Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘games’

When We Will Exclaim a Person of Substance

My life is centered around, and centered by, the myriad women with whom I share airspace. There are certainly men there, too, and I am certainly fortunate in that my immediate world does not include anything like what other folks would consider a boss. While most of the women in my daily professional life are either employed by me directly, or employed by someone who has in some way contracted to assist me, the reality of my daily existence is that I have a symbiotic relationship with teammates who happen to be women, and we depend on one another every waking moment.

Because of this I have become alert to all kinds of slights leveled at women in general, and women who work in healthcare in particular. Frankly my worldview is really pretty restricted when it comes to the workplace, especially since the family Box closed a couple of years ago. In healthcare the hierarchy/patriarchy has historical sheltered bad behavior directed at women from both view and recourse. Is it changing in this volatile world that has emerged these last few weeks? That’s not really for me to say, of course; all I can do is whatever is in my means to provide an environment that respects a gender-neutral environment and chain of command whenever I have the privilege of setting the tone.

What is very interesting to me, and what I find to be a very positive (if tardy) side effect of the recent “outing” of men in power who have abused that power, is the celebration of thoughtful women whose thoughtfulness might not have been quite as well-known before. Again, it goes without saying that this should not be something that is remarkable in the least, but for the sake of this particular musing perhaps we can simply acknowledge and agree upon that, and spend our time thinking about what it is that these women are saying.

Reese Witherspoon comes instantly to mind, of course. Ms. Witherspoon has forcefully said that SOP in Hollywood is no longer even a little bit OK when it comes to opportunity to control the spoils of the industry. Not content to simply raise the issue she has literally put her money on the line along with that of like-minded individuals and begun to create those opportunities. Ms. Witherspoon has much to say that is worth hearing. One could do worse than the recent WSJ Magazine cover article as a jumping off point to begin your listen.

It’s highly unlikely that there is any woman in the world about whom more electrons have been circulating of late than the actress Meghan Markle. There’s not a rock big enough for you to have crawled under in the developed world for you to be unaware that she has recently been betrothed to an heir to the British throne. While Ms. Markle and her beau are, indeed, impossibly cute together, it’s more than a bit of a shame that it has taken her very public romance for the non-People reading public to discover her, her story, and her intellect. This is a person of substance.

Hopefully Ms. Markle will forgive me for I will certainly get some of details wrong (as usual I am writing without notes). She is the daughter of a caucasian father and an African-American mother, and she has been on the receiving end of various forms of discrimination from a very young age because of that. She tells a story of being forced to declare in school that she is one or the other, Black or White. To check a box because, well, that’s what is done. She declined. Maybe she was 12. She opted not to opt. I don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve been in school, or had a child in school, but that’s a rather gutsy move.

She went home and asked her Dad why. Why should she have to choose? His response informs her message today: draw your own box. Man or woman, if the choices that are presented to you do not include the right choice, draw your own box to check. Ms. Markle tells the story so much better than I, but I am happy to pass it on with a further encouragement that you should go look for her telling this story, and while you are at it there is a wonderful clip of her accepting an award for her advocacy on behalf of empowering women. She is universally described by anyone who has listened to her as a woman of substance.

My hope, and my goal in writing this today, is that the term “woman of substance” will one day be replaced (as I did above) for both men and women with “person of substance”. Substantive ideas matter, and they ought to matter irrespective of whatever labeling might be applied to the holder of those ideas. While they may not have the name recognition of Ms. Witherspoon or Ms. Markle, I am surrounded by women of substance whose ideas bear our listening. My wife and my daughter, my sisters and my mother, my daughters- and sisters-in-law, as well as the extraordinary women with whom I’ve worked in healthcare and met through CrossFit, give me confidence that this can be.

Not today, not yet, not soon enough but soon, for the benefit and betterment of all.

 

Sunday musings 11/26/17, Rigged in Your Favor

Sunday musings…

1) Capulet. Juliet’s last name. No reason; just seems like a cool thing to know.

2) Apokalypsis. Ancient Greek for uncovering or unveiling. I’m not exactly sure why, but this particular derivation of “apocalypse” seems all too appropriate for the last couple of months, eh?

