Paper Tissue Wars and Other Conflicts

A friend told me how her mother tears paper tissues in half so that when she blows her nose, she economically uses only half the paper. My friend, who had a cold at the time she told me about it, rubbished her mother by demonstrating to me how she herself can use a whole tissue five, six, seven times before she need throw it away. No need to tear it in half. “Actually, I don’t throw it away, I iron it and start again,” she said. That revolting image made us both laugh.

Her mother’s behaviour really irritates her. It doesn’t irritate me, I feel a hint of fellowship, coming from a family where my father commented if we put more than ¼ inch of paste on the toothbrush. My husband uses a cotton handkerchief, and I have taken to that too, though I know it disgusts some people. To me, quite the contrary, it seems sort of elegant, something from a past era. Also, environmental. Probably. Who knows? I’m never going to convince my children that the use of a cotton handkerchief is sanitary, I know that.

Life’s little conflicts – don’t tell me you don’t have any. Meanwhile a country is being bombarded and the nuclear threat increases. What to do about conflict, discord, difference?

If I were world king, I could force people into compliance, burn them at the stake or bomb them to kingdom come. Control, eh! But control isn’t the answer, however much we like to think it is.  “You’ll do it because I say so,” says the parental dictator, thus passing on a disastrous strategy to the next generation. Many a leader has made a grave mistake through needing to look powerful – even throwing people into war and other evils in order to look in control.

Without power or ruthlessness, I spent the first year of coronavirus ranting. Over everything really – the callous mistakes of government, the treatment of our health service, our democracy, the climate crisis. I became better informed about a lot of things, so it was a kind of awakening, but I doubt it solved anything.

Without serious self-sacrifice, I then stepped into a phase of doing what was within my own power to do. I ate less meat, recycled religiously, travelled less (easy in a pandemic!), used less toothpaste (symbolic, thanks Dad). I made various personal changes and learned how interwoven our lives are across the planet. All good, but small fry in the face of the power of the big players, corporations and governments.

My glance in that direction had me digging for truth in a mire of disinformation, signing petitions, contributing to causes that seemed worthwhile. I discovered some truly amazing people working their guts out to make the world a better place. All worth doing.

Yet, here we are, at a critical moment for the world, and many people think it’s too late for talking. If talking equals postured “talks” – debating, and more for a home audience than anything else – they’re probably right. Humanity on earth will cease before we change other people’s minds through the force of reason. Force can change behaviour, but minds? Populations in oppressed societies know the difference between behaviour and conviction. You may have situations in your own life where you sincerely believe that it’s too late for talking. So what’s left?

Talking, that’s what. I want to say a word or two about Senator George Mitchell, who was a prime influence in the Irish negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. He achieved results that had seemed unimaginable before, by negotiating.

Negotiation is “an art, not a science,” Mitchell writes, “requiring knowledge, skill, judgment and humility. Especially humility”.   He was known for his calm dignity and grace that changed the atmosphere of a room and dissuaded people from ranting and raving. He knew it wasn’t about ‘taking a stand.’

He accepted that discord happens. He said, “Will you point out to me what society in the world, particularly democracies, functions without dispute, without disagreement and without some degree of violence? Don’t pull Northern Ireland to a standard that no other society has ever or will ever meet.” In other words, don’t avoid conflict at all costs; we have to work through conflict.

He had the patience to hear people out, even when once a speech lasted seven hours. “Patience and stamina.” He said, “In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume it is true and try to imagine what it might be true of.” (Wow. That made me think.)

However tricky the problems (and they were!) he urged people to concentrate on the positives. You can’t do this if you’ve decided you are dealing with evil incarnate; that makes you blind. He looked for microdots of connection – for example, we are both human, we both want our self-esteem intact, we both want peace – and then he worked steadily, stolidly, with hope, to build trust from such fragile beginnings; going back steps again and again and again for every tiny pace forward. Every move was about trust.

Finally, importantly, he had an unswervable belief that peace was possible. He said, “There’s no such thing as a conflict that cannot be ended. Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings.”

These are powerful belief states from which to operate. Think how such beliefs might affect the progress and outcome of our personal battles, and even – in hope – of the great conflicts of the world.

Go well,
Judy

Other matters

I haven’t written a newsletter for a month or two. Hello again!

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms

A client reminded me this month of how useful Butterflies and Sweaty Palms is in coping with nerves when you’re daunted by public speaking or wanting to move to a new level of confidence and comfort. It’s a short book, containing 25 genuinely effective ideas for speaking with confidence.

You can get it in Italian too – Farfalle nello Stomaco e Mani Sudate. The Italian publisher Amriti Editions interviewed me recently in a podcast and translated it – here it is if you want to practise your Italian!

The Art of Communication

Thinking about what I’ve written here today, I thought you might enjoy a short excerpt from my last book, The Art of Communication:  

Communication is More than Words

Conversation is, of course, talking to each other. When you meet someone, what do you think about if not what to say? Most people get very good at making conversation and slip easily into a ‘public’ mode of small talk and other exchanges suitable for particular occasions, but it’s simplistic to describe conversation as straightforward talking. For a start, people often don’t say what they mean; in fact, quite often through embarrassment or fear they can lead you away from what they really mean. There’s much going on under the surface.

What people don’t say when they talk to each other is as important, and probably more so, than what they do say. A response such as ‘I don’t know’, delivered in a flat voice, is as likely to mean, ‘I don’t care, I’m angry and you don’t understand me’ as to be a simple assertion of lack of knowledge. This is why the right-brain’s ability to pick up tone, inflection, metaphor and symbol, humour and paradox, is so important. When someone with left-brain confidence quotes someone’s words as proof of something, they are leaving out the bigger part of meaning. The media, politicians, and business grandees do this all the time: ‘I believe that in 1962 you said . . . ’. It’s important to realize that while actual words are mainly the province of the left-brain, most other elements of communication – including meaning, inference, intention, context, tone, facial expression, gesture, humour, irony, and metaphor – are the province of the right-brain. What you are always speaks louder than what you say. The novelist Peter Carey suggested that the declared meaning of a spoken sentence is only its overcoat, and that the real meaning lies underneath its scarves and buttons. The quality of your thoughts and feelings has an impact on the other person, whatever words you use.

Sometimes, the apparent subject of a conversation is not even the real subject of the conversation, and both parties in some bit of themselves know it. You might have an end of life conversation with someone, and you talk about whether the pillow is comfortable, and whether sleep is hard to achieve, yet the whole conversation is a way of saying, ‘I love you’, and the other person, without remarking on the fact, hears this simply and directly. If you were a fly on the wall to this conversation, you would read the real meaning in the tone of voice, the look in the eyes, and many other tiny cues. Sometimes, language is symbolic, and what needs to be said can find expression only in images.

TEDx Talk

I continue with this theme in my TEDx Talk: How Your Voice Touches Others: the True Meaning of What You Say.

My other Books

The Art of Conversation – highly practical help with the whole business of how to interact successfully and confidently with other people.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies – Everything you wanted to know about voice and speaking in a book that’s easy to dip into to answer all your questions.

Voice of Influence – The book that became the name of my company, and which has remained popular, translated into 9 different languages. How to get people to love to listen to you.

Coaching

Therapy, counselling, analysis, mentoring, coaching … there are many different ways to find out more about yourself and move forward. Coaching is a brilliant means to use conversation with a professional to progress in a career, your relationships and in your sense of who you are. Give me a call if you’d like to chat about what’s possible and whether it might be the perfect vehicle for you. Email me in the first instance at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Judy Apps
judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk
URL: judyapps.co.uk

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