Monday, May 17, 2010

May 16 - Diversity

I have enjoyed a new experience in recent weeks. I was asked sometime ago to serve as a consultant to a congregation mired in some difficulties. This group is quite different from the ecclesiastical "niche" I have lived in and been most comfortable with for several decades. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. The terminology is unique and I have had to learn a new vocabulary in some respects. Instead of "elders" it is "vestry". Instead of "pastor" it is "rector". Instead of board chair it is "head warden". The traditions are different too.

But, after that the differences soon end. What I have learned is that the leaders of this congregation are basically just like leaders in other churches. They have similar desires and aspirations. They use different forms and terms but they seek to worship the same God we all love. They look to Christ as the only Hope for salvation and for an eternity with God. And, I have learned they too have been impacted by the Fall. I am not referring here to a season of the year. I am speaking about human depravity. That is after all why they hired me in the first place. They were having trouble getting along. Is that unique? Hardly! Conflict and strife, misunderstandings and hurt feelings, are universal in all churches.

I must say that the work I have been doing for a number of years now involving various faith traditions has been among the most enjoyable of my entire life. Besides the church work I refer to above, in the last several weeks I have interviewed missionary candidates from several Latin American countries. In one case I needed an interpreter because my Spanish is not good enough for the work of assessments I do for missions. It has been a tremendous experience to interact with people who are so diverse. I am happy to say that I number among my friends today, people from all sorts of church backgrounds and traditions. I am learning more about what the body of Christ really looks like. It feels like my world has become much larger! I have learned to laugh with my friends about our differences instead of fighting with them.

I have written before about the beauty of diversity. God must like it too because He created all of us with uniqueness. Nowhere else on earth is there someone exactly like me! Good thing don't you think? But seriously, I believe differences ought to be celebrated and appreciated. Up to a point of course! Ultimately there needs to be common ground when it comes to our belief system. Not for a minute am I suggesting that we all can just believe what we wish or what our culture has taught us. No, I do not believe that at all. I believe in the one faith, historically delivered to the saints!

However, I think many people are just like I once was. They move in one faith tradition and rarely have much meaningful interaction with those who approach things from another perspective. In truth, I wonder if we sometimes are a little afraid of other expressions of worship and teaching. There is often suspicion, competition, ridicule, perhaps contempt, and even outright rejection of those who celebrate their faith in different ways. Maybe the worst of all my concerns is that we sometimes develop a kind of smugness where we believe we have a corner on the truth and that we are better than those ...............!

We dare not generalize and say that all Baptists, (Methodists, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, etc etc) all believe this or that! It is a very dangerous thing to place groups into predefined boxes. Within every group there is variety. There are those who are quite conservative on some issues and more liberal on others.

We ought to celebrate our common ground in Jesus and His provision of salvation by His grace and our faith response to it. When opportunities arise to explore our different viewpoints and practices let us do so but always with humility and charity towards others. Let us always approach others with an open, outstretched hand and never with a closed, clenched fist. On some issues the other guy may be more right than you are.

I am off to my next diversity challenge. I am assisting a young pastor in an independent church prepare for ordination. He has written a paper that I suspect about which some members of his ordination council will take issue. My job is to moderate this council. It should be interesting! I am really looking forward to it.

Have a great week thinking about the diversity of the Body!

By His Grace,


Friday, May 1, 2009

Humility and how I attained it!!

We all have heard this line haven't we? It's the name of the book many have said they have written.

Humility is a fascinating theme. It is said that if you think you have achieved a measure of It --- that in itself is a sure sign that you have not! Our culture is very much an entitlement-minded kind of world. My daughter, who works at a university, believes that the sense of entitlement exhibited by students seems to be rising with each year's incoming class of new students. Older adults seem to think the same. We seem to think someone owes us something. It is the very opposite of humility.

