Consciously Turn From The Dark

For me, the Efficiency Evangelists who preach a Life Hack gospel breed serious cynicism. Because their gospel message seemingly follows from a mindless amalgam of capitalism, social status, and materialism.

But since my time is increasingly finite, I’m down with “efficiency lite”; meaning making the most of my time, ideally without the capitalism, social status, and materialism baggage. This means I routinely read book, t.v., and film reviews to improve my odds of choosing content that is especially compelling. This also means being at least somewhat intentional about who I hang with. I seek content and people that either inform, inspire, challenge, lighten, and/or uplift myself and others.

Unlike the Efficiency Evangelists, I don’t want to accomplish more, I just don’t want to waste my time on people and content that breed contempt for this one precious and wild life.

Is it just me, or does it seem like we’re surrounded by people and content that breeds contempt for damn near everything? Increasingly, the glass isn’t half full, it’s bone dry.

This means my task is two-fold, actively seeking the light in terms of uplifting people and content while actively rejecting the dark. Therefore, I have to get better at not reading and watching some content, not engaging with some social media, and not interacting with some people.

When the Good Wife and I sit down to dinner, we sometimes ask, “What did you do today?” What I’m reflecting on here gets at another important question we are not in the habit of asking which is, “What didn’t you do today? Who didn’t you see? What did you choose not to read? What media did you disengage from? What social media did you purposely skip?”

To live more wild, socially redeeming, precious, fulfilling lives, we have to be wiser and more self-disciplined about combatting the cynical, spiteful, mean-spirited non zero-sumness that dominates our media. That cynical, spiteful, mean-spirited non zero sumness has done as much or more damage to our spirits, interpersonal relations, and democracy, as the ‘rona has to our physical health.

With apologies to the non-sports minded, we have to play much, much better defense and consciously turn from the dark.

p.s. Did I ever tell you about the time I did a reverse dunk in a winter bball tournament with gloves on?

I Am Happy To Report That I Got In Trouble

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In this day and age of unregulated social media algorithms that inflame our most negative instincts, how cool is it that one online community is making a concerted effort to do a hell of a lot better.

It doesn’t even matter that LinkedIn couldn’t detect the self-deprecating nature of my recent “Liberals Are Hypocrites” post. Their algorithm probably stopped at the offensive title and didn’t proceed to the body of the post that read, “Like me.” Or maybe it did scan those two words, but wasn’t able to detect my intended meaning. 

It’s all good LinkedIn, I wholeheartedly applaud your efforts even if I was wrongly caught up in your decency dragnet.

LinkedIn’s Learning Center does a great job explaining their ground rules. Here’s a taste:

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Hey Zuckerberg, Dorsey, et al., here’s a fourth “Be”. Be like LinkedIn.

 

Help Me Understand

Why do people engage in political debate on Facebook and other social media? Has anyone ever changed their party affiliation or political thinking more generally because someone on social media convinced them to?

It seems utterly ill-suited for meaningful political discussion. Bumper stickers probably are a more effectual means of political persuasion.

I Predict There Will Be More Wild Ass Predictions

‘New York City is done!’

‘Office work is done!’

‘Higher education as we know it is done!’

‘Long distance travel is done!’

Why are so many highly educated people making such dumb, over-the-top predictions? Besides the fact that education and wisdom have never been closely correlated, it’s because the prognosticators are desperate to be heard above the din of the social media cacophony. PLEASE listen to my podcast. PLEASE read my twitter feed, ‘insta’, blog, book.

Scott Galloway is Exhibit A of this modern tendency towards hyperbole. Subtly, nuance, and ambiguity—the stuff of complexity—is passe, and we have the scramble to be relevant on social media to thank for that.

Lo and behold, New York City real estate values are on the rise again. Executives are desperate to have employees return to offices, college life looks and feels very familiar, and have you been in an airport lately? A bit more hybrid learning, telemedicine, and remote work aside; most ‘rona-inspired changes in behavior are proving relatively superficial despite the pandemic’s legs.

I would like you to prove me wrong on this, but neither do I expect many of the heartfelt proclamations of personal transformation to stick. Maybe a vicious virus can inspire a personal ‘reset’ of sorts in the short-term. Maybe people will simplify their lives; strike a healthier work-life balance; and commit more deeply to their family, friends, and neighbors. But as soon as the virus begins to fade, watch for long established habits to return. Human nature endures.

