Saying ‘Yes’ – Though I Really Don’t Know

Midlife – Julie Cadwallader-Staub

This is as far as the light

of my understanding

has carried me:

an October morning

a canoe built by hand

a quiet current

above me the trees are

green and golden

against a cloudy sky

below me the river responds

with perfect reflection

a hundred feet deep

a hundred feet high.

To take a cup of this river

to drink its purple and gray

its golden and green

to see

a bend in the river up ahead

and still

say

yes.

If there is anything that the last few days has taught us, it’s that we can be awed, humbled, frightened, moved and bested.  We can be rendered powerless and exhibit mind-boggling levels of strength and determination.

I can’t help but notice how simply exhausted the trees look.  Everything but their trunks looks bowed and submissive.  I feel like they need the winter.  They need the rest.  As impressively as they stand, as they cradle the birds (who were having an absolute flight fest yesterday as they celebrated the end of the storm and were just heading in droves over to each other’s houses to catch up on the neighborhood news), as they release their leaves, I can feel them sigh.  It’s enough.  Just a little break, a time to be fallow.  It sounds silly – I look at them and my eyes fill.

I had the misfortune of hearing an Ann Coulter sound byte where she was opining about the presidential campaign in the States, and defended her use of the word  ‘retard’ as a descriptive.  My shoulders sagged, my head bent and my breath caught.  Really?  Please don’t lecture me on the finer points of free speech.  I’m tired.  I’ve wearied of the season – the glaring examples of ugliness, the mean-spirited back-and-forth that in my view diminishes any substance to drivel.   Name calling – on Facebook, Twitter – are we done yet?  I am interested and intrigued by opinions other than my own, but honestly I don’t do offensive posturing well.  You lost me with your first epithet, your first invective.  I’m done.  I need the arrival of the fallow season.

I try (emphasis on ‘try’)  to ask myself a few questions before I open my mouth (unless I’m singing of course) – “Is it honest?”  “Is it true?”  “Is it kind?”  Would that these would be the rules that govern our more incendiary social conversations.   Of course I realize that there are many who prefer the in-your-face discussion, voices raised, opinions morphing into facts – bet they don’t like me very much.  I will not engage.

And so the day moves inexorably into its morning, and the sun is still hesitating to make an appearance.  As the clouds cast shadows on the remaining golds and reds and yellows above me, I honor the insistent posture of the trees.  I stand with the people who have lost so much and still rise with some belief and inner conviction that there will be a new season.  And though I am not sure why, I too say ‘yes’.

So Much To Appreciate

Last week, Ivon Prefontaine (ivonprefontaine.wordpress.com) graciously included me among of list of bloggers he appreciates.  His blog – “Teacher As Transformer” –  delights, teases the imagination, encourages wonder and provides glimpses of beauty that can leave one sighing.  I look forward to his posts, never knowing what I will read yet confident that I will feel inspired in some way.  So first and foremost – thank you Ivon, for expanding my view, sharing your perspective and generously including me in this wonderful circle of impressive talent.

Interestingly, what Ivon appreciates about this blog helps me to meet the requirement of completing the sentence “A blog is…”.  Although I’m hopeful that he enjoys the content most of the time,  my posts weren’t the driver for his inclusion of me ‘in the circle’.  Ivon appreciates the dialogues that occur after a post is published, that I respond to each comment.  Of course I write back – that’s the greatest  joy of blogging to me.

In my head, a blog is a conversation.  The post in and of itself represents the context for further discussion – and it is the feedback that propels the movement from one topic to another.  I have no illusions about my talent as a writer – I wouldn’t buy a book of mine even if I had the focus to write one.  I write as I speak, tangents included.  What I am though,  is really curious about how we think about the world, how we react to the big and little experiences that occur throughout our days.  I will share an observation – from the silly to the sublime – to ‘hear’ what you think.  It’s not a selfless expression, for I learn about myself while on the karma truck too.  Those lessons?  That should wait for another day.

The pleasure of being in a circle is found in the expectation that one can expand it further.  As such, I am asked to invite two more bloggers along. This is tricky, for there are many I follow and admire and appreciate deeply.  So I offer two, with the caveat that I could write an entire post just listing the incredible people who have found me and who I have found.

I appreciate Cathy Ulrich who writes largeself.com for the wide breadth of topics and genres she so beautifully introduces on her blog.  I love her sensitivity to that which is around her, even if it is the subtle bend of a petal on a flower.

And I appreciate Keith who writes keiththegreen@wordpress.com.  Keith also addresses diverse topics and observations on his blog.  I appreciate his humor, his patience and consistent return to lessons about walking through life with the gentlest of steps.  And he doesn’t mind answering some of my really ignorant questions!

Again, there are so many – and I would venture to guess that you know who you are because I have written about you often.  You are all in my circle, because without you there is no conversation, there is no back-and-forth that define the best of relationships.  For me that’s the best delivery from the karma truck.

