Saturday, August 8, 2015

Poole Quay, Saturday

DSC03075 (1400x933)Shopping complete, laundry done, packing finished.  The mail chirps with new incoming messages, but it’s late to engage with the US.   I’ve finished my exercise, my novel, and my Board planning.

‘ready for a  change of scene.

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5 Woodside is quiet.  Our Cardiologist huddles among books in the living room, studying for a certification examination.  A  new couple from Portugal, both nurses, are making their first dinner together.

I pack a camera and tablet and head for Poole Quay.

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The Quay is Harbour and Nightlife in the historic part of town, layered streets of ships, pubs, and restaurants, interspersed with music.  I think that port cities always hold a district like this one, from Baltimore to Maastricht, Seattle to Stockholm, transcending country and culture..  People congregate where there are lights reflecting on water, laughter over candle-lit tables, and slow walks in sea breezes.

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It’s a nice evening to read, to take a few pictures, and to enjoy watching the milling couples.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Health, Longevity, and Finger Pointing

Merchant - Lyme Regis Low Tide

The photograph is from Lyme Bay at low tide, taken by Richard Marchant for the Dorset Landscapes group.  the jumble of boats is evocative of my week: Mind cluttered during  travel, driving up and down England to get business matters settled ahead of a week’s vacation. 

Three ideas in particular stayed with me, the topic of todays essays.

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DSC02954 (1400x894)Jeff Gordinier offered 12 Tips for Living a Longer Life in the NYTimes this week.  It centers on healthy eating habits, ranging from Drink more coffee (Yay!) to Hold the butter (Boo!).  My favorite, though, is the last suggestion:

Eat in good company. It’s not just about what you eat, but how you eat, and how much you and your friends enjoy a meal together.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate a meal taken at leisure, interspersed with conversation, wine, and trips outdoors for a breath between courses.  A break for lunch and a talk is normal now; a three hour dinner is no big stretch, it’s a leisurely and thoughtfully fun evening to savor.

And, if you haven’t explored your probability of living five more years, check out the UbbLE Risk Calculator.

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DSC03033 (904x1400)The Shrink and Sage tackled How do we live with our mistakes? last weekend. 

The Shrink counseled Recognize that we all make a mess of things sometimes. Make sure you do this with kindness and compassion towards yourself. Then carry on living.

The Sage suggested (paraphrasing)  Often we can’t know what the ‘right’ choice is, and, in hindsight, we will often get it wrong.  Still, we must suspend judgment and commit, simply putting aside doubt and acknowledging the possibility that we might have chosen badly.

Along the way, the Shrink commented An approach I find helpful and refreshing is acceptance and commitment therapy, which is part of the “third wave” cognitive-behaviour-therapy stable. 

“Third Wave” is an agreeably modern dialectic, perhaps first popularized by Futurist Alvin Toffler as the Third Wave of Economic Development (Agrarian, Industrial, Information), separately adopted by Third Wave Feminists (Legal rights, Institutional rights, Identity rights). 

In Cognitive Therapies, it is the third step in progression from operant behavioral conditioning (desensitization) through rational ’talking’ therapies, to building healthier behavioral skills.  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), for example, preaches Accept your reactions and be present, Choose a valued direction, and Take action. 

I like the mindfulness aspect of suspending context and focusing on the present, but dislike the accompanying suspension of judgment.  I’m somewhat more attracted to the related approach of Morita Therapy:

One of the primary goals in Morita therapy is to reach the state of arugamama (acceptance of reality as it is). This state includes accepting one’s feelings and thoughts without trying to change them. Morita therapy encourages people to focus their efforts toward living life well rather than to direct attention and energy to changing emotions, accomplishing what is important in life even as unpleasant feelings coexist.

The similarities with many of the ACT techniques, including mindfulness, acceptance of emotions, committed action, value-based behaviors, and the use of metaphors, are striking.  Hoffman, 2008

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finger textWhile driving up to Oxford, I chanced to see a woman arrive at the bus stop,  running her finger over the schedule as she looked for the next bus.

Why do we do that?  The finger itself doesn’t read the words, and there was no companion present that she might be pointing something out.   My guess is that the finger must help in directing visual focus and acquisition of sequential text?

Reflecting, I usually point at text when finding something in an ordered list (as opposed to a searching for a word in free text).  I also do it when tracing information in a picture, as a route across a map.  Speed readers use a finger to pull the eye along text, and maybe this is the point in all cases. 

Researchers note that finger pointing is a human universal; it transcends culture and invariably is associated with the index finger.   While apes also do it, it is thought to be a gesture of language, variously and innate component of language acquisition, a basic component of non-verbal communication, and the ‘royal road to language for babies’ (Wilkins 2003).

It would be interesting to see whether people locate information more quickly when allowed to use their finger, vs. not.  I’m sure someone must have done the experiment, but I’m still looking for a reference (some day when I have time, it would be easy to try….)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

It’s really time for a holiday…

DSC02881 (1400x915)A couple of weeks ago, I stepped out of my Saturday visit to a local fair to take a business call.  It didn’t last long, but there was a problem to listen to, alternatives to discuss, a decision to make.  I don’t recall anything other than concentrating on the person visualizing the issue, and negotiating a solution.  But the body language was wholly different: in photos taken during the call, I look intense, old, angry, stressed.

IMG_0263 (1020x1400)It’s sobering.  At a minimum, it reminds me to breathe, smile, and relax during phone conversations so that I project the optimism and positive attitudes that I feel.

