A Hard Look in the Mirror

Everything is going great in the Oldham household. Christina and I are getting into a better sleep cycle after a lot of trial and error – we discovered that Teddy only enjoys resting on top of luxurious pillows. It feels weird being a dad but I am slowly figuring out my role; every morning I rock Teddy and listen to audiobooks – probably the best way to put a person to sleep. I thought that my reading goals would be threatened with a new baby, but I am getting back to my normal pace. My most recent book was What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan. This is a different book for me, but it was recommended by one of my favorite philosophers as one of the few non-charlatanic finance books. Essentially, those who are wealthy become wealthy through some combination of luck and skill. Some work harder than others while some get luckier than others. In all scenarios, there is a degree of egotism that impacts risk-taking. For example, take a trader who is having the year of his life. His trades never go wrong and he begins to feel more confident with his “patented strategies.” These strategies lead him to the deal of the century and he puts all his resources into one basket. Unsurprisingly, when the deal goes south, the trader convinces himself that he is right and everyone else is wrong – the final result is ruin and humility.

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I want to extrapolate this scenario to all walks of life. Have you ever continued in a bad situation because of blind rationalization? Have you ever disregarded sound advice? Have you ever been too stubborn to admit defeat? I can say yes to all three. We are very good at subjectivism. Subjectivism is a flawed philosophy that argues that the “good life” is whatever an individual perceives as “good.” Put in another way, if I believe the best life is one of hoarding cat poop, then that is the best life, and no one can tell me otherwise. Subjectivism makes it very difficult for us to see that we are in a bad situation and we need to redirect. How can we fight this mental entrapment? I believe the quickest way to redirection is through prayer and advice. Seek out wisdom and you will find wisdom – if the advice is hard to hear then you are in the right spot; true loved ones will not enable you and they will help you see alternative perspectives. Don’t surround yourself by “Yes Men” – agreeance is only reasonable to a certain extent. The most successful people in the world are successful because of their luck, their hard work, and their ability to take criticism. There are much worse things to lose than a million dollars – a subjective life can lead to abusive relationships, anxiety, and a sense of isolation. Pray to God for truth, call that friend up who tells it how it is, and give yourself a long look in the mirror.

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The Best Gift I Can Give

During the Christmas season, I am generally a scrooge. Not surprisingly, I loathe shopping malls where the almighty god of commercialization is most worshipped. This past weekend, I was at a mall in Metro-Detroit – a suburban sprawl which requires a 30-minute commute to seemingly every destination. This mall was packed to the gills, and I felt like a human bumper cart weaving in and out of overpriced clothing stores. Me being me, I ranted to Christina the whole time about how stupid it all was and how I couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over. My wife is the opposite of my curmudgeon self; her ideal world would probably be the one located inside a snowflake where celebrations occur for maxed-out credit cards – Whoville. After a few grumpy rants, Christina started to deter my negativity with every woman’s rationalization for the holidays…

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Me – “What is the point of buying all these gifts that no one needs?! I can’t wait till the 26th.”

Christina – “MY LOVE (not said in a loving way) stop being an old man. Christmas is all about tradition and celebrating family.”

Me – “Why can’t we just celebrate family without all the gifts? It just makes us materialistic.”

Christina – “We have to give gifts because God gave us the gift of baby Jesus. That is why we need to stand in line for an hour at Pandora and buy a $100 charm. And if you don’t shut up I am going to buy some gifts at that new vegetarian make-up store that doesn’t believe in “sales.”

Me – “Alright, I’ll stop. Maybe we can find a “What Would Jesus Do” charm?”

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This conversation is a microcosm of the American Christmas experience. That is why I wanted to write this blog about the reason for the season. Jesus is indeed a forgotten figure during this time, and I thought it would be fun to juxtapose some of His philosophy with the philosophy in my most recent classic The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Prince is a how-to guide to being a powerful and successful monarch during the 1500’s. Although the book is old, it has many sad truths about how politicians can climb the career ladder – the term “Machiavellian” is defined as…

cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics or in advancing one’s career.

Essentially, Machiavelli makes the point that a Prince needs to be ready at any time for battle…

“A prince should therefore have no other aim or thought, nor take up any other thing for his study; but war and its organisation and disciplice, for that is the only art that is necessary to one who commands…”

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 A key component in the battle of politics is to know when to be good and when to be evil…

“Therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.”

This advice sadly has a lot of relevance today for politicians and government officials. Put in another way, one must appear in public as an angel and in private as a demon – sounds like a House of Cards episode.

The advice of the Earthly Prince must be juxtaposed with the Heavenly Prince of Jesus. Jesus said that…

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Luke 6:27-30
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Humility and generosity should be the most common tools of today’s leaders. Aggression, deceit, and pride all help individuals reach temporary power – shortsightedly killing the goose to get the golden egg. Leadership depends on relationships and relationships depend on some degree of love.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
So this Christmas let’s give each other the gift of mercy. Let’s be more patient with each other. Let’s be more empathetic with each other. Let’s be more honest with each other. The material gifts on the 25th will eventually fade away, but the rewards of virtue will make you feel like royalty throughout the rest of the year.
Merry Christmas Everyone

A Most Unlikely Emperor

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Today is my third wedding anniversary. Three years ago I read vows to a woman while crying like a little baby. Our relationship since the wedding has continued to mature – our laughs and conversations keep getting better and better. Probably the best part of being married is that I can feel loved even when I am laying on the couch in my underwear while simultaneously eating pork rinds and singing along to Toto’s “Africa.” Without Christina, I would not be able to regularly read and write; it would be nearly impossible to complete classics while getting texts and updates from Tinder or eHarmony. Instead of swiping right or left on an app all I have to do is swipe right or left while cleaning the floor – this causes an immediate summons to the bedroom.

