Taking Care of Each Other

My prayers and love go out to all of the folks whose lives have been impacted by the terrible fires in Northern and Southern California. Special prayers go out to families and friends of people who have perished in these fires. Times like this emphasize how much we need to care about each other and live every moment to the fullest—because we never know what’s around the corner.

Margie and I know what it’s like to have a home destroyed by fire: in 2007 we lost our house of 25 years in the Witch fire here in San Diego. We were out of town when it happened. When we were finally allowed back in our neighborhood, we walked down our driveway and our whole place looked like it had been cremated, including our cars. We were fortunate—although losing our house and all of our possessions was devastating, nobody got hurt.

Special praisings go out to the selfless firefighters who have come from all over to put their lives on the line as they battle the fires. Without them, the devastation could be so much worse. Many thanks as well to other courageous first responders including police and EMTs, as well as volunteers staffing the shelters that have been set up for displaced people, pets, and livestock. We are blessed to have these amazing servant leaders aiding our communities during this tough time.

Please take care of yourselves and those you love—and always keep your “I love yous” up to date!

Bounded Set Thinking vs. Centered Set Thinking

(This is the ninth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

In my last post I stated that business and government can’t solve all of America’s problems by themselves. Ideally, our leaders in Washington would involve every sector of society in problem solving. The three sectors encompass nine different domains:

  • The Public Sector, represented by government, military, and education
  • The Private Sector, represented by business, arts/entertainment, and media
  • The Social Sector, represented by the faith community, nonprofit organizations, and families

When Eric Swanson and Sam Williams were working on their book To Transform a City, they come across a very interesting philosophy about problem-solving relationships. Paul Hiebert from Fuller Seminary discovered in the 1970s that when people come together to solve a problem, they often have a “closed circle” philosophy, or what he called a Bounded Set. A bounded-set thinker asks the question, “Do you believe like I believe?”  This becomes a divisive question because it separates those who are in from those who are out, limiting people who are allowed to work on the problem to those who sign off on an agreed-upon belief.  Whether it’s political, religious, or some other type of personal conviction—unless you believe what we believe, you can’t work on the problem. This philosophy doesn’t work because it is exclusive, not inclusive. The weeding-out process continues, the circle keeps getting smaller, and the problem doesn’t get solved.

A more productive way to look at problem-solving relationships is an open philosophy Hiebert referred to as a Centered Set. A centered set has no boundary that defines who is in and who is out. The question that determines if you are part of the problem-solving group is, simply, “Do you care about what I care about?” This philosophy works because it is inclusive of all belief systems and focuses on the matter at hand: Are you concerned about the problem we want to focus on?

How would this work in Washington?  It would be the job of the president and the legislature to first identify the key problem areas that need to be focused on to help keep America prosperous and safe. Next, they would select key people from each of the nine domains, whether inside or outside their own ranks, who care about each of the areas selected. Each of these groups would work with other American citizens to develop strategies to solve each of the key problems or concern issues going forward.

The people working together could have all different kinds of personal convictions about things as long as they were all passionate about the key problem area they were working together on—whether it be the economy, homeland security, unemployment, affordable housing, balancing the budget, improving the educational system, or another important issue.

Identifying leaders from each of the domains to work on each problem highlights the fact that no one segment of the population can solve all of America’s problems. In fact, one of my favorite sayings is, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

A perfect example of someone who lived and breathed this philosophy was William Wilberforce, who helped stop slavery in England. It took twenty years. He traveled the country on horseback and got to know key leaders from all of the different domains. He didn’t care what they believed politically, religiously, or economically—all he asked the leaders was whether they agreed with him that slavery was wrong.  If they agreed, he would help them determine how they could influence important people within different segments of society and get them on the “stop slavery” bandwagon. This led to a number of people from diverse backgrounds coming together to put an end to slave trading and ultimately abolish slavery in their country altogether.

This is the type of process our government leaders need to put into action to deal with today’s pressing issues. Right now, Washington seems to be dominated by the bounded-set philosophy, where “you have to believe what I believe” to even begin to work together on a problem, let alone agree on a solution. So you have one big bounded-set group, the Democrats, at odds with another big bounded-set group, the Republicans.

The only way to get anywhere is through compromise. What makes this third secret for fixing Washington so powerful is that it focuses on sustained collective action by all segments of society.

Next time I’ll bring it all together with the fourth secret for fixing Washington, which involves a practice that’s near and dear to my heart:  servant leadership.

Season of Service

In San Diego we’re in the middle of a six-month “Season of Service” movement with businesses, civic agencies, and churches all pitching in with community volunteers to serve others. For years I’ve been dreaming about how we can make San Diego a servant leadership town – how in the near future people will come here and say, “What an amazing place to live—just look at the way government and business and education and neighborhoods interact – everyone seems to be out to serve each other and solve problems, not to be self serving.”

My larger dream is that leadership throughout the world will be composed of people who lead at a higher level and, in the process, serve first and lead second. That’s a really tall order, and I might sound like a dreamer. But read this wonderful quote from Harriet Tubman:

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.

Always remember, you have within you

the strength, the patience, and the passion

to reach for the stars to change the world.”

Why not? What do you want to do to change the world? Remember, you can do it by the moment-to-moment interactions with your family, your friends, your colleagues, and everyone you meet. What’s your dream for changing the world? Go ahead, be a dreamer!

The Golden Rule

I just heard a very interesting theory about the Golden Rule, which is in almost every faith–you know, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s about loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself. This theory was that you can’t really love your neighbor if you don’t love yourself. If you don’t feel positive about yourself, then it’s pretty hard for you to reach out and be positive to other people.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There was a story about a woman who journeyed for miles with her son to have an audience with Gandhi. She said, “Would you help my son? He eats too much sugar.” And Gandhi told her to come back in a week. She couldn’t quite understand that, but they trekked all the way home and came back the next week. They then sat with Gandhi and he told her son to stop eating so much sugar. She said, “Why couldn’t you have told him that a week ago?” And Gandhi said, “Because I was eating too much sugar myself at that time.”  Ha!

The other thing that’s really interesting is that if you feel good about yourself, it makes other people around you feel good. And if they feel good, they send those vibes back to you and they kind of multiply. Norman Vincent Peale said, “Every day you have a choice. You can feel good about yourself or you can feel lousy. Why would you want to choose the latter?”  If you feel good about yourself, then you’re able to reach out and help others. Helping others is about happiness. The more we reach out and help other people, the happier we get. In fact, most of the time helping other people makes you feel better than if you were doing something for yourself.

So take care of yourself. If you do that, then you can take care of other people. It all starts at home. Confucius said, “It’s self, family, neighborhood, state.” If you want to create a great nation, a great state, you’ve got to start with yourself. So when you’re discouraged, remember that the change we want to see in the world has to begin with ourselves. Be good to yourself.