The Big Tent: Toastmasters Center Ring

I am crafting the introduction to the Toastmaster section of my upcoming book, Strong Words and Simple Truths and wrote penned (literally in a paper journal with an ink pen) the short poem below. Words flow differently when you write them by hand. While awkward at first, they soon loosened up.

Toastmasters

Where Speakers are Sharpened and Words are Wondrous.

Where Leaders are Made and Alliteration is Alluring.

Where Communicators are Courageous and Friendships are Fostered.

Word Phobia Kills Creativity

Words have power. 

As a public speaker in Toastmaster clubs for over 25 years, I understand and appreciate the impact of a well-crafted phrase.   Words have the immense power to inspire, educate, persuade and entertain.

Now certain ideas, phrases and books are deemed inappropriate and unacceptable.   Entertainment in the form of humor and satire is slowly being extinguished.   The creative spark of many minds is being snuffed out.

In the name of “compliance” and “correctness” we have limited and constrained our ability to share and discuss ideas.  Only the government-approved ideas are allowed on the most powerful and prolific platforms.  Those in power control the narrative and are now limiting the free exchange and expression of thought.

Like the lockdowns of the past year, this is not a healthy trend.  The impact of the current silencing is devastatingly sad. 

Some say that laughter is the best medicine.  Entertainment and light-hearted comedy can help heal our lonely and wounded souls. 

Humor is a uniquely human superpower that is being taken away when we need it most.

Photo by Steve Smull

I do not condone angry, hurtful speech but the recent crack down on “violations of community standards” is a bit harsh and extreme in my view.  

Why do some powerful entities want to keep everyone so sad, anxious and upset?  Do they want people do remain lonely, isolated and frustrated?

More and more I am witnessing creative creators being suppressed.  These creators have been a shining light of entertaining wordplay and comic relief through out this year of dark fear and despair.  These fun and joyful voices are now stifled and suppressed. 

The fear of the virus is now being replaced with the fear of words.   The wide, rich and expressive vocabulary of the English language is being brutally pruned by oppressive control freaks.  

At the rate things are going, I soon won’t be able to write or speak the words “oppressive control freaks” without being banned or punished.

As I continue on my creative journey of expression, I hope that my courage and resolve remain steady and strong in the face of increasing pressure to conform and be quiet.

Word phobia is a sad new condition that I hope will be treated by an infusion of ingenious humor and reasonable common sense.

As the world begins to heal and open up, freedom will beget happiness.  Happiness is sustained by fun entertainment.  

Words have the power to entertain, let’s not take that potential away.

The Silence of the Lambs is a thrilling book, but I don’t want a world of the Quieting of the Sheep.

Photo by Steve Smull

Ways to Connect

There are many ways to get your message to others.

Written words, spoken words, gestures, music, songs, drawings, photos, smoke signals, flags and sign language are methods to communicate with others.

Today, I’m experimenting with a new way to connect.

Click below for my first 30 second emoji video.

More thoughts, ideas and messages to come in this short, fun format. There are so many cool animals and avatars to choose from.

Ernie our hedgehog is ready for Spring

Below is Ernie playing shuffleboard at a VFW post in Leander, Texas.

A Marvelous Facebook Universe

Step right up! Don’t be shy!  

Dare to venture into the wonderful world of social distortion, um, I mean media. 

Ah yes, social media, the place where healthy and productive conversations go to die.

If you are tired, frustrated and/or annoyed with your Facebook newsfeed, I have some good news for you.

I welcome you to join me as we enter Steve’s Emporium of Internet Delights.  My best friend and husband, Steve, has been the driving force behind what I’m about to share with you and I have been a behind-the-scenes contributor and co-administrator to these shenanigans.

Steve Smull, Creative Word Master

To revitalize your Facebook experience, I encourage you to check out the Groups.  

The well run, upbeat Facebook groups are where it’s at if you are looking for a positive, entertaining and creative place to let loose. 

Steve has created six lively Facebook groups that are cheerful, happy islands for people around the world. These communities are relatively small and have active, spirited participation.  Though the groups are lightly moderated with minimal rules from the admins, rude, intolerant or aggressive behavior is rarely, if ever, seen.

Below are the six zany groups that we shepherd:

  • Ernie’s Oasis– Started in 2016 as Ernie’s Fake News, this group is my all-time favorite and features the ongoing antics and silly stories of our adorable hedgehog Ernie (see photo above).  This humorous site is truly a happy-place getaway for many people. 
  • Dysfunctional Communicators– This newly formed group takes satire, sarcasm and word play to a new level.  Here the admins leverage their Toastmaster experience to assist with communication challenges.
  • Lame-0’s– A cross between Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Beavis and Butthead. Serious adults need not apply.
  • We Are Not Aliens From Outer Space– Out of this world photos and discussions of other galaxies.
  • Run Away and Join the Circus– A free-wheeling group with escapist themes.
  • The Reasons Why We Are Leaving This Group– A never ending list of reasons why people are exiting stage right.

