Gary Crow Presents Audio Tidbits

Perfect Virtue

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." (Aristotle)

The idea that excellence is a product of training isn't surprising. Athletes, musicians, and those who achieve preeminence in other areas requiring superior personal performance are well-aware of the necessity and value of continuous training. The point that may not be as obvious is that training and habituation are prerequisites for areas of excellence beyond developing physical skills and individual talents. They are necessary for emotional excellence, moral excellence, interpersonal excellence, as well as intellectual excellence. The point that may be even less obvious is that Aristotle also said that training and habituation are prerequisite to virtue. People have the capacity to be virtuous but become virtuous people only through training and habitually acting rightly. One becomes virtuous by acting virtuously.

How does one act virtuously? Cicero advised, "It is our special duty, that if anyone needs our help, we should give him such help to the utmost of our power."Confucius said, "To be able to practice five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue… gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness."Although how one practices "gravity" is less than obvious, the other four requirements need no explanation. John Wesley was even clearer when he said, "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can."Now that leaves little room for doubt or negotiation.

The message has not changed over the millennia. Dante said, "He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it."Gandhi said, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."Is virtue the path to personal joy and fulfillment? Probably not. George Bernard Shaw said, "Just do what must be done. This may not be happiness, but it is greatness."Why? As George Eliot put it, "Our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds."Remember Aristotle's message, "We are what we repeatedly do."The choice is to habitually act rightly or to act wrongly. At that level, it's not much of a choice. The key is remembering that acting virtuously is an essential part of one's ongoing excellence training.

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Seldom Impatient

"When someone is impatient and says, ‘I haven't got all day,' I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day?" -- George Carlin

You are seldom impatient or in a hurry. This is in part because you tend to stay relaxed and relatively laid-back; but there are two more important reasons. First, you are seriously interested in other people and in what they have to say. Allowing time to listen is thus something that you value and want to do. Second, you are able to plan and arrange things so you have time and don't need to rush or become impatient. You have an uncanny ability to be places just in time, have things done just in time, and to be available just in time when others need to talk. This extends to managing your schedules so there is always enough time to calmly take care of whatever needs your attention now.


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Up To Me? -- You Bet!

Simon says, "See your relationship as your exclusive opportunity and responsibility."

"Relationships are a 50/50 proposition," and "Getting along is a two-way-street," are ideas that go around a lot. You may have heard them once or twice yourself. Well, Simon has heard them too and respectfully disagrees. "Relate the best you know how, every chance you get." You do recall that verse of Simon's theme song, do you not? Well, he is singing it again.

You are and can only be accountable for how you manage your side of your relationship. What's more, your side of the relationship is your exclusive opportunity and responsibility. You and your significant other may share a lot but not this. No one can do it for you; no one can prevent you from doing it.

"I would be different if you were different." Have you ever heard that old excuse for a whiner's less than best effort in a relationship? It takes but a minute's thought to see the logic. "Since you are not the way I think you should be, I am justified in being less than I am capable of being."

Interestingly, the reverse logic is sometimes used as a compliment of sorts. "You bring out the best in me." Give this reasoning another minute's thought and you will see the apparent point. "Although I usually don't give things my best shot, being around you causes me to behave abnormally. I am at my best only when I am with you." Well, how can you proactively respond to a pronouncement like that?

Perhaps your only appropriate option is to say, "That's a real shame. I didn't know that you are so fundamentally incompetent. My ability to compensate for your inadequacies even surprises me. You certainly disguise them quite well; but of course, I only see you when I am there to prop you up."

Yes, you are right. Simon is just having a little fun with you. Relationships really can bog you down to the point where being at your best may not seem worth the effort it takes. The same is true for some people. They push on the edge of tolerance and it is hard to control the urge to behave as inappropriately as they do; but just because someone acts like the trailing end of a fast-moving horse, you are not justified in responding in kind.

If Simon can be permitted to sing his song one more time without being accused of being a broken record, "Do the right things right, the first time, on time, every time." That is your exclusive opportunity and responsibility. It applies to every thing you do, including your long-term relationship. Your significant other can appropriately expect no more; you will give no less.


