Avoidant behavior, true, but maybe there’s a lesson here

The following happened in relation to my Toastmasters meeting. Not that I want to explain the actual event, not right now anyway. I want to discuss the odd aftermath.

The actual event, the primary one, happened a while back. I am keeping it to myself because I feel it should stay within Toastmasters…to be respectful and honor people’s privacy. Then there was a secondary event, possibly related to the first.

I have kept it to myself, mainly because I don’t know how to express it. My initial reaction was to promise myself, “It doesn’t matter. I should just learn from this and move on.” I didn’t really react at first. Now, of course, I know in my heart I didn’t react because I was in a state of utter shock.

When something seemingly comes out of nowhere, was not in any way expected, and also, doesn’t jive with everything else you have known, then to react by feeling numbed out and shocked is to be expected.

For the entire two-hour bus ride home, I tried to process what happened. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t fazed. I knew I had shown no emotion at the meeting and tried to make a happy face to cover just how floored I was.

In Toastmasters we learn to do that. We learn composure, even under pressure. Oddly, I must have done a great acting job because later on I learned that no one even knew.

Maybe a week or two later I realized I had feelings about the event. Not anger, but disappointment.  Disappointment with my fellow Toastmasters. Disappointed in my club. Not only had they let me down, but no one approached me afterward to say they’d noticed what happened.  Or, I told myself, if anyone noticed, no one said anything nor indicated they knew.

I broke the promise, or rather, promises I made to myself. I didn’t want to feel anything and I wanted to just let it go. I realized, though, that there were some feelings there, and I need to acknowledge this. Furthermore, I needed to realize that this little event was far more serious than I had originally assumed.  Still, I was determined to continue calling it a “learning experience.”

While it’s true, I learned, and am learning, but not learning what I thought I would. I reached out to a friend of mine, another club member. I wrote about the event. I had forgotten that my friend was attending that meeting. He wrote back, telling me he remembered. He said that sadly, what happened was not unique, and that in his years as a member of many Toastmasters clubs, he has seen it far too often. He offered a viable solution. Part of it was to take a break.

I did. I continued to make excuses not to go, and I didn’t. Suddenly I realized these excuses were in fact due to feelings of utter dread. Since when could this make any sense? I have always looked forward to Toastmasters meetings. Now, I dread going inside the pit of my stomach and just can’t. I can’t do it. Something stops me.

While it is easy for me to speak up about, say, HIPAA violations, or speak up about changes in laws, or come to another’s defense (notably, I stick up for underdogs, don’t I?), I find it very tough to confront people I admire and see as friends. Here is where it gets sticky.

What I am doing constitutes avoidance. It is obvious. I’m not avoiding how I feel but I am avoiding confrontation. I am avoiding the discomfort of confrontation, not just mine, but the difficult feelings that others may experience. Almost like i have the need to protect others.

You can go to great lengths to protect other people when all you are doing is hurting yourself.

I also spoke with our District Director, twice, at length, about the dilemma. I was touched by this. Really touched. I am worth it. I was worth it to the point that she picked up the phone. You guys know how much that means to me, given my history.

Now many weeks have passed. Indecision isn’t a good thing, but that’s where I am at. I have now told my fellow officers that I very well may not return.

Oddly, I wasn’t asked why. Not at first. It was like “well I didn’t feel like coming for a while, too.”

I quickly wrote back that this wasn’t about feelings. I said that something actually happened at Toastmasters that shouldn’t have happened.

Being avoidant is common human behavior. Not always, just sometimes. People I have known would rather quit their jobs than ever confront their bosses about what bugs them. Abused spouses wait years avoiding taking action. This, though, is kinda not like me. I always speak up, and now I find I can’t. But I am not the only one.

After the meeting, where I was absent, other officers wrote to me. Oddly, no one has yet even asked me this very simple and obvious question. I bet you blog readers are asking it, asking yourselves, that is…

That question is so important. We humans don’t ask it enough.

“What happened?”

That very same question, or rather, avoidance of that question, is why communication often breaks down. With the exception of an attorney, who focuses primarily on events (not feelings), at least professionally, we humans don’t ask that question enough. Or maybe I should say we don’t ask it in our culture, not these days.

We focus far too much on feelings, almost as if feelings are more important than events. Feelings are plastic, though, changeable. They evolve. Events do not. The past is fixed. We can only change how we frame it in our memories.

I would drop it entirely except I want my club to know. I don’t want to see it happen again, not to another person. The answer to that question is paramount. And yet, not one person asked.

I received three polite emails saying everything but. “would like to see you back…” or, perhaps, “Hope your summer is going well.”

Did anyone even ask why? Odd. But not. I don’t think it is that they don’t want to know. Maybe they’re just trying to be nice. It is odd, though, don’t you think?

I don’t know about you guys, but when I write an email I try to hit the nail on the head the very first time. I didn’t this time, mainly because I wanted the first email to be very brief. But that somehow didn’t work very well.

Or maybe they are very aware of the event by now. Could they have figured it out and now just don’t know what to do?

Unlike some other people, I like apologizing and I accept apology. I think the person who initiated this should directly own the event (not the outcome afterward) and just say, “I’m sorry.”

I do not want to hear, “I’m sorry you feel bad.” This is not an apology. It is shifting responsibility. No one needs to apologize for someone else’s feelings. A real apology might say you are responsible for doing your part in the event, and you are sorry you did it. An expression of regret might be appropriate, recognition of the inherent wrongness of the deed done, and to offer restitution in the form of, “I realize now that you pointed it out and I will not do that again.” Or something along those lines.

Human compassion goes a long way, doesn’t it? Humans are amazingly good at compassion. We love our pets to the point of spoiling them, we pet them, coo to them, hug them, even invite them to sleep on our beds. We feed them and walk them (or they let us know as soon as we’re five minutes late!). Our capacity for caring for one another is almost limitless. I can say that only because we cannot measure compassion. We are creatures that bond, form societies, even marry, and do this completely weird thing called sexual intercourse.

And yet, we have these moment of discomfort. We don’t always know how to handle that. Avoidance or even silence might be easier, but not necessarily the best solution.

Toastmasters Speech Monday April 30, 2018

Hi Everyone. I’m opening up my blog just for a bit even though I have some privacy needs for a while. I feel like many of you will never get to see me perform in person nor will we ever meet. Here is your chance to hear me do a live performance, right here, right now. Please, please, please, click on the arrow up above where you see it on the screen and turn on your sound.

The name of the speech is “When the Chips are Down.” Have a nice day y’alls.

Copyright vs Patent and Toastmasters discussion

I was looking around the internet and I found an old (very old) and closed discussion of whether the Toastmasters manuals should be made available in .pdf format. At the time, they were not, and Pathways was not yet even thought of.  The discussion, which I seem to have misplaced among my bookmarks, took place a number of years back on someone’s blog.

People were concerned…or shall I say, a few people were…about “misuse” of the manuals. I want to address the bit about “misuse” of written materials and why I think it’s not even relevant.

Let me state that written material, such as literature, is copyrighted. Gadgets, such as your TV or your plumbing, is patented. This is clearly differentiated and there’s a reason for this.

Patented products can indeed be misused. Some can. Some, if misused, can present a safety issue. You don’t want your three-month old to play with a plastic bag that’s part of a patented device, or part of the wrapper of it, that can possibly block his airway and then, cause a serious disaster. Plastic bags are not even relevant to copyrighted material.Books aren’t gadgets.

Huckleberry Finn was likely once copyrighted but is past its copyright and is now in the public domain. It is not patented and a patent on it is not relevant. Can the book be “misused”? I don’t see it that way.

It can be interpreted any way a person wants to. This is actually a risk that a writer takes. As a writer myself, I’m well aware that after I write something, I am taking a risk, even as I write these words, that someone out there will mis-read what I am writing. This happens frequently. Although it is my responsibility, if I want to prevent this, to be clear  while I am writing, it’s not completely in my hands what happens after I send my writing out into the world. After I send it out, I cannot control the actions of other people. This incredible acceptance is also part of my responsibility as a writer, the knowledge of not knowing.

The manuals are very very good, well written, very well planned, but certainly, no one can control the actions of those who read them, and why should we? Why should anyone control the actions of another? There’s no such thing as use or “misuse” of good literature even if it’s a terrific and classic how-to manual.

If I had written the Toastmasters manual, and I found out a junior high school teacher found it useful to use in her classroom, then wow, I’d be tickled pink. I’d be delighted that this teacher had used my book to open the minds of kids, young people who otherwise would be too young to join the Toastmasters program. In fact, introducing them to the program at an early age might inspire them to join when they got older. I don’t see this as misuse at all.

How about you?

Last night

I participated in a Toastmaster’s speech contest last night. I had been concerned because lately I have been distracted by career concerns  and devastating letdowns and I was afraid these worries would interfere with my ability to deliver a really good speech. I was amazed that these thoughts did not bother me at all!

I did fine. The first thing that surprised me was that I had notes in my hand, in the form of notes on a large note card, I’d say 4 by 6 inches, but for the duration of the speech I didn’t look at my notes. Not once. I hadn’t realized that all that practicing resulted in my memorizing the speech in entirety. I didn’t realize how well-practiced I was. I had gone over it in my sleep almost! It paid off!

One thing (if I am to be stupid enough to give advice) is to practice your opening so you do it confidently. I have noticed that getting off to a good start is extremely important. I definitely did this. I knew ahead of time that I should deliver my opening with extra confidence and a real punch. So I did. I was surprised to hear as much laughter over the opener as I did.

As I was telling my fellow club member afterward, while most people who deliver speeches “read” their audiences by looking for visual cues, such as nods and smiles in the faces of the audience, I cannot see faces very well. So I rely on my ears. This works amazingly well. I can hear people take a breath in very sharply, or sigh, or scribble in pencils on paper to make comments, or…if I am really successful, sniffle or hold back tears. Having eyesight would interfere with my ability to hear all those amazing sounds.

Before the contest started I checked with the timer to make sure I could see the timing cards. I checked to make sure I could see the green, yellow, and red cards. I explained where exactly he should hold the cards since certain locations work better for me. Not that I meant to be picky, but there was one occasion where I honestly couldn’t see the cards due to the background in the room. The remedy is planning ahead with the timer. There is actually an allowance for this in the rule book since I am sure this has happened in the past. Toastmasters has been around some 75 years that I know of. A visually impaired person can use a bell, buzzer, or have the time numbers called out. Or do what I did if you’re in my “halfway” situation.

Sound (not necessarily buzzes and beeps) played a major role in my storytelling in the speech. But I guess I will have to record it for ya’lls to hear it! I will be advancing to the next level at some point and competing in the next contest. I will be facing some tough and tougher competition as these contests go up in levels. I hope to get as far as I can. This will be my first year doing this!

I am thrilled that I joined Toastmasters and I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.

How I am turning it around

I have been more bummed out the past couple of weeks than I have been in a long time. The combination of not being able to find employment, getting fired, and also, ending up with a scam job has really got me down. It makes me see the whole world in a negative way. I have been in a sour mood. I am re-living the day I realized that my psych diagnoses were a sham, that I lived three decades with a fraudulent assumption that I was disabled and unable to work. We live with so much deceit all around us. Does it ever end?

The Toastmasters International Speech Contest is coming up and this year I am eligible. I am turning this around to a winning speech.  I HOPE SOMEONE OUT THERE GIVES A SHIT.

I have been practicing and honing down the message. I have 5 to 7 minutes.  There are levels. You advance to the next level each time you win a contest. Our club contest is coming up. Then the area contest is two weeks later and we have another one in April. I don’t know when the District contest is but I will be lucky indeed to make it that far. Our District is District 13. They often have the District meetings in places inaccessible by public transit, so I will have to bum a ride if I am to make it there.  I am not sure how many District winners go on to the International contest which I think is in Toronto. They have it in a different place every year.

If you actually make it to the International contest, Toastmasters pays your fare. This would be a relief since it would mean I would not have to appear like a beggar or a tag-along bumming a ride! I do not like asking for rides nor do I like riding in other people’s cars. I suspect that folks don’t want me riding with them, either, but I don’t say anything. It is embarrassing even asking.

I am enjoying crafting this speech and practicing it. Each time I work on it I find new ways to make it better. Delivering a speech is a form of performance art that follows a process like any other art. I don’t think other people who give speeches think of it that way necessarily.  They consider it “business skill.” But since I am unemployed and never had a career, it is “art” to me. I admit I am good at it.

When I get up in front of an audience, I feel like I am where I belong. I don’t feel awkward or uncomfortable. It is like everything snaps into place. Why did I wait so long?

Today I hope to practice more, get this thing down. When the day comes I will think of all of you readers out there. I will kick butt. I promise.