On the Shoulders of Others

I had some original thoughts this week, my friends. A few were quite profound and moving. But I am too tired to expound on any of them in time to post. So I will share here the words of two of my favorite writers, as they express similar ideas eloquently and effectively.

The world is driven too much right now by cortisol and dopamine–threat and addiction, respectively, in a nutshell. We need more serotonin (joy, well-being, confidence), and especially more oxytocin (love, connection).

Watch Simon Sinek’s talk on EDSOC: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Cortisol. He speaks in terms of companies; but expand the application to your own life–your family, your community, your school–any tribe in which you claim membership.

How do you lead, even without a designated title?

The anecdote below is attributed to Elizabeth Gilbert, as shared by my friend on Facebook. I have not vetted it, though it sounds like EG’s voice. If she is not the author, and you know who it is, please correct me. Regardless, I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiment.

What will you do differently when you claim you rightful place as ‘the light’?

Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated with one another, with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.

But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom.”Folks,” he said, “I know you have had a rough day and you are frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here is what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight, just leave them with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I will open the window and throw your troubles in the water.”

It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who had been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?Oh, he was serious.

At the next stop, just as promised, the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.

We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it is extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.

But what if you are the light? What if you are the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?. That’s what this bus driver taught me, that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy influencer. He was a bus driver, one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.

When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name.

No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated, one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river.

I’m slowly cultivating a friendship with a lovely couple in Appalachia, an hour at a time, once a month, over Zoom. Jay and I met in Ozan Varol‘s now defunct online Inner Circle. We three, Jay, Janet, and I, meet on video to exchange ideas and opinions from different positions on political, racial, national, and generational spectra. We agreed wholeheartedly today that bridging the world’s divides begins with conversations like ours, between engaged individuals, founded on mutual respect, curiosity, and patience. Healing Through Connection, indeed.

Onward, friends, ODOMOBaaT.

Strengths and Struggles

 

“Creative, resourceful, and whole.”

This is how life coaches are trained to see their clients, first and foremost–or at least I know it’s how Christine sees me. She tells me all the time.

In a coach-client relationship, this fundamental framework sets the stage for the client’s strengths to shine, even as they struggle mightily with themselves, their circumstances, and those around them. By making this commitment of attitude, the coach positions herself to call forth the client’s highest and best self, and for the client to answer with authenticity, confidence, and agency. The client’s  fundamental need for psychological safety in this intimate relationship is satisfied up front and
without question, immediately creating space for honest, vulnerable work.

What if we all saw one another this way? What if we at least practiced more awareness of our default opinions, narratives, assumptions, and expectations of ourselves and other people?

As physicians counseling for habit change, as parents guiding behavior and skills development, as leaders coordinating team collaboration and working for collective goals–how often do we look down at those around us, seeing first their flaws, deficiencies, and pathologies? How often with spouses, bosses, coworkers, siblings, neighbors, and people of other races, classes, genders, sexualities, and professions?

Who do we see first as admirable, worthy of respect and reverence? How do we show up differently to these people, compared to others? And how does this impact–no, incite, inspire, or create—how they show up to us?  Don’t you find that a person’s vibe precedes them when they approach you?  You feel it
in your body, no?  Our species could not survive, evolve, and dominate without this instinctive, innate sense.  How much more could we accomplish, how much more potential could we realize, if we all approached one another with the sincere intention to bring out one another’s best?  Or if we each just did it a little more often?

It’s humbling to notice what negative assumptions and narratives I tell about people, and how blind it makes me to their gifts, talents, and contributions.  But the moment I can let go these mental chains,  I’m free, and I free them, from these unspoken yet deeply held limitations on possibility.  If I can choose more often to hold people first and foremost as Creative, Resourceful, and Whole, I know at least my own life will be much better, because I will show up to people joyful and curious.  And I bet I can make a much bigger, lighter, and more loving impact in everything I do.

ODOMOBaaT.

 

Potential and Contribution (and Books)

What things—books, movies, songs, mementos, prayers—do you return to often?  Why?

Here at the end of another shockingly abnormal year, what calls you to return, beseeches you to center, to ground, to focus, and prepare to engage hereafter from a deeper, more authentic place?

When you look back at 2021, how do you assess intensity, complexity, and relationships?  It’s a bit mind-bending for me!  For so long now the learning feels as if from a fire hose, and I’m grateful beyond measure for it all.  This week I made a feeble effort at assessing my net experience of 2021—positive or negative?  How does one even go about measuring this?  I quickly settled with satisfaction that it has simply been a year of challenge, learning, and growth.  Good enough.

Four blog posts left for the year.  I’ll include books consumed below, rather than as a separate post, and I offer the titles without comment.  This year I also include content in other media that resonated, in case you want to check them out.  Reviewing the list brings me back to the places and times where I consumed the works, and I’m a little surprised to feel comfort, more than anything else.  Huh.  What story do I tell about that?  Maybe learning is my safe and happy place?  Maybe as long as I feel like I’m gaining something—information, knowledge, connection, expertise, wisdom—then I can feel secure and confident to handle whatever comes next?

After outputting for 31 days in a row, and then a 6 day GI illness that knocked me down in a big way (be careful out there, friends, there are some nasty bugs going around!), this weekend I felt a deep longing for familiar voices and lessons.  I listened again to The Art of Possibility, and I’m halfway through Start With Why.  How funny, after all these years, I still manage to come back to the same books annually.  They refill my tank, somehow; they comfort me, inspire me.  They welcome me like a big, warm, floofy arm chair.  With and in them, I relax and breathe easier.  Then I feel refreshed, ready to tackle challenges, learning, and growth with renewed enthusiasm.

