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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: November 2005

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Rinse and Repeat
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

A note from Alan:
The special edition, "Beets," drew more responses than anything else run in the six-year history of this newsletter, including our only other special edition immediately after 9/11. Every single letter, almost 15% of our subscriber base, was positive. I want to thank you all for your good will and best wishes. I continue to be completely healthy with perfect blood pressure and bemused doctors. And for those of you who wrote me with your own challenges, my wife and I send our prayers and hopes. I've printed one such letter at the end of the newsletter, though I could have easily printed a hundred.

  1. Techniques for balance

    • It's tough to win at roulette, but people having a good night are usually spreading their bets around. It's very difficult to win betting everything on a single number. Don't put all your hopes in a single bucket. Always multiply the options for success.
    • Why is it that holidays intended to bring people together are so stressful and often unhealthy? Make a pact with yourself to enjoy what's coming, tolerate the inevitable comments that rub you the wrong way, and assume that every mode of transportation currently in use will be running late.
    • Want to know the up-to-the-minute currency exchange? Simply go to Google and type in, for example, "Australian dollar" and you'll have it in a half-second. (My Australian friends would type in "US dollar," of course.)
    • When I've placed insufficient postage on something, the post office sends it anyway and leaves me a note that I owe them the difference. Why? Because I know the clerks by name, always say '"hello," support their charities, and my wife provides cookies at Christmas.
    • When you finally find what you need in an instruction book, mark it with a Post-It� or bend the page down before you're finished. The chances are significant that you'll experience the problem again just far enough in the future to forget what you did the first time, but at least you'll have key pages marked. For example, I do this for changing the cassette in my fax machine and setting the seat memory in my car.
    • An odd but increasingly vital home accessory: A high quality, fire-proof safe. There are some documents you don't want to confine to a safety deposit box, but you don't want unprotected, either (emergency cash, passports, etc.).
    • The common bromide is "hope for the best and prepare for the worst." The problem with that hackneyed piece of advice is that if you don't also prepare for the best you're seldom able to exploit victory. ("I was actually able to get an appointment with them, but then I didn't know what to say!")
    • New York City is the safest large city in the U.S. and one of the safest large cities in the world (and New York State is the safest large-population state in the U.S.). If you've never been to New York City, you have no excuse and you're missing a truly unique experience. (People here in Rhode Island, for Pete's sake, tell me they've never been there!)
    • There is nothing you can do about global warming, which is a huge cyclical movement over the millennia. But there is everything you can do about warming up relationships and support of others.
    • I'm strongly suggesting that you do not eat beets at Thanksgiving. I'm even staying away from the cranberry sauce�.

  2. The Human Condition: Rinse and Repeat

    Fifty years ago or so a marketing guy working in the shampoo industry doubled sales overnight with three words. He recommended that "rinse and repeat" be included on the label of the product.

    Consumers purchasing the new bottle promptly complied with the manufacturer's suggestion: They rinsed and repeated, even though they were perfectly fine with a single wash and rinse before. A not insignificant point here is that, unless you have spent two weeks traversing the Amazonian rain forest during the wet season, your hair doesn't need to be washed twice to be clean.

    No matter: The instructions say rinse and repeat and people intend to follow the instructions.

    Remember when you couldn't go into the water for one hour after eating? Even as young kids, we adhered to the Red Cross guidelines. One friend no doubt saved us from cramps and a fatal dip as shark food when he realized we had only waited 52 minutes and promptly halted our dash for the breakers. It was a close call.

    I don't favor breaking the law, but I do favor breaking stupid rules and arbitrary guidelines. I've witnessed people standing in 114-degree, asphalt-melting Texas sun because the sign says "don't walk," even though there isn't a car to be seen all the way to the horizon, which is the border of Montana. (They have all, no doubt, overheated.) I'm crossing that street without waiting for "walk."

