The Endangered Tradition of Taking a Walk

You can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, or you can actually walk with them instead.

To “go take a walk” used to mean something.  On the surface, it could seem that walking without a necessary destination may seem pointless.  But when you’re physically moving, the gears in your head tend to move as well.  (I get most of my ideas to write about while moving in some way, not sitting still and just trying to think stuff up: The ideas just appear in my head as long as I’m moving somehow.)  When walking alone, you will more likely be able to think more clearly and creatively.  When walking with another person, you’re more likely to engage in clear and creative conversations.  But in a culture where we do a lot of scurrying around, then we get home, and we are often so exhausted from the day’s stress that we just want to chill out on the couch, the tradition of taking a walk has become endangered.  And therefore; less thinking, less talking.

Taking walks is a tradition I am making a point to bring back in my own life.  Every day at work, my friend Chris and I take a fifteen minute walk around the buildings near us.  He’s nearly Asperger’s when it comes to World History and Geography, so I learn a lot from him.  And I’m able to bounce ideas off of him as I am in the midst of writing about them, like about capital punishment.  If it weren’t for our daily tradition of walking together, he would just be another guy I work with.  But instead, he is a friend to me, not simply a “work friend”- because there’s definitely a difference.

And if you’ve live in a townhouse development or newer apartment complex in a decent sized city, you’re aware of your Korean neighbor ladies who walk around the neighborhood every evening after dinner.  They are always an inspiration to me.  But of course it’s not just about necessary daily exercise; it’s about putting yourself in a position to where you can simply think (if you’re alone) or to strengthen relationships with people in your life.

The Paradox of Claiming to Be Humble and the Irony in Bragging on Your Integrity

While in college at Liberty University, I noticed that I literally walked past thousands of other students every day, most of whom I’d never stop to have a conversation with.  We would recognize each other in the cafeteria as a person who saw while walking to our 9:00 class, but there was no reason to know anything more about each other.  So I messed with the situation.  I started putting on a nametag each day with different information about myself.

Like one day it said “5’ 9”, and another day, “Alabama native”.  Eventually, I started running out of solid facts about myself, so would sometimes use dry humor.  One day, I wrote on my nametag, “VERY HUMBLE”.  Most of my classmates and friends got the joke.  But there were a few that responded, “You’re humble?  Oh…”

The obvious joke is that no one can truly proclaim they are humble and still be humble.  Being humble involves humility; so for a person tell others about positive attributes about themselves, especially being humble, and for no apparent reason, is far from being humble, if the action was meant to be serious.  It makes me think of political commercials where we see the word “INTEGRITY” flash up on the screen over the politician’s face, and at the end, the politician running for office, himself, states that he approves the message.

Any business that sells itself as a company that treats people right makes itself a target as soon as the first company comes along with a perceived injustice.  And that’s why every company has some sort of “complaints department”.   Like how the most religious person in the room’s actions are often looked at through a magnifying glass, then when they do the slightest crude thing, they are remembered for that one random act, making them sort version of a hypocrite.

Of course, that’s the tricky thing about honesty, integrity, and humility: There are extremes and in-betweens.  Not all politicians truly are sleazy.  Not all people in prison are horrible human beings.  Being that no one on Earth is currently perfect, no one is truly completely honest and humble, living in accordance with immaculate integrity.  A good reputation is made over a course of time, through actions.  But even a good reputation is negated once the person is the one to bring attention to it.  Like a man in a good suit, he’s instantly less cool if he brings up his suit in conversation- it’s someone else’s job to brag on him.

What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 102: Assuming Intentions, Talking Too Much, Referring to Inside Jokes, and Interrupting

Exploring more unspoken rules of conversation, since What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 101.

In this second installment of revisiting what we already know about communicating in North American culture, I’m taking it to the next level, peeling back the first layer to discover even more hidden (and less obvious) elements of being a good conversationalist and being considered a friendly (and normal) person.  And alas, here are more unspoken rules.

Don’t assume a person’s intentions by saying “you probably…” Though I assign “cliché status” to the joke “you know what happens when you assume…”, there is so much validity in it.  People usually don’t want to feel like they are being “figured out”.  So to assume that someone is not trying hard enough at something, for example, may not fair well.  Some people are slower learners but solid performers, and even better teachers once they do learn.

Refrain from using the phrases “it’s complicated” or “to make a long story short” more than once a month. If you do, there’s a good chance you talk too much, or say use too many words to tell a story.  If so, the listeners are often not fully listening to what you say, as they are really just thinking “get to the point already”.  If you find yourself about to say one of those phrases, stop yourself for a moment, long enough to think, “Okay, tell them the ‘edited for time’ version of this story, using 1/3 of the details as you’re used to”.  Then act accordingly.

