The art of civility

My nieces – Tiffany & Kirsten Dunia helping with my article this week

“It takes more courage to be civil than to bellow fits of anger”

Last week’s article focused on the right of free speech and what that may or may not include. If you’ve been paying any attention to the news or social media, there can be no doubt that the art of civility has clearly taken a back seat. It doesn’t matter if it’s a political discussion or someone posting a selfie, comments quickly turn into angry, loathing, or vile rhetoric. It’s almost as though the more infuriating the dialogue becomes, that is what measures the strength of the argument.

Let’s pause for a few minutes and see if there are advantages to establishing more civility in the conversation.

Everyone wants to be treated with courtesy and politeness. When any hostility shows up in the conversation, the normal tendency is to become defensive. If neither party makes an effort to change the dynamic, the conversation will gradually become divisive and be fueled with scornful and disparaging remarks.

In stark contrast to this style of argument are debate competitions. They have become quite popular and I’ve solicited the assistance of my two nieces, Tiffany and Kirsten Dunia, who both were on high school debate teams. I was curious to know first if there were rules specifically against name-calling and using derogatory comments about opponents.

Kirsten Dunia – Team Debate Policy Coach

“There are no specific rules against it,” Kirsten mentioned. “But a judge can vote against you for name calling or belittling your opponent rather than focusing on the argument.”

Tiffany added, “The idea is to use a sound argument and that type of rhetoric can only detract from your point.”

Tiffany Dunia – Actress, Model, Voice-over artist

They both agreed that one of the most difficult things to do was to keep your composure when your opponent was making outrageous or inflammatory remarks but that doing so, would, in the end give you an advantage.

It isn’t enough to say that something is “very great” or “the best ever” without giving any basis for why that was said. Debates are judged on content, clarity, and being able to point out flaws and erroneous points of your opponent. While belittling and mocking the competition are not addressed in the rules, debaters know and assume there is a strong possibility of being disqualified for using these and other unethical behaviors. Ultimately, debates are more about effective communication and learning persuasive tools in a way that still respectfully regards differing points of view.

Outside of a debate, those using belittling tactics do so because they have no substance behind their ideas. Simply attacking or bullying an opponent is a glaring indication that there is no thought, preparation, or intelligence behind your juvenile whim. It is more akin to a spat from a sixth-grade playground and frankly, is not welcomed there either.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of someone who unfortunately is able to make fun of someone. While it may be welcomed at a comedy club or some outlandish television show, it clearly needs to be disregarded and rejected by anyone attempting to be in a position of leadership and those deciding who their leader will be.

My thanks again to Kirsten and Tiffany. Kirsten is a graduate of Northwestern College in athletic training with the goal of becoming a Physical Therapist. She is also currently a Team Policy Debate Coach. Tiffany is focusing her debating skills on becoming an actress, model and voice-over artist. I’m certainly proud to be their uncle. Thanks and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The freedom to speak

Photo by m wrona on Unsplash

“The right to speak freely does not also guarantee you the right to be heard”

The right to free speech is protected in many countries and among those who fiercely uphold it the most is the United States of America. The first amendment primarily deals with this subject and many of its citizens defend that right even for those with whom they disagree. However, no matter how much freedom is granted, there are still limitations to what can be said or written.

As with any sovereign right, there is a measure of responsibility that comes along with it. Rights were not meant to be skewed in favor of some only to take advantage of others. The freedoms which they are meant to uphold were never established to give privileges to a few while enslaving others. They are rights to be equally shared by all; unless someone has abused that right and it has been stripped of him by the laws which provided them in the first place.

The right of free speech does not include hate speech, libel and slander, threats, or other rules of conduct which violate rights of people. If I want to get retaliation on someone, no matter how much that person may deserve it, I cannot use my right of free speech to spread lies or endanger the life of that person.

A lot of talk has been occurring lately about speaking up and not holding in your thoughts. Many great ideas have been pushed aside because the person behind that suggestion was too shy to say anything. Certainly that would have been a great time to exercise this right. On the other hand, there are those who you may wish had a little more of that shyness in their personalities. They brazenly blurt out any and everything that is on their minds no matter how uncomfortable it makes others feel. While it may be their “right” to do so, it can be annoying and somewhat of a selfish move.

