December 21, 2018 § Leave a comment
The venerable Oxford Dictionaries has announced its 2018 word of the year, and it’s toxic. (No, it’s not a toxic word, toxic is the word itself.)
Fun fact: Toxic comes from the Greek toxicon pharmakon, meaning “arrow poison.” So it’s actually the “archery/bow” part of the phrase (toxicon) that gives us today’s poisonous word.
Not-so-fun fact: According to Oxford Dictionaries, “In 2018, toxic has become a potent descriptor for the year’s most-talked-about topics.” The top-ten list of these topics, gathered from the dictionary’s corpus, includes pairing toxic with words representing the physical realm, such as chemical, substance, gas, waste, algae, and air. But it also includes words for the immaterial, such as masculinity, environment, relationship, and culture.
It’s this second category that I think of when I hear toxic associated with 2018—in particular the toxicity of social media. And I’m not the only one who thinks our online communities can be poisonous. Take, for instance, these headlines from the past year:
- “5 Ways to Tame the Social Media Toxicity in Your Life,” Forbes, February 26, 2018
- “Social Media: Breeding the Toxic?” The Times of India, June 18, 2018
- “Is Social Media Becoming Too Toxic?” Forbes, July 19, 2018
- “Toxic Social Media: 7 Reasons to Ditch Instagram,” Naturehub, August 21, 2018
- “Cloutlighting: From Online ‘Pranks’ to Toxic Social Media Trend,” BBC, November 2018
- “5 Toxic Social Media Habits That You Should Try & Unlearn ASAP,” Bustle, December 2018
- “Is Social Media Beneficial or Toxic to the Youth??” The New Times, December 6, 2018
- “Despite Official Threats, Toxic Social Media, Journalist Sees ‘A Battle We Can Win’,” NPR, December 15, 2018
- “Twitter Is Toxic Place for Women, Finds Amnesty International Report,” The Independent, December 18, 2018
Online toxicity takes many forms, but when it comes to dealing with internet-born hatred and virulent personal attacks, one person has come up with her own solution: face-to-face conversations. Her name is Özlem Cekic and she’s a former member of the Danish parliament. Born to Kurdish parents in Turkey, Cekic lived in Finland for two years as a young child after her parents moved there to work as caretakers in the Turkish embassy. Later, they relocated to Denmark when her parents took jobs there. As an adult, in 2007, she became one of the first females from an ethnic background elected as an MP.
It should come as no surprise that that distinction made her the target of a large amount of hate-filled email. In her TED Talk from last month, Cekic says that for a few years she responded with anger and fear, but then a friend suggested she call up her harassers to begin a real dialogue. She decided to try it and contacted Ingolf, the most prolific author of her hate mail. She first called him on the phone and later visited him in his home. “I ended up staying for two and a half hours,” she says. “And we had so many things in common. Even our prejudices were alike.”
She continued talking with Ingolf, and with many more who opposed her, and started promoting #DialogueCoffee meetings to encourage others to follow her lead. For the last eight years she has taught by example that we should stop demonizing people who disagree with us and engage them in conversation instead. And during that time, she’s “learned some valuable lessons” herself:
The people who sent hate mails are workers, husbands, wives, parents like you and me. I’m not saying that their behavior is acceptable, but I have learned to distance myself from the hateful views without distancing myself from the person who’s expressing those views. And I have discovered that the people I visit are just as afraid of people they don’t know as I was afraid of them before I started inviting myself for coffee.
In the list of online articles above, you can see there’s one called “Cloutlighting: From Online ‘Pranks’ to Toxic Social Media Trend.” Reading it, I learned what “cloutlighting” is. The word is a combination of clout and gaslighting and it refers to someone pranking a friend to get an emotional reaction or to start an argument. The cloutlighter then records the response and posts it on the internet. (It sounds like the kind of thing that a victim of Jimmy Kimmel’s I-ate-your-Halloween-candy prank might grow up to despise.)
Cloutlighting is a way to take someone you’re close to and use social media to push them away. Cekic, on the other hand, shows us how to take someone we’re distant from and use a cup of coffee to find common ground.
I sure hope cloutlighting doesn’t become 2019’s word of the year.
