I'm off running Leadership Communication Days, this year hosted by BP, in Houston, Houston, Houston.
I am the worst teacher in the world. I'm a good golfer, but I can't teach golf. I'm a good writer, but I can't teach writing. I'm good at fractions, but I send my daughter to her mother, who is terrible at fractions, but who is a teacher.
Because every time I'm presented with an opportunity to teach anyone anything, I'm visited by two consecutive thoughts:
1. This person will never be able to learn what I'm teaching, because people are dumb. (Seriously, that's the thought, in those words.)
2. Anyway, I am a mass communicator. It's criminally inefficient for me to dick around trying to teach some skill to one person. (Yes. In my unwitting mind, I describe the holy act of teaching as "dicking around.")
Why do I write, you ask? Because it gives me an excuse not to teach.
(That's not why you write?)
Earlier this year I wrote about The New Mutes—Generation Y workers who should be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act because they are apparently incapable of using the telephone.
The New Mute, I wrote, is
unable to convey meaning or feeling by tone of voice or body language or facial expression. It is not known whether the New Mutes are unaware of the crucial uses of these basic human tools, or merely unable to employ them. Whatever the case, the result is the same: The New Mutes are entirely dependent on what they say and unable to control how they say it, beyond the blunt and banal use of exclamation points and emoticons! :(
Well I have an update, and the news is not good. Recently I spoke with an IT director who said he's frequently clashing with young employees who are unplugging their phones, because, in their inevitable words, "I never use it."
Yes, he implores them incredulously, but you have a phone number and people might call and you need to answer it or at least note when it rings and check your voice mail.
Probably uncomfortable with even this much spontaneous, analog communication, the kids shrug, plug in their phones just to mollify him, and then unplug them again when he is gone.
This generation will take over some day.
They'll text us.
If I were president, there would be a War on Smarm, and the uttering of many terms we suffer all the time these days would be classified as felonies.
Our jails would be overcrowded with soccer moms, carpool dads and, school teachers and many other types of otherwise harmless geeks, all serving outrageous mandatory minimum sentences for first offenses. (And any reference to "the game of life" would draw the death penalty. Game over.)
As president, I would accept the inevitable criticism, as long as it wasn't framed in smarmy terms by mincing twerps who claimed to be "speaking truth to power," issuing a "a wake-up call" to a "system that is broken" and claiming "we can do better."
All those bastards would go to jail with the rest of them.
And there'd be more legal drugs for the rest of us.
Canadian piano virtuouso Glenn Gould practices Bach, hypnotizes himself and you—all in three minutes.
This is courtesy of my sister Piper, who sends me approximately half the great stuff I see (and none of the crap).
Who knows how different I'd have turned out if I had stayed in the comparatively guileless region of Northeast Ohio, and never moved into this big, tough, cynical, corrupt, knowing city of Chicago?
I do believe, though, that I wouldn't be capable of making this face. I believe this is a look that I learned in Chicago, where a friend of mine once said he wasn't bothered that some deals are dirty, but rather that no deals were clean.
In fact, I don't believe there is any other city where this bitter smirk is ever quite appropriate. And in Chicago, this twisted sneer is called for a lot.
My 10-year-old daughter said the other day, "No offense, Dad, but I don't think I'd like your job."
A little probing led to the discovery that my job looks to her like I'm doing homework all day long, every single day.
Which is exactly what I'm doing, come to think of it.
Which made me feel a little sorry for myself, briefly.
A mother dies from breast cancer, and all her children hound their friends for money for breast-cancer awareness.
A child dies in a car accident, and the parents give their lives over to fighting for safer highway guard rails.
Well what do you do if—as happened to a friend of mine last year—your brother is walking his dogs and one of them chases another dog and the man falls down on dry pavement and busts his head open and dies?
I think grief would be much better understood if we gave it a new name: sadness-induced madness. That madness can be productive. It can also be irrational, and blind its victims to an opportunity to do something more productive—and maybe in the long run, more meaningful.
Sometimes grief fuels reform. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was formed when a habitual drunk driver killed a woman's daughter. Aside from the fringe group, Drunk Drivers Against Mad Mothers (DDAMM), I think we're all glad that drunk driving got the scornful attention that MADD brought it.
Sometimes grief funds worthy causes. There's wild debate about the effectiveness of the money that's gone into breast-cancer awareness, and this time of year the ubiquity of this particular cause seems out of proportion. But it's good that women's health has gotten more attention as a result.
And of course we understand a parent's desperate need to make something come out of a soul-emptying loss, so we don't begrudge their demand that someone make it safer for cars to run off the road.
Except, there are more important things to do in the world than eliminating one form of cancer or making driving less dangerous. And maybe there are better ways to honor our precious dead.
You lost a person you love and admire. Maybe you fight to erradicate the cause of her death. But she is already dead; you can't save her in arrears. And if you want to honor her spirit and make sure it lives on, I think you should consider what made her so wonderful—what she gave to the world—and figure out how to give your version of that same thing, yourself.
My mother died at 52 of the combined effects of manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder, and its experimental treatment.
It has never occured to me to give my energy or money to heal sufferers of bipolar disorder, or mental illness.* My formative experience with my mother made me pessimistic about much psychological treatment. And if psychological maladies are to be cured, I'm damn sure my skill set isn't the one to do it.
My responsibility is to reignite the best of my mother's spirit in my home every day, and carry it out into the world—in writing and in person—the best way I know how.
I think I do that pretty well. At her best, my mother was kind of a hard-ass, and maybe she would disagree. In any case, I wonder what would have happened to her spirit, had I in my immediate grief, dedicated myself to curing chronic sadness. In that chase, I think I might have lost my—and my Mom's—sense of humor.
I'll never tell you how to burn the fuel your grief gives you, and I'll not have you tell me how to burn mine.
But we ought to think hard about how we direct that energy.
Because it's valuable.
* My younger sister Piper, on the other hand, is a psychologist. And she brings the best of my mother's spirit—and many of my mother's skills—to bear in her work, to help people with problems like my mother had. And she still has her sense of humor—and Mom's, too. But not everybody can be as cool as my little sister.
They gave Jerry Seinfeld a CLIO Award this year, and he made an acceptance speech they won't soon forget.