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)

A Star is Born

A Star is Born

Our university invited us to attend a conference in a “small” town of just 1.2 million people. We accepted the invitation and soon found that we were the guests of honor (token Americans) at a huge “friendship walk” in central China. In XinYang, we were “wined and dined,” put up in a 5-star hotel, and treated like royalty.

At the Opening Ceremonies, we were escorted into a stadium filled with thousands of cheering people. I was given a red jacket with a Chinese flag over my heart, and put on stage with about 11 other foreigners. They introduced me as a distinguished teacher from America while thousands of people cheered, a half-dozen drones flew around our heads, taking pictures, and television cameras recorded everything.

When it came time to leave on the 13 Km walk, we were mobbed by people wanting our picture. Even as we walked away and came to a small village, I stopped to stretch and young boys pulled out their phones to get pictures. My memory is bending over at the waist to stretch my hamstring while a young boy laid on the ground, peering up at my sagging red face with his camera a few inches from my nose. I don’t even want to see that picture. — Chuck Chamberlain

Key to pictures below: 1) Pic with host at dinner 2) Another host at dinner 3) host with Lynne, our school liaison 4) on our walk, these men stared very intently at us, and it seemed they had never seen an American in person. We asked to take their picture 5) workers harvesting tea leaves -so beautiful 6) more greenery on our walk 7) Card playing in hotel lobby, two girls from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan joined us 8) Fellow teacher, Cory, is very tall and a magnet for picture taking 9) little guy and his mom very curious about us 10) trying to stretch, missed the best picture of the boy on the ground getting my face as I bent over 11) forming C-F-A-U with our fingers 12) Introduced as a high muckety muck 13) fellow big shots on stage 14) One of the many drones getting our picture 15) With fellow big shots 16)Chuck, Laraine, Lynn, Cory, and a local helper 17) in our hotel lobby

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Life as a guest big shot “foreigner” can be exhausting
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Trigger Me, I Dare You — (Pt. 3)

Triggers Are Opportunities

There is an assumption in society that it’s best to avoid triggers. After all, they can lead to destruction at worst, or extreme discomfort at best. But there are good reasons why triggers, despite their discomfort, can be opportunities in disguise. When a prior traumatic experience is triggered, there is a window of opportunity to deal with it effectively. Often, until triggered, those traumatic and incompletely processed experiences remain so far “backstage” it isn’t possible to effectively process them. With the right tools, a trigger opportunity can bring about a lasting change in a person’s life. Sometimes, the right “tool” is a mental health professional, especially if the triggered experience is deemed to be overwhelming or induces an inclination to do harm to self or others. Often, triggers can be processed on your own, and there are tools available to help.

I will share a private, powerful aspect of my life: I was sexually abused and bullied as a child and sexually assaulted as an adult. Perhaps the worst and most pervasive feeling during these incidents was the feeling of being unable to control the situation. Consequently, as an adult, I have often been triggered by anything that even approximates control. For example, I have seldom been able to comfortably allow someone else to drive a car in which I was a passenger. In fact, I’ve even found flying in a commercial aircraft uncomfortable, not because I feared crashing, but because I was not the pilot! I’ve also found myself triggered when my wife would do anything that even smelled like control. She’s often described these experiences as, “walking on eggshells.” Obviously, this is not a condition that is good for relationships.

Living and working in China, where there is so much control held by government officials in every aspect of life, I have experienced triggers due to this issue of control. With so many trigger opportunities, I’ve been able to use CJEA (Creative Journal Expressive Arts) techniques to gain a better understanding and control of my own emotions during these triggering incidents.

CJEA is a brain-science-based method of creative expression developed by Dr. Lucia Capacchione in the 1970’s when she experienced some difficult health issues. It is currently the method of choice for a growing community of certified practitioners working with organizations within the military, schools, corrections departments, courts, public safety departments, corporations, and with individuals, couples and families. CJEA utilizes the power and unique characteristics of both sides of the brain. This is done by expressing one’s self through movement, drawing, sketching or sculpting combined with writing using both the dominant and non-dominant hand.

One day recently, after experiencing a “control issue” trigger that unleashed emotional and physical symptoms (irritability and sudden intestinal cramping), I seized the opportunity to explore more about my control issues using some simple CJEA techniques. Fortunately, I had my Beijing apartment to myself that day. I placed a blank piece of paper on the table and used my dominant hand (right hand, in my case) to write questions to myself, based on the CJEA training I had received. Then, with various colored pencils, I used my left hand to scribble the answers using either text or drawing.

By doing this, I was able to tap into parts of my brain that seemed resistant to connect to my brain’s speech centers, and therefore were not often utilized when trying to talk over my concerns with my wife or anyone else. These parts of me had held onto emotional content that had not been expressed since I was a child. Metaphorically speaking, this abused child within me had been wandering around just off-stage, making trouble. Now I was giving “him” unprecedented access to say what was on his mind. And he did! He expressed terrible feelings and wanted assurances from me (the adult me) that I would be more conscious of him and his concerns. I offered some heartfelt promises, and immediately felt more peaceful.

If this communication with myself sounds bizarre to you, I assure you that you too have various parts of you. Each part has its own energy level and each part experiences life a little differently. During my extensive training with Dr. Capacchione, one of the most intriguing revelations to me was that we all have specific parts within us, doing specific functions. It isn’t mysterious; it’s simply the way we were all built.   

It wasn’t necessary, at least during this episode, to re-hash and remember all the abuse. If I had noticed the discussion going in that direction, I might have waited for my wife to be present, or at least in another room. No, I simply needed to communicate and negotiate with a childlike part of me about the feelings of being controlled.

From this experience and many like it, I have learned that I am an excellent therapeutic guide for my own mental health. I do not have a pathology and therefore do not need the help of a certified mental health professional. If that should ever become necessary, I wouldn’t hesitate to make use of that additional resource.

There is no reason to live a life full of misery and frustration. When the “Broadway play” that is life seems to be more chaotic than it should be, there is hope.

Chuck and Laraine Chamberlain have been trained and certified in CJEA techniques. For more information about CJEA, click here. For information about Dr. Lucia Capacchione’s books, click here

Laraine Presents Emotional Tools for Forgiveness at Asia Women’s Conference

Laraine received a great deal of positive feedback from women who attended the Asia Women’s Conference in March in Hong Kong. She spoke about Forgiveness: the Pain, the Paralysis, and the Process.

Laraine Chamberlain Presents: Forgiveness–The Pain, The Paralysis, and the Process

One part of the presentation dealt with the idea that each of us has multiple, distinct, yet interrelated areas in which we can develop self-reliance including: Physical, financial, educational, social, spiritual and emotional. Because we do not have the necessary tools, we tend to deal with emotional issues as only a byproduct of strength in another area. For instance, we tend to believe that to strengthen ourselves emotionally, we must pursue spiritual strengths. We read scripture, attend church, and pray in order to help ourselves emotionally.

While it is true there are strong “spillover” benefits of a spiritual life, it is not true that we can rely solely on those benefits for emotional strength. For some reason it is obvious that attending church does not strengthen physical muscles, nor does it take the place of good nutrition. Likewise, it is obvious that going to the gym every day does not supplant religious observance. But when it comes to building emotional strength, we hear advice such as, “Just get out and do more social things.” Or we hear, “Pray more, and read more scriptures.”

Conference attendees take notes during Laraine’s presentation

There is good reason for this kind of advice–the world is largely unaware of specific exercises to boost emotional health. Laraine and Chuck have been certified in an approach called “CJEA” or Creative Journal Expressive Arts. Among other things, CJEA is a brain-science based method of enhancing emotional awareness and strength.

When confronted with the very spiritual need to forgive someone, it is helpful to understand that forgiveness is both a spiritual AND an emotional need. Consequently, there are specific emotional exercises that can be used to help someone going through a forgiveness process. In her presentation, Laraine recalled a fairly recent experience in which missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked her to join with them in a discussion with someone who was considering baptism. As the discussion progressed, the woman seemed to hit an emotional roadblock and could not consider baptism until she had forgiven her husband. Laraine guided the woman through some emotional exercises that left her sobbing, but noticeably relieved and ready to continue her spiritual life.

Laraine taught a simple exercise on paper to show the women how easy, yet how powerful emotional exercises can be

When we have the right tools, we are free to go where we’ve never been before. But, as Laraine pointed out, the tools are so simple–almost too simple–and because of the “simpleness of the way,” many people don’t bother to do them, even when they know about them. By using simple spiritual and emotional tools, we can more easily forgive and continue a healthier path in life.

Is it Okay Michael Irvin is “Terrified”?

March 27, 2019–Today it was announced that former All-Pro Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, Michael Irvin, was in the hospital over the weekend, undergoing tests for throat cancer. His results are not yet in, but what he posted on Instagram is a raw, honest appraisal of his emotional state. Because so many of us believe certain emotions are “off limits” to us (anger, fear, disgust, sadness, etc.), it is refreshing to note the experience of a man whose core values include controlling fear.

His own Instagram post paints a frightening picture:

Michael Irvin receives the ball

Michaelirvin88 Spent Sun & Mon in LA at UCLA medical Health (Ronald Reagan Hospital) doing health test. I would not usually do this but this I need to share. Growing up in the ghetto of Ft Lauderdale the one thing you have to conquer to get out is FEAR. I did! As a football player the no fear gift served me well as a blessing and an asset on the field but sometimes off the field it’s been a curse and a liability. This past football season after the @dallascowboys beat the @Saints I was so elated and hyped I lost my voice and the problem persisted for almost 2months. After visiting some of the best throat Doctors they thought it to be wise to take a deeper look at the situation. So we schedule and performed a throat biopsy. To give background I share with you that I lost my father at the young age of 51. He had throat cancer. This daemon has chased and vexed me deep in my spirit all my life. So saying I am afraid this time is a big big understatement. I AM TERRIFIED! My Faith tells me whenever you face great fear you go to your greatness power. Mine is God. I am asking all who will. Could you please send up a prayer to help my family and I deal with whatever the results may be? Thanks for your thoughts and prayers in advance. I will continue to pray for your fam’s protection and prosperity as well. May God Bless us all.

When we deny or minimize our true feelings, we often create an undercurrent of emotions that seeks expression in harmful behaviors and illnesses. When we express those feelings in appropriate ways, even in a personal journal or, in this case, Instagram post, we can deal directly with the difficult emotion. In addition, we are more likely to have the support of loving friends and family when we need it.

So often, we hear disturbing news of NFL players who have allowed their emotions to get out of control, resulting in domestic violence or even unnecessary violence on the field. My hat is off to Michael Irvin. In this situation, he was in touch with himself enough to recognize extreme fear, and honest enough to express it to family, friends, and even the general public. Whatever you may think of Michael Irvin, his political views, reputation, or past behavior, at least in this situation he has shown a remarkable strength of character. May God bless you and your family, Mr. Irvin, as you face this difficult time.

Charles J. Chamberlain is co-founder of Chamberlain Leadership Group, a company focused on developing productive relationships and health through emotional literacy and wellness. Copyright © 2019 All Rights Reserved. He owns no rights to the photo.

Trigger Me–I Dare You (Pt. 2)

The Politics of Triggers

“Trigger Warning” has become a common expression in modern media. A trigger warning is simply a warning that what comes next might cause someone who suffers from prior trauma to remember or relive their experience. On the face of it, it is a sensitive and welcome acknowledgement that painful conditions such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are real and prevalent.

However, the use of such warnings and the thought process behind it have become part of the country’s divisive political discussion. The extreme elements of one faction seem bent on bludgeoning the other side into submission by placing nearly every normal human behavior in the category of a “trigger.” For this group of people, saying a pronoun, asking for a date, opening the door for someone, wearing a certain hat, flying a flag, or singing a Christmas song have all become triggers that any caring human being should refrain from doing.

Meanwhile, extremists from the other political faction are attempting to shame the “overly sensitive” victims of trauma and violence by calling them names like “snowflake,” hinting at their extreme fragility. Rhetoric from this group commonly minimizes and denies what may be real, debilitating trauma felt by many innocent people.  

Both sides have valid points, and both sides should work to reign in their most extreme elements. Yes, it is true that anything–literally anything can become a trigger to someone who has experienced trauma. Society should be sensitive to this. But it is not productive or sane to ban benign human behavior in an attempt to guarantee no one will ever be triggered.

