understanding white privilege

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:53 pm by Administrator

between jobs last month, i took three of my favorite mentors out to lunch downtown. they were two white women and one white man in their 70s who’ve had distinguished careers in HR and corporate leadership. one of them introduced me to the baldrige process, another revealed to me the true power of the myers-briggs system, and the last taught me most everything i know about managerial courage. it suffices to say that i have the deepest respect and love for all three of them.

during our conversation, one of them confessed that she’s been having a hard time with the divisiveness of the times. “i want to talk about what’s going on, but i feel like i don’t know what i’m allowed to say anymore,” she said. she turned to me at that point and said, “can you explain to me how a white person is supposed to participate in these conversations about race without getting attacked?”

“i think that the discourse is really difficult for white people,” i said, as i searched for the proper way to represent my perspective. “it puts them at an inconvenience.”

inconvenience?” she interjected immediately. “this isn’t merely inconvenience. it’s painful.”

“of course it is,” i responded. “but for people of color who’ve suffered for centuries trying to navigate the rules of conversation by which they were oppressed, marginalized, and even murdered, what you are experiencing now can only be described as an inconvenience.”

while she digested my words, the man piped in with his own thoughts. “it strikes me as a zero sum game,” he said. “nowadays, one group can only win if the other one loses. it wasn’t always like that.”

it wasn’t?

i’ve thought back on that conversation here and there. it was amicable and respectful but poignant all the same, and it reminded me that kindness, compassion, and intelligence in and of themselves aren’t sufficient to guide a well-intentioned person through this veritable minefield of deeply competing racial interests in america. you can’t just be well-educated; you have to be specifically educated. you can’t simply have personal perspective; you must continually endeavor to position yourself within rapidly evolving paradigms. you can’t simply be politically correct anymore. you must know the rules of the game, and more fundamentally you must be able to understand the reasons behind the rules. without the skills that come from these, one simply cannot contribute respectfully to the contemporary discourse on race; and without these skills, a white person in america cannot help but persist in his or her unquestioned privilege and thus perpetuate—unwittingly and perhaps even unwillingly—the legacy of unconscious, pervasive, and systematic racism that echoes through the generations.

for years, i’ve struggled to understand the best way to communicate what white privilege actually means to my white friends and colleagues who find the very concept offensive. recently however, i discovered what i believe to be the perfect metaphor of white privilege, a cultural point of reference that might illuminate its subtle and very insidious qualities.

that metaphor is none other than the classic 1980 horror film “The Shining”—which is quite simply the most brilliant commentary on race relations in america.

for me, “the shining” has always been something much more than meets the eye. the first few times that i saw the film, i thought of it as a slow burning inescapably spooky depiction of the madness that overtakes a man who is subjected to prolonged, intolerable isolation. but of course there are elements of the film that beg a much more nuanced understanding of the story. there’s the keen, supernatural connection between the child danny and the caretaker hallorann. there’s the history of the hotel, its very particular aesthetic, and its unique assemblage of affiliated personalities. and then there’s that particular haunting theme of prolicide. the character of jack torrance has a vague but disturbing history of physically abusing his son, and in this context, he develops an overwhelming homicidal obsession with destroying his child. it’s more than vague madness; it’s the full revelation of a latent animalistic identity.

when one takes in all the elements of “the shining” over multiple viewings, it is not hard to see where and how the movie makes its deliberate intersections with the discourse on race. the overlook hotel, tucked away in the mountains of the midwest and entertaining the wealthy elite for centuries, is filled with black and white photographs of white aristocrats. its ghosts—a bartender and a butler—are middle-aged tuxedo-wrapped white men with distinct sensibilities. in particular, the butler (grady) at the climactic point of the film directs jack torrance to deal with an intruder, whom grady refers to rather pointedly as a “n_gger”. jack torrance then promptly kills hallorann (the only character that is actually murdered in the movie) before resuming his pursuit of his son.

the unique connection shared by danny and hallorann is their shared ability to read minds and to understand what people are really thinking. for hallorann, this is a gift that he shared with his grandmother, implying that the unique intuition was possibly part of a familial heritage. both danny and hallorann have learned to hide this gift from others. for both of them, the “shining” that they share allows them to sense the deeply malevolent spirits at work in the Overlook Hotel. the shining, in other words, allows danny and hallorann to consciously recognize and resist an evil that jack torrance is only able to experience unconsciously, ultimately to his complete self-destruction.

