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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: September 2007

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for Balance
  2. The Human Condition: Talking the Walk
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for Balance

    • You don't have to always be right. You have to be right most of the time and about the most important issues. But if you can bounce back quickly from being wrong, you're not too far from being right.
    • The line between healthy outrage and irrational anger is when you're seeking revenge, not fairness, and ego restoration, not financial restitution.
    • "Unsubscribing" from spam and unsolicited advertisements usually is effective today, contrary to years ago when it was a means of ascertaining the address was in use. Among "unsubscribing," not engaging in endless threads ("thank you," "you're welcome," "no, you're welcome"), avoiding "linked-in," and the spam filters of my service providers, I receive "only" about 20 pieces of spam a day, and many of those are in foreign languages, which shows how good their lists are.
    • I will admit here that I own Apple stock and that I'm no "tekkie," but the IPhone is pretty much idiot-proof, easy to use, intuitive, and really cool looking. (One example: When overseas, it automatically puts in the dialing prefixes I have to manually key on my Verizon global phone. Another: I can scroll through voice mail visually and choose whom I all and when.)
    • Just because someone quotes a book or a third party doesn't mean they are correct. There is a great deal of junk science, a lot of foolish opinions, and people (of course) search out only those sources which support their point of view. Oscar Wilde said, "A thing is not necessarily true just because a man dies for it."
    • Your kids are not always right just by dint of being your kids. After all, they have your genes, and you've made your share of mistakes, right? (My daughter and son read this. They are, of course, exceptions.)
    • Zeno's Paradox says that if you make 50% progress toward your goal every day, you'll never reach it. That may be metaphysically true, but you'll be a heck of a lot closer than the person who makes only 10% progress, and no match for the person who makes 95% progress.
    • If you haven't heard back from someone and you're loath to just drop the contact, write a note that says, "I assume you're made a decision in your best interest, and I don't want to hound you. I'm here if you need me. All the best." Then move on.
    • There are preventive shots for flu and shingles that you ought to be asking your doctor about, especially as you, ah, mature.
    • I know that language changes to suit the times and we're lowering the bar port and starboard, but it's "fort" not "fortay" if you mean "strength." Put your best foot forward, don't trip over lower standards.

  2. The Human Condition: Talking the Walk

    I listened to a woman once who extolled the benefits of "accelerated learning." I believe in different strokes for different folks, which means if it's an important accomplishment for you to, say, memorize a phone book, then more power to you. Just don't complain to me that you have no free time.

    When she was asked what her basis was for clearly extraordinary claims which, if true, would have prompted all of us to accelerate like crazy, she cited her company's "research." When pressed for copies of this, she produced a raft of propaganda one-sheets. But what about the background for these claims, the statistics, the samples, the testing?

    That was all held in mithraic confinement back in the home office, which I suspect is also her home, period.

    A man called me once and asked if I could help him in confidence and secretly to market a phenomenon which would change the way organizations manage their people. "I don't know," I said, "tell me about it."

    "Oh, I can't," he replied. Not even you can know what this is." How is this different from secret decoder rings? I'll tell you how: There is no cereal with his gimmick.

    The opposite of "walking the talk" (e.g., serving as an avatar of behavior and action) is "talking the walk," which is the creation of a lot of heat but no attendant light. I've heard people talk about developing one side of the brain by breathing solely through the opposite nostril; of creating strategy by recalling your childhood stories; of running meetings in which the subjects were chosen by participants after they arrived; of creating understanding of others by sniffing their clothing; and of improving teamwork by using an absurd transmogrification of language.

    Remember when you couldn't go in the water for exactly one hour after eating? Or when your jacket would protect you from radiation poisoning (but only if placed over your head)? Some of our cherished beliefs are simply bad science or misunderstood phenomena. And some are the products of shysters and con artists or the perennially naive.

    I don't advocate cynicism, and I believe we should listen to others' opinions. But passion doesn't create precision. I want people who walk the talk, not the other way around. If you were never artistic, but have breathed solely through your left nostril for nine months, and you've just now created a sonata for bassoon, balloon, and ballyhoo to be performed at Carnegie Hall, I am willing to listen.

    Otherwise, accelerate me out of here.

  3. Musings

    We all make a choice between a poverty mentality and a wealth mentality. (There may be striations in between, but the tropism is toward either pole.) The factors that determine which fork in the road we choose have profound impact on our lives, relationships, and happiness.

    The prime factor, I believe, is guilt. Too many of us feel that we don't deserve wealth, that it is somehow antithetical to being a "good" person, and that we are trying to show-up others. The reality, of course, is that the more resources you have, the more good works you can perform. The more successful you are, the more others tend to look up to you as an exemplar. Guilt is as bad a disease as depression, in that it "masks" our talents and causes profound self-doubt.

    A second factor is that we believe we're not good enough. We don't strive for wealth because our parents told us long ago, or "friends" are telling us today, that we need to improve, we can't hack it, we're failing. Unsolicited feedback, which is ALWAYS for the sender, is an invidious phenomenon. Throw out all that baggage. Pursue self-mastery, wherein you are the evaluator of how well you're doing, and you're not vulnerable to someone else's agenda.

    Thirdly, a victimhood mentality is sweeping the globe and especially the U.S., spawned by misplaced and misguided attempts to create multiculturalism and diversity. If your starting point is that you are a "victim" of someone else's actions (the government, the bureaucracy, the majority, the minority, conspirators, the "system") then you have no ending point. Victims don't seek opportunity, they seek recompense. An entitlement mentality, which victims adopt, does not lead to wealth. It leads to poverty of spirit.

    A more subtle contributor to victimhood is globalization. We tend to feel more and more miniscule in a world where we have no more immediate community but are communicating daily with people all over the earth. In reality, this gives us power, scope, and intense learning. But if we choose the half-full glass, then we see ourselves as tiny players unable to establish much presence in the game.

    Fifth, our schools have become crazily egalitarian. There are movements not to assign grades; not to have valedictorians; to allow everyone to play in an athletic contest rather than primarily the best players; to "mainstream" every child, no matter how much that may impede the majority of learners. Life is competitive. Business doesn't "give everyone a chance." The banks do keep score. We have to overcome (and protect our children from) the menace of poor preparation for the reality of life.

    I could go on, but unfortunately, there are too many opportunities to fall prey to the poverty mentality. A wealth mentality, thankfully, can be created immediately. Determine you exemplars. Realize that your success will enable others' successes. Accept feedback only from those you respect and of whom you request it.

    Embrace the fact that happiness and success are privileges that you can earn, starting now. They are neither due you, nor are they illegitimate ends. They are an integral part of the fabric of life.


    The Great Dog Trotsky's father was a purebred Siberian Husky named Buck. My brother-in-law asked us to take Buck when he and his wife began having children and moved to Texas, and Buck was the first of several dogs we have come to live with.

    Siberian Huskies are lovable dogs, but not intellectual stars in the canine cosmos and very, very stubborn. Buck ran away every chance he got. He'd always come back or we'd catch him, but that's what he did. Otherwise, he was perfectly content doing absolutely nothing and, without the benefit of modern veterinary care and medicine, he lived to be 17. And, of course, he sired Trotsky with a nearby Husky who apparently wasn't quite as purebred as he, since Trotsky was very clearly part German Shepherd. But, I digress.

    One day when Buck was about 13 or so, he began to moan and had trouble moving around. We packed him in the car and took him to our regular vet where, without an appointment, we had to wait our turn to be fit into the schedule. Buck continued to moan, but I could make no progress getting us bumped-up the waiting list.

    Finally, I was called to the desk and was being assigned an examining room when I heard what I thought was a pipe break. I turned to find Buck peeing behind me, a torrent, a monsoon flood, a river cresting. Women picked up their little poof dogs and ran in high heels for high ground.

    When Buck was done, he shook, wagged his tail, and started to trot around the office examining plants. At that point the vet came out and took us into the examining room, while the staff searched for larger mops and buckets.

    "Well," said the vet after less than a minute of poking and rubbing Buck, "it seems like he just needed a good pee."

    "Is that all??" I asked, incredulous.

    "No," he said, "that will be seventy-five dollars."