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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Words of Wisdom from Pink Floyd

 

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Link to Audio recording of this article

What are we waiting for?

Time is a funny thing. It passes so slowly when we are doing things that are hard, painful or unpleasant. But boy does time pass in the blink of an eye when we experience things that are fun, exciting or pleasurable.

This strange and relative perspective on time has been on my mind a lot lately as I reflect on the frequent news and Facebook posts about friends and family who leave this earth too soon.  What about all the things they wanted to do- all the things they had planned but will never have the chance to now?

So as I ponder the idea of our pending expiration date, I ask again-  What are we waiting for?

For words of wisdom, guidance and inspiration I went to my iTunes library and fired up one of my favorite bands, Pink Floyd and listened to the great song “Time” from the Dark Side of the Moon album.  The lyrics are universal and powerful and include lines such as:

“Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time.

Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines.”

Live performance of “Time” by Pink Floyd

Yes, time waits for no one and keeps marching on.

The question is – are you doing everything you want to do and are you everything you want to be right now or are you “ waiting for something or someone to show you the way”? 

I love Pink Floyd’s message and call to action in “Time” when they warned us “no one told you when to run;  you missed the starting gun”.

Well here I am with my starting bell [Ding], prompting you to get started right now with one small step to get you closer to where you want to be or what you want to do.

What are you waiting for?

Ding.

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

My Compelling Blog: Part 5 (MNOP)

Welcome to the Year of the Earth Pig!

This week millions of people around the world celebrated the Lunar New Year. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig.

Fun searching on Google tells us that “A pig represents luck, overall good fortune, wealth, honesty, general prosperity, symbolizing a hard working, a peace-loving person, a truthful, generous, patient, reliable, trusting, sincere, giving, sociable person with a large sense of humor and understanding.”

Part 5 of My Compelling blog series continues with the letters MNO & P which stand for Molding Novel Outlooks and Perspectives.

Scroll past the pigs to see some new ideas.

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Photo by Steve Smull

Random Thoughts and Suggestions

  • Feeling stuck or in a rut? Break out clay, Playdoh or coloring books.
  • Listen to Pink Floyd’s Animals album.  “Pigs on a Wing” and “Sheep” are two of my favorites songs.
  • Read interesting and thought provoking books like:
    • Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel
    • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
    • The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani
    • The Art of Dancing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • Listen to podcasts to get more in depth analysis and nuance an various subjects (Fresh Air, This American Life, Good Life Project).
  • Take a different route on your way to work or the grocery store.
  • Read Dilbert comic strips.
  • Instead of making lofty new year’s resolutions in January- try setting smaller monthly goals and objectives.
  • Don’t be afraid to wear silly hats.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Read about another country’s history.
  • Take more time to pet your cats, dogs, or other pets.
  • Ask a young child what they think about a specific subject.
  • Watch classic black and white movies.

 

 

My Compelling Blog: Part 4 (JKL)

Life is a crazy rollercoaster and sometimes you just have to laugh at the absolute insanity of it all.

This is why Part 4 of my compelling blog features the phrase “Just Keep Laughing”  for the letters JKL.   I thought this was more helpful and inspirational than “Just Kidding Loser” or worse yet, the dreaded “Just Kidding LOL”.  Is it just me or do you find LOL to be annoying?

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My Mom’s favorite express was “Live, Love, Laugh” and I always admired her warm smile and jolly laugh. She had a tough life with many challenges but she never let it get her down.

So when the crazy/mean/rude/obnoxious people in this world start making you feel like your head is going to explode, remember Just Keep Laughing!

Plus, as an added bonus, laughing has many health benefits for you, including:

  1. Reduces stress hormone levels
  2. Triggers the release of endorphins
  3. Increases your creativity
  4. Works your abs
  5. Boosts your immune system
  6. Lowers blood pressure
  7. Reduces anxiety
  8. Relaxes you and calms your mood
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Photo by Steve Smull

My Compelling Blog: Part 1 (ABC)

2019 is here and it’s time to change things up!  After six years of writing this blog,  I’m ready to step outside the fox and try something new.

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Red Fox in Colorado. Photo by Steve Smull

Thanks to the Toastmasters Pathways program, I am expanding my horizons as it relates to my communication and blogging skills.  To finish up Level 4 on the Effective Coaching path, I need to complete one (1) elective project from a list which included activities such as:  Create a Podcast, Managing a Difficult Audience and Public Relations Strategies.

For many reasons, I chose the “Write a Compelling Blog” project and am ready to take Strong Words and Simple Truths to the next level.

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My new challenge and project objective is to write 8 blogs in a one-month period.

Twice a week I will share my thoughts, ideas and insights on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I plan to use the alphabet as my guide and will run through the 26 letters in 8 weeks ( 3 letters per article with a big bang of V-W-X-Y-Z for the part 8 series finale).

Here we go with Part 1 of my Compelling Blog!

Starting with A, B and C.

WHAT

A- Action, take it.

B- Bold, be it.

C- Creativity, nurture it.

 

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HOW

Here are some tips on how to get started on your WHAT.

  1. “Just Do It’ is easier said then done! Getting going is often the hardest part of taking action.  I recommend starting with small, incremental steps.
  2. To boldly go where no one has gone before is great if you are aboard the USS Enterprise but a bit more daunting for us mere earthlings. A fun way to start being bold is by standing up straight and keeping your shoulders back.  Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose really works to improve your confidence!
  3. Young children seem to have an endless supply of creativity.  I encourage you to tap into this amazing energy and remember what you loved doing when you were 5 years old.

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WHY

The Why is very personal and will vary from person to person.

Knowing your WHY can help you with your HOW.  For me, I’m:

  1. I’m taking Action because I have a new goal I want to achieve this month.
  2. I’m being Bold because it feels good and helps me be more confident.
  3. Being Creative opens up my mind to new ideas and ways of doing things.

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My parting question to you is-  WHAT do you want to do this month and WHY?

How important is it to your health and wellbeing?

Hopefully these thoughts on Bold, Creative Actions will provide some wind to your back and help you achieve what you desire.