Archive | February 2011

Manners Monday: Healing through Good Manners

When I thought I’d try blogging about manners, it wasn’t because I thought mine were any good. Quite the opposite – I often find myself unsure of the appropriate way to manage situations. It seems, however, that if you can find the well mannered way, it usually keeps you out of hot water and smooths over difficult situations.

Sadly, I’m in  a difficult situation right now, and no amount of good manners seems to be able to smooth it over. A colleague of mine has taken offense to some things I said and did, and hasn’t spoken one word to me for 2 work days now. If I include the weekend – its been 4 days – so this person is obviously pretty unhappy with me.

Its very upsetting. I tried to explain that I hadn’t intended to cause offense – I really hadn’t. I feel I have been grossly misconstrued and interpreted. When I attempted to put things right, it only made them worse. Instead I was bombarded with a tirade which listed all the other offenses I have inadvertently caused this person over the years without realising.

Because this person was so angry with me, and talking didn’t help, I wrote a letter of apology in which I again reiterated that the whole thing was totally unintentional. But still – not a single word.

I’m not sure how to handle the situation now. I feel really uncomfortable around that person. Its tempting to respond to the silent treatment with silent treatment of my own – but I don’t really like to play those sort of games. This is where good manners are helpful.

Manners are about putting others at ease. I figure that if, whenever I see this person, I act with genuine warmth and kindness, eventually things may get back to normal. If they don’t, at least I can hold my head up high and know that I have been above reproach.

I need to put my own feelings to one side and genuinely seek to help the other feel comfortable. Less focus on me means I might stop worrying so much about how badly I’m feeling at the moment. 

One thing I know – its impossible to change other people, and as much as I would like to change this person into someone who can be more accepting and forgiving , that’s beyond my ability. The fact that this person has read all sorts of hidden agendas into innocent words and actions of mine is also beyond my control.

All I can do is work on me.

Sunday Books – Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis

A friend of mine  recommended Connie Willis books  a while ago.Willis is an American Science Fiction writer with a number of Hugo awards.  

The book I’m reading is called Uncharted Territory. I’ve only just begun, at this stage  I’m not really sure what it is about, but so far I’ve found it very entertaining.

The events appear to be taking place in the future. A team from Earth are surveying a planet, helped along by the intelligent indigenous life forms, who seem to spend more time fining them than actually helping them.

The Earth government doesn’t want to be seen as imperialistic or taking advantage of the indigenous lifeforms, so they have implemented a number of laws, including some that allow the indigenous people to fine the surveyors for offences such as: ‘disturbing the ground’ or ‘speaking in an inappropriate tone and manner’. The indigenous people have realised they can make a lot of money out of fines, and give them out with great and  amusing frequency.

The dialogue between the characters is funny – which is a big statement from me, because, as I mentioned in a previous review, I’m not really a laugh-out-loud kind of reader. This book, however, has had me chuckling away under my breath.

The English language seems to have evolved in the future – at one point luggage was seen grazing on the land. I’m not sure what they were referring to, but at this stage I am assuming it is some sort of animal that may one day be turned into luggage.

So far, I’m finding the book refreshingly unpredictable – its keeping me entertained and I have absolutely no clue as to where the story is heading.

I’ll report back in once I’ve finished reading it.

How I Use Dropbox

I know Dropbox has been around for ages, but many people like myself are only just discovering it, so I hope this post will help some other readers out there.

Dropbox is great for people like me who work in multiple locations, collaborate with others who work in multiple locations and use multiple computers and other devices like iPad and iPhone. It enables you to access your files easily from each location and keeps them in sync.

Basically, it syncs your files off site in some realm that is apparently known as “The Cloud”.

Here is how I’m using it:

As of this year, when working from home, I’m saving all my work related documents into dropbox, which appears as just another folder on my computer. Its easy – instead of going to My Documents, then my Work folder, I just go to Dropbox then to a folder I have created called Work.

When I get to work and need to access those files, I just go to my dropbox folder and open them up. It looks just the same at work as it does at home. Any changes I make to them at work automatically sync, so when I get back to my computer at home the changes are there.

Its so much better than emailing files back and forth, or carrying them on a data stick. That was an extra step that would take some time and sometimes the size of the file was too big for email. Other times our work email system would do weird things – like mail disappearing into the ether for a few days before appearing again in the account.

I’ve also found data sticks problematic – I forget to take them with me, I’ll lose them, and one of them became corrupted which meant all the data on it was useless. I often end up with multiple copies of files saved under the same name, and it becomes difficult to keep track of what is the most relevant and up to date version.

As well as enabling me to sync files smoothly between home, work and my ipad and iphone, Dropbox enables me to collaborate with colleagues more easily.

As teachers, we all work in separate locations – from our various homes and when at school, from our various classrooms. I’ve created some folders in my dropbox which I share with colleagues. They can accesss the documents I’ve created, add their own documents and make modifications to anything in the folder.

Right now from our separate homes my colleagues and I are collaborating on a book for our parent information evening this Thursday. I am writing the section for literacy, and my colleagues are writing about numeracy and sport. Instead of having to bring our separate parts in to work and merge them together, we can create it all at the same time.

