Category Archives: Opinion

The (Almost) Lost Art of Polite

Leaving the bank, I sensed someone behind me. I walked through the heavy door, then held it open for an elderly man who was slowly making his way toward the door. “I’m not helpless,” he groused. “Of course not,” I replied, “I’m just being polite.”

rude_polite_rankingPolite isn’t popular anymore. A friend who observed by husband opening the car door for me, as he has for decades, sniffed, “Are you so weak you can’t open that door yourself?” If my husband didn’t have the keylock, I would have reached across and unlocked his door for him, too.

It’s kind to help people who have mobility issues, but the small acts that make up being polite are truly an art that makes the world a bit shinier and easier to manage.

Polite is hard to explain to small children. They stare at the handicapped, ask intrusive questions, and are sticklers for the “truth” as they see it. If we are lucky, they get socialized and develop the habit of being polite. But it’s slipping away, faster and faster.

When I bump into anything–even inanimate objects, I say, “Excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” as a force of habit. A teen looked at me in the grocery store when I apologized to a grocery cart and muttered, “Dude, it’s like a thing! It can’t hear you.” True. But it might have been a person.

I let pregnant women ahead of me in line because I remember what it felt like to stand on swollen feet. When I was in D.C. two weeks ago, no one looked up from the seats clearly marked “for Senior Citizens and the handicapped,” and I did not have the nerve to pull out their headphones so I could ask for the seat. Why not? Because I didn’t think they would move.

Being polite means saying that an ugly baby is adorable, sending thank-you cards, and attending funerals of people you don’t know well. It’s saying “thank you” to a cashier who isn’t polite.  Not walking three abreast down a sidewalk and forcing other people to step into the street. If you are a bicyclist, it’s stopping at signs and lights instead of blowing through them or yelling “on your left” when someone is using the sidewalk for walking, then passing them at top speed, just nipping their elbow.

Polite is not throwing your co-working under the bus just because you can and no one will stand up to you. Bring back polite, and the whole concept of bullying shrinks and vanishes. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing and takes little effort.

-–Quinn McDonald still says “you’re welcome” when someone says, “thank you.” She doesn’t want them to think for a minute that they might have been a problem.


Easy, Cheap, No Work

” I want the eight hour class, but I want you to spend no more than half a day. And I don’t want you to lose anything. Can you do that?”

Postcards“The two day class seems like a lot of work. Can you cut out some of the exercises without losing any of the learning?”

“My group really is scared of complicated classes. What can you do to make the topic simple so no one has to ask any questions or see a demo?”

I hear these questions at least twice a month, both about my art classes and my business writing classes. Fun, easy, simple classes are wonderful. Many things that are easy and simple are valuable and worth learning.

From Lisa Loves Learning

From Lisa Loves Learning

But there is value in complicated. Struggle with something and conquer it and you have two valuable outcomes–you’ve learned something new and you have learned that you are strong enough to stick with something worthwhile.

Sadly, challenges are getting a bad name. If something is hard, it is the teacher’s perceived job is to make it easy. I’ve seen the title workshop become “playshop” because, you know, work is hard.

Teachers are not meant to hand people pre-digested solutions to solve problems or to complete a project. Part of  personal growth is in the struggle, is in finding solutions, is in completing the work. No one loves failure, but it can be part of a larger success. A life that has no challenges, whose answers come supplied by others does not add any significant learning or meaning.

Struggle for the sake of struggle is not useful. But working hard for what you want brings rewards independent of winning. And rewards are worth working for.

Quinn McDonald draws out the brave in people. She admires the brave meaning-makers far more than winners.


Facing Change

Hear the word “change” and you are likely to break out in a sweat. We like things the way they are. Even if we don’t like the way things are, it’s better than what we don’t know.

change-4-1imepycWhat makes change so awful?  One answer is that we are not up to the task of facing change. Feeling not ready is the inevitable companion to change. So is feeling awkward, ungainly, not suited for the task. What makes change so awful is the lack of adjustment time. . No chance to look chic and unsurprised. Change catches you by surprise, with your shoes untied.

Change throws us into a formal party while we are still wearing our emotional play clothes. Suddenly, what seemed appropriate for the emotional playground doesn’t fit into the serious polished-shoe environment we wake up in. We are caught off-guard. And off-guard,  without time to plan, we go back to old emotions, old ways of behavior.

My coaching practice is rooted in helping people survive change. Then thrive with it. But it’s not easy, and there can be a lot of tears first. Change is not always a friend.

When change whips around us, it’s a windstorm of confusion, decisions, and often paperwork—all within a tight deadline. You get laid off, and must choose a generous package with a non-disclosure signature or no package and a sense of righteousness. A loved one is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, the kind that destroys plans, futures, whole families. What decisions are right? What decisions are right now?

The second part of change we hate is the strong belief that everyone’s life should be easy and steady. A change that isn’t pleasant is a threat to security. We are rooted in the belief that life needs to be the same every day. And by “same” I mean sunny, emotionally fun, and upbeat. That’s an unrealistic expectation of any life. A big part of life is making it through rough spots and building up experiences.

Change doesn’t always mean bad news, but even good change can look like bad news. Teaching clients to deal with change often starts with learning how to stay calm. Harder than it sounds. But once you’ve learned that, you can see change as a tool, not as a result. And that gives you the power to build.

-–Quinn McDonald likes change. And that explains a lot.

It’s Not Over, It’s Just One Down

Senate Bill 1062 got vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and. . . not so fast.

Arizona is not out of the woods. And while I rarely write about politics, it’s time I did. One of the reasons I moved here is to work on social justice issues, of which there are many.

One of the scary facts in the story of SB1062 is that the three original proponents suddenly were against it when the “media made a fuss.” Which, in my humble opinion, is what the media is supposed to do.

All of us are complicit. As artists, we have an obligation to be involved in politics. Too many artists I know don’t watch any national news. I mean real news. Instead, we share bumper-sticker slogans on Facebook and think we’ve done something.

The excuse for not knowing what your own legislature is doing is “so much violence,” or “it’s all the same.”  The result of ignorance is far worse. It’s a lack of ability to see consequences and prevent them. If you are not informed,  you get a legislative clown car that is about to drive the future of your state off a cliff because they didn’t have a clue to what their action was making possible. And no one stopped them.

Think I’m on a senseless rant? Here’s what Maya Angelou says on art and politics:

“All of that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS,” she declares. “What are these people talking about? Are you really telling me that Shakespeare and Aeschylus weren’t writing about kings? All good art is political! There is none that isn’t. And the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status quo.’ We’ve just dirtied the word ‘politics,’ made it sound like it’s unpatriotic or something.” Morrison laughs derisively. “That all started in the period of state art, when you had the communists and fascists running around doing this poster stuff, and the reaction was ‘No, no, no; there’s only aesthetics.’ My point is that is has to be both: beautiful and political at the same time. I’m not interested in art that is not in the world. And it’s not just the narrative, it’s not just the story; it’s the language and the structure and what’s going on behind it. Anybody can make up a story.”

“All politics are local.” –Tip O’Neill

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and social justice advocate.

Saying “No” With Grace

Wish you could say “No” more effectively? Without hurting the other person’s feelings? You can. It takes a bit of practice, but practice is worth the freedom you gain–from doing things you don’t have the time or energy for.

When+you+say+yes+to+others+make+sure+you+are+not+saying+no+to+yourselfWhat to do? When you say “No” you will be met with cajoling, from ones that generate a big load of guilt to ones that tell you how long the favor will take–and it’s always “Five minutes, max.” Of course, the only worthwhile thing that can be accomplished in five minutes is brushing your teeth.

So here are several technique that work. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than saying “yes” and exhausting yourself or heaping stress on yourself. Because that’s what we are doing–when we say “yes” when we should say “no” we are the generator of our own stress.

1. Listen to the entire request. Cutting the speaker off before they are done only makes them more demanding and insistent.

2. Re-phrase what they want you to do. This is important so you can understand what is being asked of you. Frequently, people asking favors use diminishing language (words like only, just, little, quick, easy) and you hear that instead of the task.

