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Friday, September 21, 2018

An Astronaut in Aztlan


When Procter and Gamble, the soap manufacturer attempts to reverse engineer a natural soap, the results are like Frankenstein's monster,  neither pretty nor natural. In a strange way the results may be just as "wrong" when a person possibly past their prime goes fiddling with their identity. It may be too late! It is justified to ask, is there any point in it at this stage in life? But isn't the point of identity to move forward with a stronger sense of self? There is no expiration date on that. Reflecting back for the sake of inquiry alone is valid reason enough. Add to that, I'm alive and looking forward to being so for years to come. 

So assuming most of us have read Catcher in the Rye and if not, get to it! Here come some  ideas from a latter-day Holden Caulfield who moved far, far south and became me.

In the case of our original, 20th century Holden Caulfield, consider how he came to be, born in the world of publishing and becoming the unwitting poster boy for the predominant point of view that spread from books across America for decades: New York-centric and WASP. 

Thus, the weight of geography played a disproportionate role in defining the American experience. No one planned it that way. It was not a conspiracy, but the effects were such that one region's stories and storytellers came to be valued over others for no other reason than proximity to publishing houses. The same resulted from magazines, radio, TV and films, which formed the foundation, along with books, of our national cultural identity. That's the legacy of the era of mass media, now less mass and more social.

As much of a misfit as Holden considered himself, he was less so than, say, anyone not WASP or in the geography of New York at the center or New England at the farther reaches.

Maybe it's not all "a lot of crap" as he might say. Here is a blog post from Holden in the far future, of another gender and heritage, who may still have more in common with him than not, whose writing owes much to American publishing and mass media in the 20th century. I am the new Holden, afloat in the ether of my own publishing house, an astronaut in Aztlan, asking the same questions about identity asked by the old Holden. 

Lately I've been thinking about identity and labels and their purpose, not when it comes to birds or butterflies but people. Our human tendency to "us and them" both ourselves and others is a trait of most, if not all humans, but it bears examining.

What is the role of a label when it is applied to a group of people in a minority by a group of people in power in the majority? In a state like Texas, this question may take new meaning in a few years when people of Mexican heritage outnumber other groupings. 

But let's stick with the moment. It's important, first of all, to recognize the difference in meaning between "illegal" and "undocumented". No person on the Earth is illegal. 

Moving forward from that, there are modifiers and adjectives that apply to some people's identities but not others. Journalistically, non-identitification of rape victims has long been the practice in order protect the victim. In other countries, the name of a "shooter" in a mass shooting is not used to quell any moves for the killer's martydom. In a news story that is about a search for a suspect, I can see how ethnicity would help to identify someone. But in the case about an arrest, newsroom policy makers should ask, what is the purpose of labeling some people by their heritage or ethnicity? Does it satisfy curiosity or does it belie a reporter's confirmation bias or unexaminded prejudice?

Labels like Hispanic were said to be necessary in distinguishing among political groups as in the previous paragraph about Texas demographics. When President Richard NIxon's administration initiated the term Hispanic, it was used as a tool to simplify the labels for demographic groupings for the allocation of national funding. This tool may have outlived its purpose. Language is too important to leave to bureaucrats. 

Undocumented v. illegal. The use of "undocumented" is a normalizing and institutionalizing of respect we have for people's commonalities with us instead of their differences. 

Let's take a look at how prevalent labeling as other is in the entertainment industry. 
When on NBC's "Making It" reality series, a couple being married on the show was identified as Mexican, I listened carefully to their speech and when I heard them speak flawless English, I suspected they were as American as the hosts. Yet they were labelled, possibly even self-labeled, as Mexican for any number of reasons, possibly including respect. If so, shouldn't they have been labelled instead as American of Mexican heritage or cultural descent instead? Or why even label at all on an entertainment program working hard to be inclusive and kinder and gentler in their approach as the producers of "Making It"?

The 21st century Holden asks, "What's up with this?"  Did we begin to use the labeling tool on people, at first for one purpose and continue using it even after new and better tools evolved for appropriating funds (using economic information or income levels for example)?  

