Savagery to Civility – a continuum explored


My friend Bonnie and I had lunch with my Dad yesterday. Bonnie jokes that in order to prepare for a lunch with “Poppo”, she has to read every newspaper around and then study what he might be most interested in..then prepare to be schooled by his superior ability to gather and analyze information.

Today was no different from most days. Our discussions took us from assisted suicides to self-induced stress from our over-connection to cell phones and computers, to the similarity of political realities between the first World War and what’s happening in the Ukraine today.

Poppo getting ready to work at his computer...and become smarter than me yet again!

Poppo getting ready to work at his computer…and become smarter than me yet again!

My father eloquently explained that on the continuum between savagery and civility, humankind has not progressed very far. We have learned and seen so much, but we have not moved our positions to any great extent. 

I wholeheartedly agreed with him, quickly rising to the occasion with a story (typical of me…like father, like daughter). 

I recently received an e-mail, along with other members of the project team, about a quirk in a program I’m working on for the federal government. Something about the wording of the e-mail struck me as hilariously funny. I responded, but only to the author. The demands of this task team are huge, the stress they are all under is significant, and praise and acknowledgement is a rarity (in my experience) in the public service. I was careful in crafting my response, to note the humour, assign no personal blame or responsibility, and perhaps, create a smile and make the day better. 

I failed miserably. 

The author’s response to my e-mail was immediate, brief and, in my father’s words, savage. 

I was heartbroken. Not because I was chastised and berated for my attempt at humour. But I was saddened because the default position for this individual was so very, very negative. It hearkens back to our lunch discussion, where the default position of so many powerful political figures, when faced with a posturing or sanctions, is to strike out with negative force. Has this savagery pervaded our society so much that it has become a professionally acceptable approach to business? Or to the rest of our lives?

Honestly, this one e-mail has had a powerful impact on me. I had to stop and consider my own default position. What do I do when faced with something that I can easily misconstrue? Do I lash out, choosing to be savage and remaining on the low-end of that continuum? I hope I don’t. I believe I try to conscientiously move myself towards civility, in fact, striving to move past to a greater form of humanity and love. 

After the great e-mail episode that left me a bit bruised and confused, I took the dogs for a walk. Ball cap, lined coveralls and muddy boots are my dog walking uniform of choice, and few people take a second look as I spring along with the girls. As I was turning for home, a car slowed then stopped near me. A smiling gentleman explained that he has seen me walking with the dogs for months, and though we smile and wave, he didn’t know me. And he just wanted to say hi, meet me in person, so that the next time we pass one another, we will have something more substantive than simply a kind wave. We will have a friendship.IMG_2724

The next time someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, pause. Before you lash out, consider the intent and circumstance. Find perspective, both yours and theirs. Then proceed like my smiling gentleman and reach out with that smile. 

Move up on that continuum. Strive for something even more than civility.

There is hope, my friends. 

It is all around us. 

It is us. 



Twitter Time

My pal Rochelle was up visiting me. Well, actually, she was attending the A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium (aka, the Latornell), and staying over at my place to keep from driving back to the city. This meant I got all the benefits of attending the conference by debriefing her before she went upstairs for bed. Gotta love it!

We covered a lot of ground in two nights of intense discussions. The conference was very science based, and Rochelle is more interested in program design and development, as well as presentation delivery and creative design than pure science. That being said, there were some highlights that made her sit up and notice, tweet about and learn from.

Rochelle hob nobbing with conference attendees. Lucky Commander Hadfield!

Rochelle hob nobbing with conference attendees. Lucky Commander Hadfield!

Much of what she shared intrigued me as we bounced from topic to topic. I’ll leave many of them for her, such as “How to deliver a brilliant science based presentation”, or “Story Mapping and its future”. But what I can’t leave alone is our discussion about Twitter!

There were 900 delegates at the three day conference, and if you look at the Twitter feed, you’ll see very few people were talking about it. But the number of tweets is not my concern. It is the notion of tweeting to get messages across to the public, to interested parties, to clients, to whomever. Twitter is a powerful tool in the arsenal of social media that can really, truly make a difference.

What I find most intriguing about Twitter is not its agility or its impact, but rather its enforced brevity. 140 characters. That’s it. If you have something you want to say, share or promote, you have 140 characters with which to do that. And that’s all.