    Don't scoff. Many of you reading this still have unsightly tags sticking out of your mattresses and pillows because they boldly proclaim, "DO NOT REMOVE, under penalty of law." It hasn't occurred to you to ask why they can't be removed, or how anyone would know you removed them, or what possible penalty there could be for removing them. But there they are.

    "Close cover before striking" was once the most-read phrase in the English language, having been printed on the cover of every single book of matches produced by every manufacturer. Yet I never saw anyone create a matchbook inferno by not closing the cover.

    A modicum of sense is required when considering rules, and a critical look at the source is essential. In the 1950s, doctors would appear in ads stating that a particular brand of cigarettes was better for you than others. Then we had the idiotically famous ad line, "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV." Today we have "seven out of eight dentists�." (these were the seven who accepted the year's supply of the manufacturer's mouthwash for their offices).

    You don't have to brush after every meal; you don't have to check the air pressure in your tires every week; you don't have to wait an hour after eating before going in the water; and you don't have to rinse and repeat.

    There. That's freeing, isn't it? Now, the editor advises that to get the most out of this newsletter you forward it to six friends.

  3. Musings

    I remember taking an astronomy course in undergraduate school (in those days they were serious about liberal arts educations, and sciences were required). After a lecture and spirited discussion that ranged from exploration to metaphysics, a student said to the professor, "It's staggering to think that there may be life out there, isn't it?"

    "No," said the professor, "for me it's staggering to consider that there may not be any life out there."

    For me, that was the perfect equation. No matter what the answer, the implications are astonishing.

    People often remark about the amazing occurrences when they meet an acquaintance in the concourse of a distant airport, or at a crowded sporting event, or in any unexpected circumstance. Yet we don't often wonder how many other acquaintances sat in back of us or walked in front of us without our ever noticing. We only notice what we happen to see, but we don't often see everything around us.

    I was astonished one day to look up from my reading at the pool to note a heron in the pond and an eagle circling overhead. Two huge birds concurrently in residence is a rarity, but what if I hadn't looked up? Or, what would have happened if I had looked up thirty minutes earlier? Would I have seen the two birds and also an egret?

    I've seen three shooting stars in my life, and four whales sounding; some craft I thought was a spaceship; rocks with fossils embedded; trees toppling in storms. What have I missed when I wasn't looking?

    I believe this to be a metaphor for our lives. We have to create an awareness around us. We can't see everything and we'll miss something. But we'll be more apt to notice everything else. Slogging through a morning ritual, mindlessly ingesting breakfast, moving head-down through the workday, and marching home at night isn't exactly a day of acute awareness. When a person remarks that, "I saw Bill on the train this morning," it's more remarkable to consider what he or she has missed during that same period.

    Are you looking around in awareness or shirking in boredom? Do you provide yourself with the opportunity to fully observe the world around you, or do you shelter and sequester yourself in dark corners? One of the fundamental principles of flight was discovered by a man simply looking out the window at seagulls, who suddenly realized that the birds had to flap their wings in calm air but could sail, soar, and hover without moving if there were a stiff breeze.

    Don't merely stare. Ask yourself what you're looking at. The question may not be so much, "Is there any life out there?" but rather, "Is there any life IN there?"

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department


    I'm at a dinner table in a posh San Diego private club. Our host, whom I met earlier that day, is the boyfriend of a woman, whom I'll call Sarah, in our party. I find him to be on the wrong side of obnoxious with a superiority attitude. I decide to come out of my introvert shell and be a terribly charming and assertive conversationalist, because he is starting to cause my hair to hurt.

    The conversation gravitates to a couple of high-profile murder trials. I offer, with consummate sophistication, that the trials could be decided against all evidence if the jurors engage in jury nullification. When Sarah asks what that is, I expound articulately that it was exemplified in the OJ Simpson trial, when evidence was trumped by the jury wishing to make a social statement, yada, yada, yada.

    People looked at me, I thought, with awe, though it turned out to be awkwardness when one of my friends asked our host what he did. "Oh," chirped Sarah before he could answer, "he's the most successful trial attorney in San Diego!"