Friday, October 24, 2008

My Book is Getting Closer

Wow, my first draft is nearly finished. Just checking the punctuation and those awkward phrases that made sense to me at the time, but are incomprehensible to fresh eyes. I've started looking for an editor, and then I go to print. Lots of printers out there for people like me. It's interesting how the term "vanity publisher" has disappeared from the lexicon. Today self-publishing is a very viable business decision.
Just to show you that I am not totally naive about this, check out this entry from Penelope Trunk,

one of my favorite bloggers. She gives five good reasons why you don't need to write a book. I considered what she says, but I still want that product to hand out to people when I speak, much like people get academic degrees or have children. It's another form of validation. So call me shallow. I want to be called an author.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for Toastmasters)

This is one of the two times of the year I enjoy most — the Toastmaster competitions in the fall and spring. As a devoted speaker and club member, I derive benefits that grow stronger every year.

Our club contests are remarkably, joyously NON-competitive, as our members are so happy to give it their best shots with their speeches. Our members also comprise a supportive, appreciative and reactive audience, laughing where they should and giving visual cues throughout each speech. Our winners can count, at the least, for much encouragement before they go to the next level. Some members go the extra distance and actually coach our winners, making them twice blessed. (I can tell you from personal experience how helpful and gratifying that is.)

The next level kicks up your adrenalin as you strive to clear that higher bar. Now you are stepping out of your comfort zone, facing unfamiliar contestants. What are their special speaking gifts? What are their unique topics for their prepared speeches? How well and quickly can they speak off the cuff for Table Topics and Evaluation?

These factors make attending other contests valuable, as they become opportunities to learn. Additionally, they tap into our capacities to contribute. I will be traveling among contests this fall, volunteering to be a judge, interview, ballot counter, back-up timer… anything that will help the cause, as others helped me compete over the last few years. And I will learn from others.

Monday, October 20, 2008

General Powell's Grace Notes

General Colin Powell taught us much in his appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday, October 19, and it was not just that he is endorsing Barack Obama for President of the United States. Mr. Powell’s opinions on the U.S. Presidency are of little importance to this blogger, nor are my political opinions of much importance to you. I write about communication, and the good general taught us a great deal about presenting one’s self with grace and dignity.

First, consider how he framed the rationale for his endorsement, comparing our current turbulent time to another problematic period 30 years ago:

GEN. POWELL: “…I think about the early '70s when we were going through Watergate, Spiro Agnew, Nixon period, that was not a good time. But right now, we're also facing a very daunting period. And I think the number one issue the president's going to have to deal with is the economy. That's what the American people are worried about.… And also I think the president has to reach out to the world and show that there is a new president, a new administration that is looking forward to working with our friends and allies. And in my judgment, also willing to talk to people who we have not been willing to talk to before. Because this is a time for outreach.”

When host Tom Brokaw asked General Powell if he was prepared to endorse a candidate, he once again framed his response in a way that indicated he had clearly thought about his decision. (General Powell’s words below are taken from a transcript from his appearance on Meet the Press. I have edited for space; the added emphases are my own.)

GEN. POWELL: “…I know both of these individuals very well now. I've known John (McCain) for 25 years…And I've gotten to know Mr. Obama quite well over the past two years. Both of them are distinguished Americans who are patriotic, who are dedicated to the welfare of our country. Either one of them, I think, would be a good president. I have said to Mr. McCain that I admire all he has done.… And I've said to Mr. Obama, "You have to pass a test of do you have enough experience, and do you bring the judgment to the table that would give us confidence that you would be a good president."
…I have especially watched (Mr. Obama) over the last six of seven weeks as both of them have really taken a final exam with respect to this economic crisis that we are in and coming out of the conventions. And I must say that I've gotten a good measure of both. In the case of Mr. McCain, I found that he was a little unsure as to deal with the economic problems that we were having and almost every day there was a different approach to the problem. And that concerned me, sensing that he didn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had. And I was also concerned at the selection of Governor Palin. She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired; but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made….”

Notice the deference to Sen. McCain, whom General Powell obviously admires. Notice, too, the respect shown to Sen. Obama, calling him “Mister Obama,” as General Powell apparently doesn’t know him well enough to address him by his first name.

“On the Obama side, I watched Mr. Obama and I watched him during this seven-week period. And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.… (Mr. Obama) has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. He's crossing lines--ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines. He's thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.”

When General Powell discussed the issue of Senator Obama’s alleged relationship with former Weatherman William Ayers, his logic was cut from the fabric of Senator McCain’s own words:
“…This Bill Ayers situation that's been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign. But Mr. McCain says that he's a washed-out terrorist. Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?”

Finally, General Powell took up a topic that I was hoping that someone in public service would address, namely the demonization of the Muslim religion:
“…I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, ‘He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.’ This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

“I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards --Purple Heart, Bronze Star-- showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.…”

Tom Brokaw was obligated to ask the thorny question of race, acknowledging that “there will be some who will say this is an African American, distinguished American, supporting another African American because of race.” General Powell responded this way:
“…If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago. I really have been going back and forth between somebody I have the highest respect and regard for, John McCain, and somebody I was getting to know, Barack Obama. And it was only in the last couple of months that I settled on this. And I can't deny that it will be a historic event for an African American to become president. And should that happen, all Americans should be proud--not just African Americans, but all Americans--that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It will also not only electrify our country, I think it'll electrify the world.”

General Powell comported himself well in his presentation in the following ways:
1. By comparing this period to another difficult time, he put his thinking into a context that many citizens could understand and related to.
2. General Powell was always respectful of the candidates titles (he used Mister and Senator), and he did not resort to demonizing the Senator McCain or Governor Palin.
3. He described how he actually knew the two candidates and observed them, supporting the thesis that this was a considered decision.
4. He gave specific examples of the behavior he was judging, including the candidates’ reactions to the economy and their choices for vice president.
5. When he discredited the discussions of William Ayers, General Powell wondered aloud why the Republican Party was focused on him, when Senator McCain himself discounted him as irrelevant.
6. He discussed his feelings about the portrayal of the Muslim religion in America by painting a vivid picture of an American Muslim killed in the service of his country. Yet, he did not diminish Senator McCain with the story.

I encourage all students of public discourse to view the clip of General Powell’s appearance to watch his bearing and hear the measured tone of his distinguished voice. We are privileged to have his example available to us.