Learning to Listen by playing Dungeons and Dragons

I want to be a great listener and I thoroughly enjoy hearing people tell stories. I love playing around the table, Dungeons and Dragons because by listening actively, searching for meaning, we can share our stories to end up becoming even better listeners.

Very quickly, I say that listening includes taking in necessary data from another person, but active listening hers and searches for meaning in the words. It asks, “yes I hear and this is how what you say means something to me.” By doing so, I can help the other person feel like I’m in the story with them.

The way Dungeons & Dragons work is by using the storytelling method of “yes and”. “Yes and” simply means that I accept reality and I build upon it. But how do we make this work? The answer is to search for meaning. Ask yourself “if this reality is true then what does this mean to me?” This is IMPLICIT reality. Only listening to a description the dungeon master gives you does nothing more than store new data into your brain. But by actively listening, searching for meaning, then together, we can share stories.

Example

  • Dungeon Master says, “a storm arrives on the hill.”
  • Players say “aha, we walk through the storm.”
  • The above example simply states an explicit reality. Something happens and you do something about it, and at best this informs us, but also bores us incredibly. However, Active listening takes what I describe to you and build up on it to tell a story.

Better Example:

  • Dungeon master: A storm arrives on the hill.
  • Bard says “I accept reality and prepare supplies so they are not damaged.”
  • Cleric says “I accept reality and bite on my lip for a fear being struck by lightning.”
  • Fighter says “I accept reality, hold up my sword and anticipate the thrill of meeting a storm giant, face to face.”
  • Warlock says “I accept reality and I remove my robe down to my linens, kneel down and ask forgiveness to Tempus God of the storms for my many sins.”

While not necessary to always preface your implict statements with “I accept reality”, the statement alone provides a sort of training wheel as you get used to sharing the narrative around the table. The explicit means that a storm has arrived and presents a challenge to the players, but the players take responsibility to search for meaning. This moves the story from explicit information to implicit meaning. The story continues.

Example 2

In this example the dungeon master gives yet a very simple encounter as an ogre attacks the party in camp. However, we can use the same method of “yes and”, in that the players accept the reality and build upon it within a story format. Notice the similarities between the two encounters.

  • Dungeon master says, “oh no! an ogre attacks your camp!”
  • Bard says, “I accept reality and prepare to defend the ponies.”
  • Cleric says, “I accept reality and fear being taken alive as a meal.”
  • Fighter says “I accept reality and anticipate the opportunity to collect an ogre’s hide to profit in town.”
  • Warlock says, “I accept reality and pray to Tempus to forgive me for taking a life.”

In this example, it explicitly states that if the characters want to live, they must fight. However, the characters must search for what this information means and state the implicit reality. By using this technique of “yes, and” and then moving from explicit reality to implicit meaning brings the table from simply saying the mundane and obvious and into collaborative and exciting storytelling!

So remember, when presented with a reality say “yes, and”. Take the responsibility to search for meaning by taking the explicit information, and gift your table with a story, and share the implicit reality. If everyone performs in such a way at the table, we enjoy a sojourner’s tale of adventure.

Good morning

Even if you don’t play Dungeons and Dragons, or any roleplaying games at all, I hope you can appreciate that by using these storytelling techniques, even in your own life can your communication improve. Think about it! By actively listening, you are connecting your own personal meaning and investment into the information the other person tells you. If you then use the “yes, and” method, you agree with the narrative and build upon it. You are saying, “I am playing in your reality, and I will add to it with my own meaning.” Of course this doesn’t mean that you blindly agree with every statement any more than a hero agrees with the ogre that humans taste the best over an open barbecue! By saying “yes and,” you keep the communication moving and alive, even if your following statements and actions divert from the original intention. “Yes, Mr. Ogre, you do want to cook us all up, however, I believe there is a win-win situation we can also cook up.”

Enjoy those around your table and play Dungeons and Dragons and learn to actively listen, search for the meaning and build upon a great story.

Homeschool like a Dungeon Master, Share a Story and Find your Values

Back in the 80s, my family homeschooled. I remember the days of workbooks, reading assignments, playing outside and household chores. Right now, we have experienced the COVID – 19 pandemic of 2020 and overnight, public education closed for the year. This landed most everyone staying at home with their children while performing online calls with teachers and classmates. My family of 5 was already homeschooling during this time so not too much for us changed. Although I remember that homeschooling usually involves playdates, field trips, and trips to the library, during this crisis, we aren’t truly homeschooling. That being said, I do think that this time can provide some much needed reflection on how to identify our values. As I mix together tabletop roleplaying games and homeschooling, think about your own values that you have had time to realize.

