Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 164, April 2013 )
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Do you remember when people wouldn't remove the tags on their mattresses because they stated "illegal by law to remove"? Everyone dutifully left these useless tags on (the legal aspect was intended to prevent removal before the mattresses were sold). Then there was the prohibition against swimming within one hour of eating. As kids, we'd actually watch the clock and say, "Six more minutes and we'll be fine."
There are kinds of mistaken laws, myths, misbeliefs, and bad advice we inadvertently (or advertently follow). Just because someone writes a book doesn't mean they're an expert, and just because someone reads a book doesn't mean they're educated.
The famous "rinse and repeat" manufacturer's instructions on shampoo may have immediately doubled sales, but that's because of a trusting, uncritical public, almost none of whom has hair so filthy that it needs to be shampooed twice. We too often blindly follow authority. (If cell phone really caused havoc with airliner electronics and communications, more than half the planes I'm on would have crashed because many people never do turn their phone and iPads off.)
Doctors routinely failed to wash their hands for the longest time, thereby spreading more disease and causing iatrogenic illnesses, until they were almost threatened into it.
Our lives aren't always governed by the logical, pragmatic, or even reasonable. We fall too easily into the grip of normative influence, or sensationalistic media, or unfounded rumors.
Now, I can't tell you definitively that there is no large monster under your bed, drooling and oozing, awaiting the right moment of the night to pounce from below. I have no empirical knowledge that the monster is not there at some point. But I do know that there are no reported instances of monster-smothering in the wee hours, and that I'd think if they did show up, well, you'd smell them pretty quickly.
So my point is this: Don't simply repeat habits because they have been performed for so long by so many. Don't uncritically follow directions that don't seem to make much sense. And don't think that just because some people are in positions of authority and trust that they always know what's best.
In other words, you have a brain. Use it, don't lose it.
The human condition: That's not my job
Remember TNMYJ? I've just returned from Canada, where I've travelled extensively since the 1970s. I can make a case that Canadian people—east to west, north to south—are among the most courteous and friendliest on the globe.
So why is that, with the exception of very top hotels and restaurants, they condone such poor service standards?
We debarled from an Air Canada flight in Toronto and there were no signs leading to immigration, yet we could clearly go either left or right. An Air Canada employee, clearly positioned there to direct people, said nothing unless she was directly asked. A gate agent on my return told me casually that an earlier flight I sought was overbooked, yet the club hostess was able to put me on it immediately (see above).
How is it that many cashiers seem annoyed when they are given a large bill and have to make change? I know they probably can't calculate in their heads, but the computer is telling them what to return. I once had a cab driver who went into a hissy-fit because I opened the rear door to enter his cab without telling him first! He berated me during the drive for not being more careful. When I didn't give him a tip, I made sure it was no surprise.
If you deal with the public, shouldn't you get used to, well, dealing with the public?
Unions are the apotheosis of this philosophy. One union can change a light bulb, but another has to move a piece of furniture. Never mind the delay, the lost time, the poor performance—that's not their job.
My wife and I were flying to Naples and her bag, that was supposed to be a gate check, was sitting on the tarmac about to be sent to the baggage claim area, which meant that we would miss our connection. I turned to the nearest USAir employee and explained the problem in no uncertain terms.
"Just wait here," he said, and ran out to retrieve the bag. Only when he brought it up the steps did I realize he was a co-pilot. I apologized.
"Don't be silly," he said, "I'm happy to help."
I guess he felt helping us was clearly his job.
BRAND NEW! THE CREATIVE PROCESS
And these terrific sessions authorized by Alan:
VERY SPECIAL IF YOU'VE READ THIS FAR
I had hurriedly dialed the zoo which I call whenever I spot new wildlife on my land. They are somewhat, ah, tired of me.
I got through to the mammal expert.
"Look," I said breathlessly, "I've got two animals down by the pool that came out of the lake. They are long, brown, with thick tails, and look for all the world like otters. What are they!?"
"No, no, I said they LOOK like otters. But what are they?!"
"They ARE otters. You have a river there?"
"They're river otters. Quite common."
"They can't be otters, here, on my property. Hello? Hello…..?"
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