Thursday, November 3, 2016

Of Bookcases and Authentic Leadership

http://www.ikea.ca 
A few months ago, in response to a post I wrote in Ikea furniture, there was a suggestion that, by mere virtue of age and decay, the Swedish icon's furniture can possess wabi-sabi characteristics. I pondered the possibility that I am too strict in my application of wabi-sabi in my exclusion of Ikea products but a more significant aspect of wabi-sabi came to mind and assured me that there are deeper examples of wabi-sabi grounded in the authenticity of the source material.

While the modern antithesis of wabi-sabi would be regarded as a sleek metal or plastic, the essential characteristics of Ikea products still align with the modern: symmetrical rather than organic; rectangular rather than curved; slick and polished rather than tactile.  Beyond that is the admission that the particle board that comprises Billy or Kallax does not have the authenticity or appeal of real wood. It is merely a processed (pulverized?) version of the real article.

Instead of being designed primarily for their intended use, Ikea furniture is an amalgam or a contrivance of a range of intentions and goals, cost effectiveness, convenience, mass marketability and style being the primary aspects that are integrated into the products.  These are as much a part of the market appeal as the furniture's actually function. The minimalism of the furniture belies these considerations and the masterful design, but the myriad intents guiding each product's development erode the authenticity. While the deterioration of the furniture over time might charm an observer, it might also indicate a corporate mandate for decline or cost effectiveness that is not intrinsic to a comparable piece of furniture that is a product of a more artisanal mindset. These products would not foster attachment or affection, merely a tolerance based on utility and a rationale for merely replacing the product when required.

Despite my entry into this post, I wish to get to authenticity as it applies to people and the way we interact with one another, especially in leadership capacities.  Authentic leadership is probably challenging because, as is the case with Billy or Kallax, a leader in an organization today has to act as a composite of functions, intentions and mission that can vary from one instance to the next.  It is a challenge to retain or merely project authenticity when there are so many roles and mandates that a leader is required to perform at a given time and those complexities increase with the size and scope of the organization and the challenges that it faces.  It is much easier to play the role of leader in a smaller, more intimate organization with a limited mandate than in a larger one where the org chart is requisite and the challenges faced complex and numerous. I am not certain if authentic leadership is complicated by the distance between a leader and his or her followers, but it certain requires the ability or willingness to assert that authenticity from the stage that one is on.

Despite the quest for authenticity from leaders, and the course or formulas that are intended to bring it out, there is some concern about showing that real face, especially if it exposes vulnerabilities and doubts that may result in the leader getting "eaten alive" by a team. The risk prompts many to "fake it until they make it," but ultimately it overlooks the distinction between a Billy bookcase and a leader. In the case of a bookcase, the frugality and function of an Ikea item invites a greater tolerance for a by-product of the essential ingredient rather than a more expensive, carefully crafted piece of furniture.  (The bookcase, after all, is a storage unit by a romanticized name and we'd rather put the money into the books rather than the shelving.)  We have more tolerance for these compromises in a bookcase than we might have with a dining room table or a hope chest.

A leader performs a far more elegant, complex and communal a task than a bookcase. With that, there is a need for a leader to connect with the original material - the heart, mind and soul that are the analog to the pine, oak or mahogany of a more enchanting piece of craftsmanship. The authenticity of a leader requires the originality of that particular self or character and its response to the individuals, situations or mission that they have had thrust upon them. Such an authenticity, detached from the limitations of formula and impersonal mandate, gives a leader the opportunity to exercise a flexibility and mindfulness that would enhance connections with his or her team and a greater understanding of the challenges that they face together and the resources that are available to address.

An approach to leadership that does not embrace or expose that authenticity risks undermining the synergy of the team or organization as the discreet components of the amalgam of missions and purposes hang together uneasily. If the is work oriented toward vague, arbitrary bottom lines or deadlines and, as is often the case, there is a sense of quarterly targets and other measureables eroding the unity and synergy of a team that is bonded by the authenticity of a leader willing to expose vulnerabilities, contradictions and second thoughts. Such authenticity can, despite the doubts, rally a team together and encourage that team to live and work more comfortably with those same realities of the self.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Do We Want To Head Where Money is Headed?

If we were going to work from the wabisabi premise that nothing is permanent, then it is worth contemplating the impermanence and change of money. Needless to say such a discussion would raise some concerns about the entire structure of the economy and how money's preeminence ought to change.  Despite the anxieties that might accompany an inquiry into the structure and orientation of our economy, there are changes that are occurring that have transformed money in different ways. Cash, for instance, is moving closer and closer to becoming an anachronism as not only coins are being retired from circulation, but the pursuit of a cashless society continues forward with only token hesitation.

