5 years, 8 months, and 25 days — an eternity. Regardless, remember: character matters

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I fear we’ve failed you.  America is an uglier and less civil place today than it was when we were your age.  That is our collective failing.

We failed because many of us have forgotten (or have chosen to ignore the fact that) character matters.  We failed because we have cast aside our humanity and are now too busy praying at the altar of Money, Power, Greed, Entertainment, Adrenaline, Likes and other false gods.

Character matters, my sons.   Don’t forget.  It always has, and it always will.

History will not be kind to those of poor character.  I pray that those who rush to seats of power give pause and think of the legacy they’ll leave behind long after they’ve vacated those seats.  Power is fleeting, whereas our legacies endure.

I’ve often said that intelligence and hard work are the stilts of success.  Many a genius slave away in obscurity, bitterness, and resentment, blaming others for their own failure to work hard to reach their true potentials.  On the flip side, many more work long hours for pittance because nature had denied them the intellectual gift it had bestowed on others or had handed them the misfortune of being born into a poor family, an uneducated family, a family stuck in a war-torn or otherwise impoverished nation, etc.  (There but for the grace of God, go us.)

Character is the third leg that forms a stool upon which your success rests.  The first two traits are all about you.  The third is about how you interact with others, or they you.  No matter your brilliance or industry, if you are nasty, false, or otherwise of low moral character, no one would want to interact with you, support you, or befriend you.  That, ultimately, is why character matters: we are not islands.  We are social creatures and need the support of others.

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Be you, but be the best you, my sons.  We have but one life to live.  There is no dress rehearsal.

We are humans, and we make mistakes.  It’s okay.  But, when you err, own up to it.  Admit it.  Apologize for it.  Learn from it.  Promise to redouble your efforts to avoid repeating it in the future.  Then, move on.

Remember also Fr. Dave’s prescription: before you speak, ask

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it inspiring?
  4. Is it necessary?
  5. Is it kind?

Of these, I think the first and last most important.  Don’t bear false witness and treat others with kindness.  Embrace your humanity.  If you and others remember to do that, I promise our world will be a better place.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with this last thought.

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Are you proud of the person you see in the mirror?  Live so that you are.

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5 years, 8 months, and 2 days. Embrace the wisdom of our forefathers.

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If immersed in ink, you will be stained dark.  If bathed in light, you will be enlightened. — an ancient Vietnamese saying.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Dark days lie ahead.  I don’t know how this journey ends.  None of us do.

I want you to know that, in my life, I am guided by the wisdom of the ages.  Fads come and go.  But real knowledge has a way of sticking around.  For example, we still today immerse ourselves in the learnings of the ancient Greeks and Chinese philosophers, who lived thousands of years ago.  Why? It’s because those lessons have been tested in the crucible of time.

Today’s teachings are often lacks depth.  They are devoid of long-term wisdom.

For example, when I did research for my Honors Thesis on “Child Rearing Practices an Prosocial Development” for the Honors Program in Psychology in undergraduate, studies at the time and from earlier times state corporal punishment is one tool in the arsenal of tools parents must use to help raise altruistic and healthy children who will become contributing members of society.  In other words, measured spanking is but ONE tool among many.  It is a necessary tool because consequences and accountability are important parts of life.  Both the carrot and the stick are needed to encourage good behaviours and discourage bad ones.  (See, e.g., https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1655269.html, a court case which states it is not abuse, in the process of preventing their once-good child from joining a gang, for parents to use a wooden spoon to spank a child after trying all other forms of punishment.  Note also how the court took pains to enshrine in writing in footnotes and to make part of the record the lies told by CPS in its efforts to assert its power without any regards for the true interests of the child … that she stay on the good path and not go down the destructive path of gangs and violence.)

These days, the “wisdom” is for parents to not even yell at their kids, much less spank them.  See, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/well/family/why-you-should-stop-yelling-at-your-kids.html.

Is that wise?  Does that solve the problem and help raise better and more well-adjusted kids?  No!  With horrible consequences, it only shifted the burden from parents and teachers disciplining kids to school police to do so.  Troubled behaviors that once would have resulted in admonishment in class, detention, conversations with parents, suspension, etc., now results in tazing, physical assaults, arrests, handcuffs, jail time, juvenile criminal records, etc.  See, e.g., https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/school-safety-students-police-abuse_us_5b746a4ce4b0df9b093b8d6a; https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/11/why-do-most-school-cops-have-no-student-training-requirements/414286/; https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/us/police-officers-in-schools.html; https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/police-in-schools-keeping-kids-safe-or-arresting-them-for-no-good-reason/2015/11/08/937ddfd0-816c-11e5-9afb-0c971f713d0c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.006da1640595; http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-aclu-report-20161017-snap-story.html.

 

No, my sons, think for yourselves, but use as guides the wisdom of the ancients.  For example, we are rediscovering the positives benefits of copper in medical treatment, something the ancients used to use before that practice fell out of favor for more modern pharmaceuticals.   https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-bacteria-fighting-super-element-making-a-return-to-hospitals-copper/2015/09/20/19251704-5beb-11e5-8e9e-dce8a2a2a679_story.html?utm_term=.16210f211e7a.

With the above said, let me share that I am guided by three adages, which capture relevant wisdom of the ancients.

(1) All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  This is your world and your community.  You have but one world.  Protect it.  Fight for good and fight against evil.  Be prone to action.  Words are cheap.  Everyday, you see people give lip service to what is good and right, but wouldn’t lift a finger to protect what is good and right.  Don’t be like them.  Be prone to action.  Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech.  It is noteworthy.  Remember, too, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

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(2) If immersed in ink, you will be stained dark.  If bathed in light, you will be enlightened.  Surround yourselves with good people, who will inspire you and help you aspire to be better. Work towards continuous incremental improvements, so that you will be better today than you were yesterday and better tomorrow than today.  We need more good people in the world: builders, problem solvers, helpers … those with good hearts and good intentions.  Surround yourselves with good peeps.

On the other hand, stay away from evil because it will drag you down to its level.  Your cousin on your mother’s side ignored the warnings and was caught in a car carrying drugs.  The police charged all the occupants of the vehicle with possession with the intent to sell.  He claimed he was just hanging out with friends and knew nothing of the drugs.  Regardless of the truth, the consequences were dire.  He now has a felony conviction and will forever by marked by that. 

Wrongful convictions are a major problems in the American justice system.  See, e.g., https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2018/09/10/report-wrongful-convictions-have-stolen-at-least-20000-years-from-innocent-defendants/?utm_term=.a643e396962d; https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cost-of-convicting-the-innocent/2015/07/24/260fc3a2-1aae-11e5-93b7-5eddc056ad8a_story.html; http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-texas-judge-20131109-story.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/magazine/she-was-convicted-of-killing-her-mother-prosecutors-withheld-the-evidence-that-would-have-freed-her.html; http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/aboutus/; https://www.innocenceproject.org/.  It’s a reality.  Avoid putting yourselves from that situation if you can.  .

(3) A frog at the bottom of the well thinks the sky is only as big as the mouth of the well.  Learn and expand your horizons.  Read voraciously.  Engage with others, those who are good-hearted and who have good intentions.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You can learn something from everyone.”

Ignorance begets fear.  Don’t live in ignorance and fear.  Arm yourselves with knowledge.  Reserve judgement and try to see things from the other’s perspective.  Keep an open mind.  Give people a chance, but don’t waste your time on every sob story.  The world has 7.6 billion people.  You don’t have time to meet and measure everyone.  Use heuristics and rules of thumbs to help you more efficiently find the good.  For example, you are more likely to find the good among kids who volunteer to help the homeless, clean up the environment, or feed the hungry than among kids who hangs out at corners, smoking cigarettes or pot, who sneak out in the cover of darkness to tag walls and paint graffiti.  Not all of the kids in the latter group is bad, but your time is better spent interacting with kids in the good group and helping others.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t involve you when I volunteered to feed the hungry; build homes for the poor; help the disabled, the elderly, and the victims of domestic abuse; etc.  I wish I had.  Your mother doesn’t do those things so you have never seen such behavior modeled.  That is my failing. I am sorry.

Be well, my sons.  Learn from life and the wisdom of those who came before us.  Be good.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

5 years, 7 months, and 18 days. John McCain’s Rules for Living.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Today, I want you to hear from a good man, Senator John McCain, who passed away recently.  Heed well his lessons for living, as recounted by his former staff member, John Raidt.

John McCain’s Rules for Living

He was a man of extraordinary conviction and character. This was his code.

The words came passionately and instinctively, drawn not so much from the man’s memory as from his spirit. It was 1984 and the quote was the answer delivered by freshman Rep. John McCain to the handful of constituents who had filtered into an Arizona community center for a townhall meeting.

McCain was replying to a constituent’s criticism about U.S. involvement abroad. I can’t recall whether the objection was to the United States’ support for democracy in a foreign land or the cost of U.S. relief from African famine. Both were topics at the townhalls that winter. In either case, as I was to learn, McCain’s answer would have come from the same core.

What I vividly remember as a young staffer – I would go on to serve with McCain for 16 years — was the respectful hush that fell over the small assembly, not just because of what he said, but the conviction with which he said it. It was clear, even to those who had come to scold him for holding positions they opposed, that McCain’s words were not the glib rejoinder of a politician. They expressed the passions of a leader with an authentic moral compass, someone who thought deeply about and sacrificed much for his ideals; and was to give much, much more. And they explain the man well.

Fulfilling the obligation to contest evil was John McCain’s life force. It was the source of his legendary, almost impossible, store of personal courage and energy, and the purpose of his public missions. He was a force of nature driven by a monumental sense of duty, an absolute faith in the morality of democracy, and an eagerness for the nation to lead in a needy world.

