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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 161, January 2013 )

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Amazingly, I've been doing Balancing Act for over 13 years, and as I look to 2013, I thought I'd share some narrative with you here. Many of you have been with this newsletter since the beginning, and some of you are reading it for the first time.

I'm writing this portion listening to Michael Feinstein sing Gershwin. My wife and I received an autographed book and CD when we saw him just before Christmas at his signature room in the Regency Hotel in New York, which will be closed when you read this due to a year's worth of renovations. I hope he'll surface elsewhere in the interim.

We can all recall music which takes us to a specific instance in our lives, a time machine in a major chord reviving explicit memories. This happens with Feinstein singing the Great American Songbook.

I've also arranged all of our photos to be transferred to digital format, and they appear randomly on my computer and Apple TV. Sometimes my wife will visit my office and become mesmerized, watching 44 years of marriage and family randomly recreated.

The eternal music of the Gershwins from the 30s, and the modern technology of our times. In combination, they create a wonderful, comforting, fulfilling environment. My late uncle used to ask, "What do you do with all those photos? I never see them again!" A good question, pre-technology, and now we have the answer.

My message to you for 2013 is to surround yourself with good feelings, with positive memories, with happy times. We owe that to ourselves, and we're able to do it at leisure with great ease today.

I'm as effective as I am because I'm even better at rejoicing! Playing with the dogs, enjoying a performance, engaging in a rewarding endeavor—these are daily events in my life. I'd urge you to do the same in a world that both advertently and inadvertently tries to make you into something else, attempts to blend you with an amorphous mass, seeks homogeneity, every single day.

Treat yourself to your own history to better appreciate your own present and to best set your own future. "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

All the best to you and yours for the New Year. If you keep reading, I'll keep writing.

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I was at the gym the other day, on the treadmill, waiting for my trainer and trying to convince myself that this entire activity is good for me. My habit is to watch whatever TV program is on and not try to change it, so that I can learn something from other people's choices. Inexplicably, there were only women in the place other than myself, yet the TV was tuned to a vociferous sports talk show called "Mike and Mike."

The two hosts, sometimes with guests, animatedly discuss the most recondite aspects of sports with zeal and passion. At the moment, they were engaged in a whirlwind of debate about Tim Tebow and his prospects.

As I checked to make sure I hadn't inadvertently set the treadmill for too fast a speed, I began to marvel at the passion of the show over relative trivial and banal matters, until I realized that many of the most impassioned arguments I've heard—with the most fact-backed debate on either side—are about sports. And then I began to wonder about something else.

Why don't we debate and scrutinize and examine our kids' education with that kind of energy, frequency, and visibility? What about prostitution, or narcotics, or immigration? What if the same number of radio and television talk shows now engaged in sports commentary tackled poverty, or small business growth, or simplifying the tax code? Instead, these topics are covered by austere "talking heads" on early Sunday morning television or late night radio (or on prime time by demagogues and hucksters with private agendas).

I'd love to hear Mike and Mike talk about the worth of teachers' unions, fair pay and security for teachers, the role of parents, standardized testing, and the fact that we seem to dump our kids in school "factories," the basic rationale of which is about 200 years old. Throw in some callers, some guest commentary, and keep it as factually based as Alex Rodriguez's fielding average or Tom Brady's effectiveness against the Colts.

Sometimes you just have to focus some heat on issues before you can begin to see the light.

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The human condition: Kindness

My observation is that too many of us regard kindness as a distinct and singular act, often involved us going out of our way or sacrificing time, energy, and/or money. Perhaps we need a different perspective.

I try always to hold the door for people, and unfailingly they say, "Thank you." I'll often flash my lights and allow another car to turn in front of me, though sometimes the driver seems suspicious and waits a few seconds. I know that I always appreciate this gesture when done for me, and flash my lights back to thank the other driver.

My tips are always at least 20 percent when I've had good service, and I tip on the entire amount, without deducting the tax or other charges. Money isn't always necessary for kindness, sometimes a kind word, a cake, or a good idea will fill the bill. A woman saw me balancing coffee, newspapers, and dog treats once, and offered to help me over to my car. (She said, "Do you need anything else?" I said, "Yes, we have a spare room, would you be interested in coming to live with me and my, ah, sister?")

Most importantly, perhaps, kindness makes you feel better. So long as you don't demand reciprocation ("I subscribed to your newsletter, I follow you on Twitter, why don't you subscribe to mine and follow me!?"), you'll find that you feel better. Only the psychotic are intrinsically thrilled when they steal a parking space, cut in front of you in line, don't allow you to turn, or slam the door in your face deliberately. Fortunately, they are few and far between.

We shouldn't need a holiday or special occasion to engender kindness within us. We should simply look around and see all of our brethren with us in the human condition.

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I'm in a very high-end restaurant, where I'm hosting some people, and enjoying every bit of it. I have the sommelier hovering, and order the wine I've chosen by bin number, in this case number 295.

"Are you certain?" he whispers.

"Of course I'm certain, it's a fabulous Bordeaux."

"I'm afraid, sir, it's a Riesling."

"A Riesling? Why would I order Riesling with these meals? Look," I said pointing, and irritated, "it's right here."

Bending closer, he muttered, "You're pointing to the price, sir, not the bin number."

He received an excellent tip.

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