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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: May 2000

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: zealotry
  3. Musings
  4. Quandaries answered and asked

Welcome to the May addition of Balancing Act. A cordial hello to the new subscribers, as our list continues to grow every day. And a fond welcome back to the veterans, whose support is greatly appreciated. (My wife says, "Enough with the testimonials," from last month, so no more appear this month!) I encourage you to send the newsletter to friends and colleagues. The price is right.

- Alan Weiss

  1. Techniques for balance
    • As much as I loathe personality profiling, there is a neat place on the web which doesn't take itself too seriously. has a wide variety of self- testing psychological instruments, including What Breed of Dog are You? I advise all readers to take that one, and we'll see just what this kennel looks like.

    • If you're uncertain of wines but find yourself in the position of having to select one at an important event, here are some easy selections. For expensive occasions ($100 and above), order any French Montrachet as a white, or any Opus or Far Niente (both from California) as a red, and discerning people will fall on the floor in admiration. For inexpensive occasions, Glen Ellen (California) makes a quite acceptable white and any recent French Beaujolais will be fine. (If I've offended your wine sensibilities, please send your email to our complaint department.)

    • One night a week volunteering-which is less than 2% of your time-will make you feel 200% better about your life and yourself. Not a bad return on investment.

    • I'm skeptical about online universities and learning, even though several sites carry courses based on my books. Learning is largely reliant on interaction, and you're better off creating a "mastermind" group, or a book club, or a learning dynamic of some kind with friends. Hint: Make sure your group includes people from whom you want to learn and whose opinions you respect.

    • For all its power, a continued caution on email. I instigated an email fight the other day with a friend who had sent me what I thought was an obnoxious note about how wrong I was on a point we were debating. It turns out that he was kidding me, and being sarcastic. (Can you imagine, me missing sarcasm? But there you have it.) We finally ironed things out, but after some damage was done. Even among friends, email can't denote inflection, intonation, volume, and body language. Caveat scribum.

    • Isn't it interesting how an unexpected small gift always carries more affection and provides greater impact than a large, expected one? A single rose, unannounced, trumps two dozen which are awaited impatiently. When is the last time you surprised someone?

    • Self-talk is, I believe, effective therapy. Sid Caesar, in his autobiography, claims that he cured himself of serious depression through an audio cassette journal which he faithfully recorded and replayed daily. Writing is a form of self-talk, as well. When you're confused or uncertain, record or write your thoughts, feelings, and observations. Then play them back or reread them. You just might find that you have the resolution within your own questions.

    • Have you ever driven in a convertible on a spring day? Why not? I never did until 1990. I've let the wind clear out my head ever since.

      Combat stress aggressively, don't endure it. If you know you'll have to wait in a doctor's office or at the division of motor vehicles, don't go there and stew about it. Take a book. Bring your lap top. Read the article you've always been meaning to get around to. Listen to your Walkman. If someone is stepping on your foot, you don't remain where you are. If the situation is stressful, change it to your liking. We control more of our lives than we think.

    • Put a bird feeder somewhere you can see it frequently. Don't fret about the squirrels. They have to eat, too.

    IF YOU WANT TO DO A GOOD DEED: Over a year ago I established a scholarship fund in the name of Milton Cameron, a young friend of mine who died under tragic circumstances. Once a year the fund makes a contribution to an inner city school which works with minority and disadvantaged students to ensure a place in an excellent secondary school and college. Their placement rate is an astonishing 98% through the college level. If you would like to make a donation in any amount whatsoever, send a check made out to the Milton Cameron Scholarship Fund to my attention at Box 1009, East Greenwich, RI 02818. Thanks for considering this.

  2. The Human Condition: zealotry

    Reader and buddy Dan Coughlin took a chance and sent me a book he thought I'd like. It's called "When Pride Still Mattered," and it's the biography of Vince Lombardi, the man credited with leading the Green Bay Packers to football immortality, and who purportedly said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

    Lombardi, always cited as one of the greatest of the football coaches in high school, college, and professionally, is a depressing character. His single-minded devotion to the game effectively circumscribed the rest of his life. His relations with his wife, children, and friends were dysfunctional. In fact, he wasn't a very interesting man to be around, unless you wanted to chart plays or talk draft selections.

    My Webster's says that a zealot is "full of zeal; a fanatic." There's an old phrase that says, "There's no zealot like the converted," meaning that those who come to a cause late often take it up with a fervor that the originators neither intended nor embraced.

