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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

I hardly have energy to write this

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I posted to my friends a little earlier today on Facebook something like this: ‘Feeling very sad today, for no particular reason. Breathing is such an effort.” When I’m like that, it is the hardest for me to write anything. That’s usually when I most need to.

I don’t usually write about depression when I’m depressed, but I’ve learned that I need to take some kind of action, and for me that action often involves writing. About anything. Maybe for the very reason that it is hard for me to write when I’m depressed.

Chances are, many of you deal with depression on some level. We’re not talking about the times of sadness we all go through. We’re especially not talking about the entirely appropriate reactions we all have to sad circumstances–grief, losses, stress, etc. Rather, we’re talking about the kind of depression seems to come for no reason, and when it relents, relents for no reason either.

And I’m trying to do a little something about it. Read on. Continue reading

We’re going to experiment

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I majored in journalism in college for one particular reason: it was the closest I could get to not declaring a major.

See, I was interested in all aspects of human experience. I didn’t want to have to specialize in anything, because I was interested in all of it. But I went to college when the mantra was first started to be repeated that to be successful, you had to specialize (which struck me the same way the famous advice to Benjamin in The Graduate did: “Plastics…. There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it.”). Continue reading

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

New ebooks on Amazon

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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

To duck or not to duck challenging viewpoints

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It seems like the whole rest of the world is weighing in on the whole Phil Robertson/A&E controversy. I had intended to just duck it (arrrrgh) therefore. But it just keeps coming up, and I just. have. to. say. something.

A few things, in fact. Continue reading

Internet vermin find a new way to annoy

I don’t know how long this has been going on, but I know a friend of mine was hit today, and it occurred to me how easy it would be to work this particular scam.

She feared she had been hacked, changed her password on Facebook and warned all her friends to change theirs, just in case.

Of course, changing passwords frequently is always a good idea, and certainly won’t hurt anything. It’s just that this particular scam doesn’t require anything but social engineering, and maybe not even that. Continue reading

Books (people) are always more interesting than their covers

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I have not posted here in a long time, and honestly I still don’t have the time today, but I know I will miss the opportunity unless I talk about this now.

We are in the middle of the capstone speech round for my classes, the speech to actuate. Several students have impressed me, but a couple stood out today. I offer these stories because of their implications for communication on several levels. Continue reading

Getting what you want from Facebook friends

No, this is not about manipulation. A real-life friend was expressing frustration at some of the stuff she has to see from friends on Facebook that make it not as fun as it used to be. She doesn’t want to leave, and doesn’t want to unfriend people over a few posts, but it gets old, doesn’t it?

This isn’t an exhaustive treatment of such things, but here is one way of sort of controlling the flow.

If you hover over a friend’s name in your FB stream, you will get a little window with a couple of buttons associated with your friend. One of them is a drop-down menu labeled “Friends.” Click that.

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Then click on the settings link.

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You can choose what kind of updates to include. I’m not sure I’m not sure how FB determines “only important,” but it sure cuts down on the posts you see from that person. You can also choose “all updates,” which may change your mix at least to slant toward people who post less irritating material. You can also unclick certain things–I tend to turn off “Games” on everyone, for instance.

You can also use the Social Fixer addon to sort certain friends’ posts into their own tabs. That makes it easier to control–you can read that friend’s posts in a batch when you feel up to it, or just mark all of them “read” without having to actually read them. It has a little higher “geek” factor, though, so I will save that for another post.

There’s always a story between two dates

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I’m sitting in the Intensive Care Unit of Children’s Hospital in Knoxville with my daughter as she sleeps, finally resting after three or four days of what must have felt like drowning for her. It turns out she has double pneumonia. Under the tender ministrations of the medical staff, she is getting better, and although Hannah has taught us that we never know the future, even two minutes from now, the prognosis is good, and we expect to take her home early next week.

As I look at the ceiling, though, I see graphic reminders that many parents who have waited agonizing hours in this room have not been so fortunate.

Instead of empty industrial ceiling tiles, patients see a colorful collage of artwork done mostly by children who have stayed here, whiling away the time and contributing to later patients by relieving visual monotony. It is a nice touch.

But a few of them come from parents leaving behind a memorial. You can easily spot these tiles; they’re the ones with two dates.

They strike me the same way 19th century cemeteries do. Have you ever strolled through an old graveyard and noticed how many tombstones commemorate a child? Some have only single dates for a child who died the same day he or she was born. Many have tiny statues of lambs on top. In some older cemeteries fully half the graves hold the remains of a child, with dates only a few years or a few months apart.

This is a room of hope, not a cemetery, but it is a room that has witnessed countless dramas and struggles, the stuff of movies and stories. Maybe these stories aren’t spectacular enough for the big screen, but for the real individuals involved they held all the impact that a Gone with the Wind or a Titanic did for those characters.

At this moment, two nurses are working on Hannah, and alarms are going off. I am writing because I can’t really do anything else. I can do little for my daughter right now beyond simply being present, and so I turn to writing, a tool that has always helped me make sense of the world.

I don’t know how much time I will have with Hannah. It may be a day; it may be that she will far outlive me. I hold out hope that gene editing may allow her to escape the chains that bind her in this life. (I’m not delusional. I realize it’s a long shot, but a slim chance is better than none.) But I do know that I don’t want to risk one day looking at a tile with two dates and regret that the space in between was so filled with trying to make a living that there was no room to just hold her hand.

I’ve tried to post at least twice a week, and I’ve kept that up regularly for 19 months, except for two periods when I took a week or two off. But I need to turn my attention to other things. I’m not leaving, but I’m setting the conscious intention of cutting back to posting only two to four times per month for at least awhile. Effective communication is my passion, but only because it connects us to each other, and I have some connecting of my own I need to do.

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