Browsing the archives for the Trusting Your Voice category

Dad, Welcome As You Are!

Robert V. Taylor with his brother Paul and their Dad, Donald

This first appeared in TheAdvocate.com June 14, 2013

I was shocked when my Dad reached over to cradle my head and kiss me. It was a rare moment of emotional intimacy from a man who was not raised to express his emotions. His tender action followed by the words “I love you” was a gift that I still treasure three decades later.  Even though he is not alive, I listen to the stories I tell of my father and the new appreciation those stories reveal with the passage of time.

My Dad would be 84 if he was alive today, yet he continues to live in my heart and consciousness. He grew up in an era in which being a man meant that expressions of emotion were a “girl thing.” That was the work of tender, nurturing and gentle women.  Or so the theory went.

His mother, whom I adored, was a model of emotional frigidity married to a man who was more adept at expression emotions. It was an odd paradigm handed down to my dad on how to be a man. Adding to these murky waters was the rigid and oppressive climate of South Africa. Growing up in that country I assumed that manhood came with those proscribing conditions even though I yearned for something more.

After moving to New York in 1980 as a young adult I was stunned on my first Christmas to see my host kissing his sons and them responding with kisses in return. I’d never seen such a display before and felt at once uncomfortable and curious. This state of unsettlement kept occurring as I watched fathers and sons acting as if such displays of affection were normal. I wanted to be that kind of a man. I assumed that I could be, but not with my dad. At least not until the day of the kiss.

Two years after arriving in New York my parents came to visit me knowing that I could not return home because of my refusal to serve in the South African military. On the day of his return home my Dad stood awkwardly at the gate at JFK waiting to board his flight. In a surprising move he leaned in very close to me and said, “I don’t know when we’ll be together again.” There were tears in our eyes. And then he kissed me and cradled my head as he said, “I love you.” I assured him of the same.

It was a defining moment.  Perhaps the “girl thing” assumption about how my dad had been raised was not entirely true? Or was it an oppressive façade he had learned to live with for so many decades? And then the repeated boarding calls meant it was time for him to go. In my state of stunned shock and delight I felt the tears rolling down my face as he turned to wave.

Perhaps my Dad and I could forge some of that intimacy that I had discovered among American sons and fathers? But there was the physical barrier of being on two different continents. In the decade that followed, we only saw each other on two other visits he made to America. In the era before email, texting or social media my Dad was not much of a letter-writer preferring to leave that to my mother.

I was in a time of my life discovering that our individual stories are more than just a series of funny, embarrassing, cute or unexpected events.  I was learning that our individual stories reveal truth and wisdom in their familiarity.  Well, perhaps not as much wisdom in my twenties or thirties as I thought!  Beneath the familiar plot line of a particular story, the story points to the arc about our place in life that is larger than our own self.

So I turned to the stories of my life with my Dad in South Africa. I found willing listeners in some of my new American friends who like me were physically separated from their fathers because of their job or studies. I was beginning to discover that I can tell the same story line in different decades of my life but by paying attention to the story it presents new insights in each new season of my life.

When I was a young kid my Dad and I would take the train to the end of the line in Cape Town to a place called Simon’s Town. We’d carry our packed lunches and fishing gear and go clambering over rocks to find just the right spot to fish. At the end of these outings I’d express my exuberance about the day spent fishing with Dad. I was bragging about it!

In my teenager years I’d still go fishing with my Dad, although less often. I’d tell the same basic story line albeit with a much “cooler” adolescent level of enthusiasm. In those telling’s of the story I was much more aware of my refusal to ever kill a fish. And so my Dad would help me return the fish to the ocean or he would kill it while I looked away.

In telling the same story in my twenties, I would be aware that more than just being with my dad, the story revealed a kindness and non-judgmental love. He never demeaned or ridiculed me about my aversion to the kill. There was no name calling me as the dreaded “sissy” I thought I must have been.

In my late thirties and forties the story line offered new insight into my dad and our relationship. I understood that our fishing excursions were his way of expressing that he wanted to be present to and with me. He was doing what we all do, working with the tools he had available to him. And he did a great job at it.

