A Letter to my Grandchildren–Part 2

Pursuing a Life of Meaning

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by Louis Darnell

Editor’s Note: This letter is the second of a two-part series by my friend, Louis (Lou) Darnell, a fixture in our community for many years.

I met him at a local business event a few decades ago and spoke to him recently. Unbeknownst to me, he was in a hospice. We spoke at length, and he mentioned that he had written a letter to his grandchildren to pass on the legacy of his life lessons. I was moved by this letter and thought it deserved a larger audience. I worked with him to modify the piece.


An introduction to Lou:

Born in Italy during WWII, out of wedlock, he was adopted by an American soldier. Most of his childhood was spent overseas in far flung bases such as Berlin, Okinawa and California. He was drafted in the U.S. Army during Vietnam War and remained in the army for 27 years, rising to the rank of Colonel. He and his wife Linda raised three children and after 53 years is still happily married to her.

In his own words, his “skills include understanding people and gaining their trust; planning at operational and strategic levels; managing complexity and uncertainty and coaching through life’s challenges.”


Post Graduate Principles

Quality of Life is dependent on the quality of your relationships which can be driven by your feelings and emotions.  A key area in which you should seek to understand, and master is Emotional Intelligence. The fundamental concept is that all emotions enter the reptilian part of our brains.  It is here where we decide quickly to “fight or flight” in reaction to emotionally charged words or events. 

Manage your response by letting those emotionally charged words or events pass on to the more evolved part of your brain that can enable a rational response rather than an emotional response.

2nd lt and Mrs. Darnell and Linda in Fulda. Germany, 1967

Respect other peoples’ time by being on time, being prepared and being dependable in delivering on commitments.

Listen to understand and not to respond.  Effective listening is more powerful than speaking.  By listening you will understand the other person’s beliefs/thinking; not just hear their words.  Beliefs and thinking, not spoken words drive behavior.  A bonus is that everyone will appreciate your genuine interest and will consider you to be a best friend. 

Another reason to be a great listener is that it supports problem solving because understanding the problem is the first crucial step.  Most people jump to action that often results in incremental results and not a solution.

Interpretive Communication is much more than active listening.  Active listening is a useful skill as it lets the other person know you heard them by paraphrasing what you heard.  If it is important to understand someone’s thinking/beliefs, Interpretive Communication is the most valuable as it enables the speaker to gain clarity and for you to understand.  (Details on how to do this are at end of the letter.)

Know Thyself

  1. Know your self-limiting beliefs.  Self-limiting beliefs are negative self-perceptions that live in our conscious and subconscious rooted in past experiences, comments by others, values and beliefs of our family and friends. Don’t let them deter you in seeking your goals.  For example, my need for acceptance has been a major force in my life.
  2. Because I felt inadequate, I worked harder, and this has driven my tenacity to win. In my case, this has been a formula for success. However, your belief could also be an impediment. Work to recognize your self-limiting beliefs because they often get in the way of achieving your potential.
  3. Develop clear and measurable goals.  Many adults work simply to survive and not to define their life’s vision and achieve their important goals.  Your goals should be the cornerstone of your strategies.  A strategy can be compared to a three-legged stool.  Your goals are one of the legs.  Many people have goals but don’t think of the other two legs, so they have a wobbly stool.  The other two legs consist of resources (time, money, equipment) and how to apply those resources.  For example, to achieve a goal, what resources will you need and how will you use them?
  1. Practice an Adult Learning Cycle that consists of four parts – have an experience; reflect on it and perhaps do some research; draw conclusions and when in a similar situation, apply conclusions.  Keep repeating this cycle for the rest of your life to continuously improve.
  1. Internal Operating System.  Much like your computer, it is continually running in the background, gathering, sorting and updating information that you will use consciously and unconsciously. It can inspire your creativity and innovation and it can trigger your stress-based responses. It builds on your strengths and contributes to your blind spots.
  2. Positive Intelligence Concept involves shifting our mind from self-sabotage to self-mastery.  We sabotage ourselves in three areas every day – Wellness, Performance and Relationships.  (Take the free assessment by googling positive intelligence assessment.)
Colonel Darnell

Consider without prejudice other people’s truth

The most powerful and useful problem solving, interpersonal communication and leadership concept I have developed is learning how to listen. I call this interpretive communication. Think about this. Have you ever been evaluated on how well you listen? For years, I have questioned this reality and recently found Socrates wrote the purpose of communication is persuasion.  That idea has permeated our culture and educational systems.  

We listen to judge and respond in order to be right and protect our ego. I don’t believe this is the way to go through life.

Interpretive communication requires you to have no preconceived ideas of truth and while keeping in mind feelings to prevent their influence and the complete context of the conversation.

The concept and skill are simple to understand but extremely difficult to successfully practice. You won’t find this concept in a book.

1.  Concept Objectives

a.  Try to gain a rapport with the other person to achieve clarity of thought and expression.

b.  You need to thoroughly understand each other’s beliefs/thinking.

2.  Principles for enabling Interpretive communication

a.  Mutual trust is precursor to success.

b.  Be curious and don’t judge.

c.  Be aware of each other’s feelings.

d.  Based on all available relevant information, make a guess on the most probable issue. For example, “I am guessing you are angry because I didn’t do what I indicated; am I correct?”

e.  Being right doesn’t matter.  What matters is if you stimulate the other person’s thinking to derive clarity.  A major obstacle to overcome is our nature.  We want to be right.  Be aware of this. It can’t be about ego. We need to be open-minded enough to realize that our judgement might be mistaken. We need to risk being wrong.

3. Interpretive communication in action

a. The above concept I’ve described may sound easy, but I know few people who have the self-discipline, confidence and awareness of self and others to apply it.  You need a strong sense of self-esteem to be open to being wrong.  People always have their truth, and you will have yours. 

The goal is to find our truth.

Literally, the boat Lou came in on. He never forgot where he came from and how important that truth is to all of us.

How to carry this out:

Offer the speaker a “draft” interpretation of what you believe the other person believed.  For example, “Sounds to me you don’t like Mr. Jones because he doesn’t respect you.  Am I right?”  Usually, you don’t nail the other person’s thoughts so they will edit your statement and as a result derive greater clarity in their thinking.  By listening in this way, you are helping the other person gain clarity and illuminate some blind spots.

c.  Depending on how complex the thinking is, you may have to repeat this process of putting a statement in a question to verify your interpretation.  People will love you for working so hard to understand their thinking.

d.  “Phase two” begins after you and the other person agree on your interpretation, make judgment, and decide if you want to accept or persuade different thinking. start a discussion on a controversial subject with consensus on what people mean and not what they say.  Before evaluating or judging what you hear, confirm your interpretation.  Words don’t have meaning until you interpret them.

Please read and evaluate this letter’s contents on each of your future birthdays.  Look for relevant wisdom you may apply with renewed energy. Doing so will honor me and I will know part of me will be with you always.




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