Learning Experience Leader

65 // Identifying Your Values with LCDR Chaplain Ryan Williams

June 29, 2021 Greg Williams
Learning Experience Leader
65 // Identifying Your Values with LCDR Chaplain Ryan Williams
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Today’s guest is Lieutenant Commander Ryan Williams of the US Navy. Before joining the Navy he enlisted in the US Air Force where he served as a member of The Band of the Golden West and later he served as a staff chaplain at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Additionally, he served as a Staff Chaplain at St. Mark’s Hospital and the Salt Lake City VA hospital. Ryan’s Navy Chaplain Corps service has included assignments with the Marines, Clinical Staff Chaplain at Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Command Chaplain on the USNS MERCY hospital ship, and the USS Antietam. He is now at the US Coast Guard Training Center in Petaluma California. 

Today we discuss: 

  • Identifying and aligning with your values 
  • The power of inviting reflection to make room for learning
  • Motivation as an outcome of taking action
  • Facing conflict by choosing to engage and letting go of controlling the outcome

Resources

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Greg Williams:

Ryan, thanks so much for your time to be here with me today.

Ryan Williams:

Yeah, thanks, Greg. I'm glad to be here.

Greg Williams:

A lot of folks when they hear "chaplain" might have many different sort of mental models of what that means and what what a chaplain would do. So I'm wondering if you could help for those who aren't familiar with what that might look like. Just explain a little bit about what your work is, like now. And also maybe just a little on what some of your past positions as a chaplain has been like, because I know it changes a lot depending on where and what you're doing.

Ryan Williams:

Yeah, thanks. chaplaincy is pretty broad. There are lots of different different domains where chaplains function. Right now, as you know, I've been serving with the Navy for a little over a decade now active duty as a chaplain. There are actually chaplains in civilian workplaces. There's quite a big presence of chaplaincy in hospital settings or hospice environments. My current work as an active duty navy chaplain finds me in the Coast Guard. One of the interesting fun and challenging things that I've gotten to experience is adapting to different institutions and trying to figure out how to do chaplaincy in those institutions. Because I've served now with the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Navy, and now the Coast Guard. Each one is a little bit different. And I've also served in, in hospital environments as well. So a chaplain is somebody in the Navy or in the in the military, someone who's endorsed by a specific religious organization as a religious ministry professional. And, of course, we have the first amendment that that states that all citizens of the United States are able to worship according to the dictates of their conscience. And so, chaplains primarily function to help protect religious freedom for people in the military. Chaplains also To help facilitate for the needs of individuals when it comes to faith requirements or religious requirements that the chaplain can't directly provide for. So I'm not expected to be a religious chameleon of sorts or, you know, a guru of all faiths. But I can facilitate for those needs that people might have. And then probably the, the, the, I guess the, the biggest area that chaplains function in is in the, in a competency of care. And that's pretty broad. But we actually have an instruction that that says that chaplains were that we were supposed to care for all. And that's, that's very broad. But in that there's also a lot of room for, for innovation and creativity, which is one thing I really love about being a chaplian.

Greg Williams:

So in your role, you're facilitating a lot of different things. And kind of some core human needs that people have. I know in talking with you in the past about different things that you're doing at work, you've shared how a big part of what you've done, I don't know if this has been always or just recently has been helping people identify and, and better live their values. And I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, and you what kinds of methods you use to help people learn how to do this.

