A Guide To A Good Life

Are feelings of superiority okay?

Is it okay to feel superior to someone else? In this video, I answer this question with examples and toward the end, I explain why we have this need to feel superior and what we can do to make it go away.

Also watch a related video on Respect and Discrimination.

This post is part of “The Elegant Gentleman” series, a guide to clothing, manners and the finer things in life.

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A Guide To A Good Life

Character, Body, Clothes and Behavior

In this video, I talk about four layers of one’s being that make up a gentleman — or any man worth his salt for that matter. As we stand in the core, the very substance of a man, the most inner layer is his character and looking outward, we see the other layers: the body, the clothes and the behavior.

I hope you enjoy this video and find it useful! Till next time.

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A Guide To A Good Life

Introducing “The Elegant Gentleman”

I’d like to present a new project of mine, something that I’ve been thinking about and planning for a while. It’s called “The Elegant Gentleman”, and it’s going to be a journey on which I’ll hope you’ll join me, where we will explore clothes, manners and the finer things in life, in the search for a noble, enlightened existence as gentle-men, in this modern world of ours where stress and busy-ness seem to dominate the lives of those around us.

Raoul

Naturally, we won’t have an enlightened existence without the inner search for higher ideals. A preoccupation with “the finer things” alone will leave you empty in the end. But the practice and appreciation of character traits that ennoble us, and the search for meaning and happiness in the world around us, will make us enlightened. And I’ll tell you a little secret: when the search begins within and reaches outside, those “finer things” will begin to have a meaning that enriches our lives and helps us stay on a higher plane of living.

This all sounds somewhat esoteric, and on some level, it is. That’s why there are so few true gentlemen in the world. So won’t you join me as we seek membership in this exclusive club? The journey will be the initiation ceremony. The dues will be the experiences we will each have. And the reward will be a life better lived, a life worth living, a life full of wonderful memories for us and for those around us.

I’ll be creating and posting videos to my YouTube channel. Here’s the first one of the series:

And I’ll be posting frequently on my Facebook Page, and writing articles here on my site, where I’ve added a new category, called… you guessed it, “The Elegant Gentleman“. There’s even a website by the same name.

See you soon! Cheers!

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A Guide To A Good Life

Smelly passengers booted off planes, finally

I’m relieved to see that airlines are finally taking action against smelly passengers — by deplaning them. Jazz Air, a Canada Air subsidiary, did just that on 2/6, after wasting 15-20 minutes searching for the source of a sorely offending odor, then finding it to be a filthy man. I applaud them for having the courage to throw the bum off the plane, and suggest all airlines adopt similar policies.

I wrote about this very thing on 2/15, just over a week ago, after returning from a trip where we had to put up with an explosive trifecta of body odor, gas, and lack of manners. Enough is enough.

I don’t think I need to explain why smells such as body odor or gas shouldn’t be tolerated on airplanes — anyone who’s flown knows how cramped and stuffy things can get without any “additional input” from rude people.

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A Guide To A Good Life

Perhaps some PSAs on manners are in order?

I’m starting to think one of the things that’s missing in the US these days is an emphasis on manners — particularly things to do or not to do in public. In the past, books on manners were widely read, but these days, I think I’m pretty safe in assuming manners are not on people’s radars. That’s a shame.

We’ve got a huge influx of immigrants and visitors from all sorts of countries. We, as a country, should do what we can to let them know what’s expected of them while they stay here. If we don’t, we run the risk of lowering public standards for everyone, and I don’t think that’s what we want.

There are two urgent issues that ought to be addressed right away:

  • Personal hygiene: in this day and age, with such easy access to water and soap, there is NO excuse for not staying clean. A shower every day ought to be the recommended standard for everyone.
  • Passing gas in public: this should be a big NO-NO. You’d assume people would know not to do this in public, especially in tight spaces, like on airplanes, but they either don’t know or they don’t care.