I am reading a fascinating book by Tony Dungy, the former NFL coach, entitled Uncommon. The book answers the question, what does it take to live a life of significance? One of the chapters is about humility and stewardship. Dungy talks about the fine line between confidence and pride. Pride is all about me. Confidence as Dungy sees it, is not about me but about using gifts and abilities I have been blessed with to their fullest. It is also about using these gifts and abilities to help my team and impact others.

Years ago Lee Iococca wrote about a similar concept but approached the topic in terms of ego. In his mind a strong ego is a sign of a healthy, confident, well-adjusted individual. A person with a big ego on the other hand is one who is full of himself/herself. A strong ego is essential to live well. A big ego irritates others and repels them from us.

People who express their anger at the government these days do not do so primarily from a partisan standpoint. They are venting their anger because they believe that those elected to serve them, have somehow lost their way. Politicians have become obsessed with power and control. Servant leadership, although a popular buzz word, is an endangered species in political capitols. Humility and politics may seem almost an oxymoron to many of us.

How do people view you? I am not asking you whether you think you are a humble person. How can we answer that one about ourselves? The more important question is, do others think of you as humble? Consider some interesting comments and perspectives on humility written by men and women over the years.

To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness. Benjamin Franklin

Humility is like underwear; essential, but indecent if it shows.
Helen Nielson

The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more
energy you will have. Norman V. Peale

Our best thoughts come from others.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like Emerson's quote. When I was in graduate school one professor often warned us about originality. He maintained that if we thought we had an idea that no one ever had thought of before, we would likely be wrong.

Humility is the foundation of all other virtues, hence in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot any other virtue except in mere appearance. St. Augustine

Wear your learning like a watch, in a private pocket, and do not pull it out
and strike it merely to show that you have one. Lord Chesterfield

I used to smile when friends earned doctoral degrees. Almost immediately, many ordered new check books and business cards to be sure that the title "Dr." appeared before their name. Others never let their academic accomplishments go to their heads.

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. Thomas Merton It is always the secure who are humble. Gilbert Chesterton I like this one too. It is good to live life with nothing to prove. When science discovers the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to find they are not it. Bernard Baily

It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.

Lord, where we are wrong, make us willing to change, where we are right,
make us easy to live with. Peter Marshall

He who is in love with himself will have no rivals.

Humble people are delightful to be around. Humble people are successful in life and in business. Want to have a conversation about humility? I invite you to contact me at

Dr. Rick Penner
Copyright May 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009


This is an age-old dilemma. How many of us have a secret longing to throw the dice, go for it all, take a chance, but, ... we never do so because we are afraid to take the risk?

In the course of my work I encounter many such people. What might your life be like if you really went out on a limb, trusted your intuition and took some chances? Over the years, I have had imaginary conversations with God that take place when I am an old man (decades into the future of course). God says to me, "Son, let me show you what your life WOULD have been like, if you had really trusted me and been willing to take a risk, step out, or whatever." Then as God describes that scenario I wonder how close to that potential I am really living. It inspires me and gives me the "kick" to get out and continue to dream and cast visions.

I like to read inspiring biographies. Men and women who took risks, overcame great obstacles and remained persistent in their pursuit of a dream or a passion, move me deeply. Sam Walton inspires me. Kelly Fitzgerald, in writing about him begins by saying, "Sam Walton was a man who took chances, never said never, and kept on fighting the odds! "

We all know the rest of the story. With $5000 he had saved and $20,000 borrowed from his banker, rancher father-in-law, Walton purchased his first store and the rest is history. Well not really... Walton did not always achieve great successes. The landlord who owned the first building used by Walton charged an unreasonable amount of rent and refused to renew the lease when it came up. A few of Walton's endeavors did not result in profits and successes. But he learned as he went along and never gave up.

I work with several people currently who are by their nature artists and creative dreamer types of individuals. The "normal" 9 to 5 routine is not for them. They have tried that and while it paid their bills, it was not satisfying. There was something inside that was waiting to come out. There was a certain kind of spirit that wished to spread its wings and soar. But that is so risky. Imagine ending a job that pays a regular salary and hoping that writing, creating music, painting, developing a new business, etc will be sufficient to pay bills and hopefully a little more!

I know it is easy for me to sit on the sidelines and encourage others to "take the plunge." But, I believe I know at least something of what this is about. After 30 years in one area of work, I made a rather drastic change. It was terrifying at first. I thought (wrongly) that I had no other skills to offer. I only was trained for one thing. Now that some years have gone by I can say honestly that I feel fulfilled, content, and amazed at how good life is.

Please consider a few thoughts that have been useful to me:

1. Don't wait until you are 85 to make a change. Go for it! If something in your spirit is making you restless, if there is a powerful curiosity about a way of life you have always admired but thought could never be yours, then go for it! Today's missed opportunity could be tomorrow's regret! I know many such people who now say, "IF only...!" Act today, so you will never have to say "if only..."

2. We must think outside of the box! This expression is becoming a cliche but it is profoundly true. We become blinded to what exists outside our world. My sense is that the more trained or educated we become, the narrower our world becomes. A liberal education should not have this effect but it does. I have served on university boards and have contact with people who are very well educated and highly proficient in their area of expertise or business. But herein also lies a problem: that area of expertise can become very narrow. We live in a big beautiful world. There is so much out there. To begin to think about new paradigms and new "boxes" I suggest:
a. Take time to dream about what you might find interesting. Make lists.
b. Read more broadly. Research the internet.
c. Seek out people who live in very different worlds and ask them questions. Be a learner.
d. Travel outside your country.
e. Try new hobbies.

3. Redefine failure. This has been difficult for me and has kept me from taking risks. I wanted to be certain of the outcome before I would venture forth. I am coming to understand that failure is being knocked down once more than we are willing to lift ourselves up. You can fall 6 times but you are not a failure unless you only get up 5 times. I am learning to truly believe this. Most every great man or woman in business, politics, athletics, church life, education, and so on, will acknowledge a time or time of misery and setbacks. Instead of allowing these setbacks to paralyze and intimidate, they rose above them and learned from them to press over onward.

4. Talk to people who work with career adjustments and transitions. You will find this very valuable. I found great encouragement and learned that there are transferable skills and life experiences that can be very helpful and applicable in new situations.

5. Spend a good deal of time figuring out how your skill sets or experiences can be applied in other areas of life. For example, a good friend was forced to retire from missionary work due to failing health. Upon returning to his home country he discovered that his church was not overly impressed with his credentials (even though they were considerable). He was quite discouraged and struggled for some time. One day he felt useful and was fully engaged and the next he felt like he had been tossed on the scrap heap. After some time he talked with people in a local community college and within a short time he was teaching courses on comparative religions and other subjects. He had discovered a new outlet, outside of his old box, that enabled him to utilize his academic and pedagogical skills. He became once more a happy man.

6. Start small. Take baby steps, then walk and then learn to run. Stepping away from comfort is scary. Don't pack up the family and move to another continent next week. That could be disastrous. Begin by reflecting and meditating. In an ideal world what would you like to be doing? If money were no object at all, what would you be doing? For what would you leap out of bed each morning? As your list develops begin by tackling some of the items you describe.

Recently I had a conversation with a man aged 57. He said he was trying to "hang on" for 7 more years so he could retire. "In all honesty", he said, "if I could I would quit tomorrow!" My friend is just existing. This is so sad to me. Those 7 years may be the longest years of his life. He is beginning to probe some other paths and courses of action that he might pursue.

Now I realize going from the comfort zone to something new may seem like jumping off a cliff. Perhaps it is even worse. When we jump off a cliff we can usually see the bottom. In what I am advocating, it may not be possible to know what the "bottom" looks like. Perhaps it will be shark-infested waters. We may not know. It is terrifying. But what if you never try? Then you will never know for sure. Your jump could take you to a place where your life long dreams, aspirations and desires are at last in congruity with how you spend your day. Life does not get better than that.

