What Westboro Baptist and Jonah Hill Have in Common

Posted on Updated on

Westboro Baptist and Jonah Hill

Messer photo Messer photo 

Unlikely pair, wouldn’t you agree?

This week, Westboro Baptist hit the news for unlikely reasons. Singer Brad Paisley took the selfie you see above on his way to perform. Westboro showed up outside the venue to protest the sinfulness of his shows. Paisley showed up to play loud enough for them to hear the music from the outside.

Actor Jonah Hill found himself in hot water after making a derogatory comment to menacing paparazzi. I won’t rewrite the word, but let’s say it was something you wouldn’t want you momma reading on your Twitter. Mr. Hill went on record this week to publicly apologize for the remark, saying it was a “disgusting word” said in a moment of frustration.

Unfortunately for the both, the media has not been so kind. Public reaction, on the other hand, has. Comments, tags, posts, and blogs have buzzed about the sincerity of Mr. Hill’s apology and have extended him forgiveness. Westboro Baptist, on the other hand… well, we all know what the internet has to say about Westboro.

We also know what Westboro has to say about the internet, but that’s another story altogether.

Though on the surface the two stories share little to nothing in common, digging deeper we find they are actually standing on two sides of a fence, a fence we psychologists call the attribution theory.

The attribution theory is a theory that tries to explain how people make sense of others’ behaviors. Take, for example, a scout helping a little old lady across the street. When asked to describe the young man, we might say, “He was very kind.” Notice we didn’t say he was a scout. Nor did we even say he was helping the little old lady. We called him kind.

We associate the scout with kindness because of his actions. (This is called spontaneous trait inference, for all you nerds out there) Given a 1/10th second exposure to a picture of someone’s face, we will associate (or infer) a trait to them. Happy. Sad. Good. Creepy. Hot. Gay. All in 1/10th second.

So much for objectivity.

What does this have to do with Westboro and Mr. Hill? Consider the pictures above. What did you associate to Westboro after hearing their story?

What about Mr. Hill?

Chances are, you don’t have relationship with either, yet you and I find ourselves making judgements about their behavior and their image based on a couple of sentences and a picture. Why would it be any different for us? 

In work, in life, in our family – as leaders – we are subject to attribution. People will attribute traits to us based on our actions. And when we goof up, how we respond can change the trait completely. The action we take changes the perception we will get. Notice how both Westboro and Mr. Hill did something socially naughty, yet one is publicly considered as “cruel” and the other considered “apologetic.”

As humans, we can’t always avoid messing up, but we can still do the right thing and own our mistake. Though it may not always get us out of the dog house, it may be the difference between “bigot” and “better.”

I wish all the best for Mr. Hill. It isn’t easy to own up to something socially unacceptable. And as for Westboro, I hope at least they enjoyed the concert.


Mission Mess: making your mess a mission

Posted on Updated on

“If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind…


“…then is an empty desk a sign?” -Einstein

In Manhattan on Broadway, there used to sit two magazine stores across the street from each other. One, a chain, put their Cosmopolitan magazine snugly and neatly next to their Fortunes. They had a powerful inventory system and training series that taught their employees how to make the most of their time with the customer. The other, owned by old Mr. Essam, haphazardly stocked his magazines without the aid of computer inventory or programs. He and his assistant operated from memory and straightened as best they could whenever they could. Can you guess which one survived?

Mr. Essam, of course.

This story is from Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman‘s smart and brilliant book, A Perfect Mess. They explain how mess makes the world a better place and why Mr. Essam is still in business. One reason was his lack of overhead – no profit eating computer system telling him what to do. The other, they explain, is mess.

I once worked with a young, startup company that had a beautiful business plan, great mission, clear values, neat goals. After they worked tirelessly for months to get the company off the ground, it sank like the Titanic. My diagnosis: they were too neat.

Though there’s something to be said about neatness, there’s a hidden benefit to mess, says Abrahamson and Freedman: flexibility.

