Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘bingo’

Optimizing Effort/Outcome=Minimal Effective Dose

Some time ago I wrote about the Minimum Effective Dose (MED), the concept in which we seek to optimize our results with the smallest amount of whatever it is that we are using to achieve that outcome. The quest to find the MED is one that crosses quite easily between my day job (medical) and my own quest for health (CrossFit). A quick mention of Eva T in Outside magazine and the program she uses with her clients sounds a lot like MED. The Everyday Math column in the WSJ provided an enhanced vocabulary for the journey.

Sometimes the MED really is a “something” you take. Here one thinks of medicine or food, for example. More often is the case that we are looking at a dose of time or effort. Or perhaps both. In this case we are seeking to optimize the effort as it relates to the outcome, to make the value of outcome divided by effort as large as possible. The rate limiting factor here is the Law of Diminishing Returns, of course: at some point additional effort produces such a small incremental increase in the outcome that it becomes not worth making. This applies to everything from WODs/week (or day) to decorating a birthday cake. At a certain point you just have to feel you’ve succeeded.

How, then, to know when you have reached this optimal level? Eugenia Cheng, the mathematician who wrote the WSJ piece, offers the concept of the “minimal acceptable standard”. Once she has reached this outcome the additional effects garnered from more effort have moved beyond the point where Diminishing Returns kicks in and she simply accepts the outcome. We would call these “minimal standards” goals, but the concept is essentially the same. We want an outcome; setting a target or a goal is step one in optimization.

Cheng then goes on to refine optimization with a discussion about boundaries. One is your goal, of course. In real life others also exist, things like a 24 hour day and a 7 day week and the need to make a living. The dose you choose, both qualitatively (what it is) and quantitatively (how much you get) is unavoidably affected by boundary conditions over which you have less control.In the end no outcome worth getting happens without effort. Health, friendship, or the unraveling of a gnarly math problem–you’re going to put effort in to get your results out.

Maximizing your outcome-to-effort ratio is just another way to say you are seeking your Minimum Effective Dose, in CrossFit and elsewhere.

Tyranny and the Culture of Grievance.

Thomas Sowell, an American sage, laments the “huge degeneration” in America toward “the grievance culture”. Indeed, I have written on this before. The near reflex response to be aggrieved, to be offended first, and to ponder and reflect later, if at all. There is a certain and definite lack of goodwill, a reluctance or refusal to extend goodwill, or the assumption of goodwill, on the part of others. Rather, the culture of grievance mandates that we impugn malintent in the deeds and actions of others, especially if in some way those others (them others) have values or beliefs that don’t completely and consistently line up with those of the aggrieved.

On CrossFit.com, especially in a prior “Wild West” era, this phenomenon could be seen every 4th day with the publication of a libertarian-leaning article, or something that ran counter to the progressive drumbeat in the halls of academia or government. The simple act of speaking against the orthodoxy of a group sent said group into a paroxysm of aggrievement. This is no different from what we see in the now limitless wilderness of the internet and social media. Context is irrelevant. Intent is irrelevant. The provenance of the offering is irrelevant. Once unleashed the only thing that matters is the bleating of the aggrieved, however large or small their numbers might be, however trivial the insult, if it can even be called an insult at all.

While away at a professional meeting this weekend a new ad campaign for a product in my professional world dropped. It is irreverent and funny, and it was conceived and created by members of the same group that is on the receiving end of the joking. There were three reactions, as is probably typical of something like this. One group thought it was clever and funny, and realizing that it was the first in a series this group looked forward to seeing where the campaign was headed. By far the largest group saw the humor, realized what the intent of the campaign was, acknowledged that the humor was harmless and without intent to harm, but cringed at what was a rather large misstep. Seemingly in love with the joke both the creators of the campaign and the company that authorized its launch failed to see that, while funny, it was in very poor taste. This second group shook its collective head at how tone deaf the company was.

The third group was mortally wounded by offense. The aggrievement was existential. A firestorm was unleashed upon the company. The agency and its employees were excoriated despite their inclusion in the group supposedly aggrieved, saved only by their anonymity as individuals from a very public shaming among an influential cadre of the advertised company’s customers. That ire was directed at the CEO of the company, an exec known quite personally by a majority of his/her customers. The attacks were pyrrhic and personal despite an obvious lack of malintent. There appears to be no amount of shame that can possibly atone for the sin of humor without intent to offend that misses its mark and does just that, regardless of the size of the cohort offended.

The grievance culture allows progressively smaller and smaller numbers of individuals who care about narrower and narrower issues to hijack larger and larger institutions and paralyze them. One need only look at the tragicomedy that played out 2 weeks ago at Middlebury College in Vermont to get a sense of what this means. A (pseudo-) scholar was invited by a conservative student organization to speak. Mind you, this speaker’s ideas have been so roundly disparaged that even the members of that conservative club did not support them; they invited him in order to have an opportunity to debate the ideas. Alas, other members of the Middlebury community were offended by the mere presence of on campus of one who could hold ideas that are so antithetical to their own. This group declared that their grievance superseded any and all rights and privileges of every other individual or group, including the group that invited the speaker and whose members largely shared the opinion (but not the aggrievement) of the offended.

This small minority drove the speaker from the stage. They attempted to drone out an internet broadcast of his speech with repeated pulling of fire alarms. In the ultimate expression of their grievance they assaulted a faculty member who was driving the speaker out of town after the event, sending her to the hospital. It is particularly instructive that the group of the aggrieved chose this course because the speaker’s ideas and positions have been so roundly and completely debunked that it would probably have taken less effort and have been more effective to simply simply hoist him on his own petard on the stage and watch him swing.

I find myself in group 2 in my professional example (amused but somewhat astonished that experienced business people could be so tone deaf) and similar to the group that invited the faux-controversial speaker (contemptuous of pedagogy that cannot be supported with anything other than belief). Mr. Sowell is a true A-list man of ideas and letters, while I am a C-lister with B-list aspirations. Nonetheless I share with him his sorrow at this degeneration of American culture, this insistence that a difference of ideas begets a grievance that supersedes not only the rights of those who disagree, but also the very possibility that other ideas might exist. Replacing a culture of ideas and ideals with a culture a grievance is a step backward for society, perhaps for civilization.

The tyranny of the minority begins with a tyranny of ideas, waged with the weaponry of grievance.

 

Sunday musings: Opiate Overdoses and American Health

To the victors go the spoils. History is written by the victors. Truer words, eh?

I find myself turning off all manner of information outlets of late because they are all just so many repeats. The other side of that victor coin is that the vanquished simply repeat the lines of the victor when s/he was losing. Look no further than the kerfuffle about the Accountable Care Act. If you remove time stamps and the naming of characters what one hears or reads is essentially unchanged today from what was said or written some 7 years ago.

Try it.

My sense of ennui is so strong that it is fairly paralyzing. Is there no one out there who is willing or able to propose something that is truly new? Can we not even even come up with new or original complaints and criticisms? Must we be doomed to this endless cycle of sameness about seemingly everything?

It’s almost as if the vanquished do not so much fail to learn from history but that they work very hard to faithfully replay history in exquisite detail, dooming us all.

We are looking at a true health crisis in the U.S. In 2016 some 40,000 Americans died from opiate overdoses. This is more than the number of deaths by firearms by a factor of 4, and is similar to the number of deaths in automobile accidents. This morning I read a startling statistic: 7 million working age men are out of the employment market, and 1/2 of them take painkillers on a daily basis. Crazy, huh?

On CrossFit.com we agree that there is a general crisis of health in the American populace stemming from over-consumption of calories (most of which are high glycemic index carbs) and under-consumption of physical activity. Another equally startling story in this week’s news is the growing acceptance of excess body weight fat as some kind of new normal, a normal that should somehow be institutionalized.Total capitulation, that.  In this discussion one must add the over-consumption of alcohol, because countless studies have shown that this legal substance is responsible for all kinds of negative health effects, both direct and indirect. (As an aside, it does give one pause when one considers the possibility of legalizing another neuro-depressant, marijuana). As if this isn’t enough, we now must add to this toxic recipe the ingestion by any route of opiates.

