Once upon a time there was a man who owned a radio-controlled sailing boat. It was a beautiful boat that was a model of an early America’s Cup 6 metre yacht, and it had been built by one of the man’s friends. The boat was 5 feet long and with the mast and sail was over 6 feet tall.
The man loved the sleek, graceful lines of the boat. He loved how the British Racing Green hull merged with the blue keel, separated by a white stripe. He loved the feel of the wooden deck and how all of the fittings on the boat were miniature replicas of the real thing.
He loved the fact that there were limited controls for the boat. He could control the direction by turning the rudder and he could control the speed by tightening or loosening the sails. But everything else was at the mercy of the wind and tides. There was no engine. The man enjoyed watching how a small movement on the radio control sticks caused the rudder to twitch or the lines on the boat to move.
The man was really happy with his boat.
But he was also anxious about his boat. What if when he sailed it the batteries ran out and he was unable to communicate with it any longer? What if it capsized in the middle of a lake? What if it got stuck on an underwater obstruction? What if it hit something and sank?
All of these anxieties would build up in the man’s mind and he would be afraid to take the boat sailing.
But sometimes instead of the anxieties he would remember how beautiful the boat looked as it sailed gracefully across a lake. He would remember the calming sound of the water lapping against the hull as the boat glided through it. He would remember the joy of being able to sail the boat into the wind, across the wind and ahead of the wind. He would remember how happy it all made him feel.
And then the man would pack his boat into his car and go off to sail it. The anxieties might still surface but the joy and relaxation he got from seeing the boat doing what it was built to do was far greater. And when he got to share that with his friends the experience was multiplied.
What holds you back from doing what you are made to do? Are you holding someone else back?
A long time ago I was at a conference and started chatting with someone I hadn’t met before. We asked each other about our interests and I let slip that I support Ipswich Town Football Club. Without missing a beat my companion said, “Oh, you must be used to disappointment.”
And yes… there have been many disappointments in the 40 years since I started supporting them. (There have been a few highs too). Supporting a club like Ipswich is nothing like supporting a team like Arsenal or Manchester United. Last year that had what was termed a bad season. I think most Ipswich Town fans would love a bad season like that!
This morning I am pondering afresh that sentence from my companion at that conference: ‘You must be used to disappointment.’ I don’t know if we ever get used to disappointment. By definition it is a sense of sadness or regret when what we were hoping for or expecting didn’t happen. If we are not expecting it to happen we won’t be disappointed. I think that’s how pessimism starts. But getting used to disappointment is not a semantic exercise, it’s a painful experience.
Disappointment is a melancholy word. In it we hear the faint echoes of unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. It leaves a taste of bitter traces of emptiness and maybe even hurt. We experience the pit-of-the-stomach falling emotions and distressed hopefulness.
Each disappointment that we experience costs us: we pay a penalty charge of sorrow; a little bit of our optimism is taxed; and time and energy that we have invested feels wasted. Sometimes we carry deep disappointment with us as a wound in our soul that can be opened up afresh when we least expect it.
So what can we do? Very few of us are hyper-optimists who can see a silver lining in every cloud. (And it seems to me that being such a person must be emotionally draining as well – being so upbeat must be difficult). I think this is where community helps. We are created to be social beings. We have the ability to communicate with others.
Simply being with someone can communicate care and concern.
Hugs communicate that they are not alone.
Listening well can be a real blessing to someone who simply needs to unload how they are feeling.
Reflecting back to someone what they have said can help them to interpret and own what they are feeling.
And if we can’t be present physically don’t underestimate the value of a card, email, text message, phone call…
These are just a few examples of how we can communicate what someone really needs at times of disappointment: unconditional love. Whatever has happened has not changed the fact that we love them. It’s what God offers us when we feel disappointed in ourselves.
I don’t think we ever get used to disappointment, but we can be used to help other people cope with it.
This week we have had some plumbers working on our house. In order to plumb they have had to turn off the water. I didn’t think it would be a problem… but it has become one as the day has gone on.
The kettle was filled with water before they started. The coffee machine was filled with water before they started.
But (and I will try to be delicate) there are other uses for water in a house that were not available to me that became more important during the day… ahem.
