Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How to “See the Best” in People: The Hard Way

By Anna Bethea
UUCT Director of Religious Exploration

I’ve heard often that I see the best in people.  Maybe you’ve been told the same, or know someone who fits this common description.  I think it’s a nice compliment, but it’s never felt quite right to me.  One reason is that this trait is often associated with being more prone to getting hoodwinked by others and having a general sense of naivety. 

I  admit that, at times, I can be quite carefree and gullible.  But in important matters, I feel confident in my intelligence to weigh risks and make wise choices.  In short, I don’t like being dismissed for seeing through rose-colored lenses or for having Pollyanna thoughts.
However, the biggest reason this attribution doesn’t sit right with me is that I think I probably have just as many judgmental and unkind thoughts about others as the next person.

At the risk of exposing myself as insensitive, I admit:  I often wonder why people are so lazy, stupid, or can’t get their act together.  I make assumptions about others before I know the whole story.  I have, at times, even held myself above others and felt that I’m better than them.  These are not consistent with the traits of someone who “sees the best” in people.

There may be others with temperaments more suited to having naturally kind thoughts about others, but my approach is actually quite the opposite.  Instead of seeing the best in others, I relate to the worst in them.  In their thoughtless actions, I see the many silly mistakes of my own life.  In their arrogance, I see my own tendency to see myself as righteous and virtuous.  In their flusteredness, I see the moments when I’ve felt overwhelmed and inadequate.

It’s not the simplest of practices.  It’s quite difficult for some of us to be able to chip away at our own egos.  But once we start, we begin to see that what’s keeping us separated from others is not their actions or their differences.  It’s our own inability to see them as human beings¬—as us.  In order to see the best in others, we have to be willing to see the worst in ourselves.  It’s a scary endeavor, fraught with self-doubt and loathing. 

Unpleasant as it may be, this paradoxical practice provides an opening for true compassion for ourselves.  Once we can truly see and accept ourselves¬—warts and all¬—we can start to extend this more readily to others.

Recognize yourself in others.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What helps?

By Rev. Robin Gray
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee

Traveling in Alabama a few years ago, before I became a transplanted Southerner, I experienced two instances of helping that missed the mark.  

I arrived after a journey made longer than necessary by two airline delays, to discover that the shuttle to my hotel was shut down for the night. With midnight chasing me, I hopped in a cab for a short ride. Perhaps it was my generous tip, or his generous nature, but, the cabdriver offered me some advice.  “This is a good enough hotel,” he said, “but don't go outside at night. I mean it,” he repeated, as he handed me my suitcase, “This is a bad neighborhood, don't go out walking at night.”

He couldn’t have known that unlike Peggy Lee, Walking After Midnight is not one of my regular pursuits. Still walking down the dimly lit hall to my hotel room took on new and sinister meanings with my helpful cabdriver’s warning ringing in my ears.  I’m sure the driver meant only to ensure my safety, but, he left instead a seed of doubt about my safety indoors or out. It interrupted my sleep and kept me hovering at the edge of being able to relax.

This brings us to a lesson in helpfulness. Our faith and traditions tell us that helpers are good people, probably better people than those who don’t help others, and so we become attached to the image of our helper selves, our good selves.  We sometimes are so attached to that good person we will be when we’re helping someone else, that we ignore the totality of the human being who will be helped. 

Like my cabdriver, we want to experience ourselves as helpers, more than we want to be truly helpful. Whenever you're about to embark on helping someone you need to know something about the person—their needs and their limitations— before striking out on your “crusade.” My cabdriver could have asked, Do you have to go out again this evening?” My travel weary “No” would have told him he didn't need to issue a warning on my account.

Helping can hurt. Helpers need to know why they are doing what they are doing, and who they are doing it for. The helpful impulse is often improved when the helper reflects on his or her needs, and spends time discovering what the intended “helpee” needs, wants and can tolerate. I had a second encounter that went awry the next morning.

The van driver who was to escort me from the hotel to the car rental booth displayed his Southern openness and candor by beginning a conversation about Medicare and Medicaid as I was settling in my seat. Attempting to overcome my Northern inbred reticence with a stranger so engaged my attention that I neglected to tell the driver that I wasn’t going to the airline departure gate.