Shouldn't we ask if the tool of labeling people other than by citizenship serves an unintended and dangerous purpose of dividing and furthering the cause of "us and them"? 

And Holden's question, "What's up with this?" is just the kind of no-nonsense, awoke sentiment needed now, when we desperately need "all of us" to move forward.

"What's up with this?" is a good question. "What do we do about it?" comes next and is certainly more important.  


 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Moonlight, lonely highway, tall stories -Communication is what makes us human: More tips for thinking, writing and speaking in a world of quicksand communications






















96. Storytelling on night drives.

The lights are dim, we’re in our seats and we are all ears. There are fewer spaces more conducive to conversation than a long road trip, especially at night. In the darkness and with the rhythm of the tires on the roadway, we are in a cocoon kind of stage with a captive audience. I’ve enjoyed the best stories with family members and friends in cars on long drives. 
97. Porches, campfires and long walks.
See the firefly! Feel the breeze. Poke the embers around on the campfire. There are comfortable silences. Then, one story from someone will prompt another person to tell their’s. And so turns the planet, now and from the time when we climbed down from the trees. Being outdoors at night brings out the latent storyteller in many of us. Nature reminds us that, like Archie Bell and the Drells of Houston, Texas, we don’t only sing and dance, we tell stories and listen to them as well.
98. What’s a story?
Stories are a multipurpose tool. They can teach or tickle, entertain or perplex us. They tell others who we are and what we have learned. They contain the past and the present. They are a gift to the listener and the person who remembers aloud.
99. Children and stories.
The smartphone may be a great baby sitter but it doesn’t smile, encourage or ask questions like mama and papa. The sweetest sounds I’ve ever heard are the cooing conversations a parent has with their infant. From the cradle through soccer practice and college graduation, kids need to hear and practice conversations and storytelling. 
100. Ask questions like “what” instead of “why”.
We generally learn lots more by asking ourselves, “What is it that is going on, or what is it I feel like before I attack the bowl of m&m’s?” rather than “Why do I eat too many m&m’s?”
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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Rules On Cellphone Use --Communication is what makes us human: More tips for thinking, writing and speaking in a world of quicksand communications























91. The phone booth effect.



“I’m in a crowd of people, so I’ll scream out our private conversation so everyone can hear, okay?”  Something mysterious happens sometimes when we answer a call on our cell phone in a group of people. We often raise our voices unnecessarily and broadcast to everyone our conversation. Just because you can't hear doesn't mean your cell mate can't hear you. Keep your conversation from being overheard and also disturbing others by moderating your voice, moving to another place if possible or limiting the length.
92. Cell phone etiquette rule#1
People do need your undivided attention. When you are able, put your phone deep in your purse or pocket and be fully engaged for the child, teacher, clerk, or candlestick maker. Keep in mind that there is an addictive joy to receiving a text or new message. How you manage the cell phone and its charms has an important effect on the people beside you. 
93. Cell phone etiquette rule#2
You have the greatest idea and want to share it immediately! Remember when you call your friend to ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” “Do you have a minute?” Recognize that your urgency to talk may not correspond with what is going on with the person you are calling. It’s good to allow them to let you know they are driving or busy and need to make arrangements for a later call.
94. Cell phone etiquette rule#3
The technology in our purse or pocket is chock full of attractions and interest. Keep in mind the phone’s apps make money with our attention, so the more we use them, the more money they make. Keep in mind that our lives and goals for ourselves and for our families are infinitely more important than the goals of a tin can tool and its profits. We require one to one conversations in person, time, silence, calm, reflection and careful thought and questioning. Use the tool, don’t let it use you.
95. Cell phone etiquette rule#4
What are you missing out in the real world when you are focused deep into your cell phone or other device? Find out with a little experiment. Plan your next face-to-face conversation with another person without your cellphone near you. Do you notice your face to face conversation is more relaxed and that you enjoy it more? Students who tried this in my class reported deeper conversations resulted when the phone was out of sight.  Be intentional or thoughtful of your cell phone use whether you are alone or with others.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Communication is what makes us human: More tips for thinking, writing and speaking in a world of quicksand communications














86.Design meetings or gatherings to  include everyone.
 