Ryan Williams:

Yeah, if you think about it, we each as human beings, we each possess some core values, and those those values, we would we would say, part kind of like guideposts. And I think we all come to an understanding of those at different stages. And we're, we're still coming to an understanding of those really, most of us, none of us have, have reached the apex of understanding our own values to to completeness. But so I do a lot of counseling as a chaplain, one of my primary functions is to provide counseling in a confidential setting. And I've noticed over the past decade, or a little more people coming to me for guidance, or just to process their life situation, they, inevitably they come with this sense, or this, this feeling of being out of the lineup, with something being either detached or separate, or isolated, or alone. And they're in need of, of some, some processing of that, and sometimes some more direct guidance on discovering what truly is valuable to them. And I've seen people in a in a variety of extreme situations where they, they are so out of alignment with a set of values that that they just feel completely lost, you know, they feel detached from everything. And in in most drastic cases, they just don't really see a reason for, for continuing on with life can be a really, really dismal and scary place to be in when you when you don't feel connected to any values or anything. And so, boy, I've seen a lot of I've just had a lot of joy in working with people to discover what their values are, and maybe how they're how they're out of alignment with them. Like a spiritual chiropractor in a way I guess.

Greg Williams:

Do you have an example for to like, make this some more concrete of like, what that? What might that look like if you're working with someone to identify those things, and then start to orient their their life in a way to be in more alignment with them?

Ryan Williams:

Yeah, so lots of lots of situations with individuals and with groups, really. But I remember one individual, a few years ago, it kind of dawned on me. The situation with with the person who, who came to me, and this has happened quite a bit actually. But this this person came and they they just said you know, I I just don't feel motivation. I don't feel like I have energy to do what I used to like to do. And when a person says that, and I've heard that over the years is, Hey, I there's these things that I used to like to do, but I don't have motivation to do them anymore. And with this individual, what we did was Course, first of all, I always like to just help them process that and talk about the feelings they have associated with that loss, because that's what it is, it's a loss of loss of a connection with something that's valuable to them. In this case, this was an individual who, who valued deeply valued their, their own physical health. And so they were out of alignment with that, in the sense that they, they knew that they needed to do certain things to improve that health, for example, like exercising during something active and getting up out of their, their little shell, you know, their, their, their hideout, where they would just sort of stay in bed and mope and just feel dismal. And, and so, helping that person, you know, that that individual we worked in that session together on recognizing this is kind of intrinsically a spiritual issue where a person feels detached from meaning because the things that used to value and they still value, the things they value, they're, they're not in alignment with anymore, they're, they're not doing those activities that feed that value. So with this person, what it was almost like a light bulb turned on in their, in their head in their soul, really, when they recognized, oh my goodness, this, this value this thing that I that I truly at the core, find so important to my life, I'm not doing it, I'm waiting around to feel some motivation to do it. You know, what we all kind of have had those experiences, like, I don't want to, I don't want to do that thing, that's good for me, because I don't feel motivated to do it. And we have those experiences and what I, what we discovered together this individual and I was that, you know what, let's, let's come up with a list, let's make a list of those things that feed the value that that you have the value towards physical health, or whatever the other values may have been, let's come up with a list of action items that you can actually do, that you don't feel motivated to do, but you know, are good for you, that will feed that value. And let's just pick one of those to do. And I think that was a learning process in itself. And I met with that individual, it doesn't always happen as fast. But that individual I met with, I think the next week or two and and they had done it did, they had just done that activity, which I think it was just go back to the gym, you know, start started doing that, that thing that fed said their value. And the miraculous thing that followed was motivation grew out of that. So the motivation and the will to do more of that grew as they activated. As they put in action that you know that that activity that they knew was good for them.

Greg Williams:

As I'm hearing you talk about this, I'm translating it into sort of learning design concepts and principles. And so something I'm hearing that you did is you invited reflection, you correct me if I'm wrong on any of these, you invited reflection with this individual, and then you sort of facilitated them setting up an action or a goal for an action to do. And then it was in their own decision to take that action, that the learning really became real for them and the beginning of a transformation and increased motivation took place. Is that an accurate summary?

