Remaining Relevant

Looking around, we see businesses that have failed in the past two years. We also see those that have survived, even some that have thrived. While it is easy to give COVID the blame and the credit for the differences, that is failing to forget an important distinction. Businesses that have survived or thrived changed and met the demands of the time, and those that failed did not. Mike and I travelled to NYC this week, and I saw firsthand an example of this.

The Wayfarer restaurant, one of our favorites, is closed, and we were told it “Did not survive COVID.” Rue 57, right across the street from the Wayfarer, another of our favorites, is still going strong. Similar food choices, similar prices, same location. Why did one survive and the other not? While I do not know the particulars, I can assume that the Wayfarer did not change as needed, and Rue 57 did. Rue 57 remained relevant, and the Wayfarer did not.

There are other examples of businesses that remained relevant and those that did not. The same can be said about us. If we are struggling, we should consider if we have changed to meet the demands of the times, or if we are holding onto a past that has passed.

We all know that the only constant is change. Yet, some of us stay set in our ways and refuse to adapt as life requires. We refuse to read the tea leaves, assuming that we can continue to behave in the same manner as we always have, even when doing so does not move us forward. This reminds me of something I held on to, failing to let go long after it was past time to do so.

I held on to my wine, refusing to stop drinking, although I was not able to lose the weight I wanted to lose. I remember saying many times, “I am not going to give up my Chardonnay!” Until one day, May 7, 2019, when I decided to give up my Chardonnay. To this day I still do not know what was different about that day that made me able to let go of something I wanted to hold on to, and thus be able to get something else I wanted more, which was to lose weight. But I was able to finally let go.  And over the next few months, I lost 57 pounds. No, that was not the only change that I made to lose weight. But it was the one change that I needed to make to stimulate the other changes.

Is there something you are holding on to that you need to let go of? If so, what will it take for you to do so? Don’t think you have to have all of the answers before you take the first step. It is possible that in taking the first step you will be unblocking whatever is preventing you from other steps that will evolve in their time.

I am reminded of another decision we, Mike and I, need to make. We have been in limbo for months about whether it is time to sell our home in Raleigh. I have written about that previously. As I read my own words above, it occurs to me that we are trying to figure it all out before making the next move. Perhaps that is keeping us blocked. Maybe we just need to make the next move, and others will follow organically.

Perhaps there is something in here for you to ponder. If so, do not allow yourself to stay blocked. Take the next logical step, and trust that the other steps will follow.

Happy Easter. This holiday is an important one for Christians, representing the Resurrection of Jesus and the promise of eternal life for those who follow Him. May you enjoy time with family as you celebrate together.

Lest we never forget, prayers for Ukraine and all who are suffering around the world.

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Embracing Change

What better time to focus on Change than with the arrival of Spring? In the South, we have flowers in full bloom, cool mornings and an occasional storm, and longer days. You can feel the change in the air. This time of year, usually has people ready to let go of winter and embrace spring, and this year even more so. So many people seem to be coming out of hibernation, glad to have the pandemic (hopefully) behind them while recognizing the need to remain vigilant about protecting themselves from any resurgence of the virus. People are gathering again in groups, grateful to be able to be together physically. Spring has arrived, and with it a new beginning. It is time to decide what to hold on to, what to let go of, and what is new that we want to embrace.

As for what to hold on to, Mike and I loved having good friends visit us at Oak Island last weekend. We ate too much food, some played golf, (all but me!) and we played cards late into the night. Mike and I learned how to play Hand and Foot, taking a break to watch the Duke/Carolina game, which for us Duke fans, ended on a disappointing note. We would have loved to see Coach K end his stellar career differently, but it was not to be. Congratulations to UNC for making it to the NCAA finals, although they suffered a hard-fought loss to Kansas. Now, can we please talk about something else for a while?!

