What’s it all about Alfie?

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I never paid much attention to the lyrics of this song past the second line, but find myself on not infrequent occasions muttering or humming the tune’s first lines. If you need a refresher…here’s how it starts:

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give…

There are those among us who have a difficult time giving ourselves permission to become completely absorbed in the day to day trivialities of life. You know who you are. You’re the ones who when you leave work, joining the throngs of people in mass exit heading home towards parking lots or public transit, wonder if it isn’t reminiscent of the ants we marvel at in summer, all marching along in concert to support the colony.

You are the ones who have conversations with yourself, while trying to convince a colleague, group or client of the value of a particular course of action and the long and short term beneficial consequences.

You are the one who, while walking down the street curiously observing your fellow man, queries yourself if you are indeed the only one thinking about, “what its all about,”– for you are sure everyone seems quite absorbed in the task of getting somewhere, going somewhere, doing something, none of which  include being perplexed about their state of being.

Do you sometimes think, in 50 years most of the people I’m looking at will not be on this planet and wonder if this thought has occurred to them? I do, with more regularity than I’d like to admit, and in those moments, this e e cummings’ quote comes to mind:

little man
(in a hurry
full of an
important worry)
halt stop forget relax

wait

How apropos is it then, that as I write, this ad appears in my inbox, imploring me to get the “big picture” into my life. I chuckle. For some the “big picture” refers to a  large screen TV, nothing more, nothing less.

big picture2So today, I leave you with this: try a little Socratic scrutiny in your life. What’s your deal?  How do you see “the big picture?”  If it is true that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and I do believe that is the case, then consider  periodically pressing your personal pause button.  Purvey the landscape of your life, the people in it that you value, the values that you espouse and consider whether they are all in sync.

If after reading this you happen to pass me on the street, no need to say hello, just nod. I’ll get it. Despite all the warnings my kids give me about not making eye contact with strangers, I’m likely to return the nod with a deeply satisfying, but polite and appropriately reserved smile.    So, go ahead, make my day.

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.