Why nobody can hear the alarm anymore, and what you and I can do about it today

There’s a reason it seems nearly impossible these days that our country could deal decisively with a genuinely dangerous or unfit leader. It has to do with the way you and I speak every day.

Our problem, if we can stand a little self-reflection, is that you and I habitually label as “dangerous” or “unfit” EVERY SINGLE PERSON with a perspective significantly different from our own. We exaggerate their faults and exaggerate the threats they pose.

We use words like “absolutely insane” or “downright evil” or “totally incompetent” or “worst ever” or “pathetic” or “ignorant” or “sick” or “disgusting.” We throw these labels around pretty easily, using their intensity as our argument.

(I do this, too.)

That lawmaker is “an imbecile.” That judge is “entirely unfit.” This governor is “mentally unstable.” This crisis is “unprecedented.”

No. No, probably not. Usually, that person is actually just . . . different from us. Pretty significantly different. And maybe we have valid concerns around the impacts of their ideas. And maybe we’re right that “they’re wrong.” . . . And sometimes, sometimes, yes, they’re pretty yucky people.

But when we use superlatives–“worst,” “craziest,” “weakest,” “most radical,” “most dangerous,” “most disgusting”–to describe every single person with whom we disagree . . . then we have no effective language left for when there is a truly “worst”-case-scenario.

Psychologists and psychiatrists warned years ago of the genuine dangers of having a narcissist in the White House, but that label carries little alarm when you and I have already been calling every political leader of the opposite party a “narcissist,” a “bully,” “corrupt,” “ignorant,” “mentally unstable” . . .

If we claim at every single election that the opponent is “the most dangerous candidate we’ve ever seen” or “the most incompetent” or “a complete joke”–then what language is left to sound the alarm when it’s actually true?

If every single election season I hear my group’s favorite called “an asshole,” “hopeless,” “an absolute idiot,” “wrong in the head,” or “unstable”–why would I take it seriously when it’s finally true?

It’s like the boy who cried wolf, only it’s us and our sort of lazy habit of calling everything and everyone we don’t like “the worst.”

In reality, very few of us are “the worst.” You and I and everybody exist on a scale. A bunch of little scales, actually. I have some neuroticism, some selfishness, some ignorance, some weakness. And I have some strength, some compassion, some clarity, some courage. And so does that lawmaker you despise. And all “those liberals” or “those conservatives.”

So when four years later a President with an apparent case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder whips up his followers into a frenzy–it’s . . . sort of . . . on all of us. Somehow, we got here together.

We got here together by (among other things) having little tolerance or respect for people who disagree. By automatically labeling “different” as “dangerous.” By demonizing everyone who isn’t like us.

When we live and breathe a constant stream of superlatives, it’s sort of on all of us when “the most dangerous President in history” doesn’t really alarm half of us anymore.

This isn’t to shift the blame away from anybody who deserves a big, big share of it.

It’s a call for you and me to be a part of making this better starting now.

This nauseatingly polarized country is made up of a bunch of you’s and me’s. It IS our problem. We DID get ourselves here. WE make up “the people.”

It’s not all your fault or all my fault, but I think we have more power to change our country’s trajectory than we realize. We can each start by acknowledging that “those people” may be well-meaning, competent people, living somewhere on all those scales. And that we actually CAN live with them and keep working toward good side by side–even when we see good differently (and even when maybe we’re right).

On the other hand, if we keep demonizing all who disagree with us: We lose all credibility; and we wear out the alarm we may actually need on occasion.

Republicans don’t want all the poor people to starve and democrats don’t want to steal all your money or kill all your babies.

And if we take the easy way out by accusing each other of these worst-case caricatures, then when a truly dangerous character shows up, a bunch of people won’t notice.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” – Donald Trump at a January 2016 campaign rally

If we want the circus to stop, we need to change the way we talk to and about each other. Every. Single. Day.

“They” are NOT all hopelessly evil.

For the most part, they’re . . . people.

Like you and me.

