Not Meant to be Alone

We were not meant to be alone in this world. We have ears to listen and a mouth to talk. Social media can help ensure that nobody suffers from loneliness.

People are not made to be alone. They are inherently social beings. That is my belief, anyway.  I know there are loners and hermits. Often, however, they are that way because their earlier attempts at being social went awry or, in the case of religious loners, it is to enhance their relationship with God. The Unabomber was alone, and look how that turned out!  Tom Hanks was alone in Castaway. But it wasn’t right! He made friends with a volleyball and then risked it all just to be reunited with others.

Being cast away, alone, separate from others. It’s not right. God made us with the ability to communicate so that we could, well, communicate! He gave us ears to listen to what others have to say.  He gave us a mouth with vocal chords so that we could share. He gave us tears  to sympathize. He gave us hands to hold.  Wow, I could keep going on forever with that sappiness, couldn’t I?  

Social media has obviously had a huge impact on how people communicate.  People who were otherwise social now are more social or perhaps social in different ways and with more people. I think the bigger change, however, is that some people who were otherwise reclusive, or at least less social, now have the ability to communicate with others in low-risk ways. I think there are some people active in social media who would not have thrived as well in the pre-Web 2.0 world.

I think of the guys at one party I went to in college who were watching Monty Python’s Holy Grail in the living room, reciting each line, singing each song. When the movie was shut off halfway through, they looked up, blinking, not quite sure how to interact with others in the room.  I think in today’s Web 2.0 world they’d be chatting it up with like-minded Holy Grailians, making plans for a tweetup in NYC to watch Spamalot on Broadway.

More importantly, there are people who really have led miserable lives who can now find others who will talk to them and help. People who don’t know where else to go with their problems now find listening ears (provided they search … some on Twitter won’t follow you back unless you have a blue-and-white ‘verified’ mark on your profile pic). People who might find it hard to converse face-t0-face might actually experience what social interaction is all about and, perhaps, find ways of translating that into their real lives.

I think there are fascinating studies to be conducted, if they’ve not already been done, to see what social media’s affect on rates of reclusivity.  There are many human conditions that impact quality of life, and I think that social media can help with one of them: being alone. We were not meant to be alone, and now there are more ways to ensure that we can move out of that condition and into a full life complete with social interaction.

I Heart GR … Does GR Love Me Back?

I love Grand Rapids. I hope it loves me back!

For exactly half my life now I’ve called Grand Rapids home.  I came here from Canada to go to college and since my Junior year I’ve never gone home for more than a week at a time.

West Trenton
West Trenton

Home for me was the small town of Trenton, Ontario, with a population of about 15,000. Most people in Canada would only know Trenton as the home to one of the country’s largest air bases. Many of the factories that once provided valuable jobs for the town have left that area, although I believe Domtar is still there. You could always smell the creosote treatment of railway ties when entering Trenton from the north. When I’ve gone back in recent years, I’ve been saddened a little that the town seems to have fallen on rough times.  Last summer I went home for a week and revisited some of the places of my youth.  Let me just say that, although there was an element of nostalgia, I was happy that I have a new hometown — Grand Rapids.

When I first came to Grand Rapids in the late ’80s, I was happy with a city that offered so much more than the small-town I grew up in. Don’t get me wrong, I like Trenton and my upbringing there helped make me the person I am today (which is to say, I’m happy with who I am!). What’s amazing about that statement is that Grand Rapids is so much better today than it was 20-some years ago!

The complete renaissance of downtown Grand Rapids has been nothing short of amazing. Shortly after graduating from Calvin  College, I went to work for the Grand Rapids Business Journal which, at that time, was based in the Trust Building on the corner of Pearl and Ottawa. It was exciting to work downtown near the bustling office buildings, restaurants and traffic. After five o’clock, however, downtown pretty much emptied out and became a ghost town.  Now, with the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, Civic Theatre, numerous condo developments and scores of restaurants and bars that didn’t exist just 20 years ago, downtown has become a destination for the region.

Grand Rapids Skyline
Grand Rapids Skyline

Now, with events like ArtPrize and festivals and celebrations and spontaneous, social media-driven events, there’s a buzz around the city’s core. That buzz extends to the edges too.  Meijer Gardens is a beautiful attraction bringing people from all over to our city. The Whitecaps and their beautiful ball park were still just a vision when I first came here, and now they’re well-established and sometimes an afterthought with everything else that’s going on around here.

I love the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. I’m in Alger Heights, which has been a wonderful place to raise my children. I hang out in coffee shops in Wealthy Heights and East Hills and Gaslight Village and savor the unique attributes of each micro-community. I love that West Michigan businessmen have stayed loyal to their hometown and contributed greatly to maintaining its viability and vitality.  I love my own neighbors and the fact that there are very few fences on my street, allowing our kids to run back and forth to enjoy each others’ companionship.

Since September, I’ve been working on establishing my own public relations consultancy. It’s slow, hard work to gather together new clients and service their needs. I am asked all the time by friends, “How’s your new business?!” and have to reply, honestly, it’s a lot of work and it’s very slow to get started.  I remain confident in my abilities, however, and in the fact that the economy will improve and that I will be well-positioned to obtain and service new clients when it does.

That said, other opportunities are out there.  By that, I mean in other places.  And while I work hard to establish myself here, I owe it to my family to explore other options as well.  The few interviews I’ve done have been for jobs in other cities.  And if the right opportunity with the right employer comes along, I’ll have to go.

In the meantime, I’m gonna continue to love GR and hope the city loves me back!  It has for more than two decades.  It’s provided  me with education, employment, entertainment, family and friends.  And now I’m hoping it’ll provide enough clientele to help Luymes Public Relations not only survive, but thrive, in a way that will help me give back to this community for the decades to come!

January Series at Calvin College

Calvin College’s “January Series” is bringing an eclectic mix of excellent speakers to the West Michigan community.

As a Calvin College graduate, I’ve always been proud of the school’s wonderful January Series of lectures. Now in its 23rd year, the award-winning lecture series always brings an eclectic mix of incredible speakers to the campus with one lecture per day, free to the public. This year’s lineup once again promises to inspire and educate.

Opening speaker T.R. Reid, global affairs correspondent for The Washington Post and NPR, will talk abut the “Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.”  The closing speaker, Archbishop Elias Chacour of Galilee, will talk about “Unity Within Diversity: Myth or Reality.”  In between, there are 13 other speakers addressing topics ranging from the theological to cultural to political.

Of particular interest to me are three of those speakers. The topic for CBS News Correspondent and best-selling author Kimberly Dozier is “Breathing the Fire: Reflections of a Foreign News Correspondent.” You’ll remember that, while covering a story in Baghdad in 2006, Dozier was seriously injured in a car bombing that killed her camera crew, an army captain and their Iraqi translator. And now Dozier reports from the White House on President Obama’s administration and new foreign policy developments. To me, that sounds like a strong basis for many intriguing stories.

Next on my list of top three is Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway and a former Calvin student. He will speak on the “ten phrases” that were the basis for his most recent book encouraging others to live with a positive attitude that can change lives, communities, and the world. I’ve heard Rich speak numerous times and have read his books, of course, and I always appreciate his grasp of basic human nature and how what we say and do affects those around us. He’s a master salesman and, when you hear him speak, you begin to understand why.

Finally, Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales will speak about “Democracy and the Internet.”  I use Wikipedia all the time as a quick research tool.  It embodies the idea that, through the inputs of many, we will arrive at the truth. It’s not always completely accurate, because it truly requires inputs from all sides of an issue or idea, and there are times that some parties won’t or can’t participate. But it is fascinating all the same and is probably the one session I’d go to — if I only went to one! 

If you’re interested in going, check out www.Calvin.edu/January for more information about speakers and dates. The Fine Arts Center at Calvin is going through an expansion/renovation, so they’re conducting the series out of the Calvin College Chapel. The talks begin at 12:30 p.m. on weekdays from Wednesday, Jan. 6 through Tuesday, Jan. 26.  But you better get there early, especially for the more noted speakers, because it’s usually a full house.

