Lessons From Dale

On a recent visit home, our son was telling us about life lessons he had recently heard on a podcast. On it, the producer reminded the listeners that to be a good conversationalist one has to be willing to learn. One needs to take the posture of listening and thinking to oneself- “What can I learn from this person who is talking?

First edition, 11th printing (February 1937), Courtesy of Wikipedia

First edition, 11th printing (February 1937), Courtesy of Wikipedia

I love this idea. Which of course is nothing new. We should always treat others as if their presence is a gift to us: a gift of time, experience, advice, of being. It is one of the tenants from the still published and still offered courses by Dale Carnegie. HIs signature book was “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It was first published in 1937 and is still in print. I never read the book nor took any of the courses yet have always been intrigued by that title. In some ways it seems so contrived and calculating: to win friends and intentionally influence others. Yet that is what we do or try to do with one another whether we want to think it happens or not.


According to Wikipedia the book was broken down into different sections: things that the book will do for you (presumably if you pay the money for the course and/or books); fundamental techniques for handling people; ways to make people like you; ways to influence people to the way you think; how to be a leader without giving people offense or feeling of resentment; letters that produce miraculous results (removed in later editions of the book) and ways to make your home life happier (again, removed in subsequent re-printings of the book).

Part of his explanation of making people like you is to take a genuine interest in others and listen to what they say. That does seem cold and calculating and not at all organic. However, the rationale that by listening, we may learn something new is a great posture of humble listening: To recognize value in each interaction with one another and that in that interaction, someone may teach us something new.

The thing that I have noticed lately is the lack of one another really listening. (I include myself with this.) There is no longer the art of conversation but rather joint monologues. I think of the “play dates” for two-year-olds. At that age, there is not interactive play- just side by side individual play. Our conversations are like that. One person will speak and another will speak either over top of that person or interrupt or continue on a totally different wavelength and/or topic. Very rarely is there a conversation where the conversational ball gets tossed back and forth with the addition of new and interesting information being shared. It is almost as if everyone has a limited time to get his/her point across about any topic and so conversations become this quick exchange of “my” information.

I do think that the time factor is part of the problem. Our days are jam packed with transactions: running here and there, trying to accomplish whatever we deem important. We don’t get a chance to really speak to the people we know and love in our lives nor much less listen to the peripheral people that we bump shoulders with- the customers in the grocery store, at the gas pump, folks who are walking down the street, and in some cases the people living next door to us.

Just yesterday I was able to truly listen to a stranger and it was only due to the fact that I had some extra time. My friend and I had gone grocery shopping together and as my order was smaller, I was finished sooner than she. In one aisle I encountered a gentleman who was having a little trouble seeing the items on the shelves and so I made a brief comment to help him out. This led to a ten minute discussion where the man told me some of his life story.

The whole time I was with him because I was thinking of my son’s comment about his podcast, I consciously thought, “Be present with him. Really listen and recognize the gift that he has brought to your day.” It was a wonderful discussion. Now in all honesty, I didn’t learn any encyclopedic knowledge but I did get a taste of what I have been thinking and writing about. Plus the chore of going to the store didn’t seem so burdensome. After this encounter I began wondering, What next? Whom will I meet at the next place? I was prepared to keep my eyes and ears opened.

What about you? What are your interactions with people like? Are they strictly transactional? Do you listen? Could you repeat back what you have been told? Do you know the eye color of the person who just spoke to you? I realized that many times I see people with out truly seeing them.

In my encounter at the grocery store, I intentionally wanted to connect and so I saw him and his interesting pale almost amber/brown eyes. Of course, in this day and age we need to be smart. You don’t want to have the reputation of the creepy starer in the neighborhood or being accused of longingly looking at a person when all you are doing is trying to look them in the eye. But I know for myself I need to be more intentional in my listening skills and part of that requires me to zero in on the face of the speaker.

I do not know how much I win friends or influence people and that is really not my intent. I think the beauty of the lessons is to connect with others and build community. When we have an understanding community, we will win friends and influence others for the betterment of society.

Community Connections

"Navy Returns to Compasses and Pencils to Help Avoid Collisions at Sea"

The above is a headline in today's The New York Times.  Basically, the Navy is going back to, well, basics: sailors getting more sleep, spending more time on ship maintenance, employing basic seamanship.

It seems that all professions have the tension between the use of technology and the basic, common skills that have been used over time.   

When I was employed at a well-known teaching hospital, I was in a training program for working with critically ill patients. During one of the classes, the instructor gave wise words: "Always check the patient."  

She went on to tell us the story: When she was a newly trained critical care nurse she was very enthusiastic and diligent to do exactly as she was instructed.  On one of her rounds she dutifully kept an eye on the cardiac monitor.  To her shock, she witnessed the monitor showing that the patient was experiencing ventricular tachycardia- extremely fast heart rhythm.  The first response to that problem is to shock the heart back into regular rhythm and can be done so by a whack on the chest.  The nurse ran into the room, went to the patient's side and "thumped" a hard fist in the middle of the man's chest.  He sat bolt upright,  "What the [expletive} do you think you are doing?"  

Turns out he had been sleeping.

As she reminded us, technology is a great tool but never forget your basic assessment of patients.

I have felt that our culture needs to remember the basics of human interaction. We are all too quick to allow technology to overshadow or replace our role as social beings.

Over the last couple of days I have been able to use my bicycle to accomplish some errands.  It has been beautiful fall weather and peddling through the streets noticing the mums, pumpkins and turning leaves has been a treat.

One thing that I have always noticed when I cycle, is how connected I feel to my fellow pedestrians and those who are out and about sans l'automobile.  In a car, I am so isolated. I barrel down the road and don't really get a chance to interact with anybody.  Yet on my bicycle as I meander through town I can aid the woman confused over a street address or buy a sandwich for the man down on his luck or smile and wave at the toddler tentatively waving in her stroller.

My interactions aren't earth shattering.  Just a connectedness with other human beings. Yet I am back to basics- communing with people as we were traveling around. 

One of my stops was at a local coffee shop to enjoy a cup of joe and to soak up the ambiance. As I sat there, I overheard a couple of conversations. In each grouping the dialogue may have been different but the theme was the same: community, spending quality time with one another and being authentic in our relationships. 

It seems as if  I hear more and more people expressing their tiredness with being a faceless entity- an initial or first name post among many other faceless posts. They want to be known for their individuality.  They want to go back to the way people use to interact. They want to be known.

On one hand, the computer and the global network has connected us with long-lost friends and family and has connected us with new friends in different cultures.  But the technology era has also ushered in more isolation and with that, despair and depression.  Try as we might to avoid it, we are designed to live in community. 

I certainly have had my fair share of not wanting community.  I have been known to duck down another aisle in the grocery store just to avoid talking to someone I know.  If I had my druthers, I would probably sit in isolation and only communicate by banging out texts and notes to people.  Yet, I also know that when I don't engage with others, I miss out.  I miss their immediate reactions to statements.  I miss out on immediate feedback.  I miss out on perspective, where do my thoughts fit into the big scheme of things? 

My bicycle jaunts have me engage more with my surroundings.  I find that I like it.  My community engagements are not long encounters.  They are not overly deep. At least for now.  Yet there is always something I get out of the encounters, some new idea or thought or outlook. I hope that is true too for the person encountering me.

I feel that I am getting back to basics, employing the foundational elements that connect us as humans:  building community.

What about you?  Do you ever feel the need to get back to basics?  To spend some time with the people around you?  Do you have the opportunity to interact with strangers?  To share a small greeting?  What is preventing you? Do you have time in your life to occasionally slow down when you do your errands? To bike or walk to get groceries, coffee or milk? Could you try it once a week, once a month, once a quarter?  If you did get back to basics, what would be your headline? 

"Cyclist Returns to Interacting With Previously Unknown Individuals to Build Community." 

 

Nastiness

Nastiness.  The word itself sounds, well, nasty.  It is just one of those words, actions and predicaments that one should avoid.  Yet we don't.  More and more individuals say and do the meanest things.  We see it on social media and reality television.  We hear it from our leaders and our family and friends. 

This past Sunday's The New York Times had an interesting article called, "The Culture of Nastiness". It looked at our current times and how we are so uncivil towards each other.  What caught my eye was a quote by a professor from our town's university.  The professor teaches a class, "Mister Rogers 101: Why Civility and Community Still Matter".  His premise is that we are a lonely society.  We do not engage with one another as we used to and as we should.   Consequently we do not have experience working through conflicts with people with whom we must figure out a way to get along. 

