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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 182, October 2014 )

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  • When in doubt, tip. It's not a lot of money and you won't be thinking about it all day.
  • If you want to pay for a dinner, give the manager your card before you sit down and say you want all charges plus a 20% gratuity on it and not to accept anyone else's offer or payment at the table.
  • Listen or watch something pleasing as soon as you get up in the morning. Put a radio or TV in the bathroom if that helps.
  • Folks, plane seats are built to recline, and preventing them from doing so means that you think you're more important than the person in front of you, the manufacturer, and the airline. You know what to expect, so prepare for the inconvenience.
  • I admire people who choose not to drink or eat certain foods until they begin to instruct others to follow their particular regimen.
  • Probably one in ten plays or musicals truly deserve a standing ovation (assuming your kid isn�t in the cast).
  • Yawning, sneezing, or coughing in public are involuntary actions, but the volume accompanying them is voluntary.
  • When a meeting starts and some people choose that time to finally go get their coffee to seek out the restroom, don't dignify their rudeness by waiting for them to return. Begin without them.
  • "To do" lists are depressing, and seldom produce much action other than generating another list. If something really needs to get done, schedule it in your calendar or diary at a given time on a given date.
  • Don't push something you don't like doing to the end of the day, because your worries about it will undermine everything you do earlier in the day.
  • In business, don't accept opinions, which many people pass off as facts. Ask for evidence and examples so that your own evaluation is on solid ground.


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"Fight or flight" has a certain logic intrinsic to its binary choice. We flee from that which frightens us. We are rationally afraid of earthquakes, guns pointed at us, and areas of contagion. Of course, some of us are afraid of confrontation, or speaking in public, or taking a course not approved by others.

My observation is that too many of us are too frightened too much of the time. Terrorism's goal is to employ minimum tangible resources to create the maximum possible disturbance. A threat is far easier than a deed, and prudent people are always wise to take certain threats seriously.

However, I'm finding people who are changing their plans and sometimes changing their lives because of empty threats, or fear of fear. Some people are refusing to travel. Others are refusing to invest. I find dental hygienists to be the avatars for much of humanity: eye shields, face masks, latex gloves. I understand the safety precautions, but once upon a time none of this battle gear was donned and dental hygienists were not dropping like flies. Today they dress like brain surgeons and astronauts just to scrape gunk off my teeth.

I grew up in an era when polio was a very real threat and scarlet fever not uncommon. The Cold War, with armed and ready nukes and Strategic Air Command bombers always in the air, lasted for the first 40 years or so of my life, and included the Cuban Missile Crisis, to this day the most threatening incident I can ever recall.

I've been on five aircraft struck by lightening, two of which I thought were going down, and on four others that had to make emergency landings amidst crash trucks. My wife and I experienced the most severe and prolonged air turbulence of my 4 million air miles two months ago over the Indian Ocean, and our 777 flew over the same dangerous turf as did the Malaysian Air 777 that was shot down in Europe two weeks later.

There are threats to be concerned about but not shut down our lives about. There are "threats" that need a healthy dose of perspective: not wanting to call a prospect, being afraid of criticism, being ostracized by some group. We need to exercise judgment and perspective. Otherwise, we lock ourselves into a confined life because our own fear becomes the real threat.

Joan Rivers, an indefatigable 81, died from a routine endoscopy. Tim Russert, the NBC newscaster, died sitting at his desk. Our handyman passed away, just back from the wilds of Alaska, sitting in his lounge chair on his own lawn.

When your time comes, it comes. The crime is in fearing it until it gets here.


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The human condition: Validation

I find that some people suffer from their brain stiffening and becoming inflexible. Rigor mortis occurs after death, but unfortunately, rigor mentis occurs frequently while people are otherwise alive.

The symptoms present as a refusal to accept new ideas. The victims simply reject anything which challenges their current universe. Often one sees complete preoccupation, where others' voices aren't heard, their feelings are ignored, and even their presence is unnoticed.

It some cases, one sees intense procrastination. In early forms of the disease, small things are put off, such as returning phone calls or maintaining the car. But if the disease progresses, savings aren't created, job requirements go undone, and personal relationships are not maintained.

Some people with rigor mentis don't realize they have it because they spend all their time doing the same things: watching movie reruns, doing crossword puzzles all day, posting continually on Facebook, and eating the same food all the time. The don't realize that their brains and lives have stiffened into boring patterns and routines. They have mental arteriosclerosis.

The worst cases of rigor mentis never examine beliefs, suspicions, or even superstitions. This delimits travel, exploration, and innovation. Some of these people truly believe in the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, Sasquatch, and that the UN is trying to take over the world.

This is a curable disease, which requires loving therapy. Help the victim to gently try new things. Show them evidence that there are no monsters under the bed or suspect food on their plates. Wean them away from reruns to first-runs, from cross-words to cross-walks, from fright to fight.

I'm convinced that some people die far too young and unfulfilled because of rigor mentis. Help them. Work on them to free them from their constraints.



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I'm in a fabulous suite in London with six televisions (they're in each of three bathrooms) but the one in the bedroom I'm using loses its video. I didn't want to change to a different bedroom, so I called the desk. They sent an engineer who arrived within ten minutes.

"Trouble with the Telly?" he asked.

"No picture," I pointed out.

With that, he got on the floor plugged in a cable that was lying there, which I had assumed was supposed to be on the floor, and restored the video.

"Pleasant evening," he said, as he walked out 60 seconds after he had walked in.

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