If the images are not perfect, click "download pictures" on your email and they will be displayed as intended.
Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 115: March 2009)
Techniques for balance
I walked onto an American Airlines 767 in Kennedy Airport this morning, en route to LA and my Qantas flight to Sydney. A petite blonde flight attendant welcomed me on board, and offered champagne and orange juice.
She then proceeded to serve a four-course meal to the ten first class customers, including cocktails, soft drinks, wine, water, and coffee. She provided entertainment units, promptly cleaned the detritus of the meals, and took care of coats, pillows, and the inevitable bag that wouldn't fit on an ocean going freighter.
I carry American "special acknowledgment" cards, which the airline gives to its best passengers to give to its best employees. Mine are dusty, but I knew where I stowed them and they are good until 2010. She was astonished to receive one and genuinely grateful. I was astonished she was astonished.
She took pride in her work. Her outfit and grooming were immaculate. She always smiled. She interacted well with her crew mates.
I can remember a day when even ushers and coat check people took pride in their work. Recently, I've had to help ushers read the tickets, and I've had to wade through coats while the coat check woman finished up on her Blackberry mail or YouFace or something.
There is nothing wrong with the kind of pride that says to you that, as long as you have to do something, you ought to do it well, cheerfully, and thoroughly. I've met bus drivers who fill that bill, and congressional representatives who do not. Once upon a time, teachers were well within that camp, lauded for their learning and unselfish efforts to help students learn. Today, to too large an extent, they are blue collar, unionized workers, sloppily dressed, with few if any initiatives aimed at anything but making their work easier. Student performance isn't a factor in most cases. Yet what other test is there?
We're being forced into a crazed egalitarian society where no one is supposed to shine, or standout, or excel. Except for vapid celebrities and drug-assisted sports stars, we don't want our "peers" to be better than we are, even if they try harder or have more talent. (The Australians call this the "tall poppy" syndrome, wherein the tall poppy gets chopped down.)
Society is brought forward by excellence, not mediocrity. And excellence is based on taking pride in one's work, no matter how exalted or how humble. As John Gardner pointed out in his work on leadership, it's vital to have both excellent philosophers and excellent plumbers, or neither our pipes nor our ideas will hold water. And I would think an excellent plumber trumps a shoddy philosopher any day.
I imagine it's great to have that flight attendant's attitude every day. But I know it's great just to be around her. I think more of her employer for her efforts.
And like the underrated Ginger Rogers in Fred Astaire's shadow, she did it all in heels.
Flying to LA in the bulkhead window seat in first class, there is a teenage Asian woman next to me, very quiet, barely heard by the flight attendant for the meal orders, extremely polite.
As we near LA, the pilot tells us that there is significant turbulence and he wants to prepare the cabin early, so we should take care of seats and tray tables and so on. The seats on this 767 operate in about 12 positions, with a foot rest that goes up and down and in and out, massage, bed and dining positions, etc.
I find that my blanket is stuck under the foot rest, so I begin playing with the controls to free it, but nothing is happening and I assume I've jammed the mechanism. So I start to try every single button in every mode. That's when I hear a guy across the first aisle start to giggle.
My pillow was covering my control area, so I was mistakenly hitting my seatmate's controls, and the poor girl, never complaining, was going up and down, getting smacked by the footrest, having the lumbar beat the pulp out of her, and madly racing forward and backward repeatedly. When I finally stopped, she looked as if she had just ridden one of those mechanical bulls.
I looked at her, aghast. "So sorry," she said.
Balancing Act® is our registered trademark. You are encouraged to share the contents with others with appropriate attribution. Please use the ® whenever the phrase "Balancing Act" is used in connection with this newsletter or our workshops.
Having problems viewing this email, click