When I thought a little more about our situation, I realized that homeschooling is so much more than completing your textbook at home as if it was a sick day or if you were snowed in and the country shut down. During this time, we played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, having no real place to go and recreate anymore. Quite a few people joined me with online calls as well and we had a great time. So I thought of some ways that home schooling was a lot like playing Dungeons and Dragons.

First, I decided to identify my values with homeschooling. As of now, we live in the information age. Find an opinion on a topic, and I’ll find a counter opinion. Find a truth and I’ll expose it as a lie. Find a fact and if we dig deep enough, science is just science and nature is just nature. Even reading through history, I’ve discovered that there are many takes on what happened in the past based on perspectives and sometimes, editing or omission of information.

Dungeons and Dragons can be a lot like that. When the story teller describes a scene of welcomed oasis in the middle of a scorching desert, they’re not going to give you every detail of information. Nor will each player experience the scene in the same exact way. When I’m done with my description, I ask each player to then ask me a question about the scene. This tells me #1 what I failed to inform and #2 what the players pay attention to in settings.

  • Do I see any animals?
  • How deep is the oasis?
  • What time of day?
  • Does anyone look thirsty?

These example questions prompt me to continue on with the description before assuming I know what they want to hear. It’s not that there are no caves nearby, but only that none of the players really care if caves exist. Theoretically, if a cave existed in that scene, no one remembers or their brains just simply blocked out the info so they could see what gave them interest.

Now tie this back into homeschooling. We see what gives us interest. And these lenses help inform our view of the world. The practice I’ve implemented is asking the children more questions. What do you see? What do you notice? What would you like to know more about? What questions do you have about your reading?

The next point is that on the opposite end of the table, the reason Dungeons and Dragons works as a collaborative story telling game is because every player and the story teller agree to share the same reality.

When the story teller describes a rickety rope bridge over a river of snapping crocodiles, the players then share that reality by testing the bridge, attempting to fly over using magic, befriending the crocodiles by feeding them a prisoner. You get the idea. If the players disregard the narrative by announcing they walk along the bridge with no consequence then the information given by the story teller is invalid. Now, some story tellers will then describe the consequences to the players careless actions, but even then, the players have to continue to agree that what the story teller describes is the same story they play in their minds.

Along with sharing the narrative, players agree to enhance the narrative by adding dialogue, describing responses to the sway of the bridge, tossing a rock down to the crocodiles to see how hungry they might be. This not only agrees with the narrative collectively, but builds a world that can further expand into another story. Like roots from a seed, they expand out and down to create a system of thought with a story.

Homeschooling requires agreed upon values. Teaching your kids at home is not just about handing them information to memorize, although most of study can be about memorization, kids love trivia! Teaching values using rhythms of life, routines and honoring choices with consequences impart the worldview that one is to adopt. How we spend our resources defines our values and homeschooling can really drive a person to identify the treasure they protect, the values of their life. Once they agree upon those values, then watching a child enhance them is one of the most innocent and beautiful events in creation. Their radical adherence and promotion give radiance to the value, arguably increasing its worth. Stop and take a minute to think about what you have found important during this time of repose.

Values are the last of ourselves to remain in the flames of trial.

Dungeons and Dragons. Homeschooling. I’m sure that like myself, you have little teachers in your life that show you the path. Gardening. Photography. I hope that when the rats begin to crawl back into their wheels, that when the bright lights and hum of activity increase back to “normal”, that you have made friends with your values. Shelter them. Grow them. And teach your kids to love them as well.

Three ways playing Dungeons and Dragons improves family dynamics

Do you have a family game night? I have heard of families getting together on a Sunday afternoon after a meal and playing cards, board games or video games. It’s hard to find something that everyone enjoys. Sometimes families simply put money towards dinner and a movie. All those are popular and fun, but think about this.

When you watch a movie or play a board game, you are being entertained. This is a form of passive entertainment. You take in the fun and that’s all well and good!

But what if you shared the creation of that entertainment with your friends and family?

Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative role playing game. Three ways to collaborate means we engage, entertain and entrust.

Engage

When we sit around the dining room table, the coffee table or outside on the patio, we face one another and engage. Armed with a pencil, paper and imagination, you are part of the storytelling process in the game. The Dungeon Master, who operates as the storyteller, referee and other characters in the game, sets the fictional stage where each of the players around the table build upon the ideas infusing their own created characters as heroes of the tale. Each game lasts from 2-4 hours with breaks and with about 3-6 players, the most interesting and exciting adventures can unfold!

