The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: March 2006
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Interludes on balance
- The Human Condition: The Regimented Hypothesis
- ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department
- If you don't treat yourself well, why would you expect others to treat you well?
- When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Most things can simply wait a while.
- The constant feeling that you should be "doing something" is usually an indicator that you feel you don't deserve to simply be idle and think.
- Always leave others wanting more of you. There's nothing more pathetic than the eternally needy who never want to surrender the spotlight, stop bathing in attention, or simply go home.
- It may just be me, but I'm not familiar with anyone who ever learned much while speaking.
- I've never seen an organization with unhappy employees and happy customers.
- "Moving to the next level" means being defeated at times by people who are better than you, and not continually beating those whom you've always beaten in the past.
- Don't look now, but those things you were always going to get around to achieving are still there, but the time horizon is much shorter than it used to be.
- I'm told that most people who die on Mt. Everest die on the way DOWN, not on the ascent.
- If you don't understand something—a statement, a painting, a metaphor, a direction—say so. Keeping quiet doesn't add to your stature but rather detracts from you knowledge.
- "Listen to reason." "Go with your gut." They sound antithetical. But perhaps the best decisions are those where logic sets the parameters and passion guides the alternatives.
- If you've planned your vacation down to the last detail, you're not really on vacation, you're on some kind of maneuver.
Driving down our town's main street, I spotted a man waiting patiently at a crosswalk on a corner to cross the road. I dutifully stopped and smiled. He smiled but didn't move. Cars were lining up behind me. I was perturbed that he didn't trust my gesture of civility.
I honked. He stood and glared. Now cars had stopped in the opposite direction. I heard horns somewhere down the line. I gestured again, but he did not budge.
Finally, I edged forward, lowered the passenger window, and yelled, "Why haven't you moved?!"
He took a moment, then yelled back, "Because I'm waiting for someone to pick me up. I'm not trying t0 cross the street! Stop being such a boy scout!"
Perhaps no good deed goes unpunished, but I think that we fall victim to what I call "regimented hypotheses," meaning that we tend to superimpose our own paradigms on others' behavior, then become irate when that behavior doesn't conform to our hypothesis.
I was in an aquarium viewing fish from the deep ocean. Flash units were prohibited although cameras themselves were permitted. As I focused a timed shot, a man with his family around him shouted at me, "No flashes, can't you read?!" "My flash unit is turned off," I said, "Is there anything else you'd like to critique?"
Why did he assume I'd do the wrong thing? Why couldn't he have simply asked kindly?
We all fall victim to this to some degree. The question is how well we can minimize it. If a client doesn't return my call, I assume that he or she is busy, lost the message, or didn't receive it to begin with. If three calls aren't returned, then I know there is a problem.
Sitting on a United flight recently, I watched the flight attendant offer first class passengers a choice of water or juice while we were on the ground. When asked for her choice, an elderly, very well dressed woman across the aisle said, "I'll have champagne, dear." Of course, there was no champagne, though the woman was clearly accustomed to that level of service, probably on the old Concorde or the Queen Mary.
The flight attendant was working in three-inch heels throughout the flight, instead of those horribly sensible shoes they usually wear. "Do you always work in those heels?" I asked, "because I haven't seen that since the old Pan Am days."
"I'm always on international flights," she said, "and this is my first-ever domestic flight. I'm not used to the small aircraft, limited resources, and crowded passengers. I feel like Barbie the Flight Attendant. I thought I should stay dressed."
We make conscious decisions all the time based on invalid hypotheses. We do it to try to reduce life to a routine, to minimize our chances of acting incorrectly, and to reduce our work load. But it's not healthy. We need to be more aware of the diversity of our current environment, no matter what it is. We can't conclude that our perceptions are shared by others.
Some people aren't trying to go anywhere at the moment. They're just waiting for a ride.
New Hampshire's license plates reflect the state's motto: "Live free or die." I have always felt this to be a somewhat extreme set of positions. After all, if you die, you're not going to live free, but if you can survive to fight another day, you might just get that chance.
Heroes have always worried me, especially since we use the term so loosely these days. It's laudatory for someone to charge into a hopeless fray attempting to turn the tide, hoping that others will follow suit. But it's frightening when that person is able to order others to do so in the name of some personal glory. If your fighter is beaten, throw in the towel and help him to recover, don't insist on his suffering greater harm because you want to be known as a "never say die" fight manager. If you're the tail gunner, you might not be happy if the pilot suddenly decides to go on a suicide mission.
I've had the unpleasant experience of working with executives who, in search of personal glory and compensation, have urged, required, and rewarded their people for unethical and sometimes illegal acts in order to "win the prize" and "achieve the win." Heaven save us from arrogant leaders.
True leaders (of corporations, institutions, communities, and families) have perspective. The succeed through good works, lessons learned, and charitable reactions. The antithesis is the parent who screams in incoherent rage at the other team, the officials, and the fates, sometimes culminating in physical attacks and, amazingly, some deaths. Insisting that your kid win at all costs (one father was convicted of assault for sharpening the metal fittings on his son's football gear so as to inflict injury on tacklers), or that your "team" win no matter what (I had to explain ethical conduct to a vice president who insisted his agents forge the name of insurance prospects on applications), or that everyone have your zeal for your personal triumphs (quite a few of you were told that if you didn't work long hours you weren't a "team player"), is the ultimate in pathological behavior.
There is also a difference between "hero" and "victim." The latter is someone caught up in a situation where he or she is hurt through others' actions (and sometimes their own). The former are people who go out of their way to proactively perform valiant acts. A golf putt, a large cash donation, and a performer going on despite illness do not, for me, qualify as heroic acts. Putting one's life at stake does. As much as we may mourn and want to defend victims, they are not heroes in that sense.
There are, I believe, heroic decisions. Eisenhower's decision to proceed with D-Day despite problematic weather and the fact that his own life was not at risk was heroic. Nearly everything Lincoln did to save the Union and abolish slavery was heroic. Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King all strike me as heroic (and, of course, one could make the case their lives were on the line due to animosity and disease, though this was not an immediate threat).
Was John F. Kennedy heroic when he saved a life through valiant swimming and superb judgment after the PT 109 was sent to the bottom of the ocean? He apparently didn't think so. He told an admiring inquirer once that what he did was forced upon him since, after all, they had sunk his boat.
I think that heroes ought to be in short supply. And their actions should be singular, not dependent on others joining them or being ordered into the fray. We all have to decide when to gather our wherewithal to live free. I suspect we all would do our absolute best if they sunk our boat.
One day I was attempting to teach Danielle, my then-18-year-old daughter, how to drive a stick shift in my convertible. We drove to a Dunkin' Donuts where she gamely but inexpertly struggled to back the car into a space on a hill, the clutch screaming, the engine revving, every eye on us. She finally stalled the engine and, royally perturbed, went in to get us coffee. One onlooker remarked in stentorian tones, "Look at what he allows his trophy girlfriend to do to that lovely car! What a crime!"
Danielle was incensed and demanded I drive home. I did, feeling rather good about myself.