(“Word of the Year 2018 Is . . . ,” Oxford Dictionaries; Özlem Cekic, “Why I Have Coffee with People Who Send Me Hate Mail,” TED Talk, November 17, 2018.)
May 20, 2018 § Leave a comment
I’ve added another entry to my list of good-listening words from six years ago. It’s in the post “Conversation: noun, ‘a turning with.'” Here’s the addition:
acknowledge: “to admit understanding or knowing”
from Old English on, “into,” and cnawan, “recognize,” blended with Middle English knowlechen “admit”
How wonderful it is when someone hears honesty from your heart and acknowledges—with words or with the lack of words—the reality, the truth, the significance of what you are feeling.
[For a reminder on the importance of listening for those who cross cultures, go here to connect the dots.]
Are You OK? and Help! Two Things You Really Need to Learn to Say in Your Target Language [—at A Life Overseas]
September 27, 2017 § 2 Comments
When you visit a country where the people don’t speak your language, there are several important phrases you should know how to say: things such as “Hello” and “Goodbye,” “How much is this?” “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Can I have ice with my water?” But when you move to that country, the stakes become higher. The important words and phrases become deeper and more necessary and more . . . important. They’re usually not covered in the first five chapters of your language book, and you may not end up learning them until you come face to face with the need for them. At least, that’s the way it was for me.
Are You OK?
The streets in Taiwan give new meaning to the phrase flow of traffic. Outnumbering automobiles two to one, scooters zip in and out to fill in the narrow gaps between cars, and when they all come to a red light, they pile up at the intersection, waiting to spill forward again when the light turns green. Watch that whitewater river for long, and you’ll see quite a few accidents.
One morning while I was walking to language school in Taipei, I came up to one of the city’s crowded intersections and waited to cross. As several lanes slowed for the light, a lady on a scooter was unable to stop and broke through the pack, sliding several feet on her side. She wasn’t hit by anyone, but she was slow getting up. My first thought was to run over to her and see how she was. I didn’t make it, though. First of all, by the time I could cross the street, she was back on her way, though pushing, not riding, her scooter now. And second, I didn’t know what to say.
Yes, I knew the greeting “How are you?” but that’s not the right question for someone who might be hurt. I knew how to say several other things, too, but none of them seemed appropriate. I could imagine the woman’s horror having me, a foreigner, rush up to her in her time of need, letting loose with my vocabulary of “Hello. How are you? I’m an American. What part of Taipei are you from? What’s you’re favorite food? I like pizza.”
It’s one thing to be able to say the equivalent of How are you? Howdy, or What’s up? It’s another to go beyond trite formality, to ask a caring question and expect a heartfelt response.
Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .
June 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
Episode four of CNN’s Mostly Human is about tech-company entrepreneurs, but when I watched it, I couldn’t help but think about another kind of entrepreneur—cross-cultural workers. Both invest themselves in often risky start ups that can put pressure on their financial and emotional well-being. And both feel the need to live up to the expectations of stakeholders.
Jerry Colonna is a venture capitalist turned certified professional coach. He works in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, and he knows firsthand the prevalence of depression in the tech world and sees daily the mental-health toll that the start-up culture takes on its CEOs. In Mostly Human‘s “Silicon Valley’s Secret,” he talks about the disconnect between public success and private struggles, saying emphatically,
Nobody’s crushing it. Nobody is crushing it. Nobody is killing it. Nobody has it all figured out.
I have authority to say that because I’m honest with myself. It would be a mistake to think, Oh these poor little rich kids. Nothing that we have talked about is unique to the technology industry, but because the lens happens to be particularly sharp and clear right now. . . . It’s that the tech industry and the startup community in general brings to the surface forces that are at play in every aspect of our society. The human condition includes broken heartedness. The myth is that it doesn’t.
Author Anne Lamott, too, sees the reality behind the myth. She recently recorded a TED Talk with the title “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.” Her truth #4 is this:
Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. It will only make you worse than you already are.
Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them or get anyone sober. What helped me get clean and sober 30 years ago was the catastrophe of my behavior and thinking. So I asked some sober friends for help, and I turned to a higher power. One acronym for God is the “gift of desperation,” G-O-D, or as a sober friend put it, by the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.
