Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 172, December 2013 )
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I've had still another great privilege to travel around the world, from New York to Dubai to Beijing, and from Beijing to Hong Kong to Dubai to New York. That's around 20,000 air miles.
My wife and I met women in burkas, American rock group road managers, hotel executives, people scurrying on bicycles, local store owners. We've come to the conclusion that there are, perhaps, 95 percent similarities and only five percent dissimilarities among all people (I've been to 62 countries).
People smile and laugh the same. Their facial expressions are not hard to translate. They love their families. They go about their work and chores. They have moods. They make mistakes. They cherish free time. They hunger for affiliation.
At the same time, we are profoundly grateful for our own accidents of birth. As I write this, my access to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and an array of other sites is blocked by the government. All of the pilots on our long-haul flights with Emirate Airlines have been American. We've observed limited or denied access to common opportunities and services that we take for granted every day.
My iPhone worked as soon as we landed in Beijing. Every sign here is in Chinese and English. The outlets accommodate American electrical connections.
When we return to JFK, we'll go through Global Entry at immigration in a matter of a minute or so. But what must it be like for someone from China or Kenya or Brazil, where the waits are long and it's not likely that someone will speak their language? We passed through Chinese immigration in two minutes, and all the inspectors handling "foreign" visitors spoke English. (A friend from Germany, who speaks better English than I do and also travels the world, tells me that American immigration is often an hours-long process and entirely inappropriate.)
Travel widens your horizons, and shows you the world in color, not merely the media's "black and white." But it also enables you to realize how fortunate you are. We need that perspective. Too often, sitting back with the remote for the 50-inch TV, or deicing which of two cars to use that day, or making an impulse purchase, or relying on excellent public health and sanitation—we don't appreciate what we have.
The human condition: Luxury wanes
I'm writing this in a private cabin in first class on an Emirates Air A380 behemoth, with every creature comfort imaginable, including huge, expansive private shower areas. We have two lounges, private beverages in each personal cabin, our own snack basket refilled, personal stationery, and more electronic doodads than I can describe.
Yet I was momentarily miffed that, at 41,000 feet over the Atlantic, I couldn't obtain an internet connection. (While my computer, iPad, and iPhone are being individually charged in outlets that provide U.S. power.)
It occurred to me that A) I don't have to connect to the internet to write Balancing Act, and B) something is a luxury until you become accustomed to it which, for me, is single use. (A Hollywood starlet in the 1930s, said, "A private railroad car is not an acquired taste, one gets used to it instantly.")
We all remark on luxury and innovation until we use something for its intended purpose, it works and makes our lives better, and we become quite demanding without it. A remote control garage door opener is quite a significant advancement for humankind, especially when utilizing those magic buttons built in to the vehicle. But if you pull up in the rain and the battery is dead, well there's only one thing to do—pick up your cell phone to call inside and have someone open the door for you.
I've called my kids into the room on an intercom to have them fetch the TV remote control, which was out of my immediate reach and beneath the dogs' dignity to pursue. It wasn't my proudest moment, though it was one of my most comfortable.
We've become accustomed to an easy life, one where luxury and wealth are almost commonplace. By that I mean the ability to fly almost anywhere cheaply; to own a decent and safe car; to make phone calls at any moment; to watch a staggering assortment of entertainment at any time; to find information almost instantaneously.
The concept of "luxury" is waning. It's been replaced by ostentation—the 400-foot yacht, 20-carat ring, entourage, trip into the stratosphere. We're not impressed that we can call China in a few seconds while walking down the street, or that we can have a knee replaced and be out of the hospital in a day.
But that's okay. That's life as we now live it. And life shouldn't be an acquired taste. We should get used to it instantly, so long as we continue to appreciate the wonder that is our world.
SIX FIGURES TO SEVEN (627)
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP 2014
My Skype camera wouldn't work on my main computer, and I had an important call with two of my clients in Melbourne. I told them I had a backup plan, I'd simply use my laptop and its built-in camera. They said fine, and called back.
I whipped open the laptop, fired it up, and stared at a completely black screen. I could hear my colleagues speaking, but couldn't see a thing, not even my desktop. Out of sheer frustration, I hit the screen, at which point the black, leather cloth I use to protect the screen from the keyboard fell off the screen, and, behold, I could see again.
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