Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Aging Gracefully with Viagra

I’ve long been an advocate of aging gracefully, and not continually trying to pretend that you’re younger than you actually are. Toupees and expensive replacement procedures for hair loss, coloring your gray hair, tummy tucks, and other similar things were just vain and futile attempts to continue to look young, rather than gracefully accepting the fact that you were older.

And so, when Viagra first went on the market almost 20 years ago, I thought, “Here we go again.” I thought it was about 60-something men not wanting to admit that they were no longer 20-something. I figured that things naturally tapered off with time, and so what if you couldn’t do it three times in one night anymore? Can you do it three times in a week? Can you do it once a week? Can you remember a time when you weren’t getting any at all?

With that in mind, Viagra seemed like a “vanity drug” to me. It was marketed to the vanity of people who just couldn’t bring themselves to accept the fact that things change with time.

And then I thought about my knees.

A lot of us start having knee problems as we get older, and a lot of us get knee replacements. Hip replacements too. I heard once that based on newer technologies, what was once the $6 Million Man is probably now the $12,000 Man.

But I have no problem with joint replacements. I don’t tell those people to just suck it up because it’s a part of aging. I don’t tell people with cataracts that the surgery to fix them is “vanity surgery.” I encourage them to get it, and tell them that from everything I’ve heard, it’s absolutely life-changing.

And then there are those hair issues. It took an episode of the TV show LA Law to teach me that hair color and hair replacement isn’t always an issue of vainly trying to pretend that you’re younger. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a style that you prefer. And what’s wrong with that?

But this got me thinking about Viagra again. If I wouldn’t tell my friends with failing joints and eyes that they should just suck it up because it’s a normal part of aging, why should I tell my friends with erectile problems that Viagra was a “vanity drug”, and they should just accept decreased performance as a simple fact of life.

And then there was something else that just blew me away. I read somewhere that it turns out that I was wrong about why men of a certain age were using the stuff. It wasn’t 60-something men who wanted to pretend that they were 20-something and do it three times a night. It was the partners of those men, who wanted them to be able to perform like they were 40-something again two or three times a week.

Not a vanity drug at all, but something you did for your partner. Wow.

Then, as I did a little more reading, I discovered something that hit extremely close to home. It’s also used by diabetics…did you hear that, diabetics, who have diabetic neuropathy that prevents the plumbing from working properly. Well, I guess this means that one of these days I’ll be looking at the little blue pills too…along with the cataract surgery I know is in my future.

But I’m not coloring my hair or getting a toupee.

I intend to age gracefully.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Feeling Good About Doing Good

My wife just came back from a weeklong mission trip to Haiti…and had the time of her life! She did great things for the people there. She did great things with the people there. She bonded with the people she went down there with. She said it was a really rewarding experience and would love to go back.

And this is a problem for some people.

I have a friend who is all about motives. Actually, she’s all about pure motives. Unless you’ve done something for only the purest of motives, what you’ve done is morally suspect. If you’ve gotten anything out of it…anything…then you’re only doing it for yourself, and not for the people you thought you were helping.

Obviously, she’d have a problem with Cheryl going back to Haiti because she enjoyed the experience. That makes Cheryl a person who’s selfishly using the people of Haiti to make herself feel good. Now, if Cheryl hated every moment of the time she was in Haiti, but vowed to go back on a regular basis because it was the right thing to do, that would truly be doing good from the purest of motives.

I disagree with that view. I fundamentally disagree with that view, and I disagree with it because of something called a feedback loop. I’m not talking about what happens when the microphone is too close to the speakers, although they are related. The kind of feedback loop I’m talking about is when you learn to do or not to do something based on some response you got from doing it.

Good feedback encourages you to continue certain behaviors and bad feedback discourages you from them.

When you feel good about doing good, it encourages you to do more good. The feeling you get from that encourages you to do still more good. And the feeling you get from that encourages you to do even more good than before. I suspect this is nature’s way of nudging us into doing good and helping each other. We’re supposed to feel good when we do good for others!

I remember one of the most important things I learned in my freshman Philosophy class at Syracuse University was the concept of enlightened self-interest. That’s when you look out for others because it also benefits you. Yes, you’re getting something out of it, but so is the other person. It’s a win-win all around.

But some people have a problem with this, and want the most philosophically pure motives before doing anything.

The problem with this is that if you wait for the absolute purest of motives, nothing will ever get done.

Besides, I think that my friend has a serious issue that she hasn’t considered. In insisting that things be done only for the purest of motives, she wants to be able to say that when she does some good deed, she does it for the right reason.

I don’t think she’s stopped to consider that she’s selfishly using others to get moral bragging rights.

Let me be perfectly clear here...this was no one week vacation where they did a little work. There was heat and diarrhea, and bad water and diarrhea, and lots of hard work and diarrhea, and great bonding with the rest of the mission trip team...and diarrhea.

And did I mention diarrhea?

But they'd all go back in a minute because of what they got out of it...because of the feedback loop making them feel good for doing good.

