An Abundance Of Risk

It’s time for us to pivot from an abundance of caution to an abundance of risk.*

Sure, we should keep being smart about social distancing and wearing masks indoors, and of course getting jabbed; otherwise though, it’s time we start affirming that living life in close relationship with others entails risk. 

To be in relationship with others is to embrace a much wider range of emotions, including positive ones like acceptance, tranquility, and love, and negative ones like anger, sadness, despair, and grief.  

Kaitlin Ruby Brinkerhoff met Ian McCann, a Canadian, on a mountain biking trip in her Utah hometown. They then maintained a challenging cross-border relationship through the pandemic. Here’s their story.  I dig their story because they embody the “abundance of risk” mindset we need to reclaim. 

Of course, one can pivot to an abundance of risk in many ways. Romantic love isn’t the only avenue, we can form friendships by planting gardens together, by moving outdoors together, by doing all kinds of community service with one another. 

Here’s the start of the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:

“For everything there is a season, A time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.”

Consider, if you will, this is a time to risk.

*Admittedly, this does not apply to the frontline workers, especially our health care providers, who have been taking on lots of risk on our behalf for over a year.  

 

Threading The ‘Time Needle’

In one sub-section of my first year writing course we read about contrasting parenting philosophies and some students write about how they were raised and whether they intend to parent similarly or differently.

When listening to them reflect on their childhoods, I’m always struck by the chasm between their family lives. About half describe their families as loving, supportive, and close. Another half describe some sordid version of explicit, unhealthy dysfunction. It seems there’s no middle ground.

Often I think the same thing about people and time. Half of people, having or choosing to work super long hours, don’t have nearly enough time. To be introspective. To think about the meaning of life. To live intentionally.

And unless they have compelling hobbies, another half or so who are unable to find work or choose not to for whatever reasons, may have too much time for optimal mental health. Because one of the most common mental health challenges today is dealing with anxiety about things like the ‘rona and the vaccine. More specifically, there’s a tendency to overthink whether one might get the ‘rona or whether one might suffer serious side effects as a result of the vaccine.

I am not a mental health professional so correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that having to work, or more generally, to have some sort of responsibilities for others’ well-being is a salve for overthinking things. If I’m listening to others, caring for them, helping them somehow, I am less susceptible to the anxiety-inducing thoughts that endlessly loop in my head when I don’t have any responsibilities for other living things, whether people, animals or plants.

With shorter work weeks, I suspect European countries are threading the ‘time needle’ in ways that are healthier, mentally and otherwise, than we are in the (dis)United States. Cue related discussions about the federal minimum wage and universal health care.

Thursday Required Reading

  1. Emerging From the Coronavirus. As someone with pandemic privilege—my state has done a very good job of limiting it and my circle of family and friends have been spared—I took my time with these personal stories on how profoundly Covid has changed millions of people’s lives.
  2. Diversity in Presidential Cabinets. As thorough and thoughtful a description and analysis as you will find. Should become a staple in political science courses.
  3. Lego enthusiast explains why the black market for the toy bricks is so lucrative. Fifty years too late for moi.
  4. The Robots Are Coming … to Mow Your Lawn. Yes please.
  5. How open and face to face will fall semester be? Sigh. Surprising how cynical the commenters are about higher education on this highly intellectual blog.

What Are The Sins Of Your Past?

Times are changing. Adapt or lose your scholarship, your job, or whatever else you value.

Recently, a UCLA trackster, I’m embarrassed to say, got kicked off the team following the release of a phone call littered with racist and homophobic comments. 

A college football coach was just fired for a bevy of inappropriate behavior involving female students.  

What do these stories have in common? Both the dismissed trackster’s and fired coach’s offenses were committed before they were affiliated with their respective institutions. The runner was in high school when the phone call was made. Allegedly, the coach’s problems occurred 5-8 years ago at a different university. 

The following questions aren’t intended to simply forgive and forget, but I’m genuinely curious, what language in scholarship offers and job contracts enables athletic departments to rescind scholarships and allows employers to break work contracts based upon an athlete’s or employee’s previous behavior? And how far back can an admission’s office, an athletic department, an employer go? Doesn’t there have to be some statue of limitations?

I am not proud of some of my actions while matriculating at Cypress High School in Cypress, California, a few years back. Should I worry?  

Postscript.

 

The ‘Rona Reflex

Yesterday, I began my day with one of my favorite runs to PriestPoint Park and back. I went in the back door, meaning I climbed up 26th and then hung a right on the wide, paved connector road that drops down before dead ending into a single track trail on the park’s edge.

At least ten feet away, a young hipster (meaning he sported a beard) and his cute dog were walking up the 12-foot wide connector on the opposite shoulder of me. While exchanging silent “good morning” smiles, I couldn’t help but notice he edged off of the car-less road’s shoulder to create one or two more feet of distance between us.

Because he was youngish, seemingly healthy, not wearing a mask, and smiled at me, I doubt he was a grunt in the Mask Wars. And yet, even though everyone now knows the CDC guidelines—six feet away from one another when indoors while masked—I predict many will continue going a lot further given the ‘rona reflex which is the now deeply engrained idea that if some distance and masks and safety precautions are good, more are better.

I am not advocating for Texas Governor-like “Neanderthal thinking” about masks and mitigation. I’m advocating for proportionality. Specifically, a return to more relaxed interpersonal interactions as we chip away at the virus. Trusting that 12 feet is more than sufficient when outside.

If, in return, the Neanderthals are more patient with our neighbors for whom the reflex is deeply engrained, maybe the YouTube videos of people losing their minds while fighting the Mask War will abate and a post-‘pan peace will descend upon the land.

On Obsessiveness

Tyler Cowen’s “My days as a teenage chess teacher” is interesting on a lot of levels. For instance, take lesson learned #6 of 7.

“6. The younger chess prodigy I taught was quite bright and also likable.  But he had no real interest in improving his chess game.  Instead, hanging out with me was more fun for him than either doing homework or watching TV, and I suspect his parents understood that.  In any case, early on I was thinking keenly about talent and the determinants of ultimate success, and obsessiveness seemed quite important.  All of the really good chess players had it, and without it you couldn’t get far above expert level.”

I often envy people who are obsessive about anything even remotely socially redeemable—whether being a grand master in chess, or cycling 12,000 miles/year, or knowing more about Mormon history than anyone except a few dozen Mormon scholars. Why do I envy obsessive people? Because I don’t know if I’ve ever been truly obsessive about anything. It seems like it would be fun to be so immersed in an activity that time stops.

And yet, when I take stock of my life, I can’t help but wonder if my lack of obsessiveness about any one thing may be one of my most positive attributes. If it’s not a positive attribute, splitting the difference between similarly compelling forces, is my essence. It’s who I am.

To the best of my ability, I seek balance. Between work and family life. Between intellectual pursuits and physical ones. Between running, swimming, and cycling more specifically. Between listening and talking. Between teaching and learning. Between friends. Between being silly and serious.   

I wonder, should I stop idealizing obsessiveness?

 

Hygiene Theater

Derek Thompson with a winning pan’ concept.

“Six months ago, I wrote that Americans had embraced a backwards view of the coronavirus. Too many people imagined the fight against COVID-19 as a land war to be waged with sudsy hand-to-hand combat against grimy surfaces. Meanwhile, the science suggested we should be focused on an aerial strategy. The virus spreads most efficiently through the air via the spittle spray that we emit when we exhale—especially when we cough, talk loudly, sing, or exercise. I called this conceptual error, and the bonanza of pointless power-scrubbing that it had inspired, ‘hygiene theater.'”

Note to the Briggs Y pool lifeguards. . . you can prob chill with the hygiene theater.

Sentences to Ponder

From “Tesla unveils redesigned Model S with new interior and 520-mile range option.

“Tesla has just announced the first major redesign of the Model S since it launched the electric sedan in 2012. This new version, which starts shipping in March, has a refreshed exterior, a simplified interior, and the option for a more powerful powertrain that lets the car travel at least 520 miles and go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under two seconds.”

Dear Elon, when does public safety factor in?

The Problem With ‘Self Care’

Self care is a concept, a lucrative subset of a 4 trillion dollar wellness industry, and a red-hot social fad that doesn’t do anything to address the underlying issues of why so many people are burned out at work and seriously anxious about an ever-growing list of things.

Because of the money now associated with self care, the purveyors of it have a vested interest in NOT helping resolve the underlying issue of frantic busyness that defines so many people’s daily lives. Granted, some of that frantic busyness is explained by people trying to eke out a living with too few jobs that pay a livable wage, but a lot of it is the result of social contagion. I run on the treadmill of life because you do.

We will mute the clarion call for self care when people will themselves to get sufficient sleep, eat healthy food, and be physically active.

My university is a classic case study in the ridiculousness of self care. All of a sudden, despite my colleagues’ tendencies to overwork, the leadership is talking about the importance of self care. We are like seriously overweight people who think we’ve found the miracle diet, but in this case, we’ll be fine if we just make time for a warm bubble bath at the end of our frantic days. And don’t forget the candle.

I predict all of the self care talk will have no medium or long-term effect on how faculty live their lives. But on the plus side, more bubble bath and candles will be sold.