Spirited Communication

Category: lessons learned (Page 1 of 4)

I’m so glad that God is not a genie in a bottle!

Wishful Thinking

Who hasn’t read or heard the story of Aladdin and the magic genie? Rubbing an old lamp released the genie who granted Aladdin three wishes. In the 1992 Disney animated movie version, the genie explained to Aladdin the three provisos:

  •  Genie can’t kill anyone.
  •  Genie can’t make people fall in love. 
  • Genie can’t bring anyone back from the dead

A Google search included this related answer regarding the general “rules” for all wishful thinking:

  • You cannot receive more wishes than you were originally allotted. Some genies, or leprechauns or magic spirits give one wish, or two, even if the standard is three.
  • No creating or ending life .
  • You cannot effect free will.

In my younger years, I daydreamed about what I would wish for if I had been given the chance. Wishing got a little more complicated when I reached my teenaged years and made some bad choices.

I didn’t have a genie but I did have an incorrect view of God. Anyone else ever make a “foxhole prayer”? “Oh God, if you get me out of this I will NEVER/ALWAYS…”

I knew I couldn’t rub a lamp and make God give me what I thought I needed. But I thought I could convince God to do my bidding. Surprisingly, sometimes circumstances did work out the way I wished. At those times did I then remember my vow to “NEVER/ALWAYS…”? No.

When I was 23 years old, I stood next to a hospital bed where my sister, Annette, lay dying of cancer. I and a lot of people had prayed and prayed that her cancer would be cured. But it got progressively worse.

I thought about the TV preachers who said crazy things like, “In the name of Jesus, evil spirits come OUT!” They seemed to fix the people who then fainted from relief or terror. “Maybe Jesus (God) would fix Annette,” I thought.

Feeling self-conscious because my faith was very weak, I held Annette’s hand as she lay sleeping. “Jesus, please make the cancer disappear,” I said. But I didn’t feel anything mystical, nothing seemed different. And a few days later, Annette died.

Something changed in me some years later as I prepared to get married. I connected with the pastor who led Kim and I in premarital counseling. Not much later I joined that church and began a journey to better understand and serve God.

Worshipful Knowing

Today, I don’t try to manipulate God’s will and purposes for me. I’ve grown that much at least! I usually pray to be shown His will for me and to direct my actions and words toward Him.

Rather than the pain and frustration that I used to feel when trying to control people, places and God, I relax in most stressful situations because I commit to trusting God and accepting what comes.

The peace I feel in tough situations is worth far more than whatever I thought I needed in the past to achieve happiness.

God is real, alive and active in and through me. No genie could ever come close to matching what I have today.

Getting Untangled

This week I brought in my Christmas decorations from outside my home and the power cords and timers that I used to light them at the appropriate time. I only had a short time to do that and so I piled the decorations, cords and timers on a workbench in my garage.

Today I finished packing the decorations and cords. When I looked at one 100-ft. power cord, I saw it was a tangled mess.

The cord was still functional; if I plugged it in it would provide power to whatever I plugged into the other end. But because it was tangled, it was more difficult to use. It couldn’t stretch to the distance that it was made to reach.

Isn’t that like us when we get tangled up in emotional and spiritual dilemmas? We can’t stretch ourselves to think and do some things that we are made to tackle.

Just like I had to work to untangle the power cord, we sometimes have to untangle our hurts, habits and hangups with the help of friends, family or professionals.

I felt so much better when the power cord was neatly wrapped around the holder. If you’re feeling tangled up today, use your faith, friends and family to begin loosening whatever is entangling you.

An uncluttered home, mind and soul is so freeing!

What is the Big Deal About a Prank? (Part 4)

Why do I dislike pranks? I’m sure that as the fifth of six children in my family, I endured plenty of common pranks growing up.

The only one I remember is when my sister wrapped up coal and gave it to me as a Christmas present.

Yeah, I cried.

But no prank made me cry like that until one pulled on me in third grade. That one hurt.

I had been called up to the blackboard to solve a problem, and was feeling good that the teacher praised me for answering correctly.

I quickly sat but suddenly felt a sharp pinch where my butt met the seat.

I jumped up and twisted to see what caused the pain. A thumbtack hung from my pants. I probably was more confused and surprised than hurt from the thumbtack. What hurt worse was the immediate loud laughter of the boy behind me who planted the thumbtack, joined immediately by a chorus of laughter from what seemed to be every other kid in the classroom.

I felt my cheeks flush and I walked quickly from the classroom as the laughter continued. Somehow I held it together long enough to exit the class, but the tears flooded out before the classroom door shut behind me. I cried loudly as I walked down the hallway, not having a destination, just needing to put distance between me and that situation.

The teacher found me shortly afterward and comforted me. She convinced me to come back into the classroom and made the offender apologize in front of the class. I remember his half-serious, half-smirking face. It seemed like he was only sorry about being disciplined, not for hurting me.

That’s what I see a lot in people who pull pranks. They like the feeling of control, of making themselves feel better about themselves by dragging someone else down. They try to cover up any guilt or consequences by saying things like:

– “Come on, I was only kidding.”

– “Can’t you take a joke?”

– “What a baby!”

– “That didn’t hurt!”

– “You’d better not tell!”

I’ve developed a zero tolerance policy about pranks. I react strongly when someone tries to pull one on me, and make it as unpleasant for them as I can. That makes the “prankster” and anyone watching uncomfortable—which is exactly what I want.

What is the “big deal” about a prank? I hope this series of posts helps you to better understand.

What is the Big Deal About a Prank? (Part 3)

Why do people prank others?

Reasons include:

  • Boredom
  • Desire to control
  • Fear
  • Desire to feel better about themselves

None of the above reasons relate to someone pranking another out of kindness or to improve their esteem. That’s because pranks almost always are tinged with fear and its mean-spirited brethren.

Examples:

  • Putting a sign like “Kick Me” on someone’s back
  • Pretending to be in severe pain or distress
  • Calling someone and asking inane questions
  • Placing something in another person’s path that will trip them, fall on them, or otherwise cause them to stumble or become uncomfortable

The victim of any prank may laugh it off or decide to pull a prank on the instigator or someone else. Neither response is good; the former gives power to the prankster, the latter perpetuates the negative behavior.

I know that “hurting people hurt people,” but no one has the right to make themselves feel better by hurting someone else. That’s the message to give someone who pulls a prank.

Read Part 1 Read Part 2

What is the Big Deal About a Prank? (Part 2)

When ‘Innocent Fun’ Is Neither Innocent, Nor Fun, To Others

In my previous post, I provided background on a prank, pulled on me, that has caused friction within my family.

In my previous post, I provided background on a prank, pulled on me, that has caused friction within my family.

Here is the beginning of the explanation for my reaction to the prank, and what pranksters in general represent to me.

When someone reacts unexpectedly to something that is said or done to them, it could be that the words or actions triggered something. The “fake bleeding” prank that my daughter and wife played on me, triggered several emotions and memories.

A few days prior to the prank, the three of us were reminiscing about a birthday sleepover involving my daughter and some of her friends when they were younger. The girls decided that the first one of them to fall asleep would be pranked by the others. When one girl eventually did fall asleep, Caitlyn moved toward her with a marker, intending to draw on the sleeping girl’s face.

Caitlyn tripped and her face struck an edge of our ping-pong table, near one of her eyes. As blood started to spurt out, Caitlyn and the other girls starting screaming for help.

Imagine being awakened in the middle of the night to the screams of little girls afraid that their friend was going to lose an eye, or worse. My adrenaline kicked in, until it became clear that the wound wasn’t serious enough for stitches. The rest of the sleepover didn’t involve much sleep for me.

My love of my daughter added to the stress of that moment. I wanted to protect her and help her to move past her fear.

The other day, when my wife said Caitlyn had fallen while walking her dog, and I saw what seemed to be a large degree of bleeding from Caitlyn’s face, that same desire to protect Caitlyn kicked in.

When I learned that it was a prank, my adrenaline was still pumping from racing up the basement stairs and taking action to assess and deal with the situation.

It was neither funny, nor fun, for me at that moment.

In my next post, I’ll provide some context for my intense dislike of pranks, drawing from my own experiences.

What is the Big Deal About a Prank? (Part 1)

Why Someone’s ‘Little Joke’ Sometimes Is A Very Serious Matter

An ugly confrontation earlier this week led to strained family relationships and my decision to sleep on the basement sectional the past two nights.

The cause? A prank.

Since March, I’ve been working at home in a contract role for a large employer. The manager to whom I report absolutely requires me to stop each week when I reach 40 hours.

Some additional work responsibilities in recent weeks have stressed me more than usual. I’ve worked long days with occasional short lunch and dinner breaks. Even though I only worked four days because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I still reached the 40-hour mark.

The following week, which ended today, was even more stressful for various reasons. I was working at a desk in my basement on Wednesday, concentrating on some detailed work, when my wife called down.

“Tom, can you come up? Caitlyn fell on the ice while walking Mickey.”

