Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

On heroing

Once upon a college-time, I found myself so useless–to myself, to others, to the world–that I wanted to die.

I challenged myself to find one thing I liked about myself; if I didn’t, I’d kill myself. If I could find one thing, though, I figured I could probably find more … with some patience.

I decided my calves were pretty rad. Seeing that one good thing paved the way for my sticking around to see more, so that one little thing meant everything: choosing life, as opposed to suicide.

Over time, I came to have faith in words. I understood them and became adept at shaping them to express precisely what I meant.

Then I began reading Neil Postman, who helped me understand some of the biases in words and word combinations, particularly English ones. Nouns are especially appropriate to represent some physical items (table; car; sandwich), but help create the illusion of stasis in some more dynamic “things” (language; people; school).

There’s a lot to this, but some of the biggest questions Postman opened for me were about this illusion of stasis, or unchangeability. By referring to “language” instead of “languaging,” English speakers may perceive language as an unchanging behemoth instead of sets of ongoing processes. By referring to people by individual, set names, we tell ourselves each person is one relatively stable unit instead of a changeable, changing entity who does the hard, ongoing work of “personing” in a rapidly changing world.

Some statements presented as fact aren’t, really.

“Projection,” as the term is used by semanticists such as Korzybski and Hayakawa, means that we transfer our own feelings and evaluations to objects outside of us. For example, we say, “John is stupid” or “Helen is smart,” as if “stupidity” and “smartness” were characteristics of John and Helen. A literal translation of “John is stupid” (that is, its most scientific meaning) might go something like this: “When I perceive John’s behavior, I am disappointed or distressed or frustrated or disgusted. The sentence I use to express my perceptions and evaluation of these events is ‘John is stupid.'”

When we say, “John is stupid,” we are talking about ourselves much more than we are talking about John. And yet, this fact is not reflected at all in this statement.

Language might actually be used to conceal more than it reveals.

At first, it felt liberating to be able to see some of the processes behind purported “things” I’d wrongly perceived as more or less stable. Slowly, though, it destroyed my faith in something that had almost always been a bedrock for me: that I could set forth words that showed precisely what I meant to almost everyone who read them. But if meaning is projected onto words by a perceiver instead of simply absorbed as stated, what I stated was far less important than the meanings being projected onto my words by readers/hearers.

With everything apparently objective revealed as potentially quite subjective, then, I lost faith in my ability to English-language … or that there was much merit in bothering to even try. I was especially disturbed by one kind of illusion I began seeing everywhere, especially in my own words: one of scale. Words can help things I’d consider enormous seem small, and can give small things an illusion of comparative enormity.

For example: If it’s a “disaster” when I flub an important meeting, what is it–apart from, of course, a crime–when hundreds of thousands of people lose their homes and retirement funds due to the bad behavior of a small number of extraordinarily powerful bankers? When those bankers aren’t even held accountable, but slapped on the hand by having less-than-incremental fees effectively taken from investors … as punishment? (How is that “punishment”? How does that deter abuse of power?)

If it’s “crushing” to remember a particularly bad memory, what is it, then, when entire villages are literally crushed by American-sold (and, often, -dropped) bombs? Especially when many of those bombs are “gifts” that keep giving for decades to come?

If an especially tasty hot dog can be “awesome,” then what’s the feeling you get standing and looking upon grand portions of the Grand Canyon?

If it’s “amazing” to get a great bonus at work, what is is when a family is granted asylum … and thus given a chance at life when they’d have almost certainly died had they stayed in their (prior) home?

With so many hard-to-see flaws in tools of meaning conveyance, words, I stopped seeing the point of trying to negotiate them.

If I was no longer a(n effective) worker-of-words … what was I, even?

Last week, I was fairly bludgeoned–multiple times daily, each day–by a word that I’d always translated as representing goodness. Read more…

Peace from prioritizing

I wrote about priorities last week; specifically, I wrote about embracing the idea that many things aren’t priorities for me. Very few things are.

Since then, I’ve quietly considered my priorities. “Being online” isn’t one of them. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever be online. Rather, it means I have to be conscientious about the time I do spend online. I figure I have about 30 minutes a day before its opportunity costs–what I’ve sacrificed in my offline life to be online–outweigh its benefits.

Does this sound restrictive? It feels very much the opposite: freeing! Putting a boundary around my online time gives me the peace of mind to really settle into the physical world. For six months or so, I forgot how to do that. My whole world was reading (and writing) politics online almost incessantly, the better to understand heartbreaking, systemic political truths I’d never seen while simply skating over the surface of politics.

Sustaining relentless online time meant sacrificing time for things in the physical world that sustain my soul. This includes playing with my kids, snuggling and talking with my husband, walking, running, reading books for the pleasure of it, washing dishes, folding laundry, pausing to murmur a prayer of thanks, being fully in my rockin’ work, singing to musicals as I commute, picking up fistfuls of dirt and watching as it drifts through my fingers back to Earth, and sitting down face-to-face with friends.

