The Productivity Plateau

The Before Time


Back in the before time, our worlds were free from productivity requirements and expectations. It was enough to learn to walk and talk and then to use the bathroom by ourselves, without being reminded. The big milestone came when we mastered getting up during the night, without peeing the bed. For some of us, especially for a few of the boys among us, this latter achievement took a lot longer than we hoped and the adults in our worlds seemed to expect. Even so, nearly all of us got up and over this challenge.


There were other small hills to climb, but none were all that difficult for most of us. There was taking turns and playing nicely with others, mostly following the rules and cooperating with parents and teachers, and of course reading, writing and arithmetic were in the mix. As time passed, other requirements began to appear. Even so, others cutting us some slack was pretty much a given, so long as we didn’t resist too much or argue excessively.


We were growing up, developing, and usually not judged by how much or how well we did. The measure of success mostly relied on exhibiting an appropriate amount of effort and cooperation. The notion was to continue progressing, to do better than we had done before. How hard we tried was much more important than how much we accomplished.


The Big Change


I’m thinking that the deal with my world had changed when I was about fifteen. I doubt that the change was abrupt, but fifteen is more or less when I caught on. I suspect the age varies, but it was somewhere in the teenage years for most of us.


It was probably a transition that had been going on for a few years, but the shift was definitely less slack to more expectation, from making a good effort to getting the job done, whatever the job. For the most part, there wasn’t much of any penalty for not getting the job done, assuming that I had at least made a reasonable effort; but here comes the rub.


I had unknowingly shifted into a productivity-based economy. Much of what I wanted was contingent on being productive. Resources and opportunities at home, at school and elsewhere were increasingly linked to my level of achievement, cooperation, and meeting those external expectations and standards. I’m sure that my parents would not have kicked me out had I not been as productive as they hoped; but the rest of my world operated on a quite different set of rules. Since you already know how that works, there is no need to expand on that here. Suffice it to say, it was mostly be productive or do without.


The Productivity Plateau


I’ve mentioned this incident before but it’s worth another pass here. I was likely whining about how hard college was to a councilor at OU who was not particularly sympathetic. He told me that, with the possible exception of my mother, no one cared whether I succeeded in college or not. All of the caring had to come from me. The issue had nothing to do with how difficult it was. The only question was whether or not I was going to do what I needed to do to succeed. In short, it was clearly be productive or be gone.


Harsh? Of course it was. It was also true. I had stepped onto the productivity plateau and there was no turning back.


So here we are, all of us right up there on the productivity plateau, smack in the middle of that place where it’s be productive or be gone. But it’s not nearly so simple. Although I’m not sure but I think he was whining about other political types not cooperating in support of his position when Bernie Sanders declared that it’s not fair. I could also declare that this productivity thing is equally not fair. Just like Bernie, if everyone else would just go along with what I want and need, everything would be just dandy. Instead, it’s not fair.


I don’t suppose that I need to spend much time listing the details of just how unfair it is. Two points should be enough. First, Your level of effort and how productive you are aren’t necessarily linked to the level of reward and payoff. Second, some of us are more able to be productive than others of us. A third point also needs emphasized. Many of us are arbitrarily blocked from full access to the productivity plateau for reasons that have nothing to do with our ability or capacity to succeed. The productivity plateau is fundamentally unfair.


Is There a Point?


I sure don’t have any breaking news or startling insights about how unfair the productivity plateau is or how to fix its inequities. The best I can do is to offer a tentative suggestion.


Since we know that the rewards and benefits of productivity are not fairly distributed, we can help a little if we are as generous as we can be when we tip people who provide services for us. They will appreciate it; and we can know that we have made things just a little fairer.


We know that not everyone is or can be equally productive, so we can be a bit more patient and tolerant when others are not as quick or efficient as we think they should be. They will appreciate it; and we can know that we have made things just a little fairer.


We know that many people are kept off the productivity plateau or not given the same opportunities to succeed as others for reasons unrelated to their ability to be successful. We may be in a position to give them the opportunity to join with those of us who are being rewarded for our efforts and productiveness. They will appreciate it; and we can know that we have made things just a little fairer.