if we see the symbolism of the Overlook for what it evidently is—a representation of gilded, racist, and historical white america—then we can understand its effect on the homicidal jack torrance. jack is not simply haunted by ghosts; he is lured into the very mystique of the hotel and ultimately becomes a part of its continuing legacy, as exemplified by his mysterious post-mortem appearance in the hotel’s framed photographs. his murder of the black man Hallorann is essentially his rite of induction into this elite club; but his homicidal intentions toward his child are the ultimate reflection of his consummated identification with the Overlook. the implication is as startling as it is illuminating: the real tragedy of racism resides not only in the persecution of those that it overtly targets but also in the destruction it wreaks upon the racists themselves (the unwitting victim jack torrance) and their children (the innocent and eventually orphaned danny).

if “the shining” illuminates the insidious nature of racism in america, then it is the masterful sequel “doctor sleep” that truly explains to the lay audience what white privilege really is. we meet danny torrance much farther along in life, as an alcoholic, traumatized man who is trying to forget what happened to him. he still retains the ability to see the ghosts of his past for what they are, and he still retains the unique power to entrap the spirits of the Overlook Hotel, but he reaps no satisfaction from his abilities and wishes to live out his days in anonymity. it is in this context that he is forced to take on responsibility for protecting another who shares his unique gift of clairvoyance, a young black child of an interracial marriage. their common enemy is a band of roving cannibals who feed upon the powers of people who “shine”, whom they devour and then murder. we learn that these cannibals have been veritable immortals, one of whom has traversed millennia of Western history going back to biblical times, carrying forward his story—the story of Western civilization no less—into the present times.

by pitting danny and his young bi-racial protege Abra against this diabolical group of long-living vampires, “Doctor Sleep” furthers and deepens the sharp, incisive exploration of racism established by “the Shining”. one can see in the victimization of “snakebite andi” how the spirit of the ages continues to survive by preying upon the pains and traumas of vulnerable youth; how the spiritual cannibalism of the movie’s villains represents not only a national sickness but also something inherent to the insidiousness of Western imperialism as a whole; and how the age of globalization and the internet which is eroding “shine” perhaps promises hope of a new era that no longer feeds upon the tribalistic energies and prejudices of the past. the movie, which is riveting from start to finish, pivots upon the marvelous chemistry between ewan mcgregor and the strikingly brilliant kyliegh curran and produces through their remarkably connection a picture of what it means to own one’s privilege and break its power over the next generation.

the following is a spoiler, but it is the very essence of why i’m writing this post, and so i’ll proceed to describe what was for me the most important moment of both films. at the end of “doctor sleep”, danny torrance returns to the Overlook Hotel, allows the hotel to infect him with its ghosts, and then destroys abra’s enemies, the hotel itself, and his own life through an act of self-immolation. in this act of self-sacrifice, danny torrance demonstrates the very simple thing required to undermine privilege: one must accept the legacy underlying that privilege, own its ramifications, and contend with the personal identity enmeshed with that legacy. until the very end of the film, danny torrance refuses to see any of his homicidal father in himself; he keeps his head down, disguises his “shine”, and seeks to escape the social responsibility implied by his unique gift. but danny’s journey, motivated by his wish to save the life of another, eventually brings him to the point where he takes on the very identity that once traumatized him. in a sense, that identity consumes and destroys him. but in another sense, taking on that identity enables him to extinguish it and to become something greater than his history of pain; transcending that legacy allows him to become truly alive—and a source of life for others.

