Does Character Matter?

Does character matter? You’ll have to decide for yourself. I think it does. But not all people do. As I said, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

This past week Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama said she thought the Republican candidate for the U.S. senate sexually molested young girls. But she’s going to vote for him anyway. To the governor, character doesn’t matter.

The governor of Alabama is a woman. Women have been abused, molested, assaulted and victimized by men of poor character throughout history. And still are. You’d think that would bother all women. But apparently it doesn’t. Or if it does, apparently there are greater concerns — something more important than character. And subjugation.

I suppose each of us must decide whether we want to be like the governor or not. We don’t have to be. We can be better. You can be better, Vera. You have a choice.

It comes up a lot in life. I guarantee you it will come up in the workplace. You will have to decide if character matters. If you’re going to live a virtuous life.

You have great role models: your parents. But that doesn’t guarantee anything. It just changes the odds. In the final analysis, it will be your choice. Will you be someone like Governor Ivey or Roy Moore, or will you be better than that?

Will you cheat, lie or steal? Or will your word be your bond? Will integrity matter to you?

Will you be willing to be fired or decide to leave a job at great disruption to your life, or will you go along and acquiesce to low moral and ethical standards?

Life is full of such choices. And decisions have consequences. There are always consequences, even when you think you’re remaining aloof or standing on the sidelines.

I have just one tip that will change the odds in your favor should you decide that character matters: Associate with great people.

When I haven’t, I’ve come to regret it. When I have, I’ve benefited immensely.

Great people — people of character, integrity and virtue, who care and do their best — will bring out the best in you. They will inspire you. Challenge you. Support you. Around them, being like Governor Ivey seems like an intolerable idea. Around them, you’ll have a much better chance of being a great person yourself.

The world is full of people like Governor Ivey. But it doesn’t mean you have to be that way. You can be so much more.

Choose wisely.

Post-Traumatic Growth

Trauma’s a bitch. It’s painful, and nothing good comes from it. Or so I thought. We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental disorder that can develop after a person has been exposed to a traumatic event, such as an assault, war, traffic collision or other threat on a person’s life. Trauma can do that to you. It can upend your life.

I hadn’t focused on the fact that an opposite phenomenon exists, that is, until last week when I was re-reading Nassim Taleb’s superb book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (which I highly recommend!). Taleb recalled a conversation he had with David Halpern, a U.K. government advisor and policy maker. They were discussing the idea of antifragility. It was during that conversation that Halpern mentioned “post-traumatic growth, the opposite of PTSD, by which people harmed by past events surpass themselves.”

Why I chose to re-read Taleb’s book, I don’t know. But the timing couldn’t have been better.

Of course, it had never occurred to me that I’d ever experience any major physical trauma in my life. Like most people, we expect such things happen only to other people. Until it happens to us.

It’s been nearly two months since the ambulance passed by two or three other hospitals on its way to one that had a Level 1 trauma center. That was my first inkling things possibly were more serious than I had thought. Fortunately, though, my initial self-assessment was correct: I hadn’t sustained any life-threatening injuries. But it also was incorrect: I had sustained far more trauma than I imagined.

After a grade 3 concussion and considerable period of unconsciousness, amnesia, ER sutures, three surgeries, bacterial pneumonia, partially collapsed lung, leg injury that, for weeks, made walking extremely difficult and painful, dental repair work (in progress) and some days of intense torso and extremities pain unlike anything I had ever experienced, I came to realize that my body — indeed, I — had experienced severe trauma. I also came to believe my life would never be the same.

In what way, I didn’t know. Yet I had a feeling that something was different. But I had never heard of post-traumatic growth.

Despite my internal protestations, my mind still takes me back to that moment when I regained consciousness, alone, trapped in that crushed car, having no idea where I was or what had happened. And to the moment when I was transferred from the ambulance stretcher to the ER table as a well-orchestrated bevy of doctors and nurses descended on me. And to the moment, lying stripped and dazed on the ER table, when the clergyman appeared by my side, causing me to wonder (and question) whether the situation was worse than I realized.

But I’m fortunate — incredibly so. The memories aren’t debilitating. It’s true, they can be unsettling and, sometimes, even elicit tears. But most of all, they are a marker.

I sense there will always be a before and after in my life, with the moment of demarcation being the only thing I can remember about the crash: the deafening, surreal sound of the collision.

