Archive for December, 2013

The Metaphysics of Co-Pays

December 19, 2013

With all this hubub about health insurance and Obamacare and the ongoing debate between coverage and cost, it got me thinking about re-booting one’s life and the metaphysics of co-pays. What is the co-pay required for you to live the life you have? What sort of co-pay do you expect from those with whom you share your life? Do you see yourself as the insurer or the insured? Is your policy that of an individual or a group? Have you recently cut some one off your plan? Was there a rate hike involved in this decision? What would be the cost of changing your policy entirely and going with an entirely different plan or provider? For your life, that is.

 

Now that I’ve got you thinking…

 

A significant part of the debate about health insurance revolves around forcing people to buy coverage they don’t want or need, with authorities claiming that to offer any other options would be providing “substandard care.” Really? Does a sixty year old need coverage for pregnancy? On an entirely different front, but equally valid in terms of the basis for our assumptions, there is a societal prejudice that institutions such as marriage and family need to fit certain parameters, but it goes further than that because those who wish to participate can get lost and confused if their lives and their experiences don’t match what everyone tells them it should be like! Speaking of underlying social prejudices, one of my favorites, of late, came from an October New York Times article profiling gay couples who had chosen not to marry. The partner in one such couple claimed that she refused to marry saying marriage is a privilege that stigmatizes singles. Wow! I suppose she believes her views to be “compassionate,” but as a single person myself, it caught my attention that the condition in which I entered (let alone exit) this world should be such a shame-inducing status. Hmm. What does this opinion tell us about this woman’s frame of reference and assumptions?

 

So, back to you. As re-booters, we all understand that there are prices to be paid and trade offs to be made for whatever path in life we select. What I am trying to get you to reflect upon is how high a daily price is involved for you? Is it worth it? And, what sort of price do you demand from others (because you do)? If this question surprises you or makes you uncomfortable, may I recommend that you spend some time considering what you require of those in your life. Are they paying it gladly or with resentment? How about you? Are you present and gladly making your co-pays to enjoy and ensure the smooth workings of your arrangement or have you so mentally detached from your situation that the coins you offer are hollow? 

 

At this moment, are you the insurer or the insured? Have you signed up for the plan you really want, that serves the needs you have? Think on this and get back to me. Operators are standing by.

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Upping Your Personal Performance Expectations

December 17, 2013

Not that it’s my birthday (which it isn’t), but whenever an annual marker like this or New Years comes ‘round, one of my customary wishes is that I’ll be measurably wiser a year from now than I am at present. Another, more tangible challenge I make is upping the my performance expectations at the gym–I want to reassure myself that, going forward, I am meeting a higher level of achievement now than I did 12 months prior. Forestalling the dread of a downward slope of ability is a key goal.

But, what I’ve been thinking a lot about, of late, is the sort of graph that would measure my creative abilities vis a vis my chronological age. So, I ask this of you, too. What do you do better now than you did before? Think about the real progress you’ve made; formulate a portfolio of enhanced performance; congratulate yourself!

As we know, most adults fear that their abilities hit a peak and then start to diminish—and they’re not entirely wrong. Heck, Will Shakespeare proclaimed as much in All The World’s A Stage (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/all-the-world-s-a-stage/ ). But, what I want us to explore in today’s post is the things we’re doing better now than we did ten years ago, because we are much more than our physical bodies. And, to get you in the right frame of mind, let’s look at the example of a 17 year old versus a 12 year old. I think it’s safe to say that while a 12 year old’s limbs may be way more flexible and capable of wrapping themselves into one of those yoga knots, it is a 17 year old—who can no longer manage such feats—who is stronger, smarter, faster, and more controlled.

By the same token, I know that I am wiser, more confident, and capable now that I’m in my 40s than I was in my 30s. This is good. This is what I want, and I hope to report another advance ten years hence. What puzzles me is the vast swath of humanity who believe that things like wisdom and good humor happen organically, with no effort on their part. “I’m older than you,” they reason, “so I know more. I’m right.” Really? Do you believe this? Age is not the seminal criteria. Alas, we all know infantalistic fools who are our seniors. Wisdom, kindness, and good humor are not guaranteed to descend upon our crowns as years tick by. So, if this is the case, the converse is also true: skills such as creativity, insight, and flexibility continue to develop as we progress through life—but only if we make the active choice to cultivate them. Re-booters hold onto this knowledge because it plays a critical role in what we decide to do with the rest of our lives.

