From Dr. Jane's Notebook

The Elections are upon us: erase the dividing lines

As we come closer to our November elections, both excitement and divisiveness are at an all time high. It is important to remember, however, that once we have exercised our democratic right to vote and the dust has settled, it will be time to erase the divisive lines which have been drawn within families, between friends, and even in the workplace. It will be time to pull together as a nation in order to heal and continue the work of rebuilding the world.  It will be time for citizens of our great country to rethink how we communicate and how we treat one another.

·        Communication: A lost art? For some time now, interpersonal communication skills have taken a back seat to multi-tasking and high-speed functioning. While electronic marvels such as e-mail, fax, and cell phones have made life a lot more efficient and  easier, some uses of these communication vehicles lack that personal touch and even support anti-social behaviors.

·        We must take responsibility for how we communicate. When we communicate, our words are just a small part of what we convey to our listener. The meaning of your message is also determined by your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and eye contact. Most people respond better to a tone of voice which communicates respect than one which is demanding or commanding. Bullies communicate with anger in their voice in order to intimidate others. If you are not intending to be a bully, I suggest that you take a few minutes to cool down and get past your anger before trying to speak. In my experience, no one, not children and not adults, likes to be yelled at.

·        Words are important but behavior is more important. Unfortunately, many people lie. As we sharpen our communication skills, we must learn to recognize lies and learn to be more truthful ourselves. When people tell lies, there is usually a mismatch between their words and their actions, their facial expressions, or their eye contact. When we speak, tiny little facial muscles betray us, our eyes fail to meet the eyes of others, and even our posture may give us away. As the listener, pay attention to these mismatches between words and deeds, then trust your gut reaction about the sincerity of the speaker. To tame your own personal tendency to tell lies, remind yourself of how much easier it is to tell the truth.

·        Beware of taking too may short-cuts in your interpersonal relationships. We live in a world of incredible technological advances. The down side of our progress has been the loss of vital communication skills and the abbreviated use of our senses. Instead of face to face conversations, we sometimes use e-mail to conduct a hit-and-run approach to communication. We may leave messages but fail to accurately exchange information because we are too busy to talk. Some of us send instant messages because it allows us to hide behind a screen, preventing others from really seeing us. We abbreviate words because we’re too busy or lazy to spell them out completely. And we frequently attend to several tasks at once rather than give others our full attention.   

In a matter of weeks, one presidential candidate will become our new President. When casting our votes, we want a leader who we can look up to. We want our new President to be respectful, respectable, honest and thoughtful in his decisions. And certainly, we will want our President to be the perfect leader of the United States and the perfect role model for our children.  

Consider the traits which you value in a leader. I suggest that we all challenge ourselves to live up to that same measuring stick. As leaders of our own families, we must consider the behaviors and ethics that we are demonstrating for our children and other members of the next generation of American citizens. No doubt, within your own family, there are those who look up to you as their leader and role model. 

This election year is more than just an opportunity to improve the leadership of our country. This year we have a chance to improve ourselves and our relationships with others. Within our neighborhoods, our schools, and our workplaces, we need to rethink how we communicate with and how we treat others. The President can’t do it all for us; our recovery and survival as a democratic nation will depend upon the actions of each one of us. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changin’; personally, I think our work is just beginning.

©Copyright, 2008, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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