Oh man…what’re we gonna do with all of this soup?!
Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. My favorite weekend of the year will be officially over tonight when Beth and I have turkey soup for dinner, likely alone save for our dogs. (As an aside, I am ever thankful that we still have our little 15yo Shitpoo, Tiny Tim). We’ll dawdle over the fixings and the trimmings of the Holiday as we pack it away in various nooks and crannies. Christmas officially started with the ceremonial playing of the original Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas opera. We careen out of thanks and hurtle into giving.
Each Thanksgiving has its own, special feel, at least around the White house. Two things come to mind this year, the first being that I had no idea what day it was at any single time other than during our family dinner on Thursday. Weird, huh? Usually my life is filled with some version of “if I’m doing this it must be” or “it’s Friday, so I’m doing this” time stamping. Not this weekend. There was so much coming and going, so many interlocking, intersecting, and ultimately connecting schedules I just went into “point and shoot” mode: tell me where to be, when to be there, and what to wear, and I’ll do my best.
Social media has been the talk of the nation for quite some time now. Thanksgiving reinforced something I’ve known for quite a few years now. Yes, we can certainly increase our ability to connect with pretty much anyone on stuff like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. We can reach out for a quick touch on text, or send along a longer message via email. All of these have increased in their perceived importance year over year, comically at the expense of telephone calls especially. It seems that more and more people behave as if all they need to do to nurture their relationships is send an occasional text or tag someone on a Facebook post.
Thanksgiving is the antidote to that kind of madness, at least the type of Thanksgiving we have at Casa Blanco.
Nothing can possibly take the place of a hug. No type of Social Media contact is as meaningful as looking into the eyes of a friend as you shake hands. We get a daily dose of the “Nugget” via text pics from her Mom, but come on, seeing that precious little face smiling up at you as you pick her up out of her little crib? It was too wonderful for words to have Dan and Brittany here for dinner Wednesday night. No amount of texting, calling, or SM was gonna make it sting any less when we had to bid them “see you later” early Friday morning because they had to be back home to Columbus (congrats on the ½ Marathon Brit!). Saying goodbye this morning to Megan and her Ryan, even after a 5-day visit, just gutted me.
I’m no Luddite; I love me some Twitter, etc., and using Social Media to enhance your closest connections is way more pleasant than the silly BS we’ve been subjecting ourselves to lately, right? Think about it, though. Think about how very wonderful it was this weekend if you had a chance to see some part of your family that DOESN’T live in the town next door. How great it was to see the twinkle in a brother’s eyes as he told your spouse about that time you fell out of a tree at Gram’s house. You had a drink with your best friend from forever and she could barely get through that story about that one night in college that you’ve sworn will never be told to your kids. Everyone held hands around the table as you said Grace and shared your favorite memory of Gramp because this is the first year he’s not with you.
They’ve not yet posted a Facebook memory that is as real, as meaningful as the one you share face to face with friends or family. Thank Heavens The Man Cub is napping at my house and will soon awaken and be ready for an adventure with his Papi. I’m already missing the kids who went home. Already counting the days until I get to snuggle The Nugget. Thinking of family members who celebrated in their own homes. I dream of friends from long ago and far away, dream of sharing handshakes and hugs.
Real, reach out and actually touch connections, courtesy of Thanksgiving. Hope yours was Happy and crowded.
My friend David Granet posted a little thoughtlet on “success” last year, and it started a very nice conversation about what actually constitutes success and why. Thinking about success may provide us with a platform from which we might think about the other issues that may be orbiting our little personal planets. It’s a nice segue into Thanksgiving as well.
Dave’s post was this: “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.” To parse this one must begin with a definition or at least an understanding of what success is, and equally importantly, what it is not. There are many terms that are often associated with success, things like wealth and power and fame. Is it necessary to have any, or all, of these to be a success? Can you be successful in the absence of any, or all, of these? Where would one fall on the gratitude/entitlement continuum if one were to have any, or all?
This is really tricky, and I’m afraid that when I’m done you will likely have more questions than answers, maybe even more than you had when you started. That may actually be the point now that I think of it. Success probably relates to what I shared previously about “All” or Everything” in that the proper definition of success emanates from within, not without. This I think is what Dave is implying when he makes the distinction based on gratitude vs. entitlement.