The U.S. is regularly taken to task for its failure to sit at the top of the world’s life expectancy leader board despite spending the largest amount per capita on healthcare in the world. This criticism becomes more and more unreasonable as we dive further into what it is that actually drives statistics such as life expectancy. Deaths from overdoses are illustrative of the folly of conflating health and healthcare: there is nothing in the healthcare system of treatment that drives this statistic, and the death of these primarily young people has a disproportionate effect on the life expectancy statistic in which it is years lived that we are counting (and losing).

What, then, is to be done, especially in the setting here of health-conscious individuals? It behooves each of us to take a bit of personal responsibility in the discussion and pledge that we will utilize accurate nomenclature, and in turn demand that everyone else in the conversation do likewise. Health and healthcare are not synonyms. Likewise, healthcare and health insurance (itself somewhat of a misnomer) are not the same; one does not lose healthcare when one does not have health insurance, and for certain the ownership of a health insurance policy does not guarantee one access to healthcare. Indeed, because the outcome was inconvenient to the majority of entrenched healthcare interests, the landmark study of Oregon Medicaid recipients that showed no improvement in health outcomes in those with Medicaid compared with those without has been mostly ignored and purposely forgotten. We need to engage in this conversation, but do so with strict fidelity to meaningful terms.

From there we should lead in whatever way we can. This effort is not at all about the treatment of disease, at least not as far as we here are concerned, but rather one of Public Health. There are quite specific areas to be addressed if we wish to effect change. Each area must be subjected to a root cause analysis. Over-consumption of low-quality carbs is near and dear to CrossFit, Inc., and the battle against “Big Soda’s” influence has been engaged. Other influences such as agricultural subsidies should have a similar bright light shined in their direction. How is it that the dramatic reduction of drinking and driving has failed to render deaths from drunken driving a statistical anomaly? Perhaps someone can convince one of those know-better do-gooder billionaires globe-trotting in search of a trendy problem to throw money at to look a bit closer to home when they apply their famous intellect to new thinking about old problems.

As to the tragedy that is opiate overdose deaths, can we please have someone with no skin in the game be given no-risk access to any and all applicable data and just turn them loose? Some guy did a deep dive into the issue of scrubbing the internet of all vestiges of child pornography using a combination of massive computing power and an outsider’s view. Give someone like that the ability to examine the entire opiate ecosystem to uncover some of the hows and whys so that we can make some decisions of the whats of our response with more than just our typical SOP of some self-designated, conflict-of-interest-infected expert who declares that his/her solution should work because of what they are sure must be going on. This seems to be a new thing, after all, and rather young, too. Prior opiate societal infestations surely share some aspects with our present crisis, but I don’t recall the opium dens in the days of the Crusades so routinely offing their customers.

Anything that can be measured can be analyzed. Anything that can be analyzed can be altered utilizing the results of that analysis. What is needed is the double-edged sword of courage to uncover an unpleasant truth, and strength to set aside all manner of short-term personal gain in favor of a long-term solution for societal benefit.

We ought not let 40,000 lives representing hundreds of thousands of years not lived to be lost in vain.

CrossFit Programming and the CrossFit Open

CrossFit Open workout 17.2 will be announced tonight. This is a good time to reflect on the different aspects of CrossFit. There is a tension that exists between CrossFit, the strength and conditioning program and CrossFit, the Sport of Fitness.This tension is usually expressed in the guise of criticism of various versions of CrossFit programming. What’s very interesting is the lack of tension on this topic among the truly elite CrossFit athletes. If you look at their programming it looks like they are training to become…wait for it…really good at CrossFit.

Weird, huh?

What does that mean, anyway? Good at CrossFit? This is a perfect time for you to both re-read the seminal article “What is Fitness” in CFJ #2 and to recommend it to anyone who is either curious or unsure as to what constitutes CrossFit, and for the sake of this musings, CrossFit programming.

CrossFit is the pursuit of a broad, inclusive general fitness where fitness is defined as work capacity across broad time and modal domains. In the vernacular, CrossFit trains and tests us to move larger loads further over a longer period of time. In order to do this Coach has identified 10 Essential characteristics of Fitness as so defined, each of which needs to be equally expressed. Cardiovascular/Respiratory endurance; stamina; strength; flexibility; power; speed; coordination; agility; balance; accuracy.

Fitness as defined by CrossFit and Coach Glassman includes a precisely balanced degree of each of these 10 elements, with no one element being more of less important than any other. The CrossFit Games, and the athletes who take part, are simply an expression of the farthest right side reaches of the fitness Bell Curve. Look carefully and you will see that the events ask for equal competence in all 10 Elements; the athletes are simply better than the rest of us across the board. They get there because they do more work on all of the 10 Essential Elements.

While we here, and most folks in Affiliate gyms, can assume agreement on the benefits of seeking Fitness as defined by CrossFit, this is not to say that either our definition of fitness or our particular way of seeking it (expressed through our CrossFit programming) is appropriate for every individual. Some people just like to run really long distances, while others are happiest when they lift really heavy stuff. Still others are interested only in the appearance of their body, and their entire fitness program is geared toward achieving a particular vision or visual. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these desires, nor anything inherently wrong with the programming necessary to achieve these outcomes.

It just may not be CrossFit.

Because of this, the issue of programming is always on the table. Is there an optimal version of CrossFit programming? People take turns at supporting and denigrating the programming on the Main Page and in Affiliate gyms. For example, I think there are legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against gyms that do not emphasize proper movement. Countless efforts are made to “improve” on the model you see here on .com. Some of these alternatives make sense, while others IMO are not really alternative CrossFit programming but alternatives to CrossFit itself. Most of these, indeed most of the conversations in general, have to do with strength and strength training. Are you (is anyone) strong enough? Will CrossFit.com or another version of CrossFit make you strong enough?

The 10 Essential Elements found in CFJ #2, “What is Fitness”, are also posted on 030530 ( ironically on a day when heavy Deadlifts were prescribed). Pretty much all of the conversations noted about programming revolve around the premise that strength is somehow more important than other elements of fitness. Reasonable people can disagree on this point, but as a premise in discussing CrossFit the notion that strength is a, or the, primary element of fitness has no standing. There are 10 elements of Fitness, each no more and no less important than any other if we are seeking a broad, inclusive general physical preparedness that we call “fitness”. Full stop.

Whoa, wait a minute there Mr. bingo, aren’t you the guy who co-wrote an article called “Strong Medicine” introducing a programming alternative called “CrossFit Strength Bias”? Didn’t your home gym programming have supplemental strength training per CFSB principals since the time it opened? Isn’t that statement there just a bit, oh, duplicitous? Forked-typing?

Nope. Not at all. You see, if you read the original article you will see that CFSB is one way to address a DEFICIT in strength relative to the other 9 Essential Elements, not a program meant to gain strength at the EXPENSE of the other 9. As such it, like some others, is a program for the masses, for a CrossFitter who perceives a hole in his/her fitness that needs to be addressed, not at all unlike a CrossFitter who does supplemental work on balance or flexibility. Additional Element-specific work, be it strength or agility or whatnot, that drives continued balance and improvement in all 10 Elements is very much CrossFit. All versions of CFSB (I am now using the  newest protocol, v3.2) are designed to be one way to address this imbalance. There are others that you may enjoy more (Wendler, Westside, etc.), and just like having personal goals, there is nothing inherently wrong with another supplemental strength program as long as it works without the need to sacrifice other competencies.