But, more broadly, I need to acknowledge that the past two months, indeed the past two years, have not been easy.  I’ve made some very positive changes and have embraces wonderful people.  Alongside, though, there have been intense periods of sacrifice, stress, and loss.

Do you consider the immediate past to have been a success or a failure? So began a debate with other CEOs at a dinner party two weeks ago.  “Success: I’ve made mistake, but I acknowledged them, learned from them, DSC02723 (920x1400)and achieved what we needed to.  Often ugly, but we won, every time. “

Still, I feel the weight of the mistakes, the unnecessary risks and diversions, and it feels like failure sometimes.  Doing My Best is not acceptable if I’m out of my depth.

One  example we all discussed was how we learned the difference between yeast and baking soda. 

When making bread, if you forget the baking soda, you can always add it at the end.   If you forget to add yeast at the right time, however, the recipe will fail.  Recognizing and getting the critical steps right, the yeast in business and relationships, is vital.

How will the next ten years be different from the last ten years?  I acknowledged with my counselor that the challenges were largely  met, now.  Knotty problems have been solved, ruminative  questions are answered, resources have started flowing back. 

Arguably, then, life is finally turning a corner.  So what will you do next? Fix the past, or build the future?

Holiday

Go on Holiday.

My old inclination would have been to use the time to take stock, giving thought to my long term goals and short-term situation.  How should my job, my residence, my balans en grenzen change?  It may be time to change my work role, consolidate belongings in one apartment, update  the web site….

Stop! warned the people who know me best.  This is the time to do nothing.  Take a reward and celebrate what you’ve achieved.  Disconnect and take time with activities and people that matter most to you.  Be kind to yourself, and heal.  Feel what, who, where makes you happiest.

I‘ll take the advice.

I’m 1439040094929getting tasks delegated, contracts and planning finished.  I’ve been shopping for a hat and sunglasses, subscribed to the Oyster library, and loaded KCLS books.  I’ve skimmed the Lonely Planet guide to the Turquoise Coast and looked at the local sailing and historical activities.  The camera (and the as-yet-unread User’s Manual) are ready.

And, in two weeks, I‘ll have a better photo to show than the ones taken two weeks ago.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Evenings along the beaches

DSC02895 (1400x933)Summer evenings, especially when the skies glow late accompanied by warm offshore breezes, draw people in toward the beaches.  I know the signs, traffic backed up around the circles and into neighboring seaside communities of Bournemouth, Sandbanks, Branksome.  Congestion forces many to give up, leaving them to crowd the outdoor terraces and gardens of Parkstone and Westbourne.

But locals know where street parking can be found, along East Cliff or Canford Cliffs.  DSC03044 (1400x924)

They know the short walks to the high bluffs overlooking the Channel, where the Isle of Wight and Old Harry’s Rocks glow orange and pink at the horizon. 

They know the bet paths down to the beaches, and the trails that meander through the low brush and grasses to the Pier approaches. 

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In summer there is music in the parks and pavilions, ice cream vendors against the beach huts, and families clustered tight about charcoal grills, beer bottles clutched close keeping watch on their chicken and burgers.

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The clouds  illuminate yellow from above, then red from the below, as the sun sets.  Garish animated signs illuminate  the public areas, while and soft lanterns mark the paths that weave between them.

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A relaxed younger crowd strolls, holding hands, studying one another, back and forth between venues.  DSC02889 (1400x976)The older folks sit alongside windscreens in beach chairs, watching the waves change colour through the evening and reading the newspaper.

It all has the nostalgic air of carnival evenings in the suburban parks outside Chicago, neon lit vendors above food and laughter.  It’s a relaxing and comfortable time, good for a contemplative stroll or just to shed the day’s work.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The nature of tragedy

DSC02841 (1351x1400)What is dramatic tragedy?  Where comedy makes us laugh and drama tells a story, tragedy is harder to define.  I think of it as a narrative that leads to a bad outcome, despite the good intentions of everyone involved.

Against the run of summer Shakespeare, I’ve been reading  concordances, where classical tragedy is described as:

A story in which a person of high status undergoes a change of fortune.  The person is neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but of moderate character who falls  from greatness through a ‘tragic error’ (hamartia: tragic flaw), which need not be moral, and may only be a mistake.  This leads to catastrophe and ultimately to self-discovery.

DSC02840 (1400x928)In theater, as in life: How do we distinguish fatal flaws from fatal temperament? At what point do bad behaviours suggest a bad person, rather than a tragically misguided one?  The distinction is important, because it separates those who we might pity or forgive from those we need to judge and avoid.

I think that there are three characteristics that distinguish the two:  Opportunistic violation of trust, harmful acts without regret nor remorse, and selfish social manipulation.   Repeatedly observed, it crosses a  line in business, in friendships, where I just give up trying to excuse or fix things.

Where possible, I cut these people off and construct paths around them.  Yet there are those with money or influence who can’t be evaded.  What tools do we have to deal with truly bad people?

Colleagues suggest that the only approach is force: you bloody a bully’s nose.  I use flattery and temptation if I’m being constructive, guilt and threats if I feel confrontational.  In recent challenges, a combination has worked, but likely more through patience and luck than any particular tactical or rhetorical skill.

DSC02842 (1400x892)I continue to believe, optimistically, that most people are good.  Hard work and sacrifice will yield valuable and redemptive rewards in their lives. 

However, I don’t reciprocally, wish bad things on bad people.  I believe in second chances over forgiveness, and in extending kindness where I can’t give trust.

And I ultimately believe in karmic balance: a small, mean, irrelevant life is the tragic reward of those who fail to transcend their hamartia.