Away, White Witch!

“The White Witch? Who is she?”

“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”

– The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I’ll admit it. I am tired of winter right now. February is the cruelest month as far as I’m concerned, and this particular February has been one of the worst. Feeling trapped indoors makes me want to snap at people. Many people are blaming Elsa for our horrible weather, but I know the real story. We’ve clearly run afoul of the White Witch from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

For those who don’t know the story, the White Witch subjects the magical land of Narnia to a perpetual winter in an attempt to rule over everyone. All the Narnians live in fear of her. She gets angry when contradicted and turns the offenders to stone. The Narnians don’t dare speak up against her.

Mr. Tumnus

“We must go as quietly as we can,” said Mr. Tumnus. The whole wood is full of her spies. Even some of the trees are on her side.”

Winter is a time when we all get grumpy. But that’s no excuse to start blasting people at the least sign of disagreement. Thankfully, we have a better role model in Lucy.

In the story, all four Pevensie children eventually take up the fight against the White Witch. But my favourite character has always been Lucy. Lucy is forthright and courageous. She tells the truth, no matter how unpopular.

On a day when the children are exploring the house because they are trapped inside by the rain (what I wouldn’t give for some lovely rain right now, rather than snowstorms!), Lucy discovers the country of Narnia by journeying through a wardrobe. When she tells her siblings about it, they don’t believe her. They try to convince her she is mistaken. But she refuses to say anything but the truth, regardless of the consequences.

When I first read this story as a child, I wanted to be like Lucy. Then I grew up and had to deal with Lucies that argued with me in the dead of winter. That’s when the White Witch starts coming out.

Sometimes it’s difficult to deal with people who have a different opinion from you. Especially when they don’t back down. But they are telling the truth as they see it. Rather than being grumpy about it, I try to appreciate the strength of their convictions. When I am at my best, I show my appreciation for their willingness to express their views.

Both The White Witch and Lucy believe they are in the right. Which one would I rather be today?

I say: Away, White Witch!

Soon the beech trees had put forth their delicate, transparent leaves. As the travellers walked under them the light also became green. A bee buzzed across their path.

“This is no thaw,” said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. “This is Spring.”

***

Image from the movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Do you have a Lucy in your life who argues with you? How do you deal with it? And how are you handling this winter weather? Better than me, I hope!

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Expressing Love: Easier in Fiction Than in Real Life?

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I started thinking about how difficult it can be to communicate love. Of course we love our family and friends, but do we talk a lot about how much they mean to us?

We know a casual “I love you” tossed out while leaving for work isn’t enough. And yet we often hesitate to put our love into meaningful words, taking refuge in silent hugs. (Not that there’s anything wrong with hugs, mind you. I wouldn’t want to live without those!)

Maybe this is why I enjoy how love is portrayed in fiction. All the best aspects of love come out in a good story. (And I don’t just mean romantic love, although I admit to watching the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice more times than is probably healthy.)

Heroes in fantasy and sci-fi stories are expected to show courage in the face of evil. So it’s not surprising that they are also brave enough to express their true feelings. There are so many places in my favourite films where this happens.

There are the characters who demonstrate their selflessness:

As you wish.

– Westley to his true love Buttercup, The Princess Bride

And there are the characters who don’t hesitate to tell others how much they love them:

I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.

– Frodo Baggins to his companion Samwise Gamgee at Mount Doom, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Best of all, there are the characters who recognize that love is a partnership, and that we need to support each other:

You take care of me, Simon. You’ve always taken care of me. My turn.

– River Tam to her injured brother Simon Tam in the face of overwhelming odds, Serenity

This Valentine’s Day, I want to let all my loved ones know how glad I am that they are in my life. It’s definitely time to say it out loud.

And to all my dear readers, I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day with your own loved ones.

I leave you with one of my favourite expressions of love from xkcd:

xkcd everything

***

Happy Valentine’s Day! What’s your favourite moment of love in fiction? What expressions of love do you think are wonderful?

Can You Read My Mind?

Today, I’d like to share a story from the early days of my career. It’s the story of a dedicated manager, a clueless employee, and the complete failure of telepathic communication.

It’s the middle of a long afternoon. I’m thinking about going for a tea break when my manager storms into the room. She is visibly upset, and launches into an explanation of a crisis that one of our clients is having. I listen intently. While she is talking, my mind is churning. I am figuring out what I need to do to handle the problem. Just as I’ve solved it, my boss suddenly yells at me: “You’re not taking this seriously!”