I’ve written about personal hygiene in the past, and also about passing gas on airplanes, but these things obviously bear repeating…

On two recent flights, we had the misfortune of being seated next to people who smelled horribly — they had this acrid stench of stale sweat that filled your lungs and made you want to cough and run away. On both occasions, they were from under-developed countries.

I’m not saying all folks from those countries have hygiene problems. We’ve known and befriended quite a few good, decent, clean and well-mannered people from third-world countries, people who are living and working in the US and have integrated themselves nicely in US society.

Still, it seems quite a few people from under-developed countries have a hygiene problem. For whatever reason — customs, habits, etc. — they either aren’t aware that they smell, or aren’t taking steps to remedy the situation. They should be educated, because they need to know what our standards for hygiene are. Don’t think we’re offending them — we’re doing them a favor by being honest with them. Or would you rather prefer we laughed at them behind their backs and ostracized them?

Passing gas in public is a nasty habit that isn’t restricted to recent immigrants. I’ve seen this across all segments of US society, and it’s disgusting every time. Doing it in closed spaces, like on airplanes or buses or trains, makes matters worse, because the rude and filthy people who do it turn the unwitting passengers next to them into helpless victims. What can you do when there’s no place to go and the air around you is filled with the putrid stench of someone else’s bowels? You hold your breath, your eyes bulge, you hide your nose and you curse under your breath, but still, you say nothing, because you don’t want to offend, right? You’re wrong. You ought to speak up and ask whoever’s doing it to stop, because it’s offensive. Shame the shameless creep, speak up! You’re doing yourself and everyone else a favor.

Tonight, while on a flight, I did just that with a woman whose children kept passing gas behind us. They were even bragging to each other, saying “I farted!” and “I farted again!” I asked her as nicely as I could,to tell her children to stop doing it. Her reply was, “Do you have a control button?” To which I wanted to reply, “You’re the control button, lady. You’re the moral compass of your children. The education and manners you instill in them now will guide throughout their lives, so if you can’t even teach them when to fart and when not to fart, you’re not a good parent.” But she was clearly argumentative, so I simply told her that it smelled very bad, and she had no manners if she didn’t do something, then turned around and ignored her.

In spite of the unsuccessful exchange, her children stopped passing gas for the remainder of the trip, so I got the result I wanted. That’s why I want to encourage you to speak up the next time someone does that to you. Stay calm, but shame them, publicly, because public shame has always been a good reason for people to change their behavior.

Of course, the better, more mannered course of action would be for the government or for a NGO to put together a few PSAs about things one is expected to do and not to do while in public spaces in the United States. It’s high time that happened.

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Reviews

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

Movie poster for Theodora Goes Wild.

One of the many wonderful comedies made during the Great Depression, Theodora Goes Wild explores a young woman’s quest for freedom in a society where tight constraints are the norm. The film’s humorous and entertaining look at some of the hang-ups of the period is a very fun way to spend about 90 minutes. Interestingly enough, we discover that not many things have changed since. Gossip still rules, small town folk are always too interested in each other’s lives, and people still yearn to live their lives the way they see fit.

Theodora Lynn, a respected daughter of the town’s prominent family, has written a book called “The Sinner”. It’s a wildly successful look at the life of an imaginary woman who does things her own way, very much unlike Theodora. She has penned it under the name Caroline Adams, to protect her identity. Meanwhile, the town is in an uproar over the scandalous morals of the book’s main character, all the while unaware that the very same young woman that plays the organ in church every Sunday morning and obeys her aunts to the letter is the author of said scandalous book.

Theodora visits her publisher on an occasion, and while there, meets Michael Grant, played by Melvyn Douglas, a debonair artist who works for the publisher but is very informal. He takes an immediate liking to her, and coaxes his way into having dinner with her and the publisher that evening. During dinner, he gets her to drink (which she never does) and as she unwinds and lets loose, he enjoys his little game more and more. He decides to pursue her back to her town and “free” her, as he puts it. He succeeds, but he has unleashed a force greater than him. She now intends to “free” him.