"Civility is the idea that you're not always going to agree but you still have to make it work... People think, 'If I disagree with you, then I have to dislike you, so why should I go to a neighborhood meeting when it's clear I'm going to disagree with them?'" 

How can we stop this societal trajectory towards nastiness?  It doesn't take a social scientist to recognize that nothing good will come out of this current course we are on.  We see it with the uptick of bullying, harassment, and hate speech.  We see it in the ills caused by isolation- anxiety, stress, addictions. 

Start with community.  Or at least recognizing how much we lack community in our lives.  For most adults, the only community tends to be one's work place. That is not to say it is a bad thing but what about the time spent away from work?   Or if one is let go from one's job?  Where is the community and support? Do we have any interaction with others?  How can we cultivate those relationships? 

Limit social media.   People are so free with comments about others when it is offered under anonymity.  If one had to look someone in the eye and say those things, conversations would be quite different.  Plus the information given through Facebook and other outlets are the "reel highlights" of someone's life.  It is as if we receive the annoying "everything is perfect in our life even our dog" Christmas letter on a daily basis.  It totally distorts reality and authentic living. 

Monitor the types of images one watches.  When all we see are the intense interactions and abusive discussions from reality television or even news programs we subconsciously start to think that way towards others which leads to practicing conversations like that.  If we do watch these images we need to keep a reality check in mind- what is a better way to encourage employees to improve performance; is it really necessary to use curse words to speak to a family member; in light of real problems in the world, is the "drama" of a celebs broken relationship necessary? 

By balancing the words and images that we receive with conversations and experiences of real people we can combat nastiness.  We might not like everyone we encounter but we begin to have some type of understanding of why people think the way they do.  We glean a perspective of what is a true crisis and authentic compassion. 

The end of the article was quite poignant in that it asks each of us to examine ourselves in our contributions to nastiness.  Changing this atmosphere requires more than pointing fingers at "those" people; each one of us needs to honestly admit our role, complacent or active in contributing towards uncivil behavior and then strive for ways to change.

What about you?  Do you find yourself hiding behind social media in your opinions?  Do you know your neighbors and those in your community?  Have you ever been inspired by a reality show to act in the same manner?  How did that go?  

The word that I like instead is comity.  It generally refers to judicial and legal terms.  Originally it was  a word derived from Latin comitas, meaning "courteousness" (and probably related to the Sanskrit word for "he smiles").  

It means courteous behavior; politeness; civility.  

How much better is that? 

The African Doctor

African Doctor Movie.jpeg

The other night my husband and I watched a movie, The African Doctor.   It is a 2016 French film about a newly graduated Congolese doctor who becomes the doctor for a small conservative village in France.  Seyolo Zantoko struggles with his family to integrate into a small rural village and ends up being considered as one of the most respected doctors in the area.  It is a heart-warming "true" story.

What I liked was the idea that community begins when Dr. Zantoko and some villagers take the risk to get to know one another.  In this case, the doctor joins the men in learning to play darts at the local pub.  

Makes me think about getting to know the strangers in my midst.  Do I take the risk in getting to know them?  Do I sacrifice time with those I already know in order to greet and meet those whom I don't?  Should I? 

I think there is a responsibility in community to take that risk; whether that is a group with which I am involved, my neighbors in community or in the larger world.  Of course there are times when we do need to "honker down home" and regroup with people who already know us.  We need the stability of established relationships to get through a patch of tough time. But to permanently settle into little isolated segments does nothing to promote understanding, connection and peace in the world.

I know that I have talked a lot about this topic on these blog postings.  But it seems every where I turn I see disconnect- people not only disagreeing but violently so.  Communities, cross the globe are closing in ranks and hiding behind a curtain of nationalism and isolationism.  

Yet, I also see glimmers of people reaching out to one another and in doing so are forming broader communities.  Perhaps it is due to a common enemy that is drawing dissimilar people together.  But I would hope that it is because love always trumps hate. Love takes risks. Love takes time.  Love is the only hope for society to continue.  

It makes my day better knowing that I have connected to someone- whether that is a smile, kind word or long chat.  Hopefully it is reciprocated-  that "someone's" day has improved too in knowing that there has been a connection.  It is looking for commonalities rather than differences.  In The African Doctor, it was the common cause of the children and their activities that finally cemented the relationship between the Zantoko family and the village.