Ultimately though, when it comes to brash, facile predictions, maybe resistance is futile, in which case I predict the UCLA Bruin football team will win the Pac-12*.

*The last time that happened, Blockbuster Video was killin’ it.

Why Do We Social Media?

One of our next-door neighbors doesn’t talk to the GalPal and me. I understand her not talking to me, but the GalPal, come on, she is as friendly as they come.

The couple who sold to us told us that would be the case, which helps not taking it personally. But man, it’s odd. Especially when Ms. NextDoor posts on-line about ordinary, face-to-face stuff. For example, this weekend she broadcasted to the whole neighborhood, plus surrounding ones I think, that her college aged sons were temporarily moving home, as well as other extended family, so she wanted everyone to know more cars will be coming and going. The kind of thing you’d say when bumping into a neighbor on a walk.

But so far, 4.5 years in, I’ve never seen her take a walk. But what do I know, maybe she has a treadmill in her crib and is running 10 miles a day. But I digress.

Alas, I prob have a log in my own eye. I just left a comment on a Facebook Group page called “Saving Guilford College”, the small Quaker liberal arts college in Greensboro, NC where I taught previously. I wrote the following in response to a post from a woman about her deceased husband, my former colleague. She wrote that when he was near death in the hospital he said, “Guilford College killed me.” That got my hackles up. So obviously a delicate sitch. You can decide for yourself how well I balanced respect for her and her family with my frustration at his lack of personal responsibility.

“I was a down-the-hall colleague of Bill’s from 93-98 (Education Studies). He was always super nice and clearly good at what he did. I’m very sorry he didn’t get to enjoy a post-work life with you and the rest of your family. However, respectfully, I don’t understand his contention that Guilford killed him. College professors have lots of autonomy over exactly how hard they work and for how long.”

Was that a wise investment of time? Did I make the world a better place by getting that off my chest? No and no, and yet, I couldn’t help myself. My excuse is I’m supposed to be reading students’ papers today which always gives rise to world class procrastinating. And yes, I’ve already vacuumed. 

Now I’m afraid to open FaceBook to see the probable backlash. What’s keeping me from quitting Facebook? 

The Lonely Majority

How loneliness could be changing your brain and body.

“A  2018 study. . . found that 54% of 20,000 Americans surveyed reported feeling lonely. In the span of a bit more than a year, the number rose to 61%. Generation Z adults 18-22 years old are supposedly the loneliest generation, outpacing Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, despite being more connected than ever.”

Wowza. The silent, underreported epidemic.

“Loneliness might conjure images of being apart from friends and family, but the feeling runs much deeper than not having plans on a Friday night or than going stag to a wedding. Evolutionarily, being part of a group has meant protection, sharing the workload and increased odds of survival. After all, humans take a long time to mature. We need our tribes.

‘It’s very distressing when we are not a part of a group,’ said Julianne Holt-Lundstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. ‘We have to deal with our environment entirely on our own, without the help of others, which puts our brain in a state of alert, but that also signals the rest of our body to be in a state of alert.’

Staying in that state of alert, that high state of stress, means wear and tear on the body. Stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine can contribute to sleeplessness, weight gain and anxiety over extended periods of exposure, according to the Mayo Clinic.”

What to do? Doug Nemecek, chief medical officer at Cigna:

“‘We need to reach out to some friends and make sure we maintain those connections and have meaningful conversations. It’s important for all of us to be comfortable asking other people how they feel.”

And for the lonely majority to risk being vulnerable when asked.

On the Commodification of Damn Near Everything

From the great electronic encyclopedia in the sky:

Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities, or objects of trade. A commodity at its most basic, according to Arjun Appadurai, is “any thing intended for exchange,” or any object of economic value. People are commodified—turned into objects—when working, by selling their labour on the market to an employer.”

A year ago, a Seattle runner, training for a marathon, took a self-defense class. In the middle of a long training run, she hopped into a public bathroom on the Burke-Gilman trail, where she was attacked by a violent, deranged person inside her bathroom stall. Thought she was going to die. Then drew on her training, tapped her inner savage, and repelled her attacker.

