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When our son Ben was a toddler, he was struggling to learn colors, and to develop new food tastes. One day as we pared pieces of a golden de...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It's Not Over When It's Over: Six simple post-interview practices for employers

 Recently I have been seeking employment. I've submitted dozens of resumes and applications. I do not expect to hear from the recipient of each submission. I understand the digital age and applicant screening well enough to know that such courtesy is a moot point.

I have been somewhat perplexed, however, at the arms-length responses from organizations that have actually given me an interview.

On several occasions I have been fortunate enough to be invited for a face-to-face interview. I've prepared myself by researching the job, company and individuals with whom I'm meeting. I've taken special care to dress appropriately. I've arrived early, sometimes traveling a good distance, and spent 60 - 90 minutes in thorough conversation with the company leaders. After the interview I've taken a few minutes to send a note of thanks for the opportunity.

I know the potential employers have also invested significant time into the process by developing job descriptions, researching candidates, holding interviews, and evaluating their prospects. They seem, however, to have given little thought to what happens once the interview is over.

After each interview, there have been long periods of undefined silence, silence during which I find myself singing over and over in my head that catchy little chorus by Indie pop artists A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera: Say something. I'm giving up on you.

I have also been on the other side of the interview process, hiring excellent employees and turning down other quality candidates. Here are six simple things I've learned that make the tail end of the process go better for the candidate and strengthen the candidate's perception of you as a potential employer, whether or not they ultimately end up working for you.

  1. Know your timeline and share it. When the interview concludes, say definitively to the candidate, "You will hear from me no later than the end of the day on .........". And then get back to them by then! Block out that afternoon to make those calls. If your process has become delayed, let the candidate know. If you still have questions or need more information from the candidate, schedule a time for additional conversation. But give them a timeline, and stick to it.
  2. Make the phone call. While email or text are convenient ways to contact your candidate, they are cheap and disrespectful. When a candidate has committed time and energy to a face-to-face interview, they deserve a live voice sharing the news of whether or not they will be offered the position. These calls aren't always easy for either party involved, but a quality manager will take a deep breath, pick up the phone, and do what's right. Then you can follow up with an official letter or summary email.
  3. Be prepared to offer feedback. Assuming you have interviewed quality, thoughtful candidates, be prepared to answer their questions. A candidate might ask: "Are there any specific areas of training or experience that could better prepare me for a job like this?" or "Was there anything during the interview itself that I could have done better which would have improved my candidacy?" or "What specific skills, experiences or knowledge are you looking forward to me bringing to this position?"  
  4. Be honest. When you're offering feedback, make sure you're telling the truth and being as forthcoming as you can be within non-discrimination practices. If the candidate asks for feedback on their interview and you felt they said something off-putting or exhibited an uncomfortable demeanor during the interview, tell them; perhaps they had no idea they came across in that way and would be able to correct it in the future. And don't make up excuses. You're interviewing smart people; they'll see right through your platitudes.
  5. Stay focused on who's in front of you: Your candidate, especially one that is being rejected, doesn't need to hear how good all of the other candidates and interviews were. Frankly, if you haven't selected me I assume that at least one other candidate must have been a rock star! They also don't need to hear how difficult the decision was for the employer. "We have chosen to go with another candidate" or "we are going in another direction at this time" or "we will not be moving forward with your application" are sufficient. If there are specific things you can say to the candidate about their candidacy, say them (points 3 & 4 above). Otherwise, reserve your process observations for conversations with your colleagues, coach, or counselor.
  6. Say "Thank you.": Saying "thank you" should be natural and heartfelt. Hopefully it is for you. Be sure to express your appreciation for the candidate's interest in your company/organization, the time that they have devoted to this process, and their willingness to undergo the scrutiny of an interview. Say it on the phone. Put it in writing when you follow up.
The last impression a candidate will have of you and your organization in the interview process is what will stick with them. Make sure their experience is professional and transparent the whole way through to the final "no" or the hallelujah "YES!"

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rattle the bones

On Sunday our family attended the 150th anniversary celebration worship service of the Second Baptist Church in Elgin, IL. This prominent African-American congregation was started in 1866 by a group of 125 slaves who escaped from Alabama and arrived in Elgin in a boxcar. It's a necessary story; read it here.

Our mostly white congregation, the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, and Second Baptist have been sharing the fourth Sunday of January for over 15 years, exchanging choirs and pastors in a cross-town effort at understanding and solidarity. It's not much, but it's a little bit of something that means I already felt mostly at home walking into their sanctuary.

The service was magnificent, a rich celebration of the history of a people and a church, a strong and hopeful declaration of significance in today's world, and an anticipatory expression of a future of faith and civic leadership.

