Listen Up

The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. – Fran Lebowitz

I saw this quote the other day and began to think about the last time I had a really good conversation with someone. And then I asked myself, “How many true conversations have I ever had?” – Not all that many, it seems.

Lebowitz hit the nail on the head here. Watch closely the next time you see two people talking. Do you see one person speaking immediately followed by the other one responding? Person #2 in that conversation already had in mind what to say before person #1 had even finished the thought. Person #2 was waiting instead of listening. When you think about it, it’s actually kind of rude. But it’s something almost everyone does.

Everyone has thoughts they want to express. To many people, it’s more important to speak than to listen. And besides, silence during a conversation is usually uncomfortable. If it happens, someone is tempted to fill the space with words. But silence is necessary in a conversation if true listening is to take place. Silence allows for comprehension and response preparation.

Then there are times when people are talking at each other rather than to each other. You know how it works. One person completes a thought. The other one (seemingly oblivious to what was just said) immediately introduces an entire new topic. Words are just out there in space for anyone interested.

I’ve been guilty of it myself far too often. Even during my years as a reporter, I often wrote down the source’s response while thinking about the next question I was ready to ask. Even reporters don’t listen at times.

But as I’ve aged, I’ve learned how to really listen. It involves patience and no preconceived agenda. Many times when someone is finished speaking to me, they’ll notice a pause in the conversation. I’ve been listening. Now I’m contemplating my response. Then I speak. That’s how listening works. And it really isn’t that hard if you try.

When you’re really listening, you’ll learn to notice what the person isn’t saying as much as what they are saying. That’s also a form of listening. You’ll also begin to notice body language. Yes, EVERYONE speaks in body language. And it can say a lot more than can words. Someone’s words combined with what they’re not saying and their body language can sometimes say something entirely different from what is coming out of their mouth. That’s advanced listening.

If you get really good at it, some people will think you have a special gift – that you have an intuition not shared by other people. My response: “I was just listening.”

So I encourage everyone to try it. True listening can almost always make good conversations even better. And you just might hear something that you would miss otherwise.

 

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Judgment Day

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. – Rita Mae Brown

It’s easy to judge a book by its cover. It’s also one of the most stupid things a person can do.

Too often in my life I’ve judged people by outward appearance, their job or any one of a hundred different first bits of information about them. Never NEVER again!

I’ve been looking for a career job for about three years now. But in our troubled economy the competition for every job is fierce. And let’s face it. How many companies want to hire a middle-aged, white, male media relations official? I know that every job for which I apply has at least a dozen or more younger people of different demographics whom companies will think they can pay less. But they are making a BAD mistake by overlooking me. You see, I am the type of employee who doesn’t need an exorbitant salary. I just need enough to live comfortably. I am the employee who would stay late without expecting extra compensation. I am the employee who would go above and beyond his job title to do anything the company needs to have done. I am loyal to a fault. But I just don’t have the advanced degree expected by so many who are hiring in this field.

Some of the most idiotic people I’ve ever known are holders of advanced college degrees. Additionally, some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known work in a factory setting. Take my current job at a warehouse in Remington, Ind. I took it out of necessity. Being a freelance writer has its merits. But it can be a feast or famine exercise. I thought when I started at my new job that I would be working with people with no real life goals, people who’ve been in jail, etc. Sure, there are a few there who match those unfortunate stereotypes. But there are also some incredibly decent people and a few incredibly talented people. One in particular (and she knows who she is) is actually one of the most talented, creative, intelligent, true artists I’ve ever known. In some ways she inspired me to write this post. I’m a much MUCH better person for having her as a friend.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Telecommunications. That’s it. If you’re expecting an advanced degree, a certification or any other piece of paper to validate my so-called expertise on any given subject, I’m sorry. If that means that my resume fails your company’s computerized gate-keeper, oh well. Your company’s loss, not mine. You missed the opportunity of a lifetime to add me to your workforce. I have a PhD in life. And I know how to make an impression.

I will push on and eventually get that job one way or another. And when that happens, I will help that company push forward creating a tsunami-sized wake as we pass. Just get out of our way!

Life is an ongoing learning experience. And one of the most important things I have learned is not to judge a book by its cover.

