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Archive for April, 2014

Heart Capacity

How much space do you have in your heart? We talk in my CrossFit world about work capacity, how much can you move how far or how fast, but today I’m wondering about the capacity to extend your heart to others. Let me tell you a story.

Some 40 years ago a young man was struck by a car and suffered a concussion. While he was hospitalized his mother became ill and died in another hospital. For reasons too complex to share here, the young man’s father was not capable of raising the boy and his older brother so they were taken in by their uncle, the mother’s brother, his wife and 3 kids.

A little extra room in that house, but not really enough. Ditto for money. What they did have enough of it turns out was room in their hearts for two boys suddenly without a family. Room it turns out to treat the nephews as if they were their own children. They sent all 5 children to college, and if memory serves all 5 have graduate degrees. All supported by a couple who found that they had enough room in their hearts to find a way to make enough room everywhere else.

Fast forward 30 years or so from that fateful day in the hospital. The brothers are sitting with the only parents they have (sadly, the father also died long ago), celebrating the first day of school for a son. This family cherished learning, and each year the first day of school for the next generation was a time for all to gather. For whatever reason the aunt and uncle who took the brothers were reflective that morning.  They  said they had but one regret, that they had not formally adopted the boys when they took them in. The boys, now men, had clearly learned the lesson of the untapped capacity in one’s heart. At age 40 and 45 and with the blessings of their cousins, they arranged to be adopted by the uncle and aunt who found room everywhere else when it was clear they already had room in their hearts. A next generation now officially had grandparents.

The announcement for the adoptions were extraordinary. I won’t do the memory justice, but they read something like this: “The Honorable Judge and Mrs. _ wish to announce the arrival of their sons on this very blessed day in 2004. Lawrence M, 5’9″ and 185 pounds and his brother Mark 5’8″ and 185 pounds officially became a part of the ___ family today. Please join us in celebrating our joy.”

Each and every day we learn that our physical boundaries are artificial, self-made restrictions on our capacity. Indeed, the more we expand our physical capacities the more unbounded they seem to become. The lesson in my friend’s story, I’m sure, is that we have a similarly broad and probably untapped capacity in our hearts for love. Like that aunt and uncle, each of us has more room in our hearts than we imagine, just waiting, like our broad fitness capacity, for that time when it is needed.

With that much untapped capacity in our hearts I’m sure that somehow we, like that uncle and aunt so long ago, would find enough room for everything else.


Competition: Post Your Own Score

Why do we compete? In many ways it’s the nature of the beast, part of the human condition. There’s an aspect of competition inherent in just surviving the toils of everyday life, those zero-sum competitions that are unavoidable and require that you try to win. Or roll over, but I can’t imagine that too very many of us here are in that habit.

What I’m more interested in is the competitions we volunteer for, and beyond that how we choose to handle both those competitions and ourselves while competing. Do you compete as a vehicle for self-evaluation? Self-improvement? To rank yourself relative to a peer group? What metric do you use in any of these? Is it effort or progress, or is it comparison with some external marker? No answers here, really, just a gentle prod to think about these questions before committing to the competition.

It’s instructive to observe someone competing, especially if that someone is you and you are able to be a detached observer either during or after the fact. I grew up in a golfing family, and in many ways I learned about how a man is supposed to carry himself by being a caddy and getting an up close view of men competing. Golf is a pretty cool vehicle for this. You call penalties on yourself. Your next shot is played from whatever clusterfluck you created with your previous shot. There is a well-established and time-honored etiquette meant to be followed win, lose, or draw. You learn a lot about a man or a woman by watching them compete on a golf course.

Why do you compete? Only you know the answer, and the rest of us can only know if you should choose to share that with us. How you compete is entirely different. Each and every one of us who is witness to that has a brief and telling insight into who you are when we watch you in the game. Even when no one else is watching the insight is still there for you if you are willing to watch. Even when you are alone the measure is till taken in some cosmic way, for in any competition you will still know how you played. In life or in the game, with or without a judge, you always know if the rep was good, if your ball moved or not.

Your measure is taken by how you post your score.


When did a difference of opinion become a de facto conflict? When did the evaluation of another come down to whether or not they hue to a fine line of agreement on a single, or a few, or G0d forbid, every issue? When did this phenomenon morph into one in which a difference of opinion then becomes the basis for labeling another as ‘good’ or bad’?

Am I the only one who’s noticed this?

I’m not talking about a difference of opinion which is then followed by a concerted attack, one that forces you to identify the holder of the other opinion as ‘bad’ and enemy. There’s nothing new to see there. One only has so many cheeks to turn. Eventually you need to fight or flee an attack, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

On a personal, local, and national level we could once identify broad stroke issues on which we could generally base a level of agreement or disagreement, very few of which would be a ‘deal-breaker’ when it came to civil discourse. The first part of this, the existence of broad stroke issues, remains true. What is fundamentally different in my mind is how un-moveable many of us have become on ever more minute details as we drill down from the 30,000 foot view. All well and good, I suppose, to seek fidelity to an ever more granular level of agreement on whatever issue is at hand, especially in this age when we have ever greater ways in which to find and connect with people of a like mind.