The film’s gloriously funny twists and turns had us in fits of laughter throughout. And the skewering of the old biddies in that small town was great fun too! The film showcases Irene Dunne’s incredible talent for comedy and sexiness (it’s no wonder she made such a great on-screen pair with Cary Grant), and fits Melvyn Douglas to a tee. He has an endearing quality that shows through his devilish smirks and his on-screen antics. That same quality made him perfect for the role of Leon in Ninotchka (opposite Greta Garbo) three years later. I can safely say that he’s become one of my favorite actors.

Just one year later, Irene Dunne made The Awful Truth (1937) with Cary Grant, one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s so funny to see her honing and refining the same skills she used to great success in that movie while watching this one. The same little trills of laughter, the same thin smiles, the same looks, glances… It’s wonderful to catch great actors doing some of their best work. It’s time well spent to watch them act.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from the movie as well. It’s easy to forget nowadays how stifling society used to be, and how scandalous certain behaviors were considered just a few decades ago. To some extent, that was a good thing, but it must have driven some people mad with frustration. Nowadays, things are much more relaxed, although we still tend to be judgmental. It seems we always want to tell others what to do and what not to do. Sure, it’s important to point out what’s morally and ethically wrong, but that’s the duty of our parents and families, NOT our neighbors and townsfolk. I don’t believe in the saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”. No it does not! That sort of a village would be the quickest way to get me to rebel if I were still a child.

It’s also important to point out that while Theodora rebelled against the gossipy old biddies and against society, she did it all with a purpose, all while not compromising her own morals. She did not demean what she saw as her true worth. She simply put on a show to prove a point, and she certainly proved it. That’s something to keep in mind for the young people of today, who are so ready to step over any rules they might have set to get at what they want. Sometimes there are horrible consequences to that sort of behavior. If you watch the movie, you’ll remember that Theodora kept “both feet on the ground”. Keep that in mind. Have your fun, achieve your dreams, prove your point, but don’t do something you’d later regret.

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Thoughts

Technorati’s new photo message

Logged into my Technorati account late last week to check my profile settings, and guess what I saw on my photo page? Granted, the message wasn’t for me, it was for every Technorati user, but I thought it was hilarious nonetheless:

For the benefit of those of you that can’t see the image above, let me quote the text:

“Tip: Please favor us with a photo that doesn’t depict your very special but also very private parts. We have to hunt down and quarantine those, and that’s bad for everyone.”

I guess they’re having problems with nasty people posting nasty pics of themselves, or else they wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of warning users. That’s pretty sad — to know there are people out there with absolutely no sense of decency and self-control. Zooomr had a huge problem with this last year, in Mark II. You could browse its full photo stream — all public photos posted by users, as they posted them, and I did that a lot to discover great photographs. While I found plenty of great photographs that I faved, I also found plenty of pornographic images.

At any rate, that stuff was pretty nasty, and I spent plenty of time emailing Kris and Tom with specific links, and they would dutifully either make those photos private or remove them altogether. Flickr has the same problem, and that’s why they’re rating accounts as Safe, Moderate or Unsafe, which I think is a better approach than Zooomr’s — Kris and Tom are still stuck doing manual removals, even though they promised they’d introduce a feature to allow users to flag questionable photos.

My rantings aside, I thought Technorati’s approach was pretty funny, and I’m glad to see more companies do their part to make sure the nasties don’t get to poison everyone’s good time on the web with their filth.

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Thoughts

Michael J. Fox campaigns for stem cell research

Michael J. Fox appeared in some TV ads recently, to support stem cell research for Parkinson’s disease. The ads showed him moving uncontrollably, due to Parkinson’s. They were candid, and truthful. I’ve always liked Michael as an actor, and I thought he’s been a real gentleman throughout his ordeal with Parkinson’s. I agree with him, and with the ads. Stem cell research should be allowed, because it holds the potential for so many cures. So I was shocked to hear that Rush Limbaugh — although it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s callous and inconsiderate — accused Michael of faking it in the ads. I love Michael’s response, which shows, again, how much of a gentleman he is:

“The notion that you could calculate for effect … People out there with Parkinson’s are going, would that we could.”

