Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 215, July 2017)

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Balancing act is in four sections this month:

1. Techniques for Balance

2. Musings

3. The Human Condition: Dysphemism


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• Before you begin lecturing someone else or ending friendships ask, "Is this better handled with condemnation or through compassion?"

• Listen to your kids (and young people). You may be right that they're immature, but they may be right that you're wrong about something.

• If you want to learn, listen. It's tough to learn anything while you're talking. (That's why so many college professors are so arrogant.)

• If you want to see industry disruption at work, consider movies giving way to cable, and cable giving way to Apple and Netflix.

• Comparing this country to what they do in Denmark is like comparing what a university does compared to a pre-school.

• Telling doctors to merely wash their hands has prevented countless iatrogenic illnesses. Are you telling your employees or colleagues the same thing—to make sure they're not causing the problems they're paid to solve?

• If you want to see what a poorly run, bureaucratic, customer-unfriendly operation looks like in real life, visit any medical office or practice.

• People purchase aspirations more than they purchase products, especially at the high end. You don't need a Breitling to tell the time, but you do need other people to know you use a Breitling to tell the time. Are you creating that sensation with your own products and services?

• Stage actors are always so much more poised than movie and TV actors. You don't get "second takes" in real life.

• Don't argue irrationality. If people believe there are conspiracies all around them, that's paranoia, which is an illness, not something you can train or coach people "out of."


When does the estimable "passion" transmogrify into the shunned "zealotry"? When does influence become manipulation, and persuasion become Machiavellian?

I had a political science professor at Rutgers who told us that "War is simply the least subtle form of communication." His example fascinated me, because I began to think in terms of continua. For example, "assertiveness" is neither good nor bad, it's simply a behavior, and within a reasonable range can be effective whether high or low, as appropriate. I want sales people who are assertive. But I want counselors who are low in assertiveness, so that they are approachable and non-threatening.

On the aberrant low end of assertiveness—figure two standard deviations if you're into standard deviations—would be a coma. And on the equivalent high end would be belligerency. Thus, when we talk of "assertiveness" it should be without emotional baggage or predisposed judgment. Its application and utility vary depending on the circumstances and the goals.

The same is true of love and hate. They are both deep passions, often thinly separated by respect, tolerance, and forgiveness. But I'm convinced this is the cause of marriages—richer or poorer, sickness and health, till death do us part—ending in bitter, horrible, war-strewn debris of enmity and revenge. This is also the case of business partnerships, stable and productive for years and suddenly rent apart like tissue paper and dissolved in lawsuits and slander when the partners turn respect into retribution. (I counsel people not to form legal partnerships because they are worse than divorces if they fall apart, which many do.)

Back to my original inquiry: I think passionate people seek to influence and persuade. But zealots insist on conversion. A passionate person will give it his or her best shot, but respect you if you decide to demur. However, zealots insist that not only are they right but you must be wrong. You can only be "cleansed" by becoming one of them. (When you talk to people about climate change, or immigration, or abortion, or—unfortunately today—politics, you can see this phenomenon all too readily.)

"Zeal" means "great enthusiasm." But "zealotry" is about fanaticism and intolerance. I love being around passionate, enthusiastic people, whether I agree with them or not. But I eschew zealots, even if they do agree with me. 


I want to thank my colleague Bruce Turkel (author of the excellent book, It's All About Them) for bringing this wonderful term to my attention. DIS-fa-mizem is the term for the substitution of a derogatory word or phrase for a neutral one, viz.: "loony bin" for "mental hospital." (I like to think of "Congress" being used in place of "esteemed edifice in which respectful debate occurs," but that's me.)

If you oppose some of the thinking about climate change you become a "denier." A woman with high standards and demanding work expectations becomes a "bitch." A mature person who recalls times when things worked better (refer to Congress, above) is "an old fogey." An IT professional is a "geek" or a "nerd." A cross-breed dog is a "mutt" (the logic behind that dysphemism makes my kids "mutts"). Personal injury lawyers become "ambulance chasers."

We need to stop labeling people because, as with all the horoscopic personality assessments I loathe (you're a blue, High D, JKLM, anal-retentive ironic, so there's no way you can do this job) because we use them to explain away people rather than trying to understand them. There is virtually no difference between these positions and the statements we all claim to despise: What do you expect from a woman? What do you expect from someone his age? What do you expect from someone with their background?

What I expect is respect. Respect isn't generated by the labeling of personalities, careers, job titles, or behaviors. It's generated by understanding that we don't like to be called names or classified or dismissed out of hand. So we have a hell of a nerve doing that to others.

It's all too easy to say "He's a punk kid," or "She's a bureaucrat," or "they're the one percent." And it's therefore too easy to miss the possible value that they provide in that circumstance.

One of the reasons I'm so successful in life is that a whole lot of people have underestimated me by assigning me labels. They don't do that any more, because we're no longer in the same universe.


I'm sitting on the couch watching TV, and I realize my iPad's battery has just given up the ghost. I have a charger, but the outlet is too far away for me to continue reading easily. I'm trying to stretch the cord, to see if I change my position I can charge it and still read, when I knock something over on the end table.

When I pick it up, I realize it's the hard copy edition of the book I was reading.



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         #12: Denial: Why we make ostriches' behavior in the face of threat seem                          reasonable.

         #13: Selecting: We "settle" in stead of deliberately choosing what's best for us, and          we need to stop that.

         #14: Contrarianism: Why taking an opposite view is a public service and how to do          it.

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         #16: No, You Can't: A different perspective on the popular—and incorrect—belief            that you can do whatever you think you can.


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Balancing Act® is a monthly electronic newsletter discussing the blending of life, work, and relationships, based on the popular Balancing Act workshops and writing of Alan Weiss, Ph.D. Contact us for further information at: [email protected].
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© Alan Weiss 2017

Balancing Act® is our registered trademark. You are encouraged to share the contents with others with appropriate attribution. Please use the ® whenever the phrase "Balancing Act" is used in connection with this newsletter or our workshops.


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