I hurried up the stairs and saw my wife standing in the powder room doorway. I could hear my daughter running water. When I looked into the powder room, Caitlyn was leaning over the sink. I saw her reflection in the mirror and saw a large amount of blood above her eyebrow and on a towel in her hand.

I asked Caitlyn if she had lost consciousness, and she smirked when she said she hadn’t. I then asked Kim to hand me another towel that I could use to wipe the blood from Caitlyn’s forehead.

My wife asked if we should take her to the hospital, and Caitlyn said no. Then she started to laugh…because she was faking the whole incident.

When I looked at the two of them laughing loudly, I got angry. I swore at them and went back to the basement.

I wish I could say that I fumed for a few minutes and then laughed it off. Or called a trusted friend to vent.

But I was so upset that I instead went back upstairs with the intent of calling them on their poor decision to prank me during the work day when they knew how stressed I have been.

The angry exchanges lasted several minutes. The fallout is still being felt. I slept in the basement over the past two nights because I was too angry at my wife to sleep next to her. I haven’t said more than a few sentences to my daughter for two days.

What made this such a big deal? I’ll explain in my next post.

Physical and Emotional Considerations for Timing Communications

At 10:05 a.m. on New Year’s Day, I received a group text from one of my brothers and his wife, wishing the six people included in the text a happy new year, That started a string of replies as one by one, family members shared their New Year’s greetings–except one.

My brother who lives in Maui replied that we should “remember your poor brother in paradise that is 4/5 hours before you and a sinner so needs his sleep.” Yes, it was 10 a.m. in Chicago where most of my family lived, but it was 6 a.m. in Maui, where my youngest brother was awakened too soon following a late night of celebrating the coming new year.

Any of us who deal with multinational companies have to consider the physical location of the people who would receive any messages we create. Would recipients be excited about the information , or would they be annoyed at the “ding” from their email or text alert? The happy chirp that indicates “you’ve got mail!” doesn’t cause happiness when it arrived in the middle of night halfway around the world.

As simple as it can be to consider the physical location of message recipients, the more subtle challenge always is to consider their mental and emotional “zip codes.” One reason why important messages sometimes fail to connect with recipients is because the communicator doesn’t think enough about where the intended audience members “are at” emotionally. I’ve worked at large companies that either acquired another company or were acquired. Messages such as “Welcome to the Team,” and “We’re Working to become One Company” impact colleagues differently in an acquisition.

Change is stressful even when it is related to a typically pleasant event such as a wedding, birth of a child or purchase of a new home. Imagine the stress around a change that impacts your career and income.

Remember to check the timing of your messages to provide the best reception by your intended audience.

Why Not This Day?

January 1 of every year marks more than the beginning of a new year. For many people, it is the start of a new commitment to improve diet, fitness and/or mental/spiritual growth. It is a day to change.

I gave up New Year’s resolution long ago after growing tired of dealing with the emotional and spiritual turmoil that occurred when I inevitably gave up on whatever goal or promise I had made. I’m not disciplined enough to change most aspects of my character and habits. However decades ago, I successfully surrendered to some that were particularly damaging by using a simple set of spiritual tools available in a program of recovery.

That program focused me on living just one day at a time. It taught me not to obsess on the past or the future, and to develop a relationship with the God of my understanding. By seeking God’s will for my life and asking for the power to respond to whatever God seemed to want me to think, do or know, my life is more grounded and manageable.

I still have specific unrealized goals and dreams that stress me because they are not yet realized. The biggest one is my novel-in-progress.

The difference between what I have accomplished and what I have not is primarily the result of actions I either have or have not taken.

While I’m not making a resolution to complete the unrealized goals that remain top of mind, I have taken action on them today. I won’t worry about tomorrow until it comes.

What action can you take today to move into the will of God (or HIgher Power) if you have such a relationship?

Positive changes can come, if we work on them.

Why not this day?

‘How to Get Along with Black People’

While cleaning out file cabinets in the basement of my parents’ house, I found a book and letters that tell a story fitting for the Martin Luther King holiday.

The title of the book is, “How to Get Along With Black People,” with the subtitle, “A Handbook for White Folks* *And Some Black Folks Too!” written by Chris Clark and Sheila Rush. The book was published in 1971 and featured a forward by Bill Cosby—who at that time was a popular comedian.

How to Get Along With Black People Book Cover

I learned from reading handwritten correspondence tucked inside the book, that a relative had given the book to my dad after dad had expressed the desire to move past ingrained racial prejudice. To be clear: My dad wasn’t a white supremacist or someone who regularly railed against black people.