More importantly, I sense the trauma from that extreme autumn day may be the trigger for new growth. It may be that, because of the trauma, I will surpass that which was previously possible.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I’m not sure it’s necessarily so, but I do think it can be so.

It’s not yet clear to me how this growth will manifest itself. Or where it will lead. But the sense of peace and grace that enveloped me that day seems to be saying, “Be patient. Give it time.”

I feel stronger by the day. And I sense that soon I will be stronger than I was before that day — the day that separates the before from the after.

For a short while, I was trapped in a car. Yet for reasons I don’t fully comprehend, I now feel less trapped in life. And, in the parlance of Taleb, I feel more antifragile. Indeed, I feel like I have “more soul in the game.” (Taleb)

Our Concern for the Rich Is Heartwarming

Our president came out today for even larger tax cuts for the wealthy (himself included, of course). He’s urging Congress to cut healthcare spending to fund part of these cuts. And, of course, we’ll borrow the rest. Why not give more money to rich people today that our kids and grandchildren can pay back later, with interest of course? That’s so generous and selfless of us.

None of this comes as a surprise. Plain folk seem to have a deep and abiding concern for rich folk in our country. Even many of our evangelists promote such policies. Apparently, it’s what Jesus would do.

I assume there’s a sense in the countryside that our wealthy citizens have been treated unfairly. So all the country needs to make it great again are millionaires and billionaires who can hoard even more money for their children and grandchildren. And buy more houses. And bigger planes.

Just think how great we’ll become.

P.S. 11/14/17: It was announced today that the wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population now owns more than half of the world’s wealth. But I suppose they can always use more.

Mustering Courage

You’re shy, Vera. You often stand back, observing, thinking, uncertain when or how to engage. That’s O.K. That’s how you were created, and don’t let anyone tell you there is anything wrong with it. They will try. Some extroverts and those who charge in think their approach is the right one. But it’s not a matter of right and wrong. It’s a matter of individuality and differences. And accepting who you are. And being yourself.

This weekend you’ve been staying with us while your parents are out of town. We took you to Chick-fil-A® for lunch yesterday. I thought you would like it. Little did I know we’d end up spending nearly an hour and a half there.

It was packed of course. But we lucked out and got a table. We were surrounded by chaos. Lots of families and energetic kids. It was noisy. But you seemed O.K. You watched. Observed.

I thought you’d like their chicken nuggets, but it was the fruit in the kids’ meal that was devoured first. You checked out the game that came with your meal, but it was intended for older kids so it didn’t have much appeal.

It took a long time to eat because you were observing so much. And were distracted. It wasn’t only the kids and activity in the dining room. From our table you also could see the children’s play area behind the glass. You could see some kids climbing. And sliding down a tube sliding board.

You observed: Not with any apparent anxiety or fear; rather, with curiosity. I wondered what you were thinking.

When it came time to leave, I headed for the door. But you and your grandmother weren’t following. I soon learned that you were insisting that we check out the play area. So, naturally, being grandparents (i.e., persons who are loath to say no), we did.

It was a scary place. That was my assessment, not yours. You didn’t seem scared. It was loud — louder than the dining room. And more chaotic, made all the worse by four young boys who clearly had an over supply of energy.

To our right was a structure one was to climb up. From there kids could access the tube sliding board. You stood by the bottom of the entry point — where the kids were climbing up. To the side, of course. You watched.

And watched. And watched. You and your grandmother checked out a few other things, but you soon returned to your watch point where the kids were heading up to the sliding board.

You wanted to stay. Yet you simply couldn’t muster the courage to join the fray and climb up. Minutes passed by. Lots of them. I think we must have waited 20 minutes or more. But that was O.K. You wanted to be there. You wanted to wait. It was too good to leave.

Finally, the rambunctious boys left and the activity area had only a few other kids. I could see it in your eyes. This was your opportunity!

I suggested to you that it may not get any better than this. Didn’t you want to go up?

And then it happened. You started up to the top of the structure. But you soon encountered a problem: a young girl was blocking your way. You could have gone around, but you froze. There was movement. You progressed. You were in a tube section out of sight from us. But it wasn’t entirely opaque. I could see you once again encountered resistance: a kid who, for inexplicable reasons, had stopped. You retreated.

Your retreat didn’t last long though. You once again headed for the tube. You were out of sight for a while. We waited. And then you appeared. Down the slide. Grinning from ear to ear and laughing. “More?” you asked. “Sure,” I said.

You bolted to the entry point. Only this time was different. There was purpose to your stride. You seemed oblivious to the other kids. You even passed one. In no time, you were down the slide again, laughing harder than the time before.

