Category Archives: Observations

What’s up with all the drama?

Published / by Tim

Isn’t it interesting how connected we are and yet how badly we often fail to communicate? Despite our iPhones, work groups, play dates, twitter feeds, message boards, snap chats… we mess up communication and relationships… constantly.

I’ve noticed that 80 percent of the unpleasant relational stuff I deal with on a day-to-day basis is linked in some way to poor or nonexistent communication. When I say “poor” communication I find that it is really  lazy communication or the conversation that dies without being fully explored or clarified. Instead we make assumptions.

Why is it when we make assumptions, we often assume only the worst, most negative about the person or topic or scenario? Is it easier? Is it more fun? Is the drama worth the trouble?

I am amazed at how often children and adults will create “drama” out of thin air and it almost always begins with assuming the worst about someone else, whether it is deserved or not. I don’t understand that.

Maybe it really IS all about the drama, the gossip, the juicy rumor. Maybe truth and kindness is just boring. If this weren’t true, it seems we wouldn’t go down the negative path so quickly. Something needs to change in our day-to-day communication patterns.

I am challenging myself to think differently about communication this week. I want to do the following:

  1. Close open loops. If I am thinking about what someone said, or didn’t say and it’s bothering me, I am going to ask for clarification. Open loops lead to assumptions.
  2. Assume the best. If I assume anything I am going to try to assume the best instead of the worst. A colleague walks by me in the hall without a greeting… I will assume they are very busy rather than assume they are being a jerk.
  3. Ask questions. If I don’t understand something. I will ask. If I want something… I will ask. If I need something… I’ll ask. Worst that can happen is I’ll get a “no”.
  4. Restate what I hear. I think it’s a good practice to reiterate what you heard to clarify and eliminate misunderstandings.
  5. Avoid drama. Rumors and gossip must be avoided at all costs. Nothing good comes from these.

Communication is central to every relationship. Good communication leads to good and peaceful relationships, poor communication leads to broken and damaged relationships. We can each decide to take steps to be more clear and to understand better. Will you join me in giving it a shot? If you do, tell me in the comments how it goes. I’d love to hear from you.


Something beautiful.

Published / by Tim / 2 Comments on Something beautiful.

If you know me, you know I work with kids. Kids are lots of fun and sometimes they ask interesting questions. This week I was sitting with a youngster who was having some difficulty and we were problem solving the issue when he noticed my arms were all scraped up and that there were several red bumps with little scabs on them.

“What happened to your arm?” he asked as he pointed to an especially ugly little wound.

IMG_0570It’s that time of year when the roses are going gang busters and I, on the weekends, try to keep up with them. In the course of keeping the rose bushes happy and producing, I get pretty sliced up. A normal person would probably wear long sleeves and heavy gloves. Not me, I wear fairly light gloves and short sleeves for pruning duties. The thing I have discovered about roses is that when I do get pricked by a rose thorn, it often leaves an angry red welt and it bleeds so I have these little scabs on red bumps on my arms after especially aggressive pruning sessions.

The child was curious, he mentioned that it looked like I’d been stung by bees.

I told him the story of my roses and how I was pruning them and they were stickery and had poked me with their thorns several times.

“Why do you prune them?” he asked…

“To keep them looking beautiful.” I replied.

“So sometimes it hurts to keep things beautiful?” he sort of half asked half stated.

And I thought, how profound. It hurts to keep things beautiful. There is truth there, I think. Yes, there is pain associated with keeping my roses up. I love the roses and the pain is just part of the process. I don’t really think about it. I just have cuts and welts on my arms. But the roses that come from healthy, maintained bushes are worth the pain to me. The roses do nothing for me and yet I willingly get scratched up and bloodied for them.

How often do we do that in our every day lives? Relationships are like that I think. We often go to great lengths to maintain friendships, love relationships, marriages,  enduring pain to have something beautiful, a connection with another human being. For most people I imagine the pain is worth the outcome. The prize. The rose bloom.

I sometimes think that pain helps us appreciate the thing for which we suffer just a little more than we would otherwise. Pain is part of the investment in something beautiful.

One of my favorite researcher/authors, Brene Brown says this:

“Now I can lean into joy, even when it makes me feel tender and vulnerable. In fact, I expect tender and vulnerable. Joy is as thorny and sharp as any of the dark emotions. To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees—these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy.”

I agree. When we lose our tolerance for discomfort (pain) we lose joy. We lose the ability to see the beauty in the rose bush. I can lean into the pain, because the result… is something beautiful. In roses and in life.

What do you think?

End of the Year

Published / by Tim

Today, for a few hours, I was the only one at work.

I could hear the machinery of the building running. It’s like the mechanical heartbeat of the school The heartbeat that I rarely ever hear. But there it was, strong and even.

I could smell the grass seed harvest in the air. The barely visible dust will have blanketed the entire building in its hazy gray fluff within the week.

I could see the new paint freshening up the walls, making the place feel a little bit brighter and a little bit lighter and a lot more welcoming than it was a week ago.

i could feel the stillness of each empty classroom, and the quiet anticipation of what is yet to come.

I could taste the bygone year in my coffee mug. The one I rarely wash with soap, but always rinse with boiling water in the morning.

The end of the school year is great. It’s good to have some time away. It’s good being alone in an empty building reflecting on the past year. Successes and challenges alike. Bittersweet is the life of a principal. We need the time to step back, reflect and evaluate.

Today, more than anything, I realized I am already looking forward to the children returning. The noise of children learning is really where my energy comes from.

Thinking About Writing and Audience…

Published / by Tim / 3 Comments on Thinking About Writing and Audience…

Well, this little weekly blog is now a part of my story. It’s a very small part and it is usually pretty sanitized for public consumption. Somewhere along the way I realized that I’ve never really thought about HOW I pick the words that I share with you though.

