The Perfect Rejoinder

I have made what may be one of the world’s seventeen greatest discoveries. It is this: “Always keep it short and to the point.” You may disagree, citing Robert Southey who said, “It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn,” or Shakespeare who promised in Hamlet, “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.”

Of course you are not questioning my point, just my assertion that I personally made the discovery. Naturally, I know that Baltasar Gracián said that “Good things, when short, are twice as good.,” in The Art of Worldly Wisdom; and Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

These great minds along with many others counsel us to be concise and not impose on the patience of anyone when we can avoid it. They have mostly intended their advice for the written word. For example, Lord Sandwich advised, “If any man will draw up his case, and put his name at the foot of the first page, I will give him an immediate reply. Where he compels me to turn over
the sheet, he must wait my leisure.”

Or even more expansively and intending his point for every-day conversation, Mozart reported this, “My great-grandfather used to say to his wife, my great-grandmother, who in turn told her daughter, my grandmother, who repeated it to her daughter, my
mother, who used to remind her daughter, my own sister, that to talk well and eloquently was a very great art, but that an equally great one was to know
the right moment to stop.”

Dennis Roth made the same point but even briefer, “If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought;” and David Belasco was even more pithy, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.” The point is whether writing or talking, don’t be who Rabelais was talking about when he said, “He replies nothing but monosyllables. I believe he would make three bites of a cherry.” William Strunk Jr.cut to the chace for us, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” Just omit whatever is not necessarily necessary.

That brings me back to my great discovery. Yes, I am still saying that it is my discovery, even though others have argued for brevity and conciseness long before I ever had a useful thought. Here is the discovery part of my discovery.

Whenever anyone starts to argue with whatever you have said or done, always keep it short and to the point. You will be tempted to reciprocate with a counter-argument, further explanation or justification, but there is seldom any point to the effort. Winning arguments is most always a futile hope. Instead, calmly wait until the other person has stopped pressing their argument – and they will stop sooner or later. At that point, simply say, “Thanks for sharing your perspective.” If the other person picks back up with arguing, wait and repeat.

You may not think this is one of the seventeen greatest discoveries ever, but don’t reject it until you’ve tried it.

Now you know so there you go.

Polar Logic

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” Although Longfellow’s pronouncement has superficial plausibility, it’s merely an example of polar logic. One pole is what you feel capable of doing and the other is what you have already done. The judgment reduces to can and did. You judge yourself based on “can” and others judge you based on “did.” The reality is that such judgments rarely reduce to either can or did, for you or for others who judge you.

Look first at “can.” If this is a judgment you make about yourself, is it reasonable to make it without considering “did?” Relying exclusively on what you think you can do, without considering what you have done, places no value on prior experience. It also acknowledges an inability to learn. Alternatively, if you consider did to the exclusion of can, your behavior is simply repetitive; and you will need to take Albert Einstein’s observation to heart, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Look next at “did.” If others are expecting change, improvement, innovation, or new approaches and strategies, you aren’t the person they need. They can only expect you to do again what you did before. Unless “can” is considered, nothing new or different ever happens. The conclusion is that can and did aren’t separable. They are the head and tail of the coin of progress.

How then should one approach success? What is the best strategy for blending did and can? Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out, “a man can do as he will, but not will as he will.” The message is that you can’t simply “will” things to happen. You have a wide range of options for doing but no magical powers. Alexander Graham Bell said, “The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of steady accretion … It is the man who carefully advances step by step, with his mind becoming wider and wider – and progressively better able to grasp any theme or situation – persevering in what he knows to be practical, and concentrating his thought upon it, who is bound to succeed in the greatest degree.”

The basis for judgment is now clearer. You and those who judge you focus on both did and can. Success is a blending of the two sides of the coin; and if your goal is to get a thumbs-up from you and from others, you need to get high marks on this short quiz. – Good luck!