I can’t spend too much more time writing about this. I’ve already used a good chunk of my time online today writing here, which is silly since this is all preface for a 7-minute video I recorded yesterday!

Day by day, I’m prioritizing better … and, as I think you’ll see if you watch the video below, it feels great.


Trying and failing to get a good screen shot 🙂

Talks with old friends

I talked with an old friend yesterday morning.

She had made coffee at 6:15 a.m. so she’d be ready to chat at 6:30 a.m.

As I drove to work, Jane and I talked on the phone about many things. One particular exchange stood out after we hung up after I reached my office.

“I’m trying to give myself breaks. I can’t really effect positive change from a place of constant distress, y’know?” I said.

“I’m writing that down,” she replied. She felt exactly what I meant.

deb jane

Me and Jane, more’n a decade ago

I wanted to write down a lot of what we said, but I couldn’t.

Instead of marking the words, I marked the feeling: the feeling of safety that comes with having loved and quarreled with and come back to loving someone without reservation.

For the first time in what seemed like ages, my distress melted away. I was just Deb, chatting with a dear old friend and savoring every second of it.

I tried to return to the feeling of Jane-talking throughout the day. I’d find it in moments here and there, but it kept fleeing when I thought about all the change I wasn’t making happen right now!

Today was a little different.

I’d told Jane yesterday, “Rain is nice. When it’s sunny out, which is most the time here, I feel like I have to get things done. When it pours, the load is lightened. I feel so much more mellow, like, ‘You know what? Today would be a good day to do half as many things.'”

It poured today, as if to remind me.

After spending extra time in traffic this morning thanks to the glorious downpour, I stopped at a gas station and messaged my sister and a new, supportive Twitter friend, Michael, while filling my tank: “Wish I knew how to relax right now.”

Step away, Rache and Michael both told me. Take a social media break!

I smiled. I was grateful to have them looking out for me.

Soon after, I read with a little boy who asked, “Will you be coming back tomorrow?!” (“No,” I told him, “but I’ll see you again next month!”)

At work, we had our holiday party. I fought valiantly and won the only prize worth keeping: poop slippers, which I seized at the very last second.

And there was something else, too: I’d solved a riddle. Thanks to Jane’s candor, I was able to piece together some part of a truth it’s pissed me off to have perpetually just beyond my reach.

The joy from solving a riddle is directly proportional to the time and energy it takes to solve it …

… and whether a friend helps you solve it.

1012356 slurp

Same as always on Friday, I inched home slowly in Friday afternoon traffic.

Unlike always, I smiled all the way. Why? Well, wouldn’t you know:

I talked with an old friend yesterday morning.


The sweet convergence of past and present

Good Enough Action

Over and over since I began caring about politics, people have informed me it’s my responsibility to persuade them individually how I’m right.

Yesterday, I got a few comments reflecting this same peculiar idea. Those comments–combined with the many like them I’ve heard recently–highlighted an opportunity for me to be very, very clear about (1) where I’m at and (2) what I hope to achieve. (Hint: It’s not making you agree with me!)

I wrote a little about these things last week:

To borrow my sister’s words, I am interested in doing right overall, not being right in any particular conversation.

If you’re mostly interested in being right, I hope you’ll reconsider. You could save lives.

If you’re interested in doing right, let’s talk. Between us, I know we can do not only right but good.

My point? Action, not belief, will change the external world we share. Doing, not grading how others choose to do or merely believing something, will change the world for the better.

Of course, many important acts will spring from a core belief that something is very wrong in a way that’s hurting lots and lots of people. We don’t have to agree about the scope of what’s wrong, or why it’s wrong, as long as we take action to mitigate what’s wrong.

I expanded upon this last night.


I don’t know much.

I don’t have the practical political answers I desperately seek.

I don’t even know how to find those practical answers, but goodness knows I’m trying. That’s the whole point of my having a blog called “Learning to Speak Politics.” I don’t know, and I’m trying.

I don’t care to argue with you with my limited time.

I don’t have enough time to seek perfection, so I’m aiming for “hopefully good enough.”  We don’t have enough time, as a species, to sit and fastidiously devise some perfect master plan to save the planet and each other. We’ve got to take what steps we can now, and then take better ones as they reveal themselves in the new knowledge we’ve amassed by acting.

I don’t care if you believe me. I will tell you what I believe. You can decide for yourself what to do with that. I spend most my limited free time right now reading, listening, and updating my (mis)understanding as I learn new things. I own that, not responsibility for what you believe or when you believe it.

I don’t control when you listen or if you ever care to hear me.

I don’t care to tailor what I’m doing to please you specifically. If you want to see something different and more persuasive-to-you put into the world than what you’re seeing so far, please go create it. That’s up to you. In the meantime, I’ll use my knowledge, my experience, my passion, and my skills to try many different things I think might reach even one person. Nothing will reach everyone, and some people don’t even want to be reached.

What do I care about, then?

I care about people who are dying needlessly–as I type this–due to powerful lack of concern for their well being by powerful politicians and their funders.

I care about the now-children who will die if adults don’t band together pronto to protect the earth. There’s still hope, if we take decisive action immediately. If not? It’s over.

So if you want to join me and others seeking solutions, great! Let’s ask questions, listen, and hear each other–on the big stuff, themes and patterns, not the nits that are equally easy and unproductive to pick.

I’ve found many good action-oriented resources, which I’d be happy to share; my favorites so far are Brand New CongressDemocratic Socialists of America, and MPACTUS. Still, there’s no guidebook here. I’m doing what I can with what I have.

Don’t like what I’m doing? I enthusiastically urge you to go do better with what you have.

Please! Go! Do it! I’m not about to stop you.

The Iceberg

I’ve learned a lot recently, and learned much of it very quickly.

Unfortunately, this means my ability to understand the U.S. political landscape has far exceeded my ability to explain it. Fortunately, I started practicing a lot, so I’m better now than I was even a month ago.

My passion still exceeds my skill, but the gap between the two gets a little less cavernous every time I practice.

Never (yet) has the gap been clearer than when I expressed horror over what’s happening in Yemen.

Once I recognized my passion-skill gap there, I sat with it a while.

I spent a long time thinking about how to explain–sans antagonism–why I care so much about strangers in Yemen.

Finally, I found a way to explain with a better balance between passion and skill.

Please click the image below to read my second Progressive Army piece. For more context, you might also want to read this illuminating Bill Moyers piece.

I hope you’ll read, reflect, and share your thoughts with me.

Thank you.


The truth of what others feel

I have so much to say, I know I can’t possibly say it tonight. Below is the shortest form.

My seven-year-old, Li’l D, shone during his first quarter as a second grader. My husband and I were concerned about the school’s super-strict second grade teacher, only to discover she was exactly what our little boy needed to thrive. (Like his mom and her siblings’ teachers before, Li’l D’s teacher exclaimed about the kindness of his heart.)

Instead of telling me I was a jerk for taking so long to figure things out, my husband thanked me for trying to figure them out. I was delighted when I found Michael Graham, a guy of Anthony-like-but-more-progressive mind on Twitter. Instead of bashing me for taking decades to decipher readily available fact, Michael welcomed me for joining where and when I was.

Thanks to Michael, I published my first article on Progressive Army today:


Many years ago, I dreamed that my just-younger sister had only three days to live. I stood in a church and screamed, and screamed, and screamed until my throat was raw from it. I had the same feeling when I read an article today, but was heartened by the expressed love of another bystander. Together, we will change the world.

It is lovely to feel happy. I know this, because I’m basking in happiness’ glow right now.

But it’s also lovely to see the truth of what others feel and join them there.

So I sit with dissonance tonight: the joy of being here,
and the sadness of knowing this glad “here”
cannot (for now) be shared by all.

Pennies together

A month ago, a dino I know talked me into joining Nano Poblano, her November daily blog post challege.

“No problemo!” I told her around roughly a half-dozen birthday beers. “I could write eight posts a day with everything I’m learning now!”

It seemed like a great idea, because beer.


Soon after starting the challenge, I discovered that writing about politics every day is exhausting.

It’s especially exhausting when you’re reading about all the very terrible things you never realized were being done with your tax dollars and votes.

I was wiped out by mid-month, so I started writing shorter posts. It was an improvement, but I was still tired.

By the end of the month, I was so very ready to be done … but I was grateful for the challenge all the same.

By forcing myself to write every day, I had to face a lot of questions and issues I might not have faced otherwise.

I had to face burnout, and to face the implications of burnout.

Something really, really good came from that: I stopped trying to obtain perfection. I sought “good enough” instead.

Seeking good-enough in my posts helped me understand the same approach is invaluable as a citizen approaching political change: There will never be the perfect moment or perfect information, so I must begin by doing what I can now!

I understand much of what’s led us to here and now. I understand you and I must band together now if we are to stop potentially cataclysmic climate change accelerating right now.

I don’t have time to keep reading depressing tomes on everything done wrong to date.


Depressing tomes read as of mid-November

I must begin pursuing solutions that might improve the future, since every second I waste stewing over what’s done is a second I’ve lost to change what’s ahead.

I can’t wait for perfect solutions. None of us can.

We must do the best we can with what we have, and trust we’ll gain more understanding and tools as we go.

I’m casting my pennies–my ideas, my hopes, my passion–into a save-the-world fund.

My pennies won’t go very far alone, but you know what? If we each cast in a few pennies, there’s no telling what we might buy together.

So, please: start casting in your pennies, even the ones that don’t look very shiny at first glance. Maybe shiny isn’t what we need, after all.

As our pennies amass, take stock of the totality of what we’re gathering and know: alone we can do a little, but together, we can and will change the world.

Thanks to Nano Poblano, coming posts on Learning to Speak Politics will be focused on seeking and building solutions.

Enough ruminating. There’s work to do!


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