Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for September, 2014

Sunday Musings 9/28/14

Sunday musings…

1) Happystance. Pleasant coincidence. Should be a word.

2) Hanlon’s Razor. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

3) Jeter. Honor and dignity. Class. A winner above all. Pick your superlative, really.

For me it’s a toss-up as to whether Derek Jeter is the most significant professional athlete of our time or the least. How could that possibly be, you ask? Jeter is the antithesis of the drug-infested, narcissistic culture of the privileged professional, a throwback to the time of Stan Musial, or maybe more accurately Joe DiMaggio. By offering us such a stark contrast to so very many of his contemporaries Jeter is the most significant pro to grace our screens for the last 20 years.

The fact that so few other professional athletes in any sport have followed his lead, and that we as a viewing public have needed such epic examples of bad behavior (and so many!) before we either noticed the behavior, or for that matter Jeter, renders The Captain but a footnote in the arena of Sport as Civic Religion.

Which in the end says much more about us than it does about Derek Jeter.

4) Patriotism. If you are not a CrossFitter you might wonder why one would take about patriotism, or being a patriot today. Makes sense to all of us, though. We meet a new CrossFit “Hero” today, a perfect time to think about patriotism.

The simplest and most accurate definition of a patriot is one who loves, supports, and defends his/her country. Full stop. Patriotism of this sort is quite different from the false patriotism manufactured by, say, Putin, whose call to a return of Russian glory is more about self-interest than fidelity to his motherland.

In a country such as the United States (or Canada) that lacks the advantage of shared ancestry and history that extends to the beginning of civilization, patriotism is often demonstrated by its smaller alter ego “civic duty” or devotion. In the absence of ancient commonalities a citizen must consciously choose to seek to come together with his/her fellow citizens as a concrete manifestation of patriotism.

How do we do this? How do we encourage a greater degree of patriotism from a broader swath of American citizenry? I think three simple things would get us off to a good start. First, let’s stop giving a free pass to people who are enjoying all of the benefits of citizenry and yet miss no opportunity to denigrate all things American. You know who they are. The so-called cultural elite, especially those in the academic community who never miss a nit to pick, always on the side of putting down America and things American? There’s a difference between constructive criticism in an attempt to promote a better country to love and an open contempt for not only country but the very idea of love and support for your country. Why should these people be our national thought leaders if they care so little for our nation?

By the same token, too much emphasis is placed on issues and ideas on the margin at the expense of elemental, more global ones. Take, for example, the Pledge of Allegiance. Why is it an issue at all whether or not the words “…under G0d,…” are in our national declaration of fidelity to country? The Pledge is one of our patriotism, our love and support for our nation. This would constitute such an overwhelming majority of the purpose behind the Pledge that we should relegate the distraction of the debate on these two words to the periphery of the discussion where it belongs. We ought neither to allow ourselves the luxury of such selfish discussions, nor others the privilege of driving discussions away from the importance of such a primary issue, patriotism.

Lastly, we should return to a time when each of us made it a point to think of the success of our country as something to which we, as individuals, must attend. Pride in nation and sincere hope for national success must no longer be something looked down upon, but rather something that each of us learns and practices. Our leaders must begin to work toward more than their own self-interest and that of their peers, but also to that of country. For the rest of us, it is enough to look at our own little parts of the country and make whatever small effort we can to make it just a tiny bit better. We should call out those who seek to tear down our nation and make them uncomfortable in that effort, as we should lift up those we see working for a better, more unified whole.

Patriotism is neither trite nor trivial. All it might take is to think for a moment before you act or speak about being a patriot, of supporting and loving and defending your country, even when you are trying to make it a better one.

I’ll see you next week…

Why I Coach and Why I Care About Your Coach

Why do I coach? I mean, I already have a day job, and 24 hours in a day is a lie. Why do I care about CrossFit coaching that occurs, or as the case may be doesn’t occur, in other Boxes? Heck, I’m fortunate in that I have personal access to our CrossFit Subject Matter Experts (great video by Coach Burgener on CrossFit.com. Keep ‘em coming!), and one of my favorite places–CrossFit.com–has no real coaching to speak of. There are lots of demonstrations but no real feedback, and you need both for true coaching.

I coach for rather selfish reasons. It’s unbelievably satisfying to see someone achieve a goal they could barely even imagine, even more satisfying to have that athlete give thanks for whatever small contribution I might have made. I enjoy it so much that I took a huge bite of humble pie and went to a clinic where better coaches dissected all aspects of my coaching in order that I might be better. My son Randy  and wife Beth came for the same reasons. I coach for the pure enjoyment of helping people get better, and I coach CrossFit because it’s simply the the best way I’ve found to achieve that.

Why, then, would I care about coaching anywhere else by anyone else? Greg Glassman has not only given us the CrossFit system of creating fitness, he has offered a clear path to a greater role for a coach in the production of not only fitness but also health. I am part of that coaching lineage. What am I to make then of the athlete who comes to my gym with 2 years of membership in a CrossFit Affiliate who cannot perform an air squat? What is the appropriate reaction when I see athletes from other Boxes participating in fitness competitions who perform basic lifts at opening weights with grossly dangerous form? It makes me wonder if they were ever coached at all.