He was a product of his time and place: A male from a white lower-middle-class family. Segregation was being legally beaten down by the time my dad and mom had their sixth and final child, my younger brother, in 1961. But the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s through the 1960s surfaced fear and distrust in many communities across the nation—including West Rogers Park where my parents lived from 1966 to just a few short years ago.

My family used to enjoy African-American entertainers like Cosby and Sammy Davis Jr., but we didn’t have African-American friends or neighbors while I was growing up. It was like we could relax and enjoy their talent from a distance but wouldn’t make the effort to meet someone of color in real life.

Something happened to my dad at some point in his life that prompted him to reach out to a relative. The correspondence I found in the “How to Get Along” book didn’t include the original letter my dad had written, so I don’t know what happened. But the relative’s reply gave a hint. The relative expressed support for my dad’s desire to move past his fear of African-Americans. Dad evidently wanted to defeat some inner block that prevented him from being himself when interacting with someone who happened to be of color.

Our relative gave dad the “How to Get Along” book as a tool for dad to read as a beginning step toward reaching the point that King Jr. so eloquently described as

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  — Martin Luther King, Jr. / “I Have A Dream” speech, August 28, 1963

And what about me, one of my father’s offspring?

In the private, Catholic high school I attended in downtown Chicago from 1972-76, about 10 percent of my class were of color. We talked inside and outside of class, and while participating in intramural and extracurricular sports. But I didn’t consider anyone of color to be a friend then. I continued to hang out with white classmates.

In college, I met people of color who became true friends and colleagues in journalism. I was more mature and could interact with them as the normal people that they were. To me, it was how the world was supposed to be.

Decades later, I look back at the legacy of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and see a world that is still divided, but that is better than the one my dad grew up in.

One small victory: I never had to hand my son and daughter a book explaining to them how to get along with their friends of color.

Cover liner notes (c) 1971 by The Third Press—Joseph Okpaku Publishing Co., Inc.
All rights reserved.

When Humor Helped Spread Serious Information About the Flu

Americans are suffering through the worst flu outbreak in a decade, and the deaths associated with flu are no laughing matter. But can communication professionals use humor to encourage people to take positive actions to stay healthy and limit the flu’s impact?

That’s exactly what I did during a different challenging flu outbreak: the 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic. This is an example of how to bring “Spirited Communication” to an organization. “Spirited” is defined as “full of energy, animation, or courage.” It takes courage to share potentially unnerving information with employees or customers, but creativity and humor can make the information easier to consider—and more memorable.

The 2009 Swine Flu pandemic was particularly alarming because, in addition to the very young and very old who more typically have critical reactions to influenza, Swine Flu strongly affected even previously healthy young adults. It was akin to a previous H1N1 influenza virus that in 1918-19 infected 500 million people worldwide and killed tens of millions of them.

Companies like VW Credit, Inc., where I worked as a communications specialist, considered how to inform employees about the steps to take to lessen the spread of H1N1. I met with the company’s business continuity manager to strategize a communication plan for sharing information about H1N1 without striking fear in healthy employees.

As I reviewed material from government and private health organizations, my creative energy sparked. H1N1 was nicknamed “Swine Flu” because the virus strain originated when a previous combination of bird, swine and human flu viruses further combined with a Eurasian pig flu virus.

My idea was to create a series of emails from “famous swine,” who joined forces to battle Swine Flu through dissemination of tips and information related to prevention and treatment. The information in the emails would then be used in a contest at the end of the campaign. By reading and keeping the emails, employees would continue to review and absorb the information, while enjoying the messages sent by “famous swine” including:

  • Wilbur, the pig from the novel, “Charlotte’s Web,”
  • Arnold, the pig from the 1960s television show, “Green Acres,”
  • Jasper, one of the Three Little Pigs, and
  • Miss Piggy from The Muppet Show.

Click image to read the .PDF version

The emails contained links to practical information regarding how to prevent and treat flu. I also posted basic health information such as the importance of washing hands to prevent the spread of infection in common areas.

It became clear from employee feedback that they found the campaign to be highly entertaining and informative.

More than 12% of employees participated in the final contest to answer a 10-question quiz on Swine Flu prevention and treatment.
 

Click image to read the .PDF version.

I was gratified to hear from several employees who said the campaign’s humorous approach made them more aware of the importance of preventing the spread of H1N1, while lessoning their fear. The campaign brought home the bacon!

How could this approach be used on the current flu outbreak? Think of a series of superheroes who fly to companies, schools or other groups to share tips for preventing the spread of influenza. They could promote flu shots and preventive treatments with a phrase such as, “We flew in to knock out the flu.”

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