The list of evils against which he fought the good fight is long and well chronicled: from communism to violent extremism to tyranny of every mode. He fought human trafficking and other abominations of human rights. He dueled man’s inhumanity to man, including torture and the nation’s mistreatment of Native Americans. He tilted against a corrupt and corrosive national campaign finance system; congressional ineptitude and irresponsibility; waste and greed in the defense industry; the world’s uncontrolled experiment with the Earth’s atmosphere and climate system; and the public health scourge of tobacco.

Over his political career, the senator was called a conservative, a maverick, a rebel, a fighter, and a firebrand. He is, of course, each of these, and more.

***

I knew John McCain for 36 years, including the 16 I served on his staff. I would like to share some personal reflections and the key lessons from McCain’s life in politics and public service, including how they bear on the United States’ role in the world.

From the beginning, it was clear the McCain political philosophy was shaped by his reverence for the triad of human progress: individual rights, personal responsibility and public accountability. His credo is rooted in a profound respect for the dignity of the person as the basic unit of the commonwealth, and in the core conviction that moral and material prosperity are the product of free people, free markets and free enterprise, facilitated by government; not the other way around. His policies, programs and votes over the years flowed from these basic tenets. If he was a maverick, I think it’s because partisans on both sides of the spectrum are apt to treat the purposes of union and the American form of government spelled out in the Constitution’s preamble as a menu. McCain regarded them as a recipe.

McCain rejoiced in policy scrums that were opinionated, candid, and tough — seeing it as the spirited exercise of democracy; but he aspired for the political process to be fundamentally fair and worthy, understanding that democracy is a process not a war. This is why, to the chagrin of elements in his own party, he strongly supported minority rights and regular order in Congress.

McCain’s most profound legacy, however, will certainly be his character. Maybe over the years, in the heat of battle, he crossed the rhetorical line a time or two, but he never lost the boxer’s disdain for the low blow. His sense of fairness and countless acts of decency stood in stark contrast to the tribal, demoralizing character of Washington today. So, in that spirit, here are some of the key character-forming habits of mind and behavior I observed in McCain in the form of lessons learned — virtues we would hope for in all our nation’s leaders, and in ourselves.

***

Listen actively. McCain was always a listener, listening with as much intensity and presence as he replied. At hearings and in everyday conversations one could see his eyes boring in and his neck craned toward the witness to catch every word. He hungered to know what people thought and why, even when they disagreed with him, perhaps especially when they disagreed. His long love affair with townhall meetings was not so much the opportunity to address voters at scale; rather, it was so he could hear what others had to say. As a freshman congressman, hung on the wall overlooking the conference table in his district office was Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom of Speech.” The picture spoke volumes.

Learn avidly. McCain had an insatiable intellectual curiosity and worked hard at acquiring knowledge. He never presumed that wisdom accompanied an election certificate or seniority. I can’t remember a day when he wasn’t the first person in the office with a stack of newspapers piled on his lap, consuming them one by one. Nor do I ever recall when he wasn’t in the thrall of a good book. He regarded everyone he encountered as a learning opportunity, and would grow frustrated when expounding on issues more than learning about them.

Engage generously. McCain made eye contact with everyone, regardless of rank or stature. It wasn’t a tactic, but an innate inclination toward inclusiveness. To McCain, everyone mattered.

Care deeply and serve passionately. I’m not sure there is anyone in American politics who evinced more genuine passion about his or her ideals and missions. McCain’s career was a testament to the truth that nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without a deep, enthusiastic sense of purpose. He cared about people and his principles intensely, and it showed.

Work tirelessly. No one worked harder. During his first run for Congress, McCain wore holes in his shoes walking door to door. His wife, Cindy, had the shoes bronzed. For many years they stood beside his fireplace, not as a trophy but as a reminder that relentless hard work and persistence are the price of high achievement. McCain often quoted Winston Churchill’s counsel to “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up!” More importantly, he practiced it.

Think for yourself. McCain liked to assay truth for himself. He valued input and advice and respected general opinion, but he wanted to satisfy himself about the validity of any argument, cause, or position. He wanted to know something, not just hear it, and was open to arguments based on evidence and reason that countered his prevailing viewpoint.

Call it like you see it. “Straight talk” wasn’t a campaign slogan. It was an operating system. I saw it in countless interactions with constituents and colleagues. He said exactly what he thought, not what might be expedient or politic. His arguments, however, weren’t always meant to convince. Sometimes they were meant to elicit the counter-argument to test the merits of both.

Have courage in your conviction. McCain not only showed moral and intellectual courage in his public stances but also physical courage, putting himself in harm’s way. He traveled to countless zones of conflict and human suffering, from war fronts to refugee camps, standing with dissidents and putting something more on the line than a good speech. He didn’t just sympathize and stand up in the Senate for oppressed people; he stood with them, taking part in pro-democracy rallies in Ukraine, walking the streets of Baghdad, visiting with the displaced of Syria, and circuiting the mountains of Afghanistan.

