Archive May 2019

Stop Working on Your Marriage!

A friend of mine is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In a recent Facebook post, he included the statement: “The truth is . . healthy marriages require work.”

I respectfully disagreed and posted my comment:

I agree with everything except the word “work.” Great marriages require effort. It may sound the same, but there is a profound difference. No one wants to hear that their spouse will have to work hard to love them, but who wouldn’t want to know their spouse will put a lot of effort into the relationship? We often put as much effort into our vacations as in our vocations, but we call one play and the other work. I don’t want my wife to think it will be so difficult to love her that I will have to work at it every day. My 42-year marriage is a lot of fun and enjoyable effort.

Every time I hear the seemingly common-sense statement that a good marriage requires “work,” I tense up. Words are important. In fact, if it weren’t for a handful of words, none of us would be married. As a lay religious leader a few years back, I was suddenly granted the power in the state of New Jersey to marry people. I felt anxious when, after the first marriage ceremony I performed, a couple went away “believing” they were married. I thought to myself, “Is it something I said?” I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

By simply saying the words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” two people were joined together for the rest of their lives. My words to them were so powerful, they caused the formation of a new family unit. A new “family tree” was planted and generation after generation of posterity would owe their existence to seven little words.

If marriage required “work,” I would need to attach that word and all of its connotations to my experience with my wife. So, let’s see if the word fits:

  • Is it “work” when I look into her bright blue eyes, see my dearest and most intimate friend, companion and lover, and remember those early dates when we would talk late into the night about our dreams and ambitions?
  • Was it “work” when I spent two years away from her, serving overseas, and couldn’t wait to get a letter from her in the mail? How about when we were finally reunited on the sidewalk of a college campus, tearfully running into each other’s arms as her classmates cheered?  
  • On our wedding day, was it “work” when I was unable to catch my breath because she walked into the room dressed as a queen in white, and I knew she would be with me forever?
  • Was it “work” when we joyfully, eagerly and unitedly accepted the challenges of  parenthood and welcomed six children into our home who stretched and expanded our love for each other?
  • Could it have been called “work” when, hand-in-hand, we held each other up to face financial disasters, the life-threatening illness of a child, physical disabilities, a missing child, kidnapped grandchildren, persecution and violence? The trials themselves might have been work but having her by my side to face those challenges certainly was not work.
  • Is it called “work” when I am able to share my deepest fears and struggles with her and she responds with amazing strength, wisdom, and an occasional kick in the pants?

No, it doesn’t fit. From my perspective, the word “work” is not appropriate to describe a healthy marriage. It is true that we need to put forth effort in marriage, but with love in our hearts, that effort can become enjoyable, fun, stress-reducing and even lifesaving.

When a dour college professor taught about the difficulties and hard work of marriage, my wife spoke up. By then she was a 55-year-old student completing her degree in Family Science. Surrounded by marriage-phobic twenty-somethings, she raised her hand and from years of marital experience that far surpassed her professor’s, she confidently stated, “Marriage is NOT hard! LIFE is hard! It can be so much easier when you have someone to share it with.”

Marriage is a force that combines the strengths and cancels out the weaknesses of two people. Marriage is greater than the sum of its parts, and therefore a powerful catalyst for change in a world that desperately needs it.  

Marriage isn’t a liability, it’s an asset. Young people contemplating marriage often think of it as a future drain on their finances, emotional well-being, and freedom. Consequently, they look for the ideal time to get married—a time when they are flush with cash, have accomplished enough of their “fun” goals, own their home, have completed their formal education, and feel ready for the “liability” of marriage. Nothing could be further from that scenario than when two committed people love each other and experience the power of a truly life-affirming marriage. Not only are they more likely to enhance their temporal situation, but also their emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.

When we adjust our words about marriage, we can adjust our thinking, and ultimately access the power of our marriages. Let’s plan to put effort into our marriages, but let’s not mistake it for work. 

But what about those who feel their marriage DOES require work? Maybe they haven’t found their spouse to be the supportive, loving person they had anticipated. We need to remember that a checklist of behavioral “do’s and don’ts” will not a great marriage make. It’s not what you DO, it’s how you feel about what you do that counts. Remember the vocation and vacation analogy. When, in our hearts, we know we’re on vacation, we can expend a great deal of effort while feeling refreshed and exhilarated. If your spouse saw you as a refreshing and exhilarating partner, do you think she/he might exhibit a different attitude and have different feelings about you?

