Sunday, 28 February 2010

Do not look for a job in the desert


Are you looking for a guaranteed way to waste the rest of your life? Here it is: spend your time searching for things where there aren't. I have also a second formula for squandering your days: spend your time chasing people that are unavailable. The same goes for attempting to travel to places that are not accessible.

We all engage in this kind of pursuits occasionally and that's fine, since no one has perfect knowledge. What is terrifying is when someone persists in trying to pull through an impossible trick. Children do that and so do mice trapped in a maze, but why on earth don't adults know better than that?

The reasons for this type of counter-productive behaviour is unpleasantly ordinary: intellectual laziness. Our desire for comfort and ease often makes us blind to obvious truths. If you want cheap oranges, go to Morocco and not to the airport deli. This straightforward principle, if applied consistently, can bring major improvements to your life. Let us consider three examples:

1.- DO NOT LOOK FOR A JOB IN THE DESERT. You might get lucky and find the only opening available, but chances are that you won't. If you labour at the only factory in a small town and the factory closes, don't waste your time hanging around waiting for a miracle. Pack your things, get into your car, and drive to a place where businesses are hiring.

2.- DO NOT TRY TO SELL PRODUCTS WHERE THERE ARE NO BUYERS. You would be amazed to see the number of empty houses, apartments, and malls in areas where not that many people live. Real estate developers have wasted fortunes putting up buildings on locations where few people are interested in buying or renting.

Why did they not conduct a thorough market research before investing millions? Who knows, maybe they didn't know any better, but the lesson to be drawn is clear. You should focus your sales efforts on places where there are customers.

3.- DO NOT GO TO SIBERIA SEEKING WARM WEATHER. Some people choose to live in places where there is a lousy weather most of the year. There are usually good reasons for doing that, such as cheap housing, low criminality, and abundant job opportunities.

This is not a philosophical issue and you should choose whatever location you like best. My point is that, if you live in a cold area and you happen to love warm weather, your complaining is not going to change anything.

Is a pleasant temperature outside home one of your priorities? If your answer is positive, there are plenty of warm areas on earth to where you can relocate at a reasonable cost. Every minute employed in pursuing the impossible is gone forever, without profit nor joy.

The world is complicated and problematic enough as it is. Attempting to carry out what is obviously unfeasible is pointless and does not even make a good hobby. Stay away from barren land and focus your efforts on fruitful fields.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by rob.sandbach under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Do not look for a job in the desert


Are you looking for a guaranteed way to waste the rest of your life? Here it is: spend your time searching for things where there aren't. I have also a second formula for squandering your days: spend your time chasing people that are unavailable. The same goes for attempting to travel to places that are not accessible.

We all engage in this kind of pursuits occasionally and that's fine, since no one has perfect knowledge. What is terrifying is when someone persists in trying to pull through an impossible trick. Children do that and so do mice trapped in a maze, but why on earth don't adults know better than that?

The reasons for this type of counter-productive behaviour is unpleasantly ordinary: intellectual laziness. Our desire for comfort and ease often makes us blind to obvious truths. If you want cheap oranges, go to Morocco and not to the airport deli. This straightforward principle, if applied consistently, can bring major improvements to your life. Let us consider three examples:

1.- DO NOT LOOK FOR A JOB IN THE DESERT. You might get lucky and find the only opening available, but chances are that you won't. If you labour at the only factory in a small town and the factory closes, don't waste your time hanging around waiting for a miracle. Pack your things, get into your car, and drive to a place where businesses are hiring.

2.- DO NOT TRY TO SELL PRODUCTS WHERE THERE ARE NO BUYERS. You would be amazed to see the number of empty houses, apartments, and malls in areas where not that many people live. Real estate developers have wasted fortunes putting up buildings on locations where few people are interested in buying or renting.

Why did they not conduct a thorough market research before investing millions? Who knows, maybe they didn't know any better, but the lesson to be drawn is clear. You should focus your sales efforts on places where there are customers.

3.- DO NOT GO TO SIBERIA SEEKING WARM WEATHER. Some people choose to live in places where there is a lousy weather most of the year. There are usually good reasons for doing that, such as cheap housing, low criminality, and abundant job opportunities.

This is not a philosophical issue and you should choose whatever location you like best. My point is that, if you live in a cold area and you happen to love warm weather, your complaining is not going to change anything.

Is a pleasant temperature outside home one of your priorities? If your answer is positive, there are plenty of warm areas on earth to where you can relocate at a reasonable cost. Every minute employed in pursuing the impossible is gone forever, without profit nor joy.

The world is complicated and problematic enough as it is. Attempting to carry out what is obviously unfeasible is pointless and does not even make a good hobby. Stay away from barren land and focus your efforts on fruitful fields.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by rob.sandbach under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The art of succeeding without going anywhere (Part 4 of 4)


After a quarter of a century at his job, he produced his most important book, the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). When the volume was published, Kant was already 57 years old and fully conscious of the importance of what he had accomplished. History would prove him right. His work has exerted foremost influence on philosophers during the last two centuries.

The insights contained in Kant's book prepared the ground for scientific discoveries and industrial development. His ethical theories, which underline the role of reason, stressed the importance of individual responsibility.

Would Kant have written such exceptional book if he had spent several weeks per year travelling for pleasure? Would he have produced such extraordinary achievement if he had interrupted his work at regular intervals?

While exotic vacations are fine for some people, other individuals find them disruptive. Depending on your personal philosophy and the type of activities you like, extended travelling might or might not be the right thing for you.

Do not assume that you are obliged to follow the trend. If there is a lesson to be learned from Kant's life, is that you can attain great success without going anywhere. Travelling for pleasure can be great fun, but if there are better things that you could do with your time, do not let anybody decide for you.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by yeowatzup under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The art of succeeding without going anywhere
(Part 4 of 4)


After a quarter of a century at his job, he produced his most important book, the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). When the volume was published, Kant was already 57 years old and fully conscious of the importance of what he had accomplished. History would prove him right. His work has exerted foremost influence on philosophers during the last two centuries.

The insights contained in Kant's book prepared the ground for scientific discoveries and industrial development. His ethical theories, which underline the role of reason, stressed the importance of individual responsibility.

Would Kant have written such exceptional book if he had spent several weeks per year travelling for pleasure? Would he have produced such extraordinary achievement if he had interrupted his work at regular intervals?

While exotic vacations are fine for some people, other individuals find them disruptive. Depending on your personal philosophy and the type of activities you like, extended travelling might or might not be the right thing for you.

Do not assume that you are obliged to follow the trend. If there is a lesson to be learned from Kant's life, is that you can attain great success without going anywhere. Travelling for pleasure can be great fun, but if there are better things that you could do with your time, do not let anybody decide for you.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by yeowatzup under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Friday, 26 February 2010

The art of succeeding without going anywhere (Part 3 of 4)


Kant never crossed the ocean to see America and never visited Russia, even though St. Petersburg is not far away from Königsberg. He never went to London, never set foot in Paris, and never spent a summer in Rome. For all we know, he did not even go to Berlin for a weekend. If this sounds boring to you, wait until you read the whole story.

Due to financial difficulties in his youth, Kant was forced to interrupt his studies for a couple of years. He eventually managed to obtain an advanced degree and, when he was 31 years old, he landed a teaching job at the University of Königsberg, where he would continue to lecture until his retirement decades later.

