The Fountain of Youth

“There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

That wisdom was shared by the one and only Sophia Loren. I didn’t see many movies starring Ms. Loren growing up — except for “Houseboat.” It was shown more than once on the Sunday afternoon movies on the local NBC affiliate. That last bit of trivia has nothing to do with this post, but reminded me of why I once thought having a nanny was a great idea. In truth, I thought living on a houseboat was even a grander idea, but the nanny concept was right up there pretty close.

I have never really pursued a fountain of youth. I don’t recall having a mid-life crisis, either. That could be because I didn’t have one or because I simply can no longer remember.

Throughout my 6+ decades I haven’t really thought about aging because the mental picture I carry of myself is one from my 20s — or perhaps my 30s or 40s — but certainly not my 60s. I spend a majority of my time thinking I can still do things I did a long time ago. And then there are those moments that I can’t. Without a doubt, I am getting old.

Those hesitant moments are different from other moments. After my recent shoulder surgery I was surprised when I could not, no matter how hard I tried, raise my arm. That is an injured moment — acute, but not chronic. These more senior moments are the ones that hit you in the gut with the realization that “this” (whatever “this” is) will never, ever get any better.

I had one of those moments at the gym yesterday. I’d like to tell you about how I can no longer benchpress several hundred pounds and how disappointing that was. However, I’ve been disappointed by that inability all of my life. No, the difficult moment I experienced was in a quiet corner of the locker room.

Often times I go to the gym very early in the morning. And, in an effort to conserve time, it is my practice to shower and dress for work while there. Before yesterday, I had always worn my glasses into the shower area, laid them aside with my towel and then donned them again on my way back to the locker room.

Ever seeking efficiency, I had the grand idea yesterday that I would leave my glasses in my locker. It greatly lessens the chance that I might lose them or drop them. So off I went to the showers sans eyeglasses. Shower completed I retraced my steps to my locker. It was then it hit me.

Without my glasses, I couldn’t see the numbers on the combination lock. I made an effort. I squinted. I rotated my head in bird fashion to elevate my good eye to a superior position. I squeezed my eyes tight and then opened them rapidly. I even tried to read the numbers on the lock in Braille-like fashion with my fingertips.

Nothing worked. The truth became much more clear than the numbers on that lock. I cannot see without my glasses. Nor will it ever get any better. I’m simply to that age.

We all have these moments when we see something we’ve taken for granted slipping away. Or in my case, not just slipping. That train had completely left the station. With that in mind, I was forced to begin thinking differently about the reality of our limited existence on this earth.

You would think at this point in the story that I might introduce a dramatic plot twist revealing my McGyver-like thinking and problem-solving. Instead, I turn to a bit of philosophy.

There comes a time when you have to turn the business of the day over to someone younger and better prepared.

And so I did. I was a little embarrassed to ask for help. Young guy. Maybe late fifties. More than happy to come to my assistance. With it, he offered this sound advice: “Don’t leave your glasses in the locker next time. No telling what might happen to you.”

Words to live by. Keep your glasses close by. Never go too far without extra hearing aid batteries. If you really believe you can outrun that car, you’re simply wrong. But that’s a story for another day.

 

Sometimes “I’m Better Off” Isn’t the Best Measure of Good Government

Privilege and Position Shouldn't Determine What's Right

I’ve stepped back from public comment about our current leadership in order to inwardly address the anger and frustration I feel towards our U.S. political environment. We are realizing the obvious. The current direction will not make America great again. This is not good government. And, honestly, it might not have been any better had the election results been different. We have some deep and difficult work to undertake before we get to good government.

photo credit: Madi Robson | unsplash.com

I freely admit that the Trump Administration and some of their actions have shown a momentary improvement to the economy. My net worth has gone up along with everyone else’s. At least those of us fortunate enough to have a net worth that can be impacted by policy.

But good government is not determined solely by the benefits for those who already enjoy privilege and position. Good government is about helping all so that we can move forward together. The policies of this administration, despite claims made during the election, will not accomplish that.

I understand that we have a problem with government largesse and bureaucracy. I am hopeful that some of the shrapnel from the budget policy bombs being dropped will positively change that. But efficiency won’t make America great. It will be too little and an investment in things and not people.

Politicians always claim that they will be able to unify people. That’s the only way that any organized group can move forward — whether it’s a nation, a sports team, or a business.

The proposed funding recommended by the current administration is not a unity budget. Ironically, the results it brings will further divide the American people. Despite an effort to paint the “enemy them” as immigrants and terrorists, we are pitting ourselves against each other.

It’s easy to be complacent. I’m white and middle-classed. There’s a good chance I’ll be better off economically in four years. But I won’t see the unity that makes us great. I’d rather have less and walk shamelessly with every single person.

The Pendulum Effect

Over a month ago, I announced my decision to leave Facebook. My decision was based on what I viewed as the debilitating impact it was having on my attitude toward other people. On February 15, 2017, I deactivated my Facebook account. My absence from that space has had a number of positive results for me — more time for other things, less judgmental thoughts about people posting inane political rants or cluelessly posting unsubstantiated information. I have missed the news about families, personal needs, children, and pets. In this few weeks of freedom from the daily Facebook routine, I have experienced a pendulum effect.

The pendulum was a remarkable breakthrough in technology in its day. A pendulum is a weight suspended on a rod or a line. When the weight is moved off center, the force of gravity causes it to move toward center. Because the force of gravity, the force that causes the weight to seek the center, is not strong enough to hold it there, the weight moves past center into the opposite direction. And the process is then repeated in reverse. If you have time on your hands, feel free to watch Mr. Science explain the pendulum effect.

