Communicators Have Reason to Be Cranky
No matter how trivial the medium and homely the message, writing presents continual and abundant opportunities to convey joy and excitement or comfort and compassion. Apply the math to those opportunities, let a smile be your punctuation, and in a single day feel the world hum with a more hopeful, peaceful, whimsical vibration….
I’m revising my 2007 writers’ guide and changing the world… beginning with my principal readership: entrepreneurs, managers, executives, educators, and other people who aren’t professional writers but whose work requires writing, public speaking, or both. They do (at a guess) three-fourths of the writing that shows up on the Internet, in letters and reports, in certain periodicals, in government documents, and in other settings — though many of them would rather be doing almost anything else. They don’t like to write, they tell me, adding that they don’t write well and writing takes them away from the work they were trained for, which might be medicine, architecture, R & D, client consultation, or sales calls.
For the last forty years I’ve been working with nonwriters who have to write. In my experience, about a third believe that they write well… or at least well enough. They do a fair job of arranging words on pages, I’ll grant, though I’ve yet to find an individual among these architects and educators and executives who consistently communicates well in writing.
This is bad news. It means that there are millions of writers who believe that their work is being read and understood, and millions of readers who think that they’re getting the information they need, and they’re all mistaken, and it’s making them cranky.
An act of love…
If you write much at all, you might have found that writing to communicate with anyone — from your mom to your legislative constituents — originates as an act of love and courage: love for the values and goals that move you to write… love for your readers, perhaps… and courage to reveal feelings and ideals to a reading audience of a single relative or ten million strangers.
Writers have been heard to say that they feel naked in print much as performers do onstage; but writers can and often do use sarcasm, untruthfulness, hyperbole, or obscure vocabulary as a barrier or a disguise. Clever writers develop their signature strategies for commanding and abusing a sort of transient power long enough to impress, perhaps ultimately to control, a well-targeted audience. Multiply one writer’s power by the huge number of documents — electronic and otherwise — produced daily on the planet, and you might glimpse how cynicism creeps so slyly into our unconscious attitudes.
View writing as essentially a long-cherished and -protected form of human interaction, however, and sarcasm comes across not as clever but as ugly… a huge verbal sneer, or worse. So let’s turn it around.
No matter how trivial the medium and homely the message, writing presents continual and abundant opportunities to convey joy and excitement or comfort and compassion. Apply the math to those opportunities, let a smile be your punctuation, and in a single day feel the world hum with a more hopeful, peaceful, whimsical vibration….
This is no joke!
Research for the new edition of my writers’ guide turned up a fascinating bit of data: Bad writing is more harmful than anybody understood. We thought that a particular business plan, editorial, annual report, or media release was merely annoying… too long, overladen with jargon and buzzwords, or harmlessly incomprehensible. Maybe the condescending tone distanced us. Maybe we “saw” the arched eyebrow that meant the writer was having us on.
But did we understand that the writer, at the precise moment the forehead muscle contracted and the brow shot up, wasn’t feeling friendly toward us readers… that being in something of a snit caused her to rely more on power than on information and charm to win us over… and that it wasn’t working for any of us?
When a given sample of writing goes horribly wrong, it might not be purely out of the writer’s ignorance or inexperience. This morning’s five-minute whirlwind tour of websites turned up a dozen examples of writing styles that in my view are grossly misleading and disrespectful to readers. The meanings are skewed, clarity is absent, and communication opportunities are wasted. I chose to illustrate this point with examples of corporate-speak and memes because they appeared more than once, and because they’re easy to recognize.
Example 1: Corporate-speak — buzz words and jargon
[Ho-ho-ho Healthcare] helps leading healthcare systems sustainably improve operational and clinical performance through a combination of advisory services, technology and analytics….
We have a passion for improving healthcare and a relentless focus on providing measurable results for our customers
We bring together advisory, technology and analytics in partnership with our customers
We integrate world-class strategy, proprietary methodologies, and advanced analytics to drive sustainable results.
This common and tedious business-writing style actually holds readers at arm’s length and fails, in my opinion, to forward the writer’s objectives. Bey0nd that, there’s a sly animus that I perceive in much of the writing for public audiences and that might fuel the alleged polarities and feelings of isolation many find troubling… by way of the sample’s
- patronizing tone and attitude (I’m smart and you’re not, so I can feed you this word salad though it lacks both flavor and substance)
- unfamiliar or esoteric vocabulary
- overwriting, clumsy verbiage, “stringing”
Example 2: Memes infiltrate minds
I’m especially interested these days in the effect of “memes” – common perceptions or assumptions similar to “sweeping generalizations.”
