Archive for the ‘Public relations’ Category

As a general rule, I hate buzzwords.  The most recent one I hate is “authentic.” It’s nearly as bad as “organic,” the meaning of which has become distorted beyond repair.

The rise of “authentic” – an “authentic” message, an “authentic” story, and so forth – seems to have come into popular use about the same time as the cries of “Fake media!” have emanated from the White House. I suppose it must reflect a desire to express what is real, to get at the heart of a matter, to write and received messages which are verifiable, real and true. My dictionary defines “authentic” this way:

Authentic: 1. Authoritative; reliable 2. Of undisputed origin; genuine

Synonyms: True, verifiable, real, legitimate, authorized, accredited

One problem is that if you have to keep saying you send out only authentic messages, that you only speak with authenticity, then you begin to sound as inauthentic as they come. It comes under the heading of Shakespeare’s “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks,” in the play Hamlet, which, in our common usage, has come to indicate someone who does not speak with sincerity. In my own way of putting it, you have to turn over every stone – i.e., anytime someone makes continuous, repeated statements about who they are, what they believe or what principles they uphold, turn over that stone and look on the other side. It then no longer surprises you when the man who rants against homosexuals turns out to have a male lover; when the woman who decries abortion has had one herself; when the coach entrusted with inspiring and training children turns out to be abusing them.

If you are going to use the word “authentic” or any of its synonyms, you’d do well to use it in conjunction with research you have done, or something you’ve observed. Portraying yourself as authentic should be unnecessary. Somewhere in your reputation should be an acknowledgement by other people that you are, indeed, an authentic person – someone whose word is verifiable, someone who is real and genuine.

We stress those things a lot in the field of public relations. Many of us in the field have the initials “APR” after our names, which means that we are Accredited in Public Relations. We have had to pass a grueling test as well as an interview by three judges to earn this distinction. It means we are authenticated in our profession; we’re the real deal, we’re not practicing on a fly-by-night basis.

There’s an old saying in PR that can be applied to anyone, anywhere: Never fall for your own publicity. If you do, you risk losing a strong sense of your own reality, your own authenticity. While it’s good to put your best foot forward, it’s unrealistic to believe that’s the whole story. If you want to be authentic, be like the Velveteen Rabbit – let life rub off the rough edges and stay real.

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There are many reports out there telling older workers that no one wants them, or that they will have a lot of difficulty finding a job. One such report in U.S. News two years ago listed misconceptions about older workers, such as short terms on the job if they planned to retire soon; higher salary expectations; and reluctance to report to younger bosses (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/planning-to-retire/2012/05/18/why-older-workers-cant-get-hired). Fortunately, a number of articles since then have refuted the myths (http://www.recruiter.com/i/truth-and-lies-about-hiring-older-workers/), detailing why hiring older workers is a very good idea.

Brian Solis, an expert in social media public relations whose work I use in my classes at Marylhurst University quite a lot, reminds us that one of the things Baby Boomers bring to the office is a “raw work ethic.” He gives an excellent guide to Millennials navigating the workplace in this article: http://www.briansolis.com/2014/04/millennials-guide-surviving-corporate-america/ – and advocates for mutual respect between the generations.

Group of business people sitting around a table compressed
I teach a lot of older workers, and I’m one myself. Let me weigh in for a moment on some of the great, practical attributes older workers bring to their jobs – and by “older,” I mean more than Baby Boomers. I also mean workers aged, say, 35 to 70 or so, encompassing at least a couple of generations:

• This isn’t their first rodeo; nearly all older workers have either held a job recently, or are holding one now while they’re going to school. I’ve always said that when I tell my adult students to turn left, they turn left; when I tell them to march straight ahead, they do; if I say it’s time to jump, they jump as high as they can. This comes from knowing what it takes to hold down a job; they know how to follow instructions. They will readily ask for clarification and the rationale for those instructions, which I always appreciate; they want the whole picture.
• Older workers have learned to take criticism – constructive or not. They’ve developed fairly thick skins over the years, and if they need to hear something negative in order to improve their performance, then so be it. They’ve learned not to take everything personally, and often that comes with plain old experience.
• No, older workers are not as enamored with social media, but they know how to use those social media outlets in a very important way – as an implementation of sound business strategy, not just as a forum for chatting. Moreover, older workers are keenly aware that social media tools are just that – tools for communicating. Actual communication depends upon content, response, and a two-way conversation. It doesn’t depend on the latest online innovation.
• Older workers know that what is fast is not always better.
• Older workers tend to be loyal to their employers. For the most part, they aren’t job-hopping, looking for the next, exciting opportunity somewhere across the country. They work because they need to work, even up to and often beyond the age of 70, and because they like to work and value the feeling of being needed. They are often content with part-time jobs and flexible schedules. We live in a society that does not value us as we age. What a waste. We have vast repositories of information and experience to pass along. We are the storytellers.
• As much as older workers know that fast is not always better, they can be extremely fast at the jobs they’re assigned – because they’ve done all this before. They know the drill. If a senior public relations practitioner takes three sheets of information and writes a press release from that information in about half an hour, it’s because she knows how to cull out the information that isn’t really relevant, isn’t all that important, and doesn’t help make the point. That ability to cut to the chase comes from years of experience, and from years of developing a mind that thinks strategically and is capable of seeing the consequences of decisions.
• Older workers make great mentors and teachers to the younger generations coming up through the ranks. Having a huge amount of energy is great for any business, yes; but so is having someone with a steadying hand on the tiller, who can help steer a ship that might start to careen off course. That larger perspective is a valuable and steadying influence.
????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? • Finally, older workers know how the world works. They don’t tend to be so singularly focused that the changes in society and the world around them are surprising or a mystery to them. They’ve been out there dealing with people and situations and circumstances for a long time, and the result is that they understand the needs of their employers and of other people.

Hire an older worker. You’ll get great value for the dollar.



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I’m a news junkie – no question about it.  I’m sure it started just before I went to journalism school back in the late ’70s, when I was writing for a tiny weekly newspaper in southern Oregon.  As I moved into my public relations career, it became a growing addiction.  I have to monitor the news, I often said during my years in Montana. I hate to wake up and find a client on the front page for the wrong reason.  That had some validity to it at the time.

But then I started teaching at the university level, and it all got worse.  I have to monitor it, I say, because I have to know what’s going on in order to give my student real-world lessons and help them see the changes in our society.  That has some validity to it, too.

But still, I think all that news watching and monitoring may be doing me in.  Most of the so-called news is nothing I can do anything about – yet the news is presented in such a way that I actually find myself asking if I have an obligation to care.  There are a couple of pieces of news this week that may (or may not) affect my life and that have my attention: there’s a former teacher, into child porn,who has escaped prison and appears to be wandering around in the next town over.  There’s a new school bond issue coming up, and I should probably go to one of the informational meetings about it.  It looks like it’ll stop raining by the weekend and I can get out and get more yard work done.

Here the things I’ve learned from the news this morning, however:

  1. Donald Trump has no sense of humor.  That’s actually not news.
  2. If I have a hankering to visit Acapulco, it’s probably best to postpone.
  3. This person named Arias, who has admitted to killing her boyfriend, or fiance, or whoever he was?  Why do we need to be subjected to her entire sex life?
  4.  More and more people are being brought up on sex charges – or sexting charges.  Senators.  Teachers.  A police chief.    A prison guard.  This is new?  Or are we just now obsessed with it?
  5. Our military is going to have a decreased level of readiness because of budget cuts.  They haven’t paid our troops well in years; many enlisted families use food stamps and live in substandard housing.  Who’s the decider on this one?
  6. Hollywood celebrities apparently have great sway with Congress when it comes to gun control.  Either that, or our esteemed Senators and representatives want to see what they look like without makeup.
  7. Japan and China continue to edge closer to war over those tiny islands.  Uninhabited, I believe.  And Korea threatens to launch a missile that will reach those of us here on the left coast.  These things feel like trying to be prepared for an earthquake; I’ve got my supplies stashed in an outbuilding, but should I wander around in constant fear?
  8. Across the (Columbia) river in Washington state, an accidentally released inmate is now back in jail.  Not the first time; won’t be the last.  We jail more people per capita than any other country in the world.  Are staff shortages the real problem?
  9. Diets are bad for you.  Not dieting could risk your health.  Soft drinks are bad for you.  Caffeine may actually be a boon to your health.  Is there an IV nearby?  One that will make these decisions for me?
  10. The game of Monopoly seems to have gotten rid of the wrong piece.  Does that mean the game I keep for guests at my summer cottage is now completely out of date?

