Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Unusual Way to Increase Your Lifespan

For years, I was what you might consider "detached."  My wife and I had married, and in my early 20's, I lived a rather inconsequential existence.  I went to work, came home.  I played softball on Wednesday nights.  I went to church occasionally - maybe once per month. It was probably an "ordinary" way of life for most people.  But, it was dull.  Meaningless.

Three and a half years into our marriage, we had a son.  Obviously, he became the center of attention, and being a parent was certainly new and exciting and tiring.  But, still, life was rather ho-hum.  At the time, I likely didn't realize it, but I was missing something.

It wasn't until around 2002 that things began to change in my life.  I began to serve on Sunday mornings at the church.  I was the "bulletin guy."  I stood at the side entrance to the worship center and handed you the worship guide as you entered.  I was there every week for nearly two years, missing maybe two Sundays in that time.  I began to connect with a devoted group of faithful servants - Mike Davis, Brian Dodd, Pete Brumfield, among others. I looked forward every week to arriving at 9 a.m. to see these people and to serve at my post.

Around that same time, I was invited to attend a Bible study, which was led by Mike Linch.  At the time, Mike was the Associate Pastor at my church, and through our occasional interaction on Sunday mornings, I had come to enjoy talking to him - mostly about sports. At the age of 28, I was by far the youngest guy in this "Executive Study."  But, I was welcomed, and made to feel like an important part of the group.  I spent four years in that group, and learned countless lessons from the wisdom shared by those guys, most of whom were in their late 40's and 50's.

I could write hundreds of more pages about what has transpired in my life in the decade since.  In a nutshell, it's just been God at work in me and through me.  But, how did it start?  What was the powerful force that ignited the flame within me? Two words: being connected.

Before 2002, I knew only two people at our church.  And, Amy and I really didn't have friends we hung out with.  We sort of did life on our own (and with family, which lives nearby). But, we were missing out big-time.

Mother Theresa once said, "Loneliness is the leprosy of modern society."  The issue here is not that we disagree with this statement.  The issue is that we rarely see ourselves as lonely creatures.  But, if you are disconnected from other human beings, you likely are lonely - whether you know it or not.

Studies by a Harvard social scientist have proven that connected people live longer than lonely people.  That's probably, in and of itself, not a surprise.  But, did you know isolated people are three times more likely to die than those who have strong relational connections? Also, did you know that people who are in poor health, or who have developed poor health habits, live significantly longer than healthy individuals who are isolated? Finally, that same study showed that people who were not connected in any groups, but who got connected into just one group, cut their risk of dying in half over the next year.

I'm sure glad that I took advantage of the opportunities I had more than a decade ago to get to know more people, and to actually belong.  Those decisions have changed the course of my life and my family's lives - more than words could ever say.

If you are just coming and going, trying to do life all by yourself, you're missing out. But, it doesn't have to be that way.  Take a step.  Join a group. Get connected.  You'll be better for it.  And, so will those all around you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Clean it Up

One of my biggest pet peeves is walking through a parking lot and seeing shopping carts strewn about.  It's as eye sore.  And, for years, I have stated that it's just plain lazy.  But, as it turns out, it's much more than laziness that leads to people leaving a shopping cart in the middle of a parking lot.  Or, throwing a soda can on the side of the road.  Or, littering the ground with a candy wrapper. Let me explain.

I am currently reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  In the book, he demonstrates how seemingly insignificant factors can make a huge difference in creating an epidemic (or reversing one). The example I am currently reading about is how New York City was able to turn around its crime epidemic, which peaked in the late 1980's.

At that time, the subway system was a wreck - dirty, disorderly, and in poor shape. Further, drug use was escalating, and felony crimes throughout the city - particularly on the subway - were at an all-time high.  Additionally, a practice known as "fare-beating" was prevalent at subway stations.  Teams of young men or teenagers would jam turnstiles, then force passengers to give them their subway tokens or money to earn passage through a gate. Because of violence, theft, and fare-beating, the general public lost confidence in the subway system and hundreds of thousands of people stopped using it.

In the mid-1980's proponents of "Broken Window" theory decided to try an experiment to clean up the subway system - and the city.  According to Gladwell's writing, Broken Window theory says that "crime is the inevitable result of disorder.  If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread..."

The City of New York tested this theory. For years, subway cars were covered in graffiti.  The city decided that graffiti was one of the primary deterrents to people riding on the subway. Graffiti sent a negative message.  So, car by car, they began to remove and repaint over the graffiti.  When cars were taken out of service, teens would spend hours painting graffiti on these cars late at night. After they had completed their works of art, the city would come with paint cans and rollers and paint over it. The graffiti artists began to realize their efforts were wasted. And, after doing this for six years (until 1990), the city had won the graffiti battle.

They also put resources in place to put a halt to the fare beaters, but they found that cleaning up the subway system was most attributed to putting a stop to the graffiti.

So, what does this have to do with shopping carts and litter in parking lots? Well, it's the same principle.  If certain retailers and neighborhoods would put their foot down and demonstrate that cleanliness is of huge importance, it would send a message. A dozen carts standing alone in a parking lot tells shoppers many things.  But, putting personnel and resources in place to keep carts either in cart holders, or to be returned easily, would also result in contagious behavior.

If you live in an area with lot of broken windows (literally or figuratively), you have a choice to make.  You can move to another area that has nicer windows, or you can help change the attitudes and behaviors by doing your part to keep your neighborhood clean and safe. Trust me...others will notice, and will likely follow suit!