In my fifties I tell that story and wonder what it must have felt like for my Dad to live with the assumed normalcy that expressing emotion and affection were not the way to be. I wonder what conversation we would have about that if he were alive to do so. I suspect he’d engage willingly.

The year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 was the year I was able to go back to visit South Africa and my family. They quickly became yearly visits in which I noticed a new tenderness about him reminding me of that unexpected kiss at JFK.

On each visit each he enveloped me with a bear hug and kiss. This was not the way the Dad of my childhood had behaved! He was not to be pigeon-holed. As my partner and I visited we did what we often do – we held hands in the living room at my parents’ home.  On one visit my Mom pulled me aside and in a very hushed tone announced, “It really upsets your Dad to see the two of you holding hands.” Funny, but I had not noticed any lack of comfort on my Dad’s part.

A few days later Dad and I were on a walk to feed the ducks at a nearby pond and I said, “Dad, I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable with us holding hands.” Without missing a beat he said, “I’m not uncomfortable. I’m just happy for you and your love.”  There it was again, this generous, heartfelt and kind spirit.

In succeeding years I noticed a new level of emotional intimacy in my Dad’s close bond with a male friend that I could not have imagined in the previous decades of his life.  It was wonderful to watch. I felt glad and proud for him.

My parents were friendly with the couple who lived next door to them in their retirement community. Frank and my Dad began by looking out for another and performing simply niceties by delivering the mail or newspaper to one another.  As time progressed they would be found sitting on a porch together drinking beer and reminiscing about their lives or sharing their excitement for an upcoming rugby or cricket game on television.

On one visit my Dad expressed how glad he was for the choice he and my mother had made, albeit with obstinate resistance from him, to move into their retirement community. When I asked what made him happiest about the decision he said, “I wouldn’t have Frank as my friend if we weren’t here.”

Years later I sat in Frank’s living room with him and his wife drinking tea and discussing my Dad’s then recent death. Frank beamed as he said, “I miss your Dad every day. He was a true friend.” I was unprepared for the tenderness of what followed as Frank choked up with tears in his eyes and said, “You know Robert, I loved your Dad.” I received it as an elegant eulogy to my father and a blessing of the intimacy between Frank and Dad.

The quest for a more fulsome emotional relationship with Dad has come full circle. My yearning for a more authentic relationship with my father had led us to new ground.  But it wasn’t just about me. Dad had been a willing participant in his own story and search for what it meant to be a man.

I’m thankful for the journey we made together. We may not have fulfilled one another’s expectations to the fullest but we sure worked at it from a place of love, redefining our once limited perceptions of what it means to be a man. It would be nice to pull my dad in close, cradle his head, giving him a kiss and saying – “I’m not sure when we’ll see one another again. But I’m proud of you and love you Dad.”

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Religious Crusade Against Boy Scouts?

Robert V. Taylor

This opinion piece was first published in Huffington Post, May 31, 2013

The controversy over the Boy Scouts welcoming gay youth is being fueled by religious purveyors of judgment and condemnation. Ironically it is the Boy Scout values of compassion and respect that reflect a more generous spirit of inclusion.

I am no fan of the decision to allow gay youth to be members of Boy Scout troops while disallowing the leadership and service of adults who happen to be gay. It is a disingenuous double standard. However, the decision of the Boy Scouts looks enlightened when compared to the religious and cultural war that some religious leaders and institutions are trying to wage on scouting and gay youth.

Earnest Easley, a Southern Baptist pastor and chair of his denomination’s executive committee, is one of these warriors according to USA Today. Claiming that homosexuality is a sin and using spurious cut and paste theology to support a prejudice against LGBT people, a self-righteous crusade has been launched to sever ties between faith based groups and the Scout troops that they sponsor.

Sadly this is a re-run of old scripts in which religious texts have been used to support slavery, the denigration of women, the denial of civil rights and anti-immigrant fervor. Whatever happened to the more robust core values of love and justice?

