Assholes, potholes, and black holes

holes Here are my suggestions on how to handle three kinds of metaphorical holes.


We’ll begin with assholes. They are people (usually men in my experience) who reliably exhibit mean, uncaring, selfish, disrespectful, and contemptible behaviors. Most of the time, they are pretty easy to spot.

The best way to deal with assholes is to avoid them whenever possible. If you can’t, then don’t confront them; assholes love that. Instead, ignore them. If you have to interact with an asshole, set boundaries on the time you’ll be with them and what you will tolerate. This can be tough, so remember that their assholeness is their problem, not yours.

A couple more points.

First, everyone acts like an asshole sometimes. While waiting to pick up a prescription in a pharmacy the other day, I talked for five minutes to a clearly stressed woman in the line. As the pharmacist filled my order, I heard screaming and turned to see the woman smashing the credit card terminal next to me. Based on our conversation, I’m pretty sure this woman was behaving as a temporary asshole due to circumstances, and I was happy to see staff and customers give her some slack and support.

And second, remember that assholes are not happy people. Though it’s hard to do, if you can feel compassion for an asshole you’re with it will help you deal with their behavior better. And it may (don’t count on it) help them be slightly less asshole-like with you.


holes A large pot hole on Second Avenue in the East Village of New York City, deep enough to contain a traffic pylon and several bags of garbage. As of August 16, 2008, it had been there for around two weeks.
A physical pothole.

Everyone experiences metaphorical potholes—setbacks, disappointments, bumps on the road of life—once in a while. They are always unwelcome and usually unexpected. A pothole is your problem to deal with, but don’t take it personally as it may be nothing you could have done anything about. When you encounter a pothole, try not to get stuck. And be open to asking for help if and when you do.

Remember that you’ll almost always be able to get out of a pothole. As Sufis say, “This too shall pass.”

Sometimes, anticipating a potential upcoming pothole will help you avoid it. The trick is to anticipate potentially serious potholes while not trying to plan for every possible eventuality, which leads to analysis paralysis. (Meeting designers and facilitators like me get plenty of practice at this balancing act.)

Finally, learn from your pothole experiences so you are less likely to fall into the same pothole again. If you do, there’s more learning needed.

Black holes

holes Thankfully, unless faster-than-light travel becomes possible, you’ll never have to interact with a physical black hole. They’re too far away. But metaphorical black holes exist, and they can seriously affect your well-being. They are about unhealthy attraction to other people, whether it’s romantic, physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, platonic, aesthetic, or sensual. These kinds of attraction intersect and overlap, and each of us experiences and prioritizes them to varying degrees. Additionally, attraction can be fluid and can change over time or in different circumstances.

There are, of course, many positive aspects to attraction. It fosters one of our most important needs: connection and intimacy with others. Attraction elicits positive emotions which can contribute to overall well-being and satisfaction. And it can be a powerful motivator, driving us to pursue our goals and aspirations, and increase self-confidence.

Mutual attraction is usually a positive experience. But metaphorical black holes only involve one-way attraction. They attract so strongly there is no escape. You become obsessed and besotted with another person, causing distress and interfering with other areas of life. Such extreme attraction is rarely reciprocated, typically leading to feelings of rejection, sadness, and heartbreak. Black hole attraction may also trigger feelings of jealousy or insecurity and provoke biases or prejudices.

Avoiding black holes

So, like assholes, you should avoid black holes. This is especially challenging because black holes attract no matter how far you’re from them, while assholes are generally only a problem when you’re with them. It’s also often difficult to determine whether the attraction we initially feel is or will become obsessive. As a result, you may not realize you are too close to a black hole before it’s too late.

To avoid being sucked into a metaphorical black hole, you first have to notice you’re in danger. One warning sign is becoming aware that an attraction to someone has become a constant obsession to the extent it’s significantly affecting your other relationships. Romantic obsessions of this kind are called obsessive love disorder.

A mild obsession with someone can often be lessened by choosing to spend more time doing things you like, focusing on other relationships, practicing mindfulness, and meditating regularly. Mental health counseling is recommended when these approaches aren’t working, especially if you notice a pattern in your life of obsessive relationships.

The Law of Holes

Finally, there are other kinds of holes you may find yourself in from time to time, such as foxholes and rabbit holes. Whatever kind of hole you might encounter, the following two Laws of Holes can be useful:

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
—The First Law of Holes

“When you stop digging, you are still in a hole.”
—The Second Law of Holes

I wish you good luck dealing with all the metaphorical holes in your life!

Pothole image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Obsessed with conferences

Hey, meeting planners! Yes, you, you know who you are. Are you obsessed with conferences?

Well…hopefully not to the same extent as George Meyer.obsessed with conferences

Speedboats have been a lifelong diversion. Scotch, a serious problem. Yet no vice bedevils me like my one desperate fixation, my shameful ravening itch: I simply must attend conferences.
George Meyer, My Undoing: Obsessed with conferences, The New Yorker, May 28, 2007

Of course, every good meeting planner is fixated on the details of the events we plan. We consider the minutest aspects of the logistics and every minute of the run of show. We strive to ensure flawless execution, which involves anticipating and planning for everything that might throw a wrench into the proceedings. But we do this because we want the best for our clients, culminating in a successful event. Ultimately, this is a form of love, not obsession.

Back to Meyer, who was clearly ahead of his time, writing in 2007:

“There are times when a man’s soul is so battered, so hopelessly trampled, that the only balm is a teleconference … or two, or three. Where is the shame in this? The French do it.”

For more laughs, check out the entire article for Meyer’s additional confessions about his fixations on seminars, panel discussions, powwows, roundtables, off-sites, and symposia.

So, are meeting planners obsessed with conferences? Yes, but in a good way, out of love for what we do bringing people together to experience something important and, perhaps, wonderful.