Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Posts Tagged ‘musings’

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.


I am the world’s second worst texter. I’m not sure who is the worst texter, but I’m pretty sure that there can’t be more than one person who is worse than I am. I’m not too concerned about that, though, nor am I all that interested in making much improvement. I just can’t stand the pressure.

Haven’t you noticed? Unlike a phone call where it’s totally OK to let it go to voicemail, there’s an expectation that a text is going to elicit an immediate response. Actually not so much of an expectation as a demand. Call it “textpectation”.

How do I handle the pressure of “textpectation”? Easy. I simply continue to aggressively suck at texting. I have effectively lowered expectations so far that any response at any time is considered something just short of a “visitation”.

YMMV, but if you’ve sent me a text, don’t take it personally.

Success Comes With Gratitude. A Thanksgiving Musing

[On this Thanksgiving day once again I offer this piece on the importance of gratitude, on being truly thankful. Indeed, it may very well be that it is impossible to be successful without also being thankful.]

So much we could talk about this morning. Religious extremists and their violence. Intolerance of various kinds expressed in various ways and in various places. Friendship, and those who would impose restrictions thereupon. Financial models both micro and macro, and how they affect those downstream from the “decisioners”. I could go on and on before I even start.

Rather than contemplate any of these in the kind of depth they deserve, let’s rather consider a bigger theme and look at it from different altitudes. My friend Dave posted a little thoughtlet on “success”, and it started a very nice conversation about what actually constitutes success and why. Thinking about success may provide us with a platform from which we might think about the other issues that may be orbiting our little personal planets.

Dave’s post was this: “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.” To parse this one must begin with a definition or at least an understanding of what success is, and equally importantly, what it is not. There are many terms that are often associated with success, things like wealth and power and fame. Is it necessary to have any, or all, of these to be a success? Can you be successful in the absence of any, or all, of these? Where would one fall on the gratitude/entitlement continuum if one were to have any, or all?

This is really tricky, and I’m afraid that when I’m done you will likely have more questions than answers, maybe even more than you had when you started. That may actually be the point now that I think of it. Success probably relates to what I shared last week about “All” or Everything” in that the proper definition of success emanates from within, not without, and this I think is what Dave is implying when he makes the distinction based on gratitude vs. entitlement.

Let’s use an example, a very famous example, to try to illustrate this and prompt some thought: Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs as you know was cut down in the prime of his life by a disease that has no known cause. Was he a success? He was wealthy, famous, and wielded great power both inside and outside his company. He was married to his only spouse, and together they had healthy children (2, if memory serves). A life to be envied, no? One to which many (most?) might aspire.

A deeper dive at least suggests another story, though. It appears that Mr. Jobs, unlike his one great peer Bill Gates, had few if any close friends. Indeed, within his company and his industry he left behind a trail of despair. All one reads about is how hard it was to work with or for him. He won…for sure he won way more than he lost…but did he succeed? Was he successful? I never once read or heard anything from Mr. Jobs that implied that he was grateful for either any of his wins, or any of the spoils of his victories. There were a couple of whispers about an end of life wistfulness about a paucity of connection, though.

I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Jobs, and Heaven knows his family surely misses him. I think his example might soften the “entitlement” part of the equation a bit as I never really got a sense of that from him (as opposed to, say, your favorite rich and famous Kardashian). Being grateful, however, bespeaks connection, a very certain acknowledgement that the concrete parts of success–money, fame, power–are without any real value unless they somehow allow you to share them. This, in turn, brings with it the humility that comes from realizing that you can’t be truly successful if success is only something you can count rather than something you can feel.

No one is entitled to victory, let alone success. In order to feel successful you must be able to admit that you neither did it alone, nor can you truly enjoy it alone. The gratitude felt by the successful is one born of thankfulness for the opportunity you must have been given, and borne aloft by the desire for your success to be one that is felt by not only you, but by others you are thankful to have in your life.

What does being successful mean to you? Rich or poor, famous or anonymous…are you successful?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from me and all of mine.


The Enemy is the Couch

One of the repeating themes in all of my writings on fitness is that it is exponentially more important that one gets off the couch than it is what one does after getting up. To be sure, we in the CrossFit community have been reasonably and accurately accused of being zealous in our support of our chosen post-couch activity. Unlike “Fight Club” it has been observed that the first rule of Crossfit must be that you ALWAYS talk about CrossFit. Fair dinkum. Still, while we may be proven more right than not in the end, there exist other effective fitness options.

My nephew, a retired hockey and lacrosse player, has found his post-collegiate sweet spot in one of the cycling/spinning communities. His preferred version is “Soul Cycle”, but that’s probably more like saying Ben & Jerry’s when you really mean ice cream. You and I know all kinds of folks who swear by Pilates, Barre, various and sundry types of Yoga, and the legions of people who lace ‘em up and run at all kinds of levels at all kinds of times in all kinds of places. In the end even the most zealous among us has to admit that each and every one of these non-CF activities are substantially better than continuing in an unhealthy relationship with your couch.

Fitness, and by extension health, are profoundly complex entities. Hence my own personal difficulty in arriving at a single integer that can be used to measure relative health. It also explains the abject failure of the collective whole of the health wearables industry to come up with a single meaningful, actionable measurement. Still, we ought not dismiss the wearables industry entirely if for no other reason that putting on that Fitbit, or launching Health on your Apple Watch more often than not is like magic; it levitates your ass off that couch.

Simplifying our discussion about fitness and health along the straight line between relatively high intensity exercise versus what could be called long-slow aerobic exercise blinds us to both the essential value of forsaking the couch, while at the same time limiting our ability to explore why it is that there doesn’t seem to be that one, single best approach. Part of the genius of CrossFit is that it starts with a definition and then demands measurement. CrossFit proper has enjoyed explosive growth, growth which is now also occurring in a parallel universe of derivative programming offered by trainers who got their start owning a Box. Is it, are they, better than everything else out there?

Does it matter?

Zero sum games require that someone lose in order that another wins. Likewise, a zero sum grading of ideas means that one eventually must become axiomatic at the expense of the demise of another. Zone/macro quantitative strategies of nutrition vs. Paleo and similar qualitative strategies, for example. A complex system demands that we constantly assess not only the “games” themselves, but also the relationships between the various “games”. Perhaps the greatest gift that I have received from my discovery of CrossFit and the CrossFit community is my ongoing curiosity about all things fitness, and by extension my willingness and desire to pursue the inquiry. By extension I have learned that what works for me may not necessarily work for you.

Is it better to do my CrossFit Rx or my nephew’s Soul Cycle? The answer of course is ‘yes’. Should one do the “Taking Back Eating” macro program or find health in “The Paleo Solution”? Likewise: ‘yes’. Broad acclimations await better measurement followed by the evaluation of those measurements across very large groups of people. However, you and I need not await those conclusions because we can embark on a highly actionable study of our own, n=1.

All it takes is getting off the couch.


Meaning in an Indifferent Universe

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.” –Stanley Kubrick

Man is the only species, on Earth at least, that seeks meaning in life. Once food, clothing, and shelter are secured, Man then turns his attention both inward and outward, in the quest for for some understanding of why we exist, a quest to make our existence meaningful. Alone among all creatures, we do not subsist (I eat, therefor I am) so much as insist (I think, therefore I am).

The great Religions of the Near East and Near West define a meaningful life in terms of fealty to a deity and His edicts. Further East and meaning is acquired by coming ever closer to enlightenment. New World religions assign meaning to the achievement of harmony among all life forms. But what of the emerging worlds in which the great Religions hold little sway?

Death is immutable, and it is death against which all meaning is measured. What came before can be ever and always dismissed as abstract, but what comes after is inextricably tied to what constitutes a meaningful life. Again, Kubrick: “If we can accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death–however mutable man may be able to make them–our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment.”

How is this necessarily so? Why would it be so? Is it because Man as a species can and does sit down to think? If the universe is indeed indifferent and it is Man who introduces meaning, must it not be that our universe is man-made? Whether through acts of omission or commission, consequences intended or unintended, it’s hard to escape this conclusion. Herein lies the essential challenge of seeking meaning in life: meaningful for whom?

Adherents to the great Religions are set here. Meaning is parsed by some higher being. For the rest of us an epic societal tug-of-war exists externally. The furthest to one side posits that meaning ends at the tip of a nose, while the other extreme holds that it knows better and will tell you what you should find meaningful. The truth, at least the actionable truth, lies as always somewhere in between.

Once more, to Kubrick: “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” Herein, I believe, lies the lesson. Meaning, writ small or large, can only be created within. The light of meaning is self-generated, but like all light it can be shared. Must be shared. It is in sharing whatever light we might have or create, however dim we might find it, that makes a meaningful life. What light we create is what separates us from all other life, for Man is alone in his ability to shine that light for others, then see and act upon that which is illuminated.

In the end, the Universe may very well be indifferent, but we need not be. Meaning, in life, may be as simple as the absence of indifference.

The Solo System: Friendship and their Orbits

Friend: a person who has a strong liking for and trust in a another person. –Miriam-Webster’s

This weekend my wife and I will visit my closest (non-family) friend. Friendship has been on my mind of late. Truth be told, some version of that sentence accurately describes some part of my day pretty much every day, just a bit more so of late. You can never have enough friends and all. True enough that, but one should reflect a bit on what it is that constitutes friendship, and what it means to be a friend.

Once upon a time in college I embarked on an adventure, a hitchhiking journey to meet up with mates from college, eventually landing on the beach in North Carolina. My Dad was dead set against it. It was time for me to go to work for the summer, and quite honestly the itinerary was more than a little “skinny” on details.

Me: “But Dad, these guys are my friends!”

Dad: “Probably not. In 10 years you may not even know a single phone number for one person who was there. You are lucky if you have a single friend in the world.”

Man, I hated him for that. I left angry and returned triumphant (God watches over fools and Irishmen). Sure enough, only one among that group remains, and he only a warm afterthought. My Dad, of course, was spot on.

Each of us lives in a galaxy of people who swirl around us as if we were a pre-Galilean Earth. Think Brian Regan’s famous “Science Fair” bit: “The big yellow one is [me].” This very center of this solo system is made up of our friends, however few. They are close enough to touch, always in view. Surrounding this inner circle is a slightly larger one filled with friendly acquaintances, people who may once have been friends or may yet become friends, but at present a group of people we are genuinely happy to see but don’t necessarily go out of our way to do so. Next is that mass of people we’ve met, a group not notable for anything; we don’t think of them at all. There are enemies, too, but for now let’s leave them be. All of this floats in a universe of beings we’ve yet to, or will never meet.

What is it that moves one from the orbit of friendly acquaintances into that innermost sphere of friends? The mechanics of it are really quite banal: shared experiences, a kind of proximity (geographic or in our modern world electronic), enough values held in common that you can forgive those that are different. It’s subtle, the difference between a friendly acquaintance and a friend. Heck, you may have some friendly acquaintances who like you, like who you are just as much as your friend. Maybe more. The difference, I think, is not so much in the liking as it is in the trusting and the caring.

Your friend cares about you. Cares what you think. He pauses before he acts or speaks and takes a moment to think about you before he does either. Someone with whom you are friendly might meet you halfway on something, but your friend will go way beyond that toward you because he cares a bit more about what you think than maybe even what he might. While your friendly acquaintance will likely never hurt you your friend will protect you from hurt. Might even take the hit for you and suffer so that you might not.

Because of this you trust your friend in a way that you trust no one other than your closest family. In a sense you’ve pre-forgiven him because you know…you just know…that he not only will he not hurt you, but he will be ever vigilant against doing so even by accident. My Dad was right. You don’t get very many of these. Indeed, most are fortunate to get one at a time.

Your little solo system is ever-changing; people move in and out of orbits, sometimes inward and sadly occasionally out. People grow differently. They change or they move. The work of friendship is hard because it requires looking outward at the same time you allow another to look in. It’s a high wire/high risk enterprise, being someone’s friend. In many ways it’s as if your very soul is in the harness, and your friend is on belay. And in your hand you hold the rope that allow’s YOUR friend’s soul to soar.

Right beside yours.

Yours ever in friendship,

Someone Is Keeping Your Receipts

Once upon a time records were kept prospectively in order to support some sort of existence. Transactions of some sort or another would be the most common example. Of course, if one wished to avoid or deny the existence of some sort of transaction, or indeed to deny the existence of some event, one simply had to avoid the creation of a “paper trail” which documented some part of that event. Receipts involved commerce, and if you spent just the tiniest bit of time thinking about it you could limit the number of receipts that were out there.

Now? Not so much. A “receipt” is now any type of irrefutable documentation of some event. Sure, that credit card receipt puts you in that Uber at 0200 in SoHo, but so does the Tweet that mentioned you in passing. Or the pic your companion SnapChatted and was saved as a screenshot. The ultimate, all-time greatest receipt was a certain dress that never made it to the dry cleaners, but nowadays scandals as great or orders of magnitude tinier are rendered factual by the seemingly banal.

Thinking back it’s funny, how I got to be “bingo” here and elsewhere. In those early days of online communication one gave reasonable thought as to whether it was prudent to use your own name online. Heck, my prenup consists of a single line: “Darrell will not run for elected office” so that the family would be spared the scrutiny of an election. To be anonymous in today’s world it takes either herculean effort (try to find something about the family that owns Perdue Pharma, for example), or a complete indifference to that which seems to drive western societies (think bridge troll). What was once the “paper trail” became the “digital footprint” and is now a ubiquitous “universal map” of your life. Does it even matter? One wonders in this day of Alexa and Siri and paying for the privilege of placing the equivalent of Big Brother v1.0 in your own home.

I have endeavored, here and elsewhere, to make kindness the currency of my transactions. Indeed, CrossFit.com (and my blog) have been little “behavioral gyms”, if you will, where I have practiced making kindness the irreducible movement in my interactions. The on-line world in its earlier days was kind of a mulligan for folks of my generation. Not a day goes by that one or another of us sighs in relief that cellphone cameras and social media had yet to be invented when we were young. Now? Now it’s a running tab, a veritable windfall for the social accountants who tally up the score. They are everywhere, and it matters not how many degrees of separation they are from you and Kevin Bacon.

Someone always keeps the receipts.


Cost + Quality + Convenience = Value

My wife Beth and I had a rather spirited discussion about how we in the U.S. might be able to pay for the healthcare of our citizens. Being ever practical, and also owning the job of writing the checks that pay for the “health insurance” our company offers its associates (including us), Beth in effect is arguing for a national consensus on something we might describe as a baseline ‘value’ for healthcare. Others would label her concept a ‘floor’, but you get the idea.

What Beth intuitively understands is the tension between cost, quality, and convenience. You pick a baseline or a floor level of value and offer that to everyone. With training as a nurse and 15 years in healthcare administration, her idea of what constitutes the sum of cost, quality, and convenience naturally overweights the integers for cost and quality: outcomes should be essentially equal across the board at the baseline or floor level, and the costs of achieving that should be in some way equitably shouldered by something we could describe as “society”. Very practical. A strategy that lends itself to being observable and measurable.

What’s the rub? Well, only two of the three elements that make up value are covered. To obtain an agreed upon level of medical outcomes (mortality, morbidity, longevity, etc.) the cost is covered. Ah, but HOW you obtain those outcomes is still a variable. It is the FLOOR of value that is guaranteed. Our family is experienced a bit of this recently with Beth’s Mom. After a hospitalization she was living in a setting that ws providing excellent care at a reasonable cost, but it was a setting that did not provide any extras; it was old, not very pretty, and she could  have had a roommate. Her (and her daughters’) experience, what we might call “convenience” or  in our formula, was found to be lacking. The girls opted to move her to a nicer setting, one that will eventually involve a higher cost because of the enhancements to the experience, with no change in the already best possible outcome, or quality.

Therein lies the problem with any discussion about literally anything that we might discuss as a “right”. Is everyone entitled to anything other than the minimal amount of convenience/experience necessary to obtain the best outcome at an affordable cost?

If we examine food, we find something quite similar. No one among us would say that X Million people should go without food. Indeed, we don’t even really talk about true hunger in the U.S. anymore, we talk about “food insecurity”, the concern that we may become hungry. By the same token, though, no one asserts that everyone is entitled to the same quality of food. Not even a little bit. No, quite the contrary, all that is discussed is cost and convenience (access).

Now, of course, we in the CrossFit world (and to a degree in the medical world) argue that quality is an ineluctable part of nutrition, that one must extend the equation outside of food alone so that an explicit choice is made that prioritizes quality calories over other purchases (cell phone, cable, fancy car, etc.). While this is accurate and proper I believe that we can reasonably quarantine nutrition and keep it separate from other needs, at least for the purpose of our discussion. The universal concept of the interplay between cost, quality, and convenience holds true in nutrition/food on a global, grand policy making level:

You can pick any two, but only two, when you are declaring what is the minimally acceptable level.

My formulaic approach to the coverage of needs has a little wrinkle that should be mentioned: quality cannot be increased ad infinitum. In all examples we might evaluate there is a practical limit to the ability to improve quality or outcomes. The law of diminishing returns arrives in the form of the asymptote as quality rises. On the other hand, cost and convenience are unbound and can rise almost infinitely. It is the alcohol in a drink that confers the health benefit; the same outcome occurs no matter what you drink. One person’s jug wine from Costco is another person’s Chateau Lafite served in the Gulfstream V. You get the picture.

What will become of our conversations about issues such as healthcare? Will we arrive at a similar juncture to the one we have now in food, clothing, and shelter? Where quality (outcomes) and cost issues are addressed and everyone is left to make their own call on convenience/experience? Beth can’t see how it can be any other way. Me? I’m much less optimistic. That old “want vs. need” thing just keeps popping up. Confusion arises when a truly generous people confuse what people want with what they need. Need is measurable and therefore finite, whereas want is neither. We can, and should, all work to pick up the check for the needs of each. “Want”, on the other hand, is the proverbial “free lunch”, and we as a society will need to agree on that before we can even begin to discuss begin to talk about the mechanics of paying the bill.

TANSTAAFL. Heinlein was right.


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.

Contentment, Complacency, and My Fitness Tracker

Where does being content end and being complacent begin? As an older athlete this question is just dogging me. The parallel question might be where is the line between being content and capitulating? These are both, of course, extensions of some of my recent thoughts on balancing the effects of relatively high intensity workouts with the countervailing effects on recovery, plus or minus injury.

There might be a more scientific answer to these, at least in so far as fitness is concerned, and it would come from of all places the fitness tracker world. As it turns out my latest tracker(s) have the ability to measure the beat-to-beat variation in heart rate (HRV). This measurement is a proxy for autonomic nervous system activity. A lower HRV means autonomic stress. If correlated with the previous day’s workout that would argue for either a lower intensity session or rest.

Is HRV ready for prime time? Well, world class endurance athletes and many professional athletes in other sports certainly think so. How about for us, the regular folks hoping to improve our fitness and along with that our health? Dunno. I’m impressed and frankly a little depressed to find that my HRV responded so classically to what was for me an intense WOD yesterday. For this to work one must have the discipline to dial it back if your HRV is low on a particular day (be content with your work), but also the discipline to ramp it up when your HRV is high (fight complacency and go to work).

In a busy life it is likely the second part that will prove the more difficult.