All I can do is stare at her. Can’t she see that this problem is all I’m thinking about? While I am still in shock, she tells me to take care of it and stomps off. I don’t get a chance to explain. The thought there goes my performance rating drifts through my mind.

I learned an important lesson that day: People cannot read your mind.

(Aliens are a different story. Imagine if your manager was Martian Manhunter from the Justice League. Hmm, maybe not a good idea.)

Martian Manhunter

Reveal your secrets to me…

The moral of the story? Since people can’t read your mind, you need to rely on what they can read:

  • Your words, which tell them what you are thinking.
  • Your expressions, which show them what you are feeling.
  • Your actions, which prove to them who you really are.

What could I have done differently in this situation?

Words

I didn’t say anything to my manager. I was too busy thinking about what I needed to do next, when I should have been focused on her.

People need to know that you are listening to them. Don’t just stand there in silence. Remember to respond by saying things like “Mmmhmmm” or “Yes?” or “That’s terrible!” Ask questions to show that you are taking them seriously. Repeat their words back to them in your own words, so that they know you have understood them.

Expressions

When I’m thinking deeply about something, I tend to put on my “poker face.” It can be hard to read my expression. It could mean boredom, or indifference, or deliberate blocking of negative thoughts (like “Wow, my boss is an idiot!”). I had my poker face on that day.

People need to know that you care about what they are saying. Since that day, I’ve worked at adding expression to my poker face. (Just like Data from Star Trek: TNG did in his quest to become more human.)

Data's Day on Star Trek TNG

I hope I’m doing a better job than that, though! Ouch.

I have also learned to nod my head, lean toward the person who is speaking, and leave my arms uncrossed. All of these signals show that I am interested in what the other person has to say.

Actions

This was the only part I got right. After my manager left me, I got right on to solving that client problem. Later on, she thanked me for my work. I had demonstrated that I took the crisis seriously. But my manager might still wonder: Did I care because she yelled at me, or did I care because it was important to me? Luckily, I got other opportunities to prove myself and have her get to know who I am. Sometimes, all we get is one shot.

Don’t waste your opportunity. Make sure you use all three of your powers to reach a meeting of the minds. It’s almost as good as telepathy.

__

Have you ever experienced a time when someone failed to read you? Please share your stories below…

Which Avenger will you be today?

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier out in theatres, I have Marvel superheroes on the brain. And I’ve realized that Marvel’s The Avengers is not just a story about a superhero team—it’s a story about communication.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury spends the first half of the Avengers movie gathering the team and trying to get them to work together. This is an uphill battle, largely because of the team members’ different communication styles. They may be talking to each other, but they are not communicating. It’s only when they learn to adjust their styles that they become an effective fighting force.

If you want to work well with your own team, you may need to adjust your communication style. Ask yourself: Which Avenger should I be today?

Let’s take a look at some of your options.

Iron Man

“The Avengers. It’s what we call ourselves, sort of like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type of thing.”

Iron Man (Tony Stark)

Communication Style: Informal

Iron Man is the life of the party. He’s the casual genius who talks a lot and makes people laugh. It’s time to be Iron Man when you are hanging out with good friends and colleagues or writing a friendly note to someone you know well. Just be careful you don’t let your words run away from you—sometimes Iron Man can talk too much and annoy supervillains. Bad idea.

Thor from the Avengers

“So you take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights?”

Thor

Communication Style: Formal

Thor is a Norse god, so he uses formal language and makes solemn pronouncements. You may need to channel Thor when you are speaking with strangers, apologizing to unhappy customers, or writing up a business proposal. Just don’t come across as too formal—otherwise you’ll be known as the unfriendly person with the scary hammer.

Captain America

“I went under, the world was at war, I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.”

Captain America (Steve Rogers)

Communication Style: Direct

Captain America is honest and straightforward. He comes from a military background, so he’s used to getting to the point. Be Captain America with managers and executives—they love quick messages that tell it like it is (otherwise known as executive summaries). You may need to tweak this style when you feel the need to be tactful. Otherwise, it’s good to be the Cap.

Hulk

“Hulk smash!”

Hulk (NOT Bruce Banner)

Communication Style: Authoritative

When all else fails, it’s time to be the Hulk. Get your green on when you need to let people know it’s your way or the highway. You may want to use more words than the Hulk, though. And possibly not smash as many things. Especially if you want people to ever talk to you again.

So, there you have it. Different communication styles work well for different situations. What are you going to face today? Who are you going to need to be? Maybe you should try a new style on for size. Then you, too, can be part of a mighty team.

Which Avenger will you be today? Inquiring minds want to know…