Beyond Platitudes 721.1

How can one continue to advocate optimism in a world so filled with tragedy? How empty do platitudes about positive thinking feel to people in Alabama, Japan, or Haiti, whose lives were ravaged by tornadoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes? Or, for that matter, to folks whose lives have been turned upside down by illness, betrayal of an unfaithful spouse, or financial …

The History of Positive Thinking 720.5

I am a strong believer in the power of positive thinking, which is the title of a best-selling book published in 1952 by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, a controversial preacher and pastor who popularized the idea that if you can change your attitude, you can change your life. He urged people to consciously train themselves to be optimistic and enthusiastic, …

Shameless Ignorance and Shameful Prejudice 720.3

A while ago, I spoke about my frustration trying to keep up with the uprisings in the Middle East and Northern Africa, the nuclear meltdown in Japan, the status of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the federal and state budget cuts. Now I have to add the tornado in St. Louis, wildfires in Texas, and Kobe Bryant’s ankle …

The Need for Moral Judgment 720.2

In my book The Power of Character, Dr. Laura Schlessinger writes that her radio show didn’t become a success until she abandoned the nonjudgmental strategy of the traditional psychologist/family counselor and began to challenge, chastise, and encourage her listeners to think of their behavior in terms of right and wrong. Believing that we’re all obligated to discern and honor moral …

Disposition or Discipline? 720.1

Have you heard the story of a shoe company that sent two salesmen into the backwoods? After a few days, both came back. One was frustrated: “It was a waste of time. None of these people wear shoes.” The second was enthused: “Tremendous opportunity here. None of these people wear shoes.” It’s pretty obvious which salesman was more successful, and …

Letter from God 719.4

According to a story making the rounds on the Internet*, a mom writes that when their 14-year-old dog Abbey died, her four-year-old daughter Meredith dictated this note to God: Dear God, Please take care of my dog Abbey. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. …

A Parent’s Fantasy 719.3

I think it’s a silent fantasy of most parents that someday their child will win an Oscar or a Nobel Prize and in the acceptance speech declare, “I owe it all to my mom and dad.” Well, the occasion wasn’t as grand, but these comments in my daughter Mataya’s bat mitzvah speech were as good as it gets: Hi, mommy. …

Mataya’s Coming of Age 719.2

This weekend family and friends gathered to witness our daughter Mataya’s bat mitzvah*, the symbolic transition from childhood to adulthood. It was our fourth bat mitzvah in five years, and frankly, we’re glad we’re done. Anne and I make them major productions. Anne has the hard part. She plans a party equal to a significant wedding and personally creates a …

Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last? 719.1

“Nice guys finish last.” This maxim originated with a fiercely competitive baseball manager named Leo Durocher who shamelessly advocated ruthlessness, cheating, and dirty play. It is also used to explain why sweet, thoughtful men lose out to self-centered jerks in the world of dating. Lots of people believe the philosophy applies in business as well. The rationale: Nice is the …

Improving Your Life by Improving Your Mind 718.5

Our abilities to think, reason, and learn are among the most powerful tools we have to make our lives safer, more comfortable, and more fulfilling. Yet many of us don’t develop our mental capacities. Although we can learn important information in school, the wise person in pursuit of self-improvement realizes that education is a lifelong process of expanding our minds …

Firms of Endearment 718.4

A challenge I frequently face while consulting with senior executives and boards of directors of public companies is a belief that their primary mandate is to make profits and enhance shareholder value. Thus, ethical principles like honesty, fairness, and caring are proper guides to decision making only to the extent that they can demonstrably improve profitability or be incorporated into …

Informational Isolationist 718.3

Help! I need a strategy to deal with information overload. I want to be a good citizen with informed opinions about significant events, but I just can’t keep up. Surely, the colossal, ongoing consequences of the earthquakes, tidal waves, and nuclear leaks in Japan justify sustained and serious attention. But so do the uprisings in the Middle East and Northern …

The Power of Kindness 718.2

Bob wrote to tell me that, having just lost his bride of 42 years, it’s been deeply important to him to be the beneficiary of grand and spontaneous acts of kindness of strangers. In one case, he was overcome with emotion while seeking to make copies of all the notes of love and support he received. A young woman seeing …

No One Is Too Poor to Give 718.1

When Teresa, a widow with four young children, saw a notice that members of her church would gather to deliver presents and food to a needy family, she took $10 out of her savings jar and bought the ingredients to make three dozen cookies. She got to the church parking lot just in time to join a convoy going to …

So What Makes Us Happy? 717.5

There is an ever-growing body of knowledge about the nature and causes of happiness. For one thing, it’s clear that happiness is a feeling, not a circumstance. Happiness is more than just fun or pleasure. It’s a more durable sense of well-being. Our happiness depends not on what happens to us, but what happens in us. In other words, it’s …

Statement of Family Values 717.4

Our values – the core beliefs that drive behavior – determine our character, our ethics, and our potential. Thus, the most important thing we can do for our children is to stimulate them to develop positive values that will help them become wise, happy, and good. This is no simple matter. The first step is to achieve greater clarity about …

Another Parenting Passage 717.3

Have you seen the Subaru commercial where a father is giving a safety talk to his six-year-old sitting in the driver’s seat?* In that exasperated tone I’ve heard a thousand times, the little girl says, “Daddy, it’s okay.” Then, as dad hands his daughter the key with a final warning to drive carefully, she is replaced by a 16-year-old. I’m …

The Experimental Operation 717.2

Tess, an earnest 8-year-old, was worried. Her little brother was very sick and she overheard her mom crying on the phone: “They say his only chance is an experimental operation, but it isn’t covered by insurance and there’s no way we can pay for it.” Tess went to a jar containing all the money she had saved. Although she wasn’t …

Hang in There! It Will Get Better 717.1

While researching the bullying issue for a CHARACTER COUNTS! seminar, I came across Vicky Bell’s blog, where she posted a letter to her daughter in college. I think her advice moving and wise. Here’s an abridged version: Hello my girl . . . You may have heard about the NJ college student who killed himself because his roommate posted a …

Parenting and Play-Doh 716.5

Peggy Adkins, a talented CHARACTER COUNTS! trainer, tells the story of when she adopted a cat. Each of the cat’s original owners was interviewed, and when Peggy finally got the animal, she had to sign a document that listed 23 things to do and 17 things not to do to raise a happy, healthy feline. Over the next several months, …

It’s Okay to Keep Your Elephant Happy 716.4

Yesterday I introduced Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of our rational self as a Rider sitting atop an Elephant, the larger, more powerful emotional self. Sometimes the Rider is the pilot directing the Elephant, but often the Elephant is in control, making the Rider a passenger. Scientific literature on how people change tells us that unless we motivate the Elephant – arguments …

The Rider and the Elephant 716.3

It took me a long time to realize the limitations of logic. For much of my life, including a 20-year stint as a law professor, I relied on discourse and reasoning to understand and resolve problems. I believed that I should suppress feelings that could result in irrational behavior, and I had little patience for those who seemed to govern …

If You’re in a Hole, Stop Digging 716.2

Most of us have lied to get out of trouble. From childhood denials (“it wasn’t me”) to adult fabrications (“the check is in the mail”), what seem like harmless falsehoods easily fall from our tongues. And then we make up more excuses or tell more lies to protect the first one. Soon the “cover-up” is more serious and credibility-damaging than …

The Doctrine of Relative Filth 716.1

In the early ’90s I was asked to spend a full day talking about ethics with the entire California Senate. I was their punishment. Three senators had been convicted the previous year, and voters had passed an ethics initiative requiring legislators to receive education on ethical principles. This was a high-profile, high-prestige program, and I didn’t want to be naïve …

If You Love Competition, You Never Lose 715.5

Suppose you’re an Olympic athlete and you hear that the only person who has a chance to beat you is ill and may have to withdraw. Are you overjoyed at your good luck or disappointed that you will not be able to compete against the very best? If you really love and understand sports, you ought to be disappointed. John …

The Woodsman and the Leprechaun 715.4

Long ago, a woodsman saved the life of a leprechaun and was given one wish. The woodsman thought for a long time and finally wished that each of his three daughters find a good husband. But the leprechaun was full of games. “How am I to know what’s good in your mind? I’ll give them husbands, but you can name …

Do a Little More 715.3

In 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Queens, New York. She was attacked repeatedly over the course of an hour. Despite her screams, none of her 38 neighbors intervened or called for help. Some were afraid. Some didn’t want to get involved. Some thought someone else would do it. This …

Seven Truths for Bosses 715.2

Here are seven truths I’ve discovered in my struggles to be an effective boss: It’s not what you say that matters; it’s what people hear. Just because you said it doesn’t mean they heard it. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean they read it. Be sure your message is received and understood. There are lots of things you don’t …

Maybe Pro Athletes Really Aren’t Jerks 714.5

I never heard of Kim Hughes until I was sent a link to a story written in newspaper from Racine, Wisconsin. What I learned was that Hughes, a 6-foot-11 giant of a man, was half of a set of identical twins who played basketball for the University of Wisconsin. He was also an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers …