The Seven Secrets of Everything: Part 3

In the first part of my Seven Secrets of Everything, I justified the idea of seven as an excellent number for basing models and theories on.  In part 2, I introduced the first two of the Seven Secrets of Everything.  In part 3, I am going to discuss the next three Secrets and why they are important and useful as a means of living one’s life.

3.  Surround yourself with wise people.  Don’t worry whether they are likable or not. 

Many people are afraid of others who are smarter than they are.  Smart people are often portrayed as geeks, nerds, “college professors”, bores, smartasses, know-it-alls, intellectuals, strange and/or eccentric.  A streak of “anti-intellectualism” runs through American culture that was very well described by Richard Hofstadter in his book “Anti-intellectualism in American Life.”

It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals, for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant or a scapegoat.” — Richard Hofstadter

You have only to listen to the radio talk show hosts to see the disdain and denigration they routinely heap on educated people in this country.  College professors are regularly blamed for the majority of the problems in American life.  Ironically, even the colleges themselves contribute to this problem by exalting the doer over the thinker as they pay college coaches ten to hundred times greater salaries that they pay their own instructors.  What is more important in most high schools in this country, the football team or the debate team, the basketball team or the chess team?  The answer is obvious.  Look at any small town newspaper and see how much print is allocated to local sports and how much print to intellectual endeavors.

Turn on TV if you want to see a desert of intellectual activity.  Grossly negative stereotypes of intelligent people abound in almost every show with the exception perhaps of a few like Sherlock Holmes and Bones.  Nevertheless, even such shows as these portray the intellectual protagonists as social misfits with little ability to adapt to normal human society.  If you are an intellectual and a minority, the situation is even worse.  Asians are depicted as emasculated computer geeks while intellectual Blacks, intellectual Native Americans and intellectual Latinos do not even exist.  Smart intelligent Arabs will be depicted as secretly harboring jihadist tendencies and on the verge of losing it any minute.

0520_nicethoughtsOne has only to look to history to see the importance of surrounding yourself with intelligent people.  The wise ruler has always been the individual who has had advisors that they could depend on.  The downfall of many of the great rulers in history has been partly due to the fact that they eventually isolated themselves from reality by cloistering themselves with sycophants who would reflect back anything they thought was expeditious to say.  Irving Janus in his book “Groupthink” describes this very same phenomenon in relation to the Bay of Pigs invasion.  The majority of Kennedy’s cabinet thought it was a bad idea, but they were all too afraid to speak out and appear disloyal.  It does a leader no good to have intelligent people as advisors if they are afraid to speak up or if the leader does not listen.

“Advice to leaders in formulating decisions was provided by Keith Pinto, who opined that “Encouraging mavericks, risk takers, and soul searching questions is part of the chaos that leaders need to face to find meaning from ambiguity.” As John van Wyk said, “It is also the case that … [the truly successful leader] … has the courage to hold close even the fiercest critics.” Gad Gasaatura suggested the use of the “name optional approach” to encourage contrarians to express views.”  — Leadership: A Matter of Sustaining or Eliminating Groupthink, by James Heskett 

 

The moral of this 3rd Secret is clear.  Woe to the individual in life who is afraid of smart.  Woe to the individual who has only friends that are dumb and dumber.  Woe to the individual who only has time for Duck Dynasty, shopping, TV and the Casino.  The mind is a great big muscle and like most muscles it will atrophy unless routinely challenged and stretched.  You strengthen your mind by exposing it to new thoughts, new ideas and checking all your old ideas and beliefs against the metric of new, contrary and dissenting opinions.   When was the last time you visited your local library?

4.  Love and help everyone you can, friends, enemies and strangers alike.

There is a famous story that runs through the Christian gospels called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”   I hated this story more than I can tell you.  Each time I heard it, I was filled with fury at the stupidity and disrespect that seemed to me to be the primary characteristics of this tale.  In the parable, a father has a worthless son who upon coming of age demands his birthright or share of the family fortune.  Having done nothing to earn it is the first strike I have against this story.  So what does indulgent dad do, he gives worthless son, his share of the family fortune and off worthless son goes with not even a hi-five to his old man.  The oldest son, who has always done more than his share of the work, continues on in fidelity to his dad, doing what he is told and helping to run things as his father ages.  In the meantime, worthless son spends all his money and ends up living with hogs and fighting with them for scraps of food.  Of course, worthless son soon decides to go back to indulgent dad and see if he can get a better deal, food and work wise.  What else would you expect worthless son to do?

