The recent untimely death at age 58 of Dr. Henry Lodge, who achieved a cult following and built an author’s franchise with his 2004 book, “Younger Next Year” (Workman), struck a personal note and also inspired some refreshing of the syllabus for my graduate-level course for business and law students, “Risk Management and Decision-Making.”
My own copy had arrived as a gift from a proselytizing colleague. Lodge’s core message was light-heartedly simple, and resonated with a sizable sub-group of the vast cohort of baby boomers – namely, those seeking not to age into overweight, sedentary and unhealthy decline -- that is:
- Shift from eating the junk food that you know is crap, to a readily available diet both tasty and nourishing.
- Get a lot more exercise, of whatever kind you can.
- Have a source of engagement and commitment to someone or something important in your life, rather than withdraw into reclusive and self-destructive isolation.
Lodge was cut down by a deadly prostate cancer, before he could live to fulfill his proposition – that while the length of that “last one-third” of a full lifespan is never assured, because subject to fatal events that are both unpredictable and unpreventable – notably random fatal illnesses and accidents – the opportunity to extend and enhance the quality of an active life, right up to the end, is within the influence of disciplined and deliberate choice-making.
Fans of Lodge with sufficient remaining long-term memory may find his cancer to reprise the massive heart attack that in 1984 felled James Fixx at the age of 52. Best known for “The Complete Book of Running” (Random House, 1977), Fixx was influential in the nationwide spread of jogging – having started running himself out of concern for his family history of coronary disease and his father’s early death – also stopping smoking and losing over sixty pounds.
Which said, Fixx’s obituary noted that an autopsy showed that he had two blocked and untreated coronary arteries. So while an examination of the choice-making of Lodge and Fixx in these irony-tinged deaths might impel those more cynical or less motivated to skip their next spinning class altogether in favor of a stop at McDonalds, a careful comparison might criticize the latter’s level of attention to his knowable at-risk condition.
Or as the wisdom attributed to Thomas Jefferson puts it, "I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” In other words, manage what you can. And also realize that you can never manage it all.
As my students explore, the very best of decision-making in contexts of complexity and uncertainty cannot avoid the real possibility of an intensely undesirable outcome. In a world comprehensively illuminated by the scholarship of Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky, going back to 1974 and their seminal essay, “Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases” (Science, New Series, Vol. 185) and rolling forward to the former’s encyclopedic work, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), simple “bad luck” will on occasion overwhelm all care and deliberation.
Which means that those tempted to view Lodge’s premature death as proof of the futility of good choice-making – who would toss aside their jogging shoes in favor of a simultaneous reach for both the television remote and the platter of cheese nachos -- are pursuing sub-optimal strategies with fully predictable negative consequences.
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