the cummerbund

So many of the wisest people I know are also some of the most well-read. I’ve been thankful for their influence — and their consistent sharing that books are a great teacher. One of those books that contained some eye-opening concepts to me years ago is John Ortberg’s “The Life You’ve Always Wanted.” In it he coins a term oft repeated here: “impression management.” It’s the whole idea of: “what will people think?”

The pondering of that thought then influences what we do, what we wear, what we drive, who we engage with, what we say, and what we say on social media.

Imagine being freed from all that external influence…

Last week it was the end-of-year concert for my high school sons — my senior, in his final performance with his faithful friends, who have sang and danced and done life together these past several years — and my freshman, for whom every performance is a lesson in gratitude for us both, being always aware of how his so-called special needs never deter him from the stage; it just makes me thankful (… usually makes me cry a little, too…).

Let me be profoundly transparent…

School concerts are a wonderful, wonderful thing. I love seeing my children — and your children — up on that center stage. But school concerts, for years, have been a quiet, incredibly major source of stress for me. You see, concerts require a very specific attire: dress pants, dress shirts, dress shoes, etc. I get it; those boys and girls should look the part. But let me share that finding dress pants for a shorter, heavier adolescent is not easy. In fact, many of our past concert evenings found this simply-attempting-to-survive parent quietly crying in the afternoon. It was hard to find the clothes… it was hard to look right… it’s sometimes very difficult to fit in.

When he got to high school, they provided the individually-measured attire (yes, sheeewwwww…). And while maybe his tux was a tad out of proportion, the uniform relieved much of my previous stress. Josh put the pants and the shirt on at home; he put on the coat, bow tie, and cummerbund at school.

Let’s just say, cummerbunds aren’t typical wear for our family. Such was, shall we say, rather noticeable at the March concert, when Josh’s cummerbund showed up in the middle of his chest, a good 6-8” above his belt line. Understand that the tuxedo is a very handsome black; the cummerbund and bow tie are a very visible orange.

So for last week’s last concert, we had a bit of an intentional discussion beforehand. “Remember that the cummerbund goes here (motion to the belt line). It does not go here (horizontal motion to the center of his chest).”

Sure enough. Up comes the curtain, final concert of the year, Josh is his typical joyful self, proudly standing there, second row, right in the center, visible to all, and here is his bright orange cummerbund, smack dab in the middle of his chest once again. [Insert audible sigh here.]

What can I do? Nothing. But after song #1 of a three song set, the director promptly left his podium, walked up to the students, right toward Josh, and corrected the misplaced cummerbund. All eyes were on him. Even with a sweet, strong, beautiful relationship between director and student, it had every potential for embarrassment.

But not for Josh.

Josh gently raised his arms, allowed the director to adjust the necessary apparel, and then noticing that he was the center of attention for an unplanned moment, as Mr. Miller started walking away, Josh gave a quick shrug, an immediate smile, and then a fast, contagious dab. Yes, Josh dabbed. The crowd clapped and chuckled, embracing the joy young master Josh genuinely felt.

I have long thought that Josh does many things better than me. In fact, I would argue that sometimes, intelligence gets in the way for the rest of us. It causes us to miss some of the finer moments, be willing to sacrifice relationship, be embarrassed, and makes us far too conscious of impression management.

Josh simply doesn’t care. So often, he is wiser than me. He is a great teacher.



As promised, the Intramuralist will soon have some words for the graduate. Until then, let’s remember a few who’ve come before us, with wise and sometimes profound words, today from English teacher David McCullough Jr., delivered to the graduates of Wellesley (Mass.) High School in June of 2012…

