love and cheesecake, but I repeat myself
Greetings from the University of New Hampshire! You know who isn’t afraid of baking a cheesecake anymore? This guy! That’s right - I had harbored a secret fear of baking cheesecake for years. Someone told me once it was wicked hard and probably wouldn’t come out right, and so I’ve always wanted to bake a cheesecake, but never tried. Until this past weekend. I had seen a video that showed how easy it was to make a Basque-style cheesecake (crustless) and I thought, maybe I could do that. And I did - and it was great! I posted the above picture on Facebook (I’m the friend who still posts pictures of his food) and a friend commented - “Wait, you had never baked a cheesecake?” Nope. I had not. But I definitely will again because it’s wicked easy and cheesecake is like love on a plate (more on that below).
I think this reflects the nature of self-confidence and how strange it is. I’ve been willing to experiment with more challenging recipes, but I was convinced by someone’s off-hand remark from so long ago I can’t remember who said it, and so I never really contemplated trying, let alone actually tried. It got me thinking about where I have random pockets of certainty that I cannot possibly do something mixed in with things that I feel confident I can do. Why did I hold this irrational belief that it was just too hard to do? And where else do I hold irrational beliefs about my lack of ability alongside areas where I am confident in my abilities? I suspect I’m not alone in this. I suspect you also have had an experience like this, and maybe you have pockets of irrational certainty about your inability to do something, and you are probably wrong. It’s something worth considering as you go along. When you hear yourself saying, I can’t do that, you might pause and ask yourself, how do you know? Have you tried? What’s the worst that could happen if you did try?
So speaking of trying, one of the books I read recently as part of my deliberate effort to read more (I discuss that in Read) for personal development was Arthur Brooks’ new book, From Strength to Strength. I have a link to an interview with Brooks below in Listen. I was going to lead off with a bit of a discussion about the book this week, but as I was listening to the interview, I heard Brooks reference a line from Saint Thomas Aquinas, and it has obsessed me for the last 48 hours or so. The quote is: “To love is to will the good of the other.” There are lots of ways to love, but Brooks (by way of Aquinas) was trying to direct us away from erotic love, and to also reconceptualize love as an act, rather than as a feeling.
Part of the reason this definition really struck me is because I’m now in my 10th year of teaching, and I remember distinctly when the very first cohort of Army-Baylor students graduated from the didactic phase of our course, I remember going back up to the empty classroom and thinking to myself, I’m never going to feel this way about a group of students again. I had poured everything I had into making sure they got the best educational experience possible while they were with us, and after some reflection, I came to realize I had fallen in love with them. I’ve hesitated to say that because I don’t want anyone to think it was a romantic love. Instead it was more like the love you feel for one of your children. You put so much of yourself into them so that they can be successful and happy. The difference of course is it’s not the same level of love - nothing can really replace your love for your child or come close to it - but it was of a similar kind. Also, while I really liked many of the students individually, and I suppose I could say I loved them (in this same usage of the word), I didn’t know all of them to the same degree, so there was a lot of variability at the individual student level, but the love also transferred to the class as a group. So when the students left after our graduation ceremony, I felt a real loss because I knew the class, which was in some sense the object of my love, was dissolving forever. I knew I’d see some of the individuals again, but the class no longer existed. The thing about Army-Baylor is that the next cohort started their didactic phase the next day, so I didn’t have long to mourn because I was already in front of the next class. And within a few weeks, as I got to know the class, I could tell I was falling in love again. The act causes the emotion. I remember thinking, more than once now, that surely this will be the best class, the one I can never feel more strongly about, but every year I am surprised. By now you would think I would have learned, but it always surprises me. As I have reflected on this, it has occurred to me that being a teacher really is a privilege because you get to fall in love over and over.
The quote resonated with me based on my story, but the order of the sentence changes. One finds love when one wills the good of the other. Willing the good of another causes you to love the other. The act brings into being the feeling. I remember when I was still in the Army hearing many of the leaders I respected say that they “loved soldiers”. They meant the same, non-romantic love I feel for my students. They loved soldiers because they willed good for them. You could feel that about these leaders. Having spent a lot of time around civilian leaders now, I have seen that same kind of love. Falling in love is transformative - it changes you and makes you happier. All you have to do is will someone good.
Of course willing good for someone does not mean giving someone whatever they claim to want. Sometimes willing good for someone requires tough medicine, which could include separating them from your organization. Leaders should love their people and their organizations as Aquinas taught. (and maybe bring cheesecake!)
Now, willing good for all of you, I present you with the links!
What: Bloomberg, Reimagining the Business Conference for the Post-Pandemic Era
Why: Short column from Tyler Cowen, whom I often recommend. Short summary of short article: he recommends getting rid of platform presentations at conferences. We can just do Zoom if we want to hear someone speak. Why spend the money and time to get together and then sit and listen. Good point!
What: HBR, Sanjai Bhagat, An Inconvenient Truth About ESG Investing
Why: ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance investment objectives. It’s corporate social responsibility repackaged with a buzzier (and vaguer) acronym. Like its less sexy branding from the ‘00’s, ESG appears to mostly be a smokescreen, and is most ardently preached from firms that are uncompetitive and performing poorly to hide their poor performance and lack of competitiveness. This is a tired drum that was beat relentlessly then, and is being beaten once again. What anyone in business knows is being competitive and socially responsible is the only way to achieve long-term profitability for a firm. If you are up to bad things, sooner or later those bad things catch up with you. Don’t believe me - read the evidence in the article.
