Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Celebrate the New Year?

As 2011 approaches I have to admit that it is hard not to succumb to the allure of the new year. The proverbial magic of the dawning of another year.  Out with the old and in with the new as they say.  I have heard more than one person proclaim that they were ready for this year to be over so they can get started on next year as if there were some sort of magic gateway that they were passing through at 12:00 midnight.  A gateway that will somehow transform their situation from its current sorry state into the blissful state that they deserve.  It seems as though everyone's looking for a quick fix but that's not surprising given our society and our penchant for instant gratification. What is surprising is that year after year we fall for the same empty promise, I call it the New Year's Folly or NYF (pronounced knife) for short.

Here's how it works.  At the beginning of a new year our perception is that everything is fresh and rejuvenated and that we will start out with a clean slate. So with resolutions in hand we skip down the path of the first couple of weeks with a smile and a "can do!" attitude.  The only problem is that whether we choose to recognize it or not, we drug all of our baggage from the previous year with us.  We still pay taxes, we still have that crummy boss, our love life is still only quasi-fulfilling, we are still 20, 30, 40 pounds over weight, and that nagging cough that's kept us from getting a good nights sleep for the past 4 1/2 weeks still lingers.  In other words there is no reset button or ctrl-alt-del function for life.

It's not that we shouldn't try to have a positive outlook on things, to the contrary scientific studies have proven that a positive outlook and the corresponding reduction in stress actually have a therapeutic effect, meaning fewer and less severe colds and such, and you will live longer -- barring accidents and other circumstances that you essentially have no control over that is.  Pretty good deal if you ask me.  So what I am saying has nothing to do with a positive attitude because you can ramp that up and make it a foundational part of your life at anytime not just at the verge of the new year.

Beyond that first couple of weeks or perhaps a month or so we are ground back down into the same old routine.  Monday and Thursday are trash days, March 3rd is your anniversary, taxes are due on April 15th, that report on the fiscal budget overruns is due a week from Tuesday, etc...  Not that any of that is necessarily bad it's just that for the most part it's mundane and as we all know the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  So it goes, and come summertime we have forgotten all about the gateway we passed through 6 or 7 months ago.  The gateway and promise of better things to come.

Now however is when we begin to turn our heads ever so slightly towards the distant but inevitable new year.  We begin the silent countdown and the next thing we know Halloween is upon us and the feeling, the anticipation grows from within.  Then it's Thanksgiving and finally Christmas and we are chomping at the bit to get to New Year's.  And why are we chomping at the bit? Because the feelings we harbor are cyclical like the seasons themselves.  This year sucked but next year is going to be grand!

Once upon a time our ancestors too paid homage to the new year.  For them however it wasn't the calendar one but rather the seasonal one, for the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, marked the turning point of winter and the beginning of the march towards spring.  For them the new year really did mean renewal and the prospects of starting over.  The previous year might have sucked, crappy crop production, natural disasters, marauding invaders, rival tribes, or a rampant illness, all of which could really be a buzz kill.  The new year heralded a do over, a clean slate to begin again with another chance to get it right.

So here we are practicing an ancient ritual in modern times and for the most part feeling let down when January 2nd doesn't yield that pot of gold we rightly deserve, but aren't prepared to work for.  As for me I'll party and celebrate the coming of a new year with friends and loved ones just like everyone else but while I do appreciate the metaphorical context of it all I'll keep my head on straight and my expectations in check so that when January 3rd rolls in I'll be "smiling and dialing," prospecting for new customers to help me fill my pot of gold one coin at a time.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Contemporaneous is currently one of my favorite words.  In all honesty it's as much because of how it rolls off the tongue as what it means but for the purposes of this post let's assume that it's just because of the latter.  For the most part contemporaneous communications is how we interact with others of our own species, both verbally and nonverbally.  It's typically pretty honest and certainly it's colorful, filled with emotion, conviction and exuberance, but it's usually not very well organized and because of that I believe that it tends to be less powerful than structured communications especially when it comes to the written word.

As a case in point consider a speech like Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  Clearly it was written in advance and undoubtedly went through at least a couple iterations before Lincoln felt that it was "ready to go".  As a result of that process the message was powerful and it is one of the most beloved speeches in American history.  In just ten sentences that took approximately two minutes to deliver Lincoln framed the war and memorialized the tragic loss of life so "that these dead shall not have died in vain".  Now compare that to virtually any email you have ever written or read and I think that you'll agree that the differences are astounding.

I'm not saying that email or any other written contemporaneous work can't be powerful or profound but by the nature of how we as humans construct our thoughts (again a generalization) it's just less impactful. Think about it.  When was the last time that you cried as a result of an email you received. What about being frightened or impassioned or furious?  Now think about books, novels, short stories, plays, movies, and poetry.  I can recount incidents of strong emotional response in each and every case and not just on occasion but rather fairly consistently.  Of course not all text and for that matter, authors, are created equal, but in the scope of things I believe that it's true that structured communications outshines its contemporaneous sibling when it comes to impact.

Where contemporaneous communications shines is in establishing rapport and creating an intimate touch point for individuals to connect with one another, even where the message is not pleasant to the receiver.  It's entirely "human" and can be employed by anyone regardless of their station in society or educational background.  As a matter of fact the only significant impediment to the success of contemporaneous communications is the language barrier.  Most people it seems can get past the cultural barriers that exist, to a greater or lesser degree, if the dialog is conversational in tone and nature but not so much if the conversation takes too formal a tack.  Conversing contemporaneously, while probably not the most impactful, is certainly the most human and with out a doubt the most fun.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Coming soon...

Stay tuned a new and exciting blog post is coming soon...(trust me!)