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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: January 2000

Welcome to the fifth edition of Balancing Act, and to a new Millennium. May your hopes and dreams be fulfilled. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of happiness, so long as we are as accountable for creating it as we are intent on consuming it.

- Alan Weiss

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The human condition
  3. Musings
  4. Quandaries answered and asked

  1. Techniques for balance
    • Make a contribution to an animal shelter, pound, or animal rescue league. There are dedicated, unselfish, sacrificing people trying to do humane work, and even a $10 donation goes a long way toward food and boarding. Do the right thing.

    • Tell your spouse, partner, significant other, and/or lover (political correctness is exhausting, isn't it?) that you've set aside an entire day just for them. Provide for their most sybaritic, educational, or fantastic day. (If you make this offer with a reciprocal date in mind, it sort of loses the effect, you know?)

    • Trace your family tree as specifically as possible while the elders are still with you, as a gift to the young. You really can't appreciate where you are unless and until you know where you've been.

    • The next time you're REALLY ANGRY, remember that virtually all such rage is actually self-anger being transferred elsewhere. Take the time to find out why you're so unhappy with yourself.

    • Attend a sports event in person and root like a crazy person. Don't worry about winning, just have a wild time. When I was an undergraduate, our "fight song" was, "Nobody ever dies for dear old Rutgers."

    • If you have kids, next time you need advice about something, ask them for their advice, and see what happens. You'll establish a great respect for their opinions, and you might just learn something.

    • Joseph Heller recently died, and "Catch 22" remains one of the great anti-war books of all time. If you've never read it, now's a good time.

    • Listen very closely to the words of our modern troubadour, Billy Joel, on "Shades of Grey," a song on his "River of Dreams" CD. Tom Stoppard wrote once that "Age is such a high price to pay for maturity." "Shades of Grey" is a lyric reminder of the sagacity of simply living long enough.

    • Get an hour-long massage, and make it a weekly treat.

    • If your head tells you one thing and your gut tells you another, go with your gut. Analytic and cerebral processes can objectively tell you a great deal, but emotion, not logic, is at the root of effective action. If you don't feel it, don't do it. find the best in others, to give one's self, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--this is to have succeeded. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

  2. The Human Condition: victimization

    The worst form of self-oppression I've ever seen is that of deliberately conforming to the role of victim. I belong to a group called Mensa which, ostensibly, comprises the top 2% of people who take standardized IQ tests and related instruments. The problem is that the organization is chock full of people who claim that their intelligence "gifts" are responsible for their LACK of success, since others - and most emphatically, bosses - can't possibly grok their brilliance, thereby discriminating against them. The organization is also full of every Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, UFO, field circles, ESP, spoon bending cultist in existence.

    As you might imagine, I'm a columnist and I stay in the outfit just to give them all a hard time. Somebody's got to do it.

    No one is unsuccessful because of their "gifts," intellectual or otherwise. Similarly, no one is unsuccessful because someone else cheated them out of a job promotion, undermined a bid for office, or used "politics" to thwart an initiative. Life is too long and too complex for such short-term, simplistic causes. Have you ever noticed that there are the chronically victimized, who can readily attribute everything to the government, the boss, the organization, false friends, lousy relations, and "them"?

    We've become a world of victims and whiners. Too many people seek not just an equal starting point but also a guaranteed equal finish. People want to sit in first class seats without paying for them; they want to have the material advantages of others without earning them; they seek prominent position without having to bother with education; and those who do bother with education seem to feel that a top grade is their right, not their responsibility.

    We make decisions every morning. We decide our own fate. There are occasional intrusions of others which we can't control, whether the government closing a highway or our employer changing our jobs, but so what? We can take another road, whether on the way to the airport or on the way to a new career.

    Avoid the victimization mentality, because it is toxically disempowering. Once you're convinced that your lack of success, frustration, poor showing, or general malaise (to quote Jimmy Carter, who was a victim when President but ceased being a victim when he left office) is caused by external forces beyond your control and influence, you have essentially forfeited your life.

    In our elementary and secondary school systems, the teachers, students, administrators, and parents all see themselves as victims of each other or of "the system." Small wonder that education is failing dismally at those levels. No one has the belief that they can change anything because of "them."

    There is no "them." You are "they." Members of Mensa desperately cling to the illusion that they're being victimized so that they don't have to face the chilling fact that they haven't applied, pragmatically, whatever those IQ tests actually measure (if anything at all).

    All of us stand readily against oppression. Why, then, oppress ourselves? Whatever you're unhappy about, begin to change tomorrow. Or stop complaining.

  3. Musings

    Recently, I had to take a serious ethical matter to the presidents of three different professional associations. My evidence was unequivocal, clear, and not subject to interpretations. In fact, a subsequent legal settlement was 100% in my favor without exception. My intent in going to the three presidents of the local chapters of these associations was to resolve the issue quietly, without undue humiliation or exposure for the individual involved.

    Their respective reactions are perhaps worthy of a book in and of themselves, but I'll confine myself to a few hundred words so that we all might learn something here.

    The first president said that the problem was clearly terrible, and said that he would talk to the member immediately, suggesting that he resign from his positions and leave the organization, then seek an accommodation with me. He accomplished this within 48 hours, and the individual responded well to it, grateful for the consideration and obvious attempt to be constructive. The president informed his board, which approved of the action wholeheartedly.

    The second president saw the matter as an intrusion and interference in her own plans and, when pressured, asked the individual to leave his official position but encouraged him to remain in the association. She was forced to tell her own board when others raised the issue, but then refused to discuss it or to share the evidence with the board members. She viewed the episode as an attack on her own power, and attempted to squelch discussion. As a result, several board members successfully encouraged the offender to leave, and the board is disenchanted with its own leadership. She will never be effective as a leader with this board again.

    The third president stated that this was a debate between two individuals which he was not going to get involved in. Since he was technically a past president, he saw no duty to the chapter, no higher moral calling, and no need to even respond (he called only when I pursued him). His statement was that this didn't involve him, he didn't want to become involved, and there were no chapter interests to be protected, not that he would take that role, anyway.

    Life is too short to stand around defending our turf or looking the other way. There are some things that are right and wrong (the ethicists call such positions "deontological"; for example, it's wrong to conduct medical experiments on healthy human beings). There are times when popularity, comfortable isolation, love of power, and personal goals have to take a back seat to simply doing the right thing.

    We actually sanction our own environment. By that I mean that the degree that we are vigilant or delinquent in enforcing civility, proper behavior, and ethical conduct will indubitably rebound to strike ourselves. Remember that famous lament, "...and then they came for me." There comes a time to simply do the right thing.

    That time comes more frequently than we think.

  4. Quandaries answered and asked

    From last month: Someone else has taken credit for the work that you put in to make a charity fund-raiser effective. The board has thanked them and their name went into the newspaper article. Friends urge you to speak up. What's your plan?

    As they say in the Center of the Universe, fageddaboudit! You volunteered in order to contribute to a salutary end result, and you did. It's not about credit, it's about the goal. However, don't stew about it. The real key is to rejoice AND move on.

    For next time: Your son is 14, and at the dinner table informs you that two of his best friends are taking drugs. He tells you that he would never do drugs himself, and he's a terrific student. He has told you this, having asked you to guarantee that you will keep what he told you a secret, and you agreed before hearing his story. What, if anything, do you do now?