Whether you are looking at members of a CrossFit Box or competitors at the CrossFit Games, CrossFit is outcome based. The outcome desired is a broad-based fitness comprised of equal quantities of each of the 10 Essential Elements. What goes into the left side of the hypothetical Black Box should produce Work Capacity Across Broad Time and Modal Domains if the Black Box is a CrossFit athlete of any type. An increase in your Deadlift brought about by concentrating on strength training at the expense of cardiovascular/respiratory endurance will be accompanied by a decrease in your 5K run time and vice versa. This may be precisely in line with your goals, but it is not CrossFit as defined by Coach Glassman and expressed at its limits by CrossFit Games athletes.

Programming for CrossFit should be aimed first and foremost at CrossFit outcomes. What you find on CrossFit.com, and what you should probably expect to find as the primary goal in an Affiliate gym, is programming that seeks to balance all 10 of the Essential Elements of Fitness, increasing all of them in an effort to produce increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.

A demonstration of CrossFit programming will be available online tonight. It can be used as a workout or a test.

 

Clutter

In the never-ending battle for supremacy on the countertop, my wife Beth and I are ever engaged in a tug-of-war over clutter. Though we were until very recently unaware that this is a THING. Like, with a guru thing, one that people engage in quasi-worship and for which they pay real money. Some “Kon Marie” or something like that. Totally news to us. You?

The anti-clutter thing, such as it is, is dramatically more than the comical little game that Beth and I have going on. Adherents think there is a true spiritual goal, an attainable endpoint that must be reached and then maintained. And not just on the kitchen counter mind you. No, no…on every counter, real or virtual, in every “room” of your life. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a place for a bit of order in a life, and we could all stand to be a little lighter when it comes to our stuff, but the fervor and the zeal with which adherents of this THING take it is spooky. Weird bordering on abnormal. It reminds me of the kitchen drawer in the house owned by Ben Affleck’s character in The Accountant: one fork, one spoon, one knife.

There’s only one person living there, after all.

Like everything else we can find merit on both sides of the clutter coin. For example, my workouts in the Casa Blanco garage gym have been of much higher quality since a little construction project was completed and the Men With No Last Names cleared out along with all of their stuff. My cleans have been much better now that they are performed in a clean garage. The pleasure that Beth gets from seeing a clean kitchen counter would be comical if it wasn’t so genuine, and frankly my pleasure at seeing her so happy is pretty significant, too. (Note to self: Beth will be home in 2 hours; get cracking at clean up).

There’s a flip side, though. Apparently there is research that validates my little slice of the countertop: people are more creative if they are surrounded by a bit of clutter. As I muse my computer peeks out from a pile of old newspaper clippings, magazines and books, and various chochkies from our life as it is today. Oh, and there would also be the Man Cub’s toys. They are apparently to Kon Marie what kryptonite is to Superman. Though we now live in a tiny cottage, a life that has us in a constant state of “purging” our things, what remains is not so much clutter as it is a measure of our lives and our loves. A clean surface around my keyboard leads to a blank screen. One woman’s clutter is another man’s muse.

I guess this is really just one more essay on the concept of “enough”. The monastic pursuit of any unreachable, unachievable outcome is one that must be accompanied by some degree of unhappiness in my opinion. What joy is there in the perfectly uncluttered closet complete with one pair of perfectly ironed and folded socks if all your eye sees is the possibility of going to work barefoot?

It all makes me think of an essay I read last month about clutter. Have you ever noticed, as did the author, that the arch villain in every movie you’ve ever seen lives in a perfectly ordered home, devoid of any clutter whatsoever? The hero, on the other hand, can hardly find her feet, let alone her socks, as she wades through the clutter of her tiny little hovel. That villain has a plan, meticulously laid out and ready to be put in play with single-minded zeal. Funny thing, though: the hero always seems to make her breakthrough with creativity, flexibility, and something she finds among the clutter, right where she knew it had to be. Every single time.

