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Communicating With Judge Judy

As a writer I’ve had to pay more attention to how people communicate and decided to check out nonverbal communication on television. This past week I viewed two back-to-back court hearings on Judge Judy where I observed some nonverbal communication styles in the courtroom. In the first part of the episode, Judy focused in on a multi-pierced, twenty-three year old man with a Mohawk hairstyle, who’d thrown bricks into the windshield of his ex-girlfriend’s car. Judy said, “She may think you’re handsome, but I don’t!” “Uncross your arms!” and “Put your arms at your sides!” The second part of the episode revolved around two high school boys/brothers who were accused of stealing money from a backpack. Judy commented on one boy’s poor eye contact and had to use a hand gesture to remind him to look at her. “Look at me when I’m speaking!” “Stand up straight!” Further, Judge Judy hates it when you are smiling at the wrong time. “Wipe the smirk off your face!”

Our clothing and personal appearance are important means of nonverbal communication. If you wear a Mohawk in Judy’s courtroom, she lets you know she’s not impressed. Many Americans consider a reluctance to make eye contact as rude, disrespectful, and hostile, and can demonstrate believability or dishonesty. Further, we avoid eye contact with someone we dislike. If someone has their arms folded after meeting you, it could mean that he is not enthusiastic about being around you. Through our facial expressions (smiling or a smirk at an inopportune time in this example), we reveal a great deal about our feelings and responses to other people.

Communication is 7 % verbal and 65 to 93% nonverbal. Judge Judy has to consider the whole picture when determining whether a person is guilty or not. The nonverbal expression and the verbal message must be considered together. The nonverbal message is more accurate and is usually believed over the verbal message. Watching Judge Judy helped me see that whether we like it or not, we are being “judged” by our nonverbal communication in every aspect of our lives. One can learn a lot about nonverbal communication by looking no further than your living room TV. Perhaps while watching your favorite show you can gain a few nonverbal communication ideas to add to the characters in your story.

Stereotyping

My Norwegian grandfather came to America with a large number of other immigrants in the late 1800s. Within America today there are still immigrants, many coming from different lands than in the 1800s and early 1900s. No doubt most of them come for a better financial future, the same reason for coming as those from my grandfather’s era.

Part of my job is to teach social skills to high school students within a high school of many cultures. The reason I decided to teach stereotyping as part of good social skills program is because I’ve heard too much of it at school this year. Violence can result from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, perhaps more so with teenagers who can be impulsive (sorry, I’m stereotyping here).

School is not the only place stereotyping takes place; let’s look at our books, what we watch on television and at the movies. To their credit, they have a smaller space to make information known, a shorter time slot to make a point. For example, mentally ill people in the movies are often a villain. All mentally ill people are not villains. Also, if the director wants to portray a character that is not the sharpest tack in the box, you may see a pretty blonde with wide eyes trying to understand a conversation. Yet, all blondes are not dumb. Another example seen in books, on television, or in the movies is if you want someone in the scene to be a tech whiz, you may describe a male with glasses and pens in his front pocket to portray this character. Not so often is the pretty blonde woman the tech whiz. As a matter of fact, on my way home from work last week I saw a van with the name, Geeks to the Rescue, embossed on the side. Perhaps Blondes to the Rescue would be their second choice for a name. 

 Sure, many don’t think too much about all this, don’t make a fuss about a blonde joke in front of a room full of people whether there is a blonde in the room or not. But it can be more serious than this. If I clump together a race or a country with certain traits, I could have a problem if I offend a person within that group, which is what I am trying to teach at school and what I am trying not to do when I write a story.

Writing Inspiration

What inspires you to write? Is it a place, a special setting, purpose, thought, or character? At one time I thought I had the perfect setting for a suspense story. For two years I worked in one of the state’s most haunted places. The building, built in 1906, had four floors and in its early years housed orphans and catholic nuns as caregivers.

People in the orphanage died over the years and according to staff report, mysterious things happened on every landing, but most often on the fourth floor which happened to be the old sleeping quarters.

During my time there, I worked with a team teaching eight behaviorally challenged middle school students on the first floor. Related offices were on the second and third floors, but the fourth floor was empty and falling to ruin. I did wonder why they didn’t make use of this fourth floor; my assumption is that it had to do with reports of haunting.

When I was hired, a psychologist gave me a tour of the fourth floor, such as it was. Looking around at the empty dark corners gave me an eerie feeling but that was the extent of my concern about being in the building.

Even though trusted staff of many years had a chilling story or two to tell about the building, the only thing unusual I experienced was that posters would never stick on a section of the wall in the classroom, no matter how hard I tried. I suspected the nuns didn’t want anything up there. Otherwise nothing untoward happened, so I suspected the “ghosts” didn’t want to have anything to do with behavioral students.

When I started to work there, I thought the building would inspire me to write scary or suspenseful stories, but that’s not what happened. All I really gleaned from working in a haunted building was how to write better descriptors of creaking floors and staircases, and how to better describe a large old building with tall ceilings and beautiful woodwork.

I still remember looking up the four floors of the building on my way into work each day and wondering about the fourth floor, but once I got inside my focus was on the students that I worked with, my mind was on making a difference in their lives. Sometimes writing inspiration doesn’t always come to you in ways that you would think.