Imagine not being able to read this sentence …
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: You are now doing something millions of American can't. You're reading this. We'll admit that we never realized how many people are functionally illiterate, until we met someone who was doing something about it.
We first met Jackie Aguilera over a decade ago at a Houston Money Week meeting … her energy, enthusiasm, and passion for financial literacy not only took us by surprise, but it was contagious. (Admit it, financial literacy sounds boring.) But she was integrating it into a literacy and workforce readiness program for adults, and as we became friends and started working together, we realized she was a leader in her knowledge of adult literacy and a pioneer in how she approached it in dynamic and innovative ways. (DISCLAIMER: The next comment is not meant to plug our book, but as an example of her outside-the-box approach to making learning relevant.) And using unusual resources, such as our book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!, to engage students as well as teach a myriad of subjects, even using our bookmark (yes, a simple bookmark!) to introduce important life skills.
Having dedicated more than two decades to the field of adult literacy, she's now the Project Manager of the Mayor's Office for Adult Literacy (MOAL) Houston, working with Federico Salas-Isnardi, Director of MOAL, to carry out Mayor Turner's vision for a Houston where every individual can obtain the skills necessary to prosper and reach their full potential. (Houston is the only major city in the country where the Mayor's Office includes an Office for Adult Literacy!)
Along the way, Jackie has opened our eyes to the number of people who can't read (including one in three Houstonians), and made us stop and think about how that impacts every aspect of their lives … their families … their communities. Last week in our monthly Zoom session, she let us know that there would be a very exciting announcement. And she wasn't kidding! On Tuesday, the Mayor announced the "Houston Blueprint for Adult Literacy," a joint initiative of MOAL and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. We were watching the press conference and couldn't be prouder and more excited knowing that Jackie will be a part of this amazing endeavor. As former First Lady Barbara Bush said many years ago,
If you help a person to read, then their opportunities in life will be endless.
This name comes with a warning ...
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Yes, climate’s a “hot” topic, but summer has only started (marked by the summer solstice), and Red’s already whining about the heat, while Black considersthe logic of naming heat waves. (Really! But it’s not her idea.)
Red’s first reaction to the idea to name and categorize heat waves the way we do hurricanes was to think what a cool, no pun intended, idea. Growing up, heat waves just meant it was hotter than usual, but not at the extremetemperature levels we’re now seeing. And although she wanted to mention the impact of climate change and how it’s contributing to the increase and severity of heat waves, she thought the idea to “name” them might help people pay more attention to what’s happening as well as better prepare for them,
I don’t know about you but hearing that a horrible heat wave’s coming is happening so often that it’s becoming white noise. Not to mention that I’ll never understand the heat index other than it makes “hot” feel “hotter”. But if I’m told “Heat Wave Harry” is on its way, that might get my attention!
Black agrees that heat waves typically do not lend themselves to dramatic TV coverage, although the death of thousands of Kansas cattle recently did. And she didn’t want to confuse the conversation with explaining the heat index (although she loves the quote, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”) And knew that Red’s eyes would glaze over if she started to explain how organizers are suggesting a standardized three-category system with each location’s system to be customized to its particular climate.
But a better public warning system, coupled with people understanding the seriousness of heat waves, especially for vulnerable populations (children, elderly, outdoor workers, those who can’t afford air conditioning), could save lives. So, Black figured the best way to get Red’s attention was to simply state,
Heat waves are the #1 weather-related killer in the U.S., killing more people than floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes.
And it worked.
P.S. – In the midst of all this heat, our favorite Houston weather service sent out these amusing Top 10 reasons to be thankful for our blistering heat and emerging drought (blaming the heat for the “gimmick”, their word not ours).
Ok, let’s be clear (pun intended) … Communication is critical. Whether in your personal life or in business, not to mention communication skills are transferable between the two (Black even suggested Red hold family “business” meetings). And what better time to work on how we communicate, and maybe even have a new attitude toward vocabulary and “50-cent words” (Red loves those, but terminology scares her!?), than during Effective Communications Month.
