Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Respecting others' privacy is a difficult thing to get right sometimes. You desire to be open with your friends and family. You want to be known and the way to do that, of course, is to let others know you. So, you share things with the people in your life. Joys, sorrows, successes, failures, your strengths, your weaknesses, the good, the bad, and occasionally the ugly. The people you choose to tell are those you trust. You share yourself with caution, and you believe that your trust in others will be respected and returned. And others', in turn, share with you.

And then, out of the blue, someone is gossiping.

It's probably not a 'secret'. You've shared yourself openly with someone or even with many. And yet someone has taken that information and been careless with it. Perhaps they passed it on unthinkingly. Perhaps they didn't consider the information significant or sensitive so thought it open for casual conversation. Or maybe it's just that it's 'old news' - something that isn't even really all the important to you anymore and they're so familiar with it that they spoke without thinking.

Any of those possibilities has the ring of understandability. You've probably been guilty of it yourself a time of two. You spoke without thinking, in earshot of the wrong person, about the wrong topic at the wrong moment. You could kick yourself afterward, but you recognize that what's done it done and you walk on, hoping that those who heard it will either keep it to themselves or perhaps not even register any significance to what you said. You hope.

Most of the time, your hope is well founded. Plenty of the people we interact with are not the mean or vindictive type. They practice the Golden Rule or they remember what their mother said about "if you don't have anything nice to say..." Most likely, they're too busy living their own life and trying to do that the best they can that they don't have either the time or the inclination to be messing around with someone else's.

Occasionally, though, there is the gossip. Some gossips love to pass on whatever they hear to whomever will listen. They want to be the person 'in the know.' Other gossips pretend not to be, letting things drop and then coyly giving out the 'Oh, but please keep that to yourself" line. Then there are those who use the gossip as a weapon. They are the manipulators - the passive aggressives who don't have the courage to come after you outright. They sit on their tidbit of information and wait and when they think the time is right they pull it out and they use it in a deliberate attempt to try to harm and create hardship.

The gossiper should be relatively easy to dismiss. After all, they are petty, small-minded, mean and, certainly, have an essentially pathetic life if they have nothing better to do than to gossip about you anyway - right? For all practical purposes they are a nonentity, a nobody, and are deserving of your contempt, similar to the reaction you would save for something you would scrape off the bottom of your shoe.

And, while you tell yourself that and know the truth of it in the deepest part of you, their influence can still have an impact. The real difficulty is perhaps the knowledge that the gossip got their information from someone that you trusted. It makes you a little more cautious. A little more careful about what you share and with whom you choose to share it. A little more private.

Today's image: http://one4theotherthum

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I have to come clean and tell you all that I’m kind of a dork. And, I’ve been that way all my life. I was the dorky kid who liked to read books instead of Tiger Beat magazine. I’m the dorky adult who would still rather read books than watch ‘reality TV’ (although I must be honest and say that I suspect there is nothing actually ‘real’ about the Real World.) I wasn’t a total dork. I did actually prefer a lot of the social aspects of school to the study aspects (math), and that was true of me in college as well as prior to it. But, I was dorky enough to always hand in my assignments.

I was fortunate in that academics came relatively easily to me (again, math excluded.) Reading was fast and I have one of those memories where I can actually remember where I read something – I mean specifically, where on the page it was located – and can often pull it back up and re-read it in my mind’s eye. I could write relatively well and relatively painlessly. I know you’re supposed to write a draft and go back and revise later, but that always seemed a big waste of time to me (and also required far more pre-planning than I was ever willing to do,) so I was the one who ‘revised’ as I went along. I acknowledge many a time when I started a paper at 11:00 pm that was due at 9:00 am the next morning. Would I have written better papers had I allowed myself more time – certainly I would have. However, I made decisions about where and how I wanted to spend my limited time allotment and rehearsals now always won out over the assignment that wasn’t due until then. But not handing something in? Never.

Maybe it was an over-developed sense of responsibility. Maybe it was growing up with parents who came out of the Depression and had that work ethic that didn’t allow you to not do what was expected. Maybe it was the Protestant version of Catholic guilt. Maybe it was my inherent dorkiness. Maybe it was a little speck of academic savvy that told me that ANY points were better than NO points and that no matter how good (lame) my excuse for not doing work, no one really wanted to hear it. Do something and turn it in.