What about you?  Do have any time this holiday weekend to connect to someone else?  A long distant relative or friend?  A stranger in the store?  Have you seen any movies  or read any books lately where these theme of connection have occurred?  What were the titles?  What spoke to you in these stories? Were there any truths to be gleaned? 

Instead of letting things happen around you, what steps can you take to keep the means of connection open? What activities can you find that might connect you with people you wouldn't normally associate? 

How would you respond if you were plunked down into a community where you didn't know anyone?  How would you connect?  Perhaps it is time that we all think of others in that way. 

 

Burnt

This past weekend we watched the 2015 movie Burnt starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.  We had wanted to watch it for a while and so finally did.  I guess with so many things the anticipation is greater than the actuality.  While I enjoyed it, it wasn't quite what I expected.  The story line was predictable and kind of slow yet it had some good points. 

It is the comeback story of Chef Adam Jones.  A chef who had it all but lost it due to his own choices.  It is a redemption story yet lacks the how, why and what of the cause for loss and reason for the turn around.  But through it all there runs the theme of going it alone versus team work.  The bottom line, in life It is all about the team, or the family, or the business -whatever you want to call your collective- cooperatively working together.  

I think that is one of those truths we know but we truly do not grasp.  I know that I am stubbornly independent which it not good at times.  I have a tendency to be like the little red hen that if no one is going to help or help in the way I want, I will just do it myself.  The fable of the little red hen is just that- a fable.  But I think it speaks to how many of us feel.  We say to ourselves:  Fine, we will just do it ourselves. We don't need anyone else. I can just pull myself up by my own bootstraps.  If I just work harder and smarter than anyone else I will achieve what I want. No one else will do it the way it needs to be done, so I need to do it...  

Yesterday the sermon at church talked about our gifts and how we are called to use them for God's glory and to benefit others.  The thing is, we are called to use and "give" our gifts to others but we also need to receive the gifts of others.  No one can do everything.  Even if we had all the resources in our personalities, abilities and lives, if we try to do it all we will get burnt out.  We know that we don't have it all. We need each other to fill in and complete that what is lacking in ourselves. It is through the collective that we are truly whole. 

What about you?  Do you try to do it all?  Do you suffer from the little red hen syndrome?  How are you at sharing your gifts and talents?  How are you at receiving from others?   Do you feel burnt?  What would it take to heal?  Do you have a redemption story? 

 

Touch

I am touched... He rubs me the wrong way... I feel....

All these statements refer to our emotional perspectives through the sense of touch and references to the tactile sensation of our skin. The other week I attended a lecture by Dr. David Linden the author of the book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind.   He read excerpts from his book and talked a little about the physiology and research about touch.

Turns out that we are hard-wired to receive and give touch.  Certainly they have discovered that children deprived of touch have all sorts of psychological and physical ailments.  Primates groom and touch each other which in turn binds the troop together.   There are studies that suggest that waitstaff is more likely to receive a larger tip if he/she provides a light touch on the arm for instance.  All of this is to suggest that humans need community and need to be close to one another. 

In this day and age of germ phobia, sexual harassment training, and social disengagement, we are a society that looks down on touch.  It has to be "appropriate" and "clean".  Not that there is anything wrong with that thinking per se.  Certainly there has been too much inappropriate touch by individuals set on doing harm. 

Yet I think that touch is a sense that is overlooked.  We use touch expressions all the time but we rarely actually touch.  In this day and age of individualism and social isolation, I wonder how much we are missing and are depriving ourselves due to our lack of touch with one another.   I know that the loss of touch is something that widows and widowers mention when their spouses die.  They note that no one is there to give them a hug on a regular basis. 

Be your own detective/scientist.  Go to any public place, restaurant, coffee shop, mall and see how often people touch -holding hands, patting a back, giving a squeeze, shaking hands, etc. 

Look at your own life.  How do you respond to touch? Do you like it?  Is it off-putting? Are you the cuddly type?  Do you reach out in affection towards people or do you cringe when others reach towards you? 

Even before Dr. Linden did his research, AT&T was tooting the virtues of "reach out, reach out and touch someone."  Try it.  Give someone a hug today.  You'll be doing both of you a favor.