Team energetically. The military culture in which McCain was raised inculcated the precept that nothing worth achieving can be accomplished alone. He regarded everyone’s role, no matter how small, to be essential. In the early years, he kept a practice of regularly visiting the office mailroom to keep up morale and reinforce the team ethic. And to him, a good idea was a good idea regardless of who had it. He encouraged creativity and entrepreneurship in his staff. His team ethic, however, never dulled a keen sense of personal accountability. Typically, whether in his official duties, political campaigns, or private matters, he would own failure while credit for success would be shared. In his company one heard “we” far more than “I.”

But he could be withering in his criticism, and perhaps no elected official was a harsher critic of his own institution – Congress – than McCain. His reproach sprang from a deep respect for the essential role of the legislative branch in a healthy democracy, and from a significant measure of fear about what congressional dysfunction portends for the country’s future.

Duty first. Other than on philosophical grounds, I am not sure one could perceive a discernible difference between the way McCain treated government witnesses representing Republican presidents than those under a Democrat. He was tough on the executive branch because that is part of the job — and when an administration wasn’t doing its duty, he said so, loudly.

Respect the process. Here’s how McCain thought Congress was supposed to work, in six steps: public introduction of a proposal, official public hearings, committee action, referral to full House and Senate for consideration, amendment, and up or down vote. The modern Congress has shelved this process in favor of an ad hoc system administered by the majority in which all too often major legislation is shaped in secret, sprung on the full body, barely read or understood, and, when approved, passed along mainly partisan lines. The practice assures the enactment of laws rife with unintended consequences while intensifying partisan animosity. It means that on major pieces of legislation nearly half of Congress and the public feel alienated and cheated. Moreover, it assures that when majorities flip, the new party in power repays the favor. This lack of “regular order” was a prime reason for McCain’s controversial vote against the Obamacare repeal. To have been the deciding vote in concert with one’s party to erase the centerpiece accomplishment of the individual who defeated you in a presidential election would have been all too tempting for a typical politician. Not McCain. He cared deeply about process, because to him, it was essential to democracy.

Protect the minority. The United States is an experiment in self-government, rule of law, and the protection of basic human freedom and rights. Among them are the rights of minorities, including political minorities. For many years, McCain served in the minority party and when that flipped, he didn’t forget what it was like. He stood up to ensure that the minority party is afforded the right to view, amend, and be consulted on legislation and policy. In the committees he chaired, he tried diligently to protect the due prerogatives of all members regardless of party. It wasn’t always just a gesture of fairness: He recognized that political winds change, and that as the national political pendulum swings, parties will inevitably be required to labor in the minority under the same standards and practices of treatment they imposed while in power.

Engage the opposition. McCain didn’t hide from anyone. On the contrary, he engaged his political adversaries. He would take meetings that many other elected officials wouldn’t consider. Rather than sneaking in and out of back doors, he was known to invite protesters into his office to discuss their grievances. During the Cold War he was happy to meet with Nuclear Freeze groups. While they agreed on very little, the senator respected their intentions and activism. Even if the meeting didn’t forge consensus, it established mutual understanding and respectful give and take.

As a congressman, McCain was the beneficiary of the friendship and inclusion shown him by Morris Udall, a beloved Arizona Democrat who for many years chaired the House Interior Committee. Udall could have easily ignored McCain, a junior member of the other party, but went out of his way to take him under his wing. He had no reason to do it other than common decency. McCain never forgot the kindness shown to him. As he rose in seniority and came to majority power he tried to pay the example forward. He extended his hand of friendship and partnership to young liberals like Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone, and over the years maintained tight friendships with many Democrats, including Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse.

As electoral politics grow increasingly tribal, driving party bases to donor envelopes and the voting booth, respectful cross-aisle friendships and collaboration are becoming rarer in Washington. This miserable trend overlooks that Americans, including the parties, have far more in common than not. The animus is destroying Congress and the middle ground essential for principled compromise that remains the heart and soul of democratic governance.

Take risks. McCain was a political risk taker. He respected the duty of an elected official to represent but also felt an obligation to lead, unafraid to expend his capital on politically risky but important initiatives. As a newly elected Reagan Republican, he opposed Ronald Reagan’s deployment of Marines to Lebanon. He risked the wrath of his party in championing campaign finance reform. He wasn’t afraid to offend Arizona’s power and water interests in altering dam operations on the Colorado River to protect Grand Canyon National Park or stand up to the state’s cattle and mining industry in helping put 3.5 million acres of Arizona under wilderness protection. He didn’t shrink from upsetting powerful commercial interests at home by championing Native American rights, including water entitlements; or in key primary states, by sticking to his opposition to ethanol subsidies so dear to the corn growers of Iowa and to his advocacy for anti-smoking controls despite the power of tobacco farmers in South Carolina.

