Thinking in Decades

Seventeen, who will be eighteen shortly, grew up playing soccer. She was usually one of the weaker players on one of the better teams. Probably the fault of my genetics. Also, soccer was first and foremost social, so she hardly ever played between organized practices and games.

Her uneven play never bothered me because the effort was there, she usually enjoyed it, and she learned how to compete. At the beginning of high school, she applied those lessons to a new sport, swimming, and continues to improve in the water as a result.

This summer some of her former teammates and her formed a recreation team for one final run before they head off to different colleges. No practices, just two games a week. Last night was the final game so I thought I better turn up.

Arriving late, I see the opposing team’s forward streaking down the field all alone set to go in for an easy chip shot. But wait, Seventeen has the angle and she’s FLYING and she disrupts the girl’s momentum just in the nick of time. Is that my daughter? Amazing. A parent tells me she had rolled her ankle pretty badly a few minutes earlier.

I detect a slight limp, but she’s a gamer, loving every minute of it. No pressure, playing with great friends, for FUN. She’s a different player than I’ve ever seen, relaxed, confident, making smart pass after smart pass, checking girls, face red, sweating, focused, animated, just plain getting after it.

Parents, teachers, all adults who work with young people often suffer from “present tense myopia”. We get mired in young people’s physical and social awkwardness without any sense of their more physically and socially competent future selves.

I remember when Seventeen was in second or third grade and was making lots of simple spelling errors (yeah, yeah, probably the fault of my genetics). An elementary education colleague suggested “chilling” because it would naturally improve given her love of reading. He was right.

Parents should prominently display a “This too shall pass” sign somewhere in their kitchen as a reminder that children are constantly evolving.

In the end, it’s far less important how capable a seven or eight year old is in football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, swimming, spelling, reading, writing, or math than a seventeen or eighteen year old.

What a kick (pun intended) watching Seventeen last night. Nurture and support the young and then expect them to surprise you too.

The Nostalgia Trap

As I age, I’d like to avoid many middle-aged and elderly people’s penchant for complaining that “compared to back in the day, the world is going to hell.” Much of that pessimism rests on selective perception. Except for the clinically depressed, isn’t life a constantly shifting mix of good and bad?

Here’s a related NYT book review excerpt from a new novel “Super Sad” which takes place in the near future.

“Mr. Shteyngart has extrapolated every toxic development already at large in America to farcical extremes. The United States is at war in Venezuela, and its national debt has soared to the point where the Chinese are threatening to pull the plug. There are National Guard checkpoints around New York, and riots in the city’s parks. Books are regarded as a distasteful, papery-smelling anachronism by young people who know only how to text-scan for data, and privacy has become a relic of the past. Everyone carries around a device called an äppärät, which can live-stream its owner’s thoughts and conversations, and broadcast their “hotness” quotient to others. People are obsessed with their health — Lenny works as a Life Lovers Outreach Coordinator (Grade G) for a firm that specializes in life extension — and shopping is the favorite pastime of anyone with money. It’s “zero hour for our economy,” says one of Lenny’s friends, “zero hour for our military might, zero hour for everything that used to make us proud to be ourselves.”

Is your relative optimism or pessimism based upon the quality of your nation’s governance, economy, and military, or as I suspect, more on the nature of your personal budget, the status of your family’s and your health, the quality of your friendships, and the relative purposefulness of your work.

I’m feeling positive about life today in part because of a post run lake swim, an enjoyable dinner with three friends, and an amazing sunset over the sound.

I have downer moments, days, and weeks like everyone.

I prefer spending time with people who reject the myth of a golden yesteryear and what sociologists refer to as “deficit model” thinking and show empathy for the truly unfortunate. People whose thoughts, words, and deeds are more hopeful than cynical.

Twelve Years, One Address

I love setting personal records.* Most bananas in one day. Fastest time to mow the lawn. Most cycling miles in a month. Most miles on one tank of gas.

This week is a monumental one, longest time at one address. Twelve years. I haven’t lived anywhere else nearly as long.

Having put down roots is nice. I always have some wanderlust, but of course living in one place doesn’t preclude traveling. It’s amazing to me how rarely people move from this small corner of the world, but then again, it is a company (state government) town. It’s a scenic, relatively serene spot, and it’s nice knowing people and the lay of the land well. We intend on staying, but will probably move to the water’s edge at some point.

If we move within the city, do I have to start the clock all over?

* Saturday’s swim meet. Youngest, “You’re just timing random people?!” Me, “When you’re born a timer, you can’t help it, you just TIME.”


Mental File Folders

Social psychologists suggest our brains are filled with mental file folders of sort that enable us to take short cuts when bumping into or first interacting with people. Labels such as male, female, rich, poor, overweight, African-American, professor, Wall Street banker, southerner, foreigner, libertarian, conservative republican, liberal democrat, elderly, homeless, aspergers, gay, lesbian, environmentalist, evangelical Christian. We also have thinner files that might be (awkwardly) labeled, “male, conservative republican, evangelical Christian”.

Without our mental file folders, we’d have to make sense of each new person from scratch; consequently, we’d be too overwhelmed to function normally.

The question though is how thick are our respective folders? In our increasingly diverse world, we can get into serious trouble when our folders are so thin that we succumb to inaccurate stereotypes. Everyone has preconceived notions about other groups of people. The best antidote for negative preconceived notions is getting to know a wider range of diverse individuals through direct daily experience. Only then can you get a feel for a key cross-cultural insight or sensibility, that the individual differences within each file folder are typically greater than between them.

Our challenge as multicultural people is to do two things simultaneously, to recognize that there are group patterns, themes, and differences, and to recognize that the individual differences within each group are usually greater than the differences between groups. There’s lots of evidence that not everyone is up to this relatively sophisticated, multitasking, social psychological balancing act.

Fast forward to Thursday night’s training ride with about thirty other cyclists. Early on, heading out-of-town, I was spinning casually in the back (like Lance Armstrong) when a new rider introduced himself. At 20mph we talked for the next ten minutes. A military officer with about 20 years experience. Our worldviews couldn’t have been more different. We discussed drones in Afghanistan, the McChrystal firing, and his work more generally.

I’m about as dovish as they come and he was all hawk. I was unpleasantly surprised by his “I sleep well at night” lack of introspection. Cue the “military personnel” folder. Fortunately in that folder are a few “pieces of paper” representing the marines I met while teaching in Ethiopia. They were based at the US embassy and would travel to our school to hoop it up with us once or twice a week. We became friends. They invited a few of us to the embassy in the middle of the night to watch the World Series, and without knowing it, they helped me rethink my preconceived notions of military personnel.

So I’m adding my new cycling acquaintance to my “military personnel” folder, but not overgeneralizing about all military personnel based upon my admittedly brief interaction with him.

The “Get a Life” Leader in the Clubhouse

Joe Gassmann.

From the LA Times.

Outside the Beverly Hills courthouse, a gaggle of fans were thrilled just to have caught a glimpse of her. “It’s Lindsay Lohan — she’s the greatest actress,” said Joe Gassmann, 27, who wore a “Free Lindsay” shirt and drove four days from Grand Rapids, Mich., to be there. “I think this is a serious injustice.”

The “this” to which Joe is referring is two counts of being under the influence of cocaine, no contest to two counts of driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08%, and one count of reckless driving.

What’s the Secret?

I bought flowers and a card for my long-suffering wife (LSW) at the farmer’s market recently. The woman who made and sold me the anniversary card asked, “So how many years?” My mind went totally blank and so I just threw out a ballpark number, “twenty-six.” Since it was our twenty-third, I should have added “give or take three years.”

Then she asked, “What’s the secret?”

Many of my family members, friends, and acquaintances would probably be surprised to learn just how much of a roller coaster LSW’s and my journey has been and how fiery we can get when arguing. Our relationship has been more like a John Daly scorecard than a Corey Pavin one, a constantly changing mix of birdies, pars, bogeys, and the dreaded “other”.

Since I don’t have the LSW’s permission to write in any more detail (damn, have I gone too far already, did I just make another bogey without realizing it?) about our roller coaster ride, allow me to segue into reflecting on what can and often does go wrong in committed relationships whether marriage or variations of it. Also, I’d rather ride the Tour de France on a single speed with flatted tires than read 99% of  the “self-help” books in print, but this one by Gottman is a rare exception that’s influencing my thinking a lot.

Despite the twenty-three years, I really don’t feel like I’m in any position to offer relationship advice. I’ve been humbled by how challenging the long haul intimate relationship can be. So what I cautiously offer are two closely related “observations” or “thoughts” or “pitfalls best to avoid” and one “suggestion”.

Observation/thought/pitfall to avoid one A. Typical scenario. Each person gets busy with separate activities (work, child rearing, athletics, gardening, church, etc., etc.) and before you know it, even if most of the activities are socially redeeming, each person loses touch with the specifics of the other person’s activities. Put differently, intimacy is inevitably compromised when partners have too few mutual interests, too few mutual friends, too few dinners together alone.

Observation/thought/pitfall to avoid one B. My assumption. Everyone in a committed intimate relationship annoys their partner in differing ways to differing degrees. Annoyance is a natural, common thread, so the all important question is whether the partners communicate consistently enough about what’s annoying each of them to avoid having run-of-the-mill irritations build into serious, relationship threatening resentment?

I’m guilty of not communicating consistently enough and for letting small things build into medium-sized and larger impediments. I’m sure I’m the only male for whom that’s true though.

Gottman says partners don’t have to have that many shared activities, but they do have to be intentional about inquiring into one another’s. He also says partners don’t have to practice active listening and get along all the time. He even asserts it’s okay to complain to one another which he contrasts with criticizing. A complaint refers to a specific, one-off type of issue that’s relatively easy to resolve where criticism involves disparaging the other person’s character usually as result of built up resentment.

The suggestion is my personal “secret” to holding it together through thick and thin. Take the ultimate solution, the complete severing and ending of the relationship, off the table. In effect, what I’ve said to the LSW during the most distressing of our rollercoaster dips is, “I’m not going anywhere.” The message being, “I’m not sure how right now, but somehow we have to resolve this.”

That’s what I should have told the card maker, but I’m guessing that would have been TMI.