As the van came to a stop, I responded to his solicitous question about which airline did I need to find with a casual reply that I was going to the rental desk. He gunned the van and insisted on “carrying” me around to the lower level.  A second question about my eventual destination by car led him to helpfully begin giving me directions to Talledega.  I had a map, I didn’t need directions, but, I couldn’t tell this kind man that. So, I politely absorbed his words while he drove.

When he exclaimed, “Oh, shoot,” slapped his forehead and tapped the brakes, I knew what was happening. Caught up in his efforts at helping, he’d once again missed the turn off for the lower deck. This time I disembarked and made the trek to my proper destination wondering how much helpfulness it takes to create an unhelpful situation.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Small Changes

By Greg DeAngelo
UUCT  Board President
At the October meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee’s Executive Board, we approved a recommendation from a committee. It was a quick action, a small moment of our time. After brief discussion, the motion passed unanimously, as most board actions do.

This particular change involved adopting a new tag line for the church, as recommended by the Communications Committee with input from the broader UUCT community. A small change.

Our tagline that we've been using for several years has been A Home for Liberal Religion. You may have seen it on the web page. Or maybe in our newspaper ads and other media. And it was causing some a growing discomfort because of the use of a word— and not the word you might think. UUCT has become comfortable, in my opinion, with thinking of itself as a church, with identifying what we do as a religion. Our religion is covenantal and freely entered into by our members. Our faith is in ourselves and in the community that we create. It was not the word “religion” that was causing the problem with our tag line, but rather the word “liberal.”

One small change moves us towards creating a more accepting and inclusive community. Internally, we know and can perhaps articulate what we mean by a liberal religion. Read our seven principles. Come to one of our services. Experience fellowship with us. You will come to understand what we mean by “liberal religion” and by “free church.” But those not familiar with us are those to whom the tag line is targeted, and to them, the phrase simply means “a religion for liberals.”  And if you don't feel like the label “liberal” applies to you, then the old tag line would not be welcoming at all.

You will hear more in the coming weeks about the selection of our new tag line: Seek. Share. Belong. I think it wonderfully captures the core of UUCT, simultaneously telling members of our community and our church not only what to expect at UUCT, but also what is expected of you at UUCT. A small change, but one that is moving us in the direction of inclusivity and community.

The larger UUCT leadership team—meaning our board members, chairs of committees, and program coordinators — recently held its fall retreat. This is an annual meeting to kick off the activities that will eventually lead to a budget for our church's fiscal year starting next July. A small change in the organization of this year's meeting helped it to be successful in a new, exciting way. And a small change in tone and approach to the budget process will hopefully help the broader church approach our finances from a place of generosity and abundance, instead of concern and scarcity.

At the leadership retreat, for several years, we have divided into small groups centered around church program areas, such as social justice, worship, religious exploration, and buildings and grounds. Individually, the breakout groups would brainstorm ideas for new goals and projects for the church, and then come back together as a larger group to prioritize and rank the results.

The small change we made this year was to break out randomly, bringing experience and perspectives from many program areas into each small group, and to have the groups focus on dreams, goals, and projects for the church as a whole. Not surprisingly, some groups came up with similar issues, but each had a unique spin; there was less overlap than you might expect in the ideas to pursue.

This new perspective highlighted a concrete approach to developing UUCT into a “community of communities,” showing the benefits to be reaped by engaging with each other in small groups but creating opportunities for those groups to interact with each other. (Seek. Share. Belong.) I‘m excited about our leadership retreat, and I’m looking forward to seeing these ideas realized. Stay tuned for some new and interactive ways to join the conversation and to stay informed.

The other small change sounds deceptively simple: we are resolved to attempting to live within our means. Over the past few years, we have consistently asked for a budget based on goals and dreams. We asked for more in pledges than we typically receive, admittedly based on good ideas for good goals. But then when the pledges fell short of our lofty (and perhaps unrealistic) expectations, many were left with feelings of disappointment in the result and concern about our financial standing.

We are striving to be more realistic in our approach to an asking budget in advance of this year's canvass, and we are even pursuing alternatives to our typical canvass approach. The hope is to encourage a sense of stewardship and a rekindled pride in ourselves for the truly remarkable generosity our members show our church year after year.

Small changes, to move us towards inclusion, community, and abundance. What small change can you make at UUCT? You might be surprised how much can happen once you make it.