The Poppy Grows

by Brenda Smull on 3 May 2015  Five score since the red blood flowed in the fields of Flanders Where the fragile Poppy still blows. The crimson torch passes from failing hands to firm Reaching out …

Source: The Poppy Grows

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A Tower of Change

This week’s featured Tarot card is The Tower– tall and ominous with lighting bolts, fire and falling bodies. It is an unsettling card that matches the mood of the nation in this incredibly tumultuous and divisive US election cycle. It is card number 16 of the major Arcana and reflects a dramatic jolt and shift in direction.

The Tower is a card of Change- the ultimate “ending the status quo” statement.

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Not everyone is a change junkie like me and many people find it disconcerting when a tsunami wave comes and wipes out carefully constructed sand castles (even if they were built on false premises). These sudden change experiences shake the very foundation of our current sense of security and force us to question our strongly-held beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and behaviors.

Some overall meanings and themes of the Tower card include:

  • Experiencing sudden change and upheaval
  • Realizing the truth after a major revelation
  • Breaking down false structures/ beliefs/ institutions
  • Falling down or being humbled

In America today, a tower of change looms ahead of us and change is a good thing, right?

But what if the change is a major disruption or crisis and is likely to bring chaos in its wake?

In the words of Charles Kettering, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” 

Progress is sorely needed and dramatic change is required, even if it is unsettling.

According to Joan Bunning in her book “Learning the Tarot”, “How you respond to the Tower’s change makes all the difference in how uncomfortable the experience will be. Recognize that the disruption occurred because it was needed. Perhaps embracing the change is too much to ask, but try to find the positive in it. In fact, you may feel tremendous release that you have finally been forced in a new direction”.

Note the symbolism in the Tower card below  (from a traditional Universal-Waite deck).

Two people are falling head first from a tower that has been struck by a bolt of lighting (truth). The man in red has crazy light colored hair and the  woman in blue is wearing a crown.  I can’t help but feel that these two characters represent Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in all their falling-from-grace glory.

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It is clear to me that change is desperately needed in our country but did we really need to go to such destructive extremes?

This quote from President Bill Clinton helps to justify and explain the situation the US is in, namely,

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.”

And so the menacing Tower looms, reminding us that a wave of change is coming.

We have a choice in how we response to the inevitable alterations of life.  We can:

  1. Embrace the change.
  2. Resist the change and risk being snapped like a twig in the strong currents of a river.
  3. Accept the change we may not want or like and look for the positive aspects of it.

I leave you with a final quote from Sydney J. Harris.

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

The Fool on the Hill and the Judgement Card

There is nothing like a good tarot card reading, a pending move to a new state and a bizarrely disgusting election news cycle to get me to look at things in an altered way.  An Agile Life encourages us to have frequent Retrospectives to review what is going well, what is blocking us and what we can do differently.

I view tarot cards as a mirror to the heart and soul and they often reflect thoughts and notions back to us in a new light.

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Below is a story about the Judgement Card, taken from the website Aeclectic Tarot“.

“There is no way to leave the past behind,” The Angel observes. “Each step wears down the shoe just a bit, and so shapes the next step you take, and the next and the next. Your past is always under your feet. You cannot hide from it, run from it, or rid yourself of it. But you can call it up, and come to terms with it. Are you willing to do that?

The Angel hands the Fool a small trumpet. The Fool is hesitant, but he knows that the Angel is right. There are certain memories he has a hard time looking back on as they make him feel guilty, ashamed, angry. He knows that he’s never come to terms with what happened and he must if he wants to make that final transition.”

Here are some retrospective thoughts and questions based my drawing of the Judgement Card last night:

Are we able to resurrect the past, forgive it and let it go?

Do we need to start something we’ve been putting off or have the courage to finally end something that isn’t good for us?

Is it time to move on?

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As I bask in the glorious autumn weather of Colorado and watch the leaves turn to orange, yellow and red, I remember that they will all fall to the ground soon, dead but nurturing to the soil below. I also have faith that the leaves will be reborn in the spring as the seasons continue to roll by.

I have hope that after the cold winter, there will be a better, brighter season but in the mean time…

It’s time forgive and move on to more important things.

Objective Evaluations in a Polarized World

A vast amount of ink has been devoted to analyzing and evaluating Hillary Clinton’s speaking style. I will not be adding to the heap of hypothesis and judgment (although I do feel that I have some relevant qualifications and experience to do so) and will instead take a different angle and discuss another important topic of late, namely the ability to provide effective evaluations of speeches or debates when you disagree with or dislike the content or topic. Giving credit where credit is due is a rare occurrence these days.