If you are a CrossFit athlete at an Affiliate gym you should demand coaching. More than that, you should demand coaching excellence. You’ve chosen to join a gym and you’ve put yourself in the hands of a coach who should be teaching you CrossFit and teaching it well. Otherwise you might just as well hang out on CrossFit.com. Perhaps you would be better off.

For CrossFit coaches out there I’m throwing down the gauntlet. It’s no longer enough to just roll out some rubber flooring and hang a few pull-up bars, if it ever was. You’ve been hired to coach athletes and make them better. Do it. You are trained to coach CrossFit, so for the love of God coach CrossFit. Teach mechanics, then consistency, then and only then intensity. Seek for them and on their behalf virtuosity in both your coaching and their CrossFit. You, too, are part of that same coaching lineage as I, one that began with Coach Glassman and includes thousands of others. How you coach reflects on each of us, and frankly it reflects on CrossFit itself.

That, my friend, is why I care.

 

 

Reflections of an Aging Athlete

Old. Yup. “The Heir” turns 26 today. “Lovely Daughter” is 24 and my doppelgänger “Lil’bingo” is 22. My body is screaming from yesterday’s CrossFit WOD–I ran a mile. I’m answering emails and questions from CrossFit friends about CF in the “Master’s” category. I am closer to 55 than 54, closer in age to my cataract patients than my school-age patients. My Dad had a quadruple bypass at 54. Old.

How do you do this “old thing” anyway? It seems I don’t have an owner’s manual for myself, just like I didn’t have an owner’s manual for the kids. What am I to expect now? What is it that lies just ahead, and what then beyond that? Is this muscle soreness a freak thing, the anomaly, or is it a harbinger of things to come? How about fitness gains? I’m now 9 years into my CrossFit journey. How much longer can I expect to achieve PR’s? As I contemplate these questions how far forward should I allow my gaze to roam?

There are no answers to those questions, of course. Any answers only lead to the next set of the same. To look too far beyond a couple of tomorrows is as dangerous as it is to look back beyond a couple of yesterdays. Looking behind even a little bit risks the indulgence of regret, what has always seemed to me to be a sure recipe for sadness. I have written elsewhere that to go even further back, beyond Creation or the Primordial Soup or the Big Bang is an invitation to madness.

To look too far into the future is to invite desire, to risk the creation of wants that grow into something that feels like need. If or when these fail to materialize a different type of sadness arises, this one born of resentment. If one projects these too far into the future, to retirement, to rest, to redemption and beyond, the risk of madness can arise once again.

I surely do not know the answer to the question of how to age well. There is no map for the journey that lies ahead, no cosmic GPS. I have only the strategies that have served me thus far, and the hope that they will serve me yet. I have faith, and that faith allows me to resist the temptation to look either too far behind or too far ahead. Faith is the vaccine against madness.

And I am happy. I realized it once again in a phone call with a dear friend, met through Crossfit, and once again when I said goodnight to my darling Beth last night. I am happy because I have very little desire and even less regret; I want what I have and this inoculates me against both resentment and regret.

Yes, indeed, I am older, but I have at least one more today. That’s just what I wanted.

 

Think for Yourself

The world is filled with stories for which we are awash in what someone else thinks about the story. Not so much about what they think about the facts of the story. No, that would be too reasonable, and take altogether to much time and effort. It’s all about making a story fit the world view of the commentator, about coming to a conclusion often before the story itself has come to a conclusion.

Our various information highways are jammed with “drivers” who are jumping to a conclusion, with all of the dangers inherent in that. Benghazi, Ray Rice, Ferguson, Bay Village. Each of these (and others you can think of) is, or will be soon, shorthand for a class of stories in which the signature characteristic was a jump to conclusion by large groups of people holding opposing world views who sought to use the story as a gavel to be pounded upon their own personal pulpit. I offer here no opinions whatsoever on the facts of any of these particular stories, only the observation that in each of them the rush to opine on the greater societal/political meaning they might involve was in itself harmful.

You could offer that these examples are indicative only of our new “gotta know”, always on news demand/deluge brought about by the info firehose of the internet. You could expand that by saying that these stories and the societal firestorm they’ve lit could only have happened in this new age in which everyone has a pulpit, be it Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or a blog. To this I would reply that the internet and the amplifiers that ride along its rails are simply that: accelerants rather than fire starters. The issue is prematurely jumping to a conclusion for the simple reason that your conclusion confers some personal benefit to you, the jumper, regardless of the validity of your conclusion once the fire is naught but the cool embers of the facts remain.

This is not new. This is not a function of 100 or 1000 channel cable news or the internet. A million bloggers vs. a hundred columnists, Twitter vs. letters to the editor. Drew Carey’s opinion and his money. None of those. This is about waiting for the whole story to unwind and for the cold hard reality of the facts to lay bare before you, rather than parsing the meaning of one of these events through the prism of an ideologue who has a size 12 to bang, or someone famous who has an opinion, or needs some buzz. It may be “new” if we consider the timeframe of papyrus vs printing press, but that’s as new as it gets.