… So here we are… commencement… life’s great forward-looking ceremony. (And don’t say, “What about weddings?” Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry. Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there. No stately, hey-everybody-look-at-me procession. No being given away. No identity-changing pronouncement. And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos? Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy. Left to men, weddings would be… after limits-testing procrastination… spontaneous, almost inadvertent… during halftime… on the way to the refrigerator. And then there’s the frequency of failure: statistics tell us half of you will get divorced. A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East. The Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings.)
But this ceremony… commencement… a commencement works every time. From this day forward… truly… in sickness and in health, through financial fiascos, through midlife crises and passably attractive sales reps at trade shows in Cincinnati, through diminishing tolerance for annoyingness, through every difference, irreconcilable and otherwise, you will stay forever graduated from high school… you and your diploma as one, ’til death do you part.
No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.
All of this is as it should be… because none of you is special.
You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.
Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman! And now you’ve conquered high school… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…

But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee… I am allowed to say Needham, yes? …that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million… on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. Imagine standing somewhere over there on Washington Street on Marathon Monday and watching sixty-eight hundred yous go running by. And consider for a moment the bigger picture… Your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it. Neither can Donald Trump… which someone should tell him… although the hair is quite a phenomenon.
“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me there is perfection in me also. Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree. So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality–we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point–and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors… and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. It’s an epidemic–and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune… one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School… where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.” I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.
If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for… rather than material advantage… the exhilaration of learning. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. (Second is ice cream… just an fyi) I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters.
As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations… and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, pursuit–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube. The first President Roosevelt, the old rough rider, advocated the strenuous life. Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow. The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil. Locally, someone… I forget who… from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem. The point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands. (Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life. Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once… but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.)
None of this day-seizing, though, this YLOOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence. Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.
Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.



At 9:00 p.m., London time, as part of her “Dangerous Woman” world tour, singer Ariana Grande began her concert at the 21,000-seat Manchester Arena.

At 10:28 p.m., with the concert complete, a man detonated an explosive device near one of the exits.

Seconds later, fans raced out of the arena, hearing the blast, with most unaware of exactly what had happened.

At least 22 have died, and 59 were injured Monday night. Of the victims named thus far, some are teens. One is only eight.

ISIS was quick to take credit, stating that this iniquitous act was carried out “with Allah’s grace and support.” For the record, I couldn’t disagree more. Lest we digress, however, with the ongoing investigation and the identification of the killer, the incident is believed to be a result of Islamic terrorism.

At this point, it’s challenging to know what to say. With a heavy heart and a sober mind, I find myself mostly pausing at the keyboard, wondering how in the world we make sense of a group that finds it sickeningly valiant to intentionally take the life of an eight year old girl. The reality is that terrorists don’t care about who they kill; they don’t care about other people. The radicals have taken a religious creed and utilized it as a license for murder. Let’s be poignantly clear: they are not motivated by God; they are motivated by evil.

What magnifies the inherent challenge, unfortunately, is that our country currently stinks at talking about things well.

I have no desire to be disrespectful to a single soul. But I do desire to find a way through this, talking honestly, bluntly, and respectfully about terrorism. Consistent with most topics, I’d like to find a way to discuss the truth and the solemn ramifications without any of the “downs” — that is, either (A) watering down the truth — or (B) shoving the truth down the throat of one who approaches the topic from a different angle.

Too many play politics. Too many dismiss a potentially relevant aspect. Too many dismiss who leads and directs the conversation. Again, we have a hard time simply talking about it. It thus doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to wonder why solution remains distant. If we fumble the mere conversation, we are also likely to forgo any solution.

Perhaps the most poignant response I witnessed this week was from Ariana Grande herself. She made me think. In the immediate hours after the attack, she simply tweeted the following:

from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”

I thought about her words for a long time… broken.

What does it mean to be “broken”?

With many stated definitions, this one seemed consistent with Grande’s emotion: “made weak or infirm; subdued completely.”

There is an inherent humility in that definition — a recognition of weakness that we need help in this; we need far more than self. We need a grace and truth that is bigger and better and more effective and lasting than any human brilliance or bravado.

It dawned on me, therefore, how beautiful brokenness is… the calling out for help, the submission, the acknowledgement of weakness and transparency of emotion, and the resistance to any choosing of sides or exalting of self.

Maybe then, the way through discussing and eliminating the evil of terrorism is for everyone to humble themselves long enough to pray, recognizing our need for divine help and quit any exaltation of party, policy, or self. Maybe. I’m just thinking out loud.

