If I could talk to the animals...
When I was up in the Yukon Territory a week ago, I had the chance to visit a Wildlife Refuge and Preserve. Dave asked, "Isn't that like a zoo?" Hmmm....at first I thought maybe it was just how I was viewing it, but then...no. The difference is that all the original tenants in this 700 + acre site were rescued from nearby areas. Yes, some of their babies have since been born in captivity but the fact is that some were injured and wouldn't have lasted out in the wild. And, by the way, have you seen that wilderness up there? I'm not certain I could last very long out in the wild up there.
So, I had the chance to tour this great place with a newfound friend from one of my workshops. We walked 2 - 3 miles through the natural habitats of so many different animals. Animals, by the way, that are quite different from our Tucson locals of javelina and bobcat.
I knew right away that Christine (my knowledgeable guide and fun friend) was a kindred spirit when we stopped to watch some muskox, and she asked, "Do you know what I think they would sound like if they had human voices?" Yes!! As a former principal who had over 30 different puppets that found their fame on the weekly news program we did for the kids, I was no novice to creating voices for animals.
We laughed as we decided those muskox had just had their hair done, had put on their long shabby coats and were going to walk into town to join friends for tea. They didn't move too quickly, and it was likely because they had too much coat on for the weather or for their bodies. I get that. My mother used to do that, too. It would be late springtime in Florida--upper 80's outside and she would be wearing her long coat to take Peaches, her long-haired Chihuahua, out for a walk.
Next stop was the habitat that housed the lovely ladies of the Mountain goat community. With their thin faces and their high heels, I somehow pictured them saying, "Well, hellooooo!!" a la Mrs. Doubtfire. I can just imagine they are thinking, "These heels have no place on these hills."
When we got to the area that housed the Arctic fox, I fell in love. While we saw two little guys in there, with their delicate features against their perfectly white fur, one was perfectly content to lie down in the sunshine, while the other little guy was in play mode. I kept thinking he wanted us to come and play with him. He'd run one way in front of us then ran back the other way, as quickly as he had come. I imagined he would talk a bit like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and would have a thing or two to tell people about the necessity of being punctual.
But maybe the little guys that had the most impact on me were not in this refuge but rather all along the Alaska Hwy, as I drove from Whitehorse west towards Alaska. I would go for 30 minutes without seeing another human or vehicle, but not so with the little ground squirrels, or sik-sik. I am guessing that my estimate of 40 would only be an understatement. But the funniest thing is where they were. As I drove through this rich wilderness, these little guys would be on the shoulder of the road, looking amazingly like they were waiting for GroundSquirrel Bus Line #9. They'd turn their heads to watch for oncoming traffic then as I approached, almost lean over on a hip like they were saying, "Come on. A guy's got places to go." They made me laugh out loud. But I did wonder if they had to report back to their buddy's family members when someone didn't make it. "We lost a guy out on the road today."
I get it. I know I am being quite anthropomorphic throughout my blog. But the fact of the matter is: that happens to be my only point of reference and they are pretty hilarious.
Just for today, I am hopeful you are enjoying the wonders of the world, whether your are on the road or in your own back yard.
Learn Something New Every Day
A friend and I were talking about ways of knowing (I am about to read “Tell Me So I Can Hear You” by Eleanor Drago-Severson and Jessica Blum-DeStefano to find out even more) the other day. Sue said she believed I was a self-transformative “knower”, which I took as a huge compliment after learning more about the ways of knowing. Here are the descriptions below:
I suppose the self-transformative knower couldn’t be a more accurate description of me, as I try to use everything that happens to me and around me as an opportunity to learn something from it. In fact, Dave calls me such a learning geek that he has forbidden me from going back to school to get any other sort of degree. Hmmph…. Fine. But that won’t stop me from using every single thing that happens in my life to be my “next degree”.
This past week, I had arrived in Seattle for a two-day workshop (learning, not teaching). Several colleagues were attending, as well, so we had gotten rooms at nearby hotels. The evening I arrived, Ron texted to see if we should car pool to the venue the next morning. The texts went like this:
Ron: Have you arrived at the Hilton?