Let’s use an example, a very famous example, to try to illustrate this and prompt some thought: Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs as you know was cut down in the prime of his life by a disease that has no known cause. Was he a success? He was wealthy, famous, and wielded great power both inside and outside his company. He was married to his only spouse, and together they had healthy children (2, if memory serves). A life to be envied, no? One to which many (most?) might aspire.
A deeper dive at least suggests another story, though. It appears that Mr. Jobs, unlike his one great peer Bill Gates, had few if any close friends. Indeed, within his company and his industry he left behind a trail of despair. All one reads about is how hard it was to work with or for him. He won…for sure he won way more than he lost…but did he succeed? Was he successful? I never once read or heard anything from Mr. Jobs that implied that he was grateful for either any of his wins, or any of the spoils of his victories. There were a couple of whispers about an end of life wistfulness about a paucity of connection, though.
I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Jobs, and Heaven knows his family surely misses him. I think his example might soften the “entitlement” part of the equation a bit as I never really got a sense of that from him (as opposed to, say, your favorite rich and famous Kardashian). Being grateful, however, bespeaks connection, a very certain acknowledgement that the concrete parts of success–money, fame, power–are without any real value unless they somehow allow you to share them. This, in turn, brings with it the humility that comes from realizing that you can’t be truly successful if success is only something you can count rather than something you can feel.
No one is entitled to victory, let alone success. In order to feel successful you must be able to admit that you neither did it alone, nor can you truly enjoy it alone. The gratitude felt by the successful is one born of thankfulness for the opportunity you must have been given, and borne aloft by the desire for your success to be one that is felt by not only you, but by others you are thankful to have in your life.
What does being successful mean to you? Rich or poor, famous or anonymous…are you successful?
Thanksgiving is by far and away my favorite holiday. Not even close. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had much to be thankful for, always had pretty much everything I need and at least a bunch of what I (thought I) want. Seriously, I can’t really remember a single Thanksgiving in my entire life where I thought the ledger was tilted to the minus side, where I just couldn’t find so much more to be thankful about than not.
Oh sure, there’s always something to gripe about. I’m not really sure what it is at the moment, but Beth called me out last night for basically being an edgy grump. Guilty, but cluelessly in retrospect, even though I managed to come up with a reasonably coherent attempt at an explanation at the time. Still, it’s almost Thanksgiving, and I’ve gotta get my…ahem…stuff sorted out.
One of the attractions for me to the day is that there are no real obligations. No gift giving. No “X shopping days until” stuff. Heck, I’d love to see a bit of Thanksgiving cheer around town, in stores and restaurants and such. Like we didn’t know all of those Christmas lights were already up the week before Halloween just because you didn’t plug them in?! Sheesh. C’mon, throw me a bone. Gimme a turkey and maybe a pilgrim hat in the window, just for a couple of days. Let me revel in the holiday where there’s really no revelry, just for a moment.
Oops…edgy grumpy again. Sorry.
Thanksgiving is so much more precisely because it’s so much less. Your family, such as it is at any given time, gets together and you eat turkey. Simple. You gather around a communal table, pass around whatever traditional fare constitutes your family’s meal, and talk all over each other with your mouth full. Everyone is more pleased to be together than not, even your cranky aunt who always–ALWAYS–tells you to swallow your food before you answer. Even she is OK on Thanksgiving.
There’s a sameness to Thanksgiving, at least in our minds, and I think that’s part of the joy, the comfort of the holiday. Close your eyes, sit back, and just for a moment think about Thanksgiving at your house. Don’t pick a particular life stage, just let it happen. What do you see? Man, it’s like seeing my life scroll out before me in countless little pictures and video snippets. My timeline is notable for one very important thing: at no point, in no image that flashes before me, am I alone.
What do you see? There’s football in mine. Lots and lots of football. The first memory in line is football. It’s so cold at the Southbridge/Webster HS game my hands feel numb typing this. I had my first cup of coffee that day; they were all out of hot chocolate. You played and then came home, or went to the game and then came home. Yup, football and fires in the fireplace, and so, so much food. And there’s always that one, strange, once-a-year food, right? Peanut butter filled dried dates, rolled in pure sugar. Like a bite-sized PB&J. That’s the one I remember. It was always up to just one or two of your family members to make that weird little treat, too. I flash on my youngest sister as she rolls the dates in the sugar, feigning anger as her siblings snitch them off the plate as quickly as she rolls them. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth at the memory of those little sugar bombs.
