expectation for the execution of leadership duty with honor, intelligence and sensibility.
To lead is not easy and those who choose this path need to have a visceral understanding and respect for this fact. It requires one to have wisdom and insight in equal measure about themselves as well as about the issues they face and for those whom they serve. And make no mistake, whether elected, promoted or placed into leadership, the role is about service to others, not to oneself nor to one’s own ideas. This understanding and pledge of service is the first thing we must always expect from our leaders.
In a perfect world, leaders would hold themselves accountable to a set of admirable measures of behavior for themselves and others that bring out the best in humankind. But we do not live in a perfect world, nor are there any perfect people, so far as I know.
This means that we will falter. Leaders themselves will on occasion fail to set or meet high enough standards for themselves and in failing to do so will lower the bar for those around them and in particular, those younger and very impressionable future leaders who are always watching.
And equally so, those who follow will sometimes fail to hold their leaders accountable. We will become fatigued with having and holding our moral ground. We will get distracted by life, by death, by being human.
I believe that people are the most complex technology in the world and so in my coaching practice I like to keep tools and guidelines as simple as possible. With that in mind, here are 10 things we must always expect and require from our leaders:
Tell the truth, always.
Be respectful and kind and keep your word to everyone.
Be humble, especially when you have the right to feel proud of yourself.
Don’t let fear of failure stop you, ever.
Be genuinely curious, ask questions that help people find new ways to think and lead from that state of mind, not from judgement or blame.
Hold yourself and others accountable for actions and results.
Convert failures into productive insights and actions quickly.
Daily ask yourself, “What am I not asking, seeing or doing?”
Tend to your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing regularly to be at your best and ready for any opportunity or challenge.
Never forget that you, your organization, family, community, the environment and world are interconnected. Act accordingly.
Copyright 2018. Sheila Madden, CEO, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved
85% of people around the world are not engaged or are actively disengaged with their work. (Gallup December, 2017). The result is a $7 trillion loss in productivity worldwide. Sadly, this trend has been holding steady for more than 20 years.
It seems that everything in the world economy has changed except how leaders continue to miss the opportunity to engage people.
Gratitude: Could this possibly make a difference?
What we desire and need as human beings in order to be engaged at work is to be respected, offered the opportunity to learn and grow and to be thanked for our contributions. Consider this:
The brightest minds in science, literature, medicine and the arts all express a deep understanding of the mystery, wonder and necessity of bringing our hearts and thankfulness to our every endeavor in order to unlock the fullness of human potential.
Indeed, we hunger for gratitude and we intuitively know that in a workplace where it is practiced, a more civilized, creative and thriving world will prevail. And yet, the research tells us that leaders worldwide are ignoring this inner wisdom and failing to engage the hearts and full commitment of their teams.
Curiosity, creativity and innovation are all human experiences that come from the integration of heart and mind. In organization life, we often forget this and we work only from the neck up, with our minds. Over-investing in rational thought and intellect is a great folly for leaders and is an epidemic in global leadership as we see from this multi-decade pattern of dismal engagement numbers. It is an approach to leadership where the primary mode of operation is believing that the mind provides the only road to solutions and results. It is an over-emphasis on tasks with not enough focus on people and expressing appreciation to those people through which all things happen.
When we do this, we leave behind our potential genius and our ability to unlock the genius of others. The result of which is a lack of engagement and, subsequently, results that are a fraction of what they could be.
Another Program Is Not The Answer
Gratefulness is a powerful tool for building extraordinary and engaged teams. We don’t need another program to raise engagement. We need to coach leaders to lead with gratitude and reward them for doing so.
To be grateful leaders means we are paying attention to our people and to what is happening right now and to the opportunity in every moment. We are comfortable with ambiguity and, therefore, we are allowing ourselves to be surprised by ideas, people and situations. We are listening and responding. We are focused on others, not on ourselves. We are operating with complete faith that in doing so, the results will come, and they do.
Grateful Leadership Behaviors
When we demonstrate grateful leadership we:
Ask questions that help people learn to find answers as opposed to giving them the answers.
We operate from a place of curiosity, not judgement.
We act as catalysts and coaches to unlock potential, not as commanders and controllers to drive the execution of our own ideas.
We see ambiguity as the opportunity for innovation and for developing our confidence and that of our teams in finding the best solutions in previously unchartered waters.
We never stop looking for the potential within people and every day do our best to unlock it one person at a time.
We lead with reverence which exhibits itself as showing deep respect for others.
We regularly thank people for their efforts.
Daily Practices To Develop Grateful Leadership Skill
Leading with gratitude is not difficult but it requires practice in order to bring the necessary balance to the dynamic between mind and heart. Here are some ways to develop your ability to lead with gratefulness:
Start every day being thankful that you are alive.
Practice paying attention to each moment and each person.
Every day express appreciation to your team.
Slow down, look around. Let the wonders of the world, be it nature, science, literature or art penetrate your heart.
