From the Ashes of Evil, New Leaders Are Born

It is time for my generation — the Baby Boomers — to step aside. But we’ve shown no sign of doing so willingly. So the mantle of leadership will have to be yanked from our selfish grasp. I’m heartened to see that begin to happen. But somewhat surprised by who’s doing the yanking.

It’s the children.

More specifically, it’s the children in Florida who lost classmates and others to bullets. Bullets shot from an automatic assault weapon. That was bought by an alienated young man. Who wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer.

The insanity cannot be allowed to continue, the children say. They deserve to be safe in their schools. They deserve to be valued more than corporations and politicians who care only about themselves.

Their parents and neighbors have failed to act for far too long, say the children. So now they’re going to take action. They will protest. And organize marches. And do everything in their power to change things.

How much power they actually have remains to be seen. It may be little. It may be a lot. Perhaps much depends on their resolve. And the resolve of adults who care about the kids. And their future. And who are willing to put the interests of the kids and other innocent bystanders (such as concertgoers in Vegas) above the interests of gun manufacturers and the NRA.

My generation has sold out. Most of our elected representatives are on the take. They’re corrupt. They put their own interests — specifically, they’re overriding desire for money from wealthy contributors such as the NRA and gun manufacturers — above the interests of the people. They do not deserve to have power.

Hopefully, the kids will be successful in yanking some of that power from their greedy hands.

Anti-Social Media

There’s a lot of talk about the harmful effects of social media these days. Even some people who have been instrumental in developing and promoting the sites have been speaking out. Loudly and often. As I earlier mentioned, I’ve also witnessed, up close, the insidious, addictive power of Facebook and other so-called social media sites. It’s caused me to take a fresh look at the phenomenon.

I’ve concluded we’ve got the term wrong. There’s nothing social about social media sites. In fact, they tend to be anti-social. So let’s frame the issue right and start calling it what it is: anti-social.

All the mental health statistics in our country indicate my conclusions are sound. They’re all going in the wrong direction. If you don’t believe me, it’s not hard to find the data; look for yourself. Or talk to a counselor at any school. Or a nurse at a college. I guarantee you’ll be shocked by the amount of anxiety, depression and other psychological symptoms our young people are experiencing (as well as adults). In short, the degree of alienation and anxiety felt within the populace is unprecedented.

Check out our suicide rates, too. And ask yourself why there’s a positive correlation between Facebook use and depression.

And then check out any Starbucks or restaurant the next time you’re out. Observe how many people have their faces glued to their smart phone and how little face-to-face conversation is taking place.

I also can’t help think how we used to not have mass shootings like we do now. It seems to me that it’s connected to a national psychic pain, a condition that seems to be aggravated by our disconnectedness which, in turn, is exacerbated by our technology (as well as other factors, such as our obsession with money and things and our disregard for the weakest and suffering among us).

I could go on with one example after another that supports my thesis — that these supposedly social devices and programs are actually having an anti-social impact. But my purpose isn’t to convince. Rather, it’s to share my decision and perhaps spur parents to question whether their kids are being helped or hurt by all the new technology that dominate many lives.

That’s not to say technology is inherently bad. It isn’t. But it is to say it’s important not to lose sight of our real goal: happiness and fulfillment. If we assume the unfettered use of technology will make our lives (or the lives of our kids) better, then we may be making a grave mistake.

I confess I’m glued to my iPhone and computer too much. I’ve recently taken one step to help rectify that, by deactivating my Facebook account. Today, I deactivated my LinkedIn account, too.

It’s not that I’m going to swear off digital technology. I’m not. I’m not trading in my iPhone for a flip phone and I’m not swearing off Twitter (at least not yet). But I’m going to focus more on the things that lead to happiness and a sense of fulfillment and purpose and less on the distractions.

If You Hang with Liars, You’ll Become One

This week President Trump’s lawyer said he paid a hooker $130,000 out of his own pocket (so she wouldn’t go public about her encounter with Mr. Trump). Right. I’m a lawyer. I can just imagine paying a hooker $130,000 out of the goodness of my heart for a client. Clearly, Mr. Trump’s lawyer is as big a liar as Mr. Trump himself is.

But that’s not surprising. One tends to become like the people you spend time with. My guess is, if you spend much time around Mr. Trump, and want his business, you’re pretty likely to become a liar just like he is. If you weren’t one to start with.

Be forewarned, Vera: choose your friends and clients carefully. And don’t delude yourself into thinking you’ll be better than they are. I’ve seen it time and time again. People have the uncanny ability to drag others down into the gutter with them. People think they’re above it — that they can resist. But in due time, they usually don’t. They succumb. They get dirty just like the pigs with whom they associate.

Speak the truth in all things. But if you’re serious about it, keep distance from those who habitually lie. It’s really quite simple.

Dude, Nobody’s Normal

Recently, I watched a Netflix show called Atypical. The main character is a teenage autistic boy. There was a scene where he was commiserating with his sister. Some kids at school had been making fun of him. In frustration, he said, “I wish I was normal.”

His sister’s boyfriend, who was present too, immediately piped up. “Dude, nobody’s normal,” he said.

I thought how much better off we’d be if we learned that lesson early in life.

It seems we’re constantly comparing ourselves. To others. To our sense of the ideal person. To someone we’re told we should be. To the kind of person our culture values.

We think there is a normal. That other people have it together. That we’re the only imperfect ones. The only ones who feel broken. The only ones wrestling with certain demons or struggling to hold it together.

But, in reality, the boyfriend was right: Nobody’s normal. When it comes to people, there is no such thing as normal.

We are whom we are. Genetics are part of it. Parenting is a part. Other outside influences, over which we had little or no control, are a part of it. Luck plays a role, too.

When we feel tension between whom we are and the person we think the world is expecting us to be — or the type of person the world rewards or values the most — we might think we’re not normal. Or think life would be so much easier if we could be different — more in line with what people expect or our culture values.

But we are whom we are. Perfection has nothing to do with it. And neither does someone’s expectations (or our own).

Rather, we must live the life that is unique to us —  our life. It might seem harder than the life others have to live and, indeed, it might be harder. But there is nothing to be gained by such comparisons.

We can’t live someone else’s life. We can’t be someone else. We only can live our life.

Normal has nothing to do with it.

 

 

Don’t Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You

So much of life is driven by emotion. And emotion is fickle. It can change on a dime. By way of example only, here is what has happened in the investment world this week:

A mere month ago, the index registered 76: extreme greed. In other words, the world moved from extreme optimism (confidence) to extreme pessimism (worry) in a couple of weeks. Yet in the real world, not much has changed at all. Stocks are pretty much worth today what they were a month ago. Perhaps even more.

There is no rational reason for this dramatic shift in outlook. Yet it’s real. Very real.

These emotional swings aren’t restricted to financial matters. They can affect all areas of our lives. The good thing is, we know humans have this vulnerability — that we’re susceptible to having our emotions run roughshod over our reasoning abilities. Armed with this knowledge, we can fight back. We can resist the urges to lay reason to the side and allow our emotions to guide our decision making.

It sounds easy. But it’s actually harder than it sounds. It’s hard because the herd is highly susceptible to emotions. The herd isn’t particularly good at thinking. And there’s comfort in being part of the herd. It can be lonely and a bit scary to be standing outside the herd. The fear of being left behind. The fear of ostracism.

But that’s exactly where you need to be at times to avoid the mistakes herds are bound to make. Unless you’re prepared to suffer the consequences.

Handling Disappointment

Everyone experiences disappointment. Lots of it.

I started by jotting down some of mine. But it seemed too much like a list of grievances. Like whining. A pity party. So I’ll keep them to myself.

But that doesn’t make them go away. Or stop them from affecting me. To the contrary, disappointments cannot be so easily neutered; in fact, they tend to have quite a bit of power over us.

They skew our thinking. Affect our attitude and mood. Impact our outlook and plans. Define our relationships.

But should they?

Perhaps not. At least not if happiness is the objective. And why would it not be?

I suppose it helps to consider the source of our disappointments. Most if not all of them — at least in my case — stem from the failure of reality to match or exceed my expectations.

So perhaps that’s the root of the problem: my expectations. If I were to have none — expectations, that is — then perhaps I’d never have to experience the sting of disappointment.

But is that even possible? Is it possible to expect nothing of a situation? Or other people? Of ourselves?

I doubt it. Yet I do think it’s possible to manage my expectations better. And, in some cases, to resist the urge to have them in the first place.

Expectations of myself is one thing. Expectations of others is quite a different matter.

I control my own actions (in the main). I do not control others. I am at their mercy.

It’s probably unfair to impose expectations on other people. What gives me that right? As best I can tell, nothing.

And it’s not as if it’s a benign thing either. Expectations and disappointments tend to contaminate relationships. They tend to be the source of conflict. And negative emotions, not the least of which are anger and resentment. Frankly, I think we’d get along better — and be happier — if we had fewer expectations of each other.

But we have to be careful. Ridding ourselves of expectations is not the same as expecting less or expecting nothing, both of which can be toxic in their own right.

Take you for example, Vera. My aim is to expect nothing of you or our relationship. I don’t expect you to go to a particular school or college. Or to pursue a particular career. Or to marry or, even if you do, to marry a particular kind of person or to have kids. Or to visit me. Or even to care about me.