Fortunately, Calvin has created remote web cast sites so that more people can benefit from these lectures, including several around West Michigan.  Included among the 28 webcast sites across the country are the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon, Christ Memorial Church in Holland, Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, and the Dogwood Center for the Performing Arts in Fremont.

Work and personal schedules allowing, I hope to hit my top three and perhaps a few more!

Do what you love

Do what you love, and be true to who you are. And other stuff about PR.

Last night I spoke to a class of marketing seniors at Davenport University, some of whom are considering a career in Public Relations.  I shared some advice as they start their careers (below), and I shared some of my experiences over the past 20+ years, including decisions I made that led me to a career in PR.  Because, frankly, when I was their age I didn’t even know what PR was.

I decided to study journalism at a community college near my hometown after high school because my top university choice didn’t accept my application on the first try. Thanks Queen’s.  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life anyway, and my mom had MS and was confined to a wheelchair, and I didn’t want to leave my dad with the sole responsibility of her care.  So, instead of going to my second or third choice universities, both of which had accepted me, I went to Loyalist College which, like other community colleges in Canada, was very focused on providing career training.  The only program that sounded appealing to me was Print Journalism, which prepared students for a career as a two-way (editorial and photography) community journalist.

I loved it. I liked telling stories through words and pictures. I loved the art and science behind good page design. I loved working in the dark room and at the big Olivetti typewriter — the kind you needed muscular fingers and a lot of enthusiasm to manipulate well.  I loved being a reporter for the school paper and for my internships but, upon graduation, I did not immediately go to work. My girlfriend decided to go to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I followed.

She and I didn’t last. But I did meet the beautiful girl who would become my wife and I did obtain my B.A. in English.  And I did get a job as a reporter several months after I graduated. The Grand Rapids Business Journal wasn’t a big publication, but that probably was a good thing for me.  I got to cover stories and conduct interviews I never would have been assigned had I worked at a larger publication.  The pay wasn’t good, but I really liked what I was doing.

As newlyweds sometimes do, we had a child, and “I really liked what I was doing” no longer was enough. When the PR sirens came singing, I boldly took the plunge. Even though I hadn’t studied PR (few had, at that point), I knew it involved writing and that it still was part of the reporting process.  Journalists called it “selling out” and, well, that’s how I felt about it too.  But there were bills to pay.

What I came to discover, however, was that PR was indeed an honorable, respectable profession that includes a responsibility to the public good. PR certainly has some image problems of its own, brought on by some practioners within its own ranks. It’s one of the reasons I am such a big fan of PRSA — the Public Relations Society of America.  The PRSA educates on best practices and advocates for ethical behaviors and awards Accreditation in Public Relations to its top practitioners.   What I learned about being a PR practitioner came from working with excellent professionals at Amway and through PRSA involvement. Next week when the West Michigan PRSA chapter board meets I assume my new role as 2010 President. I also served as WMPRSA President back in 2003.

My advice to the students? First of all, I told them if they weren’t passionate about PR, they shouldn’t do it.  Lack of passion is a dead-end street in the PR profession. Besides, who wants to do a job for the rest of their lives that they are not passionate about? I want to love what I do, and do what I love.

Next, I told them to write. Write for paying clients. Write for non-paying clients. Write for fictional clients. But if you’re not writing in this profession, you won’t get far.  The PR professional won’t ever reach campaign planning status if they cannot write persuasively.

And I told them to be true. I told them that Honest, Open, Transparent communications are critical to the reputation of a firm. Dishonesty is eventually discovered and reputation is destroyed.  Avoiding the tough conversations about your business destroys trust. Selectively sharing only the facts that you believe place you in the best light is an invitation for your critics to share the facts you’re avoiding. Outing yourself on difficult information is always better than being outed by someone else.

To the students at Davenport, and at Calvin, and Grand Valley State University and Loyalist College and Queen’s University, at Harvard College and Grand Rapids Community College — do what you love, and be true.

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