To look more broadly at money's evolving place in our society, CEO's salaries and bonuses have become a measure of venality rather than skill and accomplishment. As money ceases to measure value and accomplishment with accuracy, there is a need to reassess its significance in society and, more specifically, in the hierarchy of an organization. There remains a commitment to pursuing profit and without that pursuit, there would be little for an organization to hang its hat on, or ensure its survival.  Even in the era of the burgeoning use of the triple-bottom line money remains the preeminent measure of accomplishment and progress in an organization.

Given the obvious threats to the environment and our consciousness about one percenters and their ilk, money and profit seems to have take on the air of an aging and perhaps senile throne-holder that needs to step aside and let a more vibrant organizational mandate or measure of success try the reins.

Too often, the pursuit of profit has invited mechanistic or linear approaches to business management and deadened organizations with structures that limited individual autonomy to express themselves through their work.  Conformity and order take precedence over the individual contribution through innovation and creativity that needs to be nurtured if talent is to be retained and allowed to blossom into an artisanal, disruptive force in an organization.

The greatest successes in business, those marked by invention, innovation or insight have long been mythologized as the achievement of an individual whether Edison, Ford, Jobs or Musk, but the reality is that those name can be complemented -- if not buttressed and abetted -- by anonymous individuals who were given the opportunity to risk, commit and fail on occasion to advance the progress of the organizations.  These achievements were not fostered by the adherence to the arbitrary version of success that the bottom line declares.

The certainty of organizational methods that were adopted decades ago and still persist despite the accumulating stories of risk, failure, innovation and ultimately success that capture our attention time and again as new businesses ascend on the strength of a corporate culture that is less risk averse and short-sighted.

Instead, emerging organizations are giving employees the autonomy to do their work in the creative manner that makes individuals more intimate with their work, the passion they bring to it and the people they share goals with rather than fencing them into a structure where they are only exposed to and ultimately numbed by the narrow and obvious confines of an organization or a mission that is defined exclusively by the monetary value that can be assigned to it.

If we looked to foster a workplace culture that allowed individuals and teams to ponder and explore such evanescent things as the creativity or the outlying thoughts that they may possess at any given moment, there would be an explosion of presence, commitment and accomplishment that is far less likely in organizations committed to the pursuit of goals measure by meandering and doddering old profit.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Authenticity of a Self

Authenticity, one of the main aspects of wabi sabi, is easily associated with the choice of materials that something is made of.  Stone, ceramic and wood possess a warmth that vinyl or plastic, to give just a pair of examples, might not project when we observe items or objects that have become withered by the passage of time. The man-made materials all too often lend themselves to a mass production that doesn't invite the reactions or lend themselves to the sense of life cycle that more natural materials invites.

With people, the attribution of authenticity can be a remarkably difficult task.  The subjectivity in determining one's authenticity or absence of it can invite interpretation and lead to an argument or nine as well, depending on who is involved. Still it is something that we look for and strive for and when it appears, an individual's authenticity can be an inspiring thing to behold. We often make that judgement of a person's authenticity in the moment based on the immediate evidence.  In contrast to that, there are few occasions when we read a memoir or autobiography, or gaze at the hourly offerings on the Biography Channel and tell ourselves that a formula is being adhered to. In my own case, I read biographies with ease all but certain of the stages of a (famous) person's life or path: childhood, early precocity, emergence into celebrity, adjustment, greater success... yawn... downfall of some sort, comeback, maturity and managed fame, decline and death.  Those milestones are the basic formula and the peripheral characters all come from the same shelf as well.

When I first heard of Mary-Louise Parker's Dear Mr. You, I was intrigued by the concept of her writing letters to various men in her life - real or imagined - and the voice that she would bring to these letters. After finishing a third of the letters in the book I was overwhelmed by the realization that the book was very autobiographical and that this format was one that altered the terrain of a biography or autobiography. In eschewing the normal "I was born..." approach to her story in favour of these tributes to the men (and goats!) who have been central to her life she infused her narrative with characters, tone and perspective that would not have met the way they did in this book.

When she writes, early on, to the grandfather that she never met there is an energy to the letter that elevates the poignancy and allows her to reflect on her relationship with this man that would not have surfaced in a more conventional tome. Instead of being limited by the passage of time and only allowing herself to say, "I never met him" or "I never knew him" she very clearly shows that she did know him and had a clear sense of the relationship between the father and son who were her grandfather and father.

Even beyond this example are the people who may not have even made the grade or gotten typeface if she wrote this book in a less reflective or more overtly chronological manner. The fireman she saw on 9/11, the parish priest from childhood, the dying boy in the hospital, the cabbie who drove her to the hospital during her labour (of course, he did not deliver the baby) all have had much more time in her thoughts since they passed through her life than they would have in a conventional biography and here, deservedly so, they are reserved pages, warmth, apologies or appreciation as they ought to be given, and some of the most deeply poetic prose you would see in non-fiction.

The critical raves that preface and close the book speak volumes about her writing and the boilerplate snatches pay proper tribute, but do not acknowledge that the honesty of the writing is inspiring and would give readers occasion and opportunity to pause and reflect on their own lives and determine who are the people who are of the greatest significance to them or are embedded in their thoughts and consciousness in ways that they would only articulate with the most honest reflection on who they are and who is important to them. In my own case, I know my letters would include the police officer who was shot two days before the Christmas I turned nine, a woman who sat with me on an overnight train to Montreal the day after my grandmother died and a young man whom I never met but altered my path in a way I will never steer from.

Dear Mr. You is a jewel of literature that deserves much more than the critical claim it merits. It will likely be anthologized for the honesty and elegance of its tone and tributes and for the brief moments of life that were not necessarily decisive but were defining for their intensity of peace, joy or self-discovery. For readers it will clearly inspire self-reflection and a reconsideration of life that other more formulaic bios would never even aspire to.  It is a book that will linger in the readers' thoughts with its nuances and eccentric variation on the genre.

Brilliant.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Wabi Sabi of Creativity

Fighting insomnia on Saturday morning, I got out of bed and headed to the sofa to read myself back to sleep without blinding The Mrs. with my lamp. More deliberately than I would admit, I left the book I was reading, Don Delillo's Zero K, on the bedside table. Delillo is 79, an age where a fan has to appreciate each work for its arrival; the assurance that mortality is being fended off, the novelist is still assaulting each mountain of thought, plot and character and surveying a unique world from that summit.  As fond as I am of his work and eager to have his latest, however, I have found the new novel a bit too familiar.  As with several recent Delillo novels, a mill- or billionaire pursues an ambitious endeavour in an isolated location in a remote location, virtually sealed off from the time and place that Delillo is trying to comment on.  The elements seem the same and I'm not engaging the way I had with past novels.  I'll finish the book and be awed by the sterling sentences, but I needed a break, something to shake off my conclusion that writers often write the same story over and over until they get it right.

For the palate-cleanser, or a quick gust of non-fiction to refresh my mind for the Delillo, I took down a book on creativity by the gentleman with the "oh, that guy" anonymous fame (or infamy) earned from high wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974.  His feat, or as he would put it, crime, has since been documented in the movie Man On Wire and again in the feature film The Walk.

As I sought the tonic for my insomnia and avoided the Delillo, Philippe Petit's book, Creativity, The Perfect Crime, came down from the bookcase.  At this point, there is the risk of slamming it with the note that it did or did not knock me out.  I eased back to sleep, but it engaged me quite deeply and sleep revisited after a few notions came to mind for my to drift off to.  One of the first things he mentions in the book is the contradictions that an artist or a creative person must live with or burrow into.  In this case, a good book putting me into a dreamstate is the contradiction.  The world, despite the arguments or conclusions many might resort to, is not as simple as that.

Petit's own comfort with the contradictions and ambiguity he delves into throughout the book is just one sign of his affinity for wabi sabi. As Petit nears the conclusion of his book, he directly acknowledges wabi sabi, telling the reader to be guided by it. Prior to that mention, the book is peppered with references. The most obvious is his comment, "I've seen Time devour Art with avidity -- and I love it!" He finds great energy in the passage of time and what it does to art and the world.  Apart from that, he talks about the familiarity that he develops over time with the tools that he has used in juggling and magic. He embraces the contradictions of his art and life and strives to strike the balance between them. These elements and his clearly expressed aversion to formulas or linear thinking are just a few indicators of his affinity for wabi sabi.

Screengrab from https://www.ted.com/talks/philippe_petit_the_journey_across_the_high_wire?language=en
Philippe Petit's book, much like his 2012 TED Talk follows the path from his early interest in magic and how it proceeded to interests in juggling and then the wire.  At first it is hard to think of walking the wire as a creative feat.  It is more of a physical one or one of nerve and audacity, but as Petit describes it, the feat is composed of the same elements of will, spirit and intimacy with the tools of the trade that any artist must attain to work and create at the height of their capabilities again and again.

Petit asserts that creativity is grounded in passion, tenacity, intuition, faith, improvisation and inspiration. There are risks, rehearsals, obstacles, surprises and miracles to add to things that you (not an artist, creative person or someone with more chops than you) you wish to pursue or achieve. He adds that it is absolutely necessary for you to protect and even wall in that creative spirit or component of yourself to give it the chance and freedom to grow and go into the direction it desires to go.

In this privacy and self-protection, Petit makes the best case I have seen for wabi sabi guiding an approach to life that is original, personal and self-actualizing. (It is a far stronger case than appeared in Agneta Nyholm Winqvist's work on wabi sabi. There are too many premanufactured paths through life followed by people who have committed to an ornate combination of rationalizations and consumer choices to find the fulfillment that comes from an elegant, personal, formula-free approach to living in creating. There is no trace of "I'm doing this job I dislike 50 weeks of the year so I can go to that all-inclusive" in his ethos. There is an elegance in his work, the path he has sculpted for himself and the excess with which he has pursued his passion.

Petit is confident -- no, certain -- that "chaos always brings order." He might even argue that the apparent order of a life that complies and conforms with the rules may be an illusion of order hiding or merely postponing chaos.  He says that, "if you start with the rules, your creation will be stillborn." That applies to life as much as art. Great creations and great lives absorb the curves and reversals that are encountered and integrates them into the person and their work. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Perfection and Vulnerability in the Kitchen

http://www.marthastewart.com/sites/files/marthastewart.com/styles/wmax-1500/public/d21/
thd-martha-oxhill-613/thd-martha-oxhill-613_horiz.jpg?itok=DMBS4JEK
In an earlier post here, I discussed Ikea furniture and its lack of wabi sabi.  In short, when Ikea furniture starts to age or deteriorate, it possesses little charm and there is even less potential to restore it or extend its life in a manner that still presents an appealing object in the home environment.  I would be remiss if I were to overlook Martha Stewart's approach to the home setting and the by-the-book or buy-the-book advice she dispenses.  She has developed a valuable brand over the years and earned a cult following as well, but there is a certain word that gets tossed around quite regular by Ms Stewart and in association with the advice she dispenses.

The word is "perfect" which rings up a total of 18,700,000 oh, sorry, 18,300,000 hits when googled with "Martha Stewart."  Be it a desktop calendar, a roast turkey, hard boiled eggs, a bow, or a turn at the podium during the Bieber roast (159,000 hits), there is the link between the domestic diva and that word.  However, no matter how thorough the steps may be outlined to complete any of the tasks that Stewart has mastered, the outcome for the Martha-wannabe will all-too-often be frustration.  Perfection becomes a goal and there is nothing less than that to satisfy either Martha Stewart or any of her followers who strive to achieve that pinnacle in what they assume is a zero-sum game in providing a setting for the home and the family.

For all the aspects of the home that Ms Stewart delves into there is a consistent motif but there may not be as evident a sense of integration of the components that she brings together.  The kitchen cabinets that are branded with her name incite that impulse to approve the perfection but there is that hint of a mother shooing the elementary schoolers out for fear of disturbing the appearance or the ultimate resignation that the off-the-shelf perfection did not unfold as hoped.  There is a chance that the failure to meet the Stewart criteria leaves the consumer vaguely disappointed with the austerity of the (predominantly white) products she offers those hoping to festoon their kitchens with her touch.

 
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/46/
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A wabi sabi approach to a kitchen setting would not attach itself to such a combination of veneer and modularity with an eye to revising a place or its purpose.  Such an approach would work around the imperfections in the setting and the materials to create an inviting space with the warmth, functionality, authenticity and uniqueness that reflects the people who live, eat and clean in this space. There are patinas of wood grain and ceramic glaze instead of the plastic of white foil to keep the eye, the touch and perhaps even the ear attuned to the sensuality of the space rather than the slick arrogance of the prefab Stewart offering.  What would she propose one do with the exposed pipe overhead?

The arrogance extends beyond the conforming design or solution that is proposed as "perfect." Last year during a speaking engagement in Calgary, Martha Stewart was asked to grapple with the word "vulnerability."  Brene Brown who spoke at the same conference that morning charged the term with an appropriate measure of empowerment by asserting that vulnerabilities are exposed when we are taking the risks to achieve our potential.  Stewart, however, merely regarded vulnerability as something to be overcome, whether by a) ignoring in a fake it till you make it approach that sounds a bit macho or b) denying that it exists by ignoring via a rationalization that posits that vulnerability is weakness and further to that exists merely to be suspended or swatted aside like so many pesky mosquitoes.  In Stewart's mind, vulnerability probably does not exist as an opposite or the heads-to-tails companion to something such as courage, which is required if we are to achieve our potential.  My thought has often been that courage is defined by facing ones fears or vulnerabilities.  Opposing that, where is the courage in facing something other people fear, [but you don't]?

There is a connection between the design we choose to surround ourselves with and the attitudes that are embodied in design.  In the case of Martha Stewart, the hermetically-contained disavowal of her prison experience and what she may have learned there sounds at best like spin and at worst suggests an inability to grow. In contrast with the openness with which Brene Brown, on the same day, disclosed her flaws, doubts and challenges about her body image and the foundation of her marriage, there is a distinct discomfort with things that are not resolved, square and binary.  The perfect bows, roast turkeys and chocolate chip cookies ultimately assert a discomfort with the imperfect or an intent to exploit others' discomfort by appropriating that overused word "perfect."

I have no idea what Brene Brown's kitchen looks like and will not hazard a guess.  In her ability to not only live comfortably with the the apparent paradox of courage and vulnerability but to examine both sides of that coin indicates a mindful wisdom that would promise a long, enlightening discussion over tea at a wobbly kitchen table.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Perfection and Potential

In the time I have been reading about wabi sabi and blogging about it, I have been self-conscious about the possibility that it is a vanity project. The thought has regularly crossed my mind. I wonder if my aspiration to push this ancient Japanese aesthetic -- which is primarily a visual one -- to areas of business, politics or beyond might be a bit self-indulgent, off target or disrespectful to the principles of wabi-sabi. There is the risk that I may just be pushing wabi sabi too far when I write about burger joints I consider overrated, the warmth of vinyl, Ikea furniture, dull PowerPoint slides to mention a few of the windmills I've tilted at here.  There has been this latent doubt that I have just used the vocabulary of wabi sabi to make stands about things I like or dislike rather than really delve into the aesthetic and how it might apply. Ultimately, however, I have delved into the topic because there is relatively little on the topic available in English and I blog here to scratch an itch that has festered for nearly 20 years. It has been a rewarding scratch from time to time.

Earlier today I was at a conference and listening to a keynote by Robert Kelly, a Professor of Education at University of Calgary.  During his address a slide came up that listed the following three bullets as they pertained to Collaborative Creation in Education:

1. The Principle of Infinite Potentials
2. The Principle of Interrelatedness
3. The Principle of Perpetual Change.

As Dr. Kelly continued his presentation the three points stuck with me.  They sounded familiar and I went through the familiar quest for a word on the tip of my tongue or brain.  After a few moments I recalled three principles of wabi sabi:

1. Nothing is perfect
2. Nothing is complete
3. Nothing is permanent.

The three tenets are briefer, less academic and more poetic for their conciseness. The parallels, though, breathed fresh life into a topic that I thought I was becoming stagnant in revisiting as (in)frequently as I have.

The triads above are quite revealing in the ways that they align.  Perfection, for instance, would mean the reduction or elimination of potential, a far cry from the infinity available when we grapple with the imperfections that we try to work through.  If we choose to settle for something that no longer has the potential for growth is neither perfect nor ideal, but imposes a closure on life, relationships or opportunities that will ultimately whither for all the readily redoubled efforts to retain
some mediocre status quo.

https://booksonbooksblog.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/kintsugi.jpg
This assumption about a perfection based upon limited potential comes with an assumption of completion and isolation that would prompt me to cite the inevitable decay of a shopping centre that is hermetically sealed off from its surroundings save the odd skylight to complement the fluorescents with some natural light throughout the day.  Compared to a downtown, which is always a work in progress, this setting grows stagnant quickly and over time repels instead of attracts people.

The pursuit, or even the mere acceptance, of ongoing change demonstrates not only an appetite for growth and achieving potential but it also allows wabi sabi to be interpreted as a guide to growth rather than a philosophical acceptance of decline and deterioration.  Kintsugi, the craft of mending damaged pottery with gold, demonstrates an exceptionally optimistic belief in infinite potential and the possibility of beauty as a complement to flaws, destruction and renewal.

The leap from discussing tangible objects to regarding processes, relationships, solutions to problems or new creative opportunities seems a less daunting one in light of the parallels between wabi sabi and creative collaboration that I encountered today. The willingness to continue to add or augment and push for growth and improvement are much closer to the centre of wabi sabi than would appear to be true after a cursory glance.  And so I will push to see what I can add to this discussion and this ancient aesthetic.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Aging Body, With Grace

The human body is intended to be an imperfect thing.

Try as we might to fend off our decline with exercise and diet, the returns on those investments of time, energy and discipline eventually cease to pay off.  There is a commitment to extend our mortality farther than generations who never had the medical care or the knowledge of nutrition and fitness that we do.  At the same time, however, those generations lived active, even vigorous, lives that may have been dedicated to nothing more than ensuring that they were able to get through each day with some modicum of comfort and security.

If those "unfortunate" ancestors were to look our lives and regard our desk-bound routines, and their complementary mechanical repetitions on the medieval torture contraptions of the fitness clubs, they would be perplexed by that dis-integration of purposeful activity into these separate streams of routine that may leave us wondering what it is all about.  With the gym club regimens and their ancillaries driven in part by the entirely unparented bastard of body image standards, we have indulged in cosmetic surgery to an extent that we outwardly ridicule but to a lesser extent accept and
consider more often than we would care to admit.  Botox and nose jobs have been standing punchlines, but the embrace of our unrealistic expectations about the body has not loosened.

We all too quietly murmur approval of famous people, okay, actresses who age without the surgical or chemical interventions to stave off age and retain marketability at the cost of a beauty that is undeniably under-appreciated for the glow and warmth that comes with acceptance of the vessel we have been given and has not be moderated by a surgeon of some renown.  It is that type of beauty that prompted Brad Pitt to regard Dianne Wiest, without any trace of irony, as "the most beautiful woman on the screen."

We continue to lose to muted ambivalence on the matter of body image, but we are more inclined to make a bit of a battle of late to reconsider that.  There is a shift occurring and even if I acknowledge that it occurs only at the most glacial of rates, I risk being naive about something that may only be a blip or a cynical marketing ploy.

The other aspect to consider in light of the aging of the body is its decline and ultimate failure.  With this and with dying, there is a more primal desire to extend our lives as much as possible.  Life expectancy is continuing to increase. We embrace the news of further improvements with, at the very least, relief.  A few years ago a friend had basically said, "75," indicating that was about as much time as she needed or wanted to live and anything beyond that would not be necessary.  It was a startling thing to hear and I would still anticipate a change of mind as that figure drew nearer.

There is, upon reflection, a degree of wisdom in that disdain for an exceptional degree of longevity. Immortality is not in reach and when and if it is achieved there would likely be something of the plastic pallor or hermetically sealed lack that would be visible to the eye, but ineffable and beyond words.  In the meantime, the pursuit of longer life and the conquest of the illnesses that bedevil and haunt us with their final assaults, indignities and metastases currently return us to, once again, diminishing returns.  All too often, the pursuit of extending life at the cost of quality of life leaves us with something hollow.

The insistence that the body must be sustained in the face of the passage of time, whether to adhere to an ill-defined, inaccurate definition of beauty or to pursue some measure of longevity at the expense of quality of life merely underlines how society has made itself an audience to the advance of technology rather than an engaged participant in a discussion about the quality or the spiritual richness of life.  In his brilliant book Being Mortal, Atul Gawande outlines the options that we have available to deal with aging and death.  There is a strong impulse amongst many of us to fend off death by all means necessary rather than accept it is a stage of life, the final passage.  Many of us, where prompted to by medical practitioners or not, regard the approach of death as something that must be fought or fended off by whatever means necessary, even by measures that are as extensive an quixotic as the cosmetic interventions we are often inclined to mock.

Such interventions are made at the risk of compromising our experience of this passage and the wisdom and poignancy that comes with the departure.  In his book, Gawande talks about the more heroic efforts to extend life and fend off death as one renders this passage as one that is more mechanical and less interactive than a wise resignation to palliative care in a hospice setting, where pain is managed and meaningful goodbyes are enriched by a full commitment to presence and the simple maxim, "be here now."  An acceptance of death and a abstinence from the technological options of this stage of life would ultimately allow this stage to once again become more unique, peaceful, personal and more, yes, comforting experience than one which is laden with the technology of last gasp efforts.  This stage of life is one that can enrich us when we accept its place in our lives and the lives of those we love and it is a point in life when the technology deadens the senses and prolongs the suffering for the ailing and the survivors.