Parenting and Trust

One of the lessons I’ve tried to teach my kids is the importance of earning trust from others.

That keeping promises makes it more likely to be believed when making more promises. How a reputation of reliability opens up opportunities and privileges, and affords you second chances.

I’ve tried hard to be an example of what I preach, and I’d like to think I’ve been successful, as far as that goes.

But there’s also the kind of trust that allows one person to be vulnerable in front of someone else. To share problems and fears that would otherwise be private. A safe haven for expressing feelings out loud, without fear of being judged.

I’m not sure I’ve fully earned this version of trust with my kids, so I’m working on it. I want them to know that I’m on their side.

And I think they want to feel that way too.

Remembering Sonder

I now know there’s a tendency to magnify what’s happening in my personal reality, while overlooking what’s happening in someone else’s.

I now know it’s easy to misunderstand what’s really going on in someone’s life. There is so much that occurs beyond what I can perceive.

I now know that asking someone to share his or her perspective is one of the best things you can do for someone. Everyone wants to be understood a little bit better.

I have experienced sonder. It’s a feeling I try not to forget, because it’s a great starting point for connecting with others.

The Big Lead

What’s the upside of getting a big lead in sports?

The obvious answer is that you’re much closer to winning. But I like to think of the advantage as having a larger margin of error. When the score is close, the outcome could be determined by something random or unpredictable — an unfavorable bounce of the ball, untimely injury to a key player, or a referee’s questionable call. With a big lead, you’re less vulnerable to an unfortunate incident that costs you the game.

You can get a big lead in real life as well. Certain actions, when taken, build a buffer against the misfortunes that come your way.

My favorites:

These tactics are simple, effective, and available to everyone.

Scarcity and Value

Generally speaking, the harder something is to do, find, or have, the more it’s worth. That value is further pushed up by the people who care about it.

I’m constantly amazed how dramatically technology changes what’s scarce, and therefore what’s valuable. Two centuries ago, traveling 300 miles required fit horses, enduring the weather, and the better part of a week. Today, a tank of gas and less than a day is all you need to cover that same distance. Once upon a time, traveling to places hundreds of miles was rare. Now it’s not. Our perception of what’s valuable in terms of transportation has completely shifted.

What’s more, the rate at which life-altering technology emerges is accelerating. The first iPhone came out in 2007. In about 10 years, just about everyone has a smartphone. Connecting with people and media is no longer a challenge. These days what’s worthwhile is deciding who and what you pay attention to.

New technology requires us to learn. Not just the practical aspects of how to use it, but the impact on our lives. What used to be hard can be easy, but what used to be easy can also become hard. Trying to understand what’s rare at this moment, and the value that follows, is an analysis I find myself doing more and more often.

What Matters Most?

I love asking myself this question. Why?

  • Helps me figure out what to do next. I end up more productive and effective.
  • Keeps me mindful of what’s truly important, which leads to a healthier perspective.
  • Enables me to make better decisions by allocating resources where they’re needed.

I’m not perfect at this, not by a long shot. And of course answering the question correctly isn’t necessarily easy. But I do find that when I tend to do my best, it’s because I managed to focus on doing the right things.

Asking myself “What matters most?” is the start of that process.

Gentle Influence

If your intention is to correct bad behavior, you can choose to confront the offender.

The problem with this approach is that egos tend to get bruised. Calling someone out for doing something unacceptable can put that person on the defensive, and resistant to working with you. Now you’re faced with an additional (and sometimes huge) obstacle. That’s just what tends to happen with direct criticism.

Though I’m far from perfect, these days I’m trying to avoid delivering this kind of aggressive feedback. Even when I get the end-result I want, going through the process feels bad for everyone involved. I admire non-confrontational methods, such as the outlook captured by Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote:

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

In other words: a simple and powerful way to influence others is to live a life that’s consistent with your beliefs.

P.S. There are plenty of ideas out there for addressing perceived wrongdoers, while allowing them to save face. Here’s a clever one.

“It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good”

It’s a saying that always makes me think of the game of poker.

In poker, most people are simply happy when they win the pot. How they got to that point –specifically the decisions they made during the hand– are far less important.

But for the serious player, analyzing those choices is a key element of becoming better. Good decisions can sometimes lead to bad results (and bad decisions can sometimes lead to good results), but the probability of long-term success increases with smart play. Good poker players are always asking themselves: “Did I make a good decision based on the information I had?”

And that’s the problem with luck, whether we’re talking about poker or real life. It’s great to have things work out in your favor, but you have no control over the randomness of the moment. Being good, on the other hand, is largely driven by effort. Everyone can improve their skills if they try.

I wish the saying was “It’s better to be good than lucky.” I like that much better.

Benefit of the Doubt

Years ago, I bought a used minivan based on an Craigslist ad. The man who owned the car ran an auto repair shop, and assured me the vehicle was in great shape. I even took the car to a separate mechanic near him to have it checked out. I never bought something that expensive from a private party and I was nervous. I wanted to believe the seller was true to his word.

Turns out he wasn’t. The car was previously in a major accident, and numerous problems under the hood were masked by slick body work. I didn’t find out until months after completing the transaction.

Believing in someone and getting betrayed is painful. But so is not believing in someone and being exposed for a lack of faith.

Like many others who saw the video, I concluded the adult who apparently stole a baseball intended for a kid at a Cubs game was a major jerk. I was wrong about him. The bigger concern was what my assumption said about me.

Our realities are shaped by what each of us choose to believe. Seeing life as harsh and unfair has far more impact than actual facts. And the problem with being cynical is that you easily miss out on what’s good in this world.

I now realize giving someone the benefit of the doubt is not just a benefit for the other person, but for me as well.

Being Creative

I once read somewhere that if you create, you’re creative. I love that perspective.

Think of all the things you do in a day. Did you cook a meal, organize your living space or write an email? If so, you were creative. Each of us is capable of putting care and enthusiasm into the activity in front of us. We can follow our curiosity, be interesting, and entertain one more idea that happens to be different. Kids are creative to keep from being bored. Why can’t adults do the same?

Creativity is not just reserved for world-changing geniuses. It’s a practice of interjecting yourself into the process and experiencing joy at the same time.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not creative. It’s your choice.

Exposing Bad Behavior

Here are three separate disputes that recently made the news because of racist conduct.

Another similarity among the three? Each incident was captured by cellphone video and uploaded online which led to massive news coverage.

Using cellphones to record and expose bad behavior seems commonplace these days, and I’m wondering about its impact on public accountability.

Ultimately, I suspect not much will change on the front-end. People tend to think they’re right during a conflict. They’re probably not worried about the long-range consequences of being recorded. They’ll do what they’ll do.

The big change may be having more regret on the back-end, once their actions are judged and immortalized on the internet.