As for what is new that we have embraced, we enjoyed meeting new friends and participating with them in a new (for us) event, the Blessing of the Fleet. This event welcomes the boating season and is open to anyone who wants to receive the blessing. The Blessing of the Fleet is held in waters across the United States. In Southport, NC the 27th Annual Blessing of the Fleet was hosted by the Cape Fear Yacht Club. One of the ministers of St. Philips Episcopal Church gave the blessing, which was “As you journey on the water this year may God grant you peace and prosperity and bring you home safe again.” A palm frond was waved and a carnation was given to each boat that passed. There was also a part of the ceremony that had the breaking of bread, with the bread in the form of an anchor. In a paper found on the internet written about what is reported as the first Blessing of the Fleet held in Stonington, Connecticut in 1955 the bread is discussed, connecting it to the life-giving bread of the Eucharist. We enjoyed watching the festivities of the Southport Blessing of the Fleet from the dock of Provisions Restaurant in the Southport Yacht Basin.

New friends and new experiences may make letting go even more important, to make room for the new. What should we let go of? How about letting go of stuff, including emotional baggage? Life is short, even for me, a 70-year-old. I am amazed at the growth of our grandchildren and can hardly believe that our oldest is soon to graduate from high school and is on her college quest. It is so true that the “Days pass slowly but the years fly by.” Yet we live our days and years as if we will be around forever. Some of us fail to make decisions about our physical stuff, leaving it for our children to wade through. Even more tragic, some hold onto emotional pain, unable, or worse yet, unwilling, to let it go. Until there is no more time, and it is too late.

I am reminded of my dear Uncle Barry, who passed away last summer. Our family’s loss of him is still raw. But the life lessons he taught me, without even meaning to teach, will stay with me forever. One of those lessons was “keep going as long as you can, for you never know when you will not be able to.” Uncle Barry lived that motto, not giving in to slowing down and eventually stopping until illness and death took over. In his memory, I will keep on going as long as I can.

I want to hold on to all that is good about life, especially health, family and friends, and memories. I will deal with the difficulty of holding on to the physical stuff, and gradually let it go. I will attempt to allow my memories and a few physical mementos to suffice for a life full of experiences.

I will embrace new experiences and new people, holding on to loved ones who have enriched my life through the years. I will guard our family’s traditions, and allow them to change as needed, or as they naturally evolve.

What about you? What do you plan to/need to hold on to? What is it time to let go of? And what can you/will you embrace that is new? Let Spring be a metaphor for living.

Remember, keep going as long as you can.

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Being Careful Who We Follow

Leaders have followers. In fact, it is the followers who make leaders powerful. It is important that we follow leaders who take us to places we should go, and not to places we just want to go. Leaders we follow have great influence over us, and we should want that influence to be positive and aspirational.

Readers who have been with me for a while most likely have heard my concern with profanity, and especially its use from the platform, including in writing. I see no reason at all for one to have to resort to the use of profanity to make a point.  But it happens all of the time, even from people in high places who otherwise seem to be decent people. Some people are even stooping to other “lows,” including violence. The debacle at the recent Oscars is a great example of this. Enough already. Let’s get back to decency.

Think of the people who you esteem as leaders. What are their characteristics? What is their character? How do they display decorum, integrity, and honor? How do they display decency? Is their behavior worthy of having followers?

Mike and I were in Georgia this past weekend. The main reason for the trip was to see our seventeen-year-old granddaughter, Mary Grace, in the school play, Anastasia. (It was great, and so was Mary Grace!) We were also able to attend two soccer games that our soon-to-be ten-year-old granddaughter, Virginia, played in while her parents took our fifteen-year-old, granddaughter, Elsie, to play in a soccer competition three hours away. I am in awe of parents such as our daughter and son-in-law who spend countless hours and money supporting the efforts of their children in sports, dance, and other activities. I am also grateful for those parents such as our family who have the time and means to support their children in this manner and realize that all children and parents are not so blessed.

Is there a leadership lesson in parents (who are able to) spending their time and money on their children’s activities? Yes, I think there is. Parents who do so are showing that their children are a priority. These parents could be out pursuing their own pleasures instead of being in these healthy environments with their children. Children learn valuable life lessons in team activities. Parents who support these are leading by example. Even though some parents, especially those watching sports, get overzealous and seem to be competing with the coach by (inappropriately) directing their children and the team! And the life lessons learned from a coach who does not always seem to be fair in who plays and when is preparation for a boss who may be unfair once they are in the workforce.

If there is an issue that bothers me more than profanity from the platform it is drinking alcohol to excess. Alcohol overconsumption has become a national hazard. I make this point fully aware that since I am now a non-drinker (for almost three years) some may think my point is against all alcohol drinking. That is not the case. I am not opposed to social drinking. I have decided that I should not drink socially because I did not usually stop with one or even two glasses of wine. I would too often have the third and even fourth glass. Although I usually did this drinking at home, there was still a problem. And the times that I drank and then drove, no, not after four glasses, and usually not even after three, but too many times after two glasses. Shame on me. I am so thankful that I never had an accident or received a ticket. I did not ever plan to drink, or certainly, I did not plan to drink to excess, for my mother was an alcoholic, as were other family members. But it became a habit. Until one day I decided, enough. I do not know if I will ever drink alcohol again, but at this point, I do not plan to.

Speaking of alcohol, let’s connect this to leaders. When I think of leaders, past president George W. Bush comes to mind. He stopped drinking alcohol in 1986 at the age of 40, convinced that his drinking was an unhealthy habit. He has not had any alcohol since. His story about this can be googled and is reported in his memoir, Decision Points. The fact that George W. Bush has talked openly about this, without being prescriptive about what he thinks others should do, is inspirational. Regardless of what one thinks about his politics, George W. Bush can be celebrated as a leader for recognizing his problem, being committed to the best solution, and staying the course. That is what leaders do.

I think I will stop before I get too “preachy,” although I may be there already! The point I have attempted to make in this post is not really “anti” anything, other than profanity and anything done to excess. I am opposed to behaviors and choices that do not represent characteristics worthy of following.

Leaders are important people, and when we choose to follow them, they should be worthy of our respect. Their behaviors and characteristics should be those that help us become the best version of ourselves.

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Every Chance I Get

I listen to podcasts a lot, usually when I am walking. On my walk earlier today, I heard one of Hoda Kotb of the Today Show’s podcasts with Wintley Phipps. I had never heard of Wintley Phipps, but I was most impressed with him on several levels. He has numerous YouTube videos, some of him singing Amazing Grace. I am so glad that I listened to this podcast of Hoda Kotb and him. His message on the podcast was just what I needed to hear today.

Wintley Phipps’ words inspired me and comforted me. He was just what I needed today to be able to get outside of myself and think of others. I don’t know about you but sometimes I can wallow around in my problems and fail to remember how blessed I am. A first-world problem.

On the podcast Wintley Phipps talked about Purpose, asking the question, “What Was The Reason You Were Created?” He then talked about Purpose from the standpoint of us being the best version of ourselves. Wow. I have long thought that I know my Purpose, which is helping others be their best selves. My avenue for this has been my Leadership Development Business, the Fralix Group, through Speaking, Consulting, and Coaching, inspiring and developing others.

Well, I have to be honest and admit that I haven’t been doing much of that lately. I certainly have not inspired and developed myself. And I know that we cannot give to others what we ourselves do not have. If I have inspired and developed others lately, it is circumstantial. It is time for me to get serious again about this issue of being my best self, if I plan to fulfill my purpose.  

One of the things Wintley Phipps said on the podcast is “Every chance I get, I’m going to try to put some light in someone else’s life.” He then said, “We find light when we are giving to others.” He also discussed that our highest purpose is to be the best version of ourselves, which is the reason we were created.

I encourage you to listen to the entire podcast, which is Hoda Kotb’s most recent one. And perhaps you will join me in living your purpose, being the best version of yourself.

I am going to work on me. Every chance I get I’m going to try to put some light in someone else’s life.

So, how can I be of more help and light to you, my dear readers?

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The Leadership Model

The focus of this month’s blogs is Leadership. I define Leadership as Inspiring and Developing Others. Leadership is being played out on the world stage with what is happening in Ukraine and around the globe. It is also being played out in families as parents inspire and develop their children to lead in the next generation. It is important to mention that leadership is not a position of authority, that refers to management. Also, it is not uncommon for one to be a great manager and yet not so great of a leader and vice versa. Management and Leadership skills and behaviors are different.

Through my Leadership Development business, The Fralix Group, I have been speaking, consulting, and coaching on Leadership since 1993, almost thirty years! I have often used a model I developed, The Leadership Model, for this purpose.