For most of his life, Kant did pretty much the same every day, irrespective of the season. He would have breakfast, walk to the University, teach his classes, have lunch, do some research, write a few pages of his next book, return home, and have dinner.

When his friends urged him to have a more active social life, Kant politely replied that he had no time. There was always some exciting subject that he was researching or some important book that he was planning. His writing kept him busy, leaving little room for travel and other activities.

To be continued in Part 4

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by JerzyW under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The art of succeeding without going anywhere
(Part 3 of 4)


Kant never crossed the ocean to see America and never visited Russia, even though St. Petersburg is not far away from Königsberg. He never went to London, never set foot in Paris, and never spent a summer in Rome. For all we know, he did not even go to Berlin for a weekend. If this sounds boring to you, wait until you read the whole story.

Due to financial difficulties in his youth, Kant was forced to interrupt his studies for a couple of years. He eventually managed to obtain an advanced degree and, when he was 31 years old, he landed a teaching job at the University of Königsberg, where he would continue to lecture until his retirement decades later.

For most of his life, Kant did pretty much the same every day, irrespective of the season. He would have breakfast, walk to the University, teach his classes, have lunch, do some research, write a few pages of his next book, return home, and have dinner.

When his friends urged him to have a more active social life, Kant politely replied that he had no time. There was always some exciting subject that he was researching or some important book that he was planning. His writing kept him busy, leaving little room for travel and other activities.

To be continued in Part 4

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by JerzyW under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The art of succeeding without going anywhere (Part 2 of 4)


Spending your vacation in an unusual location guarantees that you will meet new people and taste exotic food. For the duration of the break, you will forget your routines and feel exempted from preoccupations. The idea is that, since you have worked hard for months, now it is your turn to enjoy a holiday.

On the other hand, if you are one of those who loves his work and is inclined to introspection, you might experience some doubts: Should you really be there? Don't you have better things to do? What is the point of all these vacation trips? Are you not wasting your time?

The vision of life as a sequence of work interrupted by holiday trips was born a century ago, but our mental patterns are more than 5.000 years old. The practice of going away at regular intervals and leaving everything behind would have seemed incomprehensible to most 19th century entrepreneurs, composers, or inventors. They would have looked at us with surprise and inquired about the purpose of all that travelling.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is known to have spent his entire life in Königsberg, a city that nowadays belongs to Russia. Apparently, he never wandered more than a few kilometres away from Königsberg, where he worked for decades as a university professor. If he had wished to travel, he possessed the means to do so.

To be continued in Part 3

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by _neona_ under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The art of succeeding without going anywhere
(Part 2 of 4)


Spending your vacation in an unusual location guarantees that you will meet new people and taste exotic food. For the duration of the break, you will forget your routines and feel exempted from preoccupations. The idea is that, since you have worked hard for months, now it is your turn to enjoy a holiday.

On the other hand, if you are one of those who loves his work and is inclined to introspection, you might experience some doubts: Should you really be there? Don't you have better things to do? What is the point of all these vacation trips? Are you not wasting your time?

The vision of life as a sequence of work interrupted by holiday trips was born a century ago, but our mental patterns are more than 5.000 years old. The practice of going away at regular intervals and leaving everything behind would have seemed incomprehensible to most 19th century entrepreneurs, composers, or inventors. They would have looked at us with surprise and inquired about the purpose of all that travelling.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is known to have spent his entire life in Königsberg, a city that nowadays belongs to Russia. Apparently, he never wandered more than a few kilometres away from Königsberg, where he worked for decades as a university professor. If he had wished to travel, he possessed the means to do so.

To be continued in Part 3

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by _neona_ under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The art of succeeding without going anywhere (Part 1 of 4)


Travelling for pleasure is a modern phenomenon. Before the twentieth century, few people undertook long journeys if it was not for investment or trade. Moving from one country to another was uncomfortable and expensive. Before vaccination became an everyday procedure, malaria and yellow fever presented major health risks for those travelling to tropical areas.

In our days, public taste has shifted to the opposite extreme. From teenagers to pensioners, millions of individuals devote their holidays to visiting distant cities. Airlines offer affordable tickets to cross the ocean, inviting consumers to spend their next vacation exploring exotic cultures. Who can resist their enticing advertisements?

The fact that large numbers of people travel for pleasure provides evidence of its popularity, not of its benefits. Many individuals count smoking, overeating, and excessive drinking amongst their favourite occupations. The enjoyment derived from those activities does not automatically qualify them as advantageous. Judgement should be passed on the basis of rational assessment, not of popularity.

While dogs and cats appear perfectly contented to move around without purpose, human beings tend to become restless. Travelling dissolves our routines and forces us to start from scratch. Encountering novelty can be pleasurable, but too much of it leads to exhaustion.

To be continued in Part 2

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by net_efekt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The art of succeeding without going anywhere
(Part 1 of 4)


Travelling for pleasure is a modern phenomenon. Before the twentieth century, few people undertook long journeys if it was not for investment or trade. Moving from one country to another was uncomfortable and expensive. Before vaccination became an everyday procedure, malaria and yellow fever presented major health risks for those travelling to tropical areas.

In our days, public taste has shifted to the opposite extreme. From teenagers to pensioners, millions of individuals devote their holidays to visiting distant cities. Airlines offer affordable tickets to cross the ocean, inviting consumers to spend their next vacation exploring exotic cultures. Who can resist their enticing advertisements?

The fact that large numbers of people travel for pleasure provides evidence of its popularity, not of its benefits. Many individuals count smoking, overeating, and excessive drinking amongst their favourite occupations. The enjoyment derived from those activities does not automatically qualify them as advantageous. Judgement should be passed on the basis of rational assessment, not of popularity.

While dogs and cats appear perfectly contented to move around without purpose, human beings tend to become restless. Travelling dissolves our routines and forces us to start from scratch. Encountering novelty can be pleasurable, but too much of it leads to exhaustion.

To be continued in Part 2

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by net_efekt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Happiness requires a strong sense of direction


How would you rate your current level of happiness from 1 to 10? If you are already experiencing the highest levels of personal satisfaction, congratulations. Most people aren't. My next questions is even more sensitive. If you were to assume for yourself a life expectancy of 80 years, at what levels of happiness are you aiming for the rest of your life?

Men and women who are already enjoying a great life worry about how they are going to maintain it year after year. Those living in less than perfect conditions are usually full of hope for a better future. The crucial question is, of course, how we get there.

If happiness is a long shot, it pays to aim as close as possible. How can we make sure that we are moving in the right direction? These three principles have often helped me sharpen my focus:

1.- ONLY PRECISE DEFINITIONS MAKE PERSONAL SATISFACTION POSSIBLE. People have different ideas of what it means to be happy, but this does not mean that random events possess the capacity to improve your life.

Happiness is composed of specific experiences that we long to have. Well-being is a positive event, something that we crave, a place where we want to be. Make an effort to draw a detailed picture of your ambitions so that it serves you as compass while you are walking through the desert.

2.- HAPPINESS INVOLVES AVOIDANCE. At a very minimum, it demands the postponement of death. What negative elements do you need to keep away in order to be happy? Make the list as long as you need. Pain and sickness should be amongst the things to avert. The same goes, for most people, for poverty and discomfort.

