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Hollywood has produced a crop of hit movies about mind control.  Bob Mondello’s excellent April 15th piece on NPR’s All Things Considered, Movies That Mess with Your Mind, is a great review of four recent hits about struggling to control one’s mind and life:  Inception, The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless and Source Code.

The gist of each plot is that contemporary men and women are losing control of their very selves; and further, that there are insidious and pervasive others who control us. In our highly connected, media-soaked lives, it’s easy to think that this is a new phenomenon. It’s not.

The late great psychologist, Abraham Maslow, wrote that the vast majority of people “do not make up their own minds… They are pawns to be moved by others rather than self-moving, self-determining individuals. Therefore, they are apt to feel helpless, weak, and totally determined. They are prey for predators, flabby whiners rather than self-determining, responsible persons.”

Ouch! It’s bad enough that we’re “pawns to be moved by others,” but Maslow has to throw in that we’re “flabby whiners” too. (No wonder the hottest consumer product these days is the new girdle, Spanx.) Setting aside America’s weight problem, how is it that most of us are pawns, to be moved about by others?
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When I covered the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in 1994 for CNN, I was given just two minutes to interview the Chairman and Vice Chairman, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. I used one of my precious questions to ask Munger if his decision “to violate his own rule to not sit on outside boards and sit on the board of directors of Costco [Wholesale Corporation] was an implicit endorsement of the stock?” He glared down at me through his extra thick glasses. (The room was so small that I had to crouch on the floor to stay out of the camera shot.)

Charlie was peeved not only because I was pointing out an inconsistency between his words and actions, but also because I was asking him to violate his and Warren’s rule against making stock predictions. After about five agonizing seconds, Charlie finally, honestly, begrudgingly, spat out “Yes.” Warren, who had turned to stare at Charlie’s discomfort, swung his head back to me and exclaimed with a big smile, “That’s more than I ever get out of him!”

Charlie’s innate honesty kept him from ducking a question that most powerful people would fudge or simply decline to answer. But fudging and ducking is not what Charlie and Warren do, especially Charlie. They’re fully integrated human beings so, as former U.S. senator Bill Bradley recommends, the externals of their lives truly reflect the internals. They do and say what’s truly on their minds. And because they’re fundamentally honest and expressive, what you see and hear is who they truly are.

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“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
E.E. Cummings

The first chapter in my new book The Good Among the Great discusses how to become autonomous. Autonomy means looking within, accepting and acting on your deepest, truest desires, and forging a life that reflects you—and then relaxing about it.

The first step is to believe deep down in your guts that it’s not selfish to follow your wants. Becoming “who you really are” is about freedom for yourself and usefulness to others. These are lofty goals, not self-serving ones. You owe it to yourself and to the world to be yourself. The trick, of course, is how.
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