Speech on Values

In April 2015, I had the privilege to speak to a social club on the topic of values I aspire to follow. My speech was well-received and prompted many good questions from the listeners. Given the topic, I thought I would share what I discussed.

The speech was extemporaneous. I had a few notes to keep me on track, but otherwise I spoke from my heart, so what follows is intended to capture the points I made, not a transcription.

I preface this list, as I did when I spoke, with a couple of caveats. One, the list is by no means complete. I wanted to keep my remarks brief and not talk overlong for their sake and mine. Two, I fail, like everyone else; I, by no means, wish to give the impression that I follow my principles consistently or perfectly.

This second point brings me to note that as a writer, I am persnickety about words – they should be used with care and as much precision as possible. A relevant example of a word misused is hypocrite. A hypocrite is not a person who fails to live up to his or her ideals. A hypocrite is one who holds a standard for others to follow and exempts himself or herself from it.

1. God is the source of wisdom. Meaning there is an objective truth, unchanging and eternal; truth is not subjective or relative.

2. Part of wisdom is perspective. Gratitude is essential to happiness. Appreciate what you have, even if it seems very little. I learned this implicitly from my paternal grandparents who are survivors of the Holocaust. Fair to say they have seen the worst. How can I complain? (I do complain.) Their experience taught me, among many other things, what to really value in life. And to understand that things can be worse, and things can be better. Perspective. And speaking of better, do not be complacent either. Strive for better. Learn more, be kinder, more generous, improve yourself and your circumstances as best you can.

Conversely, I think ingratitude is a very ugly trait in a person. Do not go through life thinking you are owed, that you are entitled. You are not.

Along with that, do not go through life thinking you are a victim. No one gets through life unscathed, tragedy befalls each of us in time. I think when a person stumbles we should help that person. That is what charity is for – to help people get back on their feet. I’m not referring to those cases. I’m referring to people who go through life wearing their real or imagined grievances like medals, as though the medals should grant them special status or privilege. Do not put your burdens on others.

3. From my father especially I learned about responsibility and accountability. He works hard at his level best, does what is expected of him, doesn’t shirk. Like him, I try to do my job to the best of my ability and hold myself accountable rather than shift blame elsewhere. I also make sure to give credit where it is due.

4. When we make mistakes, we must apologize properly. An apology consists of three parts. One – state specifically what you did wrong to the person wronged. This is important. By doing this, you hear what you did so that it penetrates you. Simply jumping to step 2 means you’re not acknowledging to yourself what you did wrong. And of course the other person hears your acknowledgement and that matters. Two – say you’re sorry. And three – make amends. Do your best to restore or heal what you broke or harmed.

5. Be truthful. Money is not the root of all evil. Lies are. All we have is our integrity and it’s important to safeguard it. Once it’s damaged, it can take a lifetime to repair, if at all. So deal with people honestly and forthrightly.

6. Give the benefit of the doubt. Often you don’t know the full context. Do not react without considering what might explain why a person said or did something you think was wrong.

This relates to the moral bank account we all have. I learned the concept from radio talk show host Dennis Prager. Each good act we do – being honest or kind or charitable, etc. – makes a deposit into that account. And each bad act we do – lying, cheating, hurting, etc. – withdraws from that account. So those with high balances are more deserving of the benefit of the doubt that those with small balances.

7. Just as lies hurt, truth can hurt sometimes. Gossiping is grievously damaging, even when true. Ruining a person’s reputation is a grave wrong. Gossip hurts the gossiper – for who would truly trust a person who speaks ill of people behind their backs? Gossip obviously hurts the subject – they are not there to defend themselves and their integrity is damaged, perhaps fatally. And the listeners are also harmed as they become party to this wrongdoing by not speaking up, either to cut the gossiper short or by defending the person wronged.

8. Seek out other viewpoints. Do not presume to be correct and cling to your views that you will not listen to those of others. I enjoy honest, respectful debate. It’s a win-win. Either your position withstands the counter arguments and is thereby bolstered and you stand closer to the truth, or the counter arguments are effective and cause you to reevaluate your position, and still you stand closer to the truth.

Related to this – attack the positions, not the person. Never demean others because you don’t agree with them.

9. I meet individuals. Not demographics. As Viktor Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning (which in part recounted his time in the concentration camps), he wrote the following, which I have taken to heart:

From all this we may learn that there are two races of men, but only these two – the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man.

10. So behavior matters. It matters more than feelings, intentions, thoughts. I care about what people do, not what they meant. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Do not do things because they make you feel better about yourself, do things that make others’ lives better. I think there is a lot of the former and too little of the latter these days.