I’m going to give you a couple of examples reflecting this line of thought because it is easy for people to believe that their creative abilities diminish as they age, but I contend that it doesn’t have to be this way. In the latest 007 film, Skyfall, both James Bond and M wrestle with whether or not they are “too old” for their line of work. When Bond objects to working with a Quartermaster so young he still has “spots” on his face, Q tells him that, “age is no guarantee of efficiency.” “And youth is no guarantee of invention,” replies Bond, reminding Q that knowing when to pull—or not pull—a trigger is something Q can never learn from working on his cutting edge laptop. Although Bond fails all his assessment tests to re-join the force, M brings him back, anyway, because she knows he can do it. And he does, too. He knows more; he can pick up better clues sooner and faster than before. As beat up and battle weary as he is, 007 is more capable than ever.

In 2008, the rock group, The Police, played a concert in Tokyo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7_lgm4q734. Prior to the concert, the band members were interviewed about coming back together after so many years apart. They talk about playing with more power. Stuart Copeland is quoted saying, “Everything is different, and nothing has changed.” There was none of this business that his shoulder hurt him or he was tired of playing all the same songs or complaints about Sting being more famous. Copeland was at a point where he could play the same music, but with greater skill and understanding. When you look at your life to date, how is this true for you? What situations no longer phase you or cause you anxiety?

Much has been written about the theory that investigative scientists or composers make their most important contributions when they’re young. That may be true in some cases, but certainly not for all. I know people in their 60s, 70s, and beyond who say they have more creative energy today, and are on the cusp of significant breakthrough discoveries now, than twenty years earlier. They are better artists, writers, philosophers, researchers, lovers and friends—all of this due to the wisdom, patience, insight, and imagination they have actively cultivated over the course of their adulthood.

I remind you of this because it is so exciting! Re-booters understand that more and better in our lives awaits us if we have the courage and energy to pursue it. Age does not determine ability, mindset does. Sure, there will always be some activities that come more easily to others than they do to us, but we have our talents, too. We just need to keep nurturing them through our willingness to try new approaches, to ignore “common wisdom,” and avoid getting bogged down in habitual thought. If M had accepted conventional wisdom that James was too tired and beat up to be worthwhile, Bond would never have made it back to the field. If Stuart Copeland believed that rock music was a “young man’s game,” he wouldn’t have subjected himself to the potential embarrassment of performing in a stadium filled with 30,000 people more than half his age.

Don’t tell yourself you’re too old a dog to learn new tricks. Try going counterclockwise, see if you can leverage what you already know, keep an eye out for that new approach. Otherwise, you can join the legions of calcified thinkers who populate our world.

Tolerating Ambiguity

December 12, 2013

I’m one of those people who loves getting things done. I mean I love it; I get a visceral pleasure each time I cross a task off my list or accomplish a goal. Which is why my current situation is tremendously challenging for me, what with having so much unsettled and undone in my life. The uncertainty that surrounds questions such as employment, income generation, relationship status, and life direction haunts my thoughts. I don’t have the first clue as to how I go about answering any of the above. Which brings me to the question I now pose to you: how do you handle ambiguity in your life?

As Re-booters, we recognize enough to know that much of life lies beyond our control. For some of us (like me), this is a source of great concern; wiser and more well-adapted others recognize the reality of this state of affairs and let it ride. They go with the flow. They build into their calculations the fact that not all “I”s will be dotted or “T”s crossed. Hmm. I wish I were more like our more sanguine brethren. Where do you fall along this anxiety-generating spectrum?