Primarily, my heart and mind just feel we need to be a little more broken.



Today is my middle son’s last day of high school. No words, no less, will be shared this day in regard to any graduate encouragement, praise or proclamation; such is an approximate week away. I wish to instead speak of something different yet relevant. I wish to speak about all these “lasts.”

For JT, it was his last day…

His last day in Biotech…
His last Nerf Wars…
His last time pulling into 1 Tiger Trail no more than half awake…
His last mad dash out of the parking lot at the end of the day…
His last avoidance of the school lunch…
His last late night scarfing through the pantry for what to put in his sack lunch…
His last show choir competition…
His last show choir “grand champions” award…
His last class field trip…
His last concert…
His last egg drop invention…
His last game…
His last time to put on the uniform…
His last morning searching for clean socks…
His last GPA/class rank announcement…
His last day in the stands…
His last time cheering on his buddies…
His last prom…
(His last time his madre pays for prom…)
His last ACT attempt…
His last undergrad application…
His last high school essay…
His last morning scrambling for some festive spirit wear…
His last early-morning-not-talking-to-his-brother, simultaneously getting ready…
His last late night, thankful moment, talking with his parents…
His last show choir guys sleepover…
His last “grab-some-food-at-B-Dubs” after school…
His last time to take the mound…
His last daily banter with the guidance department…
His last morn not really eating the minimal breakfast I made for him before school…
His last political debate in AP Gov…
And his last day doing life with his current best friends…

While “lasts” often make us grimace — as much of what we love, does come to an end — I’ve learned that “lasts” give life meaning. It’s why wrestling with the reality of heaven and hell is vital; they’re the only things said to forever last.

“Lasts” help us not take whatever-the-last-describes for granted.

In fact, it’s one of the main reasons, this semi-humble current events observer advocates for term limits; if our representatives knew they had only a limited time to serve us well, perhaps they would listen more closely to the totality of their constituents, work better with the persons across the aisle, and be more prudent in their decision-making and spending. They only have so much time to serve. They need to serve us well.

Just a simple thought today, recognizing that most things exist only for a season, and yes, seasons change. Seasons give life value. Life has some necessary endings, allowing us to get to what’s next.

While I pondered this post yesterday afternoon, my son had 20, maybe 25 of his friends out in the backyard playing a rousing game of football. While a regular routine of theirs, no doubt it was the last after school game of his high school tenure.

Wisely, he enjoyed it so.



He was described by one LA Times pop music critic as follows: Chris Cornell “was one of the great rock ’n’ roll singers — an octave-jumping belter who rose to fame as part of the 1990s’ scruffy grunge scene but whose powerful instrument put him in league with the grandstanding rock icons of an earlier era, including the Who’s Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin… Almost as impressive as Cornell’s voice was his musical curiosity, an open-minded spirit that set him apart…”

Cornell, talented as he was, reportedly took his own life last Wednesday at the age of 52.

Closer to home, multiple teens in my town, also reportedly took their own lives last week… one on the last day of his last year in high school… another at the end of only year one.

My heart grieves when one intentionally ends a life… another’s or their own.

Let me clearly state that the Intramuralist is no expert. I am thankful to have peers and professionals who actually are experts in dealing with suicide prevention and mental illness, some who have advised me regarding the contents of this post. This post is not enough; it won’t come anywhere close to doing the topic of suicide prevention justice. But one of those peers boldly encourages us to “speak 2 save” (see for more info), empowering people to speak up in order to prevent suicide. With a sobered heart, for at least now, this is a humble attempt to speak up…

First, this is serious. On average, there are 121 suicides each day in this country. For every death, 25 more attempt it. Suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. With something this prominent and this serious, we need to be talking about it. We need to share the God-honest, sobering truth. And we need to especially be talking to the young people around us.

Second, there is no place here for shame. For those who struggle with mental illness — or for friends and families who have numbingly walked through this gut-wrenching heartache, they do not need nor merit any shame. What they need are our fervent prayers, our generous grace, and a willingness to walk alongside them, whatever that may look like.