Obviously we must be prudent and thoughtful. We must count the cost and make good preparations to minimize the risks. I realize that and would never advocate fool hardy moves from one career to another or from one job to a vague, murky promise of an income. There is a fine line between brilliant risk-taking and stupidity!!

My purpose is to push you a little! Do not wait until it is too late to do the things you have always dreamed of doing and seeing the places you have always dreamed of seeing!

Do not allow the words "IF ONLY" to characterize you in your old age. You can still do something about your life today! You may not be able to tomorrow. Go for it!!

Want to chat about this? I would be delighted to listen to your dreams and aspirations and also your fears and trepidations. You can contact me at

Dr. Rick Penner
Copyright February 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Devil is in the details!
(Read the Fine Print!)

So where does this expression come from? Apparently it started out as "God is in the details!" We could say these expressions reflect opposite results of the same phenomena. If God is in the details then we think of opportunities for creativity and growth that result from exploring the details about something. If the devil is in the details, the suggestion is that details of a project can result in failure and ruin.

Today, we tend to hear more often that the devil is in the details. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) is alleged by some to have coined the phrase. Certainly he is one who often quoted it. Mies was an architect. Another architect sometimes regarded as the "inventor" of the phrase is Le Corbusier. These two, along with Frank Lloyd Wright, are known as the paternal triumverate of 20th Century architecture, and it is easy to see that an architect would see the value of details. One of the sayings of Mies that I enjoy particularly is "Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together." There it begins. I suppose the emphasis for Mies would be on "carefully."

"The devil is in the details" can be understood in various ways:

1. Even the grandest project depends on the success of its smallest component.
2. Even the smallest details can cause failure.
3. However well intentioned a project or idea, bad and unexpected things will inevitably come up that will destroy the original idea.
4. Whatever we do should be done thoroughly. Details are important.
5. Solutions break down when they are examined closely.
6. The hard part of what we do is in the many small details.
7. Overlooking small things now will cause problems later on.

All are really variations of the same theme. My purpose today is to make the point that details are critical to our success. Ignoring, glossing over, or minimizing details can cost us dearly in the end. Recently a friend of mine had problems with his car. He took it to a dealer's service department and was given the bad news that he would need either a head gasket repair or an entirely new engine. He wisely took his car to another shop. There the technician discovered that the spark plugs were still the original ones and that style in particular was hard to remove and was thoroughly fouled up. New spark plugs took care of the problem. Small details? Sure! In this case finding the details saved my friend thousands of dollars.

In industry, in politics, and in every area of life, details can kill us. Politicians campaign in lofty, convincing, and glowing language about the changes they will bring. Does anyone stop to ask for the details? Not usually. Legislators pass bills that they assume their staff have read but that they personally know little about. Credit card companies try to entice us with attractive offers that appeal to the unsuspecting. The fine print often reveals extremely high interest rates that become effective 6 months or a year AFTER the person has acquired the card. I found the internet filled with dozens of articles and blogs about the "devil is in the details." Topics range from environmental and climate issues, anti-virus technology, the building of sports complexes and who pays for them, economic issues, and on and on.

What about your business or career? Are you being hurt because details are ignored? Do you have someone with a sharp eye and sharp pencil who goes over the fine print for you or with you? Is your staff free to ask questions or raise concerns?

Some ideas that I find helpful are:

1. Make sure your work "culture" allows for free and easy exchange of information. There are workplace environments where the staff does not dare to raise questions or express opinions. We all have blind spots. Visionaries, take-charge leaders, and entrepreneurs often overlook or regard as irritants, these small details of a project. You need someone who knows how to ask questions and who has the freedom to do so. Such people, while they may seem to slow down our progress and appear to be negative minded, can really be worth their weight in gold. The LIFO® Survey instrument which I often use, is especially adept at discovering whether these dynamics are present on a staff or board. It is not natural for certain types of leaders to seek out the counsel of those we sometimes call the "bean counters," but not to do so is to invite peril and potential loss.