Now that I think about it, we do have pretty impressive swaths of countertop that are as devoid of clutter as the desert in Lawrence of Arabia. No villains around here, though. I have my tiny little corner of the kitchen table, and as long as you don’t move my “cheese” I know where pretty much everything is. That doesn’t make me the hero, though.

Can we talk about my wife’s closet?

Unshakable Belief Meets Unmovable Facts

This week I spent some time talking to a couple of folks who, unbeknownst to them, were talking about each other. Well, talking to them is not really accurate–they were having a discussion and I was having a listen. Both were talking about the effects of a particular happening on a particular person they both knew, effects that both could surely see if only they cared to remove their blinders and look.

They told wildly different stories. Their belief sets were so unshakable, so impervious to penetration by petty inconveniences like facts and reality, it was as if they wore not lenses to clarify but masks to obscure. The blind running from the blind, if you will. I’m fascinated when I see this; I see this almost every day when I am plying my trade as an eye surgeon. So much of what is “known” about medicine isn’t really known at all but “felt”. I constantly run up against an unshakable belief that is often expressed in a statement that begins “well, I think…” Indeed, I heard this from both folks telling me what was transpiring.

I’m fascinated and exasperated in equal parts by this because of how completely this unshakable belief nullifies the otherwise logical power of observable, measurable fact. If I step back and think a little more deeply about this phenomenon I am also terrified that I, too, may harbor similarly unshakable beliefs that blind me to the truths of a fact-based reality. This weekend brought me to a gathering of true experts in a particular field of my day job, one I was quite flattered to attend. There were a couple of points that I’m just convinced my colleagues got wrong, points of view it looks like I shared only with myself. Am I right? Is my insight so keen, my ability to analyze the data presented so much better, that I am just a full step ahead? Or is it rather that I am clinging to a point of view supported only by the virtual facts created by personal beliefs I am unable or unwilling to walk away from?

This simple awareness and acknowledgement–that I may suffer from “belief” bias–might be enough to inoculate me.  I certainly owe my patients (and my readers) an effort to investigate that.

Who Would Write Your Obituary? What Would it Say Today?

On Twitter a rather erudite retired surgeon posted the obituary of a 72 yo physician who died from cancer. She’d been sick and dying, knowing that she would die from her cancer, for some 2 years. Her obituary, obviously written herself, was funny and self-deprecating, an obvious attempt to soothe the sorrow of those she left behind. A women’s basketball player from Northwestern was killed by suicide last week. Who will write her obituary, and what will it say? One of my local colleagues died very suddenly and unexpectedly on Friday at the age of 50, roughly 24 hours after being diagnosed with cancer. Who will write his obituary, and what will it say?

2016 was notable for the number of rather famous people who died. This particular sector of humanity is famous enough that many media outlets pre-prepare obituaries so that they will have material ready to publish shortly after there announcement that the famous individual is deceased. It is unusual that someone not so famous, even someone of a degree of local fame, should have an obituary ready to go. More unusual, to be sure, for that obituary to be as light-hearted a read as that Minnesota MD. No, for the majority of humanity, at least here in the U.S., an obituary is a rather slap dash on-the-fly “just the facts, M’am” effort by whoever is at the desk at the local funeral home.

I know this, of course, because my Mom sent us the draft of my Dad’s obituary before she gave the OK to publish. Now, my Dad was a very good man, hardly great in the sense of, say, FDR or Red Auerbach, but he certainly deserved more than a rote regurgitation of his stats written in 6th grade English. Since I spend more time exercising my writing muscles than my siblings, or maybe just because I can type faster, the job fell to me to capsulize a man who was larger than life to his family, just like I’m sure is the case with my just deceased colleague and that Northwestern basketball player.

The grains of sand that pass through the funnel of life’s hourglass are only dry if observed from afar; up close each one is as colorful as any rainbow, as full of energy as any thunder storm. Poetry is there for the asking.

