Postscript re the Netflix series “Colin in Black & White”: Kaepernick’s compelling statement below in this series (he was given up for adoption only days old) is a perfect example of why we each need to see the humanity in everyone, regardless of their political views, race, religion, etc. What is the pain within their unique lifetime that may have propelled them along a trajectory that someone later judges as unacceptable or wrong? Every single person, even the lowest of thugs and criminals, is seeking a level,of bliss in their lives. Sometimes their pain and hurdles end up too heavily stacked against them, and is blinding. This also is where we need to PRACTICE trying to be more compassionate. BTW, Kaepernick speaks to this point from a perspective of adaptive strength; not simply rudderless whining. The photo and caption below are from the Netflix series
This is not a political commentary on whether one agrees or disagrees with Colin Kaepernick’s response to the NFL debacle (although I am not a critic of Kaepernick). I am watching his Netflix series and find it phenomenal for the following broader reasons. It is titled “Colin in Black and White”. Click here for the link. Click here also for my earlier 2017 blog post in which I referred to Colin Kaepernick.
My point is that this Netflix series conveys very powerfully the question every individual faces in life (and in work). That is, how independent is one going to be versus how much will he or she follow what others want (or direct) them to do. This is, in my view, the most important question one must contemplate in life, and it is a contemplation that warrants repeated revisiting depending on the person’s evolving stage in life, considerations of the upside and downside of these decisions, temperament, consequences, etc.
My point also is not to indulge the reader with what my own long-winded views are in this regard. It is not my view that is important; but, rather how this universal question sits and is addressed by each individual. I will say generally that I am not one who has readily during my entire lifetime followed or acquiesced to the dictates and preferences of others. I certainly consider their suggestions, responses, etc., with an open mind. But, I then have relied fully on my own decisions. Some have backfired, no doubt. There are others who relish the idea of going-along-to-get-along. I do not fault these others; but simply realize that approach is not in my makeup.
Back to the Netflix series. I highly recommend everyone watch it regardless of any narrower focus on the Kaepernick-NFL situation. In my view, this series demonstrates the nuance and persistent nature of the above broader question that we all face throughout the entirety of our lives.
It is very easy (I assume) in life merely to do what others desire or impose. But, my guess is most people do not sleep well under such conditions. Even those decisions that backfired for me provide me with quality sleep resting on the notion that I followed my path, and with an enjoyable spirit, take full responsibility for that path. This ownership of our own pathway is, in my view, the broader reward and the essence of what Kaepernick conveys in the Netflix series. Finally, I will say that Colin Kaepernick in this series displays a level of courage to himself and his values that I believe warrants great respect and acknowledgment.
Just finished my first-time read of the novel “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert (the Marx-Aveling translation). Wow! Flaubert highlights what I believe is one of the most important universal questions we all repeatedly need to ask ourselves. For example, the question of the vastness and richness of life, and the potential experience and response to our lives well beyond merely: “Good little Daddy gets up and makes breakfast; “Good little Daddy goes to work”; “Good little Daddy comes home and reads the evening paper, and is a great family man”; repeat, repeat, repeat, etc.
Below is a related excerpt from The New Yorker magazine (11.5.17) from a Professor Roxana Robinson, on teaching Madame Bovary to her students each year at Hunter College:
“At the start, Flaubert encourages us to judge her [Madame Emma Bovary]. But by the end he asks us to consider what it means to sacrifice everything for a dream. He asks us to consider human dreams and their worth. He asks who among us are heroes. He asks us to consider the human body, which is such an intimate partner in our lives. How Emma’s body, so strong and vigorous in her pursuit of love, finally compels a dreadful reckoning over which she has no control.”
Bottom line, we all can be happier if we disregard 80% of what anyone else tells us. If you stop and consider carefully the words that typically come your way from others, most of them consist merely of argument, bias, preferences, or ungrounded (often unsolicited) recommendations and conclusions that some other person feels compelled to send your way. Lawyers, in particular, have to listen to a lot of argumentative, biased blather from opposing parties, etc.
Related to the above point, as I was driving to my office today I thought about how far too many individuals (e.g., assume Person A) allow others (Person B) to hook them and get under their skin too easily, with a feeling that Person A, thereafter, has an obligation to respond to or convince Person B as to why Person B is wrong, etc. On the other hand, and under the 80% rule I stated above, my view is that Person A is wasting otherwise valuable time that does not need to be wasted on Person B, or on responding to about 80% of what Person B said. Just simply let about 80% of what you hear go in one ear and out the other.
