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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 136: December 2010)

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Holiday Techniques for Balance

  • People use the holidays as an excuse to escape regimens: work, diet, organization, workouts, and so on. You can allow yourself some leeway but still continue with your regimens so that you don’t feel so terrible afterwards when you’ve set yourself back several months.

  • Hire help to prepare and clean up. The holidays shouldn’t be a marathon of work and obligation. The hosts should have as much fun as the guests. (Yes, there are people who work on holidays and who are grateful for the work.)

  • Think about buying gifts only for your immediate family and substituting contributions to charity for gifts to extended family. (We all felt it was getting silly trying to buy 25 gifts that were meaningful for people, and inadvertently competitive.)

  • Don’t forget those people for whom holiday tips are crucial, for example, newspaper delivery people whom you probably can’t tip on a weekly basis.

  • Electronic novelty “cards” are cute, but a traditional card with a handwritten note captures the sentiment a tad better. They aren’t mutually-exclusive.

  • You don’t have to “believe” in anything other than good will to others to have a happy and renewing time during the holidays.

  • New Year’s Resolutions are simply silly. If you want to change, then start today. By New Year’s you’ll have a head start.

  • Any time is a good time, but during the holidays it seems especially appropriate to give to charity, volunteer your time, and/or reach out to someone in need.

  • Are you happier today than you were a year ago? If not, why not? If so, how can you perpetuate and improve your situation?

  • What gift do you intend to give yourself? (See my suggestion at the end of the newsletter.)

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It’s fashionable these days to cite the collective responsibility of communities. There is a normative pressure to conserve, recycle, contribute, preserve, and so forth. And that’s all for the good.

But I don’t think it’s a replacement by any means for individual accountability. When I think of the phrase “it takes a village,” I’m prompted to say, “First it takes a parent.”

We’ve seen too many instances of bullying (or even pipe bombs hidden under the bed) that parents simply were ignorant of, and that no community can properly prevent or cure, because the parents weren’t involved in the children’s lives.

In a world of insular social media outlets, fantasy video games, constant texting, and permanently embedded ear buds, it’s easy to give up and maintain that everyone is creating their own world, which while superficially diverse, is actually quite limiting.

But high tech/high touch prevails. We need the “touch” more than ever, and I can’t imagine that as a community function. Nor is this solely a phenomenon about the young. All of us can feel isolated and detached: business suffers from unexpected obstacles; banks suddenly refuse credit where it once flowed; the media are unremitting in reporting bad news; six items we own are recalled; among asbestos, lead paint, and dry wall made in China, surely some of it has to be lodged in our house!

We need people who will touch us, and whom we can touch, and who are a part of our lives. Communities can do a lot, but not everything. The acclaimed Alcoholics Anonymous meetings encourage open admission and discussion in front of others, but there is an individual sponsor to whom one reaches out in times of trouble or doubt. In a church of 2,500 parishioners, there is only one priest in the confessional. Our “best friend” is usually one who is the most honest with us, because of reciprocal trust.

The more we become a “global village,” the more we need a person next door; the more we call for “community action,” the more we need someone to hold us accountable; the more options for broadcasting our opinions we have, the more we need a special person to listen.

Whom are you helping? Who’s helping you? Communities—villages—start with individuals.

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The human condition: Nastiness

Many years ago I arrived in a city early for a speech, and proceeded to the hotel my client had booked for me. It was 11 am, and the clerk rudely told me that not only were there no rooms available so early, but that I didn’t have any chance prior to 4 pm. I called another hotel, found they could get me in immediately, and went there, since I could clean up after a long journey and be fresh for my speech.

When I called the first hotel to cancel the room altogether, the same rude woman answered the phone. I asked for the hotel manager. When I explained what had happened, he said, incredulously, “We have rooms available, we’re only at 65 percent capacity! Can I get you to return?”

“Not while that woman is working for you,” I said, and wished him luck.

That woman was just nasty, getting her kicks by causing misery to someone else. I’ve seen this with judges, immigration officials, restaurant maitres d’, and “barristas.” There’s a difference among making a mistake, not being competent, and being nasty. I believe that the last condition is the worst.

Some people are nasty because they’re miserable themselves—they failed at something, had a rough break, were disappointed. Others are nasty because they are basically disempowered and are trying to create artificial power to buoy themselves up. Still others are showing off, trying to impress colleagues.

I admit having a hard time dealing with utter nastiness, because it’s infuriating. There’s simply no reason to treat people that way, no matter what your position, no matter how bad a day you’ve had.

However, there is one thing we can do about it: Never resort to nastiness ourselves. Helping others and doing your best might just turn that lousy day around for you. Walk away from nastiness. Let others be miserable by themselves.



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We arrived at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey pool at about 10 to find it almost totally unoccupied. I was wondering which lounges would be best to maximize our time in the sun.

I asked a passing pool attendant what he thought.

“Well,” he said looking up as if it were the first time he had considered the question, “I’d guess east-to-west would be over there, so any seats over here would be very good for most of the day.”

I thanked him as he went on his way—past the cabanas, down the walk, through the main door, into the hotel and, no doubt, to his own guest room.

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