On respect

My Internet connection at home is out of service today. I feel like out of touch with the world. So after my daughter’s swimming lesson, I stopped by at the local public library in order to get online to check email and blog.

Isn’t it great to have public libraries where we can get books to read and listen, movies to watch and go online? I am thankful for libraries.

No online access means more offline time to read. So I will be spending most of my evening time reading John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

There are some great ideas and quotes to share from the book.

One of the 21 laws John Maxwell talks about is the law of respect. I like what he says:

“When people respect you as a person, they admire you. When they respect you as a friend, they love you. When they respect you as a leader, they follow you.”

Are you respected as a person, as a friend and as a leader? It’s something to think about.

Crucial Conversations – book interview

I recently interviewed Khani Sahebjam, Mn/DOT Deputy Commissioner. We talked about the 9th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson.

Tang: Why did you pick this book? 

Sahebjam: Our success as an individual and as an organization depends a great deal on our ability to communication and handle crucial conversations well. You could have done great things and have good intention, but if you don’t know how to convey important messages to other people and how to deal with disagreements on important matters, then you are limited in what you can achieve. This book helps you to learn how to communicate best when it matters most.   

Crucial Conversations gives you some tools you need to step up to life’s most difficult and important conversations, say what’s on your mind, and get what you want, in a respectful and effective way. 

Tang:  For people who haven’t read the book, what is a crucial conversation? 

Sahebjam: The authors define crucial conversations as those discussions between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong. 

Tang: How do we typically handle crucial conversations? 

Sahebjam: Basically we are all involved in crucial conversations, both at home and at work. But often times we are not aware of the dynamics at play and we are not skilled at handling crucial conversations.  

Typically we do one of the three things when we face crucial conversations: (1) avoid them and walk away, (2) face them and handle them poorly, and (3) face them and handle them well. For the first two choices, you suffer consequences, for the third choice, you can reap positive results – better relationships, career advancement, improved organizations, etc. 

Tang: What are some of the principles and skills we need to understand and master so we can respond well when we face crucial conversations?

Sahebjam: In the book the authors talked about seven principles. 

  1. Start with heart. Examine your goals and motives, focus on what you really want for yourself, for others and for the relationships, refuse the either/or, win/lose thinking. 
  2. Learn to look for when the conversation becomes crucial and for your own behaviors.
  3. Make it safe for everyone to share their opinions and feelings, seek mutual purpose and respect. 
  4. Master our stories. We add meaning, motives and judgment to what we observe, based on the stories we tell ourselves, which create feelings that lead to our actions. So it’s important to tell the right stories.
  5. STATE your path. Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others’ take on the facts and stories, Talk tentatively, Encourage testing. 
  6. Explore others’ paths. Understand where others come from. Agree when you can and build on the agreement. 
  7. Move to action. When making decision, ask who cares, who knows, who must agree and how many people need to be involved. To ensure that dialogues and decisions lead to positive action and results, ask who does what by when and how will you follow up.   

Tang: What are the most important skills we should remember? 

Sahebjam: The two most important things to learn and remember from the book are learn to look and make it safe. 

At the core of every successful conversation is the free flow of relevant information and meaning, also known as dialogue. Each of us enters a conversation with different opinions, feelings, experiences, ideas and theories about the topic being discussed. The key is being open and honest in sharing opinions and feelings. 

One critical skill required for ensuring the free flow of information and meaning is to make it safe for everyone to bring their inputs out into the open, into a shared pool. As the shared pool grows, people are exposed to more accurate and relevant information, as the result, they make better choices and decisions. 

Change doesn’t happen without an awareness of the need for change. 

That’s why we need to learn to look for when a conversation becomes crucial and look for safety problems. Becoming aware of the situation (Are you involved in a crucial conversation?) and becoming aware of your behavior (Are you playing the silent or violent games?) is the first step to bring positive change. 

Tang: Please share some quotes from the book that are very meaningful for you. 

Sahebjam: “The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel, and misrepresentation.” – C. Northcote Parkinson 

Tang: I know you are an immigrant from Iran. Tell us a little bit more about your background. 

Sahebjam: My parents were both from Iran. They met and got married in Germany while studying there. It was an arranged marriage as it was common in our culture. I was born in Germany. In 1969, when I was 10 years old, my mother and I went back to Iran. 

I graduated from high school in 1977. The following year I came to the U.S. to study civil engineering at the South Dakota State University. There I met my wife. We have two kids, a daughter who is a student at St. Thomas and a son who is in high school. 

Tang:  So you know three languages, German, Persian and English? Which one are you most comfortable with? 

Sahebjam: English is more natural for me now, then Persian (Farsi) and German. 

Tang: You have quite a cultural diversity in your family background. You experienced different cultures at a young age and have an interracial marriage. How has all this influenced you in your conversation style and handling crucial conversations?      

Sahebjam: There are definitely cultural differences. In some cultures or regions, people are generally more quiet and reserved, in other cultures or regions, people are more direct and open. 

When I meet with people, I like to use humor, often by making fun of myself, to get conversations going. I know what I want, I become aware of situations. When a conversation goes nowhere or goes in the wrong direction, I step back and assess if I am having the wrong conversation or the wrong presentation. If so, then I will approach the conversation from a different angle. The book validated how I have operated in my life.   

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits. 

Sahebjam: I like to read books on history – American, European and Iranian history. I think you can learn a lot from history, including leadership skills. I read true stories about American civil wars. They are interesting. I also like Persian literature, especially Persian poetry. 

Tang: What do you think of the Commissioner’s Reading Corner? 

Sahebjam: I think Commissioner’s Reading Corner is a new, interesting and thought provoking program. I am happy to participate in the book discussion. It gets people involved in learning and gets conversation going which can make Mn/DOT a better place to work.

Why do I blog?

Today while reading a blog post by Abubakar Jamil on why he wanted to blog, I asked myself the same question – why do I want to blog? 

Before I answer that question, let me share why I get started blogging in the first place. 

On March 29, 2008, I created my first blog “On My Mind.”

At that time, I was writing a weekly column with the same title for my local newspaper Woodbury Bulletin. My column were freely available on its website for about two weeks after publication. After that they were archived and available only for a fee. 

The main reason I started my first blog was to have easy and free access to my own articles. I saw the blog as a convenient place where I could deposit my articles and retreive them anytime and anywhere I wanted. Therefore, I used that blog exclusively to post my columns, except for two posts in November 2009 where I shared the exciting news of my daughter who participated for the first time in the Minnesota State Fair and won first places for her poetry and drawings. 

So I started my first blog mostly for a selfish reason. And I didn’t tell people about my blog.   

In November 2009, after bouncing some ideas with the new Woodbury Bulletin editor Hank Long about starting some new writing for the paper, he suggested that I write a blog to be one of the voices in the local community and have it posted on the Woodbury Bulletin’s website. I liked the idea.

Soon we met in his office to set up my new blog account at areavoices.com. I created a simple profile and gave the blog the same title as my newspaper column and my first blog – On My Mind. I just love that title and the freedom to write whatever is on my mind.

The next day I started blogging and wrote my inaugural Post.

I haven’t stopped since. 

Unlike my first blog, this blog got started with a different purpose and reason. 

Now I love blogging and do it almost every day. 

Now here are my reasons why I blog and keep doing it every day: 

  • to share what’s on my mind, what I know and have learned
  • to express myself
  • to inform and inspire others
  • to connect with like-minded people
  • to hear and be heard
  • to learn from others
  • to grow through writing, reflection and learning from others
  • to journal my day and my life events
  • to preserve memory for my children
  • to practice writing
  • to cultivate creativity

I love writing. I think a lot of bloggers are writers who are lovers of words. We love to express, to share, to learn, to make friends with like-minded people whom we won’t meet otherwise, to grow together on this journey of life.

