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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: August 2004

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Auto-stress
  3. Musings
  4. The Language Doctor is IN

  1. Techniques for balance

    • If you're hit with a tough question and/or draw a blank as if your mind is out to lunch, reply with, "Before I answer, what prompted that question?" or "What's your experience with others whom you've asked?" That should buy enough time to page your brain.
    • I get a kick out of people who brag that they don't own a TV or never turn it on. There are a hundred channels to watch these days and, with any kind of discrimination, a great learning opportunity sits in the living room. Just this week I learned about sharks, the origins of tennis, and Victorian England. (Yes, and I also love "The Sopranos.")
    • The variety of food that is alternatively condemned and praised (e.g., eggs, chicken, meat, apples, milk, etc.) depending on the latest "expertise" is bewildering. However, no one can ever make a case against moderation and exercise.
    • If you don't think face-to-face communication, complete with all of its non-verbal behavior, is critical in influencing others, think about why people who use cell phones are usually screaming into them, far above normal conversational levels (and making irrelevant gestures with their hands!).
    • If you're in business, you need a responsive market, competency, and passion to succeed. If you're not succeeding, don't blame others or the fates. Change your market, change your skills, or change your attitude.
    • Inflexible habit is not healthy, even when engaged in a constructive pursuit. For example, exercising at the same time every day as a priority�despite family needs, personal health, horrible weather, terrible driving conditions, etc.�is not balanced behavior but rather compulsive behavior.
    • The benefit of black: Black clothing is always in style, tends to be slimming, doesn't require tough choices on matching colors, and is appropriate for most occasions.
    • A flag lowered out of respect is at "half-staff" on land, but "half-mast" at sea. I thought you'd like to know that.
    • If you're worried about savings (or lack thereof), "tithe to yourself." Put 10% of all income (whether salary, bonus, refunds, loan repayments, etc.) into an investment account. Learn to live on the other 90% and, over the years, you'll be fine.
    • At the turn of the 20th Century, average lifespan was somewhere in the 40s. Today, it's in the 70s. Think of how much more time you've been granted to contribute to, and enjoy life. Are you making use of it?

  2. The Human Condition: Goonsmanship

    My car has a lot of "automatic" features. It checks its own tire pressure, tells me the seatbelt isn't fastened, lets me know a door is ajar, even informs me when service is due. Some of these attributes can be annoying (stop telling me to take the key with me when I leave, I'm not stupid) but none are self-destructive (the car does not burn out its battery out of irritation if I park too far from the curb).

    Many people I meet, however, have more negative automatic features than positive ones. They are self-destructive. One of the most prevalent is auto-stress.

    A woman in Australia ordered a product from me and specifically requested it be sent via Fedex. This isn't an option you can mistakenly check. You must write it in under "comments" to ensure it's what is requested. The Fedex charge, which I pass along at the actual rate assessed me, was $50, not surprising to go overnight, halfway around the world.

    Two weeks later, when her credit card bill appeared, she wrote me a rude and outraged letter, telling me a mistake had been made since I'd clearly overcharged her for the product, and she expected immediate restitution. I replied to the email with her original order, pointing out the Fedex request.

    She then became even more enraged that I was so disrespectful I would try to make her look foolish! I was so totally astounded that I then offered to return the price of the product AND let her keep it, but the Fedex charge was hers. Her response? She said she had never encountered such disrespectful service!

    If she had written and told me that perhaps she made an error, and maybe I could clarify something, I would certainly have reacted even better than I did, and perhaps worked out even a better solution for her. But her automatic system indicated that she had been cheated, she couldn't be wrong, it was a personal affront, well, you name it. And her stress level just continued to build, further clouding her judgment.

    I've watched "auto-stress systems" debilitate people who feel they've been given an inferior restaurant table, have been forced to wait too long in a supermarket line, and have brought home a product with a piece missing. These are never deliberate affronts and the best solution is almost always to influence positively someone who can help you (as at the airport lost luggage counter, "What can I do to help you find my lost bag?" rather than, "You criminally incompetent clods!!").

    The world has sufficient legitimate stress for us to contend with . Do we really need an involuntary mode that creates more at every minor obstacle and otherwise negotiable hurdle?

    I found out how to disable that annoying "take your key" command. Perhaps we all need to disable all that auto-stress.

  3. Musings

    I'm not all that sapient about the time/space continuum and black holes (I freely admit to having actually read Stephen Hawking's book and also to not having understood any of it), but I do know that, here on Earth, if you keep moving away from your opponent's position eventually you'll occupy the same spot that your opponent does.

    The Earth is round, and passionate positions are often circular.

    My latest case in point, no matter what your politics: Michael Moore's polemic, "Fahrenheit 911," is remarkably similar in intent and structure to the very politicians he assails. His combination of fact, fiction, "spin," mockery, and forced juxtaposition are almost identical to, for example, Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary, whom he bitterly opposes. Both men attempt to propagandize rather than truly inform and, therefore, ironically occupy very similar geography in terms of tactics, trustworthiness, and tenor.

    Vitriolic opponents are seldom antipodal. They often are co-tenants on highly similar turf. It is said there is a very thin line between love and hate, with identically perfervid passions employed on either side. That explains why we frequently see great love affairs end in acrimonious divorce; and converts, moving from one position to the opposing one with equal fervor, such as people who change their diet, or end an addiction, or switch political parties, or even change religions. (One wag observed, "There is no zealot quite like the converted.")

    The best way to overcome opposition is to try to understand it. That doesn't lessen one's antipathy or determination, but it does create more rational responses and intelligent deployment of resources. It's tough to maintain life balance when your energy is usurped by irrational sentiments of revenge or reprisal. And I'm not talking world affairs here, but rather mundane interactions.

    I've watched union members spend a lifetime hating management members whom they don't even know, and management despising unions which they don't attempt to understand. Many government agencies, in particular, treat customers as the enemy, and customers are only all to happy to reciprocate. (Ask yourself whether the tactics of the IRS actually create tax compliance or tax avoidance.) I have observed and participated in (and so have you) intense arguments over incidents so inane and banal that, in the aftermath, you wonder what demon was moving your mouth.

    The more determinedly we try to distance ourselves from our opponents, the shorter the vitriolic distance between us and the more we become just like them. How uncomfortable is that? Let's apply Kant's categorical imperative: "What would happen if everyone acted that way?"

    What would happen is that we'd have a world devoid of reason and lacking communication, full of stress, based on half-truths, spin, and volume. We'd have Paul Wolfowitz and Michael Moore representing philosophical positions instead of merely being amazingly identical propagandists.

  4. The Language Doctor is IN

    • In a comparison, it's "�than I," not "�than me." "He's smarter than I" is correct because the comparison is nominative to nominative ("he" and "I"). If you're ever in doubt, finish the sentence: "He is smarter than I am smart" makes sense, but "He is smarter than me is smart" makes no sense (or proves that you really aren't that smart).
    • Something is "different from" not "different than." This is a classic error, even in commercially-published work. "The treatment was different from what I had been expecting" is the correct form. However, it is correct to say, "He treated me differently than I would have expected." "Different" is an adjective generating a comparison; "differently" is an adverb referring to degree.
    • To "appraise" is to provide an evaluation or ranking, as in appraising jewelry or investments. To "apprise" is to update or inform, as in, "Keep me apprised of your progress." They are never synonyms.
    • "Gantlet" and "gauntlet" are now used interchangeably (when they are used at all). But, historically, one ran a gantlet, which was a row between people meting out punishment, and threw down a gauntlet, which was a large glove often worn with uniforms. (Throwing down the gauntlet was the equivalent of daring someone or challenging them, usually to a dual.)