Thursday, March 31, 2011

Act As If

I was dismayed to find my (then) four-year-old daughter’s lovely dresses piled in a heap on the floor of her closet.  This was not the result of carelessness but a pointed demonstration of where her priorities lay. Just a few feet above the dresses, she had carefully hung her assortment of swimming suits, evenly spaced to fully occupy the prime real estate of her closet. 

Had she been left to her own resources, I can guess how she would have preferred to spend her Sunday afternoons.  Down came the swimsuits and back went the dresses. Thanks to our family culture of weekly church attendance and the welcoming friends and teachers we meet there, now there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.  My daughter came to love going to church so much that when she happens to feel sick on Saturday nights, she prays hard to feel well enough to go to church the next day.  It seems her prayers are always answered.

Our relationships and environment have a huge influence on how we live our lives.  Our success in reaching our goals has everything to do with how effectively we arrange our environment and recruit people to support us in our efforts.

I am very inspired by a woman I learned about while reading Influencer:  The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson et al.  Her story follows:

Mimi Silbert
(1942 –      )

“My job is to be the chief believer, to believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves,” says Mimi Silbert about the 1,500 ex-convicts who currently reside at one of her Delancey Street communities.  Over the past forty years, she has transformed 18,000 felons into upstanding contributors to society.

There are only two requirements for becoming a resident (slash-employee-in-training) of Mimi’s Delancey Street Foundation: to have hit bottom and to be willing to change. 

Mimi sees the people (commonly labeled as thieves, addicts, even murderers) she brings to her Delancey Street Foundation not as a “menace to society” but people who only need an opportunity to learn how to care about something besides themselves.  She teaches them to care by giving them real responsibilities, not only for themselves but for the success of other people.

Mimi creates a highly structured environment that holds people accountable for their actions.  As soon as her residents learn personal accountability, they are given responsibility to train someone else.  They become “team players” and build something bigger than themselves.

Delancey Street accepts no government funding and seeks no philanthropic aid.  Mimi has no staff other than her residents.   Though almost none of them had previously held a skilled job for longer than three months, they learn to be self-supporting and live off the profits of the businesses operated by the Delancey Street Foundation.

Half the people who dine at the Delancey Street Restaurant don’t realize it is fully staffed by ex-convicts until they read the back of their menu.  By then they’ve been so favorably impressed by the dignified maitre d’ and their gracious waiter, that they are sure their servers are exceptions. 

They aren’t. 

Mimi’s environment and the coaching relationships it fosters create a place where people who have been labeled “human garbage” can find their talents and soul.

We’re lucky in the fact that our people have hit bottom.
We ‘act as if’ we are all the things we want to become.
We ‘act as if’ we’re decent and caring and bright and talented.
And we eventually become those thing.
Mimi Silbert

Her story can influence everyone’s story when we learn to ‘act as if’ and build environments and relationships that help us find the “Gem in the Geode” of our lives.

"The Mimi Silbert Story:  Re-cycling ex-cons, addicts and prostitutes,"  by Jerr Boschee & Syl Jones (
See also to find several more links to televised spotlights and articles about Mimi Silbert.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Emerald Gems

Kitchen chairs turned upside down, cereal in the fridge and milk in the cupboard, a remnant of green fabric caught in a crack, a trail of glitter leading to a pot o’ gold.  Have you ever spotted any of these tell-tale signs of a leprechaun intrusion?  They’ve been known to drop into households in the wee hours of St. Patrick’s Day.
Though I’ve never had a leprechaun come to my house, I’m quite familiar with their distant cousins, the brownies.  When I was a young child, I loved brownie visits because I’d wake up to find a nice clean house.  When I was in second grade, I joined the Girl Scout Brownies and learned the secret of WHOO the brownies were.  I delighted in taking my turn to play “brownie.” I got up in the night, crept around as stealthily as a bulldozer and picked up the house.  It was the only time cleaning was any fun.  Happily, the tradition carries on with my daughter.
The magical thinking of childhood creates a magic all its own.  The willingness to believe that good things will happen is more than just charming.  It casts a vision for little miracles to occur.  My dad grew up in the depression and he noticed that as soon as his older brothers stopped believing in Santa, Santa stopped leaving presents for them.  So he was determined to keep believing and he kept receiving.  The irony of children believing in the magic of holidays is their belief creates the magic.
Too bad my kids didn’t have the expectation of delightful leprechaun pranks pulled on St. Patty’s day.  Maybe it’s not too late. J

Maewyn Succat
(385 – 461 A.D.)

Maewyn was born and raised on a windswept British Isle.  When he was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by pirates and carried away to a distant island where he was sold as a slave.  He worked night and day as a shepherd.  His long hours tending the sheep gave him lots of time to think.  He found comfort in contemplating the life of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. 
After six years of slavery, he found an opportunity to escape and he took it. He traveled by ship to Gaul (now France).  There he devoted himself to the ministry of the Roman Catholic Church and eventually became a Priest.
And then the dreams came.
Maewyn dreamed that the people of the island where he had been enslaved were reaching out to him for help.  He knew in his heart what help they needed and he knew that he must return and teach them about Jesus.  So he found himself en route to the island where he would, once again, be a servant.  Only this time his master was One he felt privileged to serve. 
Although Maewyn wasn’t the first Christian missionary on the emerald isle, he was the most successful.  He converted nobles who were influential in spreading the gospel message to all the people. 
Many years later, Maewyn Succat was sainted, becoming Saint Patrick.  Irish people still celebrate his gift to the Emerald Isle—the Christian faith.