Me: Yep, working tonight in my room, so I will meet you tomorrow morning.
Ron: We’ll meet for breakfast at 7:30 and head over about 8:00
Ron and I are great friends, so imagine my surprise when I didn’t see him the next morning. At 8:00, I texted, “I don’t see you down here. Did you leave already?”
Ron: We are here.
Me: I don’t see you.
Ron: Where are you?
Me: About to drive to the training.
When I arrived at the training location, Ron and I connected, only to find out we were staying at different Hilton chains. Well, so much for easy communication. After laughing about the miscommunication (and Ron asking if he was going to play a starring role in my blog---yes, Ron, hair and make-up will be with you, shortly), I considered how easy it is to miscommunicate. Nope, not blaming it a bit on smartphones, texting, social media, etc., as no matter what we use, the human is still there, ready to mess it all up. It just struck me as funny how easy it is to misunderstand and misconstrue. Why? I think it is because we are coming to the communication experience with our own set of assumptions.
For that reason and so many more, I view communication not as a one-time deal (i.e. “Let me tell you something so you can understand it the ‘right’ way”) but rather an entry point into the relationship. Or, maybe, the relationship is the entry point into the communication experience. Either way, it’s not a one-and-done.
Case in point: while working this week with incredibly knowledgeable, dedicated and inquiring folks, I re-discovered the power of how we say something. I asked the group to be patient with me and not to be offended if I asked questions about some systemic issues within the school district. I made the point of saying I was not coming in to tell them the “right” way to do things but simply to ask how they felt like their current process was going. After two days of working together, they shared that my inquiries helped them determine some new ways of looking at their own work. I believe we will be working together for a while to come. Why? It’s about the communication, the transformation, and the relationship.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of getting to see some of the Yukon wildlife, up close and personal, at a preserve. My brilliant guide and new friend, Christine, was likely exhausted after 2 ½ hours of walking with me, as each and every animal, plant and scenery change we witnessed was simply fodder for my curious questions: How does the preserve know when the animals are ready for re-release into the wild? How do the first nation folks know how to use the spruce for healing? What time of year do the golf courses open? (oops! Slipped in a question on behalf of Dave) What is the moose population in the Yukon? 70,000, which is twice the population of humans…AND 25, 000 of the 35,000 people live in the Whitehorse area. Wowee!!
Some may call it being nosy, I like to think of it as curiosity and a product of being a self-proclaimed nerdy learner. I like to look at everything that happens to me as an opportunity to learn something new.
Just for today, perhaps you can take a potentially not-so-great situation and see what you can learn from it!!
"There aren't any seats available on the earlier flight" were the words I recently heard when I was trying to ensure I would make a connecting flight. While I totally understand extra seats not existing, I question the statement when five minutes later, upon asking another gate agent if there might be any way to jump on an earlier flight, the response was, "Let's see what we can do. I can for sure put you on the stand-by list." While I was not guaranteed a seat from either gate agent, the way they communicated was a night and day difference.
Statements that seem to slam the door on communication seem to start with openers like:
"No, we can't...."
"It's not possible..."
What a difference a few alterations in wording makes. "We can if..." gives us the opportunity to at least try. We are saying that there is a chance. We are acknowledging that the door is not completely shut on the possibility.
So, why would we use the negative wording if there is a more positive alternative?
I suspect that the real reason is because lending a less negative twist on our communication takes a bit of effort.
When I taught students with emotional disabilities in San Antonio, TX, I started out telling them, "You won't be able to go out to recess if you don't finish your math." Some of them had such defeatist attitudes, they would simply throw up their hands and say, "Forget it. I don't even care." Remarkably (or maybe not so much), when I began changing the way I worded things and began to think about the result of my words, I would say, "As soon as you finish your last five problems, we can head out to recess", the tone of the classroom shifted. They had hope. I think that's what a more positive communication style does for those around us: it offers hope.
Perhaps, just for today, we can work on how we word things in order to open up the possibilities for hope!