How To Declare Independence And Start Pursuing Your Happiness

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Many folks think Thomas Jefferson “borrowed” the phrase “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” from John Locke. The 17th Century British philosopher and physician famously wrote, in the unsigned Second Treatise Concerning Civil Government, that government exists to protect one’s life, liberty, and property. Sounds awfully similar to the words used by our Founding Father nearly ninety years later.

Significantly, Locke’s focus on personal “property” breaks from the sense of Thomas Hobbes. In his 1651 treatise Leviathan, Hobbes paints a sovereign-centric ideal. In this “social contract,” citizens cede personal freedoms to the ruler in exchange for protection. Without such protection, the contract is invalidated.

Bear in mind, Hobbes wrote this while in exile during the English Civil War between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists. He rejected Aristotle’s premise that man is driven by Continue Reading “How To Declare Independence And Start Pursuing Your Happiness”

How to Live the Good Life with No Regrets

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“Why is This Important to You?”

Socrates believed “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He may not have coined the phrase “know thyself,” but he’s famous for traipsing the streets of Athens examining lives by nagging prominent people until he proved they did not “know thineselfs.”

So effective was he the good city-state of democracy voted to put him to death. Socrates, despite his friends’ wishes, readily agreed to drink the hemlock and thus first came into usage the phrase “good career move.”

But before he died, Socrates perfected a method that would become his lasting legacy. Used today anywhere from the courtroom, to the classroom, to the psychologist’s couch, we call it the “Socratic Method” (which just shows you how terribly dull and unimaginative philosophers can be at times).

In a nutshell, here’s how it works. Come up with a question or hypothesis and keep asking annoying questions (often the same one or of the same form) until you’ve eliminated all Continue Reading “How to Live the Good Life with No Regrets”

Busting The ‘If We Ain’t Growing, We’re Dying’ Myth

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Jacob Peter Gowy, Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsDaedalus carefully showed his son how to apply the wax to affix the feathers to his shoulders and arms. “These wings will work,” he said. “We will finally be free of this prison.”

Ironically, it was Daedalus himself who had created the Labyrinth, a vexing array of “intricate passageways and blind alleys” (at least according to Merriam-Webster). Anyone – or anything – imprisoned in this complicated maze found it nearly impossible to escape. Indeed, mythology claimed only Theseus was able to find his way out of Daedalus’ Labyrinth (primarily because Daedalus gave him a big hint).

Why did Daedalus build the Labyrinth? To imprison the Minotaur, a half-man/half-bull monster (whose origin story is not fit to print in a family newspaper). BTW, Theseus went into the Labyrinth to kill the Minotaur (something to do with the ancient Greek version of Continue Reading “Busting The ‘If We Ain’t Growing, We’re Dying’ Myth”

The Italian-American Triumvirate: #1 – God

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Each October we celebrate Italian-American Heritage Month. The month is obviously chosen in honor of the Italian that most influenced America: Christopher Columbus. Of course, Columbus’ discovery of the New World predated the creation of the United States by about three centuries, but our country long ago adopted his journey as an inspiration for the nation.

Columbus has since been joined by many Italian immigrants who would become Italian-Americans.

That’s an important distinction: “Italian-American.” It recognizes that you are, in fact, an Continue Reading “The Italian-American Triumvirate: #1 – God”

Criminal Hubris: It Gets Them Every TIME

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Search for the term “criminal hubris” and chances are you won’t find anything (except, hopefully, this woeful column). We know what a criminal is. We know what hubris is. But there is no definition of “criminal hubris.”

Yet there is, and it’s staring at us right in the face. Metaphorically, it’s all around us. Cinematographically, it resides on the screens we watch. Its roots, however, lie within the body of literature – both philosophical and dramatic – we ought to be most familiar with.

Whether as a metaphor for real-life, a character in a story, or an actual crime, “criminal hubris” is easy to spot (if you’ve got a trained eye), hard to avoid (if you’re arrogant), and, best of all, wonderful to watch (because it hoists offenders with their own petard quite regularly).

Before I reveal the “7 Steps of Criminal Hubris” let’s explore the origins of “hubris” and Continue Reading “Criminal Hubris: It Gets Them Every TIME

It Can’t Be Both: It’s Either Science or Marketing

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This is going to sound like it’s coming out of left field, but it isn’t.

It is somewhat related to this day in history (July 16th).

No, it’s not that it’s the day after my birthday. It’s the anniversary of the liftoff of Apollo 11. Man’s landing on the moon should be the greatest case study of inspiration, project management, and engineering. It already stands as the greatest achievement in the history of mankind.

Think about the above paragraph as you read this column.

Now, on to the real story.

Again, it’s going to sound like I’m coming out of left field, but don’t give up. Keep reading and the dots will coalesce into a constellation that makes it all clear.Continue Reading “It Can’t Be Both: It’s Either Science or Marketing”

The Liberty of the Ad Lib

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Did you see what I did there?

“Liberty”…

“Ad Lib”…

Get it?

OK. I have to admit. It is a bit of a stretch. At least from a literal standpoint. The “lib” of “ad lib” doesn’t stand for “liberty.” It’s actually the short form of the Latin phrase ad libitum.

Ad libitum literally translates to “at one’s pleasure.” There’s no “liberty” in it at all. Our word “liberty” derives from the Latin word liber. In Latin, liber and libitum mean two different, albeit not wholly unrelated, things.

The Latin liber means “free” or “unrestricted.” You can easily see how we get “liberty” from Continue Reading “The Liberty of the Ad Lib”

This is What Public Speakers Can Learn from Aristotle’s Greatest Mistake

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Spoiler Alert: I can only reveal once you fully appreciate the useful parts of Aristotle’s idea.

Have you ever had to – or will you ever have to – speak in front of an audience? It could have been (or be) an audience of one hundred or an audience of one. In either case, you may have noticed what happens when you’re in the audience watching other people speak. Sometimes you enjoy the presentation, sometimes you’re bored to tears. And it’s not based on the nature of the subject.

Here’s why.

Most speakers employ some variation of Aristotle’s Model of Communication. While roughly based on his Treatise on Rhetoric, it does not directly incorporate the persuasive tools Aristotle outlines in that classic volume. Indeed, neither does it involve the five canons of rhetoric, although this makes more sense since Cicero identified them centuries after Aristotle’s death.

Still, despite the lack of these important communication components, there’s another, more important, reason why Aristotle’s Model of Communication often fails. To best grasp the reason for this failure – and how to either avoid it or take advantage of it – you need to understand why this model has been both popular and effective.Continue Reading “This is What Public Speakers Can Learn from Aristotle’s Greatest Mistake”

Are You an Instigator, a Skeptic, or Merely Somebody Else’s Tool?

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They say the world is made up of two types of people. They’re wrong. The world consists of three types of people, but two of those types get all the press.

Journalists like to frame issues in a binary fashion – one side against another. That’s simple. It’s black and white. It’s A versus B. Reporters don’t do this because they can’t handle the complexity of multiple opposing points of view. They structure their stories as a duel between competing interests because readers find those stories easiest to digest. The audience finds such pairings quite familiar. Literature is replete with examples: Ahab vs. Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes vs. Professor Moriarty, and Bambi vs. Godzilla, to name a few.

It’s not just drama. Philosophy often has an attraction to complimentary combinations. We see this most markedly in the Taoist notion of “dualistic-monism” as expressed in the Continue Reading “Are You an Instigator, a Skeptic, or Merely Somebody Else’s Tool?”

Deeds, Not Words

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you think that title might sound heretical coming from a wordsmith, just wait ‘til you read the rest of this column.

Say what you will about former Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone (I never thought he was cut out for the job), but he did leave one indelible mark in my brain: “Don’t confuse effort with results.” This was one of the bromides that he posted on the walls of the Ralph Wilson Fieldhouse for all his players (and Bills fans) to stare at. In a nutshell, it’s what Yoda told Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back: “Do or do not, there is no try.”

We’re all told to try our best. That’s fine. But we need to accept that it’s not good enough. When you try something, the result is you either succeed or fail. That’s all there is to it. There is Continue Reading “Deeds, Not Words”