Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 107: July 2008)
How to stop second-guessing yourself:
I've created a small firestorm over on my blog by pointing out that most blogs are quality quagmires, social networking isn't the way to meet executive buyers in major corporations, and a lot of stuff posted on YouTube and other public sites ranges from obscene to banal and back to insipid.
These are empirical observations (and my opinion)!
Well, along come the cyberspace gang who start shooting at me. (Fortunately, the ship is heavily armored.) They proceed to inform me of some quite salient facts, such as the ability to forge consumer-to-consumer conversations and interact with a wide diversity of interesting people. But they also besiege me with pure hyperbole, such as (I'm not kidding), "The greatest minds of the 21st Century come to my blog."
Ironically, the vast majority of writers have terrible Internet presence and dull blogs. But the most important aspect is that they miss my point: I was merely talking of consultants trying to reach corporate buyers, not social networking as a phenomenon. Nevertheless, they were bitterly offended for my suggesting that their sandbox was in any way in disarray.
We can't maintain a "herd loyalty" mentality and conduct a healthy life. For example, if I'm an architect and you say, "All architects are charlatans and failed artists," I have a right to be angry about your prejudice, ignorance, and rudeness. If you say, "Some architects I've met really aren't qualified to do more than a house extension," then I need to be about my business, because there is nothing personally offensive in that statement.
And if you were to say, "I hired an architect whom I finally had to sue for fraud," I may empathize or go find a drink, but I have no reason to be upset. You're not talking about me. There are some lousy and dishonest architects in a profession which had a constituency of over 100,000 in the U.S. alone.
The wider the scope of what we choose to take personally, the more insecure we are. It's wonderful to root for a team, but if someone doesn't like your team you shouldn't take it as a personal affront. I'm capable of telling better consultant jokes than anyone, and provide some humor about my profession, without demeaning it or me. "You're either for us or against us" is not an intelligent rationality, it's a bunker mentality. (And it's what's wrong with much of our political system.)
The whole herd doesn't demand my loyalty, never mind the entire species. There are some pretty bad consultants practicing, there are a lot of incredibly pathetic blogs, and there are even those who suggest there exist better pitchers than Sandy Koufax.
These things happen. I'd suggest that you're a healthy individual when you don't take offense at something that clearly doesn't pertain to you as an individual. If you hate Dr. Phil, I don't take it as a personal affront just because I've studied psychology.
In fact, I just may think the better of you for it.
When I was in grade school, my friends and I learned quite rapidly to stay away from the bad guys—the bullies and personality disorders who would slam you around for no good reason at all except their own insecurities.
Of all the people we feared, the absolute worst were a pair of brothers with the bizarrely improbable name of McGubgub. They were almost always together, were never heard to speak in a complete sentence, and were haphazardly and randomly violent. No one knew of any school either had ever attended, and no one even knew where they resided.
They had no interest in sports of any kind, didn't "hang out" with a gang or friends, but were purely two loners who were the equivalent of a live grenade.
My mother didn't believe they existed, and would chide me for believing in some fiction my friends had made up. (I guess this was an attempt to label the McGubgubs as one of the first urban legends, except legends don't normally turn you upside down and shake the change out of your pockets and the snot out of your nose.)
One day while I was watching our old Dumont black and white (who says I wasn't in the vanguard of the electronic revolution), my mother started yelling in the kitchen. I looked around in a panic trying to decide what trouble I might have caused. I thought I had stashed the empty whipped cream container behind a cabinet.
"Look!" she yelled, emerging with the local paper, "Police arrested a Joseph McGubgub today in connection with a local burglary. They are pursuing other suspects. He actually exists?!"
"Yeah, and so does his brother, who you'll finally admit to when they catch that other suspect," I remarked, returning to an "I Love Lucy" show, reminiscing about how good the whipped cream was directly from the Ready Whip can into my mouth.
Skepticism is fine, but we have to retain some room for plausible surprises. I have a hard time believing those folks who say that aliens in spaceships abducted them and performed surgery, but I'm ready to believe there is life elsewhere in the universe. Heck, we're still discovering life on the ocean floor that we were sure couldn't exist, like non-carbon-based life forms thriving on molten vents about seven miles deep.
In my career and life, I've seen customers steal right out in the open, just as employees claimed; I've witnessed a two-person handcar shutting down a highway and rail line while the guys cranked the thing through major intersections twice a day; I've been in planes hit by lightning five times; and I've heard a dog say, quite clearly, "I love you."
It's wise to be skeptical on occasion, but never intractably so. You never know when the exact phenomenon you've been denying will wind up right on the front page, having robbed a store and robbing you of your lofty perch.
My wife and I drive up with the car's top down to our local Dunkin' Donuts one night to get our usual coffee order to take home. One of the regular workers is at the window, and says, "That will be $6.58, please." Then she does a double-take, looks at us again as if for the first time, and says, "Sorry, I mean $5.26."
"Why the reduction from the usual price?" I asked.
"I never realized before that you two qualify for the seniors' discount," she observed. My mouth agape, my wife said, "Just drive."
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