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Thank you, Christina, for helping me to be a better man and helping me get through the tough books which my former self would never have opened. One of those tough books was my most recent classic I, Claudius by Robert Graves. There are some books that are hard but interesting and others that are hard and boring – the latter is I, Claudius. Before reading it, I had the feeling one gets right before running the mile for the Presidential Fitness Test – an increase in heart rate, anxiety, dread, and the overarching desire to play dead on the ground. However, like the mile run, upon completing this story about the Roman Emperor Claudius, I felt a euphoric high that only comes from adversity.

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I, Claudius is technically fiction but written with historical accuracy as the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius. Claudius was a family member of the Roman court and the book details his life from his birth in 10 B.C. to his ascension as Emperor in 41 A.D. What is cool about the autobiography is that Claudius details the lives of fascinating Emperors like Agustus, Tiberius, and the evil Caligula. Claudius was born with a limp and a severe stammer which forced him into isolation from his more “Romanesque” brothers and sisters; at the time physical strength, aesthetic beauty, and elegant speech were desirable attributes in the royal court. Claudius became a bookworm and spent his time writing obscure histories. Most people thought he was stupid and treated him like a second-class citizen.

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Rome was a brutal place, and his family members were routinely killed by rival factions to climb the political ladder. When Claudius was middle aged, his nephew Caligula took over the throne. Caligula was a monster who slept with his sisters, killed his father, and smothered the former Emporer Tiberius. Caligula would end up killing most of his rivals and any family member envious of the throne. The only one who survived Caligula’s insanity was Claudius. Claudius played dumb and used his wit whenever threatened. In the end, Caligula was assassinated, and by accident, Claudius was chosen to be the Emperor. It’s actually a great story because Claudius more than any of his siblings deserves the throne because of his humility, intelligence, and levelheadedness; ironically, these attributes not only make for a great Emperor but also a great marriage. Here’s to many more years with you Christina – thanks for helping me always get to the finish line.

“I am supposed to be an utter fool and the more I read the more of a fool they think me.”
-Robert Graves ,  I, Cladius

Abraham Lincoln vs. Donald Trump

The wise old owl lived in a oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why aren’t we all like that old bird?

What do Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump have in common? Almost nothing besides them being white-male republicans. Lincoln grew up in poverty, Trump grew up in wealth. Lincoln was self educated, Trump was ivy-league educated. Lincoln became a lawyer and politician, Trump became a real-estate investor. Lincoln took moderate stances on issues, Trump currently takes extreme stances on issues.Lincoln took great efforts to avoid political hostilities, Trump takes great pride in politic incorrectness. My mind has been comparing these two men because I just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Lincoln by David Herbert Donald. Throughout this read, I marveled at how Abraham Lincoln was able to walk the precarious tight rope of politics to achieve extraordinary goals. Lincoln had to appeal to Radical Republicans, Conservative Republicans, War Democrats, and Peace Democrats all while orchestrating a Civil War. He was elected in 1860 on a platform that supported the institution of slavery but not its expansion. Between 1861-1865 he slowly implemented policies that eventually abolished slavery through the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. Lincoln never made decisions lightly and would contemplate every outcome with the utmost detail. Many times, Lincoln would sit back and listen instead of jumping in and making a rash decision. Lincoln’s talents of compromise and patience are what I most admire about our 16th president. People don’t realize that Lincoln was not always popular throughout his presidency and at some points had lower approval ratings than George W. Bush. He was constantly racked with stress and by the end of war he looked as though he aged 20 years. He had to deal with a divided country, a war that resulted in 600,000 fatalities, the reconstruction of the devastated south, mounting federal debt, political rivals, and a crazy wife. Through all of this, he still managed to make great decisions that were moderate and in the end brought the country back together. The United States would not be the same without Abraham Lincoln and I am so grateful that I was able to learn about him in a in-depth manner.

So what about Trump?  Trump is currently the front runner for the Republican Party which ironically Lincoln helped found back in 1854. The Republican Party is quite different today than it was in Lincoln’s time but United States politics is not. As in Lincoln’s time, there are rival parties and a lot of bickering over how best to run the country. Trump unfortunately is far from one to compromise and is very quick to respond to opponents via the media. He spouts hate and reminds me of a bully with a lot of money. Lincoln never ostracized and downgraded members of his own party; Lincoln especially never offended others publicly with the intent to draw publicity. These contrasts make me sad because I want the next president to be like Abraham Lincoln and I want Americans to remember what works and what does not work in politics. Politics requires compromise and nothing can be accomplished without careful consideration of all perspectives. We should not base our vote on whether a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat but rather on their character and their ability to work with others. Can anyone honestly tell me that Donald Trump will unite our country and make it better through his graceful character? Lincoln was one in a trillion but we can at least look for a candidate that mirrors him in at least some manner. Let’s learn from the past and remember that great leaders are those who are humble, not those who hold themselves higher than everyone else…Trump Tower anyone?