Examples I heard on the radio recently —
- We were raised in a toxic culture.
- The parents of your generation didn’t understand the importance of children’s self-esteem.
- Most people don’t notice or care about the homeless.
Bogus statistics and unsubstantiated trends become “public knowledge” when introduced with phrases such as most people or the pronoun we (antecedent unclear). Similar results can be achieved with headlines that readers barely glance at. The 2007 headline “Teen pregnancy numbers are skyrocketing!” appeared in the middle of the twelfth consecutive year of declining teen-pregnancy rates.
Good writing is writing that communicates as intended. It’s as much a matter of how it’s received as how it’s delivered. Whether your writing is “correct” in terms of grammar and mechanics, whether it’s clever, whether it’s lyrical… these are secondary considerations, less important than clarity, respect, and honesty.
The story below has elements of truth and falsehood that are hard to separate. Data that apply to the larger group of 6-to-9-year-olds are manipulated such that they seem relevant to the 6-year-olds taken separately. The qualifier sixty-eight percent of [group] is paraphrased and positioned as most of [group].
What does “most of…” actually mean? Ninety percent, in my judgment. What do you think?
Why 6-Year-Old Girls Want to Be Sexy (Study)http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/6-year-old-girls-sexy_n_1679088.html
Most girls as young as 6 are already beginning to think of themselves as sex objects, according to a new study of elementary school-age kids in the Midwest….
Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 6- to 9-year-old girls. Sixty girls were shown two dolls, one dressed in tight and revealing “sexy” clothes and the other wearing a trendy but covered-up, loose outfit.
Using a different set of dolls for each question, the researchers then asked each girl to choose the doll that: looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, she wanted to play with.
Across-the-board, girls chose the “sexy” doll most often. The results were significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the doll looked how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy doll.
Simply put, the data don’t support the sensational claim. Sixty-eight percent of the 6- to 9-year-olds studied hardly equates to most 6-year-old girls. Preferring the “sexy” doll hardly amounts to “thinking of… [oneself] as a sex object.” But I suspect that many readers take news stories such as this one at face value, as I do. We don’t give them more time or scrutiny than the usual cues prompt us to. Why should we? Generally speaking, we can read the Huffington Post without a microscope.
Remember to aim
The careless writers we’re discussing, including the hypothetical brow-lifting writer cited above, probably didn’t mean to shoot themselves in the foot. They might have started out organized and sensible but became impatient and a little scared, so they rushed the process.
Don’t make the same mistake. In a matter of minutes you can put your writing project in perspective, giving it the proper weight and emphasis, and improving the odds that your message will be
Maintain that perspective as your work progresses, checking now and then to ensure that your prose is
- clear and concise
- free of jargon, convoluted phrases, verbal showing-off
- consistent with your brand
Wait! Stop! Back up!
As you were preparing to write, was your message well focused? Did you clearly understand…
- what you wanted or needed to say [= your meaning]?
- how your message was relevant to your principal audience [=audience meaning]?
- whether there were important secondary audiences (colleagues, critics, or competitors, for example) who might construe additional or conflicting meanings?
Ideally, once you’ve decided (a) that you have something worthwhile to say and (b) how and to whom you want to say it, you’ll take whatever time is necessary to determine (c) what it means. Say you’re an elementary-school principal and your message deals with
(a) next Wednesday’s early school closing — ten minutes before the usual bell…
(b) conveyed in writing to students, parents, teachers, and bus drivers.
What does it mean?
(c-1) To you, it’s of minor administrative importance, but it could turn into a major administrative headache if not everyone is informed. The meaning from your perspective is initially a matter of thorough distribution.
(c-2) You’ve identified four audiences and you understand that each audience will perceive at least one exclusive meaning. Within each audience there might be dozens of interpretations buzzing around. No audience will interpret your message uniformly, but there might be one or two prevalent understandings.
- Students will be thrilled at the prospect of a shorter school day, you think, before it occurs to you that there are a number of kids for whom school is safer and more hospitable than home.
- Some of the parents will be pleased about having more time with their kids; other parents will have to scramble for child-care arrangements; still others will shrug it off since their children are latchkey kids no matter when they get out of school.
Just a brief mental scan of students’ and parents’ attitudes toward school-closing time has reminded you that your announcement is far from trivial. Feelings of sympathy tug at you as you’re drafting the letter, and your tone becomes softer, less abrupt than before.
Once you are aware that an apparently simple message can be understood in an infinite number of ways (not all of which you can be expected to address), taking a reasonable number of alternative meanings into account will automatically become part of the writing process.
- Good writing is writing that communicates as intended. It’s as much a matter of how it’s received as how it’s delivered. Whether your writing is “correct” in terms of grammar and mechanics, whether it’s clever, whether it’s lyrical… these are secondary considerations, less important than clarity, respect, and honesty.
- If you mean to be understood, your writing will address the various levels of interest and understanding among your audiences.
- There will be times when some or all of your message will be of scant interest to your audience. Be prepared to improve your communication or, starting from scratch, to rethink the relevance of your message. To do neither is a declaration of war.
- If you have communicated clearly and respectfully, and your audience has understood and rejected your message, your writing isn’t at fault. Knowing about a particular audience’s distaste for your message doesn’t obligate you to satisfy that audience’s appetite.
You don’t have to do all the work. Your readers can be expected to meet you partway. It’s your job to figure out how far they’ll advance and on which path.
The understanding between a non-technical writer and his reader is that he shall talk more or less like a human being and not like an Act of Parliament. I take it that the [writer's aim]… must be to convey exact thought in inexact language… [in which] he can never succeed without the co-operation of the reader. — Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, Messenger Lectures (1934), New Pathways in Science (1935), 279
Be aware of nonverbal factors in written and public forums. There are dozens of potential sources of interference that can weaken your message. A few examples:
- your fragrance
- the paper you print on
- the room temperature and availability of parking at your chosen venue
- a preexisting relationship with your target audience
- a hostile audience (a situation that might require your defusing of the situation ahead of time)
Journaling for Health and Well-Being
Try journaling for a healthy mind. Thirty years of research has consistently weighed in on journaling’s mental-health benefits.
In her book A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever, Marianne Williamson writes that
…journaling is… a tool for cultivating your highest self, as applied not only to weight but to any area of your life. Journaling is a way you listen to yourself, by making it clear to yourself what you actually think and feel. The more room you give yourself to express your true thoughts and feelings, the more room there is for your wisdom to emerge. In listening to yourself, you learn from yourself. In listening deeply to the voice of your heart, you reestablish relationship with your true self, so long denied.
Writing about your feelings demystifies them, keeps them from rolling around and around in your head without arriving anywhere, and gives you a little distance from them. It helps you remember that YOU ARE NOT YOUR FEELINGS. Your higher, purer self is the “you” that God created, and it is that self whose voice provides such honest clarity when you’re journaling.
Occasionally, when I am journaling, my writing segués into an intimacy with God that is tantamount to prayer.
Dreams, Emotions, Gratitude
My practice – which is by no means the only or the best way to go about journaling, and which is therefore continually subject to change— is to sit down at the computer first thing in the morning, every morning (or so… give or take… usually; quite often, sometimes); open my journal document; and set down anything I can remember about my dreams.
According to the Dreams Foundation (www.dreams.ca), dreams “offer a private means to explore inner reality and to gain unique, undeniable, personal experiences.” In addition, “there is overwhelming evidence that [dreams]… can be used to improve waking life,… [offering] opportunities for fun, adventure, wish fulfillment, creativity, deep personal insight and healing, and all this at no cost and with no line-ups!”
Check out the Dreams Foundation website for more information and dream exercises.
CONCERNS, WORRIES, EMOTIONS
After recording the snips of dream I can recall, I write for circa ten minutes about whatever’s bothering me. If I’m thoroughly and completely happy, I express my joy instead… but usually there’s at least one little weed I can nip in the bud. (Do weeds have buds?)
When I was working as the “marketing person” – we didn’t have titles – at an architecture firm, I shared an office with the “graphic-design person,” a real sweetheart who was younger than my youngest child and whose name was David. He was a wizard at design but he didn’t have a lot of experience in marketing or in the special skill of promotional writing – the text for print ads, proposals, reports, and so forth.
My job had recently been created. The employees weren’t used to working with me, so when they wanted ads, media releases, and other marketing services, they strode right past my desk to David’s, whereupon David graciously suggested that they talk with me about the concept and the copy before getting David involved in the design.
David and I worked beautifully together and did a lot of spectacular and effective work, and in due time the satisfied employees returned to our office, walked past me, clapped David on the back, and said, “Great work, Champ,” or words to that effect. It made me crazy, no matter how often I reminded myself that there were people in the world with real problems, matters of life and death, conditions such as famine and epidemics run amok.
So I was both annoyed about being overlooked and ashamed of myself for being annoyed about such a petty grievance. Journaling helped me (a) realize that I had a legitimate concern, and (b) come up with a solution. Here’s a journal excerpt (me talking to me):
Bill Brown did it again — gave the assignment to David, then came to me as David suggested. I reminded BB of the “usual process.” We worked out the ad concept, Bill approved the text, David assembled the ad, and it was perfect – right on the money. And then, as predictably as the night follows the day, BB took David out to lunch, that’s how grateful he was for “a job well done.” I was so furious and so hurt [at being ignored, excluded], I came close to quitting on the spot.
Why were you furious and hurt?
Because I’m at least 50% responsible for the success of the ad, and I want to be given credit where credit is due.
Why? What difference does it make as long as the work is done well?
Because it feels bad to be ignored or overlooked and it feels good to get strokes for good work.
Because it feels good to feel good.
Right, uh-huh. But why do you need the strokes to feel good?
Well, two reasons. First, it reassures me that I really am doing good work. Second, we waste time and lose opportunities. If people came straight to me, we could develop the concept and see if the ad fits in with other marketing the firm is doing or consider supporting the ad in other media.
Why do you want reassurance about your work?
AFTER A FEW MORE questions and answers, it became clear (a) that I was confident about my work and was, in fact, getting positive feedback from David and from my supervisor; and (b) that better coordination — achieved by making me the designated go-to person for marketing and promotion — would probably improve marketing effectiveness and would save resources. A little research confirmed “assumption b,” which became the basis of the proposal I developed and took to my supervisor for discussion, which in turn brought about a well-justified policy change.
JOURNALING FOR GRATITUDE
To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kindness that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.
– Albert Schweitzer
An article on the UMass/Dartmouth website, “The Importance of Gratitude,” offers evidence that feeling grateful is good for your health. Researchers such as Martin Seligman, Robert Emmons, and Michael McCullough are turning their attention to the study of gratitude and its relationship to health and mental well-being. Among other findings, they’ve shown that
- People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercise more regularly, have fewer adverse physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and feel more optimistic about the coming week….
- Daily discussion of gratitude seems to correlate with lower levels of stress and depression, and higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality.
- People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to have helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support.
- Those inclined toward gratitude are less concerned about material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others’ success in terms of wealth, are less envious of wealthy people, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.
- Daily gratitude practices may help prevent coronary artery disease.
BY THE BY…
Wayne Dyer is quoted on mindbodygreen.com as follows:
Be in a state of gratitude for everything that shows up in your life. Be thankful for the storms as well as the smooth sailing. What is the lesson or gift in what you are experiencing right now? Find your joy not in what’s missing in your life but in how you can serve.
If I were Dr. Dyer’s editor, I would argue strenuously for “Be grateful for…” in place of “Be in a state of gratitude for….” Do you agree? Why or why not? (Explain your answer below. It will not count toward your final grade.)
It’s been thirty-five years since I got my first permanent job as an editor. My daughter (Marian), my husband (Bob), our cat (Biscuit), and I had just moved to Tucson from the Washington, D.C., area. We rented a little house in mid-July and discovered, as we schlepped our two Pier 1 rattan chairs and ten thousand boxes of books from our beat-up step-van into our new living room, that the swamp cooler didn’t work. Bob climbed onto the roof, removed the white-hot metal panels to expose the motor, stared at it, and scratched his head—the way mechanically challenged men do when confronted with a problem more complicated than a broken vacuum-cleaner belt. I was dispatched to the hardware store for a screwdriver, and when I got back there were five sweaty, head-scratching men on the roof. A sixth guy, who knew a thing or two about swamp coolers, had gone home–he lived two doors down–to get his tools. Five minutes after he got back, the thing was fixed. To celebrate, all the men and their wives and children stayed for dinner, which, for the adults, consisted of beer, Wheaties, and ketchup.
The next day, while Bob and Marian unpacked and arranged the books in cleverly spaced piles, I rode a bus to the University of Arizona personnel office, filled out an application form, and made an interview appointment for the following Tuesday. The interview went well, the job was offered, I accepted… and I’ve been sitting here for the last ten minutes or so, thinking about the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, and the interesting work I’ve done because of that little parade of events in 1977.
I was hired as a part-time editorial assistant and promoted to full-time editor two years later. By then the mother of three, I preferred shorter hours, but Bob’s job as an assistant golf pro wasn’t lucrative. I made a little money on the side writing poems, short stories, and essays. Literary journals usually paid in copies, but I won contests now and then, earning as much as a hundred dollars for a sonnet or story.
At the U of A, I was responsible for most of the work on the General Catalog. I spent about half my time processing new academic programs and trimming the fat from hundreds of bloated course descriptions that landed in my IN box — unofficial carbon copies followed weeks later by the “originals.” The process ate up unconscionable amounts of paper and time, requiring so many arbitrary and redundant levels of approval you’d have thought they involved the secession of four or five states from the union. The truth is, nobody ever read them before they reached my desk, arriving in pristine condition, except for assorted stamps and signatures… no bite marks, no sign of having been stapled, mutilated, or spindled.
I tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the carbon-copy component of the process. The carbons were supposed to hurry things along, on the assumption that we could do the editing and data entry without the official approvals. Our doing so, however, only brought battalions of outraged department heads and deans to our office, miffed that we were undercutting their authority… even though most of the documents dealt with minor corrections and clarifications of course descriptions, not counting a protracted debate over the matter of ground water versus groundwater, with the “ground water” proponents arguing for consistency with the analogous phrase surface water.
The work could have been tedious, especially in certain abstruse disciplines where a Hot Topic might involve Backus-Naur form expressions of SNOBOL. Even basic proofreading can be troublesome when you’re not familiar with a subject’s quirky vocabulary. Sometimes I suspected that it was all a joke and “Backus-Naur” was an overcoat outlet for Big & Tall Men.
On the other hand, a few of the biggest bigwigs in U of A administration were committed to Catalog Excellence. These men (there being no female V.I.P.s at that time) weren’t satisfied with mere accuracy, clarity, and consistency. They wanted the catalog to sing. Every program description should flow with lyrical prose. Ours should be the King Lear of university catalogs, elegant throughout in style and tone. Until you’ve tried it, you can’t know how difficult it is to apply the same degree of authenticity and cadence to courses on (a) Emily Dickinson, (b) Materials Science of Art and Archaeological Objects, and (c) the Honeybee.
Eventually I mastered the art of creating small literary masterpieces, lucid yet scholarly-sounding enough to satisfy sensitive egos, out of academic raw material, whether it came to me dry and sparse and bullet-pointed or lavishly embellished with strings of modifiers derived from French and Latin. A stem or leaf that you and I might describe as “green” was rendered “verdant” in course-descriptionese. My colleague Mary Lindley or I promptly made it green again. If anyone complained, we could always cite the skyrocketing cost of printer’s ink.
Mary was cheerful, capable, dependable, and ludicrously overqualified. She and I ended up rewriting most of the course descriptions and offending most of the faculty, who tended to express themselves like this:
History of the English Language (3) I II The student will be required to present evidence of a mastery of knowledge and understanding of the introduction, expansion, progression, transformation, and, where relevant, decline of English-identified sounds, English inflections, and English vocabulary. The time period studied by the student will encompass the era of the earliest identification of a meta-dialect which was spontaneously organizing itself into a distinctive language group, through the intervening iterations of the language, until the present day. The student will be responsible for full and complete comprehension of the influence of cultural, sociological, and historical events and conditions upon the evolution of the language in its original regions and specific locales as well as in its export to English-controlled colonies and other areas of influence.
I’m not proud of the person I became during my four years as catalog Nazi. My predecessor had marked up the documents with a discreet blue pencil. I, on the other hand, acquired Big Red, the William Howard Taft of markers. I wielded it with glee, drunk with power (or high on marker fumes); eager to find innocuous typos, sentence fragments, pronouns with dubious antecedents, and call attention to them with fat circles and accusatory arrows, praying that someone would invent sticky tape with flashing red lights. Sirens would have been helpful, too.
I was particularly obsessed with the correct placement of hyphens, en dashes, em dashes, and commas. I could and did cite chapter and verse from no fewer than four authoritative style manuals.
In my work as an editor and coauthor, I’ve pegged two types of comma-abusers:
(a) PAG (point-and-guess): Buddy Holly was always-called “Buddy” by-his family because he-was so nice-to everyone.
(b) EOW (every other word): Holly’s junior-high has a-mural honoring Holly-and Lubbock-High School, where-he sang in-the school choir, also-honors the late-musician.
When writing anything at all, PAG-type abusers have an inner monologue going on like a broken record: “Must be ’bout time for another hyphen. Must be ’bout time for another hyphen. Must be ’bout time…,” although people who look so disparagingly upon hyphens probably refer to them as dashes.
(For you youngsters: Once upon a time, “broken record” was a metaphor for saying the same thing over and over again. Vinyl records, when chipped or scratched, often snagged the record-player’s needle, causing a little section of the record to repeat, and repeat, and repeat, until someone lifted the needle arm and advanced it past the scratched place.)
This is not to say that I was infallible. I once renamed a special-education course via the accidental substitution of a D for an F, so that the course title was rendered “Reading and Study Skills for the Dead.” Mary, who was proofreading my document, laughed so violently that she concussed. A week later, fully recovered, she resumed proofing, and I thought she was going to require medical attention again, but she calmed down, and the two of us contemplated “overlooking” the mistake, reasoning that as typos go it was pretty cute and might improve employee morale. But upon reflection, we agreed that the special-education folks wouldn’t be amused. They were already insecure in their academic stature and became noisily defensive if they suspected they were being made fun of.
At that point in my emotional development, it was more important to be right than to be cooperative, so I wielded Big Red with a heavy hand. It didn’t make me any friends, but I had the consolation of being always right. I had yet to learn the fundamental purpose of the English language—to communicate, hyphens be damned.
Has Wayne Dyer Missed His Plane?
I have a bone to pick with Wayne Dyer, but first let me give credit where credit is due.
Through his prolific authorship and his accessibility as a speaker and talk-show guest, Wayne Dyer has given vast exposure to “New Thought” (New Age, Holistic Spirituality) principles that are genuinely life-affirming and liberating. Dyer’s work has been important in reanimating, in public discourse, ideas from ancient sources — at least as old as the Hebrew prophets, coursing through the ages by way of Jesus and the Buddha, Marcus Aurelius and Aristotle, Rumi and Hafez, transcendentalism and Christian Science, the Unity and spiritualist denominations, A Course in Miracles, and contemporary writers such as Marianne Williamson, Joan Borysenko, Robert Holden, and Deepak Chopra.
Dyer’s impressive role has been that of a translator or interpreter, slipping complex ideas into the everyday idiom. His felicitous phrasing speaks to the learned and the poorly educated alike, affirming not merely their worth but their inherent divinity.
HE REMINDS US THAT WE MATTER
In a world where computers bobble our frantic phone calls and we interact more often with machines than with humans, Dyer’s is a comforting voice. Yes, it challenges us to take responsibility for our circumstances, but it doesn’t leave us dangling; it also celebrates our intrinsic power and creativity, which enable us to transform our lives.
Dyer has made a vital contribution to spiritual thought. That contribution has in turn made him a celebrity. Was there a trace of bemusement in Dyer’s declaration that he ranked third after Eckhart Tolle and the Dalai Lama on the 2011 Watkins 100 Spiritual Power List (the “100 most spiritually influential living people”)? (On the 2012 list, Tolle and the Dalai Lama changed slots and Dyer was listed thirteenth.) Well, it hardly matters for a man who no longer seeks God but is God.
Okay, I get that. I won’t quibble over the distinction between being Divinity and being a vessel for the Divine. If (a) God is everywhere, and (b) human beings are of God… well, one can hardly be one-half or seven-eighths divine, can one?
Other teachers, including John Lennon, announce with impunity that Love is all there is. That being so, then Wayne Dyer, and you and I, and, I suppose, Caligula,* are love throughout, and according to this tenuous chain of logic we may reasonably assert our divinity.
ME, BEING PISSY
Even so, listening to Wayne Dyer on his weekly radio program, I struggle not to feel that he has ascended to a place beyond my comprehension. Perhaps that comes of his having been healed of leukemia by John of God. Perhaps I strenuously disagree with Dyer’s position on antidepressants and ADHD drugs – remedies in celebration of which we lesser mortals bow down to the heavens eight or nine times a day. Perhaps I sometimes wonder if Wayne Dyer has not lost touch with the distressingly hyperactive, the woefully underemployed… in short, with the ninety-nine percent of us who have not yet learned to manifest near-perfect health, copious prosperity… even the wherewithal to zip down to Abadiânia for a psychic-surgery session with John of God.
Oh, I’m just being pissy for no good reason. Maybe John of God is the Real Deal. Certainly the planet has been blessed with men and women who have extraordinary mystical and medical gifts. Wayne Dyer deserves our thanks for drawing public attention to the likes of Anita Moorjani. I applaud his vision and courage as a spokesperson for the legitimacy of a truth for which science is not the sole testament. He has reinstated, alongside science, much older realities… those of mystery, enchantment, and childlike wonder… of miracles both rare and commonplace… of infinite possibility wherein scientific certainty seems ludicrous indeed.
OH, TO BE ORDINARY!
In a radio promo for his 2012 book Wishes Fulfilled: Mastering the Art of Manifesting, Dyer disparages all that is “ordinary,” then goes on to depict the ordinary human being in a way that makes me salivate. Ordinary people, he says, go dutifully to their ho-hum jobs, pay their bills, fill out sundry forms in the time allotted, and presumably present themselves at their suburban homes when the workday is done, perhaps sitting down to a family meal, weeding the tomato patch, romping with their two-point-four children, reading bedtime stories to the toddlers, reminding them to brush their teeth, tucking them in, and at last enjoying missionary-style sex with their spouses after the lights go out.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this scenario, Dyer stipulates, after which he paints with eloquence the higher calling of the soul, which [he says] seeks beyond all else expansion, with even greater fervor than it longs for happiness – although the soul that is denied expansion is, he laments, “miserable” — which allegation moves me to point out that happiness, in the sense of not being miserable, is therefore at least commensurate with expansion as something every discriminating soul desires.