And third, so many say they “had no idea” intentionally ending one’s life was even an option for their loved one. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we need to watch another’s talk, behavior, and mood…

If they talk about…

  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Experiencing unbearable pain
  • Having no reason to live
  • Killing themselves

If they behave like…

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
  • Acting recklessly
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression

And if they display moods such as…

  • Depression
  • Loss of interest
  • Rage
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation
  • Anxiety

We need to be aware of various, significant suicidal risk factors — health, environmental, and historical factors. These include mental health conditions, stressful life events, and exposure to the suicide attempt(s) of another.

This is hard. Time to speak up.



Many have valid, current concerns, but the Intramuralist’s primary concern is not with any singular person.

Let me say more; there are significant reasons to be concerned in today’s socio-political climate, but my chief concern rests with no one person or one party. It rests with something bigger. It rests with us.

Said by American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks at Harvard Kennedy School this week, sharing a a lesson from the Dalai Lama in overcoming political polarization…

“We don’t have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem in American politics.

Contempt is defined by social psychologists as ‘the utter conviction of the worthlessness of another human being.’

If you listen to people talk to each other in political life today, they talk to each other with pure contempt. When somebody around you treats you with contempt, you never quite forget it.

So if we want to solve the problem of polarization today, we have to solve the contempt problem.

I sometimes write with the Dalai Lama. I was thinking about this contempt problem, and I said, ‘Your Holiness, what do I do when I feel contempt?’

And he said, ‘Practice warm heartedness.’

And I started thinking about it, and it’s true. When I do that, when we do that, when we have leaders who can do that, it’s utterly world-changing.

Catch yourself. You can show true strength, if next time you hear contempt, you answer with warm heartedness. Every single one of us is going to have an opportunity on social media, or in-person to answer somebody’s contempt. Are you going to do the right thing? And make the world a little bit better, and show your strength, and make your enemies your friends?

Or are you going to make the problem worse?

That’s a question each of us gets to answer, probably in the next 24 hours.”

That is sobering…

… incredibly sobering. Are we going to make this problem worse?

Truth is, right now way too many are justifying contempt. Way too many are justifying — consciously or not — to conclude that another is utterly worthless. And way too many are insulated by listening only to the likeminded. The truth also is, that most of the rest of us are weary of hearing the contempt holders scream. In fact, it’s often very hard to actually hear them.

It is totally reasonable to be concerned, but when in our concern, we justify concluding that another human being is worthless, I soberly state we are missing what is wisest.

Heed the wisdom of Arthur Brooks and the Dalai Lama.

Want to solve the polarization problem? Want to quit feeding the foolishness? Then start with self. Start with no one else. Catch yourself. Attempt to catch no one else. Quit pointing fingers. Practice warm heartedness instead of contempt.

Such is a true, contagious showing of strength.


we’ve got something — how ’bout you?

There was a great cheer when I was in high school (and no, we will not discuss today how actual long ago that was). But I remember being somewhat enthralled with the “we’ve got spirit — yes, we do” line, to which the perceived opposing side took their turn chanting the same…

“We’ve got spirit — yes, we do! We’ve got spirit; how ‘bout you?!”

The chants would continue for a seemingly prolonged amount of time — loudly, in unison, joined by a plethora of finger pointing at the other team. As the pointing and shouting lost a bit of their vocal luster, one side would alter their intonation by instead shouting simply, “We’ve got more! We’ve got more!”

To which the adolescents — not wanting the other to have the last word — would immediately retort, “That’s what they all say! That’s what they all say!”

Many days I wonder how much we’ve actually grown; let me say it another way… Many days I wonder how many patterns repeat themselves and how adolescent/teen behavior is contemporarily made manifest, although the adults involved now use bigger words, a few more syllables, have a little more money, and dress maybe more maturely.

True, we don’t seem to hear chants of one societal group having far more spirit than another, but we do hear less rhythmic refrains, such as…

“We’ve got compassion, yes, we do! We’ve got compassion; how ‘bout you?”

