How to Teach Strategic Thinking

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Recently in a conversation with a faculty at a reputable law school, I was asked what I saw as the biggest shortcoming in recently graduated young lawyers. I shot the answer out lickety split–no question about it–they completely lacked the ability to think strategically. The question that followed was–well, one naturally to be expected: Would you be willing to conduct a lecture as part of a post graduate offering, on how young lawyers can learn to think strategically?  Again, my answer was far too quick. Flooded with the a rush of self congratulation over the invitation, the answer oozed out of me as smoothly as a salted  caramel from chocolate on a hot day…” I’d love to.”

Thirty days into the process of designing the itinerary for the self-discovery journey to strategic thinking, apropos of the subject, I find myself murmuring: What was I thinking? Was I thinking at all? One thing for certain there was nothing measured or tempered about my enthusiasm to take on the challenge. Dare I say–nothing strategic about that decision.   So on this glorious weekend summer’s day  in a small Connecticut village that New Yorkers kill themselves to get to negotiating I-95 every Friday night, I sit. At my computer. An intentionally made-to-look-retro fan keeps me cooled while its rattle drowns out  bird tweets and competes with gentle breezes. “Help Me Rhonda” fittingly plays in the background.

In the last thirty days, I have spent most of my discretionary time reading everything in sight and googling every conceivable variation of the phrase “how to teach strategic thinking”…to adults, to millennials, nay even children. After querying  colleagues and daughter MBA candidate came the flood of recommendations… Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” and Covey’s classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” A trip to the book store lured me with no fewer than ten different volumes of HBR (Harvard Business Review) compilations–promoted as “must reads.”  I got the one on “managing people” possibly influenced by  the tag line “If you read nothing else on managing people, read these definitive articles.”  Sold.

So, in these intervening weeks since the caramel oozed out of my chocolate,  my world has become an exploration of mastering outside the box inventiveness, analyzing human effectiveness and managing intuitions and interventions.

For those of you who are regular followers, this is the part of my blog where I pull something out of the hat of my past and draw an connection that most assuredly seems to have little to do with the blog topic. My personal paraprosdokian literary widget.
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Not too long ago  on my way home from work, I passed Tate Modern and read a poster about an exhibit of Matisse’s cutouts. It was there, on the south bank looking up at the billboard promoting the exhibition, where I  learned, for the first time, that my favorite Matisse art piece was actually a collage fashioned from cut out pieces of paper. How did I not know that in the 40 years since my first encounter and subsequent love affair with the piece? Now come to find out, he didn’t paint or even draw my favorite blue nude–he pasted it.    I believed I knew a Matisse  painting when I saw one.  Turns out, I didn’t. As for pornography and knowing it when I see it–I’m going to have to reconsider that as well.  Which brings us to strategic thinking…right now I can’t quite pin down for you what it is or how you can acquire a knack for it, but I can tell you this: if you work with me, trip up and make that strategic fail and I can be all over you like a wet t-shirt.

 

 

 

 

One Day I had an idea…

How many times have you said to yourself, I wish I had thought of that, or even worse, you did think of i14317367_10154423018650406_541273375062655995_nt, but someone else made it happen?

Given the abundance of naysayers, critics, skeptics and knowitalls that abound in our world today, it’s no wonder that people find themselves filled with regret that they hadn’t launched that start up in the garage, or taken that chance and put all their resources into a basket they were told couldn’t hold a feather.

Take heart, it takes energy and drive beyond anything normal, bordering on the obsessive and compulsive, to push past the many authorities who are sure that you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t have the credentials and what it takes to make it succeed. It takes an unfathomable amount of that je ne sais quoi, to push through the “who does she think she is?” and “how can he possibly think he has what it takes to do that?”

In those early days when the idea was a glint in my eye,  the naysayers were abundant. Uninvited, they crashed my party–coming out of the woodwork everywhere: “A country lawyer creating an international entity…impossible!”  “A woman heading into war zones…ridiculous!” And, the worst of all, ” Creating an organization that depends on the generosity of lawyers…will never succeed.” Nay, in “Et tu, Brute” fashion, even my own family was not bashful expressing their extraordinary skepticism.

To be honest, the job didn’t seem as daunting in the prospect as it became  in the actuality. Many I’m sure share the experience of passion and clarity of vision trumping (pun intended)  perceived obstacles and challenges.  But, like the tortoise who plugged along through the race, every day before me soon enough morphed into a day viewed through the rear view mirror. And, naturally enough, with each stride I moved closer to converting the vision into a reality. Which brings us to today.

I once had an idea. It was that lawyers young and old would travel to regions of the world where the practice and implementation of laws was challenging for any of a variety of reasons. And–  lawyers from around the world with the time, energy, resources and inclination to give back, if given the opportunity, would.

It is said revenge is sweet. The same is often also said about success. I’m pleased to report that both adages are true. For those who provided the rock upon which I chiseled what has become “my story”– thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I leave you with this:

 In this life, your narrative is just that, yours. Now go. Write it.

 

Human Rights: To say is not to do.

Lately my work has taken me to examining the roots of some basic human rights concepts, among them, freedoms–freedom of assembly, freedom of speech–freedom to be the person you are, to explore your passions, and express yourself in the myriad of ways that humans do, without arbitrary restraint.

What strikes me is how basic the concept of freedom is, and how far back efforts by persons, leaders or political movements have gone to restrict it. My readings have late are focused on  the ancient Persian Empire in the days of Cyrus and Darius. Then, and even  before in the glory days of Babylonia, the concept of freedom, represented in the cuneiform word or phrase “ama-gi” found expression.

It is said that the word and concept of freedom first appears in written form when the new king, upon ama-giinvestiture (or thereafter, as an annual gracious ritual) would grant a form of amnesty to young males in servitude for unpaid taxes to the king, granting them “ama-gi” –permission to “return to mother.” The phrase eventually evolved into the concept of one being set “free,” thus, the very early iteration of freedom as we know it today.

What is striking about working in human rights in this century is the utter failure of modern day leaders to recognize freedom as an entitlement, an essential part of humanity–something individuals have sought and valued for  thousands of years.  As far back as we can tell, people eschewed servitude and honored those who saved them from it.

Assuming that many of today’s leaders are literate and have some basic understanding of history, leads one to wonder if they aren’t truly delusional, somehow believing that eventually they will escape the fate that all human kind faces:  Dust.  Perhaps they have never visited a museum and found themselves in the company of a “great” Pharaoh resting in a temperature controlled glass case being  gawked at by the masses–and those were the good guys.

Climbing the hill to get the world to recognize basic human rights is presumably  a challenge that was met long ago, now embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).   Incredibly, in 2014 with several thousand years of civilized societies under our belt, there is  still an inordinately large number of persons who dictate to others what they can or should do with their lives, following an agenda that eschews every morsel of basic  human rights as we know it.

One would have thought that with all the technological and scientific advances, collective mankind would have figured out a mechanism to identify and remove those who  fail to honor basic human rights. Quite the opposite. In fact, there are wolves among those charged with guarding the hen house. Consider carefully the countries which have been selected as caretakers of human rights by selection to the UN Human Rights Council.

Were Klout  to give  the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights a score,  it would be low, very low.  If the document  is to be anything more than words on paper paying lip service to an aspiration, there have to be real consequences to those who derogate it.  To that end, there is some encouragement in the fact that a petition is currently in circulation that calls for the  removal from the United Nations Human Rights Council to say is not to docertain countries with dismal human rights records.

To those who stand up to tyranny, your voices are being heard. Do not give up. You are asking for nothing less than to live the precious few years we all have on this planet as the human being, with all your frailties and strengths, motivated by the hope of leaving a mark or legacy on the planet that represents the best humanity has to offer. We are with you. Your struggle is our struggle.  And to those working in the human rights arena be guided by this:  To say is not to do.

On the Eve of New Year’s Eve: This Year’s Resolution

12-30-2013 11-25-40 AMThis is the time of year, when for a a few short days, sometimes weeks, “time,”  philosophically speaking, assumes its rightful place in peoples’ lives.  In a  Dickensian sort of way, we are  aware of present, past and future, if only briefly.  As the calendar runs up to January 1st,  many will reconnoiter and with uncustomary resoluteness, propose a change or action that should occur in the year ahead to improve the quality of their lot.

As we get older and with the passage of time,   the New Year Resolutions begin to overlap with Bucket Lists.   There are nuanced differences between the two, even as they begin to merge. Whereas the New Year’s Resolution is supposed to connote positive change or direction and thusly generate action, the Bucket List involves recognition that the window for wishing and hoping is narrowing. The Bucket List  generates action–in a “speak now or forever (no metaphor intended) hold your peace” sort of way.

paraprosdokianYou will not be surprised to learn that America’s number one New Year’s resolution this year is to “lose weight.”  I think for many of us, weight loss is  a perennially welcome guest. But, for some, and I am among them, the time has arrived when it does not top either the Bucket or New Year’s Resolution list.  As I write, I am reminded of a Erma Bombeck quote and book title, written  when she looked back on her life and, referring to her own tug of war with weight, if given a mulligan-life option she might have elected for “Less cottage cheese and more ice cream.”

While verifying the sourcing of that quote,   I came across a word I had never before encountered:  paraprosdokian. Its has classical roots, but not classical origins and apparently it hasn’t yet appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. No matter, I like it and what it stands for:

“A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part of the sentence. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.”

Apparently Winston Churchill was adept at it: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they have tried everything else.” Here are a few other examples:

  • War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
  • To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
  • Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?
  • If the enemy is in range, so are you.

Google the term and you can read and enjoy dozens of examples of paraprosdokian phrases.  But, beware, while they are delightful to read, they are harder to create than one might imagine. Inspired by the new addition to my vocabulary, on this eve of New Year’s eve, I am inclined to view life metaphorically through the paraprosdokian lens.  To do this, you merely substitute the word “my life” for “sentence.” The definition, rewritten, looks like this:

“A paraprosdokian is an approach to life  in which the latter part of one’s life  is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes a person to re-frame or re-interpret the first part of one’s life.”

You’ve heard of 12 steps? This involves 3.

Step 1: The First Part
Everything until now falls neatly into the category of the expected–a life I’ve grown accustomed to living, a persona I’ve come to know well, a past I’m certain I recognize.

Step 2: The Surprise
Resolve to  create for myself a context that makes room for the surprising and unexpected, so much so, that it…

Step 3: The re-frame
…causes me to take a second look at life up to today, seeing it in a new and different way–paving the way for the future to change the past without changing the past, just changing how it looks to me in retrospect.

I had a wonderful aunt who often said, “if you can’t change something, change the way you look at it.” A paraprosdokian approach to life does that for you. Making room for the unexpected and surprises in one’s life, will at the very least oblige you cast off  the morsels of intractability that sometimes creep in as we mature.

And so, 2014’s  New Year’s Resolution might look like this: Resolving to  make room for being surprised with the unexpected in 2014 in a way that casts the past in a new light, provides continued purpose going forward and rewards me with the kind of unpredicted delight one feels when a good comedian leads you down the path that ends with a chuckle, or better yet, a belly laugh.  Yes, more belly laughs in 2014.

Innovation tempered by Empiricism: Life atop the elephant teetering on the back of a tortoise

elephant on tortoise“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.”

That particular quote didn’t grab my attention in college philosophy studies, but sneaked up on me  in the dialogue of an about-to-have-his-contract-cancelled Santa in a syrupy Hallmark made for TV Christmas movie.  Confronted by his side kick elf-pal, filled with doubt about their ability to pass the test that will seal the fate of  Santa’s role in Christmas, “Santa” in the persona of a prep school janitor utters the words: “There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.”

All the  merry ho ho ho deck the halls spirit in the world didn’t delude me into believing that some Hollywood writer, who likely never celebrated Christmas,  was responsible for the genius of that thought. A quick google proved me correct: Sir Francis Bacon, Statesman and Philosopher (1561-1626).

Which leads us here:  There is a substantial body of really astute observations about life that precede your and my arrival on the planet. Why then, apart from finding them in Wikipedia and brainy quotes (and Hallmark Christmas movies), are we determined to ignore the import of age-old thought, paying no attention, or rather making no room for, ancient wisdom in our time?  If these observations have managed to weather  the last several hundred years—something tells me they have earned the honor of being elevated into present day conversation, all the time and at every level.  Don’t want to engage in arms talks? Take some advice from Francis Bacon: Fail trying.  Think peace in the Middle East is impossible to achieve? Try Ben Franklin:  “There never was a good war or a bad peace.” (Sometimes beauty lies in the simplicity of it all.)

This week Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was in the news. The Harrisburg’s Patriot and Union newspaper issued an apology for an editorial written in 1863 that said of  President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”

The fact that the author ended the blast with a preposition should have been a big clue that what preceded was hogwash. Alas, last week, some 150 years later, the paper issued an apology, saying:

Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives

Relevant to our discussion here is the fact that seldom discussed about Abraham Lincoln’s now famous address is that it recognized something about human nature which was true then and now, when he said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”

Though he erred in thinking  his words would be soon forgotten, Lincoln recognized that the nature of the human condition was its preoccupation with all things present. He was wrong about how history would treat that particular speech, but his insight into human nature was spot-on.

Fast forward. (An expression that itself promises to have a very short shelf-life). The buzz-word-of-the-day is:  “innovation.” Pick a topic, technology, industry and philanthropy—everyone wants to see and hear how what you do, what you’ve made, how your proposals and projects are innovative, new and cutting edge. Everyone is reaching out for that latest newest idea—for the next “tried and succeeded” story…which takes us back to the unlikely source of the quote which started this piece:

“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.”

Bacon recognized the value of innovation—and the honorable distinction between  having tried and lost, versus not having tried at all.  So it might be said without too much of a stretch, that the challenge to innovate is Baconian inspired.  But Bacon was an empiricist and if asked, I bet he’d have agreed with the sentiments expressed by Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address.  If  “trying”  were to succeed to any degree, it needed to be informed by the successes, failures, trials, errors, bravery, sacrifices and wisdom of the past.  Make no doubt about it, I am on that innovation bandwagon and am securely buckled in my seat. But like Bacon and others, I don’t flatter myself with the thought that anything I do, innovative or not, cannot be improved by respect for and deference to those who tried, failed and succeeded before me.

If life on earth be Hume’s elephant upon which we sit, teetering on the back of one or more tortoises, then I will want to be mindful of all the tortoises upon whom the success of this elephant’s journey depends.

On the Inertia of Being Overwhelmed

A poet I hold dear (ee cummings) wrote: “I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.”

Why does it takes so little to confound, confuse and perplex most people?

How on earth can a bosses’ unkind word, an acquaintance’s slight, a looming deadline, an overly large agenda, an unconsciously tight timetable, a lousy husband, disappointing child, any younameit–generate the sort of angst that results in debilitating anxiety? It’s a forest and trees situation. People are lost in the forest.  They have lost sight of (or never had) a mapped out journey.  Finding themselves confronted by a sea of trees, with no discernible way out they are thus overwhelmed.  Some of you may say that this perspective is a Polly Anna perspective (for those born after 1950, look her up).  First, yes, it can be viewed through that lens. But be sure of this, the theory espoused here has had  a host of opportunities in my own world to be put through the rigors of serious testing. It is Pollyannic  because I take  the view  that the earth shattering things in life generally do not appear in the guise of miscreant relatives, spouses, bosses,  neighbors or events but in the contemplation of  things that threaten it (life) or threaten to alter it considerably.

While some may say this is a doomsday approach, in fact it is quite the opposite. If, for example, you believe that an asteroid might crush the planet and reduce those who survive to life as it may have been thousands of years ago (doomsday for sure)–and therefore measure all crises by that stick, you are apt not to get seriously overwhelmed by life’s every day distresses. Perhaps the preoccupation with things that seem big is part of humankind’s way of coping and passing time. As Virgil said: “Sed fugit interea, fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore”, translated: “But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.”

For those for whom the process of deciphering between what matters and what will pass I offer this: The fix for nearly every man-made obstacle or crisis is: time. If time will heal the wound, if time will present and ultimately demonstrate one’s ability to emerge from a crisis or problem then, in fact, the crisis at hand is not only not overwhelming it can be said to be a “mere”— as in, merely a momentary setback, merely a condition (and likely temporary in the large scheme of things). If the passage of time, in your lifetime, will not fix the problem. If it will not present ways to overcome the obstacle. If there are no options or work-arounds, the odds are the problem is indeed an overwhelming one, of the sort that demands your full attention and justifies worry (but likely will still not benefit from inaction.)

Echoing this theme is poet  Robert Frost in his poem: The Road Not Taken. Note this advisory: he did not mean to say when he “took the one less traveled by”–that the unconventional way of life is the preferred, not to be regretted option.  Read carefully, he opted for a road that seemed “equally worn” but that the odds were, he wouldn’t be getting back there, to try the other avenue anytime soon.  Whichever road he chose was the one would therefore a make a difference in the end. His “road not taken” was a Rubicon of sorts, a cross-roads, a life altering choice. The unspoken word in Frost’s poem was the fact that he had choices. We all have choices. What I am suggesting is that life be viewed in terms of having to choose between being mired in a state of overwhelmed and anything else. There is almost always a choice, only the inertia of being overwhelmed prevents people from exercising it.

A lawyer doesn’t get half so many chances as one would want to quote poets, but there are two narratives offered by a poet that I have found compelling. The poet (ee cummings)  offers, if not a solution, insight into overcoming the IOBO (Inertia of being overwhelmed) in the form of two  introductions to two different poetry compilations. The title of the first publication is:  Is 5. The quote from the forward:

Ineluctable preoccupation with The Verb gives a poet one priceless advantage: whereas nonmakers must
content themselves with the merely undeniable fact that two times two is four, he rejoices in a purely irresistible truth (to be found,
in abbreviated costume, upon the title page of the present volume).” 

If you missed the title…return to the sentence above which provides you with the title of the collection. Ok, too tired?   Is 5…as in 2 x 2 = 5. When you read this remember your elementary school grammar lessons: verbs are action words. Overcoming the inertia of being overwhelmed requires: action.

The second insight comes from Cummings’ introduction to his Collected Poems and reads:

“-it’s no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than
the squarerootofminusone[1]. You and I are human beings:mostpeople are snobs. Take the matter of being born. What does being born
mean to mostpeople? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultra voluptuous
superpalazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesirable organism.
Mostpeople fancy a guaranteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they’d improbably
call it dying- you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings; for whom birth is a supremely
welcome mystery, the mystery of growing: the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. You and I wear
the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life, for eternal us, is now; and now is much too busy being a little more
than everything to seem anything, catastrophic included.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself:  “[N]ow is much too busy being a little more than everything to seem anything, catastrophic included.”

There you have it.


[1] Forgot your calculus? Square root of minus one = i

The Third Metric

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This week, came to my inbox, courtesy of LinkedIn,  a headline from Huffington Post—“Are you living your eulogy or your resume?”  The answer for me is easy, the eulogy, but dread is not far behind—what if that’s the wrong answer?  I’m not quite sure what living your resume means, but I am quite sure I understand the former—living a life that you hope to be proud of, a source of inspiration to your children,  a life with meaning and impact in the making a difference arena.  I know it sounds morbid, but I hope many people will remember me, will say that I made a difference in their or someone’s world…that my time on the planet was not misspent or, worse yet, ill spent.

So imagine my joy when, voila, I got the right answer—living the Eulogy.  But imagine my consternation when I find out that a) someone has come up with a name for what I hold dear: “Third Metric,”  b) its mathematical (how could you spoil something so lofty with math) and c) the idea, while worthy, seems to be the subject of a new campaign of Huffington’s Post to redefine the meaning  of success.

You will recall that in my first blog post I wrote of my consternation over life in a world where few seemed cognizant, aware or even remotely concerned with “the bigger questions.”  The big questions, you see, inevitably lead you to the leading the Eulogy life ethic…or as Huffington calls it, the third metric.

Well before I let you know how it works, here’s why philosophers make good lawyers: Both have a love affair with asking questions. I remember well asking way past my quota as a student making me the thorn in the side of many a teacher.  Give me an example you say?  OK, I’m in first grade. Big news is earthquakes in South America.  We are doing “journal entries” for a class assignment. President Eisenhower is on the news extending his heartfelt sympathies to the quake victim families . I think that’s worth putting into my daily journal.  But, how to spell Eisenhower?  I ask my teacher. Who quips back:  “What in the world does a first grader need to know how to spell Eisenhower for?”  (I’m sure she ended the sentence with a preposition). I explain about the earthquakes and the journal entry. She makes a very unkind face, spells it and gives me a disdainful look every time I raise my hand going forward.  Thus began my miserable experience with elementary education, about which I will someday write.

So, the Third Metric—my version of it goes like this: You ask a few key questions: What are we doing here? Why are we so special?  Haven’t we learned anything from the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans? If not, why not?  Why do we work a five day week, i.e., is there a race, the largest most profitable economy when we reach the end of the “game” wins?  From a long game perspective, who gets remembered, and why?  Does the short term matter at all? And, in a nod to my Italian heritage, why is everyone in such a hurry?  Do the Roman ruins tell us nothing about the grandeur of the present, soon to be past?

Ask these and other related questions and you come down to this: What matters?   I disagree with Huffington about what Steve Jobs will be remembered for (she thinks not the iPhone or iPad). Whenever I  wash with a really nice cotton towel, I do think occasionally about Eli Whitney and what his cotton gin did for us. And then there’s John Adams, who had such insight and intelligence shaping life as we know it—and I suspect he won’t be remembered in 100 years hence, except in the hearts of school children memorizing the names of the U.S. presidents in order. Now, that’s a shame.  But the stout smart lawyer who sometimes took on unpopular causes and did a damn good job, will not fade into complete oblivion. He mastered the Third Metric, I think.

Now Huffington disparagingly suggests that no one wants to be remembered for answering all of their emails and promptly.  I beg to differ. I’d like to be remembered for that and for being willing to work long hours for little pay because all those things say I gave it my all. To coin a cliché, I treated my life like opening night, no dress rehearsal for me.  And, with a little more research into Huffington’s Third Metric, I see that she and others (notably a psychologist named Perlman) have hijacked the concept into the women’s empowerment movement. Shame.  It’s not a woman issue. It’s a people issue. A humankind issue.  If you contort this uniquely human complexity into a woman issue, the concept will be dead in the water.

So while I leave you with these thoughts and your own eulogy vs. resume or Huffington’s “third metric” analysis, I will go try to find out just why on earth she had to give something so significant a mathematical name (which is bound to alienate some of even the brightest minds) and whether the math angle is just a ploy to get on the quantitative bandwagon that is so popular these days–culling more data to generate numbers that tell us more about ourselves than we care to know.