Tag Archives: success

Where Have You Gone, Ernest Hemingway? Of Baseball, Tanking, Winning, Trying, And Life…

This essay is only incidentally about baseball, but like so many things that sieve through my brain, it was sparked by a conversation about baseball. On the satellite radio MLB channel, one of the interchangeable hosts—I really have trouble telling them apart: some are ex-general managers who nobody will hire, some are ex-players, and a few are sportswriters, but they all seem to say the same things, though one says them with a bilateral lisp—was interviewing a New York sportswriter. That alone would normally prompt me to switch to the Beatles Channel (or the weather), but as I reached for the dial I caught one of the writer’s comments. He was talking about the fact that the New York Yankees’ opponent at the time, the Tampa Bay Rays, were almost a .500 team, and were competing despite a tiny payroll, unlike many other teams this year, which have adopted the controversial strategy of fielding cheap and crummy teams (called “tanking’) in the hopes of getting high draft choices as a reward for  miserable won-lost records.

“I guess you have to admire the Rays,” he said, “though in this day and age, it makes no sense to try to be a .500 team.”

What a nauseating, unethical position, and how characteristic of the downward trend in American values and spirituality!  It makes no sense to try be a .500 team? This sentiment warps so much in American life today. It translates into the envy, resentment and anger that typical, normal, healthy Americans lug around on their souls all day because they aren’t rich like the people they see on TV, or the neighbor down the street who had wealthy parents and left him a bundle.

It makes sense for the Rays to try to be a .500 team because it means the team is doing the best it can, despite limitations beyond its control, to give its fans something to cheer and care about. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it makes sense to aspire to be the kind of steady, honest, hard-working middle class American who raises happy and well-adjusted children in a stable home but will never win any major awards or be the subject of features in their local newspapers. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it is right to work hard and well no matter what your salary, or whether you are being paid at all.

Ambition is a great motivator, as long as one understands that achieving one’s goals is often as dependent on chance and chaos as it is on industry and talent, and if you prepare yourself to be bitter about that, bitter is how you are likely to wind up.

I learned to love baseball passionately following a .500 baseball team–indeed a sub-.500 baseball team— that seemed like it would never be anything but. This was in an era where the New York Yankees literally won the pennant every year, with a rare exception now and then. The system was rigged to favor them, and had been for decades. The Boston Red Sox began every season knowing that getting to the World Series was a pipe dream, and their fans knew it too. Nevertheless, they tried. As an almost good team, they had a chance to win every game—not a great chance, when they were playing the Yankees, but a chance. Often the Sox made a good fight of it while going down: our hopes were raised, and there was that wonderful-horrible moment that is the beating heart of baseball where anything can happen from a miracle to a tragedy as the ball is hurtling toward the plate and fate’s resolution. Life is like that, and the sooner you realize and accept it, the better off you are.

The best hitters make outs 60% of the time, and the best teams still lose at least 35% of their games. The typical players and teams do worse than that, just like the typical American, indeed human being, loses a lot more often than he or she wins. The important thing, the thing that undergirds ethics, and integrity, and responsibility, and honor, is that you do the best you can, and pick yourself up when you fail, and try again. It’s not a bromide. It’s the only way to live without going crazy, becoming a serial killer, or surrendering to despair. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Daily Life, Ethics Heroes, Literature, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day: “Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay” (#2)

The second of the Comments of the Day sparked by my musings on Megyn Kelly’s descision to move from a job where she excelled to a completely different assignment at which, at least so far, she is crashing and burning like the Hindenburg. The first, by  Extradimensional Cephalopod, was very different, an abstract analysis of the phenomenon that bedevils Kelly, and many of us. The second, a personal account of the dilemma in action, is no less enlightening, but very different.

The comment also reminded me that I have never posted about the Japanese concept of Ikigai, and I should have. There is no English equivalent for the word: ikigai  combines the Japanese words ikiru, meaning “to live”, and kai, meaning “the realization of what one hopes for.” Together the words encompass the concept of “a reason to live” or the idea of having a purpose in life. Ikigai also invokes a mental and spiritual state where individuals feel that their lives have value—to them, to loved ones, to society.

Ikigai odes not spring from actions we are forced to take, but from natural, voluntary and spontaneous actions. In his article titled  “Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei” (“Ikigai: the process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”) Japanese wrter Kobayashi Tsukasa says that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”

Sounds simple.

It isn’t.

Here is Alex’s Comment of the Day on the post, Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay:

This topic is close to my heart, so time for some confessions and public reflections.

As I’ve previously mentioned I’m a software engineer, over a decade of experience, and modesty aside, a darned good one at what I do. The main areas of work I’ve been involved in are speech recognition, accessibility and development runtimes (think along the lines of the Java runtime). It was not necessarily world transforming work, but it had an impact and passionate following by our users. Pay was good if slightly low for the experience I had, and as of late I was getting tired of the work and wanted to try something new – also, a reasonable salary increase was not going to hurt.

