COMMENTARY: Live Backwards

Ben just came to town as a new rabbi. Unfortunately, his first official duty was to conduct a funeral service for Albert, a man who died in his eighties with no relatives. Since Ben didn’t know the deceased personally, he paused from his sermon to ask if anyone in the congregation would say something good about Albert. There was no …

COMMENTARY: Taking Charge of the Balloon

A man in a hot air balloon, realizing he was lost, lowered it to shout to a fellow on the ground, “The wind’s blown me off course. Can you tell me where I am?” The man replied, “Sure. You’re hovering about 60 feet over this wheat field.” “You must be an engineer,” the balloonist yelled. “I am. How did you …

COMMENTARY: Every Good Decision Starts With a Stop

Most of us are regularly confronted with choices that can have serious and lasting impact on our lives. What’s more, most really bad decisions — the ones that mess up our lives — are made impulsively or without sufficient reflection. Thus, the wisdom of the oldest advice in the world: “Think ahead.” The maxim telling us to count to three …

COMMENTARY: It’s Not Easy

Let’s be honest. Ethics is not for wimps. It’s not easy being a good person. It’s not easy to be honest when it might be costly, to play fair when others cheat, or to keep inconvenient promises. It’s not easy to stand up for our beliefs and still respect differing viewpoints. It’s not easy to control powerful impulses, to be …

COMMENTARY: Nice Guys Finish First: Good Ethics Is Good Business

“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 same …

COMMENTARY: Competition in the Arts

Competition often brings out the best performance but it doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Even in the arts, actors, singers, dancers, and musicians must survive and thrive in a competitive community as rude and rough as any. Ambitious parents often introduce toxic gamesmanship and back-biting attitudes very early as their children are judged and ranked by the …

COMMENTARY: Using All Your Strength

A young boy was walking with his father along a country road. When they came across a very large tree branch the boy asked, “Do you think I could move that branch?” His father answered, “If you use all your strength, I’m sure you can.” So the boy tried mightily to lift, pull and push the branch but he couldn’t …

COMMENTARY: The Road to Significance

The most traditional way to measure the quality of one’s life is to evaluate success by listing accolades, achievements, and acquisitions. After all, in its simplest terms, success is getting what we want and most people want wealth and status. Yet, as much pleasure as these attributes can bring, the rich, powerful, and famous usually discover that true happiness will …

The road you take matters.

Where you go in life and whether you enjoy the trip will be determined by your choices, not your circumstances. In your work life and your personal life you will face choices not merely on what to do but on how you will react or respond to things other did. Life’s turning points are not marked and they are not …

COMMENTARY 893.5: Moving From Success to Significance

I frequently address people who are highly successful. They’re at the top of their field and often have all the comforts that wealth can afford. Most seem to enjoy their success. So, in a way, it surprises me how deeply many of them respond when I talk about the difference between success and significance. Invariably, I see knowing nods when …

COMMENTARY 886.2: The Paradoxical Commandments

In 1968, when Kent M. Keith was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard, he wrote the Paradoxical Commandments as part of a booklet for student leaders. He describes the Commandments as guidelines for finding personal meaning in the face of adversity: 1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. 2. If you do good, people will accuse you of …

Reflections at 71: Life Expectancy, Life’s Expectancies and The Seven Biggest Truths I’ve Learned

(updated December 12, 2013) Where did the time go? I hate clichés like this, but among the things I’ve learned in my 71 years of lurching around life is that these pithy statements became clichés precisely because they are true. Often profoundly so. Looking through the rear view mirror of my life the past feels like a movie played a …

COMMENTARY 797.5: The Road to Significance

The most traditional way to measure the quality of one’s life is to evaluate success by listing accolades, achievements, and acquisitions. After all, in its simplest terms, success is getting what we want and most people want wealth and status. Yet, as much pleasure as these attributes can bring, the rich, powerful, and famous usually discover that true happiness will …

COMMENTARY 791.3: Wisdom in 20 Words or Fewer: Part One

Since my children were small, I launched their day with the invocation to “be good, have fun and learn.” I hope they remember that mantra, but now that my daughter Samara is beginning her independent life as a college freshman 3,000 miles away, I think a more detailed set of maxims is needed. So, I’ve begun to assemble a collection …