Stop to smell the roses

jonny-smelling-rosesIn a banal setting and at an inconvenient time, would people pause to observe transcendent beauty?

That was the question the Washington Post sought to answer when it commissioned Joshua Bell, one of the foremost violin players of our generation, to play in a Washington subway station during morning rush hour.

Dressed in a nondescript manner – jeans, T-shirt, and baseball cap – Bell opened up his case, took out his violin – called the Gibson ex Huberman, handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari – and began to play magnificent music. He started with “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Some have called it the greatest piece of music ever written; others consider it one of the greatest achievements of any human, ever.

For 45 minutes, one of the greatest musicians alive, playing one of the greatest instruments ever made, played some of the greatest music ever written.

Did anyone stop to listen?

It was all videotaped on camera. Eleven hundred people walked by; seven stopped to listen; twenty-seven threw money into the open case for a total of $32.

The night before, Bell had sold-out Boston’s Symphony Hall where the cheapest seat goes for $100. He regularly earns $1,000 per minute for concerts.

What’s the lesson for us?

We need to slow down and “listen to the music” and “smell the roses.” At any given moment, we are surrounded by incredible expressions of the sacred and the sublime but we’ll miss out on the awe and wonder if we’re preoccupied with the mundane.

Question: When was the last time you experienced transcendence? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


What? – Often, we are so busy that we are unaware of that which is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and sacred.
So what? – As you journey through life, take the time to notice, appreciate and enjoy beauty and transcendence.
Now what? – Enjoy the awe and wonder.

To hear James Ehnes play J.S. Bach: Chaconne For Solo Violin, From Partita No. 2 In D Minor, click here.

Consider the position from which you’re complaining

toilet paperI was on a flight from San Diego to Dallas. I’m a million-miler with American Airlines so I usually request, and get, an aisle seat, but on this flight, I was sitting in the middle seat between two “architecturally enhanced” individuals.

Inwardly, I started to complain.

Then I remembered a thought I had read in Karl Albrecht’s book, Social Intelligence —“Think about the level you’re complaining from.”

This insightful and penetrating statement prompted me to reconsider my grumbling and adjust my attitude. My thought process included:

  • I’m traveling from San Diego to Dallas in less than three hours. A century ago, it would have taken a month or more by horseback. But I’m complaining.
  • I paid $320 for the round-trip ticket. But I’m complaining.
  • I’m inside one of mankind’s greatest inventions — the airplane. I’m traveling 562 miles an hour at 32,000 ft. altitude. But I’m complaining.
  • I just returned from a 7-day cruise. But I’m complaining.
  • I have a nice house to return to and I’m gainfully employed. But I’m complaining.

It didn’t take me long to jettison my bad attitude and embrace thoughts of gratitude and wonder.

Is it ever okay to complain or should we try to eradicate it from the earth?

My perspective is: We all have challenges and problems, and sometimes it helps to verbalize them. In fact, it can be cathartic. And that’s okay. But continuing to coddle complaints ad nauseam is unnecessary and is detrimental to you and your relationships. Undeterred, constant complaining will make you a grouch, and people will avoid you.

My advice to habitual complainers: “If you can’t be positive, at least be quiet.”

What? – We often complain too quickly and too much.
So what? – Excess complaining will sour our dispositions and repel people.
Now what? – Learn how to properly share your frustrations and then let them go.

Leaders – Do not tolerate a complaining culture. Give people the opportunity to vent legitimate frustrations, and properly respond to them, but make it clear that a systemic complaining environment will not be condoned.

Look at your lens

Contact_Lenses_Care_tipsWe must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as at the world we see, because the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world. —Stephen Covey

For better and for worse, we all have what psychologists call “personal constructs” —frames of mind through which we see ourselves and others. I’ll adopt Covey’s metaphor and call those constructs “lenses.” Our lenses act as both frames and cages: they add focus and definition to our view of the world but they can also be inordinately rigid and restrictive.

Early in life, our lenses were crafted by our family of origin and our local environment. In essence, we inherited our first set of glasses.

For instance, I was born into an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, conservative family who lived in the southwestern United States. I have a friend who was born in Mumbai into a Muslim family. Our lenses are different.