That’s my aim because I’ve come to believe that, in general, expectations get in the way of healthy relationships. And I desire for ours to be healthy. So my attention will be on being the best role model I can be and helping you learn some of the things you’ll need to navigate life successfully (to make wise decisions).

So what, if anything, will replace them — the expectations, that is? Desire. And unconditional love.

I desire nothing but the best for you, whatever that happens to be (which, likely, is beyond my discernment capabilities). And I desire to love you and to be loved. And to be there for you if and when you need me — as you choose.

It means I may have to bite my tongue on occasion. Or to suffer in silence. But it also means I will not contaminate our relationship with expectations I seek to impose on you, even if the motives are pure (or at least as pure as humanly possible, which may not be as pure as we like to think).

But it doesn’t begin or stop with you. My aim is to harness any urge I might otherwise have to impose expectations on any other person. And, perhaps most important of all, on myself.

Self-imposed expectations can be the deadliest of all. They can be the source of much unhappiness and despair. Feelings of failure can pull us into an abyss from which we may not return.

In my later years, I try to expect nothing of life or others. If I am the recipient of good fortune and good relationships (as I am), I want to feel gratitude and nothing more.

Most of all, I don’t want to feel entitled. When things don’t go well, or when things unfold in a way that seems unjust or unfair, I don’t want to feel victimized or self-pity. Or resentful. It’s easier to avoid those self-destructive reactions if I had no expectations in the first place.

But, again, the void created by jettisoning expectations is not filled with nothingness, cynicism or apathy; rather, it is filled with desire, hope and gratitude.

I desire and hope for a better world. I desire and hope to be an agent for good in the world and in the relationships I have with others. I desire and hope for good things to come in the lives of the people whom I love. I desire and hope for happiness. And a sense of gratitude.

Expectations are a hard thing to let go. They seem to want to cling to us like that cellophane that’s so hard to get off your fingers. Yet I’ve come to believe they do us no favors. And are the source of much strife and discontent.

My aim is to expect nothing of the world or its inhabitants. But to desire and hope for much. And, most of all, to be grateful for whatever comes my way.

Rethinking Hypocrisy

My earliest recollection of hypocrisy was in church. It was there I sat and listened to the pious prayers of my father. The distinction between the man who spoke those words and the man I knew as my father was striking in the mind of his son. The son never felt loved by this man. The son experienced the coldness, the harshness, the anger. It was not all bad, of course; there were good times. But it was nothing like the love and compassion preached in the church; spoken of in the prayers. I learned what hypocrisy felt like. And I didn’t like it, not one bit.

As I matured, I realized that hypocrisy had found a home among most if not all churchgoers. They claimed to believe one thing and then lived their lives as if they believed something else. There was so much pretending.

Along the way, I realized I, too, was a hypocrite. I always fell short of the values and principles I espoused. Walking the talk was so damn hard.

And so I was hard on myself. And on others. And found I longed for authenticity, both in myself and others. I think I even desired it more than goodness.

At the same time, I recognized that authenticity could be costly. I came to realize the strong incentives for hypocrisy in the world. And came to understand just how much incentives matter. It made me less judgmental, but I still loathed hypocrisy. I saw no redeeming virtue in it. In hindsight, it’s hard to believe how naive I was.

In time, I came to accept that hypocrisy was part of our nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.” Every man. Perhaps it’s no one’s fault.

Something I read recently, authored by Paul Craig Roberts, caused me to question further whether I had been too hard on hypocrisy — on myself and others. Mr. Roberts wrote:

There is a vast difference between proclaiming moral principles that one might fail to live up to and proclaiming immoral principles that are all too easy to keep.

We live in an era in which the proclamation of immoral principles is commonplace. Indeed, we even elected an immoral man to be our president. I’ve tried to find some redeeming virtue in the man. But I can’t.

But it’s not only him. It’s everywhere around us. In the corporate world, immorality thrives under cover of the principle of shareholder value, which supposedly cleanses all unclean deeds. But you find it in the nonprofit world, too. And among nations. And among religious folk. Especially religious folk.

President Trump makes my dad look really good. Yes, my father was a hypocrite. Probably no worse than me or most others, but a hypocrite nonetheless.

However, he was a man who proclaimed moral principles. And who lived up to most of them, most of the time. He didn’t love me well, but he taught me well. And probably did the best he could do.

I could have done worse. Much worse. I could have been reared by people who proclaimed immoral principles. By people whose sins dwarfed the sin of hypocrisy.

I was fortunate.

I used to think there weren’t many things worse than hypocrisy. I suppose it’s just one of many things I thought I knew that proved to be untrue.

Tired of the Games

Naval Ravikant is always worth listening to in my opinion. I recommend checking out his recent Periscope talk on Twitter.

Naval is a techie but also a modern-day philosopher. He said something in this talk that was timely for me. He said he’s “tired of the games.” That’s how I feel.

Consequently, he’s living life one day at a time. For people like me, that isn’t always easy. We’re goal oriented. We respond to challenges. So getting up without goals, and simply living in the presence, can be disconcerting at times. Yet I am so tired of the games and, at this point, have no desire to return to the games. The pursuit of money and achievement is no longer sufficient motivation.

I’m reminded of this when I’m speaking with clients who are consumed by their work: increasing prices, improving efficiency, improving margins — often through rationalizing (a fancy word for laying off people). I hate the way people talk about reducing their workforce. The lack of humanity is so profound. I recoil at what the pursuit of money and status has done to us.

More fundamentally, though, I’m not looking for more things to do. Yet I’m very much stuck in the future. It’s hard for me to live in the presence.

Yet that’s where I want to be. Need to be. It’s where I can find the deepest happiest. But it can be boring at times. Yet the alternative no longer holds appeal.

I’m tired of the games.

Believing in the Impossible

I’m intrigued by people’s ability to believe in the impossible. And I take it as a warning to myself, for if others can believe in the impossible, then there’s every reason to think I can too. Which gives me pause.

In my lifetime, I suppose there have been many examples of this phenomenon playing out in real life. But lately my focus is the investment world. That’s where I spend a considerable amount of time and energy.

In the late 1990s, people who bought stocks believed in the impossible. They drove prices up to astronomical levels — far behind anything that could be supported by reasonable assumptions or objective data. I remember at the time thinking, this is crazy. Yet it continued, far longer than some people thought possible. Until it stopped. And the inevitable bursting of the bubble.

Some stocks still aren’t back to their highs from that era, eighteen years later. And quite a few companies that were highly valued in 2000 aren’t even in existence today. A lot of money was lost. Many household balance sheets and retirements were gutted.

Less than ten years later, we saw it unfold again. It was hard to believe. Hadn’t we learned anything? Apparently not.

Real estate values went through the roof. People were getting mortgages far beyond their ability to repay. Speculators were flipping properties like pancakes. Until it stopped. Until the bubble burst.

Bankruptcies ensued. Evictions spiked. Many homeowners and investors lost a lot of money. Some homeowners are still underwater (i.e., no equity in their homes). Banks had to be rescued.

And now, a decade later, we’re at it again, only this time it’s broader. It’s not only real estate. Or stocks.

We’re already seeing the worm turn in commercial real estate in certain areas and, to a lesser extent, residential real estate in certain markets. I suspect we’ll see much broader reversals before it’s all said and done.

In the stock market, some equities are priced at levels that could never be justified by expected returns. It’s only a matter of time before the correction wipes out massive amounts of paper gains, except, for some, they aren’t merely paper gains.

Many people have borrowed money to buy stocks. They’ll be on the hook for those debts irrespective of what the market does.

Others bought into the market late, paying high prices that they may not see again for a very long time, if ever. Paper losses have a way of becoming real losses.

Meanwhile, the latest fad, crypto currencies, quickly morphed into the mania phase last year. It’s hard to know exactly how this will play out, but it’s easy to see that quite a few people will lose a lot of money — mainly, people who believe in the impossible.

Belief in the impossible isn’t restricted to investment decisions of course. It plays out in every area of life, from health and work to politics and religion.

I suppose it’s sometimes easier to believe in the impossible than to face the reality. At the very least, it can sometimes put off the day of reckoning. It also can interject excitement into otherwise mundane and boring lives.

Some people say it’s good we have the capacity to believe in the impossible. The hope of miracles is beneficial, they say. I’m not so sure. It seems to leave a lot of carnage in its wake.

I like to delve into the reasons for our motivations. What causes us to believe in the impossible? What’s our motivations? What propels us to take risks that, from an objective standpoint, seem ridiculous?

More importantly, how and when am I susceptible to the same motivations? How can I avoid falling prey to the forces that prop up the world of make-believe?

From an investment standpoint, how can I profit from the mistakes of others? There are always two sides to every transaction. How can I ensure I’m on the right side of the trade?

There’s a lot to consider. The answers aren’t always easy to spot. Yet the temptations are always alluring, especially when the masses follow.

It’s in our nature to find security in the herd. Being strong enough to leave the herd when the herd has gone mad isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Yet that’s what we have to do at certain times, Vera. We have to be strong enough, and smart enough, to recognize the madness. To remain grounded in reality and not allow ourselves to be swept up by the false promises of the impossible. To be able to distinguish between hard challenges and the unobtainable. To be able to tell the difference between the impossible and the unknown.

The differences aren’t always apparent. And therein lies the challenge.