Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 131: July 2010)
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A boy in Coventry, Rhode Island—8 years old—makes a baseball cap as an assignment on patriotism which includes two toy soldiers on the bill of the cap, holding rifles. The rifles are about an inch long.
He is immediately charged under the school's policy of zero tolerance for weapons. No, I am not making this up.
We've all seen boys sent home from school for pulling a girl's pigtails under "sexual harassment" guidelines. Toy guns, of course, could get you expelled. A boy offering an aspirin to a classmate in grammar school was nailed under the school's zero-tolerance drug policy.
"Zero tolerance" is a euphemism for "don't expect us to think or use judgment." Consulting superstar Peter Drucker observed a long time ago that laws created from scandals, to foil once miscreant, are always bad laws, because they punish a hundred innocents. They frustrate good practice while seldom ending malpractice. (The bad guys will always find a way.)
I recall a notorious police officer in a mid-sized town who gave tickets for the smallest technical infractions. One day, he found himself going 26 miles-per-hour in a 25 MPH zone, and he wrote himself a ticket! This is not zealous regard for the law. This is a personality disorder.
We certainly don't have "zero-tolerance" for speeding under normal circumstances, since my informal experience of the past 30 years is that most drivers are exceeding the posted limit most of the time. We'd need the equivalent of the population of China to try to monitor that and penalize all the offenders. But the police, in this case, use judgment.
I remember how my very active, daredevil son would get bruised every week falling off something or battling some immovable object. These days, nine different official and self-appointed authorities would turn us in for possible child abuse. How did any of us ever grow up without all these rules and "zero tolerance" enforcement?
A retired Rhode Island major general wound up pinning a star on the kid with the baseball cap, and explained the real teaching point: Soldiers must use real guns to defend themselves and the country, but that's where guns belong, not in the hands of children or in school. That's something even a 8-year-old can readily understand.
But apparently not the school board.
Life is not an "on/off" switch, it's mostly a rheostat, with differing settings. But when everything becomes black or white, and there are no shades of grey, the fight for which way to set that single switch can be quite ugly.
The human condition: Derivativeness
I thought I had made up that word until my spell checker didn’t blink a byte. I’m not talking about arcane investment vehicles which can bankrupt small countries.
I’m talking about a lack of originality.
Think and Grow Rich is a classic work by Napoleon Hill, written in the 1930s. Unfortunately, others have chosen to simply cash in on the word play, naming their books things like Fish and Grow Rich or Network and Grow Rich, or Get Rich and Grow Rich. If you have a good idea, can’t you at least be more original?
Once Chicken Soup for the Soul became such a hit compilation, I actually began to receive inquiries from people who had never written a cogent sentence before telling me they were working on a compilation of pet stories, or house horrors, or lawnmower laughter, and they’d like my contribution. The legalese would go like this: “You will surrender copyright to your story and may not use it elsewhere, and I will gain copyright because I will change it’s cadence and tone. You will get excellent exposure in return.”
Right, sort of like you get in a damp, dank, fungus-growing cellar.
Chicken Soup, a brilliant exercise in marketing, spawned a legion of would-be imitators and apers, too feeble to come up with their own ideas but trying hard to cash in on someone else’s. I’m waiting for Think and Grow Chicken Soup.
There are too many people merely seeking to be derivative. They see someone else’s successful idea and want to jump on the bandwagon, ride the coattails, follow the yellow brick road. The problem is it rarely ever works, because the people with the original ideas corner that market. The Chicken Soup folks are on the umpteenth book, place mat, and coffee mug, while the woman who wanted to usurp my pet stories with her own “cadence” never got out of the kennel, thank goodness.
We need to present novel views and original ideas. The work involved in trying to adjust someone else’s success to our own condition is probably far more taxing than attempting to develop some new approach consistent with our position.
Derivatives were part of the recent collapse of the financial system, and they are equally noxious in our business and professional systems. To succeed, personally and professionally, we have to be the source of new ideas which makes us objects of interest to others.
Otherwise, we’re not even Johnny One Note. We’re Johnny Somebody Else’s Note. And it takes more than chicken soup to cure that.
I've noticed that when I pull into the gas station, the attendant waits patiently behind the car. After I hit the wrong button and open the trunk, he swiftly closes it, then when I hit the right button and open the gas tank, he proceeds to fill the car.
Neither of us ever remark on the arrangement, it's just become standard operating procedure.
This is, of course, a design flaw in the car.
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