Dear old dad has been pining away for worthless son.  Every day he has looked out to see if perhaps worthless son might be coming back.  My opinion is good riddance, but no dad burns to see his son again and lo and behold one day he spies him coming back down the road.  Here is where I really get burned up.  Dear old dad yells to the servants, “my son is coming back.  Bring clean garments and kill the fatted calf for tonight we will celebrate and have a feast in honor of his returning.”  Can you imagine the stupidity?  At this point, all I can think about is the oldest son who has done everything for his old man, but does he get a feast or a fatted calf?  Of course not!  The moral is clear.  Greed and stupidity get rewarded and hard work and loyalty goes unrecognized.  The oldest son is angry and confronts his father who gives some inane excuse for his behavior:  “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” — Luke 15:11-32

I am not buying this.  If I were oldest son, I would get my share and tell dad, “Sayonara.  Let your worthless son do the work I have been doing for years and see what happens.”  Year after year, I listened to this story and year after year, I shook my head in disgust.  Each time I heard it, I was angry.  I attended thirty Jesuit retreats and at each retreat someone would discuss this story or suggest it as a Bible reading.  I read or heard this story at least fifty times and fifty times I shook my head in amazement at the stupidity of human beings:  The father for spoiling his youngest son; the oldest son for putting up with dear old dad and the youngest son for being such an ungrateful brat.   I could not understand the point of this story.  Human beings like this revolted me.  Then one day, out of the blue so to speak, it hit me.  Like some fog was lifted from my head.  It must have been well after my 25th retreat that one day I was listening to the story when the “Ah ha” hit.  All of a sudden, I understood the moral of the story: the power of forgiveness.

tumblr_m8f6elwrRk1rv59p5o1_500It would have been more difficult to forgive the son than to wage a vendetta against him or just to simply forget him.  I could never have done it.  My father always told me “get even.”  I remember the Old Testament “an eye for an eye.”  I lived with the idea of revenge, which as we all know is a “dish best served cold.”  Hurt me or someone I cared about and I would get even with you if it took me the rest of my life.  I might forget but I would never forgive.  Forgiveness was for the weak minded.  Vengeance was for the strong.

I was nearly 60 years old, when the true meaning of this parable became clear to me.  At some point, tears came to my eyes.  It was like I was sorry for harboring hatred and ill will to this delinquent son for sixty years.  Ever since I could remember, I hated this kid and wanted to see a different outcome to this story.  The worthless son was part of my vendetta against injustice and waywardness.

What does forgiveness have to do with loving everyone?  It is easy to love those you like; it is difficult if not impossible to love those you hate.  Forgiveness is the other side of the coin for love.  If you cannot forgive your enemies, you cannot love them.  If your world is full of vendettas and feuds, you will have no room for love.  Only by being willing to forgive can we open our hearts to love.

I once thought I was a very moral man because I always treated people who treated me well with great reciprocal effect.  I was fair, honest, loyal and helpful to those whom I cared about.  I cared about people who were like me, fair, honest, loyal and helpful.  Woe to you if you were not.  I had a list a mile long with the worthless of the world that I would not have thrown a scrap of dog bone to.  I regarded myself as a moral man tempered by the hardships and discipline of daily life.  I had no use for anyone less tempered or less disciplined.  Forgiveness was for those who merited forgiveness and those few folks were really hard to come by.

Understanding this parable opened my eyes and my heart.  I thought I was strong and tough.  I realize now I was callous and mean.  I thought I was loving but realize now I was uncaring.  I thought I had the moral high ground, but realize now I was a zealot who expected everyone to live up to my standards.  True love is unconditional.  True love is tempered by forgiveness.  Love is abundance.  The more you give, the more you have.  Hoarding love for only a select few or only for those you like, diminishes the hoarder and diminishes the world.

Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule. — Buddha

5.  Obey all the moral laws of the universe. 

Surely now, he must be kidding.  How could anyone obey all the moral laws that have been known to humanity since the beginning of time?  And what do I do when the moral law conflicts with the civil law?  Who do I obey God or Caesar?  Which should take precedence?  Moral or civil law?

I assure you that I am not kidding.  To answer some of these questions, let us look at how the philosopher Immanuel Kant defines “moral law.”  The following interpretation of Kant’s meaning  of “moral law” is by fLuXEDuP and can be found at:  Yahoo Answers.