“Who cares?” is the first question that I imagine popped into your head when you read that. It is the question I would have been thinking if you’d have written the first paragraph.

Well, I didn’t… until recently.

I regularly get letters, notes, e-mails and such from friends and colleagues. I normally get the impression that they are impromptu. Yet, as I consider my writing, I bet a lot more effort goes into these “personal” bits of writing than I ever see.

When writing to friends and family members, I realized that I have never written anything in just one draft. I wondered if that makes me weird. I read those “letters of note” websites and every letter on there is handwritten and error free. It’s like I’m the only one in the world who can’t put a complete thought together without thinking it through a half-dozen times. Handwriting a letter, for me, takes the better part of a legal pad and a good measure of ink.

As a result of all this thinking, I started reading personal communications a little more critically. Not just my writing, also the writing I receive. Not critical to find fault, but to consider word choice and usage; also to consider what might be left out or perhaps edited out and why.

As I was writing an e-mail to a friend this week I did something that I found interesting. Every time I deleted something from the e-mail I copied the deleted bit to a new file and made a quick note about why I was deleting it. I learned two things. I delete A LOT and there is always a pretty good reason for doing so.

I am terrible about writing a complete first draft before editing. I will probably force myself to practice this in the future but it bothers me to know that there are things I don’t like in the paragraph above or two pages ago. In the e-mail I mentioned above, I was responding to a story the friend had told me about their childhood and I began to tell my story. I realized my story was self-aggrandizing, perhaps even arrogant, and would likely come across as obnoxious. I deleted 475 words. Like I said, obnoxious. If that story ever needs to be told to my friend, I’ll tell it another time and in an appropriate context. In the e-mail I really wanted to show appreciation for my friend sharing and to communicate gratitude. I felt a lot better about the product without my story cluttering things up.

I wish I could remember who wrote it, but I read that an author said, “All writing is about the author, anyone who says otherwise is either a fool or lying”, or something close to that. I didn’t write it down. I’m not sure that I agree, which probably makes me a fool because I really am being honest here. All writing is about someone and sometimes it’s the author, but just as often it’s about the reader.

I think what makes a good writer is someone who knows the difference. It’s the person who know’s how to pick the right words to communicate what is necessary in the moment.

I am still not always sure how I pick the words I do but thinking about it hasn’t made me worse at writing. It may seem like a small thing but I think considering the small things will pay dividends in the long run. Sometimes we should indeed “sweat the small stuff”. What do you think?

Oh the joy…

Published / by Tim / 2 Comments on Oh the joy…

Joy sometimes seems like it’s in short supply. I admit… I often let the pessimist who lives in the back left part of my brain come out and have a few minutes to mess with the rest of my head. He reminds me that  the world is coming to and end and everything is just horrible. He rants and raves and colors my outlook. When I let that little jerk out of his cage he steals my joy and probably even the joy of anyone else who is around at the time.

Pessimism is easy. It requires no thought and gets a lot of attention. It’s amazing how many people will stop and listen to a tale of woe. We often feel sorry for the sad story-teller. We honestly feel like that woeful soul is probably more miserable than anyone in the world and they deserve our sympathy. Which is kind of funny, because sympathy isn’t usually very helpful. Sympathy is kind of like saying, “Man, that sucks! Glad I’m not you!” Pessimism is often attention seeking and it will take sympathy as it’s payment, regardless of what that currency is actually worth.

Optimism is harder. It requires one to look objectively at the world and to say, “Yeah, it’s a dark and lonely place, but I’m going to take the best I can find and run with it”. Optimism is difficult but it seems to be fueled by empathy. I didn’t realize this until I identified a few really optimistic people who live and work in my community. By watching them I have discovered that empathy (both giving and receiving) makes a difference in their lives and helps drive their optimism.

For a long time I didn’t really get the difference between sympathy and empathy. They both seemed really touchy-feely and to be avoided entirely. I now think that, for the most part, sympathy could be avoided. However, I kind of dig empathy. Empathy is like saying, “Man, that sucks! I know how that feels! I’m here if you need help.” It’s a connection.

Sympathy leaves us feeling lonely and kind of like something is wrong with us. Empathy leaves us feeling supported by a knowing and caring friend. Sympathy promotes isolation in that you are kind of on your own to figure your stuff out. Empathy promotes community in that you have others who understand you and who stand with you.

I think optimism is fueled by empathy. Having and empathic person in your corner promotes a sense of community and security that helps strengthen an overall sense of well-being. That sense of well being leads to an attitude of optimism.

Optimism is a catalyst of joy.

Joy may be in short supply, but it doesn’t have to be. I think empathy is a two-way street. If I practice empathy toward others… I can’t help but think it will come back to me. That has been true in all of my experience. I also think that the more we practice empathy toward each other, the stronger our relationships will be. As our relationships grow stronger we will experience a greater sense of community, support and well-being. As we feel more connected we will likely be more optimistic about things in general and if I’m right and optimism is a catalyst for joy… well… there you go.

It seems simple, right? Maybe it is, but it takes a decision to practice empathy. And that is not as easy as it sounds. To better practice empathy I think we can do the following five things:

Be present – Put the cell phone away. Make eye contact.

Listen actively – Give your full attention and be able to summarize in your head what the other person is saying.

Judge ye not – Empathy means putting yourself in the other persons shoes. If you do this, it’s a lot harder to judge them.

Don’t try to “fix” others – If someone is telling you their story they don’t usually want advice unless they ask for it.

Keep it quiet – Empathy is only as good as the trusting relationship in which it occurs. If someone is telling their story, it is not yours to tell to someone else.

I think there’s a lot of joy in the world, sometimes it just needs to be found out. Empathy in relationships can help surface real joy.