Messy systems adapt and change more quickly, more dramatically, in a wider variety of ways, and with less effort. Neat systems tend to be more rigid and slower to respond to changing demands, unexpected events, and new information. – A Perfect Mess, page 77-78

Think about the messy improvisation of a jazz ensemble, or the chaotic and sometimes drunk-looking dance of a boxer. They aren’t at a loss; they are ready for change, whether in rhythm or response.

One of the biggest disasters an organization can commit with their mission statement is making it too neat and clean. A mission statement that does not make room for failure or change is, in itself, a failure. It lacks the flexibility life requires. Stuff happens. We have to adapt.

But think outside of work for a moment.

  • What about your household rules like, “Always share, with everybody.”
  • What about the unspoken family rules like, “We don’t fight.”
  • What about relationship rules like, “I have to have a positive disposition, even when we fight.”

These rules might work for some or most things, but life is messy. Stuff happens. We have to adapt.

Teams – whether they are work teams or families – require allowances for mess. NOTE: they don’t require the mess to become a disaster! They do, however, have to expect the mess. Teams that don’t expect mess tend to get a little obsessive-compulsive: so obsessed in cleaning up each and every spill that they are compelled to ignore their primary objective.

So when setting goals for work, or for summer diet/exercise, or for your marriage, or for your kids/parents, focus on two things:

  1. What is my primary objective here?
  2. Am I willing to forgive myself when I mess up/Am I expecting to encounter mess?

Expect a little mess. Don’t let your obsession to have a perfect and neat mission get in the way of reaching your goals. Smile when messes happens. They are just reminding you that you are human!

Table of Understand – by guest blogger, Renee Rhodes

Posted on

The following commentary is the first post on this site by guest blogger Renee Rhodes – welcome, Renee! You can check out her bio here as well as get a link to her own blog, “Gold Spun Gray.” Enjoy!

— — — — — —

Guest Blogger, Renee Rhodes

Before my family established the Table of Understanding, I often found myself terrified to bring up controversial ideas or issues with my family. It wasn’t that I was ever afraid of getting in trouble, necessarily, but more that it would put me under emotional fire. For example, telling my mom that her stress is negatively affecting the rest of the family. Or, warning my father to be very careful of any complaints he might make about spending money while we celebrate his in-laws’ 50th anniversary. These aren’t always things a person wants to hear, especially from their 20 year old daughter.

So we introduced the Table of Understanding. Sounds so pretentious, doesn’t it? The four of us – my mother, father, brother, and I – would sit around the four edges of the dining room table and attempt to resolve the issue that brought us to the Table. The issues that we discussed ranged from trouble with friends, monetary agreements, or conflict among members of the family.

There are several rules of the Table of Understanding:

1. Do not speak before your turn. Do not interrupt the person who is speaking.

2. Do not criticize the views of anyone else at the Table.

3. If you feel a different approach should be taken in a situation, make an appeal and present your case.

4. If you feel hurt or offended, by all means, say something.

5. If you are not involved in the conversation, act as a mediator and make certain the above rules are followed.

The whole point of the Table of Understanding is – oh, imagine that – understanding. In attempting to understand the perspectives of others without conflict, we managed to resolve many problems and find the best ways to approach tough situations. The tradition was established about halfway through my high school career and it is quite versatile in its usefulness. It provides a way to confront without being too confrontational. It allows us to broach difficult subjects of drama at school or church without distraction. And it is also a great venue for seeking advice.

One of the biggest issues in any close-knit group of people is miscommunication. Without that level of understanding, friends, families, and relationships can fall apart. I’m not saying the Table is something every family should have, but I do suggest that everyone have a method for dealing with miscommunication. Not just in families either! In friend circles at school, small groups at church, and even in dating/marital relationships.

Misunderstandings occur wherever there is conversation. And conversation is everywhere. Especially in this day and age, conversation has leaked into social media and text messaging. The technological world is a world for misunderstandings. The human race cannot yet read minds, only the words before them. We cannot know what is meant, only what is said (and no, emoticons are not as helpful as society wants them to be). Misunderstandings abound when they are allowed.