Tolerating such flux requires a great deal of courage and belief in oneself. Even if we don’t have all the answers, Re-booters manage to maintain a level of resilience that serves as a life preserver in a rolling sea. I have to remind myself of this on a continual basis—I’d far rather be negotiating such unknown currents than be one of the many who find change and the unknown so frightening that they’d rather cling to whatever (dysfunctional) “known” they have than plunge into the shadowy depths. In fact, I can think of myriad examples of people I know who remain mired in situations (professional or personal) that no longer serve them because the specter of starting over is so petrifying. They don’t know what they’d do, how they’d get started, or if they’d “survive” in a new setting—I’m sympathetic. While the terrors presented by such scenarios are intimidating, the truth is that we’ve created something far, far worse in our minds than whatever reality is likely to dole out. At times such as these, we need to remind ourselves that our fears are products of our overactive imaginations, simply because we lack the Road Map To Our Future presented to us on a carved tablet, by angels descending from Heaven.

I’ve got some news for you, kids: the tablet is there, but our discovery of such will not involve Caravaggio’s angels. Instead, we’ve got to be willing to search around a little, reconsider previously dismissed talents, skills, and interests. Alas, as much as I have pleaded for some clear direction in my life, what I’ve received, instead, are a couple of persistent, low grade nudges. No trumpets. No lightning bolts. And no guarantee of success. But, here’s the encouraging part—despite all this, I still know I’m better off than I was four miserable years ago. Even now, with all this struggle and discouragement and obstacles in my way, I feel better equipped and stronger than I did when my life appeared to be far more promising and “successful.” And I ain’t blowing smoke when I say this. I am taking the time and trouble to share this with you as a means of encouragement! You are strong enough to take the step you’ve been fantasizing about. What is the change in your life that you wish for most? I want you to compare yourself to someone you know who has lived their life in fear. Don’t you feel sad for them? Don’t you imagine it could’ve been different for them if they’d only summoned the courage to try?

Now, get to it. I’m sure you’ve got tasks to cross off that list, goals to achieve…

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Like Day Old Bread—Reexamining Our Assumptions

December 10, 2013

We all operate our lives on the basis of many assumptions: the sun will rise each morning, our bodies will function the way we need them to, our days will unfold in a peaceful manner.  Such conjectures are entirely reasonable and, far more often than not, 100% correct. In fact, if we didn’t operate on the basis of such conjecture, we’d be unable to live our lives on anything resembling a normal basis. So, I’m down with the entire supposition-as-a-way-of-living deal.

 

As Re-booters, we know all too well that monkey wrenches can be thrown into the midst of our lives—some good, some disturbingly disruptive—but, for the most part we proceed with the expectation that life proceeds as we fundamentally expect. We’ve paid attention, considered our options, and drawn conclusions that have served us faithfully and well over the years. What intrigues me, though, is the failure of many to revisit these perhaps now stale conclusions.

 

What I mean by this is the easy slide into recycling worn out ideas—somewhat akin to opting for the beehive hair do forty years after it fell out of favor. At the time, it was “the” fashionable hair style, and for a very, very few of us (although I have my doubts), perhaps we can still carry it off without looking as though we’re the overenthusiastic participants of some community theater group. When such folks look at themselves in the mirror, they see the same, exact person they saw decades ago, so, the hair style still works or the mini skirt or the family auto or living room furniture. Time has stopped for them. These are easily digestible examples, but what about assumptions of how we relate to our children or our siblings now that everyone is grown? Our approaches made sense at the time, but times have changed…

 

Despite the fact that our ideas or understandings of how things worked in the past were correct back then, we may be much better served by reexamining them in light of circumstances today. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the saying goes. And, in many instances, this is the best course, philosophically speaking. But, what I’m seeing a lot of is people who don’t take the time to reconsider long held assumptions about how things (or people) work as we interact with them right now. Just because a person had a printing press in his basement back in the 1970s doesn’t mean that he still operates his publishing company that way!

 

The challenge is that for many such matters, there is no “crisis” forcing us to reexamine what we think about this or that. Instead, we operate on automatic pilot because it’s easier or well, we haven’t given the question any thought. Sound familiar? This means you!

