People Tools
Podcast #25 — Aired April 24, 2014

“When you experience joy in your life, what else do you really need?” That’s the question Alan C. Fox asks in his book People Tools, 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing Prosperity, which we’ll discuss this week on BetterWorldians Radio. Fox will discuss the lessons he’s learned to create a successful and joyful life and how listeners can develop their own set of tools to do the same. Tune in every week to hear new guests share how they are making the world a better place and to learn how you can become a BetterWorldian!

 

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Alan C. Fox
Author, People Tools

Alan Fox has degrees in accounting, law, education, and professional writing. He has been employed as a tax supervisor for a national accounting firm, established his own law firm, and founded a commercial real estate company that owns and manages more than seventy major income-producing properties in eleven states. He sits on the board of directors of several non-profit foundations, focusing on children, wellness, health, and education. Fox is also the founder, editor, and publisher of Rattle, one of the most respected literary magazines in the United States. He is well known for the publication of his conversations with noted American poets, including several Pulitzer Prize winners. Fox has energetically researched and tested People Tools his entire life.

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Alan Fox has degrees in accounting, law, education, and professional writing. He's been employed as a tax supervisor for a national accounting firm, established his own law firm, and founded a commercial real estate company that owns and manages more than 70 major income-producing properties in 11 states. Alan sits on the board of directors of several non-profit organizations, focusing on children, wellness, health, and education. Alan is also the founder, editor, and publisher of Rattle, one of the respected literary magazines in the United States. He's also well known for the publication of his conversations with noted American poets, including several Pulitzer Prize winners. Alan's has energetically researched and tested People Tools his entire life. Alan, it's a great pleasure to have you join us today on BetterWorldians Radio.

Alan
My pleasure to be on the show.

Raymond Hansell
Oh, it's great to have you on board. I'd like to start with the most obvious question people are going to ask themselves. Since the book is called People Tools, what are People Tools?

Alan
Well, People Tools is skills and getting along better with other people. You know, one of the most important things we do is interact with other people all the time and these are skills and specific chapters, 54 of them, on how to do it better.

Raymond Hansell
Mm-hmm. And how did you develop these tools?

Alan
Well, you know, I didn't get along with people too well and I was, you know, practicing law and very much afraid of meeting strangers. And I thought I better get some help. So I enrolled in a course for counseling education which is like psychology. And I've also watched my process, watched how I've done for the last, you know, 20 or 30 years and come up with skills which have worked for me which I've had to work out for myself which, you know, many people might recognize these People Tools, but they're put in a way that's memorable and kind of gets your juices flowing to use them.

Raymond Hansell
Mm-hmm. Yeah, they're very punchy, very punchy. They're really right to the point. Are the People Tools the same for each person or do you feel that people develop their own people tools?

Alan
Oh, I definitely feel people develop their own people tools. Everyone -- all of us have skills and all of us are, you know, pretty good to some extent in suggesting that there are other ways to get better and maybe a few that you haven't thought about.

Raymond Hansell
Mm-hmm. Well, what areas in life can People Tools be used?

Alan
Well, virtually every area. This book is a general book on people tools. I'm working on one for business which will be out later this year. And then I have two other books, one for relationships, you know, getting from me to us and one for parenting to help parents. So I think everybody, everyone from, you know, high school on up can use People Tools.

Raymond Hansell
That's great. That's really nice and you're actually thinking about this in sort of the sequel of versions of this for business and for relationships as well. Now which --

Alan
The sequel

Raymond Hansell
Go ahead, I'm sorry.

Alan
No, you know, exactly, you know. The sequel and they cut across lines. I mean in your own business, I talk about budgeting. Well, budgeting for yourself in your personal life is not a bad idea either, but there are specifics. The first book that's out now is just in general and it's for everybody.

Raymond Hansell
Now which people tools do you use the most often yourself?

Alan
I think the most often is I use Patterns Persist. In other words, when I find a pattern in someone else or myself -- a friend of mine was always late for lunch and I was, you know, tired of waiting in the restaurant for half an hour. So I said to him, "Well, meet me in my office that way if you're late, I'll be working. No problem." And so the pattern was he was always late and then I could solve it. Or my pattern when I go to a buffet restaurant, you know, I have four plates of food and that's not a pattern which is doing me any good from the standpoint of my health. So I just don't go to buffet restaurants. So when you recognize patterns in other people and assume they will continue, you'll almost always be right.

Raymond Hansell
Mmm. So the patterns persist persistently, I think as you put it which is, I think, a really interesting way of putting it.

Alan
Right. Well, with a little iteration and also it just means that, you know, if your pattern's gone on for years and years then it's likely -- very likely -- to continue. If it just started, it's still likely to continue but maybe not as strongly.

Raymond Hansell
Mm-hmm. You mentioned years after years so maybe this is a good question to ask. How do you find a way as you move along through life? Do the tools that you would use change?