If you are craving light-hearted banter, productive dialogues, satire, unusual angles, great photos and fun stories with witty wordplay in a tolerant, supportive environment, these Facebook groups and others like them are the place for you.

Come have a marvelous time in the positive Facebook universe where you get some relief from the stress and strife of tedious newsfeeds.  

 Ernie is waiting for you with a big cookie and a smile!

There are also various animals to help you be a better communicator.

How my Positive Pathway Project Led to Many Matrix Probes

In an effort to be more aware of my thoughts and be “more positive”,  I increased my focus, followed a new trail and ended up expanding my understanding of reality.

What started out as what I thought was a simple Toastmasters Pathways Level 3 project morphed into a complete reevaluation of my worldview.

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I feel like we are living in a multidimensional matrix where there are countless numbers of people plugged into a multitude of different “systems”.  Could it be that if you are connected to one system then you completely unaware of and can’t even communicate with people attached to other systems?

Is a shared view of humanity an illusion?  Are shared values possible?  Can there be positive national identities?

Is anyone truly aware of the genuine nature of the world or do we all have our own unique perceptions and lens with which to comprehend and experience it?

As author and heavyweight boxer Ed Latimore wrote in his book, Not Caring What Other People Think Is a Superpower,  “Many people have no desire to wake up.  They enjoy the lie and the comfort it brings.  As Morpheus said in “The Matrix”,  “The matrix is a system.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save. You have to understand,  most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to keep it”.

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As I pay attention to my thoughts and focus on trying keeping a positive outlook, I can’t help but wonder- is that even possible?

Is it realistic to be optimistic in the world today given the various limitations (blind spots) on our view of reality?  Or will our connection to the “system” provide us with the ability to stay content in a comfortably numb but happy bubble?

What about people who seem to be plugged into a system that keeps them perpetually upset, negative and anxious?  How will they become aware of a different and more productive matrix?

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I dislike the binary choice of a “blue pill” or a “red pill” and it is my hope that humans can wake up and take a “clear pill” so that they can see things in a perspicuous and unimpeded way.

How’s that for “staying positive”?

 

Coming Out of Lockdown

No one in the world was ready.

Not a single person was perfectly prepared for the tsunami named COVID- 19.
Some early warning was given, some was heeded, some ignored.  It was the Lunar New Year after all.

The consequences of so many leadership decisions worldwide in January and February 2020 will be analyzed and scrutinized for years. The unintended consequences will be felt for decades.

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Photo by Sean Sandoval on Pexels.com


The past 100+ days have been a challenge for everyone. The world is united in its suffering and we all are experiencing it our own unique way. Our own personal lens and experience defines how we view and perceive the dreaded coronavirus.

I’ve been hit harder on an emotional level than I thought I would be.

My writing had ceased. My creativity was squashed. The pandemic lockdown rocked my perspective.


I know I am not alone. My problems are not unique. I’m not a snowflake but I do feel more fragile than ever.


I am not alone. This sucks for a lot of people on the planet. But what choice do we have? We survive, we cope, we endure, we adapt. That’s what humans do.


I’m writing again, and you are some of the first people to read my words this year.
I am writing again and it won’t be perfect but it will be real, raw and heartfelt.


The reality is that I feel a rainbow of emotions each day. Some warm, some cold, many are red hot.


I’ve recently resolved to be more positive (it’s also part of a Toastmasters level 3 Pathways project) and I have to confess –  it is extremely difficult to be positive in the world today.


I’ve never had to isolate so much and sever my physical connections from my family and friends. It hurts.

But now, as July approaches, I have new resolve and clearer focus!

I endeavor to pay attention to these 4 areas:

  1. Creativity
  2. Grounding
  3. Writing 
  4. Discipline 

I was inspired by a great quote from Ed Latimore which proclaims “Self discipline is freedom”.  I like that since the only thing I can control is myself- my own behavior and habits.

And so, I work on myself and my reactions to the external and often negative input and stimulus.  I work on my own thoughts and actions and I pay attention to what I consume (digitally, emotionally and physically).

I don’t know what the future holds but at least I am writing again and I hope that this messages reaches a few people around the world and lets them know that they are not alone in their suffering. We are not alone in our difficult challenges.

I may not have been ready for this pandemic but I am certainly adapting and modifying my thoughts and behavior to survive the storm.

In closing, I’m looking over at the wall hanging in my office which says,

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass,

It’s learning to dance in the rain”.

– Vivian Green

I’m dancing and I’m writing and I hope that you will join me.

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The Real Meaning of Toastmasters- Reflection on 25 years,

As I write this blog, I’m sitting at the dining room table where a small group of my Toastmaster family gathered in November to share in the celebration of my 25-year anniversary in the organization.

That night, the room was alive with boisterous conversations and intriguing stories of experiences, heartaches and triumphs. The laughter was contagious and complimented the culinary delights that were passed around the table.

The only thing that got too heated was the tiny fire in the oven from my bacon wrapped scallops! This ridiculous oversight by the hostess, yours truly, will be the topic of many speeches and embarrassing stories to come.

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Jason, Don and Pat: before the flames!

The evening ended on a fun and creative note as we formed a large circle about the kitchen and asking asked each other Table Topics questions.  One of the most memorable responses came from a husband of a Toastmaster I work with.  His impromptu query was “Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin?” and he enthusiastically answered that he had seen both bands live and shared a short rainbow of memories. Also, he preferred Zeppelin!

A long time Toastmaster and past International Director, Don Griffith, asked me to talk about my journey in Toastmasters over the years and I happily shared my adventures of joining my first club, Word R Us, in Bentonville, Arkansas and how so many people have touched and changed my life.

When I joined this organization, I had no idea that I would have such an extended circle of amazingly talented and generous friends and colleagues. For this I am eternally grateful.

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The club I helped charter at Charles Schwab- Lone Tree, CO-  2015

In this time of deep and divisive polarization in America, it was heartening to see so many people come together in peace and good will, with the simple goal of celebrating a positive achievement. The group had two things in common, 1) we are part of the human race and 2) we are (or are spouses of) Toastmasters.

It is a rare, novel and happy occasion to have a group of people of such diverse political, religious and cultural backgrounds come together to simply laugh, plays games and tell stories.

After this milestone and event, I reflected upon the real meaning of Toastmasters that goes beyond the communication and leadership skills it builds in its members.

To me, the real meaning of Toastmasters is fueled by the authentic connections and camaraderie which lifts so many spirits and inspires so many to achieve their dreams.

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Great people from District 26, Colorado- Deborah, Mitch and Linda

The real meaning of Toastmasters is: 

People Sharing Life, Love and Laughter

Like a health tonic with the ability to uncover superpowers, Toastmasters clubs across the world are making a positive difference in this challenging and sometimes lonely world.

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A Christmas Party with friends from the Titan Toastmasters club in Lone Tree, CO

I was so happy to be able to celebrate my 25thAnniversary with so many special and talented people.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the next quarter century and I’ll be sure to cater the event to avoid a flaming surprise!

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The Courage to Communicate: From Bowling Alone to Better Angels

Being Aware

Bowling Alone

Bold Action

Better Angels

Add a “Q” and I give you Brenda’s Audacious Quest!

I now have the courage to communicate an important message and mission that I hope will resonate with you.

I feel that my 25 years as an active Toastmaster member has prepared me for this moment and I’m happy and excited to get started on a new and somewhat scary endeavor.

Written as a full sentence:

Over the course of time I became aware of the bold action needed to go from Bowling Alone to Better Angels.

At this point you may be asking-  what the hell am I talking about?

How much time?

What bold action?

What is Better Angels?

Simply put, my goal and quest is to help depolarize America.

What?

I want to improve our country’s health, one conversation at a time.

Why? 

Like many of you, I am saddened and tired of how divided we have become as a country.

Other reasons include my desire to:

  • Reduce our collective stress
  • Make our communities stronger
  • Increase civic engagement and bridging social capital

How?

I am an Organizer for Better Angels, a citizens’ organization that is uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. 

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So what does Bowling Alone have to do with this?

It all started in the early 1990s when I joined a bowling team called the Misfits.

I was living in northwest Arkansas in a town called Bentonville, the location of the world headquarters of my employer, Wal-Mart. 

To blow off some steam from my intense data center operations job, I joined a local bowling league and happily knocked down some pins every week with total strangers.  We named our team the Misfits and we proudly wore dorky, self- designed black T-shirts with a cheesy silk-screened logo. I had nothing in common with my teammates except the love of the game and the fact that we lived in the same state.  I didn’t remain in Arkansas for more than a few years but I have fond memories of the strong and happy social connections we shared.  Although we may have differed politically, religiously and socio-economically, we bonded and cared for each other.   To this day, I still love to bowl and miss my Misfit friends in Arkansas.

