Strength in Diversity

When I was five years old, I said to my mother, “I don’t ever want to grow up.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because,” I explained earnestly, “adults do not run everywhere they go.”

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Routeburn Rage Mountain Marathon, 2002.

I love running. I have run marathons and ultra marathons for fun and in competition, over trails and roads, on five continents. Sometimes I ran all day, lost in the beauty of mountain tracks and drinking the sweet nectar of what it means to be alive. After I’d been hit by a car and suffered amnesia that left me confused and groping for an identity, running was still there for me.

15k in Tangier Morocco, 1998.

15k in Tangier Morocco, 1998. The man in blue is Muhammad, a friend who ran with me all over Tangier and its outskirts.

Long story short: even though my knees aren’t able to travel at pace for such distances nowadays, running has always been an important part of my life.

So when I overheard a conversation recently while eating Indian food at a restaurant in Provo, it shook my world a little bit. The woman at a neighboring table told her husband about a mountain marathon taking place in the Wasatch Range. “All day they’re running on trails up there,” she said.

The man nodded, forked more tikka masala into his mouth, and said, “Hm.”

“I know,” she intoned with a grim shake of her head. She paused, looked at him seriously, and asked, “What’s wrong with people?”

What’s wrong with people?

I’ll be the first to admit sometimes it’s difficult to understand why folks do the things they do. 6f29db0d973638a5b6ad8c4532346c9dFor example, it remains a mystery to me why many people enjoy cooking. I don’t even like to heat water on the stove for oatmeal in the morning. And don’t get me started on math. Nothing could more thoroughly boggle my mind than the idea of somebody sitting down to a math proof and thinking, “This is fun!”

Honestly, I don’t even know why running is one of my favorite activities. Probably something in my DNA and in my past makes running light up the regions of my brain associated with pleasure and gratification.

Here’s what we do know, thanks to science and research: animal populations, including humans, thrive when a broad assortment of traits exist in their gene pool. diverseteamThe same principle grounds a common adage: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversity strengthens a species’ shot at survival and success. So before we ask why anyone would bother to become a chef or a mathematician, maybe it would be wise to remember the good that comes from a broad range of skills and interest within our society.

After all, we like to eat, especially delicious food prepared by talented people. And it’s nice to know accountants keep our balance sheets balanced while engineers keep our planes in the air. For humanity, mathematics is good.

Our civilization depends on specialization. Only through a vast division of labor can we hope to develop new life-saving drugs, beautiful art, and advances in technology that increase our knowledge and improve our lives. Together, every person applying unique strengths and talents, we are far stronger than any one of us alone, not just for the horsepower, but also for the remarkable accuracy of these many brains working in synchrony.

Jbuilding_committee_-_surowiecki_book-resized-600.jpgames Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, explains collective knowledge can actually be more insightful than individual understanding. For example, if you ask a large group of people to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar, the average of all those guesses will usually be extremely close to the actual number of jellybeans, often nearer than any single estimation.

When I remember that woman’s comment – What’s wrong with people? – I can’t help but think she fell victim to a very human tendency, that of dismissing others who are different. But more than that, she missed a very powerful question indeed: What’s right with people?

Answer: a whole lot.

image1We come in many beautiful shapes, colors, and sizes, with smart insights in every realm, from cuisine to mathematics, with a taste for many things, from gardening to running marathons. As a child, I was wrong. Adults do run everywhere they go. It’s just sometimes running looks a lot like chess and woodworking and mountain biking and doing community service.

No moment offers more opportunity for misunderstandings and judgements than our election season. This is when our different views and opinions collide and vie for distinction, just as they should. However, while navigating this election season, it would probably do us good to grant those different voices respect because only in our diversity are we most brilliant.

 

Originally published 9/17/14 in the Moab Sun News.

Lovely running track on the Banks Peninsula, New Zealand.

Lovely running track on the Banks Peninsula, New Zealand.

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Deathbed Regrets

“The trouble is, you think you have time.” –Buddha

On their deathbeds, people often have the same regrets. It’s a wonder, because we vary wildly in interest and religion, in political opinion and leisure activities, in earnings and luck. Yet at the end, when looking back, we are united.

The witto ones enjoying a hike near Teluride, CO.

The witto ones enjoying a hike near Teluride, CO.

What do people wish they had done with their time here on Earth? Here’s a hint: they don’t wish they had made more money.

In her article, How To Buy Happiness, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky reports people on the brink of death wish they had spent more time “connecting with friends, nurturing intimate relationships, socializing at parties, consuming art, music, and literature, learning new languages and skills, honing talents, and volunteering at our neighborhood hospital, church, or animal shelter.”

