Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 121: September 2009)
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I’m writing this “at sea.” We’re on the two-hour ferry trip from Hyannis to Nantucket, our annual pilgrimage, our hadj. Since visiting Nantucket 19 years ago at the behest of a client, the island has called like Circe, but with benevolent intent. (If she’s going to turn me into an animal, I’m hoping for white German Shepherd.)
We are one day prior to our trip last year. Since that trip, we sailed on the Queen Mary II, had to race home from Capri when our grandchildren were born three months early, I’ve been to Australia, New Zealand, and London, I’ve published five books, launched several new ventures, and have been named a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants. My wife’s mother has passed away, as have several friends, and my mother is now in a long-term care facility. The grandchildren are now 17 pounds apiece and finally weigh more than my Beagle.
I’m watching the waves (and another ferry passing) and reflecting on annual “check in” points. We need to count our blessings and bless those who count. When you do consistent things a few times a year, there’s an opportunity to think about what’s happened since the prior excursion or event.
Time flies when you don’t throw on the brakes. By that I mean that you can’t stop this hour from passing but you can reflect on where you were, where you are, and where you’d like to be. We control more of our destiny than we might think, but if we’re not careful, we tend to surrender it to the whims of others, the addictive nature of social platforms, and “necessary evils” which cram the positive and constructive out of our lives.
When was the last time you took a non-work-related vacation, or went to a museum, or attended an opera or symphony or rock concert, or read a biography or historical book, or “reinvented” a part of your work? In my view, the repetitive should be the annual pilgrimages, no matter how many there are, but NOT the mundane aspect of everyday life, repeated over and over like bad music in a slow elevator.
We’re still taking the same ferries that were in service 19 years ago, though the crews have changed. We’re staying in the same suite at the same inn, though the ownership has changed. Consistency amidst change, identity within novelty.
Next August we’ll be back on this ferry, and I intend to have a great year to reflect back on, to the extent that I can influence it. In fact, I’m going to begin right now.
Generosity is not merely about the amount one gives. One of my favorite observations comes from Joseph Epstein’s A Line Our for A Walk: “…the true measure of generosity is not how much one gives but how much, after giving, one has left over.”
But I’m not even talking about financial donations and contributions. I’m talking about the generosity that allow one to give time, attention, solicited feedback, support, caring, and understanding. Sometimes that needs to be the proverbial “tough love.”
We do grievous harm to people when we lie to them in order to assist them (and, usually ourselves) in trying to maintain certain perceptions. The presentation was excellent (even though it was seriously flawed); the food was fine (even though the pasta was nearly inedible); the clothes look wonderful (even though they are age-inappropriate and terrible colors for you). You get the idea. It’s fine to overlook the trivial and the inconsequential (those flowers will not last in that location) but not the important (Can I recommend a couple of other schools that are aligned with your daughter’s career goals?).
It’s easy to be generous with tangibles and “stuff.” Those can be replaced and are non-threatening, non-emotionally involving. No matter how much I believe in a cause, writing them a check is a rather impersonal act, especially, as Mr. Epstein points out, when there’s more where that came from. But heading a fund raising event (and not just in name only) requires far greater generosity. And telling your friend, the organization’s chair, that she is shutting down debate and alienating potential donors is the greatest charity of all.
Through the commission of lies or the omission of truth, we enable people to perpetuate mistakes, errors, and, too often, self-destruction. Our refusal to get involved when we are friends, insiders, and trusted, is basically a selfish and ungenerous act.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not not proposing that you go out and start critiquing people’s attire or choices, or attempting to substitute your judgment as Holy Writ. All I’m suggesting is that when people expect you to tell them the truth, even if it hurts, you ought to do that.
It would be generous.
I drove to my regular gas station where a big tanker was filling the main pumps. With great finesse, I maneuvered around it, pulled up to the small space where a hose could still reach my car, and I pushed the button for the automatic gas cover to open. In my side view mirror I noted the tanker driver leaning against his truck, staring, clearly admiring my car or my driving skill, or both.
Then the gas station owner arrived and said, “Mr. Weiss, you did it again.” I had hit the adjoining button, and opened my trunk rather than the gas tank. As we made things right, the trucker walked over with a big grin. “Nice car,” he said, “and apparently it’s very complicated!”
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