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).

Be Brave!

“I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I forgot to live my life.”

I read the Globe and Mail every morning. Just one of my habits that I enjoy – get up, stretch, walk dogs out to get the paper, make coffee, read and find out about the rest of the world. I delight in finding what is written in the paper. Believe it or not, the statement above is from the Globe’s Business Section, in an article about a financial planning advisor who manages his clients’ money very cautiously. Yet the rest of his life is involved in taking both physical and social risks. He is a living, breathing example of the theory that suggests risk takers in one realm may be timid in others.

I think I am like that as well. I love taking risks, flying by the seat of my pants – sure, I can (insert correct word) ski/ride/run/hike that! So what? it’s just a little steep/long/hot/ dangerous, but I’m confident I can do it! Of course, one broken leg from a spill in Jackson Hole, crushed and broken bones in a foot from a bad soccer tackle, knees full of cinders and scars…but I’m still out there playing to my heart’s content!

But it is the social risks that I often find challenging; the bravery involved in doing or saying something important or meaningful, or looking someone in the eye and saying what I really mean, instead of what I think they want to hear.

Obviously there's something I'm not saying!

Obviously there’s something I’m not saying!

Like the man said, I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I forgot to live my life just because I was too anxious to say what I really mean. Perhaps that’s a thought for everyone to consider. How often do we want to say something, but we hold back because we don’t want to hurt feelings or we are concerned about the repercussions? In the end, it is often our own feelings that are most hurt. The words we want to say get buried under our skin, and we let life go on, as if they don’t matter.

But they do matter and they don’t go away. The words we don’t say, just like the ones we do say, remain with us and influence our decisions, our actions and our lives.

I don’t want to be held prisoner by my own fear of words. I want to be more brave when it comes to my words. Really, I just want to say what I mean to say, what I want to say, but often don’t have the courage to do it. So, in thinking about that while I finished the Saturday Globe, I came up with these three steps to help shape the way I speak and allow myself to take some risks without hurting anyone, myself included:

  • Ask myself “what would I say if I didn’t care if I was right, or wasn’t concerned about people’s reactions?”
  • Then, think about how to deliver those words succinctly and with clarity, without blame or pain.
  • Then do it!

Maybe its my stage of life, or perhaps I am just weary of holding on to fears that may never materialize. My history of silence hasn’t done that much for me.  I will do as Sara Bareilles sings in her song “Brave”

“Say what you wanna say

And let the words fall out

Honestly, I wanna see you be brave”