A Book Is Born!

I did it!

I published my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate, on Amazon today.

To those who have been following and reading my blog over the past 8 years, I thank you for your interest and support of my thoughts, ideas and stories.

Words can not express the joy and elation I am feeling today. This is my baby. My legacy. My tribute to my family, friends, fellow veterans, and Toastmasters.

Over the last few months I have created new content and stories to weave the last 8 years of articles together. The book has 8 Chapters (Epics/Themes) where I grouped the over 80 blogs.

The chapters are: Communications, Toastmasters, Creativity, Veterans, Gratitude, the 1980s, Agile, and Science/Health.

What is the book about?

  • Courage, Communication and the American Spirit
  • Strength, Tolerance and Respect
  • Balance, Perspective and Change
  • Science, Health and History
  • Gratitude, Remembrance and Joy
  • Truth and Common Sense
  • Heroes, Adventure and Fun
  • Veterans, Poppies and Honor
  • Creativity, Toastmasters and the 1980s

An amazingly talented young woman illustrated the book with a fun circus theme that my mascot Ernie the Hedgehog endorses. Kudos to Alex Delit Garcia for her great work.

I don’t know what is next but boy am I excited and energized to share this news with you.

If you would like to purchase this fun compilation with a new, creative adventure throughout, please click on the image below for your very own copy. Here’s the book’s website.

Thank you!

What’s It All About?

Since 2013, I’ve been sharing my thoughts, ideas and stories on this blog. I enjoy writing and will continue to post here with fun and interesting photos that are harder to share in a printed book.

As I have stated in my last post, I am about to publish my first book on Amazon and have been mentally preparing for the inevitable question- What is the book about?

Since Strong Words and Simple Truths is a compilation of nine years of articles on a wide range of subjects, the answer to that query is not fitting into my normally pithy response box.

During my bike ride this morning, I came up with the following bullets to describe what the book is about.

I hope to have it live on Amazon in October 2021. Please check out www.thecouragetocommunicate.com for more details.

  • Balance, Perspective and Change
  • Strength, Tolerance and Respect
  • Science, Health and History
  • Gratitude, Remembrance and Joy
  • Creativity, Toastmasters and the 1980s
  • Heroes, Adventure and Fun
  • Truth and Common Sense
  • Veterans, Poppies and Honor
  • Courage, Communication and the American Spirit
Illustration by Alex Delit Garcia

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

Now More Then Ever- The Importance of the American Legion’s Mission

In this time of Covid-19, the mission of the American Legion is more critical than ever. As the nation’s largest veterans service organization, the wide reaching programs should be increasingly mobilized to meet the members’ needs.

Two pillars of the American Legion’s mission statement stand out to me as being the most important during these challenging times:

  • Devotion to fellow service members and veterans
  • Advocating patriotism and honor

In this time of lockdowns, loneliness and isolation, we need the continued devotion to our fellow members to keep everyone’s spirits up. The health and wellbeing of millions of veterans is the focus and our selfless service to others will keep our communities strong. 

Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

In this time of disunion and polarization, we need to be advocating positive patriotism and honor.  By rallying around a common objective we can strengthen America in its battle against the coronavirus.

Now is the time to unite around our shared values and binding symbols, the stars and stripes of the US flag. Now is the time to set aside political differences and take care of each other.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The headwinds we face as a nation are great but I remain confident that we will overcome and rise to the occasion.   The United States has faced countless challenges in our 245-year history and the patriotic, generous and giving spirit of Americans won’t be shaken.

I’ll leave you with words from Johnny Cash’s song “Ragged Old Flag”

“In her own good land here she’s been abused 
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land

And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in

‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right

On second thought, I do like to brag
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.”

Photo by Steve Smull


Wise Wishes: 3 Gifts for 2021

As millions of people around the world celebrate Three Kings Day and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, I reflect upon the power of three.

As is written in the Bible’s Book of Matthew, three kings/wise men/magi came from the east to Bethlehem to present three gifts to a new born child named Jesus.

If you were magically granted three wishes, what would they be?

More than anything, I want the following three things for our world in 2021:

  1. Trust
  2. Courage
  3. Common Sense

These simple values are mighty and powerful and are sadly in short supply.

The global pandemic of 2020 has frayed the fabric of society’s faith and confidence in so many governments and institutions.

I pray that our world leaders, families, friends and neighbors can receive this trinity of goodness.

Trust, courage and common sense are invaluable in the face of today’s immense challenges.

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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Respecting the Roses and the Violets

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

Though we may disagree,

I respect you.

