Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tools of Persuasion

A telephone call is not e-mail, and e-mail is not a telephone call.

That seems obvious, but the profound difference was brought home to me this week when I used both modes of communication to try to lobby my neighbors on a modest proposal involving a small grant request.

A group of us wants a $2,000 city grant to experiment with renting space to create a community action office. The rental would last four months.

No big deal, but I came up against some resistance from one doubter. “Too much of a commitment,” he said.

E-mail is enticing as a persuasive tool because you can send your argument to any number of folks with the tap of a key.

Vvvvoooommm. The message goes out to an entire list. No dialing numbers. (Long gone are the days of licking stamps. Yuck.)

But do the recipients read your compelling message or does your appeal languish in “in” boxes for days, for months, forever?

Face it, we all get way too much e-mail. We are “over communicated with.” I know I let some messages go. I red flag them, I put them on my to-do list, but they still disappear from my consciousness — buried by an avalanche of new e-mails, all with their own desperate demands for action.

Another problem I had with my e-mail lobbying this week was that I had to send my appeal out through the one person who opposed the proposal. His introductory message said, in effect, “I oppose the proposal below and here is why. If after you have scrolled through my incisive criticism and are still interested, go ahead and read it and let me know what you think.”

In sum, the controller of the e-mail list controls the message.

And so I turned to the telephone. I needed six or seven votes for the organization’s endorsement of the grant application.

That meant six or seven or more phone calls.

Strange how we don’t keep phone numbers in this internet age, but I tracked down my quarry. At times, I actually used the bulky Portland phone book.

“Hi, I’m calling about that e-mail you got ….” I began.

Oh yes, they had been meaning to write. Or, they had written the controller of the list hastily agreeing with his criticism. (In three cases, they hadn’t copied their response to me.)

I listened and then answered the criticism. No, the proposal didn’t involve a commitment…. We are talking four months only.

Now they understood.

“Any other questions?” I asked.

When they had none, I asked them if I could count on their support.


I asked them to write the controller with their decisions. In a three cases, folks changed their positions.


Beyond the e-mail and the phone call is face-to-face conversation, an almost quaint form of persuasive communication. For most of us, conversation (over lunch? dinner? golf?) seems an impossible luxury in this age of rapid response and urgent decision-making. Those who can still afford it (and I do mean “afford” — as in time and money) are the most persuasive of all. We call them “lobbyists.”

But that’s a topic for another day.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Schools and scoreboards that don't know the score

Modern sports reporting prides itself on tying athletics to the real world, but today’s Oregonian was living in la-la land with a gushy story about glitzy video scoreboards at high schools. The new high-tech boards — billboards really — are showcases for junk food and junk beverages.

Oh, they do show the score, buried somewhere in the 7-Up and Dr. Pepper ads.

The Oregonian’s sports editors might want to check out today’s Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times. He addresses the menace posed to kids by soft drinks, aka “liquid candy bars.” In New York state, Gov. Paterson has proposed slapping a hefty 18 percent sales tax on soft drinks in order to discourage their consumption. Tax revenue could be used to support our schools.

Meanwhile high school athletics departments, to tap into advertising revenues and to hype sports, are welcoming beverage advertisers to sell dangerous, diabetes-causing junk drinks to kids via score boards.

In the Oregonian story, an athletic coach in Dallas, Oregon, added a scary but true observation. The article quoted him as saying that sports is another classroom for kids. In other words, sports teaches lessons — in this case, dangerous ones.

As the coach put it, “I really think so goes athletics, so goes your school.” And so goes education.

So what’s the score? Health — 0; Diabetes, obesity and other sugar-related health problems — 200 plus (in pounds).

And the people who run the schools are getting more stupid, and dangerous to our kids, by the minute.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shoes that fit

A confession — or maybe it’s just to purge eight years of anger.

So many times I’ve wanted to hurl my own shoes — or outrage — at George W. Bush.

I have wanted to score a direct, symbolic hit, to shatter his privileged, preppy, Texas, self-righteous, Born-Again, cynical shell.

To protect us — both of us — I have prayed to the powers, "Don’t allow me in the same room with this man!" I fear what I would do. How would I contain my dark disdain for him?

How would I stifle my rage?

I doubt I would hurl mere shoes. I would choose heavy, deep-treaded, metal-toed, big-bore hiking boots. Clod-hoppers.

Danners from Oregon.

After Egyptian TV reporter Muntader al-Zaidi threw his shoes and unleashed his tirade, I wondered what would I yell as I hurled my own.

“Here’s for your lies!” I’d scream. “Take this for your hypocrisy, ignorance, incompetence, callousness, smugness, cronyism, cynicism, contempt and arrogance. Here's for the torture, the deaths, the destruction of the planet, the inhumanity.

Take this for Rumsfeld and Cheney. Take this for your collective evil!”

Don't get me wrong. I believe there is “that of God” in everyone. I really do. I believe in non-violence. I believe in these things, but when it comes to George W. Bush, I fear my beliefs would fail me; that I would fail my beliefs. I fear that my own darkness would prevail. That my boots would become unlaced.

No, the shoes thrown in Baghdad fit me all too well.

Like Muntader al-Zaidi, I wear size 10.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

The day after the storm

Today, squealing neighborhood children slide and screamed down our ice-crusted street, one of Portland’s steepest.

At the bottom of the glazed skid, vigilant parents stomped away the cold between careening downhill runs. Then, clusters of children spinning their way, they stood poised to hurl themselves between kids and cars, walls and the neighbor’s looming, foot-of-the-hill garage.

From my kitchen window, I briefly considered my liability, escape clauses in my insurance policy and vulnerability to litigation.

Winter exposure.

Among my neighbors are parent/attorneys.

Many parent/attorneys. Good neighbors. Nice people.

The laughter of their children — of all the children — brushed aside my worry.

Later, transporting mandarin rinds and banana peels to our compost bin, I discovered Sunday’s storm had spread a cloth over the patio table. Snow padded our mesh metal chairs with frosted white cushions.

A summer setting in December. A trick in time.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Out of Silence, Quaker Joy!

A Quaker query: We know of “making a joyful noise unto the Lord,” although we Quakers rarely practice such "noise." Is it possible to make a joyful SILENCE unto the Lord? How can our silent joy, once we’re led to it, be shared?

Today in our Friends meeting we dispensed with our normal silent worship and practiced what Friends call “worship sharing.”

Normally Quakers “speak out of the silence,” if they speak at all, during worship. It’s considered bad form to come prepared to speak on a topic. Instead, Quaker worshippers rely on the "leadings" in the silence for guidance. We listen for and then to “that of God” within us, and, if so moved, we stand and speak.

Worship sharing, though it begins in silence, is different. The group agrees that we will speak without necessarily being “called” to. Each person’s observation is followed by silence and prayerful consideration, and then that silence is followed by someone’s vocal offering, followed by silence etc.

The topics of worship sharing are usually unplanned as well, but last week one of us were provided a topic. At the end of worship, Renee Chinquapin, a fairly new attender, complained that our meeting doesn’t take into its care “single” members.

I responded by acknowledging the problem but then asserted that each of us is part of the meeting. We all, Renee included, bear responsibility for the meeting’s strengths and weakness.

I suggested that we make Renee’s concern our own and offer it as a subject for worship sharing.

I was looking forward to what Renee would say today. Renee is a musical, lyrical, open, earthy, perceptive free spirit. I shared a passage from her energetic travel book, “Bogotá to Buenos Aires —Riffs, Raps and Revelations Along the Gringo Trail” in an earlier Red Electric post. (I intend to post another selection soon.)

Her observation in today’s sharing was incandescent. She said she found Quaker worship joy-less.

The truth of her words stunned — and liberated — me.

Quakers share their “concerns,” they “hold in the light” the suffering and the oppressed, they struggle against war and hatred. They look within for the truth as they “seek the light.”

But where is the joy? And what keeps us from it?

As I considered her remark, I thought that perhaps the lack of joy might result from our silent worship. It is hard to express joy in silence. Rarely someone will recite a short verse out of the silence. One of our members occasionally sings. Once the silence led her to sing “Amazing Grace.”

But mostly we are profoundly and deeply silent. Some might see us as brooding and even grim.

Yet how easy it is to inject joy into our silence. After Renee spoke, I thought of all the potential for joy in our silent gatherings. I thought of my joy FOR our meeting. The joy in worship is there, if only we choose to turn our hearts to it.

I thought of a contemplative, serene and smiling Buddha. I remembered Alan Watts, the American popularizer of Zen, and his way of punctuating insight with unrestrained, even mischievous laughter.

Could our silence lead us to song and dance and laughter, as well as “spoken ministry”?

My guess is that in the future, thanks to Renee’s gentle prodding, we “early morning” worshippers at Multnomah Monthly Meeting will experience and celebrate our joy inwardly, and, when so moved, outwardly.

I look forward to it — with joy.

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