Less labeling. More conversation.

namaste

What if every time you spoke to someone, you first stopped to remind yourself that the person you’re about to speak to is a human, just like you? With feelings, with needs, with scars, with longings, with heart . . .

And that to be human is a miracle. Sometimes a powerful miracle. Sometimes a fragile miracle.

What if every word you spoke–every look you gave–to another human honored this shared divine humanness?

What would you say differently? What would you stop saying? What would you say more?

namaste

Who are you affecting today?

Think back to the last time someone ruined your day. How did it happen? There’s a good chance they were just being thoughtless, careless. Maybe they lost their temper. What they probably didn’t do is wake up that morning and think, “Man, I am going to RUIN so-and-so’s day!!!”

You were just collateral damage. Unlucky. Wrong place at the wrong time.

I don’t think any of us want to ruin anyone else’s day. I don’t think any of us want to add to the burden that someone else is carrying on their shoulders, to make the world seem sadder to anyone, to take hope away from anyone, to make anyone feel like they matter less.

But it’s worth noting that the people who have made you feel those things also (probably) didn’t mean to make you feel those things. So just not planning to ruin someone’s day might not be enough. We have to pay a little more attention to our words and actions than that.

Everyone now and then, ask yourself: Who am I affecting today?

You might be surprised.

P.S. Or what about the last time someone absolutely made your day? Gave you a little boost in confidence? How did they do that?

Bob Kerrey - Kindness is powerful

3 Unique Suggestions for Connecting Deeply

One-on-one. A group of friends. An audience watching you on stage. Whatever the context–truly, deeply connecting is the key to making a difference, to getting your message across, to building trust, to leaving a lasting impression, to inspiring good.

And I don’t think the ingredients in genuine connection differ too much from context to context.

So how DO you truly connect?

These aren’t the “top 3 ways.” There are lots of top 3 ways. But here are 3 ways that I found EXTREMELY useful in crafting a recent speech for my Toastmasters club:

1. Don’t describe your history. Use stories that give them the chance to feel your history.

Stories are said to increase your audience’s memory by twenty-two times what they’ll retain from the rest of your words. Stories are powerful.

I think where we can go wrong with stories, though, is telling people everything we think about our stories–how we felt about them, how we understood them, how everything fit in. Those aren’t bad things, but they’re not what’s memorable. What’s memorable–what really connects–is taking your audience’s hand and walking them through the story for themselves. It’s okay if they fill the story in with a few different colors and shapes than you. Let their imagination do its thing. All you need to do is put the audience right there. To put them through the experience as bluntly as you can.

I will understand you far better by reliving a couple crazy moments from your childhood than by hearing all the philosophizing you want to do about it all.

2. Get weirdly specific.

I wish I could take credit for this idea. I have learned to use it a lot, but I learned its value from an interview with a comedian. I’m pretty sure it was John Mulaney. Might have been Mike Birbiglia. It may have been John Mulaney talking about what he learned from Mike Birbiglia–who knows. Either way, here’s the gist: It’s easy to assume that the more broadly shared your experiences, the more people will get you. Well actually, it turns out that people get realness, not generic-ness. Even if their real was a little different than yours–they can feel your realness. People’s own lives aren’t generic, they’re extremely specific. So get very, super, weirdly specific.

For example: “When I was 18 I used to covertly bypass our burglar alarm at night so that I could sneak out later to take walks . . . alone . . . in the dark . . . in my trench coat.”

I could have told you all about how sheltered I felt my childhood was, the lack of freedom I felt, my desperation to get away, my loneliness and what a lifesaver my loneliness actually was to me, my fear and my need to keep my deepest needs sacred, my imagination and its strangely confident sense of my cool self, and the future version of me I expected to be. But those are ideas–concepts–concepts you may have experienced in your own ways in your own life. And making you listen while I analyze all those ideas through my own lenses requires a lot of attention. It requires a lot of you accepting and translating my interpretations. I don’t need to do all that work with you. And you may not have the time or patience. Instead, I can just give you a few really weird details. Details that make you go, “Oh yeah, I also have a weird life,” and then leaves your imagination filling in the blanks in my story. “What kind of kid wears a trench coat?”

