Coaching as a Teachery Activity

A few years ago I was talking to Jonathon Sullivan, a former ER doctor who gave up his practice to start a gym. It was a daring and ultimately fulfilling move for him. I remember him saying to me, “It’s the most doctory thing I’ve ever done.” He had been frustrated for years that he could only see patients at the end of a long pattern of destructive behavior. If he could have gotten them into the gym, he could have kept them out of the hospital. The calling of a doctor is to heal, and he finds the gym to be a very good way to do what doctors are supposed to do.

I responded to his comment: “Coaching is the most teachery thing I’ve ever done.” I taught philosophy for more than twenty years in universities. There were times when it was very rewarding. I still remember one of my first classes, how excited the students were to talk about ideas. It was thrilling. But, for the most part, as the years went by the rewarding experiences became fewer. I don’t blame the students, but something happened to make them reticent, less likely to say what they really thought. Often they would spend the class on their phones.

I remember one incident during a metaphysics class. A student was thinking himself into the opinion that the universe actually did have structure and order, and that some things were better than others. He was discovering a hierarchy of being. I was not teaching him this; he was discovering it as a consequence of his own thinking. But just as he was about to reach a real conclusion, he stopped.

“Why did you stop?”

“I wouldn’t want to be incorrect.

By “incorrect”, he meant that he didn’t want to say something that would offend others. Perhaps this is the reason why the students got so quiet over the twenty years. It’s either that or the cell phones.

Me coaching/teaching online clients

Fortunately by that time I had stumbled on coaching as a profession. Standing in front of 30 non-responsive college students, I never knew if I was doing any good. I could teach you to squat, though. Give me a few hours and I can teach you the basic barbell lifts. If you let me coach you, I can take you from never having deadlifted to pulling 500 lbs. I’ve done it, and it’s great fun. I get to see concretely how much good I’ve done. Perhaps it’s better to say that I can see how much good the clients do for themselves with my help. As a teacher, towards the end I was never sure if I was doing any good. As a coach, I could measure it.

This is why coaching is the most teachery thing I’ve ever done.

If you would like coaching from me or my colleagues, you can either find me in person at Chicago Strength and Conditioning or sign up for online coaching with Barbell Logic. I’d be happy to work with you.

Suffer what they must

For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretenses–either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us–and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Spartans, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Thucydides 5.89

At Online Great Books, one of the highlights of our program is The History of the Peloponnesian War. It’s not a fun book, but it’s a great book. We had originally intended only to read part of the work, but our first seminar group insisted that we read the whole thing. They were right. It’s the best book of political science that there is. Thucydides also gives you necessary context to understand Socrates. He wasn’t just an annoying person hanging around Athens in her golden age, tormenting people in the town square. Rather, he was an annoying person tormenting people who were busily leading their city in a destructive war with Sparta. Socrates himself served in this war, as did Thucydides.

The above quote is from the Melian Dialogue, where the citizens of Melos attempt to argue that Athens should not conquer them. The quote in bold is what most people focus on. It’s a naked declaration of might makes right. You’ll find Thrasymachus repeating it in Plato’s Republic. The strong do what they want. In fact, says Thrasymachus, justice is only the will of the stronger. I believe Thrasymachus is wrong, but it takes a lot of argument to determine how he is wrong. If you’d like to know more, read Plato.

There is a more interesting part of the quote. Before the dialogue starts, Melos and Athens agree to meet privately, away from the people, so that they may tell the truth. The “specious pretenses” that the Athenian mentions are lies that they would have told each other in a conventional political encounter. Most of these would have been for the sake of the people, who are, presumably, dumb enough to believe them. The leaders speak plainly when the People are not around.

In this sample of political interaction from 2500 years ago, we see what may be the model for all such interaction. Speeches are largely false, intended for an audience that cannot determine the truth. The real motives for action are hidden, and are only uttered between equals in private.


I was recently banned from a popular image sharing website. I have no idea why. I kept myself purposely very inoffensive. All I did was share lifting videos, post pictures of food and drink, and publish quotes from great books.

When you use social media, you need to realize that you are not the customer. You are the product. I purchased last year in case this happened. Now that it has, it’s time to use my website.

I plan to post pretty regularly. If you like what I do, stick around! Perhaps you can tell a friend.