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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?”

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.

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.

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.

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?

Friday, May 11, 2018

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

66. Throw out the authoritarian playbook. No one wants a dictator.

No one likes a bully or believes her, either. Any conversation is a two-way street.  Resist your fears. Never dominate a meeting or conversation with a torrent of words that allow for no questions, comments or, God forbid, actual conversation. It’s a great way to ruin your credibility and chances for any collaboration or support for your ideas.
67. Our stories are not up for debate. 
In our tense political climate, it’s natural to fall to the default, “I don’t want to talk about politics” or “I don’t want to bring up this topic, someone might be offended.” You can both keep the peace while you help move civilization forward a step or two by daring to be the person who asks questions and allows others to have their say. Steer the sensitive topics from the debate arena to their genesis. Ask, “Please tell me how you arrived at your ideas?” Anyone's story about their journey to their ideas tells us more about them than what we've already seen hashed over on cable news a million times. 
68. Humor is the secret sauce.
The most viewed TED Talk is by Sir Ken Robinson, who proposes radical changes to our education systems, while using humor in his presentation to build our trust and understanding of the changes he wants to see.
69. Even worms have a beginning, middle and end. So should our presentations.
Observe the ebb and flow of a TV sitcom, a movie or a TED Talk. It’s a dance of words, movement and emotions.  We are hard-wired to listen to stories. That’s how we learned for millennia. When it’s our job to teach or sell an idea to an audience, start with a brief story that has a beginning, middle and end.  The structure of a story can be circular, with the end tying back to the start in some way, or it can be open-ended, presenting us with various options to consider.
70. What is the most awkward?
For years I walked the halls of colleges and watched the interactions of students. There were always groups chatting and other groups with their eyes on their still- unfinished assignments. The advent of social media brought with it more students glued to their smartphones and laptops and noticeably less flirting in the hallways. Sure it's easier to be in a bubble, but  we learn more from interactions in the face-to-face world. Just notice if once in a while you are up for shaking up the new order and saying hello.  It may surprise you to notice how good it makes you feel to converse with a real person who, yes, might reject you or turn away, but who may also choose to say hello back at you.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

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

61. Say what?

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die,” wrote Anne Lamott, one of my favorite muses. A quote from someone in your family, a favorite song or poem, or someone in a place of authority can bring voice, music and credibility to your written work. A quote can help you get the ball rolling on a topic, or it can bring to the front a question you have uncovered.
62. Draught, Drawft, Draft
Thank the critic for its fine intentions but clear the critic out of your mind before you write your first word. Send them to the corner store for an errand. Work your first draft without them as you begin the writing process unencumbered by any critical thoughts, fear of grammar rules or rules of any kind. Get the first draft out. Come back to it with an eye towards finding ways to add, delete and improve.
63. Listen!
We are much more experienced as listeners than we are as writers. When you have a draft of a piece you are preparing listen to it as you read it aloud. Ask someone to read it aloud to you or record it and play it back. Listen to the way it strikes not your eyes, but your ears. Pay attention to the rhythm of your sentences and the music of your words. Would another quote or question help with the overall impact of a sentence?
64. Do you have a favorite writer?
Reading opened up the world for many of us, even those who grew up in the 1960’s when we had other choices in mass media like TV. We had three (count them!) TV networks programs to choose from. I am enamored of some writers, certainly, and took my love for one writer to a new level. I adapted a favorite short story set in Minnesota recently to characters and locations in Texas. I copied the tone and style, but used our regional geography and expressions. Interesting exercise I recommend.
65. Build a community of those whose opinions you value to share your work with.
Getting help is amazing! I’ve received valuable feedback from friends who have read my young adult novel, Tina Tijerina. I’m grateful for their suggestions and assistance in pulling together the important pieces that make up the story.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

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

56. Don’t believe everything you think.

Keep an open mind. Part of the wonder of this world is knowing that you only know a narrow sliver of all there is to know. Keep it humble, and you increase your chances of learning something new to add to the sliver. From a lifetime of journalism and teaching, I learned first impressions are not to be trusted. 
57. Social media rule #1.
We show our best side and conceal our flaws. Don’t envy someone else’s images or writings about their life. They represent only a fraction of the whole.
58. Social media rule #2.
Since you are now your own publisher and editor, by all means, tell your story. This is the first time in human history that mass media has become “me’ media, open to all. Storycorps and The Moth are two examples of sites on the Internet that you can record your stories and share them with the world and future generations.
59. Social media rule #3.
Our attention is ever decreasing. The sooner we start with why, the better our chances of having our posts read to the end.  Alcoholics Anonymous recommends the acronym, KISS, keep it simple, stupid. This get-to-the-point-advice applies to posts on your favorite social media sites.
60. Social media rule #4.
Keep a healthy balance of information in your social media diet. You want to be sure you are laughing at least the same amount of time as you spend gnashing your teeth about global warming, the economy or politicians we love to hate.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