Ryan Williams:

For sure. The and that's, that's a big piece of what I do that initial phases is self reflection, and it's inviting out some vulnerability, which there's some great writing on that with Brene Brown is is a kind of a leading scholar right now on vulnerability in general but inviting a person to be vulnerable to, to reflect on on their self and to do some self self awareness, which is also found in a lot of world religions. When you think about mindfulness and in the eastern tradition and it's kind of vogue right now to to focus in and hone in on what am I thinking what am I feeling and then also within the Christian tradition, think about you know, the questions that are posited by Jesus and a New Testament inviting, reflection inviting visit I you know, and where My, what's going on in this in this picture? And how aligned am I with with core values? And so, yeah, so that absolutely is self reflection, and then, and then an invitation, which is an invitation to actually trust, which that's kind of a scary place for some people. And some, many of us are actually waiting for, to feel some rush of motivation to trust a process or to move forward in the process. Sometimes that rush of motivation doesn't happen until you actually step forward. In many, many religious contexts, we call that faith, taking a step into the darkness, if you will.

Greg Williams:

See Indiana Jones, like stepping out over the chasm and waiting for the little stepping stone to appear or whatever. Yeah, definitely. I mean, I really love this in the context of designing learning experiences for people because at least for me, I feel like learning can really be boiled down to and maybe it's too simplistic, but it's practice feedback and reflection. And, you know, as you're talking about fostering this reflection, allowing people to really deeply think about a thing, and then choose an action and do it. And then you know, there's a result from that action. And then they can reflect on it some more. And that seems like at its core, the most fundamental parts of learning and I know that you've done, there was a time you're on a big boat, a Navy cruiser.And you're out there for a long time, extra long time, thanks to COVID and the constraints that it brought. And during that time, and others I know, you've also led sessions for teaching people about relationships, family, relationships, marriage, and so forth. I'm wondering if you see some of these principles showing up in that setting? Or, or do you approach those learning and teaching situations with a different from a different angle?

Ryan Williams:

For sure, I before I get to that really quick, something we were talking about before in chaplaincy. And some of the training that I've done in the hospital setting, there's a program of training called clinical pastoral education. And one of the foundational principles there is, it's called the clinical method of learning. And it's exactly that concept that you just shared, where you would think you would think, well, step one should be to sit down and have some didactic learning, and some PowerPoints, and some, you know, read all these books and stuff like that, but no, in the clinical method of learning, it's to go out and experience the world and go out and get these experiences. And in our case, it was, as a chaplain, go engage with patients who are sometimes facing life and death. Some sometimes having just had massive transformational surgeries, go and insert yourself in their world, invited, of course, and experience what that interactions like then bring that back to a safe place, which is a group of chaplain trainees, and process that try to open up dialogue about what that experience was trying to make sense of it. And at the same time, inviting self reflection within yourself as the chaplain, what was that like for me? And how did I experienced that, you know, how, how was that experience, manifest in my emotions in my own life story. And then through that, draw some conclusions and build some, some foundational principle for how to move forward. Now with that clinical method of learning that certainly applies in some of the marriage and relationship work that I've done. And that I see out on the ship, of course, when we were deployed, the Hey, you know, there are no spouses there. So, we, we did do some marriage classes, and I did work with many, many individuals on their marriages, but it was it was a little bit more difficult because their spouse was not present. So, essentially, what what we would do is we would talk about effective and standard sort of evidence based communication techniques for effective Communication. And then I would invite people to go and then practice that, and experience that and then come back and talk about it. And one of those methods is called the speaker listener technique, which, for some couples that feels like pretty mechanical and putting some training wheels, but it's, it's an effective way to talk, and listen and communicate about issues. It's essentially a way to suspend your own need to solve a situation and really get trained to understand, understand one another. And I think that's a huge piece of learning, as well, as we've already kind of talked about it a little bit or touched on it is, is the self awareness. And now we're getting to the awareness of others, as well as that outward mindset, Arbinger ort of thing. Looking at, oh, he other person also has xperiences. So learning ogether brings a different imension, but it's really the ame concept.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, I think it's really interesting to talk about that, because there's this whole arm of learning theory called social, social learning theory about how certain things you can only really learn as you engage with others or interact with others. And that's where a certain kind of learning comes that you can't necessarily get from engaging with a piece of content or in solo reflection. And so that we're the people rub up against each other and or, you know, ideas are clashing and so forth. There's kind of new, new knowledge, new information, that it's messy business.