The other great thing about it is that it is free – well the first 2 gigabites are anyway, and as you invite more people to join dropbox, your free storage space increases to a maximum of 8 gigabites.

I might not be able to use that free storage space to back up everything on my computer, but its more than enough for my work based needs.

If you want more information about Dropbox you can visit their website here.

Allowing Others the Freedom to decline.

My mother used to tell me that when inviting others to attend an event, it is important to allow them an opportunity to decline politely.

Back then our telephone was in the living room, so our conversations were public. Sometimes I would ring a friend to invite them over. If my first words to the friend were, “What are you doing on Saturday?” followed,if they were not busy, by, “Do you want to go out and see a movie?” my mother would later reprimand me. She would explain that asking if they were busy before inviting them was unfair – it would put them in a position where they had to accept even if they didn’t want to, because they would not have any legitimate excuse to decline. As a teenager, I thought my mother was being unnecessarily uptight, but now I’ve realised the truth in what she said.

The other week a friend asked me what I was doing on the weekend. I told her that I had no plans, and I was so grateful. I explained that I’d been so busy lately I was looking forward to a quiet weekend at home, catching up on housework, reading etc. She immediately replied, “Oh good, seeing as you’re free…” and followed up with an invitation to some event.

 I’d been telling the truth when said I was looking forward to a weekend catching up at home. I was craving that time and I had absolutely no desire to fill it with other activities. However, because she knew I had no commitments, I found myself in an awkward position. Either take the time that I needed for myself and risk offending my friend, or keep my friend happy while ignoring my own needs. Really, I would have preferred it if she had just invited me out without first establishing if I was “free” – it meant I had to be quite blunt when turning her down – I just really didn’t want to go out that weekend.

Last year another friend tried to rope me into a girls night out. As she described her plans, I started to cringe – it really wasn’t my sort of thing at all. I explained that and it made no difference. She kept trying to set a date – I kept being saying I was busy. Finally she requested that I bring my diary along and together we could work out all the dates I was available in the coming 3 months which corresponded with hers – we could plan the night from there. In the end, I had to tell her quite stridently that I really did not want to go on this evening and to please stop asking me.

It was an awful position to put someone in.  Her feelings were hurt and I felt uncomfortable, but she really brought it all on herself by being so pushy with the invitation.

My point is, I think my mother was right. If we care about our friends we should give them room to decline gracefully rather than forcing them into a situation where they are almost manipulated into going along just to avoid causing offence. Rather than asking about availability prior to an invitation, I think we should just invite people out – if they have the time, and want to come along, they’ll accept. If they are busy, or seem a little vague about dates, try leaving it at that instead of insisting on getting out the diaries and locking them in. If they want to go, they’ll let us know,

Sunday Books: Kate Atkinson – Started Early, Took My Dog

After four weeks, I’ve finally gotten around to finishing this book. It’s the fourth in Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie crime series.

Brodie is hired by a client to discover the identity of her biological parents. As he investigates, he discovers the story of a grisly 1975 murder and its subsequent cover up by police. His life once again spins out of control as people try to prevent him from finding the truth.

Once again, a great strength of the book is the well developed supporting cast of characters. I loved the story line about ex-police superintendent Tracy Waterhouse. She is as tough as nails, a butch senior cop who is ‘built like a brick s*** house’. Part of her tragedy is that as a young woman she had more feminine aspirations which were buried deep inside to enable her to survive and succeed in the man’s world of 1970s policing. While she held the respect of her male colleagues, who regarded her as ‘one of the boy’s, she was unable to succeed in those other areas of life that she wanted, like becoming a mother, or finding a husband. Even her attempts at home decorating were failures. She begins the book as a lonely character with little to look forward to – just going through the motions of life; however, after an encounter with an abused child, her life changes course. She embarks upon a life of crime and manages to find a purpose and some fulfillment.

I also enjoyed the character Tilly, an aging actress who was in the early stages of dementia. We get to see the world through her eyes. At times she sees great clarity, at others she is confused and frightened. Her character plays a minor role in the major story – on a couple of occasions she stumbles into some key events and manages to alter their course. That Atkinson bothered to create this complex minor character and develop her story for us is one of the reasons I enjoy her books.

As with her other books, Atkinson resolves the main mysteries but leaves others open. This frustrated me a little more than with the other novels. I’m hoping there will be another Jackson Brodie book on it’s way that will tie up some of those loose ends.

Valentines Day

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Its a holiday I rarely celebrate. When I was single, I used to find it a painful reminder of the fact I had no one to love, or who loved me. In the relationship I am in now, I find it unnecessary.  We don’t need a special date in order to be romantic and celebrate our relationship.

But too many of our traditions are disappearing. I’ve been teaching my class about the multitude of Japanese festivals that are celebrated throughout the year. Setsubun was only a couple of weeks ago, Hinamatsuri is only a couple of weeks away, and Hanami is just around the corner. These are fun and important days. Each has its own traditions, decorations, songs and costumes. People look forward to them, they enrich people’s lives.

In our modern, western, secular culture we seem to have done away with many traditions that enrich our culture. I think that’s a shame and have decided I want to hang on to them.

And so with that in mind, I shall be celebrating with my partner tonight at our local French restaurant.

It should be a lovely evening.

How about you. Do you think it is important to preserve our festivals?