More than at this teleological inconsistency, however, I bristle at the scorn (if scorn overreaches, I’ll deal down to condescension) with which Dyer dismisses ordinary people leading ordinary lives. It rankles on two counts, the first selfish, the second philosophical:
- Wayne Dyer’s “ordinary” embodies all I ever wished for. When I had ordinary, I never failed to celebrate my rare blessedness. Outside the stability and contentment of marriage and active motherhood, I pay bills on time at gunpoint. I have known gaping loneliness that would welcome the intrusion of rowdy children and an ordinary man who loved me. If he carried in the groceries as well, I’d stick ‘til death and beyond.
- There are no ordinary people, and an “ordinary life” is an oxymoron. The fact of human life is always extraordinary, verging on miraculous. The face of any man or woman who has experienced three-quarters of a century displays elation and disillusionment, ease and exertion, and the courage sometimes required to take yet another conscious breath. The octogenarian doesn’t exist who has not one morning awakened in an unfamiliar universe. Live long enough and you must learn to navigate a course from which all known landmarks and guideposts have vanished.
When the time has come, in this incarnation or another, for greatness or glory, we cannot escape it any more than the fetus can remain immobile in the womb. Life’s engines urge us on at the pace of the tides and our own natures. The most impassioned exhortations will never make the sap rise out of season.
Not having so much as laid eyes on Wishes Fulfilled, perhaps I speak in ignorance of its penetrating wisdom, but my comments relate only to the radio promo. If by not reading the book I deprive my soul of a one-time-only opportunity to enlarge, my soul will have to muddle along, puny and pitiful, refused even a glass of ale in bars where only confident, robust souls are served.
I should be more charitable to a man who just slipped ten notches on the “most spiritually influential” list. To be fair, Wayne Dyer speaks to millions, resonating with greater numbers than the Pope, evidently, whose Watkins rank is a pathetic thirty-fifth. Dyer has earned his wealth and fame. If his center has shifted under them, his is not the first; it won’t be the last.
* When several kings came to Rome to pay their respects to [Caligula] and argued about their nobility of descent, he cried out “Let there be one Lord, one King”. In AD 40, Caligula began implementing very controversial policies that introduced religion into his political role. Caligula began appearing in public dressed as various gods and demigods such as Hercules,Mercury,Venus and Apollo. Reportedly, he began referring to himself as a god when meeting with politicians and he was referred to as Jupiter on occasion in public documents. (Wikipedia)
The Bay of Baiae, with Apollo and Sybil, 1823–J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Marcus Aurelius, an adopted son of the Emperor Hadrian, was himself Roman Emperor from CE 161 to 180. Baiae, where Hadrian spent his last days, was a Roman seaside resort on the Bay of Naples. M. Aurelius vacationed there with the imperial family in the summer of 143.
The meditative state of mind is the closest thing to a “magic wand” that I have come across in 25 years of exploring the human potential. It heals the body. It is the gateway to our deeper wisdom. It opens us up to a world of deeper feelings. It gives us glimpses into the nature of the universe. —Michael Neill’s The Inside-Out Experiment, April 14, 2012
Our ‘Toxic Culture’
Is it real, or is it a meme?
Michael Neill is seldom off the mark. That’s our* opinion anyway, for what it’s worth. According to Michael Neill, a person can stand outdoors all night long swapping opinions with the stars in the sky, and little or nothing will be accomplished. Mmm, a chest cold, maybe.
Our opinion, after all, is just a thought. If it happens to be a useful sort of thought — one that doesn’t argue much with reality… one that helps us stay on our bliss-oriented trajectory — we won’t mess with it.
As for Michael Neill… he is astonishing. Because he “[took]… the current when it serve[d]“… because he does what he does, and because he pays attention, some of us lost souls (hundreds? thousands?) find our feet again. Maybe it happens that, when he “takes the current,” we are in the way, thrashing, and he hauls us in.
Whatever the case, we wish to thank him; we scan the beaches to the north and to the south… Where IS that masked man? Bliss-aligned like us, arrayed in bespoke bliss, he might very well be conspicuous in his radiance. These days, to be prominent is to be conspicuous. John Edwards, if you’d asked us, we’d have warned you. Instead, your bandwagon crashed and burned, à la Mel Gibson (2006 meltdown, reports of scurrilous behavior and remarks) and Howard Dean (the “Dean Scream,” 2004 – nothing egregious here except a lapse in judgment)….
Minefield ahead. This document has not been cleared of unsubstantiated appositions and sweeping generalizations
In the U.K., having shot into the workforce at age 12 as an actor, Michael Neill somehow landed in success-coaching – a bull’s-eye, in retrospect, as his wildly effective coaching practice overtook his merely extraordinary acting career. [JOURNALISTS: "Extraordinary" is always safe when you haven't a clue. No one is "ordinary." "Remarkable" is a versatile substitute.] Today, even semantic sticklers allow that Michael is “the foremost life coach in the world.”
On his Supercoach.com website, accolades adorn, blog posts bemuse, and best-sellers impress. We say: By all means buy the books and read the blogs, go to the events and breathe therein the consecrated air. Know, however, that in extremis there is a lazier way to sample Michael’s delicious wit and genuine wisdom, and that’s to listen to his weekly Hay House Radio program, Supercoach, airing Thursdays at noon (PT).
It’s fun and it feels kind of quaint to plan your afternoon around a radio event. We were three or four years old when the Campbell family acquired television. Unlike other American children of the late 1940s and early 1950s, we didn’t clamor for television. Fibber McGee & Molly on the radio was equal to our media lust. At supper’s conclusion, we were the youngest but not the only Campbell kid to glance guiltily around before licking the last ort from our plates and dash to the living room, hoping to catch at least part of the cheesy announcer’s (Harlow Wilcox’s) theatrical intro and Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve’s (Harold Peary’s) initial pomposity. For Fibber, we actually planted our chairs around the mammoth console radio, a major furniture item that contained radio guts plus turntable for our 78RPM records and about six cubic feet of empty air. We even looked at the radio, as if training for the rigors of watching TV. The radio did not play to be ignored back then but rather to command respect as high culture.
Like Fibber… like Amos & Andy and The Shadow… Michael Neill never disappoints.
We do, however, have an issue that touches him. It proceeds (1) from the spiritual ethos of Hay House Radio, in which we are steeped, and (2) from our journalism background. These converge in the expectation that anyone engaged in public speaking, reporting, broadcasting, and other interfaces with the citizenry, will communicate impeccably about events, situations, personalities, and other topics on which the reading public could easily be swayed; which is to say, all topics.
* My sister claims to have traced our Campbell ancestry through Arthur — mythic king of Britain (5th-6th century CE) — and Arthur’s father of legend, Uther Pendragon, to Constantine, Western Roman Emperor (not to be confused with the Byzantine Emperor Constantine), purported grandfather of Arthur. Accordingly, I’m trying to get used to the first-person-plural pronoun usage — that is, the “royal ‘we.’”
ADDENDUM, posted December 12, 2012
Below is an example of Michael Neill’s playing fast and loose with pronouns (“The Problem of Pressure, Part Two,” supercoach.com):
Most of us spend our time multi-tasking, with one eye on Facebook, a second on our inbox and a blind hope that our third eye will be able to take care of business. But when we have a deadline….
Well, need I demonstrate (as I could with very little effort) that “most of us” do nothing of the sort?
Ought I give numerous other examples (which are literally at my fingertips)…
…of the hoipolloi’s many regrettable propensities…
…of the myriad ways in which “most people” or “most of us” or (when space is short) “we” … have, yet again, not come to heel…
…in short, of how far “we” have fallen since Eden… I’m thinking, pretty much every overfed, undisciplined, malodorous, domestic-beer-belching, congested-nose-digging one of us, the sole exception being a humble peasant lad studying Mishnah as he herds sheep over the craggy peaks and precipitous vales of the Italian Alps…
Michael Neill, how could we behave otherwise, having been raised (as you observed on Supercoach earlier this year) “in a toxic culture”?
I had this “toxic culture” remark in mind in the summer when I wrote the following to Hay House Radio (as a side dish in a letter stuffed, baked, and decorated with praise and approval of station, authors, and hosts):
My antennae always go up whenever I hear someone say, “Our society” does such-and-such or, in particular, “Most people” act in such and such a way. Michael Neill, some weeks ago, was using the concept of “ordering off the menu” as a metaphor (I think) for doing something unthinkingly, and he commented that “most people would” [order off the menu]–which I thought unlikely.
Dr. Harra, Dr. Northrup, Dr. Dyer, and others — even Abraham! — have made remarks that I found a bit … cynical (thus out of alignment with much that Hay House stands for). In my experience, there’s not much you could say about “most people” that would be accurate, unless you’ve actually looked into “most people’s” eyes while personally interviewing “most people.”
I’m concerned less about language usage or even about journalistic standards here than about social intelligence…. To be continued
Born in 1947
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