1. Are you carefully advancing, step by step?

2. Is your mind becoming wider and wider?

3. Are you persevering in what you know to be practical?

4. Are you concentrating on succeeding?

Sure, it’s simply a variation on the old story, “Nothing succeeds like success.”

Now you know so there you go.

Excellence Is a Habbit

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle

The idea that excellence is a product of training isn’t surprising. Athletes, musicians, and those who achieve preeminence in other areas requiring superior personal performance are well-aware of the necessity and value of continuous training. The point that may not be as obvious is that training and habituation are prerequisites for areas of excellence beyond developing physical skills and individual talents. They are necessary for emotional excellence, moral excellence, interpersonal excellence, as well as intellectual excellence. The point that may be even less obvious is that Aristotle also said that training and habituation are prerequisite to virtue. People have the capacity to be virtuous but become virtuous people only through training and habitually acting rightly. One becomes virtuous by acting virtuously.

How does one act virtuously? Cicero advised, “It is our special duty, that if anyone needs our help, we should give him such help to the utmost of our power.” Confucius said, “To be able to practice five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue… gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.” Although how one practices “gravity” is less than obvious, the other four requirements need no explanation. John Wesley was even clearer when he said, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” Now that leaves little room for doubt or negotiation.

The message has not changed over the millennia. Dante said, “He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it.” Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Is virtue the path to personal joy and fulfillment? Probably not. George Bernard Shaw said, “Just do what must be done. This may not be happiness, but it is greatness.” Why? As George Eliot put it, “Our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds.” Remember Aristotle’s message, “We are what we repeatedly do.” The choice is to habitually act rightly or to act wrongly. At that level, it’s not much of a choice. The key is remembering that acting virtuously is an essential part of one’s ongoing excellence training.

Now you know so there you go.

New Kid In Town

Hello and welcome to Audio Tidbits.

I am the newest member of the podcasting team and am excited to have this opportunity to talk with you today.

As the new guy on the team, it’s not easy to know exactly how to behave and what to share with you as my first chance at podcasting. I suspect you have been in the position of being the new kid in town. If you were like me today, you weren’t quite sure how things work at your new gig and are anxious to get off to a good start. To say the least, it’s a little awkward. Even so, I am taking a very big silent breath and hoping for the best. Here I go.

I thought I’d share with you as my first podcast some thoughts about being helpful and helping others. I know, maybe I’m just hoping that you are patient and help me get off to that good start we all hope for when starting something new.

Edward Everett Hale said, “Look up and not down. Look forward and not back. Look out and not in, and lend a hand.”

You are seldom too busy or stressed to lend a hand, pitch in, to help others succeed. This does not mean that you let others intrude on your personal space or time. Rather, it means that you are usually able and willing to assist, help when there is an immediate need, do what you can for others, deal with what needs dealt with.

I sure hope I got that one right and you really are someone who wants to be helpful when you can. At the same time, I trust that I haven’t intruded on your personal space or time. Well sure,I know that I intruded but hope that you’re pleased that you pressed play and shared a little of your valuable time with me. I sure appreciate getting to spend this time with you.

Thanks and I hope we get to share some time together again real soon.

The Very Dickens To Change

Samuel Johnson told us that the chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken; and John Dryden added that ill habits gather by unseen degrees — As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.

The truth of it is that Arnold Bennett got it right when he said that habits are the very dickens to change. Abigail Van Buren was also on point when she added that a bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project. Of course Mark Twain was also there, egar to join in, “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

Naturally, St. Augustine had a wise caution for us, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.;” and as we would expect, Mark Twain inserted his take here on putting too much stock in saints and wisdom, “To have nothing the matter with you and no habits is pretty tame, pretty colorless. It is just the way a saint feels, I reckon; it is at least the way he looks. I never could stand a saint.”

“Habit is a man’s sole comfort. We dislike doing without even unpleasant things to which we have become accustomed,” according to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. We already knew that habbits are sticky and not easily abandoned so aren’t surprised that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg added that habit might be described as a kind of moral friction — as something not allowing easy passage to the mind, but rather so binding it to things that to work loose from them is difficult. A Spanish Proverb puts it like this, “Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables;” and Horace Mann like this, “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last we cannot break it.”

As much as there is to say on the side of giving up our bad habbits, Eng’s Principle advises that “The easier it is to do, the harder it is to change;” and bad habbits are definitly hard to change. At least mine are and I suspect yours are too, so we don’t want to stop short, without reminding ourselves that habbits are not without virtue. Frank Crane said that habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them, either. They keep you. Well that may not be quite the virtue we had in mind so let’s leave it with this from William James, “Habit is thus the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor.”

Now you know so there you go.

Did That Help?

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” — Edward Everett Hale

A similar sentiment was expressed by William Penn “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” Your best strategy over the long-haul is to understand where people want to go and help them get there. You do this by talking with them about what aid and support they need from you and being sure they get it. It may seem more expedient to charge full-speed-ahead and others be damned; but being too self-serving ends up, in the long run, serving no one. Your success is best served by helping others succeed.

The glitch is that, no matter how well-intentioned, your offer to help is usually turned down or the response is, “I will let you know.” If you sincerely want to help, do not ask what you can do to help or wait to be asked. Think about what the person’s problem is or what they want to accomplish and then do something helpful. Proactively helping is most always much more helpful than help that is merely offered though it does take a little more time, a little more thought, and a little more effort. “Did that help?” is often the best question you can ask. As Sunshine Magazine pointed out, “He who gives when he is asked has waited too long.”

The famous Anon. had a particularly pithy way of emphasizing the importance of being proactive with others, “Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful.” Albert Schweitzer and William James respectively joined the help when you can, wherever you can chorus. “Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him;” and “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” Perhaps the last word on it should go to George Bernard Shaw who said, “This is the true joy in life – being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Now you know so there you go.

Never a Good Excuse for Bad Manners

“It may be years before anyone knows if what you are doing is right. But if what you are doing is nice, it will be immediately evident.” — P.J. O’Rourke

The idea seems to be that good manners can and often do cover up the proverbial multitude of sins. As Arthur Schopenhauer put it, “Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.” It may quickly distort or otherwise transform reality. What seems sincere may merely be the latest example of Abel Stevens’ observation, “Politeness is the art of choosing among one’s real thoughts.” The point is that in an effort to “be nice,” candor can easily take a backseat to what Emily Post described as “a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” The desire not to upset or offend takes priority over the responsibility to be honest and straightforward.

Of course, W. Somerset Maugham did say, “I don’t think you want too much sincerity in society. It would be like an iron girder in a house of cards.” And Lord Halifax said, “A man that should call everything by its right name would hardly pass the streets without being knocked down as a common enemy.” The conclusion follows that there is an appropriate, middle ground between total honesty and bad manners. One should find that balance between excessive rudeness and being unnecessarily impolite on the one hand and knavery or excessive dishonesty on the other.

Are you tempted to agree with this argument? If so, you are probably aligning with the polite majority of people who behave as if the choice is between candor and insensitive rudeness. When it comes time to choose, they generally lean toward avoiding being seen as rude or as having bad manners. The result is that they are often dishonest, at least somewhat. Personal integrity is partially sacrificed to the god of good manners. When you are thus tempted, Cesare Pavese’s observation is worth considering, “Perfect behavior is born of complete indifference.”

Perhaps the real issue isn’t your honesty, your integrity, or your manners. Rather, it is your discomfort with how you fear others will react to you if you actually say what you think, accurately express your feelings, and practice the candor you profess to value so highly. Often the issue is dealing with the bad manners of other people. As Gabirol put it, “The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.” the famous Anon. expressed the idea this way, “Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are;” and F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “It’s not a slam at you when people are rude – it’s a slam at the people they’ve met before.” The best conclusion is that there is never a good excuse for bad manners and that “situational integrity” isn’t integrity at all. Calmly and respectfully stand up, speak up, shut up, and sit down and then politely listen, making it immediately evident that you indeed are nice.

Now you know so there you go.

The Match Game

Here’s how to play the Match Game. Hold the match, ready to strike. Whether you burn that bridge is now in your control.

“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” — Jonathan Kozol

In the realm of life’s little lessons, this seems axiomatic. The problem is that many of the battles that are big enough to matter aren’t small enough to win; and those that are small enough to win tend not to matter. The challenge is in knowing when to fight and when to walk away. Kozol’s advice is to fight if the outcome matters and you can win, otherwise walk away. Although this is certainly a practical approach to self-preservation, it’s also a clear cop out. There are battles that matter way too much to avoid, even though winning is far from certain.

The more important lesson may be in David Russell’s observation, “The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” Life is full of conflicts and tensions, battles large and small, bridges to cross and bridges to burn. Life is a journey; and usually, when it isn’t working out, you can change direction, back up and start again, and generally change your plans. Now and then, though, the bridge has burned and there is no turning back, nothing to do but live with the choices you have made.

No, there isn’t an easy way to know when to cross that bridge and when to let it burn, when to be decisive and when to equivocate, when to hold back and when to make an irreversible choice. However, there are questions that you can ask and answer before choosing.

1. “Am I burning any bridges by making this choice?”

2. “Are the bridges being burned ones over which I may want to cross again?”

3. “If I cannot cross a bridge again, what will I do instead, if the time comes when doing something else is necessary?”

4. “If I cross this bridge, how will I handle it, if things don’t work out as I hope they will?”

5. “How will I be worse off if I neither cross the bridge ahead of me nor burn the one behind me, including the lost opportunity cost?”

So, you have asked the questions. You have answered the questions. What next? Stand up straight, take a deep breath, and deal with that bridge. Cross it; burn it; take a different road; but whatever you choose, don’t forget the old Chinese proverb, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”

Now you know so there you go.

You Can’t Just Stay On The Fence

“When your intelligence don’t tell you something ain’t right, your conscience gives you a tap on the shoulder and says ‘Hold on.’ If it don’t, you’re a snake.” As one might expect, Carl Jung expressed Presley’s folk wisdom in somewhat more formal language; but the idea is the same, “Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, ‘Something is out of tune.'” Christopher Reeve also heard that inner voice, “I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don’t know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.”

The recurring belief is that the voice of conscience is ever-present and far less fallible than the voice of reason. For example, Josh Billings asserted, “Reason often makes mistakes but conscience never does.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau made the same point this way, “Reason deceives us often; conscience never.” Although stated less dogmatically, Joseph Cook agreed with Billings and Rousseau, “Conscience is our magnetic compass; reason our chart.”

Unfortunately, that little voice may not be quite the totally reliable key to recognizing the good and right some say it is. Samuel Butler pointed out, “Conscience is thoroughly well-bred and soon leaves off talking to those who do not wish to hear it.” As it turns out, conscience has an attitude. If you don’t pay attention to it, it may just stop paying attention to you. Were that not problem enough, what conscience is saying isn’t always clear. You can listen and still struggle to understand. As William Dean Howells pointed out, “The difficulty is to know conscience from self-interest.”

Conscience and reason are having a fight. They go back and forth all through the night. It’s a right to the nose and a left to the chin. When morning comes, they start over again.

Reason says that it makes perfect sense. It’s trying to nudge you off of the fence. The tug of conscience is hard to abide. It’s pulling you hard to the other side.

You sway back and forth, first left and then right. Do you do what makes sense or do what seems right? Conscience gives you a pull, then reason a push. If this isn’t resolved, you’ll be dumped on your tush.

Does reason prevail or does the little voice win? Do you take one on the nose or one on the chin? Either way you go, it doesn’t feel good. Do you do what makes sense or do what you should?

Calm yourself and try to unwind. Take a deep breath and make up your mind. Do you go with what you think or with that little voice? It’s up to you; and you live with your choice.

Now you know so there you go.