At the end of each day write down one thing that you have done as a leader to leave the day better than it was when you entered it.
If you want to work with these practices, try rating yourself on a scale of 1-5 (1=I don’t do this and 5= I consistently do this) on each of the 7 grateful leadership behaviors listed above. Set goals and action plans to improve. Utilize at least one of the daily practices suggested and then rescore yourself in 30, 60 and 90 days. Take note of how your practices help increase the engagement of your team and, wonderfully, your own happiness as a leader.
Sheila Madden works as an executive coaching supporting leaders in technology, healthcare, non-profits and higher education.
Copyright 2018 Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.
The two most expensive decisions a leader makes are hiring and firing. Guess which costs more?
If you look at the expense budget of any organization you will see that the cost of people is usually 60% or more, which is huge. But the price of firing bad hires is actually staggering. It can run anywhere from 2-3X the person’s annual salary. That includes time for interviewing, on-boarding, training, lost productivity (of the hire, their boss, peers/colleagues, HR), impacts to customer relationships, not to mention the morale, trust and engagement hits as well as exposure to legal issues. In this Forbes article, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, said that bad hiring decisions cost them “well over $100M.”
But this article isn’t about the cost of bad hires, it is about avoiding bad hires by having a process that will help you make more right decisions than wrong.
What Gets In The Way?
During my career, I have lead recruiting organizations for companies ranging from the Fortune 500 to start ups. I have been responsible for thousands of hires from the C-suite down to entry level positions. From my experience, there are the 3 things that I have seen that get in the way of making the right hiring decisions:
Impatience: Hiring managers are usually in too big a hurry, and why is that? Because there isn’t a systemic process for constantly harvesting relationships with top talent so that there is a pipeline to turn to when the need arises. Far too often, especially with startups, when they aren’t hiring they get rid of their recruiters. Big mistake. Good recruiters are worth their weight in gold because they are constantly searching for talent on your behalf, whether you are hiring or not. It is all about building ongoing relationships. But if you do have to start from scratch, take the time you need to get it right. You may have to slow down to finish fast.
Naivete: Too many hiring managers don’t understand that a disciplined, repeatable process for hiring is crucial to making the right hire decisions consistently and ultimately to the organization’s success. We don’t develop products and services without a disciplined approach, why on earth should we hire without one?
Over Confidence: Many hiring mangers pride themselves on having a good “gut feel” for the right people and say they will know the right person when they see and talk with them. That is a crap shoot. The fact is, the people you are interviewing are very, very good at presenting their best side and navigating questions about those odd gaps in employment history or job hopping that doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere. There is way too much to lose here, so be humble. Trust but verify. Use a quantitative as well as a qualitative process to be sure.
10 Things you can do that will help you hire the right person every time:
Define your value proposition so that you can describe it in a way that candidates can self-select. No need to embellish or sell which only increases your risk of making a mistake. Be honest. The worst thing that can happen to a candidate or a company is to find out that someone oversold themselves or the opportunity. It leads to disappointment and, more importantly, a breach of trust. It is a no win on all sides. Define your value proposition so that it attracts to you the people you want and need.
Define the job. Not just the duties of the job but talk about the relationships, the stakeholders, the outcomes expected, the challenges the opportunities. Make sure people know what the day to day will be like so that they, and you, can determine if they will thrive in the role. Sugar coating is disastrous.
Define the technical and behavioral success components and weight their importance. When we keep these elements in our head, they all seem equal when they are not and we run the risk of letting something that isn’t as important to success overshadow something that is.
Develop behavioral questions to use in interviews to understand what people have actually done relative to your criteria, not what they think they would do. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Plus, asking people to walk you through what they have actually done helps you assess how they think and how they manage challenges.
Rate the candidate against criteria you have weighted in terms of their importance, determine where the gaps are and if they are manageable/coachable given the timeline for deliverables.
Divide the key success factors among the interviewers and have everyone probe specific areas. This is basically getting a 360- degree view of the candidate. If you all ask the same things the candidate will get better as the day goes on and sound brilliant to the last interviewer. Mix it up, get to know the whole of the person.
Have a homework assignment or a white-boarding where the final candidate comes in and does actual work with the team to see if how they think and behave is consistent with what you think you know so far in the interview process. Throw in some major curve balls to test them under stress or to test areas that are still a question in your mind.
Hiring manager and recruiter together hold an interview team debrief (in person or by phone, but not based on ratings entered into an applicant tracking system) to get the 360-degree read on the candidate. Look for consistencies and inconsistencies. Validate and verify what you think you know.
Hiring manager do reference checks and use behavioral questions when talking with references. Use questions like this: “We think so and so is a good fit but suspect that xyz may be new for him/her. Does that resonate with your experience? What was something you had to coach them through and how quickly did they learn, what was their attitude, etc.?” Many companies have recruiting do reference checks or don’t do them at all. I believe this is a huge mistake. The hiring managers should do them. You can get a ton of intelligence about what it will be like to manage the person. Plus, as the hiring manager, you are the one ultimately responsible for the decision. Take every opportunity to make sure you are right. More importantly, with a good reference check conversation, you will have the opportunity to jump start your new employee’s success and research shows that the more effective the on-boarding, the faster one becomes productive. Verify and validate what you think you already know. The other HUGE upside here is that it is an opportunity to expand your talent network by meeting other smart successful professionals.