Some speech and behaviors, in and of themselves, are violent, degrading and inappropriate. Common sense and conscience tell us what is included in this category. Members of a civilized society have an obligation to avoid such expressions. But all other speech and behaviors, even those that can be triggering, should be processed internally by those who feel inclined to be offended or triggered. It is incumbent on the offended person to learn coping skills. Any other configuration of accountability could be destructive in our society.  

Look for Part 3 in this series: “Triggers are Opportunities.” If you have experienced triggers in your life, learn how to take advantage of them to bring more growth and healing.       

Trigger Me — I Dare You (Pt. 1)

Are triggers real? What do they mean and how do they work? Why are political factions discussing triggers? How can I deal with my triggers?

Man experiencing a trigger

Part One—The Power and Scope of Your Subconscious

Picture a cruise ship.

If you successfully pictured a cruise ship just now, ask yourself where that image came from. Where was that mental image 30 seconds ago? If you’ve taken a cruise, then surely your own memories were involved when you conjured up an image. If you have never taken a cruise, then you’ve likely seen pictures of cruise ships, or recall seeing “Titanic” or “The Love Boat” or some other program about a cruise ship.

If the ship you brought up in your mind was not in your conscious thought immediately prior to reading this article, then you have just experienced a powerful proof that you have a subconscious mind. How much of your mental “storage” is taken up by your subconscious? Imagine a large balance scale, with the weight of all your conscious thoughts on one side and all your subconscious or unconscious content on the other side. Which way would the scale lean?

Can you see that the amount of content in your subconscious mind far outweighs that of your conscious thoughts? You have a very comprehensive, emotion-filled subconscious “world” within you. Your entire history of memories, experiences, perceptions and beliefs resides largely in your subconscious, not in your conscious thoughts.

Your mental life is really divided into two different realms—on-stage and off-stage. Living and thinking is like producing a Broadway play. Most of the scenery, props and actors are off-stage waiting for their cues to perform. At any given moment, only a small percentage of the staff is on-stage reciting lines and interacting with the environment. Occasionally, an actor on stage says or does something to prompt another actor to enter “stage left.” The new actor might bring additional props or baggage from backstage with him. The new actor then recites his lines and acts out his part. Sometimes, an actor says or does something to prompt an entire change of scenery.    

How do you access this hidden, powerful dimension within? Or metaphorically speaking, how do you prompt someone or something to emerge from backstage? In your conscious, everyday world there are certain objects, words, thoughts, people, music, smells, feelings and sounds that act as little cues or “triggers” to bring things forward from backstage. This might sound mysterious, but it is the mechanism upon which the entire skill of reading is based. We train young children to associate a visual, conscious symbol (letters and words) with something in their subconscious mind. Because you are trained in that skill, when I wrote the words, “Cruise Ship” above, you opened a doorway to your subconscious. You could say that by simply writing the words, “Cruise Ship,” I “triggered” you into bringing thoughts of a cruise ship into consciousness.

A trigger is simply a stimulus leading to a doorway or portal into an internal dimension of subconscious content. When triggered, long-lost thoughts and feelings emerge to interact with your current environment. When summoned, portions of your subconscious world ideally come to the forefront–on stage to offer up the lines you need in your daily story of life. However, when those backstage characters represent trauma, shame, pain or grief, something often prevents them from coming all the way on stage. Instead, they can muck around behind the scenery, creating chaos just out of sight. The audience might hear noises or see onstage props being knocked around from behind. They might wonder what is happening to the play.

In our lives, triggered negative emotions and thoughts can cause chaos, taking over our lives as they sit just beneath the surface causing disease, anger, depression, or other problems. And because we are just as much a part of the audience as anyone else, and don’t understand what is happening, we feel blindsided by strong, chaotic feelings that seemingly come out of nowhere.

[Stay tuned on this blog for Parts two and three. You will have a better understanding of triggers and learn ways to turn triggers into opportunities for growth.]

Laraine and the Dumpling Gang

China Foreign Affairs University sponsored a gala the week before Christmas. They correctly surmised that some of the “foreign experts” on campus would want to learn how to make Chinese dumplings.

