Tag Archives: Huffington Post

Pizza or Salad for Lunch?

wicked witch of the west

A while back, I listened to Michael Neill explaining “our personal guidance system” on his HayHouseRadio.com program, Supercoach: It’s the guidance system that tells us we want pizza for lunch today and we’ll want salad for lunch tomorrow.

Michael Neill often uses wonderful, improbable metaphors that completely nail the concept he’s illustrating. On another Supercoach radio program he addressed a caller’s fears about a career change. He asked us—the audience and the caller—to imagine a child drawing a fox and then starting to cry because the fox is hungry.

One way to calm the child, Michael pointed out, would be to suggest that she draw a couple of hens for the fox to eat. I actually prefer this solution to the alternative: Helping the child understand that the fox isn’t real… nor, by implication, did the caller’s job-related fears represent a genuine threat. The caller had essentially, Michael is saying, made up a story about the dangers of changing careers—dangers existing only in her thoughts—and had reacted with heart-stopping fear to the phalanx of imagined catastrophic outcomes.

This metaphor I understand, even though I favor the hens-as-supper scenario. But I could not possibly trust a personal guidance system that would lead me to pizza one day and salad the next. This PGS is supposed to be intuitive rather than logical. Michael Neill often reminds us that our inner wisdom is more reliable than our thinking. But no actual person in the actual world who intuitively selects pizza on Monday is going to intuitively opt for salad on Tuesday unless pizza has suddenly become unavailable in the western hemisphere.

If a woman—I’ll call her Maxine—who owns a scuba-diving shop goes out to lunch regularly, and equidistant from her shop are a pizza place and a salad bar, and she likes pizza, she’s never going to “prefer” salad. Maxine never says to herself, “Yeah, that pepperoni with its seductive sheen of animal fat on top of cheese bubbling in its own oils, throat-paralysis-inducing jalapeños, and the greasy onions that cause water buffalo to flee from my approach—that was magnificent; but today I’m in the mood for watercress.” Maxine chooses salad on Tuesday only because of guilt or logic, not intuition. Guilt says, “You pigged out on pepperoni yesterday, darling. You can redeem yourself only by choking down some locally grown dark-green leafy vegetables today, with a smattering of almonds and a soupcon of lemon juice.” Logic says much the same thing but without the snark.

What can we infer from this about our PGS? Does it operate on intuition or by logic? If we tune in to it, will it lead us to our bliss except for now and then to the obligatory kale and hummus?

My PGS leads me unfailingly to yogurt and granola; guilt garnishes it with a few fresh strawberries. I even make the yogurt and granola myself, but by the time I’m finished with them they contain roughly the same nutritional value as rocket fuel.

When I remove my batch of yogurt from the yogurt-maker, it’s pure as the driven snow and tastes terrible, like skim milk laced with vinegar. I empty the jars of pure yogurt into a mixing bowl and add a quarter of a cup of stevia; the yogurt is marginally tastier and still virtuous. Then the fun begins. One package of instant vanilla pudding mix plus a half-cup of Cool Whip later, most of the nutrients have been canceled out by sugar, dextrose (sugar), high-fructose corn syrup (really bad-for-you sugar), disodium phosphate (Na₂HPO₄), tetrasodium pyrophosphate (Na₄P₂O₇), mono– and diglycerides (E471), polysorbate 60 (polyoxyethylene [20] sorbitan monostearate), and titanium dioxide (CI 77891).

I don’t mind saying, the resultant “yogurt” product tastes great, but if you don’t like it, you can probably use it to unclog your drains or clean your oven.

About high-fructose corn syrup

In a Huffington Post article titled “Why You Should Never Eat High Fructose Corn Syrup,” author Mark Hyman claims that “purging it from your diet is the single best thing you can do for your health!”[1] Because the way HFCS is made “allows the fructose to mainline directly into your liver,” it turns out that “high fructose corn syrup is the real driver of the current epidemic of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, dementia, and of course, Type 2 diabetes.” Add in the “dangerous chemicals and contaminants” used in making HFCS, and you’ve got a real toxic stew in your system. Mark Hyman doesn’t come right out and say that ingesting high-fructose corn syrup is worse than smoking cigarettes, but I have a feeling that if you lit a cigarette right after a hearty meal of HFCS with a side dish of tetrasodium pyrophosphate, you’d burst into flames or simply melt in place, like the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy doused her with water.

With my having this knowledge, you’d think my personal guidance system would steer me far, far away from the lethal “yogurt” concoction I cheerfully produce on a regular basis. Logically, if there’s “yogurt” in my refrigerator, my body should be in Zanzibar. Michael Neill underestimates the mind’s capacity for self-deception. After a week of such meals, if I’m troubled by guilt buildup, it doesn’t propel me to the salad bar. A sprig of parsley is usually enough to quell any regrets.

Either my PGS is on the fritz or Michael Neill—like the Wicked Witch of the West—is all wet.

[1] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/high-fructose-corn-syrup_b_4256220.html

WANTED: A MEETING OF MEANINGS

Communicators Have Reason to Be Cranky

paper-dolls

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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….

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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.

Red-striped-pants-FRONT-UPPER

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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.

Blue-loose-knit-sweater-front

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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.

nightshirt-red-top

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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.

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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.

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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.

Annie-Oakley-ReadyAimFire

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

  • read
  • understood
  • believable
  • persuasive

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.
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For sale now on eBay… free shipping… ends Sunday evening, Dec. 2

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

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Postscript

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)