Tom Keefe

Spirited Communication

Page 2 of 12

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?

While the World Thinks of Candy Bunnies, Or Nothing at All

Sunday, April 12, 2020 is just another day in COVID-19-ville for many people. For others it is the day when they can finally enjoy watching their children hunt in the home or backyard for plastic eggs filled with candy and other treats.

But for me and thousands of other disciples of Jesus Christ, today is a day to celebrate the unthinkable: The power of God unleashed to bring the glorified body of Jesus to life!

Luke 18:32-33: “He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

On Thursday, I and other believers reminded ourselves of the day Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 disciples, arrested and found guilty in three sham trials. The next day, we sadly and uncomfortably considered the excruciating pain that Jesus endured during his death on a cross. As many know, but some do not, the word “excruciating” is rooted in the Latin and tied to the manner of Jesus’ death.

This is the official etymology from the Oxford English Dictionary:

Etymology:  < Latin excruciāt- participial stem of excruciāre , < ex- intensive (see ex- prefix1 1b) + cruciāre to torment, < cruc-em cross.

Yes, Jesus’ death became the model for a word meaning agonizing pain or anguish.

All of that misery and sadness turns completely today as we joyfully celebrate Jesus’ triumphant resurrection and fulfillment of scripture.

I’m not someone who typically enjoys being called to chant some phrase during worship. For example, I cringe every time someone on my church’s worship team exclaims, “God is good,” knowing that the rest of us are expected to reply, “”All the time.” It seems too forced.

The church does have a history of chanting, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed” on Easter. I won’t quibble about the value of recognizing that statement as an expression of belief on this most special Christian holiday. I would say, though, that I don’t say those words like the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is breaking news.

We know it. We’ve grown up believing it. Just like Christmas celebrating Jesus’ birth, Easter is an annual celebration of his miraculous fulfillment of prophesy and God’s affirmation of Jesus’ righteousness.

This conclusion of Holy Week reminds me deeply of what caused the need for Jesus’ death (our sin and inability to atone for it ourselves) and what his resurrection promises believers (the right to be called children of God).

That’s not news; but it IS “Good News.”

Happy Easter!

‘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.

I’m Taking the NaNoWriMo Challenge

The time seems right for me to make a big push to begin the novel that I have been s-l-o-w-l-y developing over the years.

Starting tomorrow, I’m committed to the NaNoWriMo challenge of putting at least 2,000 words per day in my laptop until I reach the 50,000 word mark—or my novel first rough draft comes to a comfortable end.

To make time, social media and TV are going to be scaled WAY back. Expect long delays in any response to a message.

Wish me good writing!

I’ll occasionally update you on my progress.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Movie Quotes Ring True After the Florida School Shooting

Maybe it was weird for me to choose last night of all nights to finally watch the award-winning, but extremely violent movie, “Hacksaw Ridge.” But in the wake of the news of yet another tragic school shooting in Florida, two quotes from the movie almost shouted at me as I heard them.

In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons. — Company B Soldier: [Quoting the Greek historian Herodotus]

No one who hears of the shooting rampage yesterday by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz should brush off the assertion that we are, indeed, at war. We are at war against violence, untreated mental illness and the weapons that make it so easy to exact carnage on dozens of innocent lives.

The Associated Press reported that Cruz, an “orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and his own AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years.”

I’m not anti-gun ownership by licensed, trained and responsible citizens. At least I support ownership of handguns and hunting rifles. But I do not support the sale and availability of semi-automatic rifles. To anyone who wants to state that criminals will continue to find ways to purchase semi-automatic weapons, I can only point out that Cruz reportedly purchased his AR-15 rifle legally. It HAS to be harder than that!

Violence is the evil that we must fight. Yes, “Hacksaw Ridge” included graphic violence that was difficult to watch and hear. It wasn’t easier this morning to hear the stories of two high school children who witnessed the Florida school shootings up-close and personal.

Student Samantha Grady choked up on “The Today Show” when she was asked how her classmate, who was shot as they hid in a school classroom, was doing. “She didn’t make it,” Grady blurted out between tears. A boy interviewed on the local news described walking along a school hallway and seeing two girls on the ground, dead, holding hands.

In “Hacksaw Ridge,” the main character, Desmond Doss, is a conscientious objector who saved 75 men in Okinawa, during the bloodiest battle of World War II, without firing a single shot. Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, believed that the war was just but killing was wrong. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon. He became the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during WWII.

Doss was misunderstood and harassed by his military leaders and fellow soldiers. But when it was time to act to save lives, Doss acted with more courage than anyone could ever expect.

I believe that his statement, made during a military trial launched as a result of his refusal to bear arms, is especially poignant for us today.

With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.— Desmond Doss

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.”

Remembering 9/11 and My Job Search Then and Now

Sixteen years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop with about 10 members of a newly formed job search support group. It was the third week since I was terminated from a marketing communications position at Wonderlic, Inc. I was another casualty of the nation’s slowing economy and the company’s belt-tightening.

“Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center towers,” one of the group said, having listened to the news report on the radio playing in the coffee shop. I remember my response vividly: “That is truly sad, and I hope that not too many people died. But we have to focus on getting jobs!”