Laraine (second from left) enjoys some quality dumpling time with Ruth Ann Martin (3rd from left, from South Africa), Shelly (4th from left, CFAU administrator and Communist Party liaison) and Lynn (2nd from right, CFAU administrator). They are joined by some expert dumpling makers on the ends.
Ruth Ann is a natural dumpling maker
The finished product! YUM!

Is Christmas Gift Giving a Mistake?

Christmas Gifts

The spirit of giving is a beautiful part of Christmas. But when families have so many things gathering dust in their closets, the “wonder and awe” that is such a big part of the Christmas spirit can suffer. In their yet-to-be-published book, “Surviving by a Thread: Finding Joy, Abundance and Resilience in a Turbulent World,” the Chamberlains identify a survival “thread” called “Give Up and Let Go.”

Learning to give up and let go is critical to the flow of abundance in our lives. This is no more evident than at Christmastime. In the book, Jeremy recalls an unusual discussion with a young mother:

“I remember coming across someone else who seemed pretty conscious of this ‘letting go’ thing. It was the mother of a family I met once. They were getting ready for Christmas. There were several small children and their Christmas tree was surrounded by many wrapped gifts. But at the same time, they still had a good number of toys and games left over from the last Christmas in their children’s rooms. When I talked to the mother, she said something I’ve never forgotten.”

“What did she say?” Laraine asked.

“She said, ‘We love this time of year because it’s a perfect time to sort through the toys and games from years past and get rid of those that are unusable or seldom used. Our children have learned to give away or throw away their old toys at least one time every year.’ . . .

If we could help our children shift their mindsets away from accumulation towards the direction of abundance, which includes the concept of “flow,” we would be teaching them a valuable lesson. They would appreciate their toys a little more, learn to experience the joy of giving, and avoid the bad energy that comes with too much clutter.  

There is certainly nothing wrong with gift-giving at Christmas. But by taking a few subtle steps in the direction of abundant thinking, we can make the giving more positive and meaningful.

Home Buying Can Be Joyful Chaos

Home buying and selling are examples of leadership activities. I teach leadership principles to three classes at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. We recently discussed the quote: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” Students learned that leadership in the home is the highest priority. They learned that for most people, the single biggest financial decision they will make will involve buying a home.

In addition to teaching students a topic, I am tasked with giving them an experience in American culture. So, I devised a way for them to learn all of these leadership principles, practice making an important decision, learn additional vocabulary, experience the “American Dream,” and have fun–all at the same time.

I started by printing out home information sheets from Zillow. I chose the Atlanta area and filtered for homes in the $250K to $300K range. For each home, I determined an unmet need and wrote it on an instruction sheet for each pair of students. For instance, one sheet might say, “You own a beautiful home on Sheffield Way, but your mother is coming to live with you and you need a place for her.”

Students paired up while we learned how to navigate “ad speak” such as “w/frplc” (with fireplace), or “bsmnt” (basement). Students had a hard time, but with some coaching they caught on quickly. They learned some new vocabulary like: jack and jill bath, master suite, stucco, crown molding, HOA, HVAC, half bath, “as is,” and mother-in-law suite.

Once students understood the new vocabulary, each pair had to come up with a 1-minute commercial about the home they owned and why their fellow students should buy it. Their commercials were hilarious, especially since many of  the terms were new to them. Many had seen some slick Chinese commercials on TV and tried to imitate that style in their speech. Their peers found this to be extremely entertaining. If a student wasn’t presenting a 1-minute commercial, he/she was busy listening to fellow students’ commercials to see which home best fit the unmet need they were looking to fill.

Once all commercials were finished, I turned them loose to buy and sell. Their only assignment was to sell their existing home and buy another home that fit their needs. They only had about 10 minutes for this open marketplace. The excitement level was amazing, and in the end most students were able to accomplish the objective. Once in a while, however, a pair of students would admit that they were homeless and unable to buy a new home. Or in some cases, some students owned two homes.

I would call this activity “joyful chaos.” Check out the short video and tell me what you think? Any suggestions for future classes? (By the way, I tried to make this as English as possible, but some students slip into Mandarin when excited. A few students who are learning Cantonese, will only speak to me in Cantonese)