IT IS CLOUDY and threatening to rain as I am writing this. It is also a holiday as I am writing this. Most of the world has the day off. I do not. I am happy that it is threatening to rain on the most of the world that has the day off. Nothing pleases me like someone's else's misfortune.
I am not a curmudgeon. I am, instead, a typical person. I have noticed, for instance, how people somehow feel cheated if they go to Florida in the winter and the weather at home suddenly turns warm. I have noticed, too, how the television stations in Florida devote much of their weather reports to conditions up north so that the people in the south can gloat. Nothing can turn an expensive Florida vacation into a bargain faster than a good blizzard up north.
There is a universal rule here, perhaps what Einstein really meant when he developed his rule of relativity. I remember as a kid asking my father what this rule meant and he said: "It means that all things are relative." He was joking, but he was right.
The rule of relativity as applied to the weather means that the weather is always better if it is worse some place else. It also means that it is worse if it is better some place else. I, for instance, can suffer through a cold spell, almost enjoy it, but what robs it of all the fun for me is knowing that out there in California people are playing tennis -- and laughing at me. This is my California Rule, a corolloary of the Relativity Rule, and it has such an impact on me that even when the weather in Washington is terrific -- something that happens once or twice a year -- I get depressed remembering that it is frequently that nice in California.
You can apply the Relativity Rule to almost anything. Most frequently it applied to what is meant by success. For most people, there is no absolute standard of success. It is not some standard they have set for themselves. It is, instead, a measure of what they have achieved as compared to what others have achieved. For some people, the others are people in their office, but to a whole lot of people, the others are contemporaries -- people in their graduating class.
It is a fact of life, for instance, that nothing is as depressing as learning that someone in your graduating class has done far better in your business than you have. That others have done better in your business is not half as troubling; you already know that. To be bested by a contemporary, though, is really hard to take.
It is also a fact of life that nothing is as pleasing to many people as the failure of someone else. This is relative success. Someone failing somehow means that you succeed. You see this principle in operation in every office in the country where colleagues measure their relative success not by their own accomplishment, but by the failure of others. It is also true when it comes to contemporaries. The person who accomplishes little, but who graduates in a class of people who have accomplished less, has got to consider himself a success.
To see this principle in operation, consider, for a moment, Alan Alda. It is for me a pleasing task, but there are, I have to tell you, oodles and oodles of people who would like nothing better than for Alda to fail. He is the man, after all, who goes around the country saying he has been able to combine a terrific business career with a terrific family life. He loves his work and he loves his wife. To this, a lot of people applaud. But some people would like nothing better than to have Alda's marriage go on the rocks. By some perverted reasoning, this would make their own marriages less of a failure -- more of a success.
Once you recognize this principle, you can see it wherever you go. A healthy dose was present in the Fred silverman-NBC saga. His was such a magnificent and public failure that countless people felt elevated for days just by comparison. And of course this principle is present in all elections. jPeople usually vote against someone, almost never for someone. Elections are about losing, not winning.
Of course, I am the exception to all this. I vote for someone, never against someone, and nothing cheers me as much as the success of a colleague or a contemporary. In fact, I am feeling very generous today. Maybe it's because the weather is so terrific.
It's started to rain.