Not Fitting Under the Christmas Tree …

I have had extra time to think, while unable to do my usual things this week.  One thing that I indulged myself over was thinking about Christmas presents I would like to receive that would not fit under the Christmas tree.

Yeah, I mentioned world peace, an end to exclusion, intolerance, hatred, hunger, and all the rest.  However, past those lofty desires, I am left with only one thing on the list, but I do expand on that one desire a bit:

Old HouseAn old farmhouse far enough back off the main road to feel alone, but not so far that you feel lonely …

White sides, with dark blue or dark green trim on everything.

Worn, but in a good way … like an old and familiar coat, that slips easily on, provides comfort and warmth, without sharp edges.

Two stories minimum, with three preferably … the taller, the better.

Lots of windows, in a climate that was friendly to light and did not promote leaking air.

A second floor with a patio and enough space for four or five to sit comfortably close and watch the world go by.

Sleeping space for up to 16 people at a time, for family, friends, and colleagues to visit the quietness.

Close to or overlooking a body of water, ideally salt water, with a view of rippling waves for eternal delight.

Near a large town or small city, but not so close that I am tempted to visit there every day … once a week would be suffiicent to resupply and enjoy the movement of the town.

Pipes that creak every now and then to remind you of their existence and make the house seem alive.

There would be cats …

Gables and other architectural oddities … no predominant style, just a jumble of different perspectives on solid and eye-catching architecture.

Trees … the type that look scary in winter, but lush when in bloom during the spring.

A porch … a very long porch, with ample seating for 10 to 12 people, with railings and a swing … at both ends.

Perched on a small hill or far enough up a mountain to maintain a  soul-soothing view of the previously-mentioned body of water.

A somewhat well-kept lawn, but not manicured or completely tamed, with a variety of greens, yellows, reds, and whatever other colors Nature provides.

Southern exposure, to take full advantage of all those windows and all those sitting places.

Solid and dependable Internet coverage to maintain contact with people, events, and the world (sorry, but this is like needing drinking water for me.)

Well, that’s my big wish for the Christmas season …

No chance I will actually get this one, but I did learn a few things about what is in my heart, as I engaged in this little whimsy, while recovering from several physical issues.

When you let yourself dream, you are not always just fiddling away time.  As I continued to let thoughts pour out of me, I noticed some things popping out, which I need to consider more seriously for the future.

1)  I apparently desire to “return to the land”, not as a farmer, but I bet I could write up a storm in the environment above.

2)  I like the variety of nature and the changing seasons.

3)  I do not need the hustle and bustle of the city. 

4)  I have room for visitors, which means I do not wish a solitary life.

5)  Being away from the finer things of civilization (Internet excepted) is attractive to me.

I am still pondering, so additional insights might be forthcoming.  In the meanwhile, I have a question for you to consider:

“What’s your Christmas present?  You know, the one that won’t fit under the tree.”

Letting myself dream a little more during the hurry, scurry, and blurry of the season in the Heartland ….


Judging Others … And You Know You Do

ExplainingNever judge a man by what he says.  Try and find out why he said it.”

Eugene William Helms, in “Reflections of a Cornfield Philosopher”,p. 23

We live and work in a world which demands immediate decisions about many things …

Sometimes this is good or at least acceptable.   When someone else is in danger, you have no option but to act … and you do so based on what you know in the moment.  Sometimes a quick decision is all that stands between honor and dishonor, success and failure, life and death.

Other times, the judgment is simply a small one in the scheme of things and whether you say “yea” or “nay” is a matter mostly for temporary reflection, if even that.   Which type of sandwich to order in a fast-food line or the shirt you wear to cut the grass … non-essentials and ephemeral.

… but sometimes you need to take the time, even when you are feeling pressured, to find out more.

We also live in a world which demands that we take a side, select a position, make a stand …

We move though our world identifying and categorizing others by their positions.  If someone is a member of a specific group, we move either toward or away from fellowship.   If someone makes a statement with which we differ, we tend to slide them into our column marked“Enemy”, “Other“, or worse “Idiot”. Continue reading

Listening Intently, But For What Purpose? …

Listening“A man who listens because he has nothing to say can hardly be a source of inspiration.  The only listening that counts is that of the talker who alternately absorbs and expresses himself.”

Agnes Repplier

Sometimes in class, I step out of myself and observe the scene …

There I am, trying real hard to ask open-ended and thought-provoking questions, while I throw a well-constructed visual image up on the screen, and relate the discussion to both the background materials they should have read before class and the real world application of all that theory.   It exhausts me to construct just the right combination of words and pictures in the right order with the right nuances  …

Then I observe the students, who appear to be hard at work, often copying the content of the slide or staring at the handout from the course text, intently poring over the words like they have never read those ideas, concepts, and terms before.  They are very busy listening.

The number of times I get a thoughtful response or question is disappointingly small …

Why do we listen, if not to question?

    Listen to hear what is said …

    Hear to reflect on what  it means…

    Reflect to understand and to question (Yes, you can do both at the same time) …

    Ask the question to learn more and deeper …

    Listen to hear the response   … and repeat

Waiting for the completion of the circle in the Heartland ….


Book Review: Lessons From China by Beau Sides


Lessons-from-China_3dThis book made me want to pack my bags and head out into the unknown of another culture in another place on the globe …

As some of you know, I tend to prefer academic texts, with charts and graphs, footnotes, and typologies … I am not much for stories, except as short illustrations to help me understand and learn a term, a concept, or a model.   This is what I am used to reading and enjoying.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself engaged in “Lessons From China” by Beau Sides, a fascinating tale of a “stranger in a strange land”.  The heroine, Jan, is a young, very American woman, venturing to China for a teaching position in a somewhat remote area.  Her journey is a consistent flow of discovery, as she learns how to navigate, negotiate, and eventually thrive in a foreign land.  The tale is told in direct and clear narrative, so we learn as she learns, with the benefit of knowing her inside thoughts as well as her outside actions.

Some of her experiences are humorous, others are slightly unsettling, and a few made me squirm in my seat.  I found myself trying to imagine how I might react to some of the physical and psychological challenges Jan encountered, which was extremely valuable.  I am not a seasoned traveler, although I have been to several foreign countries.  I like my routines, my comfort, and my familiarity with my environment.

Some important lessons I gleaned from this valuable little book …


Real growth comes when you are the minority …

Most of us spend most of our lives with others who are very much like us, in surroundings that are known and comfortable.  When we venture forth, we are usually doing so within the context of our larger culture, which insures that much remains familiar, even as we grow and change.   Of course change is relative, as I remember how utterly out of my comfort zone I felt when I traveled a short distance to live in a larger small town to attend college.  We always start where we are.

Stepping off a plane into a world where you do not understand the language or customs, or even look like everyone else is a real opportunity … if you take advantage of it and approach the new and unknown with an open mind and a seeking heart.


Culture teaches us to pay attention and give respect …

Culture eats strategy for lunch”, as Peter Drucker apparently said.   Culture also eats our ingrained assumptions about proper and improper, right and wrong, good and bad, and a host of other more specific thinking that, until challenged, is simply how we think the world works. 

Those who come from an individualistic culture, such as Jan and I, value rugged individualism, demand our privacy and space, and generally think in terms of relying ourselves to solve our problems and make our way.   Only when we see how a more communal culture works, in terms of personal, professional, organizational, and societal behavior, do we start to realize that maybe other ways of getting along exist and are available to us.

Jan learned the first of many lessons about this when she tried to negotiate a simple purchase herself, rather than accept help from her host.


Leadership lessons come from growth …

This is not a leadership book, but like all well-written and useful books, it has leadership lessons to teach us, if we just pay attention.  Jan marvels at the differences that she can easily see in the Chinese cultures (note:  more than one, just like the United States) she encounters during her travels and her tenure in China.  She allows herself to experience change and to release her hold on self-sufficiency enough to accept and even ask for help when appropriate.  She learns to learn that different is not right or wrong in itself.

For leaders, the lessons should be clear:

      Leaders look, listen, and learn

      Leaders are not afraid to change

      Leaders ask for help when they need help

      Leaders value and respect differences


imageSome of the books I review are focused sharply on business strategy or corporate leadership behavior.  This one is different and that difference creates real value in an easily-digested form.  Buy a copy of “Lessons From China”.  You will not regret doing so and you might just get an itch to hit the open road or fly the friendly skiesSmile.

When next I travel to another land or even to visit a new organization, I will revisit this travelogue and try to reabsorb the lessons, which work well whether you are on your way to China or just across town.

Putting on my traveling clothes in the Heartland ….


About the Author

Beau Sides is the founder and president of Global Partners in Life, a non-profit organization that helps orphaned children, special needs orphans, and disadvantaged youth with educational, humanitarian and medical needs in China. He is also the author of Lessons from China (April 2014), a fictional story of a young woman who moves to China to teach English, only to discover that she has some lessons of her own to learn. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Follow him on Twitter @beausides and visit his website –