Stay tuned for more articles and helps on how to improve relationships through better emotional literacy. What are some tools you can use to change the way you feel inside?      

California or China?

China Foreign Affairs University took several foreign teachers on a weekend trip to Qingdao (or Tsingdao). Sometimes, we couldn’t tell if we were in southern California or China. Our highlights start out with an amazing harbor light show that surpasses any we’ve seen in Asia. Among other things, exterior building lights showed dolphins and whales “swimming” from one building to another in a coordinated show of lights.

Next, we hit the beach and found many surprises.

LaoShan is a massive park devoted to remembering Laozu, the founder of China’s only native religion–Taoism (pronounced Dow-ism). Laozu lived in approximately 600 BC and his sayings have been revered for many centuries. Laozu himself emphasized the bond between heaven and earth, and his sayings promote peace and non-interference. This cite features the world’s largest statue of Laozu and a circular temple with a scene of creation and stars in the cosmos inside. It was incredible.

Guess what? More beach fun!

L to R: Lynn Li Wei (our University Liaison, and acrobatics champion?), Julian (she doesn’t normally look like this), Laraine (looking oddly frightened), Chuck (got the most height, obviously), Cory (like he’s being lifted up to the mother ship), Marcus (not sure what he’s going for here), Dan Rong (Dept. Supervisor and apparent cheerleader), Mike (proving that “white people” really can’t jump)

The food was incredible.

Back at the main pier, the tide was low but the hope of getting some crabs was high. This is a favorite local past-time.

On a hilltop, you can enter a revolving lookout station and view the harbor, the surrounding hills and even the governor’s mansion. Qingdao is known for its clear weather, red roofs and greenery.

It’s fun to interact with the locals, especially the children.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite!

Our university sponsored our attendance at a Saturday morning International Kite Flying event in Beijing on Saturday, May 4, 2019.

Only problem? Not much wind . . but our moods were certainly soaring! We learned something about flying a kite with very little wind: it’s all about HOPE. Every time you lift that kite into the air, start to run, and let out the string, you are filled with hope that THIS time will be the magical moment when the kite takes off. We got to learn from a master kite-maker and make our own kites while watching teams of kite enthusiasts attempting to get giant kites aloft.

Ruth Ann and Mike Martin brought their daughter Stacy, her husband Joseph, and their two little kids. They were a hit with the media.

International Kite Event in Beijing.(L to R): Joseph, Lynn (our University Liaison), Marcus, Ruth Ann, Eli (child), Mike, Luke (child), Stacy, Chuck, Laraine, Cory
A Master Kite Maker at Work
Chuck builds his kite with a little help from the master.
Lynn brought her mother–a very sweet lady. This was during a Labor Day holiday in Beijing.
A giant kite couldn’t quite make it off the ground.

Ever Wonder Where the Great Wall Ends? We Found it!

A group of us sat around one day and said, “Hey, where does China’s great wall end, anyway?” Next thing you know, we found the end–where the great wall hits the ocean. Check out these pics:

LaoLungTou (Old Dragon’s Head” is the name of the spot where the wall meets the ocean.
Chuck and Laraine Chamberlain at LaoLungTou (Old Dragon’s Head)
The Great Wall descending from the nearby hills on it’s way to the ocean. In the foreground, the “Great Wall” is more like mounds of dirt. You can see how the wall disappears. Then, closer to the ocean, it was restored.
This is an original part of the wall that led to the water. Many parts of the wall have had the bricks removed to use for other projects

Our trip included fun in the sun and sand at the beach, waiting in a visitor’s waiting room to cool off after our long trek, colorful kites, antique doors, the Goddess of the Sea, various historical figures, and even a very tall city wall connecting to the Great Wall.

The Motley Crew outside our university excited to get on the bus and head out to see where the Great Wall ends. (L to R): Kevin, Joseph, Eli (child), Mike, Stacey, Ruth Ann, Laraine, Ryan, Harris, Sai, “Zhurki”, Luke (child), Chris, Chuck

Chinese Students are Surprised by Leadership Concepts

Statue of former Premier Zhou Enlai and CFAU President Chen Yi in front of CFAU auditorium

Remembering that first class day in September when a new crop of leadership students at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) looked up at me expectantly, I could almost see the questions forming behind those beautiful brown eyes.

“Who is this American, and what will we be doing in this ‘leadership’ class?” “Does he really think we need to learn about leadership—something so far into our future?”

On that first day, I looked into their skeptical eyes and got no response when I said, “Raise your hand if you think of yourself as a leader.” Polling the class, I verified what I had already discovered about most students in China: they think of leadership only in terms of positional power.

I then did something unexpected: I showed four short video clips of orchestra conductors leading their orchestras. Each had a unique style. One kept a steady metronome-like beat, showing no emotion on his face. Another closed his eyes while swaying and waving his arms in oversized motions. A third conductor did an exuberant little dance while gesturing with his arms. The fourth was the most unusual. He did nothing with his body and, strangely, kept his arms folded while simply raising his eyebrows occasionally and pursing his lips. This brought some nervous laughter from the class.  

As the music went silent, I looked around the room at puzzled expressions. Breaking the silence, I said, “The true essence of leadership is simply manifesting your most important values. Can you tell what the first conductor valued?”

Getting no response, I continued, “The first conductor valued a regular, steady rhythm.” I then imitated this maestro’s robot-like precision.

“What about the second conductor?” Again, no response. I closed my eyes and made big motions with my arms. “Can you tell this conductor really valued the emotions of his music?”

“What about the third conductor?” I asked. Finally, a timid student piped up, “He likes to dance.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “He seems to value physical movement and expression.” Several students nodded in agreement.

“How about the fourth conductor?” This brought snickers as the students remembered the conductor who seemed to do nothing. “Can you tell what he values?” All heads went down to their desks.

“It might be hard to recognize, but can you see that this conductor valued the musicians’ individual and collective expression and interpretation of the music—even without his involvement? He wants them to come forth with their own expressions. But it doesn’t make him any less a leader, does it?”

As the school year progressed, students became less skeptical, more engaged and more determined to be “values-expressing” leaders. They joined me in exploring leadership through discussion and memorable activities. We went through John C. Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, examining case studies, working in teams to make critical decisions in simulated conditions, and even analyzing Deputy Barney Fife’s humorous behavior as a “Level 1” leader in the old American sit-com, The Andy Griffith Show. We worked through concepts in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (Kerry Patterson et al.) by creating simulated conflicts and allowing students to practice newly learned techniques to resolve those conflicts. We used unusual, right-hand/left-hand writing and drawing methods developed by Dr. Lucia Cappachione (The Power of Your Other Hand, etc.) to become more self-aware in order to more effectively lead others.

Students kept a leadership journal, starting with a list of their most important values. As the year continued, some were able to share from their journal and examine how well they had expressed those important values with others in their class, in their teams, in their community and at home.  

Finally, at the end of the year, we examined Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 top world leaders. Choosing the top twelve who happened to be leaders in government, business, activism and philanthropy, we discussed what they all had in common. Because the list included male and female, old and young (even a 16-year- old), rich and poor, employers and employees, etc., the common element was obvious. Each leader had been successful in identifying a value within themselves and moving heaven and earth to express and manifest that value. Students’ understanding of leadership and their roles in it had taken a huge jump forward from the first day of class.  

China Foreign Affairs University is the “cradle of diplomacy” for China. All Chinese diplomats must receive training at CFAU, and a large percentage of China’s diplomats have also received undergraduate or graduate degrees at CFAU. It feels good to know this powerful nation’s future is in the hands of those who have a better understanding and passion for leadership.

What might the world reap from the seeds sown in my “leadership crop” this year?

A view of the “new campus” in Sha He area of Beijing
New campus “teaching building” for Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors
Gate to “Old Campus” in heart of Beijing (Xi Cheng District) Seniors are taught in the main building (shown)
Statue of Founding President Chen Yi in front of Main Building of Old Campus
Lobby of our residence (International Exchange Center)