Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 146: October 2011)
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Special Feature: It's Not Your Mother's Fault (No. 1)
(This originally appeared on my blog recently, and I’m also placing it on other platforms. It’s replacing “Techniques for Balance” this month, but it will only appear occasionally.)
Think of Cher in “Moonstruck” slapping Nicholas Cage twice, shouting, “Get over it!” or Bob Newhart in his famous skit as a therapist advising his patient, “Stop it!”
We spend inordinate amounts of money on problematic therapy sessions trying to eradicate “baggage” that we believe is affecting our ability to perform, to maintain relationships, to deal effectively with life’s vicissitudes. But we might as well hire an exorcist. (I asked the then-president of the American Psychological Association, who was on my advisory board at a former company, why there was such a high incidence of suicide among psychologists. “Because,” he replied without hesitation, “we attract many troubled people who are trying to work out their own issues.”)
In other words, their mothers were also wreaking havoc with them.
But it’s not your mother’s fault.
My observations of successful people and struggling people feature this omnipresent distinction: Successful people help themselves. They are not professional victims; they don’t present themselves as hopelessly entrapped by their nurturing; they create positive change for themselves.
Some people can stop smoking, some can’t. Some people can lose weight, some can’t. Some people comfortably address audiences, some can’t. Some people can control their nerves and fears, some can’t. The distinction isn’t in one’s DNA, or toilet training, or being part of a village to raise the child. (It takes loving parents or even a single parent to raise a child, not a village or other municipality.)
The distinction is in one’s self-discipline, organization, and resolve; in one’s self-accountability. Support systems are wonderful, as are loving families, but the primary support system is between your ears. To claim that you were scarred early, or can’t work in certain environments, or need special attention to get by, is usually just an excuse not to change, grow, or mature. You might as well say, “The devil makes me do it.”
Once you reach adulthood, with a basic education, an ability to examine the environment around you, and the advantage of witnessing what works for others (hard work, learning new skills, forging relationships, etc.), you should be able to “get over” and “stop” whatever it is that’s impeding you. If others have, you can. If you don’t and won’t, then you have only yourself to blame.
It’s not your mother’s fault.
Amalfi clings to the rocks above the Gulf of Sorrento tenaciously and precariously. The serpentine mountain roads feature cars with scratches on the doors and side view mirrors fastened with masking tape—obviously many times. Scooters buzz around cars on hairpin turns like mosquitos.
The calm here is quite profound. The hills, remoteness, and small spaces are of no consequence. Everyone is pleasant and helpful. Locals sit and talk. Everyone has suggestions, all aimed at improving your stay.
Last night we visited what my colleague in Milano, Angie Katselianos, called, “one of the three great restaurants in Italy,” Don Alfonso, in Santa Agata, between the Gulfs of Napoli and Sorrento. The food and service were exquisite, the owner’s son, Mario took care of the dining room, and his brother, Ernesto, was in charge of the kitchen. After our kitchen tour, we visited the 25,000-bottle wine cellar.
As I descended through volcanic rock with a guide, I couldn’t help notice the Gajas and Mouton Rothschilds stacked like wood, only to nearly bounce off a two-liter bottle of Chateau D’yquem. The quarter mile descent followed an Etruscan escape route over 2,000 years old, and terminated in a spiral staircase that led to the lowest level, 40 meters below the surface, where a cave held aging Provolone cheese.
Today we visited Pompei where my guide had me speak from a strategic spot in the amphitheater which amplified my voice through the arena, while another tour group waited and watched. It was a free speech, but not many professional speakers have had the opportunity!
The world has to be seen, heard, felt, smelled—experienced. The history and beauty can’t be fully appreciated, no matter how expensive or large the computer or television. Not only do these experiences help you to grow, they become part of you, helping your judgment and effectiveness forever after.
The Roman baths worked as well as modern ones, including steam and heated massages. Their contribution to posterity continues. Their contribution to me is priceless.
The human condition: Polity
“Polity” usually refers to the political units in which we live, as well as the demographic. Often, the “body politic” is used. To me, it connotes the interactions of people who live in proximity. When I was young, we had “neighborhoods” in the city, sometimes of just a block of two, and that was our polity. We often didn’t know the kids three blocks away, and we organized our games and sports amongst ourselves.
In an electronic age, the polity is often non-physical. The “neighborhood” includes Facebook and the other “kids” might be thousands of miles away, never seen in person. My observation is that many people know others on the web far better than they know their physical neighbors.
When people once gathered to hear “stump speeches” (they were often delivered from a tree stump so that you could see the speaker), there was a polity. They might not have agreed with the candidate, and they might have debated with their neighbors in the crowd, but they looked each other in the eye. Today, we have elections run almost purely by sound bite and media analysis. (The current “stump speeches” are really photo opportunities in the local diner or auto factory.)
We seem increasingly polarized today, unwilling or unable to compromise. Every instance of aberrant behavior calls for an entire law to be mandated and enforced with “zero tolerance.” I used to tug on girls’ ponytails, call other kids names, and have a small pocketknife to open my lunchbox. Doing the same today, I would have a lengthy jail record, probably not have a higher education, and be unable to hold a job. I’d be on the public dole. Thank goodness I grew up when the polity was such that every flaw in human behavior wasn’t considered a cardinal sin only remedied by the full weight of the state.
We need to be kinder to each other. I can tolerate and even argue with your positions that are antithetical to mine without disliking you as a person. I know the difference between basic principles and mere taste. Trends come an go.
Polity is forever.
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