However, acknowledging that misunderstandings will happen and having a plan in place for when they do can save everyone a world of grief.

Ever since we started meeting at the Table of Understanding, my family has been much more comfortable having difficult conversations. We hold each other accountable. We are open with each other about the things that trouble us. And we resolve issues quickly instead of letting old wounds fester. Though we are not immune, the damage miscommunication can cause has been minimized. We no longer have to stress about talking to one another because we have an easy way to resolve the issues that arise. We face the issues together instead of on our own.

There is an entire new year ahead of us that will inevitably bring many struggles. The best way to face them is to be ready for them.

Your Resolution Sucks

Posted on Updated on

Your resolution kind of sucks.



Over half of the population has made a resolution this year to lose weight/diet. Of those, according to the stats, most will maintain their Jenny Craig diet for about two weeks. By February 1st, nearly half of the resolvers will be sneaking a Twix between dropping their kids off at school and beating the morning traffic to work. By March 1st, they’re almost all knee-deep in a Fudge Suicide Delight at their favorite grease bucket.

It’s just science, and it’s depressing.

Why are we so bad at resolutions? Is it because of too little resolve? Is it too little discipline? Is it Facebook’s fault?

No, our resolutions just suck.

Check it out – the top three resolutions of the New Year made by the population are as follows:
1) lose weight
2) get organized
3) save more, spend less
Kinda lame when you think about it.

Can’t we be more creative? Or even… Selfless? If we are being totally honest, losing weight, getting organized, and pinching pennies sometimes has less to do with others than it does with us and what we would like to accomplish. Not always, but we as humans have a habit of looking in the mirror and wanting to like everything we see rather than appreciate who we are in the first place.

But what exactly is it that stops us from accomplishing our goals regardless? In short, the thing that often impedes us from achieving our resolutions has nothing to do with the resolution we set.

Our resolutions often suck because we fail to take care of what we do before the resolution.

We don’t continue dieting because we leave boxes of Valentines chocolates lying around, unopened. We don’t work out because we don’t pack work out clothes and don’t drive near the gym on the way from work. We don’t save money because we carry too many cards we can spend money with easily with no accountability. We don’t spend more time with people because we feel we have to work just an hour extra before we can hang out; after all, what’s another hour of _____ really going to matter?

It will matter because it will stop you from seeing through your resolve.

Effectively seeing through a resolution works like this:
A) What activates your feelings? Want candy? – What makes you crave it? Want to spend? – What were you doing before you felt like spending? Pinpoint the feeling before the temptation.
B) What do you believe about it? “One more candy won’t hurt.” Ah, there’s the belief. Once you’ve found what activates the temptation, now, ID what you tell yourself to sell yourself on the idea.
C) Change it. Force yourself to drive a different route, tell yourself something different, or do it differently a second time.

A-B-C. Ha. See what I did there? With the, ya know, letters…

This is the fundamentals of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used by therapists across the world. Google “successful resolution” and you’ll probably see something like this. Yet, when it comes to resolutions, there’s something we need even more of – something much deeper – that I believe impedes us the most:


Resolve involves us gathering ourselves and standing against an enemy that we eagerly want to vanquish. Perhaps “resolutions” have become too soft. They have become glorified “goals.” Tsk tsk. Resolve is far more powerful than that. Resolve pushes us to fight against things that are really gnarly, like indifference, impatience, and apathy.

Now those are things that could use a resolution or two.

This month, the blog is going to focus on the theme of “RESOLVE.” The things that plague our life, love, and families could really use some resolutions with some serious resolve. Our weight, finances, and gym memberships could use a rest this year. Broken relationships, depressed lives, and confused and deeply troubles love could use the attention this year instead. So let me formally invite you to tackle a new resolution – to make a resolve – that overthrows the old, confused, broken cycles in our relationships and replaces them with healthy, communicative boundaries, love, and life.

And if you haven’t already, follow us this month by clicking the “follow” button nearby so you can keep up with the theme of “RESOLVE,” and what it means in our life, love, and family.