Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 198, February 2016)

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  • Never argue with someone who can't help you. Find the person who can.
  • Don't write hoping that people will agree with you. Write so that they are provoked and interested.
  • You can talk about luck all you want, but at the end of the day, the harder you work the luckier you'll get.
  • If you join an association just for recognition and status, and you're not challenged and don't learn, you're wasting your time.
  • The award isn't really the point, the source of the award is. And any award competition you have to pay to be a part of is a scam.
  • If you want to avoid failure work, try reading and following the instructions first.
  • It's often futile to try to overcome someone with a huge lead. Instead, take a "sharp right" and become the lead person going in the new direction.
  • I call people who only and rarely attend a meeting or an online discussion to brag about some recent victory "drive-by boasters."
  • When someone informs you that they couldn't continue reading something you wrote because they found typos, tell them you're sorry about their learning disability.
  • Do not begin eating at dinner with others until everyone has been seated, unless someone not served requests you begin before them, and only then if you have hot food.



Why have we become so polarized?

I pointed out to a woman on Facebook—someone who had asked to befriend me—that there were some distinguished scientists who though global warming and climate change was not as severe a threat as some of their colleagues were positing. That's all I said, I didn't take a position, and that statement is an objective fact.

"Oh," she replied, "then I see you're a ‘denier'."

Yikes! (What I became was actually someone who immediately unfriended her.) More than ever, it seems, you're either "for me or against me." That has some negative consequences, not the least of which is a complete loss of dialogue and opportunity to learn.

I have friends from all political persuasions. I understand the emotions which fuel positons on abortion, or vivisection, or assisted suicide, let alone political parties. (I read someplace that only a small percentage of possible swing voters, less than 30 percent, will actually choose their positions during an election—the rest vote Democrat or Republican no matter what the issues or candidates.) I've disagreed with people holding opposing views, and I've sometimes changed mine having listened to them. But I've never hated them!

In the playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, played in the latter's home stadium, fans booed and through containers of beer at injured Steeler quarterback Ben Rothlisberger, as he was wheeled off the field after being injured while being tackled. I've rarely seen such despicable behavior (and Rothlisberger is sure to be inducted into the Hall of Fame after he retires).

I'm beginning to think that the widespread, crazed egalitarianism of social media—where everyone seems to think all opinions are equal and an opinion is the same as a fact—has created "tribes" around issues which are simply interested in defending turf, no matter how ill-conceived or inappropriate. I once challenged someone who actually headed a Loch Ness Monster interest group, pointing out the confession of the hoaxer who created the most famous photo using toys and camera angles. His response: "The man was framed by authorities who don't want to admit the monster is down there."


I'd suggest we all start listening more and being less defensive. The probability is that we might just learn something, or further validate our own opinion, but we're probably not going to change the mind of someone whose visceral reaction is to brand us as a "denier."

Once your default position is to defame and abuse other views, you only demonstrate the weakness of your own.


The human condition: Self-deception

Sometimes a small fib becomes a large lie and results in a major embarrassment. The provost of a major university is fired because he never expunged the phony extra degree from his resume. A political candidate plunges in the polls because she was deceptive about her work experience.

Jeremy Boorda was Chief of Naval Operations, the highest ranking officer in the largest Navy in the world. He committed suicide when someone realized that, among scores of service ribbons, one had an extra honor on it that wasn't justified. This was a man who was non-Annapolis, and rose through the ranks.

We need to be more careful. No one sets out (who is mentally healthy) to deceived and exaggerate. But we resort to it sometimes because we feel inferior—compared to others, or due to our upbringing, or because we deem we've had a banal life. When we lie enough, we actually begin to believe the lie and to polish it, protect it, and prize it.

Brian Williams and Hillary Clinton were both found to have lied about their coming under enemy fire. Subsequently, quite a few of Williams's stories were questioned, and he was suspended and lost his huge salary, permanently.

We may all suffer the weakness of hubris, and feel at times we need to say we traveled somewhere we didn't contributed something we hadn't, were awarded something that actually didn't occur. But it's also our responsibility to correct these claims. The verb "misspoke" has entered the vernacular, I think in direct consequence of these behaviors.

We can change our resumes, correct our biographical sketches, and improve our conversations. But most of all, we have to change our mindsets and feelings of self-worth, so that there is no longer the need to fabricate, exaggerate, or prevaricate.

We need to be happy with who we are so that we don't wind up trying to defend someone we're not.


Our water cooler broke, in that new bottles sat with a drunken slant. The company agreed to send someone over with a new one, but of course he showed up during a phone coaching call. So, with a request for a break on Skype, I ran downstairs and answered the front door, restrained Bentley, and ushered the man into the pantry. He wheeled in a hand truck with the new cooler.

"I have to get back to this call," I said, "but I'll see you when I'm finished."

"No, you won't," he said peering into the cooler, having removed the crooked bottle. "You have a cap from a prior bottle stuck in there, I'll have it out before you're up the stairs, and your dog can see me out."

And so he did.


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