One moment that washed over me and stirred the deepest parts of my soul was a powerful dance presentation by Divine Movement,  a group of young women of the church. Their dance recounted the pain of the slave experience with a tangible rhythm of suppression, suffering, and dehumanization. It ended with a forceful declaration of liberation, healing, and the strength of human dignity. It moved with faith and freedom.

I, a middle-aged white male who has enjoyed every privilege that my birth has afforded me, really have no idea what that dance meant to most people in that room. As I watched, the young women communicated in no uncertain terms the depth of their African-American experience, and those around me in the congregation responded with knowing.

The part of the dance routine that told the story of slave bondage, however, disturbed my soul. My body felt the wrenching of the restraints, the beatings, and the struggle. Or at least I felt what might have been some small sample of that experience. I began to feel the oppressive power, and the will to resist. My body was uncomfortable. Tears were present. My soul was straining to access this narrative even while it was begging to escape it.

So many emotions accompanied those moments, and have lingered with me in the early days of this week. I know they will eventually dissipate for me, and I will be left to conjure them through memory. And this need to recall is one key aspect of what I, a person of privilege, have learned from this experience: For me, the dance imposed itself into my emotions and thoughts, challenging my experience and bringing to light my complicity. It made me uncomfortable. It caused me to think and feel things that I have not thought of or felt before. It challenged, at least in a small way, who I am and what I know to be true in the world. But it is not part of me.

For those young women dancers and the African-American faith community of Second Baptist, however, that dance released some of the deepest parts of their soul and experience as humans. It was more than a reflection on history; it was the lifeflow, the heartbeat of a people, a rare and raw moment in which the flood of this dehumanizing scourge of slavery was released for everyone who was in that room to feel, and claim, and wrestle with. Perhaps the connection is strong because the horrifying narrative continues to be written today.

The statistics are awful for non-dominant culture folks in our country. Mass incarceration, murder by authorities, institutional patterns of exclusion, prejudice, and fear still limit the life possibilities of too many non-white people, and African-Americans in particular. We are racist and perpetuate structured racism.

I know these realities intellectually. I've heard the hard stories of my African-American sisters and brothers. I've looked at the data. I've visited museums and historical sites. I've done some work along the way to be a better steward of my privilege. And I continue to do these things.

But in that dance, in that dance, that dance.......

There are really no words to describe it. I don't get it. I never will.

But I could feel it. It was full of power. It was raw. It heated the marrow and rattled the bones. It was fully human and fully divine. It was heartbreaking and hopeful. It was long in suffering and strong in overcoming. It was resigned to humanity's failed condition and insistent on God's sovereign plan.

There is no room for bigotry, hatred, superiority, racial divisiveness, fear, and murderous ways in Jesus-land. What I felt challenges me to examine my own privilege yet again and to put into action more things that make for justice and healing. I need to do my part. You need to do yours. Together we need to do ours.

Sitting in the sanctuary of Second Baptist Church on that 150th Anniversary Celebration day was a blessing. I am humbly grateful that I could be present, and that I was a part of the congregation which received such powerful truth through Divine Movement.

May the Holy Spirit rattle these middle-aged white male bones some more, and inspire all of us to dance our way to a world of justice and peace.

Friday, July 22, 2016

On Kindness

Today an envelope with no return address arrived in our mailbox. This is not unusual since many marketing firms use this tactic to draw you into their message. Typically we toss those envelopes aside and maybe, but only maybe, open them days or weeks later.

But for some reason this one seemed a bit more legit. Maybe it was the full salutation to me, my wife and family that seemed a little more personalized. I opened it.

Wow! Inside was this brief note and some cash. As I read the note out loud to Kim, both of our eyes teared up. An unexpected act of anonymous kindness. What a blessing! Our spirits indeed were lifted.

So now I'm thinking about kindness.

There really is a lot of kindness in the world. This article about Rosa's Pizza Shop, where the hungry and homeless can get a pre-paid pizza slice, is an inspiring example of how one person's kindness gave a store owner an opportunity to serve and generous patrons an opportunity to share. All it took was a post-it note or two or a thousand!

This morning while exiting a local coffee shop, someone held the door open for me and my family. There was a second door; we returned the favor. Kindness.

It seems to me that there are different types of kindness. If we pay attention to those around us we can both recognize those acts and offer them ourselves.

One form of kindness is the incidental form of respect we offer to one another as we interact around daily routines. Holding the door, saying "please" and "thank-you," offering our umbrella, speaking gently to one another, and so on, are the moment-by-moment things of kindness.

A second type of kindness seeks to inject some surprise and goodness into a stranger's life. Perhaps this form of kindness is best exhibited in the drive-through phenomena whereby I pay for the order of the person behind me in line. I likely don't know them, will never meet them, and can only imagine the smile it brings to their face (unless of course I'm lingering to watch in my rearview mirror). The drive-through employee actually gets to witness the confusion-followed-by-smile when the customer realizes that they don't need to pay for their order. Often they choose to pass it on to the next customer.

Another form of kindness is also extended to a stranger, but as an act of charity. This type of kindness is the story of Rosa's Pizza Shop. A gift is given with the expectation that someone in need, someone we do not know but who is coming up short in some aspect of life, will benefit from it.

The kindness we received through the mail today is different still. It is intentional anonymous kindness. This kindness is offered when there is specific knowledge of a need of someone we know and we reach out to help meet that need without letting the recipient know who we are. Today's gift came from someone who is aware that both Kim and I have been unemployed. We are so grateful they blessed us in this way. They chose to do so anonymously, but they did so knowingly and as friends.

Some kindnesses are offered in ways that cultivate deeper friendship. These kindnesses are those which we share openly and directly. When a friend delivers a meal post-surgery, that is a kindness which further strengthens the bonds of friendship. When someone offers to keep your kids so you can get out for a mommy/daddy date, or just get some grocery shopping done in peace, that is kindness that further builds a friendship. When your buddy spends a week on your roof helping you re-shingle, that is kindness that cements a relationship.

What other forms of kindness can you think of?

The rhetoric of today's world is often fear, separation, and hatred. But the rhetoric is not the reality. I suppose it is possible to allow the hard rhetoric of division to suck us in, but I prefer to believe that there is more power through simple acts of kindness.

Where have you witnessed kindness today? What kindness have you received today? How have you been kind today?

Thank you to our intentional, anonymous friends! Indeed our spirits have been lifted. And your simple act of kindness has encouraged me to think about how I, too, can be more kind.

Imagine how beautiful our world will be when everyone is infected by kindness and celebrating acts of generosity!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Our Counseling Culture: Saving us or ruining us?

I had been seeing a really awesome counselor for over a year. He helped me work through a bunch of pretty intense and painful things. But then I left my job, and my insurance changed, thus ending my bi-weekly visits. A few months out and I've been reflecting on the role of a counselor in my life, and the role of counselors in our society. Here I'll wonder out loud:

Is our counseling culture saving us or ruining us?

Saving us: why we need these companions on the way

1.  Counselors help us work through some really tough stuff. They may not have seen and heard it all before, but they've seen and heard enough to sit there and take anything we can dish out. Deep grief? There beside you. Burning anger? Got it. Huge questions? Go ahead. Weighty depression? Understood. These trained professionals won't shy away when our going gets rough. In fact, they'll lean in and help us find a way through it, as much as they can.

2.  Counselors are safe. We know that when we share something with a counselor it won't come back to haunt us. It won't be shown sympathy today and then used as ammunition tomorrow. They won't collect our stories and then broadcast them to others. They're not a part of the gossip network. We can say what we need to say, and they will protect it.

3.  Counselors are, as stated in point #1, professionals. At least the ones that I'm talking about are. They are trained and continually monitored to ensure that they are doing good and not causing harm. There is not a lot of room with a professional for "good intentions." They have particular knowledge about how to listen and support their clients, and then know when they're in over their head and need to suggest different help for us.

4.  Counselors keep the focus on us. They make sure that we're doing work on the things that we can work on. Ourselves. There's no dodging our own crap, or ignoring our own goodness. We're constantly redirected to the next level of self-understanding, whether it's encouraging or hard.

5.  Counselors want us to get "better." They really do. I believe they have our best interests in mind. The counselors that I have known have an inherent belief that humans are good, and that even when broken, damaged, or failed, our human calling is to health and well-being. That health looks different for each of us, but our counselor never gives up on us.

Ruining us: why we should think more critically about our companions

1.  By saying that counselors are our "only" safe space, we are failing to cultivate the types of vulnerability required for intimate relationships. Why can't, and shouldn't, we have friendships that are equally safe? What does it take to have friends and communities of people that allow for such vulnerability? Why we are satisfied with and/or resigned to professionalizing our spaces of vulnerability?

2.  If we depend too much on our counselor, then we become lazy. We can get away with not asking ourselves the questions because we expect the counselor to ask the questions. We can stop thinking on our own because our professional will think for us. Yes, it can happen.

3. Counselors keep the focus on us. Here the downside is that we are reinforced in our already-present narcissism. The problems are about me. The struggle is about me. The solutions are about me. But very few if any things are ever so exclusively about me. Of course good counselors help us understand our systems, but they're always our systems.

4.  Counselors rely on our sickness to maintain their financial wellness. This reality is not meant to imply that counselors would keep a client on in ways that are not necessary, or that counselors are money-grubbers. At this point professionalism (and insurance companies!) step up for some checks and balances. But admit it: there is a whole, huge, economic system built on people's pain and fragility. Should our suffering and struggles be an industry?

