My last two columns about media negativity and American Exceptionalism generated a ton of mail. Many respondents agreed with my remarks. Others wrote to say I am too optimistic.
I am an optimist, always have been. Every project I undertake, I expect to see to a successful conclusion. When events take a turn for the worse, I imagine how they will get better. My general attitude is that things will work out, even though – needless to say – sometimes they don’t.
We all walk around carrying mental images of what the world is like and how the future will unfold. Some see the glass as half full. Others do not.
The $3,500 commission check you were expecting won’t be coming. The customer canceled the order.
The $15,000 salary increase your boss promised when he hired you will be only $5,000. “Times are tough,” you are told.
And the plumber’s promise that he’d have your toilet fixed by day’s end was just a pipe dream. You need a whole new septic system.
There is nothing like a bad surprise to ruin a day. Or three or four of them to ruin a month or a year.
I once knew a very successful entrepreneur who had to face, in a single, six-month period, the theft of his best three clients by a top-salesman-turned-traitor, the death of his father, and the embarrassment of learning his wife was having an affair with his next-door neighbor.
Jacques-Louis David is generally considered to be the artist who broke from the European painting traditions of the Renaissance (Baroque and Rococo) and returned to Greek and Roman classical art, Neoclassicism.
At a young age, he established himself as a history painter. However, his aim was not to document history but to use it to raise political and moral questions, questions that were being asked outside of academia in the private salons of Paris and other European cities.
The Oath of the Horatii was painted in 1785. It was a big achievement for David because it beautifully demonstrated a new idea of what painting could be. It is said to be the painting that launched the style of French painting that David was to dominate for the next 40 years.
The image is from a well-known classical drama, Horace. We can see Horace’s three sons pledging to fight and even die for the honor of Rome. Coming as it did just before the French Revolution, one can imagine how daring and incendiary this painting was.
The most important thing I ever learned about “living rich” was taught to me by a former rich guy who dropped out of the moneymaking game to study Chinese philosophy.
Jeff and I have been friends since high school. Twenty-five years ago, when we were still relatively young men, we were partners in a merchandise vending business that was making lots of money. Jeff’s annual compensation was in the mid six-figure range.
One day, he quit. Since then, he has supported himself by doing consulting and teaching Chinese martial arts. His departure from business did not diminish our relationship in any way. Rather, it allowed us to pursue different careers and compare notes along the way.
I’ve written about Jeff before. He is a serious and careful thinker. And whenever we get together, we enjoy ongoing conversations about topics that interest us both.
We talk about ontology. We talk about sexuality. We talk about aging and health. One thing we rarely discuss is money. But once, the subject did come up.
Reading is more engrossing than watching movies, TV, or videos. It takes more energy. It demands more attention. It requires imagination. And all of that is both pleasurable and useful to the brain. One of the particular advantages of reading is that it is easy to pause and reflect. How often, when reading a book, do you put it down for a moment to ponder some thought suggested by what you just read? This doesn’t happen when you are at the movies. It doesn’t even happen at home when you have a remote control in your hands.
Two of my siblings married people whose native language was not English. One was French. The other Spanish. The French-speaking mom spoke French to her children when they were young and they grew up bilingual. The other mother did not and the children know very little Spanish.
Some people think that exposing your children to two languages may inhibit their academic growth. But studies, including this one, discussed in this article on Wired.com refute that.
It is a burden to hate your enemies. It takes energy, sometimes a great deal of it. Hate (as well as envy, its little sister) distracts you from other, more productive endeavors. And it eventually consumes the best part of your self.
This is true in all aspects of life but is perhaps least forgivable in business. Business decisions should be rational. They should be somewhat intuitive but not encumbered by prejudices or other negative emotions.
I know businesspeople whose careers have been greatly hampered by envy and/or hate. RP and SA are two examples. They seem to spend half their creative time tracking the activities of competitors whose success they resent. They are always hoping to find evidence of wrongdoing or weakness or failure. I can’t help but think that if they spent the same time and energy improving their own products and promotions, they would be much richer men.
For the most part, envy and hate are self-destructive. But they can be very effective motivators. Read the biography of almost any successful person and you will find at least some evidence that they were, at one time or another, motivated by a negative emotion. If, for example, you read Arnold and Me (by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first American girlfriend), you will understand how much Arnold’s amazing accomplishments were fueled by his childhood impression that he was the least favorite son and needed to “prove” himself.
You can’t erase the envy, resentment, or other base feelings you may have had in the past. If they have motivated you to be successful, you can be thankful for that. But if you want to have a happy life, to prevent them from eventually eating you up, you must find a way to stop hating the people you associate with them.
Find a way to forgive them or, as Jesus recommends, to love them. As Nietzsche said, “learning from one’s enemies is the best way to love them, for it puts one into a grateful mood toward them.”
The fastest way to get me to stop reading an essay is to begin it with a conversation between mother and child. I’m glad I didn’t stop reading this one by Susan Fuji, published in Early to Rise, the newsletter that I wrote for ten years as Michael Masterson.
What Do You Mean, Life Isn’t Fair?
By Susan Fujii
“What do you mean, ‘it’s not going to be fair’, Mom?” my eldest daughter asked.
That weekend we hosted an Easter egg hunt and champagne brunch for several of our close friends and their children. My eldest Kung Fu Kid was so excited to have her friends come over, and yet she was very caught up with the concept of “fairness”…she wanted to make sure that the hunt was “fair” and that everyone would find the exact same number of eggs.
At all of the local Easter egg hunts here in the Bay Area, the “competitions” are managed so that each child is only allowed to find a certain number of eggs, usually three or five. This makes it “fair” for everyone, and no one leaves disappointed.
Today, kids are often brought up to avoid any exposure to “bad” things like “failure” or “disappointment”. At school, if you bring a Valentine, you must bring one for the entire class. If you pass out invitations at school, you need to invite everyone.
While I admire the fact that no one wants to disappoint a child (I don’t either–I’m not an evil meanie!), unfortunately this doesn’t prepare them very well for real life as an adult.
Because (as we all heard our parents tell us when we were little), life isn’t “fair”.