Sunday, April 28, 2013

Progress and Morality

Do you use paper and pen for writing a letter? I do, but rarely and reluctantly—when I have to—for condolences or special occasions. To my dismay, writing with paper and pen feels awkward. It stifles my thoughts and leaves me yearning for my computer with its speed and infinite capabilities that lubricate my brain and spur my creativity.

Thanks to progress and technology we use a car rather than a horse and wagon; we use a washing machine rather than a scrubbing board; and we rarely bother with the encyclopedia—we ask Google. I recall one of my MBA students objecting when I corrected his spelling. “Why bother,” he said, “the spell-checker takes care of it.” Yet I stood my ground—we still need to be able to spell, and we still need to write certain things by hand. But who knows for how long. One day there may be a tiny brain implant that will tell us how to spell and speak in more than one language.

Consider the convenience of an email. No need for an envelope, a stamp, or a mailbox. We don’t even need an address; a simple click will provide it.  And you can’t beat its speed.

Science and technology are taking great strides, making life ever easier for us. “Not so,” some people complain.  They object to certain dangers of scientific inventions, such as the discovery of the atom that enabled us to make the atom bomb, or bacteria that facilitate biological warfare, or the possibility of altering genes that could cause unpredictable surprises.

Yet aren’t we mistaking the marvels of nature and science for a person’s evil intent? It is not our knowledge of the atom, bacteria, or our genes that is at fault; it is our actions that need to be brought into alignment with modern capabilities. We urgently need to focus on how to be considerate of and compassionate with other human beings, rather than on how to destroy them.  Is it wise to place instructions on how to make bombs on the internet, or have automatic weapons in the home?

We cannot turn our back on inventions; it is as impossible as turning back the clock. But we can use them wisely with compassion and tolerance for others foremost in our mind, and by teaching the same to our children, if we want our species to survive.

Why do so many of us prefer a computer to paper and pen? Is it the legibility and neatness that is so attractive? Or is it the ease to make corrections and changes? Or the joy of doing it so effortlessly? Or is it simply habit?

Probably all of them, but whatever it is, I wouldn’t trade in my Mac for anything—except, eventually, for a new model.

Until next time,


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lessons of History

Today is April 20th — the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

If only he’d never been born! Sadly, this was not ours to decide. However, we can learn from history so we won’t have to repeat those tragic years. They cost too many lives, too much misery and the destruction of most of Europe.

Which are the lessons to remember?

1. Beware of Intolerance. Hitler’s early speeches sizzled with intolerance, besides being utterly absurd. In beer-garden gatherings his accomplices passed out beer to attract a crowd while he wildly gestured:  “Why have we no bread?  Because of the Jews!” “Why the bad harvest?  Because of the Jews!” “Why no work?  Because of the Jews!”  

Within two months of having become chancellor, Hitler banned Jews from government employment, replaced superb Jewish surgeons with young and inexperienced doctors who belonged to his party and drove Germany’s best artists and scientists into exile, including Albert Einstein. In retrospect, maybe a good thing; otherwise he might have won the war and created hell on Earth.

2. Beware of Politicians’ Election Promises.  Politicians will say and do anything to get votes. Yet again and again we fall for their promises. Why not look at a politician’s previous record? It tells us much more eloquently and accurately what to expect.

Let’s briefly examine Hitler’s past. He flunked three years of elementary school, and quit school at age 16 when his father died. He lived with his mother, slept until noon, walked in the park and occasionally did a painting. As his mother lay dying of cancer, he moved to Vienna. When he ran out of money, he lived in the gutter, slept on park benches, ate in charity kitchens and attended anti-Jewish meetings.

Six years later, World War One was declared. With great joy he left Austria and his life of misery and joined the German Army. He had stored up much hatred while in Vienna and fought with great bravery which earned him the Iron Cross. It became his dearest possession.  

At war’s end, the Army trained him in public speaking to persuade returning soldiers against joining the Communist Party.  One year after the war, the Versailles Treaty was signed and caused catastrophic results—33% of country was unemployment, starvation became widespread, and the currency collapsed, which eventually propelled Hitler into the Chancellery.

3. Beware of Greed. Hitler created jobs, abolished unemployment, eliminated the widespread riots and established order and stabilized the currency. Time Magazine celebrated Hitler on its cover as Man of the Year.

Hitler, however, was by no means satisfied; he wanted to rule the world. It was his secret dream, as well as his downfall.

