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Archive for the ‘The Human Condition’ Category

What we mean when we say “PC”

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Conversations will sometimes offend

“We’re all so PC today.”

When I hear this I wonder what the speaker means:

  • Does she mean we work so hard to not offend each other that what we say is meaningless?
  • Or does he mean he wants to get back to days of privilege (white, male, boss, pastor/priest, authority—name your privilege), back to when a part of our daily lexicon meant disparaging others deemed “less” because they did not line up with us?

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If political correctness impinges on our ability to speak freely, that is not good. We must find ways to speak our thoughts—even if it means threading our words through verbal and perceived obstructions and pitfalls. Even if it means offending. But that’s the same with any relationship. Our conversations aim toward pulling others in more than pushing others away (Otherwise why talk at all? Just walk away.), so we take care speak to where our conversation partner is coming from. The end game of speaking our thoughts to each other is greater freedom, better articulation, and deepening friendships. Comedy sometimes makes that leap quickly by abruptly articulating a hidden thought. Those hidden thoughts, when exposed to air, can carry great meaning.

If there is one positive to come from the mouth of the patent-medicine salesman Trump, it is recognition that privilege exists in our nation and now we simply have to talk about it as a nation.

But if political correctness makes us long for a return to days of privilege where we verbally bully anyone perceived as different, then we must work against that. Others are to be understood, not hated. If political correctness helps us begin to see the inherent blindness of our particular place of privilege—let’s embrace that and learn.

We are at our best when connecting with each other.

We are at our worst when building walls.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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How to Talk with a Republican

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Break with Talking Points: Talk about fears one by one

The Donald Trump phenomenon is fueled by fear—this we know.

Now that the Wait-This-Is-A-Joke period is over and the Fascists-In-Training period has begun, would we be better served addressing those fears head-on rather than pointing again and again to the incoherence of the candidate?

Mano a mano, as it were.Republican-20160304

What are the fears lodged in the Republican brain? We hear them from all the candidates: out of control immigration, an economic and political system rigged to benefit plutocrats, Christendom (as a geopolitical/cultural/social power) gasping for breath, whites are on their way toward being just another race if not minority status, the list goes on, of course.

One of the great early proponents of Christianity—a man not in favor with today’s Evangelical base—talked a lot about caring for the neighbor. Jesus said that after loving God with all your passion, the second most important thing was to love your neighbor. Could this thing Jesus said actually address fear without playing into the hand of an inchoate, would-be strongman?

A discussion about gut-level fears will descend into jobs and what it means to be treated fairly and irrational fever dreams about those we don’t know. It’s likely such talk would be politically incorrect—and we need to welcome that. On the other side of published Talking Points is a smoke-filled room where personal decisions get made even as friends and family hash out details. That’s where citizens need to hang out: telling truth as best we know it, from our perspective, not from the perspective of party bosses or mercenary haters, but from a hope-filled vision of people filled with neighborly love for all.

Naïve? Yes, of course. But sometimes naïve wins—just ask that pariah Jesus.

But look—this is gonna be messy. Let’s do this before we all start wearing yellow badges to stand with whatever group is in the crosshairs of Trump In Chief.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Why Honesty is Catnip for Collaboration

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In Class Today: Here’s Where I Failed

I first encountered “fail faster” in Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody. In that book it started to make sense to me that getting something right was a goal, but perhaps not the first goal. Maybe I saw traces of “fail faster” in The Cluetrain Manifesto. As a writer I knew I had to write many (verily: many, many) drafts before I started to approach the thing I really wanted to say. I also knew that the work of moving toward that thing I wanted to say was built on failure after failure, and that each failure left me with something closer to what I intended. Each step in the work shaped the next step in the work And each step in the work also shaped the one doing the work.

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motivational pictures

In our Social Media Marketing class last week students presented their critique of their community-building activities (we publish content to define and attract the student’s desired target audience). Midway through these presentations I remembered why I love this day so much. There is an honesty to it. Students describe what they’ve used blogs and Twitter and Facebook (and Instagram and Pinterest and Reddit) and other tools to create for the past six weeks. They show successes. They describe failures. They talk about what they would do differently. In some cases they reimagine the entire exercise for themselves and their team. And sometimes I can see the seeds of a much larger purpose. Sometimes it is quite clear that this person’s passion will push them toward building this community for a long, long time.

And then we discuss failure. Truly, these are fascinating moments in the Q&A that follows each presentation. The great news: everyone fails. Not the course, but in building the grand vision they set out to build. Six weeks in they realize how they could have adjusted their purpose, how they could have set more clearly defined metrics to reach very specific goals. Some realize they did not give it their best shot but instead rushed through and sort of wasted their moments of contact with their target audience. Some realized they could make a solid point with 350 words when they came into the class needing at least 1000 words. Some realized their target audience lived over in an odd unlit corner of the Interweb and this other particular tool would have faithfully delivered them to this audience.

The Big Reveal: It isn’t until you try to actually build something real, with real people  and real purposes toward a real end, that you realize life doesn’t not just coalesce around your pet purpose. In fact, this shouting into a crowded, noisy concert hall that is social media must be very deliberate for even the smallest thing to happen. And I mean even the tiniest purpose to move forward.

And as we detail our failures together (I have my own dozens of examples to share), new ideas pop to the surface and classmates who had not talked with each other are now offering ideas and are engaged in the purposes of this other community.

It’s the honesty bit that pulls in collaboration—the telling it like it is. The missing the high mark in a major way that when shared, evokes collaboration rather than pity.

That seems like a solid life lesson to me.

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On Writing: Is This Where The Magic Happens?

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“…and then a cascade of miracles occurs…”

Yesterday I heard myself spinning a tall-tale to a quiet cluster of skeptical students.

as if

as if

I told them of a magical place they can go were writing connects the dots in a mysterious and inexplicable fashion. It is a place you arrive mostly clueless about what will happen next. But then you begin marking a blank page and words form into sentences and dots arrive and connect. The not-knowing of this place takes a bit of courage to sit with, but the payoff of processing your not-knowing is immense.

These were writing students, so many regularly visit this place. Some nodded in agreement. Some stared back blankly, though I suspect this tall-tale was their own experience as well. Some stared blankly refusing to participate no matter what—which is, of course, that great student default-setting.

John Cleese spends his retirement talking about this place (try here or here. And especially here). He characterizes it as more of a time than a place—which I completely agree with. A time away, which becomes a space bordered by time limits. I use timers to get to that place. This place where the magic happens is also called “flow” or “in the zone.” I’m certain you’ve experienced it as well.

For the working writer, I’m convinced that this place is bordered on one side by strategy and analysis and research.  And on the other side is marketing or talking to an editor or pushing “Send.” But in between: this magic layer where creation happens. It’s a place equally daunting and exhilarating.

Is there really such a place?

I believe so—see for yourself.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

“What Will I Be When I Grow Up?”

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Start Your Process Early to Answer Life’s Recurring Question

This question will not go unanswered.

As a kid you quickly volunteer answers: firefighter, ballerina, basketball player, scientist, pilot. It’s right that action-jobs attract kids. You may defer answering it as a college senior. You may say, “I’m not sure. We’ll see what comes up.” You find yourself saying it in your first job, hinting that “This is OK, but it’s not quite the right fit.” In fact, you may think it through a career.

I’ve had two different conversations recently with people suddenly seeing the horizon of retirement off in the distance. Both said some variation of “I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.”

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The question is tricky because it sounds like an all or nothing deal: you do this or you do that. Binary. One or the other. But the truth is more like life is filled with all sorts of opportunities that are concurrent. You must pick. You must choose. If you don’t pick and choose, chances are good you’ll simply slide into being entertained. That’s not bad, it’s just that being entertained generally pacifies the urge to create.

And yes, I am talking about creating. Because one assumption behind the “What will I be?” question is “How will I take action in the world?” I argue that the sooner we find ways to address that question, the better off we’ll be at every stage of life. One old model of retirement was that you put in your time for 30-40 years (at something you hate or just tolerate), and then head to the golf course in Florida or Arizona to be entertained until you tip over into the grave. Today people approaching retirement are looking for ways to keep making a difference. The lucky ones have both their health and some sense of the art or craft or service they simply cannot live without doing.

I’m thinking about this today because one central piece to my social media marketing class asks students to pursue their passion publicly using every social media avenue open to them. This is a difficult question and commitment for these students to make. I like the exercise because it forces them toward the larger life question. I like the exercise because it initiates a process that, if they follow it, will begin to answer that question.

Locating that thing we are passionate about involves experimentation, of course. And if your work does not leave any time for locating your art/craft/serve/tribe, is it possible that in 30 years you might still be asking, “What will I be when I grow up?”

I hope not.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

How to Go Out of Your Mind

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Hint: It’s a crazy idea that just might work

Can you ever see from someone else’s point of view?

“No,” some say. We are entirely bound by our own way of seeing. All the world lays before us—all the friends and enemies and acquaintances and mobs, the institutions, the physical world, all the influences, everything that is, was and ever will be (amen)—all of which we perceive from our own vantage point. We fill our brain pan using our eyes, our ears, our sense of touch, our taste buds, our sense of smell.

It’s always me looking out at you.

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There are manufactured instances, though. Huge numbers have already bought Star Wars: The Force Awakens tickets for the very experience of looking out at a favorite world through JJ Abram’s eyes, who happens to be channeling George Lucas’ story-brain. We reread Harry Potter or Tom Sawyer for the joy of seeing from someone else’s perspective.

Stories get us close to seeing from someone else’s eyes.

A primary challenge in teaching copywriting to English students is asking them to see from someone else’s perspective. It’s an invitation to awaken the force (as it were) of caring about someone else’s issues and feeling the weight they feel. And though we see and feel imperfectly, it is enough to begin to engage our imagination. And it is precisely the imagination-engaged that produces satisfying, potentially useful copy that has a chance of meeting some human need.

I want to think that as we age, we become better able to see from someone else’s perspective. But my experience says otherwise: it is all too easy to let my world close in to include only what impacts me directly.

Hard work, it is, to begin to see from someone else’s perspective.

And good work.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Welcome to Monday

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SmokeBreak-2-08102015

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

August 10, 2015 at 6:46 am

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