“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of
Values”, an inspirational blog taken from the writings of
Paul Volosov, Ph.D.
The pursuit of values: We all know what life is and what liberty
is, but what did our founding fathers mean when they referred to “the pursuit of
happiness”? Paul believes
that happiness is pursued by living a life based on values. This
blog will share
some of the values Paul has developed over the years and
illustrate the meaning of
each with a short essay or story.
Everyone loses at times. The most common response to losing is to try to “make up” for it. This almost never works. Frequently, it compounds the losses. What you have lost is in the past and irrelevant. What you can accomplish now and in the future is the only current issue. Cut your losses and move on to better opportunities.
Compulsive gamblers are an extreme example of a common mistake. When they lose, compulsive gamblers gamble more in an effort to make up for what they have lost. Their line of reasoning (if you can call it that) goes something like this: I have lost in the recent past because of bad luck. My luck has to change. If I bet now and my luck changes for the good, I will make up for my past losses.
Gambling more almost always results in more losses. Even when it results in increased winning, this is temporary. If you keep on gambling, you will always lose in the long term. (Expert card players may be able to win in the end if they play against less expert players. When this is true, they win, not because they are able to win by taking a gamble. They are able to win by applying their superior skills. Applying superior skills to a competition is NOT gambling.)
We may not be compulsive gamblers, but almost all of us continue to try to win in certain activities even after we have overwhelming evidence that we cannot win. Studying harder to pass a test that we have previously failed is a reasonable approach. Yelling at our children louder to clean up their rooms (or whatever) is not when we have overwhelming evidence that yelling at our children is not effective. Using the same unsuccessful approach to get what we want, only more so, is a formula for increased failure and frustration.
As hard as it is, we sometimes need to accept that we will not achieve what we want. If we compromise, we may be able to get part of what we want. In some situations, we will not get what we want even if we compromise. In these situations, we need to revise how we attempt to achieve our goals by implementing a fresh approach. If this still does not achieve the desired results, we must revise what we want.
There are many potentially rewarding activities at any time in each person’s life. If one set of activities is proving to be unsuccessful, we must look for other activities. There is no one activity in which you must succeed. Move on. Life is too short and potentially too rewarding to get stuck on activities that are doomed to failure.
Life is not fair. Move on!
“It is not FAIR!” is probably the single most frequent complaint known to man. It is also probably the single most frequent excuse for all types of improper behavior. If it is not fair, then improprieties ranging from the naughty to outright evil are fully justified, at least to some people.
For thousands of years, philosophers, theologians, and the rest of us have debated, conjectured, hypothesized, and pontificated on why bad things happen to good people and vice versa. I have studied many of these arguments, and I find all the explanations unsatisfying. When all is said and done, we just do not know why bad things happen to good people.
My working hypothesis about this problem is that it is not a problem at all. The question assumes that life should be fair. But who promised you that life would be fair?
Maybe bad things just happen. Sometimes they happen to bad people. Sometimes they happen to good people. Sometimes they happen to regular people. Maybe bad things do not happen to bad people because they are bad or to good people because they are good or to regular people because they are regular. Maybe bad things just happen to people because they are people.
My working hypothesis about this problem is that the issue of fairness has no applicability to people. Life is not fair. That is just the way it is.
This is not to say that there is no right and wrong. One human being can wrong another in innumerable ways. He can also “right” another in innumerable ways. Even though life is unfair, are we not all better off if we find reasons to “right” each other rather than find excuses to wrong each other?
STANDARD OF CARE
If we had an only child and she needed care, we would want and demand that the care be provided at the highest standard of quality possible. We will not reach our goal for excellence until everyone we care for receives that level of care.
Is “good enough” good enough? It depends. If good enough means “good enough for someone else” but “not good enough for me or for my one and only child,” then it is not good enough. Good enough is only acceptable by my standards when it is good enough for the person I am most concerned about (e.g., me or my one and only child). My standards of excellence are absolute and not relative to the person I apply them. These standards may change from time to time as I learn more about how to provide better supports for others, but they should apply to everyone in the same way.
The stigma of mental illness will not disappear until people accept that the brain is part of the physical body, and that mental illness is a physical illness not significantly different than any other biochemical disorder.
As an undergraduate student, I remember studying about the brain/mind dichotomy. The brain is a physical organ that is part of the body and is studied by medical doctors, physiologists, and some types of psychologists. The mind is a construct that deals with the function of the brain and is studied by philosophers and other types of psychologists. The brain is something that can be seen and touched during surgery while someone is alive or during a post-mortem autopsy. The mind is something that can only be inferred based on what people do in different circumstances. Back then, I differentiated between a brain illness such as a brain tumor that was treated by a medical doctor, and a mind or mental illness that was treated by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.
This differentiation may be related, at least historically, to the perspective some religions have had toward mental illness. To this day, there are religious groups that believe that mental illness is a sign that the person’s body is “possessed” by an alien soul. Based on this belief, mental illness is “treated” through exorcism, a religious ceremony that attempts to drive out the alien soul. Under this conception, mental illness is not a physical disease. It is a conflict between two souls, the person’s soul and the alien soul, for control of the person’s body.
Many people who would scoff at the concept of exorcism still believe that mental illness is a moral weakness and/or is caused by making bad decisions. Based on these beliefs, they further believe that a person who is mentally ill is responsible for his/her condition and does not deserve the same level of consideration given people with a “real” disease. They also believe that mental illness casts shame on the person and his/her family. Given the historical stigma associated with mental illness, is it any wonder that some people who are in desperate need of outside help fail to seek it?
Is there any truth to the allegation that people contribute to their mental illness? The question itself reveals our basic prejudice against people with mental illness. Would anyone ask the same question about diabetes? Perhaps, but society has clearly rejected the possibility of holding people responsible for their diabetes even though contracting type II diabetes is clearly related to excess weight gain and failure to exercise and even though the need for medication and treatment could be greatly reduced by losing weight and increased exercise. There is no doubt that type II diabetes and other serious physical illnesses (e.g., lung cancer and emphysema among many others) are clearly much more a result of personal choice and behavior than mental illness. Yet, few if any people suggest that people be held responsible and/or ostracized for these illnesses even though they believe that people should be held responsible and/or ostracized for their mental illnesses.
The scientific evidence that mental illness is a biochemical disorder of the brain is now overwhelming. So is the evidence that some families have a genetic predisposition for certain mental illnesses just as other families have a genetic predisposition for other medical conditions. Mental illness should be no more a cause for stigma and shame than any other medical condition.
I take medication to control my type II diabetes, and I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed. I am certain that this does not surprise you. I take medication to control my depression, and I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed. Why are you surprised?
If being cool means being part of the “in” crowd, I do not want to be cool. Being part of the “in” crowd means conforming to their values and practices. I do not want to conform. Being part of the “in” crowd also means valuing the “ins” more than the “outs.” I do not want to value some people more than I value other people.
During the decades when I was a teenager and young adult, being “cool” in America seemed to require being a nonconformist. Clearly, there were many important personalities in the 1960s and 1970s who were nonconformists and had a significant impact on the development of American culture, particularly through the peace and free-love movements. In retrospect, I agree with some of the premises of the influential nonconformists and I disagree with many. What I most disagree with is the notion that a mass movement for nonconformity makes any sense. If the majority of any group follows a particular movement, that movement becomes the norm, at least for members of the group. A norm of nonconformity is an oxymoron.
True nonconformity must involve being in the minority, usually the very small minority. Even when a mass movement attempts to implement powerful changes for the good of mankind, conformity to this movement can mean no more than trying to be better than the standards of a previous approach. Attempting to be excellent always requires attempting to exceed the standards of the current approach. Excellence can never involve conformity.
As I reject conformity in an effort to achieve excellence, I recognize that I cannot be cool. The cool crowd includes the people who achieve conformity to the highest degree possible. They exemplify how people act when they achieve what the majority cherishes or aspires to. The majority can never set the standard for excellence, and I will never aspire to being the best based on some external standard set by or for the majority.
Striving for excellence is never cool, but it may be hot. While the majority frequently rejects excellence just as people who strive for excellence frequently reject being cool, occasionally the majority may recognize how hot excellence can be. Unfortunately, this too often occurs after the death of the individual who was so hot.
The absolutely worst part of conformity is the worship of the “ins” and the rejection of the “outs.” The “ins” are defined more by who they exclude than by what they stand for. Usually, when you scratch the surface, you find that the “ins” really stand for very little except their exclusivity. Exclusivity is not defined by the quality of people who meet the standard. Exclusivity is defined by the alleged deficiencies and inferiority of those excluded.
I do not want to be better than others. As I discuss in greater detail elsewhere, in the Almighty’s eyes we are all equally deficient. I cannot improve in the Almighty’s eyes by being better than others. I can improve in His eyes only by being better than I was before. This is totally unrelated to being part of the “ins.” In a very real sense, being “in” the right crowd means being “out” of the Almighty’s favor.
Money is a very powerful tool. Acquiring it is a necessity. Having it is trivial. Using it wisely is paramount.
Many years ago, I had a luncheon meeting with the executive director of a competitor agency. After concluding our business, we began to discuss a variety of issues we were having with our new administrative positions. We were young and insecure regarding our new responsibilities, and we wanted to learn from each other.
I remember only one comment from that luncheon more than 25 years ago. After I related one of the issues I was having with the financial end of running a business, my colleague leaned over with a superior smirk and said, “I’m surprised that you are so involved in finances. I don’t get my hands dirty by dealing with the money.”
A common theme that runs through our society is that money is somehow “dirty.” Everyone seems to want more of it. Yet many people, especially people who do not have much of it, seem to think of it in a negative way.
Money is like nuclear energy. If used properly, it can facilitate important outcomes -- including saving lives. If used improperly, it can cause massive destruction. In essence, money is a very powerful tool that deserves to be treated with respect. I would not put it into the hands of the wrong person any more that I would put a power saw or the key to a nuclear weapon in the wrong hands. Money is ethically neutral. It can be used ethically or unethically like any other tool.
Another common theme about money is that having a lot of it is very special. Acquiring some money is essential to accomplish almost any worthwhile endeavor, but having it for its own sake is no more important than having a closet full of power tools. Unless I plan to use my power tools frequently and effectively, I need no more than a few basic power tools in my closet.
Using money wisely can be very special. If used unwisely or maliciously it can be especially damaging to others. Surprisingly, the person who seems at highest risk to be damaged by the improper use of money is the person who has it. The power of money to destroy the person who uses it improperly is a popular theme in all forms of our entertainment. The financial scandals we read and hear about on a regular basis lend the ring of truth to this theme.
In the hands of a wise and just person, however, money can be among the most powerful and useful of tools. Using money for the relief of suffering is an obvious way that money can be of paramount importance. Although less obvious, money can be just as important when it is used properly and effectively to develop and operate businesses that improve the world we live in. Well-run, profitable businesses are an absolute necessity in every society. Money is one of the most important tools needed to develop these businesses.
Opportunity does not knock.
I know many people who seem to be waiting for opportunity to knock. When they talk about successful people, they note that opportunity has not presented itself to them the way it seems to have presented itself to others. “If only opportunity had knocked for me,” they lament, “things would have been different.”
They are not completely wrong. No matter how talented a person is, no matter how hard a person works, success is not guaranteed. There is an element of luck (or whatever you choose to call all the factors in your life that you do not control) that contributes to success.
While they are not completely wrong, they are dead wrong. Success cannot be guaranteed because there are countless variables that contribute to success that cannot be controlled. But there are two prominent variables that contribute to success that can be controlled: how hard I look for opportunity and how hard I work to maximize opportunity once I find it.
Despite the common saying to the contrary, opportunity does not knock. I must purposefully and actively seek opportunity. When I find it, I must grab it with both hands and use every part of my being to maximize what I do with it. The rest remains in the hands of the Almighty.
SPECIALIST VS. GENERALIST
Specialist: Someone who knows a lot about a little.
Super-specialist: Someone who knows a super-lot about a super-little.
Generalist: Someone who knows enough about a lot.
Super-generalist: Someone who knows who to ask, when to ask, and how to ask to find out what he needs to know.
As a psychologist who specialized in supporting people with the most serious and complex behavioral disorders, I considered myself a super-specialist. I knew a super-lot about several very small, yet very needy populations. Because there were and there continue to be very few super-specialists in this field, the demand for my talents has always been very high despite the super-small populations of people who need my super-specialty.
As I have shifted my efforts away from the clinical arena and concentrated more on entrepreneurial issues, I recognized the need to expand my skills in a wide variety of areas including human resources, accounting and finance, management information systems, law, etc. I recognized that I would never be a specialist in any of these fields and that I would always be dependent on the specialized knowledge and skills of others, yet I felt a need to gain at least a rudimentary level of knowledge and skill in each professional area that I dealt with on a regular basis. I shifted from super-specialist to generalist.
As my entrepreneurial activities grew in scope, I recognized that my general knowledge in each professional area would always remain woefully inadequate to be the basis for decision making. Knowing who to ask, when to ask, and how to ask became much more important to me than my own general knowledge and skill. I shifted from generalist to super-generalist.
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