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Posts Tagged ‘Communication’

We picked up the L’il Pumpkin at school mid-morning. It was going to be a fun day, going to the Children’s Theatre to see The Little Mermaid, then lunch and on to Hannukah. But we had a long holding session in the lobby before the play with a few other schools, so I headed over to the large center table covered with paper, crayons and writing prompts.

“Ariel and her father the King are having trouble understanding each other. What do you wish adults could understand better about children?”

“What do you think,” I asked my little grandson.

“Listening,” he said without missing a beat.

And a light went off; I thought about the term “active listening,” like some ancient artifact that had washed ashore in my brain, back before parenthood. While studying child psychology, I knew even before reading a text that some people are checked out when it comes to their kids, and some are just naturally checked IN.

This was long before we had tiny smart phones to ding and buzz our attention away from our children. Just as we need context to read and comprehend, we need to hear between the lines in order to communicate well with little people. Sure meltdowns can happen, but if we are paying attention, we can usually avoid them.

I was recently involved in a conversation with one of Great Grandma Ada’s friends. He had been a professor at Vanderbilt in his youth, now well into his 90s he liked to paint beautiful, vivid landscapes. I was aware of how effortlessly we spoke, and it’s hard to remember what exactly we spoke about, but it started with Brexit. The rare thing of beauty was that here was a man who was listening – he wasn’t turning his head away, or nodding, or looking at his watch. He was engaging, and our words flew elegantly back and forth.

You don’t have to be a Disney princess to get into hot water with your parents. The L’il Pumpkin told me he was glad Ariel smashed the magic shell containing her voice, thereby breaking the sea witch Ursula’s spell. I thought about the many voiceless women, throughout his/herstory, who were destined to live a constrained life; tied up in apron strings, never learning to drive a car (like Nelly, my foster mother), living in a “Doll’s House” like Nora herself, or Shakespeare’s Rosalind before her.

I hope our grandson grows up to be a good listener, to be a mensch. Watching him skip back to our car, holding Bob’s hand in the parking lot, my heart melted a little.

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We are counting down to Thanksgiving.

My turkey is defrosting, the corn bread is crumbled and the butternut squash is ready for its close-up. Our Big Chill friends Bernie and Ellen arrived Saturday from a frigid Buffalo and are always eager to help, which means today we make a lasagna! Some people have mac and cheese, we have veggie lasagna.

This is the first time in our history where we are expecting one or two die-hard Republicans at the Thanksgiving table. I guess it was inevitable, right? So I thought I’d share this little interactive ditty from the NYT; you decide if your angry uncle is conservative or liberal and then answer a few questions…one little hint. Don’t talk about the weather, because, well you know.

But before you give it a whirl, go see Bohemian Rhapsody. Going to the movies after Thanksgiving dinner has been a tradition on my side of the family. Bob’s side would put all the doctors in a room and hang up a sign for consultations – Aunt Bert would get her knee checked and the latest rash on cousin Amy would be poked and prodded.

Not to brag, much, but I found out on Instagram that the Rocker just won two more Cleos this year!

One for Bohemian Rhapsody, and one for The Quiet Place. Imagine composing music for a mostly silent horror movie! My guy is rather humble, so I had to Facetime him to ask directly what he was getting congratulated about all over social media. When I think about gratitude tomorrow, I’ll think I’m the luckiest mom in the world. Two adult children, both living authentic, creative and challenging lives.

And I’ll be thanking the Bride for hosting all 20 family members, inbetween saving lives and raising children.

OK, now for your angry uncle Bot, or aunt for that matter. This really does work, that is if you want to keep your turkey day civil. Plus, it’s never too late to learn a few new communication skills. Bon Appetit!

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There’s a big Georgian building in Ivy I’ve mentioned before, it’s an offshoot of UVA that offers free and open forums to citizens every month with leaders on the world stage. Its mission is to decode public policy for the rest of us, and its “American Forum” can be viewed on PBS – if there is still a PBS in the future:

“At the Miller Center, we strive to illuminate presidential and political history accurately and fairly. To shine a light on all the ways our democracy has worked—and all the times America has struggled. To inspire America’s leaders with unbiased insights, especially on the presidency, that advance democratic institutions and the public good.” https://millercenter.org

Because I felt like I needed some illuminating, I bid farewell to Bob, who was waiting at home for painters, and drove into town to hear Gerald F Seib (Wall Street Journal’s Executive Washington Editor and Chief Commentator) pontificate on presidential power at the Miller Center. As makeup artists powdered their faces, and the lights dimmed for filming, American Forum’s host, Douglas Blackmon, prepared to interview Seib about Donald Trump. The room was so packed I was squeezed onto a pew sitting sidesaddle. Seniors and students alike, we were all eager to understand Trumpland.

Seib told us that reaching out directly to US citizens is nothing new, that President Obama actually liked to cut out the main stream media and talk to real people. Utilizing Twitter however is a new phenomena.  Labeling media the “…enemy of the American people” is not just new, it’s dangerous. He called Trump a “Master at Communicating,” in that he creates bright shiny objects (Tweets) every day in order to control the media.

Seib also told us time and again that we must take everything a President says seriously; when his aides tell us not to take his statements – like the wiretapping charge against Obama – literally, we the public and the media must still consider his words seriously. The surveillance charge is a diversion, it puts the others (his media enemies) on the defensive.

And although I like to think the purpose of journalism is to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted (Scotty Reston), Seib told us that reporters need to explain and put into context a leader’s words. His job is to analyze in depth, to find the meaning and illuminate facts. He emphasized the one thing journalists have is our credibility, ditto for presidents, then he asked us how will we know when to take Trump seriously – if everything he says isn’t?

I thought of Peter and the Wolf.

He did acknowledge that Rupert Murdoch bought the WSJ years ago, but insisted that his editorial pages have been critical of Trump. And he told us about some memos that had been circulating; saying it’s fine to call certain statements “False” but not “Lies,” not until they are proven to have come from a person’s conscious intent…“and nobody has skirted around facts like Donald Trump.”

Seib warned reporters not to let their attitude substitute for the facts. In other words, don’t become the story you were covering. Harder and harder to do these days I imagine. With UVA Communications majors sitting in the orchestra seats, Blackmon asked what one piece of advice he would give to a young journalist today. “Be honest!”

Seib went on to say he would tell Mr T he must be careful not to devalue his currency (ie credibilty) and to understand and accept that a free press is good for democracy and he should not diminish it!

In short, the Bully Pulpit is still real, it exists and it’s easier than ever to get everybody’s attention. And today, similar to Nixon’s Watergate era, we reporters must be willing to, “…suspend disbelief”…one story at a time. In order to write about the news today we must  “temporarily accept as believable, events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/suspension-of-disbelief.html        Yes sir, that’s the best definition of Trumpland so far!

Let’s hope Mr T doesn’t lay his hands on Angela Merkel while he’s talking trade with Germany. No shoulder rubs for the President who grabs you know what. Seriously. And let’s also hope Tillerson does no harm in Asia. Although he refused to bring the press with him, so how will we know? Not to worry, Andrea Mitchell is on the job.  This is the season to lay mulch at the feet of Buddha, and have faith that North Korea doesn’t take Tillerson seriously.

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The first night in Nashville I left my book club book in the car. Not wanting to go downstairs and back outside in my nightgown, I picked up a little paperback I found on the bedside table, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. Little did I know how much I would enjoy reading about the Hmong people of Laos…currently living in California.http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/10/19/reviews/971019.19konnert.html

It’s a story about seizure disorder, and about the many ways modern medicine can fail a refugee population. Cultural dissonance is bound to happen when doctors want to order invasive tests for a baby who’s only problem is that her older sister slammed the door coming in and so an evil spirit invaded her body. For the Hmong, animal sacrifices, amulets, and strings around the wrist should cure her, but instead her parents, who speak no English, are supposed to dose her with a varied cocktail of drugs many times a day. You can see where we’re going.

But it’s not all medicine. I’m almost done with the book and I’ve had quite a history lesson on Southeast Asia. I was talking about the book to one of the Bride and Groom’s friends, an academic internist at Vanderbilt. She said it was required reading in her medical school. “Which medical school did you go to,” I asked. “Yale,” she said.

This morning, after working all night, my ER doctor asked me to read this article.
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/how-not-to-die/309277/

Have no fear, yes, it is about dying. Let’s face it, the spirit eventually does leave us and we all have to think about this stuff, unless of course denial works for you. It’s about a doctor who becomes an educational/documentary film maker. He makes short films that actually show people what advanced dementia (among other maladies) looks like, and he tells us to have “The Conversation” with our doctors:

“In the health-care debate, we’ve heard a lot about useless care, wasteful care, futile care. What we”—Volandes indicates himself and Davis—“have been struggling with is unwanted care. That’s far more concerning. That’s not avoidable care. That’s wrongful care. I think that’s the most urgent issue facing America today, is people getting medical interventions that, if they were more informed, they would not want. It happens all the time.”

Which made me think. Sometimes, even when you speak the same language, you still can’t communicate.
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