As you sit there and move through your Thanksgiving montage you begin to notice something, though. At intervals that are not really regular, but they are there just the same, something changes. Maybe you moved, and the dinner table is different. There are some new characters around the table, a girlfriend here, a husband there. Sometimes something is missing. You run back the tape. You look and you look, but try as you might, someone isn’t there. All kinds of reasons for this, of course, but the first time you scroll through a significant change–venue, menu, cast–it shakes you a bit, right? Your brother got married and has to share the holiday with another family. Your sister was deployed. . Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, someone is no longer here to be there at all.
Here, I think, is where edgy, grumpy Darrell is probably coming from. New families. In-laws. Another generation arrives. If you could somehow go back even further, before your own little Thanksgiving memory tree started to grow, you’d find that there’s nothing really unique at all in this little part of Thanksgiving. Change, growth and change, are also part of the magic of the Holiday. What was it like for my Mom to move with her new family to a Thanksgiving in her own home? Family lore has it that my Dad’s family was more than a little unhappy with his move all of one county away. What was he thinking those first couple of Thanksgivings at my Mom’s house? For that matter, what was it like in their homes at Thanksgiving when they were the same age as their grandchildren are now?
Did they have peanut butter-filled, sugar-rolled dates?
Every day is new. Each one is different from the last, and Thanksgiving can be no different. This week there will be much that feels like so many Thanksgivings of yore, yet it will be new as well. New babies and new lives and new places. New additions brought into our oldest traditions. Things and people to adopt and love as much as all we’ve loved before. Edgy? Well, it’s almost certainly because so very much will be new this year in our little home. New brings a bit of uncertainty, doesn’t it? Yes, for sure, it does. But with certainty I can say that once again, as with every Thanksgiving, I will have much more to be thankful for. The ledger will be long on thanks, needs comfortably covered, wants undoubtedly as well. I will be surrounded by those I love; when the scroll is run in the years ahead I will not be alone. Of this I am quite certain.
And there will be dates. Sticky, gooey memories to begin the next generation’s Thanksgiving story.
“Enjoy the weekend off; you deserve it.” How many times have you heard something like that? “They need to give you X; you deserve it.” Statements like that confuse me. What does it mean to deserve something? In a roomful of people how does one determine who deserves what? “He got what he deserved.” Says who?
I like accuracy in my language, at least when considering prose as opposed to poetry or koan. The concept of earning something is much more comfortable for me, much easier for me to get my head around. Whereas there’s a real sense of entitlement in the concept of “deserve”, coupled with a whiff of helplessness in that one must be granted the state of deserving by another, to earn something is a little more like math. 2 + 2 = 4. If you do this you have earned that. This week I earned my days off by doing well at my day job, leaving few to no loose ends that required weekend tying. I earned my keep, if you will, earned the ability to take 2 days away from what provides me income. At every encounter along the way I worked to the best of my ability to earn the respect and trust of those who purchase my particular skill.
Do I deserve any of that? Well, that’s where the idea of entitlement comes in, hand in hand with the subservience inherent in the fact that someone else gets to make that call. If you ask me, not only did I deserve all of that, but there should have been more! What I did should have earned me more of all of that. There’s a fine line between “deserve” and “earn” it turns out, even for one such as I who understands the difference. In certain circumstances the hand of others, seen or unseen, pulls on strings that determine whether you do, indeed, receive that which you have earned.
As Scar so famously said: “Life’s not fairrrrrrr.”
There’s the rub. Fairness. Is what you’ve earned fair? It’s maddening, isn’t it? Even if you forswear all sense of deserving this or that in favor of earning whatever you are still at risk of falling for the fairness trap. The reality as far as I can see is that, on balance, we all get pretty much both what we’ve earned and what we deserve; it kinda all evens out in the end. What makes it difficult is that at any one time there may be a disconnect in one particular place where you think you’ve earned it–whatever it might be–and yet it’s not coming your way. No way around it, that’s really hard. Unfair, even.
The lesson here, I think, is that pretty much everything in life is to be earned. Food, shelter, clothing. Respect. Trust. We have within us only the ability to go about our best in order to earn any and all of these. To put it another way, our best good-faith effort is all we have to contribute to the equation; acknowledging that it is on us to earn these things is in itself a demonstration of good faith, a repudiation of entitlement, and a clear statement to all that what we receive in the end cannot be justified by some outside agent declaring that “we got what we deserved.”
