Funeral Apologetics 101: Stop Clinging To Your Despair

[Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, “speaking in defense”) is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information.]

Much of my career has involved business turnarounds.  This experience serves me well as a funeral home consultant.  Over the course of more than 30 years I have learned a lot about human nature.   Here is a simple elegant expression of one of the most significant lessons you must accept if you are in trouble:

“If you think you can, or

if you think you can’t 

You are right!”

                               Henry Ford

There is an anomaly in human nature that appears during prolonged stress.  In recent years it has been the attention of much study.  These studies have all concluded that their is a specific attitude or mindset that correlates directly with the ability to survive bad situations and another that correlates directly with failure.  But more on that later.  What I found in my experience, and became subject to myself, is the propensity for people to give up, to become cynical and actually embrace victim mentality. I realized from some of the comments to last weeks post, “The Problem is Not Cremation”that a few of those who responded had given in and given up.  So, rather than begin this series in the middle I think it best to begin at the beginning and lay the foundational steps you must embrace for an effective business turn around.

How I overcame my own victim mentality.

Some 20+ years ago I was leading a protracted turnaround.  It seemed to take forever and was beset by passive agressive resistance from the staff.  (Life Lesson: “when you emerge from the phone booth to fly to the rescue don’t be surprised to find the very people you are trying to help standing on your cape”)  I found myself feeling increasingly depressed, demoralized and hopeless.   Then during my daily quiet time one day I felt compelled to write out in my journal everything I was afraid of.  There were 6 items.  They included such things as never being able to retire, not being able to send my kids to college, the shame of failure, etc.  Then I felt led to identify that which I was MOST afraid of and it changed my whole perspective.  The thing I was most afraid of was simply this: “Nothing would ever change.”  Well, I decided that if that was my greatest fear then sitting around clinging to my despair was going to guarantee that would happen.  I deliberately stopped caring about the naysayers and critics and self-styled experts.

To shake off the victim mentality and take control of your future demands you do two things:

  1. Look beyond your circumstances
  2. Ignore those who are clinging to their despair

For some reason people find comfort in convincing themselves that it’s not worth the effort.  I don’t pretend to understand this mindset, but I found that I simply could not afford to pay attention to hand-wringers.  Overcoming adversity takes an awful lot of emotional energy.  Trying to convert the unbelievers takes too much out of me or anyone else and is a distraction anyway.  Besides these “happy failures”, as I have heard them called, have learned how to be discouraged and they like it.  Their type is not unique to DeathCare.  They exist in every walk of life.  They find some kind of meaning in their misery for sure, but, still, I can’t afford that kind of thinking.

So I decided to leave the conversion job to Billy Graham.  What this means in your case is this: those who say it’s all about money and that no one cares anymore are simply making excuses for their failure.  Personally, I think it is way too early for that.  People who study organizational dynamics all conclude that effective people must believe their work has meaning and purpose.  That is how I overcame my own discouragement.  I came to believe the profession I am in (DeathCare) makes a rock solid contribution to society.  The only problem, as I said last week, is that there are a lot of unbelievers in our profession.  But Before you get upset, unbelief, given all we have been through and are currently experiencing, is to be expected.  It’s just that unbelief will never get you into the promised land (to borrow a biblical metaphor)

Think about what I have said, and if you are old enough, you will remember that this is exactly what Ronald Reagan did for us as a nation.  He adopted a new attitude…a can do attitude… and after Jimmy Carter’s Malaise Era he changed our direction, gave us hope and the rest is history.  In fact, for a long time Reagan had to “lend” us his hope and beliefs while we struggled to overcome our own despair.  Franklin Roosevelt did the same during the dark days of the Great Depression and Winston Churchill stood alone during the early days of World War II.  You will have to do this same thing for your business and your employees and your family until they catch on.  But there is another human anomaly that will help you.  People don’t like despair and if they see a way out they will start moving toward it.

How To Look Beyond Your Circumstances and Find The Soul of Your Passion:

Throughout my career, and especially now that I am involved in funeral home consulting, I have found the first step…the step that must be taken before any other…is to understand the “why” of what I am doing.  It is this grasp of the “Why” that enables me or any one else to become a “Funeral Apologist”.  It’s easy to see the “what.”  Not easy to understand the “why”…and, yet, that is the very essence of any product or service.  Finding the “why” is an iterative process and can take months. The why is very personal but when you finally find it it becomes the key to everything else.

I know in asking you to start at the beginning instead of the middle that I run the risk of losing many of my readers because most people are not comfortable with the patience it takes for this step.  But please bear with me.  It will be worth it.  In fact, I can help you with it. (a shameless allusion to my work)  Through my relationship with The Center For Creative Leadership I have access to resources that can significantly accelerate this process by extracting the core value system from the unconscious mindsets of your team.  This enables you to build on the intrinsic strengths of your firm.

How to get leverage

The video below explains this concept better than anything I have seen.  At about 12 minutes into his talk the presenter uses a bell curve chart.  Later in this series I will write about why you must narrow your focus.  For now, this chart will serve as an illustration.   In any turnaround my target audience is always represented by the two segments on the far left.  I know from experience that if I can reach them and they begin to experiment and find success then the rest will follow.  This leverage is how you get organizations, societies and even industries to change.  Remember, I leave the conversions to Billy Graham.  Later the presenter uses the example of TIVO.  As you listen to this you might think about parallels to our profession.

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