The Giving Tree

the-giving-treeShel Silverstein has left an indelible mark on many lives for a multitude of reasons. For some, itʼs the great relief in knowing theirs are not the only minds and ears taunted by the what-ifs. For others, itʼs the fun of reimagining the lives and intentions of the monsters that surround us in our childhood. Still for some it is the fun in wondering where life takes us and what lies beyond the point Where the Sidewalk Ends. For many, itʼs the long-lasting impact of the simplicity and beauty found on the branches of The Giving Tree.

My first encounter with The Giving Tree was somewhat unconventional. I was back in my college town for a weekend of memories relived and connections renewed. Typical to my trips ʻback home,ʼ I was spending Sunday afternoon with my mentor and friend Carrie. We had just finished off a distinctly western brunch at a new Fort Worth bistro and ended up on the patio of our favorite tap house. It was a breezeless bluebird day in late spring – the kind of day that makes everything seem fresh and wholesome.

My conversations with Carrie are always a funny mix of banter and deep discussions on lifeʼs purpose and meaning. It is customary and inevitable that we argue whose political beliefs are more sound – neither winning – but always conclude with a bit of knowledge gained and a small but healthy shift in perspective. After this particular exchange she made a comment about how “my side” needs a big dose of The Giving Tree to fix our ill-refute. Continue reading

You Are The Average of Your Relationships

17t0stkd96512jpgI can remember exactly when I started asking myself the hard questions. You know, the ones that are most important in life like: What is happiness?  What is my passion?  What am I going to contribute to the world with the life I live? How can be a better person? And so on…

I was a sophomore in college in a fraternity with 50 plus brothers, and had everything you could imagine – I was living the dream.  But I remember this feeling of loneliness and uncertainty that I just could not shake.  I later realized it was because I hadn’t yet discovered who I was.  I hadn’t found my passion or embraced the ideals, values, and lifestyle of leadership that I now try to live.

That semester I started working in the Dean of Students office and involved myself in several leadership programs and positions.  It was during that time that I learned about leadership – I mean true leadership – not the definition I had been using.  Before, I considered leadership as role with a title; but after lots of self-evaluation I realized leadership is a lifestyle one lives when they are passionate, hardworking, genuine, and willing to empower others to reach their full potential.  The Texas Student Leadership Forum was one of the places where I was inspired to better myself.

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Four Tenets

elephant-blind-compoThree blind men were asked to touch an elephant and describe it to the other two men. One felt the leg, and he told his friends that the elephant was like a tree. Another felt the tail and told his friends that an elephant was like a rope. The third man felt the ear and said the elephant was like a leaf. All the men were right, but they confused the respective parts for the whole.

The risk we run when we study the four tenets individually is that we’ll forget their significance when applied together. Make no mistake, the tenets are not solely good principals to live by, they’re a comprehensive worldview that contrasts sharply with the bill of goods we’re sold in our culture and at our schools.

The lie we’re bombarded with is that life is about us. We’re told that more consumption, more experiences, and more sex will make us happy. We’re told that staying happy is the best use of our time, talent, and treasures. I’ve become convicted that the four tenets challenge that perspective directly. I think we each know this is not a truth upon which we can build and sustain a fulfilling life.

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Compassion: Slobodan Milosevic

slobodan_milosevicSeveral years ago I had the opportunity to attend the International Court Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. I was on Semester at Sea, and one of the law professors had a connection to the United Nations that allowed us to witness the trial of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. The Milosevic Trial began each morning at 9:00 and ended at 1:45. We went through security and attended the session after their lunch recess. A glass wall separated the gallery from the actual court; and we wore headphones connected to a Multilanguage radio for translation of the dayʼs proceedings.

Milosevic chose to represent himself and was in the middle of cross-examination of a Mr. Markovic, his former Chief of Information. Everyone, with the exception of the accused, witness, clerk and security were fully robed. The three judges, from Rwanda, Britain, and Japan, wore a red sash to differentiate them from the rest of the court. Each sat fully distinguished with gray hair and glasses. The panel of prosecutors was positioned to our right and Mr. Milosevic on our left. A council of interpreters sat above the court in closed boxes while everyone in the court and gallery wore headphones. And there I was, a small-town West Texas boy, witnessing the first head of state to ever stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Continue reading

The Value of Friendship

Friendship is formed among those who share a mutual love for one another. This shared love for one another must then be seasoned by additional commonalities: visions, pursuits and/or virtues. The commonalities that create friendship are anything but common. Instead, they are the characteristics of oneʼs heart, mind and soul that make each member of the friendship unique from most other people. The combination of love and these special commonalities shared between individuals emulsifies into friendship. This sensation has been described as the unification of reason and affection.

While these unities may make friends very much alike, it does not mean that friends will have everything in common. More often than being replicas, friends are likely to be complements of each other. They may share beliefs, virtues and dreams, but each friend is still uniquely individualistic – although friends may often be found to have similar differences from the greater population. In fact, friendships are each a “relation between men at their highest level of individuality.” It is these differences from the larger society, but that are shared among friends, that harden friendships. Continue reading

On Friendship

I will always remember Tuesday mornings. Not just because I was able to wake up at the crack of dawn to go eat two eggs over medium, bacon, hash browns, and one piece of wheat toast, but because I spent an hour or two with a true friend. At this point in life I can finally see friendships and relationships come and go, but there are those friends that will always be there. This was one of those friends; this was one of those relationships.

The six months we spent having breakfast at the local diner brought up discussions ranging from politics, drama at work, families and the ladies that would come and go in our lives. When you have a true friendship and a real relationship, everything is on the table. Quite often it takes a while to get over the embarrassment of that pending conversation, but when you break the barrier it makes everything so much easier. You finally have someone else to speak with about what you are really thinking. Someone else is able to completely understand you as a person and provide the valuable insight you might need to apply to a life situation.

This is a true friendship, not just a frequent companion.

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Self Knowledge & Purpose

forrest-gump1What is my purpose in life?

Just a couple of years out of college, I have found the ability to be self-aware of one’s ultimate reason for existing on this Earth to be one of the most frustrating questions a person can have.

Since the beginning of complex thought, philosophers, religious scholars, and great thinkers alike have pondered whether or not our individual purpose is our own choice – or has it been predetermined?

One such great thinker by the name of Forrest Gump, stated: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both.”

This is certainly a question that I have personally struggled with for quite some time and it’s only recently that I have come terms with this grand Question, and finally allowed my mind to be at ease with the conclusions I have made.

I find the thought of an ultimate destiny to be very romantic and empowering; however, this thought also makes things seem a little boring.  Where is the fun in life if, who you are to be isn’t even really up to you?  Yet, at the same time, the way life plays out so beautifully sometimes, I don’t think I can dismiss the idea of destiny.  It is with these thoughts that I have come to agree with Mr. Gump.  We are all presented with many forks in the road, each path with its own destiny and purpose. But it is our choice as to which path and which destiny is ours. Continue reading

A Journey Toward Compassion

1465945_10151923521638922_894340401_oOne of the greatest transformations to have occurred thus far in my life is the practice of compassion. I use the term “practice of”, because it is a journey with no finish line. Rather, I think it is a journey in which one destination opens a path to a new, unseen and unknown destination.

I hesitate to share only because I don’t want to imply that I am perfect at this practice, or even good at it. In fact, it was and is an area of my life where I struggle(d), which has made my journey so much more meaningful. It began with compassion for myself and that is where I would recommend anyone start this journey – this practice of compassion. Start with the self.

I was very successful in high school and college and earned many achievements. I was probably a little conceited as well. The walls of my bedroom as a high school and college student were peppered with plaques, trophies, accolades and pictures of performance related awards. I surrounded myself with constant reminders of my achievements. I wanted to remind myself and everyone else that I was somebody important. The result of this, I found later in life, was not a constant flow of affirmation and acceptance; it was quite the opposite. I began to focus on the second places, the spaces where no plaques hung, and the reminder that others out there were doing just as well as me – or better.

I wanted to be perfect. I wanted more titles. I wanted more security. I wanted more awards to convince myself that I was worthy – worthy of love and acceptance.

These plaques of fake oak and brass failed me. I found myself in a pretty dark place, and then further disaster struck — a failed engagement. A beautiful wedding was planned, but no wedding occurred.

What did these plaques and awards have to say? Nothing.

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Welcome to the TXSLF Blog

Jesus SermonWelcome to the Texas Student Leadership Forum on Faith & Values Blog.  We invite you to share your stories, thoughts and experiences on leadership and the four tenets of the Forum.  Our hope is that through this community, we can better understand how our lives can be used to make our community, state, nation and world a better place.

The four tenets are derived from the leadership of Jesus of Nazareth–notably the most influential person to ever walk the earth.  However, these four tenets are not meant to be the “last word” on his leadership; his life, leadership and legacy are far too complex to be categorized into four simple containers.  Rather, the leaders of the Texas Student Leadership Forum have chosen these four tenets as the starting place to rethink leadership.  Here is a quick primer on the four tenets and an example of a leader from history who lived that tenet in a remarkable way.

Self Knowledge
The greatest leaders know who they are.  They have an acute sense of the reality of themselves.  They know from where they came and have a sense of purpose for where they will go.

Dr. King knew who he was and where he came from.  It was from this soul force that he discovered his purpose and pursued it, even in the face of adversity and death.

William Wilberforce had a defined purpose: abolish the slave trade and reform society.

Yet, he knew he could not accomplish this without a community of like-minded friends who loved each other deeply, held one another accountable and encouraged each individual to discover himself and know his purpose.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation
Jesus said, “A house divided cannot stand.”  When divisions separate our oneness, forgiveness and reconciliation are the only ways to heal.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to heal the bitter division between blacks and whites after decades of apartheid.

Lasting influence is not achieved through grandiose platforms and polished rhetoric. It is achieved through simple acts of daily compassion.

Mother Theresa changed the world because she loved her neighbor as herself.  In order to do this, she had to love herself first.