We deserve to be loved. Everything else we deserve only the opportunity to earn.
Not surprisingly, there are lots of things on my mind this week. Sunday musings is part payback for all of the wonderful things CrossFit and our community has given me, and part electronic therapy, an extension of my blog where I do an occasional “data dump” to free up space in my brain. The sheer volume of stuff banging around in there is frightening. I’ll spare you most of it (and the crowd roars!).
As is often the case when my circuits are on overload there is a bit of a theme running through the catacombs: this week, uncertainty. So. Much. Uncertainty. On a macro level as well as the most micro of micro levels, what I see before me and within myself is uncertainty. Some people thrive on that, on not knowing what is around the corner, specifically on not only not knowing but also in not knowing the universe of possibilities. Here on CrossFit.com there’s a bit of that, right? Some of you wait until the very last minute to open CrossFit.com before your WOD, and others have no choice because their Box doesn’t pre-post the workout. The uncertainty that’s got me worked up is much more global and pervasive, though.
In physics there is actually something called the “Uncertainty Principle”, and this is more to the point of what I am feeling in general. The Uncertainty Principle holds that the more you know about one variable that pertains to a particle, the less you can know about some other fundamental, essential quality. Hmmm…ring a bell? While the physics version of the Uncertainty Principle deals specifically with the precision of measuring things like mass and momentum, the softer, fuzzier social version is what ties me in knots when I get to this point.
One way to look at this outside of physics goes something like this: the more certain you are about anything, the less able you are to adjust if your forecast is inaccurate. The corollary, at least for me, is that the less certain I am about what is just ahead the more difficult it is for me to pull the trigger on a decision. For all but the most intuitive, reactive personalities, the ability to measure precisely within a universe that is governed by reasonably firm rules or principles is necessary in order to comfortably navigate around corners. For certain there is a personality type who requires too much information of a degree of accuracy that is too high, and this most proactive of personality types is often paralyzed under normal levels of uncertainty just as the free-wheeler is unnecessarily buffeted by easily forecasted winds. But this is different. For some reason, now seems different.
For me this has been building for many months, at least; it is not a reaction to the events of the last week. In trying to divine the genesis of this feeling, returning to physics for a moment is instructive. Imagine for a moment that a universally accepted theorem was all of a sudden found to be wrong. Or even worse, imagine that most of that principle remains unchanged except for one, small but unavoidable change. I dunno…how about gravity? Instead of gravitational forces unfailingly drawing mass to the center, what if they all of a sudden pulled sideways? Or even worse, what if they sometimes pulled to the center and at others sideways? Or in the ultimate horror, your every day existence depended on knowing when gravity would shift, but you were incapable of knowing this with any degree of certainty?
This is not the first time I have looked out the virtual windows at my world and seen nothing but randomness. Nothing that I could measure with enough precision that I felt comfortable with the notion that I could feel certain about what was out there. To be sure, there is a benefit with begin comfortable with the unknown and the unknowable, and here the Uncertainty Principle may offer us some guidance. There is, in any system or with any particle, something that can be known with such a degree of precision that one simply must trust in its truth. “Dis is dis”, if you will. The more shaken you may be by what appears to be ubiquitous, universal uncertainty the more elemental that known must be so that you can begin to rebuild your foundation.
For some the foundation will be simple and concrete. The sun persists in its daily rising. My plumbing did not fail. You get the idea. Still others will return to a base that is built around faith or philosophical cornerstones. Indeed, for them, how better to combat uncertainty in the world than to be quite certain about something which, by its very definition, cannot be measured at all? Most will be like me, going back and back and back to ever more elemental, basic, and simple examples of both, our reverse journey’s length and duration directly proportional to our discomfort with the uncertainty in our lives. From there I will endeavor to build upon whatever certainties I can find, from which I will seek to once again be comfortable enough to venture confidently into a world filled with uncertainty.
Physics helps here, too. The Theory of Relativity states that measurement depends on the frame of reference of the one who measures. In the end it is not the uncertainty that changes, but the one who is uncertain.
With reasonable certainty, I’ll see you next week…
1) Embedded. How over-used and overblown has THIS word become, eh? I just read an article in the Sunday NYT by a reporter who was “embedded” with 5 individuals with stakes in the Cubs victory. Really?