 

Now, I’m the first to admit that running around navel gazing or questioning all of my assumptions about how life is supposed to work or what’s going on with other people is way too overwhelming to devote much time to. In fact, it’s near impossible to do that and live a productive life, but there’s room on this bell curve to update our ideas a whole lot more than most of us do. Why, in the world, would you trot out an answer you’ve relied upon for the last 20 years without reconsidering whether or not it remains valid or that there may be an even better one out there? Do you recognize how many people do this? It’s as if they reach a certain point in their (early-middle) adulthood where they simply stop asking questions. “I know all I need to know,” they tell themselves. “My answers were correct back then and their truth still holds. I’m on terra firma.” Really? It sounds like pretty shaky reasoning to me.

 

I’d like you to dwell upon this on your commute home today. What are some longstanding suppositions you’ve held about yourself or others that may not accurately reflect where things stand today? Even if you are “still right” about certain things, can you bring a new perspective or insight into your understanding? I’d I cringe to think of you, out there, sporting a beehive…

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The Piper Will Be Paid

December 5, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about how narrow a line we tread between normal, reasonable activities and the permanent, serious consequences that can result from a moment’s inattention. Stories of momentarily unsupervised children chasing balls into the street, texting and driving, a nasty aside made within the hearing of a paranoid and violence-prone drunk. There are so many mundane activities that can result in injuries or harm which cannot be reversed; the difference between a non-event and trauma can require only a moment or two of forethought or precaution—shrewd behaviors that our particularly protected and indulged society seems to scoff at because for so long now, we’ve been able to save people from themselves. But for those who suffer the irreversible harm, it’s too late.

In my most recent post, I used the example of Weekend Warriors who venture forth into the woods, excited about a day of hiking in the great outdoors, confident that their cell phone will protect them if problems arise, “prepared” with a bottle of water. But what happens to these innocents who disregard the trail signs and wander off, stunned to find themselves lost with no breadcrumbs to follow? Miles off the trail covered with rough underbrush and no means to summon help.

A continent away, a serious problem here in DC has been commuters whose purses or cell phones have been snatched out of their hands on the Metro. Although there are many news stories and posters warning riders of this danger, people ignore them, refusing to change their behaviors. These passengers, blithely unaware of being observed by those with felonious intent, move their heads to the beat of whatever music is broadcast through their headsets. Unable to hear what’s going on around them and lost in their own thoughts, it comes as an unwelcome surprise when the subway doors open and the thief absconds with their belongings.

Or how about the women strutting through LAX with their hair extensions, stilettos, and short shorts who express outrage that because they couldn’t sprint down the crowded corridors, they missed their tight connection or complain that it’s “freezing” on board? Wow, that’s rough.

When I think about examples like these—with their decreasing order of resulting injury– I genuinely wonder how these folks make it through life because they show so little common sense. They demonstrate inordinate naïve arrogance that it won’t happen to them and/or faith that the “system” will be there to make everything fine. No harm, no foul, right? Wrong. As the president of my college said at our commencement, “There is no free lunch.” Acts have consequences and the piper will be paid.

Look at the bankruptcy of the once glorious City of Detroit! And it is only the tip of the iceberg of false bureaucratic promises made with tomorrow’s (yet to be collected or generated) money. Optimistic accounting, “just this one text,” the minor indulgence of telling ourselves “we’ll be fine” as we walk alone through an unfamiliar and uncomfortable part of town. It’s fine, ‘til it isn’t.

We are all the lucky recipients of having been born at a time and in an age of prosperity where (at least in the Western world) society functions smoothly; we can reasonably rely that somebody will come if we need help; that we’ll have access to the things we need when we need them. This is not the case in many parts of the world. Hey, I won the geographic lottery when I was born and I’ll take it, but what perplexes me is our fellow citizens who just don’t even bother to plan ahead for complications that might prove serious—who fail to take responsibility for themselves! And then not only can there be serious and permanent consequences for some particularly unlucky individuals, but we’re often left to deal with the residual mess.

But back to my original examples of the hikers, the commuters, and the air travelers—each of these is an example of the naïve arrogance that clouds the minds of so many. They just assume the first responders will come. They believe it’s reasonable to tune out what’s going on around them after a long, hard day. They tell themselves it’s important they look cute in their shorts and stilettos when they arrive at their destination. Really? None of this means they’re bad people, but it does signify a sloppiness of thinking and staggeringly unsophisticated belief that they will escape the consequences of their foolishness. They might, but we won’t.

Re-booters have been beat up by life once or twice, but we’re also smart enough to learn our lessons. We’re not so arrogant as to believe there’s no way something bad could happen to us. We take that extra second to glance both directions before crossing the street. We prepare ourselves in case our hoped-for “backstops” fail to manifest. We unplug our ears in order to be aware of our surroundings. We do our best to protect those who are in our care.

What makes me sad is the many who haven’t prepared themselves and then, when misfortune visits, in addition to their grief and their shock, they pay a heavy price that is so unnecessary; if only they had planned ahead, just a little. Accidents happen of course, best laid plans and all that jazz applies to many sad stories, but there continue to be instances when thoughtless behavior extracts a giant price no one wants to see paid.

The Unanticipated Consequences of 1st World Advantages

December 3, 2013

Recently, there have been articles in the papers that Amazon is considering delivering our orders to us by drone. It’s a Jetson-like future where thousands of small, slightly ominous octocopters buzz past our windows depositing shipments hither and yon. Never mind my paranoia about what else the drones might be doing as they whizz past, invading our air space and sense of privacy even more than is already the case. Never mind the scenarios of Drones Gone Wild, losing access to their GPS, crashing into cars or people or the occasional crow. How about the drones that simply linger outside your bedroom window, watching, waiting, and collecting data that would make Edward Snowden blanch? At least you get that book and 3D laser-printed pizza you ordered in thirty minutes or less!

 

As someone who prizes efficiency and despises waiting in line, you might assume that I would gleefully embrace such developments—but I don’t. In fact, I fret about the diminution of our cultural ability to wait, to cultivate patience, to appreciate the sweet anticipation that accompanies the journey. Further, as “advances” like these delivery drones take root in our assumptions about how long something should take, I fear that we’ve gotten so far out ahead of the rest of the world that when systems break down or we travel to a place not so automated, we will react unreasonably to any “time delay.”

 

In fact, we may forget that instantaneous, ready-made results are not always to our advantage. How tasty might a meal ordered, prepared, and delivered in 5 minutes be in comparison to one that requires us to consider our options, select the best ingredients, and wait, salivating with anticipation and appreciation of the skill and the effort that goes into preparing this meal? In most cases, we value the latter a whole lot more than the former. Further, just because the vendor pledges that they have the best results at the best price in the best time, if we have no hard won knowledge having done it ourselves, as a basis for comparison, how in the world will we know if they’re blowing smoke? We won’t because we don’t understand the tradeoffs for getting there. Is faster and cheaper always better? So far, Americans have answered this question with a resounding, “Yes!”

 

Did you see that Disney animated film Wall-E, where everything is done for the humans who live in the spaceship? As a result, they’ve become fat, lethargic creatures who don’t think for themselves and exhibit a diminishing ability to be imaginative and resourceful. What I fear is that inventions like driverless cars, delivery drones, remote controlled thermostats, and things of this ilk—which may offer some redeeming features—remove more and more of the necessity to learn, to think creatively, and to be resourceful when things go wrong. Which they always do. And, even if they don’t, isn’t part of the fun of driving a stick shift car the fact that you get to control when you downshift? You can hear the gears working, you learn to understand the revving of the engine, you grow to appreciate the fine tuning of a large number of varied parts that must work smoothly together in order to get your wheels to turn. I always feel pleased when I manage to parallel park my car into a tight space—pride of a task that requires skill and finesse.

 

It’s sorta like those foolish people who take their cellphones with them when hiking in the wilds of the Los Padres National Forest, believing that the phones will provide them with “security” if something goes wrong. Only there’s no cell signal and the battery has died or the phone gets broken in their fall down the canyon, oh, and the temperature drops to below 40 degrees at night. What do they do then?

 

We here in the US, especially, have benefitted tremendously from the creativity, innovation, and resourcefulness that accompany much of a capitalist economy. No other country in the world has access to delivery drones for completely unnecessary consumer items, but what is the cultural price extracted from a life in which patience and anticipation is rendered unnecessary? I, for one, can afford to wait 3-5 days for a package in lieu of the menace of some “increased efficiency vehicle” hovering outside my window.


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