Today, September 21, is my father's birthday, so I'm going to tell you a few things I learned from him that help me every day in working with families. I cannot say that I have mastered these lessons, but I am conscious of them, and my father is a great inspiration to me.
(Dad, if you're reading this, I say to you, "Happy Birthday. I love you. Be happy, stay well, and I will hug you as soon as I can safely do so!")
Read and Think.
When I was very young, my father was a part-time student at Marquette University. I have very early memories of my father reading Plato's "Republic." Over the years after that, my father collected a vast library of used books, mostly literature, philosophy, ethics, and religion. When my father discusses a problem or other serious topic, his thoughts are always well reasoned because of the reading and thinking he has done to develop his ideas and principles.
I gained a reverence for books from my father, and I try to emulate his critical reading practices. There is a great conversation out there, and, thanks to the internet, many of these books are free. (Incidentally, I sometimes post quotes from what I'm reading on LinkedIn. I know that's not the purpose of LinkedIn, but sometimes I read a thought that is so beautiful or profound that I feel compelled to share it.)
Many of the books that endure for centuries are enlightening and ennobling, unlike the rhetoric of a moment. My father's reading does not intrude in his conversation—as mine often does—but it gives his ideas a vast foundation that can be glimpsed only when he is asked to explain. My father has reasons for his principles, and he has reasons for those reasons, and for those reasons and those reasons, and I think it may go infinitely deep.
Understand Others and Be Kind.
My father has a great ability to explore and articulate why other people may feel that they are right, even when their position opposes his own. Often, he can reduce my adverse emotional reaction to a conflict by giving me insight about how the other party might think that their position is correct when viewed from their own perspective or the circumstances that surround them. That ability to understand also leads to empathy for people who are suffering, even if they appear to occupy a position of strength or material advantage.
By observing my father, I have learned that kindness often is the best way to resolve conflict and reduce hostility. Kindness, understanding, and affection will do more to change someone's mind than hostility and argument.
Never "Hate" Someone.
When I was very young, my father taught me that I should never "hate" someone. He said that if I "hated" someone, it meant that I wanted them to suffer and die—I'm paraphrasing—and it simply was not right to wish that on anyone. He put a lot more dread in me about the "h" word than the "f" word.
Keep an Open Mind.
My father taught me to keep an open mind in two respects.
First, he taught me always to have the humility to consider that I might be mistaken and, therefore, to be open to different opinions and other points of view. He taught me that it is good to be intellectually honest, and it is not shameful to admit when I am wrong.
Second, he taught me to think creatively about how to solve problems. It's helpful to question the apparent parameters of a problem and consider what possibilities might lie behind the answer, "none of the above." Often, the solution to a problem is not one of the original proposals.
Make Your Humor Silly, Not Pointed.
My father is very funny, but his humor is silly or self-deprecating. My father does not make fun of people. His humor does not punch down or punch up. He does not satirize anyone but himself. That means that everyone is in on the joke. His humor is another way he unites people and helps overcome their differences.
Be Principled in Your Own Behavior.
My father has strong principles that he applies to himself in all situations. His principles do not give him loopholes or easy outs in difficult circumstances. He holds himself to a higher standard than he expects of others. My father always works on himself to be better, and he lives his principles more than he speaks of them. He inspires by example.
I need to apply these lessons better in my life, but I know them and I understand them, so I have hope.
In the meantime, if you hear me at my job talking to family business owners about resolving conflict through understanding and finding win-win solutions…that's something I learned from my father.
Happy Birthday, John Monday.
With love from your son,