Talking isn't the same as communicating. And hearing isn't the same as listening. Think about it.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Being an effective communicator, whether in our personal lives or at work, is a critical skill but one-size-doesn't-fit-all as we each use very different methods and styles … ranging from lots of words and talking stuffed animals (Red) to bullet points and racing flags (Black).
When Red learned that June was Effective Communications Month, she had to laugh, as the first thought that popped into her head was,
Oh, Black will have a field day with this given my tendency to blah-blah-blah. Plus, I don't know how many times she's told me that whatever point I'm trying to make often gets lost in my "sea of words". Of course, when she's told me this in person, I get the added emphasis of seeing her roll her eyes. At least, it's not what I call "The Look", which is a step beyond the rolling of her eyes when you can only imagine what she's thinking, but you know it's not good. But, I digress, which, I guess, is part of my communication "challenge".
The fact Red's warm and fuzzy, and likes to couch her words (whether spoken or written) so as not to hurt anyone's feelings, and to provide full explanations to avoid misunderstanding, is a good thing but is still only half the equation. Communication requires both the sending – and the receiving – of a message. But if the other party isn't listening, it falls on … well, deaf ears. Which often means you repeat yourself (oh, and we all know how our tone of voice changes when we're saying something for the millionth time), and although it may initially have been said with good intentions, ends up being seen as nagging.
Black, on the other hand, has never been accused of being quiet or shy, and given her extremely pragmatic business-like personality, has a much more direct communication style. Some of which Red recognizes can be useful,
I've often said that you write, talk, and probably even dream in bullet points. And while I might think of them as "abrupt" at times, there's no question that they provide a very clear and succinct way of communicating. Which is why I preface some of my longer emails that cover lots of topics and explanations, with, "I'm borrowing some of Black's beloved bullet points …"
So, what's the most effective method? Well, you can spend hours on the internet reading countless articles about the benefits of effective communications, the various types of communications (not everything is verbal and written – think about things like body language and facial expressions), and ways to improve communication skills, but Black tends to look at things slightly backward …
The reality is that we each have our own style of communicating, but we need to remember that communication is a two-way street, and the objective is connecting with other people, and sharing thoughts and ideas. Sometimes the best way to get our point across is to work backward and think how the other person will receive what we want to express. And then listening, truly listening, to their feedback.
Most workaholics can rationalize working all the time. At least to themselves.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: “Gizmos” already blurred the lines between the workweek and the weekend, but the WFH (working from home) “revolution” caused by the pandemic has destroyed the line; except for people like Black, who have always treated every day as a workday.
So, is being a workaholic a bad thing? Well, we both agree that having two days where we (hopefully) get time to do what we enjoy is exactly what weekends are all about. And while Black will admit that she doesn’t love every aspect of her work life, there’s nothing she rather be doing. (And points out to Red that could also be said of parenting.) Regardless, Red has always found Black’s total love of work a bit perplexing, and she’s definitely not the only one who has used the phrase “she needs to get a life” when describing her sister. Black, of course, sees it very differently,
Whether it’s just a regular weekend or, even better, a long holiday weekend, I look forward to the “time off” to work on strategic projects needing large blocks of uninterrupted time or one of my passion projects. From the outside, others might see it as “working”, but I am doing what makes me happy.
Red knows better than to argue with Black and wasn’t surprised that she could make being a workaholic sound like a good thing. But since Black lives alone and never had children (although she always finds time for Red’s girls), our priorities and ideas about a “wonderful weekend” are very different,
While it often seems like my weekends are as busy as my weekdays because I’m catching up on all the personal things I don’t have the time to do during the week, it makes me appreciate the “time off” even more – whether escaping to a movie (ok, my passion is popcorn), going for a Dunkin coffee (it brings back memories of growing up in New York), reading, or climbing into bed to watch some old episodes of Downton Abbey.
So, while Black may roll her eyes at what Red chooses to do with her quiet time, she'd be the first to point out we all have very different ways of spending our weekends, but we should all do whatever makes us happy. Wouldn’t you agree?