I frequently remind my girls about the above 80% point. I also periodically suggest that they consider (i) not accepting others’ framing of a perspective for any situation; but, rather for them (my girls) to step back and first take a moment to consider their own framing of the situation; (ii) then, next, listen to what the other person says to determine whether to accept any part of what that other person is saying that might be accurate, instructive or helpful; or, in some cases, simply disregard entirely all of what the other person is saying. In all cases, I suggest one should be civil, kind, and empathic. Just don’t buy into all that someone else says.
And, finally, readers I hope you apply these same recommendations to this blog post. I understand fully that not everyone will, or has to, agree with my comments, or even 80% of my commentary.
It is Tuesday evening. About to leave my office. I gave some thought to preparing a legal / tax topic for another blog post. But, then decided to veer off purposely to share a couple of YouTube music jazz videos. My blog post next week can get back more directly to lawyering, etc.
In my spare time, I am trying my best to inch my way along each week to becoming a better jazz guitarist. The other night I stumbled across the following two YouTube videos that feature one of the top bass guitar players Victor Wooten. These two videos really need no further comment from me, other than my following non-crucial brief points.
That is, my reaction to music is to enjoy and comprehend what elements make the music better than other music. I am not talking just about the style of music, e.g., rock, hip-hop, jazz, classical. But rather, why do we enjoy hearing one performance better than another? What creates within us this difference in how we respond to the music?
I know the answer conceptually. It is the rhythm, e.g., the beat, feel, energy, tension, release, and pulse of the music. It is not (at least for me) merely that someone plays his or her music in a nice, safe, pleasant, ordered manner.
The following two Victor Wooten videos are great examples for how Wooten powerfully demonstrates some key factors that go to how we respond when we hear music (for example, when the player purposely, or accidentally, plays wrong notes). One of the videos also illustrates how, for example, Wooten on bass can play intentionally in a manner that can make the other soloist actually sound better. Click here for the first Victor Wooten video; click here for the second video. [NOTE: the first video has a short intro by a younger guitarist who is not Wooten.]
I urge you to take the time to view these two videos, even if Wooten might not be talking about your particular type of music. His take-away points are, in my view, universal to all music. I also would greatly enjoy hearing from any of you if either or both these videos strike you as powerfully as I was struck. I hope you enjoy them.
I am working with a lawyer who grew up, and lives, in California, virtually her entire life in LA, and who attended undergrad at UC Berkeley as an English literature major. She has never lived in the South. Over lunch recently in LA we were talking about our favorite books, etc. To my great surprise, she said Gone with the Wind (by Margaret Mitchell) is one of the books she most frequently has re-read over the years.
I was shocked. I asked “why”? I told her I had never read it, and candidly never had an interest in reading it. I thought Gone with the Wind was just a simple, overly-long, southern romantic novel. To the contrary, her response was that Gone with the Wind conveys more powerfully than most any other book she has read the difference between those who survive and those who do not survive, and the dimensions of that distinction.
I am now one-third into reading Gone with the Wind, and admit I was greatly mistaken, narrow-minded, and uninformed about this brilliant Margaret Mitchell novel.
This blog is merely to convey my recent reaction to one extremely powerful passage from Gone with the Wind, as I state further below. [Mitchell was a phenomenal writer; there are dozens of other such passages that struck me very powerfully.]
But, let me first clear the air in stating Gone with the Wind very effectively conveys the broader, tragic, and costly narrow-minded ignorance of the South in its Civil War opposition to the abolition of slavery. Also, Gone with the Wind is the only portrayal of the horror of war that took place in the geographic area I know so well, Atlanta. No doubt, wars that have taken place elsewhere are no less tragic, but reading Gone with the Wind as it took place in Atlanta, with Americans killing other Americans, gives me a powerfully vicarious extra-dimension, that I have never previously experienced.
