Personal Growth

Personal Growth


“Good Friends We Had, Good Friends We Lost…

friendship May 3rd, 2020

…along the way.”

That, as you may recognize, is the unparalleled song No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Contrary to what some figure, the title does not mean “If you don’t have a relationship with a woman, that’s great—your heart won’t get broken”; rather, it refers to a “government yard in Trenchtown”, Jamaica where the poor, huddled masses were trying to survive in what was obviously a horrible economy and conditions of stress and privation. The man (the narrator) is looking back on the time he decided he must go find work or some other opportunity, and when he was leaving, his wife or whomever was crestfallen and worried. His reassuring response was, “No woman; no cry!” which is basically a pidgin-type dialect of Caribbean English for “Please do not cry.” The reference to “good friends we had, and good friends we lost along the way” is part of Bob’s reminencence, with his woman, of all the good and bad things that have occurred to them in the refugee camp (or whatever kind of camp it is). It is shortly followed by the inimitable line: “Everything’s gonna be alright!” I picture him wiping her tear and then turning to head off to the “far, unlit unknown” (Rush’s phrasing in Subdivisions, a song that I consider a tear-jerker). No Woman, No Cry is a somber tale about the storm and stress a life tends to bring at one time or another, and the perceptive listener might just feel pangs of empathy and loss in their own memory, as I usually do.

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My Father Suffered Greatly in Retirement

my father April 26th, 2020

My father was a brilliant surgery resident at the famed Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA when he was oh, probably, 27 years old. He ended up specializing in and completing another residency in family practice (long story!) by the time he was 31, or thereabouts. Coming from relative poverty, a loveless and sometimes-physically-abusive home, and facing anti-Semitism growing up in the 1950s, I remember him telling me “I went off to college at age 18 with only a suit.” As in, no money, no furniture, no books, no nothing. My father busted his butt and was an admired and even loved physician in the rough part of L.A. when I was growing up. He was asked to be the head of four Kaiser Permanente when he was, oh, about 40. Instead, he opted to remain at Kaiser-Montebello and be the Physician-in-Charge at that clinic. Mort Merchey spoke Spanish with probably 50 percent of his patients—who always remembered him generously during the Christmas holidays. As if that weren’t enough, he also was a Captain in the Reserve Corps of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, a huge organization. My pop knew how to shoot his Magnum .357 as well as any uniformed deputy could. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he did pretty darned well, considering where he came from. He makes me look like a slacker in comparison, that’s for sure! He was smart, good-looking, funny, amiable, and competent. Driven to school in his true-blue Mercedes convertible in the mornings, needless to say, I had the greatest respect for my dad’s professional and educational achievement.

This story does not, however, have a happy ending, exactly. My dad suffered greatly in retirement. This happens with many people, perhaps especially those who are like him.

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The Virtues of Heroism and Self-Sacrifice

heroism April 7th, 2020

I just watched the movie 300, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. If you haven’t seen it, you may want to go for it. It is bloody; savage even; but it tells a story of solidarity that is compelling in any time and place, but particularly so now that America is facing down a mortal enemy: the virus, COVID-19. This blog is a paean to first responders, doctors, and parents who have to now teach their kids; it is in praise of those who lost a job due to no fault of their own; it is a criticism of the federal government; it is a recounting of some of the tough spots Americans have been in since the tumultuous colonial era which led to war with England. Heroism and self-sacrifice are called for during these dark days.

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Biden Pulls a “Rocky Balboa” on Super Tuesday!

Biden March 9th, 2020

David Leonhardt of the New York Times, says this about Joe Biden: “As happened with McCain in 2008, a large share of primary voters this year weren’t wowed by any of the candidates. They instead were waiting for one to emerge — especially one who seemed likely to beat President Trump. I don’t think it was inevitable that Biden would be that candidate, especially after his weak start. But after Sherrod Brown and Mitch Landrieu didn’t run, after Michael Bloomberg entered the race late, after Cory Booker and Kamala Harris dropped out and after every other candidate failed to appeal to black voters, Biden was the one left standing. Many voters have found their way back to him.” He might not have been the most able candidate from the beginning, but with Bernie failing to really catalyze a winning combination of huge voter turnout, minority support, and suburban appeal, Biden is the man African-American, older, and many Hispanic voters are choosing to accomplish the most important goal conceivable: send Donald Trump back to his gilded towers of dark magic and usher in an era that is both progressive and harkens back to the largely-successful Obama years. Biden’s coup on “Super Tuesday” was reminiscent of the mythical boxer and “comeback kid”, Rocky Balboa. Here is a brief synopsis of the virtue and character that many see in Biden’s glorious victory.