If I had been in his place, I wouldn’t have minced my words — and perhaps, that’s why I’m not in his place. Bravo to you, Michael! Keep up the fantastic work you’re doing, and I do hope they find a cure for Parkinson’s soon!

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A Guide To A Good Life

The decline of personal hygiene

I’ve come across so many pungent body odors lately that I’m led to assume personal hygiene is no longer important to people.

Just yesterday, I was in a department store, and two different people smelled so bad I almost vomited as they walked by me. They’re not isolated incidents, either. I’ve seen people of all walks of life and ages whose body odor was so powerful, so acrid, so stomach-turningly revolting, that I was left speechless every time. If you can stand it, let me reassure you this isn’t the smell of sweat after a hard day’s work. No, these people truly stink, as in a medieval, once-a-year bathing, wearing the same clothes for weeks kind of a stench.

How is it possible that in this day and age and country, when a hot shower and a bar of soap are so accessible, that so many people forego this daily necessity? How can it be?

Then, seeing people use the bathroom and not wash their hands (before and after) seems to be an almost daily occurrence. How grown men can handle their private parts after they’ve touched all sorts of nasty things (keyboards and mice being among the filthiest, even more so than toilet seats), is beyond me. And then, leaving the bathroom without washing their hands is an even more disgusting sight. To think, these ninnies then go on to shake other people’s hands, and to pat them on the back, or worse, lend you their pens, or touch your door handle, sit down at your desk to type at your keyboard… The possibilities are mind-boggling.

I’m not germ phobic, and I don’t wash my hands countless times every day – just when I use the bathroom or when they’re dirty. I don’t use hand sterilizers, either. I don’t have cans of Lysol spray lying around, ready to be used. I don’t think I’m cuckoo, but it seems that I see more and more people (no, filthy beasts) acting as if it’s perfectly alright to smell like a pig and have the bathroom manners of one as well.

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Thoughts

Why you shouldn't "let go of difficult clients"

I recently read an article entitled “Letting Go of Difficult Clients“, written by Amy Berger and featured in the August 2006 issue of The Costco Connection. I do not agree with the views she expresses there.

While there are times when a relationship with a client has to be severed, none of the conditions presented by Ms. Berger in her article are truly qualified. What’s more, they encourage a sort of irresponsible attitude, where consultants who don’t comprehend the meaning of the client-consultant relationship and the level of trust that’s involved with it, fire clients on a whim, severely endangering the projects with which they’re involved.

Let me go through her article and explain what I mean:

  • “The client seems ambivalent.” This is perfectly normal. I don’t know of many people that can afford to spend thousands of dollars without carefully considering the options. I also don’t know of many people whose schedule allows them to do the things they’ve planned all the time. Unexpected circumstances always come up and delay things. If you fire a client based on a delay that couldn’t be helped, you’ll end up looking like a heel. If you hang in there, you not only get the contract, but also gain a deeper level of trust with the client.
  • “You can’t tell who’s boss.” Exactly how can you help someone’s immediate and unexpected transfer? Sure, if you want to lose your contract, go in there and blow off steam about how “disorganized” they are. But if you want to keep the contract, you go and meet with the new principals, and agree on how to move forward.
  • “Your communication styles don’t mesh.” Since when have two people’s communication styles meshed completely? Let’s get serious! There are husbands and wives who don’t manage their communication well, and they live together day in and day out. It’s your responsibility as a consultant to be flexible, and work with the client to ensure proper communication.
  • “The client is overinvolved.” Most people take some time to get sold on a new idea. The more different this new idea is from what they’re used to, the more time it takes for them to understand it, and it takes yet more time for them to trust it. If the client doesn’t get back to you immediately with feedback on what you present him or her with, wait, and occupy yourself with other projects in the meantime. Give them gentle reminders from time to time, and express your availability to discuss the project further if needed. Eventually, they’ll come around, or they’ll move on. But let that decision be theirs, not yours. Exactly what do you lose, as a consultant, if you spend a minute or two a week crafting a short message to remind the client of the project? You only stand to gain a contract, and your gentle persistence will help soothe the client’s fears.

