Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 174, February 2014 )
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I was sitting in a hotel club lounge having breakfast one morning when a man sat down and announced out loud, "How can anyone watch this crap?!" I looked up at the TV for the first time and saw a Good Morning America piece on the proper application of mascara. (I think that's what it was, it could have been eye liner.)
"Who put this on?" he asked me, as if I were on the staff.
"It was on when I walked in," I mentioned, wondering if I had chosen an outfit that resembled a concierge. "Why don't you change it?"
"Ah, they're all the same," he said, addressing his eggs, which led me to believe he did not know how to change the channel.
I see people with ear buds and head phones all the time, many of them wandering into me like driftwood at high tide. A great many people walk into a hotel room and immediately turn the TV on, no matter what channel. I asked my wife once why she was watching something in the kitchen that looked to be about motorboat racing. She replied, "I'm not really watching, I just wanted some noise while I fed the dogs."
For a lot of us, background noise isn’t distracting, it's desired. I realize there's some difference between selected music and indiscriminate noise, but a great deal of that music isn’t closely attended, it's just melodic, pleasant, background….noise.
I actually enjoy the sounds of silence. I've had tinnitus for 25 years, so technically my world is never totally silent, but unless I focus on the ringing in my ears I don't realize it's there. Watching the world in silence can be a great joy. If you watch an athletic competition with the sound turned off and no announcers explaining every second or crowd noise indicating excitement, it's a very different experience. You have to pay closer attention and draw your own conclusions. Too often, the "great catch" is in the mind of the announcer or the home town, partisan crowd.
I'm not advocating we all become mute. But I am suggesting that the mindless, unconscious pursuit or noise to fill the silence isn't always the best way to focus, or enjoy, or relax.
And we ought to do it when it's within our control to do so. I've been in too many restaurants and on too many planes when I would have paid good money just to turn off the noise around me.
The human condition: Retribution
I'm sitting here in the Four Seasons in Palm Beach watching a very angry ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows in my suite. I've always loved that phrase, "angry ocean," though of course the ocean isn't mad at anyone and it's the wind actually kicking up the waves.
Nature simply exists, it doesn't attempt to "get even." No matter how much we anthropomorphize animals or plants, they don't seek revenge, they simply react as programmed. But unlike a cheetah or a tulip, humans are not programmed.
We do seek revenge.
We act as though bullying is a modern phenomenon, but it certainly existed in my high school in the mid-60s. Most bullies are insecure (many abused as children), and they seek to bring others down to their own perceived level of inferiority. You might say they seek "revenge" on those they see as superior.
The worst bullying, however, and the worst of the vengeful, are those who are in power and still insecure. The great cable TV show, "The Boss," starring Kelsey Grammar as a Chicago mayor, was brilliant in its depiction of vengeance. I find "House of Cards" with Kevin Spacey on Netflix of the same bloodline. But these shows merely limn current reality.
Michael Bloomberg, a kizillionaire, and Rudy Giuliani before him, strong New York mayors, have been relentless in combatting real and perceived enemies and opponents. Now Chris Christie, New Jersey's governor, with realistic possibilities for a presidential nomination in a year with no incumbent, has undermined himself with a crass decision to tie-up the streets of Fort Lee by closing George Washington Bridge access lanes, as punishment for that city's mayor not supporting his reelection. This crass act stalled ambulances, isolated school buses, and made thousands late for work.
Christie had already won that election, but he wanted his revenge. (He of course says it was his aides who did it without his knowledge, which is totally implausible.) The weakest, most sorrowful, most pathetic people to me aren't the 'losers," but rather the "winners" who aren't satisfied with victory but are only sated when they can punish those who dared disagree or oppose.
Tough competition is needed in politics, business, and life. But revenge after World War I created Hitler in Germany. After World War II we created great allies in Germany and Japan, focused on reconstruction, not revenge.
There are two words for people for whom vengeance is the only answer: personality disorder.
SPECIAL: ANNOYING IN LONDON
Join a very small group in my suite on the morning of April 25 to be provoked, hounded, and intimidated into success. We'll develop more aggressive approaches and marketing expressly for each person in the room that morning. $2,500: Alan@summitconsulting.com
BRAND NEW INTERNATIONALLY
The service in the concierge lounge at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong is among the best I've ever experienced. Every need is anticipated. There is a full-time chef, 24-hour service, great food.
So I was surprised when no one came to fill my coffee cup during breakfast. I held up the cup and smiled at one of the managers. He smiled back. I held up the cup a second time and pointed inside it. Apparently still uncertain he approached the table but without a coffee pot.
He then reached next to me, took the pot already on the table, and poured me a second cup, bowed slightly, and returned to his post.
"Some day," my wife said, "you'll take the time to turn your head."
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