At the top of the Leadership Model is Strategy, which includes Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals. Vision is direction, where we are going. The biblical verse, “Without vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) comes to mind. One reference mentions this phrase as the importance of vision in Leadership, stating, “Without a long-term plan-without a vision-people are doomed to wander aimlessly.” This phrase has, of course, broader implications of faith, not merely referring to leadership in business. But in the context of this article, our focus is business. One example of a popular company’s vision is: “… to be the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world.” Can you guess which company this is?

Mission refers to purpose, the purpose of a business. Vision and Mission are usually developed by executive management and shared with others throughout the organization. Can you guess whose mission statement is: “To bring the best personal computing products and support to students, educators,…around the world?”

Values are behaviors. There are many examples of behaviors that are important in organizations. For Values/behaviors to be meaningful requires that they be developed with staff at every level in an organization. Examples of behaviors include integrity, (a complicated word, but often a value of organizations) customer-centered, authenticity, compassion, trustworthiness, and sustainability. There are many others. It is important to note that organizational values are not personal values. It is possible that the organizational values are not the same as the values of the individuals within the organization. That is fine, as long as the individuals do not behave in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s values.      

Goals are intentions/targets. Like Values, these are often established with individuals throughout the organization. These are specific, and to be effective, one should follow the SMART philosophy. “S” is specific; “M” is measurable; “A” is achievable; “R” is relevant; and “T” is time-bound. Goals should be long-term and short-term. Given the rapidity of change, most long-term Goals are no longer than five-year goals.       

The top of the Leadership Model, Strategy, is the accountability of executive management. While others may be involved in developing aspects of the organization’s Strategy, executive leaders are accountable for them. While executive management can delegate the responsibility of developing Values and Goals to others in the organization, they cannot delegate their accountability for them. This is an important distinction.

The left side of the Leadership Model Triangle is People. People in all positions are needed to be Confident, (not arrogant, but confident,) Competent, (in human skills and technical skills,) and Committed (dependable being more important than loyal.) This is the individual aspect of the Leadership model.

The right side of the Leadership Model triangle is Systems, which can be thought of as anything outside of the individual that is necessary for individuals to get their work done effectively. Management is a system, and when the management system is not working well, individuals are adversely impacted. Teamwork is a system. Communication is a system. There are other systems as well.

In the center of the Triangle are the Customers, both internal (staff) and external (paying customers or those the organization serves.) It is often asked which customers are most important, the internal customers or the external ones. My answer to that question is, “It is foolish for an organization to expect the internal customers to treat the external customers any better than they perceive they are treated by the organization.”

As one considers The Leadership Model, assume that if there is a weakness in any of the three parts of the triangle, Customers will not be well served.

Think of Strategy, People, and Systems as the key determinants of Leadership. And not just for companies, but for your life as well.

Do you have a Strategy for your life? What is your Vision for your life? What is your direction? What is your Mission, your purpose? What are the Values/behaviors most necessary for you to accomplish your Vision and Mission? What are your Goals?

Are you Confident, Competent, and Committed? Do you have Systems in place that are necessary for you to be successful?

Leadership is all about inspiring and developing. Is it possible that the most important person for us to lead is ourself?

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Leading Oneself

Leadership is all about inspiring and developing others. Those considered leaders make a (hopefully positive) impact on the lives of other people. This is done when one has a life worthy of inspiring others. I don’t know of anyone who leads others who isn’t worthy of following.

Think about the qualities you value in others. It is possible that these are the same qualities that you value in yourself. A simple exercise is to ask someone who knows you well to describe you. While there can be great variety in words used to describe us, it is likely that if we ask several people to do this, there will be some cross-over in the words that are used. Try this exercise and see if it provides you any insight into qualities others see in you. Once you have done this, decide if these words are qualities that you see in yourself and if these are qualities that you value.

I did this, and words that someone used to describe me are: wonderful, dedicated, strong-willed, loving, and serving. As I consider these, the one that is the hardest for me to evaluate is “wonderful.” What makes me wonderful, I wonder? Not knowing what to do with that word, I put it aside, and thought of the other words.   

Dedicated, strong-willed, loving, and serving are words that I am glad are associated with me in this person’s mind. They are also words that I think are positive, not negative, although if one is too strong-willed, that can be negative. I did not give any instructions to the person regarding the words used to describe me, other than when asked, “How many”? I asked for one more than had been given.  

As I thought about these words, I then evaluated whether they are qualities that I value. Dedicated to what? Loving in what way? Serving how? Strong-willed as positive, or is it also negative in this person’s opinion? These are questions that I asked myself; I did not verbalize them. These are qualities that I value. Also, I am not surprised that these words were used to describe me, although I am not sure that I would have come up with the same words.

Are these qualities, dedicated, strong-willed, loving, and serving qualities of a leader? I am not evaluating whether I am considered a leader. That is for others to determine about us, not for us to decide about ourselves. But are leaders usually dedicated, strong-willed, loving, and serving? What do you think?

Another exercise is to think of someone that you know, and who you consider to be a leader. Identify qualities you see in that person. I did this, and the qualities that came to mind are dependable, humble, hard-working, committed, and fair. These are different qualities than those identified for me. While dependable and dedicated are similar, none of the other qualities are. What does this mean? Simply that there can be great variety in qualities people think of when considering the behavior of others. What does this have to do with personal leadership?

Leadership is first and foremost personal. Think of yourself, and what qualities others might identify for you. What do those qualities represent? Do you like what you see? Are these qualities that inspire and develop others, including those in your family, such as your children? Are these qualities that would make you proud if they were used in your eulogy?

As long as we are alive, we can change what we want to change about ourselves. Behavior change is not easy, but we can change most of what we want to change if we work at it with dedication and commitment.

Leadership is being played out on the national stage with what is happening in Ukraine. Closer to home, leadership is also being played out in our families.

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Leadership in Real-Time

The focus of this month’s blogs is Leadership. Leadership is one of the three areas of emphasis of The Fralix Group and has been for all of the twenty-nine years of the business. What is Leadership? The dictionary defines Leadership as “Influencing or Guiding Others.” My definition is somewhat stronger. I define Leadership as “Inspiring and Developing Others.” Hopefully, you can see the difference between “Influencing and Guiding” and “Inspiring and Developing.”

Leadership is being played out on the world stage in real-time with what is happening in Ukraine. One only needs to see what the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is doing to see Leadership in action. The people of Ukraine are also showing Leadership in action, fighting diligently to save their country from being taken over by Russia. Against all odds, the people of Ukraine and their leader are showing leadership in action. It remains to be seen if they will be successful. But success is not the gauge for leadership, action is. If all of the valiant efforts of Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine fail, they still will have exhibited leadership in action. Their courage inspires the world. Their leadership is positive. Unfortunately, all leadership is not positive.

Mike and I travelled to Russia in April of 2019, spending several days in Moscow. Mike was there on business, and his hosts invited me to accompany him, at their expense. It was a wonderful trip. I had wanted to see Russia since Dr. Zhivago, and I was thrilled to be there. We stayed at the Metropol Hotel, which is in the heart of Moscow, near Red Square. Our hosts were very gracious, showing us the best of their city. Having been a guest of Russians in their beautiful city, it is hard for me to fathom what is happening to Ukraine at the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. I refuse to put our gracious hosts in the same category as Russian President Putin.

We can see from the example of Russian President Putin that all leadership is not positive. President Putin is certainly a leader, that point cannot be disputed. But Putin’s leadership is the dictator type, and his “inspiring and developing others” is negative in nature. While many people follow Putin because of fear, they still follow him and are doing his bidding in horrible ways. But hopefully only for a limited time. As U.S. President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union speech this week, “Freedom will always triumph over tyranny.”  

We are not all called to a world stage as leaders. Leadership occurs in many places, many of them less lofty than a world stage. This does not make them any less important. The parent who inspires and develops a child, or doesn’t, has as great of an impact as a world leader.

Leadership occurs in many places. Some of these places are a world stage, such as Ukraine. Others are a home stage, such as the ones where many reading this live their values and inspire those looking on.