Entertain

Telling stories requires your imagination, along with collectively sharing that imagination with others. This means you entertain! You may not consider yourself a comedian, but each of us have some form of creative energy whether humor, descriptions of brave deeds, revealing hidden backstories or simply sharing in the laughter. As opposed to simply watching a movie, you make the movie. Using tried and true techniques of improve such as the “yes, and” method, you actively listen to what’s going on, engage your part of the story and entertain your fellow travelers. This level of creativity rewards your brain with the feeling of success.

Entrust

Most people have a fear of public speaking. Role playing games can be daunting at first because so many questions arise in our minds.

  • Do I have to talk with an accent?
  • What if l say the wrong thing?
  • How will I know if it’s my turn to speak?

The truth is role playing comes more natural than you think. No one around the table is trying to impress or outdo anyone, and there’s no pressure to give a stellar performance. Much like anything, practice makes your art better. The Dungeon Master should be like a guide helping your stretch your acting skills and build creativity. Remember, if you’re having fun, you’re doing it right. There’s no real “right” way to be creative. Think of it as a pool party. If you just show up, you may be nervous about getting in, but once you see others enjoying themselves, you’ll be tempted, even if to dip in your feet, to join the party.

This leads to a surprising level of trust between you, the Dungeon Master and your fellow players. We build bonds over time by telling stories around the campfire. For as long as our civilization has existed, we have told stories in one way or another. Some stories were factual, some were exaggerated for effect, some written and some transformed into memorable songs. Either way, at it’s heart, Dungeons and Dragons is primarily a way to tell stories. You become a better story teller. You become a story maker. This builds trust between those you care about the most, because you begin to ask yourself, “what stories am I telling now?” And believe it or not, this greater level of awareness happens all while you are having fun!

So, consider this your new recreation! Dungeons and Dragons can become a great family pastime and what a wonderful way to express yourself creatively. With no instrument to learn, or serious rules to memorize, you can just jump in and explore the world of role playing games.

Photos used with permission by Wizards of the Coast

Interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons?

Sojourners Awake!
New player guide for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons
Whether you are completely new to adventuring in a fantasy world, or a seasoned traveler looking to spark again the love of role playing games, Sojourners Awake provides exciting adventures.

My mission is to bring family and friends around a table, to grow in health as we share with each other amazing stories, and to teach folks of all ages of this wonderful game known as Dungeons and Dragons. 

See below the link for the New Player Welcome Sheet

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Rn1-dDW_0en_xYNoozSBPXdiVhn7sp8Qovp2TlKPNiY/edit?usp=sharing

And so our story begins
Jonathan Hardin
04/30/2020

How playing Dungeons and Dragons improves child interactions.

Blending the tabletop role playing game Dungeons and Dragons into strong and positive education for children

Parents possess so many opportunities for their children to be successful. As you search for activities for your child this summer, consider getting them involved in Dungeons and Dragons. Let me share three values of playing this well-established tabletop role playing game. 


What is tabletop role playing?

dndkids

Peer over the edge of your imagination.

One of the questions I am asked when talking about Dungeons and Dragons is “what kind of video game is it?” Most people imagine children glued to a screen and nothing could be further from the truth! If video games are your thing, then have a blast, but if you are looking for something for your child which involves more social connection, then consider tabletop role playing. Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D, is a simple game where people gather around a table and tell a story. At most the supplies you need are pencil, paper and a polyhedral dice called a “d20”. 

d20 Make a choice in game, and roll the dice! The higher the number, the more successful you are. The lower the number, well, time to think of another solution.

Wizards of the Coast, founded 30 years ago, are constantly improving upon the content they release and with the 2014 5th edition update, the books and manuals are geared towards a more diverse audience. The clean artwork captures imagination and the instructions read like a choose your own adventure novel. My 9 year old son has plenty of the content memorized and let me tell you, he reminds me of the rules to the game frequently! If you are a long time player, or brand new to the scene, many parents, like myself, are wanting to get their children involved in such as beloved pastime.

If you homeschool, read through this article on how to Homeschool like a Dungeon Master

In our over stimulated world, we can quickly become isolated. While our smartphones hold our attention, our family tables are left empty. Although we have plenty of wireless connection, people are now less connected than ever. Whatever happened to simply getting together and enjoying each other’s company? Look around, we even have products like Yondr, which are designed to create “cell phone free spaces” so that people can enjoy live entertainment once again. Being present can a problem.

Dungeons and Dragons requires you to be present to play! Much like an afternoon softball game, if you play the field, you remain present your teammates.

The game begins by one person called the dungeon master (DM), setting up a storyline in a make believe world. After the DM sets the stage full of a world with history, interesting locations, fascinating people and problems to solve, then the game is ready to introduce the player characters (PCs). In case you were wondering, Wizards of the Coast produces great story lines like Dragon of Icespire Peak , ready for you to read and play through to completion. If your kids enjoy chasing after dragons, then this story will hold their attention. 

