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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A View on Balance: Yoga, Minds and Eyes

I went to yoga class the other day and after holding a difficult pose for a minute the yoga instructor asked us to switch sides. She calmed stated, “You may notice that this side feels different than the first one and that is okay. Just observe it, take note and let it go. Don’t judge the difference between the two sides.”

After hearing some groans and comments from the group about recent events, marches and demonstrations, the instructor gently reminded us that there are no politics in Yoga rather it is about centering and focusing. Yoga helps us balance and is about opening your body and clearing your mind.

Wouldn’t this be nice if we did this in our everyday life?

Being aware of the differences from all the different sides and viewing them with both eyes wide open and not filtering so strongly through our own biased lens.

I view my life as a continuous effort to remain in balance. Opposing forces are always around us and we are often asked to pick or support one side or the other. But why? Why is there always a binary choice? Why is one side viewed as always right and the other as wrong?

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After my yoga class experience, an interesting and apropos book was brought to my attention by Steve Smull, a thoughtful and insightful writer, with his clever commentary and posts on Facebook.

The book by Jonathan Haidt titled “The Righteous Mind” was published in 2012 and has an important and relevant message in the polarized and hyper-partisan world in 2017.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s Yin and Yang. Both sides see different threats; both sides are wise to different virtues”

My husband Steve created another insightful thread online this morning that ties into this theme and I’ll leave you with his words.

“I view the world through both eyes. I have a right eye and a left eye. People who pick one to look through and close the other are missing depth perception. I suppose it’s simpler that way.

I do close one eye when I look through a viewfinder to capture an image. But not before surveying the scene with both eyes open first.

I don’t know why people are so incredibly defensive about how great it is to see through only their preferred eye. OK, one of your eyes may be dominant, but that’s no reason to cover your other eye with duct tape.”

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A Tower of Change

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

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

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

Some overall meanings and themes of the Tower card include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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