Saturday, May 30, 2009

Continuing Experiments with Brain Chemistry

Yesterday involved lab tests that required fasting in advance and no prednisone. Unfortunately, life went straight on from there to other scheduled events, and in all of that, taking the prednisone got overlooked. By evening, I was really dragging and hadn’t gotten much useful done, feeling sluggish and stupid all day. It was Michael who put the pieces together and asked about the fate of the day’s allotment of prednisone. Bingo: forgotten in the press of ongoing life. On reflection, yesterday’s experience includes some ominous foreshadowing as to the quality of life that might result if the next stage of the experiment calls for stopping off for a bit to see if my system will re-start producing the missing elements. Today is already better in the mental acuity and energy categories with the the early morning (two hours before rising) dose seeming to do its thing. That’s a good thing, since there’s a lot to get done that didn’t happen yesterday.

Is this all the placebo effect, though? Do I only think the prednisone is making a difference? NPR's report on a recent study is interesting in this dimension: hotel maids spend the day doing strenuous physical labor (especially the ones who work in hotels with really high-end, heavy bedding). In the study, only those who were educated about how much exercise they were getting actually showed physical benefits from the labor in their blood pressure, weight, etc. The control group, with all the same activities, didn’t. Do the ones who were educated start paying attention to their eating since they then knew they were getting a lot of exercise and there would be a positive payoff? Or, as the authors assert, was it really all the placebo effect and all in their minds?

Whatever, we believe that the current experimental regimen is making a difference, and we’ll take the benefits. Either way, we’re happy that the state of science is such that enough is known about all these interactions to conduct these experiments in the first place. We have to believe that, eventually, they’re going to get it right and more of what-used-to-be-normal will reappear in our lives. Cross your fingers for this happening sooner rather than later. We’re going to go back and add a tag to these posts for brain chemistry experiments, to be able to follow the string through the maze.

Unrelated to the chemistry experiments, other recent events have me thinking again about narcissism and its manifestations, not just its implications for leadership, which is my main preoccupation, but also in other venues. For leadership, one of my current quests is to develop a thought-provoking exercise about when it’s constructive for administrators and leaders to use “we” and when to use “I.” All suggestions and examples welcome, especially if you hear someone speaking in a circumstance where the meaning and effect would be different if the other were used. For example, President Obama uses “my” more often than I’d wish for him to do, just as he could really benefit from moving to an “and stance” instead of how often he uses “but” in certain settings. I get “my supreme court nominee” because it’s a personal choice and responsibility. But how about “our” secretary of education instead of “my secretary”?

In less elevated circles, is it just inexperience with public speaking that leads people to talk excessively about themselves at events that are really about other people? This phenomenon can be seen at funerals, commencements, testimonial dinners and even rehearsal dinners for weddings? What is with that? Sure, when you’re thinking about what you’re going to say, the starting place is how you experienced the person or the rite of passage in question, but that’s not the point of the event, and why don’t more people routinely recognize that and get past it? Who really wants to go to, say a memorial service and hear all about how the dead person did X and what you did as a result--and we never hear about the dead person again? Surely these are meant to be revealing anecdotes about patterns in the dead person’s life, and it’s so rare for the talk ever to get back to that topic. Usually, what we get is an extended rendition of the speaker’s own career/experience/thoughts, etc. Or the graduation speech that tells the speaker’s own life story with only the most tenuous of connections back to the choices facing the gradates. Why is it so hard to focus on the audience instead of on ones own self? I’ve been watching videos of some classroom interactions where the instructor’s lack of boundaries just makes me cringe: truly, it isn’t (or shouldn't be) about her, it’s about THE STUDENTS. Bah. On the other hand, one of the columnists on posted a link to a truly wonderful commencement speech the other day. It's worth your time.

Summer weekends are good. Michael got great stuff at the farmer’s market and we’re looking forward to a relaxed-yet-productive few days. May yours be so, as well. Cheers.

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