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The Royal High Road

"We cut these numerous windings in our destinies daily with our own hands, while we imagine that we are pursuing a track on the royal high road of respectability and duty, and then complain of those ways being so intricate and so dark. We stand bewildered before the mystery of our own making, and the riddles of life that we will not solve, and then accuse the great Sphinx of devouring us." (H. P. Blavatsky)

There you go again, daily cutting windings in your destiny with your own hands. You think those windings represent the track along the royal high road of respectability and duty but they don't. As it turns out, they are so intricate and so dark that you become bewildered, unable to handle the mysteries of your own making and the riddles of life. Instead of finding yourself on the royal high road, you are mired down in the mysteries, at a loss as how to solve the riddles. Will you solve the riddles? No; and it's that damn Sphinx's fault. It's devouring you.

The problem seems to be that you do one thing while imagining that you are doing another. More to the point is that you are trying to cut your own trail instead of sticking to the high road. A wise person once said, "We know better than we do." That can be especially true when it comes to sticking to the high road.

Sticking to the high road can be quite challenging. Even so, the associated lessons all have two things in common. First, they usually are not particularly complicated. It certainly can sometimes take a while to get it; but once you do get it, the lesson is normally straight-up and to the point. Second, and here is the rub, the lessons invariably are a "So now you tell me!" kind of thing. Oh sure, hindsight is 20/20, live and learn, no one is perfect, and you are only human. Nonetheless, having learned your lesson is not much consolation once you have already missed important opportunities to stick to the high road. Yes, you may do better the next time; but your chance to get it right the first time has passed and will not return. Much better is to get it right, the first time, on time, every time.

It's certainly true that no one is perfect, you are only human, and things only work out just the way you want them to in the movies. Life can be a real bear sometimes; but fortunately, you do not have to take responsibility for life. You are only on the hook for who you are and what you do. Here is a suggestion worth taking to heart. Start with developing a personal style that sets you apart, that lets everyone know that you are a class act. Think about people you know who stand out from the crowd, people who are certifiable class acts. They have three techniques down pat. First, they are originals. Their style and approach with people and situations are their trademarks. Second, they are not on-again, off-again. They are always uniquely themselves. Third, and here is the key: it is no accident. They usually make it seem easy and natural; but take a closer look and you will soon understand and appreciate how hard they work at it. They consciously and purposely do everything they do, with style, all the time, on purpose, one situation at a time, one person at a time.


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A Leadership Four-Pack From Simon

Simon says, "Take time to be sure people understand how their jobs fit in with other jobs and activities."

Simon does not go overboard here; but he does obsessively attend to one element of fitting in. With Simon as your leader, you will always completely understand how what you do fits into the plan for the team to achieve its mission. You will know why you do what you do.

Simon will also be sure you see how your job fits with other jobs that affect or are affected by yours. Although you may not see every necessary connection, knowing why your job is important is essential to your success and to the success of the team. People want their efforts to make a positive difference; and Simon will make sure you do not doubt the value of your contribution.

Simon says, "Give people clear reasons and explanations whenever they ask for them."

"Why?" is a question for which people want an answer that makes sense to them. If they do not get it, they will fill in their own answers. Having filled in the blank, they now have a do-it-yourself explanation for everything. People make sense of their environments, whether it has any relationship to reality or not. What is the result? There are many, usually conflicting explanations for anything that happens and nearly as many for things that do not happen and are not going to happen. Therein lies the source of the old rumor mill.

Even Simon cannot stop the rumor mill, as much as he would like to put it out of business. Gossip is a pastime to which people are addicted or at least seriously hooked. What he can do is be sure that anyone who is responsible enough to actually ask gets the straight scoop. That does not stop the rumor mill; but it does slow it down a little and can redirect it now and then. More importantly, if you bring your questions to Simon, you will get the honesty and respect you deserve. Not to give you reasons and explanations when you ask for them would be unacceptable, from Simon's perspective.

Simon says, "Get the resources needed to get the job done."

A leader's job is to facilitate the team's success. Being sure available resources are sufficient for success is, in turn, the leaders responsibility. There may be others on the team who have tasks and assignments related to resource development; but if the resources are not there when they are needed, the leader has not gotten the job done.

If the train runs on coal, the leader better have continuous access to the coal mine. If success depends on new ideas, the leader will be well-served by cultivating a close relationship with a guru. If success depends on creativity, exceptional talents, and specialized skills, the leader must commit to recruiting and retaining only the brightest and best people for the team. Simon knows not having enough of the right resources when they are needed is the surest route to failure; and fail he will not.