Alan
I don't think so. I don't think that, uh, that people change. In researching my book, I've looked up quotes from famous people going back as far as 3000 years and really someone said years ago, for example, "Look, look to what them say and not -- excuse me -- what they do and not what they say." And I have a tool called Belt Buckle where, you know, in the defense of football players saying, "Well, I'm a great runner." I'll look at their belt buckle. They can fake with their eyes or their shoulders or their head. The belt buckle is going where they're going so I always watch what people do. And if there's a difference between what they do and what they say, I go with what they do because that is the true test of who we are.

Raymond Hansell
That's the Belt Buckle. That's really the telling sign about which way they're going. Now, you write in the People Tools, the thrust of the book is really helping people to succeed more often and you posed a question in the book, "Which will help you succeed more often, positive, self-fulfilling prophecies or the opposite?" Can you talk a little bit about that?

Alan
Yes, absolutely. I think that's a very, very important tool. For me myself, I was sitting in my office before last Thanksgiving and I came in at 9:00 in the morning and I had one big project I had to finish before I left on vacation early the next morning. I was going to be gone for a week. And I was working away and it was 10:00 at night. And I starting saying to myself, "Hey, you know, it's getting late. You're going to be too tired. You won't be able to finish this." I said, "Wait, wait a minute, Alan. Wait a minute. You're not tired now. Stop giving yourself this negative idea. Keep on doing it and see what happens." And I kept on and I finished it at 1:00 in the morning, but I still wasn't tired. So, you know, we all tend to give ourselves negative prophecies because we like to be right and they do predict that you're going to fail 10 times in a row, you can be right every single time. If you predict that you will succeed, you might not be right all the time, but you'll succeed a lot more. So I prefer to look on the bright side and give myself messages and prophecies that I can do this. I will prevail.

Raymond Hansell
And you've seen these self-fulfilling prophecies actually come to play in your own life, is that correct?

Alan
Absolutely. I think that that happens all the time and a number of readers of the book have written to me and said, "Wow, that's just very powerful and we started thinking in more positive terms and our life is going better."

Raymond Hansell
Well, we're going to exploring quite a few of these in the next couple sessions, but right we need to take a short break. When we come back, my co-host MarySue will talk more with Alan Fox about his book, People Tools. In the meantime, I'd like to offer this challenge to our listeners. If you know someone whose acts, no matter how small, are making a big difference in the lives of other people, we'd love to hear about them here. Send us an email at radio@betterworldians.com. We'll be right back. [MUSIC] >> The internet's number one talk station. Number one talk station. Voiceamerica.com. [MUSIC] >> How can we make it a better world? >> I think we can make it a better world if we had peace among each other. >> Everybody needs to help their neighbor and then we'll spread from then on. >> I should do more. >> I can do more. >> I spend so much time on Facebook. >> How much time do I spend on Facebook? >> Probably more than I should be spending. >> I would definitely give back if I could find the time. >> Now you can help others just by playing a game on Facebook. It's called A Better World. Share your hopes and dreams. Do good deeds. Make a difference and have fun. Become a BetterWorldian. Join a community where all deeds get rewarded. Log in today to find out how you can make a difference every day. >> For more information, visit Facebook.com\ABetterWorld. >> Ask the experts. Call toll free right now, 1-866-472-5787. Hello? And ask our all-star team to answer your questions. That's 1-866-472-5787. Thank you for calling. Voiceamerica.com. [MUSIC] >> This is BetterWorldians Radio with a family team of Ray, MarySue, and Gregory Hansell. To connect with the show today, please call us at 1-866-472-5788. That's 1-866-472-5788. You may also send us an email to radio@betterworldians.com. Now, back to BetterWorldians Radio.

MarySue Hansell
Hi, Alan.

Alan
Hi, Mary.

MarySue Hansell
You know, you write in your book, know thyself, and you say that's the most important people tool. Why do you say that?

Alan
Well, because that's where you start from. You know, we all have different strengths, different weaknesses or different things that we like and different things that we don't like, you know. Some people like going to the ballet, others like going to concerts or movies. And really it's difficult to go through life unless you know and what you want. I wrote a blog the other day and I talked to a friend of mine on saying no. Many of us have difficulty saying no. When you know yourself and my friend saying a friend called and said, "I'd like to take you out to lunch today." And she didn't want to go. She said, "No, I don't want to go." So you have to know yourself in order to know what skills to apply, what people tools to apply and how you want to live, what you want to do. So self-knowledge, I think, is the key to getting where you want to go.

MarySue Hansell
I guess after all this you have found out a lot of about yourself. Would you care to share some of that for us?

Alan
Absolutely. I find that -- well, first of all, I love numbers and that's why I went into accounting and became a CPA. I just absolutely love numbers and, you know, many people don't. Many people are afraid of them or just have no ability. I have no ability for foreign languages. You know, I have a daughter who speaks Spanish like a native and something which is absolutely beyond me. So I've used it to find out what I like and what I don't like and frankly, my biggest hold back in publishing People Tools which is just to help people, is that throughout my life I've been pretty shy and going on your radio show or going to book signings has been a little bit difficult for me. But I've had to do it anyway and have positive self-fulfilling prophecies for myself and actually I'm finding it's kind of fun. But I've used these, you know. I'm not a natural in terms of being great with people to start with. I've had to learn how to do it and I've used the tools to make that happen.