In taking controversial stands during his White House runs he stated, “I would rather be right than president.” McCain firmly believed that if you did the right thing for the right reasons the electorate would support you. It did in two House elections and six Senate campaigns. When it didn’t in two presidential races, he could move on undiminished, honor intact. The point is that without political risk takers on both sides of the aisle, very little can be achieved across it.

Clean up the role of money in politics. Nothing offended McCain more than the appearance that Congress is bought and paid for by special interests. He felt this most acutely in the aftermath of the Keating Five corruption scandal in which he was embroiled, but the conviction only increased as he came to appreciate the intensity of the public’s cynicism about the system. Public trust is a fragile but essential component of democracy. Without limits on the time elected officials spend fundraising and the amount that a special interest can spend to influence races, the alienation between the elected and the electorate will only grow wider — all to the delight of foreign powers seeking to destroy our form of government from within.

Honor the office. McCain felt keenly that positions of elected leadership are not about the occupant. It’s the office that counts — or, as he put it, “the opportunity to do something rather than be somebody.” Every elected position is a trust that comes with the heavy weight of history and responsibility to the future. As important as the president of the United States may be, the office of the president of the United States is what really matters.

Curate freedom’s comparative advantage. His friend, the Irish rock star Bono, observed that the United States is not just a place but an idea. McCain agreed. Throughout his career, he devoted himself to protecting the idea, including for 25 years as chairman of the International Republican Institute, a component of the National Endowment for Democracy. And as a national political leader, he sought to ensure that the United States remains a just and worthy custodian of the idea. For many years, freedom lovers across the world looked to McCain for leadership and support. They drew strength from his mission to ensure that the United States remains a bulwark of liberty for those who have it and a beacon of hope for those who don’t.

America’s economic and military power are, first and foremost, the product of the country’s values and ideals. They are the foundation for everything that makes the United States exceptional and influential. Over the years, McCain routinely admonished friends and allies that “what separates us from our adversaries is our respect for human rights.” Should we forget that, the American sunset as a nation of good and great influence and consequence will be nearer than its dawn.

Lead from the front. I’m not sure anything was as offensive or antithetical to John as the notion of the United States leading from behind. Leading from the front doesn’t mean that the United States must own every global problem. McCain was always zealous for friends and allies to pull their weight. But, leadership means leadership. It can’t be sustained passively from the loge section of world events.

Peace through strength. McCain’s career-long commitment to strong armed services was not the product of an affinity for conflict. On the contrary, knowing firsthand the cost of war, he had a unique understanding and loathing of its horrors. His conviction that national defense must be generously but prudently funded, was informed by the bitterly learned lessons of history that tyrants only understand strength, and that remaining vigilant and strong is the price of sustaining peace, security, and freedom.

Defense of democratic values is a team sport. McCain understood the need for tightly knit international cooperation and strong alliances to sustain peace and defend liberal democracy, freedom, the rule of law and human rights. He was a faithful participant in the annual Munich Security Conference, a 55-year-old institution that brings together the international security community devoted to addressing the world’s most pressing security concerns, and building peace through dialogue.

At its annual conference last February, McCain received an award for his contribution to transatlantic relations. The acceptance letter was read by his wife Cindy. “We come to Munich,” he wrote, “because we want to live in a world where truth transcends falsehood, sovereignty triumphs over subjugation, justice reigns over oppression, freedom overcomes tyranny, where power is transformed into legitimacy, and the fate of people and nations is determined by the rule of law, not the whim of rulers. We come to Munich because we know—and we can never afford to forget—that the alternative to a world ordered by these values is a dark and cruel place, where laws, and rules, and rights count for nothing, and selfish, brute force trumps all.”

In its coda, he issued this challenge to NATO allies and all friends in the cause of human advancement: “I am counting on all of you, my friends, to honor the precious, beautiful things that are still entrusted to our care. I am counting on you to be brave. I am counting on you to be useful. I am counting on you to keep the faith, and never give up—though the true radiance of our world may at times seem obscured, though we will suffer adversity and setbacks and misfortune—never, ever stop fighting for all that is good, and just, and decent about our world, and each other.”

Candor with allies and adversaries. McCain believed the dynamics of relations between nations are not so different than those between individuals. Regular communication and respectful candor is as much a prerequisite for maintaining strong and enduring relationships among allies as it is among friends and family. As heads of state and ministers across the globe can attest, McCain was nothing if not communicative and candid. And in dealing with foes, personal or geopolitical, he invested in the belief that straight talk reduces room for misunderstanding and miscalculation, while decreasing the opportunity for problems to fester.

Modernize our strategies, alliances and forms of global engagement. Times evolve rapidly, and along with them so do global threats, allies and adversaries. McCain spent a career trying to help the country stay on top of change, modernizing the United States’ capability to stay strong, safe, and able to advance the nation’s interests and values. But he also argued that 21st century security is not defined solely by military capabilities. Peace, stability, and winning the ideological war against autocracy demands we work to improve the quality of lives in vulnerable parts of the world. This requires engagement with a broader toolkit (both civilian and military), not the erection of physical walls and trade barriers behind which the United States retreats from the world, only to have the world come knocking at our door — or looking to kick it down.