3. Make it a roller coaster.

Don’t stay funny. Don’t stay happy. Don’t stay sad. Don’t stay serious. Don’t stay positive. Don’t stay hopeful. Don’t stay negative. Don’t stay bitter.

Life is a roller coaster. A crazy, spicy, ridiculous roller coaster.

Emotional roller coasters get people right in the feels. And getting people right in the feels is what sticks with them.

So lift your audience up. Then dash their hopes. Then show them the beauty in the ashes.

I bet that is an experience they can relate to.

Good luck!

Let’s use our stories to inspire hope and love in each other every chance we get. We’re all in this together!

Jimmy Neil Smith - connection of storytelling

My 100th Post: A Few Thoughts About Writing

I hope you write some things sometimes. And maybe even share your writings with the world. Finding words to express what’s in your heart can be so freeing, healing, and inspiring. And you never know whose life you’ll touch…

Tonight, I’m writing my 100th blog post. Looking back at my experience as a writer, I’ve come to realize a few things: Some surprising, some encouraging, some useful, and some inspiring…

 

Writing can be an incredibly freeing outlet.

Sometimes what you think is your best work is your worst. And sometimes what you think will be your worst work ends up being your best.

Three years from now, you may look back at words you wrote today, and be reminded of a life-changing truth you had forgotten.

Keeping at something–no matter how unimpressed you are with your results–is the surest way to get where you want to go. Lots of little steps add up.

One of the most effective ways to learn, think, clarify, and explore ideas is by writing about the thing you’re learning.

Feelings are vital. Write from your heart. Yes, it’s cliche, but I promise it makes for the most powerful and effective writing.

You will get just as much (or more) from what you write as others will get from reading it.

Other people want you to succeed and will support you.

You never know who your words will resonate with on any given day. Sometimes, in the randomest way, they were exactly what someone else needed.

It’s fascinating and eye-opening to look back at what you’ve written through the years. Even if it hasn’t been Dear-Diary subject matter, it still acts as a journal in some surprising ways.

Don’t be afraid of saying what you really think.

You can be great at writing, love writing, and feel that it’s the easiest thing–and still some days, weeks, months, or even years it can be very, very, very difficult.

You don’t always have to follow the same formula or write what people have come to expect from you. Sometimes a little change or surprise is perfect.

Short and sweet is often best.

Persistence is key, but be prepared for persistence to feel next to impossible when inspiration decides to take the week off.

You will look back at something you wrote and you’ll blush and you’ll cringe and you’ll think “I put that out for the whole world to see?!?” And then you will realize that it didn’t actually do you any harm and that everything is okay.

Sometimes a thing you wrote long ago turns out to be the perfect solution to a problem you’re having today.

Confidence is good and it’s important to learn to brag on yourself a little.

It is okay to say “I am a writer.” (“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach)

Having a hundred different pieces you’ve written can prove very useful later on, like when you’re asked to give a talk, or like when someone asks for advice and you realize you’ve already written down your answer.

There’s no right or wrong way to write. Sometimes you should just rattle off what’s inside and click “Publish.” And sometimes you should plan, think, draft, scrap, draft again, edit, proof-read, worry a lot, and then click “Publish.”

People want to know about you more than you think.

Even if you don’t feel like it, your life has given you so much wisdom and experience and help to share!

You are not writing for the people who will disapprove of what you write. Don’t get stuck on them.

“Mean it. Whatever you have to say, mean it.” – Neil Gaiman

I owe this one to a dear friend, but it’s been proven time and time again by my experience blogging: “People connect at the level of their struggles!” (Thanks Glenn)

Discovering that you helped just one person makes all the hours and energy you’ve ever spent on writing more than worth it!

 

If you have a message burning inside you, try writing it down. You may experience all these good things I’ve experienced. And you may find other good things of your own. And your words may do you and the world a whole lot more good than you expect. Good luck!

(Shout-out to my fellow bloggers and writers! You make the world a better place!)

Neil Gaiman - As Only You Can