An endless balancing act

中国日报网 2014-06-13 11:11



An endless balancing act

Reader question:

Please explain “balancing act”, as in this sentence: Parenting is an endless balancing act.

My comments:

Have you heard of anyone saying: A mother’s job never ends?

Well, that’s the idea. Being a parent can be a lifelong struggle.

Or juggle, to come to the point of our discussion, because it is in many ways a balancing act.

Like a juggler juggling three or five or more balls, being parents takes the same constant split of attention. On the one hand, parents have to take care of the children, making sure they grow up happy and healthy. On the other hand, they still have their own lives to live and lead. Therefore, the perfect scenario will be for parents do both jobs well at the same time – so that both parents and children get the best out of it.

Perfection in parenting is out of reach in the real world, I freely admit, but you get the point of what a balancing act is. It is a process of doing several jobs at the same time and making sure all jobs are done well, equally well. Aside from the juggler, another acrobatic activity which describes the balancing act perfectly is the man walking the tightrope in mid air.

Where being mommy and daddy is concerned, it is perhaps best to liken parenting to walking the tightrope. In midair, the rope walker is seen using a long pole to help him maintain balance. The job he has to focus on is to keep the central weight of his body on the middle point, i.e. on the rope. Lean either to the left or right and he will fall, leading to ruin and failure.

As parents, it’s their job to also stick to the middle of the road, so to speak. They can’t ignore the child or children, nor is it any good to sacrifice their own life and career entirely.

Well, you know what I’m talking about. In one extreme, some parents spend so much time and energy on their children that it appears they’re living through their children instead of continuing with their own lives. And this kind of attention sometimes leads to parents treating their children as children long after they’re into adulthood. “No matter how old you are, son,” says this type of mother, “you are my child. Even if you’re 70, you’ll still be my baby. You’ll always be mommy’s baby.”

At the end of the other extreme, of course, you see parents leave their eight-month old baby to the care of their own parents because the young couple each has their own career to pursue.

As you can see, neither of these extreme scenarios is the most desirable for all parties involved. Hence, it is the job of parents to dig deep and find the right balance.

Find the balance and stay the course – parenting is, without argument, a life long job, a battle that does seem to be endless.

At least when the going gets tough.

Anyways, here are media examples of performing the balancing act, in one form of activity or another:

1. As just about anyone who’s ever been employed knows, jobs are an endless balancing act – between good times and bad times, between good bosses and bad bosses, between job frustration and job satisfaction. Some unfortunate individuals find themselves with few options in the employment market – they must stay with their job, any job, no matter how undesirable, in order to pay the rent and put food on the table. For those with more options available, though, the decision of how long to stick with a job usually depends on how that balancing act plays out. If the good days outnumber the bad ones, if the job satisfaction exceeds the frustration level, one will probably stay with the job. If the frustration level builds until it amounts to misery, one will probably start exploring other options. The long hours that are barely noticed when one is in the heat of productivity and success seem to drag when one can see few productive accomplishments at the end of the week.

Thus it is that Christy Clark realized a few months ago that she most feverishly wanted more time with her young son while he was in that delightful pre-school stage of growing up. Thus it is that Gary Collins realized that a job as CEO of Harmony Airways would provide a substantial raise in salary, more time with his young family, and a return to his first career love – aviation. And thus it is that Geoff Plant announced this week that his wife’s recent struggle with breast cancer had sparked his desire to spend more time with his family (and besides, he’d never really gone into politics for the long term anyway).

All three of Premier Gordon Campbell’s former key team members stressed they were leaving politics for personal reasons, not political. And they are speaking the truth – all have valid and rational personal reasons for wanting to make a change in the direction of their lives.

- Geoff Plant and the B.C. Liberals’ Exodus,, March 14, 2005.

2. Coccolithophores are microscopic marine plants that convert carbon dioxide into chalk. It was thought that rising C02 and more acid oceans would curb their activity. Instead they are booming – and fighting global warming.

For hundreds of millions of years, marine creatures of all shapes, sizes and descriptions have gone about the daily business of converting calcium ions dissolved in seawater into the hard shells and skeletons that are so reminiscent of a trip to the seaside. Many of these shell-makers are tiny life forms that die in their billions each day, falling to the seabed to form what will eventually become another geological layer of rock. Without them we wouldn’t have the White Cliffs of Dover, Chartres Cathedral or any of the other limestone wonders of the world.

The chemistry behind the process of shell-making, called marine calcification, relies on a complex series of chemical equations kept in a state of equilibrium – balancing acts that can be tipped in either direction. The big question for science is trying to understand how rising levels of man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can affect these chemical equilibria and, ultimately, the ability of these organisms to carry on making their shells and skeletons.

There is a lot at stake in being able to answer this question. Marine calcification is vital for coral reefs and fundamental to the key organisms at the base of the food chain on which all other sea creatures depend.

But it is also important in terms of answering the wider questions of climate change. This is because the chemical process by which these organisms convert calcium ions into shells is central to knowing how the oceans will – or will not – continue to act as a “carbon sink” that helps to soak up man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The latest effort in this field suggests that there will be no simple solution to the problem. Scientists have found that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may affect shell-making creatures in different ways. Some may find it harder to carry out calcification, whereas others may actually find it easier.

- Seashells Fight to Save the Planet,, April 23, 2008. 3. One new study even suggests that some of the discrimination effects in the workplace aren’t the result of bias against women so much as bias in favor of men. It doesn’t matter what personal characteristic we’re talking about—gender, race, social background. Like attracts like. In-groups reward their own.

The situation is infuriating in many ways, and simply bringing attention to the issues is not enough. Awareness is good, but when problems have slipped from the explicit to the implicit, from the unassailable to the ambiguous, knowing that the effect exists isn’t sufficient to change behavior. Bowles cites an ongoing collaboration between the University of Virginia and George Mason University, where psychologists are finding that telling people about implicit stereotypes may have a perverse negative effect. “They are actually more inclined to use the stereotypes in their judgments and decisions when you bring them up,” Bowles says.

One way to start solving the problem can come from the institutional side, in the form of increased transparency around hiring, promotion, and compensation decisions. “What we’ve found is that ambiguity facilitates the potential for gender effects and for stereotyping people. It leads people to preconceived notions,” Bowles says. “And transparency has the opposite effect. It’s a healthy way of changing things without having to change the world.” If a female leader is going to earn less than her male predecessor, tell her why that choice has been made.

The final piece of advice is for would-be powerful female leaders themselves: be aware that, at least until social attitudes shift radically, you are not immune from these effects. That doesn’t mean not negotiating but, rather, being strategic about it. “We’ve found that you need to offer an explanation for your demands that gives a legitimate reason that the other side finds persuasive,” Bowles says. “You need to signal concern for the broader organization: ‘It’s not just good for me; it’s good for you.’”

Still, in a 2012 study, Bowles and Babcock found that a team-oriented frame could indeed help—but only if used on its own. In their experiment, used in combination with a legitimate justification for the request (for instance, that you have another job offer on the table), it seemed likely to backfire for participants.

No social-science study can tell a woman what to do in any particular negotiation. The variables are too complex. And to suggest that women should be wary of asserting themselves in the workplace would be like telling Rosa Parks not to sit in the front of a bus. But, for now, any negotiation in which gender is involved remains a careful, precarious balancing act.

- Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate,, June 11, 2014.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Time to call time on cheap, strong alcohol

Worth the candle?

Ebbs and flows

Train of thought

Fair game


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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