If you want to know what I think goes into a great adventure, check out A recipe for a Satisfying Adventure

Next, we introduce players, individuals who take on certain roles in a group called a party. One player may act as a guide, while another acts as a champion. Another player takes on the role of a healer in case anyone is injured while another player acts as the plucky comic relief, making up songs and cheering everyone up when times get sad.  I have described to you some of the job descriptions or classes any PC make perform, such as a ranger, fighter, cleric and bard. When you mix in that fantasy worlds of the imagination often times include more than humans, you now have a party of an elf ranger, a dwarven fighter, a human cleric and a hobbit bard. You can imagine what kind of hero your child will want to play! Much like popular stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, each actor plays a different kind of character to balance out the skills of the party. With each session lasting anywhere from 2 hours to an entire day, people spend time together, creating memorable stories.

This brings us to another value of the game. In D&D, players collaborate, rather than compete with each other. Everyone can take on the hero role, and everyone can win as long as they listen. While most board games involve individuals vying for power, money and spaces on the boardwalk, Dungeons and Dragons has always been about players working together to solve logical problems. 

image5

Children practice arithmetic and logic in a group game

For example, if our party comes across a drawbridge manned by hideous monsters, each of the players indicate what their character would do in that situation. The ranger would scout ahead looking for a secret way in, the fighter would stand their ground and protect the party, the cleric would hold back some healing power in case one of their comrades needed aid and the bard would taunt the enemy, seeking to distract them. This kind of play promotes active listening. D&D allows each player to talk around the table, scribble notes and spur each other on much like friends telling ghost stories around a campfire. While one player shares, the others listen and from there, plan their next action. This kind of play promotes children learning to listen to the dungeon master and each other and therefore developing empathy, understanding and teamwork.

Of course, this highlights another value. Dungeons and dragons teaches children how to problem solve. The dungeon master works to set up a verisimilar conflict in a simulated world. Sometimes this problem involves a trap door in a dungeon, a small village threatened by an incoming tornado, or a city guard needing convincing to aid in setting the prisoner free. Keep in mind, a life of adventure poses many challenges throughout the average day! After perceiving the problem, each player goes around the table generating ideas and discussing how they plan to rectify the situation. Much like the improvisational music of jazz or blues, each player needs to show up in the scene if they want to support each other. In role playing games, each child plays a part to create a good story worth telling over and over again.

IMG_9041

Dungeons and Dragons makes for great education!

Lastly, on a personal note, as a first time player in 2017, I introduced Dungeons and Dragons to my children, ages 5-9, both boys and girls. I noticed their love for reading and writing skyrocketed over one summer adventure we played together. Dungeons and Dragons was like rocket fuel to their education. Whether it was math or language arts, every subject improved the more they played. Without any prompting, they spent their days drawing maps, writing stories and stapling the pages together to make little books. And when we were done, they then spent time outside, acting out the adventures once again. Their attention span increased. They found a love for reading books to each other and this filled my heart with joy. In a world where we increase our connection to screens, I express gratitude to this game of storytelling. Dungeons and Dragons has helped me and my children connect to each other. My family will be upholding this value for a long time.

rhythms


Learning from Dungeons and Dragons III

mordor

A heavy winter rain began to fall as the travelers plowed through the muddy street. In this small village of peasants and farmers, the people toiled daily and the weariness flowed through every interaction.

The town mayor, a humble looking man in his forties, hailed from the tavern, welcoming them into the dry and warm community center. After warming themselves between the keg tap and the hearth, the mayor spoke quietly.

“It all started last year, slowly, but I remember, one of our farmers reported missing livestock, not just small goats, but even his cattle. In this village, even the smallest report of a missing animal warrants attention. But after a month, we heard no more.”

Quenlin peer from behind his mug of a stout brown drink, questioning the look in the man’s eyes, searching for sincerity. He seemed and honest and sane man.

The mayor continued, “but then, everything changed. Many reports of livestock missing and then, finally,” he paused here and quickly scanned the room, “people started to go missing. We don’t know how or why, or if they’re alive, or not. But we need help. I sent the letter to our lord in Chisdale, and as I understand, here you’ve come.”

At this, Strom leaned forward with a confident expression and pride in his voice, “We help the weak, seek out oppression all over this land. We will gladly help.” His weathered face dealt kindness towards the mayor, despite its grizzled features. Yasbagee answered her fellows remark with, “this should be good, I’ve been wanting to hunt something down for a couple of months now. My blades are getting thirsty.”

 

 

One thing I have noticed in these tales of bravery and adventure is that despite threat of death, these characters always find themselves staring down a haunted mine, or  looking into a menacing swamp, and then they just walk in!

The point being that motivation makes people move. Otherwise, we continue on with our lives without risking danger or threat. No one in their right mind would enter the cave unless they had a higher motivation than self – preservation.

I think one of the reasons D&D captivates our attention is that we get the chance to risk life and limb through the characters strength and valor, but truly our own as well. Most stories involve rescuing a village from terror, retrieving magic artifacts to keep evil from obtaining them, or pulling off a stunt to stop an evil lord from rising to power. I have learned this is what is categorized as an “epic” campaign. Classic good vs evil storyline.

Everyone one of us has a point where we say, “enough.” Adventures are simply those of us who respond first. None of the D&D characters I have met in the Forgotten Realms or Middle Earth would I ask to baby sit or mow my lawn, but upon news of an invading army of bloodthirsty orcs, these battle worn travelers would be the first I would call.

UnearthedArcana_Thumb

I think I sometimes view myself as that mayor. I see the problems, I feel the pain of the people, but at the end of the day, the most I can offer is asking for help. Maybe that’s something else I have learned: if you have enough peril, and sometimes enough gold or bartering, a hero will answer your call for help and maybe teach you how to draw your blade.

 

 

 

Life Lessons from Dungeons and Dragons Part II

The mist began to effortlessly rise from the ground as the darkness swelled into light. Soft sounds of birds and woodland creatures stirred in the traveler’s minds as they took turns waking from their exhausted night in the forest glen. Only Quenlin, already awake and peering through the pine with draconian eyes, did not take the time to stretch his sore muscles into life. Yashbagee lit a fire with the last of her tinderbox and retrieved some of the talsin root she foraged yesterday. “Take this, all of you, the tea will help your bruises and wounds heal.” Quenlin, sniffed the tea, but of course, did not drink it as his wounds had already healed through his night’s vigil. A spark of compassion blinked quickly in his cold heart as he viewed the horrid gash in Strom’s leg. He bent over the supine warrior and held the rustic bowl up to his mouth. “Drink.” he growled. Strom’s swollen eyes opened and he slowly accepted the gesture. That morning, the party stood still around a flickering fire in the mist and watched the transformation come over Quenlin. Maybe they were wrong about him after all.

Dungeons and Dragons captures the imagination and attention of players because although part of the game rolls dice and takes chances, a big part involves the decisions of your character which can make a lasting change in the world, whether Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms. There is also a temptation to scold ourselves when things aren’t working out. Here are some principles to consider. You may find that in this reckoning, you find our world works that way as well.

Success – Warning! May involve some wandering

horse palladin

Maybe you find yourself between a job you didn’t want, only applying for more jobs you don’t want, but have to take because you need the money. Maybe you find yourself stuck in a major in college and you are not quite sure if this is what you want to do for the rest of your life. Maybe you have no idea what success looks like. In Dungeons and Dragons, role playing involves a lot of waiting and even more discovering because you truly do not know how the story will end. A warrior can spend ample time searching, investigating, or wandering around to discover “what” the “quest” means. Even each clue, each little success in the journey leads to a better answer to the larger puzzle. No one simply stops playing because they are stuck in the game with no answer. They make something happen. They throw spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Movement is life. When you find yourself stuck, visit the local rustic tavern, ask about trouble in the country side, investigate the local crimes in the sheriff’s office, or search the library for ancient books, or maybe wait for the town crier asking around for an adventure to keep the game going. Eventually, this path leads you to success and we should not scold ourselves during the rhythm of downtime in the game.

Everyone is where they are because they walked there.

elf hound

In the story above, one hero specializes in survival skills, knowing how to track in the wooded realm, discerning between healing and poison mushrooms, and navigating using the stars. Another character specializes in keeping a sharp blade and not backing down from a fight. We cannot spend our energy envying the hard earned skills of others. There is a cost to specialize in anything worth doing and that cost is, by definition, not specializing in another skill. Every hero is there because they walked there. You are where you are because you walked there and your skills are needed on any team, whether in a relationship, in parenting, in your career or any group. Dungeons and Dragons vary the party’s skills so that they accomplish any quest by the hands and minds of many.

dragon

The warrior who fights back darkness weilds more fear than the evil itself.

As your characters first start out, you may encounter a pack of feral wolves, or a grumpy ogre guarding his cave, or maybe a hideous rat that tries to steal away your supplies. Then you travel further and find the evil becomes more organized, such as a marauding band of orcs, or systemic attacks from flying imps. However, the battle peaks while discovering that the enemy behind all of the brute force is a corrupt law master, using cruel cunning to deceive the townspeople. Or maybe a rogue wizard poisoning the vegetation in order to establish her as the dominant economy in the region. However, the band of fighting travelers braves the night and hunt down the villains. What makes our heroes so great is they are not necessarily law abiding, peace keeping polite citizens. They are just as quick to slash and burn, use brute force or cunning magic as the enemy. Of course, the principles differ – the villain wants to eventually use up the people around them, the heroes protect and defend against wickedness. Times of evil summon the bravest warriors.

So, wherever you find yourself today, grab your hard earned skills, a couple comrades, and ask yourself, “What lures you to adventure out of the security of your local village?” Roll the die, and participate in writing the story of your life.

Life lessons from playing Dungeons and Dragons

[Or more about how we are story formed]d201

Maybe you have seen the 20 sided dice show up in pop culture lately, or heard the name of the world’s best role playing game. I don’t know about you, but most of my childhood was spent fantasizing about other worlds, adventure quests, role playing as a different creature, and leading my siblings into that realm. Books like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Chronicles of Pyrdain, Redwall, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH all deeply influenced my choice of games played. And like my childhood imagination, the game is all about telling stories of adventure. Around 2017, I suddenly had an enormous amount of free time handed to me via losing employment. That’s the opposite of striking it rich. However, in many ways, I have confirmed some powerful principles in life through researching the world of The Forgotten Realms and such, in the game Dungeons and Dragons.

  • Perception is seeing what’s there
03-01-Dale
Open your Senses

While adventuring through Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms, stopping to take a look around goes a long way. The game is at it’s simplest form a series of ability checks your adventure makes in progression of the game. The dice roll determines percentage of success (by the way, the game is also great at building your math skills!) Just know that your adventurer will not usually be handed information without asking for it. However if you venture out there and look around, there’s no limit to what you can find. Quite simply, If you’re not looking, you won’t see anything! Life is first accomplished by investigation, perception and taking in what’s in front of your, or even better, looking behind the curtain. Take a lesson from Curious George.

  • You are not as resilient as you think you are
The Hobbit Battle of Five Armies 2
Help is for the Strong

As I researched the game, the rules of adventure, it surprised me at how few hit points it took to knock an explorer unconscious. 3 swipes from an raging ogre, 2 bites from a bloodthirsty wolf, or even a fall from a slippery ledge would issue enough damage to end the quest. At first, I thought, “how can you get through a campaign alive if the adventures have such limited resources on health?” But the more I thought about it, I realized that that’s pretty much how it is in this world as well. It’s easy to believe our health and stamina are invincible, but as we traverse through danger, we can only take so much damage to our bodies and minds before we find ourselves chronically ill, in a hospital, or mentally used up that we are only able to take one day at a time without caving into darkness. Of course in D&D, the answer to maintain health is partner up with healers, choose your adventure appropriately (don’t chase down the level 14 dragon if you are a level 2 rogue!) and quite simply: learn to rest.

  • Rest goes a long way and helps you stay alive

You heard it! Quite a bit of the game is going to sleep, resting and vacationing from perils in the wild. The sojourners will head to an inn, the kind old hermit woman in the woods, the hall of a great lord and enjoy the peace and quiet until their wounds and minds heal.  I’ve worked in hospice most of my nursing career and have witnessed so many people engaging in life with only 1 hit point to save. I’ve watched fellow colleagues give all to work and leave no room for rest before chasing down another week of work. I myself have fallen prey to the lure of working overtime instead of tending to my bleeding soul. Really folks, learn to rest, vacation, veg-out, unplug and the like. And really rest. Not staring at your phone swiping through an app, but rest that truly unplugs you. This will be different for everyone and I can’t recommend http://www.personalityhacker.com enough for the resources they provide on discovery of your personality and how it rests. If the travelers forget to rest, they certainly will not be prepared for the next skirmish around the corner, and may suffer death.

  • Sorry, there is always room to fail
lordoftherings
Though you fall, the story continues

In the game, every attempt the hero makes, whether choosing to convince a law master to set your party free or take a stealthy stab at an unsuspecting goblin guarding the bridge, it is all determined by a roll on a 20 sided dice. Rolling a 20 is automatic success! However rolling a 1, despite any bonuses your well-developed hero might have, is a total and devastating failure. Ugh, this is a humbling lesson because rolling a 1 does not care how much you have previously achieved in success before this roll. Imagine investing thought and time into developing an adventurer all the way to level 6, being careful to rest, wise about the pursuits, perceptive of the surroundings, planning each battle strategically and then make one unlucky move and fail. It happens. You will spend years at a church investing into the heart of the people and the mission only to have someone turn on you and your family and find yourself kicked out of the tribe. You know why it happened, but you didn’t think it was worth splitting fellowship. Or you pour your heart and soul into a company, promising your family that it will pay off and everything looks great for the promotion that will make life so much easier and then they hand the offer to an outside hire and terminate you because you are now overqualified for any other place in the company. Or you look left, look right, proceed your vehicle through the intersection and still find yourself injured in bed and without hope of healing. Should I go on? You fail your boards, you fail the relationship and find yourself sobbing on the floor of an empty house with even an emptier heart. Grief is really mourning something that was once loved and is now off limits for you to love. Your love is no longer allowed. Or at least it must be changed into a lesser version of that love. It hurts. However, at the end of every failure, there’s always another chance to roll the dice. Try again. Rest, heal up, start over, but please don’t stop playing the game.

  • Little guys win, sometimes
lotr-spider-john-howe
Nothing makes you braver than the fear of losing a loved one

You know what though, sometimes you do roll a natural 20. And win big. With superhero powers. Just like the natural 1 doesn’t discriminate failure to only failures in life but also to very successful adventures, so the natural 20 roll hands a good luck charm to those adventures starting out with very limited resources. That’s what I love about the game. It keeps the adventures humble in this large and threatening world. Even the bold remember that they too, bleed. Conversely, the promise of a bulls eye, or getting rookie of the year calls out to everyday ordinary people to step out their door and make something happen in the life around them. The first time your level 1 adventure does the perfect acrobatic and slays the fiend in one fell strike encourages them to keep going! The first time your novice cleric attempts a healing against all odds as the princess is bleeding out, and magically brings her back to life, it’s encouraging! The first time your stealthy rogue sneaks into a locked dungeon and rescues the entire party from a hungry giant, it’s encouraging! Unexpected winning can happen to you too, but you do have to roll!

  • Not much adventure happens if you just sit on the couch
gandalf_one_of_the_istari

With that being said, as Gandalf said to a polite and everyday ordinary hobbit who had just finished breakfast “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” Dungeons and Dragons is such a great game because it involves a world where everyday people with stories and backgrounds can start as level one adventures and set out to make a difference in the world. A great campaign is not one where your party simply demolishes an orc stronghold, but one where the orc stronghold is demolished and the dam freed, bringing the river back into the town, boosting the economy and encouraging free-trade in safe lands once again. Now the adventures are heroes that make the world a better place. And that’s the principle, we are all formed by the stories we tell ourselves and the stories that connect us to each other and into the world. We sing songs, share dreams and relay tales, but none of that will happen if you choose to bypass the quest to the comfort and safety of your own home and hearth. Really though, we are wanting a world of adventure so we can tell those stories by the fireside one day. As Gandalf the wizard wisely said, “do you suppose, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck just for your sole benefit?” Get off the couch and off the phone, leave behind your pocket handkerchief and share an adventure with folks who enjoy your fellowship! Because life is not just about a solo trip, but a party-shared adventure that changes the world. Prepare, be wise, use all your resources, enjoy your quirks and roll the dice!

And so, our story continues

Understanding Exploration

“Jon, look at what’s there.”

My dad said these words as my 16 year old self stared hard right onto the highway that ran through town. I gripped the steering wheel, panting breath with my heart racing. I did try to see what’s there or in this case, what wasn’t there. A quiet lonely open road was all that lay across the Ford van, but my imagination kept drawing cars speeding towards me in all of the blank space.

Blank space.

I had a lot of it. And upon this white canvas I drew all the scenarios of what could happen. It was like something in my teens and early twenties, my mind was let loose to explore, regardless if I wanted it to or not. Taking a simple car ride led my mind to wonder what would happen if I pulled the car off the freeway? Talking to a stranger made me wonder what would if I pretended to be their long lost kindergarten friend? I remember one time I locked myself out of my dorm room and literally thought it would be easier to crawl under the door space than to find the security guard to unlock my room.

I say this to lay down the precedent of embarrassing myself first. You see, there are a number of people who use a learning style called extroverted intuition. Personality Hacker describes it as always seeking the novel, or taking a machete through 5 foot tall grass, tigers be damned. This learning process doesn’t care we already invented the wheel, it wants to know 500 other ways we could travel. It loves could it, would it and what if?

People who use this learning style don’t see what’s there, they see what could be there. This present moment could all be improved with a little exploring and ingenuity. I bring all this up because while this process developed for me in my teens and late twenties, my son is using it in his early childhood.

I study Meyer’s Briggs typology and it has proved to significantly assist me in understanding myself, how I work and function, and also knowing my loved ones, family, friends, coworkers, even patients and clients. I can’t help but use this tool as often as I can. Like a welder with a blowtorch, musician with her guitar, or a baker with his yeast, I will find a reason to use typology to help me understand the people around me.

And it works! Like, in a scary accurate way. I’m a geek with this stuff, so I use it when watching a series on Netflix, or listening to a pastor speaker at church or even while interviewing a candidate for an opening at my company. And also, more intimately, with my kids at home.

Now they have a lot of growing up to do and plenty of time to develop into who they are becoming. However, looking back on my own life, I see that the INFP type holds up pretty well to how I showed up as a child. Meaning, INFP kids act a lot like I did! So, in perceiving my kids, I see them use specific learning styles to observe their world which confidently means I have their personality typed correct.

So, back to the matter at hand. My son, who is not like my type, learns using a process that breaks rules and questions the status quo. This scares me because without this map to navigate through parenting, I would have thought he was insubordinate, disobedient, rebellious. However, I know now that he uses a debate to solve his questions. He sees what could be there before the rest of us have a chance to perceive his question. He’s 5 miles ahead of the group and wants to know why haven’t we caught up to his ambition?

Of course, everyone needs temperance, self control, tweaking and correction. Any finely tuned machine, any perfected athlete, any renowned public speaker will tell you that hard work and self improvement is the path for success. But hear me that self improvement is the goal,  not self – destruction. This does mean, that sometime during the day, you will have to like who you are. And you can’t like who you are, if you don’t know who you are.

This all means, that as often as I can, I make sure there is plenty of room for him to question, explore, risk and question. And i might add, that he lights up with joy while doing so.

Finally, a toast to Dads. To the Dads who are farther along in their parenting skills because their dads took the time to go farther than their dads before them. They give their children a chance at becoming better in life. And that’s what this is all about, son. Machete in hand, tigers be damned, I’m cutting through the grass to find a better way for you and a chance for you to go farther than me.

Rhythms in Family

rhythms

During my time working on the 5th floor oncology unit as a nurse, the powers that be made the move to bring our archaic paper work into the modern era of technology. We transitioned from hand writing every order, every note and every signature by hand to using electronic documentation. D.L., a nurse on that floor, told me the first time she clocked into a shift, she was 15 years old and wearing all white, walking to work from her home downtown. 40 years later, she was now expected to transfer all of her knowledge as a nurse and point and click for 12 hours a day.

Do I have to mention that this change happened with great and noisy clamor? Can you imagine the upheaval of routines? This was best expressed to me when during a stressful shift, one of the nurses ran to the patient refrigerator to grab an orange juice for her patient (I think his blood sugar was dropping). She yelled loudly that no one had delivered the juice that morning and began clawing through the icebox, until I pointed to the *newly packaged* juice boxes that her eyes had missed during a stressful time.

She saw her goof and laughed and shouted to the powers that be: “Hey! Change one thing at a time!”

There is no change that happens orderly, accommodating my schedule. However, I can adjust myself to move through change rather than change wrecking me. We can make a move to withstand change using rhythms:

Coffee in the morning – my wife and I, no matter what, who ever gets up first, starts the coffeepot and serves two mugs. We sip in silence until one of us emerge from dreamstate to begin the day by talking.

Family meeting – any time there is a change in our life, moving, adopting a rabbit, watching a new movie, even going to a new restaurant, we all go around the room and share what we like/don’t like about this change. There is no end game or goal except it grants everyone time to speak to the change.

Walks – once the work day was done, before dinner, we spent the first 15 minutes once the work day was done and before dinner. Looking back, it was a great way to cleanse the day off of me. So, when I entered my home, I had left all of the work stress out on the sidewalks.

Firepit – Eventually, we moved to an area with no sidewalks, no speed limit on the roads and yappy neighborhood dogs. Walks weren’t really an option, so we started a fire pit in the backyard. This was just a way to close out the workday and transition into a slower family pace of enjoying each other’s company.

Thankful time – We teach our kids “God Family Friends” to balance out the time we spend in relationships. One of the God times goes on during meals. This gives them a chance to practice saying “thank you” for the little and big things, sad and happy times. We even have a song for that!

Having predictable rhythms build security in any organism/organization/family. It reminds me of having rhythm in a music band. No matter what your skill level is, if you know the beat of the song, you can jump in at any time and be a part of something fun! Rhythms is knowing when to play and when to hold off, when to sing and when to hum, when to work harder and when to call it a day. Having predicable rhythms in family life means no one is a solo act free to call it quits if the show doesn’t go the perfect way.

Rhythm means we are a band, a group of people together under one song, joining in to display their special part of the system.

Movin’ and Groovin’

The key difference between those that move expertly through change and those that get stuck in the change are those that develop predictable rhythms in their life.