MarySue Hansell
That's great. I think a lot of people could use tools in that regard. You know, tell everyone about one of my personal favorites that you wrote, The Smiley Face, and how that message relates to that old song that you mentioned, Accentuate the Positive and Eliminate the Negative. I could almost hear that whole song in my head.

Alan
Yes, yes, that's a very, very catchy song. And, you know, the point is, I think that as I wrote the first sentence in my book is, "If you have joy in your life, what else do you really need?" And as I said that you're like my mother. You skip to the back to find out how it comes out and that's also the last sentence. If you have enough joy in your life, what else do you really need? And to be joyful, that's partly internal. It's probably what you make of life. So the Smiley Face, I used to think that when I was happy then I would smile and, you know, current research shows -- and this is a little unsettling for me -- that just by smiling you feel happier. The endorphins are triggered in your brain. So Smiley Face and putting on a pleasant face, you know, I used to if I was grumpy in the morning, came to work and I was grumpy and everybody's sitting around all day saying, "Oh, with Alan, what's up with Alan? Who's he going to fire today?" And it just destroyed the workplace. So for years before I come to work, before I walk in, I put a smile on my face, say hello to the receptionist, and everything goes better. I sank myself into being happy.

MarySue Hansell
You know, I also read all that research, too, with positive psychology and all that and I've noticed, too, there's a smile meditation that really works great, too. You look inside your body and you smile at all the different parts of your body and you're thankful for that. And the next thing you know, you're in the best mood and you feel real happy. So I certainly agree with that one.

Alan
Like it says, tell like magic.

MarySue Hansell
Isn't it? You have a great term in your book called Nonversation and it looks like it's for preventing arguments so I'm sure a lot of our listeners would love to hear about that and how to prevent arguments.

Alan
Absolutely. I got an email two days ago from a woman in Cleveland that she was saying that she's going to use -- she's 66 and a grandmother of 11 and she's going to use Nonversation on her husband.

MarySue Hansell
Oh.

Alan
The way that works, you know, too often if you want your spouse or friend to change something and you ask and you tell them what the problem is, they're going to start getting defensive and they'll say, "No, I didn't do that." Or, "You do it more." Or, "It's okay." So sometimes you just want to be heard and so with my wife, we've worked out a system where if, you know, she wants to tell me something that she wants changed, we have a Nonversation meaning she talks, I listen. I do not respond. I do not give excuses, I do not comment. I just listen. And at some later time, a few hours later or the next day if we want to have a conversation, we can do that. But in a Nonversation, you know, it's so difficult sometimes in a relationship to feel heard, to feel the other person hears what you're talking about because part of the problem is not feeling heard. So if you have a Nonversation and then you feel heard because the other party just doesn't talk back at that time.

MarySue Hansell
Now have you gotten feedback that that works?

Alan
Oh, yes. Absolutely. It works for me. My family tells me they use that all the time. And it's not easy to do. You know, your instinct is always to respond or defend yourself or explain. So it's not too easy to be on the receiving side where you just listen. But, you know, I think that's something that's very, very important.

MarySue Hansell
Well, there we go. Ray and I will have to try that. You say, you know, that People Tools and this is another one of my favorite, Stuff Your Sub, and that's an easy way to solve your life's problems. Can you tell our listeners about that one?

Alan
Absolutely. I read that in a psychology book -- in freshman psychology in college years ago and it said your subconscious can work on problems and, you know, being fairly -- well, you can all call me either lazy or efficient, but I said, you know, I'm just going to put problems in my subconscious if I can't figure them out and ask for the answer. And one time, I was taking a test. I took a Shakespeare course and there were five plays and read the final exam question and I said, "Oh my goodness, this is a fantastic question. I don't even know where to start." So I just said, "Subconscious, you know, take over." I was actually watching my hand write stuff that consciously I didn't even realize I knew. And, you know, it came out really great. So and in my life and business if it's a problem I can't solve right now, I just, "Okay, subconscious work on it and, you know, give me a jingle when you figure it out." And you know something? That works like almost all the time.

MarySue Hansell
You know, I've had that work for me, too. That I'll put kind of a problem out there and say, you know, what's the answer to this and I might wake up the next morning and have it right in my head. So maybe it's the same kind of thing you're talking about.

Alan
Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about and isn't that neat when that happens?

MarySue Hansell
Oh, I love it. I have to remember to do that more often because it's certainly easier than struggling, right?

Alan
Yes.

MarySue Hansell
Anyway, can you tell us the story that you mentioned in your book, People Tools; I think it was a whole situation where one of your professors challenged you and it was about, you know, you --

Alan
Yes.

MarySue Hansell
-- your tool is Catch Them Being Good. So what happened there? I found it a very interested story.

Alan
Well, I was raised -- my father felt that if he ever praised me; if he said, "Oh you got really good grades, that's great." If he ever said something like that, he felt that it would take away my motivation to do the work in the future. So I really never heard compliments. And I grew up -- all I heard was the criticism -- and I grew up thinking, "Well, that's the way it is. You have to correct people." And in a psychology class one day, the professor says, "That positive reinforcement is the strongest. And if you want somebody to repeat a behavior, make it positive." And I raised my hand and said, "No, sir, you're wrong." So he suggested that I go home and when my wife makes a dinner I particular like, that I just praise the heck out of her. "Oh, no, this is wonderful, this is my favorite dinner, etc., etc." And a few nights later she made the dinner and I praised her and then about three nights later, she made it again and instead of making my favorite dinner once every three or four months, she started making it twice a week because I praised her. So in raising children, I think the important thing is to catch them being good. In other words, when they're doing something you like, just tell them that that's wonderful and that way they will have an incentive to keep on doing it and repeat that behavior and with raising children especially, that really works well.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah, I bet that finds its way into one of your new books for the parenting because that really does work.

Alan
Yes, yes.

MarySue Hansell
I know I use that with my grandkids and, you know, and it's so much more pleasant, isn't it, than criticizing someone. It just makes --

Alan
Absolutely.

MarySue Hansell
-- it makes everybody feel good.

Alan
Absolutely.

MarySue Hansell
Now you mentioned before I think when talking to Ray another one of my favorite ones that you have in your book about Patterns Persist. I just wanted to add that I always felt that way, too. I see that one of my favorite sayings was patterns repeat themselves --

Alan
Mm-hmm.

MarySue Hansell
-- which sounds very similar and you're right. You know, people pretty much do the same thing over and over. Now once in a while -- I don't know if you've done the research. You probably have. You know, there's only a very small percentage of people that can change their patterns and that takes a lot of work through, you know, practicing developing new habits. But that's a great one.

Alan
Thank you. Yes, some people lose weight and keep it off. A woman who is my general manager, she's 5'2", she lost 50 pounds about 15 years ago, she's kept it off and --

MarySue Hansell
Wow.

Alan
-- so that's a pattern in terms of being overweight which didn't persist which is delightful. But that is very tough to do.

MarySue Hansell
Now here's another good one. Shrinking the Glass and I thought that was a really neat concept. Yeah, tell everybody about that one.

Alan
Well, you know, the running argument, they say that the optimist sees the glass as half full and the pessimist sees it as half empty and it's the same glass. I'd say, let's not argument about half full, half empty. Let's get the right size glass. Let's get a glass that's always full. So if your glass is a quarter full, well then get a glass a quarter of the size. In other words, what you see in life is based upon you and you can see it through dark colored glasses or you can see it in a positive way. And by shrinking the glass, then you're happy with whatever you have instead of wishing you had something different or something more. And isn't that what life is about? Being happy.

MarySue Hansell
Is that kind of like reducing your expectations of things in certain cases?

Alan
Yes, absolutely.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, it is.

Alan
I have a tool for that I call Shrink the Target. You know, I mean William Tell was forced to shoot an apple off of his son's head. That's a pretty small target. And I knew a friend who wanted a woman who was exactly 5'6" and had her own business and made a lot of money, and was willing to give it up to have three children. I mean very detailed. A very small target. And your chances of hitting that target are small. And then one day he shows up a woman who didn't meet his specifications at all, but he was happy and they got married and lived well. So make your target as general as you can. I'm going to have a happy day, not, you know, I'm going to win the lottery today. That's a long shot.

MarySue Hansell
So make that target a lot bigger. I agree with that. One of your People Tools that I think a lot of people could benefit from is learning how to let go of, you know, being perfect. This whole thing about everything has to be perfect. How did you learn that and give us some ideas about that?

Alan
Well, I am a perfectionist. I want every letter I write, I want the words perfect, the typing perfect, I don't even like erasures -- in the old days, the typewriters. Boy, is that a burden to carry around, having to be perfect. And I found out that because of that while I was practicing law, for example, someone gave me an estate. Their mother died, they gave me the estate and I didn't know how to do it so I didn't start on it and six months later they called me and said, "Alan, you haven't start? I want the file back." So my trying to be perfect, I just didn't have the time to research it for two or three days to learn how to do it absolutely right. And you know, perfection is great and, you know, I'm at 37,000 feet in an airplane. I wanted it to fly perfectly and land perfectly. But generally in life, I realize I was a failed perfectionist and I aim for being perfect and, you know, I settled for what happens and I get my work done. So when you get past perfect, that means it's not a prison for you. You're just not locked into it and you can do more work and you can be happier with what you do.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah, I see. I think I remember reading in your book that you say it could be very costly, too.

Alan
Yes.

MarySue Hansell
Being a perfectionist. So, that's something --

Alan
Oh, absolutely.

MarySue Hansell
Now you learned about how exciting it could be and how beneficial it could be taking risks in your life. A lot of people are, you know, want to be safe. What do you say about taking these risks?