2. It is not enough to highlight a new business plan, a new vision, or a resolution for the new year for that matter, by articulating a few "bullet" statements in a memo. Without details your vision will result in confusion. You need a script. You will need to provide a setting for your staff to hear your ideas and to interact with them, ask questions, challenge them, and thus come to own them as you do.

3. Take a look at job descriptions. Are the roles clearly defined? Do the people know to whom they are to report? As conditions change, are job descriptions and policies changed to fit the new paradigms? I find sometimes in working with groups that there are many assumptions and expectations that are not supported by documentation. This will ultimately lead to problems

4. Always read the fine print! In the computer world, we are getting accustomed to simply hitting the "I agree to the terms and conditions" icon without ever reading what the terms and conditions are. What exactly are you agreeing to?

I think this statement by the late Edward R Murrow applies to what I am writing about.
"The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem of what to say and how to say it."

Another saying that may be even more to the point is the line often quoted by former President Ronald Reagan. In regard to matters like nuclear disarmament and honoring of international treaties he insisted that, we should "trust but verify!"

Have you "been burned" by ignoring the fine print? Perhaps you are about to be hurt that way. Did you move quickly to a new project or venture before all the details were really known to you? Want to talk about it? You can reach me at or you can use the contact part of my website.

Dr. Rick Penner
Copyright January 2009

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Got worries? Anxious about anything?

Is the sky blue? ----- Of course we worry!

In recent months there has been great cause for worry. Pensions are shrinking. Jobs are disappearing. Real estate values are declining. The problem is not isolated; it exists in most of the economically developed world today.

So what is a person to do about worry, anxiety, stress and uncertainty? Somehow a flippant, "Don't worry, it will all work out!" just does not seem to cut it.

Let me offer some suggestions that work for me. First, let's define worry. The dictionary says worry is an emotion of concern or anxiety about a real or perceived issue. It can be personal and involve health, finances, job situations, relationships, change and so on. It can also be corporate and involve the fear of wars, collapsed economies, or environmental threats.

We need to bear in mind that some worry is positive and good. Worry can help us avoid risky behaviour. A fear of developing lung cancer can help a person stop or never start smoking cigarettes. Worry also forces people to take precautions. Buying life insurance or properly insuring one's possessions is a good by-product of worry about loss of life or property.

Worry is a problem when it becomes chronic or toxic. It is believed that one in four persons have chronic kinds of worry issues. This type of worry can lead to physical ailments like ulcers, high blood pressure, asthma, and skin disorders. It can also result in a host of emotional and psychological or behavioral problems like excessive drinking, withdrawal and depression.

Here are some light-hearted as well as more thoughtful ideas on worry by a variety of people in the past:

"I’ve seen many troubles in my time, only half of which ever came true."
Mark Twain

"Worry is interest paid on trouble before it is due."
William R. Inge

"What were you worried about this time last year?
Can't remember?"

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia."
Charles Schultz

Some of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of grief you endured
From the evil which never arrived.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind.
If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.

Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?
And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,
yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?
You of little faith! -- Jesus

Consider the following recommendations to minimize debilitating worry.

1. Make a plan. You cannot wring your hands and roll up your sleeves simultaneously. Talk to people. Research things on the internet. When everything looks hopeless it is great to take pen and paper (or PDA) and begin to list steps and solutions. They do exist. Just last week I met with a man who saw no way out of a financial crisis because his job was terminated. After some discussion he discovered four possible steps he could take that would help him. Even I was surprised. I once worked with a man who had terrible personal debt. He was already elderly so his earning days were short. By following a carefully worked out plan he was debt free in 3 years. It was painful at times but it was incredibly rewarding and freeing for him as well as for his family. I recall very clearly the day he reported to me that his debts had vanished. He was ecstatic. His life was hopeless and self defeating until he developed a plan. Someone once said that action is worry's worst enemy!

2. Do the obvious.
Eating properly, getting sleep, and exercising, are all very important to maintain a proper perspective about life.

3. Maintain contact with other people. It is easy to withdraw and become reclusive. Do not do that. Human contact is tremendously therapeutic. A pat on the back, or better yet, a hug is very important. Never worry alone. Talk things over with others. Men especially, have a tendency to "Zip up" and not admit their fears and worries. You will be surprised how helpful it is to verbalize your fears to someone else. My elderly friend who got out of debt with a plan, would not have succeeded without the help of caring friends. His situation was so serious that he agreed to have a friend co sign every check he ever wrote just to make sure he would not become irresponsible in spending money. This is an extreme example but in this instance the situation was serious.

4. Get the facts. A lot of worry is imagined. Much of what we worry about never happens. The storms are not nearly as bad as we expect. I have found it quite informative to study the history of prior economic downturns, recessions, and depressions. We all know about the crash of 1929. Learn about earlier banking crises in 1893 for example. How were they resolved? Learning the history of modern banking is fascinating and provides perspective.

5. Change the scenery. Sometimes dropping everything and playing a round of golf, taking a walk, splitting wood, or jogging, can clear the mind and bring things into perspective and focus.

6. Help someone else. I can assure you that it is always possible to find someone in as bad or worse conditions than the ones you live in. There are people around who deeply and genuinely hurt. Buy them a lunch or take them some groceries. Share an activity with them. Your worries will diminish.

7. Get perspective. Resign as general manager of the universe! Take care of the things you must take care of and let others take care of the rest. I like the Serenity Prayer used in 12 step groups for this reason.

8. Consider a spirtual dimension to your life. Consider the words of Jesus I quoted above. This approach to life was helpful to Henry Ford who said, "I believe God is managing affairs and that He doesn't need any advice from me. With God in charge, I believe everything will work out for the best in the end. So what is there to worry about?"

It is not my intent to trivialize very serious concerns and fears that you may have. You may wish to see a physician if you are experiencing physical ailments or difficulties. Please do so! For many people, worry is not destroying health but it is robbing them of enjoying life.

Want to talk more? I would love to hear from you. I can be reached by email at or you can use the contact part of my website.

Dr. Rick Penner
Copyright, December, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Liar, Liar pants on fire!!!

Just where this line (the rest of it continues, "hang them up on telephone wires") comes from is not known. Most probably some parent used the line to impress on a youngster the importance of telling the truth! Gordon Korman subsequently wrote a children's book using the lines for his title.

I want to share some thoughts with you today about truth, truth telling, lies, and trust. I believe it is very basic to competent functioning in business, in social relationships, in families-- and in every other relationship in which we find ourselves.

Famous people have said interesting things about the subject. Here are some samples:

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. Henry David Thoreau

This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. William Shakespeare

Pretty much all the honest truth telling there is in the world is done by children. Oliver Wendell Holmes

To be trusted is a greater complement than to be loved. George Macdonald

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. Winston Churchill

A lie has journeyed half way around the world, before truth has put its pants on. Winston Churchill

If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything. Mark Twain

Truth is not only violated by falsehood. It may be outraged by silence. Henri-Frederic Amiel

Lying is an unavoidable part of human nature. Source unknown

So, how does all this work for you or me in everyday life?

What is a lie anyway? One definition suggests it is a statement which is untrue and which is designed to deceive, avoid punishment, or protect someone's feelings. There are many kinds of lies. A bold-faced lie is a statement that obviously is untrue. Everyone knows it. A white lie, on the otherhand, is a small lie that many feel is justified by circumstances and is harmless. Perjury is a lie in a legal context when a person is under oath to speak the truth. This kind of lying is generally considered very serious. Lies to children are quite acceptable. These have to do with storks, Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, and so on. Lies can also be statements we simply omit to make. They are kind of half truths (or half lies). What we say is not untrue but there is more to the story than we wish to reveal. This too is deception. Other synonyms for lying include "bluffing", "misleading", and "exagerrating". In times of war lying is common. Machiavelli advised the Prince, "Never attempt to win by force what can be won by fraud!"

For our purposes here, I want to raise two issues about lies and truth telling.

The first has to do with lying and trust. Trust is a foundation for good relationships. Lying breaks trust. If I am not sure your word is good, or if what you say can be relied upon, I will hold you at a distance. I will evaluate carefully. I may take you seriously, or I may not. I will never be quite sure how to regard what you say to me. It used to be that a man's word was all that was needed to seal a deal. Years ago I once borrowed over $100,000 from a friend to build a house. We just shook hands. Yes, I paid it back; with interest even. Lawyers today would say that was really foolish and very risky. Our society is about protecting ourselves from unscrupulous and lying people. I really was struck by Macdonald's statement above that to be trusted is a greater complement than to be loved. Do people trust me? Do they trust you? Building and maintaining trust is a huge issue in life and tragic is the situation where trust does not exist or where it has been broken by a lie.

The second concept about lying I wish to raise concerns the matter of withholding truth. How much ought we to say to people? In medicine for example, should a physician tell all to a patient diagnosed with fatal cancer or Alzheimer's disease? In a survey taken in 1961, only 10% of medical doctors agreed that a patient should be told the details of a fatal disease. By 1979 the number jumped dramatically to 97%. Surveys and studies have shown that persons facing a life ending prognosis prefer to be told the truth about their condition. Shakespeare wrote that the miserable have no other medicine; but only hope! How does one balance telling the truth with offering hope? It is a difficult challenge.

I see this dilemma manifesting itself in other ways in society. We are very careful not to judge others (at least not to their faces- to others we condemn and judge all the time). Destructive life styles and practices, bad eating patterns, habits, etc., go unchallenged for fear of offending or hurting others. It is a little like the story of two fishermen fishing from their boat near a bridge. As they sat for hours (the fish were not biting evidently just as happens when I fish), they noticed that pieces were breaking loose from the bridge as vehicles rumbled over it. Whenever a large truck crossed the bridge, even larger pieces fell into the river below. One day an entire span fell to the water. One fisherman said to the other, "What should we do?" The other replied, "Lets build a hospital!" Would not running to the road, waving the arms and issuing a warning to motorists have been more appropriate? I think so.

What I am touching on here is really an aspect of accountability.
It is about being our brother's keepers. The more men and women rise in their careers, the less likely it is that they will have people in their circle who will tell them the truth. I am someone who has been there and I am convinced I know what I am writing about. I would urge you to find a peer you can trust, and begin slowly to "let your hair down" about your life, your thoughts, your goals, your concerns, your fears, your temptations, your failures, and so on. This is risky and dangerous business. Not doing so could be more dangerous and riskier still! Look carefully before you confide in someone. But when you do you will be tremendously rewarded. My guess is that when you find the courage to broach this subject with someone, that person will say that he or she too, has been hoping to find someone to relate to on this level. You will not feel so alone anymore. You will know there is someone whom you can call for advice or encouragement and counsel.

Want to talk about it? Need help in finding a person to develop accountability? Want to discuss your fears about doing so? I would be delighted to hear from you. I can be reached by email at or you can use the contact part of my website.

Dr. Rick Penner
Copyright, November, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Ever feel inadequate or ill-equipped to handle difficult situations? Do you wish you had more training or skills to deal with personnel, with conflict, with strategic planning, or with crises?

We all do at times!

Let me encourage you today and help you see that you probably possess more skills and experience than you may think as you wrestle with the challenges that come along your way each day.

When I was in graduate school years ago I worked with a pastor/therapist friend. He often said to me that I would be capable of working with 60% of his clients even though I was young, relatively untrained, and unsure of myself. His theory was that people whose lives are basically "together" already have a huge advantage over those who do not. Now this is not to disparage professional counselors and therapists. I currently chair the board that oversees a counseling center employing more than a dozen professionally trained therapists. Their training is extremely important and should never be minimized. It is saying however, that we tend to overestimate the place of formal training and downplay what one person can bring to another simply by listening, showing empathy, and on occasion even offering helpful advice.

This is the principle I have in mind today. I conduct seminars for people in Human Resources and care-giving kinds of work. We often tell them that who they are is what people will get. Also, in conflict management seminars I tell people that one of the most important assets a conflict mediator or manager brings to a stressful situation is who he or she really is. I am all for training and for professional development. Take advantage of worthwhile venues to sharpen your skills and enhance your knowledge. But, at the same time, do not sell yourself short. Here are a few basics that can be powerful as we deal with one another.

1. Integrity. Be a straight shooter! What would people say about you in this area? Can your word be trusted? Do you keep confidences? Do you say the same thing from day to day or do your stories change depending on the audience you are speaking to? Are you guided by a core value that values truth? Do people know where you stand on issues?

2. Serenity. Calm in the midst of a storm is powerful. Remember the quaint story about the young boy on a turbulent flight? When asked why he remained so calm when the aircraft he was in, was bouncing and shaking in the unstable air, he simply replied, "My father is the pilot!" In a time of conflict or turbulence your own serenity and calmness can be very powerful in reassuring and comforting others. I have often noticed this when relationships are in turmoil. I find it interesting to observe the correlation between heated arguments and hope for resolutions. Each go in opposite directions. As the decibel levels in an argument go up, common sense and sanity tends to diminish. A calming voice can do wonders at such times. Little wonder that Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer" has been so powerful among the armed forces, in 12 step groups, and so on.

3. Optimism. People in stressful situations or in conflict soon see their situations as hopeless. If left unchecked they will soon despair and see no possibility for a good resolution. You as a third party or even as one of the "combatants" can have a powerful influence if you bring a positive and optimistic spirit. People gravitate towards those who have a cheery, positive view on life. Persons whose cups are always half empty do not inspire or motivate others well. I am not suggesting you live in a dream world or that we should ignore realities. But, one can always find something good to celebrate. A Holocaust survivor was grateful for lice in the concentration camps because it kept the vicious Nazi guards away from their barracks.

4. Grace. A person who is gracious is a tremendous asset in any relationship. To be gracious is to be pleasant, agreeable, courteous, affable, tactful, cordial,sociable, and warm. The opposite of a gracious person is one who is argumentative, opinionated, stubborn, crude, cold, tactless, mean spirited, and obnoxious. All of these words speak for themselves and each connotes a certain kind of picture in our minds when we hear them.

5. Generosity. A friend of mine used to say that he tried to live life with his hands metaphorically open and facing outward. He maintained that if he turned his hands downward as if to represent hoarding and protection, his assets tended to slip through the fingers. I think he was right. There is something incredibly freeing about giving to others. Not only do we improve the lot of those with whom we share our generosity, we also enhance the quality of our own lives and have the satisfaction of knowing that we have not lived selfishly.

The wisdom literature in the Bible touches on many of these concepts. Here is a sample:

Do not let kindness and truth leave you.... Proverbs 3:3
Hatred stirrs up strife, but love covers all transgressions. Proverbs 10:12
There is one who scatters, yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, but it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous. Proverbs 11:24-25.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
A soothing tongue is a tree of life. Proverbs 15:4
A joyful heart makes a cheerful face. Proverbs 15:15
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Proverbs 25:11

Do not underestimate yourself! Basic decencies and courtesies and common sense will go a long way in the world in which you live. Be courageous when your instincts tell you it is time to speak up or take action. Trust your intuition more!

Want to chat about this? You can reach me at I would be delighted to hear from you. Remember, a life coach does not teach you how to ride a bike but he will run alongside you as you ride yours! I would be honored to run along by your side for a while and perhaps it would help you ride better and faster. Hopefully it will also make the ride more enjoyable!

Dr Rick Penner
Copyright, Oct. 2008