James Madison vs. Donald Trump

How would you rate Trump in his presidency? I don’t watch the daily news, but I do hear about the significant events through the grapevine; the most recent “Shit Hole” remark is not entirely surprising and falls in line with Trump’s previous propensity to say unpresidential remarks. But what does it mean to be “presidential?” Since I am fully immersed in Plato right now, my brain is constantly scanning for the root definitions of words. According to Plato, to be “presidential” would require one to be a “statesman” – a position of power which disseminates the knowledge of the “good.” What is the knowledge of the “good?” In a sense, it is the correct understanding of human morality and virtues.

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The question, however, gets more complicated because Plato argues we can never entirely obtain knowledge of the “good;” we have to try our best to seek out knowledge throughout our lives through dialogue and personal revelation. So does Trump seem to be on a lifelong journey of wisdom? To follow Socrates example, we’ll leave that question unanswered. Another component of understanding true “statesmanship,”  is to understand past examples in history. How can people honestly know what a good President looks like if their only comparisons are those of living memory: Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr, Ronald Reagan, etc. To further add to the conundrum, how many of these Presidents have been personally studied – what do you actually know about their intrinsic virtues and morals? In an attempt to get to the base of understanding “good” leadership, I am reading all the United State President’s biographies. My most recent is on James Madison – James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney. Next week I will post on James Monroe.

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James Madison was born on March 16th, 1751 to the Virginian planter class. He grew up accustomed to slavery and didn’t do much to further its abolition – less than George Washington and John Adams. Madison suffered from epilepsy at a time when epilepsy was thought to be a personal weakness, and he was a frail man in general – barely breaking the 5-foot barrier. Because of his health conditions, he took to erudition and became a prominent Virginian politician after attending modern-day Princeton. He was mentored by Thomas Jefferson and was close to leading figures of the Revolutionary War.

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Madison championed religious freedoms in the Virginian Constitution and cherished Enlightenment ideas. He was the father of the United States Constitution which was his political Magnum Opus. To push ratification of the Constitution, he partnered with opposite party member – Alexander Hamilton – to publish the famed The Federalist Papers.  Madison straddled party lines for the sake of his country and in the end, helped America form a stable central government while maintaining individual freedoms through the Bill of Rights. He would go on to serve in Congress, as Secretary of State, and as the 4th President of the United States.

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Madison was by far a not a perfect President and did not make satisfying decisions with respects to the War of 1812. His leadership skills were weak when it came to acts of force, and he had difficulties inspiring fellow cabinet members. By the end of his presidency, his successor James Monroe was practically running the government in his place. Madison’s gifts were behind the scenes, and he is most responsible for the United States withholding the Constitution we hold dear today. A Constitution which he designed to be changed according to ultimate liberties – the abolition of slavery to name one. Without Madison, the United States would never have had a Government which could defend itself from foreign attack while simultaneously preserving the rights of individual citizens.

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While in office, Madison had many opponents and is actually credited with forming the first political party with Jefferson. He was a scholar who believed in himself even though many people pushed him to the side because of his physical impediments. Was Madison “Presidential?” He is by far not the best President I have read about, but I do appreciate his quest for compromise and his pursuit of genuine liberty – a liberty that had to balance between the British Monarchy and French Jacobins. His virtues seem to be cooperation, determination, flexibility, and idealism. So how does Madison compare to Tump? I’m going to pull a Socrates again and let you ponder that question.

The Game of Life

Have you ever had a really nasty encounter with a person? One of those encounters where you get so upset that you become a nasty person yourself. Where both people seem to be climbing a mountain of frustration with no way of turning back to calmer ground. The type of frustrating interaction that leaves you emotionally and physically drained afterwards. Our difficulty with these charged events is that they don’t happen very often. Their irregularity leaves us vulnerable to repeating the same mistakes over and over-never really learning the correct coping mechanisms. Some of us blow up while others of us shut down-both are not helpful. I do not write this as a saint or someone who is always in a zen state immune to the winds of confrontation. I do however know from experience that we are the masters of how we react to all incoming stimulus. Dr. Stephen Covey said “Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.” This means that the only thing we can control is our reaction to whatever stimulus comes our way. We can’t control what other people say or do-we can only control how we react to those things.

