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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 159, November 2012 )

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  • Don't feel constrained to tell someone when you disagree with a position. You're an adult. Someone else's opinion which has no bearing on you needn't be responded to in an eternal game of "gotcha."
  • If you don't know what silverware to use, watch someone who does before you pick anything up. Yes, it can make a big difference, especially at business meals.
  • Be concerned about observed behavior, not accusations or gossip. If three people are complaining about a fourth whose behavior you see as normal, be concerned with the three complainers.
  • Smile and tolerate bureaucrats who play stupid power games. You're in a better place than they are, and think about life coming into their jobs every day.
  • Retirement is an artificial construct, stop thinking about it. Think about reinvention instead. I know too many people in their sixties who have "retired" from their occupations and are, basically, sitting around waiting to die. There is no moral or religious code calling for the excitement of life to end before life ends.
  • Will power is the ability to replace a bad habit with a good habit, simple as that.
  • Your self-esteem is not good if you feel "cowed" into standing to applaud a performance just because most others do if you didn't think much of it.
  • If you never travel to other lands, you're missing life. If you travel to other lands but don't bother to learn something about them first, you're missing the richness of life. (We knew a woman who ordered Italian food no matter what country she was in. We wondered why she ever left home.)
  • Learn three good white wines and three good red wines at three different price ranges, and you can order comfortably if you're ever asked to do so. (Never accept a sample of wine if someone else has already tasted it and proclaimed it good. Are you going to overrule them?)
  • Here's a casual knowledge test, which you should take right NOW before you resort to Wikipedia or Google. Put this in proper chronological order, oldest to most recent: Wright Brothers first successful flight; Spanish/American War; first successful use of a submarine to sink an enemy ship; the Russian Revolution. (Answers at the end of the newsletter.)
  • NOTE!!! I'm running a free day with me on 12/12/12 in Warwick, RI at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, called "Alan Unplugged." To get in, while seats last, you need to make a $50 contribution to the East Greenwich Animal Protection League (EGAPL) and send that check to ME with your email address. (Those outside the US can pay at the door in US funds if you email me ahead of time.) I'll be speaking about marketing, influence, life balance, and some of the ironies and opportunities of life in a highly interactive six hours.

    I'm even buying lunch! Mail your check and email address to me at Box 1009, East Greenwich, RI 02818. Outside the US, write to me at alan@summitconsulting.com. I'm selling zero at this session, I'm just paying back all those who support my work.

 

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I've driven and been driven extensively through Europe, and in very country I've been impresses by how meticulous drivers are about using directional signals. They signal when turning, changing lanes, passing double-parked vehicles, in rotaries, in parking lots, in construction sites. There is an ingrained cultural more about alerting other drivers as to one's intentions.

Not so in the U.S. I estimate in Rhode Island (where people don't even had to learn how to parallel park to get a license) that about 50 percent of drivers use directional, and then mostly for 90-degree turns, but seldom for using exit ramps or making lane changes.

Similarly, European drivers stay in slower lanes except to pass and remove themselves from the high speed lane when another driver approaches. It's rate to see headlights used to request the right to pass. In the U.S. we have people planted in the high speed lanes, like posies. I recall a British visitor cringing in my passenger seat as a sped by a tortoise by using the slower lane.

"We just don't pass that way," he said.

"If we didn't pass that way, it would take an hour to go 20 miles," I explained.

Of course, the cultural more in countries such as Italy and Greece is that you're a fool to pay taxes, so just evade them. That's why there are austerity measures and riots in the streets today. The U.S., with one of he highest tax collection efficiencies in the world, has a more of "avoid them but don't evade them."

So I'm wondering, what if we could change these mores? What if U.S. drivers began acting more politely and safely, and Greeks started paying taxes that they owe? What if more people started acting environmentally responsibly, and were more civil at sporting events—avoiding screaming profanities or getting drunk?

Are such changes possible? Well, I know that people have adapted well to clearing the streets of dog waste, smoking only in designated areas, and refraining from littering. I know what you're thinking, that there are laws prescribing and proscribing certain acts. But there are laws about using directional signals and paying taxes, as well.

What would these cultural shifts require? The normative pressure of peers to universally begin to act in a certain way, making the outcasts obvious and recognizable. It's difficult for the law to crack down on thousands of people not using directional or paying taxes, but not on 20 who are glaring standouts.

If Americans can pick up after a mastiff, they can raise their hands to push the directional stalk. That way we can all not only walk but also drive in a healthy manner.


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The human condition: Exploration

My wife and I just finished walking all over Prague, which has a lot of hills. But it's a great walking city, as many cities are. I recall lovely gardens, quite ponds, and hidden restaurants that we've found by poking our noses into an alley or road that had some allure.

In St. Thomas, we were invited into someone's home, a professional kite maker, when we thought the driveway might be a road. In Venice we found a garden restaurant with the best salad we've ever tasted, and a 90-year-old monk walking by. In St. Maarten we found a lovely beach with crude stone steps, supplied with barbecued chicken and cold beer by a couple of enterprising locals. In Tokyo we found shopkeepers in the early morning cleaning fish and the streets and in Hong Kong a watch repairman with no shop at all, but just a lectern mounted on steps leading up a hill. In Prague wandering off a funicular we took a mountainside path that led to a lone violinist playing Bach with no one else around, but his case open to receive the coins I proffered.

We've all had these experiences, at least those of us who are willing to take paths less traveled, to poke around where no one else is poking, and to be willing to backtrack when they reach a dead end.

We know a woman who went to India and had some troubled times, since she didn't see why she should spend money on expensive hotels and good food. But she saw India, attended here meeting, and came home. She will never go again, but the experience enriched her. Her husband, a lawyer, refused to go with her on the grounds that he felt there was nothing of interest in India. It's hard to understand his point since India is one of the oldest, most glorious, and most economically growing countries.

I don't know many adventurous lawyers, because they are trained to within an inch of their lives to be skeptical and conservative. (Please don't send me angry emails. That observation is empirically true. If you must write: BuddyBeagle@complaintdept.com.)

I believe that if we're not exploring—our surroundings, our relationships, ourselves—we're simply not growing. A balanced life requires exploration, fresh air, and new experiences. My wife and I both like to explore—the Czech Republic was my 60th country—and we feel that's one of the secrets of a 44-year marriage. (That and my telling her of course she doesn't look heavier no matter what she tries on.)

Look around, venture forth, tally-ho. Take the first right. It doesn't matter where you think it leads.

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I was on a series of calls, and was taking a breather between two to go to the small fridge in the bedroom and retrieve a soda. As I did so, I noticed a blue, blinking light reflecting off a polished surface, and when I moved, it moved! It occurred to me that someone was tracking me with a laser scope through the window opposite me.

I knelt down by the fridge and saw my reflection on the door—complete with my headset's blinking blue light.

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Everyone experiences pain, but no one has to suffer. It's benevolent to forgive someone who has hurt you, but it is self-destructive to allow them to continue to hurt you.—AW

Answers, oldest to most recent:

  • Successful submarine (American Civil War, the CSS Hunley).
  • Spanish American War
  • Wright Brothers
  • Russian Revolution

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends who celebrate this joyous holiday!!


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