You went again, with even more purpose. For the next while, you routinely bypassed other kids on your way to the slide. You weren’t observing. You were engaging. You weren’t anxious about the other kids. You were just one of the crowd, enjoying life to the fullest.

One of the reasons I wanted to take you to the restaurant is to help you get comfortable with strange situations. And to learn, in your own way and in your own time, that most of the fears and threats we feel aren’t real.

But I don’t want to push you. And I certainly don’t want to try to change you. I just want to help you release your inner courage — to nudge you gently when the rewards are probable. And not to miss out on a lot of the fun stuff in life.

I remember when I was in college, I dreaded the prospect of having to speak in class. Once a took a seminar with 12 other students. We had to speak. I hated it.

I also hated my speech class. Having to stand up in front of the class and give a speech was about the worst thing I could imagine.

Years later I gave many speeches to large crowds. And testified in the state legislature before Senate and House Committees. And gave TV interviews. Not only didn’t I mind it, I often enjoyed it.

But the path from college to standing in front of people wasn’t always an easy or pleasant one. I’m sure I didn’t always do a good job. And, in the early years, I would get really nervous. But I learned an important lesson along the way: fear comes from within. The outside world is not as threatening as it may seem.

It was fun watching you engage the outside world yesterday, albeit in a small, relatively insignificant way. On the way home, you fell asleep. Later, after we had returned home, you took me into the house in the basement that you and your grandmother had made out of chairs and blankets. Piggy and Bear live there. We visited them. You made us cake (your idea). And served me coffee.

It was a closed, protective environment. It was nothing like the restaurant. Our food and drink were imaginary. Tranquility prevailed. It was just you, me, Piggy and Bear.

Life is lived in both places, of course: in the public arena and in our private, protective enclaves. Chaos and tranquility. We need both. That’s the way we were made. That’s the way the world was made.

It takes courage to experience fully both places.

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Real median earnings for men have gone nowhere now for over 40 years. Over the same span of time real corporate earnings have risen roughly five-fold. – Jesse Felder in “Is This How The Winner-Take-All Era Comes To An End?”

Since the early 1960s, the share of our GDP going to labor (not unions, but labor, which means anyone who works for a living and earns a wage or salary) has been declining. Indeed, it’s plummeted since the turn of the century. Labor has been the loser; corporations and their owners (i.e., capital) have been the winners. If you doubt that, consider the fact the stock market is at an all-time high and is trading at multiples not seen since the days leading up to the Crash of 1929. And consider how little of GDP growth is going to labor versus capital. (The data are easy to find if you’re interested.)

As a result of these dynamics and public policies skewed in favor of the rich and capital, economic inequality in our country has reached levels not seen since the depth of the Great Depression. The top 20 percent is leaving the bottom 80 percent in their dust. And the top 1 percent, and even more so the top 0.1 percent — well, they’ve been reaping nearly all the economic rewards our economy has been generating in recent years.

Not long ago, corporate CEOs earned about 40 times what their workers earned. Today, they earn 350 times what the workers earn. According to noted money manager Jeremy Grantham:

The system has gone to hell. Keynes, Schumpeter–and Marx, not to mention–thought, by their nature, corporations and capitalism would overreach simply because they could. Corporations would use their advantages to get more power and more money. Their share of the pie would increase, and cause society to push back. Sooner or later there will be pushback.

Yet the president and Republican-controlled Congress are now proposing a massive tax cut for corporations and, by extension, their owners (which includes, of course, many foreigners, such as the Swiss National Bank, the owner of $88 billion of U.S. stocks and, therefore, one of the prime beneficiaries of the new tax bill). Indeed, many foreigners stand to benefit greatly from this tax bill.

Congress and the president intend to pay for this tax cut in several ways:

  • by eliminating or curtailing many deductions and credits (for instance, by eliminating or drastically reducing deductions for medical expenses, home mortgage interest, state and local taxes, student-loan interest, employer-paid tuition assistance, child adoption credit, and a myriad of other deductions and credits), which will have the effect of increasing taxes on certain individuals and institutions (~ 12 percent of taxpayers) and making education, health care, child care and home ownership more expensive for some;
  • by imposing new taxes (for instance, a new tax on certain private nonprofit colleges);
  • by cutting back on health care expenditures (e.g., not appropriating funds for children who need health care but whose parents cannot afford it); and
  • by running an even larger deficit (“deficit spending”), which will be funded by more borrowing on the part of the federal government (in other words, by making our children, grandchildren and their children pay for the tax cut for corporations and the wealthy). The nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio already sits at a post-WW II high. This bill will take it higher (est. $1.75 trillion more over 10 years).