I think I’m going to be glad when the post office stops delivering Saturday mail.  I can postpone a whole batch of useless information and bills until Monday.  Meantime, registering as someone with chronic depression brought on by the daily news has crossed my mind. I’m wondering if there’s an app for that.

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I really liked Fareed Zakaria’s show last night about fixing the economy.  His GPS Job Special: Putting American to Work  http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/23/gps-job-special-putting-america-to-work/ was excellent.  One of the aspects of it that struck me was the emphasis in countries like Germany and Denmark in making sure people were mentored, trained and cross-trained for a lifetime in the work force.  Here in the U.S., we’ve been saying for a long time now that loyalty between company and employee has disappeared.  It’s extremely rare for an employee to spend 30 years working for one company anymore, where it used to be the norm; at the same time, it’s extremely rare for a company to shepherd employees through to a long-term commitment.

Now, as a university instructor, I try to make sure my students have enough skills in verbal and written communication that they could go just about anywhere.  But wouldn’t it be lovely if I could open doors for them by working in conjunction with employers who would give more than an internship or an entry-level job?  I know when I ran my own public relations firm how expensive it was to experience turnover and to train new people.   And I know that working in and around media means that people will keep gravitating toward the larger media markets; that’s where all the action is.  This is an understandable and accepted practice, particularly for journalists and public relations practitioners.

Still, I can’t help but stand back and admire those people who stay long enough to really know their communities in depth; who understand the local values and priorities; who have developed a particular skill at  translating the issues of the day to and from their particular audiences.   Their careers aren’t stalled; they just run deeper than most.

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I love this column by Daniel Akst –  in today’s Oregonian, headlined “Switch channels, just once a week,” but here on a Republican American site (which took a lot of digging, since Newsday, where Akst is a columnist, wants registration and subscription information and I just can’t bring myself to subscribe to one more thing) headlined “Test your leanings; get 2nd opinion.” 

Here’s an excerpt:

“…now that left and right are once again at full strength on cable, there’s still one thing to wish for: that at least once a week, the two sides would trade audiences.  I say this because for a while now it’s been so each for each of us to live inside an echo chamber, insulated from anything but our own convictions and preconceptions… Instead of just sorting themselves into ideological ghettos, Americans are doing the same thing residentially.  It’s a sad fact, to embrace each side’s caricature of the other, that your Birkenstock-wearing, latte-swilling liberals increasingly huddle together in like-minded communities, just as your gun-toting, Bible-thumping conservative are doing... The Internet is making it even easier to protect ourselves from inconvenient facts or opinions.”

In my classes and training workshops, I’ve always recommended reading media on the far right, the far left, and everything in between, because somewhere in there is a balance.  But when you add to that the fact that if something is repeated often enough, people believe it – then there are times when trying to get the truth to shine through all the clutter is difficult indeed.

How can we produce new generations who are committed to learning, exploring and expanding their worlds?  Who are willing to move out of their comfort zones?  Whose parents and teachers hold up a much larger view of the world than their favorite TV channels or online entertainment sources might provide?

I would love any feedback.


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I’m about to start teaching my two seminars in social media and public relations again for Marylhurst University, and although I’m always really excited about these classes, they also take the most amount of research and preparation for just about any class that I teach.  The social media world changes so quickly that I’m generally in a small panic just before the first day of class, hoping that what I present is both timely and relevant.  Then I remember that in these particular seminars, we’ll all be teaching each other; my job is simply to present the road map for how to get where we’re going.

Nevertheless, here I am on New Year’s Day researching again, and grateful to fall back on some of the best social media minds out there.  For example, just before Christmas Deidre Breakenridge posted some tips on engaging with Twitter and Facebook: http://www.deirdrebreakenridge.com/2010/12/how-to-engage-on-facebook-and-twitter/.

