Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy and Responsible

I'm a strategist by trade, so I look at situations very broadly, over a long period of time and with a bent towards not worrying much about the details. So when the day, many years ago now, that I began raising my children, I reflected on what my parents taught me. After distilling the various lessons they imparted upon me, I summed it up into two, broad objectives. They wanted me to be happy and they wanted me to be responsible. Didn't matter to them what I did, what career path I would take or what sport(s), if any, I decided to participate in. While they didn't explicitly tell me that their goal was my happiness and responsibility, they seemed to, as the great parents they were, to just implicitly “get it”. But as a new parent, I wanted a framework, so I began to explore happiness and responsibility.  And the more I thought about it, the more I liked it, since it seemed to offer the needed balance between myself and others, and hence my children and those in their lives.

Happiness is how we treat ourselves. It comes in many forms and is unique to each individual. What I find as a enjoyment may represent boredom to you. What I loved as a child may or may not be so endearing to my children. I don't think playing the violin would thrill me, but my daughter loved it. Lifting heavy weights, my son's passion, will never be what gets me out of bed early in the morning, but a round of golf will. My daughter and I share a passion for running. Some work, others don't. So while we might want our children to find joy in the things we love, it's more important that they find whatever will bring them happiness. And part of a parent's duty is to expose them to lots of options and let them find their way.

Responsibility is how we treat others. It's learning to make promises wisely and keeping those promises. It's about respecting other's feelings, property and their happiness, whether it's the next door neighbor or a faceless credit card company. It's more than “do onto others as you would have them do to you”. It's doing the right thing when no one is looking or when it may go unacknowledged or unappreciated.  

I think happiness and responsibility as very connected. If I acknowledge that my happiness is important, than I understand that your happiness is also important. If I demonstrate to you that I keep my promises, you're more likely to reciprocate. If we're not happy, it's much more difficult to uphold our sides of a bargain. But if I spend all my time worrying about other's feelings, but not my own, how can that imbalance be good for either of us?

I'm fortunate to have two children that I think balance happiness and responsibility pretty well. Not always the case during their teenage years ,(no big surprise) but using this framework guided my parenting, allowing me to gently help push them into the balance they would find. And to appreciate who they became, even though they're not exactly like me. That's a good thing.   

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shoes and Laces

As a child you learn many things, quite a few that stay with you you're entire life. Fortunately for me, how I learned to tie my shoes only lasted about forty years.

For years I struggled with shoelaces that would not stay tied. I would tie them and pull the laces as tight as I could, trying to keep them from coming undone. I would replace laces on my dress shoes with leather ones, trying to find laces with more friction. I would buy extra-long laces and tie them in double-knots. Nothing worked well.

One day it came to a head. I had just bought a new pair of dress shoes and I couldn't keep them tied for more than about one hundred yards of walking. I became very upset and decided that I would search on the Internet for someone that had perfected shoelaces. The problem just had to be the laces. Couldn't be me. How could anyone mess up tying their shoes? After forty years? No way!


As luck would have it, one of the web sites I found was www.shoeknots.com. I learned that I've been tying a granny knot, a very weak knot, and needed to be tying a square knot. I had enough rope tying knowledge to understand the difference. In a square knot when the knot is stressed the ropes work together and reinforce each other. The ropes in a granny knot don't.  This never dawned on me, since looking at a pair of tied laces doesn't look like two ropes when tied, that this might be the case.

The solution was even more simple. I always started my tying routine by crossing the right lace over the left one. But then I would create a loop in the left lace and cross the right string in front of the loop.  That’s two right-over-lefts, the recipe for a granny knot.  All I had to do is reverse the first move, crossing the left one over the right. Could it really be that simple? Yep.

The next morning I tied my laces the new way, drove to work, parked my car and began my twelve minute walk. Where the morning before I had to retie my shoes multiple times, I only had to do it once. Not because they came loose, but because they were too tight. I was used to tying my laces really, really tight to try to keep them tied. So now instead of loosening up, they didn't budge. And that really hurt. So I tied them up the second time far looser. Problem solved. Has been for seventeen years.

If you see folks constantly tying their shoes, or their children's, you may want to mention this to them. Shoes can stayed tied.