Most of these things require little or no money. Of course, money can help us fit more of these activities into our day-to-day lives. But money and expensive purchases aren’t the ticket to real well-being.

IMG_2693“In wealthier nations, where almost everyone has a basic safety net, increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness,” Dr. Martin Seligman states In Authentic Happiness. “In the United States, the very poor are lower in happiness, but once a person is just barely comfortable, added money adds little or no happiness. Even the fabulously rich—the Forbes 100, with an average net worth of over $125 million dollars—are only slightly happier than the average American.”

make-money-roadsign_480People who neglect other aspects of life for money tend to be less satisfied with their lives, but you won’t see these findings portrayed in popular media or explicitly added to the curriculum at school. Consumerism has become synonymous with the American Dream. More and more education seems to be about this “Race to the Top,” an overzealous Cold War mentality that just won’t die, that pits the world’s sixteen-year-olds against each other in an absurd battle to see which nation’s children have mastered skills relevant to only one domain: economics.

Don’t get me wrong. Education prepares many to graduate into productive and lucrative jobs. A healthy income may fulfill basic needs – even provide considerable pleasure (like gourmet food, lavish furnishings, purchase power) – but income generation alone neglects a huge part of what it means to be human.

Lisa finding flow on the Colorado River.

Lisa finding flow on the Colorado River.

What can moneymaking neglect? According to psychologists, two other parts of life are often overlooked: engagement and meaning. Engagement is about using your unique talents to accomplish tasks or overcome challenges, like navigating a tricky jeep route or playing your favorite sport. Getting lost in this experience is called “flow,” which creates happiness and gratification.

A meaningful life is one connected to a greater movement, something like our community, school district, a club, or church. Joining something bigger than ourselves allows happiness to transcend the limits of one, especially when we use our unique talents to help others.

IMG_4431Some realize too late that money isn’t enough, that they’ve devoted too much of their precious time to getting ahead. They want to go back for a favorite hobby with a friend, quality time with their spouse, laughing with their kids, helping at the food bank, meeting new people. As individuals living in a wealthy nation, most of us have opportunities to enrich and balance our lives not only with wealth but with engagement and meaning too.

944287_10151675750293035_253895901_nAlready we’re a step ahead; we live in Moab, flow capital of the United States, where vacationers seek to make memories. I, for one, expect I could earn more money elsewhere. I could save more for retirement. I could live in a bigger house. However, you and I know intuitively that more and bigger isn’t necessarily better. That’s why we choose to be here and leave the opulence to others.

For we are rich in other ways.

IMG_4407We are rich in vistas. In rivers and trails and red rock towers. We live here for the public lands and silent spaces, for likeminded people. Tucked into this desert canyon, we are part of a community fueled by adventure and grounded in an understanding only recently described by science but known in every human heart, that experience outweighs possessions.

IMG_4230Every day this beautiful place reminds me of a wonderful idea. So do my mountain biking neighbors. And the kind people and businesses of Moab. Even the tourists who seek excitement in our pristine region of cliffs and wild canyons…

It is possible to live without regrets.

 

 

 

(Originally published in the Moab Sun News.)

 

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Food Sensitivity and the ALCAT Test

I suffered dermatitis for more than ten years, forced to treat the symptoms with an ever greater amount of toxic chemicals. Determined to find the root cause, I visited my doctor yet again. He said, “Just keep using the medication. It works, right?” A more enlightened or at least more thorough doctor recommended the ALCAT Test, a food sensitivity inventory. This test is an objective analysis of immune response when exposed to a panel of pure food materials.

ALCAT literature says, “The ‘wrong’ food, although ‘healthful’ for most people, will induce inflammation. The immune system aims to damage the food, which it mistakes as a harmful invader, such as bacteria, parasites, or virus, but also ends up damaging our own body.”

Food intolerance has been linked with many conditions, from migraine headaches to asthma to arthritis.

My new doc sent in a sample of my blood. Three weeks later, a two-part personalized report arrived (at great expense). According to their booklet, “The ALCAT Test diagnostic system is designed to electronically measure changes in cell size and volume when your blood is incubated with the test substances. These measurements are plotted on a graph and compared to a ‘Master Graph.’ The Master Graph is a chart plotted from the measurements obtained when a sample of your blood is treated identically but without being exposed to the test substances.”

Basically, when immune cells respond slightly to a food, that food is grouped in the Mild Intolerance or yellow category. More powerful responses fall into Moderate (orange) and Severe (red) categories. Foods that produce no response are considered Acceptable Foods. (It’s worth noting that this is NOT an allergy test.)

Rewind two months. My wife had sent her blood for an ALCAT test. Her report came back, indicating two foods in the severe intolerance category, one of them eaten regularly and never suspected in our hunt for a culprit: celery! She cut celery from her diet and enjoyed a full and almost immediate recovery from allergy-like symptoms.

Excellent. With ALCAT’s reliability confirmed, we gritted our teeth and shelled out another $650 (what are credit cards for?) to have my blood sent in for evaluation.

The results were startling. My unacceptable food list was a lot longer. And I ate many of these foods almost daily.

Severe Intolerance (red): Acorn squash, asparagus, cashew, egg yolk, lamb, lentil bean, mushroom, peach, pear, raspberry, shrimp, strawberry, tuna.

Moderate Intolerance (orange): Baker’s yeast, bay leaf, beef, bell peppers, black-eyed peas, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, carrot, corn, cow’s milk, fig, garlic, jalapeno pepper, kelp, kidney bean, mackerel, okra, peanut, pistachio, pork, salmon, sunflower, tilapia, wheat.

Mild Intolerance (yellow): Apple, apricot, beet, black pepper, black and green tea, buckwheat, caraway, cardamom, catfish, cauliflower, celery, chamomile, chick pea, chicken liver, cinnamon, coconut, cottonseed, cranberry, cumin, dill, endive, fava bean, fennel seed, fructose (high fructose corn syrup), grape, green pea, halibut, honeydew, kale, kiwi, lobster, mussel, oregano, papaya, portobello mushroom, pumpkin, safflower, sardine, sole, soybean, squid, sweet potato, tomato, turkey, turnip, veal, walnut, white potato, wild rice, gluten (barley, malt, rye, spelt, oat).

Part one of my ALCAT test result.

Wow.

This report hit me hard. I eat many of these foods. You probably eat many of these foods. Imagine your diet without them. What’s left? Thankfully there was some good news. My Acceptable Food (green) list is pretty long, and they sent along a four-day rotation diet chart:

Part two.

My doctor said no more eating out because these are too many ingredients to control for. He said no red foods for at least six months. No orange foods for three to six months. Yellow foods should be avoided, but if impossible to eliminate, work them into my diet on a four-day rotation.

I hope to resume eating some of these foods eventually. The ALCAT literature says, “It is believed that once an offending food is removed from the diet, the body becomes hypersensitive to that food for about twelve weeks… After the twelve weeks, the hypersensitivity is thought to decline.” Severe intolerances may never go away.

Looking Ahead

I need to make some big changes. But I have a valuable goal in mind: heal my body’s chronic inflammatory response that’s been plaguing me for years, and maybe in the process, add some years to my life. I’ve started the new diet today, May 13, 2012. I will update my health status in the comments section below over the next half year to demonstrate whether this whole strategy is worthwhile.

In the meantime, consider this statistic: “Food sensitivities or intolerances affect over 80% of the population.” Check out some of the testimonials below and on ALCAT’s website. Ask yourself if the cause of a chronic health issue might be the raspberries on your cereal or the tuna on your sandwhich.

Cause for Hope? Testimonials:

“This program has positively changed my family’s life forever…”

“I started the eliminating the sensitive foods and eating only the good ones. Two days later my acid reflux was gone. The swelling and bloating of my stomach had disappeared…”

“It has changed my life…”

“I’ve seen very good results with the ALCAT Test and often recommend it to the athletes I work with.”  –Joe Rogowski, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Orlando Magic

“I wanted you to know the changes that a couple of my patients had in their lives after following the ALCAT guidelines. One patient, an 11 year old boy with autism also suffered from a body rash that never went away…it went away after a week of following the diet guidelines. Another patient a 35 year old woman with frequent (20 x/day) urination and urinary incontinence resolved completely after 4 weeks on the dietary program changes…this after three other doctors…multiple meds and multiple cystoscopies.”  –Dr. Blyweiss from Florida

“I am 6-weeks into the elimination and rotation and the results have been nothing short of a miracle! I have lost 13 pounds, my skin is clearing up, I sleep well, digest well, feel strong and have a lot of energy. I realize now that I have had food intolerances all of my adult life – I am only sorry that it has taken this many years to finally get to the cause of my health problems.  If I had only known that good health was really so simple to achieve.  Thank you, ALCAT!”