3) Lifetime. After a bit of time I recently tried to access an online place to which I’d once been given a lifetime subscription. It’s one that I used to look at very frequently;my user name and password never changed. I discovered a different sign-in format, one that did not even accept the form of sign-in I’d been accustomed to. “Lifetime” in this case had nothing to do with my longevity, but rather the employment lifetime of the gifter, or the lifetime of institutional awareness of my being.

It leaves one to ponder: how many lifetimes do we have, and what is it that brings any particular lifetime to an end?

4) Babar. I have a thing for watching the end of a series. TV, movies, a particular character in an author’s books. I seem drawn to them even if I had little to no engagement with them over the course of their long or short lifetimes. Just the tiniest bit of introspection leads me to M*A*S*H, a beloved television series that I actually did watch quite religiously. I’m pretty sure that the final episode of M*A*S*H was the first finale I consciously watched as such (thanks again for hosting us all Evan Tabor!).

What’s funny is that I have gone out of my way to put the series finale of shows that I pretty much never watched on my calendar with the same amount of “gotta see it” as those few that I never missed. “St. Elsewhere” was just as much of a must-see as “Hill Street Blues”, for example. Even more interesting–maybe sillier is a better word–I find myself with the same type of nostalgic yearning at the loss for both. Weird.

So it is as I discover that the beloved children’s character “Babar” has made his swan song. With the publication of “Babar’s Guide to Paris” author and artist Laurent de Brunhoff signs off and Babar takes a final bow. There is no heir, and the character is not meant to have any further adventures. After finishing the WSJ interview I know that I will read this book despite the fact that I have read (or been read to) only the original story (written by Laurent’s father Jean) and not a single intervening edition. As avid collectors of children’s books and enthusiastic readers to our children and now grandchildren, this is even more striking.

Why this book, and why now? Well, I have to admit that I’m a sucker for sentiment, and this quote makes it a slam dunk: “I never really think of children when I do my books. Babar was my friend and I invented stories with him, but not with kids in the corner of my mind. I write for myself.”

Who wouldn’t want to spend a few pages with a 92 year old and his friend of some 70 years as they explore the City of Lights together one last time.

5) Rigged. “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” –The Persian poet Rumi (as told by Neda Shamie)

Have you ever heard a more lovely description of optimism? What a smashing way to approach life! In the past I’ve written that one should assume that each endeavor will be a success, that this simple assumption does, indeed, increase the odds that it will happen. So often we hear from people that the game is rigged. Heck, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that every single one of us has felt this at least once in our lifetimes. We all know people who have simply given up on all but sustenance, so completely do they believe that any effort at advancement will be thwarted in a game that is rigged.

But it isn’t.

At least it isn’t if what we aspire to is simply taking that next step up. Sure, if your only definition of “winning the game” is to have Gates/Soros/Koch kind of money, the game is surely not set up for you to succeed. In reality, success (see “Gratitude = Success”) and happiness do not require such an outsized outcome. Therein lies the brilliance of Rumi’s insight. If everything is “rigged in your favor”, if all of your “ducks are in a line” and the deck is stacked for you, why NOT take that opportunity and turn it into your next success? You could certainly accuse me of being a pollyanna here, but heck, doesn’t it feel better to look forward with hope than otherwise?

The game of life is here, today, just waiting for you and me to play a winning hand.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Sunday Protests

One of my all-time, never fails thrills is a pre-game flyover. I get serious chills and a full coat of goosebumps every single time. Doesn’t matter what event follows, or why I’m watching. Unexpected, surprise fly-overs are an even more special treat, that “oh, you’re kidding…I get to see this even AND I get a fly-over?” It’s like getting dessert first at a Michelin starred restaurant. Never having served in any of the branches of our military I have no special call to feel this way. Yet goosebumps arrive on cue whenever a particularly moving rendition of our National Anthem is played, or if I hear Kate Smith or Ray Charles singing one of our other patriotic anthems.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I am quite completely conflicted about the recent protesting of professional athletes done during these tiny interludes of observing our shared nation. I do get, as should all thinking individuals, that the protests themselves are not directed at either the anthem or the flag, and certainly not toward the men and women who have served in the defense of the historical values that these symbols represent. I truly love these tiny moments of patriotic sentimentality. They are, for me, similar to saying “Grace” before our evening meal: a tiny vestige of a once much larger experience.

Sporting events of all kinds used to be a much bigger presence in my life than they are today. Whether playing or watching, it was weird to not have some sort of game front and center. Once I hung up my various sporting implements, and even when I moved away both literally and figuratively from the teams of my youth, I could usually find some sort of sporting event to have on as background noise on a given day. The fact that I watch fewer games, and almost no football, at a time of unprecedented activism on the field is therefore purely coincidental.

Still, I do think about sports, and major sporting events are still a rallying point (or at least a conversation starter) in most walks of my life. To say that this next statement has me conflicted doesn’t really measure up to the truth: the on the field activism of athletes makes me avoid the discussion of sports entirely. It’s not that I feel the athletes have no place expressing their opinions, nor that I necessarily disagree with the opinions they are expressing. The heartfelt conviction that a particular group has been singled out for mistreatment is a righteous cause to which very public individuals could lend their support. By choosing the venue of a sporting event they have removed my ability to choose whether or when I will engage the topic.

By choosing to do it in the manner that they have chosen prevents me from experiencing a tiny thrill that used to at least feel like it was free.

So what? Isn’t that the point of protest, to make the safe and the secure a little bit uncomfortable? Sure, I get that. I really do. It makes little difference to those protesting to learn that people like me really do set aside time to consider the merits of their grievance; creating discomfort is part of the point. Having twice scrubbed my own workplace of all political activity, making it clear that our team is to avoid the creation of similar discomfort in our clients, I sort of feel like my patronage is being abused I guess. Kind of like that old joke “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”, except it’s a political expression upending my expectation. Certain jobs just don’t mesh with political action in the workplace. Who wants to see their local police officers in uniform and protesting anything at all? Can you imagine listening to your surgeon expound on some controversial topic just as you slip under anesthesia?

You could very well read this and say that my bleating is nothing but one more example of “White privilege” (funny, given my name), the smug mutterings of someone safe and secure and as close to immune from the dangers being discussed. I would understand your position. I would disagree, but I would understand, and more than that I would inherently realize that no amount of discussion on our mutual parts would change your mind. All good. I’m uncomfortable, and a little bit unhappy, and maybe that was always the point.

The risk is that my discomfort may make me stop listening. That’s probably not what the protesters are aiming for.

Hubris and Humility

“You want to shine but not so bright that you burn everyone in the room.” –Pharrell Williams

The hubris/humility axis an interesting ride, isn’t it? Like you I am watching Matt Frasier run away with this year’s CrossFit Games men’s competition. How will he respond when he is interviewed after his victory/coronation? Where will he land on that H&H line? It’s fascinating to watch someone who is truly extraordinary at what it is that they do walk the line. Indeed, it’s probably not possible to stand out if you don’t stand way to the ‘hubris’ side at some point, at least while you are at whatever it is you do.

This year marked the 26th annual White Family visit to Cape Cod. Like so many of our recent trips this one was filled with talk of illness and cures. We told stories from my Dad’s past (the world’s most arrogant heart surgeon was a favorite) and sadly from my mother-in-law’s present. The morning of my departure was spent seeing patients for whom I’d done surgery, alternately sharing in their delight at vision re-discovered and fending off what felt like over-enthusiastic praise. Like Matt, I’m really good at what I do, and quite frankly when I am about doing what I do I literally go into each “contest” convinced that there is no one in the world better than I am at that particular time.

Is that hubris, or just the confidence that any “athlete” must take into the arena at game time?

The difference probably rests on a couple of things. One must be ever aware that everyone has limits. True, if you are very, very good at what you do your limits may be so far to the right of the Bell Curve that it can seem like they don’t exist. Succumbing to that sense is precisely when confidence becomes arrogance; someone or something is going to break, eventually. One wonders how that arrogant heart surgeon handled the inevitable defeats in the OR.

Pharrell’s quote likely points¬†us to what it is that separates the arrogant from the humble, the realization that what you do well does not necessarily elevate you above those for whom you do it. One who allows himself to bathe too long or too often in the reflected light of his excellence gets burned just as surely as everyone and everything else.

Frasier, like Froning before him in the CrossFit world, will quite likely acquit himself well in his victory interview. He will allow that he worked very hard at his craft, and that his hard work paid off handsomely. His humility will show in that he will also point out that he was given many gifts, born with certain skills that he could then hone through his work and thus produce this singular achievement.

In the end what humility means is the difference between thankfulness and self-satisfaction. Again, Pharrell Williams: “As long as you’ve got your light, people will see you.”

Gardening and Friendship

In an airport, once again, traveling between friends and family, family and friends. Sadly, I’m on my own for these couple of legs. This “sandwich generation” stuff is getting harder by the day. MCO to BOS this morning as I travel from the funeral of my best friend’s Dad to what looks like an abridged version of the annual White Family Cape Cod adventure. We are down one parent, too, and the next generation is in the early stages of careers and families of their own which makes it difficult to get away for a week on the beach. My journey is solo as Mrs. bingo awaits the arrival of the Man Cub’s little sister who begins her own journey any day now.

In the middle of the sandwich, where we welcome babies into the family as we say goodbye to parents who leave, we hopefully share this stage with at least one good friend, and hopefully for our longevity three or more (turns out that’s a magic number). In addition to a brother with whom I cannot be closer and my darling bride with whom I could not be more in love, my journey has been blessed with a best friend who has ridden shotgun or been my driver for 40 years now. We have taken turns carrying each other whenever one of us needed the lift. Mostly we’ve just walked side by side, as friends do..

Friendship is on my mind quite often. I ponder it as I think about friends old and new. My 35th college reunion was a month or so ago, and I am pleasantly surprised at the number of old friends and friendly acquaintances who are emerging from the mists of my past. Misplaced, lost, or cast aside, the skeletons of friendships past walk with me, still.

We are blessed, fortunate beyond measure, if we can count among the masses a single friend. One to whom we can always turn, from whom we withhold nothing, who will give to us everything. To have more than one friend such as this is to have a kind of wealth that beggars description. My parents gave one in 1961; Rob, the friend who just lost his Dad, showed up in 1978.

If we are lucky enough to have such friends they are joined in the garden of our lives by that next best thing, friendly acquaintances, and these in turn are surrounded by acquaintances. The entire garden is encircled by farmland that lies, for the moment at least, unexplored. The enterprising gardener is always on alert for new seedlings out there to plant in that garden of friendship.

The garden analogy is an apt one for friendship. A garden requires tending and so, too, does a friendship. Left untended, left to chance, it is certainly possible for a garden to flourish. All too often both gardens and friendships ignored too long have a beauty that is but a cherished memory, seen only with the mind’s eye.

Friendship, like a garden, grows best when exposed to both sun AND rain, albeit for different reasons. A friendship that has known only sunny days may weather that first storm; a friendship that has known both sun and rain is steeled against any and all weather, especially if we gardeners were active in the tending despite the elements. So it has been for my friends and me.

Who is your friend? Who is there for you in both sunshine and rain? From whom do you wish only friendship, and who asks only the same from you? Have you done your part? Have you tended your garden in both sunshine AND rain?

I am in an airport, leaving my friend and headed toward my brother. It’s raining; we are all missing our Dad. But we have tended these gardens for decades. The sun will come out soon enough.

We Will All Become Orphans

Sadly, I have had numerous opportunities over the last year or so to note that there is not a single language on earth that has a word or name for a parent who has lost a child. Words exist to describe a surviving spouse, and of course we have a word in most languages for a child without parents: orphan. The word conjures up Dickensonian images of waifs and wastrels in varying degrees of distress and underdress, under-fed and unloved. In reality, despite the ubiquity of this stereotype, there are many, many ways that one becomes an orphan. Indeed, in a proper order of events, each of us will be orphaned by the loss of a second parent.

It is somewhat amazing to me how many people have lost a parent early in life through abandonment. A mother or a father simply ups and leaves. No forwarding address or email, just gone forever. It hurts just to type those words. What must it feel like to live them? Still others lose a parent for years on end before that parent actually dies. Mental illnesses of all sorts, most commonly the various types of dementia, essentially wipe a loved one’s personhood off the planet long before the empty shell passes on. It’s a rather cruel joke, that, to see what looks like your Mom or Dad sitting across from you like some kind of reasonable facsimile, an avatar perhaps, but not really Mom or Dad. Mourning begins years or decades before anyone sits Shiva.

In the end, though, orphanhood comes for us all, in one way or another. My friend Bill, the surgeon, expresses surprise and a sense of something that is a bit more than frustration, though slightly less than anger, at what he calls the “final reckoning” deathbed visit. Why, he so often wonders, do so many people, so many sons and daughters feel the need to achieve some sort of closure, some sort of final peace in the last waning hours of a life? Mind you, this is a man who practices “live and death” medicine; his point, forged so close to the fire, ought not be missed.

Mothers and fathers are no more or less flawed than any other humans. For most of us their flaws lie cloaked behind the curtains of devotion in our childhood. As we ourselves age, certainly if we become parents, those curtains part and we begin to see more of the whole person who makes up Mom or Dad. Blessed are we who find more to like and love behind those curtains. One hopes at worst that what we find does not dim the glow of childhood memory. Bill’s point, or at least what I think he is saying, is that we should know that orphanhood is inevitable. There is nothing that you can say or do on death’s doorstep that cannot be said or done long before you approach the threshold of your own orphan status. Bill would say that closure is important, that he understands and supports the compulsion to make sure that your parents know that you love them. It’s just the timing he’s wondering about.

Why wait until the cusp of orphanhood? Why not discharge regrets and express your love and gratitude when you and Mom and Dad can might have time to enjoy what comes next? Together.

 

Sunday musings 7/2/17

Sunday musings…

1) Calisthenics. From the Greek: “kalos” meaning beauty, and “thenos” meaning strength.

2) Size. Someone always as a bigger boat.

3) Anoesis: A state of mind which consists of pure sensation or emotion, devoid of any cognitive content.

I am on vacation this week, seeking the elusive state of anoesis.

4) Independence Day. July 4th, 1776. Brexit v1.0, if you will. In honor of the day I will re-read the Declaration of Independence, the document that we celebrate today. While I’m at it I think I will read the Constitution in its entirety. If I’ve done so in the past I have surely forgotten the experience.

Both efforts will surely be at cross purposes with my anoesis pilgrimage.

5) Somebody. Incognito (no bow tie; kept my mouth shut), I was out and about with Mrs. bingo yesterday. Nevertheless, I was recognized several times. “Aren’t you somebody?” Or even better/worse: “Weren’t you somebody?” In a see and be seen society these questions are asked with great regularity. The asking and the answering are equally amusing.

“Aren’t/weren’t you somebody?” Both questions are really rather bold and intrusive, don’t you think? What does it even mean to be a someone, anyway? If you ARE a someone what’s it like when somebody sees that you are someone but can’t figure out just who? I wonder if it’s hard, or maybe a little bit sad, someone remembering that you were once upon a time a someone and you aren’t any more.

The world of CrossFit has grown so much that there are actually FEWER somebodies nowadays. In the earliest days of CrossFit there were so few of us that it was relatively easy to be a “somebody” of a sort. Heck, there were so few of us around that no one was more than 2 degrees of separation from anyone else, including Coach. Really big CrossFit Central “somebodies” were at the other end of an email address or a cellphone number, and they responded to pretty much any CrossFitter who reached out. Gone from sight are OPT, Hari and Damnit, MattG and his flame wars. No more Appolloswabbie and Dale dueling with Barry or Prole on Rest Day. Brendan G is now part of a growing family with Allison_NYC, both only barely on the grid where once they were daily companions for most everyone CrossFit. Seriously, when is the last time you saw an update on one of the “Nasty Girls” Eva T, Annie, or Nicole? Someone needs to send out an APB.

Growth in the CrossFit world has decreased the number of household “somebodies” while at the same time dramatically changing those that remain into SOMEBODY.

There is nothing that is uniquely CrossFitty about this transition, of course. Any rapidly growing “new, new thing” will encounter this phenomenon. I once likened discovering CrossFit to not only living in Seattle in the earliest days of grunge metal, but of actually being in the audience when Nirvana or Pearl Jam were singing for beers. Hewlett and Packard left behind just as many early adopters and colleagues as did Gates and Jobs, people who were real “somebodies” in the earliest days of Silicon Valley tech. In the journey to “used to be someone” it matters little whether you stepped off the train or were jettisoned, you are now “used to be” either way.

At best I have never been more than a C-List somebody, here or anywhere. I doubt if anyone will ever seriously ask me: “didn’t you use to be…?”

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

“Chaos and Calm”: Father’s Day Sunday musings…

Sunday musings…

Chaos and calm. As far as I can see, and for as long as I’ve known, these are the only two states of being for a father.

To be sure, not all states of chaos are unpleasant, and there are innumerable degrees of calm. At the moment I am luxuriating in the calm of quiet, accompanied by only Tiny Tim and Abbie the Wonder Dog (both of whom have re-racked). A social creature, these moments of calm were once painfully lonely for me. Having rediscovered my “pen” they are now cherished little gifts, times during which I alternately “sits and thinks” and even “just sits”.

Father’s Day brings soft and warm memories of the other type of calm. Those times when I was with one or several of my children or my “extras” (thanks for the new vocabulary Dillie!). Memories of late summer 1988, coming home to “The Heir” in his infancy just in time to fall asleep with him swaddled and resting on my chest. Or tiny Barbie tea parties with “Lovely Daughter” in her “Megan-Loo Who” stage (from which she eventually acquired the nickname “Goobs”). There’s no yelling at a tea party, right? Lil’bingo and I would work on “construction projects” with his Tonka trucks that could last for hours. The best type of calm for a Dad isn’t lonely at all.

Chaos is just as much a double-edged sword. Man, why couldn’t there be a family frequent flyer program at the ER or the orthopedic surgeons’ office? Even chaos, though, is a net positive as a Dad. I find myself smiling as I remember all of the events we just barely got to on time, the “fire drill” leading up to our arrivals notwithstanding. The chaos of a house filled with toddlers, pre-teens, teens or young adults is filled with enough energy to light up a small city for a weekend. My sides are aching from the memories of the laughter.

Chaos and calm.

Father’s Day for me this year will be like every other Father’s Day since we welcomed “The Heir” so long ago. Unlike so many who use the day to do something like play golf or climb a mountain or some such, I will try to spend as many of my waking moments in the active pursuit of doing Dad stuff. Firing up the griddle this morning and making the bacon is so much more fun than breakfast in bed, the chaos of the Man Cub and the dogs and the timing of the delivery of our new grill (presents!) notwithstanding. I have always spent so, so much time away from my kids (and still so much away from my grandchildren) just doing the things that a breadwinner must do; on Father’s Day what I want more than anything is to be allowed to do Dad stuff as much I can. To be able to just be a Dad today is always my goal, always the best gift possible.

Chaos and calm. Happy Father’s Day to each of you lucky enough to enjoy both.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

A 35th Reunion: Sunday musings 6/11/17

Sunday musings…

1) Tech. There are no longer any toll booths on the Mass Pike. Big Brother simply knows you were there.

2) NoNo. Meeting up with ages-old friends in our mid-50′s the topic of what children will call grandparents came up. The best one? “NoNo”. Can’t you just see how this one happens? That Mom who had all kinds of rules when you were a kid following behind the toddlers and telling them “no, no” every time they pick something up?

Not a one of us had the guts to let that one stand, but every single one of us thought about it.

3) Name. What’s in a name, eh? I met the husband of a long-time ago friend this weekend for the first time. (As an aside, we would be friends who saw each other all the time if we lived closer). The last name was different from my friend’s maiden name, but something was just a little bit more than different. After looking and looking I finally asked. Turns out these two wonderful people just couldn’t bear to give up their family names, but at the same time they wanted a shared last name for their own family.

No hyphens for them; they just put their names together and started with a new, shared name. How lovely.

4) Beginning. Beth and I are cruising along the highway on our way to my primordial home. We just spent the weekend in the company of many of my college classmates at a 35th college reunion. Such a funny tradition, coming together every 5 years to remember times so long past in a place that pretends it is always and ever as it was when we were there (my alma mater is 224 years old). A part of you kind of expects that you and everyone else will be just like you were when you showed up for Freshman Days, your role and your place as immutable as it is when you go to a family reunion.

And you arrive and realize that neither you nor any of your classmates bear more than a passing resemblance to the children who were emptied out of the family wagon 39 years earlier.

5 years ago I was doing just exactly what I’m about now, writing about my Reunion. My abiding sense that day was of opportunity missed (there were a bunch of folks I really met for the first time at my 30th who I wished I’d known in school). This year? It’s funny, really. Along with fantastic, ridiculous and over-the-top success and prosperity, the most interesting among us were those whose victories were balanced by challenges that maybe didn’t turn out so well. There was a certain humility that I don’t remember from years past which came out as we talked about our marriages, our children, and for some of us our grandchildren. It was very nice, actually, openly and honestly sharing those kinds of things with peers who we would have felt too competitive towards in years past to take that kind of chance.

Leaving reunions has always felt like so many Brigadoon moments: always the same. Nothing new. No growth and no change. It’s different this year, for whatever reason. Driving away this time actually feels like a new beginning. Weird, huh? We are even taking a new route “home”. Off I go as if I’ve graduated once again, this time with a recalibrated sense of who I’ve become and where my friends and I fit together at the start of the rest of our lives. Reunions are meant to turn our view back, but it’s forward I look with a new appreciation for where I am rather than where I (and my classmates) used to be. Forward, consciously choosing those friendship opportunities not to miss this time around.

Some of us take a bit longer to finish college I guess.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

First Impressions: How You Say What You Say

Thinking about that charter school for inner city boys where the study of Latin is mandatory…

In my day job I work with folks of various backgrounds, both in terms of education and upbringing. In all walks of my public life I come in contact with an even broader swath of humanity in all regards. I routinely travel up and down the social, economic and educational ladders at work and at play. For the most part, with everyone I meet the language we all speak is English. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, USA after all. Our English, however, is hardly the same.

While we cannot truly escape our origins, as we cannot truly escape our genome, we can choose how we interact in the daily mechanics of society regardless of origin. For better or for worse this begins with how we speak. That old saw, you only get one chance to make a first impression, is especially true when you speak, and especially important because for the most part you can choose not only what you say but also how you say it.

There’s nothing new or striking about this concept, either. You can think of it as verbal situational awareness. You would (hopefully) speak differently to a priest than you would the surfer dude sitting next to you beyond the break. On the phone with the cable company should sound very different I think than on the phone with your BFF. All speech is by definition qualitatively different than a text or an email because speaking implies hearing; speaking and hearing involve the inclusion of inflection, tone, and tempo. Really basic stuff.

Why, then, is it so brutally common to hear such poor English? Poor grammar, improper word usage, a situational tone-deafness? This doesn’t even begin to touch on the concept of working vocabulary (BTW, the person with the largest working vocabulary I’ve ever met is responsible for my ¬†little CrossFit thing). Once upon a time one heard much about “Proper English” or “The Queen’s English.” What happened?

In English we do not have the French equivalent of “Tu” vs. “Vous”. No lazy man’s way to “polite-up” our speech. A certain unearned familiarity is too often presumed. We take way too many liberties with grammar, and frankly we too infrequently make the effort at “polished” English when it’s time to do so. That first impression thing is incredibly affected when you open your mouth to speak, on the up and the down sides. It is equally jarring to hear the word “ineluctable” from a guy in faded jeans and a baseball cap turned backwards (up) as it is to hear “me and Joey are gonna go…” from a guy in a suit and starched collar (down).

The stark reality is that there are no barriers to the “up” version of English. There is no genetic, social, or economic barrier blocking the acquisition of the ability to speak well, and by extension to acquire the situational awareness to know when it is vital to do so. All that is required is the effort to learn that version of English that we know as “proper”, and the effort to learn when. Those young men learning Latin at that charter school are off to a great start. It’s not necessary to speak like this all the time. You can choose to “let your hair down” so to speak–my love for the versatility of the “F-bomb” is well known in certain circles–but a lack of virtuosity in the English domain is a choice.

There are many aspects of a “first impression” over which we may have little control. Don’t choose to let your English be one of them.