So don’t judge my book by its faded, middle-aged, uncertified cover. Open it up and read. It’s a page turner.

Politics for Profit

We are in a world that is quite extremist and extremism makes more noise. Normality does not sell. – Vicente del Bosque

Now THAT was a fun month. I must admit, I was a little intimidated after my most recent post more than a month ago. I expressed my opinions about guns – opinions with which more than a few people disagreed. One e-mail from someone I don’t know was particularly chilling. It was a veiled threat. I had to think long and hard about my next move. Should I discontinue this blog? Well, NO STINKING WAY! My opinions are mine. This blog is mine. It’s a free country. Onward! 🙂

I also began to think about the state of modern American politics. And frankly, it scares me. Politics has always had it’s share of mud-slinging. As far back as Jefferson and Hamilton (two political ideologues as vehemently opposed as are a modern day Limbaugh and Maddow) people have taken sides about the best political course to steer our country into the future. But there is a big difference today – the rise and domination of political media for profit.

At no time in world history have there been so many sources for information. All one needs to do is turn on their computer to be linked to the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post – both unabashedly biased in their “news” coverage – and a host of other sources. Then there’s Fox News, MSNBC, etc. on television 24 hours a day. It’s very easy these days to pick and choose your information sources based on your (political) beliefs.

Look at it like this. Nobody likes to be wrong. So if someone tells you that a closely held belief of yours is wrong while someone else tells you it’s correct, to whom are you going to gravitate?

A very good way to capture and hold an audience (thus creating incentives for advertisers to shell out $$$) is to tell partisans that they are right and those who think otherwise are wrong. Then reinforce that by publicly putting down any news outlet which says something different than what you’re saying to make sure the people don’t turn to anyone else for “news.” Sound familiar? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Partisan Websites and radio programs have taken to this tactic as well, creating a completely homogeneous community for partisans to immerse themselves in, completely oblivious to any “news” out there that is contrary to what they believe. Does that scare you as much as it does me?

Then there’s the books written by the talking heads in these partisan universes. Limbaugh has published 2 books, Maddow has 1, Hannity, 3; Schultz, 2; and Glenn Beck, well, I lost count. I never trust a “journalist” who has a book to sell.

Beck in particular is an interesting case. So many people have placed so much trust in him. Others think he is the devil personified. I think he’s just laughing his way to the bank. I’ve got news for you all. Beck doesn’t believe half of the stuff that comes out of his own mouth. But it’s making him a rich man. So why stop? Take a look at this video closely. Watch it all the way through and listen to everything Beck is saying. Here is a man who is playing a role and laughing at everyone who both hate and adore him.

Remember the Fairness Doctrine? For people who don’t know what it is, it was an FCC policy which stated that the media must introduce controversial topics to its audience and ensure that all sides of the issue are fairly represented. It was abolished in 1987. Limbaugh appeared on the radio shortly thereafter. It was all downhill from there. But you know what? That policy had been around since 1949 and the country had never really suffered because of it. Plenty of conservatives AND liberals won elections during those years.

So what is the point of all this? My point is that there are a lot of people out there yelling and screaming political ideas at the top of their lungs trying to get your attention in order to earn a buck. Some of them truly believe what they say. Others are in it strictly for the dough. Don’t fall for it! If someone says something contrary to what you believe, don’t label them as a stupid “liberal” or “conservative” then completely disregard them. Tuning others out because they are not saying what you want to hear is idiotic and downright dangerous.

Frankly, I miss the America where people solely had the big three networks and newspapers to inform them. As I said before, PLENTY of people with varying politics were still getting elected. And it was a lot easier to talk to people.

I think a politically diverse America with a wide range of ideas and values makes it a strong society. Openly discussing them in an environment of fairness and understanding makes us even stronger. If America were to become a society where everyone believes the same thing and nobody questions the status quo, it would no longer be America. It would be North Korea.

Half-Cocked Gun Rules

Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins. – Ayn Rand

That quote makes me think a lot about a lot of things. Considering the person who said it makes me think even more.

Guns! Is there another topic in American culture that instantly lights a fire under so many people? And is there another topic that has been at the center of so many horrific events in the past few years. Sandy Hook Elementary, the Washington Navy Yard, the Aurora movie theater, and most recently my alma mater, Purdue University.

I’ve vacillated in my opinion about guns throughout my life. I believe in the rights of all Americans. But at the same time I believe all Americans also have the right to be safe in their communities.

So where am I today on this issue? Well, I was very saddened following Sandy Hook that absolutely nothing changed. Proposed federal legislation that did NOT take away guns, and in effect only heightened background checks, failed to pass. Since that time, 2/3 of the new laws passed on state and federal levels have loosened gun regulations. And all this is going on while numerous polls show a majority of Americans favor stricter overall gun laws. I just don’t get it.

So here is where I stand. I think Americans should be allowed to own guns. But every gun owner should have a license to own, yes OWN, a firearm. Additionally, a separate license should be required to purchase ammunition. Both guns and ammunition should be taxed over and above the regular tax rate. Money from those taxes should be used to enforce existing gun legislation.

Now before you start hurling accusations at me, let me explain. I didn’t say any of these licenses need to be expensive. But think about this; we require people to have licenses to drive automobiles. Those licenses are acquired by passing tests which prove the applicant knows enough to be driving an automobile. Why shouldn’t a similar situation be in place for guns?

Here are the results. If you want a gun, get one. But first prove you know enough to have one. Licenses could be obtained at any gun shop. And I’m sorry, but sales of guns should be prohibited by anyone who does not require the buyer to show their license.

You want to collect guns? Great! Get a license. If you don’t want to shoot them, fine. That will save you the cost of obtaining a license to buy ammunition. Ammunition licenses, like gun ownership licenses, would require applicants to further prove their knowledge. All the fees could help fund the enforcement of gun legislation. Police agencies, like other government agencies today, are in woeful need of funds to conduct their business. Here’s a way to help them!

Nobody has to give their guns back under my proposal. And my proposal already has backing. Look here for some more information.

Following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Australia, that country began sweeping gun reforms following years of very lenient gun laws. While the results have been mixed, I think the positives have outweighed the negatives. Don’t believe me? Go see what our own Library of Congress says about it. Something needs to happen in this country!

I’m sure there are ways to make my proposal more effective. I’m also sure that my proposals wont stop numerous cases of gun violence. But it’s a start. And of course there are people out there with ideas just as good as mine – probably better. But the bottom of all bottom lines is this. Guns should NOT be as easy to obtain as they are today!

Now someone please tell me why my proposals make me unAmerican! Please tell me why I am an extremist, liberal, socialist, etc! I am an American! I vote, pay taxes, and am involved in day-to-day society like other Americans! I’m just so so SO sick of nothing ever changing in this country when it comes to guns! 

And for those blatant Second Amendment people out there, consider this. The Second Amendment was NOT in the original Constitution. That’s why it’s called an amendment. And there are – and will continue to be – more amendments. Think about it.

 

 

Don’t Overcook Dinner, Ma

While day by day the overzealous student stores up facts for future use, he who has learned to trust nature finds need for ever fewer external directions. He will discard formula after formula, until he reaches the conclusion: Let nature take its course. – Larry Bird

When I started this blog less than a month ago, I had all these wonderful ideas about discussing current events, history, wrongs which need to be righted, etc.  I have ALL these ideas swimming around in my cavernous brain. I should share my wisdom with the world, right? So I blogged – for about a week. Then I got bored. So I began to think. I love to read. But why do I read? It’s a darn good way to drift off to sleep at night, yes. But I’m not reading physics manuals. Though it occurs to me that college-level physics books might get THAT job done faster. Reading, to me, is only worth doing if the subject matter is interesting. Translation: it’s interesting if the author has something to say. So what do I have to say? Hmmm. Well, as it turns out today, not a whole heck of a lot. With that in mind, I’ve reached a decision. I am not going to blog every single day just to get new content up. Yes, I know keeping sites updated is important to generate interest. But if I can’t think of anything good to say, panic and then put up a Jack Nicholsonesque post reminiscent of The Shining, I’m really shooting myself in the foot. And besides, all work and no play really does make Jack a dull boy. (It’s true. Look it up.) So check back on occasion. You won’t see something new every day, I can assure you. But hey, you might eventually. And if I stumble upon a huge secret like Matt Drudge’s breaking of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, you might be missing something huge. You just never know.

E-reader, That’s My Name

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything. – Steven Wright

True story. I received a wrapped birthday gift on my doorstep back in 1996. When I opened it, I discovered a nice portable CD player (the first I’d ever owned)  with a note from my dear friend. The note said, “Welcome to a brand new decade. – The 1980s.”

I’ve always been a bit slower than most to adapt to new technology. So when I received an E-reader for Christmas in 2012, I didn’t know exactly what to do at first. But then, a few months later, we got a wireless router. For those who are technologically challenged, an E-reader (electronic reader) needs an internet connection to be able to download books. Otherwise, you’ve basically got an expensive rock. It was like flipping a switch.

Since that magical day, I’ve read (so far) 31 books. And we’re not talking Dr. Seuss here. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1280 pages,) The Fifties (816 pages,) The Cider House Rules (640 pages), and books by such great authors as Kurt Vonnegut, Pat Conroy and Peter Criss. (Sorry, I’m a big KISS fan.)

It was so easy during down times at work to pop open my E-reader and get lost in the world of Schofield Barracks just before the start of World War II, behind the scenes in the creation of the classic movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and other places only accessible by books. Almost every night, I snuggle under the covers with my E-book, reading until I can barely keep my eyes open.

My E-reader offers a host of books for free through an exchange program. Many titles are also available for reduced prices via special offers. And I don’t have to cart around a pile of books to read them. All these books are saved forever on my device. I can re-read them whenever I desire.

A lover of reading all my life, it’s been a long time since I’ve read so voraciously. I never thought I’d step away from the feel, smell of a printed book in my hands. But I must admit, this E-reader was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. And it’s made reading SO much easier.

So if you’re a reader like I am, you might want to check out an E-reader. Traditionalist or not, you probably will love it.

And as you can probably tell, I’ve specifically left the name of my E-reader out of this post. But if the company that sells it (hint: whose name makes one think of rainforests) wants to send me royalties for advertising it’s product, I welcome them to contact me. I’ll be glad to put down my book and discuss an arrangement.

Politics as Usual?

All institutions are prone to corruption and to the vices of their members. – Morris West

Politics…Yuck!

Throughout my professional career I’ve had the unpleasant task of writing stories about politics. This politician promises that. That politician did something wrong. The other politician disagrees. Blah, blah, blah.

Then I see things like the scandal that broke the other day in New Jersey concerning the George Washington Bridge. A Gov. Chris Christie aide pressed for lane closures on the bridge to anger a mayor who did not support Christie. The result was chaos in said mayor’s city on the New Jersey side of the bridge.

The governor, to his credit, immediately apologized and fired the staffer, saying he did not know anything about it at the time. Who knows the rest of the story? I’ll let the talking heads fight it out on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc.

I just couldn’t help thinking about all those people stuck in traffic. How many people suffered because they could not get to work, the doctor? I read that one woman died because emergency workers had to deal with the jam and were not able to reach her. I’ll bet you anything that at least a few people got fired because they were late for work. I will also bet that there were some insiders, lobbyists, etc. who knew what was going on at the time and either said nothing or actually tried to help. 

Politics in the United States has always had it’s share of corruption. To get and stay in office, politicians will often say anything, do anything. Lie about the opposition? Sure if you don’t get caught. Play a dirty trick on the opposition? Same answer. But there have been times, the bridge incident included, when innocent civilians have been made to suffer due to political shenanigans. That’s a game changer!

I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Martian, etc. ANY time that politicians hurt the public in order to make a political gain, they should be exposed, shamed, and brought down in the harshest way possible. That’s why I think it’s time for some new laws in this country. ALL elected officials should have their e-mail discussions, phone records and other correspondence automatically made public for those who wish to see them. Finance reform, where each candidate is given a set amount to spend, then given equal free time on television, should be the norm. ALL gifts from lobbyists should be banned. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Does anyone else have any ideas?

Lincoln called it a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In many ways, that’s no longer true. It’s a government of the politicians, by the lobbyists and for themselves. It should perish from the earth.