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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: June 2004

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Healthy Outrage
  3. Musings
  4. The Language Doctor is IN

  1. Techniques for balance

    • Bring your own food on the airplane. That way you decide exactly what you want to eat and when.
    • Learn six quotes, any one of which you can work into a conversation when appropriate. After you have them internalized, learn another six. (Example: Oscar Wilde said that a thing is not necessarily true just because a man dies for it.)
    • Have your hearing tested. Many people above 40 have damaged their hearing through excessive music and environmental noise, and they're missing quite a bit that goes on around them, including important snippets of conversation. Hearing aids today are so small that they are virtually unnoticeable.
    • Equivalent to the ubiquitous "contact management" software, keep a running list of important tasks in your life, such as changing the smoke detector batteries, polishing the car, changing the air conditioning filters, and so on.
    • Plant a garden, whether an outdoor plot or an indoor window box. I specialize in growing giant leeks, mostly because I just love the sound of it, and the benumbed reaction at social affairs I detest when I finally inject into the conversation, "Well, I do grow giant leeks."
    • I was chastised recently by a reader who said I was telling people how to live their lives. Au contraire, I'm just relating how I try to lead mine, and not always successfully. But isn't that what we should be sharing? I'm constantly surprised at how stupid I was two weeks ago. With whom are you sharing?
    • Buy any of Bill Joel's albums and listen closely to his words. He is the troubadour of our times.
    • Someone commented recently that they are not ashamed of anything they have ever done. That's an unexamined life.
    • If you haven't read the biographies of the people who were essential in the origins of your country, you're missing perspective. For people in the U.S., there are excellent biographies out of Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, and Washington, for example.
    • It's summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Learn one thing new you can only do over the summer, such as sail, hike, or mountain bike.

  2. The Human Condition: Affiliation

    A guy calls me recently and leaves a message: He wants to purchase one of my products, but does not want to do it on my secure web site or my secure toll-free phone number, or my secure fax line. He must talk to me personally.

    A customer is a valuable asset, so I call him and take the order. The next morning, he calls back with another message that he must speak to me. I return this call while traveling to the airport on the way to a speaking assignment. First, he asks about a "free" CD which would accompany his purchase, but which doesn't exist (he's misread something). After trying for several minutes to find something which doesn't exist while I remain on hold with my cell phone, he then says, "I want to ask you about a situation," and proceeds to describe a long and tedious business scenario he is immersed in.

    I stop to ask him what he's asking me, and then answer his question, but inform him I'm doing this as a favor and I don't normally provide free consulting help. He then tells me that I should change my attitude, that I should be more helpful, and cuts off every sentence I begin when I try to explain just how presumptuous he's being. Apparently, just having my phone number seems to vest him with certain rights.

    I hung up on him, feeling good about doing so.

    We all have the right to engage in healthy outrage, and that's what I felt. His unreasonable and incorrect demands met with my personal explanations only resulted in demands for more favors, and I became outraged and vented. We all need to do this on occasion.

    Now I'll admit that if you go through an entire day in a state of healthy outrage you've got a severe problem (narcissism or lack of perspective being prominent candidates), but if you never express it you're probably overly-amiable and too concerned with never offending anyone.

    There comes a point after the fourth consecutive request for identical information from the cable company, or the ninth item borrowed by a neighbor who hasn't yet returned the prior eight, or the fourth call ignored by the hotel desk clerk, when you are permitted more than a soup�on or apercus of anger, scorn, sarcasm - well, outrage.

    I'm outraged by business executives who ferociously shield themselves from customer feedback; by software makers who expect you to have the skills of a programmer to set up a new email system; by anything shrink-wrapped and requiring a blowtorch to open it; by bank tellers at a branch I've patronized for 10 years demanding identification "for my protection"; and by do-gooders who insist that they have the only correct point of view, be it about logging, politics, alcohol, raising children, or pet rocks.