Proof? Tawana Brawley.

Too young to know who that is? Too old to remember the story and the associated firestorm? Google/Bing/Ask.com it (those really ARE new). It’s a tale of people with ulterior motives who took control of a story that could be twisted to fit their worldview and their agenda without regard for either the truth or the effect of their machinations on the real lives of the real people who’d actually lived the real story. All in the “archaic” age of newspapers, network news, and the infancy of talk radio. Read about it; you won’t find it unfamiliar at all.

There are two lessons here, one that enrages and one that educates. There are never any consequences for those who use supposition and spin a tale that promotes their world view, often for personal gain. Indeed, you will find eerily familiar names in the news ca. 1989 as in the news ca. 2014. The actionable lesson predates papyrus and is so oft told it would be trite were it not so often ignored, if ever learned: arrive at a conclusion when, and only when, you have real facts at your disposal.

Then think for yourself.

 

Who Talks to People Like That?

“I suppose I’m sorry I missed my appointment on Thursday. So, anyway, here are the ground rules for how this phone call is going to go and how you’re going to give me the appointment I want.”

“I know it’s been two years and the doctor said my son would need glasses for school and that it’s really busy during back to school time. Yah Yah…I get it. I don’t care that everyone with after school appointments called weeks ago. School has started and he needs an appointment RIGHT NOW. I demand to talk to the doctor.”

“What do you MEAN the doctor’s 5:00PM appointments are all filled? I told you she wants new contact lenses RIGHT NOW! 10 AM tomorrow is totally unacceptable. You tell the doctor I’ll be coming in with her in 2 weeks and you can be SURE I’m going to tell the doctor how unacceptable this is.” CLICK

Seriously, who talks to people like this? These are all near exact quotes from established patients calling to make appointments for routine, non-emergent visits. All three had received explicit instructions at the conclusion of their previous visits, and all had been sent recall reminders that it was time to make their next appointment. Remember, we are a very busy eyecare practice with 3 doctors that sees emergency patients on a same-day basis, including nights and weekends. We are not averse to working hard or seeing extra patients, and we counsel our patients that we will sometimes run a bit behind because of this ER visit policy. Philosophically it doesn’t seem right to over-book our schedule, making the conscientious have to wait longer in the office during their visit, in order to accommodate those who make little or no effort to respond to our instructions and reminders.

Let alone those who talk to my staff like these three. Sheesh. Trust me, the tone in their voices was exactly as you’d imagine it as you read it, equal parts incredulous and offended that anyone could possibly not understand how much more important THEY are than everyone else on the schedule. It got me to thinking, though. What would it be like if people talked like this in other walks of life?

For instance, you are the Registrar at, oh, how about Harvard. You pick up the phone and somebody’s Daddy is calling about Econ 101 taught by N. Gregory Mankiw. The class is full. Actually, it’s oversubscribed and there’s a waiting list with 125 kids already on it. The registration deadline was 2 weeks ago, a deadline that the young scholar just blew off and a deadline that Daddy doesn’t even acknowledge. ” You’re not listening to me. I told you that my son will be in that class. He has a spot waiting for him at Goldman Sachs and no one is going to  keep him from getting what he deserves. I demand to speak with Mankiw.” How do you think that turns out for Sonny?

Or how about this? The flight to Chicago is full, and since it’s about an hour before takeoff no more folks are coming off the standby list. Standing at the United desk is a very well-dressed professional addressing the agent. “I suppose I’m sorry that I didn’t make it to the earlier flight I was booked on. Here are the ground rules for how this discussion is going to go, and how you are going to escort me onto this flight.” I can definitely see some sort of escort coming, can’t you?

Imagine what it would be like if you could listen to a call coming to a judge’s bailiff from someone who talked to everyone like my three patients. “Really? I said I needed to get this ticket taken care of right away but I’m only available late in the afternoon. 2 weeks from now is too long to wait. 10 AM tomorrow for court? That’s just unacceptable. Why aren’t there more times at the end of the day? I will be there at 5:00 in two weeks and you can be SURE I will tell the judge what I think of this.” What would you give to see that one play out?

When I hear the way people talk to folks who work in health care it makes me wonder how far they take it. Does it go so far as to extend to Church? “Listen Father, it’s football season. The Buckeyes on Saturday and the Browns on Sunday, ya know? This whole Saturday and Sunday mass schedule doesn’t line up with the season at all. I can’t believe you don’t get that! Why can’t we just move mass to Monday until after the Bowl Games and the Super Bowl. Tell you what…just forget about it. I’ll be here on Sunday and I’m going right to God on this one. You just make sure he’s in Church this weekend so I can tell him directly.” Well, we know that God is always in Church, and that He does, indeed, hear every petition a member of His flock makes. Like Danny Meyer, the great restauranteur in NYC who holds that the customer is NOT always right, but does have a right to be heard. Actually, this example gives me some comfort, some direction in how we might deal with patients who talk to our staff in such a brassy, entitled manner. We are definitely not God, or even the least bit God-like, but like Danny Meyer and God, we can always listen, as we know they do, and we will always politely offer them an answer.

Sometimes, the answer is “no”.

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