“the shining” and “doctor sleep” are described as psychological horror films, and what better genre is there to describe the experience we have collectively shared as a result of human history, with all of its violence, wars, injustices, and inexplicable cruelties? the insight it offers me is that there is a path forward for white people that do not understand their privilege. it begins with recognizing that privilege is not a habitat of circumstance or a habit of prejudicial thinking; it is a haunting that inflicts us all, regardless of our station. privilege is a burden of our past, a karma we do not ask for, and a force working through our being that not only threatens our well-being and sanity but also pits us against our progeny. our pain is also the source of our awareness, our “shine”. it is what enables us to stop the cycle of madness by grabbing hold of the silent killer at work in our minds, that force of history seeking immortality at the expense of our lives, that infliction that inevitably leads us to devour our young

dark’s epic run

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:29 pm by Administrator

from my april 18 entry in 2018:

I’ve seen the rise and fall of plenty of legends: nestea, mvp, and mc (the three old-school greats), among others. most recently I’ve enjoyed seeing the “foreigners” (non-Koreans) like scarlett actually break into the GSL and give the Koreans a real run for the money. but through it all, my loyalties have come to revolve around Dark, the twenty-two year old Korean pro player whose mastery of Zerg play is nothing short of inspiring…. this was perhaps much ado about nothing, but now that the Eagles have won a super bowl, my next big wish is that Dark will win a GSL championship. bahk ryung woo, hwai ting!

don’t know if anyone noticed, but after years of coming up just short, dark absolutely rocked it in 2019, winning his first GSL and then going on to win WCS at blizzcon last month. it was a tour de force for the game’s best player.



Posted in Uncategorized at 6:01 pm by Administrator

my friend, will you find it
where it is hidden among the many brambles
and shadows of a land in darkness?

are these troubles or just aimless thought
that i wander through,
like a whisper of wind parting the mist?

i step forward all the same,
hearing the remnants of a hale season
crumble like coarse gravel underfoot

or like the subtle shifting of a memory.
was it hard? was it sad?
now, here, digging in the earth

and finding my fingers poking back up
at me pale and squirming,
fattened from feeding upon decay

i recognize that i am searching
not for the thing i will become
but for the thing that birthed me:

a root, a seeping of water
thickened into blood,
a hinting that became an idea

bold enough, presumptuous enough
to stand up itself beside the blackened trees
tall and twisting with age.

we are silent and deeply aware
for all our infinite, silent searchings
through the soil and the heavy air.

we are the same, for all the ways
we ruminate and root ourselves
and shed our former glories.

i came here to divine a future
but what i found instead was a wood
full of anguish and longing

burying its leaves, drinking
of its crumbled legacies, breathing out fog
thick with forgetting.

eagles: it’s already the off-season

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:07 am by Administrator

when it comes to the eagles, i’m angry, but i’m also a realist.

at 5-5, the team is exactly where i predicted they’d be at this point in the season. i expected them to lose to the falcons, cowboys, vikings, bears, and pats; i was wrong about the bears, but i didn’t foresee us handing the stupidest of losses to the lions, so my errors canceled out. we are as mediocre as i foresaw, and our losses were as mystifying, anger-provoking, and unjustifiable as i expected them to be. we’re still on track to finish with 9 wins and vie for the nfc east title (as ridiculous as that should sound to any philadelphia fan that has watched this team).

and here’s where the realism kicks in. we might win the nfc east. so what? SO THE FUCK WHAT? we all know this is a team that doesn’t have the skill or heart to win in the playoffs, so the only pleasure a playoff berth might offer us is a chance to laugh at the cowboys. that goes a long way for some; for me, it’s simply not enough. super bowl 52 put us in a different class from the ‘boys (at least for the time being), and to me, dallas’s incredibly long stretch of losing and futility hardly makes them a reasonable rival. if the litmus test of a good season is our ability to outlast a loser organization like the dallas cowboys, then we really have lost any reasonable sense of perspective. but then again, that’s kind of what philadelphia fans are good at???

knowing full well that this team has no shot at a playoff run, i would argue that the eagles really shouldn’t be in the business of winning games right now. now i know that this is a controversial proposition, and lots of people out there probably would contend that a good fan should be interested in eking out the most wins possible no matter what the circumstances. but i would argue that there is too much at stake to risk the ongoing mediocrity that a 9-7 finish might promote. the fact of the matter is that the eagles need to make significant changes at every level of the organization in order to compete more effectively over the long term—and those changes won’t happen unless this season ends in disaster. i’m not talking “process”; i’m talking about making the most of what the last six games have to offer, given the very serious problems this franchise is facing right now.