And that, despite what my friend thinks, is how it should be.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sex, Gender, Language, and Wiring

I’ll admit that I’m still having problems transitioning to the new uses of the terms “sex” and “gender”, and here’s why:

I remember when “gender” was the term that “polite people” used to avoid using the word “sex”, as if “sex” was only something you had, and not also something you were.

I remember using the term “sex” with my 6th-graders, and having them all go beet red, and begging me to use the word “gender” instead, because “sex” was too embarrassing and giggle-inducing for them to handle. I also recall making that same group of 6th-graders say the word “sex” loudly three times to get it out of their system. There was not going to be any faux politeness on my watch.

I also remember explaining to that same class how to me “gender” was a term that referred to language and wiring. German, French, and Spanish were languages with gender, and English is not. In German all dogs are male, all cats are female, and all horses are neuter. In English they’re all indeterminate unless you know the particular animal in question.

As far as wiring goes, most of what I know about electricity, I learned from doing model trains as a kid, and then later sound systems as a young adult. This is where I first learned about the two genders of connectors: male and female. It was years before I figured out why they were called that, and then my jaw dropped when I did. And then there were those situations when you had to go from a male to a male or a female to a female, and had to run to Radio Shack for a “gender bender.” (That’s what it was really called, folks!)

Gender wasn’t an internal descriptor until very recently. Until then it had been a physical/biological one that was pretty much synonymous with sex; and actually, as I recall hearing at a recent presentation about supporting library patrons and staff who are transgender, you can solve a lot of problems by remembering the word “usually”...as in “sex and gender are usually the same...but not always.”

So now, as I start using those two words in different ways than they've been used for years, I wonder how I talk about language and wiring. Do German, French, and Spanish now have sex? (And how often do they have it?) And what about my electrical and audio cables; do they now also have sex, because it’s a physical description of the connector, rather than a description of what flows through them? And when I need to go from male to male or female to female, do I now need a “sex switcher” rather than the old “gender bender”?

And if I try to resist such changes, on the grounds that in those cases sex and gender are always the same, will I be told that such resistance is futile?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Death and Not Having a Script: Part 2

Last week I talked about dealing with death and not having a script to follow…especially when you’re younger and the people who’ve died are your own age. But as we get older the people our own age are also…well…older. Also, as we get older, the people we hang around with from work or other places may be older…or even younger…than us, but they’re somehow our contemporaries. You’d think that by now we’d know the script, but sometimes when it’s not there for us, things fall apart.

I’ve used the word “script” up to now, but other appropriate words are “ritual” or “custom.” Those rituals and customs help to guide us through difficult times, and help us to know what to do. And…as I said when I was talking about scripts, when that ritual isn’t there, when any ritual isn’t there, things can get uncomfortable pretty fast, because you don’t know your role, and you’re afraid of getting it wrong.

In my 19 years of teaching, it’s been my sad lot to deal with the deaths of the parents of at least five students. Where there was a ritual involved, things went smoothly and beautifully. I’ll never forget the funeral for the father of one student, who we all knew was dying. It seemed like every faculty member was at the church for that funeral, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. Because there was that ritual, and we all got to deal with the family within the guidelines of that ritual, there was no awkwardness with knowing what to say to the student in the days afterward. He wasn’t bombarded with every faculty member and student offering their condolences for the next two weeks, nor did he have to deal with the uncomfortable silence of people not wanting to talk about the elephant in the room.

I also remember my first Jewish funeral. This was a ritual that was outside of my tradition…but once again, this ritual gave us a framework for dealing with the remaining family members, and not having the kids bombarded day after day with condolences.

But then there were those deaths for which there was no ritual, no funeral…or at least none that I was aware of at the time, and one of these situations is where my biggest failing regarding death was. I don’t recall the details anymore, but the father of a student had died; and this father had taken an interest in my family. I don’t recall if there was a funeral that I didn’t hear about, I don’t recall whether or not I said anything to his son, but I do remember running into his widow at a graduation party for someone else, and not having a script, not having had the ritual of having already seen her and offering my condolences at the funeral, I pretty much avoided her. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. And I had heard so much about the totally wrong things people say.

I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, and so I said nothing. And that, I’ve been finding out, is perhaps the most hurtful thing you can do. And years later, I still regret that.

So I’m here to give you the script for when there is no script, the ritual for when there’s been no ritual. I’m here to tell you what no one has probably told you.

Say something. No one expects you to try to make it better. They know that you can’t. But just let them know that you’re thinking of them. Don’t ramble on and on, but just say something. As uncomfortable as it may be to you to do it outside of the confines of an established tradition or ritual, it’s hurtful to them for you to not do it at all.

And here’s the little surprise I learned by listening to, of all things, an episode of the Freakonomics podcast…despite what you may think, sometimes the bereaved want to talk about the deceased, and enjoy talking about the good times. So our worrying about upsetting them by bringing them up is unwarranted. In fact, bringing them up reminds them that for one bright shining moment, that person existed among us.

So take that chance. It’s part of the script now.