Oh, by the way, the tax bill preserves the outrageous hedge-fund tax loophole candidate Trump vowed to kill. I’m shocked. Another win for the wealthy; another successful head-fake on the part of the president.

On its face, the bill is ridiculous. Yet it’s being treated as a serious proposal. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if it (or something very close to it) becomes law. And I also wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the electorate support it. Of course, I also wouldn’t be surprised if it dies in the Senate (as it should).

A democratic society that tolerates a handful of very big winners while the vast majority of everyone else is denied their share of the wealth the economy generates is not sustainable. It will end badly. Civil strife. Social tensions unlike anything we’ve seen in at least 50 years. Violence. War. Radical populism (not the fake billionaire-led variety we’re presently experiencing). Or the whole kit and caboodle simply may unravel.

Mr. Trump and his lackeys on the Hill, as well as their corporate benefactors, may be feeling their oats these days. But they might be whistling past the graveyard. And by the time many of their supporters realize what’s happening, it may be too late.

P.S. Although the overall thrust of the tax bill is highly objectionable to me, there are some changes that I like. Such as limiting the home mortgage deduction. Stopping the practice of using tax-free municipal bonds (private purpose bonds) to build sports stadiums for billionaires. There are others. What I dislike the most is the unconscionable increase in our national debt that will result from these cuts, the huge benefits being conferred on foreign investors, the likely negative impact on individuals (higher interest rates, including mortgage rates) and the continuation of public policy favoring capital over labor (one of the sources of the gross economic inequity that grips the nation today). In short, it’s likely to make economic inequality worse, not better. Instead of addressing the deepening problem of the working class falling further and further behind, Congress and the president want to confer huge benefits on the wealthy. The wealthy are doing just fine. We need elected representatives who care about the working class. Despite their rhetoric, these jokers do not. 

Another Slaughter

We had another mass murder event in America today. Twenty-six people or so in a church in Texas. It’s disconcerting how these events no longer shock us. They’re expected. Indeed, we know there will be another. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps next week. We don’t know when. But we do know it won’t be long.

I have no interest in debating gun control or chastising those who don’t believe we should have any restrictions on gun ownership. It wouldn’t do any good.

History tells us that the U.S. is a violent nation. Always has been. I don’t expect that to change.

We’re also told we’re a Christian nation. What a joke.

When these slaughters happen, I do wonder whether anything could change the political equation — whether we’d ever get to the point of saying enough is enough. Perhaps we will, but I’m not so sure. America is comfortable with violence. With killing.

We’re the only nation in the world with violence like this. That makes us exceptional I suppose. But is American exceptionalism always a good thing? Perhaps not.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m going to mention it again because it revealed to me just how messed up our cultural values are. A couple of years ago I went into a Starbucks in Cheyenne, Wyoming for a cup of coffee. Standing by the door was a big guy with an assault weapon slung over his shoulder. I couldn’t help think, what is wrong with us? How can any culture think this is O.K.?

Yet we do. Not all of us. But enough of us to allow nut jobs like this to do as they please.

Some call it freedom. To me, it’s just plain lunacy. Who in their right mind would think it’s necessary to carry an assault weapon into a Starbucks in Cheyenne? No one.

I’ll never understand why so many of the rest of us are content to live in such a society.

How many innocent people need to die before we come to our senses?

Apparently, a lot.

Another Meaningless Marker

We mark our lives by counting the years since our birth. Birthdays, we call them. I’ve never found any meaning in them. I don’t need a marker to know my body has aged. Or that the ratio of lived days to days remaining is constantly changing. On the other hand, I’m not averse to an excuse for a party either. Perhaps I’ll saunter down to Matt the Miller’s Tavern for a nice rye Manhattan this evening.

I’ve found that one of the hardest things about aging is the realization that some doors have closed. I no longer have the same options. It’s too late to start certain careers or projects. It’s too late to expect certain things from your body. On the other hand, certain other doors open. On a net-net basis, perhaps it’s a wash. But on certain days, it doesn’t seem like it: it seems like more doors are closing than opening.

The thing I appreciate most about aging is my new-found freedom. I don’t have to drag myself into an office if I don’t feel like it. I don’t have to fly around the country or world trying to fix problems for clients or help employers make more profits. I don’t have to worry about paying bills. I feel freer than I have at any time in my adult life. That helps compensate for some of the closed doors.

But, of course, for some of us, there has to be purpose. I’m not good at doing nothing for extended periods of time. I’ve got to have a mountain to climb, a long journey to bike, a goal to achieve. I wish it weren’t so. I wish what I experience as the mundane weren’t mundane at all. For some, it isn’t. I envy them.

I don’t know how many birthdays I have left, Vera. Perhaps decades worth. Or perhaps today is my last one. There’s no way of knowing. That’s as it should be. It helps keep us on our toes.

I nearly didn’t make it to this one. Some people find meaning in that. I don’t. Perhaps I should. But I don’t. I’d need proof. Evidence. There isn’t any. It’s not that it matters one way or the other in any case.

The only thing that matters is whether I contribute something to the world and am happy. I am.

Is the contribution sufficient? Perhaps not. But who’s to say. I don’t worry nearly as much about this as I used to.

Never Trust Anybody

“Never trust anybody.” That’s one of the lessons President Trump says was imparted repeatedly by his father.

Trump added, “Then [my father would] ask me if I trusted anybody. I’d say, ‘No.’ ‘Do you trust me?’ [his father] would ask. I’d say, ‘Yes.’ And he’d say: ‘No! Don’t even trust me!'”

I had two reactions to this story:

  1. This lesson was probably one of the reasons Mr. Trump was successful financially.
  2. I wish someone had taught me the same lesson when I was young.

If I had learned this lesson, my expectations would have been more realistic. I would have better protected my own interests. And I would not have left myself so exposed to the back-stabbing tactics of duplicitous people. In short, I could have avoided some painful experiences and probably achieved more success than I did. Maybe I’d even been happier.

Some people might be tempted to think you just have to trust others. They don’t want to live in a world in which you can’t trust others. But why? I know the downside. What’s the upside?

The upside of not relying on trust is that you leave yourself less exposed. And are less inclined to operate on flawed assumptions and, therefore, less likely to make missteps or be ambushed.

Now, some may say that, if you heed Mr. Trump’s advice, you’ll end up like his son: a self-absorbed narcissistic individual seemingly devoid of empathy and ethics. But I’m not so sure about that. I don’t think it’s fair to point to that one lesson about trust as the culprit in the formation of a flawed personality disorder.

But perhaps it was a factor. I don’t know.

What I do know is that, in my world, there are few things worse than breach of trust. It’s a big deal to me. It’s the one thing about the Mafia I always respected: the willingness to go to jail or be killed rather than breach the trust your family placed in you. (Obviously, I didn’t like the Mafia’s objectives or their criminality and brutality.)

But I’ve found that trust frequently ends up being misplaced and leads to disappointment and pain. Because there always will be breaches of trust. Eventually, even the Mafia learned this lesson the hard way, as one after another ended up ratting out their family members to protect their own hides.

In the real world (as opposed to the idealized world that tends to captivate my imagination at times), people act out of self-interest. They will do what they believe to be in their self-interest, or what they think is right, even if it means betrayal. We’re very good at rationalizing betrayal away. We won’t even think of it as betrayal or breach of trust. Sometimes, we even manage to convert it into honor or virtue.

I wish I’d better understood this. As I’ve matured (beaten up like an old car), I’m less inclined to think that others were or are the problem and more inclined to think the problem was my own unreasonable expectations. And my naive understanding of human nature. I can’t blame anyone else for those expectations and naiveté. That was my own doing. I think President Trump’s dad understood this.

Still, I can’t go all in. I can’t live without any trust. But what I can do is to reserve it for fewer people. Close friends and family to be exact. And never to trust anyone in the workplace.

I’ve learned there are friends and there are friends, and never to lose sight of the distinction. I learned that lesson the hard way. I wish my dad had done a better job of imparting that knowledge when I was young. I wish I’d done a better job as a dad as well.

Nevertheless, I consider myself to be very fortunate: I have some true friends and family whom I feel I can trust. So maybe Mr. Trump’s father was wrong. Or perhaps he was right about the general rule, and that the exceptions are rare. You can decide for yourself.

In any case, I understand why Mr. Trump taught his son that lesson. Perhaps he went too far. Twenty years ago I would have said that he did. Today, I’m not so sure.