the number one problem on this team isn’t a player. it’s mike groh, the “offensive coordinator”. i put his title in quotes because everyone knows that mike groh is not a real OC. he’s not calling the plays; he’s not really being held accountable; he’s sort of an adviser, but no one actually knows what he’s doing. and that’s the fucking problem. THAT IS THE FUCKING PROBLEM. mike groh might be a nice guy and a smart guy; but the philadelphia eagles need a legitimate offensive coordinator who can get into the details, obsess over game prep, and make the game simple as cake for carson wentz. doug pederson and mike groh are not those guys. pederson (god bless him) is riding a super bowl victory that frank reich basically scripted for him, and mike groh is hanging out in pederson’s oversized shadow trying to squeeze out one more season of mediocrity. one of them is the problem in philadelphia. for now, we have no choice but to put it on mike groh.

the “offense” of the philadelphia eagles is a goddamn embarrassment. we can blame the receivers and carson wentz, but frankly the only time the eagles have looked good since 52 was last year when nick foles won us an improbable victory at the l.a. coliseum. thanks to the play-calling brilliance of pederson and groh, carson wentz appears to be at his best when he’s a game manager; alshon jeffery has been reduced to catching bubble screens for 3 or 4 yards; nelson agholor is running absolutely futile and witless routes; and zach ertz is getting double-teamed into oblivion on a routine basis. meanwhile, golden tate is ripping it up in the meadowlands just like he did in detroit and seattle; the only place he’s failed to produce was philadelphia, where the coaching staff couldn’t figure out how to integrate him. how can you fail to integrate one of the fastest, most skilled wide receivers in the game and then look at yourself in the mirror and call yourself an NFL coach? mike groh, go fuck yourself, you fucking incompetent lump of shit!

the eagles have to lose down the stretch for two reasons. number one: mike groh got to go. that’s the big one. number two is a bit more nuanced. we need to draft kristian fulton.

i’m sure there’s going to be a lot of debate about whom the eagles should go after in the 1st round of this nfl draft. i’ve done the research, like i do every damn year, and i’m going to be right this year, like i’ve been right every damn year. it’s kristian fulton in the 2020 draft. it’s that simple! there’s no way we’re taking any wide receiver other than jerry jeudy in the 1st because we’ve spent enough draft capital on the offense and because the problem with our offense ain’t the talent but the coaching (as i’ve already established). any offensive coordinator with half a brain is going to have to figure out how to run an offense with zach ertz, dallas goedert, alshon jeffery, desean jackson, miles sanders, and some veteran that we bring on for a mid-level exception. (notice that i did not mention jj arcega-whiteside, whom i labeled back in april the worst eagles draft pick since marcus smith. thanks for that howie roseman!) the fact of the matter is that we should have drafted a defensive back in the top 2 rounds last year, and now we’re going to press in this draft and go for 2 defensive backs in the top 3 rounds because we fucking blew the draft last year. jim schwartz (god bless him for 52) is a one-trick pony who doesn’t know how to teach his personnel how to run a cover-4 scheme, and the only way this sieve of a defense is going to work is if we can get a lock-down man defender in the secondary. yes, jalen mills is fine and worth a reasonable long-term deal, and i like avonte maddox in the slot; but i’m frankly tired of patch jobs at outside corner, and so is everyone else in philadephia. it’s kristian fulton in 2020, or i’m going to fucking throw a bottle at the owner’s box next year at the home opener.

i don’t need to talk about kristian fulton’s skill set, athleticism, and potential for immediate impact. scouts love jeff okudah, and that’s all fine; i hope he goes first so that the eagles have a shot at fulton. kristian fulton has what the eagles need in a #1 cornerback; he could be our marshon lattimore on day one. the eagles have a good shot at him if they draft between 10 and 14—but that means we have to lose most of our next 6 games to make that happen. if we gun for the playoffs (for the privilege of coming up just short or losing in the wild card round), we’re at risk of drafting at between 18 and 20, and there’s no goddamn way that fulton is going to fall beyond jacksonville or pick 16 (whichever comes first). there is a lot at stake here. the eagles have to land in the top 15 picks to get fulton. if they don’t, they’ll have to settle for adebo, henderson, or diggs, and that just won’t do. those guys are second-tier cornerbacks that i wouldn’t trust on day one, and as sidney jones has shown us, if you can’t trust a guy on day one, then you might never trust the guy.

so, let’s recap what the eagles need to do to make this season a success:

1. lose against the seahawks tomorrow; then proceed to lose at least three of the remaining five games to end the year at 7-9, good for the 14th pick in the 2020 draft.

2. fire mike groh. i mean, just grease the hinges so that the door hits him on his way out of novacare complex. hire an OC who will own the offense. whether it’s bienemy or waldron, make it splashy and make it happen howard roseman!

3. draft kristian fulton in the 1st round. if he’s not there, then take grant delpit, as one of them will be there.

4. bonus round: trade carson wentz to jacksonville for nick foles and two 1st round picks. BDN in the house!



Posted in Uncategorized at 10:37 pm by Administrator

so much on my mind as it has been a while since i last posted.

it strikes me that an important distinction between buddhist living and mindfulness is that while buddhist philosophy emphasizes non-conceptuality, mindfulness does not require a rejection of conceptual frameworks of living. the former might very well require detachment from society, while the latter perhaps enhances integration into society, albeit through non-modernist approaches to positionality. slavoj zizek once labeled buddhism as the emerging opiate of the masses, because of its seeming focus on acquiescence, but i believe his judgments are better directed toward mindfulness as it is popularly understood.

at the core of my mindfulness practice is the continuous struggle against unproductive thought. in my journey to understand what eckhart tolle describes as an “addiction to thinking”, i have recognized that a conceptual framework is absolutely required in order to define the dangers of conceptually-driven living. yes, it is an irony, but it is perhaps not fatally ironic. after all, one must have an ego in order to understand what an ego is; in christian terms, one must have sinned in order to understand what freedom from sin can entail. likewise, only one who thinks can conceptualize a path away from unproductive thinking.

unproductive thinking takes innumerable forms. anxiety. obsession. ambition. desire. envy. fear. hopelessness. futility. these words connote feelings, but they are in essence captured in thoughts that themselves are the reflections of the expectations and values that undergird a conceptual understanding of the world. one might describe this understanding as “identity”, though the deeper i go into this mindfulness journey the less helpful this concept becomes. “identity” is problematic because it is not only lacks essential meaning but also lends itself powerfully to misunderstanding and further confusion. is “identity” a positive or a negative thing? does “identity” preclude empathy for other living things or does it enhance interrelationship? as much as it is shapes our compulsive storytelling about meaning, purpose, the past, and the future, “identity” is itself a story about self and cannot be reduced to something more elemental. explaining unproductive thinking as a consequence of identity is like attributing violence to a painful physical contact between individuals; it is hopelessly autological.

to break the ruthless cycle of unproductive thinking, the mindful person has several tools at her disposal. she can direct her mind to a mindfulness of breathing, which suspends thought and introduces pervasive and present-focused self-awareness. alternatively, the mindful person can break obsessive thought by introducing countervailing thought, by means of visualization or positivity. most satisfyingly, the mindful person can direct the mind to observe the thought stream and gain further enlightenment through self-study. i believe that one who masters mindfulness demonstrates this mastery not simply by expressing happiness, peacefulness, wellness, and evident freedom from suffering; beyond achieving these things for the authentic self, the mastery of mindfulness makes it possible for the individual to choose the conceptual framework that best allows him to integrate with others for the purpose of maximizing happiness, peace, wellness, and freedom from self for the universe of imminently connected beings.

in the midst of taking on a job that is taxing my bandwidth in many ways and threatening to overtake me, i find myself practicing mindfulness to survive—to curtail unproductive thought that continuously puts my well-being at risk. but i am ever aware of the fact that while this is my primary aspiration, my highest aspiration as a human being is to gain mastery of self in order to reduce the suffering of others. so i commit myself to understanding deeply the fundamental meaningless of life, so that when an idea of meaning is required of me in order to connect with another living being, i can choose to embrace that idea for what it is—a tool, a language, a thought to be held for a short time and then relinquished, like something of great value and limitless danger.

in the midst of the incredible anxiety and fear i have had to hold on account of the challenges posed by my executive role, i have reflected back on other key points of inflection across my life and have remembered moments of incredible mindfulness (though i did not recognize them as such at the time). in particular, i remembered a moment during a med school rotation in bethlehem pennsylvania when i, in my dormitory room, realized i was utterly alone, in a place where no one know where i was or who i was. i felt the solitude and anonymity as freeing, but more fundamentally i recognized that this solitude and anonymity were pervasively true. even among people who knew me, i was truly unknown; as such, i could view my life and what was expected of me as one among many consumers of my life. the deeper i went into this truth, the more i realized that i am not merely one of many consumers of my life; i am in fact the main consumer of my life. and perhaps i am not just the main consumer of my life; i might very well be the only consumer of my life that matters. it was this seed of mindfulness that enabled me to persevere in a time of great testing and stretching. i think it was also this seed of mindfulness that enabled me to ultimately break with the burdensome conceptual frameworks of morality and responsibility that bound me in the form of religions, missions, recurrent anxieties, and eternal obligations.

i have learned so many things as i have journeyed into christianity and beyond it. the most transformative of these learnings is the knowledge that i am the cause of my own suffering. the most productive among these learnings is the skill i have gained in reducing this suffering. and the most beautiful and enlightening of the truths i have gained is a more proper perception of the moment before me, which is filled with possibility, devoid of a past, and entirely free from any illusion of a future. i can give up anything at any time; i can go to any number of places whenever i want; i can approach death with curiosity. i can do these things because i am made of the universe and meant for nothing beyond it. what i am is sufficient.


the generalist in his labyrinth

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:29 pm by Administrator

earlier this year, my wife found herself at a career crossroads of a kind and was wrestling with some difficult questions about her path forward. should she keep up her job search? should she experiment with a side interest? should she make a leap into a totally different kind of career? her questions were ostensibly about decisions and tactics, but fundamentally they were about values and identity.

over a lunch on the tail end of a road trip, i reflected to her a few key themes that i’ve identified in her ruminations about career over the years, and i captured these in a simple acronym: M-I-G. M is for mission; more than most people i know, my wife needs to feel a sense of broader, ideological cause in her work. I is for integration; my wife finds joy in applying theory to practice, in crossing from academia into broader society, in bridging gaps between disparate cohorts and working against systematic barriers to justice and understanding. G is for generativity. at the end of the day, my wife needs to be able to identify evidence of the impact she’s making. that’s why a career in publishing articles of interest to only a few dozen peers around the world will ultimately be unsatisfying to her; her work needs to afford her some element of immediate gratification.

though i haven’t yet met with my own career crossroads, i’ve certainly begun hitting some junctures and milestones that strike me as distinctively mid-life in nature. perhaps for the first time in my life, i’ve been able to hold, observe, and understand my preoccupation with being extraordinary—a pursuit embedded in my manner of upbringing—and to begin accepting the possibility of my utter ordinariness, if not frank mediocrity. moreover, i’ve begun to weigh the possibility that neither fate nor responsibility as concepts will be sufficient to sustain my sense of a career path. i may at some point land upon the simple acceptance of the fact that i really have nothing important to accomplish through paid labor aside from the ability to indefinitely sustain my way of life.

regardless of how my values and paradigms continue to evolve, i think it is not too early to suspect that i really have made a permanent shift away from the mission-driven life orientation that once defined me. this strikes me as an opportunity to redefine myself, not only in terms of career but more fundamentally in terms of lifestyle, values, and influence. if i don’t bear a responsibility for perpetuating the timeless ideologies and social structures i inherited, then perhaps i am free to reenvision society through the one lens that strikes me as unfailing and true—present-focused awareness and the slow, simple, and compassionate acceptance that it implies.

two years ago, i would have stated quite readily that the elements important to me about work are importance, service, and ideals (in some way, shape, or form). “importance” was for me about feeling important, being recognized for my contributions, and being able to see the work itself as powerfully relevant to society as a whole. “service” was about posture and orientation—about being able to practice service to others as a core part of my daily work, to the satisfaction of my conscience. “ideals” was about being able to recognize a trajectory to the impact of my work, from individual betterment to societal transformation. in brief, i wanted to do big things.

at this point in my life, none of these three terms really resonate with me anymore. more essential to me than importance is wholeness now. rather than being valued or appreciated for one aspect of my intellect or giftings, i prefer now to be understood for everything personal and professional that affects how i connect with others in the workplace. if i cannot be seen and understood for the whole person that i am, then how can i be happy and grow in that situation? service has always been a transactional thing to me, a personal and religious discipline exemplifying my core virtues. that self-validation is less important to me now than authentic dialogue, which is non-transactional and more fundamental to mutual understanding and reconciliation. ideals often imply ideology, and ideology has become for me less of a necessity and more of a language required to navigate society. nowadays, i prefer wellness to ideals. more important than achieving an ideological end is experiencing wellness in a pervasive and recognizable way. what i’ve discovered ironically is that a life dedicated to principles and ideals often does not consistently translate to a full or happy life; and perhaps those principles and ideals more often serve to justify or manage the reality of unhappiness.

wholeness, authentic dialogue, and wellness are the values i’ve come to embrace as a physician leader, and for better or worse, these values have placed me on the periphery. among millennials, i have been perceived as a courageous outlier on account of these values; but among the boomers, i have been perceived as lacking in the courage required to toe the company line and to preserve the function of the hierarchy. in reality, i have been neither courageous nor cowardly; i’ve simply been unable to adhere to a certain belief about how people should approach their work. once upon a time, work was for me what it was to most others—an opportunity to situate myself within the social organism according to a function and its associated value proposition. nowadays, work is a space within which i encounter people who are so often struggling to care for themselves, much less effectively serve others. i cannot help but react within these spaces as one human among other humans, experiencing an inter-being (to borrow from thich nhat hanh) of lost and suffering people.

i have been and always will be a generalist without a certain cause or conviction. it is in fact in those times when i simplify myself to one purpose that i am at my weakest. i was designed to go deep into relationships and to zoom out in the quest for a greater healing. had i chosen from the outset a work that more closely fit my natural inclinations, i would have been a pastor, but i’m thankful to the universe for diverting me from that path; after all, what good is a pastor who does not believe in a god? but perhaps there were many other jobs i might have taken that would have befit me more intimately. i have a penchant for understanding people through systems and behaviors, and i think i would have enjoyed economics and org psychology a great deal. i spend a lot of time nowadays listening to established financiers like ray dalio and peter schiff, because on a macro level i find that what they’re talking about, amidst all the economic indicators and theories, is a meta-theory of what drives human behavior. schiff in particular is fascinating to me because he represents an enduring and relevant cohort of the america we live in: educated white baby boomers who do not understand the rapid shifts in the social discourses around gender, race, and sexuality and react to these with arbitrary epistemologies, frank skepticism, and even overt hostility.

i have given up on the idea that i will someday find my perfect vocation. but i am more than ever before open to the possibility that the broader value of my personal happiness and understanding cannot be underestimated. most human beings while they live on this earth do not impact their peers and progeny with radical new ideas or approaches to managing or reducing human suffering; but each and every individual who finds enlightenment of a kind brings something into the universe that cannot be reduced, dismissed, or forgotten. the ripples they introduce into the fabric of our inter-being are so rarely codified or commodified, but they are as transformative as they are ordinary. i trust in the ripple, and in the ability of the water to carry it, and in the ability of the river to spread it, and in the ability of the ocean to remember it and to carry it to all distant shores


the discipline of overwhelming positivity

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:28 pm by Administrator

my three week hiatus from work is almost over, and i’ve done almost no constructive reflections about work. i’ve been doing a lot of nothing. it’s been great for me. i really wish i could do a few more months of nothing.

but one thing struck me today as a significant learning from my past eleven years of working as a doctor. provider well-being and a culture supporting high performance are inextricably tied together; you cannot have one without the other. and the thing that binds them is a discipline of overwhelming positivity.

i’ve borrowed some learnings from studer and baldrige of course, but mostly i’ve learned this simple lesson from direct experience with patient care and the management of physicians. to put it simply, what providers experience in the exam room is rarely positive; primary care providers are frequently inundated with mentally ill, drug-seeking, depressed, and hypochondriacal customers who live in unhealthy environments and bring an incredible and permeating negativity into their interactions with healthcare providers. that’s not an overly cynical view of the patient-doctor interaction. it’s the essence of primary care. i don’t personally find that to be a deal-breaker. i’ve accepted that this is what my peers and i have signed up for. we’re actually well-trained and well-compensated for the task.

but no human being can survive in a consistently and pervasively negative environment for very long without developing unhealthy perceptions of self and of others. it is the obligation of the organizations that lean on the productivity of providers to support them with a culture that pushes back against the relentless negativity of the patient care work environment with an equally relentless commitment to the affirmation, praise, development, and genuine happiness of the primary care providers who are at constant risk of imminent burn-out.

developing a culture of overwhelming positivity is actually remarkably simple, but it’s so rarely accomplished—and mostly for lack of discipline. at its core, a culture of overwhelming positivity is a daily decision made by staff, doctors, managers, and leaders to identify what is praiseworthy and to reward it meaningfully. a rudimentary culture of positivity is characterized by spontaneous interpersonal and public recognitions of good behavior. a mature culture of overwhelming positivity is characterized by a systematic rhythm of recognition and rewards that draws attention to strategic metrics, to evidence of high quality patient care, to the personal experience of patients, and to the excellence of model peers. high-performing organizations put their best energy into recognizing high performance, and they spend relatively less time thinking about how to maneuver around or manage out low performers. in deeply healthy and highly productive organizations, low performers know who they are without being told; they manage themselves out because they are inevitably and repeatedly exposed for who they are.

while a culture like this doesn’t start or end at the executive table, at some point it has to be formalized and fully supported by the executive leaders of the company. here’s where i’ve seen a culture of positivity flounder so many times. if executive leaders are so far removed from the people and the work at the front lines that they can’t get excited about the simple day-to-day excellence of the company’s work, then their ignorance will invariably translate to a fatal apathy that is sure to undermine any culture supporting high performance. on the other hand, if executive leaders can personally experience and demonstrate genuine passion for the work of the front line that truly embodies model performance and individual excellence, then this almost always ignites a momentum toward integration of the organization and alignment around the kinds of performance that matter. the job of leadership that cannot be delegated away is the duty to understand deeply, intimately, and consistently what high performance means not only at the organizational level but also at the individual level—and to support that high performance through effective communication, personal relationships, and meaningful recognitions and rewards.

as leaders must be disciplined in recognizing excellence, doctors too must be disciplined in recognizing virtue in the lives of their patients. i’ve had patients who for years didn’t take their hiv medicines, didn’t eat well, didn’t exercise, couldn’t stop smoking, wouldn’t stop abusing methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine, couldn’t stop having unsafe sex with multiple partners, and couldn’t remove themselves from abusive relationships that put their lives at risk. there were plentiful opportunities to get angry, to get pedantic, and to judge my patients for the mistakes that they were repeatedly making to their own detriment. but instead, i looked in every interaction for evidence, any evidence, of self-care and growth, and i chose to affirm, praise, and build relationship around those things. and there was always evidence. sometimes it was as simple as the fact that a patient actually showed up for his appointment—that critical first step in taking personal responsibility for oneself. i learned to be consistent and relentless in searching for something genuinely praiseworthy in every patient interaction. i did it hour after hour, week after week, month after month. the effect of this was what you would expect. my patient interactions were positive, personal, and deeply trusting. my patients began to look forward to their appointments with me, and on top of that, they began to make important decisions and changes between visits because they were eager to share good news with me. when we had more to celebrate, there was more positivity we experienced, and the more positivity my patients experienced in their visits, the more motivated they were to apply our mutually decided plans of care. overwhelming positivity absolutely works in the patient-doctor relationship.

it’s a discipline, not magic. it’s simple, not complicated. it’s personal, not philosophical or abstract. that so few leaders in my lifetime have embodied this strikes me as a tragedy; too often leaders are promoted for the wrong attitudes and behaviors. i’ve made a simple resolution to be disciplined about overwhelming positivity. it’s really the main thing—along with managing vision and purpose and encouraging two-way communication—that most essentializes what i define to be transcendent leadership