Ryan Williams:

Right. And it's, if we give into that fight, or flight tendency, which most of us have pretty well ingrained into us, then that kind of diminishes the learning possibilities. So gauging facing, stepping into vulnerability with ourselves and with each other. That's, that's, that's great stuff for for relationships. And of course, it has to be safe to do that we have to have some emotional and psychological spiritual safety, to be able to learn.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, I think there is a lot in there. And I'm wondering, I had a previous guest on Heather who, who used to be at Arbinger and is now oing research at red thread esearch and some other work hat she's done. Around onflict, we talked about onflict and this idea of elpfulness and how sometimes hen we accommodate, it's ctually not helpful. And I'm ondering, as you're talking bout this, it's getting me hinking on that is, if we're ruly going to learn, we have to cknowledge a gap in our wareness or in our knowledge, r essentially, in ourselves to ake room for the learning to ake place. And I assume that's he same if we're going to ngage in what might appear to e a conflict is we have to also ecognize that we're going to ngage with this person, we may r may not be right or wrong. ut I mean, do you see that play ut a lot in the work that you o?

Ryan Williams:

Oh, for sure. Yeah, conflict and just the word itself, I don't know how you or any of the listeners feel about that word. I know with me, when I hear the word conflict, it just sort of has some negative connotations. Conflict, Ugh! Is there a different word for that? Haha. But if we can sort of non judgmentally look at that word, and think about what it implies and what it invites to that it's actually not a me versus them or, or us versus them or whatever. It's, it's a think about the prefix the "con". It's almost like a coming together "with others" or with another person in transparency, and vulnerability again, because it does take a whole load of vulnerability to be able to have confrontation and conflict to have this constructive conflict or confrontation, if you will, really is just what I've seen in my work is working with individuals. Awesome. Oftentimes in the military, I'll have individuals have come to see me because of the conflict they have with a co worker. For with a supervisor with one of their, one of their leaders in their chain of command. And sometimes they'll want me to align with them to kind of become an ally. And to validate, of course, I'm going to validate their lived experience and their real emotions that come with that. But then in order to learn in order to grow, we need to also be confronted sometimes and challenged to, to be able to expand the aperture of our perspective, and how we see those around us. And know that brings up some interesting challenges within the military structure. And there's a chain of command, there's someone who's, who has a higher rank than another, a member of a lower or lesser rank, has conflict with someone of the higher rank, there's implied and actual authority and power that's favored or favors the person in hiring. And so that's been a nuance and a challenge, I find myself oftentimes being a bridge between two conflict, conflicted individuals, organizations, if you have a person of lower rank is best conflict with someone higher rank, I can be a bridge between them to as a chaplain to try to help them have constructive confrontation and communicate with each other. Oftentimes, I've also seen that we, we tell ourselves stories, and we build a reality based on our perception of other person's stance, and this kind of goes back to the marriage and relationship work. So oftentimes we do a lot of guesswork in thinking what a person's thinking, we negatively interpret their actions. And that happens in the workplace as well with with within workplace relationships. And so, inevitably, conflict can arise because we haven't communicated openly, we haven't properly open up our perspective to another's and. And that's hard work. To do that.

Greg Williams:

I'm wondering, as you you're managing and sort of facilitating some of those relationships or conversations. Is there anything you've seen that people are able to do that that makes it extra successful? Like if you're able to communicate one or two things to them that helps them engage to have those difficult conversations? Or is it just too nuanced to boil down into a set of bullet points

Ryan Williams:

In order to, to have a true connection and be able to become constructive in a conflict, really, you need to, to be willing. And that's one of the first steps. So going back to that example of that individual who, who was just really not feeling a lot of motivation and didn't, didn't know what to how to get back to their back align with their values, is, I think, being willing to, to actually do some of the hard work. And that that willingness is something that I as a chaplain, try to invite people into, after connecting with them after hearing where they're at, and just sort of exploring with them. Is this. Do you want to keep going this way? Is this working out for you? Or how is this working out for you? That's the question I like to ask sometimes. And, and then, Hey, are you willing to consider an alternative here? Are you willing to explore a different possible course of action? And if there is a willingness, then hey, we can work with that. And that that requires some sort of humility, some, you know, some ego reduction, which is not always easy either. But so I'd say willingness and then letting go of, of control in some ways to which as human beings, we want to control everything going there. We want to try to control our lives completely. But strangely, and ironically, I think in order to really have healthy connection -and I think this includes connection with our values to- is to let go of that need to control a reality. And this is in some of our, you know, some of our major religious teachings as well. If you let go or lose yourself, for example, you can find yourself, let go of the need to control everything, let go detach - you know, non attachment.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, it's interesting to think about that from the angle of someone providing a learning, trying to facilitate a learning experience for another reason. You can't dictate like, Alright, by the end of this session, you will have a perfect marriage, or by the end of our time together, you will address conflict successfully every time like, that sounds nice to the control, biased tendencies that we have, especially to like this Western idea of like, let's break everything down, label it and set a plan. And it's kind of almost digitizing our humanity with confidence. But that just doesn't play out so well. And so as a designer of learning, I imagine you also need to let go of outcomes. I'm sure there's many people you've hoped things would turn out differently, but they maybe didn't act on something or refusing to reflect on what you're asking them.

Ryan Williams:

Yeah, that's, that's, inevitably, when you're trying to decide design or imagine some some outcome for someone, an individual or a team or a group, you really do have to factor in the freewill aspect of the whole process and agency of an individual or that scene. Is that in, and actually, that's something that that can become quite delightful, I think. And maybe that sounds strange to think of it as delightful, but to think of the complexity of human beings, and how creative and how, sometimes how strange and silly and beautiful and disastrous people in their choices are. When so in developing a learning module, in my case, as a chaplain, whether it's written or just discussed with the person or group of people, I have to let go of the need for that outcome to be the way that I want it to be. Sometimes people come to a learning about something in a way that I never even imagined, because they're so innovative and creative, at times in the way that they process through things.

Greg Williams:

That's really fascinating. Because, you know, it definitely that, in some ways could be viewed as completely counter to the entire discipline that I'm in, you know, because one of the first things that a traditional instructional designer is going to do is to create learning objectives and learning outcomes. And we're going to verify those with stakeholders. And then we're going to tell it to people multiple times as they're in our course, you know, and then we're going to test them on it. And, you know, I'm sure there's a time and a place for a lot of these different things to a certain degree. But I love this idea of control and agency have had a previous guest on a peer of mine, Dr. Michael Matthews he's talking about about this a lot. But um, there's this, of the seven different layers of the learning experience of professor named Dr. Andy Gibbons, he talks about the control layer, which is essentially the ability for the learner to act and to choose as a part of that experience. And if we design with that in mind, that, like you said, Could be a huge asset, like they could learn way more than we intended, because of the level they engaged and how interested they were in. And, but if we don't factor it in, they're really limited in what they could get out of the thing, no matter how innovative or motivated. They were situation. Fascinating. This is really good. I'm, as we're winding down, I'm curious for those who are listening, and they're thinking, Okay, this is great. Or maybe I hope you're thinking that, or maybe it seems a little hypothetical or theoretical, you know, some of the stuff we're talking near the beginning about values. Is there something you could recommend to someone who's like, Okay, well, I haven't really thought about that before, like, what are my values? And am I living accordingly to them? Is there an action or something you recommend for them to kind of guide that reflection?

