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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 138: February 2011)

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Techniques for balance

  • Create contingent actions. If you’re planning to fly on the 15th, what will you do if the plane is canceled or there’s a huge storm? Don’t wait until then to try to find an alternative.

  • Listen to people who have similar needs to your own for advice. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with a computer that can control the Hubble Telescope when all you need is something to keep a data base on.

  • If you don’t believe you have the time to pet the dog, observe the sunset, or sniff a flower, then you’re life is probably not within your control.

  • There is no such thing as “writer’s block.” Sit down and write the words you’d use if you were having a conversation with the other person or audience. You’ll find what you’ve written is far better than you would have imagined.

  • Euphemisms kills us. “Improving communications” isn’t useful, since shouting, yelling, and battering are forms of communication. Be specific: “I have to create better understanding of how my colleagues should be responding to this complaint.”

  • If you have your choice of seating on a plane or train, you might want to find out where the sun will be for most of the trip and avoid that side, or where the best scenery will be and choose that side.

  • You can always find somebody to shovel the walk, plant some trees, organize your closet, or wash the windows. Don’t simply accept “necessary evils,” and never under-valuate your own time.

  • Use iTunes to make your own, personal “mix” so that you have it in the car or on your iPhone when you need some cheering up. (Therefore, I would not suggest Wagner!)

  • Outstanding, current musicals, whether on Broadway or road companies: Jersey Boys, Memphis, In the Heights, Million Dollar Quartet.

  • Say “no” quickly and politely: “Sorry, we never accept phone solicitations since it’s impossible to know to whom we’re speaking. Good bye.”



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I was working on a book in my den a couple of weeks ago, needed some inspiration, and gazed out the window at the rear of the property covered with snow. There, standing out like an emblem on currency, was “our” eagle, landed, with prey. I picked up the binoculars I keep on my credenza for moments such as this, and saw that the bird had captured a squirrel. By the time I put the binoculars back, the eagle had flown away with dinner.

One might conclude that this was the eagle’s floruit, but it was merely its routine. He has to eat, perhaps feed the family (though I think he’s an adolescent), and if he doesn’t regularly find food he will die. The squirrel, as well, was out and about as were a dozen of its colleagues, eating at our bird feeders, finding things in the snow, and fending for themselves, as they do every day. The eagle and my German Shepherd are two huge risks with which they must deal on a daily basis.

Neither eagle nor squirrel blames (so far as I can discern) the environment, the government, technology, global warming, the economy, their families, or competitors. They arise each day with the understanding that they must eat and protect themselves. There is no option, no alternative, no “safety net.”

We are, I’m told, sentient creatures. We are self-aware. As responsible and ethical people we do provide for others, do help out, do create some safety nets. Yet we also treasure the independent person who doesn’t choose to make excuses but rather accepts accountability and responsibility.

I don’t try to battle the squirrels raiding the bird feeders, and the birds seem to put up with them quite well, either co-existing on adjoining feeders or eating off the ground the squirrels’ spillage. I don’t begrudge the eagle doing what he has to do to feed himself. I do get upset with people who feel they are so “special” that they don’t have to accept personal responsibility.

At church, not long ago, a woman who consistently parks illegally and dangerously in a fire lane arrived at the same time I did. It told her that she shouldn’t park there, that it caused problems for everyone trying to get around her, and that she could block a fire engine.

“I park here,” she admonished me, “because I’m a senior citizen and deserve to park where I want.” She was in her mid-sixties.

“Look around,” I pointed to the very early arrivals, stalwarts of the parish, “everyone here is a senior citizen!”

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The human condition: NIMBY

The acronym stands for Not In My Backyard, meaning that some interventions are greatly supported until they appear in one’s own proximity. You can take your pick: wind turbines, political posters, anti-noise ordinances, even church bells.

I’ve noticed that the phenomenon also extends to personal privilege in an inverted ratio: Call it OIMBY: Only In My Back Yard.

I was at a social event where a woman and her husband were bemoaning the lack of government action to create jobs and the burdensome income taxes they had to pay. Not long after, she “confidentially” mentioned that she was collecting unemployment benefits while working “off the books” in a local beauty salon.

It’s sort of like George Carlin’s observation: The guy driving too slowly in front of you is a dimwit, and the buy speeding by you is a reckless moron.

At one point I was facilitating a private school “town meeting” among faculty, administration, and parents. Tuition was being raised, and there was a hew and cry, of course. One woman actually said out loud, when I recognized her, “My first two children went here on scholarship, and now I don’t know if our third can attend even at that rate!” I found out later that this hubris wasn’t fully plumbed—her husband didn’t work at all, by his own choice.

The postal service in East Greenwich, RI issues stern orders that, if your sidewalk and path to the mail box are not shoveled during snow storms, no mail will be delivered. (Whatever happened to “sleet, snow, and gloom of night”?) Well, guess whose sidewalks are never shoveled and whose parking lot is plowed the poorest of any in the neighborhood? You don’t have to buy a stamp to make your guess.

The people who complain the most about others cutting a line are usually those who would jump at the chance. Their real anger is that someone other than they got away with it. One of the merchants on our main street who is among the most vocal bemoaning insufficient public parking actually took up three spaces in the corner lot by parking his pickup truck horizontally across vertical lines.

Not long ago I heard a noise and, trekking through the woods, found the guy behind my house pumping out his small pond to put in new landscaping. This is strictly forbidden in wetlands. I told him he had to stop since he had lowered the water level in my much larger pond, which feeds his, by a couple of inches.

“Impossible,” he suggested.

“Perhaps,” I said, “but let’s call the the Department of Environmental Protection and have them come over and take a look. I’m happy to have them in my back yard.”

The pumping stopped.

OIMBY. Or, for short, OY.



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October 19-21, 2011
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All meals and luxury lodging included. DAVID MAISTER is my special guest speaker this year. He is the pre-eminent thought leader on small business development and growth. (I have only 8 seats remaining, we are half-filled already.)


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I was sitting on the beach at Cape May, New Jersey, watching the sea gulls trying to figure out who the most likely mark was from whom they could steal food. They have an amazing ability to hover, and they are incredibly maneuverable.

As I watched them grab some chip here and a piece of fruit there among people alternately hysterical and furious, I happily chomped away on my lunch, a huge hoagie (aka: submarine, grinder, hero sandwich, depending on your place of origin). A shadow over my left shoulder indicated that my wife had returned with some drinks.

I suddenly felt a tug and, with the end of the sandwich in my mouth, looked left into the shadow and the beady, demonic, crazed eyes of a seagull as big as a chicken who had grabbed the other end of my lunch in a scissor-like beak. We both tugged, with him frantically flapping as though backpedaling in mid-air. He made off with a tomato and a piece of meat, a squadron of his colleagues in hot pursuit.

The rest of my sandwich was all over my lap. My wife did arrive at that point, looked down, and said, “Now what?”

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