Your compilation of negatives won't be finished before you add names of certain persons, or perhaps types of persons, that you deeply dislike. The purpose of this exercise is to make you conscious of which negative aspects you consider incompatible with happiness.

3.- PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING REQUIRES A SENSE OF DIRECTION. This crucial aspect is often overlooked. Lacking a sense of direction is equivalent to trusting luck for raising your personal level of satisfaction. Clarity of purpose gives an individual a target to achieve and a path to follow.

Steps taken with the the right destination in mind are likely to improve the quality of your experiences, at least in the long term. Your life should flow towards your objectives. Steer your way to pursue your specific goals, while at the same time, try to keep off those negative aspects that you wish to avoid.

Whatever your present situation, achieving a better future is going to involve substantial work. Most people are able to motivate themselves for a short while, but they are quick to give up when they meet the first difficulties.

Draw a sharp picture of your future and that vision will provide you with a clear sense of direction. Only consistent, rational ambitions sustain the long-term motivation that allows individuals to reach the highest levels of happiness.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Fr Antunes under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us
]

Happiness requires a strong sense of direction


How would you rate your current level of happiness from 1 to 10? If you are already experiencing the highest levels of personal satisfaction, congratulations. Most people aren't. My next questions is even more sensitive. If you were to assume for yourself a life expectancy of 80 years, at what levels of happiness are you aiming for the rest of your life?

Men and women who are already enjoying a great life worry about how they are going to maintain it year after year. Those living in less than perfect conditions are usually full of hope for a better future. The crucial question is, of course, how we get there.

If happiness is a long shot, it pays to aim as close as possible. How can we make sure that we are moving in the right direction? These three principles have often helped me sharpen my focus:

1.- ONLY PRECISE DEFINITIONS MAKE PERSONAL SATISFACTION POSSIBLE. People have different ideas of what it means to be happy, but this does not mean that random events possess the capacity to improve your life.

Happiness is composed of specific experiences that we long to have. Well-being is a positive event, something that we crave, a place where we want to be. Make an effort to draw a detailed picture of your ambitions so that it serves you as compass while you are walking through the desert.

2.- HAPPINESS INVOLVES AVOIDANCE. At a very minimum, it demands the postponement of death. What negative elements do you need to keep away in order to be happy? Make the list as long as you need. Pain and sickness should be amongst the things to avert. The same goes, for most people, for poverty and discomfort.

Your compilation of negatives won't be finished before you add names of certain persons, or perhaps types of persons, that you deeply dislike. The purpose of this exercise is to make you conscious of which negative aspects you consider incompatible with happiness.

3.- PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING REQUIRES A SENSE OF DIRECTION. This crucial aspect is often overlooked. Lacking a sense of direction is equivalent to trusting luck for raising your personal level of satisfaction. Clarity of purpose gives an individual a target to achieve and a path to follow.

Steps taken with the the right destination in mind are likely to improve the quality of your experiences, at least in the long term. Your life should flow towards your objectives. Steer your way to pursue your specific goals, while at the same time, try to keep off those negative aspects that you wish to avoid.

Whatever your present situation, achieving a better future is going to involve substantial work. Most people are able to motivate themselves for a short while, but they are quick to give up when they meet the first difficulties.

Draw a sharp picture of your future and that vision will provide you with a clear sense of direction. Only consistent, rational ambitions sustain the long-term motivation that allows individuals to reach the highest levels of happiness.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Fr Antunes under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us
]

Monday, 22 February 2010

Salesmanship is the mark of civilization


Salesmanship is the mark of civilization. It demands the capacity to communicate with others, empathy to understand their needs, and flexibility to recognize what works and what doesn't. When you look at a society of great merchants, you will be see freedom, prosperity, and generosity.

On the other hand, if commercial abilities are so essential, how come that only a small percentage of the population make the effort to acquire them? Companies often complain about how difficult it is to find good salesmen. Is this phenomenon a temporary problem or only the tip of the iceberg?

Societies that produce decreasing numbers of salesmen are moving backwards in time. To which extent are we headed towards more primitive levels of psychological development? Are you sceptical about the seriousness of the problem? The scenario might be even worse than you think.
  • What are the reasons behind the chronic scarcity of good marketers?
  • Why is salesmanship excluded from the primary school curriculum?
  • How come that some people view commerce as an activity placed only one step away from evil?
The answer can be only this one: good marketing is at the same time a highly valuable and an extremely difficult process. In fact, there are few things in life as challenging as finding customers for a new product.

How can we expand the commercial skills of every employee? Is there an easy way to allow each person to develop his hidden sales potential? The following unconventional idea might help turn the tide: It is high time to put everybody into sales.

In a sizeable company, which employees are most likely to lose touch with reality? Those whose tasks are removed from the process of selling to customers! Let me emphasize that "contact with customers" does not necessarily involve sales.

Take service jobs for instance. How often have you seen movies where a bus driver's job is portrayed as the ultimate non-commercial experience?

In that occupation, the trip destination, the time table, and the ticket price are fixed in advance. Does that leave no room for salesmanship at all? How would you improve the situation is you happened to own a bus company?

Change your perspective for a moment and imagine now that you are the driver and that you own the bus yourself. You know that your livelihood depends on your regular customers. How would that affect your performance?
  • Would you smile to passengers?
  • Would you pour them a free cup of coffee from time to time?
  • Would you try to sell them newspapers and chocolate?
  • How clean would you keep your bus?
My point is that it doesn't matter if you are the driver or the company owner. In all cases, salesmanship will enhance your income and render you more tolerant. You will find yourself striving to understand other people's point of view in any discussion and your vision of the world will become progressively sharper.

I could give you twenty reasons in favour of your exerting yourself to become a good marketer, but if I was pushed to choose one single argument, this is the one I'd select: acquiring a salesman's wisdom will simply turn you into a better human being.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Shayan under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Sunday, 21 February 2010

In praise of emotional stability


"May prosperity, whose end is woe, never be mine," wrote Euripides in the year 435 B.C. "I do not wish such wealth that would sting my heart." These words from Euripides' play "Medea" express an all too common attitude towards wealth and success.

The idea is that one should refrain from desiring anything too strongly in order to prevent the pain of losing it. The fear of emotions permeates the works of Euripides. In his dramas, the warnings to his characters are always vicious, their responses harsh, and the consequences inhumane.

Euripides wrote his plays many centuries ago, but the attitudes that he portrays in his scenes have influenced writers generation after generation. Soap operas, movies, novels, and pop songs spread the belief that emotions rightly dominate our lives.

Since that idea is false, it is barely a surprise to see most of those stories end the same way as "Medea," that is, in a bloodbath. Wild, unrestrained emotions provide the wrong solution to every problem.

"You evil villain, after all I have done for you, you have betrayed me," cries Medea in Euripides' play when her lover Jason abandons her to marry another woman. "Wait, and I will pay you back as you deserve, my friend."

In the Ancient Greek play, revenge goes far beyond the level one is accustomed to see in contemporary films. Medea, after assassinating the other woman, ends up also murdering her own children. Why on earth does she put them to death? To make her ex-lover Jason suffer!

Euripides' play is tainted with understanding for poor Medea, who doesn't know any better than to kill everyone who hurts her feelings. The notion that bruised pride gives you the right to take savage revenge is profoundly unethical and reprehensible. That fallacy underlies most cases of domestic violence.

