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Blogs – December 2003

December 29, 2003

I usually don't make New Year's resolutions. I prefer setting goals and steps to achieve them, and I can do that whenever needed. But there are a few resolutions I would like to see made regarding communications in 2004:

Regardless of what happens in Martha Stewart's trial this coming year, let's imprison the cliché, "It's a good thing." It's an annoying thing.

Some other hackneyed terms I would like to see obliterated in 2004: supersized, upmarket, -minator to describe anything related to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and most especially Beniffer. 

We can hope that our political candidates would avoid the mudslinging, name calling, and paranoid accusations of previous elections, but that would be like hoping that Paris Hilton would say something intelligent. 

Perhaps we should starting using "anti-Jewish" to describe hatred against Jews. The problem with "anti-Semitic" is that is now being used by people like the Syrian minister to justify Hezbollah's blood-libel miniseries aired during Ramadan. "It's not anti-Semitic because we Arabs are Semites." Yuck.

And let's have Arab television networks stop airing anti-Jewish television specials during Ramadan. Has spreading racist lies about Jews helped a single Palestinian? Didn't think so.

With the Summer Olympics coming up, let's hope NBC covers athletes from other countries, not just the United States. I am sure that there are heart-warming, inspirational stories from the athletes from the other 190 or so countries that go to the Games.  

Whatever resolutions you make this year, let's all resolve to become better communicators.  

December 23, 2003

I'd like to share some holiday thoughts that I posted on my recent newsletter:

There are many things that I love about this time of year. I enjoy the feeling of goodwill, generosity, and gladness. I also appreciate the spiritual meanings of this season when the festivals of the great religions coincide.

As a Jew, Hanukkah has great meaning for me. The holiday reminds us of the importance of standing up for our values instead of being seduced by the temptations of the world around us. The Jews of ancient Judea could have easily been lured into giving up their religion for the hedonism of Hellenistic life. Instead, they valued their faith and were willing to fight for it. This is an important lesson for all faiths today as we find our values assaulted by popular culture and commercialism.

I also am moved by the story of Christmas, how a poor mother gave birth in a manger to a child who would change the world. I can hear in my favorite carols “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “The First Noel” how angels and shepherds sing the praises of what to the world seemed just another peasant baby. The holiday reminds us all of the hope and potential that resides in each of us, regardless of how humble our station in life.

I am just starting to learn about Islam. What I know about Ramadan is that it is a time of purification and charity. It is a time to set aside our worldly needs and desires to focus on the divine. It is an important lesson for all of us. How often do we let ourselves be pressured by everyday demands and desires for personal satisfaction to the extent we forsake our values and greater priorities? On occasion, we must be willing to sacrifice our desires and alter our habits so that we can focus on what is important to us.

It is not surprising that all of these holidays fall around the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice, the day with the shortest amount of daylight. In the darkest day of the year, we can cherish the light we do have and hope for brighter days ahead.

Unfortunately, there is a trend, especially in the United States, to deemphasize the religious meaning of this time of year. Christmas has become a season for Santa and Rudolph, instead of Jesus and Mary. Hanukkah has become a “Jewish Christmas” where we set gifts around a menorah instead of a tree. We have kids sing about a dreidel without knowing what a symbol of resistance and faith it is.

But it is the spiritual nature of these holidays that gives this season significance. Instead of being an orgy of overspending and overeating, this is really a season of hope and reassurance.

So, here is my request for this holiday season: Let us embrace the spiritual meanings of these holidays. Let us learn from them and share them with each other. Instead of using the religious nature of these events to divide us, let us use them to bring us together. We will discover that regardless of what these holidays mean or how we celebrate them, they all give the same message: Hold fast to your faith, show compassion and love to all, and know that hope is always present. When we believe these things, we can create peace on earth by showing goodwill to all.

Happy holidays.

December 16, 2003

Could a speech cost you $900,000? Lillian Morris' did.

Lillian was the Scoutmaster who competed on the recently concluded Survivor: Pearl Islands. More info She was one of final two contestants after she won the final Immunity Challenge and chose Sandra Diaz-Twine to go to the final Tribal Council. At this Tribal Council, she and Sandra had to convince seven jurors (all contestants who were recently voted out) that they were worthy to win the show's $1 million grand prize. The runner-up got $100,000.

Each contestant had the opportunity to give an opening statement and then were questioned by each of the jurors. (Of course, many of the jurors were bent out of shape that they didn't win the prize, which emerged in the nastiness of their questions.) The jurors were especially harsh with Lillian, accusing her of lying against them. It didn't help Lillian that she wore her Boy Scout uniform during the show.

After the questions, each of the contestants had the opportunity to give a closing statement. Lillian lost her composure. She became angry and defensive and uttered the first bleepable word in the whole program.

Sandra won the final vote with a 6–1 margin.

All alliances and strategies aside, I wonder how much better of a result Lillian would have had if she had kept her composure during that final Tribal Council. By answering questions honestly and with a sense of humor and humility, she might have swayed people who were even strongly allied with Sandra. Granted that she faced that jury after suffering 39 days in a hostile environment, with limited food and shelter, and away from the support of family and friends. But the object of Survivor is to "Outwit. Outplay. Outlast." In order to do that, you must keep your composure and control your temper, even in the most trying of circumstances.

This is a lesson that we can learn from in any circumstance. Now, if we can figure out what to do with snotty-nosed little weasels like Jonny Fairplay.

December 9, 2003

'Tis the season for giving, and one of the greatest things you can give is a compliment. Compliments build relationships, defuse tense situations, and break down barriers between people. Some tips for giving a great complement:

1. Be sincere. A false compliment is worse than an insult. Make sure your praise comes from your heart.

2. Give specifics. Show what the person has done well and why you appreciate it.

3. Smile. The warmth of your smile seals the compliment.

Try a compliment when you are out holiday shopping. Sincere praise will warm the heart of those poor, frazzled sales clerks who have heard enough from grumbling, demanding customers. You can say, "Thank you for helping me find that sweater. I know that you're busy, and I appreciate the time you spent with me."

By lifting another person's spirits, you will give him or her a gift that will last that a long time.

December 5, 2003

One thing I hate as much as cell phone abuse (More info), is e-mail abuse. And I'm not only talking about all those lovely e-mails that promise me a cheap cable descrambler with an extended car warranty that will enlarge a certain part of my body if I give my banking information to a deceased billionaire's family in Nigeria, Iraq, or Senegal. I'm talking about the stupid things people do with their e-mail. Here are three e-mail abuses that annoy me:

1. Using Reply All when you have no business using it. Days ago, a sales manager sent a broadcast e-mail announcing a major success. No problem there. We all like learning about more money coming in that will keep us employed. The problem is that the salesperson mentioned in the e-mail used Reply All to thank all of the people who helped him. Then, those people used Reply All to thank the salesperson and everyone else. And everyone in the company got those e-mails. So, instead of one nice e-mail, all of us have been subjected to days of e-mailed back patting. The lesson: only send e-mails to the people who need them.

2. Including all of the previous messages in an e-mail thread. When people reply, they usually keep the original message (marked with >'s or a bar) and type the response above it. It is often helpful to refer to the original message when reading a reply. The problem is when someone replies to a reply. Then another person replies to that reply. And all of them keep the original messages. This creates a long string of messages, each one with indented levels of >'s or bars, and you have to go all the way to the bottom and go up each message to read the history in the right order. And who can keep track of which message is the most recent one? Instead, quote the parts of the original message in your reply and delete the rest. Or, if you're having that intense of a discussion, perhaps everyone should just sit down and have a meeting instead of playing e-mail volleyball.

3. Gross spelling and grammatical mistakes. Even though we are all in a hurry, we can at least spend a few seconds reading over an e-mail before clicking Send. Typos happen to the best of us. But there is no excuse for half-finished sentences, badly copied and pasted text, and punctuation and capitalization that would puzzle e.e. cummings.

Remember that e-mail is a reflection of you and your professionalism. Think twice before clicking Send. 

December 2, 2003

I'd like to share with you some job search advice that I passed along to someone else.

People are often unsure if they should put experience in volunteer organizations on a resume. Some are concerned that showing activity in volunteer work might cause prospective employers to think that they are not dedicated employees.

I have found that prospective employers look favorably on volunteer work. When I told interviewers about my Toastmasters experience, they often said, "I've always wanted to join Toastmasters. Tell me more about it." I can show how my Toastmasters experience has helped me gain communication and leadership skills that will help in the job.

Showing volunteer experience can also help you when you are changing careers or entering the workplace. When I was starting out, I was told to put my Eagle Scout on my resume because it demonstrates that I can set goals and have the persistence to complete them. I was also able to get bookkeeping jobs in college thanks to my experience with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. 

So, be sure to include your volunteer experience in your resume and show how it enhances the job skills you can bring to your prospective employer. 

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