Connect while you can

Carolyn and Amma

This has been a rough semester.

Three weeks ago today the college’s beloved choral director, Bill Brewer, died after an 18-month battle with cancer.

Yesterday my friend and fellow speech professor Carolyn Buttram died after living with cancer for nearly 20 years.

There’s no way around it. It sucks. But there are aspects around Carolyn’s passing that are sweet, as well as aspects I regret.

Continue reading “Connect while you can”

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Community fridge gives psychological insights


After a couple of days, I noticed that the level of the creamer I kept in the community fridge in the hospital’s PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) had gone way down, much lower than my own usage would suggest.

My daughter’s health was, of course, of much greater concern, but it still registered in my consciousness. Later in the day, the level was noticeably lower, despite me having had no further cups of coffee.

Obviously, someone was using my creamer, although it was clearly labeled with my daughter’s name and hospital room number. Continue reading “Community fridge gives psychological insights”

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Know the different kinds of knowing

Nasty plumbing

Our son just got a practical lesson in economics as well as in education.

He replaced the inflow part of his toilet. It’s not rocket science, but it takes abilities that fall within the scope of all three types of knowing.

Some years ago I had the privilege of hearing Dr. John Shotter talk about the nature of dialogue. I will not try to explain what I heard. In the first place, it nearly made my head explode. In the second place, I’m not at all sure I understood it–not that he couldn’t explain it clearly. It’s just somewhat like my dog trying to understand my explanation of symbolism in Shakespeare.

But I think I properly understood a useful classification of three types of knowing. (Disclaimer: this is my understanding of it, and may not be what Dr. Shotter intended.) There is “knowing that” (basically, knowing facts and information), “knowing how” (knowing a skillset), and “knowing from within” (knowing the norms from within a culture as well as what we might call “gut level” knowing).

The economics lesson can be summed up like this: when you are able or willing to do what other people are either unable or unwilling to do, you can make a living.

Plumbers can charge what they do because to some degree they know things other people don’t. It goes beyond mere information–after all, the Internet has revealed all, at least as far as basic facts are concerned (the first kind of knowing). And the Internet has even revealed much (if not all) of the second type of knowing–the process for completing basic plumbing tasks such as replace an inflow valve. (My son had no problem finding YouTube videos to show him “how.”) But the third type of knowing usually only comes with experience. In this case, although he has never changed that particular fixture before, he has done enough work with pipes to have a proper “feel” for how things should go together, how tight the connection should be, etc.

But plumbers can also charge what they do because to some degree they are willing to do what other people aren’t. You can’t pay me enough money, for instance, to get me to crawl underneath my house. If there is plumbing to be done under there, it is worth it to me to pay someone who knows what they’re doing, and is willing to do it.

In this case, the economic lesson involved the number of times he said, “Yuck!” I’m grateful he was willing to do it–it saved a bill from the plumber. But if that simple task involved that degree of “yuck,” it’s easy to see there will come a time when he might have the knowledge to complete some plumbing task, but not the willingness.

And if he develops that willingness, then he could have a lucrative profession in his future.

What about you? What parts of your job involve which types of knowing? What parts involve a simple willingness to do the hard parts? Isn’t that what continues to keep writers and speakers paid in this age of easy communication? When anyone can publish pretty much anything for free, isn’t that what keeps people buying magazines, books, and subscriptions?

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Who are you talking to?

Ten and Rose

Do you ever have conversations with someone else in your head? Someone real, or maybe even someone fictitious? Surely I’m not the only one who does this.

In the middle of the night, not quite awake but not quite asleep, I’ll “write.” I’ll imagine writing out entire stories, blog posts, book chapters. I’ll envision standing on a stage and speaking to an audience. It’s brilliant stuff, too, if I only had a way to capture it. Continue reading “Who are you talking to?”

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Patterns: they rule us, and we rule by them

Reincarnation gone horribly wrong

I’m sure at some point you have looked at a cloud in the sky and said, “That one looks like Mickey Mouse.” You have seen a picture of a famous person on a piece of toast. You have thought the car in front of you looked as if it had a face, and it was smiling at you.

Human beings seek patterns. It’s how we recognize faces, but it’s also how we see faces where there really are none. Continue reading “Patterns: they rule us, and we rule by them”

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Empathy and Easter: The power of story

mater-dolorosaThis is not a religious blog, and that’s not about to change. But religion and spirituality are a big part of life, even for those not conventionally religious, and it is certainly an area where communication skills matter on a lot of levels. What I have in mind here, though, has bearing on any communicator, religious or not.

As I write this, it is Saturday before Easter. Because of the events commemorated around this time of the year, a lot of attention falls on Good Friday, and of course tremendous attention on Easter Sunday. (Yes, I know about all the interrelationship of Easter bunnies and pagan celebrations. It’s beside the point for this post.) Some groups have traditions around Holy Saturday as well, the day Jesus “rested” in the tomb, and also the time of the Harrowing of Hades. It is also sometimes called Black Saturday, a day of mourning.

For some reason, it has really struck me this year because of those first mourners. Obviously, Jesus suffered the most, but those who loved Him on earth suffered also. Friday was the worst; Sunday, everything changed. But Saturday? Saturday was the Sabbath, supposed to be a day of rest. How restful could it have been for the apostles? For His friends? For His mother? Continue reading “Empathy and Easter: The power of story”

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A cornerstone of communication: what’s important to you?

Driving to church this morning, I noticed there seemed to be no oncoming traffic on the Interstate spur. I topped a hill and saw six police cars and two ambulances across the median, surrounding a pickup truck on its side, a truck that looked like a broken light bulb.

I spent a few years as a newspaper reporter and photographer, so it immediately clicked with me that the ambulance and police workers weren’t moving very fast. They were not working a rescue; they were working a recovery.

Someone had very different plans for the morning. That all changed in an instant. Continue reading “A cornerstone of communication: what’s important to you?”

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New ebooks on Amazon

ebook covers
Two new ebooks from Yours Truly.

We’ve recently posted a couple of ebooks that, for the time being, are free on Amazon. They will revert to regular price in a few days, though. Grab them while you can, and tell interested friends! Continue reading “New ebooks on Amazon”

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