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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 113: January 2009)

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Techniques for 2009

You could do a lot worse than this in social settings, if you just:

  • Let the other person finish the sentence before interrupting.

  • Find some reason to compliment the person you're with.

  • Don't start eating until everyone is served.

  • Don't show pictures of your family unless someone asks.

  • Give good service a 20% tip.

  • Never ask for separate checks when someone suggests to split things evenly.

  • Ask for advice from someone you like, even if you don't really need it.

  • Follow someone else's suggestion for an activity, even if you're not good at it.

  • Don't be the last to sit at the table or the first to leave it.

  • Pretend you're sharing deep secrets and keep your voice down on your cell calls.

  • Dress appropriately for the setting—jeans are not "business casual" unless you're a cowboy.

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I think it's time we all engaged in a Joyous January.

The holidays are exhausting and often create the exact opposite effect intended: They depress us and make us feel lonely. An "empty" January exacerbates that mood, whether in the damp of the northern hemisphere winter or heat of the southern hemisphere summer.

"It's always seemed odd to me that we store up our affiliation needs, expressions of love, and exchange of gifts, like chipmunks stuffing our cheeks, for highly restricted times of the year. It's somewhat bizarre to have a loving family encounter for only a few days a year (and downright crazy to allow it to be a time of anger and hurtful words and retribution for perceived grievances).

Theoretically, the first month of the year should be when we begin to implement all those resolutions, but it's actually the time when we first violate them and eventually forget them. Few resolutions make it to March. They are fragile flames wiped out by the breeze of an insect's wings.

We tend to cluster our great holidays and happy occasions, with the exceptions of a few birthdays and anniversaries. (I've always felt sorry for those celebrating these events in conjunction with major holidays. "Oh, it's easier, we just celebrate one time and combine presents," is one of the saddest explanations I've ever heard. Thanks, but I'd like to have my birthday stand out in the crowd.)

Is there some reason that we can't plan vacations in January? Or how about family reunions? Aren't the kids still out of school, or home from school? What about parties that reinforce resolutions and give support to give them hope for achievement? (I know that one's a long shot, and Hallmark isn't exactly preparing greeting cards for the occasion.) Why must January be a "let's get back to business" time, especially when we're often so "down" with post-holiday remorse, and psychological studies have shown it can be a time of moodiness and even depression?

I'm just suggesting that right now, at the beginning of the month (never mind the entire year) that you plan to have an exciting, glorious next 31 days. I know there's the danger that February would then become gloomy, but it has significantly fewer days, so there's nothing wrong with that if you think about it.

I'm feeling better already, just having helped you out. Now, go plan some things that are fun.

A Joyous January to you all!


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Overtrust

The Madoff mess is going to be blamed on the deceit of an avaricious man and a failure to regulate his operation because of chumminess with insiders. All of that is no doubt true. But there won't be sufficient culpability accepted by the victims.

These were not "mom and pop" investors, putting $100,000 of life savings into a safe repository. Madoff's investors had to have (his criterion) a minimum of one million dollars to invest, and even then they needed an introduction by one of his "inner circle." Only a third of the members in his own country club in Palm Beach were able to make investments. (The two-thirds who were "outsiders" in one of the most exclusive clubs around must feel fortunate for this rebuke.)

Other investors were institutional: funds, banks, philanthropies, professional investment houses. Hundreds of millions were invested from single sources, including major European banks.

In the post-mortem, "experts" now point out that his returns couldn't have been real given the nature of the market, his types of trades, and the volume that would have been required. But why didn't they see that then, or make a bigger noise, or do what we did in the old days-call the cops?

I'll tell you why. Too many people seek to "overtrust." They want to get into a winner's circle where they don't have to work hard or even think much. They just want a great deal, which they're convinced can be had through introductions, shared meals, golf, mutual biases, and a few winks. They feel that the more they can ally themselves with some remote inner circle, the more they will have access to privileged information and "insider" information.

What they got in this case, was intimate contact with a consummate thief.

I've yet to find many reliable ways to trump common sense, good judgment, a sense of fair play, and acceptance of prudent risk. There is no such thing as a free lunch. And if there were, why should you or I deserve it?

Keep this in mind. Some things are too good to be true. And some things are too true to be good.


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I went for a haircut a couple of minutes from my house, but the stylist didn't show up. The owner told me to come back later in the day and she'd take care of me personally. I returned home 15 minutes after I had left.

My wife said, "Your hair looks great! It looks like it wasn't even cut, which is the sign of a true professional. It's amazing!"

I was going to ask if she had been into the cooking sherry, but as you'll recall, we have none since she doesn't cook.

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You can neither think big nor act big without doing the other. - AW