Alan
I think it's important to take a chance sometimes and it doesn't have to be -- for me, you know, certain chances, taking risks if they involve my body and, you know, I could die -- you know, my wife one time went skydiving and, you know, jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. I won't do that. I don't take that kind of risk. I won't risk my body or my physical safety. But in terms of emotional risks, I saw a movie a few years ago, "I Bought a Zoo," and in it the father is telling his son how to let a girl know that he really likes her and the father says, "What it takes is 20 seconds of insane courage." You know, you just have to go forth. And I did that with my wife. I have a tool about it in this book, but it's called Ticker Tape where she didn't want to date me and I just said, "I'm going to try to persuade you," and I just -- over my mind I didn't sensor a thing and I let it fly and tried to persuade her and, well, we're married now so I did. And you have to take a chance sometimes because you're not going really get ahead without taking a chance, but it can't be a stupid chance, you know. Don't put all of your money on a horse race, for example.

MarySue Hansell
You know, I was wondering, you've mentioned your wife, is it Daveen?

Alan
Yes.

MarySue Hansell
Quite a bit in your book. And I was wondering, what does she think about the People Tools and whether she's come up with any of her own.

Alan
Well, she might have come up with some of mine which, you know, I steal from her. She's very good at what she calls glitches, you know, when I finish a chapter, I give it to her to read and, you know, she'll say, "Oh, this doesn't quite make sense," or, "Are you sure you wanted to use that word?" So we kind of worked together on this and it's been a lot of fun. And also we've learned about ourselves and our relationship so the reason she's in this so often is many of my stories include my wife.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, that's great. Now we mentioned your wife, so I also wanted to mention your son, Craig, who wrote the foreword of the book and that he was a psychologist. And I was curious, what's his whole perspective on People Tools?

Alan
I'm sorry what was -- ask the question again, please.

MarySue Hansell
I was saying we're talking about your wife, but I also --

Alan
Yeah.

MarySue Hansell
-- remembered that your son, Craig, wrote the foreword of your book and the fact that he was a psychologist and I was very curious about what was his perspective about the whole notion? Yes.

Alan
Yes. Well, he's a big deal psychologist in a business school at UCLA. And he does a lot of research and he often tells me; he says, "Dad," he said, "You know, that's what the research shows. Have you looked at the research?" I said, "Well, no." But, you know, we can all pick up a lot of things just intuitively by practicing, by observing. You have to observe closely and in my family I was thrilled that the foreword that Craig wrote. And it's true in our family. We always talk about belt buckle or, hey, patterns persist, and it's kind of a shorthand for conversation with us and reminding each other. And a lot of what I've written he says is supported by the research like Smiley Face and so it as he said in his foreword, you know, should be researched because it's probably right, but he's a scientist. He wants to see some research on it and I'm all for that.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, that's great. Yeah, I'd love to read his work, too. Can you tell us a bit about the four C's and how people can help apply them to their lives?

Alan
Yes. I learned the four C's by watching a play written by a friend of mine and he was saying -- his analogy was you're in an airplane and you get lost. And what do you do when you get lost? And this just applies to life in general. So he came up with the four C's. The first C is confess. You have to confess that you're lost because if you don't recognize you have a problem, how can you solve it? So, first you confess. Then you climb. You climb as high as you can to see the world, to see what the possibilities are, to see if there's a road you can land on. So in life, again, climb. See what the possibilities are. And then the third C is contact. Contact a ground station. In other words, contact somebody who can help you. Tell the ground station, "Hey, I'm lost. I'm up here. Look at me on radar. Tell me where to go, what to do." And so you contact -- you contact a psychologist, you contact your boss, you contact someone who can help you. And the fourth C, after confess, climb, and contact is commit. You have to commit to a course of action. And in an airplane, that's pretty obvious because it's going to come down and the question is how soon and where so you have to commit, "Okay, I'm going to head for" Remember Shellenberger with the airplane in New York City and, you know, all of his engines were out and, you know, he did exactly that. He contacted ground control. They said you can go to Teterboro or you can go somewhere else. He said, "I don't have time," and he committed to landing on the Hudson River and he did and saved everyone on board. So you have to commit to a course of action and sometimes as in the case of the airplane, you have to do it pretty quick.

MarySue Hansell
That was a great story.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah, that's an amazing story and what a great segue for us to take a break on a marvelous example that everybody still talks about to this day is how all those lives were saved by that commitment. And at this point, we're going to have to take another break. When we come back, our co-host, Greg Hansell, will talk more with Alan Fox. We'll be right back now. [MUSIC] >> Stimulating talk. Gets those snaps in the brain firing really fast. All the time. The number one internet talk station where your opinion counts. Voiceamerica.com. [MUSIC] >> How can we make it a better world? >> I think we can make it a better world if we had peace among each other. >> Everybody needs to help their neighbor and then we'll spread from then on. >> I should do more. >> I can do more. >> I spend so much time on Facebook. >> How much time do I spend on Facebook? >> Probably more than I should be spending. >> I would definitely give back if I could find the time. >> Now you can help others just by playing a game on Facebook. It's called A Better World. Share your hopes and dreams. Do good deeds. Make a difference and have fun. Become a BetterWorldian. Join a community where all deeds get rewarded. Log in today to find out how you can make a difference every day. >> For more information, visit Facebook.com\ABetterWorld. >> Ask the experts. Call toll free right now, 1-866-472-5787. Hello? And ask our all-star team to answer your questions. That's 1-866-472-5787. Thank you for calling. Voiceamerica.com. [MUSIC] >> This is BetterWorldians Radio with a family team of Ray, MarySue and Gregory Hansell. To connect with the show today, please call us at 1-866-472-5788. That's 1-866-472-5788. You may also send us an email to radio@betterworldians.com. Now, back to BetterWorldians Radio. [MUSIC]

Gregory Hansell
Hi, Alan, this is Greg.

