Put Down That Smartphone and Look at Me!

Hearing the inventory of Steve Jobs’ ground-breaking innovations, it made me think of what effect his genius has had on how we now relate to each other. What have we gained?

We can now make magic — we can bolt right over those old time/space barriers that made connecting with each other take time and physical effort. Now we can communicate with each other instantly, effortlessly — no seeing/hearing/touching/talking necessary. Our words fly through space and land just where we want them to with just the tap of a finger. And while we’re with one person we can even answer another’s demands and reach them too — putting the live, visible person we’re with on hold.

But what have we lost?

Communication science tells us that first impressions — the input that helps us learn and discern as we judge people — are made up of 55 percent experiencing your body language, 38 percent your tone of voice and that only 7 percent is your words. Seven percent of total information about anyone is what cell phones give us as we contact each other! Even less since we use acronyms — not even whole words.

So what is our new magic making us miss ?

Each other. The delight and surprise, the troubling demands, the enigmatic and fulfilling contacts we used to make with each other. The challenge of learning how to scratch the surface we all present. To recognize the human traits we all share. To experience each other, to see and learn how others are handling life and its issues — by looking and listening to them.

From the beginning, we used to invest ourselves personally in communicating. From painting pictures in caves to drums and smoke signals to developing language so we could get more specific to creating rites and rituals, plays, dances, songs — we were driven emotionally to reach out and affect each other, to share how we felt. To confirm and find solace in the commonality of our human condition.

It worked for centuries. As we moved on, we still treasured what had been said and done before because we continually recognized that the outreach of all the arts kept answering our questions, giving us other approaches to what we all still continued to live through and care about. And we kept seeking out the personal relating and responding, savoring the talking, the sharing — the contact. In every society, at any time in history, there were always family get-togethers, community celebrations, participation in events and intimacies with fellow humans. We saw and felt each other, reassured by the recognition that we’re not alone. That we do share the space and the life we all live.

Until now.

Yes — we still gather in groups. We still have family get-togethers. We still meet and eat with friends and colleagues. But the drive for contact? Eye contact? Verbal contact? Vocal contact? Reaching out to make personal, human contact? That’s fading. We’re now satisfied to share through little hand-held mechanical devices and solo finger exercises. Human contact is becoming theoretical. If the little device shows letters on a screen that means we’ve made today’s kind of contact. And it’s enough. Much easier and faster than talking. Safer too, since we can reconsider, edit and rewrite before reaching out. But what’s getting short-circuited in the creation of this unquestionably genius device? The looking, seeing, smiling, frowning, raising a voice, laughing a laugh — all those native people-gifts that we used to use for pleasure. And to instinctively judge, react to, understand and feel the human contacts we made.

Young people’s acronym-filled messages are now simply asking, “Are you still there?” waiting for the screen to say “Contact — I’m here.” We all use the new technology to fulfill more than just work tasks. The screen also answers “Who knows me?” “Do I matter” “Am I a player in the big game?” But the basic substance of life and how we live it is still human — not mechanical — and these extraordinary inventions are also starting to dry up our original communicative talents that always made reaching out to each other — though a little more time consuming — such full, rich, meaningful experiences.

So — what have we gained? Speed and ease and freedom in completing the circuits; in making technology do our bidding, short-cutting all the tiresome, time-consuming ways we used to use to accomplish our tasks. That’s good.

But what are we losing?

Those native human gifts we all own. Finding the individuality, the one-of-a-kindness that we can only discover by looking and listening, by interacting and processing live, at once, while we’re in real, personal contact with each other.

So — what am I asking for? Especially from the younger ones among us who grew up addicted to those devices. Put down those cell phones and go for being present. When you’re together with others, park the phone. Look. Listen. Perceive. Tune in. Treasure and use those inherent human instincts we used to be so good at when we needed to sense friend or foe, danger or joy, surprise or discovery. Notice. Touch. Breathe in. Feel what happens between people. Find out what we share before we lose those skills altogether. Discover what else you can learn about yourself and living – -not just the fact that we can now also make contact by tapping away.


Funny thing about us in Emergencies

If you read or listen to the news on a fairly regular basis you may have come to the conclusion that we’ve become a group of angry, divisive, name-calling sects, busily elbowing each other out of line, judging each other’s moral and mental capacities and losing that old, dependable sense of connection that used to mean being an American. Yes, we were always different from each other but we were always still related, allied, unified as Americans. Remember?

Then along comes Irene. And those hard, thorny, judgmental shells get peeled back to reveal— we’re all still connected. Connected by that most durable, eternal thread— our shared humanity. Everywhere we saw just folks rushing to rescue total strangers. Putting their own lives in jeopardy simply because they could feel the link. Their empathy and concern born out of the simple, innate human emotions we’re all born with. And suddenly we got to view that old American arm-in-armness that has been so sorely missing these last couple of years.

Of course folks like Rep. Eric Cantor couldn’t lose the opportunity to exhort us that FEMA – busy saving lives and property but spending money to do it —has to be considered one those evil government- spending programs that must be cut back in order to save money. Rather than asking the super-rich to kick in more revenue to solve our growing insolvency, certain politicians still see the human services our government provides as unnecessary, indulgent and only adding to the weakness of our economy rather than being the basic fabric of our society, grounded in our country’s founding principles.

So—does it have to take hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and blackouts for us to rise to showing the best in us? And what will it take to move the hearts of those members of Congress who worship the almighty dollar and the bottom line more than our universally basic human needs. Needs we all share, we who are lucky enough to be part of this country whose foundations were built on answering those human needs— freedom of speech and of worship ,from want and from fear.

Finding My Body Again

            Summer. Lenox, Massachusetts becomes home. And I’m surrounded by the glories of both the natural and the man-made world.

Nature? Trees, vistas, mountains, a lake outside my windows. Air so clear and fresh you actually notice what you’re breathing.  Silence at night. Stars so visible, so close. And a chance to see the sky without bending backwards.

Man-made? A host of theatres taking us with them on journeys of joy, of thoughtfulness and insight. Dance concerts bringing us the well-trained bodies of artists from around the world to show us what else we can say to each other. Tanglewood with the  Boston Symphony Orchestra  playing its heart out to adoring fans eating delicious picnics on the grass and reveling in the work of old masters and the new prophets.

But something else, too. A chance to stop the usual madness and focus inward. To not only listen to thoughts but to dare to try to recapture a passion. What was one of my strongest passions: I was a dancer.

Well, the years have rolled by, the weight has rolled on, the old muscle structure but a memory now. The skiing, the tennis, the dance, the physicality and speed with which I moved so naturally yesterday—all gone. New forms of my life took over. New focus, new skills developed  But wait. Up here I dared to open that door again.

I hied myself down to the local community center and started taking aerobics and Zumba classes. What an experience! Zumba is non-stop dancing for an hour to Latino salsa, mambo, meringue plus middle eastern and Indian pop music—all of it making me dance my heart out— all in time with a very fast beat and tunes blaring. No holds barred. And there’s no instruction. Just follow the leader. Copy. Figure it out as you go along. Recognize the steps and the patterns and just keep going! Fumbling the steps? Who cares. Just keep up with the music and move!

The first moments were shocking to me. I used to be a very good dancer. I could isolate parts of my body, think and move on several levels and also make my movement have meaning, both to me and to the audience. And here I was discovering, and needing to relate to, what felt like a lump of clay-like body. Sure I could keep time with the music, I HAD to keep time with the music—that’s one on my most basic instincts.  But to begin to move the sections of my body, to discover what I couldn’t automatically do, what wasn’t responding—all in an environment of a dance studio that was once my life!  What a kaleidoscope of images and feelings flashed through me!  But on I went, without the judging, the berating, the mourning over what I’d lost.

And there was this amazing new set of muscles dancing with me— my smile! I found myself grinning from ear to ear by the second day, when the body began using itself in the old ways. Improvising a little, putting my own style into the steps, recognizing and being able to repeat and enjoy what I’ d done yesterday.

Oh, my friends—what a glorious experience. I thought I’d lost her forever. I hadn’t seen or touched or heard from that Sonya in so long. And I found her again. She never left! And she was so glad to come out of the cramped little box in which I’d tucked her away.

Well- we’re back together again. Dancing every day among a group of people who aren’t every good at it, but, undaunted, they do it. They move and they enjoy it! And my old dancer, the old pro, is right in there with them.  Non-judgmentally- just moving . Having fun. Loving the chance to move again. And smiling.

When Insults Were Eloquent – Revel in the Juicy Language


     Have you thought about what’s happened to how we use language now? How we put messages and ideas we mean to get across? Since speed and ease are the big drivers in today’s communication,  I thought I’d take you on a visit to how something as tough as insults were creatively put by writers and speakers in days gone by.  Read these and enjoy the masterful way language was used.  Do they tempt you to re-think how you write those emails? 

A little levity helps put criticism in perspective, even though it’s sometimes hard to take.  I think you’ll enjoy these………I know I did.

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
………………………………………….Winston Churchill

A modest little person, with much to be modest about.

…………………………………………Winston Churchill

I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great
…………………………………………Clarence Darrow

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the
…………………………………………William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

Does he really think big emotions come from big words?
…………………………………………Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time
reading it.
…………………………………………Moses Hadas

He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.
………………………………………..Abraham Lincoln

I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.
………………………………………. Groucho Marx

I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved
of it.
………………………………………..Mark Twain

He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.
………………………………………..Oscar Wilde

I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a
friend, if you have one.
………………………………………..George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second if there is one.
……………………………………….Winston Churchill, in response to Bernard Shaw

He is a self-made man and worships his creator.
……………………………………….John Bright

I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it¹s nothing trivial.
……………………………………….Irvin S. Cobb

He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others.
……………………………………….Samuel Johnson

He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.
………………………………………..Paul Keating

He had delusions of adequacy.
………………………………………..Walter Kerr

There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure

…………………………………………Jack E. Leonard

He has the attention span of a lightning bolt.
…………………………………………Robert Redford

They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human
………………………………………..Thomas Brackett Reed

He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by
diligent hard work, he overcame them.
…………………………………………James Reston (about Richard Nixon)
In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.
………………………………………..Charles, Count Talleyrand

He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.
………………………………………..Forrest Tucker

Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?
………………………………………..Mark Twain

His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.
……………………………………….. Mae West

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.
………………………………………..Oscar Wilde

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts for support rather
than illumination.
………………………………………..Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

He has Van Gogh¹s ear for music.
………………………………………..Billy Wilder

How Easily We Forget

Well, the International Women’s Day was recently celebrated  amid  some press and fanfare and I sat there remembering the first ever Women’s Day declared in the U.S. in the 70’s — what the world was like then for women, how we felt and what’s come out of those fervent days..

There I was, in Boston, being the first woman to host her own talk show without the help of a male host, tackling the tough subjects of the day, and there were many —the women’s movement, the Vietnam War, Nixon and Watergate, the new consciousness-raising movements for both men and women. The Sonya Hamlin Show presented the first-ever birth of a child with natural childbirth on TV. We tackled the issues of homosexuality with gay men and women who dared, for the first time, to come forth and speak their names. We dealt with the school desegregation of Boston – a very bitter struggle – by my hosting members of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen’s Council to show Boston whom they were really dealing with. I interviewed all the leaders of the new young women’s movement, promoted their books, even launched every aspect of Ms magazine for a week on our air before it ever came out for the public on newsstands. And my station, WBZ, supported us and didn’t lay a hand on our programming. Truly groundbreaking broadcasting.

And then came the announcement of the first ever U.S. Women’s Day.

It meant “Stand Up and Be Counted”.  March down the streets of downtown, link arms, sing Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman, Hear me Roar”. It meant being open  and visible to each other as a group — not just as individual letter-writers to the editor or phone campaigns or passing petitions around.  What a feeling!

Our personal passions were suddenly multiplied and shared with so many others – we were live and visible. It was a little intimidating but so exhilarating. And so new… But then, as we marched, I saw and heard a bunch of hard-hat workers hanging out of an unfinished building, cracking the usual cracks, whistling  the usual whistles, telling us to go home and get in the kitchen, in the bed etc. and I was reminded again of the uphill climb before us.

What’s sad to me today is that the newest generation of women have no idea what that fight was like. They never think about how come they now have so many opportunities that didn’t exist for us, the first wave of women trying to enter the big world as equal participants. They have no idea how it felt to be the first women into the various jobs that seems commonplace. We needed to fight so hard to even get heard or taken seriously, to even be allowed to apply for and enter the new possibilities we were making happen. I remember having experts on my show talking about new work modes to accommodate women, like flex-time and shared jobs and the four- day work week –all now quite commonplace. We were ridiculed, especially by the established workplace.

So as I read about plans for the newest International Women’s Day I reflected on how social change happens—how hard it is, how exposed the early proponents are—and how quickly that painful struggle gets absorbed into the mainstream and never even thought of—the changes simply becoming part of what’s expected.

Wouldn’t really knowing the history of the women’s movement strengthen today’s young women? Not just to surprise them but also to deepen their understanding of what issues they still face and inspire them that it’s possible to make social change. And to discover the joy of finding each other and join again in pursuing common goals.

The Challenge of Growing Up

So you think teenagers are so different now from when you and I were there? Sure, the tech revolution has added some bizarre twists but I recently had occasion to revisit the teenage revolt with a friend who’s having the usual heartburn trying to set the usual rules and explain the usual issues to her daughter.

As I watched I thought about the intrinsic rebellion built into that adolescent period from time immemorial Why was it ever thus? Well, here’s what I think.

Adolescents have this monumental task of needing to flex and test their own muscles to see if they’ll be strong enough to take the next step—to  move into the tough and complex world they see— to take their own place in it, handle the blows and challenges, become self- determining and emerge as adults. Needs lotsa muscle and  confidence- building to confront that. Where’s the best and safest gym to try out those counter-punches? With the folks that until yesterday seemed like their bulwark and safety net. But to start this workout, teens must first reject what they’ve always relied on. So that’s the beginning of the battle from the teen’s side.

But what about the poor beleaguered parents? They’re being tested too. Their power is also being challenged. Instead of making fists, as the kids need to do, parents’ challenge is to open that tight hand on the reins and begin to let go. How terrifying! This change of roles can also say  “am I losing my power over my kid? Maybe even in my world?”.So here’s the standoff and the source of the battle.

The teens need to reject, rebel, dare to be rude and obnoxious, break the rules and make their own decisions — all in an effort to test if they can be strong enough to do that and survive.

And the parents? They’re hanging on for dear life not just to the past and the roles of wise advisor, teacher and rule-maker, but they’re also being pushed into taking the next step in their own development. They need to let go and find their strength and reassurance in other ways, and a new role in relation to their kids.

But there’s one more thing. Teens recognize that the unmitigated love and care they got at home will not continue in that big world they’re entering. So they need to break that dependence on the parents, to snap that comfortable bond, in order to find out if they can live without that too. Thus they need to make themselves so obnoxious that their parents will reject them at the same time that they’re doing the rejection. To make the next step of “Go- get out of here already!” come from the parents, making it easier for teenagers to leave.

What do you think?

What’s with Making New Year’s Resolutions?

Just as sure as that ball drops at midnight on December 31st, we all feel, come January 1, that we need to find something about ourselves we have to fix or change.

Why? Think about it. What a tough way to start the New Year—to scrutinize where we’ve failed, how we haven’t measured up. Makes us start what should be the bright and promising adventure of a New Year by shining an internal spotlight on what we didn’t do; that who we are or how we’ve behaved or how we compare with others or our own ideals is not just not good enough.

Why do we burden our outlook on the New Year that way? Instead of looking at the calendar with all those nice empty pages with anticipation —wondering what will fill them, what new discoveries we’ll make, what will surprise us, how we can rise to a new challenge— we hang the albatross of a test around our necks. And a test that most people notoriously fail at. The media fills that first week with “How to keep your New Year’s Resolution”, underlining that we’re expected to fail.  What a great way to sail into the future. Not only knowing what’s wrong with us and where we need to improve but knowing that we’ve tried and failed before and probably will again…

How about giving ourselves a break? How about adding up last year with its disappointments and its shortcomings and saying “Phew! Glad that’s over with. Let’s see what a New Year will bring.” And believing that whatever comes, we can handle it. That there will be opportunities to rise to new occasions. That what we learned last year will help us make better moves this year and that we even have it within us to change what we think we would want to.

Discovery and Excitement in a New Career

So you dream and … you dare. You dare to drop what you know, what you’ve always done, what your secure niche feels like – and you strike out into unknown territory. Into your next field of dreams. For me- acting.

Even more than fear, I was swamped with the idea of chutzpah—the “What do you think you’re doing? Who are you to enter this deep, professionally-trained world- with all  its experienced, well-accepted players? “ But the energy behind the curiosity, the drive behind the dream, pushed me, headlong, to defy logic and take the leap—guts aflutter.

The first audition? Secretly roaring with laughter at myself, I notice that others seems to take me seriously… They don’t know! And I go on… They seemed to like what I’m doing!

And so I begin to act- to audition- to learn- to stick my neck out. To memorize! Is the old brain gonna let me do this- easily – like when I was a kid?  I do various smallish parts and then I get cast in a play. A play I have to carry- as the star ! A play that in so many ways reflects my own life. And raises some of the questions all of us ask ourselves as we get older… And I discover what an honor it is to bring some answers to others. To add my insights into this common experience of “Is that all there is? What have I missed? What else is out there for me to taste, to test, to explore?”

The play is so good that it starts winning at festivals. And I get to explore how many ways the words carry me—how differently I do it each time. And I think back to all my interviewing years on my talk show when I naïvely asked great actors “Don’t you get tired of doing the play over and over?” Now I know. Never! It’s all about the adventure. The daily doing – of passionately investing in becoming another soul– breeds discovery. And I revel in and reflect on it, each time.

Thanks for having the guts, Sonya. For daring the leap, for listening to the burning curiosity, and for not being afraid to reach and grow—even this late in your life…  To all of you— go. Do. Try. It’s waiting for you- another place to grow and discover and find new fulfillment. Don’t miss it!

A come-uppance

There I was, facing a really busy October – traveling for seminars and keynote speeches,  performing in a play, a birthday coming up. All my plans made and intact. Running my life as usual — or so I thought..

Shows you what I know. On the day I was to leave for my acting in MA and my traveling to Canada for the seminar, I ended up in a surgeon’s office with an emergency operation scheduled for a birthday present! What? Whaddya mean? What about all my plans? People are depending on me! I promised!

What a come-uppance. There I was, assuming that all I ever need to do was say yes or no to what came along and start making plans. And it really did work that way. That was my life. Why would I ever stop to realize that this process I so took for granted was pretty remarkable? After all,  I did my daily TV talk show live for 11 years and never missed a show! I turned up and turned out for everything I set my mind to.  I was in charge, right?

Well, I became acquainted with some forces that put me in my place  in the humble corner pretty fast. My body had such different plans.  Not only introducing me to its own forces like pain but also with immovable schedules that overruled mine…

Oh, and the operation? Painful as hell. Much slower recovery than I expected (I’ve always been a very fast healer but this one had a mind of it’s own..) But I’m well on my way to mending and moving on. Even going to act in a play in NY on the 12th and 14th of Nov. and looking forward to the family descending for Thanksgiving.

But still – I did have to cancel the keynoter and the seminar and the play and all the promises I’d made and that still has me in a state of shock. I was stopped dead in my tracks. And it made me think.

Have you ever thought about all we take for granted as we proceed through life’s dizzying pace? What we count on? What we never consider? Wow-  I won’t forget this one for a while, I hope,  but I am afraid that as soon as I’m all well, I’ll probably go back to forgetting this life-lesson, too. And most of all—not stopping and noticing and being grateful for all the good luck I’ve had. And knowing that I’m not nearly in charge as I thought I was…

The Stumbles in Changing Careers

Well, I’ve been so busy with my new career – acting – that I keep being surprised that my old career—lecturing and consulting as a communication specialist and jury consultant – still keeps calling.

Suddenly I have a whole raft of speaking engagements coming up—talking to the East Coast’s  appellate and federal judges and lawyers, to executives at the National League of Cities conference, and to other conferences in  Miami and California  as well as also consulting on cases with one of my long-time clients.

And here I thought that was all over because I’m acting now!

I’m actually preparing to do the play I did Off Broadway in New York again  at  Shakespeare & Co.’s Studio Festival here in Lenox, MA on Labor Day. This is where they try out plays for next year’s season (!!) and you can imagine how that’s really occupying my mind.

Problem is—I am of two minds.  I had to read 700 pages of depositions to prepare for my consulting work next week while I am re-studying and memorizing my script again to be book-free for the play’s performance. And these two minds don’t sit lightly in my head.

My consulting mind is outer-directed – looking, thinking, analyzing facts as presented by an expert witness. How can I help make him clearer, more credible, more persuasive? To make his points more swiftly to a jury that doesn’t listen anymore since email and texting? To keep within the parameters of trial law and also make him not be so defensive, so obstructive, so self-aggrandizing? So I’m all involved in analyzing why he does what he does and finding ways to reach into that place and turn him in a new direction with new understanding – something I’ve done many times before, an always demanding, consuming process.

Yet my other mind – the acting one, the use-your-heart-and-soul one – is inner directed. Totally involved in my becoming another character. In my being what I want my witness to be – credible, clear, persuasive- reaching out to my audience to make them experience and identify with the woman I’m playing. To understand her, agonize with her, feel her almost be her. This work  is so internal and self-focused while the other is so other- directed, so intent on understanding someone else and affecting his behavior—making him help his jury-audience not only get his message (which is quite technical and complex) but also like and respect him.

So—career transitions are not easy. The paths are diverse and crowded with demands and issues and striving and yes, concern about how well can I do the new while I sink back down into the comfort of the old one I know. But life is full of challenges and how lucky I am to be able to choose mine and to make the uphill climb a willing one, not one that was just thrust upon me. I’m so grateful and aware of that.