In my copy of AoP, a picture of me with Ben Zander marks the page that describes Giving the A:

(This practice) is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them.  It is a shift in attitude that makes it possible for you to speak freely about your own thoughts and feelings while, at the same time, you support others to be all they dream of being.  The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility.

An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life—to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team, and to other drivers in traffic.  When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves.  Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.

An A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

A photo of Hubs and me marks the page that lists the distinctions of a vision that frames possibility:

  • A vision articulates a possibility
  • A vision fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind, a desire with which any human being can resonate.  It is an idea to which no one could logically respond, “What about me?”
  • A vision makes no reference to morality or ethics, it is not about a right way of doing things.  It cannot imply that anyone is wrong.
  • A vision is stated as a picture for all time, using no numbers, measures or comparatives.  It contains no specifics of time, place, audience, or product.
  • A vision is free-standing—it points to neither a rosier future, nor to a past in need of improvement.  It gives over its bounty now.  If the vision is “peace on earth,” peace comes with its utterance.  When “the possibility of ideas making a difference” is spoken, at that moment ideas do make a difference.
  • A vision is a long line of possibility radiating outward.  It invites infinite expression, development, and proliferation within its definitional framework.
  • Speaking a vision transforms the speaker.  For that moment the “real world” becomes a universe of possibility and the barriers to realization of the vision disappear.

Listening to these passages prompted me to wonder about my own vision.  What shining light do I see on and beyond the horizon, toward which I march with conviction and joy?  It took no time.  For my patients, my children, my trainees, people I work with—for everybody—my vision is for us all/each to realize our potential and make our best contribution.  We get to define these words and their meaning for ourselves, whenever and however we want—they are intersecting, metamorphosing.  The vision’s expression is fluid, and certainly evolves over time.  And like a Why and a Just Cause, this vision grounds me in core values, while inspiring me to reach with cheerful, optimistic audacity for possibility.  I think it fulfills the vision criteria, and anyway it’s mine and I’m keeping it—for now, at least.

My favorite books always bring me back to my center, my raison d’etre, my Why—to optimize relationships between all people.

What a fantastic time of year to revel in them yet again, to refuel and recharge for the long winter ahead.

Books and Media 2021

Books [Titles in brackets have yet to be finished]

  1. Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson
  2. Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
  3. [Own Your Present by Candace Good, MD]
  4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  5. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  6. Think Again by Adam Grant
  7. Change by Damon Centola
  8. Who You Are by Michael Spivey
  9. Persist by Elizabeth Warren
  10. Managing Transitions by William Bridges and Susan Bridges
  11. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
  12. [Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam]
  13. [The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw]
  14. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
  15. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
  16. The Culture Puzzle by Mario Moussa, Derek Newberry, and Greg Urban
  17. Tribes by Seth Godin
  18. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
  19. Together by Vivek Murthy
  20. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
  21. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman
  22. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
  23. Eat a Peach by David Chang
  24. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  25. [A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell]
  26. A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
  27. [Navigating Polarities by Brian Emerson and Kelly Lewis]
  28. Cooked by Michael Pollan
  29. Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
  30. How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
  31. Caffeine by Michael Pollan (Audible exclusive)
  32. This Is Your Mind On Plants by Michael Pollan
  33. The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderson (Audible exclusive)
  34. Men’s Health by Daniel Goldfarb (Audible exclusive)
  35. The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, In Conversation with Michael Toms
  36. [Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker]
  37. Stop Walking On Eggshells by Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger
  38. This Is Not the End by Tabetha Martin, ed (Audible exclusive)
  39. In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor
  40. The Power of Us by Jay J. Van Bavel PhD, and Dominic J. Packer PhD
  41. Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
  42. The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
  43. Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Podcasts

Hidden Brain

  1. Not at the Dinner Table
  2. The Easiest Person to Fool
  3. How They See Us
  4. The Snowball Effect
  5. Useful Delusions
  6. In the Heat of the Moment
  7. Group Think

WorkLife

  1. The Real Reason You Procrastinate
  2. Relationships at Work with Esther Perel
  3. Building an Anti-Racist Workplace

A Bit of Optimism

  1. Extreme Listening with Deeyah Khan
  2. Quiet Service with General Stanley McChrystal
  3. Enchantment with Chloe Valdary

The Knowledge Project

  1. Jeff Immelt:  Leadership in a Crisis
  2. Danny Meyer:  Hospitality and Humanity
  3. Adam Grant:  Rethinking Your Position
  4. Bill Ackman: Getting Back Up
  5. Jim Collins: Relationships vs. Transactions
  6. Angela Duckworth:  Grit and Human Behavior
  7. Sendhil Mullainathan:  The Chaos Inside Us
  8. Randall Stutman:  The Essence of Leadership
  9. Lisa Feldman Barrett:  Balancing the Brain Budget

Netflix

Ugly Delicious

  1. Pizza
  2. Tacos
  3. Fried Chicken
  4. Fried Rice
  5. Stuffed
  6. Don’t Call It Curry

Chef’s Table

  1. Massimo Bottura
  2. Dan Barber
  3. Niki Nakayama
  4. Grant Achatz
  5. Dominique Crenn
  6. Gaggan Anand
  7. Ivan Orkin

Street Food: Asia

  1. Bangkok, Thailand
  2. Osaka, Japan
  3. Chiayi, Taiwan
  4. Seoul, South Korea

Cooked:  all 4 episodes

Halt and Catch Fire

TED Talk: Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong

YouTube: Eugene Lee Yang:  My First Met Gala (And How I Almost Didn’t Make It)