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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thoughts: Dangerous and Insane Lyrics

I can't help myself.  I love a catchy pop dance tune, even if it's the same tunes the teenagers are listening to.  A good dance tune helps me achieve a state of bliss, even under the worst case of duress.  As I once said to fellow Toastmaster at a district conference, "You just can't feel bad when Mr. Saxobeat is playing."  Try it, I dare you.

I guess I chose to never grow up, or maybe since I don't have children, I haven't used music as a generational divide between myself and my nonexistent kids.  I seem to have evolved my tastes as the music industry has evolved. OK, maybe "evolve" isn't quite the right term.  In any case, there's several current songs that have caught my attention and get me moving, even if nobody else ever gets to witness the flailing that passes for dance in front of my stereo.  In particular Without You, by David Guetta, sticks in my head for more than one reason.  Here's an example of the lyrics:

I can't win,
I can't reign,
I will never win this game,
Without you, without you
I am lost
I am vain,
I will never be the same
Without you, without you

I love this song; the great beat, the European influences.  There's one problem.  The lyrics are dangerous and insane.

If you asked somebody to describe what the song is about, you might get a response along this line: 
"This guy got dumped by his girlfriend.  He was obviously in love with her and now he's absolutely crushed.  It's kinda romantic."  
How is this either dangerous or insane?  This is exactly how many of us have come to interpret romance.  It's romantic when you love somebody so much that you're distraught if they leave you.  I'll bet that if you asked a bunch of young men, a large percentage of them would agree.  (If they listened to David Guetta, that is.)  For many years, far too many years, I would have agreed.  There's a much better way to interpret what the song is about:
"This guy got dumped by his girlfriend.  He was obviously in a dysfunctional relationship with her.  He had no identity of his own and used her to provide meaning to his life instead of having a sense of self.  Now he's showing signs of emotional immaturity, the exact kind of immaturity that probably doomed his relationship from the start."
It doesn't sound so romantic now does it?  When you realize what's going on, it sounds like borderline insanity.  I should know, I was there once or twice.  The first time was in college, and the second about 7 years ago.  I'm surprised any of my friends put up with me.  I was in a sad state.

I'm reminded of the movie "Hitch", when Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, played by Will Smith, tells us about his first love in college, how his heart was broken and he basically went out of his mind like the lyrics describe.  There's a scene where young Hitch pounds on the window of the car his ex is riding in with her new boyfriend.  "Tell me what I did wrong, I can fix it!" Hitch cries.  The new boyfriend leans over and tells him, "Dude, you're doing it right now."

Being emotionally crushed by a girl (or a guy) reflects an immature mental state, yet this is what we're presenting in the media.  Yep, dangerous and insane.

Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if teenagers were raised with good mentors who could teach them how to deal with their emotions and establish self-respect.  Good mentors are hard to find, especially when the parents probably didn't learn these skills themselves and were left on their own to learn the hard way.

Unfortunately, my parents didn't have the knowledge or skills to help me along.  As it was, I didn't even enter the dating scene until I was in college, where my emotional immaturity didn't help matters one bit.  Throw in one particularly messed up girlfriend, and the stage was set for the remainder of my fiasco filled dating life up until now.

Damn you David Guetta and the rest of the musical bards of dysfunctional dating.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Speech Video: Not Self

Here's a speech I did as a test speaker for an evaluation contest back in the fall of 2010. I discuss Steve Andreas' concept of Not Self, in which a person defines his or her self concept in terms of things he or she is not, and how it applied to me. I later took this speech to our International Speech contest, but didn't make it past the area contest. This was my 1st Advanced Communicator speech (my 11th speech overall) and more importantly, the first time I got outside my club and spoke to different people and a larger audience. I didn't mind baring my soul to strangers; little did I know there were a few people there who I probably didn't want to get so open with. It worked out for the better though.



For some reason I can't remember, I had decided that the only way to really improve was to be able to watch myself on video. That is very true. Uncomfortable, but true. Despite having five verbal evaluations of my speech that day, there were things I didn't realize until I watched the video. For one, watch how I move awkwardly from side to side. A large part of that is due to my weight. (There's a good incentive!) Another is that my voice doesn't have nearly the vocal variety that I thought it did. And finally, I seemed pretty sad and pathetic in the speech, but I didn't intend the speech to come out that way at all.

I highly recommend that anyone who wants to speak better watch themselves on video. Nowadays almost any digital camera or even phone has a video mode, so use it on yourself.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Speech: Things I Have Learned

Here's another speech I gave at Toastmasters:
Several years ago, a coworker introduced me to a newspaper called Investors Business Daily, or IBD. The publisher of IBD has a set of 20 rules for investing success. These are rules based on lessons he has learned over many years of investing. Not only does he espouse these rules, but everyday in the paper he goes into more detail on how one of these rules can affect your everyday life. He records his lessons, shares them and reiterates them daily.

I realized my investing style is different from his, and his rules don’t always apply to me. But I realized that I do in fact have my own set of rules. I decided to write them down, and after reading them over, I realized that when I follow my own rules, I am successful. When I don’t I’m not.

Why stop with investing lessons? One day I realized there are many lessons, or rules I learned about life in general that were worth writing down and making sure that I follow. I’d like to share a few of those with you today.

The very first life lesson I remember learning was in my first apartment. I learned that when you run out of dish washing machine soap, liquid soap is not a viable alternative. If you don’t know why, feel free to try it; it’s very entertaining.

The kitchen is full of practical lessons. Never fry bacon in the nude for one. Someone even wrote book with that as the title. Never take your contacts out after dicing jalapenos. There's no book for that.

Not every life lesson comes from practical experience. I’ve learned that when the weather forecast calls for clouds and a chance of thunderstorms, I should carry an umbrella. Some things happen only rarely or hypothetically. For these, you can rely on movies to teach lessons. When the forecast calls for meteor showers with a chance of alien monsters, always wear comfortable shoes, because there’s a good chance you’ll be doing some running throughout the day. Also, I’ve leaned from the movies that when you slam and lock the door on an axe wielding psychopath, you probably shouldn’t lean against the door. (He does have an axe after all.)

I haven’t run into an axe murderer yet, that’s hypothetical, as are the aliens. On the practical side I’ve found a rule from engineering worth remembering. Never press the on button, if you don’t know where the off button is. In other words, never start a process if you don’t know how to end it. This rule has profound implications. It applies to engineering, society and even applies to people. On a societal level, don’t start a war you don’t know how to finish. On a personal level, don’t trigger a behavior if you don’t know how to stop it. The rules I’ve learned about people are probably the most important ones I’ve learned.

I think there is one rule that is near the root of all rules for dealing with people. A smarter man than me once described it like this: The veracity of any proposition is inversely proportional to the benefit gained by making it. In other words, the more a person has to gain, the more likely they are to lie. I never believe a salesman, a politician. They have too much to gain by lying.

There’s a corollary to this rule. When somebody declares they have the “truth” you should see a big red flag warning there’s no truth there. The same is true of the word “trust”. Any person who says “trust me” is not to be trusted. Any person who claims to be non-judgemental is actually very judgemental, especially of those who disagree with him. In general, the more vehemently a virtue is emphasized, the less likely that virtue actually exists.

I’ve also learned that speed is the tool of a scoundrel. Quite simply, speed prevents critical thought, and only a scoundrel wants to prevent any thought or debate about idea or action. When someone advocates fast action, whether a salesman or politician, it’s time to become highly suspicious. Few things short of emergency surgery require fast decisions.

Of course, speed is not the only tool of scoundrels. Any technique that hampers critical thought is just fine for the scoundrel. Lately the tool of choice is advocating the safety of the children, because you just can’t argue against that! Unless the person is advocating the use of car seats and seat belts, calling out “for our children’s sake” is another warning sign you’re dealing with a scoundrel.

Sometimes you’re not dealing with a scoundrel. Perhaps you simply want to evaluate two sides of a debate. In that case, my advice is to look for the hate. My rule is that the side that supports hate is inevitably wrong. The tricky part is finding the hate in the reasonable argument. Hate can be well reasoned, but it is hate nonetheless. It can hide behind religion, subversion of freedom, or the exercise of subtle power against a group of people, but hate is the major clue that an argument is wrong.

There are a lot of rules that I’ve learned and I’m sure you have some of your own. By all means, write them down for yourself. Repeat them. Live them. Share them.

Remember, if a company called Truth, Inc. tells you to buy their product in the next 5 minutes if you want your child to be safe, then put on some comfortable shoes and start running away. There’s a monster loose. Trust me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Table


I wrote the following for our Toastmasters club's ill-fated newsletter when I was president:
Nowadays social media is everywhere.  Social media has gone from a buzzword to a ubiquitous personal tool.  You can join MySpace, or Facebook for friend and family online social contacts.  Professionals can join Linked In, and research scientists can even join Epernicus.  You can share videos on YouTube or Stickam, and keep everybody up to the minute with your activities, no matter how trivial, via Twitter.  When you’re not at your computer, you can maintain contact from your mobile phone while grocery shopping or buying shoes.  If you want more personal contact, you can send an IM to your spouse, or, if you’re single, even invite a significant other on a date. 
While we marvel at how technology has increased our connectedness, we tend to forget the greatest innovation in social contact in human history:  the invention of the table.
It was the table that first allowed people to come together as a group to share with one another.  The table has taken many forms over the millennia, from a spot cleared on the ground, to a flat rock, a simple wooden structure, to the modern mahogany conference table (which probably includes electrical and Ethernet connectivity built in also.)  The epitome of the table might be the fabled Round Table of King Arthur’s  Camelot.  In any case, the table was, and still is, the place people gather around to share and to talk. 
Ultimately, every important personal connection happens face to face, using speech.  Your Twitter feed and Facebook updates are nothing compared to an actual conversation where people talk to each other.  You can send e-mails all day long among colleagues at work, but the important work happens when people gather around that table to talk.  Have you ever had a formal job interview by IM?  Have you ever gone on a date via an e-mail exchange?  Of course not. 
The art of talking, of speaking well, is not a dying art despite the onslaught of electronic social media.  It is alive and well through the necessity imparted by human nature.  Our important communications and relationships occur through the act of speaking.  Toastmasters have recognized that since the inception of Toastmasters International in 1924.  Although we tend to view Toastmasters as a club where people give speeches, the organization is actually devoted to empowering people to achieve effective oral communications of all types, and to improve speaking, listening and thinking skills.  These are all important skills in the real world to foster personal success, human understanding and the betterment of society. 
When you’re ready to step beyond the social media and improve your skills in a society of real, speaking people, let us know.  We’re here to help.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Welcome

Welcome to Rhetoric by Eric, or just "rheteric".  This blog serves to share my thoughts on public speaking, oratory, personal improvement and leadership in the tradition of Toastmasters International, of which I am a member.  My thoughts are my own, and not the viewpoint of the Toastmasters Organization.