Ryan Williams:

Yeah, you know, right now in my current assignment in the Coast Guard, there's a, there's a leadership development framework. And it's it's a learning process in itself. But there are three main main steps. And the first one is when members of the Coast Guard in their first couple years in the service, they attend this, this course called The Apprentice leadership program. And I teach the values and ethics class as part of that program. And one example that I share is growing up in Provo, Utah, there was a, there was a family that lived up on the mountain, up higher than we did. And up in that area. during Halloween, we love to go trick or treating up there. Because they had the big candy bars, they would always give us the king size candy bars and stuff. So I remember there was this one house that had a white carpet, it was pure white, who's you know, that kind of carpet where you see the vacuum marks on it. Obviously, no kids in there. But this carpet was so pristine. And I've thought, you know when when thinking about identifying values, and sometimes people are like, well, I don't know what what's important to me, I know what my values are. And using the analogy of that white carpet, can you imagine if, if maybe on a hot summer day, right after a bunch of rain. Some kids, maybe a group of like five kids jumping around and some muddy puddles, they got their feet all muddy, and they came to that house and the door was wide open, and nobody was guarding the entrance. And they just went running in and slid across that white carpet was like skidded over it. Maybe they even had like moon boots on or something, but they slid it on the white carpet with mud? And how would you feel if you're the owner of that house? And then the one that vacuums three times a day? Well, probably pretty angry. And so I use that as an example. To identify our values, sometimes we need to look at what makes us most upset. What do we get most frustrated about? What are we most angry about? Or what do we feel most angry about? I know, some of the folks that I asked that question to they say "Well, I, I get really angry when people mistreat one another." Maybe one of your foundational values is respect, respect for human dignity, respect for others. Or "I get really angry when people lie to me or to others" or, you know, when when, you know, someone says something that is only half true. You're really upset about that, well, maybe one of your foundational values is honestly or Honor. And or another one. So in the in the military context, one of the core values of the Coast Guard is his devotion to duty. When you think about someone who maybe is presented with a responsibility in their workplace, postcards, one of the primary missions is is rescue at sea, and helping others if you think about someone in the postcard, who maybe isn't willing to rescue a person or isn't willing to help another person out and not do that duty, you might feel really upset if you're one of their shipmates or a co worker. So I like to use that, as a way as a method for helping people identify their values is looking, let's just look at what do you feel most upset about? What was the Can you think of an experience recently where you felt angry or, or upset? And the inverse of that is probably something that you value.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, that's really helpful. I'm thinking, you mentioned Brene brown earlier. And I read her book daring, Daring Greatly and also daring to lead. She has a chapter to a lot about value. So I did one of those activities. And as I'm hearing you talk like okay, it was good way to verify because I had identified curiosity. And integrity is kind of my two core values that I anchor everything I do, and yeah, if I engage With a really apathetic person really does upset me. Or if I'm engaging with a leader or appear others who, who do one thing and say another, right? just drives me bonkers. Yeah. And so that that's good validation, I encourage listeners to, to take you up on that just like, sit down maybe and write out a few of the last episodes, you got really angry and see if there's a running theme of the inverse of that. I think that's a great suggestion. Is there anything else I haven't asked you about? About conflict or values you want to mention before we wrap up?

Ryan Williams:

I think Greg, just really, what I'm coming to realize more and more is that, that, you know, we need to give ourselves permission to not be completely finished at this point. This is an ongoing process. And I think we can, we can give ourselves grace in the process. It's, it's okay to not completely be finished and finalized on our what are what our values are, or to know how to be completely polished and engaged in conflict. I think the most important thing is that we're trying is that we, day after day, and we keep self assessing, and then trying working at it and, and taking moments to to recognize the the progress that we do make in in identifying what what's valuable to us. We all have have a process that needs to happen. And the places that we work are the families that were a part of, there could be some some fundamental differences between our personal values and those of our organization that we work for, or for our family. And so the key, I think, is to just maintain an openness, and a willingness and readiness to keep keep learning flexible.

Greg Williams:

Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Ryan Williams:

Right. Thank you, Greg.

Identifying core values
Self reflection and learning
Clinical method of learning
Conflict and acting as a bridge
Facing conflict with willingness and letting go of control
A method for identifying your values