There was a cover story in the Atlantic by Ezekiel Emanuel making the case that he wants to die by 75. It is mostly centered around the idea that health care at that point of life is more about extending the dieing process and not living. He acknowledges that he knows people who are happy that are older than that but thinks it is beside the point. From his perspective, life at that point is disabled or deprived.

If his goal was to get people talking then he has accomplished it. This seems to be halfway intellectual click bait. Ink has been spilled in a number of places is response. For my part I think this is a clear case of a failure of imagination. While the author has no trouble imagining all the negative aspects of being older he seems to display almost no imagination for why you might want to live beyond an arbitrary age. He also misses variability in individuals. I can’t blame him on this front as this failure crops up quite frequently.

My imagination may not be big enough but it strikes me that there are both amazing and mundane things that might make it worthwhile. Will I not be able to appreciate a good wine, a nice meal, talking with friends, a good book, a nice nap, a hot shower, a sunny day, a fall walk, (and I’m going to stop the list because it can go on indefinitely)? Moreover, on the amazing front, is it not possible to meet the love of your life, make a best friend, to have a life changing experience, find god, do something you never expected you would do, see the world change, experience something that never existed before then, have the best day of your life, (and I’m going to stop the list because it can go on indefinitely).

So trying this idea on for size, I find it lacking in the imagination department.


So the guy they caught after he went over the fence at the white house had a pen knife. In the media this is reported as armed with a knife. Can that really be said in this case? Isn’t arming oneself to purposefully prepare for some kind of action? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say carrying a penknife or would that not have been shocking enough to attract the kind of attention that was desired? Being armed with a penknife is the equivalent of being prepared for a flood with a measuring cup.

Why is it that many people seem unaware that their stuff be it backpacks, purses, briefcases, bags, luggage, etc extends the space they occupy? On any sidewalk, in any bus, at any store, and in any elevator that isn’t largely empty folks will hit, bump, rest against, jab, scrape you with their stuff. Are they not aware of this or is it that they just don’t care?

One of the staples of graduation speeches and self help articles is to find your passion. We are told that is we can just find our passion and go do whatever that is, then we will be happy, better, more self actualized people and we had better hurry up and get going on it. There are a number of ways to critique this notion. Are there really that many people out there with a passion for lawn mowing or janitorial duties? (Probably not the best example as it confuses paid occupation with passion)

One aspect I’d like to focus on is whether we are all wired to be passionate. There are creditable articles and studies that suggest that some of the attributes of success may largely be hard wired. Persistence and work ethic, normally thought of as individual virtues might really be gifts that are bestowed on us. This is a good reason to be suspicious of our own egos which tell us that all the good things that happen to us are a product of our own self determined actions.

Would it really be much of a leap then for it to be the case that passion is no different? That for all of the people who are wildly, totally, and completely crazy about some aspect of their life that there are an equal number who are at the opposite end of the spectrum and any number in between. For opposite spectrum folks, they would be okay with any number of things but if you told them they had to live without one of them it really wouldn’t hurt their feelings. Would the people with the trait of passionate be in any way superior to the non passionate? Wouldn’t it be the case that all the advice in the world to find their passion would actually increase their unhappiness and should be avoided? Lastly, for the passionate, would you not expect to see that, depending on their focus, that they may be passionate about multiple things?

A great way that managers avoid responsibility is by providing a high level work task or goal that seems simple and then putting it on subordinates to get it done.

This is subtle tactic that seems completely reasonable. First, there are tasks that most employees will be expected to perform without supervision. This approach taps in to this by implying that the task at hand falls in to this area. Second, because the task is stated at a high level it seems very straight forward. That simplicity makes the task easy to convey but covers any number of potential pitfalls in the details. It probably also covers the manager not knowing the details. Third, all responsibility is shifted to the subordinate for the task and for whether the task is completed. The manager wins if the task is completed and has a form of plausible deniability if it fails.

There is a very fine line in all this about what can rightly be expected. Depending on the person in question, their level of seniority, their skill set, the resources they have available to them, and how long they have been in the role there is a wide range of what they might be reasonably expected to perform.

A better indicator as a manager might be across multiple employees or over time. If it is reasonably frequently the case that you find yourself disappointed because tasks aren’t being completed and yet your direction is only at a level where things can be made tinker toy simple you might have a problem.

PS. A lot of this centers on how vague the statement of the task has to be to make it sound simple.

Is there a more damning phrase than ‘I don’t care’?

There are a lot of things you can say that are more crude, rude, ugly or shocking but I’m not sure within normal social conventions there is a worse phrase than this one. You convey disinterest, a flavor of apathy, misanthropy, conversational awkwardness, abruptness, and a number of other undesirable traits. The thing that seems like a problem is how to talk about not being able to care or upon examination of one’s internal state finding that you do not in fact find a sense of caring.

Let’s take the first case, not being able to care. Few it seems to me would argue that the ability to care is unlimited. We know that our attention is finite as is our time. Given a person possessed of perfect empathy these limitations would keep that person from being able to care about everything that could be cared about. In the second case, we see a person make a genuine appraisal of their state of being about some topic and come up dry. They simply do not have a strong feeling about it. It seems hard to judge that as inferior.

In some senses, this comes down to signaling behavior. Saying that you don’t care is a strong contrary social signal at odds with accepted behavior. We are supposed to care about a long list of things and calling out that we in fact do not puts us at odds with others.

If there is no socially acceptable way of conveying this, how can there ever be a conversation about what underpins this lack of caring? How is it possible to identify and validate that not being able to care about everything is a standard human trait?

PS. For the purposes of this conversation I ignore using the phrase intentionally as a means to convey disinterest, apathy, etc. This of course is a very common reason for using it.

You see this a fair amount in organizations. A manager has an extra hour or two come available. Apparently there isn’t enough on their own to do list or they are in avoidance. Paint the prettiest face on it and assume that this was the most important thing to focus on. What is the result? Some new initiative for their team, group, or business.

Is that problematic? On the face of it no. In a perfect situation where the team in question is planned with enough reserve time to take on additional initiatives and the initiatives are well structured and prioritized there is no problem at all.

How often do you see the perfect situation? Rarely enough for it to be remarkable. What you usually see is a team that is already fully loaded if not overloaded. There are a number of initiatives that have come and gone. Some are probably more important than the one currently under consideration.

What are the results of the ‘usual’ situation? The team sitting through another set of meetings that won’t end in success. These wind up being morale sapping since it is hard to commit to something new when there isn’t enough of a track record in success. It is also tough when you can’t see a way that there will be time to accomplish it. You know going in that the expectation is probably not going to be met.

What is a manager to do? The next time you have time available and your thoughts turn to what you should be setting forth in terms of new initiatives to accomplish ask yourself these things. Does my team have enough time to accomplish initiatives over and above base (or current) workload? If not, shouldn’t the focus be on finding that time before setting initiatives? If the team has the time, are the initiatives to be worked on well structured and prioritized? If not, shouldn’t the focus be on getting the existing initiatives organized, prioritized, planned and communicated so that the most important items are happening first? If the above conditions are all met, then it would seem you are well placed to add new initiatives.