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What you say is important. How you say it is more important.

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Back in my college teaching days, my favourite module to teach was on non-verbal communication (NVC). I would start the class by delivering a short energetic rant in French. The students always looked non plussed, given that English was the standard language of instruction, but I knew what I was doing. And, once I explained myself, so did they. In an oral situation, communication is delivered by three components: the words we speak, the body language we use, and the tone we employ. After I had finished my rant in French, I would ask the students if they knew what I had been saying. Most usually, the would say no, they had no idea. Then I would ask them if they could tell whether I was happy or sad or what. That they knew: I was clearly angry, they said. How could they know that if they didn’t understand what I was saying? Well, they would say, your voice was raised, your hand was pointing, and your face was animated. Indeed. My tone and my body language gave it all away; even without

Talk is cheap, unless you know what to say and when to say nothing at all

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My young colleague had been excited to be pregnant, so when she was absent for a few days long before her due date, I didn’t think it could be good news. It wasn’t; she had suffered a miscarriage. Oh dear. How to respond to this sad and unexpected experience when she returned to work? Certainly not by avoiding her or pretending the loss had not occurred. However, I also didn't want to catch her off guard, so I simply left a card on her desk, acknowledging her loss and wishing her fortitude over the next while. I remember her gratitude for that small gesture of empathy on my part.  I was reminded of this incident from more than 30 years ago, when I read a post online last week, the gist of which was how difficult it seems to be for so many to say the right thing to a friend or colleague in the face of their sad or distressing situation. It’s true; it can be hard, and I would be lying if I said that I had never crossed the street (literally or metaphorically) to avoid someone to whom

Chasing deadlines / Chasing dreams

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August 2010:  Long lazy afternoons of tea and reading at the cottage, with my parents. No deadlines here! DEADLINES : Love them or hate them, I have learned that, for me, they can make the difference between getting something done and getting nothing done. These days, I am learning the joy of meandering through a day without a deadline in sight, simply enjoying the time and endless possibilities of how to use it. Nice. But last Saturday was not one of them. Here’s how that day went. Friday/10:59pm — I was already asleep when this deadline came and went. Earlier in the week, I had learned that the ghost story I had written in November for the NYC Midnight Madness micro fiction challenge had earned me enough points from the judges to get through to round two. This late-evening deadline was for me to receive my prompts for that second-round writing assignment. I was too tired to wait up, but logged on in the middle of the night during one of my usual waking moments. I didn’t engage, sim

A cat is not a dog or Your expectations are not my idea of success

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Back in another lifetime when I was searching for my first house to buy, the real estate agent, Cheryl, urged me not to attend open house showings for properties beyond my financial ceiling. “You’ll only torture yourself by looking at places you cannot afford but would like to live in,” she said. “Limit yourself to showings within the range of your money and you’ll end up with a good place to live that won’t bankrupt you.” Good advice indeed, and I ended up with just such a house. It suited me well, until it was time to move on.  I often think of Cheryl’s advice in relation to any number of things, including, most recently, new year’s resolutions: Make ones that give you what you need, maybe stretch you a bit but don’t break the psychological bank, as it were. Resolutions should match your ability to achieve them. Otherwise why bother? They will only ever be fantasy, never motivation. Other people’s standards or expectations are beside the point. Know yourself and design your resolutio

New year, new words, same me

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The best way to start a new year is to wake up. Thereafter, any activity will do. Engage in this year with eyes open, heart open and mind open and there’s a fighting chance that you’ll make it through the 365 days with some learning, some fun and some rewards. At least, that is what I am hoping for as 2023 begins its spin around the sun. As last week’s post explained, I like to choose a word or two as a hook on which to hang my approach to a new year. Sometimes the word comes to me after serious contemplation, sometimes it arises spontaneously, and sometimes I rely on the crutch of a social media trend to kickstart my process. So it was this year. This photo maze (left) was making the rounds on Facebook and I played along. I looked at the grid of seemingly random letters within which are hidden actual words, and the first four words my eyes focused on were LESSON. LOVE. CHANGE. SELF-CARE. Argh, I thought. Not exactly words I would have come up with myself. So, I looked again. This tim

Hooks, hopes and habits

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At both our house and cottage, we use hooks to hang our clothes. Sure, we have closets, but hooks keep the clothes handy by where they’re needed and, added bonus, we can see what is available within easy reach. This habit of clothes management is not sophisticated, but it works. I plan my day’s outfit (a term I use only loosely for my sartorial style) by what’s still on the hooks and not yet dropped into the laundry basket. As I have been pondering the end of this year and the beginning of the next, I have realized that my planning for the coming 12 months is not dissimilar to how I plan for the day’s clothes: I use a hook. I have a broad objective. And I’m prepared to pinch hit with what’s available, as needed. The hook is a word (or several, maybe) that guide me in the broadest sense. I don’t want to be tied into a master plan that can’t be amended along the way, but I equally don’t want to wander through time without any sense of direction. For 2022, I chose the word ‘plan’, meanin

Slivers of solstice light

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I don’t much like the dark. My mind conjures endless bad things that might be, could be, likely are, lurking in its depths. Give me a light, even a sliver of light, and my breath comes easier, my pulse slows down, I can deal with the lesser dark that that sliver of light creates. So it is with the winter solstice: In the northern hemisphere, every December 21st brings with it that teeny tiny sliver of additional light and the promise it holds. I wrote last year about how, incrementally, the light returns to our days after we mark this point in the year. With each year that passes, I appreciate this day more. And, as the years pass, I am learning that light comes into my life in many different ways. Yes, the sun, of course. But also an act of kindness brings light into my day. Or a meaningful exchange with someone well known or not so familiar to me. A laugh brought on by smart humour. Or a moment of joy from the power of music to move me. All these experiences can bring if not actual