3. Agree, but set a time that works for you. If you WANT do what is asked of you, and you CAN do it, agree but give yourself plenty of time. This includes setting a time you will spend on the task. For example: “So you want me to take you shopping for a used car? I can come with you from 2 to 4 on Saturday. How does that sound?” or “You want me to proofread your marketing letter? Sure, I’ll be able to get to it on Monday, the 18th, and complete it on the 21st. Does that sound OK?”

imagesNotice that in each case you are asking if the time is agreeable. If not, you have a great excuse to turn it down. If the person wants more of your time or a faster deadline, you can decline, having offered what is possible.

4. Do the favor, but for a limited time, set the time at the outset. “Sure, I’ll go with you, but I have to be back at my house at noon.” Or , “I’d love to help, and I can go from noon to 2 p.m.–will that work?”

Like the first Polite No, it offers your help, within your limits. If the person doesn’t like your limits, you can gracefully back out.

5. If you don’t want to or can’t, suggest someone else. “I can’t go on Saturday, but you might want to ask Joe, he knows a lot about cars.” Suggesting some other solution helps the other person walk away and makes you helpful.

There are times when you will have to choose between two “No’s” or say “No” more often than your guilt-meter wants you to, but remember that even in an airline emergency, when the yellow oxygen masks drop in front of you, you are supposed to help yourself first, then those around you. That’s a good image to keep in mind–saying No let’s you take care of yourself so you can survive to help others.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps others help themselves. Occasionally she is better at that than doing it herself. But she keeps practicing.


Traveling as an Artist

Notice the fewer posts this week? Yep, I was on the road, and too hectic to post. Travel is not fun anymore. Although I’m grateful I’ve shaved off 60 pounds every time I have to drop into the center seat, travel is still exhausting and stress-producing. But there are ways you can make the trip just a bit easier:

Check your bag. Yes, my bag does fit overhead, but by the time I get on, there is no more space. I can gate check it, which is free, and I can ask for help loading it overhead, but once I have committed to a bag, it has to come into restrooms and food locations. So I check it, knowing that I can put in all my cosmetics, and not just the one-quart bag full. I also don’t have to hoist it onto the X-ray machine, pull it off and run with it.

4134b-7LYjLCarry a backpack and a smaller purse. The purse fits into the backpack and holds essentials–credit cards, cash, pen, phone, earphones, gum, keys. It’s worn cross-body while I’m in line, making the license and phone (with the e-boarding pass) easily accessible. Once through the final checkpoint, the purse goes into the backpack, and the only gray tub you need is for shoes and jacket.

The backpack itself has the items I must have when I arrive–iPad, hotel and shuttle information, a spare jump drive with the class material, and a change of underwear. There’s also a journal to work on while there is an electronic blackout.  A backpack is remarkably comfortable to carry–much better than a one-shoulder bag.

Carry food. It’s possible that I’ll miss a meal while on the flight, and missing a meal is bad for blood sugar. So I carry mixed nuts, nut-and-seed bars (homemade), a dark chocolate bar, and an apple. In a pinch, I’ve got a low-carb meal.

Pack an excellent quality hand cream. I love Diptyque Hand Balm. It’s abc_baume_genereuxnon-greasy, mildly fragranced, and can be used on your face and neck. Airlines and hotel rooms are horribly dry. I also carry lip gloss and a small tube of OK hand cream. That way I can use it often enough to keep my cuticles in one piece.

Bring something comforting. A candle, a favorite sweater, a favorite fragrance. Hotels can be impersonal and lonely. A candle that fills the room with fragrance, a spritz of your favorite fragrance on your pillow, something that eases stress is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Plan when to work and when to relax. Working all the time wrecks your efficiency. Allow yourself to relax on flights.

--Quinn McDonald teaches business communications. She does art in hotel rooms.

How to Drive Your Trainer Crazy

It’s been a long week. I’m a patient person, for the most part, but there are some things that make me believe this is my last time around in reincarnation.

from "Silly Daddy" :

from “Silly Daddy” :

Just like autumn is vibrant with color because Mother Nature is squeezing the last of her colors out onto the trees, my life is so incredibly colorful because this must be my last reincarnation.

I have a rich and colorful life, which I tried to fight, then just turned into journal fodder. In the last two weeks:

—-A student has come to class over an hour late and asked, as he breezed in, “Did I miss anything?” I did not say (although I wanted to), “Nope, not a thing, we were just hanging out waiting for you to start our life for today.”

—Another late-comer slumps in her seat, and at lunch declares she has no book. When I hand her one, she asks if I’ll fill out everything we’ve done up to that point while she goes to eat lunch. When I demur,  she gets angry. “It wasn’t my fault I was late, and now you are blaming me for it.” Well, good to know. I wonder whose fault it was that she was late–and will that person please show up to fill in the workbook for Ms. Late?

—Another student spends her whole time texting. When I ask her to wait for break, she tells me she is listening to every word and can multi-task. Two minutes later I call on her, and she slowly lowers her phone and says, “You’d better re-cap that for me.” She should have capped it the first time.

—-Three students didn’t wear their teeth to class. At least one of them had teeth,

as they were right next to the water bottle. When I couldn’t understand an answer, he suggested I might need a hearing aid. At break, I asked him to wear his teeth or put them away, something I never thought I would ever have to ask. He explained that they were his eating teeth, and he needed them for his lunch. Oh. Well, then.

My journal is full for this week. I hope your week was not quite as colorful

-Quinn McDonald is a trainer. She would not trade her life for any other.


Selling Dreams

The weather is cooler now, so the housing market is moving into full bloom.What happens in Spring in other areas of America happens in Fall in Phoenix. As snow birds begin to drift in (along with the real migrating birds), houses pop up for sale. Three weeks ago, my morning walk sported no “For Sale” signs; this morning there were six.

gty_house_for_sale_florida_tk_120801_wgThese are the houses that will become rentals for snow birds. Some of them become the second home for those who hate the cold of winter but don’t want to endure the heat of our summers, either.

Most of the houses that now have “For Sale” signs have undergone changes in the past weeks. I’ve seen paint cans, tiles left over from new floor installations, new windows, painted fences, new plants.

With each new sign I see, I begin to wonder why the inhabitants lived in less than they wanted or thought was pleasing until they decided to put the house up for sale. Then they spent money to please someone they don’t know to show them how nice the house is.

For sale signI wonder how many of them wanted those improvements, upgrades or changes but didn’t do it just for themselves, to make their home more of what they wanted.

Yes, I’ve done similar things in homes I’ve sold. But mostly, I put things back to neutrals, hiding my own eccentric taste–the summer melon hallway with Moroccan tile, the three-toned living room with contrasting trim that became beige before it went on the market. But I never made major improvements for others.

In my last house, we sunk an indecent amount of money into improving the kitchen so it would work for Cooking Man, only to have a real estate agent tell us, when we were ready to sell, that we could not expect to recoup costs of countertops that weren’t black granite or a single-space sink (good for soaking big pans) when the “only thing that would sell” was a big/little sink combination–the popular model of the day.

It’s interesting to see how eager we are to please others when there may be a financial advantage. And more interesting to see what we will live without.

And I wonder if we don’t do the same thing with our behavior–we upgrade ourselves to impress people but we don’t make that move for ourselves. We’ll live with those bad habits because it’s hard to change.

Maybe that’s what Brené Brown meant when she spoke of being vulnerable–being worth it to ourselves to be the person we’d like others to think we are.

Quinn McDonald needs to have her rugs cleaned. For herself.


Hate-Reading: Queasy Diet for the Soul

The second I saw the article in the New York Times (Style Section, page 19, Sept. 22, 2013) I knew it was worth a blog post. The article was about deliberately Life-Is-Good2reading social media posts that make us angry, crazy, upset or fills us with fury over someone’s perceived hypocrisy, goody-two-shoe-attitude or some other feeling we hate to feel but can’t stay away from. It’s called hate reading, and it seems a lot of people are caught up in it. Considering the comments I see on Twitter (about the new, East-Indian Miss America, for example), there is a lot of free-floating hatred.

The article cites different kinds of hate-reading. One person is tired of seeing endless posts from a friend about her dog and kids. Another person hate-reads an acquaintance’s relentlessly cheerful, hope-filled messages and wants to demand proof of that emotion.

Katie J. M. Baker, who writes for Jezebel, says, “Our motives rarely come from a position of strength . . . when I walk away from my computer, I feel like I’ve just binged on a butter-sogged bag of popcorn before the movie even started; I’m slightly nauseated but still can’t help licking my fingers for more fatty flavor.”

Dislike-Social-Media3Hate-reading fuels up our negative energy. Much like binging on sugar, it makes us feel oddly exhilarated to have caught someone in a lie, hypocritical posing or overt bragging, but the crash is as bad as the push up the emotion was gratifying.

The article says we downward-compare to feel better. But the feeling doesn’t last.

Professor Alexander H. Jordan, an adjunct assistant professor of business administration at Dartmouth, says “It’s when a person’s typically rose self-view is temporarily threatened that self-enhancement processes, such as finding people to ‘hate’ online, are triggered.”

Of course, the people we hate (or hate-read) become tethered to us emotionally, and, like an addiction, we continue the behavior.

We used to engage in this behavior only with celebrities, “hating” an actress when we didn’t know her personally at all, and simply drew conclusions from photographs and our own opinions.

And still, and still, we all want to be loved and heard. But it’s so hard to do it for others. Something interesting to think about, for sure.

Quinn McDonald is not above hate-reading. She’s going cold-turkey after reading the article. She’s received emails from people who hate her without knowing her, and has decided negative energy needs doesn’t need to be stored.  It can’t be harder than giving up sugar.

Speaking Truth to . . . No One

By the time the front-office employee hung up on me, I had been on hold for 22 minutes. More precisely, I’d been shuffled through menus for eight minutes and on hold for the other 14. The voice had said, four times at regular intervals, “If you want to make an appointment, leave your name and number and you will be phoned back within two business days.” But there was no opportunity to leave your name and number.

In a chain reaction, make sure you know where both ends of the chain are.

In a chain reaction, make sure you know where both ends of the chain are.

When the front office finally picked up, she told me that the doctor was not accepting new patients. I began to ask for another doctor in the same practice, and she hung up on me. Just like that. Lunch break was 30 minutes, and I had used 22 of them with no result to show for it.

This was a training issue. An overworked employee, overwhelmed by ringing phones, undone work, too much responsibility and no authority. Faced by a problem she couldn’t solve, she hung up on the problem. Bad training. Even worse customer service.

It’s a new insurance company to me, and luckily, they are publicly traded. Not exciting news, except I could easily find their annual report online.  Before lunch break was over, I had a phone number of a person senior enough to care about an unhappy client.

The phone call was brief. I left a message on his voice mail giving the date, time, of my disappointing call and the name of the person who hung up on me. I asked for a return call so we could take care of the training issue. And I asked for an apology.

In the end, that is exactly what I got. A heartfelt apology and a doctor’s appointment (with a different doctor). I posted a much briefer version on Facebook, emphasizing the training issue and the importance of customer service training for any employee who ever speaks with the public.

In a chain reaction, know what you are setting into motion. Know the end before you begin.

In a chain reaction, know what you are setting into motion. Know the end before you begin.

Instead of sympathy or other stories, a rash of comments told me to “speak truth to power” and name the company and the employee. I didn’t understand. The matter had been taken care of. There was no need to name a company or to hold an overworked woman up for derision.

It felt like relentless retribution–a senseless escalation of anger that would not be resolved or made better by “speaking truth to power.” I’d taken the steps that might solve the problem–spoken calmly to someone who had the power to create change, and received both an apology and the appointment I had wanted.

Sure, I had been angry. Seething. That’s an emotion that is strong. But every action after that emotion bloomed was my responsibility. Did I want this woman fired because she was overwhelmed? Had I not been overwhelmed myself? Did costing this woman her job equal my inconvenience?

Anger is a powerful fuel. It leaps along our brain, creating rationalizations. Demanding a job lost to justify our own importance. At that very moment, you have a chance to be fair. To give the fairness you were denied a new life in another circumstance. And it’s much harder to do than go for the throat

That’s truth to power.

—Quinn McDonald knows that retribution isn’t worth it.