The dreaded meeting or party full of people we haven't met. Meeting a group of people for the first time can be expansive instead of limiting, if the group is organized around a theme, such as a celebration or learning goal with regular opportunities for both whole and small group conversation. We humans need a balanced diet of human interaction and contact. There is something about being part of a herd or tribe that appeals to our instincts. A larger gathering, for example 15-25 people in a party or classroom has a dynamic of its own, giving us a wide range of ideas to consider that is different than a one-to-one conversation that has its own qualities. 
87. Organize a larger group meeting for optimum efficiency.
Besides starting and ending on time and having a shared agenda, there are ways to increase participation and variety to make for a more interesting event:  Ask participants to move to find a person they haven’t met and sit with them for a brief meet and greet. Or, ask participants to discuss a question or topic in a group of four and report out to the full group. 
88. Tell me a story!
Plan a social gathering with friends or family around a conversation or story-telling prompt. Instead of bringing gifts to a party, ask your guests to bring a story to share. No one should be pressured, but if a person wants to share, here is their chance and everyone learns a bit more about them. Think of a prompt such as “What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?” “Who in your life has influenced you the most?” “Tell about a time when you learned not to believe everything you think?”
89. Storytelling is not only for kids. 
I had known and liked  Chuck for over two years before he became a close friend. That happened the evening he told our supper club a story about growing up and learning to cook in his grandmother’s East Texas farm kitchen. I remember thinking "I really got to know him tonight!He told the story with his whole heart and shared with us his affection for his family and the part of his life that informed his life as a wonderful chef and later as a caring and helpful nutritionist.
90. Be interested as well as interesting.
Super if you are both, really! Time alone will tell if you become an interesting person, but you can ensure that people will find you to be interested. Most of us feel happy to respond to a person who asks to learn more about us. Listen to others as they introduce themselves or start a conversation. Ask a question to learn more. Developing the art of being a good conversationalist pays huge dividends for both the speaker and the listener.
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Monday, May 14, 2018

Communication is what makes us human: More tips for thinking, writing and speaking in a world of quicksand communications



















81. Let’s be honest, in tortillas as in all things, it's all in the timing.


When you flip a tortilla over depends on whether the entire surface has cooked sufficiently. Telling someone a truth is like cooking a tortilla. It’s all in the timing. Your friend is walking around with his pant’s fly open. Let him know in a discreet manner. Your friend’s wife is seeing someone else. Your desire to be honest is admirable, but consider carefully before proceeding. Keep in mind that honesty, like charity, begins at home. Ask yourself if you know without a doubt that this is true? If it is, ask yourself if telling your friend is helpful or hurtful. Take time to listen for the answer. 
82. Honesty is the best policy, yet check to see if she's at home first. 
Are we being truthful with ourselves? That’s not even possible to know, but we can try to be. The trick to knowing if we are on being honest is deep within our inside self. Give yourself a quick call. Take a breath and feel your gut or heart, your appendix or your soul. Listen for your answer: If you feel open, settled and clear, you are on the right path. An unsettled, blurry response full of static and unease means we need more information and time. Be patient, your call will be answered in the time your heart is ready to respond.
83. Ask for guidance for successful gardening of grace and gratitude.
A mom friend of mine was reprimanding her 7 and 9 year old kids for misbehavior when one of them defended herself by saying, “But, Mama, we’re just little kids!” This story stuck with me because most of us could stand to remember to ease up on others as well as ourselves. We are not supposed to do it all perfectly or without receiving help from others. Asking for help from those we trust is like a plant receiving sunlight. That’s how we learn and grow. We delight in a joy of being a part of it all, where we live and also the people and places we may never see.
84. We don’t know what we can do until we try.
There’s plenty of doubt to paddle your boat through in any project you undertake.  The journey and process is often more valuable than the end we are rowing toward. Keep in mind you’re never alone in your boat. Each and every one of our ancestors were survivors. Their strength and efforts accompany us as we push forward with our little ball of sparkles and mud.
85. We’re makers.
85. We come from a long line of makers, problem-solvers and solution finders. We wouldn’t be here without their go-find-an-answer-to-this-problem-attitude. What are you making with your hands and creativity today? You may not find support for your efforts in the media that rewards your consumption of stuff that you pay them your money for. You can always find support for what you make inside you, where the spark of creativity is ever kindled.
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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Communication is what makes us human: More tips for thinking, writing and speaking in a world of quicksand communications





