    Not long ago, when I kept receiving junk mail from The Conference Board in New York, I began sending the Conference Board CEO all of the junk mail that his organization was sending me. When that didn't generate a response, I began sending OTHER junk mail, as well, in addition to his own. Well, that prompted an assistant (a "shield") to call me with the information that they found the source, a rented list from the ASTD, of which I am a member. An email to the ASTD removed my name from lists they were selling to vendors.

    Healthy outrage vented, job completed, life balance fully restored, beam me up, set the warp drive for Alpha Centauri.

    Those of you who fly often know that you must puncture anything sealed, such as salad dressing or yogurt, or else it will "explode" upon you when you rip the lid off, a function of differing air pressure when packed and when opened. Consider healthy outrage as the release of mental air pressure that will keep you flying high, steady, and unsplattered.

  3. Musings

    Don't you just love rationalization? We live our lives drenched in it, as necessary to survival as vitamin C coursing through our veins. And don't deny for an instant that you don't immerse yourself in it daily.

    We protest when another car tailgates us, but tend to follow a tad too close when we're in a hurry and the other driver is clearly holding up traffic. (George Carlin, the ageless comedian, sums up this phenomenon thusly: "Do you see the idiot in front of me who won't get out of the way? And how about the moron who keeps flashing his high beams at me even though I'm doing the speed limit?")

    We hate it when someone barges in before our story is quite through (or the expected laughter hasn't yet emerged) but are magnanimous enough to help someone else in mid-saga who clearly needs our intervention to bring the tale to conclusion. We like to loiter to fully digest the art exhibit, but wonder why those people in front of us have taken root. It's cathartic to scream at the kids' soccer game and to berate the obviously biased referee, but it's hard to do it when that other jerky parent is yelling so incoherently. Their poor kid, what a terrible example the parent sets.

    Rationalization may be the gyroscope of our lives, keeping us upright while the warp and woof of existence pitch the deck, roil the waves, and thicken the fog. Surveys, for example, find that over 90% of respondents believe they're in the top 10% of good drivers, a neat trick, not far divorced from trying to square a circle. (A professor whom I once questioned when he tendentiously contended that spirituality was alive and well in contemporary society, responded that every day we witness a mass act of faith with millions of drivers traveling in excess of 60 miles per hour in two tons of metal while following at a distance which precluded a safe stop if the car in front suddenly braked. Immediately, I found myself becoming quite spiritual.)

    Rationalization can also be a b�te noire. We rationalize why we haven't been promoted (the boss is threatened by me), why our kids don't communicate with us (it's a phase), and why can't make a difference (I'm only one voice lost in a crowd). In so doing, we rationalize our lives away and substantiate the adage that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation" (as do women, I'm sure).

    So, what's the bottom line on rationalization? Is it gyroscope or gypsy, stabilizer or spellbinder?

    Life requires rationalizations if we are to rise and shine every morning. We have to believe that we can succeed, be safe, and just maybe achieve that next elusive victory. So long as it stops short of being an excuse for not trying, a justification for bias, or a modus operandi for evil, it probably serves a useful purpose. After all, I'm still taking that highway act of faith nearly every day, upset with the moron who's riding on my tail.

    But that's life. I'm not quite sure what it's all about, but we are on a hunk of rock traveling at 35,000 miles an hour around an exploding star. That's enough for me to make some rationalizations.

    [Editor's note: I'm half Hungarian, descended from gypsies, so please don't send me letters, or I'll be forced to cast a spell on you.]

  4. The Language Doctor is IN

    • "Notoriety" is not synonymous with "fame." It actually means "infamy," viz.: "The notorious charlatan had bilked hundreds of their life savings."
    • "Enormity" does not mean "enormous" or "enormousness," but rather heinousness, as in "the enormity of the crime."
    • "Plethora" (a plentitude) is pronounced ple' the ra, not ple thor' a.
    • An appositive is a further explanation or description, and is always set off by commas: "Sue Ramsey, president of the railroad, began her career as an engineer."
    • Reader Barbara Escher contributes this month that "verbiage" means "wordiness," not words, and is pejorative, not implying volume.