2) Caveat venditor. Let the seller beware. Kinda interesting twist with lots of ways to interpret. Fail to understand the value of your product and under-price it? Shorry. Sell a product that is dangerous without adequate safeguards and then get sued and lose? Ditto.
This is the new reality in the world of my day job.
3) Boredom. One of the beauties of CrossFit, at least for me, is that I have rarely, if ever, been bored with the workouts. Twas a time when I was programming for Randy’s gym that one of the members complained about repetitive routines. Seems he was bored with several iterations of “Helen” and “Fran” played out over a period of 6 months. Yes…6…months. He was bored. Not enough variance in the basic programming because because roughly 20 out of 130 WODs were variations on classic CrossFit “Girls”.
Boredom, as Beth likes to say, is a choice.
At the moment I am on day 3 alone at home save for a couple of very sleepy canines. There is a certain inertia that sets in when I find myself in this position, especially if I dive into the the black hole of my computer. This inertia–a body at rest tends to stay at rest–feels an awful lot like boredom, but it, too, is little more than a choice, however passive. Last night I roused myself and reached out to a buddy to share a meal and a ball game on TV. While that’s not too very ambitious it did represent a choice to actively move out of the boredom zone.
There is a place for, and value in doing very little. Some of my most pleasant times are those spent simply gazing at the water, sometimes deep in thought and others simply deep in breathing. Indeed, doing nothing is fundamentally different from having nothing to do. If you wish, there is always something to do.
Boredom is a choice. To be bored is to surrender.
4) War. This interminable election season is about to come to an end. It was excruciating when it began a full year before the beginning of primaries, and it has only gotten more objectionable. I confess that the players in this particular election are irrelevant when it comes to my distaste for the process, for it matters not which election we discuss, the behavioral norms are to some degree the same in all of them. Ad hominem, either overt or shade, rules the day in them all.
Of particular concern and creating particular distaste is the constant reference made by candidates of all stripes on all sides to their election as some kind of war. The war for this or the battle over that. Please. It’s as if nothing before us matters, nothing is of any consequence until and unless it has escalated into some kind of open warfare. For Heaven’s sake, this morning I was treated to someone describing our country as being in the middle of a Cold Civil War.
Seriously, this election was described with a straight face and a smug sense of gravitas as similar in horror to a war in which hundreds of thousands lost their lives.
Let’s all take a step back for a moment. Take a big, deep breath. Every four years for hundreds of years now we have elected a President, an entire Congress, and 1/3 of our Senate. At times there has been great consensus regarding whatever issues were at hand, but it’s amazing how few those times were. Most often is the case that we have some sort of schism between starkly opposed viewpoints, and an election shifts us a little closer to one side from the other. From my seat here on the couch the only thing that is different today is our vastly greater ability to hear what our fellow citizens think; something that once upon a time required you to be in the same close geography with your fellow citizens is now available at will, wherever. Heck, even the vitriol between candidates–pick a race, any race–is in no way unprecedented. Historically, shade and invective was hurled with more colorful language, but hurled they were, nonetheless.
This is no war, my friends, it’s an election. We will go on as we have for 230 or so years, doing our best. We will not take to the streets, nor will we face off against our army. There will be no coup. We will see either a continuation of the slow drift left we’re experienced these last few years, or a bit of braking and perhaps a tiny move to the right. There will be evolution, as there should be. There will be no revolution of any kind, however loud the braying may be from both sides. We are not fighters in some epic battle, not warriors for a cause, we are citizens of the country that represents the best of what we have in the world at the moment. Our responsibility is to care enough to engage in nothing more than the effort to propel our nation forward along that path, however slowly it, and we, may go.
“No battle is ever won. They are not even fought. The [battle]field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.” William Faulkner
I’ll see you on Tuesday at the polls, and right here next week…
The “exercise is medicine” movement is kind of a confusing thing. On the one hand we in CrossFit are the uber example of how exercise as an independent variable can enhance health. On the other we have the “Big Sugar” industry funding research and promoting the notion that exercise is all that you need, that there is no effect of nutrition on health. Train your way out of any kind of diet, if you will. This has led to the toxic effect of “BS” industry money supporting academic research that is in effect little more than marketing for their products. (Visit TheRussells.CrossFit.com for details). Indeed, the soda industry in particular has come in for some very pointed criticism which includes being accused of acting like the tobacco industry ( https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/food-matters/if-soda-companies-don-t-want-to-be-treated-like-tobacco-companies-they-need-to-stop-acting-like-them/ ). Pretty harsh, but probably deserved.