76. There is a Santa, and also, there isn’t.



How much TV should anyone watch? How much screen time should kids be allowed? Should we resist or succumb to a sedentary lifestyle? Is eating red meat dangerous? Is wine good for you? There is a time and place for magical thinking. We all need a unicorn once in a while, and a leprechaun is lovely to behold. When the stakes are much higher and affecting our lives and health, it is good to trust in solid science and the scientific method. It is a formula that tests for truth and helps us to distinguish what we wish from what is real.
77. At first glance, ask where is the evidence?
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” is the famous quote by Britain’s Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. I’ve seen a lifetime of data on the impact of television violence prove both pro and con. The same for video games and now screen time. But, rather than see this as no help at all, it underscores the importance of critical thinking. It’s better to know that sometimes data is manipulated in unethical studies to prove what the funders want funded. It’s important to follow the money to test the bias of a research study.
78. Ask, “Who gains? Who loses?”
Coke or Pepsi? A walk or a swim or an evening on the couch? In any question that requires your participation or support there is a score-card of winners and losers. Media literacy is a good way to learn which questions to ask. A favorite of mine is, "Who profits or benefits" if you buy this product or idea, or vote for this candidate instead of another?
79. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and we can fall for it regardless of how prepared or smart we are.
Does someone in a powerful position lean in too close to try to make you swoon? Time to turn on the lights and sirens. Power is intoxicating, and if you’ve ever had too much alcohol to drink, the metaphor becomes clearer and more useful. Bosses, teachers and others in power are only human and may unintentionally or not forget that what they say and do may have extra meaning in the eyes of their students or employees.
80. Check your bias lately?
Sound more sirens when you notice you are leaning to one side or another. For journalists, confirmation bias is a pitfall that can bankrupt both a reputation and a publication.  ­­­ Confirmation bias can be described as an influence or desire on certain beliefs, when a person wants something to be true they make themselves believe it really is true. But we all have something to learn from this common problem in thinking.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Communication is what makes us human: More tips for thinking, writing and speaking in a world of quicksand communications























71. Own it when you mess it.





71. Everyone makes mistakes. Clean up your errors as soon as you can. “How can I make this better?” are words that can move us forward. When you’re deep in a ditch, getting out is the first priority. Focus your mind and words on fixing, not fixating on what happened or why. 
72. Let it go, Louie.
“But, I was right, and this is so unfair!” 
Ah, the wisdom in a beer TV ad remains true decades after the campaign first aired. Learn to recognize the stubborn tendency to focus on how we have been wronged or singled out for some injustice. It’s over and what we do next is what matters now. It must be wiring we acquired in the jungle or caves. Fortunately we now have Zumba and TV sports to release our primitive responses.
73. Entitlement wears many disguises.
La zorra nunca se ve su cola. The fox never sees its own tail. We are excused when we don’t notice our own entitlements of gender, race, age, class, education or citizenship. We are so used to them they are nearly invisible. We are not excused, however, to believe they don’t exist. They do. Understanding differences is the first step to allowing for differences and expanding our views and experience.
74. Hold the critic, thanks!
Judging has its place in a courtroom or a rodeo arena. Regular folks don’t need to live under the threat of a constant conviction or red flag. The tension of always feeling judged by yourself or others, usually imaginary, is draining and damaging. Tama Keives said it best: “It was just easier to fight for myself when I wasn’t fighting with myself.”
75. Where are your limits?
My sister, Elda Bielanski, won the Chopped television show ten thousand dollar prize in 2014 by pressing forward and challenging herself, an amateur, to compete with trained chefs. Her courage in training and studying leading up to the competition and on the show was fueled by a belief in herself that did not allow for self-limiting questions or doubts. Do any of us have so much extra life that we can waste our energy on doubts and self censorship?
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