There are over one hundred and seventy thousand commonly used words in the English language, but most people employ just a fraction of them in their daily lives. Many people yearn to find and articulate the truth. The courage to communicate has many meanings; each of us struggling to get our voices heard brings our own understanding and desires to the process. I bring my understanding of communication and wish to be heard to this book.
Growing up in a large family in the northeastern United States, I learned the value of direct and powerful communication. I still appreciate the emphatic and heartfelt style of my New Jersey upbringing and have spent my adult life honing my skills through key programs, paths, and career choices.
I believe that strong words have the power to catalyze change, that direct communication has value, and that words have energy.I believe that words are best when they are consumable, easily understood, and impactful.
I also believe that simplicity in communication is elegant. Simple is clear and honest and true. The most delicious recipes have five or fewer ingredients. My Mom’s delicious rice pudding comes to mind. But alas, communication is not always as simple as a recipe.
From this understanding came the title of my first WordPress blog, Strong Words and Simple Truths, which I began writing in 2013. The title encompasses everything I believe about communication, and I have not changed the focus or intent of the phrase in my nine years of blogging.
I always have an idea that I’d like to share, so I’ve continued thinking, speaking, and blogging about communication since 2013. I am rarely at a loss for words.
Some of the articles I published on my blog were adapted from speeches I gave at Toastmaster meetings. Other times, I would challenge myself to convert a blog article into a speech. I found the challenges of the back-and-forth creations fun and fascinating. This process taught me the important lesson that the spoken word is quite different from the written word, and through this hard work I learned to be more flexible and creative in my communication style.
This book invites you to accompany me on a journey of discovery through a curated selection of over eighty articles from my blog. When I decided to compile these articles into a book, I knew that the same title, Strong Words and Simple Truths, would perfectly express what I am trying to convey. Little did I know when I started writing my blog that the extreme events of 2020 and 2021 would make my pithy title and subtitle all the more relevant and important.
So here I am, sharing in the most powerfully vulnerable way I have ever attempted. Blogging and public speaking are one thing, but publishing a book has brought me to a whole new level of commitment to my beliefs and my message.
The format of this book was inspired by author and fellow veteran, Ed Latimore. His book, Not Caring What Other People Think Is a Superpower: Insights from a Heavy Boxer, was an outstanding compilation of his tweets, which includes strong and powerful lessons of life.
In this book, I blend the creative power of agility, communication, history, and science to create a patchwork quilt of my ideas, stories, and dreams.
I am honored to share the stories of the people and personalities who shaped who I am today. While I may not have been completely fearless as a child, the role models I emulated were feisty, strong, and spirited. Many of the themes in this book were inspired by my mom, Virginia, my brother, Bill, and my sister, Barbara. During elementary and high school, I was encouraged and guided by many amazing and motivational teachers and coaches.Ihad role models from the entertainment world as well. I desired to be as daring as Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett and as strong as Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman.
These role models were heroes to me, and they inspired me to branch out and achieve the substantial and audacious goals I set for myself. I hope they will inspire you to do the same.
As a young adult, I had two different career aspirations. In high school, I wanted to be a medical doctor. After college, I considered becoming a science teacher.The common thread through my life is the desire to help people, share knowledge, and train others to learn new skills.
In this book, I’ll also share lessons from mymilitary service, which taught me the importance of KISS- Keep It Simple Soldier (or Stupid as some would joke). As a US Army Signal Corps officer, I supported combat and support units on the battlefield with precise and effective communication infrastructure and procedures.When lives depend on clear, concise, and timely messages, you learn to value their quality greatly.
My wish is that you find this book entertaining and educational, and I hope that it motivates you in creative and unique ways. I also pray that these words, thoughts, and expressions pay adequate tribute to the brave and selfless heroes in our world.
I have grouped the blog articles into eight sections. Each article includes the original publication date and appears as it originally appeared on the blog (with some proofreading to correct minor issues). I stitched the articles together much as a quilter would piece together colorful fabrics to create an intricate and appealing pattern. To keep things fun, I chose a theme from the magical world of the circus.
The sections of this book represent the main interests, influences, values, priorities, and passions in my life, each linked to a symbolic element from the circus.To aid the reader in remembering the sections and their symbols, I created a brief tall tale to open the book.
Strong Man—Veterans, Remembrance and Traditions
Laughter—Connections and Gratitude
Animals—Science and Truth
When you read the Table of Contents, you can think of it as a menu for a smorgasbord dinner which allows you to select the topics that most appeal to you. It’s a collection of various perspectives, angles, and tastes.
Come on, let’s run away and join the circus for a few hours!
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.
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.
The shift in energy has been swift and dramatic. This thought has been on my mind for months prior to the great Texas blackout of February 2021. Having lived in Austin for short time, I empathize with the plight of millions of people who were at the mercy of mother nature, unreliable technology and incompetent business and government leaders.
My original idea for this article started with these three lines:
Energy is Currency
Currency is Money
Follow the Energy
I was planning to address the main patterns and trends I have observed since the US Elections in November 2020, namely the shifts in:
Social energy and influence- communication and persuasion
Distribution of energy- wealth and power
Suppression or enhancement of energy- fossil fuels and renewables
Now, as I reflect on the physics book definition of energy and power, I have chosen to take a different angle. More on the three points above will come in Part 2 of this Energy blog.
While energy is the capacity for doing work and the ability to create change, power is energy per unit of time. These technical definitions can be applied to people, communities and governments.
I have been drawn to the concept of energy for weeks. Call it the Law of Attraction but my increased attention on the idea caused a sharp increase in energy related experiences in my life. Everywhere I look, I see energy analogies and references.
The word energy is a noun with 9 meanings (like my cat) while the word power has 20 meanings as a noun and 5 has a verb.
Power and energy are hot topics in the news and I can’t help but draw some parallels between what is happening with shifts in physical energy (potential and kinetic) with the dramatic changes in human energy (social and spiritual).
As world leaders create pacts and sign accords in an effort to reduce the impact of climate change on the planet, major changes in our fuel sources are being proposed. Renewable energy is all the rage as fossil fuels and nuclear energy are vilified. Wind and solar power are being elevated and pushed to replace coal, oil and natural gas. Our fuel mix is changing as painfully displayed during the Texas/ERCOT energy crisis of this month.
Our social fuel mix has also been dramatically altered. As an extrovert, I used to derive a good amount of energy from real, live interactions with others. Now, after 11 months of relative isolation, my energy levels are low. My ability to do work is diminished. My public speaking skills are stalling out and running on fumes.
As millions of Texans huddled in their homes for days without electricity or running water, I kept thinking, why didn’t ERCOT and the government plan ahead more for these situations. What were the contingencies plans if multiple lines of energy sources fail?
Taken to the human and social energy level, what have we done to replenish our emotional fuel sources that have been so abruptly and drastically reduced?
While Zoom meetings and online happy hours are trying to fill the gaps and maintain social connections, they are about as energizing as a Texas wind turbine on a 25 degree day.
Humans are social creatures by nature and need personal interactions to maintain healthy relationships and strong immune systems.
So as I enter an empty office building each day, I long for the in-person collaboration meetings and hallway greetings and interactions. Giving a speech in front of a live audience is something I crave more than chocolate. My Toastmaster clubs’ membership levels are anemic as we wait patiently for an infusion of energy. More than ever, I appreciate the power of human interaction and communication.
Like coming out of a freeze-induced power outage, I hope that the COVID-19 isolation impacts will thaw soon and allow us to recharge with the amazing energy of smiles, hugs and personal interactions.
When my Mom entered it room, it lit up with her smile. I miss her dearly and know that many people are craving that form of warmth and love.
A positive shift in energy and focus is needed to maintain the crucial connections that keep our communities strong.
The power of human interactions is sustainable and renewable and should not be neglected during times of crisis.
So much can be solved by identifying the underlying cause of a problem.
Treating or masking the symptoms does not help prevention or long term recovery.
Whether your challenges are medical, financial, technical or personal relationship related, getting to the root cause is critical to resolving them.
My team at work spends the majority of their time conducting Incident Reviews and Root Cause Analysis sessions where we investigate and discover what went wrong, why did the IT system fail and what can be done to prevent reoccurrence. The most important part of the process is the peeling back of the onion by asking multiple Why questions. The Five Whys is an effective methodology that can be applied to all aspects of our lives.
Top of mind for the majority of the planet’s population is the concern and fear of COVID-19. How can we best treat it? How do we prevent it?
While I am hopeful that the new vaccines will stem the spread of the virus, I wish that more attention would be given to the underlying health conditions that are severely hurting (and killing) certain populations in a disproportionate manner. Instead of obsessing over masks and lockdown effectiveness, why aren’t the WHO, the CDC and our government officials screaming from tops of the trees that a healthy weight and lifestyle are the best weapons against this disease. The word comorbidity seems like a polite, PC way to say unhealthy. The underlying cause of the most prevalent health risks are a poor diet and exercise habits and unfortunately, being in lockdown does not make it easy to eat well and work out.
If the root is not known, the cure won’t be shown.
Oh how I wish we would spend more time and energy to identify the underlying reasons of why a problem or bad condition has occurred.
Remember, the cause is the key to protect you and me!
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.
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.
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.”
Each day we make hundreds of choices and decisions regarding our health and safety.
If there’s one thing I learned in the year 2020 it is that every human being has a different risk tolerance. Everyone on this planet has a unique set of personal scales and internal measurements when it comes to assessing the risk of any given action versus the benefit or reward of it. Each person has their own fears, neurotic tendencies and defense mechanisms. Every individual is as distinct as a snowflake when it comes to Risk Management.
Welcome to Risk Management where in the real world there is little conformity among billions of inquiring minds!
Looking back, I realize that my first lesson in risk management (risk vs. reward) occurred when I was 10 years old. While riding my shiny new Huffy ten-speed bicycle, I took a turn too quickly and hit a patch of sand. This resulted in my crashing to the asphalt and receiving my first, full arm road rash. I suddenly understood that risky actions can sometimes lead to unpleasant consequences. I soon realized that I had to improve my bike handling skills and look out for hazards in the road in order to be safe and prevent bodily injury.
The risk of crashing aside, my passion and love of bike riding has continued throughout my adult life as I pursued numerous criterium, cyclocross, track, road and mountain bike races. All of these events had a high of level of risk for injury but my desire to have the thrilling reward outweighed my concerns. I was willing to take my chances knowing that I had prepared, trained and did what I could to mitigate bodily harm. I always wore a high quality helmet to protect my head but that didn’t help when I faceplanted onto a rock in the mountains of southern California. The helmet didn’t do much when I crashed in the final turn of a road races and got run over by the rider behind me. If you race bikes enough, you will crash but that is the risk that many people take for the reward of the experience.
The importance of the rewards and/or benefits of an activity also varies greatly among people. No one has the exact same set of values.
I, like many cyclists, have modified my bike riding patterns to account for the increased risk of getting hit by a vehicle on the road. To save my skin and bones, I primarily ride on dirt paths on my mountain bike, far away from distracted drivers. At least the rocks and cacti are stationary and don’t come up behind me at 80 mph!
At this point you may be asking, what does Brenda’s story about biking riding have to do with the decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine?
Why am I comfortable with the decision to take a newly developed vaccine that only has Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA?
It’s simple. It’s Risk Management.
Based on my experience and background in Biochemistry studies in college, jobs in clinical research/pharmaceutical companies and recent investigation and inquiry on the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, I am making the best-informed decision for myself.
In a nutshell, below are the main reasons why I plan to take the new vaccine once available to me:
I want to be able to travel and visit my family without worrying about contracting and spreading the virus.
Messenger RNA has been studied and worked on for many decades and holds the potential to revolutionize vaccination.
The delivery mechanism of the mRNA using a Lipid Nano Particle (LNP) is way cool.
The immune response that is being enhanced is targeted for the specific spike protein on the “business end” of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus.
The COVID-19 virus is unpredictable and contracting the disease can result in unknown and longer-term effects that are not fully understood at this point.
The effects of revving up my immune system to defend against this novel virus is controlled and short lived. I’ll take 24 hours of unpleasant discomfort over 5-10 days of uncertain outcomes.
The FDA clinical research phases that were accelerated were primarily bureaucratic waste/red tape and the extended times it normally takes to enroll people into the clinical trial (phases 1 and 2).
The Pfizer and Moderna phase 3 trials were controlled, randomized and double-blinded studies with over 41.000 and 30,000 participants respectively.
So whether it’s the decision to ride a bicycle on the road, go to the holiday party, wear a mask or take the newly developed COVID-19 vaccine, we all need to weigh the risks and the benefits of our choices.
How much risk you are willing to take is a very personal calculation based on your unique circumstances, fears and desires. Only you can make the determination regarding what is most important to you.
I encourage you to actively research and study on as many neutral, science-based sites and publications as you can find in order to fully understand the biology, the history and the implications of taking the new vaccine.
Listen to a wide range of medical, clinical research and industry professionals to get all sides of the story before you run the information through your personal Risk Management filter.
And lastly, follow your gut. I have found that the little voice inside your head that instinctively tells you what is safe and good is usually right.