What are your reasons to blog or read blogs? Please share your thoughts. Thanks.

Is it “Black Friday” or “Buy Nothing Day”?

Today on Black Friday, I made the same choice as I did three years ago. I chose it to be the “Buy Nothing Day.” Read my article here.

I didn’t go shopping, instead I stayed home, relaxed, looked through some photos taken this year, and picked the ones I wanted for the holiday greeting card, uploaded them and sent them over the Internet to get printed.  

I had a peaceful day.

I want to share an article I read this week and liked: live more, need less by Leo Babauta.

 live more, need less

The more I focus on living, the less it seems I need.

What does it mean to focus on living? It’s a shift from caring about possessions and status and goals and beautiful things … to caring about actual life. Life includes: taking long walks, creating things, having conversations with friends, snuggling with my wife, playing with my kids, eating simple food, going outside and getting active.

That’s living. Not shopping, or watching TV, or eating loads of greasy and sweet food not for sustenance but pleasure, or being on the Internet, or ordering things online, or trying to get popular. Those things aren’t living – they’re consumerist pastimes that tend to get us caught up in overconsumption and mindlessness.

When I focus on living, all those other fake needs become less important. Why do I need television when I can go outside and explore, or get active, or take a walk with a friend? Why do I need to shop when I already have everything I need – I can spend time with someone or create, and I need very little to do that.

These things I do now — they require almost nothing. I can live, and need little.

And needing little but getting lots of satisfaction … that’s immensely rewarding. It’s an economy of resources that I’ve never experienced before.

These days, I need nothing but my loved ones, a text editor, a way to post what I create, a good book, simple plant-based food, a few clothes for warmth, and the outdoors.

Thankful for friends

On Thanksgiving, my family invited a few friends to our house for dinner. In addition to the Chinese food, we also had a whole turkey. This was the first Thanksgiving we had in our house that we had a turkey. So it’s quite remarkable.

The amazing thing was I didn’t have to do anything. The turkey was bought, prepared, baked and delivered to my house before the guests arrived, by a friend of mine, as a Thanksgiving gift to me.

My diet is mostly plant based. I don’t eat much meat. In my almost 20 years of living in the U.S., I have never bought a turkey. I have no interest in preparing a turkey. The rest of my family likes to eat other kinds of meat, e.g., chicken, pork, beef.

Last week, my friend told me that turkeys were on sale and asked if I wanted to buy one. I told her: “No, thanks. We don’t buy turkeys. They are not so tasty.”

Then she said that she prepared a turkey for last Thanksgiving for the first time and it turned out well. She offered to buy a turkey for me, thaw it and get it marinated for me so I only needed to put it in the oven and bake it.

It sounded a lot easier, so I said: “OK, please pick the smallest one for me. We don’t need a big one.”

A few days later, my friend called and said: “Since I have to bake my turkey anyway, do you want me to bake yours at the same time and deliver it to you on Thanksgiving?”

That sounded even better.

“Thanks. That would be great,” I said.

Wow, such a nice offer! I didn’t even have to bake it. I was glad I didn’t have to. In fact, I haven’t used my oven for years. If I want to bake a pizza or cake for the kids, I use a small portable oven. I don’t bake much and use the oven mostly as a storage space.

Now that we would have a turkey on Thanksgiving, we decided to have a few friends over for party.

Everyone loved the turkey. I tried s few bites and it was really good, tender and tasty.

One dinner guest told me that she doesn’t eat turkey at home that her husband prepares, but she did like my turkey and ate some.

A couple of days ago, when I expressed my gratitude to my friend for preparing the turkey for me, she responded: “This is what friends are for, right?  And this is the least I can do for you…  Let me know if you like the turkey later, so I can be your turkey delivery person on every Thanksgiving day!”

What a great friend I have!

So on this Thanksgiving Day, I am especially thankful for my friends.

P.S. In my recent post on Living between two cultures, I mentioned holidays and turkeys. This year, for the first time my kids had a real American Thanksgiving dinner at home, with a turkey. They didn’t have to ask: “Why don’t we eat turkey on Thanksgiving like everyone else?” Is this coincidence?

Live more organically

I try to live a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy and doing exercises. A part of any healthy lifestyle should include eating and living organically.

Here is what I do:

  • I buy produces at the local farmer’s market whenever possible. That way I buy food grown locally and in season.
  • In summer I grow my own vegetables in the garden.
  • I do compost all year around. Composting kitchen waste and yard waste is a great way to reduce trash and produce rich soil that acts as a natural fertilizer for my homegrown organic garden.
  • I eat mostly home cooked meals. I rarely go out to eat.
  • When prices are compatible, I try to buy organic food.

Unfortunately, organic food is usually more expensive than conventional food. So most of the food I buy at grocery stores are nonorganic.

I just finished reading the book Organic Manifesto : How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe  by Maria Rodale. Maria Rodale’s grandfather was organic pioneer J.I. Rodale who founded the Rodale Institute in 1947.

The book talks about how chemical companies and chemical farming are destroying our health and our planet. It made me think about the importance of eating organic for my own health, my children’s health, the health of future generations , and for the health of the planet.

Yes, I do need to buy, eat and live more organically. I should at least start with the foods on the Dirty Dozen list.

The list shows which type of produce has the highest pesticide residues and which do not. It helps us prioritize our organic purchases.

12 Most Contaminated:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

12 Least Contaminated: 

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Corn (Frozen)
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Bananas
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Papaya

Preventing and curing colds

Dr. Mercola’s article A Simple, Inexpensive Trick to Cure a Cold  has some sound advice for preventing and curing colds.

I agree with Dr. Mercola. For something like a common cold, let it run its natural course. Avoid taking over-the-counter cough and cold remedies or fever reducers as long as your temperature remains below 102 degrees and there is no serious complications.

In today’s world  where instant gratification is increasingly expected, people are overdosed and overly medicated. Whenever we have a health problem, we like to take a magic pill so we can get rid of the problem right away.

Most drugs and conventional treatment methods are overused. They don’t address the cause of the problem. They can do more harm than simply doing nothing ever would.

Nature runs its own course. Healing takes time. To get better, we need to be patient and work at the root cause. Don’t expect a magic pill to make you healthy. It might be able to make you feel better, but it cannot make you healthy in the long run.

Photos from Mount Putuo

Today I added some photos I took while visiting Putuoshan (Mount Putuo) in Zhejiang Province during my trip in China this summer. You can view my photos if you have a Facebook account.

Mount Putuo is one of the four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism, the others being Mount Wutai, Mount Jiuhua, and Mount Emei. Most visitors are not Buddhists, but simply tourists like me.

You can find lots of images of Mount Putuo if you do a Google search.

So far I have posted about 1/3 of photos taken during my China trip on my Facebook. More to go.


Faithful Buddhist pilgrims kowtow once for every three steps during their journeys to the top of Mount Putuo.


Worship with incenses.

Live a Better Life in 30 Days – Ebook available

 In September I participated in Celes’ Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge. It was a great experience.

Today I ordered a copy of Celes’ ebook Live a Better Life in 30 Days. The materials in the ebook are based on the 30DLBL Challenge program, with new tasks added.

The 30DLBL ebook includes a comprehensive guidebook that will walk you through 30DLBL AND a workbook with detailed templates for activities.  Templates include the 30-day action plan, the life wheel, life map, action plan, values map, reflection logs, etc.

I would like to get the book, review the materials, take time and do the challenge again or update the tasks I did in September.

I don’t know if I made it into the first 20 people who pre-ordered the book. If yes, I will receive my copy before the official release date of Nov. 25, 2010.