And we then certainly hear the…

“We’ve got more! We’ve got more!”


“That’s what they all say!”

Maybe it’s verbalized; maybe it’s not. Yet one could easily argue the compassion self-assessment is generously implied… and the rest of the onlookers, watching at the so-called game, get lured into believing that only one side is motivated by compassion.

Think about the current refugee resettlement situation, for example…

I so admire those who desire to love the refugee well, exemplifying the message of “The New Colossus,” the words engraved inside the pedestal’s lower level on the Statue of Liberty. “… Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” I see such compassion, in wanting to care for the person who has less than we, wanting to share what we have and give them what they need.

I also so admire those who desire to care for our citizens well, exemplifying the message of the Constitution, the words articulated in the introductory Preamble… wanting to “… insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare” of the American people. I see such compassion, in wanting to care for the people with whom we live, wanting to be more scrutinizing of those who come from terrorist-harboring countries.

Here’s the unpopular reality. Both of those above two motives are full of compassion. They simply prioritize which group of people to show the most perceived compassion to.

Hence, it’s inaccurate to chant “we’ve got compassion — yes, we do” while assuming another side has none. Yet sometimes we’re so busy shouting and pointing fingers, that we make such careless assumptions.

There is simply no logical place for the “we’ve got more” chants…

… even if that’s what they all say.


the pendulum

Oh, how the pendulum swings…

First to one side
Then to the other
Extreme on both ends

One goes higher
The next goes faster
Boasts of higher and faster swell

Oh, how the pendulum swings…

Constantly in motion
Never staying long in the opposite ends
Seemingly most stable in the middle

Yes, oh, how the pendulum swings.

I had a great conversation with a new friend the other day; I loved it… instantly authentic, lots of truth, active listening, deep topics, no offense, with the highly valued bonus of great wit and exceptionally well-timed sarcasm… yes, my kind of conversation.

We discussed the challenge of current political climate — a climate full of falsehoods and “fake-ness,” minimal truth, limited listening, all sorts of mountain-out-of-molehill topics, and ample offense… with unfortunately, no added wit nor sarcasm.

And we talked about the political pendulum.

Some find relief in the recent pattern of 4/8 years of one ideology more promoted and accepted, then 4/8 years of an opposite ideology, with the political pendulum swinging back and forth from the extremes. The idea is that if a person can persevere through the presidency and prominence of one for a limited number of years, the pendulum will soon be back to a place more desired to that individual… granted, again, for only a limited number of years. The pendulum never lasts at the extreme.

On one hand, that gives people peace, as no one person or party can be — will be — in control for all time. On another hand, the idea is great cause for concern, as each time the pendulum seems to swing “higher and faster,” so-to-speak. Each polar opposite end vows to pick up the steam. And because they focus seemingly most on the sins of another as opposed to the sins of self (both which exist), they justify all sorts of less than honorable behavior. The extremes justify:

… falsehood and fake-ness…
… minimal truth…
… limited listening…

They also justify:

… disrespect…
… obstruction…
… and devaluing of relationship.

Add arrogance, too — even subtly or unknowingly — as it’s way too easy to feel we are so wise and omniscient, forgetting the need and benefit to submit both our thinking and emotion to divine wisdom. No, none of us have this all figured out.

The problem with the pendulum is that as the weight swings to the polar opposite side, unethical behaviors are justified. And the behaviors seems to keep getting worse, as we hear popular refrains, such as, “Well, they did this, so we must do this.” The focus seems always on the sins of the other.

Oh, how the pendulum swings…

And yes, that’s concerning.


a tale of two testimonies

In regard to healthcare, I found the following two, recent testimonies fascinating. This is a little lengthier post than usual; however, the contrast is striking and insightful… two people, reacting to the exact same thing. First, from Lisa Morse…

“In 2010, at the age of 30, I ran my first half-marathon. A year later I ran my first full marathon (4:25:10 — you never honestly forget your first marathon time). I was in the best shape of my life. Although I gave myself a few months off from long-distance running, I started planning for my next half-marathon. Unfortunately, I began having intense joint pain in my hands, wrists, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. I was only 31 years old but felt like I was 80 — simply getting out of bed in the morning was a physically painful endeavor. Turning the pages of a book could cause ridiculously excruciating pain. It felt like my joints were being stabbed repeatedly with a knife that was on fire. Imagine going from running a marathon to just a few months later struggling to open a car door.

Numerous Google searches told me I most likely had psoriatic arthritis. I made an appointment with my doctor and the testing began. Because psoriatic arthritis isn’t something you can directly test for, I had to be tested for everything else that it might be. Blood tests ruled out rheumatoid arthritis, lyme disease, and parvovirus. I was then referred to a rheumatologist and officially diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory arthritis in which an overactive immune system attacks the connective tissue in the joints. If it is not treated, it can lead to irreversible joint damage. 15-30 percent of long-time psoriasis sufferers (I have had it since the age of 14) develop psoriatic arthritis, and I am one of the lucky ones. My rheumatologist prescribed hydroxychloroquine, a form of quinine, which suppresses the immune system. It provided some relief and life became a little bit easier — I even started running again — but my immune system still wasn’t working properly and I needed frequent doses of Aleve.
In 2014, my insurance plan changed and the rheumatologist I had been seeing for the past two years was no longer an in-network provider, so I had to change doctors. Although I grumbled about it at the time, it was probably one of the best things to happen to me medically since the pain began. My new doctor was astounded by the swelling in my ankles and in addition to telling me that I should absolutely not go on any more 10-mile runs (unless I wanted to start talking about ankle replacement surgery), he wanted to pursue a much more aggressive treatment plan. He prescribed Humira for me and the life-changing effects were almost immediate. My psoriasis cleared up entirely, the joint pain eased considerably, my energy levels increased, and I started to feel pretty good again. Humira is another immuno-suppressant. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, with a suppressed immune system I am sick much less often and much less severely than I was prior to Humira. In the two or three times a year I get sick now, I can usually work through it: pre-Humira I was sick once a month (or more) during the flu season and would miss at least three days of work at a time. Humira allows me to be a more productive, tax-paying member of society.

My two medications retail for $4,900/month and $175/month, which annually amounts to the cost of approximately 87 iPhones.

My experience with psoriatic arthritis and Humira have taken place entirely within the timeframe that Obamacare has been in effect. I do not have a job that provides health insurance. For the past 14 years, I have worked for a sole-practitioner attorney. I am his only full-time assistant. I serve as receptionist, office manager, paralegal, and more. My boss has always treated me well and is, quite honestly, much like family. I have helped to build his law practice into the success that it is today. My husband is a self-employed public policy consultant. We purchase our insurance on the marketplace and rely on the Obamacare subsidy to make ends meet. For our family of three, our silver plan premium (without the subsidy) is about $840/month. Our premium will increase substantially next year, especially if the ACA is repealed, and we will be paying more money for less coverage. If we lose our subsidy and our rate increases the 20-30 percent that is projected, our premium will be unaffordable for us. Without insurance, my two medications retail for $4,900/month (Humira) and $175/month (hydroxychloroquine—generic), which annually amounts to the cost of approximately 87 iPhones. On a side note, Humira was $3,200/month when I was initially prescribed it two and a half years ago—the drug has been on the market for 16 years, so the research and development has been done and over with for a long time. This mark-up should shock the conscience of anyone with a soul.

Thanks to Obamacare, my insurance cannot drop me or charge me more due to my condition. I have worked, paid taxes, and been insured my entire adult life. I am college-educated. Aside from the Obamacare subsidy I receive, I have never relied on public assistance. Psoriatic arthritis is not the result of unhealthy choices or stupid life decisions. I realize I am expensive to treat medically, but I am also a valuable member of society, as are many other similarly-situated people. No one is an island, and despite Ayn Rand’s writings to the contrary, civilized society requires a bit of compassion.”

And second, from Mary Katherine Ham…

“You may know me as a political pundit and writer who has spoken publicly about how the Affordable Care Act negatively affected my family. What you might not know is two years ago, I was a seven-month-pregnant widow with one toddler who got a letter two weeks after my husband died, informing me I’d lost my third or fourth health insurance plan since the Affordable Care Act passed. If you’ll remember, the promise was that I could keep my plan if I liked it. I could not.
I predicted what would happen to my family’s insurance, and to much less fortunate people subjected to the exchanges with us, many of whom have seen doubled premiums and tripled deductibles. If you’ll remember, the promise was everyone’s premiums would go down. They did not. For predicting it, I was routinely called a lying hack in public. It’s a hazard of the job, but I wasn’t lying. I was right. I also thought it was improbable the federal and state governments could handle building these exchanges and that they’d likely blow up and be inoperable, thereby preventing people like me from actually purchasing the new plans the ACA required we purchase. Again, I was not lying for partisan gain.

ACA has helped people. I know some of them well! I have two friends with serious health challenges, one of whom I can say was probably kept alive by Obamacare; the other by the fact she was able to keep her grandfathered pre-ACA plan. I am not in the habit of asserting any piece of health legislation is either perfect or a tool of evil designed by hateful actors. They’re not. I will not assert either of these fundamentally shallow and manipulative things about either ACA or adjustments to it (and, yes, this piece of House legislation is an adjustment or a reform, not a repeal, which would change dramatically in the Senate if taken up and change again before eventual passage).

It has come to my attention that, even among those who should know, or assert they know a lot about health care policy and the market, many don’t know that people like me exist. But there are many of us, many with far fewer resources than I, who now have much more expensive, less effective, junkier, nearly unusable plans than we had back when our allegedly “junk” plans were outlawed. Again, we are not the only ACA story. But we are part of the story, we were sold a bill of goods, and we’re often overlooked.
There aren’t a lot of good answers, here. There are many reasons for that, which start in the mid-20th century with a fundamental distortion of health-care markets through wage-and-price controls, and then a tax benefit that incentivized employer-based health insurance. ACA was not a good answer. AHCA likely isn’t a super one either.
In any system, and any change to a system, there will be people who come out on both the good and bad sides of the deal. When Obamacare supporters denied this truth applied to ACA, it was wrong. There’s the possibility of marginal improvement to it, but not if you do nothing, as insurers and customers alike pull out of exchanges because they can’t afford to stay in them. Yet another major provider announced this week it will drop out of the Virginia exchange. Republicans were elected several elections over to address just this problem.

Most people who aren’t in the individual market, which is the one most affected by ACA, have no idea what the plans look like. It is a market where the costs of the bill’s mandates are more visible, even when subsidized. When I cite exorbitant deductibles, folks tell me to suck it up and pay $3,000. I laugh at a $3,000 deductible. What in the old system was considered a very high deductible is now among the lower available, and premiums for any kind of deductible are high, even with subsidies. Many families have to hit $12,700, and they’re paying a mortgage-sized premium. For many, the purchase becomes hard to justify or supplants an actual mortgage or similar outlays.
Arguing about this as if beneficiaries of ACA don’t exist isn’t right. Arguing about it as if people like me don’t is also not right. ACA was never the panacea it was sold as and it remains distinctly un-utopian in its results. Lazy characterizations of things you like as perfect—and of people you oppose as big fans of people dying—are not particularly helpful to actual people.
So if you’re weaving a utopian or dystopian scenario for Facebook, remember reality is almost always less extreme and more nuanced than you’re asserting, and you probably know a real human on both sides of every imperfect adjustment to our Frankenstein system.
One of them was a pregnant widow who had to spend her 32nd week of pregnancy and the first week after her husband’s funeral calling midwives, doctors, insurance companies, and help lines to make sure she’d still have the third plan she was promised she could keep.

My family may be the trade-off that was worth it for you to implement ACA. And I’m actually fine with you thinking that, as long as you don’t pretend we and the rest of the people like us don’t exist. We’re probably never going to stop arguing about this, but arguing responsibly and empathetically is better.”

Striking, isn’t it? … how for some, the Affordable Care Act has been helpful, and for others, the exact same law has been hurtful.

I’m thinking most of us need to broaden our perspective… maybe… just maybe.


before healthcare

I really want to talk about healthcare. I see it as an important issue, worthy of respectful discussion, but finger pointing currently seems more prominent than fixing. Partisanship has surpassed any semblance of panacea. So before we can wrestle with what seemingly prompts the unhinged, sky-is-falling emotion from far too many, we need to wrestle with partisanship first. Why? Because partisanship is impeding solution.

So many emotions — coinciding within the far left, far right, Obama lovers, Trump lovers, Obama haters, and Trump haters camps — are killing conversation. This polarization then impairs our ability to solve what needs it… i.e. healthcare.

I’m reminded of “Common Ground,” a great read directed at stopping the “partisan war that is destroying America,” co-authored by liberal columnist Bob Beckel and conservative columnist Cal Thomas. They call out the hypocrisy within issues, organizations, and individuals that have deepened the partisan divide, so-to-speak, and they encourage the rest of us not to be seduced into such thinking. Yes, the intelligent are being seduced. Partisans are successfully playing to our emotions. They are luring us in.

Think about it…

This past week the House repealed Obamacare; barring any perceived more significant current events, I’d like to talk about this more later in the week. But note as some have pointed out, some/many who voted to repeal/replace, did not actually read the legislation (…hear an Intramuralist “geeeeesh” here…). That should concern us all.

Here’s an additional fact: some/many who passed the original Affordable Care Act also didn’t read the legislation (… the geeeeesh continues…). Friends, our congressmen/women, who represent us, need to read what they are voting upon — whether that is “yea” or “nay.” But here’s what happens: partisanship and polarized thinking has seduced us into believing that not reading the legislation was ok one of those times. In other words, the end justifies the means, so if a person likes the result, it’s ok that this time, the legislator didn’t read what he was voting on. That acceptance of less than honorable behavior is a direct result of partisanship and the coinciding emotions.

Where did this severe level of partisan seduction begin?

Some attribute the less than honorable behavior to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s stated strategy to oppose anything and everything then Pres. Obama put forth. Others attribute it to Obama’s forceful push through of Obamacare, ignoring conservative input and changing Senate rules to eventually ratify. Still more attribute it to the Republicans fervor in insuring Pres. Clinton paid for his personal indiscretions. And still more blame it on the Democrats response to the not so articulate Pres. George W. Bush and those perceived weapons of mass destruction.

Beckel and Thomas actually go back further than the past four administrations; they also blame no singular party nor individual. They go back to the late 1970’s, when laws regarding lobbyists were eased. Lobbyists were given more access to current congressmen — more opportunity to interact with those actually crafting current law. Remember that the goal of a lobbyist is to get their law passed; they don’t care about the totality of laws; they care about their law.

Hence, when the lobbyist laws were eased, legislators began socializing with lobbyists. Previously they had socialized with one another — regardless of party. All of a sudden, however, instead of our representatives working together during the day and enjoying time and life together in the evening, they started separating in the evening. Restaurants and bars became known as hangouts of the left or the right — as opposed to places where they would hang out together. Hanging out together helps people realize how reasonable another is, despite deep political and policy differences.

Fascinating… when we stop hanging out with those who think differently, even in all of our intelligence, we lose sight of another’s reason. That is hurting us. Said James Q. Wilson, over 10 years ago in “Commentary” Magazine, who believes in spite of most of us being centrists, we are becoming a polarized nation, “By polarization I do not have in mind partisan disagreements alone. These have always been with us… By polarization I mean something else: an intense commitment to a candidate, a culture, or an ideology that sets people in one group definitively apart from people in another, rival group. Such a condition is revealed when a candidate for public office is regarded by a competitor and his supporters not simply as wrong but as corrupt or wicked; when one way of thinking about the world is assumed to be morally superior to any other way; when one set of political beliefs is considered to be entirely correct and a rival set wholly wrong.”

This one way of thinking, one set of beliefs, one set of what’s right… it’s killing conversation and impeding solution.