Are Women Smarter Then Men?

The seven minute video story at the bottom, about a group of friends in Chile, is a true joy. Do yourself a favor and start your week with it. How wonderful that these women have been friends for six decades. And I love their quirky personalities and exquisite taste in baked goods. Best of all, the beautiful “punchline” at the very end.

The Good Wife has had a similar group of close friends for close to two decades. To the Chileans, the Olympia Coffee Klatchers are mere pups.

For decades, in Ybor City, FL, Mother Dear has spent almost every Saturday morning enjoying Cuban coffee and cheese bread with the same girlfriends.

Big Sissy has been walking her Northwest Indiana ‘hood with the same few girlfriends for decades.

Increasingly, positive psychologists are telling us what we already instinctively know. Life is most meaningful when lived in community.

In fairness, some men make time for one another. My closest friend at work has helped lead a raucous book club in Tacoma, WA for the last 20-30 years. Of course, when Oprah learned about “Gower”, they were invited onto her show. And Older SoCal Bro gathers for coffee with a few male friends most Saturdays. And I run with the same group of male misfits a few times a week. We’ve had women members, but we’re so uncouth, they don’t last long.

Despite some evidence of male bonding, I can’t help but conclude women are more intentional, and therefore smarter, about investing in friendships. Why is that?

Maybe Our Most Perfect Drug

Lots of people are seeing therapists and taking meds to combat anxiety disorders and depression. Stacy Horn suggests a much less expensive alternative, join a choir. She explains:

. . . as science works to explain what every singer already knows, no matter where you fall on the voice suckage scale—sing. I know of no other activity that gives so much and is this eminently affordable and accessible: Just show up for choir practice. Singing might be our most perfect drug; the ultimate mood regulator, lowering rates of anxiety, depression and loneliness, while at the same time amplifying happiness and joy, with no discernible, unpleasant side effects. The nerds and the church people had it right.

In high school, following the lead of some close friends, I sang in a large Lutheran youth choir. We toured for two weeks each summer, wowing Lutheran congregations all over the fruited plains. One summer at Indiana University in Bloomington, we even won a large national competition. But, as any Lord’s Joyful alum will tell you, no thanks to me. When you look up “voice suckage” in the urban dictionary, you see my larynx. Little known fact. Kool Herc, Kurtis Blow, and The Sugarhill Gang started rapping in the late 70s so that I’d have an alternative to singing.

Horn earns my enduring affection with this confession:

One of my main goals in our weekly rehearsals is not being heard. Over the years I’ve become a master in the art of voice camouflage, perfecting a cunning combination of seat choice, head tilt, and volume.

As they liked to say on The Wire, I feel you!

My alternative drugs of choice, by which I mean social activities that help me maintain some semblance of mental health, are swimming, cycling, and running with friends.

The GalPal and I recently enjoyed catching up with old friends from the state that just decided to stop paying teachers extra for Masters degrees. One whom struggled with depression recently. Her most perfect drug? Caring for and riding a horse. Almost daily. At first glance, this activity isn’t as social as the others, but in fact, our friend always looks forward to seeing the same few horse owners at the medium-sized, community-based barn. A couple of times a week, after grooming and riding their horses, they cross the street to a golf course restaurant where they eat and visit. Her mental health in tact for another day.

Reduce anxiety and depression without therapy or meds. Follow Horn’s advice and join a community choir. Or follow my lead and swim, cycle, run, hike, or walk with another person. Or if you can afford it, horse around with friends. You feel me?

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Me at my last concert performance

Just Maybe The Most Important Thing to Look for in a Friend, Spouse, Work Environment

Generosity? Dependability? Energy? Care? Smarts? Loyalty? Connections? Kindness? Humility? Patience? Optimism? I’ll wait while you cast your vote. . .

My answer came to me Friday night at the Puget Marina off Johnson Point Rd in North Olympia. The Puget Marina has the single best view of the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier of any one place I’ve ever stood. I was there Friday night because Scott, a principal friend, was being celebrated for his ten plus year tenure at a local high school. He’s beloved by his faculty and staff in large part because of his sense of humor. Here’s a little flavor flav of his personality. He’s the guy on the scooter who can’t squat worth beans.

When our new high school grad watched that vid she said, “Our principal could never pull that off.” Few principals could because they’re keenly self conscious, just like people more generally. Most principals continuously worry, what kind of persona am I projecting? Authoritative enough? Professional enough?

Faculty and staff told funny stories all night. There was a moving mixture of laughter and tears. One person said Scott’s greatest talent is being able to switch smoothly from serious to silly and back again. There’s a lot to having and using a sense of humor thoughtfully. I think it’s at least partially learned. Too bad we don’t think, talk, or teach about it.

Day-to-day life is challenging; consequently, pressures continuously build. Humor is an indispensable pressure relief valve. It’s a salve for the super serious and the sad. Or in other words, all of us at times.

Friday night I realized Scott is wonderfully comfortable in his own skin and with those he works. Somehow he’s learned to sidestep the trap of self-consciousness.

I dug the evening because the informal vibe stood in such amazing contrast with my work environment at a university. Sometimes I wonder if PhD stands for Prior humor Disassembled. I challenge you to find a less humorous setting than a typical university faculty meeting. Just brutal. Everyone wondering if they’re coming across as smart enough. Maybe Scott should consult with Deans on how to make their own rap videos.

The other day on my Twitter feed, another reminder of humor’s value compliments of Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia fame. She tweeted, “Walked to my friend’s house to pick up my bike, cycled home, took a bath. Pretty sure I just completed the Portland Triathlon.” Anyone know Carrie? I want to be her friend. Maybe I’ll invite to her a faculty meeting.

A Masterful Lesson

I watched a hell of a lot of golf this weekend. I do that one weekend in April every year. It’s a tradition like no other. If I played the same amount as I watched, I would have halved my handicap.

While watching, I marveled at my complete and utter dislike for Tiger Woods. Why do I want anyone but him to win? On Friday, why did I silently cheer when his half wedge at 13 hit the pin on a bounce and caromed back into Rae’s Creek? The Saturday morning penalty was icing on the top. Why do I root so intensely against him? Why does he bring out the worst in me?

My anti-Tiger mania is especially odd since I grew up in Cypress, California a small-medium sized suburban city six miles from Disneyland. It’s most famous for being El Tigre’s hometown. In my teens, I anonymously worked and played the same courses he did so famously in his well documented youth. And he’s a brother in a lily white sport desperately in need of diversity. And his talent is undeniable. And the way he grinds on every shot is admirable. But that’s the kindest thing you’ll ever see me write about him.

Was it the serial womanizing? No. My deep-seated antipathy precedes that downward spiral. Is it the Michael Jordan-like mix of constant commercialism and over the top materialism. In small part. Is it my nostalgia for Nicklaus and my childhood. In small part.

The much larger part came to me while watching Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole. Cabrera hit a very solid approach on the par 4 about 18 feet below the hole. Scott’s mid-iron ended up about 12-14 feet to the side of the hole. Clutch as it gets. Cabrera walked as he watched Scott’s shot in the air. When it landed, he turned and gave Scott a thumbs up sign. Class personified. Scott shot him one right back.

An epiphany exactly one week after Easter. “That’s it!” I realized. Humanity in the midst of the most intense competition imaginable. We’ll never, ever, ever see Tiger do anything like that. His intensity routinely crosses from the admirable to something that makes me root against him. We will never see Tiger applaud an opponent especially in a moment like that. Or reciprocate as Scott did. Never ever. Maybe it’s his dad’s fault, but Tiger learned to focus so intently on winning that everyone and everything else be damned.

I wish the golf press would make a pact and do us all a big favor and just stop interviewing him. He always looks so pained and he never says anything the least bit authentic. He always gives the answers he thinks will end the interview the fastest. The following dialogue bubble should be superimposed on the screen whenever he’s being interviewed, “How much longer until this god foresaken interview with this god d*mned idiot is over?!”

My position on Tiger will soften when a groundskeeper, a golf journalist, a waiter, a caddy, a Tour player, or anyone not on his payroll says something genuinely nice about him. Something that reveals his humanity.

I’m not holding my breath.

Newsflash—Missy Franklin Forgoes $6m to Swim in College

Seventeen year-old amateur swimming phenom Missy Franklin’s countercultural decision isn’t getting nearly as much ink as it deserves. I’ve lauded her parents’, coach, and her before. I’ll have to plead guilty if accused of putting a 17 year-old athlete on a pedestal.

If Franklin turned pro sports marketing experts agree she’d earn about $2m a year through product endorsements. Instead, she’s decided to swim at the University of California for a few years and then turn pro in 2015, one year before the Rio Summer Olympics.

Here’s the conventional wisdom on her decision:

While the opportunity to earn money from endorsement deals will not completely evaporate should Franklin delay becoming a pro-swimmer by competing at the NCAA-level, it will drastically impact the amount of money she will earn from endorsements. Not only will she miss out on a lot of money in some prime earning years for what are normally short Olympic careers, but she will likely also miss out on the chance to build her brand on a larger stage by way of the promotion and visibility that would come from advertisers using her in campaigns.

Another sports marketer adds, “I think it’s hard not to justify waving her amateurism.  If I was an objective advisor to her and her family, I would advise this way:  Her window to reap the rewards of her life’s work is relatively limited when you consider it over a traditional working career.  As such, her potential earnings in the next four years will be five-times greater than what she’ll be able to make in the subsequent 30 years.”

My brother, who I may have been a tad too hard on the last several months, weighed in more creatively, “Missy-stake! Shoulda took the money.”

She’s rolling the dice on avoiding injury, finishing third in 2016 Olympic Trial races, and having Michael Phelps pressure her into a bong hit.

All you have to do for an alternative perspective, is turn to Franklin herself:

“Someday, I would love more than anything to be a professional swimmer, but right now I just want to do it because I love it. Being part of a college team is something that’s so special. I went on my recruiting trip, and the team was so amazing. Just being with those girls, I really felt like I belonged there. The campus itself is gorgeous. Everything about it was just perfect.”

Borrowing from the linked article above, Franklin said the opportunity to compete with close friends to earn points toward a team total, rather than simply attending school with them, was an allure stronger than the potential millions of dollars she could earn in endorsements. She actually wanted to commit to a full four seasons of swimming for Cal, but her parents told her “that would probably be the biggest financial mistake” she “could ever make.” Franklin acknowledged, “This can pay for your future family. This can pay for your kids’ school, things that I really have to think about. So that’s been the hard part.”

The materially minded majority will lament, “She’s paying about $6m for the opportunity to ride on busses and stand in security lines in airports with her college teammates in order to score points in college meets.” The assumption being she’d be two and half times happier with $10m in 2016 than $4m. What’s lost in that calculus is the fact that her parents are professionals and she’s grown up economically secure. She’s comfortable, she’s a good student, and with her family’s resources and a Cal degree, odds are she’ll continue to be comfortable.

And if comfort was her primary goal, she’d cash in now. She’s saying you can’t put a price tag on some things like memories of close friendships strengthened through athletic competition. She’s wise beyond her years. She probably knows that multimillionaires tend to get caught on an ever speedier treadmill, and as a result, never pause long enough to ask, how much is enough? Franklin, who I suspect is extremely confident she can swim as fast or faster in Rio, is saying $4m is enough.

And what if somewhere in the world right now there’s a 12 year old girl who out touches Franklin in Rio?

I have no doubt she’ll handle it with grace and dignity. “Honestly anything can happen,” she recently reflected. “You can’t predict the future, so whatever God has in store for me I’ll just go along with it.”

Points to Ponder

• From Jonathan Haidt in the Happiness Hypothesis-Finding Modern Truth in Ancient WisdomPleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.

• From The Atlantic: Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant. [strong counter argument]

• From Sports IllustratedIt’s hard to come up with any measure sufficient to characterize the strength of the Kenyan marathon army, but try this: Sixteen American men in history have run faster than 2:10 (a 4:58 per mile pace); 38 Kenyan men did it in October.

Grit follow up. In Monday’s Boston Marathon, the dude on the far left, Michel Butter, from the Nederlands, was hangin with the Kenyans. Pre-race, the Dutch track federation told him if he finished in the top ten they’d put him on the Olympic team. He finished seventh because of training sessions like this one.

Correction from the exceptional The Science of Sport blog: Michel Butter’s requirement was either to run 2:10, or finish in the top 8 with a 2:12 or faster. He ran 2:16:38 for 7th. So he got the place, but missed the time, and hence the Olympic spot. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, because as I mentioned earlier, the elite men were 7.8% slower than last year’s times, and about 5% slower than their typical race times. Butter missed the target time by 5.1% (the 2:12 standard). Bearing this mind, and that Boston is typically a slower course than the flat races of Rotterdam, London, Berlin etc, I would use discretion and pick him anyway…

Divorce as Default

Washington State citizens are about to decide whether homosexuals should have the right to marry. There will be awkward moments at dinner parties, some people will switch churches, and the media spotlight will burn bright.

Meanwhile, few people will talk in any depth about when we gave up on the idea that marriage is a lifetime commitment. When did we decide it’s merely a chapter in the book of life? A chapter that naturally runs its course over time?

Some context. First, I’ve written previously that like anyone who has been married for a long time, my Better Half and I have struggled at times, more than outside observers might guess. We drive each other batshit crazy at times, but we’ve never stopped caring for one another, and we’ve persevered. I’m sympathetic to anyone whose struggling in their marriage.

Second, about two years ago, a friend of mine confided in me that he and his wife had separated. He was committed to fixing it, she wasn’t. It quickly became apparent that she was troubled and he—and I suspect his children—are better off now that the marriage has been dissolved. I acknowledge some people are better off getting divorced. Third, I don’t want to return to the days when divorcees were discriminated against.

Despite those caveats, while reading a popular blog recently, I couldn’t help but wonder when we gave up on the idea that marriage is a lifetime commitment. The post that caught my attention was an announcement that after eighteen years the author had asked his wife for a divorce, moved into an apartment, and started his life over. Childless, he and she were still getting together regularly and were committed to “always being good friends”. He alluded to underlying issues, but understandably didn’t want to go into the details.

To summarize the hundreds of comments that I skimmed, the consensus reply was, “Sorry to hear it man, but hey stuff happens, you two are great people, good luck going forward.” Even allowing for the impersonal nature of the net, the laissez-faire responses made me wonder if our sense of community has completely frayed.

Marriage ceremonies are public celebrations where family and friends form a wedding community, witness the couple’s commitments to one another, and vouch to support them going forward particularly during difficult times. In practice though, given our work-a-day mobile society, newly married couples rarely live in close community with the family and friends who pledged to support them. No man may be an island, but a lot of married couples are.

People don’t see their friends’ divorces, whether they attended the weddings or not, as a collective failure. Instead, they take a “there but for the grace of God go I” approach. Guess I’m hopelessly old fashioned. I reject the notion that divorce is to be expected, that a life-time together is unrealistic.

Whether we can figure out how to do a better job supporting existing marriages through thick and thin is every bit as important as what the media spotlight is beginning to shine on in Washington State.