Now my primary blog point. And, this is a spoiler if you plan for the first time to read Gone with the Wind. The excerpt below from Gone with the Wind is after Scarlett O’Hara returns to her home “Tara”, in Jonesboro, Georgia, after General Sherman overtook Atlanta. She is 19. Her mother Ellen died the day before Scarlett makes her arduous journey back from Atlanta to Tara. I purposely, so as not to expand this spoiler, do not detail what events lead Scarlett up to her following internal dialogue, as she pondered her horrific, changed world:
Nothing her mother [Ellen] had taught her [Scarlett] was of any value whatsoever now and Scarlett’s heart was sore and puzzled. It did not occur to her that Ellen could not have foreseen the collapse of the civilization in which she raised her daughters, could not have anticipated the disappearing of the places in society for which she trained them so well. It did not occur to her that Ellen had looked down a vista of placid future years, all like the uneventful years of her own life, when she had taught her to be gentle and gracious, honorable and kind, modest and truthful. Life treated women well when they had learned those lessons, said Ellen. Scarlett thought in despair: “Nothing, no, nothing, she taught me is of any help to me! What good will kindness do me now? What value is gentleness? Better that I’d learned to plow . . . .
Oh, Mother, you were wrong!” She did not stop to think that Ellen’s ordered world was gone and a brutal world had taken its place, a world wherein every standard, every value had changed. She only saw, or thought she saw, that her mother had been wrong, and she changed swiftly to meet this new world for which she was not prepared.
Excerpt from Gone with the Wind (Chapter 25) [I added the bolding].
So, why do I like the above excerpt enough to include it in this blog post? I will not bore you with a long-winded explanation. But, I state two reasons. One, in my view Scarlett arrives at the correct realization that the world is not simply some nice, loving, everyone-should-be-good, kumbaya platitude. This platitude in my view, generally from parents, schools, religious organizations, those already holding the upper hand, is too frequently and easily expressed, with a silent denial of the other side of life (which Scarlett is forced to observe and accept). As a father of daughters, I also believe girls — to their longer-term detriment — are expected to buy-into this little nice, neat platitude as an unfortunate goal so as to “go-along to get-along”.
Two. This point goes to why I enjoy being a lawyer. With a realistic acknowledgment that the world is not simply made up of positive, mutually loving, lack-of-self-interest elements, my primary goal is to help level the playing field for my clients as to the other negative side of the coin, especially when the other party greatly overextends its own self-interest, power, advantage, etc. Also, from a preventive perspective, I find many clients end up with costly litigation or other legal problems simply because they signed documents, or agreed to inequitable terms or circumstances, or failed to object to situations, on the notion that they did not want the other side to get mad, or they assumed the other side was being fair and equitable, etc.
Finally, the more-balanced conclusion Scarlett expresses above, in my view, will add to her longer-term happiness and response to life, even though she has to dismiss the fairy-tale notion of a kumbaya world. A more realistic, and balanced, acceptance of both the good and bad elements of life is akin to the comfort of knowing you have on your seatbelt. Realistically take into account the worst, but hope for the best.
I enjoy my lawyer world in which words are extremely versatile, powerful, and often play out on the tipping scale of success or failure (both in litigation and non-litigation).
Compare, as a simple example, the two sentences: “The respondent’s assertions frustrate the permissive mandate of Code Section 2056″ versus “The respondent’s assertions obstruct the permissive mandate of Code Section 2056.” I am not suggesting one sentence singled out alone necessarily makes a difference; but the greater weight of an abundance of words used effectively in persuasive writing can, in my view, greatly help move the reader both intellectually and emotionally in your desired direction. Stop for a moment and ponder your own reaction to the above “frustrate” versus “obstruct” distinction, and how the words shade the nuance and impact of the sentence.
I also enjoy reading for pleasure and often react with virtual awe in response to certain writers’ use of words and language. My recent reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses has stunned me with its powerful effect. I don’t think “stunned” is an overstatement. I have had Ulysses on my tentative reading list for years; but kept putting it off. I was aware from hearing and reading comments from others that Ulysses would not be an easy task to complete. It was not easy.
For this brief blog post, I attempt below to state why I reacted so favorably to Ulysses. But, and this next point sounds like new-age mumble-jumble, my attempt below to express these reasons falls way short of my overall joy and reaction to Ulysses. Also, I fully admit I am no scholar or expert on Ulysses or James Joyce. I am merely a reader. One other preface point I make here is that the entire Ulysses novel takes place only within one day: June 16, 1904, in Dublin.
Here are my eight brief points:
One. This also sounds new-age; but as I was reading Ulysses, and now after finishing it, I find myself in a kind of foggy, joyful awe. I tell my friends that Ulysses is a miraculous work. It has powerfully affected me in a way that I believe is a permanent, positive change.
