What Do I Understand Now That I Wish I’d Understood Then?

What do I understand (or at least think I understand) now that I wish I had understood when I had began my journey through adulthood? It’s of no consequence to me, of course: it’s impossible to turn back the clock. But it might be of some help to you, Vera.

In looking back I’m struck by how naïve I was when I came out of high school and, four years later, college. I had little appreciation for what the world was really like. Growing up in a working-class family in homogenous rural south-central Pennsylvania hadn’t exposed me to much. My world was very small.

More than four decades of career experiences in law, business (CEO), government (special agent for DOD and, later, cabinet secretary), and higher ed (college president) changed that. To a degree. There is still much about life I don’t understand or, perhaps more accurately, refuse to accept. I’m still learning and always will be. Nonetheless, life has imparted a few lessons along the way.

Some of the lessons were easy to learn; some were hard. Some were moments of euphoria and left fond memories; some were painful and left scars. Others were learned merely by reading or observing. (It’s always preferable to learn from other people’s wisdom or mistakes.) I decided to compose a list of what I consider to have been some of the most important lessons.

What the list isn’t, however, is a list of rules to live by. I’m not fond of rules and would never suggest life is so easily mastered. Moreover, as I’ve mentioned before, I have absolutely no desire to tell you how to live your life, Vera. Rather, I’m simply sharing some of the things I wish I had better understood when I was young, starting out.

Some of the lessons are practical; some are of the existential variety. The list is neither complete nor final. After all, I’m still learning.

Please don’t infer an order of priority, for none is intended. “You” and “your,” below, refer to me; it is as if life is speaking to me. Occasional personal comments follow parenthetically. Continue reading

Do You Have the Right to Have an Opinion?

I love this quote from Ray Dalio:

Ask yourself whether you have earned the right to have an opinion.

We seem to live in an age in which everyone has an opinion about everything, no matter how ill-informed. And many of us aren’t shy about sharing our opinions (me included). Worse yet, many of us seem to regard our opinions as fact. (I think of it as the age of rampant self-delusion.)

Which brings me back to Ray’s comment. I wonder what the world would be like if we thought we should have to earn the right to have an opinion. Or at least the right to express it in public.

I suspect it would be a better place.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to have fewer opinions (mainly because, with age, I’ve realized how little I actually know), but I’m sure I still have far too many. Undoubtedly, I haven’t earned the right to have some of them.

I’m going to strive to discard those opinions which came cheap, that is, for which I haven’t earned the right to possess. And I’m going to endeavor to become slow to form new opinions. And to form only those that are earned and necessary.

Will I succeed? Probably not. At least not entirely. But even if I succeed in part, the world will be a better place — only to an infinitesimal degree, of course. But every little bit helps.

So with what shall I fill the void — the void left by these discarded and unformed opinions?

I think I’ll fill it with questions and hypotheses, things that opinions often stifle and suppress.

It should make for a less obnoxious and more interesting person.