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Our relationships shape how we experience life


We experience life in relationship — with other people, animals, nature, and for some, God. All of these relationships define our lives. They are a gift from which we find comfort, a burden from which we feel pain, or something in-between.

We also experience life in relationship with ourselves, but we rarely pause to consider what that means, or what it looks like. It can seem odd to sit quietly and engage in a gentle conversation with oneself, but this reflection usually offers great insights.

In our professional lives, how we nurture or manage our work relationships has a direct impact on the quality, creativity, and viability of what we generate. Weak relationships produce weak commitments to a common goal.

When we invest in our relationships we are creating (or renewing) trust and respect. When we take the time to see ourselves and honor our needs, we help others be in relationship with us. When we do so with grace and kindness, relationships transform and become more collaborative.

There is nothing more powerful than the experience of feeling seen — seen by others and seen by ourselves — at a deeper level than our casual conversations. What will you do with this transformative power?

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.



The calls for more empathy are misplaced...


…instead let's understand our differences

A dearth of empathy is not what ails us, as many claim. What is tripping us up is our belief that we are empathic while others are not. In reality, we are all selectively empathic.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I readily admit that I do not share the feelings of many others, but I can seek to understand, and in that understanding find a space to honor the other person’s feelings without believing that I need to, or even can, share them.

Psychologists have demonstrated that we grossly over-estimate our ability to understand what others think and feel, because we extrapolate from our own experiences and project them onto others. It raises the question of whether the empathy we feel towards another is truly about their feelings, or our own.

Empathy is generated from curiosity, inquiry, and kindness. Let’s keep the focus on these components of empathy, rather than empathy itself, because they are more easily practiced in our daily lives. Open-hearted listening is a generous gift to give another human being, whether or not we share their feelings.

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.



It Starts with Kindness

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I suspect that many will see the title here and think: “I’m a kind person; I don’t need to read more.” Wait; don’t go! Please read on. I am not talking about being kind when everything is humming along smoothly. I’m talking about the pivotal importance of being kind even when we feel angry or offended, and how to do it.

Kindness lubricates the interlocking pieces of a strong democracy or cohesive working group. Many other elements are crucial, too, but without kindness, persistent friction corrodes the mechanisms and reduces the effectiveness of the overall system. Kindness is an essential element for creating an environment in which everyone can thrive.

Equally important, we cannot understand those with whom we disagree without kindness, because understanding requires us to be open-minded and open-hearted. We hear (and are heard) when there is a generosity of spirit, even as we challenge certain ideas.

Many will be quick to say: "But I cannot be kind to someone who says something reprehensible! That would condone such behavior." Of course, there are instances when we may choose not to engage because we find a statement or action to be so egregious that it does not deserve recognition. But before we condemn, are we sure we have understood that person correctly? Does the other person agree that we have understood correctly?

There is an art to resisting, disagreeing, or standing firm while being kind, and it takes practice to develop. This is not about turning the other cheek; it is about staying in alignment with our own moral compass and leading from within, rather than living our lives in reaction to others.

Certainly, it is challenging to be our best selves in every circumstance, but we get better the more we do it. Personal Leadership (PL) is a set of defined practices that helps develop these skills. Most importantly, when it is in play it shifts the dynamic of the interaction and changes what we put out into the world.

The more we practice kindness in our everyday lives, the more easily it will come forth in times of stress or disagreement. When we think about kindness received, it puts us in a positive frame of mind. When we share affirmative stories, we inspire each other. This is not Pollyanna speaking; it actually works.

Right now we spend a lot of time sharing outrage, dismay, and grievances. We form tribal alliances based on what we agree is wrong—in Washington, in classrooms, in our communities. Let's rebalance a bit, and also share stories of unexpected kindness.

We can shift the energy of our environments, one interaction at a time, and I invite you to help make that happen.

Would you be willing to briefly share your story of receiving an unexpected kindness in the Comments section below? It will inspire others, and it deserves to be shared. And it would make my day. Thank you!  :-)


Copyright © 2018 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.



Anger and Kindness

Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, recently spoke about the value of anger to prompt us to action. He emphasized that the value is derived from being able to channel the anger without aggression, and that daily self-reflection on what we can do improve ourselves is what gives us the power to improve the world. Wise words indeed!

In our era of outrage, far too many people seem to be blinded by anger, and even to cultivate it. Their actions appear intended to draw attention to themselves rather than to effect meaningful, positive change. I am dismayed to see the pride with which so many people proudly proclaim that they “called someone out.” To what end, I ask? Is the targeted person likely to change his/her behavior in response to being publicly shamed? Unlikely, I believe.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” has been interpreted in many ways, often with concrete actions to build, create, or transform something. I think it also means finding ways to be kind, compassionate, and patient in our everyday lives, even with those who drive us crazy – such as colleagues, family members or service providers. It means seeing the dignity of the other and speaking to it, from one’s own place of dignity.

All too often, we explain away our outbursts or aggression as a response to what someone else did or said. But this means that we live our lives in reaction to others, rather than from our own core. A crucial question to ask ourselves is not “What do I want to do in the world?” but “How do I want to be in the world, regardless of what anyone else does?” I know from my own personal experience that developing this type of grounding can be challenging at times, but I also know that it is well worth the effort because of the way it transforms relationships.

Many of us want to make the world a better place, and schools try to instill this aspiration in students. It is heartening to see young people apply themselves to innovative thinking to help those in need, or who address injustice with a problem-solving mindset. We need this. But it is equally important to cultivate kindness. I believe a kind person can generate more valuable change in our society than an outraged person, even when addressing injustices. A kind person is not a push-over, but someone who has a grounded awareness of self and others.

You can read the short article about Dr. Arun Gandhi’s talk here.


Copyright © 2017 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.