Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Power of Words

     Words are powerful. As a writer, I am acutely aware of this. And you, I feel sure, are also aware of their power. What you may not be aware of, however, is the power of your spoken words. 

     I have been studying Marshall Rosenberg's excellent book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Marshall was introduced to the violent nature of man early in his life which led him to ask two questions:
  • What disconnects us from our compassionate nature leading us to behave violently? (He believes our nature is to be compassionate, not violent.)
  • What allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature, even under difficult circumstances?
     In exploring these two questions, Marshall was struck by the crucial role  language and words play. The words we use often lead to hurting someone or causing them pain, even when we don't intend for this to happen. We often cause pain for ourselves when we direct critical statements at ourselves.

     Unfortunately, our cultural conditioning leads us to be judgemental in a very large percentage of our observations.

     Oh no, not me, you may be thinking. 
     At first, I also thought I was pretty much free of making judgements. But after reading a few chapters of Marshall's book and then paying special attention to what I said over the period of one week, I realized how difficult it is to communicate without judgement. 

     I didn't just observe my conversation, but also that of others around me. And I can't help but come away with the conclusion that unless you have been working very hard at communicating in a compassionate manner, you too are expressing judgements many times during the day.

     What is the problem with being judgemental you might ask. One problem is that when your message contains criticism, that is all the receiver of your message will hear and they will become defensive. That being the case, it hurts relationships and messes with our ability to communicate clearly.

     Relationships that are harmed include: friendships, teacher/student, parent/child, husband/wife, co-workers, boss/employee, and any other  where comunication is essential. 

     In future blogs I'll be giving examples of all of the above and share some of the solutions found in Marashall's book and others I have to offer. 

     Have you ever experienced difficulty in a relationship due to judgemental communication? I would be interested in hearing about your experience. 


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What Your Children Can Say To Their Homeless Friends

     Polk County in central Florida now has a record number of students enrolled who are homeless. This is likely true of many school districts throughout the nation thanks to high unemployment and the large number of home foreclosures. The chances are pretty good then that if you have a child in public school, he/she knows someone who is homeless.

     Polk County Schools has distributed an activity book to help kids understand homelessness. It's a very thoughtful booklet that helps students get in touch with their own feelings and explore how they might feel if they were without a home to live in. This is an important step in helping them to learn to empathize with others. 

     After exploring how they might feel if they were homeless, have your child think about the many reasons that could lead to someone being homeless. Through understanding that loss of a job, death or illness of a parent, or any number of reasons that might happen to anyone could lead to losing a home, helps your child to not be judgemental or see that child as "bad" or a "loser."

     Finally, have your child think about the ways he can help a homeless student. Being a friend, playing with the person, and including him in activities are some ways. Also, the homeless child is more than just "homeless." He is still a child, a student, a friend, and still has the same feelings, wishes and desires as he always had. It is important to not think of someone just as "homeless."

     Of course there are many other things one can do on a larger scale. Donating food to a shelter, writing letters to local newspapers and to congress calling attention to the plight of the homeless are a few examples.

     Helping our children to grow up with empathy towards others and an interest in resolving social problems is the right thing to do.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting Back

Thanksgiving is over. Okay, so you already know that. I mention it only because now I must get back to whatever it is that I do, after spending an entire week doing something that was very foreign to me--spending a week at a resort in Orlando with two lovely ladies and three wonderful energetic children, ages two, four, and six.

I was in the habit of spending five or so hours per day tending to my writing not tending to the desires of small children. Now, don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the little buggers, but I was out of my element.

Now they have all gone back to California and I am back to the computer. The problem is that my habitual routine has been broken and I'm finding it not easy to get back to. This morning, for example, I spent several hours doing things related to the holidays coming up, rather than the habitual writing.

What I am coming to realize is that having good writing habits is important, but other things are important also and sometimes those things will take away from the writing, like spending time with family. Which got me to wondering--do other writers have scheduled times to write and how do they deal with extended time away from writing? 

Maybe time away is a good thing. Getting back into the groove may be difficult, but the experience had in the time away is an important part of being alive and, in the end, adds to our ability to write about the things that really matter.  


Monday, November 15, 2010

Does the Newberry Award Guarantee Popularity?

Today I read a blog from a school librarian stating that the Newberry Award doesn't automatically send children scampering to read it. She mentioned The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is never checked out by children in her school. This came as a big surprise to me because I thought it was a great book.

On the other hand, another Newberry winner Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, a book about Medieval times, is checked out frequently, especially when a play is being produced about that period. Apparently, the children use the book to help them with their play. This is a book that one might think would not have much appeal to children.

It seems that the students are led to read the book on Medieval times, but I remain puzzled as to why they don't show an interest in The Graveyard Book.

What has been your experience? Do you gravitate to Newberry Award winners? Do you think children are more likely to read Newberry books? Let me know what you think.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What Are Children's Books For?

     I read a blog by an author who wrote a children's book in which two minor characters lived in a happy family with "two mommys." A reviewer did not like this and cited a number of Biblical and religious reasons of why this was immoral. The author of the book gave a wonderfully thoughtful and balanced response to the reviewer.
     This brought to my mind the question, what is the purpose of children's books, other than the logical one of teaching them to read. Certainly to entertain. This is perhaps the main reason we writers write books. However, while it entertains, a book may also stimulate the mind, aid in adjusting, promote courage, etc.    
     What are your thoughts on the purpose of children's books?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Homeless in the US of A

When I first had the idea for my novel Address Unknown, I had some notion of the number of homeless in our country. But when I did the research, I was astounded and dismayed. Here are the facts taken from a brochure put out by the school board of Polk County, Florida. 
  • Children and families are the fastest growing subset of the homeless. They make up 40% of the homeless population. 
  • The average age of a homeless person is nine. That's right. It's not a typo. Nine!
  • The average homeless family is a  twenty year old mother with children under the age of six.
  • There are 400,000 families who are homeless and another 25 million who live with family and friends.
Polk County school system has a program, the Hearth Project, which provides assistance for homeless families and helps students have empathy for homeless students as well as giving them ideas for taking action to remedy this national problem.