P.S. Despite what I believe is often a mere illusion of trust, Vera, you can always trust me. I can’t think of anything more important than fostering and living trust within our family. And never betraying the trust we have placed in each other. Frankly, I’d rather die than breach that trust.

What’s the Honorable Thing To Do?

Yesterday, John Kelly, the chief of staff for President Trump, said a “lack of ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” Further, he described Robert E. Lee, the confederate general who fought to preserve the rights of states to enslave Africans, as an “honorable man.”

It occurred to me, Vera, that so much in life is about deciding what’s the honorable thing to do. General Lee reached one decision. President Lincoln reached another. Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren in Pennsylvania reached another.

Mr. Kelly is entitled to his own opinion, of course. But it’s important to note that not everyone embraces his concept of honor. Indeed, at the time of the Civil War, there were people in the South who thought slavery was morally repugnant. And who also believed it was wrong to kill others in battle in an effort to preserve this perverse economic system.

Yet I have no doubt General Lee thought he was doing the honorable thing. And that Mr. Kelly sees honor in the general’s choice.

It’s not for me to judge whether General Lee was an honorable man. It is up to me, however, to judge whether my own actions are honorable.

What is honorable? What isn’t? Is the distinction always apparent? Or does the messiness of life and the pull of forces in opposing directions make the answers more illusive than they’d otherwise appear?

Some people like Mr. Kelly caution against imposing 21st-century standards of morality on 19th-century characters and events. And I suppose that’s where he and I part company.

Personally, I believe it was always wrong to enslave other people. To put them in chains. To deny them their liberty. To treat them like chattel. Animals. Sub-human.

I find honor in people who resisted those impulses. Not in people who fought and killed others to preserve it.

But I suppose that’s one of the reasons Mr. Kelly can work for Mr. Trump.

Stupidity Recorded for Eternity

Noted journalist Glenn Greenwald recently tweeted:

Now that every stupid, offensive, transgressive comment of young people are recorded on the internet, need standards for how long they count.

He added:

Most who are 36 would be horrified by things they said at 19. This is the 1st generation where youthful stupidity is recorded for eternity.

This is the world in which you’re entering, Vera.

Mine was a gentler, more forgiving world. About the only thing that seemed to live for eternity was some inane comment we may have scribbled in a classmate’s yearbook. And let’s face it, unless you were to become rich and famous, it’s unlikely those comments would see the light of day. And even if they did, they were unlikely to be as toxic as many of the things youth post today on the Internet.

The standards for dialogue have dropped and dragged our youth with them. I can’t believe some of the things people will write about their professors, coaches, fellow classmates and others. All sense of decorum seems to have flown out the window.

But you don’t have to participate. You don’t have to share things with the public that may end up haunting you for the rest of your life. You can be more discriminating. You have a choice.

I get the problem, of course: a teenager or someone in their early 20s may lack the experience and judgment to make sound decisions when it comes to matters such as this. That’s true, which is why one should err on the side of discretion. And not sharing.

Let someone else embarrass themselves. Let someone else establish a reputation as a fool or idiot. Just don’t let it be you.

This may seem like odd advice from someone who shares with the public his writings to you. Note, however, I’m in the late stages of my life, not the early ones. There is less at risk. Moreover, despite the degree to which I do share, there is an awful lot I don’t.

The litmus tests for me are:

  • Would it unnecessarily hurt someone?
  • Would the information cause a loved one to feel responsible in a way that I don’t think is helpful to anyone?
  • Would it be gratuitous and serve no useful purpose?
  • Is my opinion well grounded, or is it something I’m basically pulling out of my ass?

Certain things are appropriate for my journal, not my blog. And still other things may be appropriate only for my inner thoughts, never to be shared with anyone.

One very practical thing to remember is that prospective employers and colleges routinely check applicants’ “digital footprints” — that is, what the applicants reveal about themselves to the world on the Internet.

Some of us leave a very large footprint. And that footprint frequently ends up being the reason for a rejection by a prospective employer, client or institution.

Some may say they don’t care. That’s fine. But, at a young age, are you really in position to make such a decision? Is it that essential to share things that are likely to limit your future options?

In some cases, it might be. But it is obvious to me that in quite a few cases it’s merely a product of bad decision-making. Or of thinking your opinion matters more to the world than it actually does. Most of the time, no one else really cares, and our opinions are pretty irrelevant.

In any case, remember that all of us will say or do something stupid in our lives. More than once. If we’re lucky, and smart, evidence of that stupidity will not live forever on the web.