Month: July 2019

Discipline

An acquaintance who overcame addiction to remake her life once told me, “Discipline is remembering what you really want.” So much of what we accomplish comes back to having the discipline to achieve our goals. After years of giving in to dependency, my friend wanted to change her life in a way that aligned with her goals; with what she — when she was brutally honest with herself — really wanted from life.* As a different person than I was in my 20s or 40s, I’m now focusing on what I really want to accomplish in the years ahead. Discipline is hard and involves pain, no matter where you are in your life journey: in school, beginning a career, as a senior manager, building and growing a business, caring for others, living out a gap year, sailing along effortlessly, or fighting addiction. However, it has been said, “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” …

A Human Touch

I first saw Jackson Browne in the 1970s. Today, at 70 years of age, he is still writing and singing some of the most beautiful and heartfelt music around. A Human Touch is among his most moving. Written with Steve McEwan and Leslie Mendelson for the Paul Haggis documentary 5B, the song captures the compassion of the caregivers in the 1980s in San Francisco General’s Ward 5B, the world’s first AIDS ward unit. The video of the beautiful Browne / Mendelson duet includes footage of how courage and compassion changed the way doctors and nurses approached and treated AIDS as the epidemic spread fear and hatred throughout the world. “You can call it a decision I say it’s how we’re made There’s no point in shouting from your island Proclaiming only Jesus saves There will always be suffering And there will always be pain But because of it there’ll always be love And love, we know, it will remain Everybody gets lonely Feel like it’s all too much Reaching out for some connections Or maybe …

The Start of a Good Idea

“The only thing any of us can do completely on our own is to have the start of a good idea.” The line — an unanticipated gift near the end of the 2018 Michael Lewis book The Fifth Risk — is simple on its face yet it captures so much of the spirit that is needed today in America. This look towards collaboration also seems appropriate as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space and later the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), heard the “start of a good idea” line once and it stayed with her. The message she took from it was that exchanges of information from “odd groups, outsiders to the program under study,” were how people learn, adapt, and build exciting new tools and programs to serve humankind. Individuals seldom add value when they come into those conversations with strong agendas built on furthering their professional practice, a rigid ideology, or personal greed. In Lewis’s telling …

American Exceptionalism

The term “American exceptionalism” has been bandied about by politicians, pundits, historians, and others with increasing frequency. Attempting to catch up on the latest atrocities against democracy and the rule of law, I’ve been thinking a great deal recently about the term: how it was used throughout history and how it has become weaponized in our divided political culture. The phrase may have originated in the 1830s with the first great observer of American life, the French political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville, but the meaning has changed over time. Some people simply see America as “better” than other countries; that our experiences, products, and lifestyle choices are all “the best.”  Those who take this simplistic approach in claiming American exceptionalism clearly have not seen: Modern Japanese toilets* Healthcare in just about any developed country other than the U.S. High-speed train travel in Japan, Germany, and yes, even Spain, which makes us look like a third-world country** Infrastructure in most modern countries vs. the crumbling infrastructure of the U.S. (recently given a D+ grade) The statistics …

Thinking, Fast and Slow

(NOTE: I first posted this short review of Daniel Kahneman’s monumental book on how we think and the ways in which our minds work on December 1, 2013, as part of an essay on several recently-completed books. Since then I’ve wanted to link to this specific review on multiple occasions. To make that easier, I’m pulling it out and reposting it here alone. I learn so much every time I open Kahneman’s work. As I said in the initial review, “Just read the book — you’ll thank me for it later.”) Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In the late summer/early fall, I began this amazing 2011 book by psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow takes Kahneman’s groundbreaking research over several decades and brings it together in this tour of how our minds work. There is so much here to absorb that it is impossible to do this book justice in a couple of paragraphs. Kahneman begins by explaining our two systems for thinking — one fast, highly intuitive, and emotional, and the …

To Wander. To Dawdle. To Live.

Wander. Dawdle. Already two of my favorite words, they now seem perfect for a gap year. For years I looked for books to help encourage my desire for a slowing down of the daily rat race. Not surprisingly, I tended to find and read them while on vacation. One winter holiday, when one usually focuses on resolutions for the new year, I was instead leisurely enjoying a book on the wandering mind. Author Michael C. Corballis wrote, “It seems we are programmed to alternate between mind-wandering and paying attention, and our minds are designed to wander whether we like it or not.” That sure rings true in my experience. In The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You’re Not Looking, Corballis argues that, “Mind wandering has many constructive and adaptive features — indeed, we probably couldn’t do without it. It includes mental time travel — the wandering back and forth through time, not only to plan our futures based on past experience, but also to generate a continuous sense of who we are. Mind-wandering …

Making Big Decisions

After running through the woods in the gathering darkness, four young people warily approach an old house. The dialogue begins: “Let’s hide in the attic.  No, in the basement.” They look around wildly, and one female pleads “Why can’t we just get in the running car?” A male character responds, “Are you crazy? Let’s hide behind the chainsaws.” The voice-over comes in to say, “If you’re in a horror movie, you make poor decisions. It’s what you do.” After the pitch for saving money with Geico Insurance, there is the scream, “Run for the cemetery!” and all four take off from the garage full of chainsaws to . . . who knows what.  But we’re safe in assuming it will be bad. I still laugh every time I see this clever commercial. Decisions. We all face them. And making big or difficult decisions isn’t easy, even if you’ve never been in a horror movie. But we all see examples of poor decisions leading to disastrous consequences on a daily basis. When we have to make quick …