Here’s the rub: exercise really is a medicine equivalent for a very large number of medical problems. Heck, if it were only to work for cardiovascular health and Type 2 diabetes it would be considered, or should be considered, a miracle treatment. Not only that, but exercise very well might work independently of diet. While exercise should not be used as an excuse to consume a poor, dangerous diet, you may actually be able to at least partly out-train a poor diet to at least some degree.
In 2009 a study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (http://m.ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/39/1/197.full) examining the effect of aerobic exercise on longevity (hat tip to Michael Joyner, MD at Mayo). Mind you, the study was enrolled prior to the creation of the CrossFit fitness program (completed in 2003), so the definition of fitness (aerobic health) will be viewed as incomplete by CrossFitters since it includes only aerobic fitness. In addition, what is defined as an unhealthy diet would only partially pass muster here; we would agree that simple carbohydrates (sugars) are unhealthy, but there is a plethora of more recent data that strongly suggests that red meat and healthy fat do not render a diet worrisome in the least.
A careful reading of the study revealed a couple of nuggets that should not surprise even a little bit. Eating the unhealthiest diet was associated with a 40% increase in all-cause mortality in comparison with the healthiest diet. Those who ate that worst diet and reported that they did moderate or greater levels of exercise had a 13.5% decrease in mortality. That group of bad eaters who exercised and were proven on a modified cardiac stress test to actually have greater aerobic fitness levels had a 55% decrease in mortality. Let that sink in for a minute: people who ate a shitty diet who exercised to the degree that they were fit by the testing criteria in the study were half as likely to die in any period than those who were unfit.
Frankly, I don’t care who funded this study. Eating a shitty diet that is high in sugar increases your risk of death by 40%. Proof. Exercise that produces improved fitness, even fitness that I would view as partial or incomplete, reduces all-cause mortality in people who eat a diet high in sugar by more than half. Proof. Yeah, sure, I get that this could be used to justify or excuse eating that way, but the reality has always been that most people don’t exercise at all. Nada. Bupkis. Those who do certainly don’t achieve much in the way of any kind of fitness because they don’t exercise effectively—saying you exercise only got you a 15% decrease in mortality, after all. These results only apply if you get fitness results, and let’s face it, working hard at exercise is not the default setting in the developed world. By comparison eating better is a breeze.
Studies such as this one are mint, man. Especially to people like me, people who follow the CrossFit Rx and other programs that ask you to work hard. It’s exercise AND nutrition. Says so in the study. Sure, we can pick at this one if we want, like I did above, but my bid is that we use studies such as this one as talking points to prove that our worldview is the gold standard by which all public health initiatives ought to be compared. We can turn the cynical “exercise is medicine” campaign of “BS” on its head and use their own data against them. Eat like a CrossFitter (protein, nuts and seeds, little starch, no sugar). Exercise like a CrossFitter (functional movements performed at relatively high intensity). Seek ever-higher levels of fitness (work capacity across broad time and modal domains) like we do.
“Exercise is medicine” is just fine as long as we continue to call BS on “BS”. Health requires both exercise AND nutrition. People who are fit, especially physicians, are just the right people to tell that story.
It takes very little effort to observe the intersection of cultural norms. Indeed, it takes a substantial effort NOT to notice them when they collide, as they must, in the polyglot that is the United States. Physicians, it’s been noted, are little more than paid observers; I see these collisions daily. What are we to do when cultures collide?
Now, I’m not talking about the “old as eternity” cultural divide between teenagers and their parents; in the end the teens will either hew closely to the cultural norms of their heritage or fall more in line with those of their present address. What I am interested in are those cultural norms that remain an integral part of the fully formed adult one might encounter in a rather typical day, and by extension whether and how one should respond to any cultural dissonance. Or for that matter, WHO should be the one to respond.
It’s the tiny ones that catch my attention. Personal space for example. The typical American personal space extends one arm length between individuals. Something shorter than a handshake, more like a handshake distance with bent elbows. The Mediterranean space involves an elbow, too: put your hand on your shoulder and point your elbow to the front and you have measured the personal space of a Sicilian. Asians on the other hand occupy a much larger personal space that can be loosely measured by a fully extended fist-bump. Something which would be anathema in polite Japanese company, but no matter.
My favorite little example of the variety of cultural norms that swirl in the soup of the great Melting Pot is the affectionate greeting. You know, what most fully acclimatized Americans would recognize as the “bro hug” shoulder bump and clasp, something that would be appalling to a Parisian or Persian, or indeed even to a Princess of the Antebellum South. Yet even here there are differences. The Princess, joined by legions of Housewives of Wherever and Junior Leaguers everywhere are ninjas in the practice of the single-cheek air kiss. It should be noted that ~90% of men are NOT ninjas in this particular art, and are expected by its practitioners to bungle the act.
Persians and Parisians, on the other hand, find the one-cheek air kiss to accomplish only half the job. They, and others who share centuries old cultures, warmly greet each other with a two-cheek kiss. I am sure that there are nuances involved here that remain unseen and unknown to both most men and certainly most (all?) who don’t share the heritage. (As an aside let me just say that I am a huge fan of this particular cultural norm because it means that one of my very favorite colleagues, Neda, always arrives bearing TWO kisses).
So what’s the point here? Two, I think. First, there is a certain boorishness in the failure to observe and recognize the existence of these cultural norms when they are encountered. Some, like those I’ve mentioned, are the relative equivalent of a soft breeze, neither strong enough to fill a sail nor de-leaf a tree. Recognizing them, even in the tiny manner that one tries not to trample on them even if they will be ignored, is a tiny gesture of kindness, respect, and courtesy.
The flip side, number two, is deciding which of these norms is the default setting. Here things get a bit stickier, especially when cultural norms run afoul of SOP on the particular ground they occupy. Think air kiss in Afghanistan, for example. Bowing in the boardroom of Samsung in San Clemente. There are more, and bigger examples, but you get the idea. Here I think geography holds the trump card: “when in Rome” should be your guide, especially with cultural norms where the collision may be substantially more impactful then whether or when you turn the other cheek, a tornado to the above tickling breeze.
If only we could agree on the universal appeal of the two-cheek kiss.
1) Camping. Recreational homelessness.
2) Enough. Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” Antoine de Saint Exupery
3) Khakis. As in the khakis that somehow didn’t make it yesterday morning on the way to the airport. Per Mrs. bingo they are right where the rest of the pile was before I crammed it into my backpack.
Did you know that Target is open at 0800 Sunday mornings?
3) Grateful. A quorum of the White family congregated in Rhode Island this morning to mark the 1-year anniversary of my Dad’s passing. Appropriately, the main event was Sunday mass in the tiny little Catholic church of my youth. Rock hard wooden pews with a 90-degree angle, just to make sure you suffer a little every week. We arrived 20 minutes early to make sure that Grambingo could sit in the front row.
Even the priest made fun of us.
Father is that (now) rare priest who reads far outside the lines and then brings his reading to the homily each Sunday. Today’s gospel was about gratitude, and Father’s take on the topic lined up perfectly with how we were all feeling about the day. You see, my Dad was a medical train wreck, a disaster just waiting to happen for about 3 decades or so. We, his family, were on borrowed time since a bypass surgery went off without a hitch in 1985. Kinda like 30 years of extra time on a pinball machine. We were playing with house money.
Funny thing: not a one of us took any of that for granted. My siblings and I, our children, and of course Grambingo have been forever grateful for all of that time with Dad. No one was more grateful than he was, though. My Dad and Arnold Palmer were contemporaries. The great writer Dan Jenkins once said of him that no one was ever happier with his life than Arnold Palmer was with his. With all respect to both Messrs. Jenkins and Palmer my Dad was certainly at least as happy as Arnie.
When I read about Arnold Palmer, his life and his family, I see my Dad. Each day was a new and wonderful adventure, a unique gift that was as unexpected as a Depression era gift under a Christmas tree. Big or small, each daily victory was another reason to be thankful. Being grateful was the default setting for a man who began each day with enough. The lesson is very, very powerful.
Perhaps unconsciously channeling Saint Exupery Father finished by describing the most simple, elegant prayer yet written. “Thank you.” For all of the sadness that each of us has felt this past year without my Dad we are, each of us, grateful for the privilege of having had him in our lives for as long as we did. Each day he showed us what gratitude looked like. “Perfect” is likely unobtainable, but we can always choose to be grateful.
Thanks again, Dad.