Be GREAT at interviewing. Make the whole process a two-way conversation and exploration. don’t sell; rather, talk to see if it is a good fit for both parties. If it is the right thing, no one needs to sell, the synergy sells itself. For more details on how to rock the interview, here is a blog that will guide you.
If you follow these precepts, your hiring will be more predictable, accurate, consistent and cost effective.
Copyright 2017 Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.
A client of mine lives near Atlas Peak in Napa. He and his family were evacuated during the horrific fires that descended upon the Napa Valley recently. When they returned to their home, miraculously, the raging fire had stopped 150 feet from his home.
A friend of his wasn’t so lucky.
My client and several friends gathered for safety at another family’s house after they had all been evacuated. One friend was devastated when he and his wife told the others that his family’s home and winery were literally in the line of fire and that he was certain their home would be lost. Their children were in the next room waiting helplessly.
My client and his friends and their families sat quietly for a while, all stunned by what was happening. The sorrow for this family’s loss was just about to consume them when my client and his buddies looked at their friend, his wife and kids and back to each other and said, “Hell, no, it isn’t going to take your house. Let’s go fight it!”
The wind was blowing at 70 mph, flames were jumping wildly across the landscape. Propane tanks were whistling and exploding without warning throughout the area. Flames shot up through unseen wells.
These men, bonded by love, friendship and a deep connection to the land, gathered with plows, chainsaws, buckets, hacksaws. They descended on their friend’s property and began to fight to put the fire out. The firefighters told them they were on their own.
They worked relentlessly and courageously into the night. The tall burning eucalyptus trees across the property rained fire down on their heads. There was no power, no cell service and no lights other than the surreal and ethereal glow coming from other homes that were on fire in the area. One of them fell into a well and when he was rescued, got right back to work, despite injury. They plowed motes to create fire breaks, they cut away burning trees and shrubs and stumps that threated to spread and destroy the home. My client was in tennis shoes and shorts. The ground was so hot it melted the bottom of his shoes, but he kept on. They carried five-gallon buckets of water in each hand and repeatedly filled and poured water onto the fire. They all continued working for many hours straight until they successfully stopped the fire.
Relieved and exhausted, they returned to the friend’s house where they had all gathered earlier in safety. They didn’t get much rest, though, as they soon found out that the fire had restarted. They returned for another several hours of battling until at last, and for certain, they had saved the home.
My client was modest and reflective as he told me this story. He said none of them thought twice about fighting the fire even though none were trained to do so. They never even considered the very real possibility of being injured. He said their anger at the fire fueled them. They refused to let it beat them. They channeled their anger in the most productive way possible. They joined together: friends, neighbors, fellow human beings. And as crazy as the experience was, he said it was a powerful experience, one of purpose and connection. In addition to saving his friend’s house, throughout the week as others were fighting to save their homes, he met neighbors whom he hadn’t met before. The “old timers” who had lived in the country for years taught him ways to protect his home and property. The tragedy created new bonds and brought a profound sense of community and shared purpose.
In the last sixty days we have witnessed an unnerving number of heart-wrenching catastrophes and we have heard similar stories of people helping others selflessly and without hesitation. I wept when I read the account of the woman in Las Vegas who held the hand of another concert goer whom she did not know, as he died. He did not die alone, she would not let him.
What is it that causes us to forget that we are inextricably connected to one another and need each other for survival in this world? It is so ironic that bias, judgement and hatred, which I believe all have their genesis in fear, fall completely away when we are scared for real, scared for our lives. Why does it take extreme situations for us to remember our common humanity and recognize the vulnerability present in every single one of us?
If there is any good that can come out of the tragedies and madness that is so pervasive right now in the U.S. and the world, perhaps it is an awareness that we can no longer fool ourselves into thinking that we are safe and that we can manage as stand-alone islands, merely co-existing with others. We cannot survive alone. We need each other, not just our families, friends and neighbors. We need each other across the globe. And not just in times of crisis. And not just because of economic and other interdependencies. I believe there is a universal soul of humanity and that soul is in desperate need of connection and of ongoing care and feeding.
Let’s be like my client and his friends in their refusal to let their buddy’s house burn down. Let’s daily make a point of showing our respect and love for others and refuse to accept anything less. Let’s look for ways to be nice, thoughtful, united and caring, especially when we disagree about issues. Let’s put our smart phones away for a while and make a point of talking to each other and building relationships. Let’s start each day with a grateful heart and intentionally share that heart with others in any way that we can. And then, let’s take measure of how it changes us. I’m betting it will be for the better. How about you?
Copyright 2017 Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.