Archives For August 2015


August 17, 2015 — 3 Comments

Last week, I was in Houston, practicing skills of bridge building and teamwork with great people in 104°temperatures. It reminded me of West Point’s summer training, just completed by the strong Class of 2019. I remember the high heat and sapping 90% humidity while being hampered by two months of food deprivation. Absent were the easy West Coast climes of my childhood. This New York summer had simply become moving One Boot At a Time. Legs in deep fatigue, lungs wheeze, backs ache, and it all seems uphill. Sweat stings the eyes and streams like the water which we carry but are not permitted to drink. Instead, we down salt tablets (Science hadn’t yet figured out that this could kill a person). The M-14 rifle weighs 9.1 pounds without the magazine; at the 10-mile, steep, up-strike mark, it feels like the decimal point dropped out. I’m a 17-year old asking, “Are we there yet?” I’m trying to survive. Teamwork? Good luck with that!

Despite ten years of earlier YMCA coaching in boxing, track, and long-distance swimming, I harbor a fondness for isolation and quitting when it gets tough. I want desperately to stop for a little water. I stumble and almost pitch into a ravine: wow – the ravine looked inviting. My weaknesses tempt: “you’re special and unique and deserve a break today! Stop and steal a sip from your canteen!” But if I do, I’ll trigger a centipede-like recoil through the column, causing the suffering stragglers at the rear to double-time to close the gap. I don’t care. I’m uncomfortable! I’m in the grip of what St. Augustine called INCURVATUS IN SE – my fierce instinct to protect my own needs.

A sudden and loud crash of metal and skidding, skinned flesh, and a cry of pain: an exhausted buddy has fallen on the trail and is sliding downhill. He’s one of the less popular guys, a complainer who gives voice to what I feel. I think: MAYBE NOW I CAN STOP. A squad mate named Bob Lorbeer quickly grabs the guy, lifts him up and smiles as if we’d been playing Catch. Cadre sprint forward to help as the column keeps marching. “You can do this, Buddy,” says Bob, slipping the guy’s 91-pound rifle on his own free shoulder – Bob now has two rifles. “You’re good to carry your pack. But I can take it. I’ll be right here.” The buddy nods – he can do it. Bob helped everyone.

Magically, on seeing this, the sour lactic acids in my legs evaporate. Cool air relieves my breathing. My back, the heavy pack, and steel pot feel fine. I’m not thirsty. Bob’s moral example has inspired me, and that inspiration has removed my physical complaints. Bob’s type of attitude and action was what I was supposed to practice in the hard black mountains of West Point. I wasn’t supposed to serve my comforts; I was to build moral fiber, to grow my wishbone into a backbone, to practice ancient disciplines of responsibility and accountability, to bridge-build and demonstrate truly generous teamwork without internal carping. West Point had poured a code into our DNA that said we should care for others more than for ourselves.

Truly, I do wish you genuine “good luck with that” in your summer training.

© Aydindurdu | -

© Aydindurdu | –

Rich Karlgaard, Forbes’ publisher, recently wrote, “Being a jerk isn’t worth it. It will damage your heart and soul. It will hurt, not help, your teams. It will lead more often to poverty than to riches. Instead, follow B.C. Forbes’ advice: Produce happiness.” To this we can say, “Bravo, Rich Karlgaard!”

But we face the age-old question that could stump a “Jeopardy” show champ: As everyone wants to be happy, how do we produce true happiness?

In my childhood, meals were foraged and Happiness was a noun in the dictionary. In Peanuts-talk, happiness wasn’t a warm blanket – it was food of any variety as long as it didn’t fight back. In boxing, happiness was not kissing the canvas to be revived by heavy ammonia smelling salts. I once thought I’d be happy if I simply ran 5 miles a day, did more sit-ups, and cut out sweets.

When I was a studious teen, I learned that the great sage Aristotle would’ve disagreed with my conclusions. “Everyone,” he said in ethics lectures in the Lyceum recorded for his son, “wants to be happy. People believe wealth, power, and physical pleasure will make them happy.” I liked that: wealth meant food. “But what people seek in happiness,” he continued, “will not provide it.”

Aristotle had empirically researched people who had The Big Three goodies. He found that these fortunate people weren’t particularly happy. Thus Aristotle, who also invented the modern Western university, long ago disproved what most people still believe today. This, despite ample proof of the woes of many who enjoy excesses in fun and toys. Aristotle’s next logical question was, “If not wealth, power, or pleasure, what then actually brings happiness?”

Aristotle found the answer. After 2300 years, it continues to be counterintuitive and true. People of virtue – those who do the right thing – and who live moderately, are the most loved, admired, respected, and the healthiest and happiest. Wealth, power, and pleasure might be there, but they aren’t required.

I was happy when I worked for a principled, Aristotelian boss or with principled colleagues. I was happiest when courageous leadership created those two conditions in an organization that sought to be principled. Predictably, misery was working for a toxic boss or having predatory co-workers who spewed gossip.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, three wise Athenians, held that happiness isn’t material or physical. It can’t be bought, connived, smoked, or put into a chocolate brownie. It is an interior quality that nests in unseen heart and soul and is developed by virtuous conduct. Right living – disciplined self-governance, principled leadership, love, and caring action – can replace our focus on ourselves.

Talk about bunkum, I thought; it was Greek to me.

When I was 20, my mentor, Norm Schwarzkopf, saw that my rejection of Aristotle predicted my resistance to change, and that I’d seek meaning by chasing status, money, and pleasure. He tried to move me from this common and deceptively easy 8-lane toll road to instead climb upward to a high, narrow ridge.

Rich Karlgaard rightly advises that we should make happiness our goal instead of pursuing wealth like a pack of dogs barking after elusive, exhaust-billowing buses.

Norm Schwarzkopf set the example that happiness comes from doing the disciplined duties of virtue – controlling our fierce love of self and freeing ourselves from being slaves to our insatiable wants and grand appetites – and aligning with principles instead of profits. I believe he was a happy man.

What happiness mistakes are you making?