I’ll see you next week…
My son Randy texted me about the exciting finish to a Saturday college football game. It made me smile. Not the result, not even the topic, but the excitement. A parent is only as happy as his least happy kid, and at that moment one of my kids was very happy. Randy’s football playing days are long behind him, but the game still brings him joy.
Me? Not so much.
Oh sure, there was a time when football never seemed to be any lower on my list of wonderful things than number 2 or 3. I was a medium-sized fish in a puddle as a high school football player, but still I didn’t have the game out of my system when I graduated. Accepted at one Ivy League school and waitlisted at another, I turned down both because I was too small to have any chance of playing football at that level. Instead I went to a very old, very small school and played a some all 4 years. Now done as a player once graduation came, I was nonetheless still enthralled by all other things football.
Many of my closest friends were met on the freshly cut football fields of my youth. Wins and losses followed on those fields, most of which I’ve long forgotten. Indeed, I’ve written before that it is only the losses I remember, especially those that resulted from some personal failure in a game. A fumble, perhaps, or a blown coverage. And yet there is no escaping the fact that those countless hours at practice, in the locker room, and on the field are in large part responsible for who I am, the adult I’ve become.
It’s a powerful thing, football. The game itself is exhilarating to both play and watch. At least, it was. I find myself finding all kinds of reasons not to watch football games now. Not consciously finding “big picture” reasons so much as tiny reasons, like Beth wants me to tag along to the barn, or Abbie the world’s smartest (and most easily bored) dog would like an adventure kind of reasons. Football of all sorts played at any and all levels has sunken to a kind of triviality, easily trumped by a trip to the grocery store. Indeed, my fall weekends have been liberated.
No one thing is responsible for this falling out of love, as it were. This fall is different from the last, and the one before only in that it is now glaringly obvious that football holds for me no essential attraction by itself. Looking back my only surprise is that it took me so long. Why didn’t I begin to turn away as my friend the ER doc buzzed through my other son Dan’s shoulder pads with a saw in order to get him into the MRI? Or when I walked onto the field after Randy knocked himself out cold with a helmet-to helmet tackle to force a fourth down, his first concussion? I was still young, still sure that the game would bring my sons what I thought it had brought me.
I see them now, both of my boys, face down and immobile, and I shudder. I started to see them each time I saw a player go down in high school, or college, or the pros. I began to see that I valued those young men nearly as much as my own boys, and I started to notice that the game of football had become The Game. Those entrusted with The Game did not–do not–appear to share my feelings about the players. Any of them, at any level.
The junior high coach carries the star running back to the bench, there to wrap the sprained ankle in the hope of returning him to the game. In a high school freshman game, a rout, the first string defense is still on the field in the fourth quarter, the opportunity to play in a game slipping away for kids on the bench who may never get another chance, when the starting safety goes down with a severed spine on a play he should have been watching from the sideline. They were up by six touchdowns. SIX! They’re freshmen. What was the first string learning at that point in that game?
Alumni and athletic directors and coaches at colleges noted for academic excellence openly opine that they cannot win without lowering the admission standards for football players, and just as openly run those kids off the team and out of their scholarships when they are no longer needed to win. The game in the NFL becomes ever more violent, with ever more gratuitous violence magnifying the carnage wreaked upon the bodies of the players. Ex-pros roam the earth as a kind of walking dead.
When did football become The Game? When did the keepers of the game become keepers of The Game? When did football players as young as high school become little more than a modern stand-in for gladiators thrown into the arena for no more than the amusement of the many and the benefit of a tiny protected few? I’d like to think that there was such a time, an inflection point, when it did change, but I fear it has been ever thus. If that is so then I, too, bear some responsibility for what The Game has become. I did not turn away, or turn my own sons away, at the time of my own dawning awareness that The Game and its keepers cared naught for our sons at all, but only for themselves and their respective place and privilege.
There was a time when my playing days were long over when I still found myself on edge as the weather chilled and the smell of cut grass filled the autumn air. It was time to get ready to play football. Those days are long past, and I find that I no longer even think about watching, indeed can no longer see myself watching, except as a vehicle with which I might channel the joy of a child. And this is perhaps why: I can no longer watch a game whose keepers have lost sight of the fact that someone’s child plays in The Game. I am a man who consciously strives to live a life free of regret, but I regret that I lacked the courage to say “enough” when my own children played.
One wonders about the parents of gladiators past.