What: The American Scholar, Footnotes to Jefferson’s Idea of Happiness
Why: I’ve talked about this before, but thinking about happiness is important. I like the way the author opens his argument:
After those stirring terms life and liberty, didn’t it sound weightless and frivolous? Why had the great political philosopher Jefferson closed his mighty triplet with a kind of smiley-face shrug?
The answer is well summed up (and expanded on further throughout):
Jefferson’s contemporaries would have understood happiness in two senses. The first we have mostly lost: public happiness, as in a society where citizens enjoy security, institutional stability, and a general and spreading prosperity. In such a case, government itself, as John Adams put it, is was “the science of social happiness.” And only when social happiness is achieved can people go about in pursuit of the other sense of happiness: an emotional state of individual well-being.
The whole thing is worth reading.
What: Bonica, mini book reviews
Why: Part of my personal improvement project this year has been to dedicated time to reading for personal development. I’ve set a goal of doing so six days per week, but to a modest amount - I have two books going at any time for this part of the project: a challenging book and a popular book. My goal is to read a minimum of 10 pages from each, each day. I often wind up reading quite a bit more, but one of my deliberate choices for the improvement project was to not make the weekly goals excessively onerous. So most days I set aside an hour or more for reading, but some days I can get it done in half that time. This idea was built on James Clear’s Atomic Habits. The point is to do the thing, and have the thing become a habit, rather than setting challenging goals. So for me, the habit I am trying to build, or at least be more deliberate about, is reading for development. So rather than setting a goal of reading a particular number of books, I set a goal of reading (almost) every day. The result as been surprisingly effective - from January 1 to March 31 I finished reading 13 books for this project, which is close to a book each week. I also read a bunch of fiction for fun, and I listened to a few books on audio (five), some of which fit the “development” theme, some of which were fiction, for a total of 23 books in the first quarter. I hate to admit it, but I suspect that is more than I read through all of last year. What I think I had fallen into the habit of was reading a lot of ephemeral internet junk, so I was reading a lot last year, it was just not high quality reading. I realize this comes off as a bit braggy, but I’m actually shocked at how effective this commitment has been. I recommend you consider a similar weekly goal. It can be less ambitious - maybe cut it in half and shoot for fewer days (but I do think it’s important to track to keep yourself honest).
So the link is to my blog post listing the books I’ve read and giving a quick recommendation about each of them. I’m not recommending all of them, but some of them were really excellent. Check them out!
What: TED, Lera Boroditsky, How language shapes the way we think (14 min)
Why: Clever presentation that highlights how language changes our ability to perceive. It made me think of my first experiences working in a hospital. I would go into meetings and people would be using all these words and ideas that I didn’t understand and I was lost. I knew they were speaking English, but I couldn’t follow half of what was going on. But it was more than just the words themselves, it was the way they communicated. There is a system of reasoning buried in the language that is unique to healthcare delivery. Our language evolves to deal with the problems we have to solve. This is a fun one - definitely worth 14 minutes.
(HT to my daughter K who saw this in her cognitive psych class)
What: Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris, The Good News About Your Inevitable Decline | Arthur Brooks (74 min)
Why: As I mentioned in the intro, this is the interview where I pulled the Aquinas quote from. I really want to recommend the book Brooks wrote From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. If you are over the age of 40, or hope to be so some day, this is an important book to read. I’ll probably have more to say about it next week. I got side-tracked by the Aquinas quote away from the primary theme of the book.
Without getting into the meat of the book, the other thing worth listening to this interview for is Brooks’ discussion of the hedonic treadmill - the endless pursuit of happiness - which is always just one step farther (hence the treadmill analogy). Brooks has an equation about happiness (which is in the book):
satisfaction = what you have / what you want
The fundamental problem is that the denominator is a beast that can keep on growing at a rate faster than the numerator. One has to find a way of controlling it, or you can be the wealthiest person in the world and be unhappy.
The rest of the interview is worth listening to as well. More on the book next week. I really encourage you to check it out.
What: HBR IdeaCast, Filmmaker Ken Burns on Lessons in Innovation and Collaboration (29 min)
Why: Iconic documentary filmmaker (and almost neighbor - he lives about 20 minutes from me) talks about his latest project, a documentary about Ben Franklin, and also team work.
Thanks for reading and see you next week! If you come across any interesting stories, won't you send them my way? I'd love to hear what you think of these suggestions, and I'd love to get suggestions from you. Feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com , or you can tweet to me at @mbonica .
If you’re looking for a searchable archive, you can see my draft folder here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1jwGLdjsb1WKtgH_2C-_3VvrYCtqLplFO?usp=sharing
Finally, if you find these links interesting, won’t you tell a friend? They can subscribe here: https://markbonica.substack.com/welcome
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See you next week!
Mark J. Bonica, Ph.D., MBA, MS
Department of Health Management and Policy
University of New Hampshire
Health Leader Forge Podcast:
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picaso