Thursday, October 21, 2021

Light, or No...

Have you ever wondered why some people convey a sense of optimism, energy, or other positive feelings when they speak? Often it's a smile, or eye contact, or attentiveness with facial or another nonverbal cue that puts a ray of sunlight into a conversation. 

Also though, it's the words we choose that help shape such feelings. Even after the passage of so many years, inspiring speakers like Martin Luther King Jr, Sir Winston Churchill, or several Kennedys, when read again, will inspire once more.

Within their words are images of light, upbeat rhythm, and invitations to a better future. It's all in the words. Or more precisely, it's what we find in the words. Beyond what words denote is the power we give to what they suggest. 

When Churchill visualized the life of the world moving "forward into broad, sunlit uplands" or spoke of the "island home," which he called upon the British to defend, he rekindled treasured feelings of belonging, of place, and a life worth living. He brought to the foreground, in minds and hearts, some hope for what might be, amid the mayhem and misery of wartime realities.

This comes to mind vividly while reading and enjoying Thomas E. Ricks's intriguing dual-biography, Churchill & Orwell, The Fight for Freedom, alongside George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. 

Despite Churchill's own periodic challenges with what he called the "black dog" of depression, the positive power of his words somehow connected within neurons, delivering hope and purpose in himself and in others. Against this, the dark words of opponents looked off-putting, or plain, or sometimes even underwhelming.

Likewise, in George Orwell's writing, amid vivid descriptions of tough times and experiences in the Spanish Civil War, he projects a spirit of hope and possibility, for the ascent of human dignity from what the ramshackle human efforts in that war might be able to accomplish. 

Today, it's still possible to find words of light, separated from the projected fantasies of carnage and apocalypse that appeal to those wired for conspiracy or other dark arts, like autocrats and their co-conspirators. Slogans like one seen on a t-shirt recently, "vaxover my dead body" will appeal to those wired for the dismal, dreary, and macabre; but anyone who respects facts will reflect on that cheery thought, and see the ironic inference about the destiny of the myopic.

Shifting metaphors, if we are what we eat, it's reasonable to believe that we feel what we hear, see, and read. No great discoveries in neuroscience are needed to tell us that choosing the light and the bright matters, including the words around us. Through the words that we encounter and the words that we choose, we effectively "wire" our own world view.

So, here's a short-list of words in Orwell and Churchill that leapt from just the first pages of each, as they dealt with sombre scenes: Orwell, powerful, liking, affection, spirit, bridging the gulf, liked, stuck vividly, memory, special atmosphere; and, Churchill, repair, heroic, best troops, best trained, fought well, think of the future, safely back, very large and powerful

Often, both narrated hard realities, yet their language was peppered with optimism. We should all feel free to use such words, to encourage others to use them, to add to a list to keep handy for frequent use; perhaps sometimes they can help build spirits, to navigate better paths whenever dark forces are in play. These are words that wear well, and have no use-by-date. 

Of course, much more is at work in Orwell's and Churchill's language than just the presence of such words. They weren't just tossing together word-salad. Each deals with the difficult, yet is up-lifting. Each chose a place and purpose for every word in relation to otherscreating patterns in syntax that shape minds and hearts. These are places to explore another time. 

For now, Orwell and Churchill (and Ricks) are calling to more lighter and brighter, to enjoy.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Whose Challenge?

by Mabel May Woodward. Shannon's Fine Art Milford CT is in the Public Domain {{PD-US-expired}}

Often barely noticeable, like the passing of the date on the calendar for the change of seasons last week, are many adjustments to how we live. No such luck with the impact of COVID.

This was clear early. Unfortunately, the projections in my first blogpost in May last year about the likely changes in services for daily needs, education, and other areas of life were close enough to what happened. Apparently, crystal-ball gazing can get some things right. 

From the 1970s, Heidi and Alvin Toffler scrutinized data to make large-scale, largely accurate predictions about the world we now live in. They were also mostly right about many details. From the same time, I recall predictions that we'd pay about the same price for water in a bottle as for wine, and people would be talking on portable  communicators everywheresuggestions that were considered unlikely.

Yet, despite my years of eye-opening experience of people in politics and the media, still unanticipated was the sheer craven behavior of some wannabe leaders, who were elected to be responsible firstly for the safety and health of all of us. Who, other than the craven or complete cynics, would predict the ramshackle response of these individuals to the pandemic in the United States? 

For all the ongoing efforts of countless healthcare workers and so many other service providers, whom we literally applauded in symbolic and substantive statements of support last year, here we are. With many regions in the nation well-vaccinated, and others not, and with continuing threats to the supply chain for household goods and other key importsthanks to the back-log of ships awaiting entry to the wharves of major ports. 

Part of this challenge is the ongoing threat of the anti-vax, anti-mask self-proclaimed elite, determined to endanger themselves and everyone else. A larger challenge is leadership that's lackluster or worse in too many places, hampering recovery efforts. We all know that this affects everyone. Even a child who cares for goldfish soon learns that murky water in the fish-bowl is everyone's challenge. 

One lesson hopefully learned during the last five years in the United States is that the self-deluded, right along with the grifters and charlatans, will keep thriving on distortions, unless each of us makes the effort to dismantle their oppositions to reality. When will there ever be enough pressure on the social media companies, elected officials, charlatans, and some heads of foreign governments who dangerously undermine our safety and health with well-publicized nonsense? What's very clear by now is what doesn't work: NEITHER the half-baked approach called "fact-checking," NOR repeating a propagandist's "messages" in the negative! 

Getting the attention of anyone to change behavior requires smart use of the motivation process. How to encourage change in someone who is opposed to a proposition has been known for a long time. Still useful are the steps John A. McGee shared for example, in 1929 in his book Persuasive Speaking, now out of copyright and freely available on the Internet [here], with a helpful table in his book, in Appendix C at pages 268-9. McGee's basic principles remain a good guide for some purposes.

Briefly, when seeking to change the actions of people opposed to a proposition, McGee advocated that we: 

1. Secure common ground by first emphasizing any agreement in attitudes, beliefs, or experienceshe described how to seek agreement on general principles, to apply a principle to the specific problem; 

2. Anticipate and overpower objections with facts and testimony that demonstrate your approach is the best solution; explain it, and offer proof that it removes the cause of a shared problem, using testimony that's credible in the eyes of your audience, with examples of successes; 

3. Make the results of the solution vivid with imagery, impelling motives and projections for the audience into the future, while being beware of exaggeration;

4. Request definite action, with specific ways that individuals can help, appealing to habit.

If this all sounds too long and logical, take confidence that folks who get creative have found simple, visual, and emotive ways to put a strategy like this into practice for thousands of years. McGee was just one of the first in more recent times to outline the steps so clearly.

Perhaps it's worth trying an alternative to filling the media and the air with conversations that perpetuate the divisiveness of propagandists. Smallpox, tuberculosis, polio, and too many pandemics since were eradicated not only thanks to the brilliant development and delivery of life-saving vaccines. 

Equally important was finding ways to enable reality laggards to just get over it!