Pause for a moment. Consider something you have recently written. How long was it? If it was a memo, did you ramble around before you got to the point? Did you provide an introduction, a body and a conclusion? Most importantly, was it more than 140 characters?

Ro sat in my armchair and we brainstormed ideas about communications and how her writing has changed since the advent of Twitter. Or rather, since she started using Twitter. Suddenly, she has to consider her own brevity. Twitter demands that you capture the essence of your ideas in a few sentences, but also direct the impact of your message so that readers or followers will sit up and take notice. She’s been able to focus and refine her writing to ensure a punch, a story, and an impact.

I’m working with Natural Resources Canada right now. The language of science and policy in that organization can be long winded and complex. Yet to be successful and make a difference with the readers and listeners, I need to be able to engage new communities within the broader public with those science based projects and campaigns. My own stories and how I share them need to be revisited. There are lessons hidden in those 140 characters that I haven’t found yet! But I’m trying!

(p.s. – this is 520 characters)

My Twitter ID (or, my Blowfish impersonation).

My Twitter ID (or, my Blowfish impersonation).

Pond curling lessons

For most people, the month of December means getting ready for holiday celebrations. For me, and for a fearless crew of pond curlers, it means it is getting close to the annual edition of DLIPCC (Dumbell Lake Invitational Pond Curling Championship). We anxiously await the e mail from Gary “Button Weight” Buss, Pond Curling Czar, updating us on rink conditions, new regulations, participants list, and whatever else he thinks we need to know.

The DLIPCC Trophy!!!

The DLIPCC Trophy!!!

Teams of two hit the ice and spend the day battling against one another for the much coveted trophy. My name, believe it or not, is on the trophy, along with Caleb MacKay, after winning the inaugural competition. This year, to my utter and total delight, my partner was Kerry Philippi. If I ever had a chance of getting the trophy again, it would be with Kerry.

Pond curling, like many other sports, is as much about communication as it is about skill. If you and your partner can share information with clarity and speed, as well as throw your rocks with accuracy, you stand a good chance of making it to the semis in this event. Kerry and I could do both! In fact, in hind sight, it never occurred to me that we couldn’t.

Funny that, because Kerry is deaf and she doesn’t read lips. So no amount of me trying to enunciate more clearly, or talking more loudly was going to help. Kerry signs. Naturally, I don’t. Communication could have been very, very challenging.

We were hopeful!

We were hopeful!

But it wasn’t, because Kerry and I relied on different ways of communication that didn’t involve words. When one of you can’t hear, and the other can’t sign, you need to look at each other in the eyes, all the time. By doing so, we were able to constantly “read” our partner’s mood or concerns, and words didn’t matter, because we were connected to one another.

We also got close to each other. When the other team was yelling to one another across the ice, Kerry and I would meet at the centre, hold on to each other’s arms or hands, and share our information. We were always making decisions standing next to one another, never alone, and because of our proximity, we could be certain that we understood each other.

Finally, Kerry had this habit of forgetting her hat at one end (she would remove it so it didn’t fall over her eyes when she threw her rock…she is such a professional!). Instead of yelling to her that she forgot it, I had to take a bit of extra time, slide down the rink and bring it to her. By taking the extra time, we had another opportunity to study the rink and make our decisions about what we would do.

Can you find the three lessons that I can take from pond curling hidden in my words? First, if you running a workshop or have a speaking engagement, make eye contact with as many people as possible. You will be connected with them, just like Kerry and I were connected.

Get close to people! Instead of hiding behind a podium or a stage, be prepared to move towards your clients, partners or participants. Nearness means you can communicate with your eyes, your words and your presence. Communication becomes much more powerful and much easier.

Take a bit more time. In this frenetic business life we all lead, we tend to rush about and misunderstandings are easy. If you take the extra time, you can study things a bit more closely and you will find you have more opportunities for positive change, for better communications and for success.

WE MADE IT TO THE SEMI FINALS!!! But we were up against Mike Wieler, Pond Curling God, and his partner Ethan MacKay. We were the first (and only) team to hold them to a no-pointer in a single end. But Mike and Ethan managed to out-play us, not through better communication, but better rock placement. No worries, we had a blast, and we will be a force to be reckoned with at next year’s DLIPCC!!! We will look at each other in the eye, we will get close and we will take our time. Who knows what the outcome will be!

Eleanor and the sock monkeys!

You may be wondering what inspired me to finally do this social media/blog/website thingy. I blame it entirely on Eleanor Matte, fiddler, proud grandmother, musician and over all brilliant human being. I met Eleanor at the Tuesday Night fiddle sessions with Sandy MacIntyre. I realized Eleanor was one of the best fiddlers there, but more importantly, she laughed a lot. I shrewdly determined I’d play better if I sat near, and I’d get to laugh a lot. I was right on both counts.

No sock monkeys present, but she's laughing while playing!

No sock monkeys present, but she’s laughing while playing!

Eleanor called me in September to see if I want to attend an “Artrepreneurs” workshop hosted by the Orangeville and Ontario Arts Council. We would be exploring ways to enhance our artistic businesses. Eleanor and I are always looking for more gigs and this might give us some ideas to get more, so off we went.

There were some good speakers, but there was one who really got me thinking.

Kim McBrien runs Indigo Dragonfly, a unique company that focuses on dyeing, knitting and spinning wool, promoted over the internet.  From her presentation, Kim could also be a stand up comedien because she kept us all laughing (and spellbound). Kim talked about using social media to advance your business, and how she was able to best use her particular skill sets to grow Indigo Dragonfly. I started thinking about a musician friend of mine, wondering if he had ever used any of these ideas to grow his music business, and began furiously taking notes for him. But as I paused to see what I had written, I realized that Kim’s advice not only worked in the arts world, but in the business and consulting world as well!

Set up a website, write a blog, update the blog regularly, use your best skills, do what you love…her advice was useful for getting more gigs, and growing GAEL.

Thanks to Eleanor, I attended this workshop, listened and learned from Kim, and in no time at all, I committed to spending time on my business to attract business, instead of doing what I usually do – crossing my fingers, clicking my heels and hoping someone will call with a contract. So far, so good!

And the sock monkeys? Eleanor, in what little spare time she has, makes sock monkeys. Hundreds of them. I’m trying to get her to create her own website devoted to the art and science of the sock and monkey-isms! Maybe we’ll add a sock monkey page to this site! Wait for it!

Barb, Tom and the Gemini Twins

I’ve been hammering away trying to get this proposal done, and sometimes it seems like it is the most important thing in my life. When that happens, I find I need to take a step away for a moment and look around me. Trouble is, when I get like that, stepping away is not so easy. Thankfully, three things conspired to make me take that step the other night. Barb, Tom and the Gemini Twins.

First, Barb Imrie, full time outdoor education instructor and in her spare time, is the President of the Albion Hills Community Farm. She and her husband Russell went to Hugh’s Room to hear The Good Lovelies the other night. I was slaving away at my computer and I received an e mail from her as they were waiting for the Lovelies to perform. I was SO JEALOUS!!!

Then she proceeded to tell me that Tom Power was the announcer for the evening. Tom hosts the Morning Show in CBC Radio 1, meaning he’s up early to help the rest of us every morning. Plus, he’s the lead guitar player for the Dardenelles, a trad band from Newfoundland (that I just went to hear at Hugh’s Room a few weeks ago).

Because she was at the concert, Barb wasn’t going to get home till late, and she still had to teach the next day. Because he was at the concert, Tom wasn’t going to get home till late, and he still had to be on the air the next day. Me, I was feeling sorry for myself for working so hard and not taking time to do anything other than sit at my desk and feel consumed by paperwork and writing. Unlike either of them, I wasn’t doing anything to remember that there is life outside of work.

And then my alarm went off. 11:30 pm…I had set it to make myself go outside and watch the Geminid Meteor Showers. I hesitated – it was cold out there – but I donned my big parka, dragged my son outside with me and went out to lie on the roof of my car to look up. Rory and I ended up talking about religion, about the vastness of space, and as we watched the shooting stars dance and fall throughout the sky, we marvelled at how enormous the world is and argued about how insignificant we were.

I lay looking up at the stars for a long time, well after Rory went inside. I did, because I needed to remember that work, proposals and paperwork have their place in my life, and I do love what I do. But the spell-binding magic of a meteor shower trumps it all, if only for the moment that you watch that star accelerate, burst and fall.

Work hard. But like Barb and Tom, play hard too. And don’t forget to watch for the magic. For me, it was hearing Barb’s joy at the concert, talking to my son, and watching the stars.  It is all around us, we just have to take that moment and look for it.


Russell surrounded by his own stars…the Good Lovelies!