Bowling

The other major thing I did while living in Arkansas was join Toastmasters International.

My first experience was in a club called “Words R Us”. It was a diverse and jovial group ranging from southern Baptist preachers to Italian-American transplants from New York.  We all learned from each other and developed a wonderfully supportive culture of tolerance and inclusion.  The club was a true melting pot of ideas, styles and perspectives where everyone was welcomed and all views considered.  I remember enjoying the nights when we held actual debates in a point-counterpoint format.  Pastor Willie Brown was my favorite club member and I always enjoyed listening to his impassioned speeches even though I often disagreed with his point of view. His big smile and hearty laugh were many times the highlight of my week.

Another important and impactful memory I have is from a speech I gave in 2005 while I living in San Diego.   I was the Test Speaker at a Toastmaster Evaluation contest and the title of my speech was called “Bowling Alone”.  I remember using my bowling ball as a prop and discussing the importance and benefits of participating in bowling leagues and other community groups.  While stressing the importance of bridging social capital and community involvement, I lamented the fact that fewer and fewer people were joining and attending local clubs and events and this was having a negative effect on our country’s civic engagement.  My speech was inspired by the book by Robert D. Putnam titled “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” and focused how the reduction in all forms of in person social activities has caused a decline in social capital.   My message was powerful and I recall many people coming up to me after the speech to express their thoughts and concerns on the topic.

 

Five years after giving the “Bowling Alone” speech, I found myself living in Littleton, CO and a member of the Columbine Communicators Toastmasters club.   There I was again impacted and inspired by the events and people in the local community. The opening words of my presentation that cold day in 2010 were “another school shooting”.   My husband filmed this sober speech with its bold call to action and shared it on YouTube where it has been viewed 3,935 times.  The title of that speech was “Bowling Alone: How to Rebuild our Communities”.

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Fast forward nine years, two more moves and I’m living in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s 2019 and our country’s civil discourse is at crisis levels. 

The intense amount of polarization is startling to this socially engaged joiner of Toastmasters clubs across the county.  I never imagined that the United States of America would become so divided that friends and family members are not speaking to each because they support different political parties or candidates.

So here I am with my bowling background and public speaking experience, ready to try to bring people together to learn how to communicate again.

My audacious quest is simple yet lofty.

I want to help build bridges and real live connections to overcome our culture of contempt.

I want to help people to see the human faces of their family, friends and neighbors.

I want to help provide a safe environment and forum so people can begin to listen to the shared values and stories of those with whom they disagree.

I want to provide the skills and training for people to have productive conversations.

I want to bring together reasonable people of goodwill to have a sincere dialogue and a healthy competition of ideas.

I want to face fear and contempt with jovial strength and warm heartedness.

I want to listen and find common ground.

I want to disagree without being disagreeable.

I want to live up to Abraham Lincoln’s words below and be a Better Angel. 

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

My name is Brenda Smull and I am organizing a free Communication Skills Workshop in Phoenix, AZ on June 15th, 2019.

Please spread the word and let me know your thoughts on my audacious goal.

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My Compelling Blog: Part 8 (WXYZ)

This is the final post of My Compelling Blog series and the letters are WXYZ.

Words

Xenophile

Yoga

Zest

Words have power.

As a speaker, mentor and now writer, I have a great appreciation for the strength, meaning and impact of words.

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How you ever noticed how many quotes, rules and words of wisdom there are that refer to watching what words you use and how you speak?

Be impeccable with your word.- The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

Be precise in your speech.  12 Rules for Life, Jordon B. Petersen

Silence speaks when words fail.- Unknown

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Xenophile–  I like this word better than the more commonly used antonym, xenophobe.  A xenophile is a person who has a love of foreign people and cultures.  I like that.

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My friend Shardul, a xenophile and world traveler

Yoga– Some of my best friends have shared their zest for yoga with me.

Here’s a wonderful quote by Amit Ray that frames yoga and words.

“Exercises are like prose,

whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.

Once you understand the grammar of yoga;

You can write your poetry of movements.”

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Zest- I’ll end this compelling blog series like I started it- with great enthusiasm and energy.

My zest for writing and sharing thoughts, ideas and images is what keeps life interesting and I am glad that you have joined me on the journey!

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For those of you who love lists, here are the 26 words I have featured in my last 8 blogs:

Action

Bold

Creativity

Don’t

Encourage

Faceplants

Giving

Heroes

Inspire

Just

Keep

Laughing

Molding

Novel

Outlooks

Perspective

Quality

Reputation

Standards

Trust

Unites

Values

Words

Xenophile

Yoga

Zest