Lost In Translation

Does that mean we should move forward or not?

I was in a meeting where we were discussing a proposal to request additional funds from a current donor.  We discussed the merits of the proposal and one colleague said, “it’s like shooting monkeys in a barrel.” I immediately formed a mental picture and it was not pretty. I understood that he was not meaning this literally, but did he think it was a good idea or not? On the one hand, if you were intending to shoot monkeys, having them in a barrel would make it easier and it would contain the carnage. On the other hand, putting monkeys in a barrel so that you can shoot them shows that you are lack creativity and courage to carry out what you intend to do.  Does he mean we should move forward or not?If English is not your first language you may relate to my story. Even though the majority of my education has been in English, I hold degrees from two American universities, and have been living here since the mid-70s, I feel I am not done learning the intricacies and nuances of American spoken English. Not a week goes by that I don’t think to myself, “Hey, there’s something I’ve not heard before.”

I remember my first English lessons. They were taught by my mom, who knew just enough English to get around. Vocabulary was a matter of memorizing the words that for the things I already knew in Spanish. Grammar involved lots of practice until I could repeat the verb conjugations in my sleep. But, to truly understand and navigate in English, I had to learn the idiomatic expressions that make communications so unique.  That takes a long time because there is a seemingly endless list of what I call code.

Each subculture has its own code – a set of idioms that adds another layer of language that we English learners must tackle. The workplace, for example, has its own unique code. One of my favorite episodes of The Office is one where Jim’s boss has asked him to prepare a run-down of his work and present it at a later meeting. Jim does not understand what his boss means by run-down and spends a lot of time trying to get his boss to say what he really wants, without Jim having to ask. My husband and I laughed so hard! We could relate. This comic situation depicted some of the frustration many English learners can experience when we are not familiar with the code. Additionally, we may be reluctant to let the other person know that we don’t understand his or her code for fear of appearing less knowledgeable.

Fortunately,  I am not shy about asking people to explain what an expression means. Actually, I rather enjoy it. I realized that a lot of spoken English language requires an inside scoop into the American experience. For this reason some of our newest English learners are missing an essential part of the conversation. And, if we as English learners are not constantly immersed in the culture, we will be chronically behind.  For me, the best way to learn is to ask for the meaning. Asking has lead to many interesting conversations about the origins of the idioms, and most people are pleased to explain and amazed to realize that something so logical to them, may not be understood by those around them.  This is especially true as diversity improves in the playground, workplace and neighborhood.

I don’t mean to pick on English speakers for the use of idioms. In fact, if I were parachuted into a Latin American country right now, though I speak Spanish fluently, I would not understand many of the idioms and expressions in the Spanish-speaking world. The few I remember are the dichos my mom said to make a point or teach us about morals and values as we were growing up. Dichos are like proverbs and are passed down from generation to generation. I remember my mom used to say: “Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente,” (Closest English expression: Out of sight, out of mind), “En boca cerrada no entran moscas” (flies don’t enter a shut mouth, or lose lips sink ships) or the most often-used “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres” (tell me who your friends are an I’ll tell you who you are). Spanish learners may experience the same frustrations as they try to learn the code.

I encourage you to tune into a conversation on the train or to a news story on television. Pay attention to the number of times the person uses an idiom to make a point. Now pretend that you are an English learner. Though you may understand that it is not a literal meaning, you must take into account context and perhaps know more about the culture, the region or the history to understand. Then, the next time you are with an English learner, explain the meaning of an expression you’re using. They will greatly appreciate it.

Learning English idioms, and their origins, are a casual hobby of mine. Some expressions are quite funny. Others are perplexing.

Here are some of my favorites:

Pink Slip – the first time I heard someone got one of these, I had no idea if it was a good thing or not.

Face the music –It means to admit that there is a problem. What is the connection?

Throw out the baby with the bath water – a common catchphrase in Germany. First used in America to encourage people to end slavery (Wikipedia). Every time someone uses this phrase I picture a happy baby in a tin bath.

To boil the ocean – one of my newest favorites. What a great way to say, this is much bigger and complicated than we can handle.

Drank the Kool-Aid – if you were not around when the Jim Jones mass killings happened, you may not get this reference to brainwashing or being on board with everyone else.

A Watershed moment – it’s amazing how many we have in America.

To be taken behind the woodshed – I had to ask because I had no idea what happened behind a woodshed or why you would go there in the first place, except maybe to smoke a cigarette when you were 10. It’s very similar to having a Coming to Jesus talk – you’re getting a stern talk about something you did or didn’t do.

If you have a favorite idiom or expression, in English or Spanish, please post.

Much Love,

We Are Not Safe From Sexual Attacks

Every week I think back to the experiences of the week and mentally flip through the subjects I could write about. This week’s topic is one that I would prefer to pass on because it is an ugly and difficult reality. I will start by describing what triggered today’s blog.

 
I was waiting for the elevator at the parking garage when a young girl and her dad entered the lobby. The girl must have been 12 or 13 and it looked like she was going to be at the office with her dad. Her face had that innocence of a child. But, her body showed the signs of a recent hormonal surge and she had the curves of young woman. She wore short clingy shorts, a tight top and flip flops. She was dressed inappropriately for an office setting, but also her shorts and top were way too revealing, in my opinion. Mentally I was reproaching the dad for bringing his daughter to the office dressed that way. When he told his daughter which elevator button to push I noticed how eager he was to show his daughter his world. I realized that as her dad, he was only seeing the little girl in his daughter and was not ready to see the growing woman in her.

 

 

Girls going into adolescence are particularly vulnerable and they are the prime targets of sexual predators. The girls don’t understand what is happening but they certainly notice the heightened attention they receive. They may not ever share with their parents the increased attention from the boys in school who may try to grab her buttocks or breasts, or the extra-long looks from one of the adults in the school that make her feel uncomfortable. She may not tell her parents that now when she walks to the bus, more men in slow moving cars say lewd things to her. That young girl going to the office with her dad might see that one guy who glanced at her thighs for too long. Her dad didn’t notice and she would not dare say anything because one: she’s embarrassed and confused about it all, and two: she would not know how to describe the look she saw in that man’s eyes in that split second.

 
There are more sexual predators around us than we think. And, that is the sad part. We as a society really want to believe that sexual predators are either incarcerated or living in the woods somewhere away from our neat family-friendly neighborhoods. The truth is that a sexual predator looks and act like any other person and we work with one or may live next to one. He may not even think of himself as a sexual predator, just an onlooker. But, then one day, he will see a young girl in the seat in front of him on the train and he will notice that there is no one else around. He will assault her just because in a very primal part of his brain he wants to take her innocence and he could not let the opportunity go by. She may not tell anyone because she’s so ashamed and the rest of us will continue believing that our children are safe.

 
That feeling of safety quickly evaporated at my condo community a few years ago when the police came to arrest a sexual predator. He lived in my building. When he was arrested, they found child pornography, children’s underwear, and a pizza box with nude photos taped inside. The trash room, where I had seen him lingering with his pizza box, and his bedroom window faced the children’s playground. He had been living there for close to five years.

 
Sometimes I think that I was blessed to not have children because I don’t think that I would ever sleep from worrying, especially now that the Internet provides sexual predators access into our children’s bedrooms. I worry about children and how their parents sometimes act so blindly. They don’t think twice about letting a friend stay in their house, alone with their kids, or about allowing their children to be alone with a neighbor or another adult who seems perfectly responsible and caring. I think we all want to trust that a priest, a football coach, a teacher, a neighbor, a stepson, a cousin, or whomever we entrust our children to, would not ever ever touch our child inappropriately or abuse them. But almost daily, in the media there is a story about the priest, the football coach, the teacher, the neighbor or family member who groomed his victim to later destroy innocence and trust in the most despicable way.

