The following are some life lessons I have stumbled across. I hope I have avoided platitudes, empty pieties, self-evident propositions, commencement oratory and anything that sounds like it may have come from the inside of a fortune cookie. But then again…
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1. If someone says, “It’s too complicated for me to explain it to you,” what they really mean is that they do not understand it sufficiently to describe it clearly and succinctly. Even string theory or quantum mechanics can be simply, but not fully, explained.
2. Fear and loathing trumps logic and reason every time. To paraphrase Charlie Revson (founder of Revlon who famously said, “sex sells,”), fear sells and attracts more eyeballs and listeners than reason and logic.
3. When a person asks you to agree to something that you express as suspect, and they reply, “Trust me!” what they are really saying is “**** you!”
4. The best approach to respond to a rant, one that gets your physician concerned about your blood pressure, is to resist the urge to throw a rhetorical bomb back (as satisfying as that may seem at the moment). My rules of response are:
• Keep it civil.
• Keep it relevant.
• Keep it clear.
• Keep it short.
I just wish that I would follow my own rules.
5. If you compromise your principles then they are not principles but merely suggestions.
6. “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Aung San Suu Ky, who put her money where her mouth is and endured decades of house arrest.
7. Never argue with a bigot or an ideologue for they do not know what they don’t know — they only know what they believe.
8. When someone says, “Thank you,” why do people respond with all sorts of gush, such as, “No I really want to thank you,” instead of a simple, “You’re welcome?” (Okay this is a question rather than a life lesson but it annoys me.)
9. Accepting a new and different idea very often has nothing to do with the worth of the idea but on overcoming egos. The technical term for this is NIH (Not Invented Here) or if I did not think of it then it cannot be worth considering.
10. As sociologist David Riesman said, the greatest societal or organizational power is the ability to say no. Veto Power über allis.
11. Today’s social conservatives are our cultural Luddites.
12. Repeating something over and over does not make it true. This is known as a tautology, which is continuously repeating something without imparting additional clarity. What tautologies actually do is make the uninformed believe something is true. By the way, even the willingness to die for something does not make it true.
13. Stupidity is a condition — ignorance is a choice.
14. How far do we go in defense of our values without abandoning them? This is the question to ask when considering the trade-off among personal liberties, privacy and the government’s intrusion into, and restriction of, personal freedoms in the name of public safety.
15. “When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths, which must serve as the touch-stone of our judgment.” — John Fitzgerald Kennedy, at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library, October 26, 1963
16. The American system was set up on the assumption that you can’t rely on the good will of people with power.
17. Other than telling us how to live, think, marry, pray, vote, invest, educate our children and die, I think the Republicans have done a fine job of wanting to keep government out of our personal lives.
18. Lessons from the past: “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” — Plato. “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” — Pericles
19. We become slaves the moment we hand the keys to the definition of reality entirely over to someone else, whether it is an ideologue, a pundit, an economic theorist, a political party or FOX News.
20. It is even more damaging for a minister to say foolish things than to do them.
21. I know that the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, but extracting oil from shale and tar sand will cause irreparable harm to our environment and there are better alternatives.
22. When smashing monuments, save the pedestals — they always come in handy.
23. “If you really want to know what a person means or intends, do not pay attention to what they say but look to what they do.” — David Altshuler (my father)
Gene Altshuler is a resident of Cameron Park and a community activist interested in economic development and local government.