Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘musings’

Guidelines for Life

Sleep was late in coming. I stayed up texting with a West Coast friend and professional colleague, thinking and reminiscing about the 3 core guiding principles that helped me (and in many ways him) make it through our training and early professional careers. All 3 have stood the test of time, have continued to inform my best decisions both professional and personal, and over the 30 years now since I first said the out loud I’ve only needed to add one additional guideline.

“Knowledge is power.” One is at such a profound disadvantage if there is asymmetry in the amount of information they possess relative to those with whom they interact that at a certain point those not “in the know” cease to be independent entities. Without knowledge, awareness of the ground as Sun Tzu would say, you are at the mercy of another. You must depend upon their kindness for, well, almost everything.

“Perception is more important than reality.” The explanation of this, of course, is that perception is the reality of perceiver. While you could say that this is simply an extension of the first guideline–creating the perception is in some way controlling the knowledge–I would simply say that one need only look at the deeply held worldview of some of the U.S. voting public, their perception of what is real and what is important, to illustrate that perception comes from within. This is all the more so when dealing with “one issue” voters. Understanding this should inform your approach to any situation whatsoever. What does this individual perceive at this moment? That becomes the reality with which you will be dealing, your version notwithstanding.

“Evolution is better than revolution.” Funny to have initially stated something like that  on CrossFit.com, the home of a truly disruptive revolution in fitness, eh? Again, this CrossFit that I have so wholly embraced must be the example that renders this guideline moot. Here is where my conversation with Dave that night was so helpful, for Dave was (and still is) a man in a hurry to effect change for the better: evolution involves a conscious attempt to minimize unnecessary collateral damage. Sometimes that damage is directed at oneself, and thinking more along the lines of the “long game” is also sometimes a very reasonable approach to self-preservation. After all, the fire of revolution burns brighter the nearer it gets to the revolutionary. My friend Dave now seeks change in the cool contemplative glow somewhat removed from the fire, conscious always of the need to care for, and be careful for, the growing flock that surrounds him.

To these 3 I have added a line from the Tao te Ching: “The man who knows when enough is enough, will always have enough.” While this particular guideline has not been particularly helpful in my outward looking life, it has done more to aid in my inward looking experience than anything otherwise has (the exception being my 35 year quest to be a better husband). Those of us who live in the West are under a constant sensory barrage that demands that we submit to the need to acquire. More. More and more of everything. More because it’s, you know, more. To be honest, I gave this little more than lip service until I actually lost quite a bit of  stuff. Being reminded that almost all of it was something I wanted, rather than needed, allowed this guideline to bring an internal peace that was missing.

These 3 original guidelines have served me well lo these 30 years or so. Adding and committing to the fourth has brought me peace in the bargain. They may or not work for you; they may be nothing more than tinder to light the fire of your own guiding principles. Some day perhaps I’ll share the epiphanies of 9/11 and Heinlein that underly the tactical application of these 3 strategies, but there’s plenty to think about in these simple suggestions. “Knowledge is power.” “Perception is more important than reality.” “Evolution is better than revolution.” “Enough is enough.”

Friendship Rings

There are, I think, 5 groups of people around each one of us. True friends occupy the closest orbit, the small and intimate center of the bullseye. The next ring holds our Friendly Acquaintances, folks with whom we share happiness but not necessarily the intimacy, ease, and confidences of true friendship. Surrounding this ring is the one holding our Acquaintances, folks we simply know. Orbiting these concentric rings is a (hopefully tiny) globe of enemies; sadly we all have some. All of this floats in the vast sea of those unmet.

Do you know the difference between a “friendly acquaintance” and a friend? What draws the line for you? How many true friends do you have? What does it take for you to be someone’s friend? Is your bullseye static or dynamic? What moves people into and out of the rings in your friendship bullseye? Is there room in your bullseye for a new true friend? How do you feel when it becomes clear that someone is just a friendly acquaintance and not the friend you thought? How does it feel to make a new friend?

Beth and I have had a very dynamic bullseye of late, prompting me to return to this yet again as I try to make sense of recent events. Old friends lost and found. Discovering friendly acquaintances in our group of friends, acquaintances among our friendly acquaintances. New friends who have arrived through an open side door, unbidden and unannounced, to fill the empty spaces abandoned by others.

One can never have enough friends.

The Ghosts of Savannah

Savannah is populated by hundreds, maybe thousands, of ghosts. In truth if we met any  when we visited I either didn’t notice or don’t remember. They, the ghosts that is, are all said to be sad or angry. If Savannah does indeed have ghosts it stands to reason that they ALL aren’t angry or sad, and that got me to thinking about ancestors.

Have you ever examined your heritage? You know, looked at what’s swimming in your gene pool, and where it’s been through history? There’s probably a ton in there, probably a ton of information that is worth knowing. History is awfully cool, a rich and vibrant panorama that can be viewed from any spot and examined in either direction. Your OWN history is like this. You should know your own story.

The entry of grandchildren has focused my attention on our family’s stories. Beth went through hers while she filled in a “My Family” book for the Man Cub. I have my version of that book lying on my nightstand, and I’d better hop to it and fill it in with my Mom’s help the next time we get together. There’s no indication that Mom is planning on joining the brigade of ghosts any time soon, but just the same, she and I should make time to do this.

Some of your own heritage may still be around, their panorama moving ever slower as they spool toward the end of their part of the story. Are they happy? Are they fulfilled? Have they imparted all they, and you, need? If they were to leave this life, if there be ghosts, would they be those quiet, happy types, or the sad angry ones that provide fodder for tour guides “crawling” the haunts of Bogart and his ilk? Time grows short for your living heritage, for them and for you.

If there be ghosts, might you be wise to learn their stories before they cross over?

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.

The Final Glide Path

My gentle, sweet, and much beloved father-in-law is now on his final glide path. As sad as we all are to be witness to this last landing we are equally joyous at this bonus year we’ve all enjoyed. What a gift it has been. You see, Bob was told he had a scant few months to live almost 1 1/2 years ago. Through a combination of good fortune, excellent modern medical care, a strong foundation of fitness (Bob’s trainer used CrossFit principles in his training!), and his drive to thrive, he has graced us with innumerable moments of love and joy we had no expectation of sharing.

Nothing focuses your attention on what matters in life so completely as imminent death. It’s quite a shame, actually. What we as an extended family have done over these last 15 months or so has come to seem quite natural and, while not easy, not terribly difficult to pull off either. Our efforts have centered on love and kindness. Full stop. We have all made an effort to connect so that we might express and share our love. That we might give ourselves extra opportunities to be kind to one another. It has certainly taken a bit of work, and for some of us it has tasked us with looking carefully at how we prioritize our lives. In the end, though, we all discovered that the effort/outcome equation has fallen squarely on the good side: we got more out of the effort than we ever thought we could.

Listen, it’s never the same before you see the glide path beginning. To conclude this little snippet by imploring you to totally re-order your life as if you, or someone special to you, is soon to land their flight forever is so trite it’s little more than drivel. It’s not natural, and none of us can do it. What is possible, though, is to inject just a bit more of that love and kindness into your everyday thoughts and actions with your loved ones now. If you get the same kind of optimization of your effort as we all in Beth’s family have received (and as an aside, what my family achieved during my Dad’s illness) perhaps you can try to add just a little more of each over time. It’s very CrossFitty, that. A little more love and a little more kindness offered today in the hope that tomorrow you and your loved ones will be a little bit closer, a little bit happier together than you were yesterday.

As for us, all that is left is to fasten our seatbelts as we hope for fair winds and the gentlest of landings.

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.