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

51. Time to talk or to think.
Knowing the inner workings of your internal clock, schedule important “talking and thinking times.”  Reserve your important work for the time of the day or night when you feel most alert and attentive. It isn’t always possible, but knowing your inner best times will alert you to prepare yourself to be at your best with an extra nap, walk around the block or cup of coffee before an early or late class.
52. Buenos dias, buenas tardes and buenas noches.
Don’t you enjoy a gentle reminder that you are recognized just for being you? In any language you prefer, greet the people you encounter with a wish for a good morning, evening or night. The pleasant words don’t cost a cent, but they may be the first nice words a person’s heard in hours.
53. Say goodbye, connect and give thanks.
We may never pass this way again. Your presence is your present, but the gift wrap is in the smiles during your arrivals and departures. In a party or any business meeting it’s nearly always better to connect with as many people as you are able with a short hello, a handshake and a brief exchange. Likewise for endings. Be the person who makes eye contact, shakes hands to say goodbye. 
54. Take the leap. Ask the big questions along with the small.
Meeting someone new is a great opportunity to chat about family, work and also about what you don’t know. Ask “what is lighting up your brain these days?” In my experience, people’s eyes light up and they are thrilled to talk about their passions and interests.
55. What can you learn about communication from a child?
We all need to be heard. Trust is established by the inch and destroyed in the blink of an eye. Listening and letting the other person speak at their own rate or pace, without interruption, starts the journey of an encounter of  few brief moments, or a long friendship.


Monday, May 7, 2018

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

41. Photos speak louder than words.
A photo can stir emotions quickly. Framing an image carefully helps you to connect with your audience. Looking at your viewfinder or screen, make it a habit to divide your image into three vertical rows. Place your focal point to the left or right of the center row to create greater interest in the eye of the viewer.
42. The magical properties of light.
What colors are there in a room that is so dark you cannot see an inch in front of you? None. Color exists only with the presence of light. Experiment with degrees of light and shadow to see how many moods you can create in a photo.
43. Horizontal is preferred.
For phone viewing of images you shoot, horizontal or square are preferred over vertical orientation. Maybe the horizontal view more closely mimics the way we see using our eyes.
44. More is better.
Take time to prepare a shot whenever possible, frame your subject using the principle of thirds, study how best to use the light available and take more shots than you need to. There are surprises that delight among the extras.
45. Smartphones make you smarter!
Dictate into Notes or voice recording apps your lists, ideas, questions, even conversations with others. We need to “offload” the minutia of our daily lives onto assisting tech whenever we can. Our own gray matter needs space to be creative and to hear the doorbell when inspiration stops in for a visit.
46. Journal to manage and direct your mind.
It’s an exciting world, with distractions and possibilities that boggle the mind. Julia Cameron’s The Artist's Way offers many strategies to help coax your creativity in positive directions. Journaling for no one’s eyes is one trick that helps to take the trash out and clear out mental real estate for what you really want your brain to work on. On a computer or using a pen and paper, write what’s on the surface of your thoughts. Any complaints, regrets or struggles can find their way to the printed page and thus leave more space for the less noisy but usually more important. When you are finished with a page or two, hit “delete” or crumple your pages into the trash. You’ll feel the difference in your thinking after a few days of this practice.  
47. Communicate kindness.
What does a kilo of kindness cost? I have no idea, but I know what it pays. We learn and live better when we are relaxed and accepted. Kindness is a tool as important as fire or technology to moving ourselves forward with awareness, from literally learning to walk with baby steps to analytical decisions.
48. Bark for you boundaries.
Puppies push each other in play to learn their place in the pack. In a conversation with another or in a group, notice when a boundary has been reached. It’s a fleeting feeling that someone’s entered uninvited and that someone may be you. Pause the conversation to redirect with firm kindness. You own your privacy and are in your right to say to someone, “Step back, I’m uncomfortable with this line of talking at this time.” No further explanation is required. Move on. We are puppies of a large, hairless variety.
49. Who elected you God?
I love to teach using cooperative or collaborative methods because students are forced into facing each other and interactions where they learn instead of zoning out into a screen.
They rotate leadership roles and inevitably there is a person who feels their leadership is more important than that of others. It’s a chance for someone to learn to step up and say, “Wait. It’s my turn,” or to shrink back and let the natural leader take over. These interactions are as important as the content in a class. It’s how we learn leadership.
50. You are what you listen to.
I remember I learned a friend had died and I was so sad, all I could think to do was lower the top on the convertible I had and drive on the open highway listening to the Rolling Stones. It only helped a little, but I was grateful for the wind and the sounds that drowned out my sorrow even for a minute. Your diet of media feeds your moods and beliefs. Comedy may be what you need more than a police procedural. Metal or Mendelssohn might be what helps your brain feel centered. Learn to select to address your current feelings. Think as carefully about what you want to serve the needs of your spirit and soul as you do your physical body.