In fairness, the warriors like Earnest Easley, do not speak for all religious institutions or leaders. Mike Schuenemeyer of the United Church of Christ is quoted in the USA Today article saying that the new Boy Scout policy will lead his organization to more actively promote sponsorship of scouting troops across the country.

The new assaults on the Boy Scouts and gay youth are at best mean-spirited and reveal a stunning lack of love and compassion. At worst they trifle with the lives of young people and their families as they struggle with questions of sexual identity.

As a young Scout I lived with the fear of anyone discovering that I was struggling with what it meant to be gay. My love of Scouting and my own worth as a human being seemed destined to be in conflict. While I survived those struggles far too many gay youth choose to commit suicide. The messages of condemnation and hatred being reinforced by religious warriors have an impact on those young people and fuel the bullying and violence directed toward them.

Data from the Pew Research Center reveals that 70 percent of Millennial’s (those between eighteen and thirty-two years old) support same-gender marriage. They reject the rationale of the battles being played out over the Boy Scouts’ policy shift.

Pew data also reveals that 25 percent of Millennial’s reject any formal religious affiliation. Among the reasons given are religion’s perceived obsession with judgmental orthodoxies and exclusion.

Those waging war on the Boy Scouts and gay youth may appeal to their own narrow base but their chosen battle is designed to reinforce the views of a significant number of young people who choose a more generous and inclusive way of life for all.

Ironically the core values of the Boy Scouts offer a more humane and spiritual approach to the storm in a teacup over gay scouts.

Those values are about compassion and respect. The Boy Scouts shine a light on being kind and considerate to others and working for the well-being of all. They emphasize showing regard for the worth of something or someone. Those core values offer respect and compassion without qualification.

I’d support those values and the decision of the Boy Scouts over the religious warriors — any day!

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What choices will you make?

What choices will you make to live your life fully?  How will your choices expand your heart of love and celebrate your voice?

How you choose will affect how you are a participant in your own life!

Listen to Robert talk about these questions at The Forum at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco – click here for the podcast

Robert V. Taylor, The Forum at grace cathedral April 28, 2013

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Made in the Imagination of Love

What does it mean to be made in the imagination of love?

Talk at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral available as a Podcast – click here

With friends at my San Francisco talk!

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Have you had your holy surprise today?

Robert V. Taylor

This piece was first published on Fox.com February 10, 2013

A holy surprise will grab your attention. Holy surprises are the events and people which interrupt the expected plans of your day. When you live with awareness of them your own humanity is enriched and expanded. Will you choose to allow them to punctuate your day with their invitation to playful delight about life?

For many people the work week, a job, family dynamics, a marriage or their own self-image is something to be endured.  They have become so practiced at “survival” that the endurance seems normal when in fact it is life and spirit sapping.  It serves no one for this to be your “reality.”

Instead, these four tips for choosing to be present to holy surprises invite you to a more enlivened experience of life.

1. Live beyond the “If only” half-script of your life.

I frequently hear people suggest that “If Only” a particular circumstance were different then they would be ready to embrace the yearnings of their lives. This only cedes your life to fear. It results in you becoming a bystander to your own being and purpose.

Holy surprises are the events and people which interrupt the expected plans of your day. When you live with awareness of them your own humanity is enriched and expanded.

It is on the edge of my fears that I am open to even small steps that become a pathway to transformed living. I once allowed my fear of failure to keep me from writing. I thought that if it was not excellent enough it would disappoint those around me and the institution I served. Too many of us allow others to keep us from our script.

A half-script is a gatekeeper to life. When we view events or people that rattle our complacency or awaken our fear of ourselves as a holy surprise we discover that they are an invitation to make choices to live into our own script. Our choice to respond to the surprise invites others to do the same and experience a life of richer engagement and delight.

2. Cultivate imagination each day

My maternal grandmother was born in Nazareth in the Holy Land. When I was young she would tell me Bible stories with graphic descriptions of the landscape and characters. They were tremendous!

Decades later I realized that her Bible stories often bore little resemblance to the book she was referencing. Her imagination engaged me and the kernels of wisdom and truth of the stories remade in her imagination seemed radiant.

Somewhere between the age of 6 and 8 many children are told to stop being “so silly” in exercising their imagination. In the creation stories of many religious traditions we learn that humanity is made in the image a Creator. But what if you think of yourself as being made, not in the image of, but the imagination of the ever-creating, ever-expanding Universe?

The closest word to “human” in Hebrew or the Latin homo is Adam which derives from the Hebrew root word for “imagination.” To be human is to participate in limitless imagination! Cultivating imagination allows us to experience the holy surprises that interrupt our days with new eyes.  Instead of disbelief, fear or resistance, we greet them as possibilities engaging our imaginative self.

3. Expect life to engage you with unexpected people.

Our own story is not a personal treasure for only ourselves and those within the circle of comfortable friends. When we can hold the diverse elements of our story together – including wonder, shame, regret and joy – there is a seamlessness about who we are that reveals wisdom and truth in the arc of our story. The result is a new and heightened compassion for yourself and others.

When you share your story with others you experience curiosity about their story. It becomes a common, sacred meeting ground with unexpected people who are not in the usual orbit of your life. Real differences may still exist with unexpected people on this expanded field of life but it is marked by anxiety making room for delight.

The professional and business groups I work with yearn to know how a story can be used to engage more authentically with colleagues and clients. Whether it is in your professional or personal life, the holy surprise of engaging with unexpected others through story allows suspicion to give way to insights previously unimagined. Oneness with humanity is no longer a theory but a delight.

4. Choose to bring new life to others and yourself.

When you engage in acts of generosity or self-giving your happiness index increases. Instead of being overwhelmed by seemingly inextricable problems in the world or your community be open to a holy surprise inviting you to respond with a simple action.

Walking on a Florida beach I was surprised by a bevy of volunteers marking off sites on the beach with stakes and tape. They were protecting the loggerhead turtles’ nesting ground in the sand. One volunteer told me he was inspired to do this work after learning that only one of every one thousand eggs laid results in a surviving turtle. I marveled at his simple yet joyous response in becoming a midwife to the turtles.

The surprise is often presented by an opportunity. A grandson noticed his 84-year-old grandmother’s delight in surfing the Internet and using Facebook to keep up on her large family. He knew that her old computer could not be used for watching the videos posted of her great grandchildren. He decided to buy her an iPad. The grandmother relishes the new tool she has for connection and learning.

Will you allow these four tools for embracing holy surprises to grab your attention each day? Your own well-being will be expanded by the playful delight you discover.
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Tips to Claim Your Authentic Voice

Robert V. Taylor

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post, January 23, 2013

I once believed that my voice was insignificant. Surely no one was that interested in my story or the way it shaped my views. It was a way of living with a half-script of my life. The Universe needs the fullness of your voice and the human family thrives when we each claim our voice.

Choose to be a participant rather than a victim. Victim-hood is not pretty or life-giving. It feeds on dullard choices and creates a cycle of spiritual, emotional and intellectual poverty. We become bystanders to our own lives. Instead of nursing victim-hood, life invites us to be full, active participants.

It begins with knowing that in the many elements of your story – the wonder, shame, regret and joy – ancient wisdom and Universal spiritual truths are revealed. Over many years I discovered that holding all the aspects of my story together allows new light to be shone on their interwoven circle of truth.

Instead of allowing others to define or diminish me I discovered that my story and voice are a gift. They connect me with unexpected people because our authentic stories offer a meeting ground. When I claim my voice the connecting stories reveal that my story is never just about me. It is about our need of one another.

What will you give your heart to each day? It’s all too easy to allow the day and its demands to define you. Choose instead to be expectant about the day. I begin each day with a simple reminder of the word I’ve chosen to be my guide for the year. This year that word is Awe.

I remind myself and the Universe that I am aware and open to awe in the day ahead. It may be in the dancing light of sunrise the beauty of a small park I pass by or the sight of a flock of birds. Or awe might be discovered in the wisdom a stranger, the kindness of a colleague or the playfulness of my Labrador.

Awe is present at the end of the day when I take a few moments to name the awe that I have experienced, marveling at it and giving thanks. The awe of life that I give and open my heart to becomes a blessing on the day that is ending.

How will you greet and embrace the day? In my work I’ve discovered that my own voice is shaped by making a mindful intention each day. Years ago I woke up on one of those numbingly grey and wet Seattle days and a torrent of complaints spewed out of my mouth. This was not like my usual enthusiasm for the day. My spouse calmly said, “Wow! Perhaps you can create your own sunshine today?”

It’s all too easy to allow negative thoughts, anxiety or even fear of the day to be overwhelming. On those days we become strangers to ourselves and others. As I remind myself each day of my word for the year I offer an intention to be awake, aware and open to the goodness of others and the day.

Celebrate time! I may have no ultimate control over the flow of time but how I view time is life-shifting. Time is a companion to be celebrated.

Having coffee with a friend or talking on the phone to a cherished person in my life is something I view as a feast in my day. Choosing to let go of looking at my smart phone or tablet is a choice to be present to the moment in those feasts. I’m able to enjoy or luxuriate in the feast at hand.

Celebrating time as a companion is a choice about letting your authentic voice enter the flow of life. My gratitude is expressed each day for time serving others or being with friends, family or colleagues. It might also include celebrating time for creativity or time alone. Each becomes an expression of celebrating the rhythm of the Universe.

In each of these four ways I am reminded of how essential my authentic voice, along with that of others, is to being alive and human. How will you live a full-scripted life by claiming your authentic voice?

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To change your life in 2013 choose a new word

Robert V. Taylor

This first appeared on Foxnews.com as an opinion piece December 30, 2012

The New Year is an invitation to enliven your spirit and life rather than making another burdensome resolution that will quickly be consigned to dust. Choose a word as your guide or mantra for the year – a word that reflects your yearnings or takes you to the edge of your fears.

Your chosen word becomes your pathway for experiencing a new way to be in the year ahead. My resolutions from years past filled a closet with wistful longings as easily abandoned as the cheap pronouncements with which I had made them.

Eventually I gave up on the obligatory ritual and enjoyed the peace that ensued from avoiding unrealistic self-inflicted pressure.

But something was missing.  Like many who I have worked with over the years, the start of a new year kept presenting a nagging invitation to re-examine and recalibrate my life. Acknowledging the importance of ritual in our lives, I wondered if a different possibility existed to embrace a new year.

In conversation with a wise friend we discussed the importance of language and the inherent power revealed in the nuances and interpretations of a single word.  In that moment I wondered about choosing a single word to focus on for a year. It was a liberating moment of almost giddy glee!

In the intervening years a few constant themes have emerged in my conversations with those who embrace this practice.  People describe a desire to move beyond resignation about their life and choose pro-active steps that enliven their lives. The willingness to go to the edge of your fears because you know that is where the journey to the center of your heart and spirit is most often revealed. Appreciating that cultivating your imagination, playfulness and heart space is a journey of spiritual growth.

How to choose the word can be a predicament and a richness of blessings.

If the New Year is an invitation to new growth and a deeper appreciation of how we choose to be in the world the word chosen becomes your mantra, compass or theme by which to respond to the invitations of life.

Openness, balance, compassion, delight, creativity, expression, time, love, friends, goodness, gratitude are among the words that I and others have selected in years past.

Choosing the word is not unlike trying on shoes or gloves for the perfect fit.  As you try on several words you instinctively know the one that appears to invite you into its presence.

This matters because choosing a word for a new way to be in the year ahead is not a passive activity. You will make daily choices to be present to the word and in the process it will become your truth-meter, challenger, comfort, friend and companion for twelve months.

Those who use this practice often put the chosen word on their refrigerator, nightstand, dashboard, vanity, desk, office door or even screensaver as a reminder of the choice that has been made. Many choose to speak their word out loud at the start of each day, perhaps over their first coffee, in the shower, on their commute, between appointments, at a store, exercising, cooking, readying themselves for sleep or in prayer and meditation.

In each of these ways you avoid enclosing the chosen word with your predictable understanding of it. Instead, you allow it to percolate and surprise you as your engagement with it reveals new insights and truths.

When I first embarked on this practice I wondered how steadfast a companion I would be to my chosen word. Like others, I have shared my word with a trusted friend or mentor, inviting them to hold me accountable to be present to how the word shapes my experience of choosing a new way to be.

The endless repetitions of old conversations and the negative energy that we unwittingly allow into our lives frequently derail the year long journey with the selected word. Awareness of these realities allows you to identify, name and detach from them in order to allow the spaciousness of life-giving energy to be present.

Appreciation and thankfulness are markers of the yearlong journey with your word. When you express daily or weekly gratitude for the insights of your word you begin to notice the seemingly small ways in which you embrace and make life-affirming choices.

Choosing a new way to be in the New Year with a specific word may not have the sweeping grandeur of a short-lived ephemeral resolution. It will be a choice of slowly revealed substance that deepens your appreciation of yourself and others.

It’s a choice I keep making with anticipation each year. As I prepare to greet my 2013 word – Awe – I expect it will be a source of surprise, renewal and new discoveries of how to be.
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Beyond Holiday Stress: Steps to Reclaim the Holiday Spirit

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post December 17, 2012

If you’re feeling a growing low-level anxiety about holiday stress, you are not alone! The season of joy, peace and goodwill can be reclaimed for you and your family with five intentional choices. The holidays do not have to be endured. Instead, they can be reclaimed by the choices you make!

Rethink family obligations. Like many families, Emily and Carlos have spent many Christmases on an endless shuttle with their kids, going from one family gathering to another. With both sets of their parents divorced and remarried, they felt obligated to attend four different events. After addressing the dread of this stressful routine and the crankiness it produced in their three children, they realized they had a choice. They’ve since chosen to alternate spending the holidays with two sets of parents each year. They have noticed that their choice has already relieved anxiety and stress in thinking about the holidays.

Reclaim joy! Explore possibilities for less stressful holiday experiences by expanding the season. Think about gathering friends and family for a tree-trimming party that might include an activity for children to make decorations for the tree. If your extended circle of family is scattered over the holidays because of travel, consider a January holiday party that has child-friendly games or activities. The spirit of joy is often best experienced when we do not try to cram it into one or two days!

Make a goodwill choice. Talk with your children about what the goodwill of the season means. Listen to their ideas about an act of goodwill that you can make as a family. One family volunteered at an animal rescue shelter because their 6-year-old daughter wanted animals to celebrate the holidays. Another volunteered as a family on a local river cleanup project because their 10-year-old son thought it would be a Christmas gift to the earth. A goodwill choice can become both a family experience and a teaching moment about the spirit of the holidays.

Celebrate peace. The holidays provide an opportunity to talk over the kitchen table about how you and your children think about the holiday theme of “peace on Earth.” The Hebrew understanding of peace — meaning the well-being of all — offers an entry point to conversation.

One 13-year-old expressed his concern about a classmate who was being bullied. He was looking for guidance on how to stop the bullying.

A 7-year-old said she wanted to ask her friends to bring cans of food to their Christmas party because people needed to be fed.

Inviting your family to think about peace and well-being offers the opportunity for unexpected answers from your children and the forging of a family commitment that lasts well beyond the holidays.

Expand your thinking about gifts. In this economy, many families are stressed about how to afford the multitude of gifts that they have been accustomed to buying in the past. For others, the sheer volume of gifts seems overwhelming and stress-producing. One couple has asked their family to join them in only having one wrapped gift for each child. Another has invited their family to buy gifts for only the children in the family. Others have created a holiday ritual of family gift-making, from cookies and jams to artwork. Instead of allowing gift pressure to derail and stress your holiday, creatively rethink how gift-giving can be appreciated and celebrated in new ways.

Any combination of these five steps can become part of a conscious, mindful choice to lower the stress level of the holidays for you, your children and your extended family. Instead of being a victim to holiday stress, choose a proactive path that allows you to enter their spirit and enjoyment!

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4 way to embrce and understand your spiritual-but-not-religious family members

This opinion piece first appeared on the FOX News website December 16, 2012

Across the country, parents and grandparents constantly ask me, “How do I deal with family members who don’t share my faith yet tell me that they’re spiritual (just not religious)?” I respond by telling them that holiday gatherings present an opportunity to engage and embrace them.

I often hear “My religious faith is so important to me that I don’t understand how people talk about being ‘spiritual.’” Or else they dismiss their kids or grandkids with, “Spiritual-but-not-religious just sounds like a cop-out; it’s wishy-washy to me.” Beneath such responses lie a gulf of misunderstanding that can be bridged.

The Pew Research Organization reveals that the “Nones” – those who self-identify as having no religious affiliation – now represent twenty percent of the population. For those under 30, it is thirty percent. Pew data consistently shows an upward curve in the number of people in the United States who are None. It is time to engage with them.

Among these 46 million Americans, two-thirds believe in God or a Higher Power, and half report that their spirituality is affected by a connection to nature and the earth. The Nones are shaped by their rejection of organized religion’s focus on what they describe as money, power, rules, and an over abundance of politics.

Engage and embrace them with simple steps that require two things of you: the capacity to listen attentively and remaining compassionate in your conversation. Rigid posturing or anything perceived as proselytizing will serve to only deepen the divide. Your authentic curiosity offers the possibility of new connection between you. Here are four practical steps to engage and embrace your family members:

1. Ask about a spiritual experience that has shaped their life. You are likely to hear about the importance of yoga or meditation, the experience of awe revealed in nature, or the search for leading a life in which spirituality and authenticity co-exist. The responses will reveal a life that has been expanded and transformed by participating in something bigger than them. Be willing to reflect on an experience from your own life that speaks to similar truth or revelation about your experiences of awe or a surprising experience that placed your life in the context of the sacred.

2. Engage in conversation about the importance of love and compassion. Avoid the language of religious dogma or rules unless you wish to end the conversation.

Many of the Nones view religious organizations as sidelining the central importance of compassion and love, ceding it to doctrinal purity or judgment. They place great importance on aligning acts and words about love and compassion. Most None’ are not looking for institutional based experiences but those that reveal a capacity to be generous, forgiving and responsiveness. As you talk with one another, allow yourself to be present to the conversation; in your attentiveness be willing to share your own stories of experiencing love and compassion.

3. Express your own doubts or questions about religion. Not because you intend to abandon your religion or faith but because doubt is a common shared human experience. Talking about your doubt reveals your authenticity and invites conversation. As you describe the new insights and faith practices that doubt has led you to a new landscape of connection becomes possible. Be prepared for your spiritual—but not religious — family member to draw on spiritual wisdom and practices from a variety of traditions. Be aware of how they might connect with a practice from your own religious faith.

4. Invite a conversation about how spiritual values shape your respective lives. Defensive rigidity will not enhance the conversation! The spiritual-but-not-religious, and particularly those under 35, tend to have close non-sexual friendships with persons of the opposite gender, friends from diverse religious, racial and cultural heritages and those of sexual orientations that differ from theirs.

Their spiritual values are typically inclusive and expansive. It is an enlivening way of being human to them. While they don’t necessarily expect you to fully embrace their spiritual values they will be drawn to your authentic stories of how you integrate your spiritual values with the choices you make.

In each of these four steps, be willing to engage in stories that have shaped or changed you; those that have presented an invitation to see beyond an assumed belief or view. In your stories and those of your family member a shared connecting ground will be discovered. Approach each conversation with curiosity and a willing to engage.

These four steps are usually not reserved for just one conversation, but are an opening to understanding and embracing one another. Beyond dismissing, judging or writing off the spiritual-but-not-religious each conversation will reveal a new appreciation for the depth and joy of your respective experiences of spirituality and religious faith.

In the spirit of the four steps a new tenderness, compassion and love will be discovered in your embrace of one another.

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This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post, December 3, 2012

Imagine Rachel Crow’s Mean Girls meeting the political bullies of American politics. The corrosive polarization and resulting disengagement that exists in America begs for leadership that rebuilds a civil civic conversation. Mean Girls offers some pointers for a path through the existing morass of the bully culture.

Bullies employ a variety of techniques to achieve their objective of getting what they want with scant regard for others. Spreading rumors or innuendo, diminishing another person or excluding another person are as common techniques of bullies as the more publicized physical and cyber-attacks on another.

Many reality shows create a psycho-social context in which bullying thrives. These bully shows that are part of our cultural landscape elevate bullying to an acceptable norm of behavior. When political, religious or other leaders engage in bully tactics the expected outcry is muted because bullying has become, according to experts, the most common form of violence in the United States.

Rachel Crow’s video Mean Girls has gone viral with 5 million views on YouTube for a reason. The video names the bullying culture experienced and promoted by young girls and offers some advice to end it. Our political leaders might each watch it for inspiration. It offers the wisdom that any hope of ending the bully culture lies in our hands through the choices that we make.

These lyrics from “Mean Girls” are a basic primer for anyone who wants political discourse and decision making to be elevated to a state of higher regard than it is now.

Do you want to know what I think? Our political discourse has scant regard for differing perspectives other than trying to eviscerate them. The aggressive bullying behavior of achieving your own ends for short term gain might win pyrrhic victories but it is no way to sustain a civil society.

Dignifying difference and attentive listening are useful counterpoints. The unprecedented levels of polarization in American life will shift only to the degree that we embrace the reality that a policy position we disagree with is not heinous because it is at odds with our own. It is in the bazaar of ideas that robust, opinionated discussion improves your thinking and argument.

Curiosity — whether intellectual, emotional or spiritual — and the capacity to listen attentively convey something at odds with the bully’s scant regard of another person. It is the awareness that we need one another in order to be human. When we are genuinely curious to know what others think the capacity for civil engagement expands exponentially.

I can’t believe I let it go so far. The girls in Rachel Crow’s video have a moment of realization. Instead of remaining silent, averting their eyes, ignoring the bullying or being passive they have a choice. Not unlike those who have been in an abusive or co-dependent relationship they have a realization that bullying is not and never should be the acceptable norm.

They choose a different normal. Embracing a new normal dethrones the bully from her or his self-created seat of power. The bully culture in our politics survives because we have chosen to allow their idolatrous thrones of shimmering glass to delude us. We have the choice to admit that we have let the bullies go too far.

Robert V. Taylor and USF Tampa students

Be Kind. Pairing political discourse with kindness might be an oxymoron to many. In Mean Girls young women hold their palms up into the air with the words “Be Kind” written on them as if offering a prayerful intention.

While many yearn for the political culture of bullying to be replaced with constructive engagement and legislative policy achievements surely it is not unrealistic to expect that a civility of kindness or goodness permeate the work? Beyond the demonizing, most leaders in public service entered their work with a desire to do good. Creating such a norm of behavior would be an exercise in leadership.

“Mean Girls” you no longer run my world. It is a declaration of taking responsibility and not ceding power to the bullies. Those who make their living by fomenting a culture of bullying may not appreciate this claiming of personal power and expectations about our civic life. The girls in the video do not care about ruffling the feathers of bullies. They have imagined a new normal and chosen a different path. We could do much worse than try to emulate them.

Mean Girls has gone viral because it identifies and names the bullying that we have allowed to upend our discourse and view of one another as Americans. A different future is possible in which leaders lead and the common good is celebrated in the midst of vibrant, fulsome debate. Mean Girls offers some pointers. The choice is in our hands.

How do you respond to bullying? Post your thoughts, comments and ideas below or directly on the Huffington Post link to this blog!

 

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