Know your history. McCain came of age when mankind was forced to overcome the basest evil through enormous sacrifice, vigilance and determination. He was a child of the World War II generation that faced down global fascism. He served in the Cold War, both in uniform and in Congress, against a communist ideology that posed an existential threat to human liberty.

In the aftermath of war, hot and cold, American leaders established alliances and institutions to defend freedom and keep the peace, including by promoting human development. As a result, mankind has experienced exponential increases in prosperity and well-being. The further these conflicts fade into history, McCain feared, the greater the risk the lessons of history will be lost. If so, one fears that coming generations will be forced to relearn them at an unspeakable cost.

***

There is a virtue unaddressed above that I thought would be best saved for last because I think it may be the most powerful bequest: sincere gratitude. Next to love, it is the most redeeming of human emotions. Even in the final terribly challenging days of his life, McCain didn’t talk about personal hurts, regrets, or disappointments as so many people dwell on. By his own account, he was occupied with simple and genuine gratitude for the people, experiences and causes that have filled his meaningful life.

So, to a great man who tried to do something: Thank you.

5 years, 7 months, and 11 days. Aim high (Part 1)

Do you know what scares the shit out of me, Kev?   It’s that [quitting] is easy.

 

Winners never quit and quitters never win. - Vince Lombardi

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I recently saw Bleed For This, a movie about the life of Vinny Paz, a boxer who suffered a serious back injury and was told he would not box again.  However, Vinny refused to give up his dream.  Through determination and effort, he came back from injury and won another title.

He reminded me of Bruce Lee, another pugilist who also seriously injured his back.  He, too, was told he’d never fight again.  He, too, by sheer determination, proved his doctors wrong.

Winners do not quit when things are not going their way.  Quitting is easy.  Quitting is ALWAYS easy.  Forging on when it’s difficult is what separates the winners from everyone else.  Make that effort, my sons.  Be winners.

Don’t aspire for mediocrity.  The world is already overflowing with the mediocre.  There is nothing wrong with being average or ordinary.  By definition, a large percentage of the people must hold down that position so that some could be below average while others be above average.  Aim for the latter.

Be exceptional.  The world needs more of those, especially during these trying times.  We have global refugee crises, heretofore unexperienced weather calamities (see., e.g., https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/08/22/watch-as-the-arctics-strongest-sea-ice-break-up-for-the-first-time-in-record/), political instability in many corners of the world, cultural decay at home and abroad, raw hatred unbridled by civility and common decency, etc.  What we need now, more than ever, are not the ordinary and the uninspired, who would happily sit out the game as spectators, but the extraordinary, who would willingly to help resolve the challenges of today.

Let me be clear: I am speaking of ordinary people who do extraordinary things and not of the superstars and the geniuses among us.  Rosa Park is but one of many examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Others include the teacher who switched from teaching at private schools, where wealthy students receive more than the help they need, to an impacted public school, where children under-perform because many of their basic needs go unmet; the child who sold lemonade to raise funds for a poor family; the man who volunteered to build homes for those in need; the woman who made sandwiches to feed the hungry; etc.  What makes them extraordinary is their willingness to not give up in the face of overwhelming odds against success.  How does one sandwich help solve world hunger?  It helps resolve the hunger pang of that one child to whom the sandwich was given, and that is a start.

https://shoshandjaialai.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/dc36a-how_do_you_eat_an_elephant.png?w=656

(N.B.: don’t eat elephants.)

Be the change you want in the world.  Aim high and surround yourselves with friends who will inspire you to be better.

Noblesse oblige may have fallen out of favor these day, but practice it anyway: be your best, make the best use of the gifts God gave you, and help those not as fortunate. I promise this will give you more fulfilling lives than those who pray at the altar of the money gods and who occupy themselves with the latest in technologies, fashion, etc., to conceal the emptiness that lies within themselves.

https://thayvabiet.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/the-purpose-of-life-is-not-to-be-happy-it-is-to-be-useful-to-be-honorable-to-be-compassionate-to-have-it-make-some-dif.jpg?w=656

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/da/78/32/da7832b904a8707dd7b944d4723b5f7c--george-lucas-quotes-helping-others-quotes.jpg

https://howtobehappy.guru/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/3e.png

All my love, always,

Dad

5 years, 4 months, and 14 days. Keep your eyes on the prize.