Our lenses influence major and minor areas of our lives:

  • Most of us worship the god of our fathers.
  • Most of us adopted the political ideology espoused by our family or local culture.
  • Items as trivial as the clothes we wear and our food preferences are influenced by our lenses.

Have you ever analyzed and critiqued the lenses through which you see the world? It is a healthy exercise. Doing so may,

  • Cause you to change
  • Solidify your perspective
  • Help you understand others
  • Encourage you to embrace diversity
  • Be an antidote for intellectual apathy

It is not for the faint of heart.

One of the best ways to expose our myopic view of life is to travel extensively. When we experience foreign cultures, we learn that our modus vivendi is just one of many and may not be the best.


What? – We all view the world through constructs, lenses. Often, they are limiting.
So what? – It is advantageous to study our own lenses and to consider how they influence our worldview.
Now what? – Identify and analyze your lenses. It may take years to do this. Also study the lenses of your closest friends.

Leaders – Internally: consider the lenses of individual team members; consider how your organization as a whole is affected by restrictive perspectives. Externally, consider the lenses of your clients, customers and other stakeholders.

Include these three phrases in your conversations

mfln5989_hiWe are reluctant to say them, but when spoken honestly and appropriately, three simple phrases can help maintain our personal integrity and sustain peace in relationships.

“I don’t know.”

Often, when we don’t know something, we make stuff up. When we don’t know the answer to a question, we attempt to answer it anyway. Instead, we should just say, “I don’t know.”

In his must-read-book, In The Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides writes that in the late 1800s no one knew what the North Pole was like because no one had ever been there. The most famous cartographer of the day was a German professor named August Petermann. He was, supposedly, the world’s foremost authority on world geography. The world wanted to know what the Arctic was like, so Petermann wrote, “It is a well-known fact that there exists to the north of the Siberian coast, and, at a comparatively short distance from it, a sea open at all seasons.” He firmly believed that when a team of explorers finally reached the North Pole, they would find a tropical environment, complete with palm trees and perhaps a new race of humans.

Huh? Why didn’t he just say, “I don’t know”?

When was the last time you said, “I don’t know.”? I admire people who use the phrase; I have little regard for people who should but don’t. There’s no shame in admitting that you simply don’t know.

“I made a mistake.”

When I hear someone say, “I made a mistake,” my admiration for that person escalates. My regard is diminished when there is stubborn refusal to admit the obvious. Politicians and leaders, in particular, are reluctant to admit mistakes, but it’s nearly impossible not to make mistakes when you’re leading aggressively and making a lot of decisions. To err is human.

Even when we do admit that a mistake was made, we have a hard time using the personal pronoun “I.” When Richard Nixon commented on Watergate, when Ronald Reagan talked about the Iran-Contra affair, and when Hillary Clinton spoke about Whitewater, they used the phrase, “Mistakes were made.” That doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head, does it?

Compare these responses to the most famous unsent message in history. General Eisenhower penned the following memo before the Normandy Invasion. Fortunately, it was never posted because the invasion was successful.

“Our landings…have failed..and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

When was the last time you said, “I made a mistake”?

“I was wrong; please forgive me.”

Only an infallible person can avoid saying this phrase, and you and I don’t qualify. Speaking this phrase doesn’t make you a bad person; it simply means that you messed up and want to make it right.

I once counseled a couple struggling in their marriage. In one of the sessions I asked the husband, “How long has it been since you’ve spoken these words to your wife: ‘I was wrong; please forgive me.’” Awkward silence ensued. At least he was honest when he replied, “Never.” They had been married 22 years.

I appealed to his logic: “What is the probability that in 22 years of marriage, you have never hurt or offended your wife?” Again, he was honest in saying, “The chances are slim.” Their homework assignment was rather obvious: identify ways in which you have hurt your spouse; admit it; and ask forgiveness.

When was the last time you said, “I was wrong; please forgive me.”?


What? – We are reluctant to speak these three phrases, but we should.
So what? – We gain credibility with our family and friends when we speak these phrases, when appropriate.
Now what? – When was the last time you spoke each of these phrases? In the coming weeks, find an appropriate time to speak each one.

Leaders – Leaders are often reluctant to use these phrases, thinking that doing so will diminish their standing among their followers. But just the opposite is true. Leaders actually lose credence when they should speak the phrases but do not, and gain respect when they do.