My wife and I like to play tennis. Do you know the best skill a tennis player can have? Power? Control? Finesse? Determination? These are all helpful but the very best skill is one most people don’t think of-patience. Patience in waiting until the very last millisecond to hit the ball. Serena Williams is so good because she takes in every last detail of the balls trajectory, speed, spin, and behavior before administering her swing. Because of her patience and extra time to compute the stimulus she can return the best possible volley. This skill directly translates to the tennis match of conversation. The ball is the stimulus that is being rocketed your way and you need to decide how to react. Are you a pro like Serena with the patience to analyze the ball?

-Honey I had an awful day at work and the patients were so mean to me?
-…I’m so sorry about that, tell me about what happened?

Or are you like a flabby amateur who hits the ball without the slightest delay and care for detail?

Honey I had an awful day at work and the patients were so mean to me?
-You should be use to those types of patients and have a tougher skin.

We volley a hundred conversations a day without batting an eye. These are the matches that allow us to function and bring us together in a healthy manner. Those interactions are not the problem, the ones we need to prepare for are the irregular matches against the indomitable opponents. The opponents that want to hit the tennis ball right in our face. The opponents that would love to see us defeated on the other side of the net. These rare matches require pro skills and that is why you must practice how you react to stimulus on a daily basis. Think about the other person’s feelings, motives, perspectives,  background, and intentions. Let all those words and actions float in front of you-dissect their meaning-and then volley back a reply. This skill is extremely difficult because we are quick to react and many times want to hit the other person in the nuts with our rackets. We need to remember that scoring one good hit may score a point but it doesn’t mean we won the match. Play the long game in life and hone the skill of reaction to become a professional in every day interactions. Be the person that always seems to know the right thing to say at the right time. Be the person who is a role model for the amateur players. Be the person who can dominate the game of life.

 

Curiosity Killed the Cat

I find myself talking to strangers a lot. When I go out to anyplace there is bound to be a conversation I start about all sorts of random stuff. I was at the grocery store last week and I asked an old woman “why she had so much sparkling water in her cart?” She was very surprised by this question but soon responded in a quite bubbly way that it helps her stay away from pop. What a great idea! I always end up getting into conversations with customer service on the phone. These strangers are trained to be robots but I like to get to know where they are actually from and what they like to do. Curiosity is quite powerful and because I see myself as a curious guy I picked up the book A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer. Grazer is a big-shot Hollywood producer with a crap ton of movies and awards under his belt: A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash, Arrested Development, 24, 8 Mile, Empire, and J. Edgar to list a few. He credits his success to his curiosity because he is always asking questions and exploring ideas. A main component of him practicing curiosity is that he regularly conducts “Curiosity Conversations.” These one-on-one talks are with really interesting people who are highly acclaimed in their particular field: Margaret Thatcher, Ted Turner, Kanye West, Serena Williams, Jim Lovell, Isaac Asimov, Muhammad Ali, Jeff Bezos, among many others. Grazer is constantly asking questions and is always trying to expand his understanding of what makes people unique, accomplished, and creative.

Curiosity is driven by persistence and determination. Persistence drives you towards a certain goal with curiosity being the compass that leads you throughout the process. Questions steer curiosity in the correct course and can be a spark for creativity and inspiration. Furthermore, curiosity can be a tool for motivation, independence, confidence, storytelling, and courage. Most importantly, curiosity can be used for increasing human connection through sincerity, trust, and compassion. Curiosity is what drives us to call up a old friend to see how they are doing. Curiosity helps us dig deeply into the feelings of our partner and connect with them on another level. Curiosity leads us to making new relationships with a diverse array of people. We need to ask questions in our relationships that foster curiosity and project an aura of true caring. Don’t ask your kids “how was school today?” or your spouse “how was work today?”-the response will be … “good.” Get specific, take some effort in your questions, be curious about the details. Emphasize curiosity in your day to day because a curious person is a knowledgeable person. In respects to my curiosity, I want to practice using empowering questions that lead to open ended responses. No more, “How was your day?” but rather “What was the highlight of your day?” That was just one example but with practice I hope to give Grazer a run for his money.