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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Speech: Things I Have Learned

Here's another speech I gave at Toastmasters:
Several years ago, a coworker introduced me to a newspaper called Investors Business Daily, or IBD. The publisher of IBD has a set of 20 rules for investing success. These are rules based on lessons he has learned over many years of investing. Not only does he espouse these rules, but everyday in the paper he goes into more detail on how one of these rules can affect your everyday life. He records his lessons, shares them and reiterates them daily.

I realized my investing style is different from his, and his rules don’t always apply to me. But I realized that I do in fact have my own set of rules. I decided to write them down, and after reading them over, I realized that when I follow my own rules, I am successful. When I don’t I’m not.

Why stop with investing lessons? One day I realized there are many lessons, or rules I learned about life in general that were worth writing down and making sure that I follow. I’d like to share a few of those with you today.

The very first life lesson I remember learning was in my first apartment. I learned that when you run out of dish washing machine soap, liquid soap is not a viable alternative. If you don’t know why, feel free to try it; it’s very entertaining.

The kitchen is full of practical lessons. Never fry bacon in the nude for one. Someone even wrote book with that as the title. Never take your contacts out after dicing jalapenos. There's no book for that.

Not every life lesson comes from practical experience. I’ve learned that when the weather forecast calls for clouds and a chance of thunderstorms, I should carry an umbrella. Some things happen only rarely or hypothetically. For these, you can rely on movies to teach lessons. When the forecast calls for meteor showers with a chance of alien monsters, always wear comfortable shoes, because there’s a good chance you’ll be doing some running throughout the day. Also, I’ve leaned from the movies that when you slam and lock the door on an axe wielding psychopath, you probably shouldn’t lean against the door. (He does have an axe after all.)

I haven’t run into an axe murderer yet, that’s hypothetical, as are the aliens. On the practical side I’ve found a rule from engineering worth remembering. Never press the on button, if you don’t know where the off button is. In other words, never start a process if you don’t know how to end it. This rule has profound implications. It applies to engineering, society and even applies to people. On a societal level, don’t start a war you don’t know how to finish. On a personal level, don’t trigger a behavior if you don’t know how to stop it. The rules I’ve learned about people are probably the most important ones I’ve learned.

I think there is one rule that is near the root of all rules for dealing with people. A smarter man than me once described it like this: The veracity of any proposition is inversely proportional to the benefit gained by making it. In other words, the more a person has to gain, the more likely they are to lie. I never believe a salesman, a politician. They have too much to gain by lying.

There’s a corollary to this rule. When somebody declares they have the “truth” you should see a big red flag warning there’s no truth there. The same is true of the word “trust”. Any person who says “trust me” is not to be trusted. Any person who claims to be non-judgemental is actually very judgemental, especially of those who disagree with him. In general, the more vehemently a virtue is emphasized, the less likely that virtue actually exists.

I’ve also learned that speed is the tool of a scoundrel. Quite simply, speed prevents critical thought, and only a scoundrel wants to prevent any thought or debate about idea or action. When someone advocates fast action, whether a salesman or politician, it’s time to become highly suspicious. Few things short of emergency surgery require fast decisions.

Of course, speed is not the only tool of scoundrels. Any technique that hampers critical thought is just fine for the scoundrel. Lately the tool of choice is advocating the safety of the children, because you just can’t argue against that! Unless the person is advocating the use of car seats and seat belts, calling out “for our children’s sake” is another warning sign you’re dealing with a scoundrel.

Sometimes you’re not dealing with a scoundrel. Perhaps you simply want to evaluate two sides of a debate. In that case, my advice is to look for the hate. My rule is that the side that supports hate is inevitably wrong. The tricky part is finding the hate in the reasonable argument. Hate can be well reasoned, but it is hate nonetheless. It can hide behind religion, subversion of freedom, or the exercise of subtle power against a group of people, but hate is the major clue that an argument is wrong.

There are a lot of rules that I’ve learned and I’m sure you have some of your own. By all means, write them down for yourself. Repeat them. Live them. Share them.

Remember, if a company called Truth, Inc. tells you to buy their product in the next 5 minutes if you want your child to be safe, then put on some comfortable shoes and start running away. There’s a monster loose. Trust me.

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