Phaedrus' Socrates and His Friends*

Posted by jlubans on September 29, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Socrates and friends at his execution**.

“The word 'friend' is in common use but true friends are hard to find.
Socrates had erected for himself a very modest house - and I myself would even be willing to die as Socrates died** if I could achieve an equal fame, yes, I would be willing to suffer the same public disapproval if I too could be vindicated after death!
Anyway, just as you would expect on such an occasion, one of his neighbours had to ask,
'Why is it, Socrates, that someone like you would build himself such a tiny little house?'
'Ah,' said Socrates, 'if only I could fill it with true friends!'”
This is my second telling of the “Socrates’ house” fable, once in verse by La Fontaine and today by Phaedrus.
In my interpretation of the La Fontaine version, I contemplated the short-lived friendships in the workplace. Once you leave, it seems too many job-related friendships slip away.
Phaedrus likewise touches on the scarcity of true friends but most notable may be his willingness to die, as Socrates did**, on principle, as long as he “could be vindicated after death!”
Observing the televised blood sport of confirming a Supreme Court justice nominee, I doubt if even Socrates saw much vindication, certainly not enough to drain the hemlock cup.
Phaedrus’ adulation goes too far for me, but his point about the paucity of genuine friends rings true.
And, returning to the blood sport, it seems the more alleged friends one has, the more enemies. The further we scramble up the ladder of success, the more slippery the rungs.
Aristotle said, “In all things moderation." Perhaps a few good friends are sufficient.
But, a life without true friends is an empty house.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

**Socrates was executed by the state of Athens in 399 B.C.E.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Posted by jlubans on September 15, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

UPON the summit of a lofty rock,
⁠An Eagle chanced to espy
A Worm; whom thus he 'gan in taunting tone to mock:
"Reptile! What raised thee thus high?
How haps it I so vile a creature see
Perched on the same eminence with me.
⁠Here daring to abide?"
"By my own strength," the Worm replied.
"I hither made my way; and small in
My opinion, the difference of the mode
In which to the same point we took our road;
What you by soaring did, I did by crawling."

So, slow and steady gets the job done.
Also, Krylov may be saying that those eminently gifted (with a pair of wings, for example) succumb to arrogance and believe themselves superior to those less so endowed.
Actually, one admires the humble worm more than the eagle because the worm got there inch by inch while the eagle was born to it, so to speak.
Krylov likely was sniping at the Russian royals, born with the proverbial silver spoon, who consider it is some inherent genius that has them at the front of the line rather than who their daddy was.

*Source. Anonymous. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.

Copyright by John Lubans from 2010 to 2018. All rights preserved.

The Unhappy, Un-Mindful and Unsustainable Leader

Posted by jlubans on September 12, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Mindful Smiley Face

No doubt you have heard of America’s right to the pursuit of Happiness. And, maybe even of the World Happiness Index, a nation by nation listing of most happy to least happy peoples.
In any case, the business world is paying attention to Happiness for its workforce and customers.
A recent book claims much in its 19-word title:
“Leading with Happiness: How the Best Leaders Put Happiness First to Create Phenomenal Business Results and a Better World.”
The author’s prior book was "Happy Hour is 9-5." (Are these folks drinking at their desks?)
I certainly am not one to put down happiness. I am all for sunshine and bluebirds in the workplace. But, a sure sign of faddishness for me was when the Harvard business press inserted itself and put out a one-volume compendium on three au courant topics: Happiness, Mindfulness and Sustainability (HMS).
The Harvard book compresses the three and makes clear (for me) that HMS are inter-related, indeed so much so you cannot tell them apart. Yet, each claims to draw “on fascinating lessons from psychology, neurobiology and philosophy” as if there is scientific proof of these concepts. For example, it claimed with certainty that HMS organizations do better those not so happy, mindful or sustainable organizations.
HMS is different from fads like Six Sigma, or Re-engineering or Matrix Management; the HMS trio is less about prescribing how to do business than it is about one’s state of being or mindset.
Perhaps we should take a look. Certainly we do not want to be on the sinister side of the HMS continuum: unhappy, un-mindful, and unsustainable. Perhaps we already are, but do we want to be there? If not, let’s see how we can change toward the bright side, to Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
Here are the key elements for shoring up HMS:
Human connection (recognize others daily).
Gratitude for self and others.
Positive outlook for mind and body; turn stress to your advantage.
Purpose: find meaning in your work.
Generosity (practice kindness to others).
Take a Break from Your Goals.
Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill (Where have we seen that before?)

If you think about it, there is really not much new in seeking happiness, being mindful and wanting sustainability. Maybe there’s a new emphasis in being purposeful in the pursuit of HMS.
Essentially HMS is the repurposing of ways of human thinking and behavior that have been known for centuries. Nothing is new except for the increased emphasis and the alleged science that claims HMS works and is good for you and the organization.
The encapsulated notions make good sense for anyone, working or not. However, we do go a bit too far if and when we mandate happiness in the workplace. You will be happy – or else.
Reality is otherwise. People have lives, they endure, they prevail or fail, they suffer or find joy, they seek and find or get lost; in any case they need a helping hand.
And, effective leaders need to be aware of followers and what is happening with them. So, EQ (emotional intelligence) – albeit designated a “fad” - may in fact be worthy of cultivating. And, keeping in mind the underlying practices of HMS may help one with improving his or her EQ score.
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Posted by jlubans on September 07, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Oil painting by Sergei Gribkov 1854

A CERTAIN Cook, rather more educated than his fellows, went from his kitchen one day to a neighboring tavern —he was of a serious turn of mind, and on that day he celebrated the anniversary of a friend's death—leaving a Cat at home, to guard his viands from the mice.
On his return, what does he see?
The floor strewed with fragments of a pie, and Vaska the Cat crouching in a corner behind a vinegar-barrel, purring with satisfaction, and busily engaged in disposing of a chicken.
"Ah, glutton! ah, evil-doer!" exclaims the reproachful Cook. "Are you not ashamed of being seen by these walls, let alone living witnesses? What! be an honorable Cat up to this time—one who might be pointed out as a model of discretion!
And поw, ah me! how great a disgrace!
Now all the neighbors will say,
“The cat Vaska is a rogue; the cat Vaska is a thief.
Vaska must not be admitted into the kitchen, not even into the courtyard, any more than a ravenous wolf into the sheepfold.
He is utterly corrupt; he is a pest, the plague of the neighborhood."
Thus did our orator, letting loose the current of his Words, lecture away without stopping.
But what was the result? While he was delivering his discourse, Vaska the Cat ate up the whole of the chicken.

I would advise some cooks to inscribe these words on their walls : "Don't waste time in useless speech, when it is action that is needed.”
Likely the cook stumbled
home in the wee hours (viz the dangling bottle) and the cat - honorable up to now - got hungry.
One indiscreet nibble, gluttony took over.
Krylov’s advice is clear. When someone reverts to type, why talk about it, take action: Save the chicken!
The office needs Krylov’s inscription as much as the kitchen.
So, at work, when a previously honorable Vaska exercises his envy and seeks to destroy your storehouse of good deeds and successes, don’t just cry in your beer, do something about it.
Time to leave? Don’t linger with false hope. Leave and begin anew.
If it is time to confront the “utterly corrupt”, do so.
Probably long overdue, kicking Vaska in the pants is not a bad idea.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018