What I don’t get is the subsequent labeling of any and all others as “bad”. Unworthy. Lesser in some way because they do not agree at every level with a particular–very particular–point of view. As I remember it the “80-20” Rule pretty much applied to belief systems as well as business: if you shared 80% of your beliefs with another that was plenty good enough to allow a friendship, and certainly enough to inoculate against a conflict. Now? Seems like something more like the “980-20” rule: only the smallest amount of the most trivial difference of opinion is permissible. Anything more than nuance between people and they’re going to the mattresses. Anything more than nuance and we’ve identified something other, something lesser, something to destroy.

What’s up with that?

You could say that anything other than full devotion to a cause , concept or worldview is not pragmatism but something more akin to weakness. An inferiority of spirit, perhaps. You could say that nothing other than total fidelity to some grand theme or concept is acceptable and brook no deviation from a one, true path. I would say that the world is infinitely too complex to approach life in this manner. I would further say that to do so needlessly isolates you from people who might very well bring infinite joy to your life despite differential nuance or even a fundamental disagreement on any one issue. Living and letting live rather than seeing a difference of opinion as identifying the other as an enemy might just mean a more pleasant life filled with more people who might be better described as friends, or at least friendly.

At the very least perhaps we could just agree to disagree and be on our way.


Disruption vs. Disrupting

In any competitive arena, be it sports or business, a ‘zero-sum’ environment demands a level playing field for all contestants. Rigging the game makes one segment of the players winners from the get-go, and all others simply dupes who are there to feed the riggers. Rigging the game is different in my opinion from figuring out a better way to play, or just simply being better. It’s like knowing the next 5 cards that will be turned in poker, or being the only player to have a map of every obstacle on the course before you start.

A true disruption is a deviation from the status quo, one from which no one turns back. The micro-computer on the desktop spelled the doom of the hegemony of the mainframe. Constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity may prove to do the same to what we think of as traditional fitness. The business model of decentralized ownership of fitness training facilities is certainly disruptive to the established fitness business model, as is the “least rents” business model of CrossFit, Inc. to the franchise model which thus far still dominates.

The connection between the concept of disruption and game-rigging is this: when the game-riggers represent the status quo, the disruption is more often loud and messy as the establishment clings to their position with ever smaller handholds. Think high-speed stock trading, where the incumbent industry powers can see your bids before your sellers’, getting in and out of a trade before you and profiting because they could see your offer but you couldn’t see theirs. This is hardly true disruption, it’s just a better version of something called “front running”. The game is rigged, like having one of those table cameras in the poker shows and seeing your cards. It’s pretty hard to feel OK about their profits in that game, pretty hard to see where they are adding any value to the system.

It’s a little like that in the fitness world right now, isn’t it? The feisty newcomer has what looks to be a truly disruptive model, both from a system standpoint and a business model standpoint. The established powers are fighting back in many ways, some of them loud and messy. Bad science and straw man arguments beget a flood of bad PR, while at the same time businesses that see the true disruptive nature of the methodology are not content to simply adopt it but try to usurp the brand. The established powers beseech government to regulate the disruption back to the status quo, the last option for the in-power and they are stripped by disruption.

How will either of these examples end? What will become of the disrupters in the financial world who have discovered the rigged game and propose to re-boot the system without the rigging or the riggers? Will they be regulated out of existence, still-born because of crony politics? What will we see in the battle for the hearts, minds, and membership fees between CrossFit and the ACSM/GloboGym axis? Will we see frivolous regulation layered onto the faux scientific attacks?

In the end a true disruption eventually wins out, while something that looks on the surface like a disruption but is actually just rigging the game is ultimately defeated. You either acknowledge the disruption and adapt (IBM builds desktop computers), or you acknowledge that the disrupters will own the space they created and seek another way to profit from the new environment (IBM sells its desktop/laptop divisions and becomes a consulting company). The people who try to rig the game, perhaps by attempting to coerce existing customers to adhere to the status quo, or who deny the reality of the rigged game, only succeed if they invoke the aid of government. Hence the entreaties from entrenched interests in both finance and fitness for regulation of the disruptive entities.

Who will win? Who should win? Who do you wish to win? I hate a rigged game not matter where it is, who’s playing, or why I’m in the game. Well-meaning disruption has led to many (most?) of the fantastic advances in developed societies. I type on a laptop connected to all of you in ways unimaginable by the person feeding the Facsimile Machine in my Dad’s office in 1978. I will check in later on with a computer that fits in the palm of my hand and contains more computing power than the Mainframe that filled a room in that same office in 1980. I’ll do so from the gym where I will continue to advance my fitness and health by performing constantly varied functional movements at relatively high intensity, a gym that is providing a living for its owner, my son. What do you think?

Rigging the game is the last bastion for those left behind by true disruption.


Epilogue to “Mommy-Track” post on “Equal Pay Day”

In 2011 I wrote an essay in response to an article I read in the WSJ on the coming physician shortage. In short I agreed with a letter that pointed out the effect of physicians working fewer hours than they had traditionally worked. In that letter the effect of the changing demographics in medicine (more women physicians, generational shifts) was pointed out. My essay agreed with the points in the letter. My thesis is that you can’t “have it all”, in medicine or anywhere. Someone, somehow, always pays.

While reading about “Equal Pay Day”, the day on which the “average female wage earner” achieves the same amount of pay as the “average male wage earner” acquired in the previous 12 months, a couple of things strike me. First, the general thesis of my essay continues to be accurate, at least in medicine. Income is determined by the choice of specialty, as always, but beyond that it is driven much more so by the number of hours a physician works and how productive that physician is during those work hours. Work more hours, get paid more money. Perform more of your doctorly duties in each one of those hours, get paid more money. There are fewer and fewer physician jobs in which seniority on its own drives income, thereby negating any lack of seniority which may be caused by a career “pause” to have or care for children. Physician income is largely gender-blind. As an aside, the dirty little secret of physician pay is that production-based compensation is the norm everywhere, even at those institutions that claim otherwise.

The second thing that strikes me is the malignantly erosive effect of ineffectual, unnecessary external regulation on the practice of all medicine on effective physician work hours. In 2014, whether you are a man or a woman, the bureaucratic load associated with practicing medicine is oppressive, and hours that just 5 years ago may have been spent caring for patients is now spent caring for charts, bills, and other paperwork. These hours generate no real health benefits for patients, and do not produce any revenue that pays the doctors for working them. In a particularly cruel example of Murphy’s Law, or at least the Law of Unintended Consequences, the specialties that are hardest hit by this relentless onslaught of the unnecessary are those that tend to pay physicians the least. Fields like Family Practice and Pediatrics. On “Equal Pay Day”  it is particularly ironic to note that those hardest hit specialties tend to be staffed by the highest percentage of female doctors.

A final note as I read this post 3+ years after the initial writing: the choice of “Mommy-Track” to describe those women who graduate from medical school and work fewer hours than their male peers because of their choice to prioritize their families seems needlessly pejorative and provocative. I’ve left it in for this Epilogue because to edit it today seems dishonest in a way. Besides, I’m a little bit better at writing in 2014 than I was in 2011. I can be plenty provocative now without resorting to the pejorative.

The Damn Truth

“In talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.” William Maxwell.

If I know who William Maxwell is I can’t remember at the moment. That’s kinda the point anyway, isn’t it? There’s a certain amount of self-delusion in any historical account, whether it be small and personal or global, encompassing all of humanity. You know, history belongs to the victor and all. It’s possible to uncover the unvarnished truth; inexorable technological advancement makes even the best of lies fall open eventually. Tabitha King says that when you lie “all you do is postpone the day at which you’re revealed to be a liar.”

Memory is a funny thing; that’s kinda what Maxwell is saying. How we remember things oft times involves more than a little lying, to ourselves and others. Each of us remembers the part that was good for us, then or now. There might not have been any part that was good and in those cases we remember the part that hurt the least. We can bury the pain if we fail or refuse to remember it.

The inability to truly remember challenges our very sense of self, a challenge that is unacceptable to the subconscious. We seek to defeat that challenge to our essence through confabulation, the wholesale creation of memories from the scrap yard of our mind. One who cannot remember lies out loud in the hope that he, and we, will believe what we hear. Being unable to remember is kinda like having a damaged hard drive. We might be able to muster the technology to repair the hard drive, exhume the memory, expose the lie.

But must we?

The truth is powerful. Like a powerful storm it washes away the veneer that the victor places on history. Like the sun that never sets the truth eventually bakes through the permafrost of the lies we tell ourselves. The truth, like the storm and the sun, is the proverbial double-edged sword that both cleaves the fat and cuts the flesh. One man’s truth unhinges another man’s lies. The sun shower might pre-sage a tsunami, as it were.

Where’s this all going? Talk of lies and history? I’ve been on a little quest, a walkabout of the mind if you will, examining the little lies of omission and commission that sit at the foundation of the house of cards that is my own little self. Seeking a more accurate truth by trying to wash away some of the veneer that covers my history so that I might own up to whatever part I might have played in creating hard stuff in my life, or the lives of those who travel alongside me. I find myself saying stuff like “boy, I really coulda done a better job of that”, usually followed by some version of “I’m sorry.” Find myself saying that quite a bit, actually.

At a certain point I will have to stop doing this, at least out loud, for at some point the exposure of my own little lies will produce a kind of destruction elsewhere. If you think about it, what appears to you as a little drizzle might be a raging downpour to someone else. All of those trite little sayings like “the truth will set you free” are balanced by “the truth hurts.” My poor Dad has no memory whatsoever of the horrific pain he suffered 6 months ago, and yet by now he has no memory of today’s breakfast. He’ll have no memory of the lies he will tell to manufacture a memory.

For the rest of us, memory intact, the lesson is probably as simple as “tell the truth” starting now. At least “tell the truth” with kindness and compassion extended both to others and yourself. Some lies, some memories should remain right where they are, in the past. For some, maybe most, we might be able to invoke the great philosopher Rafiki: “it doesn’t matter, it’s in the past.” Every little truth told now, though, is a lie that need not be given breath, past or present.

Every little truth told now is the cornerstone for a house to provide shelter from storms yet to come.

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