Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 130: June 2010)
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Techniques for salience
Instead of "balance," let's try "salience": How we behave relative to others.
I'm allowing for the fact that many of you are probably smarter than I, so I'm simply revealing what I know. You might know a lot more.
I know that the stock market is volatile, it goes up and down, and I can't predict it (nor do I know anyone who consistently can).
I know that airline security will continue to be annoying and time consuming, and that any new threats will most likely complicate things still more.
I know that things will break down and fail around the house, often at inopportune times, like the furnace failing on Christmas with a house full of guests, and the air conditioning calling it quits on the hottest day in August.
I know that cars undergo a lot of stress and strain and there are all kinds of hazards in the road, not the least of which are other drivers texting.
As a result, I don't get upset over minor imperfections, I never park where someone can swing their door into mine (even if I have to walk a bit), and I try to drive defensively (assume the other person will do the WRONG thing).
I know that clients may or may not heed my advice, and can make decisions which are based on ego, politics, emotion, or simply whim.
I know from observation that there are thoughtless, immature, emotionally damaged people who use the Internet and email for malicious, unethical, and unprofessional objectives.
I know that I don't know it all.
The human condition: The deadly ennui ray
I'm convinced that certain people—without any malicious, insidious, or even involute aims—have the innate capacity to bore the rest of us to death. I remember a jolly man who arrived in the cigar lounge of the Queen Mary II every evening to regale the rest of us with his life history, no matter what the rest of us were talking about.
A member of AlansForums.com recently commented on a speaker so totally sleep-inducing that she was moved to offer help after she woke up, so that the madness could be ended. We've all heard a business speech, a sermon, a graduation address which made us wish that we could be sun bathing in molasses on a nest of red fire ants instead of being in our current location.
Inadvertently, these folks are stealing our lives away! I remember a woman at my health club who not only talked incessantly for nearly an hour to someone, interrupting her workout regimen, but pursued her out to her car in the lot and held her there at mouthpoint for another 15 minutes! The problem is, these people receive no feedback. We are empowering them in our stupor.
I'm against unsolicited feedback as a rule. But I believe that our need to protect our time and sanity justifies letting people know when they have an ennui ray emitting from their mouths. It's a public service, but it's also the same as protecting our health or our money.
"May I interrupt, I've enjoyed this, but I have to continue with my workout in silence or I'm going to lose my concentration," isn't a bad way try to get the verbal glue off your gym sneaker. "Excuse me, but I haven't heard from Gloria, and I know she has some ideas I want to hear," is a decent rock to hide behind in the linguistic wind. "Enough! I don't want to hear any more about your Civil War lint collection!" would be a polite New York riposte.
I recognized a priest I knew from another parish having dinner at the bar of one of my favorite restaurants one night. He beckoned to me, and I looked forward to a discussion of the church in society or the distinctions between ethics and the law. Before I could say anything, he said, "Alan, for the love of God, one of my colleagues is killing us with his sermons. Tell me you'll work with him!" Needless to say, that one was pro bono, but I also chalked it up to, shall we say, deferred compensation.
My point to you is this: It's justifiable to give people some feedback about their logorrhea, just as you would about lettuce in their teeth or a button missing. In fact, it's very similar. You just need to tell them to button it up.
I had to buy some bird food on a Sunday morning, and the only place I could think of was the humungous Stop and Shop, 40 glistening aisles, thankfully looking like a ghost town. I parked the dogs outside and ran in. The helpful woman at the information desk gave me the aisle and compass coordinates, and a mere half-mile later I had bird food and dog treats (couldn't resist).
Then I encountered the automated check out lanes.
Not looking, I stumbled into a self-service checkout. An automated, woman's voice (the same one that tells me on my GPS, "I TOLD YOU TO TAKE THE LAST RIGHT, NOW YOU HAVE TO MAKE A U-TURN! RECALIBRATING!!!!!") that I had to move my scanned 25-pound bird food sack to the "packing and loading area." After unsuccessfully trying to figure this out, the actual cashier on the next lane had to come over, use a special card, and instruct me on how to scan and then load. But I had another problem with the next bag, and she had to return with a quite discernable sigh. Finally, on trying to pay, the machine kept telling me to sign a "signature pad" which I could not find, as I stabbed the entire unit with the stylus on the security chain.
The woman returned with the footsteps of Frankenstein. "There!" she pointed with her omnipresent magic card, "the signature pad is beneath you!"
"It certainly is," I dryly commented, scoring no points with Ms. Exasperation. "Tell me," I said, "what's the point of all this, anyway?"
"To speed things along," she said, eyes rolled up in her head.
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