During my 22 years as an active Toastmaster member, I have given over 200 formal speech evaluations and presented numerous educational sessions on how to provide encouraging yet constructive feedback on another’s presentation. I have created and shared an easy way (I call it the DSI Model) to structure a cogent 2-3 minute Toastmaster Evaluation. For you acronym buffs, DSI stands for Delivery, Structure and Impact.

The Speech Evaluation is a cornerstone of the Toastmasters program and is critical for the growth and development of the members’ communication and leadership skills.  It is also one of the most difficult things to do well.  Providing verbal feedback in front of the entire group is challenging and often a scary proposition for new club members who are asked to evaluate fellow speakers who may be more advanced and experienced.

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The ability to give objective and neutral feedback on another person’s speech is hard enough without all the many external and internal factors influencing us.  Pesky things like human nature, emotions, personal biases, insecurities, political correctness, extreme political views, polarization of opinions and what I call the “siloed, echo chambers” of social media and cyberspace  (for more on this check out “A Matter of Perspective”).

So now to the crux of the matter at hand, are we humans capable of lifting our personal filters and actively listening to the words and opinions of others with whom we disagree or dislike? Can we set aside our own beliefs, thoughts and values on the content/topic and focus on the Delivery, Structure and Impact of the speech? Without some guidelines and a controlled, unemotional approach, this may prove challenging for many people today, especially since large portions of the American public rarely see or listen to opinions which differ dramatically from their own.  Open, honest discussion and debate is too often discouraged and sadly suppressed on college campuses today.

Here are my thoughts and advice on this feedback challenge:

  1. Remember that as a speech evaluator, you are there to observe and provide neutral and constructive feedback, recommendations and suggestions on the basic tenants and techniques of effective communication and public speaking.  There are manuals and speech objectives to guide you.
  2. Focus on the Delivery and Structure of the presentation with specific examples.
  3. When commenting on the Impact of a speech (especially if you disagree with the content), try to set aside your personal emotions and biases and look at and assess the overall audience response to the speech.
  4. Honestly ask yourself if the topic/point of the speech is clouding your ability to provide positive and objective feedback on the Delivery and Impact. If it is, then:
    1. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who supports the topic and reflect on how they would respond to the speech.
    2. Run a “What if” scenario in your mind by replacing the content of the speech with something that you agree with and see how you would view and analyze it.
  5. Open your mind, take off your biased filters and focus on how the speaker is connecting, delivering and making their point.
  6. Was the speaker able to motivate, educate, influence or inspire?
  7. The purpose of your evaluation is to encourage and help club member improve and develop strong communication skills, not to impose your views, values and opinions about the subject matter.

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Hopefully this advice will prove useful to my fellow Toastmasters around the world and may even help open up the dialogue among Americans who are embroiled in the highly contentious and negatively charged Presidential election season of 2016.

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I will be presenting the contents of this article in the form of an eight minute Toastmasters speech on the morning of November 8, 2016.  As part of the presentation, I will be giving a sample Evaluation of Hillary Clinton’s most recent debate performance.

This speech will be the last one I give at the Denver Techmasters club in Lone Tree, CO prior to our move to Austin, TX.

 

Diamonds in Taos, My Brillant Friends

The rain passed and the sun shone brightly on our annual girlfriends weekend adventure. Like the venerable Taos Pueblo, our friendships are earthy, authentic, stable and grounded.

Our relationships are also like diamonds. They have clarity, they are clear and they are bright.

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I cherish these trips more and more each year and appreciate the gifts they bring.

A treasure trove of experience and exploration, these adventures are authentic and restorative as my friends give me perspective, advice and opinions.

We hike, we eat, we share, we dream.

We adjust each other as we stretch and help perfect yoga poses.

We soak in warm tubs and openly discuss whatever if on our minds.

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These friendships are enduring (not the “friend-for-a-season, friend-for-a-reason” variety so common today).

My friends are precious gems and will be there for the duration.

Our trips are real and pure with limited use of texting and iPhones at the table during meals, limited talk of news we can’t control, no gossip and no drama.

We talk, we discuss, we debate and we look directly into each other’s eyes. We have true connections with wonderful things like nuance and non-verbal expressions.

We appreciate our freedoms and the exquisiteness of the land and reflect on the beauty of our brilliant friendships.

Like diamonds, I treasure the moments we spend together. I treasure these women like the precious gems that they are.

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Tabby, the Ruby, whose high energy and sense of adventure guides us to the next exciting destination.

Nancy, the Pearl, whose wisdom and inner strength shines through the tough journeys of life.

Clarissa, the Sapphire, whose creative expression quietly brings joy, peace and beauty to those around her.

I have an affinity for the Peridot, which has been long considered to be an aid to friendship by bringing optimism and good cheer.

So I lift my glass to you my brilliant friends and say “Thank You!” for your kindness, support and wonderful company.

Thank you for shining brightly on whatever location we venture to.

 

 

A Matter of Perspective

I ventured out of the safety of the siloed, Facebook echo chamber of thought and position this week and attended two live Toastmaster meetings. Wow, did I get a healthy dose of reality and a refreshing view of diametric perspectives on the same topic.

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It was a tale of two speeches, each given by an intelligent and thoughtful Toastmaster. Both speakers were white American women over 50 years old who I know and respect. Both speeches dealt with the topic of Islam but with dramatically different views, conclusions and calls to action.

One of the reasons I love going to Toastmaster meetings is the opportunity to see and hear (in more intimate detail than a 140 character Tweet or a short Facebook post) the thoughts, reasoning and opinions of my fellow club members and friends. I may not always agree with the premise presented but I always listen to and respect a well presented topic.

Nuance is something that is sorely lacking in today’s divided, abbreviated and often anonymous world of online communication. Nuance is what I appreciated when I listened to and compared the two viewpoints this week.

Speech #1 was given on Monday night and was done in the form of a book review. I was initially startled and taken aback by the titles of the books which included “ The Osama Bin Laden I Know” and a history of war in Afghanistan. The speaker encouraged us to open our minds to view Bin Laden is a different light and shared some history, context and perspective from the minds of a number of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

What was most powerful and intriguing was the personal dialogue I had with Speaker #1 after her presentation. I thanked her for sharing her views and thoughts with the club and then, to my surprise, she invited me to an Interfaith Open House at the Denver Islamic Center the following Saturday. Wow, talk about opening up your perspective and worldview!

Speech #2 was given on Saturday morning by a soft spoken yet earnest woman with a passion for liberty. Her topic was on the history of the Ottoman empire and the negative impact of radical Islam in the world today. It was an informative presentation meant to raise awareness and did not shed a very positive light on the rise of global jihad.

The second speech was given two days after Bastille Day and the awful carnage caused by a terrorist in Nice, France. How much did this influence my perspective and openness to visit the Islamic Center open house later that day?

My husband is a photographer with a talent for seeing and capturing things in dramatically different ways.   He has taught me the importance of the type of lens, the angle of view and the lighting when capturing a moment.   These concepts can readily be transferred into my views and experiences this past week with the pair of presentations on the complex topic of Islam. How can two Toastmaster woman of similar age and background see things in a such a different way? How much has my frame of reference (my lens) clouded or influenced my view of the subject? How has the lighting changed to modify my aspect?

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These are the questions that I am asking myself today and I’m not sure that I know all the answers.

What I do know is that I need and crave a richer, fuller dialogue and conversation with my fellow humans on these delicate and difficult topics. I know that nuance and open, honest communication (which includes active listening) is key to coming to a better, more peaceful understanding of each others view points and values. I know that, sadly, this is not easy in today’s divided world of Us vs. Them.

It is a Matter of Perspective that cannot be easily shared or conveyed on the Internet and in Social Media networks where we are often “preaching to the choir” and rarely reach (never mind change the hearts and minds of) those with whom we disagree.

I encourage you to reach out to others on a more personal, live and interactive level so that you can hear viewpoints and opinions that you may not agree with.

Who knows? Perhaps a new frame of reference and a change in lighting may cause your perspective to shift.

Independent Thoughts

Words have meaning. Words have power.

As a Toastmaster for over 21 years, I have witnessed first hand the strong influence words can have.  They can arouse strong emotions. They can motivate people to act with an outpouring of kindness and generosity.  Words also have a dark side and can be used to manipulate and incite violence.

This weekend is America’s birthday, a time to celebrate our nation’s Freedom. I find it ironic, and a great deal disheartening, that the media’s response to the recent Brexit vote in the UK has cast such a dark shadow on ideals of Independence and Self-Determination.

As someone who voluntary raised her right hand and solemnly swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I would bear true faith and allegiance to the same, I feel strongly about our nation’s Independence, Liberty and Freedom. The powerful words of my military Oath of Office meant a great deal to me and still do.  Lately, I have been disturbed that the values that I hold dear and have sacrificed for are being tarnished and trashed.

Veteran's Day Celebration

Duty, Honor, Country are now considered controversial words that shouldn’t be uttered in public places because they might “offend’’ someone. Well, I’m sorry but I think those three things should receive more focus and given a higher level of respect.

20131109-4826K-Veteran's Day Celebration-0961-WEB Patriotism and Sovereignty don’t have to be dirty words in the global community if everyone increased their levels of Respect and Tolerance.

I am an unapologetic American and I love my country.

Words have meaning. Words have power.

Happy Birthday America. 

Land of the free and home of the brave!

Veteran's Day Celebration