Perhaps the most understated and under-considered aspect of freedom of speech is that this right does not come with a guarantee that you will be heard. While we all want our opinions to have as much validity as the next person’s, there is no law demanding people must listen or pay attention. Just because it’s your opinion does not guarantee you the right to be heard and to have more validity than others.

Experts in particular fields have earned the privilege for their opinions to hold more influence than others. Nevertheless, others not as educated still claim their opinion is better simply because it’s their opinion. In the end, this only shows they are exercising the right to display their own ignorance and arrogance.

Think for one moment. What if there were a law that we were required to give other people’s points of view the same amount of thoughtful consideration as we did ours. Although this would be impossible to regulate, in some ways isn’t that what freedom of speech boils down to? The right of free speech can be a strong defense for justice but it was certainly never meant to be used as a weapon against the vulnerable.Freedom of speech is not absolute and should never be taken for granted. It’s a reminder that even rights have restrictions and that we all are accountable for the way we use and interpret our freedoms. My thanks to M Wrona of Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

Freedom of speech is not absolute and should never be taken for granted. It’s a reminder that even rights have restrictions and that we all are accountable for the way we use and interpret our freedoms. My thanks to M Wrona of Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

Blaringly obvious

Photo by Damian Markutt on Unsplash

“When an instrument is purposely played too loud, it becomes noise.”

Learning the art of self-promotion requires effort and in last week’s article (click here to read it), the idea of when “enough is enough” was discussed. While that defining line may vary from person to person and situation to situation, there are times when it’s blaringly obvious that there is way too much.

Understanding the difference between honest self-promotion and self-importance shouldn’t be a difficult task. Certain rhetoric and verbal cues are definite and clear-cut signs that modesty and decorum have taken a back seat and arrogance is behind the wheel. It is true that certain professions need and thrive from grossly overstating ones capabilities but they are the exceptions and not the rule.

Those who are genuinely confident in their abilities and themselves don’t have a need to constantly repeat it to others around them. The relentless reminders of how well they do their work are usually more of a sign suggesting the complete opposite. The idea of low self-esteem is something they do not want to consider about themselves and it manifests in unceasing verbal chatter which ultimately demonstrates that lack to others.

Vying against a competitor or an opponent is another situation which may require more boasting than normal. However, mocking and ridiculing the challenger merely to put down and discredit him or her without anything of substance as part of your deliberation, is another false sense of superiority. Unfortunately, some have become quite skilled in the art of mimicry and derision but once again, it essentially shows they have no real solutions and are blowing smoke to divert attention away from their true insecurities, shortcomings, and lack of understanding.

It shouldn’t need to be pointed out that blaming others is not an indication of your competence. Nonetheless, it appears to be one of the main tools used by many. Blame is also another sign that you have not come up with a respectable answer and want to keep that under wraps. Remember, even if it is the fault of others it still does not resolve the issues at hand.

Conviction and certitude are important but there is a threshold for how often it needs to be reiterated. Again, if you’re telling someone that you’re “absolutely certain”, they will believe you the first time. But when that certainty is repeated ad nauseum, it begins to look more like a cover-up strategy. The constant repetition will bring in to question whether or not it was actually true in the first place. Besides, it’s always better to prove with your actions rather than your words that you are free from guilt or blame.

Learning to toot your own horn in a way which best suits you is definitely an undertaking for many. It isn’t something that comes natural to most of us. Planning and even writing out what you will say can be enormously essential for progressing yourself and your career. Knowing what to say – and also what not to say – is important and creating a strategy of doing it may just make a world of difference in your life.

My thanks to Damian Markutt for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

When enough is enough

“A few moments of preparation may give your words more influence than you’d expect.”

Self-promotion or “tooting your own horn”, as it was referred to it in the last article (click here to read it), is often difficult for many. It can initiate dozens of alarming feelings which are often associated with selfishness. Yet sometimes it’s a necessary part of the job description. Athletes, for instance, frequently use it as a psychological tactic against their opponents and anyone running for political office can’t go on the stump promising only miraculous mediocrity.

So how does one know when enough is enough? What is the appropriate amount of self-promotion for any occasion? Perhaps you’ve surmised by now that there is no single answer for every situation. However, a little preparation can be extremely helpful for any challenging circumstance in which you may find yourself.