In addition to that, the first day was an ideal day for doing loads of washing (sunny and breezy) and the dishwasher was ready to go.
But it all had to wait until the water could be turned back on.
It made me pause for a moment in gratitude that usually water is readily available to us.
It made me pause for a longer moment and think of those on this planet for whom fresh drinking water is a luxury, never mind anything else, and then recognising that there is something I can do about that. (Time to make a donation to a charity making a difference in such countries).
It made me pause and reflect on how privileged I am and how much I take that for granted.
I think modern technology is, on the whole, wonderful. It has transformed so much of my life. I began working (in a solicitor’s office) having just two options if I wanted to communicate with someone who was not in the office. I could send a letter or I could phone. Now I have email, text messaging, I can send photos, I have video calling, and so much more. It all so convenient and helpful.
Except for those moments when my technology decides it needs to do an update. It feels like they always choose the most inconvenient moments to do this. I know that this isn’t true and that it’s probably only that I notice and remember the inconvenient times and ignore the others, but that’s how it feels. I wrote a bloggage about the most inconvenient one – you can read it here.
It seems to me (and it may just be that I have more gadgets) that updates are a more frequent occurrence than they used to be. Rarely does a day go by when one or more of my gadgets announce that they updating a program or app or operating system.
And is it just me, or do you also feel that when an update has happened you want to see some changes, improvements and benefits from having the updated version?
But that doesn’t seem to happen very often. I am told that an update is happening and then that it has completed, but most of the time I can’t see or experience any difference after the update. I know that some of the updates will have been to fix bugs or improve security or to enhance compatibility but there’s a part of me that wants to see a tangible improvement in my user experience for having had the upgrade – more than just a change from version 220.127.116.11.334.1 to version 18.104.22.168.334.2
Reflecting on this recently (while my phone was carrying out some upgrades) I realised that we are changed and transformed in a similar way. We don’t often see dramatic changes and significant upgrades to who we are – mostly we are changed and improve incrementally and imperceptibly.
This should not surprise me. After all, the Bible talks about the changes that the Spirit of God brings about in me are spiritual fruit – and fruit grows gradually. Over time you will be able to see a difference, but on a daily or even weekly basis you won’t notice anything different.
How does he bring about these changes? With our permission, and with our involvement. He won’t go against our wishes, we have to want him to transform us. And he wants us to participate in the process by putting into practice the fruits he is growing in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. The more we deliberately seek to act in these ways the more naturally they will be part of who we are and how we are.
I hope that Nick version 22.214.171.124.334.2 is an improvement on Nick version 126.96.36.199.334.1 but you may not notice it. I hope that there is a more noticeable difference from Nick version 1.0!
I have written about having an attitude of gratitude before, and I do try to cultivate that personally. I have come up with a new way of doing that which I thought I would share with you today. I am working my way through the Alphabet and giving myself a new letter each day. My challenge is to come up with things to be grateful for beginning with that letter.
It sounded easy but it’s not so simple. Today I am on B and have included ‘balance’ and ‘blogging’, for example. Of course some letters will present a greater challenge than others. I may need to befriend someone called Xavier otherwise I will be restricted to gratitude for xylophones and X-rays!
Something else I am going to try to do is look out for things and people beginning with that letter during the day and add to the thankfulness. And if there’s a person I will tell them why I am grateful for them.
Of course all of this gratitude is good, but it REALLY helps having Someone to whom I can express my gratitude!
I am wondering whether I should rename this blog ‘Nickipedia’ as it is full of the thoughts and ideas that I have had during my life which are not necessarily backed by rigorous empirical research. Sometimes they are thoughts I have had that develop in a stream of consciousness. Sometimes they are reflections based on observations. Today’s bloggage is one of the latter bloggages… it’s something I have come up with, but I do apologise if someone else has already come up with it somewhere!
Good communication is vital – unless we are a hermit we humans need to communicate with one another. When it works well it is wonderful, but when it is not so good it can lead to all sorts of difficulties and problems. I have observed this when advising clients in matrimonial cases when I was a lawyer, in helping couples as a local church Minister, and in helping churches as a Regional Minister.