The hardest the tragedy, the greater your need of a firm temper. The deeper the disappointment, the more urgently you should search for perspective. In difficult situations, never let your feelings take control of your life. Self-inflicted moral blindness is the worst kind of mental impairment.

When in trouble, stand still and think. Consider your options, assess calmly which is the best way to go, and then start rebuilding your life. Irrationality and hatred only make situations worse. "Harsh temper is an unruly pest," wrote Euripides in "Medea."

It is high time to discard abrasive behaviour and brand it as uncivilized. Let us reject aggressive responses and mark them as unacceptable. The day has come for human beings to start building their ethical ideals on nothing but reason.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Tempo no tempo (No video) under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

In praise of emotional stability


"May prosperity, whose end is woe, never be mine," wrote Euripides in the year 435 B.C. "I do not wish such wealth that would sting my heart." These words from Euripides' play "Medea" express an all too common attitude towards wealth and success.

The idea is that one should refrain from desiring anything too strongly in order to prevent the pain of losing it. The fear of emotions permeates the works of Euripides. In his dramas, the warnings to his characters are always vicious, their responses harsh, and the consequences inhumane.

Euripides wrote his plays many centuries ago, but the attitudes that he portrays in his scenes have influenced writers generation after generation. Soap operas, movies, novels, and pop songs spread the belief that emotions rightly dominate our lives.

Since that idea is false, it is barely a surprise to see most of those stories end the same way as "Medea," that is, in a bloodbath. Wild, unrestrained emotions provide the wrong solution to every problem.

"You evil villain, after all I have done for you, you have betrayed me," cries Medea in Euripides' play when her lover Jason abandons her to marry another woman. "Wait, and I will pay you back as you deserve, my friend."

In the Ancient Greek play, revenge goes far beyond the level one is accustomed to see in contemporary films. Medea, after assassinating the other woman, ends up also murdering her own children. Why on earth does she put them to death? To make her ex-lover Jason suffer!

Euripides' play is tainted with understanding for poor Medea, who doesn't know any better than to kill everyone who hurts her feelings. The notion that bruised pride gives you the right to take savage revenge is profoundly unethical and reprehensible. That fallacy underlies most cases of domestic violence.

The hardest the tragedy, the greater your need of a firm temper. The deeper the disappointment, the more urgently you should search for perspective. In difficult situations, never let your feelings take control of your life. Self-inflicted moral blindness is the worst kind of mental impairment.

When in trouble, stand still and think. Consider your options, assess calmly which is the best way to go, and then start rebuilding your life. Irrationality and hatred only make situations worse. "Harsh temper is an unruly pest," wrote Euripides in "Medea."

It is high time to discard abrasive behaviour and brand it as uncivilized. Let us reject aggressive responses and mark them as unacceptable. The day has come for human beings to start building their ethical ideals on nothing but reason.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Tempo no tempo (No video) under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The key to overcoming regret after making a severe mistake


Publishers love biographies since they usually sell well for many years. The best biographies are short on dates and rich on story, meagre on doubts and abundant on motion.

Reading about mistakes made by illustrious individuals is why people enjoy biographies. In this respect, little, insubstantial errors don't count. A solid biography must contain at least one horrendous, shattering mistake.
  • A great actor who accepts a role in a trash movie and ruins his career.
  • A successful fund manager who makes a bad investment and experiences enormous losses.
  • A self-made millionaire who marries a worthless woman and goes through devastating divorce.
Thick biographies provide extensive details about how eminent persons turn into fools. Vanity and greed play a role sometimes, although less frequently than venal authors like to portray.

The truth is that, in the great majority of cases, mistakes are made in good faith, out of insufficient knowledge, insight, or perspective. Dangers that appear self-evident in hindsight often pass undetected under real-life strains and tensions.

Demanding readers expect stories to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. We want books to provide teachings that go beyond the trite and commonplace. There is no point in reading about past mistakes if we cannot draw lessons for the future.

How can you overcome feelings of impotence, sadness, and guilt after you have committed a gigantic error? Here is what I have learned form reading History.

As soon as we realize the full extent of a major error, psychological misery arises from comparing ourselves to others or to a parallel reality that would have existed if we had known better.

Such negative emotional reactions rest on a logical fallacy that only determined reasoning can erase. Mistakes are subjective and the knowledge present in a person's mind is the only relevant factor when it comes to taking decisions.

This means that, after making a dreadful mistake, you should avoid comparing your situation with someone else's. It makes little sense to lament how well you could be doing if you had made wiser choices.

Each of us is born in different circumstances and each life is unique. Individuals have to grow at their own pace and learn their own lessons. Competition is a fallacy because life is not a race.

Experience can be painful but it is irreplaceable. Don't linger on illogical comparisons that bring nothing but misery. Stand up and look ahead. Your next achievement will bring you farther. Mistakes can make you a better human being and show you the way to happiness. Let them.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by dalbera under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The key to overcoming regret after making a severe mistake


Publishers love biographies since they usually sell well for many years. The best biographies are short on dates and rich on story, meagre on doubts and abundant on motion.

Reading about mistakes made by illustrious individuals is why people enjoy biographies. In this respect, little, insubstantial errors don't count. A solid biography must contain at least one horrendous, shattering mistake.
  • A great actor who accepts a role in a trash movie and ruins his career.
  • A successful fund manager who makes a bad investment and experiences enormous losses.
  • A self-made millionaire who marries a worthless woman and goes through devastating divorce.
Thick biographies provide extensive details about how eminent persons turn into fools. Vanity and greed play a role sometimes, although less frequently than venal authors like to portray.

The truth is that, in the great majority of cases, mistakes are made in good faith, out of insufficient knowledge, insight, or perspective. Dangers that appear self-evident in hindsight often pass undetected under real-life strains and tensions.

Demanding readers expect stories to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. We want books to provide teachings that go beyond the trite and commonplace. There is no point in reading about past mistakes if we cannot draw lessons for the future.

How can you overcome feelings of impotence, sadness, and guilt after you have committed a gigantic error? Here is what I have learned form reading History.

As soon as we realize the full extent of a major error, psychological misery arises from comparing ourselves to others or to a parallel reality that would have existed if we had known better.

Such negative emotional reactions rest on a logical fallacy that only determined reasoning can erase. Mistakes are subjective and the knowledge present in a person's mind is the only relevant factor when it comes to taking decisions.

This means that, after making a dreadful mistake, you should avoid comparing your situation with someone else's. It makes little sense to lament how well you could be doing if you had made wiser choices.

Each of us is born in different circumstances and each life is unique. Individuals have to grow at their own pace and learn their own lessons. Competition is a fallacy because life is not a race.

Experience can be painful but it is irreplaceable. Don't linger on illogical comparisons that bring nothing but misery. Stand up and look ahead. Your next achievement will bring you farther. Mistakes can make you a better human being and show you the way to happiness. Let them.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by dalbera under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Friday, 19 February 2010

Should you choose the path of least resistance? (Part 4 of 4)


In retrospective, William's decision to establish a new settlement was the obvious path of least resistance. He had seen the consequences of intolerance in England and was convinced that there was a better way. He suspected that thousands of people thought the way he did, minorities of all sorts, entrepreneurial individuals who only wanted to be left alone to lead their own lives.

Instead of disputing the views of his Boston parishioners, Williams walked away. Instead of wasting time on bitter debates, he opted for building a workable alternative. Instead of trying to impose his views on disgruntled opponents, he decided to spend his life with those who were naturally on his side.