Simon says, "Be skilled at using informal strategies to get things done."

Simon certainly is talking from experience. There are formal policies, procedures, and ways things are to be done. It is also true they sometimes do not work and situations come up where there is no formalized approach that will get from here to there in the time available to get there. Now and then, though, people take this to mean they can ignore the rules, not pay attention to the formal processes. This definitely is not Simon's point. The informal approach supplements formal procedures and is not a substitute for them.

People also sometimes see the informal approach as a convenient way to bypass the chain of command, to shortcut processes they think take too long, to shop around for the decision they want, or to avoid jobs they do not like. This is not what Simon has in mind either. For Simon, the informal approach is simply one more strategy available to him within the formal context.

Simon wants his team to use informal strategies, to talk with each other, to informally innovate when they need to, to avoid being too rigid about the rules when something unusual comes up that does not quite fit into the established procedures. They are responsible people who can and are expected to use their good judgment and common sense. Simon liberally uses informal strategies himself; but you can have too much of a good thing.

Being skilled at using informal strategies includes knowing when to use them and when formal is best. If informal strategies are used too much or inappropriately, things become disorganized, efficiency and quality suffer. If they are used too little, the team becomes rigid and inflexible, creativity and innovation disappear, and the team loses its cutting edge. On Simon's winning team, the real skill in using informal strategies is in finding and maintaining the balance.


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Happy June 15

I can say, with all candor, that I have never been tempted to initiate or participate in a petition drive. Sure, there have been many situations and conditions that I have disliked and some I have disliked intensely. Even so, the petition thing never popped into my conscious thought processes. Today is the day that all changed.

Why does the year start in January? Sure, I know; it's when the bowl games are and it wouldn't work having them other than at the end of the football season. That's fine if you happen to live where January doesn't bring ice and snow; but for the rest of us, football in January is silly.

You're right. There are domes and such, but that only works for the handful of communities with their own domes. Since we don't have one, football should be confined to September and maybe October but never after Halloween.

Ok, football is definitely not a good enough reason to have the year start in the middle of the winter. But what about parades? Need I say it? Parades in January are even sillier than football. Were it not for those bowl games, I doubt anyone would plan a parade when a blizzard is much more likely than a sunny day. Yes, there is California, and Florida is there too. Arizona and Hawaii are options as well. Good for them. They can have all the parades in January they please; but please stop acting like the rest of us should think majorettes in short skirts makes sense when the temp is dipping below zero.

There is also the calendar thing where this deal about the year starting in January began, I suppose. There are other calendars but we are stuck with this year-starts-in-January nonsense. I just can't believe we had choices and picked this one. Twelve choices and we chose the middle of the winter. Go figure, since I sure can't.

That brings me to the point of my petition. Consider New Year's Eve that is certainly intended for partying. Is there a worse possible time for New Year's Eve than in the midst of the ice and snow? I think not. Barbecue is out, unless you are satisfied with someone else's barbecue. Firing up the grill and throwing on some ribs is another one of those silly things when you have to wear a snow suit. Drinks around the pool are also out. No, I'm not going to explain. If you don't get it, you may be one of those idiots who got us into this year-starting-in-January silliness to start with.

Just consider this. Let's start the year in April. Instead of football, we would have baseball, a much more civil sport. Odds are we could have a parade without freezing, and barbecue and drinks around the pool would be doable, although even then, a dip in the pool would be out, except for the few who had already had too many drinks around that pool.

Everything is politics. I've heard that before and maybe even agreed with it. Here I am with my first petition and am confronted with the frustrating fact that compromise is the only way to consensus. It boils down to this. April is often too cold and it can snow then too. July and August are too hot; and no one would be around for New Year's Eve anyway, since most fun people are on vacation.

It comes down to June 15. The weather is nearly perfect; school is out, Daylight Savings Time is there to improve the New Year's Eve party; it's a good time for another holiday and a day off work. Barbecue is fine; drinks around the pool are refreshing; and the pool is there even for the non-liquor-challenged.

No, the year does not have to start on the first day of the month. It can start when we say it starts; and I say it starts on June 15. If you agree - and I am sure you do - please indicate your interest in joining my petition.

I'm not clear about exactly how you do that but have confidence you will let me know. I also am not clear about who, if anyone, will be in a position to act on our petition but hope to figure that out next year, whenever that starts.


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