While working with clients in a court-mandated anger management course, one of the surprising things we learned, (as some volunteered to share with us) was the fact that so many of them had experienced the same family characteristic– secrets! We were shocked to see this apparent connection between family secrets and dangerous anger.
We recently completed a 2-day trip from Beijing to Xi’an where we saw the 2,200 year-old terracotta warriors with our son, Jeremy, and his wife Rozana. We were amazed to learn the lengths to which China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang went in order to keep a big secret– that he had built an extensive underground world, a massive tomb mirroring his above-ground world.
How did he keep the site secret? He killed anyone who knew about it! Workers who brought the life-sized army, horses, chariots and weapons to the site were tragically buried alive with them. Thousands of concubines, those failing to produce children for the young emperor, were also buried alive and the entire site was buried many meters deep.
In 1974, farmers in the area were digging a well and came across some pieces of the buried army. Today, a massive archaeological effort is still underway, and apparently most of the site is still buried.
It makes one wonder: Who and what do we sacrifice in order to keep secrets? The motivation for most family secrets is “protection.” In our experience, when we try to protect those whose actions should not be condoned, we end up violating or betraying others. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic: when we bury our secrets we need to ask ourselves who is being buried alive with them.
Laraine took some very heavy bags full of ingredients and utensils to the new campus to teach her students how to make American food, such as deviled eggs and layered bean dip. They were amazed (lots of “ooh’s and “ah’s” and many had never seen a cheese grater. Check out her pics:
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:
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
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
“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,
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
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?
My wife and
I recently stood in line at an American-style fast-food burger shop in Beijing.
When it was finally our turn, we reached for the laminated menu card near the
cash register and started looking at the menu options. Out of nowhere, a young
man pushed forward, grabbed the menu out of our hands, and started giving his
order to the cashier. That’s when I reached over, quickly slipped the card out
of his hands and blocked his view of the cashier with my body while we
proceeded to order.
the first time we had encountered this kind of behavior during our stay in
China. In fact, over the 18 months since arriving in Beijing from America, we’ve
seen it nearly every day in various situations and venues–from train ticket queues
to subways to grocery stores to airplanes. Everywhere we’ve turned, we’ve noticed
locals who do not seem to accept or honor the concept of “wait your turn.”
talking about cultural differences with our Chinese friends. One friend, a medical
doctor, heard me lament about this encounter. He thought for a moment, then
proposed a possible explanation. Recent research into an emerging field called
“epigenetics” indicates that animals and human beings may pass along ancestral
memories via their genes. In short, our behaviors, attitudes and preferences
may be greatly influenced by environmental factors suffered by our ancestors.
He postulated that trauma from serious famine in China’s past may now be to
blame for an unreasonable feeling of urgency, pushing a person to skip ahead of
others in line to be the first served.
that whatever experiences we’ve had, or whatever traumas our progenitors may
have suffered, we do have the ability and responsibility to overcome our own
programming to act in ways socially acceptable in the current environment. We
cannot blame our genes for bad behavior. However, the doctor’s explanation has
caused me to re-think my own responses to these behaviors. Instead of reacting
with irritation, I am now more likely to feel compassion for those whose genes
might nudge them to move ahead of me in line. If echoes of China’s past whisper
to the person behind me that he is starving, I may see his behavior differently
and choose to respond accordingly.
Part of our National Week (October, 2018) tour took place at a desert resort in the sand dunes. We did not stay the night, but enjoyed several hours at this very unique venue. We had certainly been to many American dunes, which are usually very undeveloped. We didn’t know what to expect at a sand dunes in Mongolia. We were surprised to see a massive tourist site with able cars, odd post-apocalyptic dune buggies, a Disney-like train, a large swimming complex, camel rides, sand sleds, and even a massive tent arena all plopped into the middle of an ocean of fine powdery sand.
Most of our fellow tourists were Chinese nationals taking their week-long holiday with us. It took over an hour in line to finally climb onto our cable car ride to the dunes. During our wait in line, we were engulfed by tiny little gnats that descended in swarms. We had to cover our mouths so we could breath without sucking in little creatures. Once we got to the dunes, there were no gnats (thank heavens!)
The view from inside one of our “Mad Max” post-apocalyptic vehicles.
Each “Mad Max” sand boat (or dune buggy?) carried 30-40 people. They traveled easily in the sand and it felt a bit like floating on water.
Is it just me, or does everyone else feel like their in a Star Wars movie?
Ahead is a large tent where theatrical productions are presented.
Sitting on cushions on the sand floor of the arena, we saw a traditional Mongolian wedding with all the dances. It was very interesting and surreal at the same time.
No sand dune trip would be satisfactory without connecting to a camel. We’ve come to love our camel rides in China and Mongolia. They seem like such docile creatures, although we understand they can get quite belligerent. It was only a five minute camel ride but it was fun.
We took a “Disney” train to get us back to the gate of the gate of the resort.
Cable car rides are enjoyable when you’re with good friends. Here is Leslie Pelton, Laraine, and Barbara Openshaw. We again had to stand in line to catch this cable car back to the bus.
In October our second daughter, Brandi, and her fiance’ (Rob) were traveling with a tour group through China.Their few days in Beijing wouldn’t have been complete without some time with her mom and dad. Here she is trying something new . . the Chinese version of a candied apple. It is a “Hawthorn apple” candied skewer, a popular treat in Beijing.
Taking a selfie is an art form that we do not have a handle on, as you can see. What good is it to show yourself in China if you really can’t tell where you are?
It is always nice when family comes to China. Brandi and Rob were on a tour but we did snatch them away for a few hours.
It took a long time to find them, but we finally met up with them in Forbidden City. Maybe next time they’ll learn to hide themselves better.
Can you picture this couple in ancient times? What role would they have played in the court of the emperor?
Rob and Brandi make a cute couple on the moat outside the Forbidden City. They seemed to enjoy themselves, even if it was with the ‘rents (parents). A strange thing happened later in their trip. Their last venue before leaving Beijing was the Summer Palace, a sprawling estate that takes several hours to walk around. It was a Saturday morning and Brandi’s parents were also scheduled to go with their university to the Summer Palace in the early afternoon. Therefore, it didn’t appear there would be any overlap, so all goodbyes were said on Friday. However, as Brandi and Rob were leaving the Summer Palace, her parents were just arriving, so their was one last hug before they left the city.
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)