Thinking more particularly of organisational communication (but it could equally be interpersonal) I have come up with a rule of thumb for communication. It’s all about whether communication ought to be 2D or 3D. 2D communication is via a flat medium – a screen (email, text, messaging…) and 3D is in person (or at the very least by phone).
My rule of thumb is this:
2D communication is best for Disseminating information and Diary work.
3D communication is best for Discussion, Discerning and Decision-making.
2D communication on a screen or on paper is brilliant if you are sending out an agenda or the minutes of a meeting. It’s great for sending someone an invitation or expressing thanks. It’s a good way to share dates for meetings. If it’s important that there’s a record 2D is great. If it’s a fact and you need to share it, it’s really good.
But 2D communication is bad for interacting with other people. When something is in writing on a screen or paper there is no intonation in what is written so you don’t know what mood someone is in when they are writing it (and you don’t know the mood of the person reading it). Even emojis are open to misunderstanding. And there is no opportunity for correcting misunderstandings or developing a thought. It’s there and that’s it. 2D communication is open to interpretation.
2D communication is really bad if you want to have a conversation with more than one person. I have witnessed all sorts of complicated email threads where a group of people have been trying to discuss things and because the different participants have been engaging with the discussion at different times the discussion bounces backwards and forwards and following what is being said becomes even more difficult. 2D communication is abysmal if you want to tell someone something negative or critical because the words are so open to misinterpretation.
That’s when 3D communication is needed. 3D communication (face to face ideally but over the phone is better than 2D) is really good when you need to discuss an idea and develop it. It’s really good when you need to listen well to one another and what is being said through one another. It’s really good when you need to reach a collective decision and are able to respond quickly to one another and develop your own thoughts along the way.
But 3D communication is not so good when you need to have something on the record – that’s why we have 2D records of meetings (we call them ‘minutes’ even if the meeting goes on for hours). It’s not so good if there is a lot of information to be communicated (there’s a link between how comfortable the chairs are, the length of the meeting and the amount of information that is retained).
Some more general words of advice:
In your 2D and 3D communication take time to choose your words carefully. Don’t shoot from the lip or send in haste. If it’s 2D, re-read what you have written before you have sent it and delete anything that could be misunderstood or received in a way that you didn’t intend. If someone has sent a long e-mail, do you need to reply saying ‘thank you for that lengthy email’? The word ‘lengthy’ may have been intended as a light-hearted nudge at the other person but it could be received as a criticism. If it’s 3D think before you say it. Ask yourself whether the words are going to build up or tear down. If it’s the latter, try to find the best and most positive way of framing it rather than letting the person have ‘both barrels’.
Don’t default to your comfort zone. If we spend a moment in advance of communicating to work out whether it is best done in 2D or 3D we may well end up communicating better. Remember that this is a rule of thumb. It’s not perfect. There will be times when you can’t use the right form of communication and the other will have to do.
And I do recognise the irony of writing this in a 2D bloggage. It will also become part of a 3D training session that I am offering to leadership teams in local churches under the heading ‘leading by following’ (co-written with a friend).
I have been re-writing some nursery rhymes to make them more topical but probably not suitable for children: mind you, were the originals okay? What do you think? Is it all a bit unnursery?
Three blind mice, three blind mice.
See how they run, see how they run.
They all ran after the farmer’s wife who cut off their tails with a carving knife:
Did you ever see such a sight in your life as the way we treat the disabled in this country?
(It reminds me of the way people are treated in being assessed for Disability Living Allowance)
Hickory dickory dock
a mouse ran up the clock
the clock didn’t strike at all because it had been silenced for repairs.
(Big Ben has been shut down for repairs)
Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
Now when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They realised that because of cutbacks there were only 500 of them.
Mary had a little lamb
whose fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go until she tried to go into a public building where no animals were allowed.
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed. This is clearly a safeguarding issue and Social Services are investigating.
Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
This is also clearly a safeguarding issue and Social Services are on the case.
Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.
Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Oh there’s none so rare, as can compare,
With King Cole and his fiddlers three although with his smoking habit and bad diet King Cole was at risk of coronary heart disease.