I soon realized that I had missed both the scope of the tragedy in New York and how our world was about to be rocked. The terrorist attacks there, at the Pentagon, and the hijacked Flight 93 that crashed into a Pennsylvania field, led to a shutdown of air traffic and further weakened the nation’s economy.

Hiring dried up, then slowly resumed over the ensuing months. For me, 9/11 marked the beginning of a three-year period of under- and unemployment, the worst period of my professional career. That ended in March 2004 when I was hired by VW Credit, Inc.

Today, as the nation again honors the brave first-responders and remembers the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 attacks, I feel a small sense of uncomfortable familiarity. Due to a reorganization, my position was eliminated in March at VW Credit, and I am about six months into my search for my next communication position. While I’m grateful that the economy is in better shape than it was 16 years ago, and my professional networking efforts continue to uncover promising leads, I find myself once again with an uncertain immediate future.

I continue to hone my speaking skills and build a speaking career, but I am not at the point where that can sustain my family by itself.

But it occurred to me recently that the strength, commitment and perseverance that I and the nation showed 16 years ago will lead to positive outcomes today. In other words, faith and effort are stronger than fear and doubt.

It was important for me to remember that today, and I hope it helps someone else who reads this.

Another Take on Parental Expectations

While participating in the creation of videos as a corporate communications professional, I learned how to write and deliver polished lead-ins. It was one of many skills that I wanted to help my children to develop, and I looked for opportunities to share my knowledge “for their good.”

When an opportunity presented itself during a family vacation to San Diego, I learned a valuable lesson regarding the potential pitfalls of parental expectations. It’s a fitting topic to share on Father’s Day—and is even more poignant for me because my wife and daughter were the ones who recently shared their perspective of the experience with me.

During that week-long trip, my 12-year-old son, Kevin, and 10-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, showed a great deal of interest in using the family’s new Sony Handycam digital video camera to record portions of the vacation from their perspectives. Other than when I cautioned them not to dangle the video camera outside of whatever vehicle we were sitting in while they shot video segments, I thought I gave them great freedom to enjoy the experience of videotaping our vacation moments.

That was until I reviewed their first recordings. Their rapid camera movement during shots of the San Diego Zoo made me more nauseous than any live carnival ride I had ever taken. Their stopping and starting recordings of people mid-sentence and thought caused flashbacks of my past drunken revelry and long-forgotten, very forgettable and regrettable, barroom conversations.

“They can do better than this,” I thought. “All it will take is a little coaching.”

Then I had an amazing idea. Why not turn this haphazard video recording into a family vacation video project? That would bring much-needed focus to our recording efforts—and give me the chance to showcase my talent as a communication coach and video “expert.” Oh yeah, and the kids will love it!

Surprisingly, Kim and the kids were much less excited about the family video project than I expected. Well, all I needed to do was to get one of the kids involved, and the rest of the dominoes would fall quickly into place, right?

My immediate choice was to work with Caitlyn on what would be the video intro. Caitlyn was a natural who enjoyed being videotaped and had a good, natural presence on camera. She was her communication daddy’s little girl!

Well, she was no “one-take wonder,” and I was a less-than-encouraging coach. She started pretty well on her first take: “Welcome to SeaWorld. I’m going to take you…I’m going to take you on a tour today.”

‘OK, a slight flub,” I thought. “We could take it out in post-production, but why not have her get it right now?” I kept the camera recording as I said, “Ok start again and say, ‘Hi I’m Caitlyn Keefe’ and then say what you said just now. Look right at the camera.”

Appearing slightly annoyed, but still game, Caitlyn started Take Two: “Hi, I’m Caitlyn Keefe and we’re at SeaWorld, and I’m going to be your tourist.” “CUT!” I nearly yelled, but instead said, “Tour guide, Caitlyn. Two words.”

My voice tried to hide my frustration, as I said, “Do it again now, real good, all together now. Look at the camera while you’re doing it. With a smile!”“Hi, I’m Caitlyn Keefe and I’m going to be your tour guide, and we are in California, San Diego, and I’m going to show you around SeaWorld.” I panned away to show the entrance, then back to Caitlyn. I fed her the next line: “So let’s get started.”
“So, let’s get started,” Caitlyn said with a smile while she spread her arms wide at her side. It either was a pose of excitement or resignation—I still can’t be sure.

Caitlyn, Kim and I recently watched this video. Caitlyn’s comment afterward: “Well, now I guess we know why I never became an actress—I thought I wasn’t good enough!” Although she was half-joking, Caitlyn and her mom have continued to bring up the “coaching session”; so I know it did bother them.

That is the lesson that I want to share on this Father’s Day. We have such a short window of time to be the primary teachers of our children. Our ability to help guide them and support them quickly becomes contingent on our relationship with them.

The Christian bible states, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.” It is wise advice that can keep the all-important parent-child relationship open. We cannot communicate to loved ones if they close their ears to us.

In recent years, I’ve made efforts to hold my tongue so that one of my children can share something with me. When I do that well, I gain important insights into their world, their struggles, and their concerns.

That hasn’t always been easy for me and my controlling personality. On this Father’s Day, I’m glad that I can call “Cut!” on myself and give myself another take in the action adventure that I call, life.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2024 Tom Keefe

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