 

 

DIFIK (Damned If I Know)

I love the English language.  I love French too, but since I happen to know English better, it’s my favorite.  Reading it, writing it, speaking it – I’m a fan.  So many words, so many alternatives for expressing one’s thoughts, so much potential for discourse.  There are a lot of people who have read this blog, many of whom have commented (and who write their own blogs) with far greater eloquence than I will ever have.

Yet, I am feeling so alone.

I recently read that there are now more than 80 million who are texting regularly.  80 million people!!  Now, I am not a very good texter.  I don’t do conversation in short-hand, counting characters as I go.  It doesn’t come naturally to me, and in my little old-school brain, it bugs me that it comes so naturally to everybody else (or to 80 million people other than me – but that seems like a significant enough number that I can refer to them as the collective ‘everybody’).  Anyway, I just looked up ‘texting’ on Google – and printed off 40 pages of acronyms.  Forty pages of abbreviated ways that people can arguably communicate with each other.  Really?  This is communicating?  This is what you’re doing while you’re driving, rolling your shopping cart down the supermarket aisles, walking on the street – all in the name of staying in touch (and multi-tasking – or so you think)?

143; 459; 831; ILU; ILY all mean ‘I love you’.  1432 -’I love you more’; IWALU – ‘I will always love you’; ILUAAF – ‘I love you as a friend’; LUL – ‘love you lots’ LYLB – ‘love you later bye’.  I could go on…I can’t even count the number of phrases with a certain epithet that rhymes with ‘truck’ – well I could, but there were just too many per page to sustain my interest.  ROFL – ‘rolling on the floor laughing’; ROTFL – ‘rolling on the floor laughing’; ROTFLMAO – ‘rolling on the floor laughing my ass off’…there’s also ROTGLMAO – ‘rolling on the ground laughing my ass off’.  I’m so glad that they’ve added enough options so that you can use different nouns.

There are some that are just plain stupid – AFJ – ‘April Fool’s Joke’ – how often do you need to use that expression to justify writing it in short-hand?  RLF – ‘real life friend’.  I don’t know how to say this gently, but if you have friends that exist only in your imagination – I understand – but perhaps it would help if you talked to someone about this FTF (face-to-face).

I am officially going anti-acronym.  I am guilty of writing ‘lol’, even ‘rofl’ and yes, ‘btw’ has come up in more than one message from yours truly. And reading this list has shown me that we are giving each other and the English language short shrift.  The other night Andy and I watched a family of four sit down at a restaurant, each completely immersed in his/her smartphone.  They didn’t say one word to each other.  They also ate with a fork in one hand, and kept texting with the other.  Ok, it’s not how I would define family fun time, but clearly I’m missing something.  I guess I haven’t gotten the 411 on the benefits of not speaking directly with each other, looking at someone’s face or enjoying the rhythmic dance of conversation.  It would seem that m.02 (my two cents if you can believe it) is really outdated and over-valued.  The joy of reading a descriptive sentence, the first class seat on a flight of imagination that is provided courtesy of language.  And talking?  I think it’s becoming passé, much like cursive.  Perhaps it will be taught as part of the history curriculum someday (which will be provided online and with all the appropriate abbreviations to accelerate course completion).

Sigh…I think my cool factor just went down about forty points.  But my cynicism quotient is definitely up.  We are short-circuiting our connections in the name of staying connected.  And I’m not down with that.  So I am SMH (shaking my head) sending you a 5FS4N (five finger salute for now – which I sure hope means ‘bye for now’) and committing to doing my part to keep written and oral communication alive and well.  :-)  Oh, that means I’m smiling – emoticons are ok right?

No Buts About It

When I was a newly minted teacher (please bear in mind, I started working when I was three), I was told that the word ‘don’t’ was anathema, verboten, that-which-is-never-said when disciplining young children.  So, instead of  saying “Jennifer, don’t run in the hall”, the correct guidance was “Jennifer – walk”.  “No shouting” became “Use your inside voice”.   On the one hand, I thought this was really trite and yet theoretically it seemed reasonable.   It was harder to change my speech pattern than I thought;  frequently used vocabulary become habitual.  Ultimately, this one lesson has remained in my head throughout my career.  In your day-to-day conversations,  do you think of how you’re framing your comments?  Have you listened to yourself lately?  Do your words inspire or deflate?

There are two incredibly demoralizing and powerful words that are regularly invoked in conversations – “no” and “but“.  I realize that there are times when both are necessary.  That said, there are more occasions than not when their utilization causes a far more adverse impact than we may intend.  How many people do you know begin their sentences with the word “no’?  If you listen, you will find that many do.  Even when agreeing with someone,  a response often begins with a negative.  A recent example of a conversation with my son:

“Hi sweetie pie, how are you?”

“No, I’m good.”

“Are you going to go see ________?”

“No, yeah in a little while.”