Shorter stories help the listeners to become involved in a conversation with you, instead of it becoming a one-way conversation.  Telling stories is a good thing, just remember that if you preface them with “it’s complicated” or “to make a long story short”, you’re taking too long to tell them.

Never start a conversation off with “Did You Know?” unless you have already verified the facts. (Click that title to read more.) People who make a habit of this phrase typically follow it with urban legends and unchecked myths.  Therefore, their listeners tend to take them less seriously, especially when the listener immediately looks up their story on Google or Wikipedia.  Surprisingly, even the story how “granddaddy long-legs spiders are one of the most poisonous spiders in the world, yet they can’t hurt you because their fangs are too small to puncture you” is not accurate.  They can bite you, their poison does get into your bloodstream, but the venom does not affect human the way it affects their prey, such as Black Widow spiders.  Humans have immunity against daddy long-legs’ venom.  Check it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pholcidae

No inside jokes. If you find yourself referencing an inside joke with one or more people (but not all) in a group, take the time to briefly explain it to the uninformed.  Otherwise, you’ll end up excluding people, which will cause them to think that you’re cliquey, that you already have enough friends in your circle.  Most importantly, make sure you never say “you wouldn’t understand”.  Instead, help them understand.

Interrupting a Person Then Never Returning Back to that Point in the Conversation. It’s amazingly how many grown adults never understood the importance of not interrupting a person when they’re talking to someone else.  However, there are times when you must interrupt a person real quick to tell them something crucial, but this is not offensive and is completely redeemable when you say “I’m sorry, you were saying that (insert where they left off) ”.

My Rant about Ranting: Blowing Off Steam Vs. Being a Blowhard

Oh, you mean I get to listen to someone rant?  I love rants!  They’re my favorite!

Last October I was searching for pictures of stupid church marquee signs to use as bad examples of Christianity for Holy Smoke (click title to read), which I was writing at the time.  I came across a blog called “My Rant About Religion” and made it half way through the first sentence before thinking, “Who would want to read a rant?… About anything?”  I know I don’t.

In my mind the word rant translates as “whining about something that has no real resolution”.  One of my Rules for Life is that if you’re going to present a problem to me, either provide a realistic proposal to solve that problem so that we can do something about it or be willing to listen and possibly act on my proposed solution.  But for someone to rant open-endly is to simply spread negative energy.  It does no good for anyone, except the person ranting, who lives in the illusion that he or she is actually doing any good.

But a rant is a one-way conversation.  It’s not productive nor does it help human relationships in any way.  And despite the title, which I obviously coined for ironic effect, this isn’t a rant.  Because I am providing a solution with my presented problem:

Ranters worldwide, if you feel passionate about an issue, make it clear what listeners are supposed to do with your information.  Let them know how they can help you specifically fix the problem.  That makes you a leader, a passionate idealist who rallies troops.

Otherwise, you’re just blowing off steam.  And nobody likes a blowhard.

Conversation Topics 101: Crime, Politics, Weather, Sports, Entertainment

What do we talk about by default when we don’t have anything important to say?


Out of a person’s mouth comes what is in their heart. But when a person is not engaging in serious conversation, only making “water cooler conversation”, what comes out of a person’s mouth is what is in their head. And what is in their head tends to come from watching the news. If the local news is any indication of what Americans value, then here are the basic categories of conversations that we evidently can’t go wrong with: crime, politics, weather, sports, and entertainment.

Crime: Growing up, my Mexican grandma would call my mom sporadically to warn her of the newest criminal that escaped the local jail. (Weird that it happened as much as it did.) I don’t know how it really helped, knowing. Criminals will always be among us, whether they’ve committed the crime yet or not. But still, people like to be informed about crime.

Politics: Yes, the wise warn to shy away from politics and religion. But when I already have a good idea of a person’s political stance, and I ask (not try to convert) their take on the most recent political event, which keeps the door open for a healthy and interesting conversation. The word “politics” basically has a negative connotation to it, but it’s still worth knowing what our leaders are doing and deciding for us. Just like the weather, can’t really control it, but we definitely can talk about it.

Weather: Speaking of the weather, this is the classic go-to in a time of conversation crisis. As a kid accompanying my mom every week as she bought groceries (I was very picky about what cereal was purchased in order to get the toy I wanted inside the cereal box), it was always funny to see the teenage “bag boy” struggle for conversation as he pushed the cart out to the 1987 Bronco II. It was inevitable: “Nice weather we’ve been having, huh?”

Entertainment: Loverboy was right in 1981- Everybody’s working for the weekend. And entertainment goes hand in hand with the weekend and free time. From the local July 4th parade to the this weekend’s upcoming music festival, entertainment is an all-inclusive subject.

Sports: My favorite scene of one of my all time favorite movies (Trains, Planes, and Automobiles) is when Steve Martin and John Candy have to sleep in the same small bed in a hotel. They wake up the next morning, all cuddled up. John Candy says, “My hand is between two pillows.” Steve Martin responds, “Those aren’t pillows!…” Immediately the two men jump out of bed, disgusted and embarrassed by their too-close proximity. They start talking about sports to feel manly again. At least in America, sports are important.

Need more to talk about?  Try reading some of my older posts from my monthly archives, found on the right side of the screen.  Or wait long enough, and I may write Conversation Topics 102.

What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 101

Exploring the unspoken rules of conversation.


As an avid fan of clear communication and healthy human relationships, I have made myself overaware of the common courtesies of speaking in North American culture.  The problem with being so sensitive to the unwritten rules is that it can be much easier to become annoyed when other people break these rules.  Yet still, these rules exist.  Until now, they have remained invisible- but it’s time for a review of what we already know and hopefully live by.

Knowing when not to talk to a person. It’s not so much a “not before I’ve had my coffee” situation, as it is that many people (even if they are indeed “morning people”) do not enjoy engaging in conversation for the first hour of the day- especially if it involves hearing petty stories involving pet problems or car trouble.  Also, if a person seems quiet like they may be upset or stressed, do not say “Well, what’s wrong with you?!”  Instead, politely ask them if they want to talk about it.  If they say no, then say, “I’m here if you need me” and don’t talk to them until they talk to you.

Knowing what not to say. Refrain from pointing out obvious cosmetic flaws: recent weight gain (this includes pregnancy), hair loss, acne, scars.  The person may not ever forget your comment if it involves any topic like those.  They may never refer to you as a “nice person” again after that- but instead, you’ll be forever engrained on their “rude” list.

Knowing how to have an opinion yet not preach.  Many people are into healthy lifestyles these days, being much more aware of organic eating.  When asked by someone about your own lifestyle choices, simply answer their questions.  Only continue the conversation from there if they sincerely show interest.  Do not debate with them or become their “food judge” by saying, “Wow, you’re actually gonna eat all those carbs?” as they walk by with a big bowl of spaghetti.

Knowing how to be positive. No one likes a whiner.  While the poor economy and the Gulf Oil Spill Crisis are common knowledge and therefore make easy topics, avoid initiating a conversation about them.  Look for ways to “make a person’s day” by what you say instead of simply adding to the noise.  You’ll stand out, in a good way.  Needless to say, for more reasons that one, please never get caught saying, “I got a case of the Mondays!”

Knowing how to actually compliment someone. Make sure a compliment is truly a compliment.  If there is a casual criticism thrown in there, it voids out the positive vibes.  Like this: “I really like that purple shirt you’re wearing, even if it makes your skin look a little pale.”  Not cool.

These starters are only the tip of the iceberg.  But they are real reasons why some people are “good with people” and others aren’t.  Either way, good communication is a learned skill- it’s just that some people are more observant than others.

Today is Copyrighted

Important Rule in Life: When someone asks you “what’s up?”, it’s good to have something cool or funny to say.

A good thing to ask yourself at the end of each day is “What happened today that makes this day different from every other day I’ve lived?”  So many of the days of our lives seem normal and insignificant.  As a way of making them seem more meaningful, I like to observe what makes each day special.  It makes future conversations more interesting. 

Like today, I jumped in my Honda Element for the drive to work, and immediately I was taken back to the smell of the boys’ locker room from my high school in 1996.  But there are never dirty clothes in my car and I never leave the windows down (in the event it had rained during the night) and there’s no carpet in my car at all.  So why did my car smell like a sour milk sock?  I endured the odor for 22 minutes until I arrived at work when I took a minute to sniff around, but to no avail.

Six hours pass and I’m getting my mountain bike out for my lunch break ride.  And near the front of the bike tire, underneath my emergency hoodie, was a black-and-brown banana, wrapped up in a clear plastic grocery bag from Publix.  And then I thought to myself, “So that’s where left that banana!”  I’m thinking it had been there for around 16 days.  It was so rotten that it was liquefying and running out of the bag.  Good thing I keep emergency Wet Wipes handy.

That mildly entertaining story will become the copyrighted material of today.  It’s why today is different than any other day of my life.  Nothing too dramatic or life-changing.  At best, just a reference I can make at some point in the future in a conversation with a group of friends where the conversation topic is “smelly things”.  This day will live in infamy.  And comedy.