In theory, if the pivot spot, the place where the rod or line is connected, is frictionless and the weight and the rod experience no resistance as they travel, this moving back and forth continues . . . forever. But there are outside forces that diminish the effect. Thus, with no additional assistance or boost, a pendulum set in motion will eventually swing back and forth until the resistance brings the weight to rest in the center.

The pendulum effect I have experienced was not theoretical. In my absence from Facebook, I left my judgmental ways and I experienced an extreme aversion to saying anything about, well, anything. But, then, my previous experience and other influences pulled me back toward center — and then back toward the desire to be excessively judgmental and vocal. I’ve been back and forth on this a number of times.

I’m beginning to feel that constant shifting in my intent fade as the forces of friction and the natural force of gravity — common sense and clarity — pull me to a place of equilibrium. I no longer fixate on a desire to judge others and to express my thoughts in a derisive tone. Yet, I find myself able, in this neutral place, to view what is happening around me and ask those questions that seek truth and understanding.

In other words, without being driven to be right, I am freed to calmly, rationally, and, to a great extent, joyfully explore the world around me. If you are feeling anxiety over events spinning around you, I’d urge you to set your pendulum in motion.

Fixing News – A Simple Plan to Build Trust

Making America a little more great

As a mediator, one of my jobs is to look for ways that people can sit at the same table to negotiate. That can be made difficult by the negotiating tactics of one or both parties. One of the things that makes President Trump attractive to his constituents is his refusal to operate by long-standing rules of decorum and practices as President. He effectively uses social media to speak directly to the American people and the world. Some of those communications have value and others merely allow him to vent. His constant message of late is that the major media outlets manufacture fake news. In return, the media points out the major inconsistencies in the information that comes out of the Trump administration and voices their frustration. I’m not sure whether anyone has thought through the possibilities of fixing news — at least in a way that begins to satisfy the foundational purposes that drive our need for news.

Since I’ve decided to make an effort to be as objective as I can about the present state of our nation, I want to share my observations.

First, the news media taken as a whole is a mess. When news became a business, a significant amount of attention shifted to “selling newspapers.” This was a natural shift in that the gathering, analysis, and distribution of news is an expensive proposition and, since we believe there is tremendous potential for bias in a government-controlled press, we had to find a way to fund it. Unfortunately, in a free market environment, the competition for larger market share and the money that flows as a result often drive new organization from the solid ground of professional reporting to the edges of sensationalism.

Even when sensationalism isn’t the focus, other organizations drift to the right or left dependent on the political leanings of their ownership groups. Such alignment is natural and should be acceptable. We accept it in regard to politicians. So news people, just like anyone else, should be able to claim their political spot. But journalists should operate within the boundaries of truthfulness and accurate reporting.

I believe that the majority of news outlets have professional journalists dedicated to reporting the news accurately and asking vital questions. Let’s let them do their jobs — perhaps in a little different way.

Second, President Trump’s reliance on the surprise factor — his penchant for keeping everyone off balance — has put him in the White House. Yet, for those who listen carefully to what he says and watch what he does, that mode of operation has made him a highly questionable source of solid, factual information. Some say that is part of his genius. Others assert that it is only the vestiges of his ego and perhaps a more serious mental disorder. Looking at it objectively, his methods have been successful in keeping his opponents and, to a large degree, the American public guessing. I believe we are also hearing the uncertainty of world leaders building. The unpredictability of President Trump is a negotiating strategy. I teach negotiation. Most often, a prolonged assertion of unpredictability into the negotiation process is considered a hardball tactic. Equally seasoned negotiators either respond in kind or refuse to continue the game.

The news media has tried the hardball tactic. The results have been comical and would indeed be funny if the future of the nation and the world weren’t at stake. But aggressively arguing with a man who refuses to embrace the value of truth and accuracy is futile. Frankly, even if that is merely his negotiating strategy, it should be disturbing when basic honesty is cast aside merely to win. And, to be objective, we must admit there is some of that same game being played from within some of the news outlets.

So, my simple plan to fix news is this and is directed entirely to the news media. Here’s the more complex version of the simple plan.

  1. Observe and report on exactly what President Trump and his administration say and do.
  2. Go to his news conferences and listen. Don’t ask questions. Don’t bait him or be baited by him. When the prepared remarks end, close your notepads and walk away.
  3. When reporting on the President, present solid, fact-based data regarding what he says and does.
  4. Continue to seek out and even employ analysts who speak to the possible meaning of the history that is unfolding around us. Report their thoughts accurately and honestly.
  5. Seek other sources for news. Go to elected leaders and ask questions. Let political leaders enter into the debate and argument with the President. Give them a bigger share of the coverage.
  6. Report on alternatives that emanate from other political leaders and citizens. Give an objective score sheet to the American people to choose the leadership and direction of our country.
  7. Don’t rely on unnamed sources. We are beyond the moment when people who care about important things should remain anonymous.
  8. Be proud of what you do. The role of the news media is an important one. Don’t let negotiation tactics keep you off balance.

The simple version is this:

Respect the office of the President. Don’t play games with someone who has thrown away the rule book. If the game is based entirely on misdirection, you will never win unless you are better at creating confusion through misdirection. Create a new game with new rules. Observe, be fair, and distance yourself. Find alternative reliable sources and offer your readers and audiences the opportunity to decide who they will trust.