Prayers for Ukraine and its leaders, and the rest of the world as decisions are made about how involved other countries will be. Prayers for family leaders. Prayers for leaders everywhere.

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Traditions and Memories

Another month is soon to end, and another year is well underway. Time passes on, and changes continue to occur. In our part of the country, one change that is happening and that is greeted with appreciation is the relaxing of COVID restrictions. I am grateful that our family has (so far) escaped the virus, and do not take this gift for granted.

Speaking of family, one only needs to look at our children to understand the power of change. Mike and I just returned from our (almost annual) family trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While our daughter  Tara and family travelled to Park City last year to ski, Mike and I did not make that trip. Most years our daughter Tara and her family and Mike and I travel to Steamboat Springs in January or February, although some years other family members have been with us. One year Uncle Barry was with us. Daughter Chatham has been to Steamboat with us a couple of times, and her husband Johnathan was along for the trip once, but grandson Drew has yet to make the trip. Our dear friend MoMo has also travelled with us to Steamboat and has a skiing injury to remember that year by!

As Mike and I have aged, we have spent more time indoors in Ski Town USA, as Steamboat is known, than outside in the snow. We are fine with Tara, Stephen, Mary Grace, Elsie, and Virginia skiing while we sit by the fire and enjoy our surroundings. Although we did ski in our younger years, we have decided that it is not worth the risk to our older bodies to get on the slopes at our current ages.

Our family has enjoyed traveling together and creating traditions and memories. Photos are an important record of traditions and memories. As I look back on our trips to Steamboat, I am amazed at how much we have all changed. One can certainly use the word “aged” for the changes we older ones have experienced, but words that better express the changes our children have experienced are “grown and developed.” Our photos of our trips to Steamboat through the years reflect these changes better than any other tangible example. These changes reinforce to me the importance of making time to be together, creating traditions and memories that will last forever. And of course, our traditions and memories can be made at home, they do not have to involve traveling to ski resorts.

This blog post completes the posts for February, whose theme has been “Relationships.” I began the month with a focus on relationships with ourselves. In this last blog post of the month, the relationship of focus is family.

What traditions and memories has your family created? It is never too late to get started.               

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Celebrating Special Days

Special days come around quite often. We just celebrated Valentine’s Day earlier this week, and the upcoming Monday is President’s Day. While it is tempting to think that these special days are mainly for retail’s benefit, or to give us an extra holiday from school and work, they are really more important than that. We should recognize these days for their true meaning.   

Valentine’s Day is all about love and relationships. If you didn’t show your loved ones what they mean to you on this day set aside for this, you missed an opportunity. While some do bemoan Valentine’s Day and refuse to participate in what they see as just a poorly fabricated holiday that benefits retailers, Valentine’s Day is more than that. While you may have supported the florists and chocolatiers, perhaps you were more creative and chose a gift that was not one given by the masses. Regardless, how you showed your affection to loved ones is not the point, as long as you did. It would be a shame if you let Valentine’s Day pass and failed to show your affection for your loved ones. And although a tangible gift was not necessary to do so, the giving of a tangible gift is the more common route chosen. Now that Valentine’s Day 2022 has passed, you have a full year to prepare for next year’s Valentine’s Day.

Presidents’ Day is an American holiday, established in 1885 to honor the February 22nd birthday of our first President, George Washington. In 1971, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February, creating more three-day weekends for workers. At that time what had been known as Washington’s Birthday became Presidents’ Day, honoring all presidents. Also, some states have expanded the celebration to include honoring others than presidents, those considered leaders past and present. The day is also specifically targeted to give retail the opportunity to have Presidents’ Day sales. Car dealerships in particular have long weekend sales, although that may not be the same this year with the shortage of cars to sell.

Many people in our country are polarized, especially over politics and vaccines. Perhaps we should remember the words of our first president, George Washington. Washington left us many lessons after he left office, perhaps the most profound found in these words, “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.”

Peace and harmony can be found again among all nations and all people, if we are willing to set aside our differences and grant others the respect and dignity which we all deserve. Perhaps we can combine the lessons found in Washington’s words with the love for others expressed on Valentine’s Day.

Let’s let love, good faith, and justice for all guide our hearts and our actions.                 

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Relationship Matters

February is Heart Month. Heart month is about the relationship that we have with ourselves, and with our most vital organ, our heart. If we don’t feel good about ourselves, we do things that can abuse our heart, such as not eating well and being a couch potato. We must have a healthy relationship with ourselves to make decisions that protect our heart. Our relationship with ourself is primary to our other relationships.

Next week is Valentine’s Day, a day set aside each February that celebrates romantic love. Some espouse that Hallmark created Valentine’s Day, and that it is a day that benefits florists, candy makers, and Hallmark more than anyone else! Christmas and New Year’s have barely ended before the stores are decorated for Valentine’s Day and are full of trinkets to give our loved ones. More about romantic love next week.

Valentine’s Day has been expanded in recent years to include showing affection for relatives and friends. It is unfortunate that we need a day each year that encourages us to show others how much we care about them. But the reality is that many of us are so busy that we often fail to pay attention to those who mean the most to us. There is nothing wrong with joining the throngs of others who get caught up in the Valentine’s Day celebration and focusing on the importance of our relationships. Not in a manner that is created by florists and others who benefit from what can be an artificial recognition of this celebration. But by careful acknowledgment of the importance of our relationships with others.

What is the most important way that we can show our affection for others? By giving of our time. Not by just our physical presence, but by giving our attention to those we love. It does no good to be in the same room with our children if we are all on our devices. Or worse yet, at the dinner table. We should really monitor the behavior we are showing others when we spend more time on our devices than we do truly connecting with those we say we care the most about. Or taking photos and missing the moments.

Those who are fortunate enough to have parents still living have an opportunity to spend quality time with them, regardless of the miles that may separate them. Regular phone calls are an important way to keep in touch, as are physical visits. If we do not make time for our parents while they are alive, we will have regrets when they are gone. I speak from experience on this one. How I wish I could see my mother waving at me from her window one more time.

Letters and cards are an inexpensive way to visit with those we love. I realize that handwriting is a dying art, but it is so important to take the time to put pen to paper and let those we love know that we are thinking about them. Not just by sending a card for a special event but by sending a card or note just because you are thinking of them. I was struck by the smaller number of Christmas cards that we received this year. I so enjoy receiving cards with handwritten notes from some we rarely see throughout the year. There were fewer of those this past Christmas. I sent a few notes, but not the number that I normally send. Has COVID dealt a death blow to this as well as so many other things? If anything, COVID should have given us more time at home, not less; time that can be spent writing notes and sending cards. 

Friends are an important relationship that needs to be nurtured to thrive or to even survive. It is so easy to get caught up in family priorities and to neglect our friends. We will never find the time to stay connected to others, we must make the time. We need to prioritize our friend relationships, or we may find that they are no longer present.

Can you think of a time when someone, a friend or even an acquaintance, reached out and did something special for you? I am not referring to a tangible gift, although that may have occurred. It can be as simple as a “thinking of you” card or call. The example that comes immediately to mind for me happened in 1983. I had been divorced for several years and was not dating anyone. You know how Valentine’s Day can be when you are not romantically involved; lonely. A co-worker of mine gave me a Valentine’s card with the sentiment that she was thinking of me, and that she knew that I would find love again. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness, and to this day I can feel how special that was. Thank you, Jeri. I will always remember that. That gesture required Jeri to get outside of herself, to think of me, and to not just think of me, but to show me support in a very tangible way.

Some readers spend time on Facebook, “connecting” with “friends.” I enjoy Facebook for what it is, but it isn’t really “connection” in the most meaningful way, and some of my “friends” are really acquaintances. The time some spend on Facebook could be spent reaching out and truly connecting with friends in a meaningful manner.

What about texting? Is communication by texting a meaningful connection? I suppose it can be, to a point. But texting is a form of written communication, and usually quick, best used for passing information back and forth, which is different than connection. A phone call will always be more connection than a text. While texting does have some benefits, such as it does not have to be an interruption in someone’s day. One can read the text and respond when it is convenient, which can be later than when it was received. (How much later is appropriate is a subject for another blog post.)

If relationships are important to us, we make time for them. Use this Valentine’s Day to show those who you care about how important they are to you. And not just your romantic partner.

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