Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 152, April 2012 )
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Techniques for balance
We've been hearing forever that we are destroying the earth through overpopulation, with a lot of people still quoting Thomas Malthus whose most recent work was about 400 years ago. Yet contemporaries make cogent arguments about unchecked population growth and the deterioration of quality of life.
In the New York Times, however, regular columnist David Brooks ("The Fertility Implosion," March 13) recently pointed out that birthrates are too low, seriously imperiling growth and stability in countries from China to Germany, India to Japan. The Middle East, he notes, is having precipitous drops in birth rates. This information is in contrast to conventional wisdom (e.g., poverty and low incomes result in higher birth rates).
As with the Great Recession, stock market projections, and the local weather forecasts, we have to come to grips with the reality that NORK prevails (No One Really Knows). That puts us into dangerous ambiguity, I know, what with global warming, terrorism, international financial entanglements, food sources, housing, gas prices, and so forth. We take comfort with these imponderables by believing that SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE has the expertise, and actually KNOWS.
But NORK pertains. I remind you that in ever jury trial featuring expert testimony there are hired guns on each side of the issue, bearing enough degrees and expertise to befoul the courtroom. That's why we have juries, because after a while it's clear that NORK is the only truth we're hearing.
My advice is to get comfortable, maximize your news inputs, heighten your senses, and be judicious about what you believe. Just because they found the toys and camera that produced the most "reputable" picture of the Loch Ness Monster along with a deathbed confession of the perpetrator of the hoax, doesn't mean there's nothing down there. Whether there is or not, does it really have a bearing on what you decide to have for dinner tonight? Probably not.
Get comfortable with NORK. Otherwise, you're tempted to try to determine whether every expert, teacher, and ideologue is really Paul Revere or Chicken Little.
The human condition: TIAABBThis is a construct I created over a decade ago. It stands for, "There Is Always A Bigger Boat," and I believe it's right up there with SNAFU, TANSTAAFL, and other acronyms.
Trying to obtain the biggest and the best is the soubrette of materialism. High-tech billionaires competing with the Sultan of Brunei to build and maintain the world's largest yacht is like roller derby to me—there is no point to it. (Some of these dreadnoughts are so huge that they can't fit into harbors, so no one can see them anyway, anchored out at sea.)
I think that competition about size, longevity, expense, popularity (people collect followers on Twitter as if they were stamps in a disregarded and unviewed collection) is a sign of an abyss of self-worth. If you must prove yourself by acquiring solely the biggest "thing" and then making sure everyone knows it, their is something lacking in your general security.
I'm the last to say that the pursuit of material items, the good life, and fine experiences are inappropriate. But the distinction for me is that you should be able to enjoy yourself without the artificial assurance that you have the largest boat. If Paul Allen and the Sultan have nothing better to do than commission huge yachts that they seldom use, then there's something wrong with their lives.
As we succeed, we tend to indulge in finer experiences and more materialism (but not always, and that's hardly a prerequisite for success). If you're never satisfied unless you have the best vacation, the funniest joke, the best looking spouse, or the largest diamond, you're going to have to spend a lot of time proving to yourself that there isn't someone hiding around the block with a better, funnier, larger one.
Growth, ambition, and aspiration are wonderful attributes, but like any other, become dysfunctional in the extreme.
I remember long ago being shown a house on Belvedere Island in Marin, outside of San Francisco, with the harbor seals barking down below. "My God," I said.
"Is something wrong?" sniffed the realtor.
"Well, I think I just felt my reality rush past my aspirations, and I lost my breath!"
That was lost on her, but it's never been lost on me.
I held our periodic Mentor Summit at the Delano Hotel in Miami, which is upscale and so hip you could swear you had found the Fountain of Youth. The service was fabulous, not the least of which was the "door opening girls" who simply performed that chore between the lobby and rear terrace where the outdoor restaurant and pool (and our bungalow) were located.
Copyright 2011 Alan Weiss. All rights reserved.
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