The success of Providence during the following decades provides an impressive example of the benefits of rational decisions: increased cooperation, tolerance, goodwill and self-reliance, all accompanied by growing industry, trade, and productivity.

In addition, Williams' peaceful relations with the neighbouring Narragansett tribes led to mutual understanding. In 1643, he published a handbook on the language of American Indians, which he hoped would improve communication and exchanges between frontier communities.

The next time that you are faced with a similar situation, why don't you adopt the same strategy? Write down your values and priorities. Identify which elements are essential to your happiness. Discard options that don't fulfil your fundamental requirements. Amongst the remaining choices, choose the path of least resistance.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by David Paul Ohmer under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Should you choose the path of least resistance?
(Part 4 of 4)


In retrospective, William's decision to establish a new settlement was the obvious path of least resistance. He had seen the consequences of intolerance in England and was convinced that there was a better way. He suspected that thousands of people thought the way he did, minorities of all sorts, entrepreneurial individuals who only wanted to be left alone to lead their own lives.

Instead of disputing the views of his Boston parishioners, Williams walked away. Instead of wasting time on bitter debates, he opted for building a workable alternative. Instead of trying to impose his views on disgruntled opponents, he decided to spend his life with those who were naturally on his side.

The success of Providence during the following decades provides an impressive example of the benefits of rational decisions: increased cooperation, tolerance, goodwill and self-reliance, all accompanied by growing industry, trade, and productivity.

In addition, Williams' peaceful relations with the neighbouring Narragansett tribes led to mutual understanding. In 1643, he published a handbook on the language of American Indians, which he hoped would improve communication and exchanges between frontier communities.

The next time that you are faced with a similar situation, why don't you adopt the same strategy? Write down your values and priorities. Identify which elements are essential to your happiness. Discard options that don't fulfil your fundamental requirements. Amongst the remaining choices, choose the path of least resistance.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by David Paul Ohmer under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Should you choose the path of least resistance? (Part 3 of 4)


Choosing the path of least resistance requires, in the first place, that you determine your principles and values. Random decisions do not lead to happiness, especially if they are motivated by fear. A wise man identifies his priorities before assessing his options. Our goal should be to find the alternative that can accomplish our objectives with minimum opposition.

Williams analysed his possibilities carefully. On the one hand, he could renounce his views and keep his job. On the other hand, he could give up his ambition of establishing himself in America and return to England. None of those alternatives was satisfying. Instead, he opted for a third choice, the path of least resistance.

With his pregnant wife on trail, he left Boston, purchased some land from the Narragansett Indians, and established a new settlement that he called Providence. Williams' philosophy of tolerance and self-reliance soon attracted entrepreneurial minorities of all sorts. As a result, his land became one of the most prosperous American colonies.

The two alternatives that he had rejected were dead-end projects. If he had kept his position in Boston, he would have continued to receive a regular income, but only at the price of betraying his ideals. If he had returned to England, his destiny would have not been much different.

To be continued in Part 4

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Bowich under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Should you choose the path of least resistance?
(Part 3 of 4)


Choosing the path of least resistance requires, in the first place, that you determine your principles and values. Random decisions do not lead to happiness, especially if they are motivated by fear. A wise man identifies his priorities before assessing his options. Our goal should be to find the alternative that can accomplish our objectives with minimum opposition.

Williams analysed his possibilities carefully. On the one hand, he could renounce his views and keep his job. On the other hand, he could give up his ambition of establishing himself in America and return to England. None of those alternatives was satisfying. Instead, he opted for a third choice, the path of least resistance.

With his pregnant wife on trail, he left Boston, purchased some land from the Narragansett Indians, and established a new settlement that he called Providence. Williams' philosophy of tolerance and self-reliance soon attracted entrepreneurial minorities of all sorts. As a result, his land became one of the most prosperous American colonies.

The two alternatives that he had rejected were dead-end projects. If he had kept his position in Boston, he would have continued to receive a regular income, but only at the price of betraying his ideals. If he had returned to England, his destiny would have not been much different.

To be continued in Part 4

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Bowich under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Should you choose the path of least resistance (Part 2 of 4)


Williams was born in London at a time when religious dissidence was often punished with death. As a child, he witnessed the public execution of members of minority movements. Those tragic events shaped his philosophy and turned him into a highly effective advocate of tolerance and individual responsibility.

After his ordination as protestant priest, Williams got married and emigrated to America. When he arrived in Boston, he was 29th years old. He gained employment as preacher in one of the local churches and began to promote his ideas of tolerance and respect of religious minorities.

His parishioners, who favoured a strict line of thought, did not appreciate William's views. Soon after, he faced a difficult a choice. If he refused to conform his ideas to public expectations, he would lose his position. If he remained loyal to his philosophy, his reputation would be damaged and no other congregation in the area would be willing to hire him.

He attempted to find steady employment in Salem and Plymouth, to no avail. Churchgoers in those cities liked Williams' opinions as little as those in Boston. He consulted his wife, Mary, and learned that she was pregnant. An upcoming baby constituted a strong reason for Williams to try to keep his position even if that meant sacrificing his ideals. What would you have done in such a situation?

To be continued in Part 3

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Crinity under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Should you choose the path of least resistance
(Part 2 of 4)


Williams was born in London at a time when religious dissidence was often punished with death. As a child, he witnessed the public execution of members of minority movements. Those tragic events shaped his philosophy and turned him into a highly effective advocate of tolerance and individual responsibility.

After his ordination as protestant priest, Williams got married and emigrated to America. When he arrived in Boston, he was 29th years old. He gained employment as preacher in one of the local churches and began to promote his ideas of tolerance and respect of religious minorities.

His parishioners, who favoured a strict line of thought, did not appreciate William's views. Soon after, he faced a difficult a choice. If he refused to conform his ideas to public expectations, he would lose his position. If he remained loyal to his philosophy, his reputation would be damaged and no other congregation in the area would be willing to hire him.

He attempted to find steady employment in Salem and Plymouth, to no avail. Churchgoers in those cities liked Williams' opinions as little as those in Boston. He consulted his wife, Mary, and learned that she was pregnant. An upcoming baby constituted a strong reason for Williams to try to keep his position even if that meant sacrificing his ideals. What would you have done in such a situation?

To be continued in Part 3

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Crinity under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Should you choose the path of least resistance? (Part 1 of 4)


You can easily tell a dead-end project by the massive opposition it generates. If your initiatives create fierce resistance, it might be wise to reconsider your strategy. Some products or services are just impossible to sell at a profit, even if they could greatly benefit potential customers. People choose to ignore whatever conflicts with their convictions.

Entrepreneurs are conscious of the fact that markets possess sensitivity and taste. If you try to impose your views on customers, you will fail. If you try to sell what people find misplaced, your attempts will produce only irritation and waste.

Prosperity and happiness require loyalty to principles and practicality in the implementation. Only fools start fights where everybody loses. Logic and consistency are worthless without a workable plan. Philosophy serves no purpose if it does not help improve your life.

The question is how to accomplish demanding goals while remaining loyal to truth. The story of Roger Williams (1603-1683) provides powerful inspiration about how attain success and well-being by minimizing confrontation, in other words, by taking the path of least resistance.

To be continued in Part 2

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Nicholas_T under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Monday, 15 February 2010

Two principles for facing difficulties successfully


Consistency is the key to clear thinking. Aristotle wrote about the principles of reality in the year 345 B.C. In our days, his conclusions still remain fully applicable. What is even better, Aristotle's teachings can be summarized in a single sentence: "Identity and causality rule the world."

There is no way of escaping these two principles. They apply to everything we do, to our perceptions and to our thinking. When we make mistakes, the reason always lies in our attempt to breach one of these two fundamental truths.

[1] A breach of the rule of identity occurs when we perceive qualities that do not exist in reality. How often do we assess too quickly a person, an object, or a situation, only to realize later how flawed our initial perception was? Exaggerating problems for emotional reasons, an all too common phenomenon, is the quintessential breach of the principle of identity.

[2] Causality is simply identity in motion. If we assume wrongly that human beings possess no capacity to think, we won't be able to understand what people do everyday. Failing to identify the true characteristics of an individual makes impossible to predict how that person will act in the future.

Our understanding of the rules of identity and causality determines the success of our private and professional endeavours. Acting in breach of any of these two principles is a sure way to financial losses and personal tragedy. In business, those who strive to respect these two principles will be rewarded with efficiency, progress, and innovation.

Ignoring the characteristics of human beings, their identity, is tantamount to blinding our eyes. Anger, depression, and business failure are often the result of such attempts. Imagine for instance a situation when a manager realizes that the quality of the services rendered by his employees is erratic and unpredictable. How can he apply Aristotle's rules to solve the problem?

A wrong approach would be to choose a rigid quality control system and implement it immediately across the board. Since the manager has not bothered to study his problem and identify the cause of the erratic quality, the new control system will do little good. Instead, it is likely to alienate employees and slow down operations.

The Aristotelian method demands a rational assessment of the facts. Are we using the right materials? Is every member of the team well trained to do his work? Do we have a compensation system in place to align the interests of the individuals with the goals of the company? Should we improve our processes? Are we using the most efficient technology?

Nobody is able to figure out the right answers every time, but if you use the proper methodology, mistakes will be self-correcting. The principles of identity and causality offer us a proven system for reaching accurate conclusions. Use the Aristotelian way of thinking to your advantage and you will achieve your goals twice as fast.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Leithcote under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Two principles for facing difficulties successfully


Consistency is the key to clear thinking. Aristotle wrote about the principles of reality in the year 345 B.C. In our days, his conclusions still remain fully applicable. What is even better, Aristotle's teachings can be summarized in a single sentence: "Identity and causality rule the world."

There is no way of escaping these two principles. They apply to everything we do, to our perceptions and to our thinking. When we make mistakes, the reason always lies in our attempt to breach one of these two fundamental truths.

[1] A breach of the rule of identity occurs when we perceive qualities that do not exist in reality. How often do we assess too quickly a person, an object, or a situation, only to realize later how flawed our initial perception was? Exaggerating problems for emotional reasons, an all too common phenomenon, is the quintessential breach of the principle of identity.

[2] Causality is simply identity in motion. If we assume wrongly that human beings possess no capacity to think, we won't be able to understand what people do everyday. Failing to identify the true characteristics of an individual makes impossible to predict how that person will act in the future.

Our understanding of the rules of identity and causality determines the success of our private and professional endeavours. Acting in breach of any of these two principles is a sure way to financial losses and personal tragedy. In business, those who strive to respect these two principles will be rewarded with efficiency, progress, and innovation.

Ignoring the characteristics of human beings, their identity, is tantamount to blinding our eyes. Anger, depression, and business failure are often the result of such attempts. Imagine for instance a situation when a manager realizes that the quality of the services rendered by his employees is erratic and unpredictable. How can he apply Aristotle's rules to solve the problem?

A wrong approach would be to choose a rigid quality control system and implement it immediately across the board. Since the manager has not bothered to study his problem and identify the cause of the erratic quality, the new control system will do little good. Instead, it is likely to alienate employees and slow down operations.

The Aristotelian method demands a rational assessment of the facts. Are we using the right materials? Is every member of the team well trained to do his work? Do we have a compensation system in place to align the interests of the individuals with the goals of the company? Should we improve our processes? Are we using the most efficient technology?

Nobody is able to figure out the right answers every time, but if you use the proper methodology, mistakes will be self-correcting. The principles of identity and causality offer us a proven system for reaching accurate conclusions. Use the Aristotelian way of thinking to your advantage and you will achieve your goals twice as fast.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Leithcote under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Sunday, 14 February 2010

St. Bernardino's formula for surviving hard times


"I have never seen times like these," admitted Bernardino. "The pest has wiped out half of the population of Siena." Giovanni Capistrano looked at his friend and shook his head. "We are indeed facing the end of the world," he replied.

"We have run out of salt for the fish, ink for the copyists, and candles
for the chapel," enumerated Bernardino. "We don't even have cloth to make robes for the novices!"

Capistrano took in a deep breath and, instead of giving an answer, he murmured a prayer. He was convinced that the catastrophes that had happened during the last years were a punishment from God and that no resistance was possible.

In the year 1419, the economic depression ravaging Tuscany had reached gigantic proportions. Bernardino was 39 years old and he had seen with his own eyes land prices go down by 80% in a twenty-year period. It was difficult to imagine that things could get worse than they were already.

Although Bernardino appreciated Giovanni Capistrano highly, he was also conscious that his friend was more gifted for theological disputes than for solving practical problems. Since Bernardino was the prior of Santa Maria Monastery, finding solutions was his job.

After the morning prayer, he left the chapel through the back door, crossed the monastery's orchard, and walked into the woods. Like every time he had to make a difficult decision, he needed to be alone for a while.

"We have hardly enough to eat as it is now," Bernardino reflected as he advanced towards the river. "Should I tell novices that our monastery cannot accept new vocations at this time and send them away?"

Suddenly, Bernardino stood still and looked around puzzled. Something had changed since the last time he had been in the woods, but he couldn't tell what. Intrigued, he advanced fifty steps and reached the riverbank. It was only at that moment that Bernardino realized what had interrupted his thoughts. It was the noise! He was so used to long hours of silence in the monastery that he had forgotten the relentless sound of nature.

Summer had arrived and Bernardino was immersed in a cacophony of cries from birds, cicadas, and tree frogs. He sat down on a stone in front of the water and tried to concentrate his mind on the most pressing problems.

Like every year, the summer had made the river water level go down by two feet, uncovering in the middle of the stream a long, narrow island. Bernardino knew it well, since it had served him as playground in his childhood, many years ago.

Bushes that had remained submerged during the winter were now showing deep green colours and had become the ideal basis for swallows to build their mud-nests. Bernardino smiled when two yellow butterflies flew above his shoulders, fearlessly headed towards the island.

He lowered his head and prayed silently for guidance. Nine young men had requested to join the Santa Maria Monastery as novices. Bernardino was the prior and it was up to him to decide on the postulants' admission.

The economic depression had drained the monastery's resources to such an extent that there was no way for Bernardino to feed nine additional monks, let alone provide them with novice's robes. On the other hand, additional help was badly needed to cultivate the monastery's land.

When Bernardino returned to the monastery one hour later, he found Giovanni Capistrano sitting on a bench in front of the chapel, reading the Bible. "I have found a solution," announced Bernardino approaching his friend. Capistrano lifted his eyes from the book and scrutinized Bernardino's face. "To the economic crisis?" he retorted sceptically. "Or do you mean a solution to the pest that is decimating the population of nearby cities?"

"If we cannot change the whole world," went on Bernardino, "let us at least focus our efforts on doing whatever we can to improve our situation." Giovanni Capistrano closed the Bible and stared at Bernardino, wondering what he was talking about.

"I was sitting by the river thinking about our problems," Bernardino continued, "when I realized that the solution was before my eyes. It is summer now and swallows have built their nests on the island in the middle of the river."

He turned around and pointed at the cedar tree beside the chapel. "The energy of nature never stops. Season after season, year after year, animals and plants grow and live further. If there is a storm, birds might stand still for a few hours, but only to move on relentlessly as soon as the weather improves."

"Swallows don't sit around paralysed by fear of the end of the world," continued Bernardino. "They pick up whatever materials are available and build their nests, trying to make the best of any given circumstances."

Giovanni Capistrano shrugged his shoulders. "Indeed, birds are always moving, but they are stupid animals that cannot reflect about the future. Otherwise, swallows would not build nests on the island every summer. When the river water level goes up in September, the island will be flooded and the nests will be washed away."

Bernardino nodded. "That's the point, Giovanni. We are men, not birds, and we don't have to repeat our past mistakes. On the other hand, we can learn from animals that life is meant to be lived by relentlessly moving forward, not by complaining that things should be otherwise than they are."

"That's very philosophical, but I can't see how it relates to our current problems" objected Capistrano, laying the Bible on the bench and standing up. "That will not help the Santa Maria Monastery feed nine new novices. Unfortunately, we have to send those postulants away."

"No, let's welcome those new vocations and thank God for sending them to us," answered Bernardino. "Those nine novices are the help that we need to cultivate the monastery's land. If necessary, we will pawn our gold chalice to get us through the next months."

Incredulous, Giovanni Capistrano shook his head. "Even if a pawnbroker in Sienna took the chalice, that wouldn't bring us enough money to purchase nine monk's robes for the novices."

"Follow me," ordered Bernardino, starting to moved towards the chapel. With Giovanni Capistrano on his trail, he entered the chapel, walked past the wooden benches, and stood still in front of the brown drapes that covered the wall. "We'll use those to make monk's robes. When the economy recovers, we'll have new drapes made for the chapel."

Indeed, the economy recovered little by little. Six years later, by 1425, the Santa Maria Monastery was restored to its old splendour. Bernardino's pro-active attitude in difficult times earned him a well-deserved reputation and, soon after, Pope Eugene IV offered him a bishop's appointment.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Wolfgang Staudt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

St. Bernardino's formula for surviving hard times


"I have never seen times like these," admitted Bernardino. "The pest has wiped out half of the population of Siena." Giovanni Capistrano looked at his friend and shook his head. "We are indeed facing the end of the world," he replied.

"We have run out of salt for the fish, ink for the copyists, and candles
for the chapel," enumerated Bernardino. "We don't even have cloth to make robes for the novices!"

Capistrano took in a deep breath and, instead of giving an answer, he murmured a prayer. He was convinced that the catastrophes that had happened during the last years were a punishment from God and that no resistance was possible.

In the year 1419, the economic depression ravaging Tuscany had reached gigantic proportions. Bernardino was 39 years old and he had seen with his own eyes land prices go down by 80% in a twenty-year period. It was difficult to imagine that things could get worse than they were already.

Although Bernardino appreciated Giovanni Capistrano highly, he was also conscious that his friend was more gifted for theological disputes than for solving practical problems. Since Bernardino was the prior of Santa Maria Monastery, finding solutions was his job.

After the morning prayer, he left the chapel through the back door, crossed the monastery's orchard, and walked into the woods. Like every time he had to make a difficult decision, he needed to be alone for a while.

"We have hardly enough to eat as it is now," Bernardino reflected as he advanced towards the river. "Should I tell novices that our monastery cannot accept new vocations at this time and send them away?"

Suddenly, Bernardino stood still and looked around puzzled. Something had changed since the last time he had been in the woods, but he couldn't tell what. Intrigued, he advanced fifty steps and reached the riverbank. It was only at that moment that Bernardino realized what had interrupted his thoughts. It was the noise! He was so used to long hours of silence in the monastery that he had forgotten the relentless sound of nature.

Summer had arrived and Bernardino was immersed in a cacophony of cries from birds, cicadas, and tree frogs. He sat down on a stone in front of the water and tried to concentrate his mind on the most pressing problems.

Like every year, the summer had made the river water level go down by two feet, uncovering in the middle of the stream a long, narrow island. Bernardino knew it well, since it had served him as playground in his childhood, many years ago.

Bushes that had remained submerged during the winter were now showing deep green colours and had become the ideal basis for swallows to build their mud-nests. Bernardino smiled when two yellow butterflies flew above his shoulders, fearlessly headed towards the island.

He lowered his head and prayed silently for guidance. Nine young men had requested to join the Santa Maria Monastery as novices. Bernardino was the prior and it was up to him to decide on the postulants' admission.

The economic depression had drained the monastery's resources to such an extent that there was no way for Bernardino to feed nine additional monks, let alone provide them with novice's robes. On the other hand, additional help was badly needed to cultivate the monastery's land.

When Bernardino returned to the monastery one hour later, he found Giovanni Capistrano sitting on a bench in front of the chapel, reading the Bible. "I have found a solution," announced Bernardino approaching his friend. Capistrano lifted his eyes from the book and scrutinized Bernardino's face. "To the economic crisis?" he retorted sceptically. "Or do you mean a solution to the pest that is decimating the population of nearby cities?"

"If we cannot change the whole world," went on Bernardino, "let us at least focus our efforts on doing whatever we can to improve our situation." Giovanni Capistrano closed the Bible and stared at Bernardino, wondering what he was talking about.

"I was sitting by the river thinking about our problems," Bernardino continued, "when I realized that the solution was before my eyes. It is summer now and swallows have built their nests on the island in the middle of the river."

He turned around and pointed at the cedar tree beside the chapel. "The energy of nature never stops. Season after season, year after year, animals and plants grow and live further. If there is a storm, birds might stand still for a few hours, but only to move on relentlessly as soon as the weather improves."

"Swallows don't sit around paralysed by fear of the end of the world," continued Bernardino. "They pick up whatever materials are available and build their nests, trying to make the best of any given circumstances."

Giovanni Capistrano shrugged his shoulders. "Indeed, birds are always moving, but they are stupid animals that cannot reflect about the future. Otherwise, swallows would not build nests on the island every summer. When the river water level goes up in September, the island will be flooded and the nests will be washed away."

Bernardino nodded. "That's the point, Giovanni. We are men, not birds, and we don't have to repeat our past mistakes. On the other hand, we can learn from animals that life is meant to be lived by relentlessly moving forward, not by complaining that things should be otherwise than they are."

"That's very philosophical, but I can't see how it relates to our current problems" objected Capistrano, laying the Bible on the bench and standing up. "That will not help the Santa Maria Monastery feed nine new novices. Unfortunately, we have to send those postulants away."

"No, let's welcome those new vocations and thank God for sending them to us," answered Bernardino. "Those nine novices are the help that we need to cultivate the monastery's land. If necessary, we will pawn our gold chalice to get us through the next months."

Incredulous, Giovanni Capistrano shook his head. "Even if a pawnbroker in Sienna took the chalice, that wouldn't bring us enough money to purchase nine monk's robes for the novices."

"Follow me," ordered Bernardino, starting to moved towards the chapel. With Giovanni Capistrano on his trail, he entered the chapel, walked past the wooden benches, and stood still in front of the brown drapes that covered the wall. "We'll use those to make monk's robes. When the economy recovers, we'll have new drapes made for the chapel."

Indeed, the economy recovered little by little. Six years later, by 1425, the Santa Maria Monastery was restored to its old splendour. Bernardino's pro-active attitude in difficult times earned him a well-deserved reputation and, soon after, Pope Eugene IV offered him a bishop's appointment.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Wolfgang Staudt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Saturday, 13 February 2010

A lesson from the life of Antonio Vivaldi (Part 4 of 4)


If Vivaldi had maintained his strategy, he would have become wealthy with limited risk. His double role of musical director and opera entrepreneur enabled him to get the best of both worlds. By devoting his days to sacred music and his evenings to the theatre, he benefited from two complementary incomes and enhanced his reputation.

Unfortunately, he became overenthusiastic and abandoned his well-structured life. Instead of maintaining a balance between his two occupations, he began to devote more efforts to the commercial market and seek commissions outside Venice.

During his forties and fifties, Vivaldi travelled frequently in pursuit of better appointments. He performed in Mantua, Milan, Rome, Trieste, Prague, and Vienna. His life became exciting and exhausting, leaving him little time for teaching.

Although the commissions were quite lucrative, the money seemed to hardly cover expenditures. Travelling was uncomfortable and expensive. The continuous effort of chasing appointments in distant cities must have made Vivaldi regret his orderly life in Venice. While he was in Vienna trying to secure a new commission, he died in 1741, when he was 64 years old.

Vivaldi's excessive enthusiasm made him overrate the size and possibilities of the commercial music market. If he had been more realistic, he would have stayed in Venice and built on his assets. With less work and risk, he could have led a comfortable life.

A wise man does his best to avoid the delusion of exuberance. Appealing ventures in restricted markets frequently end in disaster. Never entrust fundamental decisions to your emotions. Growing consumer demand provides an open door to success, while projects sustained only by enthusiasm tend to have a dead-end.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Fr Antunes under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

A lesson from the life of Antonio Vivaldi
(Part 4 of 4)


If Vivaldi had maintained his strategy, he would have become wealthy with limited risk. His double role of musical director and opera entrepreneur enabled him to get the best of both worlds. By devoting his days to sacred music and his evenings to the theatre, he benefited from two complementary incomes and enhanced his reputation.

Unfortunately, he became overenthusiastic and abandoned his well-structured life. Instead of maintaining a balance between his two occupations, he began to devote more efforts to the commercial market and seek commissions outside Venice.

During his forties and fifties, Vivaldi travelled frequently in pursuit of better appointments. He performed in Mantua, Milan, Rome, Trieste, Prague, and Vienna. His life became exciting and exhausting, leaving him little time for teaching.

Although the commissions were quite lucrative, the money seemed to hardly cover expenditures. Travelling was uncomfortable and expensive. The continuous effort of chasing appointments in distant cities must have made Vivaldi regret his orderly life in Venice. While he was in Vienna trying to secure a new commission, he died in 1741, when he was 64 years old.

Vivaldi's excessive enthusiasm made him overrate the size and possibilities of the commercial music market. If he had been more realistic, he would have stayed in Venice and built on his assets. With less work and risk, he could have led a comfortable life.

A wise man does his best to avoid the delusion of exuberance. Appealing ventures in restricted markets frequently end in disaster. Never entrust fundamental decisions to your emotions. Growing consumer demand provides an open door to success, while projects sustained only by enthusiasm tend to have a dead-end.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Fr Antunes under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Friday, 12 February 2010

A lesson from the life of Antonio Vivaldi (Part 3 of 4)


Like most employees, Vivaldi soon realized that his position was not going to make him rich. Nevertheless, it provided him a stable income, a growing reputation as composer and performer, and contacts in the commercial music market that could prove profitable down the road.

Vivaldi's career exemplifies the dark side of exuberant optimism. While other musicians aimed at prologuing their appointments, he took disproportionate risks. His wrong assessment of the market led him to mistakes that wasted the assets that he had accumulated.

When Vivaldi was in his thirties, the orphanage promoted him to musical director in recognition of his excellent performance as teacher and composer. The new position brought him a higher salary and the possibility to devote more energies to commercial music ventures.

Without neglecting his job at the orphanage, Vivaldi branched out in the field of opera, which at that time constituted the most remunerative genre for composers. Venice possessed several theatres which competed with each other for audience and novelty.

Opera was a commercial market in which each new production could lead to large profits or financial losses. Vivaldi composed several dozen operas with varying success. A few of his pieces earned him substantial profits, while others quickly fell into oblivion. In parallel, his position at the orphanage continued to generate him a regular income.

To be continued in Part 4

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Perrimoon under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

A lesson from the life of Antonio Vivaldi
(Part 3 of 4)


Like most employees, Vivaldi soon realized that his position was not going to make him rich. Nevertheless, it provided him a stable income, a growing reputation as composer and performer, and contacts in the commercial music market that could prove profitable down the road.

Vivaldi's career exemplifies the dark side of exuberant optimism. While other musicians aimed at prologuing their appointments, he took disproportionate risks. His wrong assessment of the market led him to mistakes that wasted the assets that he had accumulated.

When Vivaldi was in his thirties, the orphanage promoted him to musical director in recognition of his excellent performance as teacher and composer. The new position brought him a higher salary and the possibility to devote more energies to commercial music ventures.

Without neglecting his job at the orphanage, Vivaldi branched out in the field of opera, which at that time constituted the most remunerative genre for composers. Venice possessed several theatres which competed with each other for audience and novelty.

Opera was a commercial market in which each new production could lead to large profits or financial losses. Vivaldi composed several dozen operas with varying success. A few of his pieces earned him substantial profits, while others quickly fell into oblivion. In parallel, his position at the orphanage continued to generate him a regular income.

To be continued in Part 4

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Perrimoon under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A lesson from the life of Antonio Vivaldi (Part 2 of 4)


Markets are constructed in a such a way that practicality and utility weigh heavier than exuberance. In the end, people buy only what they like. No amount of cheerful advertisements can change the fundamental views of consumers.

Every time that a company has tried to sell what people dislike, it has resulted in financial losses. Enthusiastic projects that are not aimed at the public are dead-end propositions. Before you make commitments to an appealing cause, take a moment to examine if it is sustainable.

The life of musician Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) provides a forceful illustration of this principle. When Antonio was a child, his father, Giovanni Vivaldi, taught him to play the violin and took him around to perform in parties and ceremonies in Venice.

Those early contacts with the commercial market for music encouraged Antonio Vivaldi to develop his skills further. By the time he was 20 years old, he had become proficient at several string and wind instruments; from all of them, it was the violin that he played best.

Shortly after his 25th birthday, he obtained an appointment as music teacher at a municipal orphanage in Venice. The job involved teaching children to play the violin, training them to sing in the orphanage choir, and writing compositions for religious ceremonies.

To be continued in Part 3

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Per Ola Wiberg under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]