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What is Socratic Dialogue?

Socratic dialogue January 12th, 2020

“In order to improve yourself, Socrates insists, you have to know yourself,” said philosopher Judith Barad. Socrates hasn’t been around since ancient Athens, Greece, but the method of inquiry and self-examination he pioneered is still valid and has a lot to recommend it. “Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from the heavens and establish it in the towns and introduce it into homes and force it to investigate life, ethics, good and evil,” according to also-significant Roman orator Cicero. “Socrates’ method was to go about, as he said himself, ‘cross-examining the pretenders to knowledge and wisdom,’ and by the cross-examination, showing them that they were in error, that what they supposed they knew, they did not know,” noted the luminary Mortimer Adler. This blog is about Socratic dialogue – how to appreciate it, and what it can do.

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Are Human Beings Selfish?

are human beings selfish? October 23rd, 2019

I thought about the question, Are human beings selfish?, when I received this snippet of an article from a friend: “Advocates of capitalism understand, as the classical economists understood centuries ago, that government and social institutions must be designed for the human beings that actually exist — callous self-interest and all.” That thought, from The Mises Institute, a capitalistic/libertarian think tank, is making a fair point that can be examined to see how fully and completely true it is. That is what I will do in this blog. As a sneak peek, my answer to the question, Are human beings selfish? will be “Yes, to some degree, but not to the exclusion of all other high values.”

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My Motto: Don’t Be a Loser

don't be a loser October 15th, 2019

I was watching the fabulous sequel to the enthralling series “Breaking Bad”, the movie El Camino today. A wonderful script, unparalleled performances. It, plus a few other factors, have me thinking that perhaps my best bet is simply to play defense; keep the status quo; satisfice instead of constantly striving to win; put simply: “Don’t Be a Loser”.

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Why Are Elite Students So Emotionally Fragile?

September 27th, 2019

I earned a certificate in philosophy and ethics from Harvard University Extension in the last couple years. So I am on the campus-wide mailing list. I received a slightly odd email the other day, and it reflects on issues such as elite colleges and universities, political correctness, hate, homogeny and heterogeneity, character, personal development, life lessons, and what the real world is like.

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Seize Happiness, Peace and Prosperity

peace and prosperity September 17th, 2019

Most of us are obese, smoke, drink to excess, don’t have $10,000 in our bank accounts. Cancer and autism are grave threats. Heart attacks, car accidents, and opioid addiction/overdoses plague us. Stress-related illness plagues us. Like our arteries, we don’t have the flexibility and resilience to absorb many more problems. Indeed, “The Doomsday Clock” now indicates we are two minutes to midnight. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists call this state of dysfunction and dystopia “the new normal.” I don’t think Obama wrought the decay and dismay we see reflected on CNN and Fox, but nevertheless we are mired in it. It sometimes seems all-consuming. I reject the materialism, speed, unfulfillment, anxiety, and restlessness that plagues me. I don’t want to be Type A; I don’t want to die of a stress-related illness; I don’t want to see another child in a border detention camp. I want to make the most of the time I have left. I wish for peace and prosperity, health and well-being, relationships and charity, joy and security to be my goals, and it probably involves realigning my life to be less tuned in to social media, news, and money. This blog is about a modern urge to, as Timothy Leary put it, “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

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True Success is Primarily About Character

true success September 11th, 2019

Success is a complicated word to define, is it not? Does it mean fame? Is it really about dominance in some field or endeavor? With whom is one competing: peers, the self, one’s superiors, the community? Is the accumulation of money the operative idea? Generativity, such as raising good children or leaving the world better than one found it? I have had the pleasure of reading the older but still extraordinary book True Success, by the philosopher, former professor, person of faith, and founder of the Morris Institute for Human Values, Tom V. Morris. I will share some quotes about true success, as well as try to shape or clarify the concept (and compare my views to Dr. Morris’) in this blog, and here is the first: “To the extent that we want to have goals that are right for us and that will help make the contribution we are put in this life to make, we can be said to have as a goal true success.

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