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#31. Ask questions, and listen to the answers.

This one will more than slightly improve your life; it will improve you and everyone around you. Let’s look first at listening .

Listening to others is quite worthy yet so few people do so. Most of us aren’t listening but merely waiting for the other to stop speaking to start talking ourselves.

Listening is one of the crucial criteria to what makes a doctor good or bad. “He doesn’t listen to me!” and “I felt she listened to my questions.” I am constantly be on guard to listen to patients as it is too easy to interrupt them to get to the point. This is made worse with pressure to get a lot done in a small time period. I wish I had a shilling for every time a new patient (or established one) starts a long circumstantial narrative in response to a simple yes/no question and I clench my hands and hold my tongue do not interrupt them but let them speak. After thirty years of shrinking heads my intuition is keen that within a few words I often know where this is going and it is tempting to cut off the speaker to move on to the next matter. Many doctors fear they have to interrupt a talking patient for time’s sake, yet studies show when left along patients don’t take up too much time before they pause for the doctor to ask questions. And so much good is done to just sit there and listen!

In general the men-folk don’t listen as well as the women.* Another shilling is coveted for each time I’ve counseled a man to stop interrupting his spouse who is sharing her woes she isn’t asking you to fix it or give you advice but for you to hear what she is saying. “Don’t just sit here, do something!” is rearranged to be “Don’t just do something, sit there!” When we stop to think of the important people in our lives, chances are they are good listeners.

#31 strikes me as asking questions not to show off how clever you are or to trounce the other by making them look foolish. When we ask questions we whet our curiosity and this leads to learning and growth. I am in the camp ‘there are no foolish questions”. Pretending you ‘know all’ and fearing exposure and shame when you don’t is something we need to get over with. Back to the men-folk and the physicians, both beasts are pressured to be ‘all-knowing’ so asking questions allegedly shows a deficit not just ignorance or willingness to learn and grow.

In Mr. David McRaney’s book “How minds change” he points out arguing with another or showing them ‘the facts’ never gets them to change their minds. First, you have to engage them and this happens by asking them questions about their beliefs and what does that mean for them. After rapport is established, dialogue and change can happen.

Having high intuition and a hummingbird brain makes it very difficult for me to sit and just listen especially after a day of doing just that. Woe onto Urs Truly if I interrupt a certain someone who is talking or I say something that reveals I wasn’t paying attention. I am continually on guard for this ongoing fault of mine.

Asking questions should be seen as a sign of strength. I am not so vain or fearful to show I don’t know something, so I will ask and I will listen to the answer. This greatly improves life indeed.

*This may come as a shock to many Spo-fans I know but there are studies.

Be polite to rude strangers – it’s oddly thrilling.

Mother was one for the manners. She taught us boys to hold open the door for women, say always please and thank you, write thank you notes for received gifts, and to stand when a lady approaches a table.* One of the hardest rules of etiquette was to never return rudeness with rudeness. Miss Manners is on on this one as well. Mother said it as a sign of good Christian upbringing (turn the other cheek) while Father saw it as ‘being a gentleman’ and Miss Manners adds it as ‘shaming them’ or ‘not stooping’ or ‘setting a good example”. Only the latter admitted one’s first emotional reaction to receiving rudeness is wanting to release a well-phrased acrimonious put-down or better yet hit the bastard. I suspect the author of these one hundred tidbits of advice is going on the notion ‘improving your life’ means not raising the chance of having your clock punched in an altercation that comes from returning the rude-ball.

We are not more rude than previous generations, but with the examples of Tonald Dump and his minions what once was considered shameful behavior in society is extoled as signs of confidence and power. Shame on him and on the social media channels where rudeness can be done anonymously.

Urs Truly tries very hard to keep Mother/Miss Manners in mind when some rude-boy or harridan is cheeky or downright hostile to me in public. Stooping to their level doesn’t really ‘work’ and frankly I am not good at it, so why would I wish to go into the ring on their terms? Ignoring the deplorable one with body language to suggest they are not worth my while sometimes works, but it often it gives them the smug feeling of ‘winning’ for not having drawn me into their realm. Being polite and engaging them in conversation (always in a calm and slow thoughtful prosody) is probably the best bet when caught in such a situation. By saying something they won’t disagree with startles and disarms them of their ‘me vs. you’ stance. Asking them questions as if interviewing a native for National Geographic Magazine helps de-escalate the situation – and bores them. When met with polite engagement and conversation nasty types become bored or flustered and leave in a huff which is what is best. After all I have no real interest in getting to know them, I just want them to go away – preferably without hitting me.

It feels good sensing a ‘victory’ when a yelling Yahoo leaving angry I’ve delayed them on their way to their book-burning. Yes it is oddly thrilling to be polite to ill-mannered folks. I suspect punching them would be more thrilling but with more cost.

How do you handle or address rudeness in public? Do you engage? Do you ignore? Do you hit them about the head with your purse? Do tell.

*Some of these quaint manners are now considered archaic if not downright patronizing. Manners change with the times, but I stand firm on the ‘please and thank you’ and the writing of thank you notes.

Eat meat once a week, max. Ideally less.

This is a curious and controversial one. How does eating meat less than once a week slightly improve your life, I hear you ask? I suppose it is based on the proposition eating less meat or being vegetarian is a healthier diet. Certainly many nutritionists suggest eating less meat in lieu of more fruits and vegetables. Vegetarianism is correlated to less diabetes, obesity, inflammation, and colon cancer, to name a few. However it is devilishly difficult to sort out do the benefits that come from ‘less meat” or from the value of consuming more vegetables with their lovely attributes. Research on nutrition is notoriously complicated and it is nearly impossible to apply findings to a general population. An adolescent boy active in sports isn’t going to have the same nutritional needs as his 50yo counterpart.

Urs Truly was vegetarian a few times, but it never stuck. The first time went well as I was doing a job in a kitchen whose chef carefully planned vegetarian meals, so I ate right – until the job ended. The second time (on my own) was a flop; I became slightly anemic and malnourished. In hindsight I didn’t do it right. I merely cut out meat but I didn’t better the rest of my diet. The third time I gave up as I was bored eating the same things and I missed meat.

Someone and I prescribe to meal kits, which is 3x a week and I always assure one is a salmon dish (for the fish oil benefits) and one is vegetarian. My #29 is more like ‘don’t eat meat once a week, ideally more” and I could to better.

Getting people to eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables is a hard sell. Most people like meat; it has been an integral part of human diet for ages. I remember an Italian friend finding it amusing people ordering expensive meatless pasta dishes in restaurants as pasta was what the poor people ate or what her family ate at the end of he month when there wasn’t money for meat. Major holiday meals traditionally focus on meat (Turkey at Thanksgiving; Ham at Easter). Meat = manhood; many men-folk feel not right when eating only salad stuff.

Like everything else these days diet has become politicalized. The right sees meatless meals as a godless liberal maneuver to take over society and they make a purpose of always eating meat.* Someone told me right-wing preachers pontificate against meatless meals and ‘veggie-burgers’ as evil. Oh the pain.

Apart from the politics and the alleged benefits for the planet** to avoid meat or cut it out completely, I am trying to eat less meat if only to eat more vegetables which is very good at least for me. Vegetables are tricky that they require more work and frankly are more expensive, especially if you are like me that tends to forget what’s in the fridge and has to sadly discard vegetables past their prime, something that happens all too often in La Casa de Spo, worse luck. When eating out I nearly always order a veggie dish as it is less expensive and properly cooked and I don’t feel bloated to go lie down after supper, something I often do at home after a meaty meal.

I was raised it was impolite to comment on other’s diet and food preferences. As a doctor I try to get people to eat better, as this is correlated with better mental health, who knew? On the other hand, I recently heard some data that questions strict vegetarianism for its lack of B12 and challenges it has getting enough protein and iron. It is not impossible but hard enough that most people will bungle it (as I once did) so the medical community is recommended not to recommend it to most patients.

Meat-based diet is a ticklish topic but I think we can all agree eating prudently is a good thing. This probably includes less meat, although less than once a week seems a bit harsh for most.

Do you eat meat? How often?

Spo-fans who are vegetarians – is this easy to do for you? Do you get hassles for it?

*Not too long ago patrons at Cracker Barrel lost there minds over its introduction of a meatless menu option. Rather than just not ordering it, there was a howl of protest to boycott the place. I am not certain but I believe Cracker Barrel capitulated and removed the meatless burger from their menu.

**Many vegetarians and vegans are so not because of the health benefits per se but for environmental concerns. They are not wrong. Unfortunately their point is often presented not as a positive/look at how this helps you and the planet, but as a scolding nag how your consumption of meat is hurting the planet. This is a bad approach as no one changes their mind by someone nagging at you.

Always be willing to miss the next train.

I was tempted to skip this one as I didn’t identify with it or agree. I imagine the writer of these one hundred tidbits of advice lives in an area where trains are an integral part of life. I am told folks in the Northeast part of the nation are mindful about train schedules, for missing one – especially the last one – can have dire consequences. When I lived in Chicago the “L” system of trains was an important means of transportation for me but if I missed one another one was soon to follow. It was common for thems in the Windy City to listen carefully for an approaching train to dash up the stairs in order to catch it. I did similar. I suppose this is where ‘willing to miss the next train” applies viz. not going into a gummy panic and a mad rush but to walk slowly and calmly and if you miss it, what the hell, you pulled out a book and read a bit for the next one. Being not at your destination quite as planned is of no consequence – or is it? What if you are late to an appointment or the start of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, famous for slamming its doors on the latecomers.

Getting away from the literal meaning of #28, walking, not running, to things isn’t a bad way to do things. We are obsessed with not wasting Time. It’s a good idea in principle not to rush and be OK at miss something on the grounds a) it isn’t that bad and b) it’s better on the blood pressure. There is a bit of relief not to run up those proverbial “L” steps with the others anxious about missing that particular train.*

I suppose if I depended on trains to get me into the city by a certain time I would be mindful to leave with plenty of time to spare in case I miss the train. I am one to always bring along a book for those times of waiting. In the bad old days before cellphones sometimes thems who missed their train could commiserate and strike up a phatic conversation to pass the time. Alas, Babylon! Most folks nowadays in a similar situation get out and stare at the cellphones, which gives me some fun to watch them as they are obvious to my nosy staring.

A broader interpretation of today’s tip is an acceptance of something that is lost, an unfortunate situation one now has to deal with, regardless of its unfairness or your expectations. I’ve missed the proverbial next train many times in my life. #28 supports Mr. Jagger’s philosophy you can’t always get what you want but but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.

*Just walk up on the far right to avoid being trampled by the angry/anxious ones flying up on the left side.

27. If possible, use the stairs.

In the long run this tidbit of advice does more than slightly improve your life. In the same vein, parking away from the store and walking is good to do too – Anything that promotes a more effort and exercise.

The ‘if possible’ clause is the clincher.

I remember a study about getting people to use the stairs was heavily dependent on the convenience to do so. If the stairs were in view and the lift (elevator) was not, many people take the stairs. Where I work the opposite is so. The stairs are very hard to locate, almost like being in a maze to get to them. They are windowless ugly utilitarian things and not air-conditioned, so in hot months the stairways are quite hot. Worse of all, the entrance to the floors are one-way out onto the stairs, done for security reasons, to prevent sinister types (and everyone else) from coming up via the stairs. Nobody takes them.

La Casa de Spo is a typical Phoenix house there is no second floor or basement. I am reminded of this whenever I house-sit Brother #3. His house has stairs up to the second floor and down to the basement, and down the back into the back yard. I find I make careful decisions to bundle chores to lower the times going up and down the staircases. Getting Father with his walker in and out of that house is a frightful job as it involves steps up/down from the garage and front porch. Before he sold it Father had ramps built to get him up into the house and my late Mother had a mechanical chair built into the stairs to get her up to the second floor.*

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry to see cars in the gym parking lot circling around to get the closest spot available, prior to going into the place in order to walk on the treadmills. I figured the time needed to circle around is more than just parking in the first available space and walking to the gym, thus saving time and fulfilling tip #27. This goes double for grocery stores.

Taking the figurative stairs isn’t easy for so much of society seems designed against it. We have drive-through fast food and curbside delivery and valet parking. Here in Phoenix everything is designed for driving, not for walking. Adults seen out walking are asked if they are OK and children seen walking evoke 911 calls. Oh the horror.

We are a species designed for movement, not in strenuous sprints but in continual bopping-about. Nickel and dime-type movements like taking the stairs doesn’t sound like much but in the long run it adds up to make life (later on life anyway) more than slightly improved.

*We kids tried to get them to sell the house to move into a place only one floor, but they wouldn’t have it, so they shaped the house to their needs.

Set limits for your apps.

This one has a merit. We are all guilty of being on some app for awhile, only to realize vast times have gone by without us realizing it. This isn’t itself ‘bad’ but let’s be honest. Most of the time we don’t come off of hours on Facebook or Tick-tock or one of that crowd with the feeling we’ve spent quality time and feel jolly for doing so. Rather there is a sense of regret and having ‘wasted time’. Indeed there is often a sense of being swindled. What comes to mind is Gerda in Mr. Anderson’s tale “The Snow Queen” who gets enchanted to stay a short while with a two-faced witch until Gerda connects the dots she’s been enchanted and breaks away to get back on her journey.*

Apps are consciously designed to keep us going; they are both clever and diabolical to do so. People are connecting the dots on this stratagem and are trying to curb time on their apps. Fat chance of that. Few have the conscious wherewithal to take the Mae West approach ‘they could have turned it off.”** Rather than trying to attempt so-called ‘willpower’ it is best to put impediments and limitations on app use. For example: taking them off your phone or putting them not on the front page but in a file that requires some scrolling and opening to get at them. Turning off notifications is another good thing to de-sensitize oneself to respond to signals to go have a look-see.

The full recommendation of #26 includes setting a time limit on your app use. It suggests using some setting on the iPhone to tell you parental-like to turn off the TV and outside and play now. Urs Truly has on his iPhone an alarm that goes off at 9:30 PM telling him to knock it off and put down the phone and go do your stretches and read a book for pending sleep’s sake. Sometimes I actually do this, but not often.

Time-sucking apps may be best dealt with by eliminating them from the phone entirely. When it comes to endless needy cellphones, more efficacious than the advice of Mae West is the Voice of Binky:

It’s a bit harsh but it works.

*The Board of Directors Here at Spo-reflections wished me to expurgate this literary reference on the grounds it was tangential and got in the way of the point. Indeed, they drew a parallel I was more or less doing the same thing viz. keeping my audience away from the topic at hand. Oops.

**One more reference before The-You-Know-Who come after me. Mae West (the dear!) once had a raunchy radio programme. Sumptuary types called to complain about the contents. When the press asked Ms. West about this, she replied “Well, they could have turned it off”.

25. Look closely.

That’s all it says: look closely. If someone said that to me I suspect my life would not be improved slightly but in danger. “Look closely!” implies there is a knife near my person or a venomous creature slowly creeping up behind me with nasty big pointed teeth. Oh the horror.

What the author of this list probably means by this is to not take things as they are presented. Don’t accept things right away as gospel. Who leaps to mind here is Snow White the dimwit who should have asked a few logical questions when a stranger showed giving out apples.* There is a distinction between misinformation and disinformation. The former is falsity sincerely presented as truth. Someone’s colleague sincerely believes bad things happen when Mercury is in retrograde and they warn others to do nothing major until it ends. My great aunt told me red meat must be eaten daily or I wouldn’t grow strong. Disinformation is diabolical, something the presenter deliberately knows is false yet they are passing if off as truth, done for malevolent reasons not disclosed. Most so-called truisms flitting about these days are more misinformation than disinformation – or so I hope. I don’t know what bothers me more: the villains who write this sort of stuff or the people who take it in at face-value truth. Alas, Babylon! This is a tale as old as time. All the same, there is a part of me that feels we ought to know better.

One of the foundations of counseling is looking closely at feelings, emotions, and actions to learn about them so in our response to them we may do differently. The studies of science and history do similar.

Now that I’ve written some on this topic, I have changed my opinion on this tip. Tip #25 isn’t something to slightly improve your life, this is something to greatly improve your life. Look closely, today and ever day, at all you see, do, and feel.

*“The Poem ‘Goblin market” also comes to mind here:

“We must not look at goblin men,

We must not buy their fruits:

Who knows upon what soil they fed

Their hungry thirsty roots?”

24: Start a Saturday morning with some classical music – it sets the tone for a calm weekend.

When I read this, I had flashback memories of being woken on Saturday mornings to The University of Michigan fight song “Hail to the Victors” which Father played at highest volume on the hi-fi to rouse us sleeping-in types for “there’s-work-to-be-done” yardwork. Oh the horror.[1] The irony of this recommendation is Monday through Friday I do wake up to classical music. My alarm goes off at 5AM to play the prelude to “Das Rheingold” – but I shut it off on Saturdays to allow myself to sleep in some. [2]

Father wakes every morning to a Sousa march, which some classical music radio station with a morbid sense of humor plays every 715PM, thus carrying on his lifelong tradition of being awakened by a football half-time show. In our daily calls he reports which Sousa march was played that morning. They all sound alike to me and sooner I’d eat rats at Tewkesbury than listen to one, let alone at 715AM. Whatever floats your goat I suppose.

When I was in medical school I lived in a house in with other students and we lived next door to a family that liked to party loud and long into the night every Friday. In neighborly reciprocation I played first thing on Saturday morning (at high volume) the finale of Act II of “Aida”, which I hoped they appreciated as much as I enjoyed their Friday night tunes.

I listen to a lot of classical music as it is so hearing more the first thing on weekends isn’t for me. What I do first thing Saturday mornings is look about to see if Someone and Harper are there or did they go in the night to sleep in The Dragon Room (a.k.a. the guest room) where they can sleep-in knowing I will get up at 5AM anyway with or without the music of Herr Wagner.

It is the primal scream of children throughout Time we will turn into our parents and I am no exception that every Saturday morning when I could be sleeping in or lounging about in my jammies I start doing ‘there’s-work-to-be-done’ chores right away while waiting the slug-a-beds to wake. You bet your flaming knickers I do not play The U of M fight song or Sousa or anything else. Can you imagine?

[1] Thanks to this Ludovico-like technique I dislike the tune to this day.

[2] Someone’s alarm is a loud beeping continual foghorn that comes on suddenly and sounds like a ship announcing it’s just been torpedoed and get to the lifeboats as soon as possible.

#23. It might sound obvious, but a pint of water before bed after a big night avoids a clanger of a hanger.

Thems who partake in spirits soon learn when you’ve been ‘too free with the creature’ [1] this results in nasty next-day headaches and other woes. The alcohol molecule puts a chock-hold on the anti-diuretic hormone, causing loss of fluid and consequent dehydration and electrolytes imbalance. Oh the horror. Drinking a pint of water before bed after having ‘been to Barbados’ helps with the loss. Better yet is to have a few glasses of water in between your tipples. Salty treats slow down the absorption of alcohol and supplies some sodium. In the good old days saloons used to place bowls of nibbles out on the bar for this reason, but those were happier times. Nowadays one cannot find a peanut or nasty chip in a dive to save one’s life, let along get a a decent dry Manhattan with a twist of lemon, but I digress.

Tip #23-A: Pop a B-complex with sufficient thiamine. before a night out with The Philippians. Demon drink depletes the dendrites of vital vitamins which in worse-case scenarios causes a very nasty memory condition named Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. [2] Take a Centrum Silver along with the mentioned pint of water and you ought to be OK.

Tip #23-B: To improve your life more than lightly is not to become ‘too free with Sir Richard’ in the first place. [3] That way you hold onto your fluids and electrolytes, and it require no pints before bedtime. Indeed, drinking a pint of water before bedtime when sober will NOT slightly improve your life as it mars a good night’s sleep.

Urs Truly is known to ‘clip the King’s English’ but seldom if ever does he get to the point of Mr. Franklin’s more colorful expressions for temulence. When Someone is the designated-driver I may have a dry martini (no rubbish). This is signs my own death warrant as I will be cold as a mackerel come midnight and no amount of pints will prevent the rawther-under-the-weather feeling come morning. Oh the embarrassment. Improving your life even slightly always comes with a tradeoff. I will drink responsibly with my intermittent glasses of water and order my martinis with two olives although olives take up too much room in such a small glass.

[1] Benjamin Franklin had a legendary list of 200 euphemisms for being drunk. Look it up why don’t you; some of them are quite amusing.

[2] Not to be confused with Rimsky-Korsakov Syndrome, which is a musical condition.

[3] I am dying to know the origin of this one. Assumedly Sir Richard was a cheap drunk or one of those closet-cases who lets his hair down to play darts with his buddies only to later swear it isn’t him but the alcohol. Urs Truly has met a few friends of Sir Richard in his lifetime. Oh the horror.

#22. Laugh shamelessly at your own jokes.

Please don’t do this one I beseech you. Nothing spoils a joke like laughing at it after you make it. The efficacy of a joke lies in saying it and pausing for your audience to laugh or groan. If you laugh at yourself, the recipient of the joke is more likely than not to see you as an idiot who can’t tell a proper joke. I remember a woman from church who liked to tell puns based on Bible quotes. Some of them were not bad but she spoiled every one of them but immediately braying at the punchline. Oh the pain.

Sometimes the person telling the joke consciously or unconsciously laughs as they know the joke isn’t funny or their presentation isn’t very good: the laughter covers this up. Most of the time thems who laugh shamelessly at their own jokes suffer from The Dunning-Kruger effect viz. they are not aware as a joke-teller they are a bust and they are better to keep quiet.*

What I recommend laughing at your own foibles. This is better than beating yourself up and the laughter is more likely to lead to learning for less foibles later on. Errors and bungles have humor to them if you allow yourself to find it. If this sort of laughter is heard by others it becomes a mutual humor at the absurdity of life.

It can also change people laughing at you to laughing with you. Good for everyone.**

Whatever floats your goat

*I was never a fan of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson. They would make a cornball joke (often not funny) and stand back and wait for the audience to laugh in the expectation “I made a joke, now laugh at it’. They could have used a bit of laughing at their own jokes I suppose.

**Lily Tomlin was once asked what made her go into comedy. “Well, at an early age I realized everyone was laughing me so I thought I might as well try to be funny”.

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