For most of us there is still a long journey ahead. The bulb atop our hourglass still holds innumerable grains of sand, a countless number of memories yet to create. We have years, nay decades of love yet to give and receive. Life is actually quite long for all but the unfortunate, unlucky few. Their lesson for us is simple, I think: Who will write your obituary? What will it say if it needed writing today?

A Struggle Just to be Average

Lake Wobegone, where every child is above average. Remember that? It’s a joke, of course, but it’s funnier if you have even the tiniest bit of comfort with numbers, statistics, and probabilities. Every parent wishes for that, right? To have raised a child who rose even just a little bit above.

What does it mean to be average? It begins with the cohort, the population you are evaluating, and the particular variable that is to be measured. The average Division 3 cornerback is a decidedly different specimen than the average guy playing on Sunday. The average working vocabulary in a room filled with Pulitzer Prize winners is quite a bit different than that of, say, the Green Bay Packers booster club luncheon yesterday. On the other hand, the average VO2 max in those latter two groups is likely pretty similar.

Along with average comes a range in any curve. Some groups are tightly bunched around the mean, the average; being average is an expectation. On the line at Ford your performance has to be average at worst. If you are above or below the average in any other group it probably is helpful to know how big the range of differences is in that group. For example, if we are measuring 400M run times at the Olympics there’s a pretty skinny range beyond which below or above average makes you stick out, good and bad.

Average does not necessarily mean mediocre.

I got to thinking about this yesterday when I heard from a bunch of my college buddies sending along birthday wishes. In my life there have been two places where I’ve been average: Williams College and CrossFit. Both here in the CrossFit world and in my college years at Williams it has taken everything that I have just to be in the middle of the pack. This is a double-edged sword. It’s humbling to have to literally give it your all just to hit the mean. However, placed into a group or given a task in which you have the potential to excel, to bust the curve if you will, the experience of having to work so hard just to be middling should drive you to do the same when you have a chance to be the best.

My Mom and Dad did, indeed, raise kids who were above average. It appears that Beth and I may have done so, too. If we are lucky, the Man Cub and his cousins will follow suit. The only way I will know is because I had the privilege of struggling to be average in the company of two very extraordinary groups of people.

My classmates and teammates at Williams, and my fellow CrossFitters.

 

Santa Claus, The Real Deal

“Santa is the Spirit of Giving. He is always real.” –Beth White

Once again my Better 95% knocks it out of the park. We have a couple of little ones again in the White family, and because of that we will have a healthy dose of Santa in our lives. While I realize that Beth and I will not really have a say in whether or not the whole Santa Claus story plays out in our grandchildren’s houses, what he stands for is important. Important enough for us to have had him in all his splendor and glory when The Heir, Lovely Daughter, and Lil’bingo were growing up. Important for us to draw out the time before Lil’bingo came to the realization that Santa was not a real person for as long as possible, so deep was his love for the furry fat guy.

Rest assured, the parental units in the White family did struggle with how to handle the inherent subterfuge that is necessary to have the Santa Claus story as part of our children’s upbringing. From the very beginning, though, the message was about the giving, about generosity and caring enough about someone else that you not only gave them a gift, but you gave them a gift that let them know how much you cared about them. You know, the “spirit” in the Spirit of Giving, if you will.

No matter how you massage it, that day of reckoning when your child finally realizes that the character Santa Claus is nothing more than the figurative representation of that concept can be fraught with all kinds of emotional trauma. For sure you might get a dose of “you lied to me”, but in my now decades of experience being around parents it’s actually rather rare for this one to pop up. What you generally face is sadness, with maybe a touch of disappointment and even mourning tossed in just to add a little sting to the moment. Like so much else about parenting, or even just about kindness, these are times when you get to talk about and teach really important lessons. Here the lesson is about giving of yourself, with or without a physical gift to actually give.

While thinking about this we stumbled upon a lovely little story about how one family handled both the “Santa isn’t real” revelation and the “Santa is real” in spirit thing. Heck, the story may even be true! A Dad sensed that his son was pretty much on the cusp of discovering that the guy in the red suit wasn’t really the real deal. His approach? He talked to his son about how he sensed that he, the son, looked like he was not too sure about the Santa Claus character. The Dad complimented his son on being a caring young man: “Everyone who cares, who is generous can be a Santa. I’m very impressed by how kind you are. I think you are ready to become a Santa, too.”

The Dad went on to ask his son to think about someone in his world who looked like they were sad. Maybe a bit lonely even. He tasked the boy with thinking very hard about what that person might really like as a present. Something they needed, and something that would express that whoever gave it to them realized this need, and cared enough to give them a present that helped to meet that need. There was a catch, though: the recipient was never to know who gave them the gift. For the son the satisfaction was in the caring and in the giving, not in the recognition and praise that might follow.

It doesn’t really matter who the child chose or what he gave; you can trust that the story–true or not–is just lovely right to the end. What matters is that this very young boy is escorted through what can be a very sad stage in a young life by a caring and thoughtful parent. On the other side of this journey emerges a young man who has learned the true meaning of Santa Claus in the secular Christmas story. He has learned that what matters about Santa Claus is real indeed, and always has been.

Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving. He will always be real.

 

Sunday musings…”Certainty”

Sunday musings…

1) Bufflehead. The official duck of Clan bingo.

2) Tortiere. Official cuisine of the occupied according to the NYT.

I dunno. Does occupation taste better if it has a fancy name?

3) Friendship. “Friendship without loyalty is like a lake without water.”

That’s pretty deep.

4) Reality. There are a number of movies that have just come out that deal, either directly or incidentally, with poverty. Characters are either in the act of overcoming their poverty, or are inextricably affected by poverty as they attend to whatever theme the movie other wise addresses. I am struck by a certain detail that I simply cannot ignore in each and every example: the actors all have perfect teeth.

Not only is there not a single tooth askew in the entire cast, but there is nary a blemish to be found on an incisor. Heck, I’ll bet that even the lowliest Grip or Best Boy has a perfect smile.

Don’t know about you, but I just think the mountain men of “Deliverance” or “Winter’s Bones” would have seemed a whole lot less dangerous if they had all of their teeth.

5) Certainty. There are some really big decisions in a life. I mean huge, consequential decisions that simply must be made. To do so is very, very hard. There is simply no escaping that fact. You reach a point where you have to make a call on something that matters. Really matters. Like, rest of your life hinges on your decision matters. As part of this monumental process you must make peace with the concept of “certainty”.

You can–you really must, actually– be certain that this is a really big decision, but you must at the same time be cognizant that you cannot be certain that you are making the best decision possible.

I am forever in search of a better vocabulary to describe things I know or things I feel very deeply. In that never-ending search I came across an article about the former GM of the Philadelphia 76′ers, Sam Hinkie. Mr. Hinkie is a polymath who is at any particular time either wildly sentimental or icily objective. Fascinating guy, actually (you can read the article in SI 12/5/16). Throughout the article it was somewhat difficult for me to establish common ground with him (except for our shared devotion to precise language) until I came upon a brief discussion of “certainty” in decision making. Both Hinkie and I had the same decision to make–to prioritize our courtship and subsequent marriage over other pursuits like education and vocation–and we both not only made the same call but continue to describe it as the best call we ever made.

We were certain of its importance, and in response at some point we went “all in” on the decision. Here is Hinkie on the process:

“You have to be careful that you are thinking reasonably. People are too willing to scratch the itch of the near thing. Discipline is the difference between what you want and what you really, really want…I think people often don’t bring that kind of rigor to whatever it is, if it’s important. Because they’d rather make lots of little tiny decisions that a few big ones.”

Certainty is a sword that cuts both ways. The only cut you control is the one of knowing that something is really big. Something you really, really want. Something that matters. You cannot be certain that you will make the right decision, but the only way forward once you are certain about something is to pour everything you have into whatever that thing is.

Hinkie: “What wouldn’t you pay to make it so, if it’s right?”

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo