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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Judgement Time

We live in a time of personal attack.

We live in a time where it is funny or fun to make fun of others and attack or give negative stereotypes without understanding and with a trendy mean spiritedness.

Yet the PC police are out in full force, and attacks on those they disagree with made in the name of being fair and respectful of others.

We live in a time when information is instant and judgment even faster.

This is the most difficult time for students, and on a broader scale for all of us in society. The pressure is on, stress levels high and anxiety through the roof.

Remember you are not alone and that while you may be graded you are not being judged to the core of your being or worth. No one can do that but yourself, and is it worth it? Move forward. Build confidence. Trust in who you are and what you can do. Build on what you have and work toward who you wish to become.

Aptitudes differ but all have value, as long as those with an aptitude do not use it to belittle others. I will use my own failings as an example, however each of you can and are invited to come up with your own list and post it.

I am an actor, a voice artists and student of others. Listening skills and tollerance should come with these, but in far too many the tendency to judge, attack or jump to conclusions dominates who have the potential to be much more than they are. Ego and a need to feel superior keeps them from their full potential as mirrors to life, portayers of others, entertainers and artists.

I am a professional writer and a communication professor. Due to many things, including the education track system that existed when I was very young, my mind racing ahead of others, and my ear hearing with a Chicago accent, my spelling skills are not perfect. Computers help but not as much as people think, because they make assumptions and if you let them will auto-correct to the wrong word or meaning. In addition, I write as we speak. In other words I believe language is fluid, changing and can reflect the reality of its now, not strict guidelines. All of these lead some to lower their view of me based on what to them seems second nature.

Some people learn other languages with little difficulty. I have tried hard on Spanish and German, with only limited success in reading and writing and next to none in being able to speak the languages.

To a computer programmer the things to do if your computer is not doing what you expect or need it to seem intrinsic, second nature and easy. The rest of us they may seem difficult if not impossible. What is one man’s logic or ‘you should know that” moment is another’s impassable wall. The Mac vs. PC argument centers on how use you are to the extra steps, language of and limitations of a PC, or how you may or may not feel superior for having one operating system versus another. It is a feeling of being better than others, using what you can turn into their faults or limitations (whether or not these really are limitations).

I was the kid who was not picked for teams because for a reason I do not care to reveal I was less coordinated and an only child, so less socialized than the other children. Coaches belittled me and lowered my self-esteem as a motivation example for others. To those who had natural talents or were praise instead of belittled, understanding those of us on the other side of the physical fitness universe is impossible and belittling us is often second nature.

Why do we continue to judge others as lesser than ourselves? Poor people with little opportunity, whether they are in a war zone and wearing head wraps of one type or another, have different skin tone or eyes, or simply play in the dust and dirt, are seen as less intelligent, as ignorant or as unable to help themselves. Why? Because we judge others in relation to ourselves and all too often to make us feel superior.

I know my limitations and my strengths. I teach college and coach children, in acting and communication. I have been a youth minister, choir director, theater and film director, and will always be an actor, performer, artist and friend.

I am a prolific writer, teacher and at times a leader.

I earned awards by turning out product as a journalist quickly and accurately, in factual content and observation. I never won a spelling bee or baseball game. I do not slave over words; they come as easily as walking. But there are those who attack me for my spelling, my limited dress (a function of finances and being raised by depression era parent and grandparents), my weight (hypothyroid and a non-athletic lifestyle for the reasons indicated earlier).

Why not dress right? Why not take the time to spell check (I do, but if I did it to the point of perfection I would be less of a teacher, and far from current in my writings)? How can you be so “overweight” when it is easy to lose weight (again is it easy if you were of the same physiology and background as I am)?

I am not moaning or complaining about life, although it could be seen that way if you choose to see yourself as superior to me. I am pointing on how we judge to make ourselves feel better than others, or we dwell on our own shortcomings to give us an excuse for not going for the brass reign.

Everyone who reads this has strengths, weaknesses, handicaps of some sort and silver spoons in other ways.

Accept others for their strengths.

Praise them.

Use each other in mutually beneficial ways, in the spirit of friendship and shared goals, instead of finding ways to criticize, attack or make yourself feel artificially superior.

There but for the will of God go I.

And one more thing. Feel pride in what you can do without feeling superior. This missive took fifteen minutes to pen, proof and post.

Of course there are mistakes. But the thoughts are out there and there is much more to do in life than blog or post on blogs.

The important thing is the thoughts are out there for you to read and if you choose to, respond.

First posted 11-17-2009

Really listen

Listening to others

MIKE PNIEWSKI “Effective listening inspires great teamwork. Great teamwork breeds great success. Don’t be so single-minded with your ideas that you don’t hear the message of others. Real change only comes when you allow it to happen. Really listen to what others say and allow yourself to be changed for the better.” 
Mike Pniewski, from “When Life Gives You Lemons, Throw ‘Em Back!”

Communication in Decision Making

At its best, discussion deepens understanding and promotes problem solving and decision making. At its worst, it frays nerves, creates animosity, and leaves important issues unresolved. Unfortunately, the most prominent models for discussion in contemporary culture—radio and TV talk shows—often produce the latter effects.