What is the answer?  Kindness and Cooperation. Today’s technology no longer allows for the outdated, self-centered approach: we against them. It would hasten the end of human existence. We need to cooperate worldwide, be it in controlling dangerous arms, preserving the peace, or protecting the Earth’s environment for our children.

In brief, if we want to survive, we need to focus on kindness and cooperation worldwide, and listen to the voices of wisdom, wherever they may be.

Until next time,


Based in my book, The Madman and his Mistress

Saturday, April 13, 2013


The Dalai Lama is well known for the infinite happiness, inner peace and tranquility he radiates. Yet he has experienced more pain and suffering than we can imagine. One third of his people were killed; the rest were driven from their homes and are struggling to survive in exile or in the high, inhospitable regions of the Himalayas. Nearly all of Tibet’s 1,600 monasteries were destroyed and with them their libraries filled with immeasurable treasures of knowledge, science and wisdom gathered during the last thirty centuries.

Yet the Dalai Lama has neither shown anger, nor pointed a finger, nor accused his enemies. He simply radiates happiness. I’ve often wondered how he manages to overcome all sentiments of hate, anger, and pain until I came across a book written by his interpreter, Matthieu Ricard, a French intellectual and scientist turned monk. His book, Happiness, sheds light on the question.

Most of life’s pain and suffering, he explains, is caused by anger and hate. When those powerful emotions are aroused, they take control and make us want to lash out and act in ways we might later regret. Emotions of hate and anger cause pain and suffering not only to others, but also to ourselves.

Intense anger and hate are powerful motivators that drive us blindly into action. Dictators and religious fanatics are vivid examples.

What are the reasons for us to get angry?
Countless causes can create anger. Often, something totally different lies at the bottom of our anger, such as financial worries, a sleepless night, domestic or health problems, reasons we may be quite unaware of. The incident that called forth our anger may have been just the last straw. Sadly, our resulting anger blinds us to this reality and prevents us from looking coolly and impartially at the source of our anger.

Can anger resolve a disturbing situation? Does it indicate our options? Our best path of action? Does anger bring us new friends or only allies against a supposedly common enemy? Do hate and anger contribute to our happiness or that of others? Have hate and anger ever brought about any good?  The answer is no.

Yet moments of anger can assail all of us. The question is, how can we free ourselves from its destructive force. One way is by focusing on the concept of Thought itself, not on the incident or the persons involved. Then we realize that a thought is simply an empty shell with no substance or life of its own. The more we focus on its emptiness, the quicker it will disappear, like an ocean wave—it rises in stormy weather and quickly subsides back again into the sea. It is we who choose the substance of our thoughts.

The more we free ourselves of hate and anger, the better we are able to understand, to forgive, and to take sensible action, and as a consequence we’ll suffer less pain and frustration.

When you are offended at any man's faults, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger — Epictetus

Until next time,

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


A grumpy face spreads gloom and darkness, just like the daily content of the news—homicides, genocides and worldwide financial crises. I’d rather meet a cheerful face that notices the flowers and affirms life, prepared to make the best of it.

A cheerful person mirrors a positive attitude, promising acceptance—and who would not like to feel accepted? Cheerfulness radiates energy and joy. When we strive to maintain a cheerful countenance, we create an inner fountain of goodwill that is wonderfully contagious to those we meet. Not surprising that a cheerful person is welcome most anywhere.

Some of us inherit cheerfulness from a parent; some acquire it in early youth, while many of us make a concerted effort to maintain a cheerful face, no matter how adverse Fortune might be treating us. Fortunately, cheerfulness is an attitude that is not entirely dependent on genetics. A cheerful mindset can be acquired by deliberate choice—by focusing on what is positive and good in our world. Studies have shown that the mere muscular effort to smile changes our attitude—we automatically feel better. Many songs remind us of this fact: “Smile, when your heart is aching…”

Mark Twain expresses it beautifully: “The best way to cheer up yourself is to cheer up someone else.”

Cheerfulness is a great asset when we face life’s many challenges. It helps us feel more capable and resourceful, perhaps because it deters those negative feelings that might overwhelm us when they whisper, “oh no, you can’t handle that.”

It endows us with greater self-assurance and with inner peace that in the long run tends to improve not only the quality but also the number of years we’ll be wandering Planet Earth.

Joseph Addison once said that “Cheerfulness is the best promoter of health and is as friendly to the mind as to the body.”  Michel de Montaigne goes even a step further; he suggests that “Cheerfulness is the most certain sign of wisdom.
Be wise and smile,