Another Week Ends

1. Lots of amazing stuff hitting our inbox this week, including this news story from […]

Ethan Richardson / 1.12.18

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1. Lots of amazing stuff hitting our inbox this week, including this news story from a middle school in Dallas. After deciding to hold a “Breakfast with Dad” event at the school, teachers worried that many of the 150 students who signed up for the breakfast would be without their fathers. So they took to Facebook and Twitter, asking for 50 male volunteers to come in their stead for the fatherless boys. Amazingly, SIX HUNDRED dads came.

‘I will never forget witnessing the young students surrounded by supportive community members. There were so many volunteers, that at times I saw young men huddled in the center of 4-5 mentors,’ Drenka wrote. ‘The look of awe–even disbelief–in students’ eyes as they made their way through the crowd of “Dads” was astonishing,’ she added.

According to Drenka, Jamil ‘The Tie Man’ Tucker led the auditorium in a hands-on icebreaker activity. He talked about learning how to tie a necktie as a rite of passage some young men never experience. Meanwhile, mentors and fathers handed out ties to the students and helped them ‘perfect their half-Windsor knot’.

…Studies have shown that the presence of a caring adult in a young person’s life can help overcome the negative effects of adverse childhood experiences…The moving program has not only touched the lives of those who participated, but it also made its rounds on the internet as several people on social media said the inspirational event ‘brought tears’ to their eyes.

This is almost a perfect counterpoint to the story we shared at the opening of the Relationships Issue, from Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Capital of the World,” where eight hundred Pacos gather outside the Hotel Montana to receive forgiveness from their fathers. Here, six hundred willing fathers gather around less than a hundred fatherless children, to give them a dad, even just for a morning.

And if that didn’t completely obliterate you, take this one from the Chicago Tribune, about the unlikely union of a widow and widower. That alone would be the stuff of romantic comedy, but both of these late spouses were known for their best-selling memoirs on death and dying. Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air and Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour were both about facing terminal cancer in their 30s. In their grief, their widow(er)s found love in each other. Talk about a cruciform love story.

John got through the eulogy. He got through the next day. But not without emailing Lucy (Kalanithi). Over the next few weeks and months, she became his lifeline – and, in turn, he helped her realize that she had come a long way in the two years since her husband’s death. “I felt like your guardian,” she said. “You totally were,” he said…

“I planned to spend my entire life with Nina. I was 100 percent happy doing that,” Duberstein said. Nina’s death forced him onto another course. “Having a second relationship is a tragedy,” he said. But he acknowledges with deep gratitude the series of fortunate events that have led him to Lucy – a woman his wife had tacitly approved.

Lucy and John both recognize the lingering pain and inevitable challenges they face. Entering into a relationship, Lucy noted, means accepting the possibility of losing your partner. “If you are lucky enough,” she said, “you will be devastated when they die. Willingly entering that feels gutsy, but what else could you choose?”

Oh, and if you’re a podcast lover, check out this new one from Sam Lamott (son of Anne), “How to Human.” His interview with human muppet, songwriter, and addict Paul Williams is all about redemption via failure and recovery (ht JR).

2. On the flipside of the feel-good train, a great article from the Times on the absence of redemption in the Twittersphere. As Jenni Russell writes, nuance and generosity are missing elements in social media discourse (not news to anybody at this point), but the devastating reality of Twitter is that the mercilessness never ends. She points out how this has become the state of affairs for writer Johann Hari and Lena Dunham, who fell into disrepute with one bad choice and can now barely come up for air.

Everything that is normally demanded of a wrongdoer has been done by Hari; he has apologised, atoned, changed. And yet there is a substantial constituency out there for whom nothing, it seems, will do, apart from annihilation or disappearance. For them, no one is worthy of second chances or capable of reformation.

… The irony is that as this culture of denunciation spreads, none of us would think it fair if we were judged this way. Individually we know how complex we are. If we were found guilty of wrongdoing at work or in the courts we would be devastated to find that our character and record were not taken into account.

If you need a little light from the Internet, this story of Sarah Silverman and the Internet Troll might provide a much-needed glimmer.

3. Speaking of Internet inadequacy, particularly as it relates to (new) parents, this one is great from McSweeney’s: “Hello, I’m the Internet, and You’re Parenting All Wrong.”

Wait, did you just post a comment about how beautiful your daughter is? Oh no. No no no. Now you’ve sent the message that her self-worth is forever linked to her physical appearance, not her ability to play the clarinet or throw a javelin or solve for x. If it’s not too late, take back that comment. She will thank you later, when her “character” develops, and she’s not addicted to Adderall or trapped in a loveless marriage to a bass player…According to this Times op-ed piece, you shouldn’t compliment your daughter on anything a normal kid would do anyway, like homework, sharing, or speaking. You don’t want her to have an inflated sense of self. But make sure you acknowledge how special she is, even if she’s not attractive, smart, or shows any sign of basic human decency.

4. First Things published a great piece on Dirty Harry, identity hypocrisy, and biblical morality (ht RS):

Acting is what human beings do very well, but only because we do not know how to be ourselves. Opaque to ourselves, we take up roles on cue, as soon as other people feed them to us. We love moralizing roles the best, because they conceal our own inner darkness and lack of integrated identity. If there is any kind of acting that can operate within the biblical vision of the human person, it would be one that sets its face against the human quest for a starring role, or any self-invented role. We would learn to inhabit the anonymous role of the ‘man with no name,’ that is, a name known to God alone.

5. A really convincing, needed commentary on America’s “metrics” obsession came to us via the Wall Street Journal this week. Definitely rings a lot of the same bells that Will McDavid’s “When a Measure Becomes a Target” essay did, especially in the observation that accountability measures—in the office and in life—are often counterproductive when they come from above (ht MM).

Metric fixation consists of a set of interconnected beliefs. The first is that it is possible and desirable to replace judgment with numerical indicators of comparative performance based on standardized data. The second is that making such metrics public (transparency) assures that institutions are actually carrying out their purposes (accountability). Finally, there is the belief that people are best motivated by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance, rewards that are either monetary (pay for performance) or reputational (rankings).

But not everything that is important is measurable, and much that is measurable is unimportant. Most organizations have multiple purposes, and that which is measured and rewarded tends to become the focus of attention, at the expense of other essential goals. Similarly, many jobs have multiple facets, and measuring only a few of them creates incentives to neglect the rest. Almost inevitably, people become adept at manipulating performance indicators. They fudge the data. They deal only with cases that will improve performance indicators. In extreme cases, they fabricate the evidence.

It’s not that measurement is useless or intrinsically pernicious. The challenge is to specify when performance metrics are genuinely useful—that is, how to have metrics without the malady of metric fixation.

6. Finally, the Onion gives us the hearty chuckle we all need. “Man Completely Blindsided by Seemingly Normal Stranger Telling Him to ‘Have A Blessed Day’”.

“Here I am talking to someone I think is just a typical, ordinary guy, and then he hits me out of nowhere with this whole ‘blessed day’ thing,” Borden, 37, said of the friendly stranger who stopped to ask him for directions, confirming the man was dressed in plain, everyday clothes, had a calm demeanor, and did not give off any outward signs of being unusual in any way before employing the religious language. “It caught me completely off guard. You think you’re dealing with a regular person, no different than you or me, and then without any warning they go and throw something like that at you. I guess you really can’t judge a book by its cover.” Borden added that he had been too stunned to formulate a verbal response to the man and was only able to smile faintly and nod his head before continuing on his way.



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