Alan
Hi, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
I was really fascinated by the People Tool, the Uneven Steps about mindfulness and stopping to think. I think that's really important that a lot of people don't take that time in their lives. You know, you friend, Adam, said that the Uneven Steps at the Second Temple in Jerusalem were about teaching us to delve into the essence of life. Tell us about the Uneven Steps.

Alan
Absolutely. I'm giving a graduation address to a graduate school in two weeks and that's the title of it, Uneven Steps. Because I think it's important, you know, especially for graduates, but for all of us to recognize that life doesn't go evenly. We have good days and bad days and what's important is to pay attention. And when they built the Second Temple which had been demolished 2000 years ago, they built the steps uneven so one step might be eight inches, and the next six, and the next seven, and the next 12. And obviously, you're going upstairs with your cup of coffee in the morning, you want the steps to be even because you don't want to trip. But going to and from the temple, the builders wanted you to think about what you were doing, to pay attention to your steps. And, for example, I was in a group once and we took 20 minutes to eat a raisin and, you know, you really get into eating and what that's about and a raisin. I mean, you know, I can go through a Big Mac in about 60 seconds. So --

Gregory Hansell
You and me both.

Alan
Yeah, but, you know, by slowing down and paying attention and just taking a deep breath sometimes, step out your door and take a deep breath and smell the fragrances, listen for the birds, you're really more in touch with the world, yourself and your life and I find that to be very reassuring and calming and I just like being in touch with my-- myself and what's going around me. And so that's what Uneven Steps really is addressing.

Gregory Hansell
I mean that's great. It reminds me of the, you know, the Zen instructions to, you know, chop wood, carry water. You know, sometimes the most simple things just, you know, heeded carefully can really, you know, lead to incredible insights.

Alan
Absolutely. That same workshop is where I was eating a raisin for 20 minutes, afterwards, after dinner, everybody left and the leader of the workshop, Jack Cornfield, who's one of the best known writers on meditation and that sort of thing. He was doing the dishes. He was washing the dishes and that, too, is kind of a meditation. It's being present. Aware of what's going on.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, I loved his book "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry."

Alan
Oh, yes, yes. Definitely.

Gregory Hansell
Well, since we're talking about delving into the essence of life, I wanted to delve a bit more into your life. I know that you're a successful businessman, but you're also the founder and publisher of Rattle, a really well respected literary magazine. Can you tell us a bit about Rattle?

Alan
Absolutely. I was in a poetry writing class years ago and the instructor said, "Who would like to do a chatbook?" You know, put together one or two poems from each member of the class. It was about 15. So he asked for volunteers. But I thought, "Well, I have a secretary. She can do all the work." So I volunteered and did it and that was the first issue of Rattle. She came up with the name. And then the next session of the class the instructor said, "Well, you know, why don't we -- I'll give you some more poems from outsiders." And gradually it got bigger and bigger and I hired a poetry editor, someone Id had who was my first editor and Tim Green is my present editor. And, you know, in poetry I have of a crusade on poetry and that is this. In the United States, people generally don't like poetry and I think that's because of the way it's taught, you know. And the teacher tells you, "Okay, I'm going to explain it to you because you'll never be able to figure it out yourself. You need somebody else to explain it." And I publish poetry that people will understand. I like nothing better in Rattle than getting a letter from someone saying, "You know, I don't care for poetry, but I started reading Rattle and, you know, these poems speak to me. They're really good." And, you know, it's the succinct way I do interviews with poets and poets are people who do have to observe life keenly, their own process and the world outside and then report on it in a succinct and articulate way. And it's such a wonderful means of communicating with people when it's done right. And one last thing on that. You know, when you read poetry, it's like anything else. If I read a book of 50 poems and I like four or five of them a lot, that's fine. You don't have to like every poem any more than you have to like every movie you go to see.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, I love that approach. You know, I think people unfortunately get this idea of poetry as something that's just really obtuse or that it's something that's the opposite of that kind of like sing-songing and frivolous. They don't really realize that poetry can be a whole way of kind of thinking and being in the world, you know. It's the way that looking at a painting can open up a different way of seeing. So can poetry, you know. It can be really powerful.

Alan
Exactly. I totally agree.

Gregory Hansell
So speaking of that, what came first? Your love of business or your love of literature?

Alan
Wonderful question. Probably business. I don't know. I think both. I love numbers. I love money. When I was in high school, I took a course in bookkeeping and I started keeping my own books and keeping track of each seven cents and six cents and I really loved that. But also in the ninth grade, I was introduced to Shakespeare and, you know, for a long time I wanted to write better than Shakespeare. I don't think I have that much talent, but who does? Literature teaches so much. It feels so good. It's kind of an enhancement of life and takes you into different areas. So which came first? I don't know. Probably accounting, but I really love them both.

Gregory Hansell
I was thinking that there's kind of a People Tool in there of Discarding Stereotypes. You know, I think some people --

Alan
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
-- that they have to live a particular lifestyle. I have to be the businessman or I have to be the literary person. They don't realize they can try to be both. What do you think about that?

Alan
Absolutely. Absolutely. Wherever your passion takes you, you absolutely can do both and should if that's what you want to do. You know, stereotypes are important because they're usually right, but they're not always right. And for goodness sake, don't stereotype yourself.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah.

Alan
And so many people. A man came to me, a family sent him to me. He said, "You know, our kid wants to be a fifth grade teacher and we want him to go into business. So talk some sense into him." Well, I think I disappointed them. I said, "Look, if you think you'd love to be a fifth grade teacher, then do it. Try it out. If you love, you're going to have a great life. If you don't like it, all right, then try something else." But, you know, the family has the stereotype that a fifth grade teacher, you know, doesn't make much money, doesn't have much prestige. But I'll tell you something. I know teachers; one of my daughters is a teacher and she just loves every day and performs a very important service.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. No, I think that's great. You know, one People Tool that I really love and wanted to make sure we could talk about today was this idea of falling backwards into the hands of fate. And, you know, when I used to study world religions I used to say that, you know, philosophers would get to the abyss and scream, but the mystics would kind of backflip into that and embrace that. I was wondering if you could tell listeners about that People Tool.

Alan
Well, absolutely. You know, for me, I'm kind of a control freak. I like to control as much as I can, but at some point, I have to realize as does everyone you can't control what happens to you. And you just absolutely can't. You can't control the weather or other people's driving. You just can't control it. So sometimes something's going to happen and maybe you even know what and I think we're all a little scared of the unknown, but just relax and flow and fall into it. You know, that came from I think -- I forget the term they use now, but, you know, when you fall backwards and people catch you and you have to trust that A, they want to catch you and B, that they will catch you. In my case, I used to weigh, you know, 250 pounds and I would question their ability, but I did the exercise anyway and it worked and you know, it's scary. And I think what this is also saying is that you have to kind of surmount your fears.

Gregory Hansell
Mm-hmm.

Alan
And just fall backwards, in other words, without seeing where you're going.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah.

Alan
And to what's going to happen to you.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, it's interesting. I think there's also this element. This came up on another show we did recently of losing yourself to find yourself. You know, losing your way to find your way. Dont you think?

Alan
Yes. Absolutely. I agree. I think of that as just letting go. Just letting go and allowing yourself to be present and what happens happens and, you know, so often it's absolutely beautiful. And something different. You'll never experience anything different unless you let go of yourself from time to time.

Gregory Hansell
I think that's well said. You know, I think among all these different interesting things you've done and we've covered a lot of them, the one that really jumped out at us here at the studio was your billboard project. Now from what I understand, not many people know that you were behind this so I hope we can talk about it. But tell us about putting up the inspirational billboards all around L.A.

Alan
Yes. Well, you know, the woman I dedicated People Tools to, Nancy Miller, has been a friend for oh about 30 years. And we like to do projects like that. And we hired oh about 30 billboards in Los Angeles. I think we did it twice. And put up short statements by Politz to just, you know, for people driving by to see a thought provoking or a happy thought. And everybody wanted to know who did it. I think there's a notice on the Today Show. And the funniest thing was that our publicity agent who had gotten the billboards together, she was interviewed by the L.A. Times and she appeared in a photo in the Times with a mask on like the Lone Ranger. So, you know, I mean it's like doing acts of random kindness. Just lighten life up. Let's, you know, we're all in this together. Let's make it as good as we possibly can, as interesting and as uplifting for as many people as we can.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. Well, you know, that brings us to -- you've already mentioned this -- the opening and closing lines of People Tools. Tell us what those are.

Alan
Right. Well, the opening and closing lines are the same and that is, "If you have joy in your life, what else do you really need?" And we can all focus on money or children or relationships or whatever, but those are all in the service of joy. I mean I know a number of people who are very, very wealthy and they aren't very happy.

Gregory Hansell
Mm-hmm.

Alan
And I know lots of people who are quite happy and they don't have a lot of money. So it doesn't take money. I saw a woman who's 68 years old yesterday. She said, "Alan, I read the book and I just now am feeling that I'm myself. I'm who I want to be. I said no yesterday to a friend." She says it's so liberating. So and she had joy. She was speaking with real joy. And my goodness, if you can have joy every day of your life, what else do you really need?

Gregory Hansell
How do you feel that People Tools really helps people to acquire that joy?

Alan
Well, I think in two ways. First, a doctor contacted me. He said, "You know, I read People Tools. I don't know what happened. I felt happy at the end." Or I got an email yesterday from a man in Washington D.C. He said, "You know, after reading this book I really wanted to meet you." He said, "But I feel I already know you." And, you know, having the human contact of really knowing another person, that just feels so good. And I'm trying to get out there who I am so that people can identify and then pass it along to others and be open with their friends, their family so that they can have a much richer life experience.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. It's interesting that you mentioned the, you know, the human contact. That you have the People Tool Hold Me which struck me. I have a three year old daughter who always says to me, "Hold me, daddy." And it's the cutest thing and if she says that especially if I'm really kind of sad, at that moment of contact with her completely brightens my day. And, you know, you have that incredibly story about this child that just needed to be held. So I think you're right. I think that there is this human contact that -- that people do yearn for.

Alan
Absolutely. And that's a great story with you and your daughter and that is so true. It just feels so good.

Gregory Hansell
You know, at the end of your book you also asked your readers to keep in touch with you and to let them know what People Tools work for them and what People Tools they've created. What kind of response have you receive?

Alan
I received a very good response. I get lots of comments on my blog which is, you know, peopletoolsbook.com. I've been getting email letters from readers and I tell you, Those letters make my month. I wrote the book to help people. It's not to get famous or make money. That is not important to me. What is important to me is helping people and when I hear from people how they were helped; one man said Nonversation saved his marriage. I mean that feels very, very good. So that's where, you know, people can reach me at alan@peopletoolsbook.com. You know, read the book and have a better life.

Gregory Hansell
What's the best way for people to get in touch with you and tell you about their experience with People Tools?

Alan
Okay, best is Alan, that's A-L-A-N @peopletoolsbook, that's one word, peopletoolsbook.com.

Gregory Hansell
That can tweet you their experience as well?

Alan
Yes, absolutely.

Gregory Hansell
And that's AlanCFox, I believe, is the handle on Twitter, right?

Alan
Correct. Twitter's AlanCFox. Correct. I'm on Facebook also you can find People Tools or Alan C. Fox on Facebook.

Gregory Hansell
Perfect. I'm sure people will reach out soon. I have one last question. I have about about a minute and a half to give you. We always like to ask our guests and I always do this to people. I give them the biggest question with no time. We always ask our guests how the work they do is making a difference. So let me ask you, how do you think and how do you hope that people can use People Tools to help make it a better world?

Alan
I think that by understanding ourselves and relationships, by understanding that everyone is different and by trying to help and I find that where I am most successful is where I'm not afraid. I used to be afraid of people and didn't do very well. I'm still a little bit afraid of people, but I'm doing much better. I've never been afraid of money and I do very well with that. So I think in removing fear and you remove fear by having education, by having more ideas of how to live your life. And we picked that up by watching our parents, by teachers, and by friends, but there are a lot of really, really good books out there, you know, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friend and Influence People published, you know, 80 years ago. You can get some help and look at yourself and look at the world differently and more positively and look at the positives in things and you'll really enjoy yourself and, you know, for example, smiling. When you smile you feel better. Other people feel better and that is a very simple way to have a happier life and to help others to have a happier life.

Gregory Hansell
Well, thank you, Alan. It's been a real pleasure speaking with you today.

Alan
Well, thanks. It's been a treat for me. I really enjoyed it.

Raymond Hansell
And we really appreciate all your initiatives and all the work that you're doing in this world to make it a better world. For our listeners, you can find out more about Alan Fox and his book, People Tools, by going to peopletoolsbook.com. Alan, from once again from my end of it and all of our co-hosts, I'd like to thank you for joining us today on BetterWorldians Radio.

Alan
Thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate it. I really enjoyed talking with each of you.

MarySue Hansell
Thank you.

Gregory Hansell
Thank you.

Raymond Hansell
As we did as well. Please join us next week on BetterWorldians Radio when we'll be taking a trip to Oz. We'll be talking with Ryan Carroll about his new film "Legends of Oz, Dorothy's Return." We also have an excellent lineup of guests in the coming weeks and if you know an unsung BetterWorldian who would make a great guest on our show, you can send us an email at radio@betterworldians.com. Before we close, I have some rather sad news to share with you. As we mentioned in the past in our broadcast, A Better World organization supports CURE International, a Christian-based organization that has performed over 150,000 surgeries around the developing world to enable children to live and children to actually walk for the first time. Last week, we also featured the CEO of CURE, Dale Brantner who spoke about the achievements and spoke about their mission and in fact, MarySue and I also recently attended their annual conference where we actually personally saw some of their kind works and acts with one little girl who came from the middle of Africa and walked down the aisle for the first time. But what's not stressed in this particular broadcast or at the conference was the risk each and every one of these amazing people take every single day of their life and these CURE doctors and ministers take. Unfortunately, we just found out a few moments ago, that three individuals, including a doctor, were killed at the CURE hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan this morning. Our hearts go out to our friends at CURE and we're all keeping all of them in our prayers and in our thoughts as they proceed to do this amazing work on this world. In the meantime, we'd like to thank everyone today for listening. You can join the BetterWorldians community at betterworldians.com and until next time, everybody, please be a BetterWorldian. [MUSIC] >> Thank you again for helping make the world just a little bit better this week. Please join your hosts, Ray, MarySue and Gregory Hansell next Thursday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, 8:00 a.m. Pacific on the Voice America Variety channel. We hope we've inspired you to do one small thing to help make a big difference. Join us at BetterWorldians.com to tell us what you've done to change the world. [MUSIC]