Let me give an example to illustrate this last point. Two years ago, I started working on moving a client’s offline, paper-based business, to an online website that would automate the tasks she did by hand, saving her countless hours of drudgery. She was used to the paper process, understood it well, and knew it worked. But she also knew she needed to make a change, because managing it on paper took up too much of her time. When I put forward the idea of a website that could do all she did on paper and more, she was reluctant, but I gently persisted, and with the aid of mutual friends, she was finally persuaded to go forward with the project.

Within a year, she started to see the benefits, and got excited. But it took two years for her to realize the full potential of moving her business online, and now she finally admitted that I’ve changed the way she does business. She told me she now realizes how easy it is to run her business this way, and has started to look for a house in a different area, because she no longer has a need for a physical presence in the area that her business serves.

What’s the moral of this story? If you expect a client to change their views based on one presentation or a meeting, you’re kidding yourself. It takes time, months and even years, for people to make sense of something that’s completely new to them.

Now here are the circumstances when you can start thinking about firing the client:

  • He or she doesn’t pay the bills. I’m not talking about delays of weeks. That’s normal, and with big businesses, that’s even expected. Something tragic may have even happened that has severely limited their finances. But when they keep saying the check’s in the mail, and it never arrives, that’s when it’s time to get serious. Verifiable lying is always a good indicator of a client that needs to be fired. Besides, the problem of non-payment is easily solved by always asking for a percentage of the project upfront. That way you’re guaranteed at least a part of the payment, and if need be, you can get the other part with the aid of a mediator or a lawyer, although I’ve always tried to avoid those routes. Our society is litigious enough as it is.
  • He or she abuses your time. By this I mean several calls a day for weeks on end, that you know are unnecessary, and that review the same objectives, time and time again. There’s nothing wrong with checking on your progress, in particular if the deadline is looming or the project’s critical, but when you start to screen your phone calls because you fear he or she might be calling and they’re going to waste your time once again, that’s when it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship with the client. I’m not saying you should fire them right away, but you should try to set boundaries. They can be as simple as limiting the contact to 1-2 phone calls or emails a day, or more complicated, depending on your relationship. Only when that doesn’t work is it time to think about severing the relationship.
  • The language or behavior gets abusive. It’s normal for a client to get upset, or feel frustration. People have different temperaments, and some get upset more easily. Change is usually one of the most common reasons, because it prompts fear. People fear the unknown, and when they’re afraid, they get upset more easily. Technology is another frustration-inducer. It’s hard for an older individual to catch up with the younger folks who’ve grown up with technology and can speak its language. Don’t misjudge a client’s frustration for truly abusive behavior. Instead, look for a pattern. If the behavior is always angry and abusive, then this client’s not for you, and I daresay, not for anyone.

But if you messed up, and the client calls you, and he or she is angry or frustrated, whose fault do you think it is? Theirs or yours? Don’t try to escape providing good customer service by blaming the client! That’s my fear when I read Amy Berger’s article. On one level, she’s encouraging consultants to provide half-hearted service by bailing out when they feel like it, and that’s just not right. It pays to always examine thoroughly what’s going on before jumping the gun and firing the client. You’ll find your relationships with your clients get much more rewarding that way.

Oh, and if Amy or any of you still feel like firing your clients willy-nilly, send them my way. Tell them to go to Exprimare and to contact me. I’ll see if I can help them.

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