Two. This positive change is that Joyce, by depicting in Ulysses only one day in the life of his characters — June 16, 1904 — describes that life in a way that makes me now more aware of appreciating, and continuing to ponder, the vast richness that our daily lives make available to us. Each day is a tremendous event in life that, if we are attuned to life, has a depth and richness we tend to forget when we persistently ponder yesterday and tomorrow.
My above comment also is not along the line that we should be grateful for each day. There is nothing necessarily wrong about the platitude of being grateful, but that is not my point. Rather, each day has its own richness and fullness that can contribute to our joyful experience of life, regardless of whether the day might appear quite mundane on its surface.
Three. The way in which Joyce displays this one June 16th day is the miracle. To preface my point here, think for a moment about what happens when you attend a dinner party.
Sure, there are various objective visual and auditory activities going on around you. The plates and forks are clinking with a steady drone. The new Lady Gaga / Bradley Cooper music is loud. The speakers don’t have as much bass as you like. You hear the kids’ TV in the other room. Susan is drinking from her new wine glasses; John is ranting about some recent political event; Mary looks older and tired as though she possibly had a long sleepless night with her new baby, etc. The sauce has a too-strong butter odor. The napkins are too thick and too rough. The lighting is very pleasant.
But, in addition to these objective / auditory activities, we persistently have a lot of other stuff going on at the same time, such as our own internal dialogue; our self-talk; mental perceptions, unspoken criticisms, judgments and thoughts about what we are seeing and hearing; our interspersed dream-like visual imagery and sounds about the past and the future; our fantasy-day dreams connected at times to what we are seeing within our surroundings (that can veer off in any number of directions, with sudden starts, stops, changes in direction, etc.).
What Joyce does in Ulysses is capture all of the above in the one-day June 16 context of his characters. I am almost certain I will again be able to read other fiction; but, as of now, Joyce presented this Ulysses novel in what I believe is the fullest, most accurate and realistic depiction of our external and internal, meandering lives. Other fiction I will later read, I anticipate, might seem too one dimensional. I feel as though Joyce spoiled me for other novels.
Four. I admit I almost quit reading Ulysses at about the half-way mark. But, many readers who had already made the journey (that I found on Google book sites) recommended readers stick with the book to its end. It will be worth it, they all said. I almost quit because briefly I felt (prematurely) like the novel was not headed in a direction that struck me; no story; no plot. I could not keep up with all the details. But, then, almost by an imperceptible degree, I began having a great feeling in general about life and about the characters in Ulysses. Simple, daily life. I told my wife that this feeling hit me about half-way through the book, and has stayed with me ever since.
Five. Go back to the dinner party example above. There is a lot of stuff going on externally and internally. There is no way you can fully take all of it in. You will listen and observe only some of the external and internal stimuli. At most any dinner party you will not pay close attention to some of the activity. It is impossible to take it all in. You and the other dinner party guests will tune into some subjects and comments; you also effectively will simply let other items go by with a bare hearing or perception of the content.
Because Ulysses includes a similar vast litany of external and internal stimuli during the course of one single day, don’t expect that you will take in or be perceptive to each and every detail you read. Rather, take it in as you would at the above dinner party. Some items will stand out during your reading; some will not. This is how life runs its course; in this case life on June 16, 1904. Straining to retain and digest every facet of Ulysses will ruin the reading experience. You do not need to retain and digest every facet of the day in Ulysses.
Six. Joyce is a master with words. His writing and crafting of Ulysses strikes me as pure genius. If I had to recommend to someone a portion of Ulysses merely as one small sample of Joyce’s fine writing, it might be the start of the beach scene in Chapter 13. The intro section stopped me in my tracks. The writing is so good that I had to return and reread the opening section of Chapter 13 twice before I could move on to the end of the chapter. Click here for a Google link to Chapter 13.
Seven. At the halfway point of reading the hard copy of Ulysses, I purchased the audible.com audio version. I continued to read some hard-copy portions, but also used this great audio version. The audio narration is superlative. Click here for this audible.com version of Ulysses. I also googled Cliff Notes for a couple of the chapters that gave me a good background understanding of those particularly difficult chapters. Three or so of the chapters I reread twice before moving on due to the powerful, weighty effect those chapters had on me.
Eight. Reading Ulysses is worth it. I am more than delighted I completed this laborious reading journey. My life (again, this sounds new-age-like) has been permanently changed for the better, and I have a much greater appreciation for the miraculous nuance of each single day.
I assume it is universal that every son who is now a father contemplates what he both learned and did not learn from his own father, and what he (the son) will pass on to his children. This post is for my two daughters (I have no son).
My late father, while in 1942 a law partner with the then-Atlanta law firm Sutherland, Tuttle & Brennan, was drafted to serve in WWII. Shortly after his induction into Ft. Bragg (N.C.) boot camp, my father received the officer’s commission he had sought prior to his induction; but, he decidedly and purposely turned down the commission.
The image above is the 1942 letter from my father’s then-law partner Bill Sutherland to the Army Signal Corps passing along my father’s non-acceptance of the commission
My father later told me and my brothers that while at Ft. Bragg he concluded it was inequitable that he could avoid the hardship of WWII simply because he was a lawyer and entitled to the safehaven of a stateside lawyer-officer position.
He remained in the U.S. Army 78th infantry division and rose among the non-commissioned ranks to a captain in his field artillery battalion. His 78th infantry division was among the first allied divisions to cross east into Germany over the Rhine River. He received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. My father in 1946 returned to Atlanta and practiced law for the remainder of his career.
My father rarely spoke of his war days; however, relevant to my post today, he did mention a 1945 Germany battlefield incident in which the commanding officer began to “run scared” and who informed his group of soldiers (including my father who was a Lieutenant at the time) that they needed to surrender. My father had the officer restrained and commanded the soldiers to a successful standoff. No surrender.
In a journal he maintained for several years after his return from WWII, my father in 1950 wrote:
“Aggressiveness! Somehow I feel that the great problem [in life] centers around aggressiveness. To start with we were animals and had to fight for survival. And we may still have to fight – – that is I don’t mind so much as if it is a fight for life or death. But not this petty pushing, this daily gnawing uneasiness lest someone pass us on the road [etc.] . . . In the Army I should have known better than ever to push or fret about little things like a wait in line for chow, but I should have been ready – – as I was – – to take [I delete this name purposely for this blog post] place with the infantry when the chips were down. . . .”
I use the above example for this Father’s Day post as an illustration of what, I conclude, was the most important characteristic my father sought to pass along to me and my brothers. That is, courage. And, not just simple courage such as if scared in the dark, etc.
But more specifically, the courage to accept where the chips ultimately fall, as to work, family, money, health, what others may think about you, etc. This also is not merely stoic, passive courage.
Rather, it means responding as honestly, directly, aggressively, and as fully as may be warranted in a situation. But, without fretting or over-worrying about the resulting outcome. Accept with courage that the chips will fall where they fall, with each of us possessing the strength and capacity to handle and deal with whatever that outcome produces. Good or bad.
Happy Father’s Day to each of you.
I am a big fan of podcasts. They offer the best of new, cutting edge ideas that I might otherwise not stumble across. Among my favorites: The TED Radio Hour. Click here. The Tim Ferris Show. Click here. RadioLab. Click here.
This past weekend I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast with 62-year old trainer / weightlifter Jerzy Gregorek. Without boring you in this blog post with details of my own observations, I will say Jerzy’s commentary was compelling. I plan to listen again to the entire podcast. I am also motivated (somewhat officiously?) to suggest that every person I know listen to this podcast.
Jerzy’s comments go well beyond weightlifting. He more broadly touches on the universal notion of what it takes to get better at something, whether weightlifting, exercise, diet, work, or music, and so forth. Jerzy uses the phrase: Easy Choices-Hard Life; and Hard Choices-Easy Life. He also uses the phrase I added to the title of this blog: “It’s tough to be better.”
Here is the link to this podcast: Click here. It is: “The Lion of Olympic Weightlifting, 62-Year-Old Jerzy Gregorek (Also Featuring: Naval Ravikant)”.
We all have a tendency in areas of life to get no further than imagining our goals or improvement. In essence, we simply daydream away our present opportunity and never face taking actual steps forward toward goals we truly desire.
Spend some time with this podcast. I hope you find it also compelling.
We were looking at old family videos last night. Below is a screenshot. I am very fortunate to have my wonderful wife Andrea. It is not easy for her (or anyone) being married to a lawyer, a notion I try and keep in mind as much as possible with my family and friends. That is all I say in this post, so as not to take away from this blog-post anniversary wish for my wife Andrea. All my love from James.