This I Know: Balance

American asks four wonks to weigh in on a single topic

Illustra­tion by
Traci Daberko

illustrations of a skyline, gymnast, wallet and a scale

Aimee Custis, SPA/MPP '10

Smart growth is about balancing competing interests. We want nice places to live, but we also want to preserve our environment. It would be easy to slap down subdivisions in undeveloped areas. But, as a society, we have decided to value open, rural spaces. So let's build in the city: places where people can live, work, and play within a five-minute walk. At its best, smart growth creates a network of walkable neighborhoods.

Places that are out of balance tend to be divided: you've got homes and subdivisions over here and you have to drive 30 minutes to the grocery store in the strip mall. For the last 50 to 75 years, we have reshaped our built environment around the automobile, so people take for granted that we spend hours every day in our cars. Smart growth is about giving people choices—walking, riding the bus, taking the train, biking, or driving.

Custis is communications manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth in Washington, DC.

Caroline Sparno, SIS/BA '18

Balance stems back to the idea of body awareness, which is important in gymnastics.

I compete on floor exercise, still rings, and uneven bars. Whether you're doing a handstand on floor or a flyaway on bars, if you don't know where your body is at some point in the air or during the skill, there's no way you can balance yourself. If you have good body awareness, it's easier to balance and eventually nail the skill.

Gymnastics is about repetition. You do a skill over and over again and fail many times in the process. Because you are building up muscle awareness, you can usually find that balance point automatically, but there are times when you're not getting the skill perfectly and you need to be able to center yourself in the air or mid-skill. Sometimes you have to think about balancing
a little more.

Sparno is copresident of AU's club gymnastics team.

Christine Haas, CAS/MS '04

When I see patients, I'm always thinking, how can I help them be more at peace?

Often, the way people handle food says a lot about how they handle their whole life. If people feel out of control, they might eat to comfort themselves, or they might restrict their eating because that gives them a sense of power.

We teach patients to approach eating in a balanced way, with structure, portion control, and realistic exercise goals. We also teach people to find other outlets to reward themselves, like going to get your nails done instead of reaching for a cupcake.

We're seeing all these diets: Paleo, Atkins, Whole 30. People can get stuck in an all-or-nothing mentality. That's not balanced. In life, we're going to go out to eat, we're going to have birthday cake. Food is everywhere, so finding a balance is really important.

Haas is a licensed nutritionist and president of the Washington Nutrition Group.

Don Williamson

You need a balanced budget in order to have a balanced life. If you fall behind on the credit cards or other bills, you dig yourself into a financial hole that can create incredible stress in your relationships.

Today there's a sense of immediacy to life. You've got to have it now. There's no deferred gratification. I see it particularly in younger people. While there are some things you've got to go into debt for—the house, the car, and even school—you need to be aware of your credit card balances and any other lines of credit.  

Balance doesn't always mean 50-50. When you try to do too much with too little, that's when something is going to give. When you start going into debt, that means your balance has to shift to pay your bills, because you've fallen behind—you've fallen out
of balance.

Williamson is executive director of the Kogod Tax Center and director of the master's in taxation program.