Though you could toss this up to idiosyncratic conversation, I can regale you with more examples in the workplace, at dinner with friends, in any number of environments than you would care to read.  We are in the habit of saying ‘no’ first.  When providing someone with feedback, we invoke the word ‘but’ as we try to give someone objective, constructive observations of his/her performance.  “The quality of your presentations are excellent, but you need to increase your productivity”.  As soon as the word ‘but’ is introduced into the sentence, the positive sentiment is diminished – if not completely forgotten.  And yet we do this all the time – at work, home, wherever…In my presentations I ask people to insert the word ‘and‘ in place of ‘but’ – the perception of the sentence changes remarkably.  At the end of the day there is no one without strengths and weaknesses.  As a developer of people’s’ abilities, it is your responsibility to find the most effective way to encourage growth and improvement.  Leave out the ‘but’ – try it.  It’s harder than it seems.

I further challenge you to count the times you say the word ‘no’ in a day.  Chances are you often don’t even think about or mean it, you’ve just incorporated into your pattern.  It takes little thought to recognize the impact of our words.  Arguably they are more important than ever before given that we live in a time when we speak with each other less and less, and assume people’s’ intents from 145 characters.

Conversations at Vermillion

Conversations at Vermillion (Photo credit: JeanineAnderson)

But don’t take my word for it – no, you really should find out for yourself.

The ‘ShootingMyMouthOff’ & The ‘ShouldaCoulda’ Flu

I hope the title evokes thoughts of  Johnny Rivers or Aerosmith – that’s what was playing in my head this morning.

How many times have you said to yourself, “I shoulda said”, “I coulda said” or “I woulda said something, but….”.  It’s a common malady, the ‘should-woulda-coulda’ flu.  I’ve been infected more times than I can count – at work certainly, and in other areas of my life as well.  Its onset is so rapid you don’t even know you’ve got it until you try to open your mouth to counter a comment or action with which you take issue, and then rationalize why you shouldn’t say a word.

There is of course a corollary to this bug, which manifests itself with almost uncontrolled verbal expressions which are provided with or without invitation.  It’s also common in the workplace – the ‘shooting-my-mouth-off’ syndrome.  Again, there are no early symptoms, other than the overwhelming urge to say whatever is in your head without filter or forethought.

Although neither is recognized by the AMA, the effects of both can be lingering and negatively impact your relationships and your career.  The good news?  Both are controllable – and with a little exercise and a change in your emotional diet, you should feel pretty good about the prognosis.

There are times when we all feel the need or desire to speak truth to power – or at least what we perceive the truth to be.  You see an issue or problem that is being overlooked, diminished or ignored by those above you in the management hourglass.  In the first instance, you say nothing at all – you don’t want to be seen as negative, maybe you anticipate an angry or dismissive response or feel resigned that your perspective isn’t going to affect the outcome anyway.  In the latter, you tell your supervisor everything you see and hear, rationalizing that you want to keep your boss ‘in the know’,  assigning an ‘urgent’ rating to each conversation and feeling strongly that it’s your job to put it out there, and your supervisor’s job to remedy the situation.

Neither is absolutely right, neither can feel all that good and neither is reflective of your best professional aspect.  I believe that timing is everything – and though certainly I don’t always get it right by a long shot – I have learned to wait until I feel the odds are best for my audience to be attentive to what I’m saying.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I am undoubtedly also driven by my disdain for confrontation and will do what I can to minimize the likelihood of a conversation becoming hostile.)  No one controls what you say and how you say it other than you.  For those who feel your comments are futile – consider that you are in a position where there is an expectation for to you provide your insights, recommendations and perspective.  Although it may easier for you to ‘go along to get along’, if you can improve a situation you have a responsibility to do so.  And if any of you out there have a tendency to speak before thinking about the content and manner of your delivery – the expectations are the same for you too.  Impulsive, ill-conceived comments will sabotage your success with equal speed and force.

Take ten – ten minutes to stop and think about the problem that you see.  Evaluate its urgency, where your audience is at the moment and how to best disseminate the information.  Presuming the situation is not an emergency, think about the possible solutions you can recommend.  ‘Initiative’ is more than bringing an issue to someone’s attention – it also references your ability to provide some potential resolutions as well.  You need to take time to consider problem-solving alternatives before elevating the concern.  And for those who hesitate to say anything – you need some time too – to accept that this is part of your responsibilities and determine the approach that will be most comfortable to you.  Doing nothing is not an option, so don’t even go there.  The goal of the conversation is the same regardless of which ailment you may have – to identify a concern, assess its accuracy and provide objective recommendations for cure.

I realize that when you’re under the weather with symptoms of  either virus, such counsel may be unwelcome.  Yet the bottom line is – real business concerns need to be brought forward – and your professional stock will rise if you do so in the right way and at the right time.  Walk around the block, take some Vitamin C and if you need to,  practice your comments before you make them.  I speak with many managers all the time who feel there is no point in bringing issues out in the open.  I feel their sense of resignation and I ache at their feelings of futility.  I have to say that there are some conditions far worse than the two I’ve mentioned today.  Giving up and giving in to indifference is a far more dangerous and intransigent bug – one which spreads with impressive virulence.  Your views do matter, your recommendations are important and valuable – just make sure your outlook is healthy before you speak.