Made the news. Clearly, a tough, resilient, inspiring woman. A few days ago, I listened to an update. She finished the Chicago Marathon and created a “NTMF” movement, Not Today Mother (something or other), which is intended to inspire women to learn self-defense. A good thing, but then the story took a sharp, predictable, commercial turn. T-shirts and coffee mugs now available for sale. Note too, she’s available for media inquiries and bookings.

A few months ago, pre-Weinstein, my favorite radio sports talk host, who I’ve enjoyed listening to for two decades, stopped by a Bellevue condo complex after a round of golf. Said it was for a massage. Turns out, he paid for sex. His radio station thanked him for his service.

After going dark for awhile, he turned to Twitter to revive his personal brand. He’s not selling t-shirts and coffee mugs, he’s selling himself. The vast majority of people responded positively, quick to forgive, hopeful he’ll get a new gig soon. He replied to darn near each person with a personal “thank you”. I’m sure they think he cares, that they have some sort of personal connection.

They’re all being played. How can he truly care about them, when he’s never met them? All he cares about is increasing his followers on Twitter. The higher that number, the better his odds of a second act.

Everyone is selling something. A friend tells me I’m no different. I’m selling ideas on the Humble Blog. Guilty as charged. But don’t underestimate my commercial chops. At last look, I had 61 Twitter followers.

 

One Surefire Way to Improve Mental Health

Jean M. Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, argues that smart phones are contributing to Millennial’s worsening mental health. The data is concerning.

Here’s her Atlantic essay (hyperbolically) titled “Have Smartphones Ruined a Generation” and here’s an interview with her from yesterday’s PBS NewsHour.

In summary, the less tethered young people are to their phones, the better their mental health.

Of Speeding Basketballs and the Tyranny of the Urgent

In my second story home office, I look out a window at a basketball hoop, the Black Hills, and our suburban street winding downhill to the west. Today, I was watching a neighbor shoot hoops with his five year old son when the ball careened down the long semi-steep hill. It was comical when the boy gave chase because he was gradually losing ground on the ball as it gained speed skimming along the curb.

Saturday I began teaching a class on leadership for school program directors and principals-to-be. One thing I will impress upon them is they are the five year old boy because school administrators struggle mightily to get ahead of their daily “To do” lists. If they don’t learn to manage their time in ways that allow for creative thinking about the larger purposes of schooling they’ll never be inspiring or transformational leaders.

I know this because my “To do” list garners way too much of my attention. I fool myself into feeling productive when I shrink my list which ebbs and flows with the same predictability as the tides. Here’s today’s, Monday, February 8th:

• org 583 readings/desk

• finalize 563B syllabus—Lenny, 90m

• 563B sllyabus to Diana

• 2/9, Monday, Dept mtg, 9-10:30a, Search, 12:30-1p, interviews 1-2:30p and 4:30-6p

• prep 563B sessions 1 & 2

One wonders, can I get my swim workout in and get to work in time to “org 583 readings/desk” before the 9a department meeting? What a model I am for transformational leadership, my overarching goal for the day is to check off as many of the five items as possible. Instead of asking, “Did you leave the department, the teaching credential program, and/or the U in a better place?” or “Did you touch anyone’s life today?” My dinner companion tonight might ask, “How many bullet points did you manage to delete today?” Your “To do” list any shorter?

In my position, I regularly hand teary-eyed student teachers tissues and help them make peace with my faculty colleagues, their cooperating teachers, their supervisors, and their students. While helping resolve their problems I often think, “If we don’t find the time to fix the underlying flaws in our program’s design that repeatedly give rise to these crises, we’re going to be distracted in perpetuity by time consuming cases like these.”

If he made it a priority, the five year old’s father could take two or three shooting sessions with his son off to build some sort of barricade or contraption that would prevent errant balls from rocketing all the way down the street again. With more quiet, uninterrupted, big picture/program design time, I could greatly reduce the total number of student crises needing my immediate attention. Of course though, program design is a collaborative process, so I’m dependent upon all of my colleagues getting in front of the speeding basketball too

And in this era of information and sensory overload, it’s every plugged in man, woman, and child for themselves. I could be much more disciplined about regularly unplugging from the internet to be more reflective and thoughtful about what’s most important at work and in life. Maybe, as a first Bill Murray-like baby step, my leadership students and I need to follow this advice.