Just a little fairer — it’s not much but it’s not nothing. Will you do what you can, whenever you can, for whomever you can? They will appreciate it; and you can know that you have made things just a little fairer. It might even get you a smile and a hug, at least from your mom.


A Skeptic’s Guide to Love

I have what is a fairly random dictionary on my computer that says love is “A strong positive emotion of regard and affection.” Well, if that’s the best it can do, I suspect the author has never loved or been in love. For most of us, love is indeed a strong emotion but is so much more, and for the few skeptics, much less.


One of those skeptics told me that love is little more than a self delusion that we use to cover up the unpopular fact that what we represent as love is nothing more than a frequently intense example of pragmatic self interest. We want people in general or particular people to respond to us in specific ways; and what we do to maximize our preferred outcome we call love. This is evidenced by our turning off our love if other people or that particular person either doesn’t respond as we want or stops responding as we want. Some of us are more persistent than others of us; but nearly all of us eventually quit loving when things do not conform to what we want or expect, when they fail to serve our self interest.


My skeptic does have a point. Like most everyone else, I have loved but have also stopped loving. We may think love is a forever kind of thing, but sometimes it isn’t. So, what’s the deal with sometimes love being more sticky than other times?


My skeptic says it’s just a matter of whether it continues to serve our self interest, whether our efforts continue to be rewarded.


I pointed out to my skeptic that Sometimes we might stop loving because we discover that we have misjudged others or misjudged someone specific. We developed a picture that turned out to be incorrect. Had we not been so caught up in love, we would have been more cautious, would have showed better judgment. We were just not being nearly objective enough.


The error in our judgment may be apparent to us sooner or occasionally a lot later, but we eventually see our laps in judgment.


That is the rational side of it, but the love side has its own reality. We know that we have made an error in judgment but continue loving despite knowing that it’s not serving our best interest. Love and self interest don’t always align thus proving that they aren’t necessarily connected, although it frequently seems like they are.


My skeptic did at least pause to give my point some thought. As it turned out, that thought was not about the possible validity of my point. Rather it was merely time to consider the best way to respond. It was also a chance to reframe my point and then feed it back to me in the new frame. I must admit that it was rather cleverly done. The response went like this.


Your point seems to me to go like this. Can we talk as if our focus is on a relationship with one specific person? My point would also apply for relationships with groups of people but limiting our discussion to one-to-one relationships makes it less cumbersome. – I nod and my skeptic continues.


You are in a relationship and perceive yourself as loving the other person. That means that you believe that the relationship is serving your self interest and that you will continue to love in order to sustain that outcome for yourself. You continue to behave in what you think are loving ways, physically, socially and emotionally. Let’s call that your love package. But the perspective changes.


What you refer to as misjudgment is more of a mis-prediction. You were predicting that your self interest would continue to be satisfied but now believe that is unlikely. Why your prediction was wrong is content for another discussion, but the point here is that your prediction is invalidated. You are suggesting that since the point at which you decide that your prediction is wrong and when you stop delivering your love package are not simultaneous, love and your self interest are not necessarily connected.


Think about it like this. A train is slower to stop than a bicycle. Similarly, physical love, emotional love and social love do not slow at the same rate. Perhaps the easiest to slow is social love. You can just stay away from the other person. Physical love can also be slowed by distance. Emotional love, on the other hand, is not nearly as distance sensitive. It can also be puled by wishing and wanting. How quickly it dissipates is mostly a function of the strength of wishing and wanting. Wishing and wanting what? Wanting your self interest served and wishing that the relationship had served that purpose.


I hope not to be excessively harsh, but things not working out, whatever the reason or circumstance, is but a much more advanced version of the five-year-old wanting the cookie in the jar and not being able to have it. Call it love if you will, but self interest is always at the heart of it.


What to say? My skeptic is probably right, as far as it goes. Superficially, Love is in the service of our self interest and being in love is in the service of our mutual self interest. It is also in the interest of perceived responsibility as well as shared empathy. I could easily add other dimensions such as shared enjoyment, a sense of connection and practical productiveness. I’ll bet you can easily join in in adding to the many ways to finish the sentence, “Love is….” The best I can do is to add my personal definition to that random dictionary on my computer.


Love is that secret sauce that magically appears when it’s all about me transitions to it’s all about us. But if the “us” reverts to “you and me,” that secret sauce fades and can sometimes turn bitter. Even so, the memory of how sweet it was remains, often as potent as ever it was.

What’s Golden About Those Golden Years?

Let’s talk about those golden years that we’ve all been told to plan for since we were first old enough to put a few dollars aside for our futures. This notion of doing something right now because it’s going to turn out to have been a good idea later didn’t start when we got our first paid job. No way. It had been going on for forever from our perspective.


I don’t know when it started for you, but for me, I think it was probably when I was first told to wash my hands or brush my teeth. You know about all that stuff. Pick up your toys and put them away so you’ll know where they are the next time you want to play. Make your bed so it’ll be already straightened up when you’re ready for bed. Learn to read so you can go to college when you’re older. It just went on and on, with no end in sight. Do this or that today for the sake of a better tomorrow.


Most of that do it today because tomorrow you’ll be glad you did coaching we got turned out to be generally good advice. The cumulation of habits, skills and all that stuff we now know serve us fairly well. Thanks for all of that encouragement and insistance.


But back to those golden years. I certainly have no issue with doing what we can to prepare for the day when we no longer have a job that pays the bills and lets us order a pizza now and then. We still need money, golden years or not. The same goes for staying as healthy as we can and trying not to alienate our friends and family. We still need it all, job or no job, work and responsibilities or not. Those kind of things are what they are, and we still need them, whatever our age.


It’s the golden part of golden years that I’m having some confusion about. Sure, we’re talking about old age, but just calling it what it is seems to be too uncomfortable for many and probably most people. It’s not that you are old and getting older, you have merely transitioned into your golden years. Presumably you’ve been looking forward to the transition for years and have finally made it. It is the icing on the cake that is your successful life.


But just when do those golden years start? This mostly seems to be relative. If you retire from a job and don’t start a new full-time job, you are in your golden years, unless you retired before most people retire. It’s fuzzy, but you get the idea. A good rule of thumb that works most of the time is that if you are at least 60 years old and do not have an active, go to work income, you are probably in your golden years.


Of course, another much simpler way of saying it is if you are old and don’t work anymore, you are in your golden years. Here, work only counts if you are getting paid for working. It really is boiling down. Golden years are for those of us who are old and not getting paid for anything we are doing today.


Not doing anything productive that produces personal income or justifies others supporting you and your activities is generally seen as being lazy or parasitic. That is unless you also happen to be old and self-supporting. In that event, you are golden or at least in your golden years.


Here’s the fact. All of us are going to get old, if we survive the first sixty years or so, and some of us are already there, since we got a head start. Just as all that glitters is not gold, all that is gold does not glitter. If the golden years imply an upgrade from the pre-gold years, I suspect that most of us who are already old are still waiting on our upgrades.


Along with not having to get up early and go to work every week day, we no longer have the opportunity to get up and go to work every work day. Along with no longer having to deal with all of those demands, expectations and interruptions, there are no more demands, expectations and interruptions. Along with the weekend no longer being a break from the busy week, there isn’t the busy week any more. Along with there no longer being too many things to do, places to go and people to see, there is very little that has to be done, no where you have to go and no one you have to see or who has to see you.


At first, the golden years are like an extended vacation, but one day you realize that there is nothing you have to go back to, nothing you get to go back to. It’s like going on the perfect cruise; but once you get on board, you discover that it’s not as satisfying as you had expected but you still have to stay for the duration.


I’m okay with being old and getting older, but please don’t refer to me and the golden years in the same sentence. For some old people, it may be an upgrade. If so, I am glad I didn’t have to live their lives. But for me and many other old people, I suspect that growing old is what it is, but golden is not a term we would use to describe it.


I suspect that it’s true that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a dull girl; but all play and no work runs the risk of making Jack and Jill a couple of dull old people, definitely not golden.