Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Aristotle’

The Power of Virtuous Communication

April 21, 2010 2 comments

Most if not all progress happens through conversation. New ideas need to be brought before colleagues. Concepts get discussed around boardrooms and back rooms. How we communicate with each other regarding ideas and concepts makes a big difference in their success or failure. How companies discover, discuss and implement solutions to problems ranging from implementing new technology to providing better customer service often makes or breaks the business. One could say that the most progressive companies can identify issues, and find solutions through communication and adaptation, quicker than their counterparts.

Successful communication is also the key to happy relationships. In a relationship with a spouse or significant other, the manner in which we resolve differences through communication can mean the difference between happiness and heartbreak.

The successful resolution of problems hinges on how we communicate. It is more than the words we say. What is the motivation behind our communication? What is our end goal as we communicate? Do we resist great ideas from colleagues because of petty rivalries? Do we undermine those around us because we want credit for new ideas and for finding the best solution? These kinds of attitudes are real and present in the workplace. It costs untold millions of dollars in lost opportunities and lost customers for businesses when company leaders remain focused on personal agendas rather than the ultimate good of the company. Do we resist honest communication with our significant other because we would rather defend our position to the bitter end than see it through their eyes and move forward together?

One definition of virtue is to fulfill the purpose we were created for. To help a company or spouse achieve their stated goals – their unique level of excellence – should be the end goal of our communication with those we communicate with. But how can this be accomplished?

Aristotle has provided a recipe to help us discover how to understand our world better, and achieve more progress, by communicating on a higher plane. This can be used to improve a relationship with a spouse, or to assist a particular company achieve new levels of success. Aristotle says that the best communication comes from those who can see things as they really are. And, the ability to see things as they truly are only comes to those of a good, moral character. The ability to contemplate things as they really are brings bad thinking to a stop, and lets good thinking begin. The key to this type of communication is to have what Aristotle calls “the beautiful” as our motivation.

The “beautiful” is not specifically defined by Aristotle, but he uses the Greek phrase “to kalon” (translated as “the beautiful”) to mean a certain moral rightness. It is what someone that has “right desire” and “right thinking” working together truly desires for himself and those around him. According to Aristotle, “the beautiful” is the end goal of virtuous actions. Therefore, those that can create the habit of virtuous action in their lives, keeping the end goal of the moral rightness and righteous desires – “the beautiful” – in mind, will be able to communicate on a higher plane. They will see things as they truly are, not through muddled, habitually bad thinking.

Working within this framework allows us to break out of bad habits. Instead of already having made our judgment based on our habitual way of looking at things, it allows us to wonder at the situations we find ourselves in. We wonder because we need to get away from our animal, instinctive responses of already knowing. With “the beautiful” as our motivation, there is no more defensiveness and self-preservation in our communication. It keeps us from forcing everything into supporting our self-serving opinions and our preconceived theories. Following Aristotle’s method frees us to stop thinking in a habitually bad way, and lets real thinking begin. We slow down our knee jerk reactions, and allow for time to find the communication that is truly lifting. Stephen Covey speaks about the short instants between environmental input and the response we choose to make. This means we have a reaction time in which we can choose to communicate in the best possible manner, reaching for “the beautiful.”

We can’t couch our communication behind hidden agendas of “what am I going to get out of this”, or “this will make me look really smart”, or “I’m going to prove I’m right no matter what.” When we have motivation other than “the beautiful” behind our communication, people can sense our lack of sincerity. Aristotle says that “the beautiful” is perceived by the senses: it is simply ‘just known’ when it exists or occurs. When we communicate within our hidden agendas, people can sense whether or not you truly have their best interests in mind. It doesn’t matter if you are using all the correct words. If the right motivation is not present, it can be sensed. Right reasoning and right desires both need to be present. The things we say and the stands we take depend on our moral virtue to make our aim right.

Following this pattern enables us to find the best path forward through our conversations. If our motivation is genuinely good, we will repair and maintain good relationships even if our choice of words is not always the best. We will also be able to find the intersection – the common ground – between different parties goals and purposes. Finding this common ground allows us to reach resolutions quicker, build bridges faster, and repair strained relationships that so often limit progress.

Russell Kirk says that order in the world starts with order in men’s own hearts. If there is right order in our own hearts – morally virtuous thoughts and desires – it will be manifest in our actions and communication because, as Aristotle states, virtue manifests itself in action.  Keeping “the beautiful” as the motivating factor in our interactions with our spouses and colleagues will allow us to reach new levels of progress and live happy, fulfilling lives.

A Ruling Class in America

April 12, 2010 20 comments

At its most basic level, government is a willing agreement entered into by a group of people to give up some individual liberty for the preservation of the group in general. Cicero called it a “partnership in justice.”

When we, as fellow humans, are in our most natural state, outside of societies and the reach of governments, no one person has rights or power over another. There are natural – or unalienable – rights that people have simply by being human. Some of these are the right to protect oneself, protection of property, right to life, right to liberty (not be enslaved), etc.

William Blackstone, British judge and author from the 1700’s said that the main purpose of human laws – the laws we create – is to maintain and protect these natural born rights. He called them “absolute rights.”

When people create a community or society, they enter into an agreement where certain liberties are willingly given up in exchange for things like safety, security, and order. For example, I have consented to be governed by the laws of my city, state and nation, even though that means I can’t do everything I may want to do whenever I want to. I may not agree with every law, but by not rebelling, it proves my consent to be governed.

The laws that we create to maintain order are secondary to our absolute rights. One of these absolute rights is the right of self-government. No one individual has the right to govern another person unless this person has willingly consented.

The United States of America has a republican form of government, not a democracy. Republican government means that we choose representatives from among ourselves to represent our desires and wishes within the government structure. As James Burgh, a British contemporary of the American founders wrote, we the people are the political body that retains the power to rule. Choosing representatives does not mean we have chosen rulers over us. He states,

“We have not so delegated the power to you, as to make you the governors of us and our estates. You are in truth but our procurators to speak for us in the great council. That of right we ought to have access to those, whom we have thus chosen, and to the house, as there shall be cause to impart our desires to you, and you ought not to refuse us. That by involving our votes in yours, we had no purpose to make you perpetual dictators.”

I am surprised that the United States of America has a constitution without term limits for its congressional representatives. This needs to change. The ability to be a lifetime legislator has led to the creation of a ruling class separate from other citizens. Members of this class have their own elite healthcare system as well as guaranteed salaries for the rest of their lives, paid for by public taxes. Being a legislator term after term opens the door to numerous opportunities to grant political favors in return for financial benefits that have enriched our congressional reps well beyond the norms of society.

Since before the ink was dry on the original Constitution, we have been warned of the necessity of term limits.  Why? Keep reading and find out.

The Duke of Buckingham gets credit for this famous quote stating the need for elected representatives to return to private life:

“They do not now think they are an assembly of men, that are to return to their own homes, and become private men again (as by the laws of the land and constitution…they ought to be) but look upon themselves as a standing senate, as men picked out to be legislators for the rest of their lives.”

Thomas Jefferson also spoke out as an advocate for representatives to be involved for a short time in the government, and then to return to private life. Jefferson said it would help representatives sympathize with the people. Without limits on the representatives’ time in government, they would lose this sensibility and their behavior would be quite different owing to their perceived independence. He stated:

“My reason for fixing them in office for a term of years rather than for life, was that they might have in idea that they were at a certain period to return into the mass of the people and become the governed instead of the governors which might still keep alive that regard to the public good that otherwise they might perhaps be induced by their independence to forget.”

Aristotle, who studied many forms of government, warned against perpetual legislators in this manner:

“It is not easy for a person to do any great harm when his tenure of office is short, whereas long possession begets tyranny … for the aspirants to tyranny are either the principal men of the state…or those who hold great offices, and have a long tenure of them.

Regarding our elected representatives, and their duty to conduct themselves according to the desires of their constituency, James Burgh wrote that:

“When we elect persons to represent us we must not be supposed to depart from the smallest right which we have deposited with them. We make a lodgment, not a gift; we entrust, but part with nothing. We have, therefore, a right to know what they are saying and doing. And should they contradict our sense, or swerve from our interests, we have a right to remonstrate, inform, and direct them. By which means, we become regulators of our own conduct, and the institutors of our own laws, and nothing material can be done but by our authority and consent.”

If representatives were to serve in the government for a term or two, and then return to be among the governed rather than a governor, they would be more inclined to pass laws that they are willing to live with as part of the citizenry.

Compare this with US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and her recent behavior regarding the healthcare bill before congress. Not only does the American public not know what is in this bill, according to her own publications she is deliberately trying to keep it this way. She is involved in hidden deals and spending millions of taxpayer monies to purchase votes in favor of the bill. This hidden legislation, back-room briberies, and strong-arm tactics are exactly the opposite of how the representative system of government is supposed to work.

The key is to understand and remember that we the people have an absolute right to self-government. We only give that right away when we do not remember it, or fail to use it. Our elected officials representing us in congress have a duty to vote our votes, inform us of the goings-on, and truly act as proxies of the American people they represent.

One way to do away with this ruling class is to pass term limits for congressional representatives. In addition, we need to be as vocal and vigilant as ever against politicians like Nancy Pelosi. The right to govern ourselves is an absolute and unalienable right that we have. When our elected representatives take power unto themselves like Pelosi is doing – hiding the contents of a bill from the public and doing back-room deals to pass legislation before publishing its contents – we need to exercise our rights and replace her. She and politicians like her are working toward the decline of the American way of representative government.

But we can fight back. We can get educated. We can familiarize ourselves with the documents regarding the founding of our great nation. We can attend any discussions on the Constitution or correct use of government in areas where we live. If there aren’t any, start one. Join social networking groups that discuss these topics online. When the grassroots ground swell is large enough, we need people to be educated on these topics and ready to make a difference in our country’s future.

Bailout Money and Spanakopita

February 24, 2010 10 comments

There’s a new term in America’s lexicon: “bailout money”. A friend said to me last weekend, “Let’s not go to that restaurant, that place takes ‘bailout money’.” As in expensive. Very. One of my favorite dishes, spanakopita, usually isn’t very expensive. It usually doesn’t take “bailout money” to buy spanakopita. Usually.

Speaking of the $787bln bailout, what happened to (y)our bailout money? There is evidence now that some of the companies that received our bailout money – Goldman Sachs, French company Societe Generale, etc. – were associated with the mortgage bankers that offered the high risk loans in the first place. Mortgage companies associated with these investment banks were offering loans to people without even verifying employment and income claims. In other words, they knew these loans were very high risk. And when they tanked, they received our money to get bailed out of the very problem they created.

Here’s how it worked. In a bit of financial hocus-pocus, Goldman Sachs, SocGen, etc. rolled up these high risk loans into something that people could invest in called CDOs. They were basically bonds, which have a guaranteed return. The return to the investors was supposed to be provided by the interest payments that people make on their mortgages. And it would have worked if people kept paying their mortgages on time. Before it blew up, however, there was a bit more hocus pocus: Goldman Sachs, et al. knew these CDO investments were super high risk. So they bought insurance policies. AIG decided to insure the debt of these high risk home loans with something called credit default swaps. Bad move. Once the people – the same people that never should have been offered these home mortgages in the first place – started defaulting on their payments, Goldman’s and SocGen’s CDOs were not making their expected returns. So, they called their insurance company AIG for a payout. There were so many bad CDO bonds (based on high risk loans) made by these and other banks, and insured by AIG, that when it came time to pay the claims, AIG went bankrupt…..well almost. Instead, the US of A decided to step in and bail them out. Just to make sure this is clear: Goldman Sachs and friends – unethically, or at the very least with conflicting interests – made the bad loans to begin with, which created the problem. Next, they purchased insurance without disclosing the true nature of the assets they were insuring. Then they were bailed out of their poor business decisions with our money.

What did AIG do with the money? First, they were forced to pay out their insurance claims *at full value* to Goldman Sachs, Societe Generale, etc. although everyone already knew by this point that the mortgages they had insured were worthless. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York ordered http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=ax3yON_uNe7I AIG to pay them back at full value even though AIG was in the process of negotiating the payout at a large discount. The Federal Reserve of NY then hid this fact for more than a year from Congress and other oversight committees even though AIG wanted to publish the information. Conflicting interests, anyone? A year later, Goldman Sachs is paying out $23 billion in bonuses to it’s employees. Yes, that’s with a “b” for billion. That’s enough money to send 460,000 people to Harvard or buy health insurance for 1.7 million families. I wonder what the NY Fed Chair is getting. Oh, and in case you aren’t following, that’s your money they are paying out as bonuses to their employees.
http://rawstory.com/2009/2009/10/goldman-sachs-2009-bonuses-to-double-2008s-23-billion-could-buy-115-million-iphones-or-send-460000-to-harvard/

AIG received more than $182bln of our money. And this is only one example. The list goes on. A lot has been – and will be – said about the lying, cheating and cover-up in this bail-out scandal. I don’t have the space or inclination to delve further right now. Maybe later. I hope people like Darrell Issa www.darrellissa.com get to the bottom of this.

But my question is: why the slimy and secret cover-up from the Administration? Why cover up what happened to our $787bln if there’s nothing to hide Mr. Treasury Secretary Geithner? What happened to the transparency that was promised on the campaign trail? Where are the healthcare debates on C-Span that were promised on the stump? Where are all my friends that drank the kook-aid and insisted Obama would be different? Instead, we have his particular brand of Chicago politics at the national level. As US News & World Report claims, the stimulus program and healthcare are loaded with hidden political pork: Pelosi and Co. receiving $54M in earmarks to relocate a wine train in California; Reid and Co. arranging an earmark for a Los Angeles-to-Vegas high-speed train. The healthcare bill, specifically, was another fiasco of political corruption, with millions of dollars allocated to buy votes, such as those of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. Anger with that process and the bill it produced helped fuel the stunning election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts. http://www.usnews.com/articles/opinion/mzuckerman/2010/01/21/mort-zuckerman-the-incredible-deflation-of-barack-obama.html?PageNr=1

Is this the Hope and Change we were promised?

But back to AIG and the spanakopita. Due to the bailout, the USA (that’s you and me) owns 80% of AIG. Now it’s coming out that – according to a German newspaper – AIG sold the same kind of credit default swap insurance policies on Greece’s national debt. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2010/02/german-paper-says-aig-may-have-sold-cds-on-greece.html Greece is currently floundering in debt and is in danger of going bankrupt. The EU has already imposed austerity measures on Greece to ensure that they are able to pay back their mounting debts and keep their status in the European Union. Suddenly it appears that it is in the USA’s – I mean AIG’s – I mean the USA’s interest to keep Greece from defaulting. How? Well, remember that European vacation/home in Greece you have fantasized about? Well, it may very well be that the USA will be purchasing a whole bunch of mortgages & homes in Greece — with your money — but there’s a catch: the Greeks get to keep living in them, not you.

Speaking of Greece, Aristotle made a point in 350BC that still rings true today. Legislators and politicians that get paid a lot of money and can stay in office for a long time are a danger to the Society. Not only do they receive the honor of the State, they will soon start taking the people’s money. And this makes the people doubly angry. Not only do the politicians have the honor, but they make themselves rich off the work of the people. Aristotle also saw how it gets resolved: The people will not stand for this for very long before they revolt and change the government. It was true back in 350BC and it’s true today. We the People will not stand for this type of slimy highway robbery bailout, secretive behind-closed-doors healthcare legislation process, and cover-up much longer. This should not be taken lightly, but it might just be the hope and change we are looking for in America.