Friday, January 24, 2014

Outliers: A Must-Read for Parents

Okay so, if you know me at all, you know I love a good read.

AND I love to tell other people about that good read.

So today I'm passing on a book maybe some of you have heard about, some of you not.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell is a great read. As a matter of fact, I think it should be required reading for parents of children under age 21.

Outliers details the fastest route to personal success. And by personal success, I don't mean becoming insanely rich and famous. As a matter of fact, Gladwell himself states, "It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It's whether our work fulfills us."

Instead, Outliers chronicles those who have found fulfillment and efficacy in life and shows the rest of us how to achieve the same in our own sphere of life.

He also shatters the myth of the "self-made man" or the "overnight success." His theory: our background, culture, family of origin and personal work ethic provide the roadmap to our success... or the lack thereof.

But I'll stop boring your with my own words, and share a few directly from Outliers...

"We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down the roots, and the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid? This is not a book about tall trees. It's a book about forests..." 

How often do we admire the tall, sturdy oak trees in our lives? We admire those around us with fortitude and purpose. We assume that this man or woman rose to the tallest heights of the forest by passion and drive and intelligence. We seldom think about the family members, friends, teachers, college professors, Sunday school teachers -- and I'll add the Lord -- who water those seeds, add fertilizer, place those small plants in the rays of the sun.

It really does take a village to raise a child.

The next quote needs a little backstory. Gladwell explains two kinds of intelligence: cognitive intelligence and practical intelligence. Cognitive intelligence is the kind that a child is mostly born with, and can be measured using an IQ exam. Practical intelligence is social savvy - it's an intuitive knowledge about the world around us and it is invaluable.

Where do people grow in this area of practical intelligence? In our families.

Sociologist Annette Lareau spent a few years observing a group of third graders that came from different races and socio-economic groups. She and her associates followed these families almost everywhere.

And look at what she found:

"You might expect that if you spend such an extended period in twelve different households, what you would gather is twelve different ideas about how to raise children... What Lareau found, however, is something much different. There were only two parenting "philosophies," and they divided almost perfectly along class lines. The wealthier parents raised their kids one way, and the poorer parents raised their kids another way... The middle class parents talked things through with their children, reasoning with them. They didn't just issue commands... If their children were doing poorly at school, the wealthier parents challenged their teachers. They intervened on behalf of their kids."

When I read this, my heart sank. I thought of the precious lower income students in my community. 

And I wondered... Who would intervene for them? Who would teach them to speak up for themselves and how to reason with others? Even if these children have the IQ for Harvard or Yale, who would prepare them for the social rigor of this kind of institution?

In our communities, in our schools and in our churches, we have got to stand with our children. We must pour into them, while we pour into our own. We must prepare them for whatever God has for them. We cannot sit idly by.

Okay, I'll stop preaching for another quote. This one smashes the myth that children from certain ethnic backgrounds are naturally smarter in math - or any other subject for that matter.

"We sometimes think of being good at mathematics as an innate ability. You either have "it" or you don't. But... it's not so much ability as attitude. You master mathematics if you are willing to try... Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds."

In case you haven't gotten the point yet - that success isn't only for the strong or the brilliant - I'll end with two quotes from the conclusion of Outliers.

"Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed... Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities -- and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them."

"Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky -- but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all."

Well said, Malcolm. Well said.

My conclusion after reading Outliers? We must advocate for our children and create opportunities within our own spheres of influence. We also must advocate for the children around us -- the ones we babysit, the ones who hang out with our children on the weekends, the ones that we teach in Children's Church. 

The future of our nation -- and even the world -- depends on the future of our children. We can help shape that future. 

Because it really does take a village.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Leader on Fire: What The Hunger Games Series Teaches About Spiritual Leadership

My new favorite book series is a popular YA series.

I'm sure you've already guessed from my title and the above pic -- it's The Hunger Games.

Before the first Hunger Games movie debuted, my teenage son Kalin told me I needed to read these books. Haughtily, I thought, "I'm not into YA books. And I'm definitely not into books that involve children killing other children -- for entertainment, at that."

But after watching - and loving - the first movie, I decided to read the series. I've thoroughly enjoyed them. I've pondered much. And they've made me think a lot about leadership.

I thought I'd pass on a few of these insights from The Hunger Games regarding SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP:

I. Leaders seldom feel qualified

The greatest, yet most humble, leaders in history often began their rise to leadership feeling grossly inadequate.

In Book Two of the Hunger Games series - Catching Fire - 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen rejects her calling to leadership for this very reason. Her words from Chapter 9:

"We need someone to direct us and resassure us... And I don't think I'm that person. I may have been a catalyst for rebellion, but a leader should be someone with conviction, and I'm barely a convert myself. Someone with unflinching courage, and I'm still working hard at even finding mine. Someone with clear and persuasive words, and I'm so easily tongue-tied."

Sound a little like someone you know? Moses?

And just take a look at other great leaders of the Bible.

Gideon. Esther. Timothy.

Even Isaiah protested his qualifications before his great proclamation -- "Here am I! Send me."*

His previous words were "'Woe to me,' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips. And I live among a people of unclean lips.'"**

Oftentimes, a leader looks around at the smarter, stronger and more talented people around him or her and says, "There she is Lord. Send her."

And yet, for reasons beyond our understanding, God wants us.

He chooses us.

He empowers us to do His work.

And He uses us. In spite of ourselves.

II. Leadership is seldom glamorous

When I watch documentaries on famous leaders, I feel a rush inside, admiring their charisma and impact on others.

I imagine what it would be like to be him or her.

In recent years, I'm not nearly as enamored as I used to be. I realize the life of a leader has many dark days. The weight of leadership can be crushing.

While others watched the Hunger Games on live television, marveling in the bravery of its contestants, reveling in the drama of it all (much like reality television in our world), Katniss and her fellow contestants fought one another to the death. 

When the Hunger Games end, Katniss is deaf in one ear. Her district partner Peeta has suffered an excruciating leg injury that leads to amputation. They have suffered starvation; dehydration; dangerous storms; extreme cold at night; extreme heat during the day; fierce, genetically-altered wildlife - all while fighting for their very lives.

And they actually won the Hunger Games.

As leaders, we will face storms and opposition and trials. Some will dislike us and disagree with our decisions.

Many days will feel glorious. Some will just feel hard.

As leaders, we will carry heavy burdens.

We need the Lord to help carry the weight of our burdens. We need Him to help carry our loads.

And we need community as well.

We certainly can't do it alone.

III. Leadership requires great sacrifice

In Book One - Hunger Games - Katniss makes a decision that will forever change her life. When her 12-year-old sister Prim's name is drawn at random, naming her a contestant in that year's Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

In one moment, Prim is no longer a contestant of the brutal, sadistic televised "game" that would have most certainly meant the end of her life.

All because of her sister's great sacrifice. Her sister has given her life to save Prim's.

Sound familiar?

Over 2000 years ago, our Savior sacrificed His life for you and for me.

There has been no greater sacrifice. There will be no greater sacrifice. EVER.

And yet, when God calls us to lead others, He calls us to sacrifice our lives as well.

He calls us to give up the life we would have lived for the life that He has chosen for us.

At times, that life is uncomfortable.

Many times, that life is vulnerable.

Most times, that life is lonely.

Katniss sacrificed much for her dear sister.

Jesus sacrificed much, much more for us.

What will YOU sacrifice for the sake of others?

* Isaiah 6:8b
**Isaiah 6:5