 

 

It’s not that dressing adolescent girls in burlap sacks would eliminate every situation where they could be sexually attacked. I guess I would have worried less for this young girl going to her dad’s office if she was dressed for the office and her sexual status stood out a bit less. My point is that I think parents should be more aware about the sexual attacks their pre-teens and teens may be experiencing and not talking about.

 

 

Sexual attacks don’t stop because we’ve grown up. Working women have had to deal with sexual attacks during the course of their work, and probably more than once. And we continue to remain silent because one: we are confused and we question what we have done to “invite” this come-on, and two: we know that we will be the one humiliated and victimized further if we make it public. This same week a female executive confided in me that she has been sexually harassed and even stalked by a client. Nowhere in our job descriptions does it say that we have to put up with this behavior. But, it seems as if it were written in invisible ink for any job a woman takes.

 

 

Our children, and women, are not safe from sexual predators. I wish we would stop pretending that random acts of sexual predation don’t occur every day. It could be a look, a verbal attack, being shown a sexual photograph, having a photograph taken, a touch, or worse. It takes seconds for someone to turn from trusted friend to sexual predator, if they are given the opportunity. As protectors of youth we have to work hard to eliminate as many of those opportunities as possible.

 

 

Much Love,

Here is a link to an episode where Oprah interviewed several child molesters. While the episode is tough to take, it shares important lessons for parents about keeping their children safe, straight from the predators’ mouths.

http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/4-Things-to-Know-About-Child-Molestation/4

When Caught Between Two Opportunities How Do You Decide Which One To Take?

Many people find themselves at that amazing intersection between two great but very different opportunities. I have been there and lived through the contradiction of emotions: elation about having the opportunities and dread about making the wrong choice. We make a great number of choices every day without giving them a second thought because these choices don’t fundamentally change the way we live our lives. But, when life-changing choices are at stake, like relocating for a new job, being accepted at the school you thought you’d never get into, or accepting a promotion to run a new division, we take the time to think, and think, and think. We think about what could go wrong and try to envision all the possible consequences. We weigh and measure the plusses and minuses of each opportunity. But, when both choices seem to be equal, how do you know which one to take?

There is this entrepreneur whom I deeply admire. He is an entertainer and has done very well for himself. Early in his career he was faced with the decision of staying with an established organization where he had been promoted several times, and was being offered more opportunity, or to go out on his own. He had learned that there was great demand for new talent in a growing tourist area. Going on his own meant that he would have to relocate, build his own show and sell it in a new place where no one had ever heard of him. The opportunity with security was great but stifled his creativity, while the opportunity to be on his own offered independence but also came with a great deal of uncertainty and risk. He chose to do the latter and today, my superbly-talented brother has more work than he needs.

Sometimes opportunities appear because it is time for us to move forward in our life’s cycle. And, sometimes, opportunities appear only to give us perspective on where we are in our cycle. I was talking with a friend this week who has been at her job for over seven years. She absolutely loves what she does. But blooming  inside her is a desire to become more impactful. All day long she works with experts in her field and now, she says, she wants to BE one of the experts. She is thinking of going back to school, but her kids are little and her family’s situation is such that it would be difficult to pay for school. My friend is experiencing the birth of an opportunity. I know that in a short time she will be at that junction where she will have to decide between two seemingly equal choices that will change her life.

I’m afraid that I don’t have a “how-to” on choosing between two life-changing opportunities. All I can tell you is this: whatever you decide to do, it will be the RIGHT decision for you. I believe that all paths lead to the same end point, and that is you fulfilling your life’s purpose. Each path will have different people and events, but the result will be the same. Making a choice like this requires deep reflection about where you are in your journey. Sometimes we don’t feel ready, or that it’s not the right time, but also consider that the opportunity is just in time. Sometimes one choice may seem too risky, and that might be true. But, if we never took risks, we would stay exactly as we are. Whatever decision you make, my advice is to accept and embrace your decision as the BEST choice. Once you choose a path, never second-guess yourself. Wondering if the other choice would have been better will only obscure the way and you will miss the beautiful gifts and benefits that come with your chosen path. Know that all will be well and walk forward with faith and belief in yourself.

Much Love,

Stress-Reducing Tips From My Cat

Isis is my 14-year old cat. In human years, she’s about 72. She has been with me since she was about 9 weeks old. From day one I could tell that she was smart.

Holiday stress? Pffft, not Isis. She LOVES wrapping presents

For years she fooled my husband, making him believe that she did not sleep in the bed with us. My husband had this rule that no cats were allowed to sleep on the bed. LOL! Well, she would climb in to my side of the bed as soon as he emitted his first snore. Then she would leave to curl up in a chair just a few minutes before he woke up. Though she slept in the bed during the day, she would be off by the time he came home. This went on for a while and when my husband said he suspected that she might be sleeping on the bed, I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t burst out laughing. He finally figured it out when he found the warm spot on the bed where she had been napping all day. He was so amused that he gave in. Now she splits her time between his and my side of the bed.

Isis is my stress relief. In fact, whenever I am in a scary or stressful situation like going to any kind of medical appointment, I take a few deep breaths and picture Isis in one of her relaxed poses (see photo above). She is the embodiment of pure contentment and relaxation. She reminds me of one of the Buddha’s whose visage is in eternal bliss. I have watchedIsisin her purrrrfectly stress-free life for so long, that I have learned some of her secrets to a long and joyful life. I think we could all benefit from these stress-reducing tips I’ve observed from Isis.

 

1. Take more naps. I know you were expecting that one. But, you know what? She’s right. We are constantly running from one thing to the next. All week we are trying to fit in as much as possible in one day. Then, when the weekend comes, we spend as much energy trying to fit in housework, errands, and should-do’s because we feel obligated. Then, Monday comes and instead of feeling rested from the weekend, we’re exhausted. We are running on a sleep deficit, and it keeps getting bigger. This weekend, drop a few should-do’s and take a nap, or two or three. Guilt-free napping is a great way to combat stress.

2. Try looking at things from a different perspective.Isis loves to lie on her back and see everything upside down. I have tried this with her, and it’s actually a lot of fun! Do you ever look at your ceiling and try to envision what it would be like to have your ceiling as your floor and vise-versa? It’s a great exercise and while you’re at it, think about a situation you’re grappling with and try to see it upside down. Throw out old assumptions that dictate how you should be feeling about the situation and try seeing it with fresh eyes and an open-mind. It works!

3. Surround yourself with good people and receive openly. Isis feels safe and protected by us so she is able to just be herself. She can play, nap, even curl around my legs while I’m wearing high heels, and she knows that she is safe. She also knows that when she needs to be fed, petted, loved, she will get that from us. We need people around us who allow us to be ourselves. Build a circle of people who have your best interest at heart, and spend time with them. We all need nurturing, especially if a lot of people depend on us. If you give all the time, you need to replenish your energies by allowing yourself to receive help, love, and care. Surround yourself with people who can give to you and receive openly.

4. Don’t question blessings, just enjoy them. If Isis sees an empty shoebox, she is going to get in it. Size does not matter. When we’re watching tv she will burrow herself between us and enjoy that perfectly comfy spot. That nice just-washed cushion on the kitchen stool – it’s going be hers! Isis does not question whether she deserves to get it or if she worked hard enough for it. Nope, she just goes for it and enjoys it to the fullest. I think we need to adapt the same mentality and when opportunities, gifts, blessings, are presented to us, we should just take them and enjoy them.

5. Work hard then rest. Isis is not a very active cat. She likes to sit on the deck and watch the rabbits, squirrels, birds and other critters. But, she is not going to go chase any of them. The only time Isis jumps is when she’s chasing string or a fly that has invaded her inner sanctum. She can jump pretty high actually, and is quite impressive at capturing flying insects. She will give it her all. But, but when she is tired, she will sit and give that string or the fly the cold shoulder all day long. We humans are different, even when we’re resting, we’re thinking about the thing that we were doing. Let’s work hard and leave work at work and truly take the time to rest.

Isis has approved this message. I told you she was smart!

Much Love,