Many hosts demand that their guests answer complex questions with simple “yes” or “no” answers. If the guests respond that way, they are attacked for oversimplifying. If, instead, they try to offer a balanced answer, the host shouts, “You’re not answering the question,” and proceeds to answer it himself. Guests who agree with the host are treated warmly; others are dismissed as ignorant or dishonest. As often as not, when two guests are debating, each takes a turn interrupting while the other shouts, “Let me finish.” Neither shows any desire to learn from the other. Typically, as the show draws to a close, the host thanks the participants for a “vigorous debate” and promises the audience more of the same next time.

Here are some simple guidelines for ensuring that the discussions you engage in—in the classroom, on the job, or at home—are more civil, meaningful, and productive than what you see on TV. By following these guidelines, you will set a good example for the people around you.

Whenever Possible, Prepare in Advance


Not every discussion can be prepared for in advance, but many can. An agenda is usually circulated several days before a business or committee meeting. And in college courses, the assignment schedule provides a reliable indication of what will be discussed in class on a given day. Use this advance information to prepare for discussion. Begin by reflecting on what you already know about the topic. 

Then decide how you can expand your knowledge and devote some time to doing so. (Fifteen or 20 minutes of focused searching on the Internet can produce a significant amount of information on almost any subject.) Finally, try to anticipate the different points of view that might be expressed in the discussion, and consider the relative merits of each. Keep your conclusions very tentative at this point so that you will be open to the facts and interpretations others will present.

Set Reasonable Expectations


Have you ever left a discussion disappointed that others hadn’t abandoned their views and embraced yours? Have you ever felt offended when someone disagreed with you or asked you what evidence you had to support your opinion? If the answer to either question is yes, you probably expect too much of others. People seldom change their minds easily or quickly, particularly in the case of long-held convictions. And when they encounter ideas that differ from their own, they naturally want to know what evidence supports those ideas. Expect to have your ideas questioned, and be cheerful and gracious in responding.

Leave Egotism and Personal Agendas at the Door


To be productive, discussion requires an atmosphere of mutual respect and civility. Egotism produces disrespectful attitudes toward others—notably, “I’m more important than other people,” “My ideas are better than anyone else’s,” and “Rules don’t apply to me.” Personal agendas, such as dislike for another participant or excessive zeal for a point of view, can lead to personal attacks and unwillingness to listen to others’ views.

Contribute But Don’t Dominate


If you are the kind of person who loves to talk and has a lot to say, you probably contribute more to discussions than other participants. On the other hand, if you are more reserved, you may seldom say anything. There is nothing wrong with being either kind of person. However, discussions tend to be most productive when everyone contributes ideas. For this to happen, loquacious people need to exercise a little restraint, and more reserved people need to accept responsibility for sharing their thoughts.

Avoid Distracting Speech Mannerisms


Such mannerisms include starting one sentence and then abruptly switching to another, mumbling or slurring your words, and punctuating every phrase or clause with audible pauses (“um,” “ah,”) or meaningless expressions (“like,” “you know,” “man”). These annoying mannerisms distract people from your message. To overcome them, listen to yourself when you speak. Even better, tape your conversations with friends and family (with their permission), then play the tape back and listen to yourself. And whenever you are engaged in a discussion, aim for clarity, directness, and economy of expression.

Listen Actively


When the participants don’t listen to one another, discussion becomes little more than serial monologue—each person taking a turn at speaking while the rest ignore what is being said. This can happen quite unintentionally because the mind can process ideas faster than the fastest speaker can deliver them. Your mind may get tired of waiting and wander about aimlessly like a dog off its leash. In such cases, instead of listening to what is being said, you may think about the speaker’s clothing or hairstyle or look outside the window and observe what is happening there. Even when you are making a serious effort to listen, it is easy to lose focus. If the speaker’s words trigger an unrelated memory, you may slip away to that earlier time and place. If the speaker says something you disagree with, you may begin framing a reply. The best way to maintain your attention is to be alert for such distractions and to resist them. Strive to enter the speaker’s frame of mind and understand each sentence as it is spoken and to connect it with previous sentences. Whenever you realize your mind is wandering, drag it back to the task.

Judge Ideas Responsibly


Ideas range in quality from profound to ridiculous, helpful to harmful, ennobling to degrading. It is therefore appropriate to pass judgment on them. However, fairness demands that you base your judgment on thoughtful consideration of the overall strengths and weaknesses of the ideas, not on your initial impressions or feelings. Be especially careful with ideas that are unfamiliar or different from your own because those are the ones you will be most inclined to deny a fair hearing.

Resist the Urge to Shout or Interrupt


No doubt you understand that shouting and interrupting are rude and disrespectful behaviors, but do you realize that in many cases they are also a sign of intellectual insecurity? It’s true. If you really believe your ideas are sound, you will have no need to raise your voice or to silence the other person. Even if the other person resorts to such behavior, the best way to demonstrate confidence and character is by refusing to reciprocate. Make it your rule to disagree without being disagreeable.