I never tried to kid myself academically. I knew full well when I turned in sub-par work. I counted myself lucky every time I turned in something that was thrown together at the last minute to get the grade that I got. I didn’t complain. I didn’t whine. (There was one time during my freshman year at a small Christian college when I did succumb to the popular excuse of my classmates, “I’m having Spiritual problems,” but even as I was saying it I could hardly stand myself because it was such a lie – unless lack of discipline and too many beers constituted a spiritual problem - so I never pulled it a second time.) I took my grades and moved on.

This has all been coming back to me as I return to campus and am confronted with example after example of people not doing their work. Some show up with the lame excuse – “I had to take my boyfriend to the airport.” Some try to spin their ‘excuse’ to make themselves look like academic all-stars – “I just know that it’s not perfect and I’m willing to take a late grade in order to do my best work rather than turn in something that is sub-par.” Some simply don’t show up at all on the due date, and then return to class a couple of days later as though nothing at all has happened.

Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying that “80% of success in life is just showing up.” I have news for my students. The other 20% is handing in your work. Grades are about math (my old nemesis.) You will not pass if you simply show up and do nothing. You will not pass because you are pleasant. You will not pass because you are cute. You will not pass because I am nice. You will not pass because you have had a hard life and deserve a break. You will pass because you hand in work. And, the work you hand in, must show a minimum amount of competency and understanding. You do not need to be a genius. You do not need to be perfect. You do not even need to be interesting or insightful. You need to be competent. And, you need to hand it in.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010


I am a practicing Christian. Even as I write that I wonder what it means to others as they read it. Does it imply that I go to service three times a week, read my Bible regularly, pray daily? Does it mean that I give to charity, practice forgiveness? Or, does it mean that I judge others harshly and declare stridently that anyone who believes other than I do is wrong, evil, and damned to an eternity in hell?

I have thought about these issues regularly throughout my life. While I am a practicing Christian, I am also a person who has sought out education. As a student, I majored in Speech and Theatre and took minors in English and History. I'm also a course away from a Psychology minor and a course away from a Sociology minor. As a graduate student, I took a Master's degree in Communication with a History minor. This course of study exposed me to various people groups and various religions and their value/belief systems.

As a professional, I became a teacher of Intercultural Communication which has caused me to become better acquainted with this variety of religious belief systems over time. I was raised in an evangelical Protestant tradition and I also have a rudimentary understanding of a number of the major religions - Catholicism, Islam, Judiasm, Hindu, Buddhism - as well as acquaintances and dear friends who practice those faiths.

I have also thought about these issues consistently in the last several months as the anniversary of September 11 has loomed closer and the conflict in the US has escalated over the proposed Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero in New York. I have struggled with the concepts of war and military conflict having become politically aware during the height of the Vietnam war, while at the same time coming from a family where military service was, and still is, common. I currently have a nephew serving in Afghanistan. I say all this to give a background to my thoughts. I like to believe that my positions are relatively well thought-out and not the result of knee-jerk reactions or unthinking acceptance of a dogma that was instilled in me as a child.

As a teacher in the field of Communication I spend quite a bit of time thinking about and focusing on the effects of language on our understanding of each other and our relationships with each other. This is part of the reason that I am so disturbed by a recent post by a Facebook friend which included this statement in reference to the recent events in Florida - "a stupid-book of pure-evil and satanically hateful arrogance called the qur'an!"

My friend is a conservative evangelical Christian. When I questioned his comment and suggested that his words might be ill-considered and that burning the holy book of any faith was probably not the path Christ would take (the whole sitting down with sinners and turning the other cheek idea) his response to me was, in part "First of all, the qur'an isn't holy. I just want to make that crystal clear. Even if the deceived muslim and radical religious Islamic-jihads believe that it is - it isn't! There's nothing holy about that book and, I could give a rats-rear-end about someone who wants to make a statement by burning such an unholy book!...There's only "ONE" true Holy Book! We call it the Bible. Let's not get this confused, OK?"

OK - Clearly, I am confused. The word "holy" is defined as "dedicated or set apart for religious purposes," "something sanctified or venerated." Is a book not 'holy' because certain people do not deem it so? Many people in the world reject the Bible - does that make the Bible 'not holy'?

From the Qur'an: "All praise is due to Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, the maker of the angels...He increases in creation what He pleases; surely Allah has power over all things. Whatever Allah grants to men of His mercy, there is none to withhold it...He is the Mighty, the Wise."

From the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"..."To God belong wisdom and power, counsel and understanding are his"..."the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."

From the Baha'i prayers: "All praise be unto God Who was Ever-Existent 'ere created things were called into being, when there was no one else besides Him. He is the One Who hath been Ever-Abiding while no element of His creation did yet exist. Indeed the souls of them that are endued with understanding fail to comprehend the least manifestation of His attributes, and the minds of those who have acknowledged His unity are unable to perceive the most insignificant token of His omnipotence."

The words and their order are somewhat different, but it seems that the sentiments of these three passages deliver the same message. Is one of these passages 'holy' while the others are not? Perhaps my friend is right and I am confused. While I love my friend, I cannot agree with his words or the sentiment behind them.

However, on one issue I am not confused. The God I serve is a God of love and forgiveness. He calls people unto him with love and desire. My holy book, the Bible, abounds with passages which portray God as a shepherd, searching high and low for one lost sheep. Other verses describe God as a Protector - our strong tower, our savior and redeemer, our rock, the bread of life and the light of the world. This God, my God, is not a God of hate. And it grieves me deeply that people who share my 'holy book' read it so differently and use it to support their messages of division and intolerance.

Today's image comes from:

Monday, September 6, 2010


Psychologists say that control is one of those fundamental human needs, right up there with affection and connection to others. We start grasping for it as soon as we can move. We crawl away, then we walk away. We grab for what we want and hold on tight. We want what we want when we want it.

Much of what we do is to try to take control. We do our best to control our surroundings, putting locks on doors and windows and organizing our spaces so we feel in control. We put up boundaries to keep certain people out or to try to keep others in. We have rules and regulations to give us a sense that somehow, in some small way we are in control of our situations and our lives. Maybe control gives us a sense of power. Perhaps we do it because we are afraid of the unknown and taking control of a situation, even in some tiny measure, eases our fears and gives us the illusion of security.

Sometimes, we carry this desire for influence and control so far we make the mistake of thinking that we can control others. That way lies disaster. We have no control over others. The only thing we can ever control is ourselves. And often, I think, we forget the fact that we have choices to make.

I was relaying a story recently to someone who then "jokingly" accused me of being a control freak. I admit that it brought me up short. Was I being a control freak? Was I trying to impose my values or ways of doing something on someone else? It's easy to become confused. Where does my right end and someone else's begin? That's when I came back to the reality of choice.

If I set a boundary that someone else doesn't like, rather than make a choice on their own and take responsibility for that choice, it's much easier for them to simply blame me by calling me a control freak. Does that make me one? No. It makes me a person who has made a choice about my own life, and how I will choose to let others influence it (or in some cases, jerk it around.) Others may not like my choices. That is their prerogative. But their like or dislike does not have to mean that I am wrong or that I need to change.

As I reflected on this encounter, I reviewed my past interactions with this person and my knowledge of their past behaviors. I have made choices this person has not liked. I have made decisions that this person did not agree with. I have done things that this person has not wanted me to do. I begin to suspect that perhaps I am not the person with the control issue here. Perhaps it is this other person telling me, in a very roundabout way, that they want me to behave differently than I do. Perhaps.

Returning to campus has certainly put this issue in my face in inescapable ways these past few weeks. It's easy to get cranky when other people don't behave in the ways that we want them to. It's easy to start down the path of "they really shouldn't do that" or "they really ought to do this." And, I admit to having to give myself a serious talking-to on one occasion since returning as I found myself falling into the trap of this blame game. But that 'talking to' resulted in me reminding myself of the truth of this one fact. I am in charge of me and I am the only person that I can control. Therefore, I am the person that I am responsible for. My behaviors, my words, my choices.

I've chosen to lift today's image from: