Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Dunbar’s Number and Your Cell Phone

Professor Robin Dunbar poses that the maximum number of individuals with whom a human can maintain social cohesion is 150. Hence, “Dunbar’s Number”. Essentially “social cohesion” means that you have some degree of awareness of who another person is beyond simply their name and their Twitter handle. Further research seems to show that we can follow 500 acquaintances (we know a bit more than just their name; for example, we might know to whom they are married), and we can match some 1500 faces to names. As I’ve written before we then cone down through various circles (friendly acquaintances, casual friends or “buddies”, close friends, and best friends), and there is a nearly constant movement in and out of all but the closest inner circles.

How has electronic communication altered this dynamic? It turns out that there is rather little change in the numbers involved. Weird, huh? You’d think that FB, Twitter, Snapchat, and Messenger would have increased the numbers but in fact Dunbar’s more scientific rationale–the size of the neocortex determines the number of contacts–holds true no matter what type of communication connects your network. Dunbar does have some thoughts on SM and its effect on relationships and they can be summed up thusly: remote connections maintained electronically crowd out the possibility of newer, closer friendships created locally and in real time.

My bet is that you can easily confirm this in your own groups as I did just the other day. A friendship 15 years in the making, one that was probably on the border between “buddies” and close friends, has been on the wane after a retirement and subsequent move south (and up), it’s gotta be 10 years ago now. A (very) brief interaction around a death in the family is the sum total of our engagement for a couple of years, yet I have managed to remain connected through occasional social media “engagement”. What remains of our friendship is my memories of times together, and perhaps warm feelings on both sides when those memories arise.

But Dunbar is right; mourning the friendship that was keeps that slot occupied and therefore unavailable for a more intimate, current, local friendship.

Key to all of this is the “how” of our interactions. Beth and I organized a spur-of-the-moment Happy Hour at a local bistro that turned into a raucous up too late bacchanalia with our inner circle. Cell phones were pocketed throughout (with the tacit agreement that we could text if our kids reached out) and we hugged each other, punched shoulders, and shared all manner of concoctions through the night. Yes, it all started with a group text, but that was simply the flint struck to light the campfire for the evening. We were together in the realest sense of the word.

How can we further combat this “crowding out” effect of modern electronic communication brought on by the availability afforded by our ubiquitous, irresistible smart phones? Easy. It’s in the name of the tool: phone. Short for telephone. Initially “cell phone” after the towers that were first erected to transfer…wait for it…telephone calls. VOICE! Voice, once taken for granted, has now become so exotic that I have been informed that I must first make an appointment to call someone on the phone. Indeed, the voice call is only slightly less rare (at least between friends) as a handwritten letter.

Therein lies the solution my friends. Your handheld computer is a telephone. It’s not even all that retro: Captain Kirk famously spoke into his communicator (“Beam me up, Scotty.”) in the future of Star Trek. Call your friends. If that seems a bit too anachronistic or archaic indulge in a video call. Hear them/see them between those occasions when you can shake hands or hug. More voice, fewer posts/texts/messages/snaps/tweets, especially for anyone in the “buddy” circle or closer.

Now, get off the internet. Go call a friend and make plans to get together for the Labor Day weekend.

Drama at the Speed of Light

Teen drama. Very little of it at Casa Blanco right now (knock on wood), likely because everyone is now in their twenties, but I had an interesting conversation about this in the office with some grandparents talking about watching their teen grandkids being raised. We all had it, the drama. It seems to be a universal observation that it’s of a greater magnitude now. Why is that?

If you are of a certain age (like me) you communicated with your friends by telephone. You know, the one on the wall in the kitchen, typically the only one in the house, the one that you shared with everyone else in your family. I know, I know…those of you NOT of a certain age have only seen this on “Leave it to Beaver” re-runs on Family TV, but it was really like that.

Your teen drama took place primarily face-to-face in school, or transpired one-on-one on the phone at night. You had a limit to how long you could talk (your stinky brother wanted the phone), and the “phone game” of a story growing and evolving with each transmittal was the real deal because, well, there was only one call at a time.

Fast forward to 2017. Verrry fast forward. Teen drama, whether it’s a bunch of teenagers or a bunch of folks involved on Twitter, is indeed a much more intense phenomenon. It hits harder and faster, and it spreads at the speed of light because it TRAVELS at the speed of light. Cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, Text…drama transmittal is now exponentially faster so drama growth is no longer linear but exponential as well.

Actionable point? Eh, I dunno. I guess if you are a parent or grandparent it helps to understand why it is that your teen and young adult kids seem to be hit so much harder and so much faster when the same stuff you experienced hits them. As an adult exposed to your OWN drama, though, I do think this knowledge should give you pause, encourage you to actually pause when in the midst of this kind of thing.

Because you can’t un-ring a bell, and when you ring that bell in 2017 the sound travels at the speed of light, and whatever tune your tone rings forever in the vast electronic symphony hall. Teach your teens, but don’t forget yourself.

You’re a big kid now; slow it down.

In Which Pooh and Christopher Robin Reunite

Christopher Robin: “I’m not going to do Nothing anymore.”

Winnie the Pooh: “Never again?”

CR: “Well, not too much. They don’t let you.”

Toddlers rule the world. Seriously. Beth and I are watching the Man Cub and his tiny baby sister (“Pippy”, at least for now) as their parents take an afternoon to be the young couple that they are. A two year old is nothing but non-stop movement, all curiosity and instant gratification in a tiny bundle of Brownian Motion. There’s no sorta minding the toddler while you “get stuff done”, either. When it’s your turn on watch you are either on them like a hawk or you beg to be relieved of duty.

We are (mostly) blessed that our little guy is also quite bright and very verbal. It makes the time quite a bit more enjoyable while simultaneously taxing. “What is it?” pops out every 2 or 3 minutes, and every activity is preceded by an announcement–”I gotta do whatever”–and then accompanied by “play by play”. The announcements are quite handy in that they let you know where the next disaster is headed so that you can be ready to avert.

Having said all of this I am nothing short of astonished by how much more I am enjoying this stage than I did with my own kids. Don’t get me wrong, the sense of discovery and the unconditional love were there when my kids were toddlers for sure. The difference in the experience has everything to do with me: I have given myself permission to enjoy it this time. On Sundays now I muse whenever, whereas if I were a muser back then I would have tried to muse while on duty, an impossible task guaranteed to increase frustration and diminish the joy in both activities.

Therein lies the key, the gift of grandparenthood: you realize that you really do have a choice. If you are wise (or live with a wise spouse like I do) you give yourself permission to do what once upon a time felt like doing Nothing. It’s not, of course. Not for you and not for your little one. For you the gift is to re-live the wonder of discovery in a child while you witness the purity of the experience your grandchild is having. What your grandchild receives is you. All of you, all to themselves, for what feels like to them at the time like all the time in the world.

In the end the most fortunate among us are those who get to live in the chapter that A.A. Milne never wrote. The one in which Christopher Robin realizes that “he” has become “they”, and that it is only for him to decide that it is time for him to return to the Thousand Acre Wood. In the guise of his grandchild he will find that Pooh is still there, that he still loves Pooh and Pooh loves him. There to sit doing what “they” would call Nothing.

With his grandchild at his side, to sit together doing Everything.

 

Leaning Home on Mother’s Day (Sunday musings)

On one Sunday each year we celebrate the Hallmark Cards Mother’s Day. My work buddy Ken actually has it closer to the mark when he says that there are actually 363 Mother’s Days, the other two being Father’s Day and Ken’s birthday. While I love that sentiment we all know that a super-majority of mothers actually give a super-majority of their working hours to their kids, either directly or through the prism of worry while they (the mothers) are at work. There’s not much celebration going on there. For all of its gifts, motherhood the vocation is chockablock filled with hard work and worry.

In my day job a large percentage of my peers, especially my younger peers, are women who are also mothers. I have said (and written) that the pressures on these women is infinitely greater than that on those of us who are fathers because of the fundamentally different demands of what constitutes the minimal expected parental involvement of a mother. Heavy stuff. It is especially daunting to attempt to climb a career ladder that is in addition to what must be done just to do a good job each day in the office. To be a physician leader on the national level is to commit to countless days and nights away form home on top of those that are standard fare for a “regular doctor”. Face it, not a single dad in the same situation is ever asked how he feels about the stress of being away from his kids.

Not a single mom goes through a day without having multiple people ask them just that.

Listen, there’s just no easy answer to this dilemma. One need only look at the tragic epiphany Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook had after losing her husband to an accident shortly after her book “Lean In” took every woman who ever worried or wondered about the cost of success to task was published. Ms. Sandberg was adamant that women had no choice but to compete on a level with men. Indeed, that it was their duty, for themselves and for all other women who would follow. She and her book were tone deaf to the realities of life outside the bubble in which every executive/professional was married to a wealthy entrepreneur and had nannies, housekeepers, and cooks. Single mothers, in particular, had trouble finding themselves in her philosophy. One leaned in without a thought to what one might be leaning OUT of.

Ms. Sandberg just published another book, “Plan B”, in which she deals with her grief at losing her husband. To her credit she also revisits her original thesis on what it means to be a mother as well as a woman who has the potential to reach the pinnacle of their respective careers. The pain of her realization of the time she could have spent with her husband and children but didn’t fairly drips off the page. It is truly heartbreaking. Although I was quite frankly repulsed by the arrogance of her first book I can find nothing but the deepest sympathy and sorrow that it took such a loss to open her eyes to what she now realized she’d been missing.

You can only lean in to one thing by leaning out of others. You can have it all I guess, just not all at once.

There is no right or wrong answer here my friends. Certainly no right or wrong answer that I would ever be presumptuous enough to offer, for sure. Only that each of us, mother or father, makes a decision about what it is that we have to do in our own little families. Those of us outside someone else’s family should simply be as understanding as we can possibly be, you know? I wish for Ms. Sandberg sake that she’d been a little more sympathetic before she was tragically forced to be empathetic to those folks who walk in different shoes. For my professional friends I simply wish for a few moments of thought so that they may make a conscious decision about the path they will take; a career will drive away with you if you don’t take the wheel.

Being a Mom is hard work. I’ve not seen anyone in my life work harder than my mother or my darling wife, both of whom stayed home with their children until the school years had passed. They, too, sacrificed, in their cases leaving careers behind, as did my sisters. By leaning out of the traditional workforce their choice was to lean in to their families. Men do that, too, you know, but that’s probably fodder for Father’s Day musings, right?

So for today let us all wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Sheryl Sandbergs out there, to all of my professional colleagues who are trying so hard to balance their professional potential with their desire to be the best moms they can be. Happy Mother’s Day to the moms who spend each hour of their day in the full-time pursuit of the being a mom, looking wistfully at careers that once held so much potential. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you who wake up each day and go to sleep each night thinking and dreaming and hoping and worrying about your kids. That’s what moms do, no matter what else they also do, right?

Finally, Happy Mother’s Day to my Beth, mother to “The Heir”, “Lovely Daughter”, and “Lil’bingo”. We are the family that we are because you chose to be the mother you are.

You Don’t Need That Selfie

My thoughts on the making of memories,first written 2 years ago, re-printed here in response to GoPro’s “discovery” that the selfie is harmful to your potentially most cherished memories to be.

 

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Babe Ruth.

“Friendship is the vehicle that delivers innocent people from that space between the rock and the hard place.” D.E. White

Like the Babe I’ve taken my swings, often and hard, at the corrosive effects of communication technology on human communication. For every time I’ve hit it out of the park–face to face over a glass of wine with Beth, a close friend, or one of my kids–I’ve whiffed on one that was low and outside hurled by new tech. For instance, Snapchat came and went and got sold for a Bazillion $$ before I even really knew how to use it.

Now, I’m hardly a Luddite. I’m sitting at a kitchen table littered with droppings from Steve Jobs’ imagination, pecking away at one of them while another serenades me, yet one more beckons for a response. It’s all really pretty OK though, because there’s no one here, really physically here, who wants or needs to talk to me at the moment. Even Abby, the world’s most curious Border Collie, isn’t interested in chatting.

This is not a “be here/be now” lament about focusing on the real, live person who is physically with you rather than your phone and its irresistible access to someone who is somewhere else. Nope. I lost that battle as spectacularly as any swing and a miss by the Bambino, at least on a societal level. For sure, every now and again, I hit a bloop single and get one of my kids to put down their phone and “be there” for a whole meal, but no grand slam big picture win on that one. (As an aside, who wouldn’t love to see a Sesame Street re-do of “Put down the Duckie” substuting “iPhone” for Duckie? Google it.)

This is about the most recent tech attack on the human experience as we know it–the “Selfie”. It’s not real unless you took a picture of it. You weren’t there unless you have a picture of wherever there was, whatever what was. And the most damaging of all, it wasn’t significant enough, it wasn’t truly magnificent or epic, unless you shared it with at least the first 4 degrees of separation.

The camera on your phone is stealing your memories.

But how can that possibly be? How can memorializing the momentous make my memories disappear? There are two insidious effects of the nearly compulsory grab for the phone and the shutter. The first is the simply that you’ve stopped the moment in question, interrupted whatever is wonderful about that singular now. Everything stops for the camera. You’re frozen, right then, right there, in that exact click. Your flow is gone. What might have come next, following as naturally as your next breath, is forever lost as soon as the camera appears. The re-boot is as jarring as emerging from the breath hold of a frozen dive.

Memories, the good ones at least, are like poems. Returning to those memories over time is like re-reading a beloved verse. The basic facts, like the words in the poem, remain the same; it’s around the edges of the memory that we find the smiles. In poetry it’s the message between the lines. In music it’s the space between the notes. This is where the magic lives. We shrink these spaces in the memories that hurt but won’t fade, and we spend as much time as we can engulfed in the happiness that lives in the space around our best memories. The foundation for growth here in this space is being fully engaged in simply living in each “now” rather than engaging your cellphone camera and Instagram.

You can’t really take a picture of how you feel, and in the end isn’t that what makes the memory?

Triggered by Slimy Language (From Sunday musings…)

There are words in any language that have been co-opted in a great conspiracy. Actually, they’ve been co-opted into every conspiracy, wether great or small. I’m talking, of course, about all of the hedge words like “may” or “might” or “could”, words that can be inserted into basically any statement and simultaneously present a point of view while distancing the writer or speaker from any responsibility for either that POV or the consequences of writing/stating it. You know what I mean. Simply take a look at any of the Sunday papers and read a headline or two. “The election may increase blankety-blank in thus and such.” “So-and-so said blabbity blah which could result in a decrease in the weinerschitzel index.” “We think CrossFit might cause a significant change in the daily usage of pitbull greenhouse gas effluent.” Stuff like that simply litters our information pipeline.

A defining characteristic of statements like these is that the exact opposite may also occur. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the obverse is actually more likely to occur. Accuracy of this sort is precisely not what the speaker or writer is interested in, though. No, what people who write or speak like this are interested in is the projection and proliferation of a worldview that may or may not stand up to either data or reality. Even more so, they are doing this without regard to the consequences for those who may share the sentence with the slippery and slimy hedge words. The reality is that they typically mean some sort of harm to that person, institution or idea.

They just lack the courage to not only place their flag in the sand, but to also stand next to it, defend it, and face the consequences.

Come on. Anything COULD happen. There is certainly enough uncertainty in the world that any statement with “might, could, or may” in it would turn out to be accurate. The reality is that we also live in a probabilistic world in which data can be used to give a bit more guidance. In so doing we can put the fire to the feet of those who are so careless with their regard for the effect of these words on other,s and too cowardly to willingly step on the fire.

How many times have we read or heard someone look at a CrossFit WOD like Deadlift 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 and say: “CrossFit may be dangerous; it might cause injury in individuals who are lifting heavy weight.” A fact-based examination of this WOD would certainly acknowledge that injury is a possibility, but the more likely outcome is that “athletes who perform a full-body functional movement like the deadlift using proper technique with relatively high intensity will gain strength.” Will. Flag firmly planted.

There most definitely IS a lesson here: statements with “may”, “could”, “might” and similar hedge words are a warning that you are reading or listening to someone who is either unsure of what they are stating, or that they are very sure that they can neither prove their thesis nor defend themselves if it is shown to be false. An agenda too often lurks behind these words, and it behooves us to look for that agenda whenever we are triggered by these words.

Sadly, there is no safe space in our connected world for us to escape this kind of slime.

Thanksgiving Exposes the Lie of Remote Connectivity

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.

 

 

The Friendship Journey in the Age of Easy (Adopted from Sunday musings)

Beth and I were out to dinner with another couple. Mutual friends came up in conversation. They’d moved away a couple of years ago. Moved a couple of times, actually. “Have you heard from so-and-so?” “No. You?” “Uh uh.” “Huh. That’s funny. We thought maybe it was just us.” “Yah, I call every now and again. Text every so often. Crickets.” In an odd way it felt a bit better, for all four of us, that we weren’t the only ones who’d been left behind as it were. Better, but still a bit sad and still hurt a bit.

Friendship is a bit of a journey. That’s not really news, though the journey evolves not only as one gets older but also in relation to societal evolution. T’was a time when the maintenance of a friendship forged on the battlefields of youth was almost expected to fade away, with only the faintest embers of memories still burning. It was natural. Common to the point of being expected, especially if friends moved far afield.

In order to keep the fires of friendship burning you need to stoke them. We marvel at the long-distance friendships of our forebears, brought to light in the letters they sent to one another. Can you imagine? Friendship maintained at the whim of the postal service? And yet maintain they did, at least those friendships that were meaningful enough to make the effort. The dawn of the telephone age made it somewhat easier to do this, but expense was a barrier often too high to surmount, trumping the immediacy and intimacy of hearing a friend’s voice.

Friendships at the mercy of distance and time were friendships most often destined to become memories.

Ah, but the world is so very different now. We have, each of us, a device that allows us to talk to anyone we have ever known, right now, for pennies. A text can be sent with an effort so trivial that we have laws to regulate when we should know better than to fire one off. As if that’s not quite enough, Facebook and Twitter are there for the asking, and the original “reach out and touch someone” revolution that is email will alert you when someone has messaged you on either of them. It is now easy, the effort necessary to remain in contact is now so minimal, that what it means to stoke the flames of friendship has been turned on its head. Along the way it seems that our expectations of what will become of our friendships has changed as well. If it’s so easy to stay in touch, our friendships should withstand any number of moves, right?

We will have to re-order that, I think.

Beth and I have a number of friends with whom we shared many, many things, who have moved away from the little burg we call home. In truth, most were little more than friendly acquaintances really, people we were thrown together with because of stage of life stuff like schools or sports or jobs. “Moving away” for these friendships is simply another way of saying the calendar has flipped, and these fade just like friendships in the days of the Pony Express. That’s OK, too; they are meant to fade because they weren’t really friends, people in whom you confided, people who confided in you, counted on you.

Our new world of easy access to one another changes how we feel about people we really did consider friends when they move away. It takes only time, well, time and desire, to stay in touch. To stay friends. Ah…there’s the rub, eh? It’s so easy now–no hoping that they will pick up the phone, return the voicemail, reply to the email/text/PM–that our expectations have changed. That resignation inherent in the historical timeline of all but the deepest, most meaningful friendships has been replaced with some kind of new expectation that we don’t have to let go, let the friendship go, simply because someone has gone somewhere else.

And it hurts, doesn’t it, when friends who were friends in person make it clear that moving away is actually just the same today as it was in the days of the letter and the rotary dial telephone. All but the truest of friends move on, and what we have now is not a gentle resignation and wistful sadness about our mutual loss, but rather a more acute and personal type, especially if we’d decided that the friendship had been worth the effort necessary to keep the fire burning.

There’s a story here, of course, but I won’t trouble you with it. You’ve got one too I’ll bet; only the details are different. There’s also a lesson I think, one that is grounded in the wisdom of yesteryear. Our world has changed in ways that were unimaginable to our parents and grandparents. Heck, even my Mom is now on Facebook (yikes!). Friendship, however, has not. It doesn’t matter even a little bit that it takes so little effort to connect in today’s world. What matters now is the same as what mattered when connecting meant eagle feathers and inkwells: having a friendship that was meaningful enough to make the effort. Friends reach out, and they reach back when you reach out, whatever reaching means on any given day in any given era. The arc of a friendship still ends most often as nothing more than warm memories, like the tiny embers of even the most magnificent bonfire in a dawn soon to come.

We are all happier when we accept that most of our friendships will still be like this. Lucky are we if we have even a single friend who feels just the same about our friendship, whether we stoke our fire side by side or cross-country. Friendship was, is, and will always be about the desire to remain friends, not how easy it might be to express that desire. Remember this, and we steel ourselves a bit more against the sadness of a friendship lost to time and distance.

Remember this, and we allow ourselves to be warmed by the memories that remain of the friendship that once was.

Thoughtfulness in the Age of Sharing

How much information is too much? Is there an element of timing in that question? For instance, is the amount of information that is ultimately enough (and not too much) subject to a schedule? I’m prompted to think about this by a couple of very current events, or types of events: instances of death resulting from police/citizen interactions and more than several instances of government officials enmeshed in scandal, or the appearance of scandal. You’ll not find commentary here about the particulars of any of these current events; I have no standing. My thesis, though, is that the twin virtues of transparency and disclosure have been tarnished by the evil twins impatience and entitlement.

Think about it for a moment. Events that are large and important fairly cry out for patience and a deeper, more thoughtful discussion. One that begins after facts have been extricated from the web of innuendo born in the bosom of opinion. The stampede of analysis now comes even as a story unfolds, before it even ends. It matters not whether we are observers of an event that touches on a certifiable “big theme” (e.g. racism), or one that is tiny, local, or personal (e.g. infidelity). The commonality rests not with the protagonists but rather within the observers, especially those who comment: it’s all about them.

Are you old enough to remember when it was considered unseemly to be a self-promoter? Even if you are, it’s tough to recall those days before the ever-connected world when blatant “look at me” or “listen to me” behavior was met with the collective cluck of a society bred for humility. This “cult of self-promotion” not only imposes itself on big events and grand issues (comments that begin with “I think…”), it also means that no one is to be allowed a privacy if the entitled self-promoters decide that they simply must know, well, whatever. “A universal, wrathful demand of the public for complete disclosure” about everything and anything. (Gideon Lewis-Kraus)

The need to know trumps all; one who asks the question in some way is granted all manner of primacy over one who might have the answer. It’s uncomfortable to watch at times.

The phenomena is not without irony. Witness articles critical of self-promotion that tell the story of someone who is almost famous for talking about not promoting him/herself. Nice, huh? It’s like a hall of mirrors, a kind of “Inception”. Trust that it doesn’t escape my attention that there are more than several folks out there who consider “Random Thoughts” a form of self-promotion. An irony within a discussion of irony.

There’s a certain power in thoughtfulness, a seriousness that induces thoughtfulness, in turn, in the listener. If we always know what you think or what you did precisely when you thought or acted, how are we to ascertain what, if anything, is important? If one demands full and immediate disclosure of any and all information, regardless of how significant or trivial it might be, or how public or private the consequences, how are we to order anything at all along the great/small continuum? At some point the primacy of the inquisitor must find its limit, if only for a moment.

A moment of peace for the rest of us, should we care to think about something deeper than the event in question. A moment of peace for an individual who might harken back to an earlier day, one when it was possible to graciously decline to offer anything at all, lest it encourage someone to be interested enough to ask for disclosure.

You Can’t Have Everything

“I want to grab the big brass ring…”

There are a number of artists who hold dear philosophical and political views with which I can find little common ground, and yet I still find great pleasure in their art. Springsteen, of late, is a good example. An older, longer enjoyed example is Barbara Streisand. After breakfast this morning I found myself humming one of her classics, “Everything”, as I headed off to my next meeting.

[As an aside, I am presently at a huge convention for my day job. Did you know that 3 out of 4 doctors say that Las Vegas is bad for your health?]

You see, I’d just spent some time with a 30-something CEO of a really cool company who just returned to work after the birth of her first child, and just outside the restaurant I’d bumped into a 30-something rockstar among eye surgeons with whom I’d shared a drink last night and discussed how she was managing the work life balance of being a mother of two, busy surgeon, and in-demand expert in our field. We all agreed that balance was unobtainable for any of us, but all the more so for the women; the bar is pretty low for the family side of the balance for men. Old news.

Then, an epiphany. I’ve oft written that you can’t have it all, no matter who you are or what you do. Man or woman. But one of the women, the CEO, after a bit of thought disagreed. You CAN have it all, you just can’t have everything. The trick is in defining what “all” means for you and those closest to you. “All” must be examined, its content vetted and negotiated among the parties involved. Once fleshed out in this way “all” becomes an obtainable entity.

“All” is about balance; everything is about never, ever being in balance.

Needless to say the conversation with both of these very impressive, highly accomplished women pivoted instantly, all of the pressure and intensity of the balance challenge dissipated. Seriously, this is the first time I’ve been able to feel comfortable with some of the very famous women–think Sheryl Sanders, for example–who proclaim loud and long that you can, indeed, have it all. They are at the same time just as wrong as I’ve long held, but they may be more right than I’ve given them credit if they are talking about “all” and not “everything”.

I think my young friends are right, you can have it all as long as you are very clear about what having it all comprises. It’s when you confuse having it all with having everything that makes it not only impossible to have a life in balance, it may actually mean eventually not having much of a life at all.

“…give me everything, every thing.”