And Brian Solis, who is not just brilliant but a lot of fun in his presentations, has written a post titled “Once More, with Feeling: Making Sense of Social Media:


I start to relax a little when I realize how many sources are out there, and how many more sources my students will no doubt contribute to the class.  Online learning becomes a team effort, and we all move forward together: that’s one of the best things about it.  Rather than serve as some kind of authoritarian instructor, which puts almost unbearable pressure on me, I can simply open a few doors for my students and encourage them to walk through; they get it almost immediately.  Empowered, they go beyond what I realized what possible in any given class.

I’m also re-doing a client’s web site, have plans to re-do my own web sites – one for my private consulting, one for my particular service to our troops and veterans – and I swear, this year, I’ll be more consistent about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Plaxo.  I do find, as some of my colleagues do, that after and eight- or 10-hour stint on the computer each day, I’m not always amenable to chat time or computer games.

Meantime, I’m preparing to teach another Marylhurst seminar on the law and ethics of public relations and a class in public relations writing for the University of Montana.  My students range from traditional college-aged students (up to their early 30s or so) in Montana to mostly older working adults at Marylhurst, with a few younger exceptions.  Without fail, these students really want to learn – but they also have vastly different learning styles across the generations.   One of my over-arching goals is to help equip all of my students with some of the skills they’ll need to compete in today’s difficult economic climate.  That’s not an easy task, for any of us; I research and write, they read and write, we talk and discuss and collaborate and dig in.   But by the end of each term, there are those students whom you know are going to zoom for the stars.

And that keeps people like me chugging right along… so here’s to 2011 and the adventures that I know lie ahead!

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Caveat: Some who know me will laugh that I’m writing about this, since I’ve been known at times for speaking too hastily.  But was all learn this lesson at some point – don’t we?  This was a post I originally wrote for Marylhurst University’s Communications Department:

How are we going to turn around and help younger generations manage and understand sheer speed, and teach them to be discerning thinkers as well? 

 That was a question I asked in one of my last posts to this blog.  Now we have a story which could not present this case more clearly, and yet it was not the younger generation without the discerning minds and an understanding of speed; it was the people a couple of generations older – and in charge of things — who should have known better.

 You all know the story:  A black employee who resigned from the Agriculture Department on Monday said the White House forced her out after remarks that she says have sparked a fabricated racial controversy.  – From the New York Daily News on Tuesday, July 20.

This story has an awful lot of people and organizations with egg on their faces.  From right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart, who first posted a distorting clip of the video, to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, to President Obama, there was a massive rush to judgment without one person asking, “What’s the source of that video?  Do we have all the facts?”

 But it’s not just that rush to judgment which troubles me about this story.  It’s also that we are in such a politically correct mode these days that we can hardly utter a sentence without it being scrutinized for some sort of imagined evil; public sensitivity and outrage is at an all-time high, and seems to need neither context nor frame of reference before taking offense.

 On the other hand, we are all learning to express ourselves differently, and sometimes this is a good thing.  The TriMet bus driver who vented in his blog about a bicyclist who nearly caused a crash with the bus was “benched” this morning, according to the Oregonian (at http://tinyurl.com/23jwnel) because on his blog, the driver wrote about killing the cyclist.  Not the best way to vent – at least not in public. 

 The underlying lesson?  Slow down and think, both as consumers of the news and those who write on blogs, Facebook, or any other kind of social media.  A column in the Washington Post (at http://tinyurl.com/35zudsh) makes the case for slowing down.  And as someone who has worked in and around the media for the past 30 years, I have to say I’ve never quite understood the rush to get the scoop.  The only time I want to know the news instantly is if my community is in imminent danger of wildfire, flood, contaminated water, or some other disaster that would affect all of us.  Otherwise, I’ll get the news.  And I’ll think about it.  And write about it, perhaps, sometime later.

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In recent months, I have heard from too many friends and too many students entering my classes that their high school teachers – and sometimes college instructors at other institutions – graded the work they did in their English and writing classes by content alone, with no attention paid to grammar, spelling or punctuation.  I don’t know what their teachers thought they were doing.  Did they think the business world pays no attention to how content is presented?  Did they think that a garbled, misspelled, clumsy message was going to carry professional weight?  Did they think for one moment about preparing their students for the job market?

I’m furious at teachers who have done this, and not for my own sake.  Granted, I spend more time than I would like doing some remedial teaching to students who shouldn’t need the instruction by the time they get to college.  But most of all, I’m furious that these teachers have betrayed their students. 

Add to that the fact that the schools are forever asking for more money in order to succeed, and I really start shaking my head in disbelief.  Maybe they need more equipment in science labs, or for band instruments, or sports, or shop, or any of a number of other classes that use equipment.  But all you need to teach a decent use of the language is pen and paper.  A dictionary.  You don’t even need a computer (Shakespeare didn’t have a computer; neither did Homer, or John Steinbeck – or the writers of the U.S. Constitution.).

You need an instructor who cares about a well-crafted sentence; you need an instructor whose love of literature and love of communication comes through in every class session.  You need an instructor who is willing to take the long way around, with no shortcuts.  You need an instructor who understands that how the content is packaged is as important as the content itself; that it’s important to tell students about subject/verb agreement, about run-on sentences, about fragments, about the need for a subject and a verb, and a modifier that isn’t left hanging as if ready to fall off a cliff.

Does that take more money?  No, absolutely not.  It takes instructors who know the language and have a passion for the language as well as a desire to help students be the best that they can be.

That a full third of our area high school students don’t graduate is alarming and indicative of this same trend.  In addition, our local Oregonian newspaper reports that most students who take classes in English as a Second Language don’t learn English.  A dear friend back in Montana used to prepare his college students for a semester studying in Vienna by taking them out for beer once a week and allowing only German to be spoken there for several hours.  Immersion still works.  If you have a few basics, your ear will pick up the rest, and pretty soon you’ll be speaking the language.  When my friend Magda, from Poland, lived with me the first year she was in the U.S., she would call home every Saturday morning, and after a while I came to know what subject was being discussed. I could figure out when she was talking about school, about work, or about other family members.

Why, then, is it so darned difficult for teachers of English and writing to hold students to standards that will help them succeed on the job?  Why is more money necessary?  Why can’t a given instructor simply tell a student, “No, you can’t use a plural form of the verb and a singular form of the noun.  They have to both be plural or both be singular.””  What’s so hard about that?  Are teachers afraid of hurting students’ feelings?  Why?  Isn’t it going to hurt a whole lot worse when they lose a job – if they get hired in the first place?  What on earth is going on here?

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Collage2Got in last night from a wonderful week in San Diego at the PRSA International Conference, feeling saturated with new information, new friends, reunions with old friends, and thoughts about my last conference as a sitting member of the board of directors.  I rotate off the board in December, and have to say that it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had in my professional life.  Those who have given even a brief moment’s thought toward taking on a national leadership role in PRSA – do it.  You’ won’t regret it.

I’ll write more about the conference later, no doubt – but for now, my mind and heart are with our veterans.  Some of you know I’ve worked for the past nine years with active-duty service members and veterans concerning the mandatory, yet still experimental, anthrax vaccine.  The web site I run in support of that is http://www.mvrd.org – the Military Vaccine Resource Directory.  I’m behind on updating it as usual, but will be working on it today.  What I really want to say, which still astonishes and amazes me, is that those veterans whom I know personally, who have suffered incredibly from the effects of the anthrax vaccine – everything from grand mal seizures to loss of testosterone; from tumors and cysts to years of severe bone and joint pain; from continual migraine headaches to uncontrollable hemorrhaging and loss of the ability to bear children; from short-term memory loss to extreme weakness and fatigue – to a person, they say that if they could somehow be well once again, and if the military would stop demanding they take experimental bioterror vaccines and pills, they would still go back and serve our country.

For a moment there I paused at the end of that sentence, and thought “I don’t know that anything more needs to be said about the quality and devotion of our veterans.”

But something more does need saying.  These men and women, often medical-boarded out of the service with a too-low disability rating for what they have gone through, have had to wait up to two years and more to be seen by the VA.  In the meantime, they have to pay their own medical bills – if they can; if they don’t have to sell their cars in order to do so; if they don’t have to sell their homes in order to do so; if the can still somehow hold down a job, though many can’t; if their marriages can survive under the strain, though many don’t. 

When you see a veteran out on the street in your town, think about this.  He or she may not have been able to get proper medical care in time, and his or her once-familiar world fell apart, one piece at a time.  This is how we treat our veterans when they come home, when they become ill from a service-related action.  They’ve done their jobs; now they are disposable to us. 

Outrageous barely begins to cover it.  Don’t run around with a magnetic yellow ribbon on your car.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest veterans center or VA hospital, and ask what is needed.  You’ll gain far more than you give.

Thanks, veterans; thanks volunteers.  I hear from the DoD that there are huge efforts at work to enable a 120-day handoff between the active-duty medical system and the VA; that is still too long, but is certainly better than the years veterans have to wait now.  We need – we need desperately – to deal with the consequences of war.

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This Newsweek article titled “The Devil Loves Cell Phones” – http://www.newsweek.com/id/219010 – by Julia Baird addresses something that’s peeved me for a long time: the constant noise in our society.  This is a beautifully written article, and makes the point in an almost lyrical fashion that when we eliminate silence from our lives, we are the poorer for it – emotionally, physically and intellectually.  We need spaces of silence the same way your eye needs some white space on this page.  We don’t need to be stimulated and entertained every minute of the day.

Baird’s writings remind me of when my dog, Bear, first came to live with me over six years ago.  He was a three-month-old puppy at the time, a gift from my daughter that Mother’s Day, and he’d been a pound puppy.  During those first weeks when I would turn on the evening news, you could tell the TV disturbed him a lot; he would whine and cry each night when the TV came on.  To this day when I have TV on in the evenings he goes into another room or lies on the deck outside until it’s time to shut everything down and go to bed.

Bear’s hearing is acute, and always has been – I’m sure that’s one reason the television makes him so uncomfortable.  But he’s also reacting to something that his physical system was never wired for in the first place: the overlay of noise, and lots of high-frequency noise at that, in his daily life.  It’s the same overlay we get as human beings, when we cannot go grocery shopping without music blaring throughout the store; cannot go to a doctor’s office without “musak” playing in the background; cannot even swim at the health club without music coming from the loudspeakers.  We treat silence as if it were a deadly poison.

We don’t have enough white space, enough silence, in our daily lives: enough space and time for reflective thinking, to gain the perspectives we need; enough space and time to adequately think through the problems that challenge us both personally and professionally; enough space and time to cultivate relationships the way they should be cultivated.

I read another article yesterday from somewhere that the most popular “Tweeters” out there – those with thousands upon thousands of followers – tweet as many as 50 times a day.   There isn’t time for reflective, serious thinking there, either – must less for their followers who read all those tweets.  We cannot absorb hundreds and thousands of messages a day and make sense of it.  We are overloaded.  We need some silence.

I’m lucky – I work out of my home.  I can control the amount of noise in my immediate environment, and of course Bear is delighted when I do.  I’ve wondered lately if this isn’t the way the balance used to be – that we lived quieter lives, and went to social and entertainment events on the weekends in order to break through our own daily lives and enjoy some time with others.  It seems to me, at least given the amount of traffic here in the Portland Metro Area, that most people live their daily lives in cluttered, noisy work environments, and go home on the weekends to get some peace and quiet – if they are so lucky to have that in their own homes. 

Is this not a little backwards?  Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we had silent spaces in our work lives – those wonderfully regenerative spaces where our creative minds could do their best work?  – those still moments where the answer which may have been drowned out with distractions before suddenly becomes apparent?   Wouldn’t it be better and more productive if, when we came home on the weekends, we’d had just the right amount of silence and white space in our lives that there was energy left over for being with people just to be with them?

I’d rather have the base-line of my working life be anchored in a kind of silence that encourages intelligent thinking and discussion, rather than have it be anchored in noise, over-stimulation, distractions and constant rush.  I’d like to enter public spaces – stores, medical offices, health clubs, malls and elevators – without being bombarded with constant noise disguised as music.   I know that’s asking a lot, and most people will never have that luxury.  But I think we’re far the poorer for it.

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