 

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https://content.artofmanliness.com/uploads/2009/05/trduty.jpg

 

The Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt pointing speaking president early 1900s

TR’s life shows us that hard work, tenacity, and a desire to do the right thing can get you far in life. In the most memorable section of his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, Roosevelt captured his life philosophy in just a few sentences. “The Man in the Arena” tells us that the man we should praise is the man who’s out there fighting the big battles, even if those battles end in defeat. In our day, when cynicism and aloof detachment are considered hip and cool, TR reminds us that glory and honor come to those “who spend themselves in a worthy cause.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/manvotional-the-man-in-the-arena-by-theodore-roosevelt/ (emphasis added)

My dearest dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I apologize for the absence.  The days have been challenging.

When the going gets tough, I seek comfort in the words of T.R. Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech.  It is far better to have tried and failed (even failed greatly) than to have never tried at all.  People can bitch and moan all they want, but unless they are willing to pitch in and help bring about improvement, they are just wasted breath.

Unfortunately, too many these days are but useless talking heads.  I shall never forget a Superbowl ad I saw years ago:  two consultants were pitching an action plan to a company executive who replied, “Great!  I want you guys to execute that plan.”  The two consultants then laughed and said something to the effect of, “We are consultants.  We come up with the ideas, but we don’t know how to do it.”

Consultants these days are a dime a dozen — many are fresh out of college.  Without substantive knowledge and experience, on what are they basing their critical thinking and analytical skills?

Can critical thinking actually be taught?  Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really.  People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation.  Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill.  The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge).

….

Thought processes are intertwined with what is being thought about.

Willingham, Daniel T., “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?” American Educator (Summer 2007), 8-10.

Thus, the lesson of the day is two-fold: gain substantive knowledge, and use it.

Be good, my sons.  Live well.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with two additional thoughts.

 

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https://i.pinimg.com/736x/fa/bb/b4/fabbb43eb5ef228a0bfdfdfe424a60b1.jpg

 

 

5 years, 3 months, and 8 days. Make a good first impression: be well-informed.

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A Harvard study revealed that it typically takes eight subsequent positive encounters to change another person’s negative opinion of you.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2015/02/10/the-do-over-how-to-correct-a-bad-first-impression/#3dece3f055f6

 

 

Recognize that changing someone’s perception will take time. As stated earlier, no matter who you are, you will inevitably make a less than positive impression on someone. While some have suggested that it can take months or even years to erase a bad first impression, a Harvard study suggests that it will take eight subsequent positive encounters to change that person’s negative opinion of you. In this context be persistent and patient.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140424005629-3411076-how-to-overcome-making-a-bad-first-impression

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

People are often full of shit.  Many will bluster or drone on and on about that which they know little.  They may cite one study or one source to validate their point.  Be not like them.

Be well-informed.  Read voraciously.  Read from diverse sources from different continents to combat biases and to gain greater perspective.  Think deeply and critically about what you read, see, and hear.  Never swallow wholesale what someone pitches; everyone has his/her biases.  Figure why they’re saying what they’re saying (e.g., are they paid to say it?), what they are omitting, what their assumptions are, etc.

One of my favorite dialogues are from the movie, The Negotiator, with Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey:

Now you're a history buff?
                 
I generally read histories and biographies.       

Don't believe everything you read.              

I didn't say I read just one book.                

I try to read all books on a subject.  You know, try to get all the facts...                

...and then decide for myself what really happened.

http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/n/negotiator-script-transcript-kevin-spacey.html (emphasis added)

Too many people are careless with their reputation.  They say or repeat nonsense and expect there to be few consequences for spouting crap.  They are wrong.  People of caliber notice.  They, then, give wide berth to the uninformed for, except as sheep and mindless consumers, not much good come of being uninformed.

Remember, everything we say and do reflect well or poorly on us, as individuals.  Everything about us communicates something about ourselves.  Thus, strive to make a great impression.  Speak well.  Be thoughtful.  Be well-mannered.  Exude confidence.

Bad first impressions are extremely difficult to correct: people rarely give you eight chances to counteract that one bad first impression.  Their impression of you will color their view of all you do.  If they think you are smart, they will pass off a mistake as a one-off event and not let that affect their judgment of you.  Conversely, if they think you are an idiot, they will think something you did well is but a fluke and you remain an idiot.

Life is hard enough as it is.  Why would you choose to make it harder on yourselves by giving bad first impressions?  Don’t do it.

Be well-read, thoughtful, well-mannered, and kind.  Make a great first impression.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., all is not lost if you made a bad first impression.  It just means you have a lot of hard work ahead of you to correct it.

The Do-Over: How To Correct A Bad First Impression

 Last year I wrote about the nature of first impressions. We’re continually told of the importance of making positive first impressions, especially given how quickly we determine them. Some research suggests that first impressions can be so powerful that they’re weighed more heavily than fact. We know that making a good first impression is critical to success in both our jobs and personal lives, but the fact is that sometimes we flub them. Whether because of pressure, nervousness, a wrong approach, or distraction, we don’t always show up the way we intended.

The question then becomes, how do we correct a bad first impression?

Here’s the good news: impressions evolve over time. You may not get a second chance to make a first impression, but you can create an opportunity to correct one. Here are five ways to do so:

Realize that an initial impression is just that – a beginning.

