Standards

Wow, this blog apparently reached 10,000 pageviews in the last few days. Who knew so many people were interested in the random stuff I get up to?
Anyhoo, I was reflecting further on my weekend with Katharine. When she was out on a 33km run (she’s training for Comrades … I was busy sleeping!) she encountered an informal settlement literally abutting an expensive resort. We see this every day, here in South Africa: the [usually black] workers walking to work in the city or to their jobs as domestics in the white suburbs. South Africa has one of the worst Gini co-efficients in the world. If you don’t know what that means, Google it.
It’s not the sort of thing that can be changed overnight or even in a generation. But especially when you work as I do, in the field sometimes, you can’t help but notice. When people take advantage of that inequality to better themselves …. Well, there are very few things that make me properly angry nowadays. That’s one that makes my blood boil.
However, everything is relative. EVERYTHING. It’s impossible to see the world through someone else’s eyes. I mean yes, there are concepts of absolute right and wrong, that religions have argued about for thousands of years. But in pretty much everything that doesn’t come right down to don’t hurt other people or take sh*t that isn’t yours, it’s a gray area. And hey … even that … short of murder and mutilation, how do you define ‘hurt other people?’ What actually constitutes emotional abuse, after all? What if it’s unintentional? What if a tree falls in the forest? Same goes for ‘sh*t that isn’t yours.’
Truth, like perspective, is also not absolute. Every story has a side for each person that tells it. We learned this lesson very strikingly my first week at St Paul’s when some class or other they staged a verbal fight between a person coming in and the teacher. When we then had to write down our recollections of the appearance of this person (let alone the actual course of events) the results were, of course, very different. And if we can’t even get basic facts like what colour skirt someone had on consistent, and we know that our perception of past events is coloured by our own beliefs, thought processes, etc., no wonder two people can look at the same situation and come up with completely different conclusions.
It’s so funny, we like to think of our memory as being like a movie we can play back or a series of photographs we can recall. In fact, it’s nothing like that. Even how we make decisions is more akin to a typical Supreme Court decision where there is a winning side, but just as strong of a dissenting opinion. But the dissenting opinion is stuck in those little gray cells. No, I haven’t been re-reading Jonah Lehrer. Just thinking.
As an example, what I think my top priority should be isn’t necessarily what the other people around me think it should be. Goodness knows I get pulled in about 12 directions every day at the office, and it’s hard to balance keeping other people busy with keeping other people productive with urgent admin items (like chasing down payments and generating invoices), with the BIG STUFF that needs to get done and that requires focus. Some of this is personal stuff like getting my cats imported, some of it is work stuff like writing concept notes and marketing collateral, that requires being in the right head space. But hey, working for a small company or startup is like training CrossFit. It’s different each time, and you have macro and micro cycles, and there’s always tons of things you’re good at and tons of things you suck at and need to improve.
Another example, I got called for a couple no reps on my burpees yesterday at CrossFit. Now, none of these were intentional – I was just moving so fast that I didn’t actually do what I was supposed to be doing. Now, I will try harder in the future to make sure that I put movement standard above speed. It used to be that my pullups weren’t always above the bar, or my squats weren’t deep enough or I didn’t open my hip at the top. But you can’t always necessarily see or feel these things yourself, which is why you need to be told. But after you’re told, you need to listen. Chris gave quite a …. Well, I won’t call it tirade, but a long speech to the attendees of the advanced class on Tuesday night about movement standards.
We’d just done a workout called Cindy which was 20 minutes of as many rounds as possible of 5 pullups, 10 pushups, and 15 air squats. Each of these things has movement standards. We all know what they are (or should). I myself saw quite a couple no reps for each and every exercise. I hope to heck all mine were legit … if not, it certainly wasn’t by intention. These things matter. There ARE cases where there are absolutes, and you should respect the heck out of those absolutes. So I REALLY appreciated Chris’ lecture because it really is that important. And that’s one of the reasons why we tend to respect the likes of Chris and Rika as athletes, because we know they hold themselves to the standards.
Having said that, I was quite happy with Cindy because this was the first time I’d ever done it that I hadn’t lain around staring at the floor waiting for my arms to recover sufficiently to do another [legitimate] pushup. I still got tired and slowed down at some point but I hit a PR (that’s three in 25 hours … but who’s counting?).
Wednesday was a public holiday. Human Rights Day. I think it’s great that this is celebrated. South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions on the planet, and while politics here is its own brand of messed up, well, at least we don’t have Rick Santorum, either. Things could be a whole heck of a lot worse. So I did what I normally do when I get a day off … I trained, and ate, and trained again, ate again, hung out with a friend, ate for a third time, and then got to work on some of the BIG STUFF.
I’ll also say this because it’s on my mind: attitude matters a lot. I have a book called The Art of the Idea that says the world is full of sunrise people and sunset people. Simply put, a sunrise person gives out energy, and a sunset person sucks it up. Here’s a great quote:
“Nelson Mandela electrified a room, not through soaring rhetoric or slick salesmanship, but through integrity of purpose. He had an idea for a whole country and he wanted everyone to help make it float.
Often in meetings, he’d listen to people being angry about the past. When they were finished, he’d agree with them. They were right, he’d say. But then, he’d ask that their anger at the past not contaminate the future.
When you are angry and right, that’s a difficult ask.”
  • “That was priceless: ‘What did he show you?’ ‘I don’t know.’” – Jeff
  • “You might say they’re good problems, yes, but they’re still problems.” – Jeremy
  • “Whining won’t stop it.” – Chris
  • “It was good! I didn’t rip my hand. … Oh, no, wait, I did.” – Ellie 

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