5.  Counselors provide an excuse to divest from others. When confronted with the anguish and struggle of those around us, we can get away from it by asking, "have you seen a counselor? Maybe you should." Too often I hear this statement as code for "I don't want to deal with you and your stuff" or "I just don't have the time." Come back after you've worked it out with your counselor, and I'll see if I can work you back into my life.

I don't really believe that counseling and counselors are saving us or ruining us. I do know that mine has been a tremendous help to me, and I know lots of people who swear by their counselor. I also know a few people that I think should go see a counselor. In the end I support that counselors can and do play an important role in mental health.

But I also earnestly wonder what the impact is for our culture when it relies so heavily on professionals to help us address our emotional condition.

Maybe I'll ask my counselor. I just got approval from my insurance provider to go see him again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Perceived enemies

"When things get bad, you create a perceived enemy, 
especially when there is already resounding endorsement from all quarters. 
The myth grows greater than the reality. 
All human beings do it -- personally and politically." 
 from The Music Room by Namita Devidayal, p 106

Things must be bad. We have created so many enemies.

Not only have we created enemies, but we have turned our perception into a palpable vitriol, expressions of suspicion and hatred that rub across our skin like sandpaper and work their way into our soul like grains of sand. But those grains of sand do not turn to pearls. They become festering wounds, infected sores within ourselves, and between us. They become symptomatic of the harsh landscape of which we are a part.

To combat those sores, to fight the pain, to overthrow the "enemy," we turn to the powers we hold and unleash them.

When my wife was being treated for her severely infected gall bladder, the doctors pushed large amounts of strong antibiotics into her system. Through i.v.s and pills, they sought to overwhelm the infection with a violent force that would drive it out of her body, or kill it off. The problem is, however, that like in chemotherapy, the aggressive fight against infection can also damage the good cells and actually compromise the immune system. That is indiscriminate power.

We see such power unleashed every day in our world. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson.

Where have we gone so wrong? I wish I knew. I am tired of hearing that my black brothers are being gunned down. I am tired of hearing that police officers are being picked off while they serve to protect. I am tired of Chicago celebrating that we had "fewer" murders and "less" gun-related violence on this 4th of July weekend. I am tired of the toll of wars and bearing the weight, small as it is for me personally, of the rumor of wars.

But this movement in which a myth grows greater than the reality...... This movement is one I understand. It happens in my head, so it's not hard to imagine that it happens in much larger ways in the world. I am a worrier, so things often become realities in my thoughts even though they are far less (or far more) substantial in concrete life.

We perpetuate and feed these myths, but why? I wish I knew.

Actually, what I really wish I knew was how to stop them.

I wish I knew how to stop the myth that there are no structural barriers to racial equality.

I wish I knew how to stop the myth that to advance the cause of justice for one person or group of people is necessarily to dismiss, demean or devalue another.

I wish I knew how to stop the myth that power exercised by blunt force will produce sustainable peace.

I wish I knew how to stop the myth that everyone should be able to do "it" on their own, to realize that great American dream, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

I wish I knew how to stop the myth that white people are superior to people with darker skin tones.

I wish......

          .........so many things.....

But wishing, no matter how bright the star, will not get me, will not get us, anywhere.

I wasn't a fan of the show "Myth Busters" the way many people were, but I do appreciate the effort to take things that are commonly thought to be true and actually test them. I am, however, a big fan of snopes,com and wish more social media users would take 30 seconds to check their stories before perpetuating them.

In fact, it's a simple place to start when we want to move beyond wishing. Start by asking questions.

Ask things like "is this factually true?" "How is it that I consider my sources trustworthy?" "What is an alternate point of view?" "What is the energy behind this point of view?" "What am I afraid of?" "What am I hoping for?" "What would the other in this situation say? Better yet, what do you say, victim, perpetrator, bystander?"

Ask things like "I wonder what it feels like to be _______ (in that position, or those shoes)?" "How am I feeling, and where did those feeling come from?" "Could I be wrong?" "What does it mean if I'm right?" "What more can/must I learn?" "What is my power, and how can I utilize it responsibly?"

By asking questions we challenge the endorsement of an unreality pointing toward the necessity of an enemy.

The myth we're living with these days is that things are getting bad, that enemies are lurking around every corner. Maybe instead of jumping on the bandwagon we might ask some questions and consider the inquiry of others.

Gus and me - photo by Samuel Sarpiya
Today I visited an amazing outreach in Rockford, IL. You can read about it here. The mobile lab was parked half a block behind a house in which there was a shooting last night. One of the kids in the lab saw it happen. And yet there he was today, working and playing games on the computer.

What is the myth? What is the reality? What are the questions?

For those of us who are Christians, getting beyond the myth has a definite God element to it. The reality we seek to uncover beneath the myths we have fostered has particular characteristics. They include things like compassion, reconciliation, justice, love, joy, sacrifice, and service.

What are the myths? What are the questions?

God, help us to see a different reality,

Personally. Politically.