Remember, there are numerous conditions and contexts that could possibly demand different responses. A job interview, for instance, requires a better crafted speech than a casual conversation you are having with a complete stranger.

An extremely prudent step would be to actually practice what might be said in more challenging environments. Mull over in your mind or better yet, write down what you could say or do. In private, it’s okay to exaggerate or embellish some of your hidden talents, strong abilities, and fortitude. This kind of practice is especially helpful for those who are inclined to sell themselves short. Focus on the important aspects of why you are promoting you and not how conceited you think you might sound. The advantage of practicing this kind of speech will develop your words into a more naturally flowing and confident statement.

There will always be those that no matter how sincere your intentions are, will scrutinize everything you say and search for any thread of evidence which they believe proves you are just another blow hard patting yourself on the back. But you’ll know within yourself whether or not you are being sincerely honest and truthful, or smug and arrogant. In the end, that is what really matters.

Self-confidence is a key ingredient for a happy, productive life. Many of us have been impeded from gaining it or even falsely taught that it is not true. But those who seek to rob you of this ability are really trying to gain power over you and in doing so, prove they are the ones who are truly arrogant and lack a sincere form of confidence in themselves.

It may not always be clear when enough is enough but practicing using the above techniques will help in those crucial times. The more opportunities you take, the more you’ll learn to be discreet and when to taper or even escalate your hidden talents. It is not easy and no doubt mistakes will be made but think of them as learning opportunities which will sharpen the ability to toot your own horn.

If you have any additional questions or would like some assistance with learning the art of self-promotion, please feel free to contact me. It will be a pleasure to help in any way I can. My thanks to Alberto Restifo on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

Tooting your own horn

Photo of my Bach Trumpet

“Your own gifts are powerful when they are embraced with gratitude.”

Last week’s article discussed how many of us tend to dismiss or ignore our own hidden talents (click here to read it). For many, promoting oneself is difficult, awkward, and very uncomfortable. It feels more like bragging rather than a creative depiction or a personal conviction of your own abilities. Yet when done well, it may mean the difference between getting work or not.

I know a little something about tooting a horn, literally, because I earned a degree in music performance with the trumpet as my instrument. I began playing it around the age of ten and if I had to guess why I chose that particular instrument, it probably would be because it was loud and brazen. Being the youngest of three boys, I often needed to speak up and stretch the truth a bit to convince them to include me in some of their games.

A few years later, my own shame altered this once boastful demeanor into an unsure and under-confident boy. I convinced myself it was no longer appropriate to sing my own praises and more often, understate and dismiss my talents.

Even discussing self-confidence felt conceited and whenever a compliment was given to me, not only was it shrugged off, I typically responded with a comment which negated whatever kind words were spoken to me. In a very short time, reacting this way became a habit and ultimately created a kind of “default mode“. Eventually it affected my personality to where it was difficult and even embarrassing to accept a compliment.

This way of thinking stayed with me for decades. It wasn’t until I began seeing my therapist that I was able to clearly understand how this kind of shame negatively impacted me and prevented me from having a valuable and healthy form of self-confidence.

At times, it is still difficult to accept compliments but I’ve learned to acknowledge them and respond with kindness and gratitude. My old way of dismissing those comments truthfully was rude and not very considerate. However, I believed I was being the bigger person and responding with the appropriate kind of humility.

For nearly three years, I’ve been posting these articles every Sunday without fail. It’s not easy to come up with words and thoughts meant to inspire readers in self-growth and also are crafted in such a way that beckons them back each week. I’ve come to realize it is a “hidden talent” and one for which I am truly grateful. I can also tell you the gratitude felt towards each reader today is just as strong as it was 180 articles ago.

It certainly wasn’t easy for me to write this article but I felt it was important. So many people are confused and baffled by a misunderstanding that acknowledging and embracing our talents is akin to selfishness and arrogance. They are called gifts so that we might share them with others; to inspire the gifts still hidden within them. It becomes arrogance once they are used to hurt or take advantage of others.

The one gift I am most grateful for is helping others heal from past abuses and difficulties. If there is something from your past or present which you’ve been wanting to reconcile or repair, please feel free to contact me. I will do my best to help. Thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments.