Archive for May, 2010

Are You Getting Your Needs Met? Stop it!

Right after I wrote about  The Emma Peel Approach to Needs I came across something Dr. Ellyn Bader said about needs, which I’ll quote below. She runs The Couples Institute in California with her husband and only takes on difficult cases.

“Yes, everyone should be sure the relationship is healthy for them.  But the statement ‘be sure your needs are being met’ has done more damage to American relationships than any other statement floating around.  Needs are food, water, shelter, air to breathe, etc.  Mostly everything else is wants and desires.”

“However, most dysfunctional couples we see come to therapy with the lament, ‘I’m not getting my needs met.’  They can’t or won’t stop focusing on what the other is not doing, rather than what they themselves can do.  I wish I could erase ‘be sure your needs are getting met’ from the American lingo!”

Which reminds me of this Bob Newhart video, where he says the two words some therapists probably long to say everytime they hear, “I’m not getting my needs met.”


Communication is Overrated

Most every married person has probably said to themselves at one point, “Why does communication have to be so difficult?”

As someone who has been married almost 22 years, I came to the conclusion many years ago that communication is overrated.

A psychologist recently told me that when married people come to him and say, “We need to learn to communicate better!” he tells them that what they are really looking for is better debate skills, so they can get their way more often.

I was pleased to come across this passage in Richard Russo’s novel Straight Man, as it supports my communication is overrated theory:

One of the nice things about our marriage, at least to my way of thinking, is that my wife and I no longer have to argue everything through. We each know what the other will say, and so the saying becomes an unnecessary formality. No doubt some marriage counselor would explain to us that our problem is a failure to communicate, but to my way of thinking we’ve worked so long and hard to achieve this silence, Lily’s and mine, so fraught with mutual understanding.


Everything and More

Since Google made its recent changes to their search page, sometimes a search result gives you two options on the left sidebar: everything and more, which I find amusing.

Here’s an example:

So if clicking on “everything” isn’t enough, you can click on “more.”

Reminds me of that U2 lyric, “I gave you everything you ever wanted, it wasn’t what you wanted.”


The Mrs. Peel Approach To Needs

Have you ever worried that you’re not meeting someone’s needs or had times you were afraid to express your needs?

Thoughts like these usually make me think of the opening scene of the 1960s Avengers episodes with the spy duo Emma Peel and John Steed.

These scenes always began with Steed letting Mrs. Peel know that they were needed for an assignment.

He used clever ways to do this, as you can see in this montage of opening scenes (and check out those yellow ankle boots at the 5:15 mark):

I like these “Mrs Peel, We’re Needed” scenes because:

*You never see Mrs. Peel wringing her hands, wondering if anyone needs her. She’s comfortable hanging out in the science lab, practicing fencing, working on a painting, etc.

*Mrs. Peel herself isn’t needy – other than that one scene where she lets Steed know via a rubber duck that he’s needed. In the fight scenes she saves him as much as he saves her.

*Steed isn’t afraid to express that he needs her but does it in such a creative way that she smiles…he’s able to make her feel appreciated in the way he asks for her help. A simple “you’re needed” is often all it takes.

A final thought about needs: if no one has said, “you’re needed” yet you still think you should offer help, stop and ask yourself if your desire to help is simply because you want to feel needed. If so, your help might not be all that helpful.

It can be hard to wait for the “you’re needed” summons. You could always take up fencing to help pass the time…


Fun Friday: Vicki the Biker’s take on schedules

Vicki’s response to Jimbo’s idea is entirely appropriate, I think.

This also makes me suspect Jimbo is one of those spouses that initiates “Let’s work on our relationship!” talks. Eek! :-)

Rose Is Rose

Rose Is RoseShare


If I was in charge of meetings…

There’s no avoiding meetings completely, even if you don’t work at a corporation.

I spent two evenings this week at meetings and I was reminded yet again how inefficient meetings always are.

Meetings are among the worst forms of communication because they don’t encourage true listening or actual conversation.

This classic “ad” would apply to most meetings:

If I was in charge of meetings, here’s what I would implement (many of these ideas come from Seth Godin, with several of my own thrown in):

*No chairs. If everyone stands, the meeting will go much quicker and people will be alert.

*No food.

*Each presenter only gets 4 minutes, tops. Use a timer. The average person speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute so in 4 minutes that’s 600 words. That’s plenty. Make sure to include what you think the next action step is. Give a written summary of your presentation to the meeting leader at the end.

*If someone arrives more than two minutes later than the last person to arrive, they have to put $10 in the coffee fund.

*The organizer of the meeting has to email a summary of the meeting to the attendees right after the end of the meeting, along with the next action steps.

*If you find you aren’t adding value to the meeting, leave. You can read the summary later. I’ve been exercising this option more and more often (of course I never get email summaries). I left one of the meetings early this week because it dragged on so long I was in danger of missing an important Lost episode. No meeting is worth that.

*No “what does everyone think?” questions. Save those for email.

*No “We can’t possibly decide on this tonight” statements. Meetings should have a specific agenda and end with a decision. If that’s not possible, then you’re not ready for a meeting and need more preparation.

*If it’s an informational meeting, make sure the Q & A at the end is highly focused. Nothing drains the energy out of a meeting more than a Q & A session that is open ended and where people are allowed to hold forth at length without a time limit. Much better to end the meeting decisively.

Yeah, I’d be highly delusional if I thought that meetings would ever resemble something like this. But just imagine if every meeting adopted even ONE of these tactics. There might be less notes like these afterwards:


Yesterday afternoon I experienced three hours of severe stress.

I received a notice in the mail that our health insurance will be cancelled effective June 1.

Once a year we have to update our insurance info to make sure our family info is current and I did all that even though the notice said I hadn’t.

My hands started shaking and I recalled stories I’ve heard of people getting their insurance cut off in just this way with no mercy.

I immediately emailed the clerk and waited in dread for her reply.

During those three hours I took my youngest daughter to the library and barely listened as she happily chatted.

I had intended to try a new exercise routine outside today but I couldn’t begin to fathom doing that.

I had a humorous blog post in progress but couldn’t imagine writing anything funny ever again.

Mostly I LONGED to think about my regular worries again. Those worries suddenly seemed like luxuries compared to the prospect of losing insurance.

Being overcome with fear, when the limbic brain is at high alert in the face of an imminent threat, isn’t a fun thing.

We often use the terms fear and anxiety interchangeably but they are two different things. Anxiety is what we feel about things that may or may not happen and results in constant what-if self-talk.

Which reminds me of the 1980s Bloom County comic strip character Binkley and his closet full of anxieties (click here to see a fun collection of strips about his closet full of anxieties).

Anxiety doesn’t protect you from danger, the way fear does. It mostly prevents you from doing great things.

Anyway, the clerk emailed back and said, oops, she hadn’t seen the info I mailed in last week until that moment so she processed it and marked the continuation of our insurance as “approved.”


I felt no anger toward the clerk because I recalled the time when I accidentally suspended someone’s driver’s license and caused him extreme inconvenience one afternoon.

More than a decade ago I worked as a court clerk and part of my job was to suspend driver’s licenses when people failed to pay their citations.

My first day on the job my boss said, rather dramatically, “You WILL accidentally suspend someone’s driver’s license at some point. It’s gonna happen. Just try not to do that, OK?”

The man whose license I accidentally suspended had to have his car towed because the police offier who pulled him over for another matter wouldn’t let him drive it after noticing in his record that this man was driving with a suspended license.

The man was furious, of course, and contacted me. I felt horrible about how my clerical error caused him trouble and reimbursed him the towing fee from the village funds. I offered to my boss to pay the fee with my own money but he said no.

So, yeah. No anger toward to clerk.

I also mentally made a list of people who I knew would react with compassion if our insurance really had been cancelled.

I’m deeply grateful for insurance and for not having to tell my two oldest daughters, who have health needs that require very expensive medical supplies each month, that we don’t have insurance.

I’m so glad I don’t have to be in the throes of fear on a regular basis like some people do.

Now that I’ve been set free from that fear, maybe I’ll not only be grateful for my regular, ordinary closet full of anxieties, but actually start cleaning out that closet today.


The End

Last week the power cord for my laptop broke.

Broken things are annoying and inconvenient as you know all too well, I’m sure.

In my case, my laptop serves as my entertainment center, communications device and workstation all in one. So last week was a bit tedious at times as I waited for my new power cord to arrive.

I spent an hour at the library each day using one of the computers there.

You get only one hour at the computer and a countdown clock in the upper right corner constantly reminds you of how much time you have left. When the hour is up, the computer logs you out and you can’t get back on.

Needless to say I was highly focused and productive during that hour.

It was like sprinting instead of going out for a stroll.

I wouldn’t necessarily want a countdown clock visible from the corner of my eye at all times.

I don’t want to sprint through life all the time either.

But there’s something to be said for artificially limiting your options from time to time.

In fact,  even though my laptop has a fully functional power cord now, I plan to use the library computer at least a couple of times per week  (I’m using it right now).

The countdown click reminded me of another thing…people like to be done.

How many times have you sat through a meeting, talked on the phone, worked on a task at the computer, cleaned the refrigerator, pulled weeds, etc. and said “I want this to last longer!”

Having moments each day when you can say “The End” helps a lot.

Hey, there’s 27:47 minutes left on the countdown clock. I can now hit “publish” and say “The End.”


A different way to look at the Sabbath

Seeing as how today is Sunday, a day many consider to be a day of rest, here’s an interesting quote from Wayne Muller about how the Sabbath isn’t merely a day… YOU can be the Sabbath for someone:

“At our best, we become Sabbath for one another. We are the emptiness, the day of rest. We become space, that our loved ones, the lost and sorrowful, may find rest in us. Not fixing, not harming, not acting. Quietly empty, we become Sabbath where the sorrows of the world are safely poured and gently dissolve into the unfathomable immensity of rest and silence.”


Why Christians Suck at Storytelling

Plato said, “If you give me the storytellers, you can have everything else in culture and I will have the power.”

Storytelling is a mighty thing indeed and is central to much of the writing I do even though I write for businesses and never write fiction.

In this recent interview, screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi, who is a devout Catholic, says storytelling is a “wonderful, vaulted vocation.”

Much of what she says in this interview is about Christians who far too often settle for creating schlocky stories and fail to commit to beauty.

The first great mistake Christian storytellers often make is to tack on a moral lesson to the story.

Whereas as Barbara says, “When you talk about storytelling, it’s not that the truth saves you. It’s struggling with the truth that saves you.”

How about taking a story that will make them feel there’s something missing in life? There’s some hole in the core of my soul. The story should send people to their knees. It should send them on a search. It shouldn’t dunk them into the baptismal font and they walk away with church membership and a doughnut. That’s too much of a burden to put on a story.

The second mistake Christians make is their unwillingness to put the hours in.

Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at something. That’s the equivalent of 40 hours a week for five years.

There are exceptions to this, I’m sure, but it makes sense. And it explains why, as a child, I never became proficient in playing the violin and was only average, at best, in golf.  I probably only put in 1500 hours for violin and a lot less than that for golf (stupid Wisconsin winters).

As Barbara puts it,  you must devote yourself to “mastery of craft.”:

“You’re going to have to commit yourself to a 10 year journey of working at a craft, of reading many, many stories if you’re a writer and then writing many, many pages. We say with our students, “If you write 1,000 pages, you will probably stumble into being a good screenwriter.” But most of our students quit around page 200 because it’s boring and repetitive.

“One of the first things I find with Christians is this failure to commit to the demands of the beautiful. John Paul II said, “There are demands of beauty that exact on the human person a very high toll,” that being the artist hours of practice, isolation, rejection, instability and all of these things in order to produce a great work of art.”

I suppose this is what Charles Schulz meant when he said, “Cartooning will destroy you; it will break your heart.”

The third thing Christian artists fail to do is invest the money it takes to produce beauty:

I find over and over and over, Christian efforts in the arts in media are undercut by our cheapness. I see that secular people are willing to bet the farm on a movie. They’re willing to put together a coalition of investors internationally and from all different places and all of this packaging to make a movie that is going to have a $40 million budget. Christians will walk in a room and say, “What kind of movie can we get for about a million and a half?” Really? Nothing.

Barbara says, “Storytelling is always about cracking open the stony heart and making it fleshy.” That applies as much to the stories you tell in your everyday life as it does to storytelling in the arts and media.