So I start my job hunt, both internally and externally. At the end it comes down to two very good offers: One working for a social media giant with at a still-to-be-determined role with extremely good pay and no clear route for advancement. The other working closer to hardware (I’m an EE but never worked on it professionally) with lower pay (still an improvement over my previous job) at a clearly defined role with an advancement development plan and with the goal of putting people in space.

Putting it like this it sounds like a home run, but with a family in the line – I’m a single earner with three kids – the financial sides are a big consideration. There were so many things to balance: money, prospects for advancement, happiness, commute time, personal fulfillment, and yes, societal value of my work. It was not an easy decision, there were difficult conversations with my wife and even more than a year later some days I wonder if this was the right call (I went with the space company…Yay!) Continue reading

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Filed under Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Religion and Philosophy, Workplace

Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay

I have been following Megyn Kelly’s ongoing career crash with interest and reflection. She spurned a more lucrative contract from Fox News to jump to NBC, where she was made the star of a “Today Show” shake-up. Critics have been brutal; ratings have plunged. Reportedly celebrities refuse to be booked for interviews with her–they are all progressives, you see, and fear they will get cooties from Megyn, or something.  Conservatives are mocking her as a turncoat getting her just desserts, and the Left already hated her. She has no constituency now; literally none.

You never know; Megyn might rebound. Nevertheless, she is a cautionary tale with ethics implications. Kelly has an unusual set of skills and talents.  She is actress/model beautiful in face and physique; she is very intelligent; she has a great broadcast voice. She is a lawyer as well as a journalist, articulate, and has guts. There are many paths she could take that would make use of her abilities and achieve fame, wealth, popularity or power.

This is fortunate fortunate, but it also is a trap. Choices involve the risk of error, failure, lost opportunities and disappointment. Those who have a limited number of skills also have a limited number of choices, or none at all. There is some serenity in this. My entire professional life has been spent jumping back and forth, in and out among the many areas that interest and engage me, and in which I have had some measurable talent and success. In the end, and I am far closer to the end than the beginning, mine will be substantially a life of underachievement and waste, in great part because I never made a committed choice, or made the wrong ones.

My heroes have always been those remarkable, versatile people who somehow contrived to make major contributions to culture, society and civilization in multiple fields. Theodore Roosevelt, a historian, naturalist, and political leader. Clarence Darrow, a lawyer, writer, and philosopher. Hedy Lamarr, the sexy actress and pin-up who developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, a bomb-sight,and whose inventions are now incorporated into modern Wi-Fi, CDMA, and Bluetooth technology. Paul Winchell, the popular ventriloquist, kids show host, and voice actor (Tigger!) who also invented medical equipment. Marlene Dietrich, who acted, sang, spied, and defied Hitler.  John Glenn, a fighter pilot, astronaut, and U.S. Senator.  Richard Gil, a tenured Harvard Professor of Economics, and a principal bass with the Metropolitan Opera Company. Michael Crichton, a  novelist, film director and MD, with the gift of philological insights. Ronald Reagan, a movie star and a President of the United States. But their path is perilous. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Journalism & Media, Literature, U.S. Society, Workplace

Slate: ‘How Dare A Billionaire Donate $400,000,000 to Harvard?’

See, Ozmandias? You should have opted for school of engineering.

See, Ozmandias? You should have opted for the school of engineering.

Slate’s article by Jordan Weissmann, its senior business and economics correspondent, about the largest donation ever made to Harvard University is one of those monstrosities that has great value as an ethics test. If you think his argument is reasonable, then you need help.

Essentially, the Slate piece is the ultimate example of an unethical argument I have focused on before, which can be summarized as, “If you give to what you care about rather than what I care about, then your donation is unethical.”

Unless your contribution is to ISIS, or isn’t really a contribution but an attempt to buy access for your own purposes (like with, to pick an example out of the air, a donation to the Clinton Foundation), there is nothing unethical about a $400,000,000 donation, which is what John Paulson just gave to Harvard University’s endowment for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The school will be renamed after Paulson, which Weissman also finds repugnant. The title of the piece: “Billionaire’s Ego Donates $400 Million to Harvard.”

Let me pause here to note that I refuse to give my money to Harvard, which solicits me regularly. The university is rich, I’m not, and I prefer to give my charitable gifts to Georgetown Law Center, specifically to the student theatrical organization I founded there, which like all theater groups, needs funds. I am sure Weissman finds my contribution unethical as well, because, really, what good are the arts compared to what he has decreed is worth giving to as the “more pressing causes in the world”?  As he sees it, that is, but that’s all that matters.

Let me go through Weissman’s many objections that cause him to sneer at Paulson’s charity:

1. “Gestures to Ivy League schools …inevitably have as much to do with the giver’s ego as their sense of altruism.” Yes, and so do almost all philanthropic donations, regardless of source and objective. The motto in fundraising (I was a professional fundraiser for a decade) is that donors give money for their purposes, not yours. People who give a lot of money to good causes like to have some recognition, and they deserve it.  Apparently Weissman believes that the only ethical donations are anonymous ones, because that’s modest. I’m impressed by anonymous gifts, though they often have selfish motivations as well: the donors don’t want to be hounded by more fundraisers. Nevertheless, that lack of modesty is so trivial as a flaw in large charitable contributions that to harp on it is perverse. Successful people tend to have egos that are often in proportion to their accomplishments. The construct of the left is, we know, that accomplishments and success are just randomly distributed fruits of privilege, ergo the self-esteem that often results from such success is as unsavory as the privilege that generates it.

This is, to be blunt, un-American crap.

2. Harvard “does not strictly need more money, especially compared to the financially strapped colleges that typically educate lower-income students.” First of all, this is demonstrably false. Harvard does need more money if it is going to expand and improve its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, secure that school’s financial health in perpetuity, and do so without sacrificing other objectives it deems important. Harvard also educates lower-income students, the best and brightest of them, and thus the best resources money can buy are expended on the students most likely to make the best use of them for the benefit of society. Weissman believes this is wrong, and that the 400,000,000 should be given to lesser schools, with less of a track record of spending money wisely, while educating less promising students.

I am in sympathy with that argument to some extent. The marginal utility of all that money is less at Harvard than anywhere else, and I can envision the donation having a far more sweeping impact elsewhere: giving it to Sweet Briar, for example. That does not mean there is anything wrong in any way with bolstering Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The donation is an unequivocal, absolute good.

The money could have been spent “better”? That’s your opinion. It’s not your money. Shut up. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Education, Journalism & Media, Philanthropy, Non-Profits and Charity, Science & Technology

Ethics Heroes: The New York Yankees

Yankees Wallpaper

You know how hard it is for the co-creator of “Pennant Pursuit, the Boston Red Sox Trivia Game” to write this.

It can’t be avoided though. The New York Yankees have, and not for the first time, upon reflection, demolished the oft-stated accusation that Major League Baseball is no longer a sport, but a business. This was always a false dichotomy, for from the days of rag-tag 19th Century baseball to the present, The Great American Pastime That Does Not Require You To Cheer Young Athletes Guaranteeing That They Will Spend Their Retirement In A Brain-Damage Haze has always been both, with each side constantly yielding to the other.

Coming off a disappointing season (the all-time most successful team in pro sports history missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years) and faced with an aging, injured, question mark-filled roster despite the highest payroll in the game ($228,995,945; the Houston Astros, in contrast, spend about 24 million, or less that the Yankees paid their steroid cheating third-baseman), and faced with baseball’s team salary luxury tax, which charges teams with a payroll exceeding 189 million for every dollar over it, the Yankees discarded their announced business plan of cutting back on salaries to avoid the tax threshold, and instead went on a spending binge. They snapped up most of the top free agent stars peddling their wares this winter, committing themselves to a staggering boost in contract obligations that will approach a half-billion dollars by the time the dust clears. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Heroes, Sports

Culture, Truthteller Ethics, And Richard Dawkins’ Tweet

What can a leading intellectual say of value in 140 characters?

What can a leading intellectual say of value in 140 characters?

Philosopher/biologist Richard Dawkins, best known as the world’s most formidable atheist, does not shy away from rustling the feathers of some pretty fierce birds. Recently he even infuriated many of his admirers by tweeting, “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” He was immediately called an anti-Muslim bigot by some, while others chose to challenge his assertion with false analogies. Making a strong statement worthy of a treatise in 140 characters is a tricky enterprise, and perhaps an unwise one, but the politically incorrect observation he was making was not about the Nobel Prize’s perfection as a measure of accomplishment, but rather about how the Muslim culture has strangled human progress, creativity and advancement for centuries. In this he is correct. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, History, Religion and Philosophy, Science & Technology, The Internet

Trust and “The Paradoxical Commandments” of Dr. Keith

In case you were wondering what was on that third tablet that Moses dropped…

I’m preparing a long business ethics program for a large corporation with some ethics issues (which is to say, for a large corporation), and while reviewing my files on business leadership re-discovered some material that I hadn’t looked at for a long while. One of them was “Anyway,” a poem that was also turned into an inspirational book by its author, Dr. Kent M. Keith.  He first wrote it for student leaders in 1968 while an undergraduate at Harvard.

One wonders if what he called “The Paradoxical Commandments” would have occurred to anyone but a student, before he could become jaded, cynical, disillusioned, or stuffed with so many scholarly  details, controversies and nuances regarding ethics that such an idealistic view was tainted forever.  (I should note that Dr. Keith has obviously become none of those things, perhaps because he was able to remain true to his own youthful advice.)

The poem is really about trust, the essence of ethics. There is no question that those who trust—in people, in institutions, in justice, in fairness—will inevitably be betrayed and disappointed, sometimes tragically.  Yet to stop trusting in those things, which so much human experience and simple logic dictates is the safest, most sensible course, is to damn one’s life and the society we live in to perpetual mediocrity, fear, and darkness. Democracy is based on trust of an idea: that human beings can be trusted to live their own lives, and that under the inspiration and catalyst of freedom, will create, persevere, love and build a healthy and happy society. There is plenty of evidence that suggests that trusting this idea is risky and foolish, yet trust is its only hope for fruition. So we must trust anyway.

I’ve never posted Dr. Keith’s poem on Ethics Alarms before. I should have. Here it is: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Citizenship, Literature