Our bodies apparently have 10-20 times as many foreign, microbial cells in them as they have human cells, and research increasingly focuses on our colonization by these critters as a factor in our health. Are we simply Microbe Motels?
A recent report suggested that we prefer confident rather than diffident experts...even when the confident ones are wrong. There are two kinds of experts: the folks who are very, very confident about what they know - and the folks who are very, very aware of the limits of what they know.
A football running back is a confident expert - hit the hole, hit it fast, hit it hard. (Even the Minnesita Vikings recognize this!) Running back-style experts say things like - DRINK TWO GLASSES OF RED WINE A DAY!!!!!
A scientist is usually a tentative expert - see the data, see the limits in the data, present the highly qualified possibilities of what the data might mean if we can get more data that look a lot like the data we just reported.
Can we get people to listen to the second kind?
A famous story relates the following encounter:
Three men are found smashing boulders with iron hammers. When asked what they are doing, the first man says, "Breaking big rocks into little rocks." The second man says, "Feeding my family." The third man says, "Building a cathedral."
To many of us who study and consult in occupational and organizational contexts, we would call what this third man does meaningful work.
The Flash of Insight, The Grand Gesture, The Rousing Speech, The Last Straw. All of these are doppelgangers of The Big Thing, which too many of us wait for to come along and change our lives. The secret is, of course, that it's not coming. Worse, by waiting for The Big Thing, you could let the little things that make life rich, and accumulate into the important experiences of your life, slip away.
One Friday evening in January, I went to the lone, independently owned coffeeshop on my side of town to do a few hours of work. When I got there, though, I found out that the coffeeshop was going out of business. What happened next was a stirring brew of passionate leadership, meaningful work, community mobilization, with a little new social media to sweeten things up.
In Samuel Beckett's masterpiece "Waiting for Godot," two characters anxiously wait for a man they both claim to know but whom neither would recognize. Too often, it seems like people act like Beckett's characters, passively waiting for a meaning for their lives to come up and poke them in the chest and shout, "I am here!" How can we break out of this passivity?
Somewhere around 2500 years ago, a little argument developed among a bunch of free Greek men with too much time on their hands and too many neurons for their own good. They were trying to create a definitive description of the Good Life. Believe it or not, their argument isn't really settled even now.
"The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less."
For the sake of argument, let's say that the esteemed Vaclav Havel is right and we are bothered less and less by the question of meaning in our lives...is that bad? Several decades of research have been conducted on this question, and the evidence is strong.
Wild-eyed Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann recently called on her constituents to get "armed and dangerous" to protect America. Congresswoman Bachmann invoked the spirit of Thomas Jefferson to urge a revolution, so we don't lose our country, you know. Who is the threat? President Barack Obama. Twice in eight years, some Americans have wondered whether the guy in the Oval Office is the president. What do these sentiments say about the meaningful life?
A child's art is a glimpse of a hidden world. (And apparently there are no jobs for art critics in that world). Let's be honest, kid art is objectively bad. Yet, kids have the seemingly magical ability to see their self-expression for what it is, not for what it is not.
We all have that friend who is never fazed by anything. "Hey Chip, sorry to hear you lost your job." "Oh, that's OK, it gives me more time to write my memoirs." These people drive us crazy. Their response to set-backs seems insane at best, and designed to torment us at worst. Perhaps some part of us wishes we could be so laissez-faire, but wouldn't we be missing some crucial piece of living if we didn't have to overcome hardship? Many psychologists believe that people grow through their stressful circumstances by making meaning from them.
Meaning can be found in the strangest places. It's not just the joyful things that help us feel our lives matter; often it's the most painful things. It's a venerable paradox. The more you dive into life and love those around you, the more you risk losing when death comes. Yet, if you don't love strongly, fully, and heedlessly, life is hollowed out and is just a shadow of what it could be.
The ubiquitous ritual of beginning conversations with strangers with some version of "Hi, I'm so-and-so. What do you do?" creates the impression that the most important thing about us is our job. Perhaps we are what we do? What happens, though, when the sacrifices you've made for your employer are repaid in worthless company stock or a pink slip?