And pastor and author Kyle Idleman writes that each week he gets to sit down with newcomers to his church and listen to their stories. “Typically,” he says, “we have two separate kinds of people in that room.”
There are some who have been around the church and God for a while. They know the rules. They know what to say and how to say it. They know what words to include and what parts of their stories to leave out. They’ve learned to wear a mask.
Then there are those who are new to Christ and the church. They haven’t learned the rules. And when they tell their story they will include a family that fell apart. It’s not uncommon for their stories to begin “I’ve been sober for . . . ” and sometimes it’s been years. Sometimes it’s been days. They don’t know any better. I’ve heard ex-cons talk about their crime. I’ve heard men of every age talk about pornography and women tell about credit card debt. Parents will talk about how much they are struggling with their kids. Kids will talk about how they’ve been lying to their parents and going behind their backs. They’ll tell about eating disorders, gambling problems, suicide attempts, and drug addictions. They just don’t know any better. And I hope nobody tells them that they’re supposed to act like they’ve got it all together. You don’t often get to see people without a mask. And it’s such a beautiful thing.
(“Silicon Valley’s Secret,” Mostly Human, Episode 4, CNN; Anne Lamotte, “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing,” TED, April 2017; Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, Zondervan, 2011)
March 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
Jon Weece likes to introduce people to each other. Often it’s telling large crowds about someone he knows. And as “lead follower” at Southland Christian Church, a megachurch in Lexington, he has lots of opportunities to address large crowds. I’ve known Jon since he was a kid, and I was glad to be able to hear him speak last month at Ozark Christian College, his alma mater, as it celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Jon, a former missionary in Haiti, keeps his eye out for people who need a helping hand. One of those people is his friend Donnie, and Jon told us his story. In his book Jesus Prom, Jon writes,
When Donnie was six years old, he watched his dad beat up his mom. The trauma of that episode locked Donnie into a permanent state of childlikeness. Though he is fifty-two years of age today, Donnie thinks and acts and communicates like a six-year-old. Donnie loves me, and I love Donnie. He has taught me a lot about love.
Donnie washed dishes at a local restaurant for two decades. Each Friday he would cash his paycheck, and each Saturday he would ride his bike from one garage sale to the next buying albums and paper novels and costume jewelry. Donnie has a Christmas gift list and 385 people on it. Donnie loves people, and people love Donnie—so much so that he spends his entire year Christmas shopping for all the people he loves.
Donnie doesn’t know a stranger. When he meets people for the first time, he hugs them. And he doesn’t let go! When Donnie hugs people, he holds on! And it doesn’t matter who you are; once Donnie learns your name, your name finds its way onto his Christmas list. From the mayor of our city to the homeless men in Phoenix Park, Donnie konws a lot of people by name.
Donnie looks a lot like love.
Love holds on.
Jon also introduces people to Donnie one on one. He said that when Tony Anderson, another OCC grad, contacted him to get together, Jon brought Donnie along. Tony lives in Lexington and is a successful film composer with a long list of commercial and documentary credits.
Before Tony had become established in his career, he took on his first project, a short documentary for Christ in Youth and Rapha House, a ministry working to eliminate child trafficking and sexual exploitation. The film Tony helped them with was Baht, about sex trafficking in Cambodia.
Tony later worked on another production for Rapha House, creating the score for Finding Home, a longer documentary following three young women who’d gotten out of the sex trade in Cambodia.
Tony’s career took off when Musicbed made his growing body of work available on their licensing site, and now his clients include Ford, TOMS Shoes, ESPN, and National Geographic. When Musicbed produced a video highlighting Tony, he put Donnie front and center (and, yes, that’s Tony’s music in the background). Tony says that Donnie is teaching him how to recapture the “childlike innocence and joy” that he’s let slip away. He’s also teaching him about opening doors, seeing the value of relationships over competition and deadlines, and “getting outside of” himself.
And finally, here’s one more example of Tony’s work. He composed the music behind this short film, Onward. It’s about a family in Western Mongolia and their tradition of hunting with eagles.
(Jon Weece, Jesus Prom: Life Gets Fun when You Love People like God Does, Thomas Nelson, 2014)
[photo: “Sitting by the Piano,” by Difei Li, used under a Creative Commons license]
December 28, 2016 § 1 Comment
I recently wrote about Steve Saint’s travels with Mincaye, when Steve—the son of martyred missionary Nate Saint—was logging thousands of miles on his way to speak to thousands. But that was before an accident in 2012, while testing an experimental wing at I-TEC, that left him as an incomplete quadriplegic.
Since then, Steve has openly shared about his struggles and pain. In a post he wrote last month at the I-TEC blog, Steve talks about his feelings of insignificance. “It is hard to feel very important when Ginny has to help dress me and when I need a bib at dinner time,” he writes. “But then when I’m lamenting that I no longer count I’ll get a letters from someone thanking me now for trusting God in suffering. Go figure.”
I’d like to add my vote saying that Steve still counts. I am so grateful for his honesty, for his willingness to be vulnerable. He is truly serving through his scars.
Here is how he begins his post:
About half of the time I can only function at about 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, with no warning I crash to about 1 or 2 in 10. I lose the tiny bit of feeling in my hands, the bands around my body begin to clamp down so tightly that I go into spasms just trying to stand up. But worse than the physical torment I struggle with, the increased pain is accompanied by an involuntary hardening in my “heart”. I sing along in church and hear preaching that used to move me, and I feel nothing.
But, the physical pain and spiritual feelings take second place to an almost constant sense that my life has no significance anymore. But I’m not the only one struggling to have my life count. . . .
I hope you’ll take the time to read the rest of “No Count People?”
And on the topic of letting others see us as we are—if you haven’t watched it yet (or if you’d like to watch it again), here’s Brené Brown’s TED Talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability,” in which she says,
I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.
(I’m sure this makes me a prude, but before you gather the kids around the computer to listen to a video that Uncle Craig recommended, please note that it has a touch of PG language.)
November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
By way of Mockingbird, I saw a c-ville interview with Lulu Miller, co-host of NPR’s Invisibilia, in which she speaks on the value of listening to authentic stories. Sounds as if she’s taken some lessons from Dick Gordon.
She’s often amazed at the things people reveal about themselves in an interview. It’s a reminder that when you’re vulnerable, “when you do show your worst side, that can be an act of humanity, because it shows everyone that everybody else is so deeply imperfect,” Miller says. “That can be such a gift, because sometimes people put up such a front.”
(I would think that a lot of the gifts she receives don’t have bows.)
Miller continues about not just listening, but really listening:
“Really listen,” Miller says. “Really show you’re with them. Sometimes people are almost shocked when they’re very closely listened to.” Once the person is a bit more relaxed, she says she starts poking and prodding gently.
“The range of people and their take on the world, that’s what never ceases to amaze me,” Miller says.
Invisibilia‘s most recent episode is titled “Outside In” and asks whether external change can produce inner change. In it, they talk to members of an all-female debate team in Rwanda. Following the genocide in 1994, the formerly male-dominated country was left with a population reported to be at least 70% female—because so many men had been killed, had been arrested for the killing, or had fled. To fill needed jobs, Rwanda legislated gender equality, without first going through a gradual change in culture. Has it worked? Invisibilia follows an all-female debate team as they push against long-held expectations. In one debate, by the luck of the draw, they had to argue the negative position on the topic “Developing countries should adopt Western feminism.” You can listen to the podcast to see how that turned out.
Another Invisibilia installment, “The Personality Myth,” is about the idea that personalities are more malleable than we commonly assume. It focuses in part on a woman who finds out about a TEDx event in the Marion Correctional Institution and meets a prisoner whose personality has seemed to change dramatically. One of the links at the podcast website is to an NPR article on personality tests, written by Annie Murphy Paul, author or The Cult of Personality Testing. If you can’t tell by the title of her book, Murphy Paul is not a fan of such things as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Simply put, she says that “human beings are far too complex, too mysterious and too interesting to be defined by the banal categories of personality tests.”
Even if you agree, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use your four-letter MBTI code for a little fun and games.
Speaking of fun and games, each episode of Invisibilia includes a downloadable coloring page of the episode art.
And finally, back to Miller’s listening skills: John Casey, professor in the University of Virginia creative writing MFA program where Miller studied, describes her in The University of Virginia Magazine as “extremely sympathetic and attentive, and people open up to her because she is open to them.”
Those sound like the qualities demonstrated by Shawn Braley and Chris Ashwell, who direct Cincy Stories in Cincinnati. Their project, inviting locals to tell their unedited stories, began when Braley, a church pastor, was looking for a way to connect with his neighbors. Braley was inspired by StoryCorps and The Moth, two more personal-story telling podcasts from NPR.
But, Braley tells Christianity Today, his main inspiration is “obviously” Jesus. “The marginalized people and the people on the outskirts: He loves them and just listens to them, and that’s why they’re drawn to him. We want to replicate that.”
We can see Jesus’ come-as-you-are attitude catching many people off guard in the pages of the New Testament, and Braley enjoys doing the same.
“What I see often,” he says, “is, ‘Wait . . . there is a pastor overseeing this, and you still let me tell my story?’”
For a taste of Cincy Stories, here’s Caitlin Behle, who says,
I’m still Asian as far as I can tell and I’m still adopted and I feel really good about it so that’s something that I haven’t really had to question . . . until this one time. So in November 2010 I went to Korea for the first time, like since I’d been born there. . . .
Erin O’Hare, “Lulu Miller on the Fulfillment of Making ‘Invisibilia,'” c-ville, November 9, 2016; Annie Murphy Paul, “Personality Tests Are Popular, But Do They Capture the Real You?” Shots, NPR, June 25, 2016; Michelle Koidin Jaffe, “Podcast People,” University of Virginia Magazine, January 19, 2015; Jennifer Ditlevson Haglund, “How Uncensored Storytelling Helped Cincinnati Churchgoers to See Their Real Neighbors,” Christianity Today, September 2016)
[photo: “Listen to the Radio,” by Mike, used under a Creative Commons license]
February 2, 2016 § Leave a comment
After 36 years, Leadership Magazine is calling it quits as a print magazine. The Winter 2016 issue is its last, as its parent company, Christianity Today International, is replacing it with a new section inside the pages of Christianity Today, and a future website, CTPastors.com.
Leadership is currently celebrating its history by counting down a series of “Top 40” articles, presented in chronological order, at the magazine’s site. Number 38, reprinted last week, is Eugene Peterson’s “The Unbusy Pastor,” originally published in the magazine’s second year.
It’s amazing to realize that Peterson has been writing about, and living out, his opposition to busyness for that long.
Two years ago I borrowed from Peterson’s article, using a quotation in a post I wrote about listening. I’m reposting it below, because Peterson on listening is worth reading again . . . and again.
Listening and the Spirit of Unhurried Leisure
That’s the mantra of many a boss.
That’s what coworkers say when the boss is coming.
Busyness isn’t always a synonym for work. In fact, busyness can get in the way of productivity.
Eugene Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible, The Message, also served as a pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years. One of the consistent themes in his teaching and writing is that pastors should not fall into the seductive trap of busyness. Instead, as he writes in “The Unbusy Pastor,” his goal in his role as a church leader was to do three things, things that are too easily pushed aside by a busy life: to pray, to preach, and to listen.
Listening, he says, needs “unhurried leisure.” This leisure is the opposite of busyness. And just as busyness does not equal work, neither is leisure the same thing as laziness. Instead, leisure is having time at one’s disposal, and when one chooses to use that time for listening to what someone else has to say, it is a very valuable gift.
The passage below was written by Peterson in 1981. It is about and for pastors, but it can help any of us listen better, unless, of course, listening is something else we’ve ceded over to the professionals.
I want to be a pastor who listens. A lot of people approach me through the week to tell me what is going on in their lives. I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so when they are through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they’re feeling and thinking.
Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren’t used to being listened to. I know how easy it is to avoid the tough, intense work of listening by being busy (letting the hospital patient know there are ten more persons I have to see). Have to? But I’m not indispensable to any of them, and I am here with this one. Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we’re on the job, being busy, earning our pay.
Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s for only five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambience of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance. Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to people. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?” The number of persons listened to must necessarily be less than the number spoken to. Listening to a story always takes more time than delivering a message, so I must discard my compulsion to count, to compile the statistics that will justify my existence.
(Eugene Peterson, “The Unbusy Pastor,” Leadership, Summer, 1981, also in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, reprint edition, Eerdmans, 1993)