We’ve all changed our opinion about someone the longer we’ve known them. Consider a colleague that you initially thought was standoffish, but after sharing a project realized was someone who just took a while to warm up.

If we look at first impressions as make-or-break opportunities, then it’s easy to make excuses for not trying to correct them. Instead, consider that impressions continuously evolve with multiple touch points. If you want someone to get to know the real you, then put yourself in front of them. Ask the person to lunch or volunteer to help them. By witnessing your skills and personality over a longer period of time, their perception of you can grow.

 Remember that repeated, small interactions build trust fastest.

A Harvard study revealed that it typically takes eight subsequent positive encounters to change another person’s negative opinion of you. So be persistent and play the long game.

Further, small, predictable interactions increase trust greater than a one-time splashy event. Take the pressure off yourself to knock someone’s socks off, and instead focus on demonstrating your value over an extended period of time. Strive to be consistent, follow up, and follow through.

Ask for a chance to correct.

Being straightforward can help minimize misunderstandings and reframe the discussion. Consider simply saying, “I feel like we got off on the wrong foot. Can I take you to lunch?”

Honesty can be a game changer in any relationship and goes a long way toward changing someone’s perspective. If you feel that there’s a failure to connect interpersonally, provide your view of the situation and then vet it with the other person. Admit what caused your behavior that may have led to a wrong impression. If you have a family issue that caused you to be disengaged during a meeting, then say so. If the other party is as open minded as most people hope to be (more on this next), then they should give you the benefit of the doubt.

Remind the other person how open-minded he or she is.

Many people have what psychologists call an egalitarian goal, which means that they work hard to be open minded and fair in their interactions with others. Research shows that when you remind someone of their fairness, they will more conscientiously work to live up to that assessment.

Practically speaking, this means that after a less than stellar first interaction, you can send a follow up email and compliment the other person on their open mindedness or fairness in evaluating people. Or recognize how their perspicacity must be a real asset in their job. Reminding the other person of their egalitarian goal will help them remember to be more open minded in their perceptions of you.

Ask them for advice – on anything.

According to Wharton School professor Adam Grant, asking for advice is a smart way to be influential. Grant discusses one study in which researchers asked people to negotiate the possible sale of commercial property. When the sellers asked the buyers for advice on how to meet their goals, 42% were able to come to an agreement that made both sides happy.

“Asking for advice encouraged greater cooperation and information sharing, turning a potentially contentious negotiation into a win-win deal. Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates,” Grant writes.

If you feel that you didn’t make a positive impression, follow up and ask the other person for advice on some aspect of work. This also allows you to get in front of the person again and make a new impression. Psychologist Robert Cialdini says that by asking for advice, you suddenly “have the basis of an interaction.” Advice can always be returned, as can a thank you.

Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at kristihedges.com.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2015/02/10/the-do-over-how-to-correct-a-bad-first-impression/3/#7bbbb0f874de

 

5 years, 3 months, and 6 days. Be kind to your audience.

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Pity the readers.

https://kmh-lanl.hansonhub.com/pc-24-66-vonnegut.pdf (emphasis added)

http://kmh-lanl.hansonhub.com/pc-24-66-vonnegut.pdf

My dearest and most precious Shosh and Jaialai:

Kurt Vonnegut said it best and most succinctly:  “Pity the readers.”  Be kind to your audience.  They occupy not your life and live not in your head; thus, they have the difficult task of trying to follow your thoughts — be it in written or oral form.  Help them.

First, know your audience.  Who are they?  What do they want out of the interaction with you?  What are their interests?  What are their levels of education?  What is their frames of reference?  For example, if you were talking to high school graduates who are sports fanatics, and you peppered your conversation with quotes from a philosophy book, do you think your audience would be hooked by your presentation or bored?  Know your audience.  Speak their “language” — be it words, anecdotes, imagery, etc.

Second, as the speaker or writer, IT IS YOUR JOB to communicate your thoughts clearly to your audience.  Don’t shirk your duties.  Worse, don’t blame your audience for your failure to do your job.

For example, your job as the writer is to help your readers understand what you are saying by clearly giving them roadmaps and textual clues for them to follow along.  Thus, use signals – such as commas, and words like “but” – to tell readers what to expect and to better help them understand your points.

Shosh, when you were a toddler, you visited me at the office and scared my staff.  Ms. T asked why you liked construction equipment or something that simple.  You responded with, “Well, I like them for three reasons.  First, …”  Your detailed analysis as well as clear and organized thinking freaked them out.  Mr. D said he’d rather have kids who are not as smart since they would be easier to teach.

In life, you will find that if you care about your audience, they will care about you in return.  Do the hard lifting and complicated analyses for your audience and explain complex ideas in simple terms for your audience, and they will knock down your door to get to you and your services.  I promise.

Be well, my sons.  Live well.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad