The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: September 2005
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Techniques for balance
- The Human Condition: "Love me or leave me"
- ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department
- Write the "thank you" card immediately. The inconvenience of immediately sending it is more than offset by the embarrassment of forgetting it.
- When you're the guest, never critique the wine, food, or décor.
- Keep an umbrella, gloves, emergency kit, and auto adapter charger for your cell phone in all of your vehicles. (And a snow scraper if you live in such climes.)
- How to stop a rambler: "I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I'm following you. May I ask you a question or two for clarification?"
- How to let the air out of a conceptual argument: "Can you give me an example of when that's occurred or who has actually done that?"
- Using a porter or red cap in a train station, airport (especially outside the U.S.), or hotel will often result in your being escorted to the front of a line.
- Greatest safety against home invasions or robbery: alarm system that is set and all locks secured; lights on; evidence of occupancy (e.g., car in the driveway or music playing); hedges cut so windows are visible to the street; well maintained grounds; evidence of a large dog.
- In most cases, honest critique is more helpful to another person than are perfidious compliments. You don't help anyone by shielding them from their own dysfunctional or inappropriate behavior, but you usually harm yourself.
- Of 12 couples eating breakfast on the terrace restaurant in Nantucket, only my wife and I and one other couple did not have our heads buried in the morning newspaper. My wife said, "That's probably what they do at home." I looked out at the Atlantic, the boats, and the birds, and said, "That's pretty sad."
- Either deal with annoying people immediately or ignore them. Allowing them to get under your skin is what creates the stress. You don't stare as mosquitoes and seethe. You either ignore them and go about your business, or you smash them.
- You have only five seconds to answer this: Only one U.S. state has only one syllable. Which one?
Why do we have an apparently torturous need to have everyone love us?
Lately, I've had to advise people to tell clients an assortment of the following:
I'm your consultant, not your buddy; I'm sorry, but you're not the person I can submit a proposal to; I don't care if you find this negative, it happens to be true; I'm not working with you.
It's wonderful to have cordial, professional relationships, but not at the cost of telling lies, withholding truths, sacrificing personal interests, or being plain miserable. When you tell your doctor that it's unreasonable to be subjected to an hour's wait, or you tell your printer that the current job was done poorly, or you tell you child's teacher that the assignments are vague, you are providing valuable feedback. You may help these people run their professions and lives better, and/or you may just learn that the doctor had an emergency, the printer used the exact copy you provided, and the assignment was interpreted incorrectly by your perfect child.
Aristotle said, "Care more for the truth than what people think." Not bad for an old guy.
I tip on the high end in restaurants, but I'll also call the manager over if the meal or service aren't up to snuff. I've had to tell my share of buyers that we could solve their organizational problems without ever leaving their offices, because I was looking at the problem. I could never run the Mentor Program for the past ten years if I were more concerned with making people happy and having them love me than in telling them the truth as I see it.
How does anyone improve if we're all holding out, desperately seeing acceptance instead of objective discussion?
There are quite appropriate ranges of candor, from waiting until being asked to a hyper-assertive arrow to the psyche. Fair enough, choose a style that becomes you. But then apply it. It is not fair to sacrifice the well being of your loved ones because you don't want to alienate a low-level employee by telling him or her that you have to deal with the boss.
"I'm sorry, but my message for Ms. Cortez is private, and I don't intend to share it with you," is a perfect response to a secretary, assistant, or other obstacle.
The statement is true, and I'm sticking with it. If the other party is offended, that's not my fault and it's certainly not my problem.
I find that a smile and a rhetorical "How are you?" work well in environments even as dank and grim as the department of motor vehicles (which I believe was Dante's fourth level). But I'm not willing to sacrifice my place in line just because I'm holding the wrong form so as not to alienate the clerk. She can go find me the right form or she can get her manager.
Another interesting dynamic that develops when you're not compulsive about pleasing people is that you find there are more options than you think. Your accountant, lawyer, or designer says, "Well, since you're clearly not satisfied with this approach, let's examine some others."
And there are always others if you're honest enough to enquire and don't see your accountant as someone who must love you.
I was 13 in 1959. In the late 50s and early 60s a type of rock 'n roll held sway known as doo-wop. Its roots were on the street corners of New York and Philadelphia. Doo-wop's features included three major chords, close harmony from trios to quintets that always included both a deep bass and a falsetto, and a beat so strong, obvious, and relentless that not even the rhythmically-challenged, such as I, could possibly miss it.
In other words, doo-wop was the perfect response to the raging hormones that cried out for you to hold a girl in your arms without being whacked on the head by a teacher, a parent, or your date, for indecency. It was physically impossible to be unable to dance to doo-wop. You held your partner and simply swayed in time to a beat that had the regularity of a systolic cadence (even as your actual heart was speeding up precariously as a whiff of perfume drifted by).
May heaven bless (and rest the souls of) the great groups such as The Penguins ("Earth Angel"), The Five Satins ("In the Still of the Night"), The Jive Five ("Cry, Cry, Cry"), The Mellow-Kings ("Tonight, Tonight"), and The Skyliners ("This I Swear Is True"). There were the more upbeat songs, of course (Dion and the Belmonts' "Runaround Sue," and "Donna the Prima Dona" are fine examples) but even then the Lindy meant you were in fairly continuous contact with your partner. (By the time I got to college it was, counter-intuitively to me, becoming the norm to dance without touching.)
Ah, there was something to be said about that predictable, obvious-as-a-ham- sandwich beat. Life was simple. There was a total of 7 channels on our television.
I could name all the major auto makers and every model they made. There were only 16 major league baseball teams, and my friends and I could name the starting lineups of every one. You didn't go to malls or mega-stores. You went to the eponymous Frank's Grocery, Paul the Tailor, Valerie's Bakery, and Hank the Shoemaker. Radio was AM, and there were four powerful stations playing top-40 hits. The DJs—Allan Freed, Murray the K, Scott Muni, Dan Ingram, and the rest—were fixtures, and often hosted live shows at Palisades Park.
Yeah, I know, the past always looks better than it was. Billy Joel sings, "the past wasn't always that good, and the future isn't as bad as it seems." But I wasn't squired around to soccer practice. We played stickball in the street, because there was a neighborhood of kids. I learned about street-level competition, prejudice, bullies, and friendships. I read a lot of books because a video game or play station was science fiction. When our sneakers developed holes in the soles, we stuck cardboard in them from our fathers' laundered shirts.
I went to a public grammar school that used to be a cheese factory in a low-income neighborhood—my neighborhood. But the teachers knew their stuff (I can still name every one of them) and we learned how to conjugate verbs, diagram sentences, appreciate music, regard art, and employ common courtesy. We also played to win or lose, there was no concern about self-esteem, and people were proud to win spelling bees, essay contests, and basketball games.
There was a beat to those times that you couldn't ignore, a tempo to life that vaulted you forward with some measure of regularity and expectation. We weren't as protected as today's kids, but we were somehow freer.
I mean, when The Channels sang "The Closer You Are," you held tight, knew roughly where you were headed, and savored the moment. I can still recall the perfume. And I'm still captivated by the beat.
ONLY READ THIS IF YOU KNOW ME WELL OR YOU'LL BE NEEDLESSSLY TICKED-OFF DEPARTMENT
We live about 20 minutes from Newport, so we're there frequently for dining, events, meetings, etc. Consequently, we keep Newport Bridge tokens in all of our vehicles.
My wife complained that her tokens weren't working, because when she tossed them in the bin and proceeded at the toll booth, the "not paid" light was illuminated and a buzzer sounded. She borrowed tokens from my car, and reported that those weren't working, either.
"That's crazy," I said, "I use them all the time with no problem."
The next week my wife was determined to show me that the tokens were defective, so we drove over for dinner. At the bridge, she dutifully slowed and carefully tossed her token... ... ... .into the garbage container about three feet short of the actual token bin. Unsurprisingly, the light and buzzer alerted us we were having our license plate photographed, yet again.
"You see," she said, "it's like throwing money away."