    Extremism is always dangerous. (Barry Goldwater said once that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," and promptly lost a presidential election in a landslide.) Passion is often beautiful, but it's most rewarding when tempered with perspective and respect for others' views. Deeply religious sentiments are universally respected, but proselytizing is not.

    Worse, zealotry replaces pragmatic reason with perfervid emotion. Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy saved from the sea only to be drowned in a whirlpool of politics, is a victim of zealotry, from all sides. The spectacle of crowds in the streets, round- the-clock press conferences, armed rescue teams, and media frenzy over a single child's fate is fascinating when viewed in contrast to abused, starving, and sick children all over the world, for whom people don't provide a moment's thought, nor the media even a monthly broadcast.

    On the invisible but omnipresent continuum of our behaviors, we need zeal, but not zealotry; vigor, but not obstinacy; assertiveness, but not belligerence. Our moral "rudder" has to steer us toward those behaviors which enable us to best interact with our loved ones and acquaintances. To sacrifice or moderate our objectives for the moment is an act of compassion, a gesture of good will, an effort toward tolerance. To hold our own, no matter what harm we do to others, because we are zealous in our beliefs and committed to our own "true" cause, is the height of self-absorption, sanctimony, and narcissism.

    Lombardi was not a great coach. He was a coach who won. Life is not about winning. It's about success. There's a difference. You can win by yourself. But you can only succeed through others.

  3. Musings

    Confidence is the belief that you can absolutely help others to learn. Arrogance is the belief that you have nothing left to learn yourself. A thin line, indeed. Permit me to explain.

    I was heading for a prestige client in downtown New York, having just had breakfast with a prospect at the Plaza Hotel's Palm Court, and my hair cut at my favorite salon across the street. Was anyone happier or better adjusted than I?

    The cab was really a van driven, confidently and aggressively, by a man I took to be a rather elderly driver. I was on my cell phone arranging other appointments, but after one call the driver said, "I couldn't help overhearing. What is it you do?" I made some perfunctory comments about consulting, and he replied, "I used to be one of those people you helped, I imagine." Now, what did that mean?

    The driver went on to tell me that he was 73, a retired electrical manufacturing plant manager. He had been treated well, was very successful, and had retired more than ten years ago. But, he asked, "How many gardens can you plant, how many plays can you see?" and decided to drive a cab "for the fun of it." He drove three mornings a week, coming in from Long Island to do so.

    "This isn't stressful?!" I asked, amazed. He said that it wasn't, if you simply kept things in perspective and took nothing personally. Moreover, he met a lot of interesting people, earned some fun money, and kept abreast of what was going on "in the real world." He said, in a manner that indicated he'd uttered this line a million times, "I'm married for 51 years. I don't think we need another three days together every week!"

    "Your mind has to be exercised," he continued, "and your life has to be diversified. If you are very busy and get a pimple on your nose, you hardly notice it. But if you're home doing nothing, that pimple becomes the focal point of your life."

    He used to have three cabs, but has sold off two of them. "Slowing down?" I surmised aloud. "No," he explained, "I figure it's time for me to get seriously involved in computers. I start next month."

    As many of you know, I seldom engage in small talk, and my record is intact. This wasn't small talk, this was huge talk. In fact, the 73-year-young guy driving that cab was more ebullient, insightful, and interesting than most executives I meet (and nearly all consultants). Life is about staying active, staying involved, staying vibrant.

    Otherwise, we're just a blemish on the surface of existence.

  4. Quandaries answered and asked

    From last month: You purchased a gift for a colleague for a special occasion, but since you were tight on cash and aren't especially close, you only spent $7. However, the price tag was mistakenly left on the gift, and the recipient says to you rather loudly, "You'd better get a second job if all you can spend on my gift is $7." What do you do or say, if anything?

    Quite a few imaginative responses, most of them indignant, but a few embarrassed. My feeling is that rudeness and lack of class never deserve a thoughtful response. I'm of the school that would have replied, "I was designated to buy the gift representing what all of us actually think of you. Thanks for acknowledging it."

    For next time: You have absolute and unequivocal evidence that your immediate boss, who hired you, is cheating on the weekly expense report by about $100. What, if anything, do you do? (I use this in my ethics workshops all the time, and it's based on an actual occurrence.)