According to Immanuel Kant, there are two faculties of the mind: theoretical reason and practical reason. Theoretical reason allows us to answer the question, “What can I know?”, while practical reason allows us to answer the question, “What ought I to do?”  For Kant, practical reason issues a duty to respect its law. That is, morality is not rooted in consequences (consequentialism), but rather in sheer duty or responsibility or obligation to humanity.  

For Kant, practical reason issues a “categorical imperative” that commands us to act in a accordance with the dictates of reason. There is only one categorical imperative, but Kant offers three formulations of it: 

1) Act as if your maxim were a universal law of nature. What if everybody did this action? A “maxim” is a personal principle of action, such as “I will never lie,” “stealing is wrong.” If your maxim is not one that can be universalized, then it does not issue from the categorical imperative. For example, if your maxim was “lying is permissible”, then human relationships would not be possible because we would not know who to trust.  This formulation, then, can be summed up with the question, “What if everyone did this?”  

2) The second formulation goes as follows: Treat another rational being as an end in them self, not as a mere means. This means that we should value the other person solely for who they are and not merely use them to serve our needs.  Kant’s point is that a person should not be a “mere” means. Treat that person as a rational being, much in the same way you would want to be treated.  The Golden Rule! 

3) The third formulation is as follows: Act as if your maxim would harmonize with a kingdom of ends. This means that the action should be consistent with a world in which people are treated as ends in themselves.  This formulation can be summed up by the question:  “Will this benefit the individual I am dealing with here and now?”

donotSo you see that you must obey any “moral law” that meets the criteria described above.  To do otherwise, is to create unethical and immoral actions.  Of course, you can find exceptions to any rule, but this does not invalidate a general set of principles which are essential for a society to live by.  For instance, suppose everyone decided to pick and choose the “moral laws” they wanted to live by?  Each neighborhood would have a different set of standards to judge the goodness or badness of its citizens.  Can you imagine the confusion and disorder this would create?  What if in a family, each member of the family chose their own set of moral laws?  What I am espousing and what Kant has described is the belief in a universal set of principles guided by practical reason that calls upon all of us to obey the underlying foundation for a moral set of laws to live by.  These laws demand us to respect:  Humanity, others and the individual.

Many of us think that we are special. We think we are above the law or that we can choose who and what we want to obey.  I have often heard people say “No one tells me what to do.”  This is really absurd.  It misses the point of moral behavior entirely.  It is not a matter of others telling you what to do.  It is a matter of your telling yourself what you should do.  This is responsibility and discipline all rolled into one ball.  No one tells the responsible person what to do because they do it themselves.  They do not need to be told what to do.  It seems rather difficult for many people to grasp this type of responsibility.

In John 6:38, Jesus declared, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” 

Obedience seems to be a dirty word to some these days.  The “it’s all about me mentality” promotes an arrogance to the will of others that borders on contempt.  “I am the center of the universe and the universe revolves around me.  I set my own rules and my own laws.  I don’t listen to my parents, teachers, the state or God.  Why should I?  I am the hub around which the world turns.  All should bow down to me.  I need listen to no one except myself.”  This attitude is quite ubiquitous these days.  We have thrown out the idea of religious absolutism but unfortunately we have not even replaced it with a meaningful relativism.  Instead we have an anarchy of morality in which many citizens have no clue as to what morality means or why it is important or even how to find it if they started looking for it.

The Fifth Secret of Everything is simple.  Obey all the moral laws that you find.  Do not pick and choose which ones you want to obey.  If you know five or fifty or five hundred, obey them all.  Look for new morals to obey as you would look for new dollars to earn or new friends.  Each moral that you live by in your life is worth a million dollars.  The more morals you have to live by, the richer your life will be.  Obey them because you believe in them, not because you should or someone told you to.

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere… Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust.  A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.  Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” — Albert Einstein

Time for Questions:

Which Secrets most appeal to you?  Why?  What could you do to help make these Secrets more a part of your life?  Would it be worth the effort?  Why or Why not?  How many people do you know who are smarter than you are?  Do you love your enemies?  What are the moral laws you practice?

Life is just beginning.

I am grateful for friends, family, Karen and everything that makes the world go round.  Each day is better than the day before, well mostly better.  Sometimes a day of sorrow provides unexpected benefits that are not foreseeable at the time.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Clark
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 04:30:17

    Excellent web site. Lots of helpful info here.

    I am sending it to a few friends ans also sharing in delicious.
    And obviously, thank you in your sweat!

    Reply

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