Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for February, 2013

Thoughts On Modern Communication

At this moment the White family is experiencing the exquisite torture of communication within the context of a very sick loved one who is in the ICU. Multiple consultants, all new to the family. Very bright people who are nonetheless rather unsophisticated with regard to medicine and medical discussions. That’s a really good topic in itself, and I’m pretty sure I will find the need to offload all kinds of baggage here as that saga progresses. For today, though, what I’m interested in is the communication that is taking place WITHIN our family, one that is highly charged emotionally, and one that is taking place across three generations.

Where does the responsibility lie when we enter into a conversation? Let’s define a conversation as the interaction between two people during which there is a purposeful transfer of some kind of information. Let’s refine that by saying that in this day and age we cannot define a conversation as simply as two people talking with one another. We have email, texts, FB chats and PM’s, Twitter @’s and PM’s, phone calls and Skype, and of course plain old face-2-face talking.

So where does the responsibility lie to ensure effective transfer of information? Upon whom does it rest to make sure that facts or ideas have been successfully transmitted and received? How about the emotional content, the feelings that ride along with the data? Sometimes the emotional content is really the data that’s intended for transfer and is quite obvious, like the color guard accompanying a General. Oft times, though, the feelings attached to the words are as carefully and craftily hidden as a stowaway on a cruise ship.

Here’s my bid: the responsibility lies on BOTH sides of the conversation. Active listening is key. Engaging in the conversation means engaging the individual on the other side. It starts at the very choice of vehicle: to whom am I sending this message? On the receiving end the vehicle should also be evaluated: who sent this to me? Think about it…the universe of topics you would engage with your 75 yo grandparents via text is awfully darned small, and if you are a grandparent who texts you can’t “receive” disrespect in a message filled with contractions and lingo.

A Facebook status update is like a billboard, meant to be one-way, neither demanding nor expecting a reply. A conversation, on the other hand, is by definition bi-lateral. It requires active listening and anticipatory listening on the part of both people. It requires a shared understanding of the power as well as the limitation of each method one might choose to utilize. The smaller vehicle (text, Tweet) creates the greater distance and so must transfer the more basic information. More nuance or emotional content requires a different vehicle, at once larger (to include the details) and smaller and more intimate (so that everything can be seen as well as heard).

In the end we are social creatures, driven always to connect. The rules of communication have not really changed despite our ever-increasing ability to communicate, to connect. The more important the interaction the closer we must be to the other. Communication, no matter what vehicle we choose, requires that we listen better. Listen to what is said to us; listen to what we say; listen to what the other hears.

The responsibility for a successful communication is shared equally by both involved. Despite our newfangled world filled with different ways to communicate the most effective strategy hasn’t changed in a few thousand years:

Listen better.



A door opens. A door closes. A family grows, as it inevitably shrinks. Desperation or desire to halt the ebb while preserving the flow, both are eventually denied. One comes as one goes. Life’s passages are irresistible.

Ever so.

My Dad stands at the precipice. Not a one of us in the White family is ready for his last, fateful step. His ebb is now greater than his flow. Never a large man physically, he was once larger than life. Time and gravity have conspired to shrink him; he seems so much smaller in all ways. And yet what we have of him, both his physical self and our outsized memories of his outsized younger self…well…we put ourselves between him and the precipice, hold both him and his memory close lest he stumble.

At the same time our family grows in wonderful ways, our flow is strong as the next generation enters a new Passage. My son Dan is engaged! Our firstborn, he of the outsized everything, possessed of a “presence” so huge he fills a building all by himself, Dan is now part of a lovely couple. The White family grows by one as we welcome Brittany, and by extension her family. Flow, at least for the moment, exceeds ebb.

In all honesty I’m not really ready for EITHER Passage. Not Dan’s, not my Dad’s. This change stuff is hard, even when it’s a welcome change, like welcoming Brittany. The young couple are like sine waves that multiply all that is good about each, and flatten out to zero all that is less than good. Passage through this door portends happiness. My wife Beth and I, daughter Megan and son Randy are thrilled.

One stands on the on-ramp, poised to travel through many Passages to come. The other stands at the precipice, a final Passage looms just beyond. A door opens. A door closes. Tears of joy. Tears of sorrow.

Ever so.




Always Tell The Truth?

Always tell the truth. How many times have you heard that? Come on, admit it…your Mom drilled that into you from the time you could understand anything more complex than a full diaper.

“Always tell the truth because then you don’t have to try to remember which lie you told to whom.” “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” “You can’t HANDLE the truth!” It all seems so simple, doesn’t it? Tell the truth. There’s merit to this, as there is in most of what your Mom taught you, but it’s probably more accurate and actionable to remember this the other way she taught it: “don’t tell a lie.”

Turns out, the world is a little less blackandwhite and a little too grey to hew quite so closely to Mom’s truth dictum. At least when it comes to something very personal for some other person. Remember the Jim Carey movie “Liar, Liar”? Sometimes the truth is really rather painful, and telling it might be more than just a bit cruel. Especially if you don’t HAVE to tell it, when you can allow kindness to trump a truth that doesn’t need to be played.

Like, “Do these pants make me look fat?”



GPS: Journey or Destination?

My nephew just turned down a sure thing, an internship in the big city that is probably attached to an equally sure thing job after graduation. He turned it down. Said it was too much like last summer’s internship, that he wouldn’t really be expanding his horizon enough. Something about no risk, no chance for reward. My sister is apoplectic.

This parenting gig is hard, man. Mentoring and coaching? Teaching? They’re pretty tough, too. It’s that journey vs. destination thing, I think. You know, “it’s not the destination but the journey that counts”, or some variation of that. I call BS on that, and I’ll bet you do, too. The destination DOES matter. Eventually ya gotta just get there, wherever there happens to be, and whenever eventually happens to, well, happen.

That’s what makes those gigs–parent, coach, mentor, teacher–so tough. It all matters, destination AND journey, and the more you care about your child, athlete, or student the more they matter to you. Which is the more important though? For you as the parent, coach, or teacher I mean.

Two children from two different families set out to climb a mountain, journeys observed by parents who are involved in the planning and execution of these odysseys. Child and parent agree that achieving the summit is the goal, that having done so signifies success. All are aware that there is a well-established route to the peak, a direct path that offers a predictable and timely arrival with a high likelihood of summiting.

Both parents encourage their children to take this easier route; neither child does so. Both children safely reach the peak. One parent rejoices for the goal has been achieved without injury, the other expresses disappointment because the path chosen did not conform to the parent’s plan. The correct outcome occurred, but in this parent’s mind the wrong process got them there, and because of this there is no joy.

This parenting, coaching, mentoring thing is hard, man.

Here’s one man’s take, for whatever it might be worth. Goals are important; destinations matter. There should always be one, a goal, a destination, programmed into that little GPS of life we all carry around for ourselves and for those we guide. And just like the GPS we use on our real-life travels, that little “life GPS” contains not only the most direct, quickest route to the destination, it also contains within it a nearly limitless number of alternate routes, all of which will eventually deposit our traveller at that same destination.

We parents, coaches, teachers, or mentors are kinda like the voice in the GPS. Do we scold when the driver misses a turn (“take an immediate U-turn…”), or do we simply recalculate the route and plot a new course from a different direction? My bid is that we should do the latter, that we behave like a “GPS+” that not only re-calculates the route but does so with an eye not only on the destination but also on choosing the safest route available from wherever that new launch point might be. You see, I think the journey DOES matter, but the only thing that should really matter about the journey to us, the parents/coaches/teachers/mentors, is that it be safe. “You have arrived at your destination” should be accompanied only by high-fives.

And maybe a tiny sigh of relief.


Sunday musings 2/17/13: Introducing GAS

Sunday musings…

1) Hope. Hope, alone, is no strategy for success.

2) Mofongo. No adventure is quite complete unless a new nickname is included in the outcome. Indeed, the better the nickname, the better the adventure.

Introducing Mama Mofongo, the 85ish yo star of our adventure in Puerto Rico.

3) Rome. You know, ‘when in Rome’ and all that. There’s a little more meat on that bone, though, especially if you are an outsider or an outlier. A certain respect for, and at least an attempt at following the norms of a place is a part of the equation.

We may talk the talk about being a good guest, whatever that might mean. In a foreign land we might try to at least avoid the specter of “The Ugly American”. One can, and probably should, have at least a bit of situational awareness of the local norms even in a place that is as seemingly familiar as a CrossFit Box you are visiting or your original home town.

My brother-in-law and I visited the neighborhood bar where we’d each been first served at age 1* (our kids read this). It was as if we’d been there last week, but it was also very much a place where we were visiting. We stopped, looked around, took the place’s pulse, took our own, then settled in. Everyone saw us for a bit, but soon we were just part of the place.

A couple of beers later we left to a nod and a smile from the owner, tiny gestures of thanks for paying our respects.

4) GAS. I would like to introduce a new entity. Think of it as a kind of energy, psychic fuel maybe. It’s quantifiable, and in my experience it’s both finite and capable of replenishment. When your tank is full you are fully engaged, committed. When you’re out of GAS almost nothing short of conscription can move you.

GAS, you see, stands for “Give A Sh!t”.

Yup, when you’ve got GAS stuff happens. It’s another way of saying that you care, but there’s a bit more there. GAS implies fuel. We’re gonna move. Something’s gonna happen, or NOT happen because we have the GAS to stop it. You’re gonna make a difference because you’ve got the GAS to do it.

Hope by itself is a weak strategy. but hope fueled by someone with GAS…that’s where magic can happen.

I’ll see you next week…


The CrossFit Open: How Much Is Enough?

This is the time of year, the CrossFit Open season, when I find myself thinking about volume. No, no, no, this isn’t a ‘size matters’ thing. I’m talking about the volume of work you do to increase your fitness. Have you been following the video series from the Games competitors? I find it fascinating and very enlightening to be a fly on the wall for those discussions, especially the ones about training volume and strategies for competitive WOD’s both in the Open and outside.

Used to be, when we had more like 5-700 posts every day on CrossFit.com, that we would get an equal number of questions and concerns on both sides of the training volume thing. Is the WOD enough? Should I do more? How much do the Rockstars do (Hi Jackie at CrossFit Reload)? Or things like, what if I can’t do the WOD as Rx’d? I’m kinda tired and strung out after 1 or 2 or 5 months of WOD’s; should I take a break? Pretty much an equal number of questions from folks looking for more and folks overwhelmed by the WOD.

Now? Well, at this time of year if you only look at Facebook and the Games site you’d think all of the questions have been answered by the sponsored athletes and those of their ilk. Ya gotta do more, More, MORE if you’re gonna get Crossfit fit. Right? I mean, that’s what we all have to want to do, right? Be CrossFit like Julie or Annie or Jason or Josh?

BZZZZZZT. Wrong. Sorry. Elite fitness is a self-defined term, one that each one of us defines for ourselves. In truth, if we’re doing this CrossFit thing correctly, elite fitness is always just a few more WOD’s away, a few more trips along the neuroendocrine response highway. Face it…for most of us Crossfit is nothing short of the best fitness program (no matter what version of CrossFit we might do) we’ve ever encountered, bringing with it massive fitness returns on our effort invested.

But that’s it. You vs. you. Still.

There’s a quote that came up in a Sunday paper from a non-CrossFit Masters athlete: “if you undertrain, you may not finish; if you overtrain, you may not start.” Pretty good, eh? There’s some genius in that little gem. How much is enough? The answer to that lies in an open and honest evaluation of your own personal goals, your own personal needs, your own personal barriers and boundaries. For example, I have 60-75 minutes 5 times each week for my entire fitness experience, and any injuries I suffer will not only affect my ability to “start” in the gym, but also affect my ability to “start” in my day job. This is true of my everyday fitness journey, and it is certainly no less true of whatever might constitute this year’s CrossFit Open experience. You?

The genius of CrossFit–and it IS genius–and the gift given to us by Coach, is not the competition between CrossFitters produced for spectator consumption, but the competition produced in ourselves. By defining fitness, WCABTMD, Coach, and CrossFit give us something totally new and vitally important: fitness that is measurable, observable, and repeatable. We then have a goal for each workout, to achieve an increase in intensity, an increase in power, as well as a strategy with which to do so (constantly varied functional exercise…).

I love the videos we see at this time of year, I really do. And I love the CrossFit Games,  so far still more fitness festival than commercial convention (as always we will see what this year’s changes bring). But the beauty of CrossFit lives on Crossfit.com, on the CrossFit Community page on Facebook,  and in the 5500 and counting Affiliate gyms where each one of us willingly put ourselves through the exquisite challenge of a WOD in order to achieve our own individual goal. Our own version of of fitness.Our own version of a better you tomorrow than what you were yesterday, through the efforts you make today.

So…how much Crossfit is enough for YOU?


Chaos Theory

Nope. I’m not smart enough to expound on economic chaos theory (although I DO understand it though), I’m talking about the chaos that each of us encounters in our daily lives. It’s always so…so…outta control, ya know. Chaotic. Almost random.

There are patterns, for sure, and you can plan according to a pattern you might discern, but eventually chaos reigns. Chaos rains down upon your plan, soaking the leaves of your decision tree and leaving a sodden mess of your space underneath. Then what?

Well, sometimes it’s all too much. Sometimes the rain of chaos leads to the reign of a flood, and everything in its wake is washed away. The simple fact, though, is that these epic floods are quite rare. The confluence of streams all running against your little rowboat is really rather uncommon. The chaos itself is always there; the trick, I think, is in always seeking the flow that’s positive. Flowing your way. Being a spectator to an interesting or funny flow that’s nearby but not pushing or pulling your little boat, and maybe getting splashed a bit by the happy foam of someone else’s whitecaps.

Chaos is as random on the up side as it is on the down side. Those fantastic confluences of positive forces that conspire to push you inexorably toward some un-imaginable peak, like a 50 foot wave you are riding tighter than anything Kelly Slater ever rode? Just as rare as the 1000 year flood. Nope, the trick is to see and seek those little streams of good, each tiny trickle of happy. Not a branch on your decision tree? Screw it! Get out from under the tree and get wet!

You’re ready to face the chaos.


Sunday musings 2/3/13

1) Mantei. New nickname for a buddy whose girlfriend no one’s ever met.

2) Dr. Pepper. Some things are not meant to go together. Like cherry juice in beer. From Germany. Or wherever. Bleh.

3) Community. 105 CrossFitters of all shapes and sizes came together for a CrossFit competition yesterday. Pretty high quality stuff, too (3 sub-3:00 “Frans” for example). Even more impressive was the spectator turn-out, some 300 non-competitors crammed into the Box.

The provenance of this particular event actually traces back to a large commercial gym on the West Side of Cleveland where a young personal trainer was intrigued/amused by the antics of a skinny middle-aged guy who was doing crazy stuff like jumping on stuff and banging weights. Seems this old guy had discovered a new fitness program on the internet, CrossFit. The young trainer did one, precisely one workout with the old guy and decided that he’d had enough.

Except he hadn’t. He couldn’t get enough, actually. Hours upon end spent on the computer watching videos, reading the Forum, trying out WOD’s. From there it was a straight line to an L1 with a Box to follow.

The rest is history.

4) Shoot. I am about to shoot a gun for the first time since age 7. My very good friend is taking “The Heir” and me on a hunt later today. It’s funny…I’ve been kinda nervous about guns, about handling them. I’m not really sure how I feel about the whole thing.

I have no gun bias, yea or nay. They’ve just not been a part of my life. I have no hunting bias, yea or nay. Again, just not a part of my upbringing, not something anyone in my family has ever done. The “Great Outdoors” for us growing up was a golf course or a tennis court, for my own family it meant a mountain with ski lifts.

Grampbingo fought in Korea and said he’d never touch a gun again after mustering out. Fair enough. That certainly didn’t translate into an anti-gun household, though; we played Cowboys and Indians and War with all kinds of toy firearms growing up. Every Christmas tree had a gun of some sort underneath.

So why now? On Super Bowl Sunday no less. Well, “The Heir” is accomplished at sporting clays and skeet, and he has been itching to try his hand in the field. As a Dad I’m always interested in activities that draw us together.My friend has been bugging me to shoot with him ever since my golfing days ended. Seems that this shooting thing can be rather social, not unlike golf in that respect. In truth, nothing has replaced the golf course for me when it comes to the camaraderie of a slower paced sport experienced in the company of friends.

Will I like it? Will I form an opinion about the larger, louder gun topics of the day because I went? Will I experience some kind of deep insight into a world about which I’ve only read, maybe somehow better understand the mindset of a very good friend who was recently arrested for a gun law violation?

Probably not. Likely what I will experience is nothing more of less than a very pleasant, hopefully not too cold afternoon in the company of a good friend who really wants to spend some time, and a son who has asked the same. Company far from the hue and cry and hysteria.

I’ll likely enjoy it very much.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at February 3, 2013 7:14 AM


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