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I’m a Coordinator for Better Angels which is a citizens’ organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.

The group’s mission is to:

  • Try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it
  • Engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together
  • Support principles that bring us together rather than divide us

To learn more about Better Angels click here.

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 7 (TUV)

Welcome to Part 7 of My Compelling Blog where the featured letters are T, U and V.

I had the hardest time choosing three words this time.  So many words, thoughts and concepts have been swirling in my head this past week and in the end, after countless lists and sticky notes, I landed on Trust Unites Values (with Vision and Voice).

Okay so there are 3 V words, you’ll see why in a moment.

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Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States

I’ve always been inspired by the leadership and oratory skills of the many great Presidents of the United States and since today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, I thought it fitting to share this perspective and story which was featured in the LA Times.

Below is an excerpt of an article by David Blackenhorn, President of Better Angels titled “ Today’s leaders should ask themselves:  What would Lincoln do?”

“In 1865, when Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address, the Civil War was nearing an end, and he was already thinking about how “to bind up the nation’s wounds.” In that same address, when he urged “malice toward none,” he meant it.

Throughout his political career, Lincoln rejected dogmatism, embraced pragmatism, and sought compromise, something that often didn’t sit well with those he considered his allies. 

Lincoln chose humor over vitriol and understanding over judgment. He liked telling stories more than delivering lectures and making suggestions more than issuing orders. A strong, confident man, but one who also experienced dark depression, Lincoln was mild-mannered. His capacity for empathy was striking to those around him.

Lincoln had important flaws, but was providentially suited to his times. In a time of disunity, he tried to remind Americans what united them.

Amid conflict, he sought conciliation.

Amid anger, he advocated “charity for all.”

Amid despair, he summoned “the better angels of our nature.”

On his birthday, today’s leaders would do well to contemplate his wisdom.”

Link to LA Times Article

And so it was honest Abe who was trusted by millions of Americans to unite a fractured nation.  He used Trust to Unite our Values with his Vision and Voice.

It is my hope that our nation’s leaders today choose humor over vitriol and understanding over judgment.  I can dream, right?

I wish you all a safe and happy President’s weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Respect and Inclusion for Veterans in Corporate America

Respect and Inclusion for Veterans in Corporate America

Trust, Respect and Inclusion. While these values may seem to be waning in American society today, they are valued more than ever by employees who yearn to be part of collaborative teams that make a difference and positive impact in their organizations and communities.

In a time of increasing disunity and fractured social groups, it is heartening to know there are companies and employee networks that promote inclusion and diversity with the benefit of development and engagement in our communities.  Like many people today, I crave a sense of belonging to something greater than myself that shares a common vision and objective.    With Charles Schwab and its many Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), I am one connected and happily engaged team member.

As a US Army veteran, I am proud to say that Schwab walks the talk when it comes to fostering and supporting Diversity and Inclusion networks.  Our teams meet frequently and have strong executive support to provide a wide array of programs, events and services.

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What many veterans miss most from their time in the military is the sense of camaraderie, cohesion and support from their units and teammates. These bonds are strong and are established all over the country in Schwab’s Military Veterans Network (MVN) groups (over 550 members).

This sense of team and connectedness is important to me since, as an IT professional, I have relocated many times and I always felt welcomed, appreciated and assisted by the local MVN chapters.  These groups come together with shared experiences and unite under common goalsand priorities.  The teams work as a cohesive unit to actively engage with the community and non-profit organizations to help fellow veterans and their families.

The trust, respect and inclusion the MVN fosters continues to grow and we are strengthened by the feeling that “we are all in this together” or as my Navy friends tell me, “we are all in the same boat”.

Being of service to others and giving back is another key driver for many members of the MVN and our volunteer efforts are supported by all levels of management.  Whether it be serving Thanksgiving dinner to homeless veterans at the Phoenix U.S. Vets facility,  assisting at the annual Arizona Stand Down or painting rooms to shelter those in need, our motivated ERG teams are ready to meet the call.

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Charles Schwab has given me the opportunity and the honor to work with many veteran focused non-profit groups including Project Sanctuary, American Legion, VFW and Heal The Hero.

Through solid action and commitment, employers that walk the talk on supporting veterans can gain something back — the loyalty and positive engagement of those former service members. Trust, Respect and Inclusion are truly wonderful gifts that keep on giving.

This quote from Air Force veteran Terrance Purcell sums up what I think is most important impact of ERGs, “All of these things really touch my heart and make me proud to be a Schwab Military Veteran Network member.”